Sunday, December 25, 2016

A Jaysome Morning

I open my eyes to silence. For most people, silence would be safe. For someone who has spent four years dealing with Jay, silence generally means he’s hiding and did an ooops, or had an adventure. Or both at once. I form a ward from excited kids in the rest of the hotel and leave the bedroom, knocking on the door of Charlie’s bedroom and wrapping the ward about her as well.

“We can’t avoid coffee forever,” I say, half-joking.

“Yes, but we’re dealing with Jay. He’ll have – gifts.” Charlie pauses. Jay is eleven. He is also from far, far Outside the universe and terribly enthusiastic almost all the time. The concept of restraint is often lost on a creature who can do bindings at levels magicians can’t operate at.

I squeeze her hand and walk into the kitchen even as I hear the microwave go off. I almost stop, force myself to keep going and stop dead as Jay pulls out bacon and puts it on the dining room table in the hotel suite.

“I’ve been keeping the food warm for hours,” he snaps.

And there is food, because Jay likes eating. I’m not about to ask where he got it all from, really hoping he didn’t try and make it all. “Ah, Jay –.”

“It’s Christmas morning and I’ve been doing my present for you and Charlie for hours and waiting and waiting like a Jay can wait!”

The microwave didn’t explode. Nothing absurd has emerge from it. And there is a strain in Jay’s voice. I look at him in the way of magicians and also the way of a friend, and then step forward and hug him hard.

“Honcho! You’re not supposed to guess the gift,” he protests.

“What?” Charlie says. She looks about the kitchen, then at Jay. “What?” she says again.

“I made breakfast and and and found some of it,” Jay says happily, “but the real gift isn’t jaysome at all but I’ve done it and it will be a whole day without any adventures that’s all about relaxing!!”

Charlie blinks. Stares at Jay. She looks about to ask if he can even do that, catches herself. We eat a breakfast made by various chefs all over the world that Jay has done favours and helpings for all week to get this food and he’s beaming with pride at the end of it. Doing dishes without Jay doing any bindings on them is an experience at least.

“This takes so long,” Jay protests, because he normally cleans dishes with bindings so that there is more time to have adventures.

“Lots of jaysome things do,” Charlie says. We had gifts in mind for him. I was going to work out a way for Jay to enter the Grey Lands just to see how ghosts live. Charlie had found apps for his phone she was certain Jay would enjoy.

We set them aside without talking about it and have a snowball fight outside with other people who join in. No bindings, no magic, no tricks by Charlie and the god inside her. Just friends drawing other friends into it. Two forts have been built within the hour and Jay hurries over to me as I’m making snowballs, looking worried.

“Honcho?”

“Kiddo.”

“Everyone is being jaysome, you know!”

“They are. Jaysome is something you are, Jay, not something you do. You can’t not be you, even if you’re trying to avoid adventures.” I ruffle his hair. “And you draw people to you because you’re you.”

“Oh!” He grins, and the snowball fight lasts until people are tired, kids have to go inside and we’ve used up a lot of snow in the area.

Afterwards, Charlie informs Jay that she and I are going to have an adventure and he gets to come along.

“But but but –,” he protests.

“The rule is that you don’t have adventures. Not that we don’t,” I say.

“But you’re cheating,” he wails.

“No. We’re being jaysome to you,” Charlie says. “A Jay without adventures is a gift to others sometimes, but not to yourself at all. So you’re coming with us and having an adventure. Or else.”

Jay giggles at the idea of being threatened to an adventure and bounds out the hotel after us.

We turn every piece of graffiti in the town into a kindness. It’s fun, tiring, and I use the time to gently undo some of the bindings Jay has done on himself against having adventures. If only to make the world far safer at midnight when this binding he has done drops entirely. Sometimes the best gift we can give is understanding, and jaysome at least can always be given.

The second snowball fight involves cheating on Charlie’s part.

