Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Breaking The Day

Today started out bad. Most days do. The pain crept from waking aches like fingertips brushing skin to screaming orgies of hot pokers in my bones before eight. I acted as I had to, and the target this time was young. It almost never is, but he had this smile like the world contained no pain at all and I lashed out without thinking en route to work. The world has many tricks in it, most of them sour and ugly: mine is like that. I’ve a friend who believes in magic, but I don’t think magic can fix anything. Not properly. It’s never there when you need it for real pain, for cancer, for what happens when a heart sours and rots or when age creeps into your body like an unwanted guest that will not go.

On the really bad days, I think Death is a rapist that takes us a little at a time for daring to grow old, for all the medicines and marvels of our technology are an affront and Death gets revenge in the slow decay of entropy. The body? The Mind? Both? Death does not care how it happens, only that his revenge is wreaked on the world. Today I ached with too many pains.

And so there was the boy. I have no idea how he got in front of me. I don’t move fast, because of pain and age, but I could have sworn I never saw him on the sidewalk. He was just there like a mirage. His face was full of baffled hurt and he was eleven – I didn’t even question how I knew that, not even why – as he stared up into my face.

“Excuse me? You threw your pain into me without even asking,” he snapped, as if asking made all the difference in the world. As if someone would accept arthritic agony if you asked them to. He didn’t look hurt, but I figured it was because he was young. Or I’d missed and thrown the pain into someone else. Not that I cared. I used to think the worst part about pain was that it took away the capacity to care, but that’s the kind of stupid thought poets have.

I stepped back, even so. There was something solid about the boy. As if he was somehow more real than I was, which made no sense at all. I turned, and a woman was standing behind me. I hadn’t heard her, and the boy greeted her as, “Charlie,” with a grin you could hear in his voice. Her eyes reminded me of childhood nights I’d rather never know again.

“You’re dealing with anyone over this, you deal with Jay,” she said softly. “He’ll be far nicer than I,” and she sipped coffee, the action so ordinary that on other days it would have made all this seem normal.

I turned back slowly to the boy. I could have shouted, Screamed. Got help and forced them away. Maybe. But there was something determined in the boy’s gaze, some hurt that demanded an answer. “It is what I do. I have rent. Bills. I cannot be unable to function, so I have learned to throw my pain onto others,” I said, and it sounded utterly silly even as it remained true.

“Ooooh. I didn’t know a pain kinetic existed at all,” and the kid sounded happy about that. “But I also don’t think it’s a good thing and hurting strangers is all kinds of wrong-face you know.”

“What?” I asked.

“He means not being jaysome,” the woman named Charlie said behind me.

“I have no idea what that is.”

The boy blinked. For a second he looked so shocked I thought he’d finally registered the pain I’d put into him. “That’s really wrong too you know,” he said, and there was nothing save certainty in his voice that somehow I did know that. “Being jaysome is pretty importantable and forgetting it and doing mean things isn’t good at all,” and then he grinned.

The grin earlier had been at a distance. This was close, directed and I swear to God it felt like a weapon. I almost staggered under everything it was, and everything it told me about the boy. “But I hurt you,” I croaked out.

“Uh-huh. but I am tough like a Jay and even if I wasn’t you didn’t want to hurt me,” he said with the same appalling certainty that no one would ever really want to hurt him at all.

“This is what I am. What I have to be. What I learned to be in order to survive. I can’t afford to be broken by pain, so I learned how to – move it. Push it into others. A kinetics of pain.”

“And you never tried to take pain out of people?” the kid asks, as though that should have been my first – my only – concern.

“No.”

“Oh.” And this word is said in a different tone. “Charlie?” he asks.

“Your call,” the woman behind me says. “I’ll vouch for the exception.”

“Okay. I’ve decided to be jaysome about this,” the kid says, as though I should have any clue what that means just because he says it again. “Because I’m Jay, and I think Honcho would be nice if he could so –.” And I feel it, feel the pain leap out of me and into him. Movement. Kinetics. Force. The kid takes it into him without looking the least bit hurt at all and my fear is turning into other things. “There. But for the pain to stay out of you, you have to take on the pain of other people.”

“What?” I manage.

“It doesn’t have to be physical of course, but there is balance. Payment,” he adds firmly.

I stare at him. “And if I don’t?”

“Then the pain comes back and all the painkinesis in the world won’t get it out of you,” he says simply, as certain of that as he is of everything else.

I shudder slightly. I nod. He grins, and wraps his arms about me in a hug and then bounces behind me to the woman and heads off down the sidewalk, boasting about how he did a helping and her replying that she knows because she was there as well. It only pauses him for a moment. Whatever he is, I don’t think much slows him down. I keep walking. After a good five minutes my phone rings, and my daughter is sobbing about the new horrible thing her husband has done.

