The Lost Legacies of Seymour the Mapmaker and Miriam, His Sister by KJ Hannah Greenberg

Jul 24 2011 Published by under The WiFiles

Seymour loved to finger the icosahedron on his desk. As a child, decades before the Great Voltage Failure, he had created maps by transferring flat images to the triangular components of such polyhedrons. During that decade, too, he had placed Oceania at the top of all of his sketches; he had been determined to remake the world in a manner that seemed friendly to him. Cartography had been to Seymour what penning speculative fiction had been to his twin, Miriam; those arts had been means for those siblings to forewarning other innocents against certain bad routes away from childhood tribulations. Stressors related to his military duties had left Seymour and Miriam’s father, Albert, as fond of the bottle as he had been of the strap.

In high school, Seymour specialized in cartograms, in those thematic depictions of selected variables. The popular girls plied him with requests to sketch their social networks. The jocks coerced Seymour into making two dimensional representations of the extent of their soccer team’s wins. On rare occasions, an English teacher or a lecturer in European history also asked him to depict mundanities such as: word usage within a text, points of view within an anthology, relative population densities, or net budget expenditures. Meanwhile, Miriam began her string of vicarious affairs with gelatinous spacers and demented capybaras.

In college, Seymour majored in mathematics and took a minor in philosophy, with a focus on logic. He enjoyed Calculus in Three Dimensions, Discrete Mathematics, Algebraic Structures and Model Theory and received special permission to enroll in a graduate seminar in matroids. He earned his room and board, and part of his tuition, from commissions on fantasy maps used by his peers for role-playing games and for enactments. In his free time, Seymour continued to draw dymaxion maps.  Miriam, meanwhile, wrote entire scripts for cosplay, submitted tales about nefarious dolphins to fantasy magazines and otherwise earned a little pocket money by writing “love letters,” on behalf of clients of any gender. She majored in sociology and took a minor in psychology. She was especially interested in abnormal psych.

Both an art professor and a attractive sorority girl encouraged Seymour to work toward a BSA, a Bachelor of Science and Art, rather than strictly to pursue a mathematics degree, but Seymour kept to his personal compass. He had sold a pictorial map to the better business bureau of a midsized Midwestern city and had placed a few thematic maps with a publisher of popular secondary education texts. Before he graduated, some of his choropleth maps appeared in Social Sciences for Seventh Graders.

As for Miriam, she took a semester off to tramp around New York City with her former roommate, a woman who had been enrolled in their university’s set design portion of its theatre program. Miriam spent that year writing SEO-savvy content for a hardware website, working to rid herself of scabies, and otherwise compiling a list of the best places, within the metropolis, to order cocktails made with absinthe.

After breaking up with that attractive sorority girl, who he thought would become his attractive wife, Seymour made a last minute application to a graduate program. He proposed that he be accepted to study topology along with logic and to take courses in the Linguistics and Philosophy Department. His application was accepted. In fact, Seymour was offered a full fellowship. Miriam, for the meantime, returned to school and graduated with honors. She began to build a portfolio of short fiction and of poetry. She hoped to be accepted to a prestigious Midwestern M.F.A program. She also hoped to distance herself from her newfound love of chocolate.

Following his acclimation to his graduate school, Seymour successfully transferred to that university’s Computational Design Department. In the process, he lost his funding, but found a new darling in his study of computational geometry, of mathematical methods of nanophotonics, and of molecular modeling. During that span, Seymour paid his expenses by remotely working for a major auto manufacturer. He helped that corporation develop software for its geographic information system. That organization was so pleased with his efforts that it offered Seymour a hefty salary, significant stock options, and even membership in a frequent flyers program, if only he would, upon graduation, work for that company full-time.

Miriam was accepted into the important writing program. That same year, a small pres published her first chapbook, entitled Martians Just Might Get the Gist. She failed to complete her degree, though, for she left Iowa to travel around Europe with a Spaniard and fellow workshop resident. They remained committed for seven and one half years, after which time, he left her for a Dutch girl, who was still a minor. Miriam’s consequent cathartic writing resulted in the anthology Time Enough for Tulips, but not for Daisies. One of the stories in that collection, “Pushing up Petunias,” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize.