Friday, December 23, 2016

That One Christmas

I used to hate summer more than any other time of year. Thighs scraping together, sweat pooling about my body like the worst superpower ever. One year I even wore a car air freshener almost ironically. But winter gets worse every year. I have a beard because it’s easier than not having one. I don’t think about it too much but every winter the kids stare, and then ask me if I’m going to be Santa. It’s not bad, with the little kids, but children grow up faster with every year. They know the truth sooner and sooner, and the question becomes barbed. Because of course there is no other job for you when you’re fat.

Only that’s not true at all. Santa is fat and jolly, but Santa isn’t obese. You see fat people as Santa all the time, but never anyone like me.

“Are you a Santa?” is asked from behind me. I turn, pause: the kid is eleven. I am too pissed off to register anything else – or even wonder how I know he’s eleven in the way people know hair colour and skin tones – and I give him my best glare.

“No. I’m not going to be Santa this year; you don’t get to be a Santa when you’re too fat to get into his grotto,” I snarl. “Or did you want to make a joke about how I ate Santa and Ms. Claus, or had too many Christmas snacks? I’ve heard it. Whatever joke you want to make. I’ve heard it all before.”

The kid steps back, eyes wide. “But I was doing an asking, which isn’t a joke at all most of the time you know,” he says.

“What?”

He pauses a moment. “Oh! I guess a knock-knock joke is a question that is a joke, but I didn’t say all the time because I’m clever like a Jay!”

I manage to say what again.

“Is that a joke too? I sometimes miss human jokes even if Charlie says single words can be jokes but she means my name when she says that. I’m Jay,” and he says it as if we’ve been friends forever.

I check his arms for bracelets, spot nothing. “Uh, kid, are your parents around?”

“Nope!”

“But you are a little odd,” I say. “Is your mother –.”

The kid stiffens. His grin vanishes and he stares up at me with an expression I’ve never seen before and hope to God I never see again.

“I – I – I didn’t mean anything,” I manage to get out. “I meant that you weren’t alone?”

“Oh!” And he grins. The word doesn’t do anything justice. The grin is huge and welcoming and I’d swear blind that my knees ache less just because the grin is so open and honest, but I can’t forget the look before it and the terrifying certainty he was closer to killing me than even he knew. The kid is eleven: that doesn’t factor into it at all.

“My name’s Rob,” I say. “Sorry. I just – this is a bad time of year for me.”

Jay nods. “Lots of people say that, even if it’s Christmas but people say that about every holiday and sometimes I wonder why humans have them unless they’re weapons to wound other people with?”

“Sometimes they are,” I say, managing to not make it a question. I thought something was loose inside the kid’s head, but now I’m wondering if it’s my head or if he’s real at all. I let out a breath. “I’m not a Santa, no. My beard isn’t white yet.”

Jay nods. “I don’t even have a beard, so I can’t be one at all! And I’m not allowed to be an elf.”

“Uh. Why not?” I ask because I can’t help but wonder what his answer will be.

“Because the kind of gifts I make aren’t nice like the ones elves make, even elves that aren’t nice at all.” He pouts. “And I try really hard at making them because I’m jaysome you know.” He brightens a moment later. “I bet I could help make your beard white for you! Charlie says I give her lots of grey hairs, so giving white ones shouldn’t be hard at all.”

“That’s not –.” I stare down at him. I’m certain he can see me, but I can’t shake the feeling he’s not seeing what other people see. “I’m fat, Jay. I’m so fat that I once tried to audition to be an extra in a movie – the fat background guy in a scene – and was told I’d need to lose weight to get the part.”

It’s a joke but also a true thing that happened. Jay doesn’t laugh. The kid just scratches his head. “I’ve lost lots of things, but not important ones and I bet you’d want to be a Santa, right?”

No one has ever put it like that, and there is something behind the words. “I would,” I whisper, which I’ve never told to anyone before. Not even to myself.

“Perfect! I have some friends you can be a Santa for,” he says, and grabs my right hand.


There are stories you don’t tell anyone about, because you don’t believe they happened even if you were there. I don’t have many of those, but seconds later I know this is going to surpass all of them as a Bigfoot stares down at me. It is at least eight feet fall and smells even worse than it looks. There is a fire in a fire pit, a circle of – some of them look like people. Others don’t look like anything I know of at all. Some hurt my head just to see, as if my brain simply can’t process whatever is in front of me. One of them claims to be named Ms. Apple and is an old lady only she’d not that at all.

