A young woman is captivated by a mysterious snow globe that hides more than a model city.
|It's never easy knowing where to start when recounting your life, or even just telling a story of any kind, so I'm just going to start from the earliest point that I can think of without going too far back. I guess it all began that day when I found the snow globe. I often frequented this quaint store hidden away in a small courtyard of one of the many Paris markets. On this particular day I was browsing the many intricate and ornate trinkets that the little old man who owned the store had curated from all sorts of places. He collected many valuable and historical items and sold them for a small fortune... each! Personally I think that many of the things he had procured were probably worth much more than what he was asking, but I won't complain. His store's inventory was truly a marvel and I never saw very much of it when I think of it. I saw many beautiful and wonderful things in his curious little store, don't get me wrong, but there was always some new little treasure to be found every time I visited. Mirrors made of ornately carved ivory or silver, hair combs of jade and opal, camphor wood chests intricately decorated with etchings of historical scenes; treasures and trinkets curated from all corners of the globe. While the prices he asked for would be considered highway robbery, I still think that he was giving people discounted prices in comparison to what those items were really worth.
I looked around, scouring the various shelves and walls for those rare finds that catch my eye and speak to me in profound and mysterious ways. As I meandered my way through the store I turned to farewell the little old man as I had decided that I was finished for the day, but then I saw it. It caught my eye as I prepared to leave and return home; the inescapable snow globe that was unlike any other I had ever seen. The base was copper and gold with large embossed silver outlined cogs and wheels decorating its weathered and aged metals. The globe itself was crystalline; a perfect orb through which the contents was hidden only by what seemed to be a faint cloud. Beyond the cloud I saw it; a unique city of great buildings standing tall and proud against the faint cloud obscuring them from full view. They were not unlike their base - made of intricately assembled cogs and wheels, great sheets of metal stretched out in long vertical and horizontal lines, pipes and tubes connecting them all together, hugging the skyscrapers as they did. There was something indescribable about the sensation I felt as I gazed into the snow globe that sat before me. It was almost as though it was trying to call out to me and somehow, in some profound and inexpressible way, my very soul could hear it and wanted to reply.
"What can you tell me about this snow globe?"
"I see you've found it, then." the little old man spoke in a very mysterious tone almost as though there was some kind of secret or joke he knew regarding the snow globe, but I had no idea what it could possibly be. He spoke in an almost sinister manner as though he knew something dangerous, as though he was trying to warn me without warning me.
"Yes. I found it." I chuckled nervously in reply.
"I suppose you're thinking of purchasing it, then?" his tone was more accusatory this time, yet I still sensed that he was trying to ward me off.
"I was just wondering what its story was."
"You come here a lot and this is the first time you've ever shown particular interest in a specific item." again, his tone was accusatory.
"It struck me as rather..." I searched for the word best suited to describe the snow globe, but I couldn't think of what it was.
"This snow globe is no ordinary snow globe. Since the better part of the 1700s there have been records of a snow globe of this description appearing in the lives of notable figures throughout history. It's not only here in France that it's been noted to have appeared. This snow globe is said to have traveled the world. Presidents of the United States of America have been found to possess a mysterious snow globe during their time as leaders of their country. Napoleon was rumoured to have possessed such a snow globe before he was finally defeated. William Shakespeare's Hamlet was in part inspired by a speech he once made when holding a snow globe of this same description. Important peoples of the world throughout history have been discovered to share one thing in common... They all possessed this same snow globe for a time. And yet... No one knows from whence it came."
I was spellbound by the story he had told me. I left the store, but the story had not escaped my thoughts. I was consumed by the mystery and magnitude of the globe that I could think of nothing else for a whole week. Finally I returned to the store and purchased the snow globe that had compelled me to stay away from the store until I had decided what I would do; if I could resist the mystery of the enigmatic snow globe or if I could not. As it happens, I couldn't resist. And so I bought it. As I left the store I took the snow globe from the box the little old man had packaged it in for me and I gazed upon it in ecstatic wonderment. I ran my hand along its crystalline globe, stroking it as though to try and move the cloud away so I could see the city more clearly but it was not meant to be. I heard a noise which caught my attention and as I looked away from the globe... It was all over. It was so sudden that I still don't even know what happened. But whatever it was was the last thing that happened to me. I lay on the ground, my arm outstretched before me, blood pooling beneath my body and away from me toward the snow globe that lay before me. The last thing I saw was that beautiful and mysterious snow globe lying on the ground in front of me, rolling around before coming to a complete stop just as I closed my eyes and lost consciousness.