I almost point out she knew what she was getting into when she married him, but there is a twinge of pain in a finger. I ask questions, I listen, and the pain goes away. Both mine and hers. And it feels far better than I want to admit. 

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Finding the Shadow

Being a shadow isn’t as easy as people think, not if you hide in other shadows. Most people don’t even know that shadows can cast shadows of their own, but there are many things people don’t know and are often far safer for it. Part of being a magician is that one does not get the luxury of hiding, and another part is being aware in ways that other people never are. Once, a psychic informed me she could See the true shape of the cosmos if she dared. But psychics place too much on sight, and there are so many other senses that give information as well.

The world is full of secret and strange things. Sometimes terrible, sometimes wonderful. The instincts people have keep them alive far more often than they know. Which, again, is something denied to magicians. We go where people have the sense to never tread. It’s one reason there are few magicians, among all the others. It is why I am sitting up in bed in a cheap motel room with a piece of wood in one hand, string hanging from it, and fishing in my own shadow.

Because there is something in it that doesn’t belong there. And even knowing what and who it is, it takes almost three hours to get a yank and pull Jay out and back into the world. He thumps onto the bed, bounces a few times. Bounces a couple more because Jay is eleven and loves to bounce on beds. Never mind that until he hit the bed, the springs were shot and now aren’t. Jay is very good at bindings, and from far and far Outside the universe.

“Honcho!” He moves in a blur, wrapping arms about me in a huge hug.

I grin despite myself and return it, gently pushing them away. Jay grins in turn, and the power of his grin melts some of my annoyance away despite my every effort to retain it. “Jay. You mind explaining what you were doing in my shadow?”

“Oh! I was hiding from Charlie,” he explains.

Given that Charlie is is a god-eater, in her late teens and more importantly is Charlie, that much makes sense. I’m better at dealing with the weird of Jay than she is; Charlie is far better at helping him with normal human questions and concerns. I still have no idea what a feverfewm is even after Jay explains he grabbed some pancakes from them and left behind tea and then got really lost but in a good way because it was an adventure.

I find a gap between words, cough. Even Jay grinds to a halt at the meaning a magician can put into a cough. “And why were you hiding?” I press.

“Uhm!” Jay looks away. Looks back. “I maybe kind of tried to train Charlie,” he explains, “Because in movies you can train dragons and people train pets all the time,” he says, “and Charlie isn’t a pet at all but but but I figured she would be easier to train than a dragon.”

“Training her to do what?”

“Well, I have pokemon on my phone and I am a good pokemon traininer so I was going to train her to be a pokemon,” he says as if that made all the sense in the world. “But she got out of the pokeball and said some really rudey words Honcho, so I hid. And I hit really good,” he adds proudly.

“You got lost inside my shadow and couldn’t find a way out.” I point out dryly.

“It had to be a really good hiding or Charlie would find me,” he says. “And the god inside Charlie could find me if I hid in Charlie’s shadow but yours is really big and –.” Jay pauses. He doesn’t add another word, but slams into me with another hug as tight as he can give it.

“I know what’s in my shadow, Jay,” I say softly as he lets go.

He sniffs and just nods. There are shadow-creatures I once trapped in my shadow and, I realize now, forgot to let out. And given the things I have done, and the kind of person I have had to be over the years, there is far more as well. But none of it even dents Jay’s trust in me because he grins again a moment later. “I managed to train some of them though, but I stopped it because it wasn’t my shadow and it would be pretty rude-face to do.”

I blink. I never sensed that use of energy at all. I hope my face is as empty as I wish it is. “Ah. Well, thank you for realizing that at least. Charlie is in the small restaurant and I think you owe her an apology. Probably even two.”

“Oh!” Jay nods to that and gets off the bed, slouches to the door. “Wait, can I give just one is Charlie is mean to me?”

“No.”

He nods, and walks out the door at a normal pace. I don’t follow. I just listen, the door open, and am just relieved there are no screams or sounds of breaking plates a few minutes later. I eye my own shadow thoughtfully, but I don’t dare leave Jay on his own trying to apologize. Charlie often forgets Jay doesn’t get sarcasm and can be so very literal at times. I find clothing and throw it on since she hasn’t tried to kill him yet, the door of the room closing behind me without my needing to touch it.

Normally my magic does things like that; this time it was my shadow acting on its own. I sigh, knowing I have to set time aside later to deal with that but for now I just head to the dining room and hope Jay’s apology hasn’t broken too many laws of physics so far. Or other ones as well.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Potato Journeys

The garden contains a vast beanstalk that reaches up into the sky. It is every colour you have seen only in dreams, and some you have never seen at all. There are shades of green that jealously would wish it could turn when it is envious of itself. The beanstalk is not what is special about the garden. Indeed, it can only be seen sometimes if one stands in the right angle, or looks at it at precisely the right time. It does not hide, but you know it is not for you. It has stairs, unlike the one in stories, and perhaps they would even be an escalator if one was to ask.