“Jay.” The voice beside me is human, and resigned. I turn and look at someone so ordinary it calms me, his eyes full of wry understanding.

“Honcho! I found a Santa,” Jay says proudly.

I notice every thing else has moved to give the boy space; I’m certain he hasn’t noticed that at all.

“Of course you did.” The man called Honcho looks me over without a hint of judgement, and does – I think he gestures, or whistles. Calls. I know that much. He calls something, and I am wearing a perfectly fitting and comfortable Santa Claus costume a moment later.

“Honcho! He doesn’t have a sack of presents,” Jay says. “I bet I could get lots of them and –.”

“Meeting Santa is a gift, Jay. Being one also gift enough,” Honcho says. “You don’t need to give gifts when you are one: people forget that too often.”

“Oooooh,” Jay says. “I’m a gift all the time then!”

A woman beside me snorts. She looks human, though I don’t think that means anything here.

“Charlie. You don’t have to be mean,” Jay says.

“I snorted.”

“You did it in a very meany way though!”

I start laughing I can’t help it. The kid is somehow impossible and grounding all at once, and the man called Honcho is – I think he’s keeping me whole, sane, here, though I’m not sure why I feel this.

There is no grotto, but Santa is the grotto. I understand that and some of the things here were once human, or where human forms, or were never human at all. But they’re in a country where you almost can’t escape holidays. There is a yearning in them, and there is one in me as well.

I sit, and my voice sounds deeper than normal when I ask who wants to talk to Santa.

Some do. Some do not. I don’t remember most of it, which is for the best. Some of them don’t have voices. But at the end of it all I feel content and Jay offers up a huge that impossibly goes all around me and hugs me tightly. I think tentacles are involved, try not to think about that and am back home moments later.

My beard is white. I think it’s going to stay that way. It’s only the next morning when I realize my knees and back don’t ache at all that I realize I was given a gift as well. I just hope it’s not the kind that is secretly a burden. Not that I think Jay would do that, but I am not sure he’d understand it at all. I put clothing on, head outside. It’s snowing, and some kids ask if I’m Santa. Even the older ones don’t have as much bite to the question as they did before.

Maybe it’s the beard. Maybe it’s last night. I just smile and tell them that they should try being Santa as well, and that seems to leave them content. And I am content as well, which is gift enough for an evening I am already halfway to forgetting.  

Saturday, December 03, 2016

The Cell Phone

You texted me that it was over. Not even words, just emojii you expected me to figure out before you blocked me. I’d kissed you goodbye at seven, you said I’d see you at five. We’d exchanged our usual grin after. You didn’t return any of my texts when I was on breaks, but I figured you’d forgot to turn your phone on, didn’t think anything of it until I came home to the apartment half-empty, the text on my phone. Your keys on the table.

No note, no explanation. I went for a walk, in the direction we always did. The habits of ten years don’t die overnight. I walked faster than normal, texted you to no reply six times. And did the only thing I could think do, the only thing that was real: I threw my cell phone into the ocean in one overhand throw of over five hundred dollars left on the plan. You never liked that I could think of things like that, but you’d never had to. There was a wall between us. I collected coupons. You barely knew what they were. I didn’t think it was insurmountable. I never thought anything between us was. The world is made of walls, but we are ladders: with our words, our poetry, our art and hopes. Every dream a rope ladder to the moon. If we both want it to reach. If we can trust that the other will carry us, and I would have sworn we did.

You’ll never read this. It isn’t for you. I don’t even know if it’s for me. I walked home, packed things up. The boy who arrived was from a few doors down, I think. I’m not sure. He was eleven and helped. He didn’t ask a question, didn’t offer a single word. Just helped me pack everything and after handed me my cell phone. I mean, everything was on it, as if it was mine but that wasn’t possible. Maybe I hadn’t thrown it, maybe I had.

