“Hurry along,” their host said, chuckling as he ushered them towards the stone steps of the house. He looked over towards the carriage and paused. “Dear me, did you have some difficulties on the way here? Those stands in the market, perhaps? The naughty things, they scoot so fast and they can be so invasive sometimes, they hardly watch where they go.”
“No, that was before,” Stuart said, trying to lower his voice so the metallic sound wouldn’t be so noticeable.
“Gracious,” the host said, patting his back. “Oh how embarrassing, my boy. Come along, we will get that fixed in no time. The carriage will be good as new as well. Let us get to the festivities and put this faux pas behind us.”
The inside of the house was like a grand opera house, the vaulted ceilings covered in gilded beams and frescos that looked very different from the pictures any of them had seen in places like Versailles or the Sistine Chapel. The paintings were primarily of black men and women but there were others in there. It took a few minutes but all three of them realized that there was nothing religious about these paintings. They were all beautiful, colorful pictures but they weren’t of angels or gods or anything like that. They were depicting people in great buildings. People in social gatherings.
“History, my dear guests,” their host said as the doors closed behind them. “I know this must be a terribly strange world to you here but there are some similarities. It is quite fashionable here to have frescos on the ceiling and my dearest darling loves his history tablets so. The artists we’ve hired have done a remarkable job.”
“Where are we?” Lydia asked, shyly.
“In a matter of speaking, you are in a world that runs very parallel to your own but, as you can see, this one has a rather large fork in the timeline,” he replied as he approached Stuart. “If you would like to know exactly the location, this is the home that me and my beloved have built and it has become known in this town as Glass Gardens for reasons that will be come obvious soon enough. That said, let us first start off on a better introduction than this. My boy, you’ll find that there is a chain around your neck with a small metal disk that has been sitting against your chest. If you could pull it out for me, I would like to make a small adjustment to it.”
Not sure of what to do, Stuart looked to the others before slowly tugging at his collar to find a chain, just like the man said. Their host nodded politely as he pulled on it to reveal a disk the size of a dime at the end. It was inlaid with the same kind of glass window the disks that replaced their phones had but this one was clear. The man before him sighed and shook his head.
“Stubborn disk just doesn’t want to hold a charge,” he muttered. He took the disk and quickly pressed his thumb to it, making a clicking noise. After a few seconds he let it go and the disk was a bright blue color. “My deepest apologies, my boy. If you could, please replace the disk against your chest and you should find that it helps.”
Stuart was confused but tucked the necklace and the disk back into his shirt. He clear his throat.
“Now, my young friend, do tell me your name so that we can be properly introduced,” their host urged.
“I’m Stuart,” he said, unsure. He relaxed as the sound came out normal. He cleared his throat again. “Sorry. My name is Stuart and the carriage was damaged before we got here. We had a bit of a problem with a big animal.”
“One of the Bucks,” their host nodded. “Now that sounds much better. You can speak freely now here. And your charming friends? The lovely young miss and the new Buck himself. Your names, please?”
“I’m Lydia,” she said as he faced her.
“I’m Matt and I’m also confused,” Matt added. “How do you know about us but don’t know our names?”
“It is convention here,” said another man. The host beamed as a tall, slender black man came to meet them. He was dressed in the same Baroque style as the revellers that they had seen in the streets but up close, they could see his cloak had been embroidered with large, beautiful beaded works of African flowers on gold backgrounds. Beneath, his tailored attire was copper and gold with red accents. “True introductions are important here before we can begin our meetings but you’ve had someone to speak on your behalf. The spiderling has told us about you.”
“My dearest darling,” their host said, in a hushed but slightly apologetic tone. “I know he’s a spiderling but he is terribly sensitive about the title.”
“Of course, my love,” the young black man nodded. He turned to the three who were no less confused at their interactions. “Forgive our informality. To our honored guests, Matt, Lydia and Stuart, this is our home, The Glass Garden, and you are most welcome here.”
“I am Malek, your host for the evening,” the white man said. He looked lovingly at the black man at his side. “This is my beloved husband and partner in all manners of the house, Kayode.”
“Darling, we have much to prepare for and I’m afraid that your old ways still quite confuse me,” Kayode said. Malek shook his head and held up his hands.
“Say no more, my love,” he replied, quickly. “I will prepare everything for our guests and you can continue with the other affairs. If you need any help with your clothing, please let me know.”
They briefly kissed before Kayode bowed to his visitors and left to another room. Malek sighed, watching him go.
“Oh, to have met him about forty years ago,” he said, dreamily. He smiled at his guests. “He does try so hard to be accommodating to those of us from your side of the fence. For that, I will always be grateful.”
