Friday, March 17, 2017

A Secret Hugging

“Dunwith isn’t the kind of world one visits. Humans used to joke that they came from a death planet until they reached it. The thing about death worlds – the real kind, the killing kind – is that they don’t develop life forms capable of getting off-world. Or perhaps that intelligence is not advantageous to survival on such a world. An argument can be made that intelligence is detrimental to survival but it is not one I agree with. Further records in System indicate that –. You are doing it again.”

“Oh! Sorry. I don’t get worried often so I kinda wander when I do.”

“So noted. I am, however, a TX83-class Intelligence piloting this vessel. Your mind sending into my subsystems is not optimal.”

“I didn’t mean to at all but! I can’t get to Dunwith normally and that’s really confusling you know!”

“You are on a spacefaring vessel using a Malkuth Drivel. Is there another travel method I should be aware of?”

“Lots, I bet, but mostly I –.” The boy wiggles a hand. He is eleven and, to every scan and probe I have, entirely human. Ordinary in ways that no human has been in over a hundred years. “And it doesn’t work to Dunwith, which is really rude!”

I pause, a second almost an eternity as I crunch data. I watch the stable wormhole dissolve without a net loss or gain of energy. “I would like to know how you are doing this, please.”

“I don’t know yet; I won’t find out for a few years I think but it’s kind of cheating even if it’s not since I don’t travel like you do,” he says.

I drop into regular space. Dunwith is closed, has been since not longer after it’s discovery. There is one intelligent life form on it. A human boy, identical to the one beside me.

“He’s twelve,” Jay explains. “I’m eleven. It’s a hugey difference!”

Forces are balanced and held at bay within Dunwith. I begin scans. There are variables I don’t even know, energies that defy scanning. The older Jay is sitting right in the middle of the most dangerous world and holding it back.

Jay pokes the screens, staring out as I go transparent. “Oh, me,” he says softly, sounding very sad.

“I am afraid I do not understand?”

“He’s not holding it back. Sorry, but you think really loudly and he’s not – I’m not – he’s playing with it. Toying with it. Tormenting it.”

“It cannot harm him.”

“Nope. I’m tough like a Jay and I get way tougher as I get older and sometimes other things too.” He sighs, and a moment later is holding a blade in one hand, cutting it into the air. Whatever barrier is about Dunwith dissolves. Rips. Every error system aboard me shrieks alarms and Jay winces. “I didn’t mean to do an oops, but I’m kinda in a hurry,” and he is gone a moment later.

Somehow I am with him, which I know he intends. There is an empty field, about it swirls death that falls away from the blade as Jay walks toward himself. The older-him is twelve, and the smile he offers contains nothing of kindness.

“What is that?”

“Oh, we won’t run into a Verkonis blade for years so! I kinda cheated,” Jay says. “Because! you are cheating by not being jaysome.”

Forces impact. The world ripples like a mirage, and the universe itself seems to do the same.

“You’re older than me, and that makes you strong in some ways but being jaysome makes me stronger.” Jay doesn’t move. “You can’t keep being this, doing this. You need a hugging,” and this is beyond scans. Beyond understanding. The last Milieu War unleashed energies almost beyond the understanding of a TX90 AI. This is far beyond even that.

“Even with that blade, I am more than you.” The older Jay laughs, a thing of broken data and sundered connections. “I can turn you into me with three words!”

“But you won’t because that wouldn’t be jaysome and! because I’m taking umbrage with you being all kinds of rude!”

“Umbrage.” There is a deep silence after the word. “This is a prompt,” older Jay says, slow and disbelieving. “I remember this.”

“On tumblr, and it’s by @thatrandompoet and they’re pretty important to a Jay!”

“You broke space and time, risked unmaking the future and the past to do a prompt?” the other demands in a tone of pure incredulity.

“It is a very important prompt.” And Jay grins, only this grin is fierce as much as joyous. “And you need huggings badly and I can’t give them to you so I’m making a way toward them!”

“A Way, and not a binding.” I can’t understand that tone at all.

“I learn things really fast for my friends, and I am always friends with me!”

The blade breaks, or twists, and Jay is gone between one moment and the next.

The balance with Dunwith is unbroken, but the death world does not attack the older Jay. He looks about, waiting. “He made it jaysome. Of course he made friends with the most dangerous world in the universe. I am done with this place.” He lets out a sigh, shakes his head and is gone a moment later.