“I made sure you’re unblocked,” the boy said, and his eyes understood everything. The understanding took my breath away. He hugged me and left, and I don’t know if he was real. Some days I think he wasn’t. On really bad days I pretend you weren’t, but I can’t do it for long. We were friends for five years, lovers together in that apartment for ten. We meant too much to each other to ever be friends again and that’s hard to say, harder to understand sometimes. But being friends isn’t the same, doesn’t have the same depth, the same richness. I couldn’t go back, couldn’t pretend that never happened.

I’m certain beyond telling that if I sent you a text now, you wouldn’t be able to block it. But I don’t. I hope I’m strong enough that I never will.  

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Government Agencies in the Magician Series

The Black Chamber: Probably the most well known and infamous. The Chamber has no problem with the existence of monsters – many native to this world it reality – and recognize them as part of the ecosystem. But even so they take steps to limit their populations via the execution of breeding pairs. They are very good at hunting and exterminating monsters as well as hiding their existence be from the world at large.

CASPER (Centre for Secure Poltergeist Elimination Research): A branch of the Department of Education, CASPER exists to convince the public that ghosts don’t exist. And do this by means of exorcisms on ghosts as well as disinformation campaigns.

The Montauk Project: Time travel experiments gone wrong. It was founded(?) in the 1940’s and source of the Manhattan Project, though most stories about it don’t begin until the 1980s.
At least 70% of the time it does not exist.

The Border Patrol: There are more attempted incursions into the universe from Outside than most know. Not everyone is met by one with the power to meet such things. For the rest, there is the border patrol. They are THE elite if secret agencies and generally the only one magicians respect. Every other agency is technically at their beck and call. If you need anything done efficiently and violetly, they are the only number you need to call.
Their attrition rate of members is a thing of legend.

The Metric Board/Commission: A little-known agency who police various magical talents in Canada and the United States. It’s rumoured that they kill more humans than any other agency and other agencies consider them a newcomer to the field and a poorly-run one at that. They are rare in operating jointly in two countries at once.

Sister Eye: A satellite system and providers of data to whomever requires it. They have access to alien tech, satellites only they know about and can actually detect some fae glamours, which is pretty much their claim to fame. A very minor player, but a useful one.

Homeworld Security: An umbrella UN group with global leverage, they oversee all other secret agencies and, as the name implies, are charged with keeping Earth secure. This is largely done by allocating resources to other agencies as needed.

MK Ultra: One of several names (Illuminati etc.) given to an organization that tried to hide weird shit from humanity via telepathic tricks, etc. The rise of the internet pretty much put an end to it and the organization was mostly folded into other ones.


Other Groups

The Deep School: A school that exists to teach creatures from Outside the universe about it and how to fit in/disguise themselves. Who founded it and what its overall motives for are unknown but they do supply ‘experts’ to agencies if needed and do aid in destroying Outsiders who break their rules.

The Bank: Created by the global banking industry, The Bank pays magicians handsomely each month so that magicians never feel the need to enter banks, use their magical powers and rob them blind. How many organizations pay into The Bank is unknown but they do have strange soulless ‘agents’ who can deal with magicians if one tries to cross them.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The Last Spell

Jay

“Jay.” Charlie stares at the wall of the bathroom, then at me. “Hissing at a wall is –” she pauses “– probably not an adventure. What are you doing?”

“I was told that walls in bathrooms open and lead to pits with fridges that freeze people!”

“Fridges?” Honcho asks.

“Because sometimes if you hiss at walls it opens a chamber of secrets that leads to a monster that freezes people,” I explainify.

“The only chamber of secrets I believe this bathroom contains is the toilet,” Honcho says.

“I have this,” Charlie says and Honcho leaves.

“But I was told to have a friend or two –.”

“And I am one. Look, Jay: it’s from a fictional book. Some kids get into a trap and run into a basilisk.”

I scratch my head. “But those aren’t fictional, Charlie!”

“I know basilisks exist Jay, but –.”

“No, no. I did research like a jayboss does cuz I remembered the story and it’s at Hogwarts which isn’t real but! then it got all confusling.”

“What got confusing?” Charlie asks carefully.

“I don’t think Harry expected to be met by a Jay and he tried to use magic on me that was really meany!”

