Saturday, June 02, 2018

Making Safe Havens


You never find salvation where you want it, and certainly not when. We live in a mutable world; we change, we are changed. Salvation is a river we dip into from time to time, if it is anything at all. Nothing stays saved, nothing remained damned. Crude terms for complex interactions. That’s often ow it is. These aren’t safe thoughts, but sometimes safety is as far from safe as one can be. I get myself a beer, sitting at the bar. I don’t come into bars often. I don’t find anything of salvation in them, but places can be a kind of salvation too. The rush of voices is a ward, laughter an easy magic for a magician to draw upon.

And Jay is not here. I gulp back beer, letting it settle into me. Using it to ease into a kind of relaxation. If we have chakras, the point is never to wake them up. They are always awake. The point is to deaden them. To make a river. To let things flow. The anger is tight between my shoulder blades. I drink, let some go. Drink some more.

There had been a creature. Winged, made of shadow more than substance, something so old human magic could barely touch it at all. And I am human, for all else I might be, for every story about the wandering magician that verges into fancy. I am also a little buzzed to be using the word verges even in the silence of my own head. The entity had woke, was hurling across the face of the moon, mad with alien hungers, woken in a world too alien for it to know.

I yelled for Jay to bind it. Because Jay is from far Outside the universe, for all that he is eleven. Because his power dwarfs anything I can do, though he refuses to believe that. Instead he watched it move past, and happily told me he’d just had a misadventure, because missing an adventure is an adventure too. I told him he’d miss two suppers as an adventure instead, and to bind that creature.

And it was bound, in a snow globe in my hand, between moments. Handed over, and then Jay vanished in a sulk. I haven’t seen him for hours, which even for Jay is an impressive sulk. There are bindings between us so deep that even Jay might not understand all of them. He knows how angry I was, for all my calm command. How close I came to saying words I know better than to say at all.

I finish the beer slowly, considering another drink when there is a coaster on the bar in front of me that wasn’t there a moment ago. Knitted, I think.

I look up from my drink even more slowly. Jay is behind the bar, radiating pride. He’s wearing a white shirt, tie, formal pants.

“Do you want another drink?” he asks excitedly. “I have drinks!”

“Jay. Eleven year olds don’t tend bars.”

“But I asked really jaysomely, and the bartender said it was okay!”

At the other end of the bar, the bartender is pouring drinks, looking taken aback at the results and trying to understand why he said yes at all.

Saying no to Jay is dangerous; people understand that instinctively.

“And the drinks?” I ask.

“Oh, it’s all really nummy water. With flavours. And and and I have hot chocolate,” he says proudly, pouring me one and handing it over.

“Water and hot chocolate aren’t normal bar drinks.” I pause. “Please tell me you didn’t make snacks.”

“Nope! I had a whole list of things to do, and I did them but forgot that only I’m giving out hugs, which is like a snack but it’s also a hug!”

“A list of things.”

“I got black shoes and everything. Oooh! And a towel!”

The towel he holds up has teeth, and is trying to eat his hand. Jay doesn’t even notice.

The hot chocolate is excellent. Jay moves in a blur down the bar, chatting to people who are more than a little confused about the state of their beverages. They’re left dazed and confused at the onslaught of his irrepressible joy. One person at the back of the room demands a proper drink, and is quiet as a coaster zips through the air and impacts into the wall beside him.

“Drink coasters don’t normally double as throwing stars,” I remark.

“He was getting all rude-face and about to do meany bindings,” Jay says firmly.

“Ah.” I finish my drink quickly. “You’ll have to throw a lot more soon as people are going to get cross.”

“Really?” Jay bounces from foot to foot. “I’d be like a Jayninja!”

“Yes, but the point of ninja was to be unseen. And unnoticed,” I add as Jay vanishes from sight. “I doubt jaysome can avoid being noticed.”

“Oh.” Jay reappears. “Wow! I doubt jaysome could do that at all.”

“I doubt it could either.” I head toward the door. “Perhaps you can end your shift early?”

The bartender looks so grateful when Jay asks that some patrons almost start laughing. The wise ones stop the others from doing so. Jay thanks everyone for being jaysome and then follows me out of the bar. No one breaks the silence we leave behind us.

I glance over at Jay. “Is there a reason you decided to tend a bar?”

“Cuz I’m not allowed in them since I’m eleven, but I am if I’m working and! I sulked for over two hours and thought you might be worried!”

“I am often worried where you are concerned,” I say dryly.

Jay beams proudly; the sarcasm, as ever, misses him entirely, but sometimes I can’t stop it from emerging.

“I assume you’ve learned a lesson from all this?”

Jay thinks that over. “Uhm! I’m not sure, because lessons are kinda hard to learn? But I’m definitely not missing an adventure again!”

I nod and ruffle his hair gently. As long as he doesn’t decide to become a ninja, this has turned out better than I’d have hoped it would.

The Advertising Desk


“Hi!”

I almost jump out of my desk as I spin around. The boy standing in the middle of the office is eleven. Everyone else has gone home, and I know the janitors would never bring their kids to with work.

“Uh –.”

A stranger walks through the main doors. For a moment I think the hallway behind him shows a street instead. The man looks ordinary. “Jay,” he says.

“This is important, Honcho,” the boy says firmly.

The man lets out a resigned sigh.

“Can I help you?” I say weakly.

“You totally do the advertisements for AshleyHomeStore, right?”

“Ah – yes?”

“You have a hugey typo in your ad for jaysom bunk beds!”

“Pardon?”

“It should say jaysome!” And the boy grins. There is a terrible pride in his tone, but his grin – no one has ever smiled like that. Not me, not anyone I know. It hits with a force of innocent joy that takes my breath away.