I am unharmed. I take no umbrage at that. I wait, and I do not know what for. I think Jay will return, but I do not know when. And so I wait.

The Dark Wood

The Dark Woods had been silent for two weeks: it was the only thing anyone in the Kingdom was talking about. The last time there had been no monsters emerging from it to harry our lands, a dragon had taken root within. The dragon had bound all the monsters under its awful power and emerged to conquer: three cities had burned to ash before it was contained as everyone who was never there remembers. The Queen does remember: the ancient succession of ruling queens almost broken, the death and destruction that are birthright and warning both.

And so I was sent forth. Once a Knight of the Realm and now the royal Champion for my sins. Champions have leeway that knights do not, because so few last in the post. An ill-judged joke had sealed my fate but I knew destiny answered to luck as much as fate. My blade had the best poisons I could find, my armour the best enchantments that money could procure and my mount prepared for war. I had survived four weeks longer than the previous ten champions. I did not expect to survive this.

You entered the Dark Woods with armies or you did not survive it. It was almost midday, and the forest might have looked almost ordinary save for the shape of the trees and the ancient warding wall that still held it back from expanding into the known and unknown realms. “Tirel,” I whispered to my mount. “hold still.” And I rode into a forest of thick overhanging trees. Within moments, it was barely possible to see that the sun was shining at all. I whispered a word, and the blade shone with pale fire.

That the energy came from me and not from Tirel or the blade was a secret only Tirel knew. A Knight of the Realm did not use any magics – a champion far less so. I considered the matter of my own survival to me far more important than any custom, no matter how well-intentioned it was. The forest about us remained dark, but the lesser shadows skittered away from the light of the blade. There were paths that were mostly the flee routes of prey so we made our way along some to wind deeper into the wood.

The blade flickered, and I cancelled the magic within it, rested a few moments and set it to blaze again. I had no desire to waste my resources and the magic lasting only an hour let me know when a real hour had past – which was at least a solid connection to the world outside. An hour into the woods and we were not dead. Nothing had even tried to kill us.

“The Queen was right,” I said, as much for the sound as anything else. Even the insects in the woods were silent. My voice left no echo. “There is something very bad here.”

And I urged Tirel onward. I had my duty, if nothing else. It is a cold mistress, but not as cold as death.

It was three more hours before I encountered anything else. A skraeling: a small thing of shadows, too thin to be real. It emerged from a tree, or between two trees. “Human? Human unwise, being here. Dark place.”

“This is the Dark Woods.”

“No. Worse. Empty.”

“Where is everything?”

“Hiding from the monster.”

“Where is the monster?”

“Heh! Funny human. Mad human. Follow the road. All roads leads to the monster. All and every one.”

“Why are you here?”

“Home. Stayed. Everyone fled, but stayed.” It’s eyes blazed for a moment. “Everyone fled but this is my home,” it hissed.

I blinked, made sure I kept still. Gone was the odd halting, weird voice. Only a monster spoke to me now. It grinned mockingly as I raised my blade and vanished before I could do anything.

I let out a breath and pushed my mount onward. The forest remained so empty of sound that not even the dead seemed to haunt it and I had it on very good authority that they did.

We reached a grove after five more hours of travel. My sword still burned, though keeping that magic going for over seven hours had begun to tire me a little. Not a lot, but a little could be a lot when facing any kind of monster. My father taught me that a lifetime ago.

The grove was large and unnatural, as if the forest was trying to pull itself away from something more than anything else. Tirel shivered a little and I got off my mount slowly. Despite the grove, there was no light coming down from the sky: no starlight, no moonshine. Just darkness, under which sat a human boy of twelve staring into space. I knew he was twelve somehow, but had no idea why.

“Tirel. Kill.”

Tirel moved. The warbeast only looked like a horse, and had once driving a young dragon away from me long enough for me to launch the final poisoned strike into it. The beast moved, a blur of ancient magics in a horse-shape, and the boy just stood up. He moved almost slowly and Tirel wasn’t there a moment later. No clash of magics, no terrible power. Tirel was simply gone.

I meant to charge, but grief turned my steps into slower movements. “You killed Tirel.”

“I am tired of being attacked.” The voice sounds human, but there are things under the words I have no words for. “I thought I would be left alone in a dark wood.”

“You have been noticed.” My words sounded almost like an apology.