“Ah. One moment.” Charlie walks back out really fast as if I did an oops only I haven’t and Honcho comes back in.

“I do know what Harry Potter is,” Honcho is saying. “I saw one of the movies once when comforting a kid whose babysitter turned into something Else. I dealt with the Else, but didn’t want to leave the child alone. It could be a fae creation done just to screw with humans.”

“I’d notice that,” I say all firmly. “And it wasn’t but it maybe wasn’t real? Also, Harry was only wearing green clothes you know!”

“Oh,” Honcho says, and it’s a magicians ‘Oh’ that’s all about knowing stuff!

Charlie slumps against the wall. “Do I even want to know,” she grumbles when the wall opens up and she falls way down into the dark.

Honcho looks at me. “Did you make that trapdoor, Jay?”

“I’m not stupid,” I say all indignant like a Jay. “Charlie would be really cross if I let her fall down a trap!”

His lips twitch. “A good point. Follow me,” and he slips down the side without making any wards at all which is really weirdy but I follow because we’re going to have an adventure!


Charlie

I hit the ground, rolling as I do. Nothing broken, a few things bruised. I’m almost certain Jay didn’t make a trapdoor, but I am certain he and the wandering magician will find me. The air is cold like I’m inside a fridge and it’s dark, but the god inside me is a thing of closets and dark spaces so I can see just fine. That the cold is reaching us at all is a surprise. I hear dripping water, and then the sounds of a clock.

I walk toward it, gently flexing my power. There are no gods here to be eaten, but there is something. Not a god, but a made thing. I don’t press it yet. The large room leads to a narrow cavern and a creature. It is long, grey-green and the clock down stops as it turns toward me. Time begins to slow, crawling, the source of the freezing evident now. I draw on the god inside me, reach out and eat the energy and keep walking.

“A basilisk has a lot of legs. You have none,” I say. I’m not Jay or the magician: I can’t just strike up conversations with most anything, but this entity is close enough to a god to understand me. Which I didn’t know I could do until now.

“I am repurposed. Remade,” it says, voice a roll of an aristocratic English accent. “Floreat Etona, you understand.”

“Not even remotely. I know of one story with a gator and a clock in it.”

“And an eaten pirate. We are one. It is very bad form,” the creature says.

I blink. Green. Oh. I almost ask a question I’m not sure I should when I hear Jay behind me.

“Hi!” He bounds over. “We’re friends, right?” he says, offering a huge grin to the creature.

“No.” It tries to use its power on Jay. I’m not sure he even notices. Jay is from far Outside the universe for all that he is 11 and the creature has no hope of binding him at all. That it resisted Jay trying to be its friend is scarier than anything else so far.

“A creature that can’t know friendship can resist jaysome,” the wandering magician says as he wanders up behind me.

The gator-thing growls.

“Hush.” The magician doesn’t thread power into his voice, just looks at it. “I am not part of your story, not this one nor the others. Sleep,” he says, and with a shudder the creature falls asleep.

“Honcho?” Jay looks baffled. “I couldn’t do a friendship binding at all!”

“I know. The sleeping should hold. We’re under a hill, and there is often a king who sleeps under a hill,” he says.

“This is a king?” I say.

“Sometimes.”

“What is going on here?”

He blinks. “What do you think happens if a child becomes a magician?”

“I have no idea.”

“They burn the magic out. It’s too much – the knowing, the weight. the awareness. It gets thrown out of the world, or at least into the cracks between real things. Sometimes it manifests itself as stories.”


Magician

“But that can’t last,” Charlie says when she finds her voice. “Magic isn’t a thing that lasts.”

“I know.” I whisper a request to Jay down the bindings between us and Jay grins and vanishes a moment later. “Which is why it gets dangerous. You can come out now,” I say. This is a place of magic: anything I worked here would turn out badly, if I was lucky.

“No magicians come here. Never. None,” the voice says and a boy flies down from the shadows above us. He is young, if you don’t look at his eyes, and dressed in green and carrying a piece of wood like a talisman.