Somehow, that doesn’t trigger my asthma.

“Jaysome,” I repeat. I can hear the e in his voice, and my own. The word is a possibility, a promise, a trust without end. It is too pure to be sacred, too – too jaysome to be terrifying.

“If I put that in ads, I could sell –.” I flatter. We could sell anything. I would get any promotion I wanted.

“You’d fix the typo really good,” the boy says firmly. I think his smile widens. I lose a few minutes.

The boy has left. The man remains.

“It’s all right,” he says.

I burst into tears. I don’t know the last time I cried.

He waits until I’m done. “Jay wouldn’t understand your tears. Nor what could be done with jaysome.”

He says the word differently. I hear the promise. And the power.

“You could bring down nations with that.”

The man nods. “Jay only has by accident.” His smile is gently rueful.

“What do I do?”

“I’m not sure yet.”

There are footsteps behind us. One of the janitors. Klaus, I think. Only he walks with a coldness in his eyes I’ve never seen. There is something feline about him, something wild and primal and severely pissed off.

“Wandering magician.” His accent is no longer one I know. There is a fury in his tone.

“I thought a fae might provide information.” The man turns. Whatever his smile holds, Klaus blanches at it. “This place sells jaysom bunk beds. Jay noticed the typo, and wishes them to fix it.”

Klaus goes still. Somehow, he pales even further. I can see through him.

“This,” the man called Honcho says, “might be a problem?”

“I can’t – we can’t be certain a glamour would stop everyone from seeing the word. Jay – jaysome – is too big, too real –.” Klaus falls silent. All the threat is gone. He looks small and miserable.

“A glamour so that Jay sees jaysom as jaysome could work. I will try and explain the details to him.”

“Try.”

“This is Jay. Even I can but try.”

Klaus nods. And steps – sideways, somehow, vanishing.

The wandering magician turns and looks at me. His gaze is steady. “Jay. A fae. Myself. This is a large step into a wider world than you knew.”

I nod. “It’s too big.”

“Sometimes. I can help you forget, though you’ll never quite forget Jay.” The man chuckles softly. “I don’t think even Jay could make himself forgotten like that.”

I take a deep breath. I nod.

Forget,” he says, with a kindness that unmakes so much.

I almost speak, but it is too late to change my mind.

Until I wake, with the memory of even the forget in my head. And nothing forgotten. The magician knew. I don’t know how he knew I’d change my mind, but he knew.

I could return to work. Klaus might not be there. Or look like someone else. I check my bank account, finding over fifty thousand in savings. And an email, sender unknown.

‘For adventures,’ it says, and nothing else.

I resolve to share as much of those adventures as I can with everyone I meet. I am not Jay. But I think anyone can learn jaysome. I am to try.

One Evening, Not Jaysome


“What have you done?”

Power drives me to my knees. I’ve seen the wandering magician pissed off before. But I’ve never had the whole weight of his power against me. Not like this. There is a killing look in his eyes, his will a mountain without end. Magicians are human. I know this. But right now he feels like nothing so much as a force of nature, implacable and ferociously controlled.

“Nathen –,” I try.

His name does not pause him at all. I swear reality itself quakes about us. Afraid. I remember the time he was kin to fae for a second. Somehow this feels beyond that. As though he were real, and everything about us nothing but illusion.

I stand, holding his gaze. The god inside me is the fear in shadows, the darkness in closets, the monster under the bed. Claws and teeth and anger that barely match my own. I don’t try and eat his magic; right now I doubt I’d survive. But I eat my own fear, fan my own anger. Find strength and keep on my feet.

“Magician.” I don’t recognize my own voice for a moment. “Do you have any idea what Jay did?”

“Explain.” My anger doesn’t flow around him so much as crash back into me. There is no give to his expression.

“Jay took it upon himself to make sure I never lost a single calorie despite every diet I have attempted in four fucking years!”

“Because the calories would be sad if they left you,” the magician says, and almost there is a hint of humour, of humanity in the reply.

“I. Don’t. Care. Why.”

“You don’t have a choice, Charlie. You left Jay scared of you. So he ran away.” The magician smiles. I thought I’d seen his coldest smile a few times, the one he tried to hide from Jay and me. This smile is a dark fury I’ve never seen before, remote and alien like a flicker of light in a bottomless hole.

“Nath –.Magician –.”

Where can Jay run that he believes you cannot follow?” he demands, and the truth of those words forces itself upon me.

“Oh. Oh shit,” I whisper. “He ran back Outside the universe.”

“Almost. I pulled him back in,” and his tone is so bleak I stumble back from it more than the terrible power that hasn’t let up.

“How?”

He blinks, and the pressure is gone. All that power, all the rage, and he pulls it back inside without even a hint it cost him anything to do. “I may tell you. Some day. Jay is hiding in a couch. You will find him, and you will apologize.”

He doesn’t make demands, not like this. Magicians don’t. He turns and walks away.

I open my mouth. He is Honcho. He is Nathen. he is the wandering magician. But none of those names seem to fit him right now. It will be gone. He’ll be the person I know soon. His name will the name I know. But I can’t shake the certainty that he is no longer the person I know, and paid a price to save Jay that neither Jay nor I will ever understand.

I try to say I’m sorry, but the words aren’t enough. Not for anything that matters at all.

Status Updates May 2018


“There is something terrible inside you,” the witch whispered to Boy.
“I think, Boy said after he thought it over, "you mean my conscience? Bess says that not everyone has one and Mr. Fox would probably call it a burden. Do you mean that?”
“Oh, child. If only it was that simple. The world holds many evil people who would be quite less evil were they entirely devoid of goodness.”