I was lying on what felt like a grate; a pattern of metal bars crossing each other beneath me. And I remember I heard a large fan turning overhead. I opened my eyes and the globe was gone. And so was the pool of blood. I looked around and the Paris marketplace courtyard was nowhere to be found. I was inside some kind of building. I found a large domed window not far from where I had woken up and before me there stood a large city unlike anything I had ever seen before. Except there was something strangely familiar about it. In fact, I felt certain I had seen certain buildings that stood before me somewhere before. Their unusual structure, their odd shapes, the materials they were made of... I had seen these things somewhere before... And then I remembered. These were the buildings inside the snow globe.
"Ah, there you are." came a voice from behind. I was afraid and confused. I was in a place that I didn't know and I had no idea how I had gotten there or why I was there. So I ran. The voice called after me and chased after me telling me to stop, but I refused to let myself become trapped. I ran down stairs, through corridors, along walkways, through tunnels, and climbed ladders. Eventually I found myself outside where I was among the civilians of a bustling and thriving city. Steam filled the air as it spurted out of pipes on walls and along the ground. The people looked nothing like anyone I had ever seen before. I mean, they were people by all means, but they were dressed in clothes that could only be compared to either runway shows of avant garde couture, or outlandish costumes depicting another time and place; another world of sorts. Women wearing corsets with leather pants and boots, wearing goggles and hooded coats passed me in both directions. Men wearing top hats with cogs and gears emblazoned across them and monocles, wearing metal gauntlets producing steam, and patchwork coats with tails were frequenting the various stalls along the path. I ran as far as I could but everywhere I looked there were people dressed in these strange clothes staring at me as though I was the oddity.
Finally I found a small side alley where I stopped to catch my breath. I watched as people passed the side street where I hid in the shadows. Their clothes were a strange sort of fusion of 19th and 20th century with elements of 21st and beyond strewn throughout. I remember seeing people with prosthetic limbs that were far more advanced than anything that had been developed where I came from. People communicated with small devices that projected holograms of the people they were talking to as they walked down the street or stopped and waited along the path. Although I was confused and slightly scared I was incredibly curious and intrigued by everything around me. The people wore such interesting and unique clothes, the technology was a strange fusion of steam powered and electricity powered devices (or so I gathered on first observation), the architecture was very 1800s but constructed in an unusual fashion using many 21st century techniques. It was as though I was dreaming about all the things that fascinated me from throughout history combined with my studies of technology, industry, and design. I was incredibly happy at that moment. And then I remembered... I was in a strange place where I didn't belong and I needed to get home.
I turned and followed the small alley to the end where it came out to another quiet area. It seemed that I had found the back alleys of this unusual city and I felt safer in this quiet secluded place than in the main road bustling with a loud and momentous crowd. A sign of a quaint and unusual little building caught my eye. It read "Outlanders" which seemed to me meant foreigners. It seemed to me to be a sign... In all meanings of the word. This sign was meant for me to follow. So I knocked on the door. I was nervous and uncertain of what to expect on the other side so I knocked softly, probably too soft for anyone to hear if I was honest. I pushed on the door and it opened with a slight creak. I could hear the faint sounds of voices calling out and various crashes and thumps coming from a room or rooms further in and up from where I stood at the front door. The building was very unusual and kind of awkward. The walls and floors were uneven and sloped and rose in all ways with odd little landings and steps strewn about the place. It was a building that simply screamed character.
"Hello?" I asked cautiously looking around for any signs of an owner, "Is anyone there?"
"Alright, Lindsey, that's quite enough racket outta you!" a loud voice suddenly came calling out from the left. A woman with ginger hair came walking out from around a corner and she was carrying a basket full of clothes for washing. She was evidently not the richest of women as she wore a loose fitting shirt with an underbust corset that was tattered and, I think, broken. Her skirt was hoisted high up her leg by a belt revealing a pair of tattered and torn tights and scraggy boots. She had a friendly face, like a mother, but she was quite young and I suspected she might not actually be a mother, but certainly had the presence of one, and a kind and caring one at that, "Oh, 'allo! What can I be doin for ya, miss?" she said as she caught sight of me standing like a stunned mullet in her front room.
"Umm... Oh... Well I... I ummm..." as I nervously stumbled around my words trying to articulate my reasons for being there, which I eventually realised I didn't actually know, she looked at me watching in earnest and almost as though she was trying to encourage me that I could get my words out... eventually. She slowly broke out into a giant smile that was the friendliest smile I had ever seen in my life. She chuckled as I stood there nervously stumbling over my words and my thoughts.
"It's ok, love. You're clearly outta sorts at the moment. So why don't I fix ya a cuppa whiles ya try ta remember what ya came 'ere for? Kay?" her voice was gruff yet sweet.