“Some have,” I say, listening to the magic around me. “Children. Lost boys and frightened girls, scared of the magic inside them. Each one seeking Neverland, knowing magic means it must be real. And they come here and you drain them all because that is their deepest wish.”

“I do no wrong. None,” he says as he lands on the ground.

“I’ve never gone looking for you because I was told you’d been destroyed. But you weren’t. You tried to move on, to become Harry but you’ve spent too long being Peter. You can’t escape, no matter how hard you try. Tick-tock.”

The boy lets out a scream and waves his wand toward Charlie and me.

I pull a wand out of thin air. It has colours I don’t know and vibrates with a friendly humming.

“Oh, dear gods,” Charlie says.

I smile. “Obviate.”

The creature ceases to exist a moment later.

“Obviate?” Charlie says as I shake the wand and it turns back into Jay.

“I thought using Latin might give it power enough to remain.”

“Being a wand was a lot of fun,” Jay says happily.

I set that worry aside to deal with later. The magic – the hunger – of this place begins to fold it on itself without the parasite to pretend something symbiotic that was holding it together.

I listen to the magic. Not hurrying, even though a children’s story that turns on itself leaves no way out. There is always a way out, a way stories won’t take if they can avoid it. Words come, and I raise my voice and speak: “I call upon the winds to scream, the sky to crack, the earth to quake. I summon powers from beyond and give myself up for my friends' sake.”

The death of the place shudders at those worse, pauses, and I use the pause to force a door back into the real world, yanking Charlie and Jay after me before Jay can try and stay and make himself another friend this morning.

“What – what was that?” Charlie demands.

“Watership Down, or at least that’s what the words told me. Death is a stranger to the really young stories. It gave us a way out.”

“So it’s gone?” she asks.

“For now. I’ll need to tell other magicians about it. We’ll need to find a way to stop it from forming again.”

“Obviate.” Charlie shakes her head. “Sometimes you are so lucky that you scare me, magician.”

I nod and look at Jay. “No more bathroom adventures for a while. Or train ones.”

“It’s okay. Bathrooms are really weirdy and... ooh! Someone needs a wand,” he says, and vanishes a moment later.

I close my eyes. I manage not to swear.

“And sometimes,” Charlie says slowly, “not so lucky at all.”

“You know Harry Potter: can I summon him back using something from that?”

“While he’s having an adventure?” She snorts. “Good luck.”

I sigh and head out of the bathroom, listening for a too-familiar sound of sirens to lead us to Jay.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Haunting

Sometimes sadness is such a big ripple that it feels like the entire pond is full of it. I follow it, because adventures are very important and hugging away sadness is an important importance of course!

The ghost is in a real pond, visible to a Jay because I am really good at seeing things, and she is crying. People look about, hearing it without hearing it, and the ghost is a bit older than me – and eleven is old for a Jay – and doing bindings to try and keep people away from the water but each one falls apart.

“Hi?” I say

“Please. No. The water is cold: do not come in,” she says, low and desperate.

“I’m really good at swimming and sometimes don’t even need to swim at all,” I kinda boast a little, and do a sneaky binding to hide from people and walk over across the water to the ghost. Because people sometimes get weirdy when I do that, even if the water is fine with it.

The ghost stares. She has seaweed hair, and cold skin, and looks sad more than like the monster she’s trying to be. “The ocean is always hungry. I drowned here, so I am part of that hunger. A calling. A haunting of this place. I don’t want anyone else to drown.” she whispers.

“Oh. You could go back to the Grey Lands?” I say, because ghosts can.

“They scare me,” she whispers. “The water isn’t right. I don’t feel safe there.”

“And if you remain here then other people aren’t safe, which is a pickle but it’s not because pickles are pretty nummy!”

“What?” she asks.

“There are other places to haunt,” I offer, and hug her really tight and I’m jaysome at hugging and bindings.

“Your shadow is an ocean,” she says in a funny tone, and slips right into it easily.

I’ve never had a ghost haunt me before but I’m pretty big and this way she’ll get to be in an ocean and not risk hurting anyone by mistake at all. Plus I got to make a new friend!