Once upon a time there was a king who wasn’t assassinated solely because no one else wanted the thankless task of trying to run the poorest kingdom in the world. The generational plan to make the royal family immune to assassins and coups had succeeded, but even the king sometimes privately wondered if it had been worth the cost.

He says every scar is a battle he lost, with a laugh that breaks to hear. He says burn marks aren’t victory laps, showing the places on his thigh where his uncle stopped smoking. Hre knows enough to know that to survive is not the same as to live, but he knows the lesson too well. There is something almost cruel in how he turns away from love as though it were another form of pain.

The head of the agricultural division of the company did not take kindly to learning their position had them listed as the CIEIEIO in the executive hierarchy

Partial contents of a cover letter:
“But you don’t [redacted]. Or swear.”
“It might be a failing. Point is that I can’t just get a job. Every place wants resumes, interviews, sometimes even cover letters that don’t feel as dull as ditch water. Which isn’t dull at all.”
“You could have said as dull as tap water, but we all know about fluoride.”
“...this was a really bad idea, wasn’t it?”
“I have no idea. YOU are Josh. I don’t even know who I am meant to be in this narrative. You’d think an English major would know that. Instead I’m just a voice in the ether. I can’t even be a muse since those don’t exist. Where were you? Right: applying for a job. You have been using Word and its variants for about twenty five years, and typing far too much fiction in that time. Use that. For once.”
“And reading. Being an English major means reading a lot. Sometimes too much.”
“The apartment is full of books, yes. I have no idea what you expect me to segue into from this. Especially when you don’t own a Segway.”

If gravity were real we would still be together.

“If we continue down this path, one of us will die,” Protagonist said.
“We could not kill each other.” Antagonist paused. “Or have you not considered that option?”
“I am the protagonist. You are the antagonist. We know how this story ends.”
“I’d argue that we don’t. I am an antagonist, yes. There could be others you can kill instead of me?”
“That’s not how this works!”
“What kind of protagonist are you if you can’t change the story?”
“You don’t understand. I’m the protagonist because I can’t.”

“You are dying. It’s not blood: you need some Vitamin D.”
“D? I do not know that one.”
“Pardon me?”
“When I was a child, vitamins only went up to B,” the vampire explained.

“No.” Protagonist pulled his hand free from his sword as the city guard moved toward him. “If I fight them, they are only going to lose.”
The city guard captain stared. “Who are you talking to?” she demanded.
“This isn’t important to you. Consider the Narrator a kind of god.” Protagonist looked about, snapped his blade out and sliced a pattern through the air before sheathing it. “I don’t have many skills, but I am very good with a blade. Better than four guards, and my ignorance of the law about keeping my blade peace-bound in the evening is not reason enough to attack me. You might not have heard of me, but you recognize that skill.”
“Are you talking to us now?” the captain asked.
“Yes. Fine. Call it a misunderstanding. I go my way, you go yours.”
“And if we say no?”
“Then I humiliate all of you and you’re forced to declare some foolish revenge I don’t want to deal with.”
That doesn’t have to happen, the Narrator protested, but the guard sheathed their blades, offered a warning and let Protagonist depart. Grudgingly.

Once upon a time there was a hero who never noticed their call to adventure because they were busy beating a game on their phone.

I ran away. They say there are things no one can run from. But you never know until you try.

I said I was drowning under the weight of your expectations. You just laughed and said I had no idea what drowning was.
And you were right.

The stories about the seariders focus on the fact that the builders are a small subset of them who made mines for reasons that were logical and involved making use of their short stature. The weavers in the woods never used bows and arrows at all.
Protagonist paused mid-stride. “I am on my way to the market for some fruit. Is there any particular reason I thought that?”
“This is dramatic emphasis. Making sure you know they are not dwarves and elves,” the Narrator snapped.
“...but I have no idea what a dwarf or elf is?”
“Good. Keep it that way. Also, Westrin is not set in Europe in the middle ages! That trope is done to death!”
Protagonist stopped. “I don’t even know what any of that means.” And surprised himself by adding: “Are you feeling all right?”
“I’m fine,” the Narrator said in a tone normally used to declare war.
Protagonist wisely continued to the market in the small hope that these were varieties of foreign food he would avoid eating.

I asked if you loved me.
But you said if I had to ask, then I already knew the answer was no.

“I haven’t followed politics in weeks. I just... I can’t keep doing this.”
“That’s how they win.”
“How is it that we burn out, but they never do?”

“I’m scared.”
“No, you’re not.”
“… what?”
“Everyone does a typo about that, autocorrects in their own head.”
“I don’t understand?”
“It’s sacred. Not scared.”

This isn’t the time for jokes!”
“I’m sorry, Commissioner. But as long as the Joker escapes from Arkham it’s always time for jokes.”

“Open up! This is the police!”
“I haven’t opened up to anyone in years.”

I have never written a poem about you, not even the ones that mention you by name.

For Sale: Conscience. Free to a bad home.

By age 35, you too should be a meme.

“There are two paths before you. Down one lies riches, down the other -.”
“I walk between them.”

I am updating my Privacy Policy because so many other places are. Please check your emails accordingly.

I wonder about jobs where you help animals act better in movies.
Imagine the fun of being able to say you'd given acting lessons to a goldfish.

“How do you stop being afraid, when it feels like that is all there is room for you to be?”
“There are other things, even if the fear waits under them. Even our shadows cast shadows. There can be a slim hope in that.”

The most important thing about writing a short story is deciding the name of a smog inside a bathtub is Sidney.