“I will leave then.” And he gestured, casual in the cruelty of it, and the world itself tore open in front of him like ripened fruit to become a doorway to some other place.

“Wait. I would have your name, to put on Tirel’s grave.”

He turned back. “You think you can use grief on me? Guilt?” And each word drove me back a step. I had no words for his expression. “My name is Jayseltosche.”

“But I know you. My grandfather defeated the demon Archon with your aid.” I didn’t mean to speak the words out loud.

“I was eleven. I was a different person then.”

I opened my mouth.

“If you ask me to be jaysome, I will end you and your world.” The words were soft, flat, and contained only truth.

I watched him step into the portal and vanish. Felt the dark woods shudder about me. I turned and walked home, and nothing that returned to the woods tried to stop me. I told the queen there was a monster, and it had left but was not gone. She asked no questions. She even let me retire a year later, which no Champion has before.

But I wasn’t a Champion anymore. I don’t know what I am anymore. I walk the streets of the Kingdom. I find children whose faces remind me of the terrible look in Jay’s eyes. And I help them, try to pull them away from something too deep to be called an abyss. It is all I can do, to make amends for being too afraid to try and help the monster in the dark woods.

A Dreaming Morning

I open my eyes to warmth pressed against my body. It’s 4:23 in the morning and Jay is curled up into my in my bedroom in the hotel suite, trembling and trying to seem asleep. He knows not to get into a bed with my or Charlie: no matter how far from Outside the universe he’s from, Jay appears to be eleven. A couple of incidents of people entering rooms and finding a boy curled up to sleep against an adult when there were two beds in a motel room and the like led to incidents. Enough that he doesn’t do it at all, hasn’t in over two years.

Most days bring new beginnings, when one deals with a very jaysome Jay who has more adventures than entire civilizations manage to do. Old beginnings repeating themselves are worrying; I try to hide that when I speak. “Jay.”

He opens his eyes, looks at me. There are no words. I remember the time he couldn’t see. The prices I paid that cost his vision and returned him. For a moment his eyes are unseeing as fear that threatens to spill out of him.

“Kitchen,” I say, the promise of food and drink a binding. I get out of the bed, throw on a shirt over my jeans – all magicians learn to sleep clothed early on – and Jay is wearing clothing as he pads out after me. His silence deafens the world. Most of the time getting Jay to be quiet takes effort.

The kitchen has a small table in it. I boil water, making myself instant coffee and him some hot chocolate. Jay sits, staring up at me, hands tight together on the table.

“Want to talk about it?” I offer as I sit across from him.

Jay blinks, starts, staring up wide-eyed at me. He licks his lips, the nervousness almost human. “I had dreams, Honcho,” he whispers.

I don’t drop my drink, but it takes an effort. Jay doesn’t dream often. When he does, it tends to be about the Far Reaches far beyond the universe, terrible threats that none of us can face. Messages more than dreams, I think. “About?” I ask.

“You. And – and Charlie. I did a binding so I’d have dreams, and I maybe kinda had your dreams by mistake?”

“Oh.” I drink my coffee slowly.

“They were bad dreams, Honcho. About when the fae put you into the first tree for – for lots of years – and about hurting me even if you didn’t?”

I blink. “Jay. You were blind for over a year because of me.”

“But that was an adventure,” he protests. Because I am Honcho, and I can do no wrong in his head.

“Then why did you crawl into my bed?”

“Cuz I was in Charlie’s dreams a bit too and she has dreams in which she doesn’t think I’m jaysome!” And Jay looks so utterly shocked and lost at that.

“Well, you do tend to blow up microwaves, kiddo.”

He sniffs. Loudly.

“Jay. The solution is to have your own dreams.”

“But but but –.”

“Which means facing why you won’t. Not can’t,” I add before he can protest. “Won’t.” Jay slumps visibly at that. “Which means going Outside the universe with me.”

He shakes his head even before I finish speaking.

“Jaysel –.”

“No!” And Jay cuts me off before I can say his real name, glaring up at me. “It’s not safe, Honcho!”

“We do have allies. And I am me,” I add dryly.

“No. I would be found if I’m Outside the universe and and and my mother would come. And eat me,” he adds, so quietly I barely hear him.

“Jay. We are bound together. I can protect you.”

“You can’t.” And I make a sound in my shock, because Jay looks up. His face is anguished, but he doesn’t look away. “She’s too big and she’d eat all of us and we’d be gone.”