Friday, October 28, 2016

Retirement: a parable

The assignment was simple. There is a wandering magician. He interferes in matters that do not concern magicians. Find him. Kill him.

Working for the Metric Commission meant dealing with problems. I had killed several with magical Talents in my time. And one magician, though she was new to her power and I’d barely escaped with my life even so. This assignment wasn’t like that.

They gave me the aendar, a stone that nullified power. And promises I’d be able to leave if I did this one thing. I said yes. Sometimes that’s all you can do. There were ways to find him, of course but I wasn’t about to try them: magicians have good instincts for traps.

Instead I ended up in the town of Cresthaven. Because it carried a scar in the skin of the world that was opening and the magician would end up here. It was the sort of thing magicians fixed and there were none around here. There were four talents in two surrounding towns: killing them proved surprisingly simple.

That was probably a warning. Only I didn’t think so at the time.

The magician arrived three weeks later. Places feel different once a magician comes to them. Like the calm at the centre of a storm. As if everything was more real, more important. There was a fulcrum here, and everyone knew it without understanding what they knew.

He looked ordinary. That surprised me. He wandered the streets and if I hadn’t been told what was wrong with the town, I’d have never noticed him. But he paid attention to the wound. I followed, waiting until he was done mending it.

He turned to me as I came up behind him. The aendar was cold in my hand and warm as well as though the stone were somehow liquid and solid as once.

“Ah,” he said, and then words in a language I didn’t know. The aendar was in his hand a moment later. The stone purred.

I didn’t move.

“You brought two snipers with you.” He didn’t use power, not in the way magicians can. But he was certain in a way that shook me.

“Three,” I admitted.

“Including you, yes.” He sighed. “If I asked, would you tell me who you worked for?”

“I am trained to resist such things.”

“Mmm. You think that will matter to me, considering you planned to kill me?”

“No. The stone was going to my my method.”

The magician blinked once, studied the stone. “Few can carry an aendar for three weeks without it leaving them. Whatever agency you work with, you know how dangerous a magician can be.”

“In a place of power, yes.”

He smiled, and the smile set me back a step. “I am the wandering magician. Each place I wander to is a place of power for me.”

I fell back another step at the truth behind those words. I swore. I don’t often, but sometimes it’s the only way to voice fear.

“Even if that were not true, you must have known this would not work. Why did you do it?”

I think he threaded power into his voice on a level so subtle I never sensed it; I’d like to think that’s why I answered. “I wish to retire. Almost no one has. I am tired of – the things that have to be done to keep the world safe. Of how much I’ve lost and given up of myself, my own dreams. I wished to be free from those I worked for.”

He laughed. The magician’s laugh shook me with the kindness that lurked under him. “You have an aendar stone: they unmake bindings, and some magics as well. Whatever connected to you to your employers is gone, Aram.”

“And those who came with me?” I asked.

“I have dealt with them.”

I didn’t ask. If I have learned anything, it’s that some things are best left unknown. “And what happens to me?”

“That is up to you. I will let the stone go: no one is meant to hold one, and certainly not for three weeks. You may forget some things you knew, but some of that will be the stones doing on the behest of your former employers I imagine.”

I nodded. I could have asked for his help, but there are some things you don’t do.

“And Aram?”

I paused, half-turned away. I’d never told him my name, but he was the wandering magician.

“If you try and kill anyone else with a Talent in your life, you will answer to me.”

I said nothing; I continued turning and walked away. Sometimes there are no other options. Survival has a cost, and I accepted the cost of my own.

Sunday, October 02, 2016

On Spirit Animals

I don’t pray. Not as a rule, it’s just something I don’t do.

Every prayer I ever had was beaten out of by my father’s hands, my mother’s indifference. I’ve been told that we have to save ourselves, when I bring it up, but it doesn’t work like that. We save each other: and not a single prayer to any god makes one bit of difference in that. No god is ever going to save you: they’re too busy passing around the popcorn and gloating in our tears. Want to know why there is suffering in the world? I figure it’s because it’s what give them their power.