Upon receiving his doctorate, Seymour did not immediately accept the offered position in industry. Instead, he spent a year pursuing research in atomistic computer modeling, specifically in DNA mapping, via post doctorate funding from his university’s chemistry department. When, at last, he was ready to accept the car manufacturer’s contract, he received a proposal from the federal agency, possessed of many supercomputers, which, allegedly, researched the compounds involved in and the antidotes for chemical warfare. He applied for clearance and went to work for the government.

It was at that time that Seymour began to rummage around the Internet for special antiques. He meant to acquire a marine chronometer in order to emulate the work of Gerardus Mercator. He also intended to build a collection of Portolan charts. Later, Miriam would describe her brother as prophetic.

Recovered from her ill-fated union, Miriam reaped lots of pay from a marketing communications agency. Her boss considered her texts to be whimsical. Her colleagues regarded her as scary. It was not the gothic makeup and nail polish that garnered their attention, but the stories she had begun to write once more. In most of her tales, someone, somewhere, was sucking up some type of viscera.

Eight years later after entering the government’s payroll, Seymour, the pretty biochemist with the higher classification grade, and their two preschoolers, one of whom looked like him, and one of whom looked liked his wife, became, with the assistance of a large mortgage, homeowners in Chevy Chase, Maryland. A nanny helped them through the early years and a series of afterschool clubs in, respectively, ballet, astronomy, kickboxing, and archeology, helped them through the children’s preadolescence. When the children became teens, however, Seymour’s regression bloomed. Only Miriam understood why the raging hormones of Seymour and Marybeth’s children, in turn, spurred on the flight, taken from reality, by Seymour. Miriam was in no position to illuminate the situation, though, as she was sequestered on Crete, having received monies from an Australian eccentric who wanted to have his life immortalized in a book of historical fiction.

Regardless, sometime during his sophomore year of high school, Bobbie, Marybeth and Seymour’s younger, but smarter, child, found his father deep in ink and in turkey feather quills. Whereas today such a sight would be unremarkable, at the time, utilities such functioned. For a few minutes, as Seymour tells it, Bobbie stood transfixed. It was not so much that Bobbie was interested in nibs, in pigments or in anything, really, to do with styluses as it was the case that Bobbie wanted some cash so that he could rent the DVD of Horror among the Hedgehogs. Bobbie had promised his friends Julian and Seth that he would get Seymour to pay for the rental. Yet, Bobbie was afraid that if he interrupted his father, at what Bobbie deemed was complicated work, he wouldn’t get the money.

Eventually, though, Bobbie spied something on Seymour’s desk that made him forget his pals, his promise, and his own desire to watch vampiric rodents. Bobbie had seen Seymour’s orthophotomap of Atlantis. Rather than deny the nature of the chart spread before him, its legend prominently penned in Greek, Seymour motioned to Bobbie to come closer. He was determined to disclose to his teens the intergenerational goings on of him family. “I’m not mainland,” the mapmaker began.

“You’re an islander?” asked his skeptical scion.

“In a manner of speaking,” Seymour smiled.

Over the next four hours, broken up only by occasional breaks for carbonated, caffeinated drinks and for pretzels, Seymour introduced his boy to a portion of his cartography collection (Seymour chose to share only those maps which he had designed with the intent of fulfilling his greater purpose). To wit, Bobbie viewed floor plans of Seymour and Miriam’s childhood home, planforms of  the Spitfire Bobbie’s grandfather had piloted in the war, and a contour map of the Happy Valley neighborhood in which his father and his aunt had grown up.

Bobbie also was given access to some of Seymour’s vividly colored estate maps and nautical charts. When, at last, Bobbie squeaked out his question as to whether or not Atlantis was real, the parade of images stored on paper and in computer files abruptly stopped. In answer, Seymour looked directly into Bobbie’s eyes, frowned, weakly smiled and then said, “No more so than happy childhoods.” Shortly thereafter, Seymour escorted Bobbie out of his office. When he resurfaced in the common reality, Bobbie realized that he had gleaned neither the money for the DVD or an actual response to his question.