The beanstalk is alive. It listens. It waits. There are giants at the top of it. They are human. They are also giants, the human magnified to some perfect ideal of friendship. The giants are not real, not even like the beanstalk is, but anyone seeing them would wish that they were. Even those whose images they wear balk at these versions of themselves. It is a hard thing to be a god; it is harder to be something far more than any god could ever be.

But the true wonder if the garden lies is how ordinary it is, given who found t, and how it was made. It is, aside from a beanstalk, a very ordinary garden until one digs deep into the roots of the stalk. There is a cornucopia of worms and insects around the large potato that exists as the base and root of the beanstalk. It has slightly more muted colours, because it has been in the dark. The potato does not snore, but it wishes so hard that it could.

Opened, there is a boy inside it. Not every potato contains a boy inside them, as not every cabbage patch contains a kid. The boy is eleven, and this is known as if it was simply a universal constant. And he smiles the way another might grin, and the smile is kin to the giants at the top of the beanstalk, and it is made of joy and innocence and a friendship deeper than the sea between the stars.

There is a woman. She has dug the boy free from the earth with the same shovel she used to plant him. “I am sorry,” she says, and there are a thousand meanings behind her words.

The boy hears the ones that matter, and looks baffled. “But Charlie,” he says, and he is earnest and brave and true in the ways a jaysome boy can be, “I have a really nify rest and some really great adventures!”

“I buried you because I needed a break,” she says, trying to make her own truth known. It is a hard speaking, even if she knows the boy must know what she means.

“Breaks are always good,” he says with a huge grin. “I take breaks from adventures when I’m sleeping and we had different adventures plus! I made lots of new friends,” and there are worms flowing happily over his feet.

“Ah.” The woman says the word in a far different tone. “They are not coming inside, Jay.”

“But they’re really tickly and comfy,” the boy says with a huge sigh after. All children feel that they are misunderstood. Jay knows that he is understood far too well.

“I imagine so,” the woman says, laughing. “But the owners of the house might not approve?”

“Oh! Okay, then,” the boy says, and crouches down and says farewell in the way only children can say it and it not mean forever. The beanstalk fades too. It does not vanish, but it moves itself somewhere else, perhaps seeking a story all its own, or if only in sheer embarrassment as having been grown up from a potato when that shouldn’t be possible at all.

The woman ruffles the boy’s hair and Jay grins at Charlie and says they will have to have even more adventures to make up for him being in the earth because! they probably had a famine of adventures without them, flinging the words in happy certainty.

The woman agrees, and the boy almost trips over his own feet as he follows her inside.

The first adventure is when she tickles him mercilessly for over five minutes.

The next one involves tea.

And there are so many more others that this tale cannot fit their telling.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

The Hunted Hunter

There were laws. Accords. Pacts and promises, but the old Accords were nothing in small towns in the middle of nowhere where there were none to enforce them. Places barely on maps where no one could be missed. Source of food. Half the town is gone, in hunger I have denied myself for centuries. Their fear is the nectar that sweetens all things. I was feared once, long before I fell into the smallness called a universe. In places far Outside my name is still spoken in terms of fear and dread.

We fall so far when we do not notice we are falling.

There is interference, of course. One human has a Talent, enough to sense me. Not near enough to be a threat. That one dies first, and others they know as well. One meal, another. I eat slowly, savouring questions and terrors in equal measure. Every message they try and send out, I intercept. Every person who tries to leave, I devour. They learn not to leave, though it takes them time. Humans are such small things.

The magician that comes into the town is an unpleasant shock. I have made baffles and barriers and he wanders in as though they did not exist at all. There is a god-eater with him and a human boy. I decide they will feed me with energy enough to break even a magician. Magicians are, in the end, only human.

But the boy unmakes the hunger when I reach for the woman. Turns and sees me, through the disguise I’ve used for centuries. “Excuse me, but we’re drinking tea,” he says, as though that somehow was of deep importance. “And you’re trying to hurt us and Honcho and that’s really rude you know!”

“You have killed almost a hundred people.” I have no idea how the magician comes up behind me without my noticing, how he escaped my senses at all. He carries the dead in ways magicians do not – no magician deals with ghosts, with desires they can never answer. But this one – he studies me, and smiles, and all at once I understand the stories that have reached me even in the centre of my Power.

“You are the wandering magician.”

“And friends,” the boy adds firmly.

“I am,” he says. “You have rooted yourself deeply into this place,” and he says my true name, which I had almost half-forgot. “I can force you out, but it would damage the skin of the world in this area for a long time. I could destroy you with the dead I have gathered, but it would be revenge and cause the same wounds in the Grey Lands. Flee back Outside and never return.”