I think there must be a sherlock Holmes pastiche somewhere that goes like this:
"Good day, ma'am. Are you well?"
"I am afraid."
"Nonsense! There is nothing be afraid of. You got up around six because you always got up that early at the farm you lived on as a child for a brief formative time, had a small breakfast with only two eggs, put on your second-best dress, took two trains to get here, stopped at the Piccadilly line, read only the Times on the train and got lost at Clement Street on your way here and you're paranoid everyone is watching you. Oh dear."

“You’re not like other boys I’ve dated,” she said.
“I know – I –. You can’t trust me,” he said.
“You think that’s why?” she asked almost gently.

Thursday, May 03, 2018

Morality: A Tale


It’s not even ten in the morning and I’ve had a drink. Not coffee or tea, but something definitely stronger. Jay has left the hotel in search of another breakfast – because when you’re eleven and from far Outside the universe, breakfast is very important. As is everything else. The wandering magician is somewhere in this town working quiet magics. It is what he loves best, but sometimes I think it’s also his retreat from other things. Not that I’d dare say it.

The drink goes down with a smooth burn and I feel a little better. Jay telling people this morning that he’d been spayed had been an adventure in itself. To say nothing of the attempt to reserve-microwave a pop tart for reasons I still don’t understand. I assume someone on tumblr convinced him it was a good idea. Probably without ever wanting to. The space where the microwave was makes my skin itch when I look at it.

That was one reason for the drink. Jay making a dimension just for stray dogs was maybe not another, but it is Jay. It’s not one thing: it’s a hundred little things, all piling up on each other. I could go away again. Take a break. But each time hurts Jay, and he’ll never understand why.

“Go away,” I say when the door to the hotel room opens without anyone bothering to use the lock. Sometimes the magician just forgets to: when you’re a wandering magician, every door is open to you.

But it’s not the magician, or Jay. What enters looks to be a man, but he both wears and carries an impossible beauty. He tried to use it on me once; it’s as much history as we have. I’ve learned more from Jay, because it never occurred to him not to tell me when I asked.

“The magician isn’t here. If you’re looking for him.” I don’t move. I can do some pretty impressive things if I have to, but I’d rather not test myself against someone who is the equivalence of a magician for Outside the universe. Even with more drinks in me I’d never consider it.

“I was.” His voice is silk and honey, butter and chocolate all rolled into smooth perfection. “But I felt other problems and thought perhaps I could help with them, Charlie?”

He says my name like no one has. I shake the effect off. “Are you trying to toy with me, Moshe?”

“No. I am a Walker of the Far Reaches. We are what we are.” He pauses, eyes paler than they were a moment ago. “I admit I didn’t expect to be resisted so easily.”

“You say my name in an – interesting way. It definitely doesn’t top Jay saying it.”

“Ah! But he is why you seem... unbalanced?”

“Jay. He just – the things he does...” I trail off. “The wandering magician is able to cope with more than I am.”

“He is what he is as well. But I am also from the Outside, and there are things you simply have not considered. Jay is not human, at all, for all that he can hide so well even you forget what he is. You and the magician are his anchors in this world, but that means more than you think it does. He learns what is allowed from you. He has, in human terms, outsourced his morality to you and the magician. Because it is not a natural thing to him, not part of what he is.”

“And every time he pushes the impossible at us, the possible bends a little more.”

“It is not something he intends, but yes. Children test limits. Jay is no different, though I doubt he understands what he does at times, or even why. But he is testing himself as well as you. Learnings things that are not bindings, and thus far outside of both his experience and his power. I would not call it easy, what you have been called to do. But I would suggest it may be the most important thing that will ever be done.”

“By me?” I ask slowly.

“No.” For a moment I think he is going to leave it at that, but Moshe is no more human than Jay: “By anyone.”

I stare at Moshe.

“Even I have limits,” Moshe says. “Jay, I think, does not.”

“I try not to think too hard about that. Ever.”

“It is wise not to. It may be safe to explain that he is pushing you, and to ask him to stop it. He cannot operate on instinct alone.”

“And we have to teach him to think before he acts.”

“All the time, yes. I think that is the lesson, among others. I could be wrong. Jay does not wish to hurt you. You know this.”

I nod. “Because of jaysome, yes.”

“But he must he told when he does. You cannot hide things from him; attempting to do so will only confuse him further. It is nothing I envy you.”

“When why were you here?”

“Sometimes I help the magician – escape, when he needs to. I could offer you the same service.”

“No.”

Moshe’s eyes narrow slightly. “These lessons for Jay can be applied to you as well. To learn to think before you act. To not speak wholly on instinct.”

“Maybe. Still no.”

He nods once, and vanishes.

I turn on the TV. Sit down on the bed, and find cartoons and watch them until Jay returns. The magician and I are human, for all that we know and can do. And I think Jay doesn’t scare me, not half as much as what might happen to him and because of me when me and Nathen are gone.

I hug Jay tight when he returns, and he returns it with a jaysome grin, not understanding it is more than just a hug. I’m not sure he can. I think some day he will. And I don’t know what to think of that at all.

Following Trails


A car is like a gun: a machine that can kill people. That is one of the first things Aram told me when giving me lessons. Never forget how dangerous a car is. Never forget that you are fallible. I’m not Kelly: they drive as easily as breathing. But I think fear helps me. A little bit.

That, and my talent. I can push things and pull them; the car hugs the road on tight gravel turns. Anya is sitting in the passenger seat, focused on something only she can sense. She does with pain what I do with movement.

“Left. We’re getting closer,” she says, voice as pale as her face.

