A MAP OF UNKNOWN PLACES • by Don Raymond

The crazy woman was out in the street again last night, ranting and demanding cigarettes.

“They took my stuff! Why do they have to come into your house and take your stuff?!?”

It was the warm muggy days at the tail end of summer, and sleep was impossible without the breeze that also carried her voice into my defenseless ears.

“Coming over here, my house, no reason for it.”

There was a pause. Then she bellowed “Albany, New York!”

Well, that was different.

“Nobody listens anyhow, even — Austin, Texas!”

A moment of blessed silence dripped by, before “Santa Fe, New Mexico!”

I listened as she ticked them off:

“Salem, Oregon!”

“Lincoln, Nebraska!”

I waited for her to make a mistake. It was one of the drawbacks of being a teacher; you tended to take your job home with you. She worked her way through all fifty, then moved further afield:

“London, England! I told them, leave me alone!”

A window closed somewhere, and an air conditioner went on.

“Cairo, Egypt!”

Finally I abandoned sleep and went outside to smoke a cigarette.

Her voice took on a veneer of sanity.

“Excuse me, can I bum a cigarette?”

“No,” I said, flicking a match and breathing deep.

“ — you” she said, and I’ll not repeat it in polite company.

She wandered further down the block.

“Lima, Peru!”

Eventually she exhausted my knowledge with “Kinshasa, Zaire!”

I followed her down the block, and she turned to me.

“Can I buy one off you?”

“No,” tossing the butt into the street. Then, “What are you doing?”

“They took my stuff!”

“Who?”

“Geography.” She hiccupped. “Beijing, People’s Republic of China!”

I should have known better.

“Geography took your stuff?”

“It’s in my head! Sri Jayawardenapura Kotte, Sri Lanka!”

“That’s a good one. Got the accent just right.”

“Please, just one cigarette.”

I was curious enough to keep playing. “Sure.”

She lit and inhaled with ravenous drags. It was a quarter gone before she spoke, in a calmer voice. “Thanks. Smoking helps keep them away.”

“What, the voices?”

“Don’t look at me like I’m stupid,” she said between puffs. “The capitals. They’re all in here.” She tapped her head. “And they want to come out.” She finished her cigarette and ground it under her heel. “Nothing but maps, now. I didn’t even know these places. Which ones were true. Where I was. But they told me.” She coughed as she laughed. “Oh God, they told me. Almost through now…”

Her eyes widened. “Oh no. No, no. It’s starting again!”

Her mouth twisted with hate. “Why can’t they leave me alo – Los Angeles, California!”

“Hey,” I said. “You got that one wrong.”

She turned to look at me, and her eyes were a stranger’s. “No I didn’t.”

Despite the heat, I suddenly felt cold. I turned and began walking home; she trailed along behind me, begging for another cigarette. I ran inside, slammed the door and rushed into my office.

I opened the atlas, turned to California, and slid my finger along the coastline, until I found a star over the City of Angels. “No, no, no…” I muttered, my hands shaking. “It’s Sacramento. It’s always been Sacramento.” I pulled out a map from the bookcase. Triple-A, at least, agreed with me. I looked at the atlas again, and the star was back in the Central Valley, on the edge of the delta. Maybe I had just misread it…

I heard her outside: “Miami, Florida!”

I ran back outside, shouting, “No, you’re wrong! It’s Tallahasee — ” but she was nowhere to be found. A murmur filled my head, a sussurating whisper like dried leaves. Names, names, names… some were right; others…

“It’s Tallahasee,” I said to no one. “Tallahasee, Florida!”


Don Raymond lives in the tiny hamlet of Alturas, CA, where he works as an accountant at the local casino, which is not a career path his counselors had ever mentioned to him. He spends his free time mediating the Machiavellian feline politics of his household. You can read more of his work at Bourbon Penn, The Molotov Cocktail, and Architrave Press. He also once didn’t make a left turn at Albuquerque.


This story is sponsored by
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Rate this story:
 average 5 stars • 1 reader(s) rated this

Every Day Fiction

  • MaryAlice Meli

    If there is such a genre as whimsical horror, this is it! I found your story delightful. Loved your bio as well.

  • Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates!

    Now that was a creepy story. Nicely done, don.

  • Trollopian

    Liked the story, but loved the bio!

  • Why did I like this? Did I like the MC? What happened? Is this a zombie brain sucking type thing? Does smoking cause dementia?

    So confused, but like it I did. And the bio.

  • Zaire? That’s out of date.

    By the way, Amanda, there is some clinical evidence that smoking tobacco actually reduces the risk of getting Alzheimer’s Disease (which raises the possibility that smoking might help other forms of dementia, too). Before some smartarse suggests that that’s because smoking makes people more likely to die before getting Alzheimer’s Disease, no, the studies allowed for that statistical artefact, and the effect is still there. It could still be that having a hidden risk factor for Alzheimer’s Disease also makes people less likely to smoke, with the direction of causation running the other way (I gather that other studies would be needed to adjust for that), and it is still unlikely that this particular plus offsets the minuses of smoking in most cases – but the plus does appear to be there, according to current evidence.

  • Chris

    This is unbelievably funny and sad. The progression (arc?) of his transformation from annoyed to frustrated to curious, to denial, and then to anger and defensiveness — all about him. Funny because I wouldn’t have known where to challenge her facts–much sooner than he did. I really liked this. And the bio, to, but mainly the story and within that the characters. I think they live down the street from most of us–unless we happen to live in a palace. Didn’t like the title, but no trouble with the 5 star thing.

  • Chris, the title is Borges-ish. People may recall the discussion a while back on a deliberately Borges-ish story on this site.

  • This is fantastic. Five stars. And it does remind me of Borges, as #7 says-which would boost it up to 10 stars if I could give it 10.

  • Carl

    This one will stick in my head for some time to come.

  • Very nice; and the bio is epic 🙂

  • JenM

    This is just fun and funny! It doesn’t matter if it maes sense, I just dug it. I love the idea that the MC was sort of infected by this a the end. Five stars!

  • Roberta SchulbergGoro

    It took me some time to understand the story, or, at least to believe I understand it. Will the MC ever come to understand that the third grade catechisms of the lonely “insane” aren’t any different from the catechisms of wealthy cigarette purchasers?

  • Tina Wayland

    Interesting. I have my grandmother’s old globe at home, and we sometimes spin it around to find all the names and shapes of places that have changed. And so many have changed in just the last 50 years.

    I’m not sure if the capital lady sees the past, the future or both–but there’s a lovely sanity to her trying to keep everything straight. The main narrator is a bit of a prick who’s been infected with whatever it is that lady has. As it should be. 😉

    There were bits at the beginning that felt a little long and over described, but then the story really found its footing. Lovely.

  • Mariev Finnegan

    Can I give 5, P.M. Lawrence a 5 star rating?

  • JM

    I like this story a lot. The dialogue was realistic, and I’ll bet the writer knows what it’s like to be a smoker (or former smoker). Well done.

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  • Love this.