Short Story Review: “Caligo Lane” by Ellen Klages

5 of 5 stars.

This beautiful, melancholic tale reflects the slow, deliberate precision of rendering three dimensions into two with map making, and two into three with origami. Both equate to a magical transformation as San Francisco itself morphs from its hilly contours to a dimensionless void as the fog envelops all.

[San Francisco’s] weather transforms its geography, a fog that erases landmarks, cloaking and enclosing as the rest of the world disappears.

That may be an illusion; most magic is. Maps of the city are replete with misdirection. Streets drawn as straight lines may in fact be stairs or a crumbling brick path, or they may dead end for a block or two, then reappear under another name.

Caligo Lane is one such street, most often reached by an accident that cannot be repeated.

This quiet, exacting tale follows Franny, “a cartographer by trade, a geometer of irregular surfaces.” Within her hilltop house on Caligo Lane, she tracks the fronts of World War II as they ebb and flow across her map of Europe. After receiving a very precise set of coordinates, Franny painstakingly researches topographies and makes calculations until she’s able to create a scale map of here to there, a site near the small village of Oswiecim. Then, she precisely pinpoints her location and that of the coordinates upon it. The second phase of her particular brand of magic involves discovering the precise origami needed to bring these two pinpoints together:

The secret of ori-kami is that a single sheet of paper can be folded in a nearly infinite variety of patterns, each resulting in a different transformation of available space. Given any to points, it is possible to fold a line that connects them. A map is a menu of possible paths.

Then Franny waits for the fog to roll in. She allows her pinholed map to saturate with sea fog obliterating the dimensions. When the map dries, she creates origami of the map noting that “the action of a fold can never be unmade. It fractures the fibers of the paper, leaving a scar the paper cannot forget, a line traversing three dimensions.” A portal is made … an outlet, an escape …

The storytelling is both amazing and moving–I cannot recommend it enough to do it justice.

This tale appears in Street Magicks edited by Paula Guran. I received this new anthology from Netgalley. The short story was originally published in Subterranean Press Magazine [Winter 2014].
 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]

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