I would laugh, but there is nothing in his voice save certainty.

I open a Gateway, step far Outside and weave a way back with all the energies I have stolen. I can slip to a different point in time, or even another place entirely, and feast without being noticed at all. That is within my power as Opener of the Ways.

The Gateway crumples. The Way I am is unmade, with such power that I can no longer be certain where I aimed it, or even where the Universe is. I shudder a little. I have been away a long time. Reputation will only carry me so far. I remember why I entered the universe, and what is seeking me.

In time, It finds me. An Unravelling, ancient and mighty. But it asks about the boy I barely recall. His name, abilities, the truth of his strength. I know nothing of such things, and it is almost a relief when the Unravelling turns its power upon me and says it can send me back. At a price. And for a cost.

Energies flow, within and without, and I... reach, fall short of something, feel everything I was dissolving. There are barriers I cannot breach, and that is almost a relief even after all the Unravelling has turned me into.

“He resists me?” the Unravelling screams. I did not know they had speech. I never knew they had hate. All I am is relieved to feel myself being umade and freed of powers far beyond my ken.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Pokemon Phones

“Uhm.”

There are a few sounds that scare me more than an ‘Uhm.’ I turn and look at Jay.

He holds up his cell phone. Smoke is billowing out of it. “I think something went wrong, Charlie?”

“Does it involve you putting alarms in my stomach so I’d never forget supper?”

Jay shakes his head, all of eleven and quite serious. “Not even the potatoes!”

I pause. “Potatoes?”

“Uh-huh. I promised to help someone make their grow really buy but found a Pokemon only I think it’s too many on my phone cuz it’s over 800 now and getting weirdy.”

Jay hands me his phone. He is eleven. He is also from far Outside the universe and can do things even magicians can barely understand. I text the wandering magician with, ‘Phone. Now.’

I set Jay’s phone on the ground, dial the wandering magician and he he somehow uses my phone and his as a bridge, stepping out of the air beside us. “I was on the other side of town, making wards to help hold some homes together.” He eyes Jay’s phone. “Ah.”

“Honcho?” Jay looks worried.

“Not your fault.” The wandering magician sighs, snaps his fingers and – the air ripples. Twitches. Punctures. For a moment there is something I can’t make sense of at all, and then everything is normal.

“My phone?!” Jay’s eyes widen, but he doesn’t move at all. “That was my phone you banished, Honcho!”

“I know. But you can learn a lot of new games –.” he begins, because Jay priorities aren’t human ones.

“You didn’t even ask and it might be scared and confusled and and and –.”

“Jay.” He turns to me. “Your phone was full of Outsiders you captured on it. Including that one, ah, sink that wasn’t a sink. Pokemon Go doesn’t have that many Pokemon in it. You were trying to play that game, but being jaysome you did other things instead and bound a lot of Outsiders until even whatever you made couldn’t take that strain, kiddo.”

“But – but –.”

“But you thought you were playing Pokemon, and we didn’t want to ruin it for you.”

“Oh!” And Jay is an inhuman blur and then hugging both of us in thanks. Because as far as he is concerned, we were doing ‘a helping’ and his trust in us is almost unshakable.

I hug back, and wait until he’s fine before saying: “Pototoes!?”

“Oh, I’m helping some of them get really big and move around so they’re not bored and I saw War of the Worlds and potatoes would be great in Tripods you know!” He beams.

I stare at him. The magician has been a magician for a very long time. He just blinks, once. “Did the other person ask for this?” he asks before I can even find my voice.

“Not yet,” Jay admits, “but lots of people don’t ask for jaysome!”

“Yes. I know. It might be best if you want until they do ask: sometimes people only want normal potatoes, you know.”

“Oh! Okay,” he says, and then asks about lunch happily.

I don’t point out that he didn’t get supper last night because he decided to do a binding that put an alarm inside me to remind me when supper should be – both suppers, since just one wouldn’t be jaysome. Some things you just have to let go of. I tell him we can have it early, and get him a new phone, and all is made right in the world.

Until the next ‘Uhm’ comes along, or more worryingly an ‘Oops.’

Friday, August 26, 2016

Jay Lure

The extraction is successful until it isn’t. Which is not a remark to put in any report, official or not. Roberts has retrieved the item; I have disabled the beacons and am considering promotional possibilities as we exit the operating theatre. Roberts stops dead outside the containment field. Swears.

The human male who stands as if he was waiting for us sighs. “Even for a secret government agency, stealing cell phones from a motel must be a new low. It is not as though you are with the FBI or NSA. You’re not Black Chamber because they don’t deal with such things and the Border Patrol would have used explosives and a lot of guns.” He looks ordinary, but worrying power thrums through his voice. “Talk.”

