Hi there. My name is Will Hindmarch, andÂ I teach at the Shared Worlds creative-writing camp founded by Jeff VanderMeer and Jeremy Jones. For the second and final week of the camp, I’m here at Wofford College being the sub-Jeff in Jeff’s considerable psychic and professorial wake. I am a pale substituteâ€”I know Jeff VanderMeer and I am no Jeff VanderMeerâ€”but I’m scrappy and eager to please. So I’m pacing myself and preparing to withstand the merciless heat and weather the incredible energy given off by the students here at the camp.
I almost didn’t make it here. I got stymied by a twelve-hour thunderstorm in Chicago that flooded out the expressways and drowned stretches of the surface streets. But, a day late, I’ve made it on-site and already met the throng of eager students and the cunning Holly Black, who’ll spend tomorrow teaching and reading. More on that once it has, you know, actually taken place.
As I write this, I am sitting on campus in the midst of a raucous and surly thunderstorm, hoping against hope that the power doesn’t go out. I need the lights to solve a puzzle Jeff left behind for me: a pile of enigmatic and exotic coins, arranged just so on my desk.
At first I mistook these varied drams for simple pre-flight castoffs, or perhaps as fuel for me to deposit in the campus coin laundry, but looking closer I see signs of a riddleâ€”a math problem implied by the arrangement of alien change, the pile bisected by an uncapped pen with a rubber grip, facing southeast. What does it mean?
I tried first to decipher the riddle without disturbing the hoard, my eyes passing over familiar eagles and presidential profiles, but hidden within the pile were hints of other, stranger coins. Of numismatic relics hidden beneath common nickels and plain pennies. I found quarter-dollars from far-off lands, etched with images of water-filled calderas, and as I dug through the pile I found weird pence and oblong electrum pieces from the fringe colonies of distant dead empires. Here there’s a pair of staters laying face to face, their lions kissing. There, a trio of tiny ducatsÂ depicting squid-kings in profile on the obverse and, on the reverse, a Romanesque memorial of spiraling columns and swirling waters, dedicated to some half-forgotten city-state.
At the center of the pile, flat metal cruxes: a pair ofÂ exonumia slabs worn smooth by decades of fingers and passage through futuristic machines. Each sports the a female profile and a conical schematic of folded space. Each is rough and ragged, perhaps fallen through the floor slats at some tollbooth on the edge of an artificial wormholeâ€”their dates read “2910â€“3195″ and they’re marked with a motto rendered in some pidgin leet-speak alphabet I can’t wholly decipher. I see “QUO FATA FERVNT” and “WE R S4TVRN – FTW” along with a ring of numbers and glyphs with dots and slashes that suggest some kind of IP-address argot. When I hold these slabs near my laptop, the screen warbles.
Perhaps this pile of coins doesn’t mean anything. Or maybe this is some kind of weird challenge to me, to my imagination. Or perhaps Jeff has just been so steeped in the weird for so long that the very shadow of his presence transforms an ordinary pile of loose change into uncanny inspiration.
I’ll be here writing about writing and Shared Worlds all week.