"Ok." I eventually stammered in reply. She smiled at me and beckoned me to follow her to her kitchen / dining room. I followed her through to a small cluttered room full of pots and pans hanging off the walls and ceiling. Piles of dishes and cooking utensils filled the three sinks strewn throughout the room. A raggedy table cloth, which had seen better days, I'm sure, covered a small round table to the side of the cluttered little room. I sat at the table waiting as she went about her business, collecting ingredients from her few small, broken, overfilled cupboards and tossing them all on her solitary bench. In spite of having three sinks it appeared that she only really had enough bench space for one person. As she got cooking I watched in both curiosity and awe; curiosity at what she could possibly be making (and what kinds of ingredients she was using), and awe at the skill she possessed to cook so skillfully and efficiently in such a confined space. Evidently she was an expert at cooking in that kitchen. Even though I was in a strange place full of things I didn't recognise there were some things that I did recognise instantly. As she combined all the ingredients together in her small pot and bowls I recognised the inescapable treat that we all know to be called chocolate. As she combined this with a brown powder that looked like it was possibly cocoa she spooned in steaming water, or so it looked to me. Her hands were rather swift as they stirred, poured, snapped, scooped and sprinkled.
"So where'd ya come from? You're new around 'ere, aint ya?" she asked me as she prepared my drink for me. I think her sincere and endearing personality were what made her voice sound sweet as people might describe her voice as more pained sounding, as if she suffered from a perpetual scratchy throat with an imminent cough waiting to come out, but I personally found it to be charming.
"Ummm... Well I'm not sure."
"Not sure? What, did ya forget or somethin'?"
"Baahhh. Ya don't have ta tell me if ya not wantin' ta. Your business is your own. But them clothes you're wearin', aint like nothin' from these parts, that's for sure."
"Well... I'm a foreigner."
"Ha. Ha. I can see that much, love. Ya aint foolin' no one 'ere if that was your intention." she chuckled.
"I noticed your sign. 'Outlanders'?"
"Ohhh. That! Are ya lookin' for a room? Is that it?" she asked as she passed me the mug of steaming beverage.
"Oh, thank you. What is it?"
"That be a cuppa of ma own special 'ome recipe."
"Mmm," I breathed it in and smelled the smell of chocolatey goodness as well as some other ingredients I didn't recognise but was curious to try, "Smells good. Thank you." I blew on the hot beverage before taking a mouthful. The creamy chocolate was mixed with an unusual spice that seemed to give the drink something different.
"Now about ya mentioning ma sign."
"Yes," I gulped down my mouthful of drink which I was thoroughly enjoying, "What does it mean?"
"Ha. Ha. I run a boardin' 'ouse 'ere," she chuckled, "So naturally I thought you bein' 'ere meant ya wanted a room, perhaps? I call it 'Outlanders' as the folks who come 'ere are more as not foreigners, like yourself."
"I see. Sorry. I..."
"You're outta sorts. Never ya mind the past. Whatever's done is done. But I'm thinkin' ya be needin' a room tonight. How's bout I put ya up, whatta ya say?"
"But I don't have any money. I can't pay you."
"We can worry about that later."
"I don't want to be any trouble-"
"Is no trouble at all!" she said with a great big smile on her face. She stood up and grabbed my arm and marched me out of the kitchen / dining room off through to the front room and over to a stair case that wound itself around and around in an unusual fashion. As she pulled me through her boarding house the voices and thumps and crashes I heard before became louder and closer until I could actually understand what some of them were saying and doing. As she carted me from room to room she told me who was taking up residence in each room, but they all seemed to be busy making a ruckus with each other as though they were all living together like some sort of dysfunctional family. Finally she showed me through to my room. She wished me goodnight which is when I realised I didn't know her name.
"'I'm so sorry, I never asked your name."
"Ma name's Hanna."
"Thank you, Hanna."
"And what be your name, miss?"
"Or that be forgotten as well?"
"Never ya mind. Enjoy your stay and goodnight ta ya, miss. We be servin' breakfast at 8:30."
"Ok. Thank you. Goodnight." and Hanna shut the door and left. I sat in my room hearing the ruckus of the rest of the tenants outside my room. I didn't really see them or speak to them while Hanna showed me to my room, but I certainly heard them. I was curious about them and what they could've been doing. I sat in my room trying to decide if I should just go to bed or if I should investigate. I decided to investigate. My curiosity was just too strong to resist and ignore. I crept out of my room and down the stairs to the floor beneath mine (which was an ensemble of rooms with a shared communal space from which each room jutted out like an extension from that space). My floor was made entirely of my room alone while the floor below was a corridor from which the communal space could be entered and further onward to each of the rooms that shared that space. This entire building seemed to be a kind of 'do it yourself' project as none of it seemed to make sense (and it all looked like it had been put together using whatever objects could be found at the time). The rooms were much the same.