Roberts has been trained, at least as well as one can train a human. He has shields and protections for his mind, a dozen sigils and items that might protect him from harm. They do nothing at all. “We are from Project Containment,” he says.

“Ah. Of course. Something new. Explain.”

“The Border Patrol’s successes in stopping incursions from Outside the universe have been deemed too costly in terms of both human life and equipment. Project Containment contains Outsiders and releases them against threats, it being our hope that they will exterminate each other in battle.”

The human blinks. “This actually works?”

“Field testing is due to begin any year now.” Even under a compulsion, Roberts manages to sound defensive.

“I’d be amazed if that works at all. However, none of it explains why you’ve broken into a motel to steal the cell phone of an eleven year old boy.”

“According to our scanners, it contains more Outsiders than any other item on the planet by a factor of at least ten. We seek to reverse engineer it to aid us. This is in accordance with the Apple Accords.”

“Well, Jay’s cell phone is at least one generation ahead of the market, but I imagine that isn’t the kind of Apple you mean. Sleep.”

Roberts collapses to the ground as the man – the magician – turns to me. “I don’t see many Greys interacting with human agencies of their own free will?”

“I am part of an outreach program.”

“Hmm. And one that is drastically low on hard data. I suspect that every government agency worth note must have a file on Jay by now even if they don’t believe most of it.”

“You are a magician. This matter concerns your kind as well,” I snap. “Even my people could not make a containment field that can hold this many Outsiders at once: we need to learn more about it.”

He raises an eyebrow; the we is more than just humans, after all, and he catches that. “You could have considered asking. Not that his explanation would have helped. As far as Jay is concerned, he has been playing Pokemon Go on his phone and capturing Pokemon. I haven’t had the heart to break it to him that he hasn’t actually caught a single Pokemon but instead a great deal of Outsiders by mistake.”

“What?” I have been trained to make my telepathic sendings mimic human voices. I fail entirely this time.

The magician grins. “The Outsiders are mostly safe in stasis fields though I believe there is one chronovore that is still utterly confused as to how it could even be trapped in any form of stasis given that its nature is to devour time.”

“Such things are not possible.”

“Oh, ordinarily I would agree. But Jay is from far Outside the universe for all that he is eleven. And he is far more concerned with making friends, having adventures and being jaysome than whether something is remotely possible or not. The phone, please?”

He told as out a hand. I give him the phone. There will be consequences for this. Reprimands. But I think they will be nothing compared to what might happen if Jay were to come looking for his phone.

The magician walks back inside. Roberts wakes, confused. I spin an easy lie as we head back to our vehicle and prepare for transit back to the Project. I am wondering if this is a test. I am wondering if I failed it.

I am wondering if there is any way to succeed at all.

Friday, August 19, 2016

And Vacations (also prompts :))

“But this is a jaycation,” Jay says, “which means we have to do important things, Charlie!”

I close my eyes, count to ten. Someday, I worry this might even help. I open my eyes and stare down at the earnest eleven year old kid who isn’t human at all. “It is not even eight in the morning. You have managed to have three adventures already, kiddo. And, believe me, travelling with you is not some automatic vacation.”

“But it is jaysome since I am,” he retorts with a huge grin.

I like to think I’m a good person. If the wandering magician wasn’t dealing with the fallout of Jay making friends with a virus, I maybe would be a better one this morning. I’ve already had two cups of coffee, so there is nothing I can justify to escape what I say next: “And?”

“Charlie?”

“And you think being jaysome is always good, Jay? That your desire for adventures isn’t dangerous?”

“Well, there are some oopses,” he says. “But an adventure that is boring isn’t one at all!”

“How would you know if you’ve never tried that?” He blinks, gapes in shock. “One day without anything jaysome. Is that too much to ask?”

“But that’s me!”

“It’s a word you made up. That’s not the same as it being you, Jay. You’re Jay even if you aren’t jaysome,” I snap, because some mornings it’s too much. Jaysome this, and jaysome that. I didn’t even know my annoyance had reached something past a pet peeve until now, but I can’t find it in my to stop myself.

Jay’s mouth snaps shut. “But ... it ...”

“Not that word. Not today.”

“But a Jay who isn’t jaysome isn’t a good Jay at all!”

“The wandering magician is trying to stop an outbreak of the plague because you decided to make friends with a virus, let it inside you, and then let it go again because it ‘asked nicely’. Plague, Jay. Thousands, maybe millions dead.”

“I’m not stupid, Charlie! I know it was a huge oops and I know it would have been way worse if I wasn’t jaysome,” he yells, and vanishes between moments. Going somewhere, hiding. I have no idea which.

“Jay?”

There is no response at all.