I stare at Jay. Part of being Honcho to him means I can solve anything. Even if I can’t, his faith in me is unshakable. Or was until this morning. I take a deep breath and nod to him. “All right. We won’t do that.”

And he relaxes, and further into the hug I offer him, shuddering all over.

There are things I never mean to do. Lines I never wish to cross. Lies I never wished to tell even by omission. I hold it all inside, and quietly begin to make plans to deal with Jay’s mother. Sometimes the new only comes with the destruction of the old. And the least I owe to Jay is peace.

Hope: A Conversation

The important thing about magic to a new magician is that it’s a poem rather than prose. Art more than science. It’s about will and desire and need combined together so that the world can’t stand against it. To fix and repair, to mend and bend. That’s what magic is, though not necessarily all it’s for. What magicians do – protecting the world, the binding and banishing of Outsiders – that is simply what we are. It’s easy to forget that the magic is the smallest part of being a magician. And only older magicians realize that the important thing about magic is that it isn’t a tool. It’s alive. Aware. Part of you and also part of something far bigger.

There aren’t many older magicians. Most don’t last as long as I have. Sometimes it’s easier to die when you have power than when you don’t. You take chances. You get reckless. You think that because you exist to stop Outsiders, than none of them can defeat you.

“When you’re the hope of a world, it’s easy to forget that hope is too nebulous to be anything at all.”

“It is the things that don’t exist that are sometimes the most important,” the magic says softly to me.

We talk, sometimes. It can step outside of me, and generally looks just like me. Sometimes kinder. I don’t know if other magicians do this; it seems wrong to ask. We walk through the woods side by side like old friends and former lovers do. I buried a magician today. Closed the hole they failed to, gently did bindings on the memories of the family. Had Charlie contact the fae to ask them about a more general glamour on the rest of the city.

Jay helped me close the would in the universe. I found the next person who was going to be a magician, and sent Jay to make friends with them. At the least, it should be educational. I think jaysome can be that sometimes. I look over at the magic. “Like magic?”

“I don’t know. Hope endures longer than magic.” The magic licks his lips, looks away to stare out through the trees, or at places only magic can see. “Magic is a gift that is paid back. Hope is paid forward.”

“At times, but it has costs. There are always those who hope the future wil be better, and waste time on the hoping they could spent on realizing it. And sometimes it is a luxury one cannot afford.”

“But even when we cannot afford it – even when, like kindness, we must set it aside – it does not go away. We put it away in a box, but we open the box later. We do not lose it. You do not lose it, or the magic isn’t what it was.” The magic laughs then, soft and almost jaysome. “Magicians are lasting longer, Nathen. Some day there will even be multiple wandering magicians at once. The dead die, but the living learn from them. There are more steps ahead than go backwards, though sometimes even magic has a hard time seeing that.”

“The next magician here will be more careful and last longer. The one after will learn not to be too careful. Two of three more, and there will be an ugly death again,” I say.

“Sometimes lessons must be repeated. Sometimes one only learns from the past by repeating it’s mistakes again.”

“I’ve made many. But Charlie and Jay aren’t those.” I take a deep breath, pull the magic back into me, and head back into the city. I can grieve for the past, but I can still hope for the future. Once I can’t do that, I don’t think I’ll be a magician anymore. And all I can do is hope, in my own way, that I die long before that time might come to pass. To die before hope dies, when I can still be jaysome, will be enough for me. 

The Hidden World

“There isn’t a hidden world. That’s the only lesson you need to learn. There are secrets, yes. And some of them are terrible and awful and we do what we can to protect humanity from them. That’s what being in the Border Patrol is about. This isn’t a promotion. I know some of you were told that, but that was a lie. It’s the last lie you’ll get, at least in the Patrol. We deal in truth. There is no pension because no one survives to collect one. Get married, have kids. The payout to families is why people do this: you’ll die, but your family won’t have money troubles for the rest of their lives. I know, I know. Some of you are good. Some of you are the best of your units, departments, organizations, think tanks. It doesn’t matter. You’re not going to survive.

“The world we live in isn’t what people think it is. Or, more accurately, it is. But the world most people know is a volume of a trilogy, say. The second volume contains the world we live in. The rest it’s wisest to not think about too hard. The universe isn’t the safe place people think it is. It’s a safe place compared to the wild places that exist Outside it. Which means a lot of entities try to enter it for one reason or another. There are defences in places. The Cone and the Grave, which acts like some kind of vetting system. Entities that bind Outsiders to help the universe itself. There is even a school that trains Outsiders to fit into various worlds. But there are always creatures that slip through the cracks.