I walked into the communal space and found a young girl, possibly 15, playing with oddly shaped chemistry tools and implements at a bench where I think she had set up her own chemistry set and was conducting experiments; an elderly man was trying to do some sort of work with documents, but there was a robot who was acting very childish and was preventing the elderly man from completing his work; a young woman with an expression that inspired a sense of sensibility was tinkering with some kind of machine, working on it like some kind of mechanic trying to make it functional again; a pair of identical teen boys, possibly 16, with mechanical limbs, were causing a ruckus for anyone and everyone they could around the room; an unusual creature whose skin appeared to be transparent yet not invisible was sitting on a couch reading what looked like a newspaper and they seemed completely unperturbed by the senseless and ceaseless noise that was all around them; an ethereal and nervous looking faun-like creature sat beside the stoical creature and seemed to be trying to make idle chit chat with the silent creature, yet she failed with each attempt.
"Don't stand in a thoroughfare." came a deep sullen voice behind me.
"Oh," I jumped and moved out of his way, "Sorry."
"Mmm." he sighed as he walked past me into the communal space, across the room, and through one of the adjoining doors on the far side. He was pale and wore a long black trench coat. His expression was one of either perpetual boredom or perpetual bemusement. I'm not sure which it was, to be honest. I watched him as he crossed the room. There was no shortage of unusual characters in the room before me, but for some reason he was the one I was drawn to the most. He seemed focused on something beyond what was in front of him yet he was acutely aware of everything around him. He walked slowly yet purposefully as if he had marked out a specific route to follow when walking through that room in such a way that he would be in no way inconvenienced by anyone in the room. But I had gotten in his way. I had blocked his path. I'm sure he wasn't used to that and I know he wasn't expecting it, either. It was at this point that I saw someone had noticed that there was a person standing in the doorway so I hurried back to my room where I promptly got ready for bed.
I woke up some hours later and heard voices talking softly and coming to my room. It seemed that the ruckus from the others had stopped (so even they need sleep at some point). I heard footsteps stop at my door and gently knock.
"'Allo?" it was Hanna, "Are ya awake?"
"Coming." I opened the door to find Hanna standing there in a nightgown holding a candle. She looked like she had just fixed herself to go to bed when she came to my door.
"There's a visitor for ya in the front room. Says 'e needs ta tell ya important news. Says 'e's the fellow from this afternoon, if that means anythin' to ya."
"I'll meet him downstairs. You can go to bed, Hanna." and I followed her down to the front room where she showed me to the man owning the voice that greeted me when I first woke up. She continued through the door around the corner where she first appeared from when I first saw her.
"Hello, miss." said the man. A tall man in a long dark coat turned and addressed me, "I believe we got off on the wrong foot this afternoon. I need to explain a few things to you. Please have a seat," so we both sat down, "Now this may all come as a grave shock to you so I need you to try and hear me out. You recently purchased a snow globe before you were struck with an accident."
"What do you know about that?"
"This may come as a shock to you, but there is an entire world inside the snow globe you purchased... And when you were met with an accident you weren't only gravely injured... I'm sorry to tell you but you were killed after you purchased the snow globe and upon dying you came to the world inside the snow globe you purchased which is where we are now." we sat in silence for several minutes after he finished telling me the news.
"So where did I wake up? What was that place?"
"There's an organisation dedicated to the observation of your world, the Outerworld. We observe the Outerworld so as to better understand and care for our own world within the snow globe. Our two worlds are intricately connected. From time to time people in our world try to escape to the Outerworld and... on rare occasions... an individual has been known to enter our world from the Outerworld. And on those occasions it is imperative that we do what is necessary for both our world and the Outerworlder. When an Outerworlder appears in our world it's necessary that we ascertain the nature of the new comer so that we can do what's necessary."
"You mean you need to know whether or not to lock them up or welcome them with open arms."
"So what do you intend to do with me?"
"You are welcome to live here. I've already spoken with Hanna to explain the situation and she has kindly agreed to allow you to live here until you have sorted something out for yourself."
"Is there no way for me to leave this place?"
"There are ways, yes. But if you were to try to leave you would die because you died in your world before you arrived here."
"What if I found a way?"
"There is no way. But... I won't stop you from trying." and that was the most crucial thing I heard him tell me that night.
I just realised I forgot to tell you my name. My name is Anastasia, but you can call me Anna or Stacey just as others often refer to me by those names. My name is Anastasia and this is how my story begins. With my death.