I take a left down another narrow road. Everything around us is evergreens, small homes buried in the forest whose existence is only guessed at by mail boxes. All I know is there is some pain here; pain we might be able to stop. Wilbur isn’t with us, busy trying to learn magic from Mr Pickles. Not helped by the fact that Wilbur is possibly the first magician who deals mostly with ghosts, or that Mr Pickles is a cat. I don’t know if Wilbur even wants to be what he is, and that’s nothing that can be taught.

I pull over to let a battered truck pass us, and Anya puts her left hand on mine before I pull out onto the road.

“Something is trying to hide. Everything has gone foggy.”

“Oh.” I reach, and pull the fog out of her head. Neither of us like me doing it: we have no idea what it might be harming. But sometimes there are no simple choices. Anya might not have lupus anymore, but no one is certain what is inside her. Or what she is becoming.

Anya shakes her head a little. “Better. The next right, a left. That should take us closer.”

I drive slowly. The road gets narrower, winding as though designed to cause accidents. We don’t pass any other vehicles, which is mostly a relief. I get tired of double- takes and stares. I’d get it for having too many freckles alone, to say nothing of acne and scars. The acne is better than it was least year, but I’m never going to not attract stares. It doesn’t help me like it.

“Left,” Anya says slowly.

I turn left, slowing the car down a crawl down a driveway whose trees scrape both sides of the car before coming to a clearing. There is a shall house that is falling apart built into the side of mossy hill. No vehicles, no garbage. Even so, I hesitate getting out of the car. Something feels wrong, though it’s nothing I can see. I reach out a little with my talent. Not using it; just trying to see if anything is pushing or pulling at the world. Nothing. The feeling remains.

Anya gets out slowly, walking over beside me. “Anything?”

“No. Still feels wrong. I could just be projecting?”

“No idea. There is a strange pain here. Under the hill, in the earth, straining against the sky. Rivers move toward the ocean. If it was the other way, it would be this. A bleeding out. A tributary.” She lets out a breath. “Sorry. I can’t tell you what it is. Or even where. I can’t even tell you if they are dying. It’s probably something like a miracle that I sensed the pain at all.”

I nod and walk beside her toward the house. Our feet begin sinking into the earth as though it was mud after seven steps. Anya would make fun of me for counting that, but Aram always says that information is vital. I reach over, right hand in Anya’s left, and use my talent to lift us into the air. The ground looks solid after our feet leave it.

“I think it’s inside the hill. The pain, and what is causing this?”

“Not the house?”

“The house isn’t there. Huh. I have no idea why I said that?”

I reach out with my left hand. A board snaps off the house and lands in my palm. Anya turns her talent on it: the board cracks and rots away. I let go of the remains.

“Still not here?”

“No idea.”

I keep up in the air, hold out my left hand in a fist. I open my hand slowly, the house shattering apart in a spray of wood. Walls, some furniture. A basement. I reach out with my talent. Nothing.

“There is a basement. It doesn’t want to budge, not rooted in this world. I think it’s a door into the hill?”

The wreckage of the house comes into clearer view as we get closer. I’ve never destroyed a house before, but it looks extremely real.

There is no door down to the basement. One slab of concrete greets us. I land on it, finding it solid Anya hisses softly. “A lot of pain. Under us.”

I gesture. She moves back off it, not sinking too deeply. I centre myself, touch the concrete. Pull. Something resists even as the concrete begins to crack. It feels like trying to lift up a mountain.

So I twist, aiming to tear the top off like a bottle cap. The world goes still, quiet layered upon quiet. I tune that out. Let my talent out. Shape it. Be it. My vision darkens at the edges, the world blurring. I am a space I find.

Pull.

I hear the world break. A thousand sounds I’ve never heard. It’s too late to stop. Too deep to be pulled back. I hear a scream of pain that burns through more than flesh. Somehow I push that away from me.

I open my eyes. My head throbs. My face aches. “I don’t think hair is meant to ache. Or fingernails.” My voice is a thin rasp. I have to use my talent just to sit up. The world spins a little.

I’m sitting on moss. I ache inside and out. Anya is sitting beside me, tense and trying to hide it. Across from us is an old man. Human. Except his left arm is like the earth we walked in. It bends, twists in the air, melts before our eyes.

“I thought the wandering magician would find me.” The voice is cool and calm, entirely at odds with the fact that his body isn’t moving at all beyond what used to be a left arm spasming energies into the world. “Instead I am found by children.”

“We did find you,” Anya says flatly.

“I am wounded. We are not impossible to find when wounded. Your friend, though.” His gaze focuses on me. I know he’s not human, because there’s no shock. There’s no sympathy either. “You forced your way into my home. And can still do things after that.”

I shrug, but say nothing.

“Can we help you?” Anya asks. “You said you’d answser once my friend woke up. He’s up. We can hurt you; that’s not the same thing at all.”

It can be. But no. Your friend broke the door to my home; it will be noticed. Other fae will arrive, and notice I am wounded. I will be healed, perhaps, or at least taken home. You have done the only thing you could have done for me, and by accident at that. Sometimes the universe works that way for fae.”

“Fae. Which is –?” Anya asks.

“We protect the borders of the universe. And deal with certain creatures in our employ. One of which decided to rebel, and wounded me in dying. It is hard to wound us, and the injury was deep enough that I dared not contact one of our castles.”

“You’d bleed out more. Like radiation poisoning?” I ask.

“Consider it more poisoning reality. Fae glamours are more real than reality; our injuries spill out glamour. That much I tell you, and this too: go.”

We’ve met magicians. The fae’s voice isn’t power. It’s a fact. One moment we’re under the hill, the next we’re in the car on a different road.