“Some are benign, it must be said. We don’t run into those all that often. The ones we’ll run into want to cause pain, to make beachheads, to make part of the world more like whatever they’re from, or simply do terrible things because they’re alien to our understanding of everything. There are those that stop them. Magicians in cities are the big one, but there are only so many magicians and they die like other people do as well. So we pick up the slack, fill in the gaps, plug the holes in smaller places. You’ll have tech you never dreamt existed, and it won’t be enough. But sometimes we get lucky, or we know enough, or we delay a creature until help arrives. On really good days we kill the Outsiders ourselves.

“We’re the Border Patrol, and we protect the world any way we can. Shortly, Agent Casum will come in and explain some of what we’ve had to do. You may have to nuke towns. And, fair warning, that’s the about middling on the scale of things we’ve had to do. There will never be parades, almost no one outside the Patrol will know what you do. There isn’t a hidden world, but we help keep the reality of our world from everyone else. You’ve probably heard of the Black Chamber: they consider us hardcore.

“One day at a time. One war at the time. You’ll save the world, if you’re lucky. If you’re even luckier, you might be called jaysome. And no, I’m not explaining that. If you meet Jay, you’ve earned it. After you watch Casum’s videos, you can request other duties. Or even to be returned to your old life. depending. Beyond that, you’re Patrol through and through. If you last five years, there’s a plaque. The Patrol has been protecting the world in one form or another since 1673.

“Only five people have survived to have plaques. One of them was possibly sane. Good luck. You’re going to need it.”

“There isn’t a hidden world. That’s the only lesson you need to learn. There are secrets, yes. And some of them are terrible and awful and we do what we can to protect humanity from them. That’s what being in the Border Patrol is about. This isn’t a promotion. I know some of you were told that, but that was a lie. It’s the last lie you’ll get, at least in the Patrol. We deal in truth. There is no pension because no one survives to collect one. Get married, have kids. The payout to families is why people do this: you’ll die, but your family won’t have money troubles for the rest of their lives. I know, I know. Some of you are good. Some of you are the best of your units, departments, organizations, think tanks. It doesn’t matter. You’re not going to survive.

“The world we live in isn’t what people think it is. Or, more accurately, it is. But the world most people know is a volume of a trilogy, say. The second volume contains the world we live in. The rest it’s wisest to not think about too hard. The universe isn’t the safe place people think it is. It’s a safe place compared to the wild places that exist Outside it. Which means a lot of entities try to enter it for one reason or another. There are defences in places. The Cone and the Grave, which acts like some kind of vetting system. Entities that bind Outsiders to help the universe itself. There is even a school that trains Outsiders to fit into various worlds. But there are always creatures that slip through the cracks.

“Some are benign, it must be said. We don’t run into those all that often. The ones we’ll run into want to cause pain, to make beachheads, to make part of the world more like whatever they’re from, or simply do terrible things because they’re alien to our understanding of everything. There are those that stop them. Magicians in cities are the big one, but there are only so many magicians and they die like other people do as well. So we pick up the slack, fill in the gaps, plug the holes in smaller places. You’ll have tech you never dreamt existed, and it won’t be enough. But sometimes we get lucky, or we know enough, or we delay a creature until help arrives. On really good days we kill the Outsiders ourselves.

“We’re the Border Patrol, and we protect the world any way we can. Shortly, Agent Casum will come in and explain some of what we’ve had to do. You may have to nuke towns. And, fair warning, that’s the about middling on the scale of things we’ve had to do. There will never be parades, almost no one outside the Patrol will know what you do. There isn’t a hidden world, but we help keep the reality of our world from everyone else. You’ve probably heard of the Black Chamber: they consider us hardcore.

“One day at a time. One war at the time. You’ll save the world, if you’re lucky. If you’re even luckier, you might be called jaysome. And no, I’m not explaining that. If you meet Jay, you’ve earned it. After you watch Casum’s videos, you can request other duties. Or even to be returned to your old life. depending. Beyond that, you’re Patrol through and through. If you last five years, there’s a plaque. The Patrol has been protecting the world in one form or another since 1673.

“Only five people have survived to have plaques. One of them was possibly sane. Good luck. You’re going to need it.”