“What did he mean by your old ways?” Matt said, as Malek began to direct them out of the foyer and towards a large, decorated door.
“As you may have noticed, the world here is a little different,” Malek chuckled as they opened the door to a large hallway with huge pillars flanking both sides. There were hovering lanterns above them making it look like they were moving outdoors under a starry sky. “As I said, the world you are from, the one that I came from as well, has a rather divergent timeline from this world. I am not altogether certain that it could have happened any other way but because of some glaringly different outcomes to historic events, we live a very different life here. It’s a way of life that people born take for granted in some respects but only in that they cannot conceive of the way that you, well I suppose our, world works.”
“What could have happened that would have made the whole world black?” Matt asked, more curious now. He was disappointed to find that he was still waiting for the trick to come out of this. He wanted more than ever to silence that part of himself that was waiting for the trap to spring.
“Well, to be fair, there are still other races in the world, though their interactions are quite a bit different than you know them to be,” Malek explained. “I’m afraid that I won’t be able to fill you in on a complete history. This evening’s festivities are somewhat pressing this time around and I admit that as an outsider, I am hardly the best teacher in such matters. That said, should time allow in the future, Kayode will be more than happy to provide such a lecture. My beloved is a man of many talents and his passion for history here is unmatched.”
“Well it’s not that surprising,” Stuart said, quietly. “Isn’t the running theory that life began in the African continent?”
“Indeed, life did originate there,” Malek nodded, casually leading them through the dim lit hallway. There were massive windows between each pillar, the lanterns outside showcasing something glittering out in the fields. “There were, however, two major differences in this world that set it apart. One is the outcome of the Great War and the other was a discovery that our world never made and may never make.”
“So World War I still happened here?” Matt asked.
“It did and it carried on for far longer than it did in our world,” Malek sighed. “The devastation was immense and it created utter ruins in most of Europe. The length of the war carried on into many incredibly violent civil wars as the local governments lost power and a lot of tragedies followed. There was a lot of very difficult and bloody history to be made there and you’ll forgive me for saying that it is not something that we would like to delve into tonight. The outcome, however, was that this was indeed the war to end all wars. It was long and the death toll was far too large and there was far too much suffering to come out of it. The end result was the bankrupting of the nations. The war had been fought but it was largely decided that no one won in the end. In fact, the only reason the fighting stopped was because of a discovery that happened in Africa at the time and it changed the course of all history.”
“But there were Africans who were fighting in the first world war back home,” Lydia said. “Did they not fight here?”
“There was some fighting here, yes,” Malek sighed. “It was still quite horrible if the books are to be believed. But again, because of the length of the war, the stronghold of the colonial powers was too weak to maintain its grasp here or on Canadian soil. The war was so consuming that at one point, the powers of both sides began insisting on conscripting those who had settled elsewhere to draw their loyalty to their respective crowns. It was a time when those who were under colonial rule now had the chance to get the upper hand and the few holding power were under tremendous pressure to either give up their positions or be outed and conscripted into a fight that no one wanted any longer. The end result was that the empires collapsed upon themselves, unable to sustain their war any longer. In the ashes of their mutual defeat, a brilliant man in Tanzania discovered a new element that he then used to harbor and create a new and renewable source of energy with. It is what powers our cities now and all that you see is linked back to his incredible discovery.”
“And how did he manage to figure out how to make this discovery and not get it stolen out of his hands?” Matt asked, skeptical.
“A world at war pays little mind to the little people and he was, as I said, a brilliant man,” Malek replied, warmly. “There is much written about his life and the great things he accomplished. He was one of the people responsible for the many things that reinvigorated society after the fall of the European titans. Some of his inventions are the backbone of what you’ve seen tonight. But more history later on. Let us celebrate the world we are in today. Let me show you your friends.”
They had come to the end of the hall and were standing in front of a large, dazzling wooden door, inlaid with jewels and gold veins that ran throughout. There was a large set of brass doorknobs in the shape of large red flowers. Malek easily opened the two doors and inside was a large, comfortable sitting room with a large marble fireplace and big plush red couches and wingback chairs. Seated on a chair close to the fire was Will, talking in an animated tone to Dolly. She saw in a mechanical chair, its seat just as plush as the couches around her.
“Welcome to the parlor, my dear guests,” Malek said, ushering them in. Once everyone settled, he looked them over and nodded. “I’ll have the serving trays sent in shortly. Things may taste a bit different here but I assure you that everything is okay to eat and I promise it will be good.”