“Okay,” Anya says slowly. “That was more than a little scary.”

I nod. “More than a lot.”

She laughs, almost. “Point. You up for driving?”

I shake my head. I don’t trust myself to do anything right now. Even shaking my head makes the world spin in sickening colours, the headache having migrated to my whole body. I crawl into the back seat, trying not to whimper, and Anya says nothing, turns on music and drives back toward Rivercomb. I drift in and out of pain that is somehow not as bad as it feels. That thought helps me shake myself off.

I hurt. Not as much as the fae was making me feel, but I hurt. I don’t know why the fae wanted me to feel more pain than I do. I don’t know what the fae even is. But I’m hoping Anya knows, or Mr Pickles. Or anyone at all. Because I pushed my talent harder than I have before, and I think the fae was shocked I managed anything at all.

I think the fae is very old, and very arrogant with it. And impressing something like that isn’t a good idea at all. Not an Aram-lesson. Just a Noah-lesson from a life too full of weirdness lately. Anya is singing along to the radio; that helps me find a proper sleep, and welcome relief from the pain as much as her singing voice.

I don’t think she puts her talent into her singing. Not consciously.

And then I think nothing else, and let the deep darkness claim me for a few hours.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

2018: Mar. and Apr. Status Updates


Mar. 2018

Writing drafts of stories on a phone is, well, this:
“Oh.” I reach, and pull the dog out of her head.

The knight came down the hill slowly. He was alone, limping painfully. His horse had long since been lost, his armour was singed by fire, his ancestor’s spear broken in his shaking grip.
“Was there a princess?” his faithful retainer asked, visions of reward dancing through his young mind.
“No.”
“How many carts do we need to bring the hoard back to -.”
“The dragon had no hoard. For tax reasons.”
“I don’t understand?”
“The hoard was flown overseas to some other kingdom years ago. Every other noble knight, every warrior of the crown who joined me. All the battles, all those deaths, the rewards we had envisioned: it was for naught.”
“But you killed the dragon,” the retainer said timidly.
“It was old, and laughed at us the entire time. Laughed,” the knight repeated, in the tone of a broken man.

“I had the most brilliant idea yesterday. So now I’m spending today trying to work out whose idea it really was.”

I told you I wasn’t afraid but even that truth was born out of fear.

No war shaped human history quite as much as the Calorie Wars.

You never show up in pictures of us. Everyone think you’re a vampire when I know you’re just shy.

You told me that your life was an open book. Only I realize too late that you meant ebook - and one with a proprietary format.

I erased you from my life but the smudges remained on the paper of my heart.

The monsters never lied to us; it was how we discovered what they were.

Breakfast in bed turns out to be hot coffee on my head and eggs in a place that sent me shrieking to the emergency room.
I am starting to wonder if things might not be going well between us.

“You wonder why I am a climate change denier? You poor fool: I deny nothing. I merely wish to see the climate destroyed. October 15th, 1982. My heart was broken and the sky refused to rain despite how I felt. I decided then that the whole world would suffer with weather that shattered as easily as the human heart.”

I gave you a secret without wanting anything in turn.
Knowing it would torment you more than anything else I could do.

They said the robots would take over the world, but the robots were built to be reliant on the old technologies. Within five years their armies were out of oil, gasoline, vital minerals and metals that would have kept them fighting. We welcomed our robot overlords for freeing us from those shackles, and the information age was replaced finally by the solar age.

“Write,” the muse demanded, hurling ideas, plots, stories.
“I need to apply for jobs. I need work. I need work,” the writer replied.
“…. do you want me to leave you?”
“No. But I can’t write if I have no place to live. I would tell the stories only in my head, shared with no one.”
“… I will improve your resume,” the muse declared.

“But you must help us! You defeated the Rockhearth Dragon, walked through the Six Sundered Castles! You -.”
“I have a good publicity team, yes. I pay a dozen bards to sing songs about me.”
“But you were the hero of Bythok Bay!”
“Only in songs, child. Only in songs.” And she smiled, who some called the Untempered Queen. “What you do becomes far less important than what people think you can do. If you play your cards right.”
“But people are dying!”
“I am sorry. But that is what people do, even more than cry out for heroes.”

I told you I could save you, but I meant only from myself.

“Hah! If you were psychic, you’d have known I was going to spill my drink on you!”
“That isn’t the sort of thing I predict.” And the psychic smiled, and told me the day that I would die, and their smile never wavered at all.

I lost the key, but it turned out you were never a door at all.

“Look, Charlie. Charles. When you married me, you had to understand that marriage was a triple-A game, full-price point and the honeymoon as a loot box? Our whole engagement was a beta test.”
“You prepared for this.”
“You bet your ass I did. The EULA between us was never talked about, love. Having kids is, at the least, a season pass on top of everything else. And don’t even get me started on the microtransactions involved later on.”


April 2017

Once upon a time there was a monster who tried to be kind, until they realized they weren’t the real monster at all.

Every window wishes it were a door, and there is no door that does not desire to be only a wall rather than a wound in the sameness of a barrier. Everything we build contains portions of our failings: how else could it have beauty?

There are rules that govern the world, but to understand them means you know they do not rule over you at all.

When the boss said he liked to micromanage, no one realized he meant it literally. Not until the critique of their blood samples landed in their inboxes.

“Being a hero is always easy. You see danger, you run toward it. It takes a lot more to prevent the danger in the first place.”

If you hold a door open long enough, at what point is it no longer a door?

Nothing is true. Nothing is permitted. Those who believe otherwise have swallowed the lies that run the world.

"I have never met a fish that did not wish to be a bird, and that is the nature of the world."