I pour myself a third cup of coffee slowly. I don’t say I’m sorry. I’m not. Sometimes a little Jay goes very far indeed. But something crosses is face, when he said not being jaysome would be worse. There was fear, and maybe something eager as well. I have a very bad feeling that Jay intends to make sure I don’t consider the word jaysome to be a pet peeve ever again.

Which means whatever I just set into motion is liable to make a plague look like a prank. I text the wandering magician two words ‘Defcon jaysome’ And then, after: ‘My fault.’

I can do a lot of things. I can contain energy, police gods, perform exorcisms, and the god inside me can do more if I let it out. None of that is anything next to what Jay can do if he’s serious. I drink coffee, fingers barely trembling.

And I wait.

*

There is a knock on the door of the cabin. I’m on coffee number four, trying to pretend it doesn’t taste bitter on the tongue. The knock is once, soft and firm. Not Jay then. Jay bounces through doors or knocks on them a dozen times because ‘doors love knocks’.

The man standing on the other side is taller than I, and twenty one. I’ve never opened a door and just known someone’s age before. He is human, but – not ordinary. I step back without quite knowing why.

He smiles. The smile is small, sad, matching his eyes. But I know that smile. In any form, I would know that smile. It is a punch in my gut this time. “Jay.”

“Charlie.” He says my name in a careful way I’ve never heard from Jay before. There is no wild enthusiasm, no huge grin in the word. Just my name, with iron control over the emotions behind it.

“I intervened in this affair,” he murmurs. “Jay was going to bring himself back from when he is 13, perhaps 14. I am not certain you would have survived the experience.”

I walk back to the kitchen table of the cottage, sit back down. “Survived.”

“He was going to show you a Jay that is not jaysome.”

“Oh.” It takes effort to even manage that word.

He sits down across from me, movements sure and fluid. “There are limits to how far even I can move through time. Things I cannot do lest I break my own past. At eleven, I did not grasp this. He visits his future, makes friends. Helps us rediscover his kind of jaysome. Self-help by way of the Self.” He chuckles, low and amused.

“He has no idea how hard is it to see him. All we remember. All we have lost. What it was like to be so innocent that I could be arrogant. We don’t let him know how much it hurts. Hide the reasons behind certain changes.”

“I didn’t mean to,” I say. I mean too
Many things with those words to keep talking. I want to grab this Jay and hug him, but I know he will not let me. There is a distance here, and it was won at a terrible cost.

“The Jay you know is gargantuan,” he says, but does not speak my name at all. “I am more, yes, but he is larger in what he believes, how he lives, in everything he feels and knows. His emotions are gargantuan, which you know but do not understand. You need only say you forgive him and it will be fine.”

“And you?”

“You would need to believe it. And perhaps that would not even be enough.”

“Oh, Jay.”

He does not move, but what crosses his face is cold and alien. “Care for him, and perhaps – just perhaps – I will be a little less myself some days.”

“That is a hugey burden,” I say.

He lets out a small, soft laugh. “All burdens are. But that is what makes them something more.”

And he is gone between moments. I finish my coffee slowly, trying as hard as I can not to cry. Because that would not be jaysome at all.

Jay Prompt

“Did you know the neighbours are having a barbecue?!”

Charlie looks up from playing a game on her phone, stares at me. “Jay. We are staying in a cabin because the wandering magician asked it to let us in, and it did because the owners aren’t here and it is lonely. The neighbours likely would not understand that, given they probably know the owners. Nor would they invite us to a barbecue.”

“Oh. But I maybe kinda invited myself,” I boast, because I am pretty jaysome at a lot of things.

Charlie blinks. “You invited yourself?”

“Well, I asked the barbecue and it said yes since it will have lots and lots of food on it, and a Jay can eat a lot so I’d be doing a big helping. Also, the barbecue doesn’t like that they’re called Barbies because he thinks he’s more a Ken. Which was a joking!”

“Barbecues make puns. Of course they do.” Charlie puts her phone away and stands. “And you want my help making sure the people invite us, too?”

I nod. “Cuz if I ask, I might use bindings and that would be mean and not a proper asking and I am pretty hungry like a Jay.”

“So, what happens if I say no?”

“Charlie!”

She laughs at that and ruffles my hair as we depart. “For a kid from far Outside the universe, you’re really ease to tease.”

“That’s just because I’m hungry.”

“You had breakfast an hour ago, Jay.”

“But that was only my first one,” I explainify, because Charlie sometimes forgets.

And the neighbours do have a hugey barbecue and Charlie talks to them all charliesome so we get to eat and it’s entirely okay and they’re not cooking a Bigfoot or gods or even people, all of which Charlie suggestified on the way because sometimes we have a lot of adventures even when we don’t mean to. But this one is just eating food, and I am pretty jaysome at that so I impress lots of people and make Ken the barbecue happy and even take extras for Honcho to eat when he comes back from the deep part of the woods.

