From the author's introduction:
“Not all those who wander are lost...”
—J. R. R. Tolkien,
“The Riddle of Strider,”
from The Fellowship of the Ring.
"I’ve always like wandering. In context, the quote above refers to the character Aragorn,
in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, as he wanders but knows his mission. In my wandering, I often had no mission, but never felt lost.
...Wandering can be not only literal, but intellectual and emotional, as well. Together these wanderings can be an interesting mix, unique to each person."
This collection by fantasy and science-fiction writer William F. Wu includes triple-award finalist “Wong’s Lost and Found Emporium,” which was adapted into a Twilight Zone episode in 1985, and eight more stories of magical individuals, places, and moments.
Excerpt from "Wong's Lost and Found Emporium":
“What’s wrong with you?” she demanded. “I want to know! Why are you so callous?” She snatched up the metal container from the floor in front of me and held it wrapped in her shawl. “Tell me now!” she screamed, right in front of me.
I leaned forward and spoke, glaring into her eyes. “I came in here looking for my compassion. I lost it years ago, bit by bit. I lost it when I was eight, and other kids chased me around the playground for no visible reason—and they weren’t playing. When I started junior high and got beat up in gym class because the rest of the school was white, like my grade school. When I ran for student congress and had my posters covered with swastikas and KKK symbols. And that was before I got out into the world on my own. You want to hear about my adult life?”
I paused to catch my breath. She backed away from me.
“I’ve lost more of my compassion every year of my life for every year I can remember, until I don’t have any more. Well, it’s here, but I can’t find it.”
She stood speechless in front of me. Letting her have it all at once accomplished that much, at least.
“Maybe you were in the wrong town,” she muttered.
“You think I like being like this? Hating the memories of my life and not caring what happens to anybody? I said I’ve lost my compassion, not my conscience.”
She walked back and put the metal bottle back in its place on the shelf. “I can find it,” she said quietly.
“I’ve been watching you. When you get something for someone, you follow the little white light that appears.”
“You can see that?
“Of course I can—anybody can. You think you’re special? We just can’t see our own. I figured that out.”
“Well…so did I,” I said lamely.
“So, I could get your compassion for you.”
“Yeah?” I didn’t think she would, considering all she’d said.“Only you have to get what I want, first.”
“You don’t trust me, remember?” She smiled smugly. It looked grotesque, as though she hadn’t smiled in ages. “I can trust you. Because you know that if you don’t give me what I want, I won’t give you your compassion. Besides, if all goes well, your lack of compassion won’t make any difference.”
“Well, yeah. I guess so.” I hadn’t considered a deal with another customer before. Until now, I had just been waiting for the no-show proprietor, and then had given up even on that.
“Well?” she demanded, still with that weird forced smile.
“Uh—yeah, okay.” It was my last chance. I glanced around and found her spot of white light behind me on a lower shelf.
“This way.” She walked next to me, watching me carefully as the white light led us down the crowded aisle. A large porcelain vase emitted guttural mutterings on an upper shelf as we passed. Two small lizards from the Florida corridor and something resembling a T-bone steak with legs were drinking at a pool of shiny liquid in the middle of the floor. The viscous liquid was oozing slowly out of a cracked green bottle.
We stepped over it and kept going.The light finally stopped on the cork of a long-necked blue bottle at the back of a bottom shelf. I stopped and looked down at it, wondering if this deal had an angle I hadn’t figured.
(End of excerpt)