By bedtime, Bobbie disclosed all he had learned to his sister, Jenny. In reply, she smiled wisely at him. Their Aunt Miriam had spoken to her, during the visit preceding her relocation to Crete, about similar things. It seemed that Aunt Miriam meant to champion the next generation by churning out all manners of speculative fiction. Although Miriam had not carried her entire portfolio of work with her, not even in the form of aperture devices, she had made hard copies, for Jenny, of her poems about weight loss and about alternative universes, her essays concerning war and concerning talking armadillos, and her fiction focused on wizened rabbits and on troubled octogenarians. It’s those works which currently sit in the vault of the commonwealth. No magnetically recorded literature survived The Great Crash.

Jenny had greeted Miriam’s offerings with her theretofore unarticulated questions about Miriam’s then popular children’s series of novellas featuring headless monsters and space-faring chinchilla rats. She asked their father’s sister, as well, about the frequency with which Miriam used “good” and “bad” as broadly socially understood terms, rather than as constructs referring to relative axiological merit, and about why all of the heroes in Miriam’s similarly well-received dungeons and damsels stories were killed off before attaining their full maturity. Jenny also raised the point that Miriam’s most published poetry resonated with images of hiding places and of bullies.

Miriam had neither stalled nor fled from her niece’s questions. In addition to hard copies of her own select works, Miriam had packed, for Jenny, a rare, first edition of Gustav Fechner’s Das Büchlein vom Leben nach dem Tode and a more ordinary print of Mary Whiton Calkins’s The Good Man and The Good. Those books, too, are stored among our national treasures. During most of the remaining days of her visit she connected the dots between her own writing and the thoughts of those immortal psychologists.

Undaunted by those disclosures, during a cigarette break, Jenny asked their aunt to autograph Jenny’s copy of Miriam’s A Space Princess Wars with Tree Demons. Jenny’s best friend, Tamara, who was also their class’ homecoming queen as well as was their school’s student government president, vowed to get Jenny a date with Stan Morris if Jenny would get her a collector-worthy edition of Miriam’s book. That tome, too, sits in our national archives. When all the lights went out, permanently, Tamara suffered an early demise upon tripping over one of her small, screechy dogs.

Bobbie and Jenny conferred together about their extended family a few days after they pooled their piggy bank funds to pay for Horror among the Hedgehogs. Bobbie even let Jenny join him, Julian and Seth in screening the movie. In return, Jenny informed Bobbie about all of the cruel and unusual tricks Stan Morris and his associates were planning to play on Bobbie’s coterie after the next trigonometry quiz.

Between those formative teen years and the demise of the power grid, Jenny married and divorced young and become a bonafide member of Narcotics Anonymous. As for Bobbie, he witnessed, at a fraternity party, on the campus of his father’s alma mater, the gang rape of Tamara. Thereafter, he struggled both with his sexual identity and his banishment from all classes involving incinerary devices.

When, at last, The Great Voltage Failure, that incomprehensible destruction of all things powered by juice, including the Internet, wiped out much of contemporary culture, Bobbie had already been posted to the highlands of Chile, as a peace keeper, and Jenny had already been permanently disabled by a fairly serious auto accident, for which she was entirely culpable. Given his location on the slopes of the Andean volcanoes, and given her reliance on a respirator, the two were never able to confer, about their family again. It is said, that nonetheless, Seymour continued to make replicas both of the Kangnido world map and of the Cantino planisphere throughout the remainder of his dotage. Miriam, who finally fulfilled her contract to the rich eccentric and escaped to Rankin Inlet of Canada’s Nunavut Territory, where she practiced vegetarianism and made a living selling hashish, was reported to have lived out her days composing sonnets about aboriginal people’s reactions to belching and writing westerns about Canadian nickel and copper mines. In the Great North, though, she only produced four new books as her materials were limited to hide and to walnut ink.


KJ Hannah Greenberg and her hibernaculum of imaginary hedgehogs roam the verbal hinterlands. Sylvan creatures to a one, they fashion narrative from leaves, shiny bugs and marshmallow fluff. Some of the homes for their writing have included: AlienSkin Magazine, AntipodeanSF, Bards and Sages, Big Pulp, Morpheus Tales, Strange, Weird and Wonderful, Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction, and The New Absurdist. When not disciplining her imaginary friends, Hannah serves as an associate editor for Bewildering Stories.

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