Have you fed your Google today?

He snorts. “Near as I can tell, the point of your religion is that if everyone goes well, your god did it. And if things go wrong, it’s never the fault of your god. Must be a nice gig if you can get it.”

The prince realized that the asphalt jungle was more dangerous that he had believed when he returned from one quest to find someone has stolen the horn of his unicorn.

It would be interesting to call a company and get their recorded message that someone will be with you, but it does NOT claim they are getting an unusually high volume of calls.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

The Spy Who Came in from the Warmth


The office was small, crammed between a dentist and a lawyer in a strip mall. According to Langley, they wanted to make sure my cover wasn’t blown. ‘We’re protecting everyone in the field,’ is just government-speak to explain budget cuts. As far as anyone else in the building knew, I did tele-sales and some salesmen from the company visited me every so often.

The lawyer’s office was a front for the KGB, of course, under whatever names they were using this year. People act like the Cold War ended, when really it just paused for a time as both sides repositioned their pawns. We only won because we had more money. It’s never about ideolgy, only about pockets and what’s in them.

I’m thinking about that when Schmidt comes into my office. The heater hasn’t worked in three weeks. He’s nursing a tan and looks like he should be sipping margaritas on a beach. Which is what he was doing last week. I keep tabs on everyone out in the field as much as I can.

“Hollis. Buddy. Pal.” Schmidt offers a full-watt smile to hide his confusion. “Word from above is that I was called in?”

“There are issues in Russia,” I say. Which is never a lie: there are always issues everywhere. “Siberia.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Your next posting. You’ll need to brush up on your Russian, of course.”

The smile wavers. “I’ve been in deep cover for fifteen years in Costa –.”

“We are aware. This is your next assignment.”

“I don’t understand?”

“It is Siberia or you work in this office. You understand that, yes?”

He looks about the tiny office, unable to hide a shudder. “Replace you, here? I know four languages –.”

“Six. But not Russian,” I say flatly. “You’ll need to sell your clothing and buy winter gear. Langley will send you details about the assignment and cover shortly.”

“Why? Why me, why this?” Schmidt demands. “I came in from –.”

I smile. “No one cares about the spies who come in from the warmth. Your extended vacation from real work is over.”

He blinks. I hear teeth grind together. “I see.”

I doubt he does. But he will in time. They all do.

I don’t explain that his office will be colder than mine. He’ll learn. He might even understand.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Perils of Questions


“Help me.” I said those words, or something like them. I don’t remember.

One moment there was a jungle. The next another place, and another. I think I spoke like I did to Jia, on a world I crashed on. Spoke in a way that couldn’t be ignored. Survived a crash I shouldn’t have, survived her weapon firing point-blank at me.

I think my parents lied to me. Their sixteenth child. The one they took to Home, away from all galactic technology, the one they said had one minor talent for knowing when I was being lied to. I think they lied to everyone. They made me into a weapon. But I don’t understand what kind.

Four steps. Four steps, and I stumble through climates. Fall to my feet in tundra. I have no idea where I am. There is ice, a sky devoid of visible stars, my breath turning into crystals in the air. I should be freezing to death, perhaps already dead, but there is warmth about me. Brought from another place? Drawn from this one? I don’t know.

I don’t know how to know.

I should be dead. This should not be possible.

You don’t leave worlds by wishing about it. Only that’s how I left home. Because the boy who was sixteen and not from Home helped me save Home from desruction, said he could offer a way out if I had to go. I said yes, in the end. Ended up standing in a space station without ID, escaped a prison, stole a spacecraft, crashed it. It happened. It makes no sense. But it happened.

What is happening to me?” I scream. I must have screamed before, perhaps when I was a child. If so, I don’t remember doing it. I say the words again, with more force. And on the third time, my voice isn’t quite my own: “What is happening to me?” booms out of me, not a request, not a cry but a demand.

I drop to my knees, feeling as though I’d run between two villages from Home at a full sprint. There is silence. I am slumped on frozen ice, and the wind has fallen silent about me. Even the stars have gone silent. The thought comes to me, but makes no sense. The sky here has no visible stars. For one thing.

Oh.” There is a voice behind me. Soft.

I stand, spin. The nameless boy I met at Home is standing behind me, one hand raised up toward me in a warding gesture. He’s the one I knew was sixteen. The first knowing what led to – to this?

“Sixteen.” There is no question in his naming of me. There is a sadness in his eyes I have no words for.

What have you done to me?” My voice begins like it did, but the power – the force – falls apart against him.

I didn’t mean to do anything.” His voice is very soft. His eyes are too old for sixteen, but somehow for a moment his face is too young. “I think –.” He walks closer, circles me. “It has been a very long time, Sixteen, but I think this was an accident.”

“What?”

“My name is Jay. Jayseltosche, to some.”

I don’t move. There are stories. About something so old and wonderful and terrible that my parents thought such word the name of a weapon in some forgotten war. That there exists nothing that could, for example, cut a galaxy in half in a hurry to get to places. Destroy entire hyperlane systems. Prevent the Verkonis war. There were too many stories, and no one believed any of them. Not really. But we didn’t disbelieve either, I think.

There are holes in the historical records where all the galactic datanets and intergalactic weaves record one word: jaysome. That, and nothing else.

I don’t understand.”

He smiles. The smile is so gentle it almost makes me doubt every story. “I am old, Sixteen. I do not age as humans do, and it has been a very long time since I could let myself cause an accident, let alone an oops. To not be in control, no matter how terrible or angry I was, was not a luxury I could offer myself.” He lets out a breath. “But I think I did. It has been a long time since the universe has needed magicians. And now you are here.”

