Short Story: “The Wonderer”

A humourous short story published in Fathom: Dalhousie’s Journal of Creative Writing.



Edited  by Kathryn Wooler, April 2012.



There was something that Max was wondering. He had been wondering it for a long time, and it didn’t look like he would stop wondering about it any time soon.
It was a problem of sorts, or maybe just a concern. Sometimes it was just a thought or a notion. He mused about it constantly, wrote about it often, and occasionally even muttered about it.

Max thoroughly enjoyed all problems, concerns, thoughts or notions. And he didn’t mind wondering about them. It did frustrate him a bit that he wasn’t sure exactly what he was wondering about, though. He decided to wonder about it some more. Even if it didn’t immediately help, it was the process that counted.

He lived alone in a small room above his village’s small church. Here he had a small desk and a small bed with a small lamp. He also had a small window, which allowed him to look out over the villagers as they worked, and wonder about them, too.

Max had always wondered of course. Since before he could remember he had wondered about even the simplest of things. He had formed his first thoughts on the meaning of life in his early childhood. He wasn’t even entirely sure what those thoughts were. So he’d wondered about it a bit more. And he’d wondered about other things, and wondered about wondering about those things.

Most small hamlets at that time, even the very small ones, had a Wonderer. The Wonderer would advise his village on matters of thought and intellect, morality and ethics, with knowledge gleaned through a combination of personal meditation and conferences. It was fairly easy to become a Wonderer—the only true requirement was to wonder about things frequently.

It was Max’s job in town. It wasn’t an overly glamourous job (at least, Max didn’t think so—he’d wondered for awhile if he should think so, then wondered if he should be wondering about this at all, then wondered about whether he should stop or not. This had eventually proven untenable and he’d been forced to start all over again. Something had definitely gone wrong somewhere along the line). Max, however, quite liked his job, even if the townspeople were probably a little bitter that he could get away with sitting in a room all day writing. But Max liked it that way, if only because he got to wonder about everything all the time.

But now he was beginning to get worried. This was a frequent side-effect of wondering about so many different things. What was the point of someone who wrote things down, especially if these things were not generally useful writings but rather musings on increasingly abstract topics? What, he wondered, would happen if there were two people who the townspeople listened to? A second Wonderer, even? What would the townsfolk do? How could they rely on two different fonts of advice and learning? What if he was wrong?

This latest bout of worrying had been initiated by John. John was not a man who Max liked very much, and he was often given to wonder about this, too. Max had concluded (insofar as he ever concluded anything) that he disliked John because John lacked any sort of intellectual dignity whatsoever. John was also a rather finely cut figure and Max wondered if this might also be something that was making him worry.

But more than that, John was an explorer and Max had quite enough to worry about in his own hamlet without having to worry about other hamlets, too.

John had recently discovered another town. He did this from time to time. Sometimes he would be chased away by barbarians. Sometimes he would be welcomed into their society and in these cases, he would not return for several years. Sometimes he would bring fabulous goods he had traded for, all of which caused Max to wonder even more, and many of which caused him some degree of worry as well.

This time, John had returned with a Proclamation.

Proclamations were dangerous and tricky things, and really, only a fully qualified Wonderer should be making them. John had no right to be bringing home unsupervised Proclamations from unapproved and foreign Wonderers. It was extremely dangerous. If the townspeople believed the wrong thing, even by accident, then any number of silly catastrophes could occur. A certain level of precaution was needed. A discerning mind as well. John had neither.

When Max had mentioned this concern to John (which he only did after suitable wondering and worrying), John had reassured him—in his exuberant, jolly, backcountry hiker sort of way—that, “everything was taken care of,” and this other, self-proclaimed, uncertified Wonderer was “a real good guy.”

This worried Max. There was another Wonderer. This other Wonderer had made a Proclamation. Max wondered about this for a while. Nothing much seemed to come from it. A review of his diary would clarify things, surely.

He read his recent thoughts with some confusion, a degree of worry, and some further wonder. How had he done this? He did not follow his own logic. Oh dear.

He read it aloud, but this didn’t help. He summoned his apprentice, Phil, and read it to him. This proved helpful.

Phil said that, upon reflection (this was a new technique which Max was not at all comfortable with) it was quite clear that Max was worrying about John. Max pointed out that, as far as he could confirm, this was true. Phil said that Max must identify the source of his frustration, which, in Phil’s view, seemed to be this new town and its new, unheralded, unapproved Wonderer.

Phil said that “with patience, logic, and cunning, a problem—such as a renegade Wonderer—could be solved with “affirmative and generally proactive action.” These were the fruits of Phil’s labour, and Max was exceedingly grateful for them.

Max then meditated on his new knowledge and did what he knew he was good at: he wondered about it. He wondered—what action should he take? What action would ensure his village’s safety against new and unfounded ideas? He must be swift. He must be decisive.

In that quiet, secluded study where he worked, Max had a realization which Phil, when later transcribing the whole event, called an epiphany. Max later wondered if it was all a bit much from Phil, but he was young—exuberance was to be expected. And besides, Max had better things to be doing. He had decided.

It was rare, in that day at least, for a Wonderer to decide anything concrete. Even the most successful Wonderers could often only make two or three decisions in a lifetime. Max had heard of the new “Philosophers” who could apparently make up to six decisions in a lifetime, but Max viewed this as extremely risky and wanted no part in it. , Max’s decision was a source of great pride, both for him and his villagers, who were probably happy he’d finally done something significant.

This called for a Proclamation,

Max made his Proclamation to great acclaim, especially from Phil, who had publicized the whole event locally. Max climbed to the top of a nearby hill, where he could see the houses scattered around him. He raised his arms. Phil had told him to do this for effect. Phil was very “up” on the latest techniques.

Phil had also outlined and written most of Max’s Proclamation, commenting that if Max wrote anything like the way he did in his diary, people would have time to go and harvest the crops before Max had finished. Max was a little unsure and did wonder briefly about it, but then checked himself and reminded himself that he had a Proclamation to make. He would have liked his big moment to be nice and traditional, a real ceremony, but Max was also aware that times were changing. Long Proclamations were now considered boring.

That afternoon, people gathered and listened to Max’s Proclamation. They revered it. They embraced it. They cheered wildly, and then they took up arms and charged off to John’s new village to perpetrate horrible slaughter upon it, its new Wonderer, and all the subversive ideas that festered there. Max was glad that everybody could be safe and happy now. Everything would settle down again, and he could go back to wondering in his nice quiet room his in nice quiet hamlet about things like freedom, enlightenment and justice.

Max then devoted the rest of his life to wondering about his Proclamation. There was much speculation among Phil’s acquaintances that Max might reach a conclusion on its merit—that would have provided a rather nice closure to the whole affair.

Phil eventually became a fully-fledged Wonderer of his own, going out into the wide world to disseminate his important thoughts to many devoted followers. He later published a manuscript on his early wonderings, detailing his apprenticeship under Max as a “highly productive networking experience.”

Max, for his part, continued to wonder, now mercifully unimpeded by any distractions. He continued to wonder about the things he wondered about, and wonder about why he wasn’t exactly sure what they were. He knew there was more there, he’d just have to wonder about it long enough. Maybe a little worry would help if things got bogged down.

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