“We didn’t have to do anything appalling, or stop anything that was even worse.” Charlie glances over at me. “Which, given how you find adventures, is rather astonishing.”

And she says it with this really waiting pause after. “Well, maybe there was one person who kinda wanted to do not-nice things with Ken but I did some bindings and fixed it all up so you didn’t have to.”

Charlie stares at me. “What qualifies as ‘not nice’ to a barbecue, just out of morbid curiosity.”

“A lot of cleaning and painting Ken pink,” I explain, “which I said was weird because pink is a really jaysome colour but sometimes people cook food pink too and Ken gets really sad over that so I can kinda understand it.”

“Ah. Well, we got invited to dinner as well. I think Mr. Chow was rather impressed at how much you ate.”

“Uh-huh. I even didn’t eat too much so they wouldn’t be suspious of us!”

Charlie blinks. “Three chickens in under ten minutes,” she says, but to herself and not to me at all, so maybe she just wishes she’d had more chicken too :D  

Jay Visits

The castle is cold where the dragon’s breath does not warm it. I wait in the tower. Others have been captured by the dragon and tried to escape, their bones and ashes joining those of various knights and knaves who have tried to best the dragon down the centuries. I wait, because a prince of the Realm knows about waiting. It is a cousin to duty and a crown is all about duty and nothing else at all. Not love, not friendship, nor even kindness – all such concepts are cast aside for the good of the kingdom. So I wait to be rescued from the dragon, because if I am, the wealth of the dragon’s horde will allow the kingdom to prosper as never before.

The dragon roars far below, faint warmth seeping up through cracks in ancient stone, the roar cut off oddly. There is silent, and odd roars. Ones without fire to them, though the castle shakes and shudders with quakes all its own. I remain in the bed. The bed is protected by old magics, even by the standards of those who made the palace.

The door opens. No one has reached the door before, but what enters is not a knight at all but a boy of eleven who offers up a grin of such innocence it takes my breath away.

“Hi! I’m Jay and I got told there was a prince in a tower so I’m totally hear to rescue you.”

“You defeated the dragon?”

“Uh-huh. Dragons are really ticklish,” he says with a pride even the king would be hard-pressed to match.

“And you are here to rescue me?”

“Prince Dorran of the Realm, yup. Oh!” He snaps his fingers. “Only if you’re one of those ones who has to be kissed, I’m not good at that part. I haven’t had many dates at all.”

I flush, unable not to. “It is true that I do not sleep with women, but neither do I sleep with boys,” I snarl.

Jay blinks. “Huh? But your bed is really big and two people could sleep in it easily you know.”

“It means to have sex,” I say.

“Nope. Sleeping isn’t the same at all. Even I know that, and I don’t do sex with humans cuz most humans aren’t jaysexual,” he says.

“What – wait, you aren’t human?”

“Nope! I’m a Jay,” and he says that as though it should explain everything.

A child prodigy magician, then, no doubt sent to die and as an insult to the Realm. “Very well. Lead on,” I snap, heading to the door.

Jay bounces out. Actually bounces, and skips down the ancient narrow stone steps. I am beginning to think this child is touched by the gods, and not in a good way at all.

The eldest dragon west of the Great Sea is on top of the hoard, and snoring. Jewels and items of power are scattered everywhere, and Jay ignores every single one of them.

“You have not slain the Great Beast?” I demand.

Jay stops and turns. “Why would I do that? He’s pretty friendly and would be tons happier if no one bugged him and left him alone, you know!”

“Friendly,” I repeat.

“Yup. He only tried to burn me to ashes once.”

I stare at Jay, but there is nothing save honesty in his face. I wonder how powerful his magics are, and then am giving a demonstration as I ask about the Realm and he almost casually makes a hole in the world leading to the royal palace. A hole that ignores every ward and protection the Realm has.

My father the King offers rewards, but Jay it turns out just takes them and gives them away to commoners before leaving as strangely as he came. I, on the other hand, have returned without a hoard or any use at all save to bankrupt one of the royal treasures with the cost of my salvation.

It is less than a month before I decide what I must do, and a few more months of learning to understand how it can be done. I leave the palace, one child of the royal line among many, barely noticed for days. Almost no one recognizes me on the road since I spent years as a prisoner to the dragon. The dragon is in his castle, and studies me with eyes of endless fire.

“I have learned how to tickle a dragon,” I say in the tongue of dragons. “And a spell to protect me from fire. This, also, I know: that a dragon can take the form of a human. I do not wish to presume, but you have been lonely for a long time and I – I have nothing to offer the Realm at all.”