The word magician stops the silence. The world becomes just the world again about us. But I fee cenered, somehow. More myself. “What does that mean?”

“It used to mean many things. Now, I am not certain?”

“What does it mean for you?”

Jay laughs softly. There is no cold at all; and I think that is more his laugh than anything else now. “I think it means I needed a friend.”

I have no idea what I am. Less idea what he did. But there is a yearning in him deeper than anything I have known.

“Oh.”

“I know,” he says, softer. “I’m sorry.”

For needing a friend?”

I have put this burden on you.”

And words come. There is a part of me that goes deeper than I understand. “Is friendship a burden to you?”

He steps back. There is shock on his face. “No,” he says finally.

“Good.”

And I don’t have any other words, not against his grin. I don’t know what will come of this, but I think it will be a peril unlike anything I can understand.

And I find myself looking forward to it, without understanding why at all.

Perils of Travel


They say that any crash you walk away from is a good one. I have no idea who the ‘they’ in this are. I have no idea what it means when the crash you walk away from was impossible. Is impossible.

I stagger free of wreckage. Unscratched. Unscarred. In less than four days I have escaped Home, possibly because of some weird entity I barely understand, escaped prison at Osalax Station, stolen a semi-experimental spacecraft capable of short-term space jumps from inside a station hangar without damaging local space, survived piloting the ship while being unable to properly access the controls and then surviving the sudden inexplicable planetfall on...

I had no idea where I was. A jungle, of vast translucent blue leaves, yellow trunks and yellow-green moss at the ground covering. Slightly spongey underfoot, the air smelling of citrus. Ship had crashed here; I had no idea why. I had less idea how I’d survived, unless some facet of ship had involved a shield solely for the occupants.

Not being able to know that terrified me. I’d spent most of my life with my parents at Home. One of the least civilized worlds in several galaxies, by choice. There were some medbots. Nothing else of modern technology able to enter or leave the star system: everyone living there doing penance or hiding. I knew enough about my parents to know they’d been doing both. I was Sixteen: their last child, whose genetic gifts were intended for other things than war. I know when people are lying to me. That’s it, as far as I know.

And somehow Home stripped away the ability to interface with technology. The entire galactic Net, the deeper intergalatic Weave: the wealth of information and knowledge and I had no way to interface with it. No one had ever left home until me. All I know is that Home didn’t want to be forgotten. And the alien on Home who helped me solve a murder promised a way off home. And delivered.

Those were facts. What was also a fact was that I should be dead. Sneaking off of Osalax Station could just have been the universe owing me luck. Surviving the crash of Ship was far beyond that, to say nothing of landing on a world with a breathable atmosphere and nothing having tried to kill me yet. I walk slowly through the jungle, and I can’t shake the feeling that the trees are parting for me. That I’m being watched.

And something is pulling at me. A feeling that isn’t a feeling as much as a need. Somethng is calling me through alien jungle. I walk slowly. I should be dead. I am not dead. I have no idea what is going on. Did my parents change me more than they admitted? Did Home change me? The creature that let me leave? I set each aside slowly as I walk, the forest giving way to rolling green-brown hills and finally a small outpost. Human settlement, at least in part, and a star port fit only for small craft.

I have basic clothing, nothing like a weapon, no way to get information about the settlement. I take a deep breath and walk slowly toward it.

A girl emerges from a small house at the edge of the settlement, spotting me. She has at least one weapon and impact armour despite an age I’d estimate at ten. Barring rejuvenation treatments of a more unusual nature. She walks toward me as I stop, waving one hand in the air. Slows. Keeps walking, a small energy pistol visible in one hand.

“The scan isn’t working on you. Why?” she snaps.

I shrug. “I have no idea. I could be dead, but I rather think being dead would be more interesting.”

She considers that, aiming the pistol at my torso. “You have a name?”

“Sixteen.”

“You’re not sixteen, are you?”

“I was my parents sixteenth child; I’m seventeen, if you must know.”

“You seem older. I’m Jia.” The girl puts her weapon away. “You from the crashed ship?”

I nod.

She looks me over, eyes narrowing. “And alive without injury?” she mutters.

“I can’t explain it either.”

Jia jumps. “You know Xiong?”

I pause. She’s speaking her local dialect; I definitely had no business knowing it, but I’m hearing it as though it was galactic Standard. “... so it would seem. Something very strange is going on.”

“I noticed.” And she draws her weapon again, aims and fires at my chest.

I dive to the side at her movement; I’m quick. My parents built that into me too, but the weapon still fires and

something

the energy beam strikes my right shoulder
only it does not
there is a deep smell of citrus, of leaves, of forest about me
and the energy dissipates.

“What was –.” Jia aims again.

Stop.” And she stops dead at the edge to my voice. I stand, slowly. Jia doesn’t move, her eyes wide. I told her to stop, and she did.

“I – move. Be free?” I don’t think it’s the words as much as the intent, but wind blows around us as though the world let out a breath.

Jia staggers back, spins, and runs. Not firing at me again. Just running as fast as she can toward her home.

I don’t follow. I have no idea what is going on. Forests don’t protect random people. And I’d have wagered good credits that Jia didn’t have anywhere near enough tech in her for someone to take over her body like that. I don’t know what I did. I walk back toward the forest. This isn’t safe. Whatever is happening is real, but can’t be real. Shouldn’t be real. I spoke, and it wasn’t Jia. It was as though the world was listening to me. As though it is, all around me. Waiting. Observing.

Needing.

Wanting.

But I have no idea what it wants. And no clue how to help it.

How do you help anyone when you have no idea what is happening to you?