Otherwise, if any god was real, they’d do things now, not just in dusty books that mean less than nothing. Sorry. I’m just trying to explain, so that it makes sense. There have been worse parents than mine. Ones who were never home, or ones kids prayed – having nothing else to hope for – that they’d never be home. I’ll just say my day was a mean son of a bitch even before he got a beer in him and mom was on so many drugs to deal with everything that she did nothing at all. She was about as empty as you could get and still walk around calling yourself human. I bet the pharmacist got a crap ton of pens for all the drugs he put her on.

I was on a few, because of school. ‘Problem child’ as if that didn’t mean problem parents. Mom took some of mine, or dad did to sell them. I never found out who, but I was shaking, strung out. Uncle Tony had killed himself. He wasn’t a good uncle, I think, but he wasn’t bad either. In my books then that made him almost a saint. He didn’t drink, but the doctors said there was something in his brain. Parasite that made him just walk out into traffic one day and not stop, something like that out of a bad horror film.

And I was seeing things. People talk about spirit animals, but it’s more spirit forms. What’s important to people, what resonates with them. For dad it was beer, for mom the pills. I had a cockroach. I knew that because cockroaches are afraid of people and I never saw it. Never saw anything that could help me. Sometimes, when I saw them, the spirit animals warned me just before dad would swing a fist. I learned to read them as well as him. Wasn’t even sure they were real.

Honestly, I’m still not. No one had a wolf I ever saw, or a crow. TV characters, family members: whatever someones drug is, that was their spirit animal. Could have been me just projecting, or whatever the term is. The bad day wasn’t bad, not worse than any other. Maybe that’s what it was. Words I didn’t escape, a bruise to hide at school. Sometimes all you try to do is escape when you know you can’t and it eats at you. Like animals gnawing off their feet in traps.

I felt like that. I didn’t pray. To this day, I’ll swear I didn’t, but there was a kid in my room. Between one moment and the next. He was eleven. I remember that. I think if I ever get Alzheimer’s like a blessing, I’ll still remember him being eleven.

“Hi. I’m Jay,” he said, and he grinned. No one ever grinned at me like that. Not my mom when I was born, not any lover I’ve ever had. No one has, before or since. It hurt like nothing else too.

I might have screamed, because he had one hand on my mouth, worried. For me. He was worried for him, not of anything else. I knew that too.

“I didn’t mean to surprise you,” he said. “But you were sad-face and I thought I could maybe help?”

“My spirit animal is a cockroach and it hurts.” Of everything I could have said, could have asked, could have wondered, somehow that fell out of my mouth. These days, even on bad days like nothing I imagined as a kid, I’ll remember that moment and have to laugh.

The boy took it in stride as if it made all the sense in the world. “That’s not very jaysome,” he said, and – I can’t tell you what that means. I mean, it’s a word, but it meant – it helped, is all I’m saying. Somehow the word helped.

He offered to be my totem, entirely serious, and boasted he would probably be the best spirit animal ever. I said yes, trying to cover for my stupid statement, still thinking it so stupid but dad heard things, came in.

Demanded to know what another kid was doing in my room, said he wasn’t going to be having – well, no need to repeat. I try to forget it. The kid turned, stared up my father. And dad fell back. Fell away, looking scared. Whatever jaysome was to me, it had other edges I never got to see.

He left. Dad left. I’d like to say he never hit me again, or that he changed, but I’d be lying. The kid looked back at me and let out a huge sigh. “I’d like to do a helping, but then you’d be changed and you wouldn’t be you and that would be really wrong.”

And he meant it, as he meant everything else I said. So I’ve tried to be me ever since that day, even if it hurts. I haven’t seen the kid again. I left home as soon as I could, two years later. I don’t talk to my parents anymore, though sometimes I don’t think I ever did. I don’t pray. Never do. But now, some days, I think I understand a little better the people who do.

Huh? No, I haven’t seen any kind of spirit animal in years. I figure it was just the withdrawal and some of the drugs making me loopy, that’s all. It happens. I got better. I think the kid maybe helped with that too, but I’ll never know. It’s probably better that way. Definitely safer. Because whatever Jay was, safe wasn’t part of it at all.

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.