“Jay said you might return,” the dragon rumbles, “if you learned anything of jaysome. I did not believe, even knowing something of what Jay is. This is, at least, an adventure.”

And he smiles.

Saturday, August 06, 2016

Rebeca’s Choice

The house isn’t on a hill. I think that’s it. Part of it. But I don’t know. One by one, everyone just moved away toward the cities. I hear news, though I’m still not sure how it works anymore. But my solitude no longer contains silence, even if no one has been here in at least ten years. The house sits vacant, and nothing else was developed in the valley. The orchard was going to become lots, but everyone moved away. I don’t think it was my fault, but I don’t know. Some things are hazy. Distant, like the memories of a stranger I once was.

Sometimes I don’t recognize myself in mirrors. I’ve learned to cope. I’ve even learned to drown out the sounds of the world, the signals in the air just background noises like the ocean grinding against the shore. Which is why I don’t notice him until he comes inside. The boy is alone with a glowing phone in one hand, wearing shoes meant for hiking. I know of cell phones, though until now I’d never seen one. He cleans off glasses. It is raining outside. I hadn’t noticed.

“H-Hello?” he says, his voice trying to be loud. “Is anyone here? My name is Damien, but everyone calls me Dami. I’m just here to find a haunter?”

I manifest. I don’t normally, but it has been years and he came without the machines and incense and crystals the others came with long ago. And the deepest parts of me like to see them run.

Dami stares at me. I don’t know what I look like to the living. I have had some run screaming. Some weep. A few faint. This boy just looks offended. “You’re a gastly?” he demands.

“Excuse me?”

My voice is the cold wind between places.

Dami pales visibly at it, but stands his ground. “You’re a gastly, aren’t you? Haunters are quite different.”

“Pardon me?”

“I know you’re a Gengar. And a Haunter is better than a Gengar any day. Do I need to level you up?”

“... what?” My voice is strange even to my ears. Even the insane would break and run by now, but there is something within him resisting me.

“Wait, the app update doesn’t mention –.” I have no idea what the boy is talking about, but I see the moment when he flatters, realizing I am real. Humans like to pretend ghosts exist, but they don’t truly like to encounter us and have realize the world they built their lives around isn’t how they understood it to be at all.

“My name is Rebeca.” I think it was that, at least once.

“You’re not a haunter? I really need one for my pokedex.”

“I am the spirit that haunts this place.”

“I know that,” Dami says. “But I really need to find a haunter.” And he turns his phone toward me, showing an image I don’t understand at all. I do hear the phone. Noises coming from it, into it. This is how the world speaks to me though I am here. In energies passing between phones and other places.

I am not sure what to make of this. “I am the only ghost in his valley.”

I am certain of that much. I think there were others, once. But there is only me left.

“Do you play pokemon?” he asks.

“I have no idea what you are talking about.”

Dami grins. He grins at that, in delight. Delight. “Mom and Dad won’t come looking for me for hours. They generally take a long time to anyway,” he says, dusting off one of the couches to sit down on it. “I can teach you how to play it, if you want? You could help me capture a lot of pokemon, Rebeca.”

I have been dead for a long time, and a ghost for perhaps even longer. I draw my nature about me. I can kill, with the cold between places. I can pull a human into the darkness and leave nothing behind. I have done this before. The memory of doing it hovers about me, whispers in voices I almost know.

“Please?” he says. “There aren’t any other pokemon here and teaching someone new will help me remember things too.”

There are shadows in his eyes he doesn’t own. Darkness he somehow sidesteps, and this – this pokemon is the why of it, the how and the means. It is not a power I know or understand, but he stands in the house of hauntings, and I swear I feel smaller. Not in a way that hurts, but still smaller in directions I can feel but not name.

It has been so long since a human came here. So long since my hunger was sated. But he offers his faith as a meal without knowing, and it has no end that I can feel at all.

“Tell me,” I say, and he begins to explain pokemon, and has to explain his phone, and television, and he talks for so long and so fast I am almost wondering if he is going to talk until he keels over and becomes a ghost as well when he gets a message on his phone.

“Oh! I didn’t get a new achievement, but Mom and Dad are looking for me.” He bounces to his feet. “I should find them before they try and take my phone away.”

Not before they get worried. Not before they get scared. He understands his parents even if he does not understand them at all. “They are not good pokemon trainers, then?” I say, using the words he has taught me.

“No. But I think I can be, for you. If you want to learn more?” he asks, suddenly shy.

I am not certain who is more surprised when I say yes.

He leaves, and is not a reflection I carry with my in the mirrors. I walk the house. I float. I try and haunt, in the manner of the haunters in pokemon, but his faith is not the kind to change another. I dust the house, for the first time in many years. I remember everything he has taught me. I think of questions to ask Damien the next time we meet. And I wait.