Monday, February 13, 2017

A Moment: timestamped

“I could stop you.”

I don’t look over from tossing my visa and a fake ID into a bag, make sure I have my worst clothing on. “You could. There won’t be many people there.”

“Jay is going to follow you,” the wandering magician says softly.

There are things that loom large in the world, and then there are those that should but don’t. Hidden things. Secret things. Magician things, but others as well. Jay is eleven. He is also from far, far Outside the universe and could, on a very bad day, likely unmake the entire universe. I try not to think too hard about that. About what it costs to travel with him, about how much we try to protect him from. Innocent is armour, but not always. Not always. Sometimes I think it’s a chain as well. “I know.”

The magician nods. “Even the fae might not be able to hide the result of Jay being at a rally, Charlie.”

I look at him. “Do you want them to?”

He smiles. There is almost nothing of a magician in his smile, and I have some idea in that moment of what it costs him to do nothing. “I have no idea anymore. A magician’s power is small things, subtle workings. Jay is far much more. If I go, I would shift events when I should not. Need. Desire. Will.” He falls silent for a moment, staring off into some memory I know nothing of. “I will keep Outsiders and monsters from feeding off of events, from making things worse.”

“Worse.”

“They can always be worse.” It would sound like a cliché, if it wasn’t him saying it.

“The town isn’t that big. The protest won’t be that big,” I say, to myself as much as the magician.

“I know. Keep Jay safe.”

I nod and head outside, and he is beside me a moment later, saying he feels bindings and knows I’m doing an adventure and that of course means a Jay can help.

“Charlie?” he says after I don’t reply.

“It’s not that kind of adventure, Jay.”

“There are lots of adventures that feel like something else,” Jay says firmly.

“There are?”

“Like when food pretends it’s not food and!” I almost smile, but Jay stops me with a sudden, hard hug. “And going to places with lots of messy bindings is a dangerous adventure but that’s important too!”

“It is. You have to promise not to fix any of them.”

“That’s going to be really hard,” he whispers.

“I know. But sometimes being present without being jaysome is as important as being jaysome,” I say.

Jay blinks, scratches his head. “I think you went postjaysome, Charlie?”

I laugh, soft, surprised. “Maybe I did. Come?”

He nods, and walks beside me. The world stops. Even Jay stops, which I didn’t thin could be done.

The entity before me is tall and pale, young and ancient. “There are few incidents that draw me to a place in person,” it says.

I shudder. I’ve seen this entity once become. Seen more of it. “You’re Time.”

“Winter, if you like. Among other names.” Winter’s voice is soft, kind because Time can afford to be kind. “Trying to get Jay to be not jaysome in this way has drawn me here.” Winter embodies Time, making this Power perhaps as old as the universe. It sounds unsure for a moment. “Even I have no idea what to make of this.”

“A memento?” The words slip out. I’m always sarcastic when I’m terrified.

“Perhaps. A moment, seen and known. A time.” Winter laughs, and the sounds reminds me a little of Jay. “A time stamp, by Time. A moment known and preserved. This is very dangerous.”

“I know.”

“And very brave,” he says, to Jay, who grins. The rest of the world is frozen, but Jay is free of it and beaming proudly.

“I am really good at being brave,” he boasts. “Also, stopping me tickled you know!”

“Ah. Of course it did.” And the Power of the universe is gone, and time moves again as if nothing dared impede it.

I shiver, but Jay is holding my hand. Waiting. To learn how to witness without casting any judgement. I only hope I can somehow teach him what we both need to learn.

Secret Diary Entry #5

“Uhm.”

He’s not older than me by much, being only eleven and peers at me in the doorway of the house, and I almost think the door opened before I touched it.

“Hi, I’m Jay!”

“You’re my babysitter?” I demand.

“I’m not sure? Cuz I kinda met Kyle and he told me where he was babysitting only you aren’t a baby. Unless that’s a really good disguise?!”

“I’m seven,” I say firmly.

“Oh. I’m eleven,” he says proudly.

“I know,” I say and I wonder how I did. “Where is Kyle?”

“He’s having an adventure, but!” And Jay flings the word like a weapon, “he might not think so because of the giant snakes! Things don’t stop being adventures just cuz they’re scary, you know!”

I stare at him. He grins and even my mom and dad have never grinned at me like that. I step back and let him in despite everything I was told in class about strangers. He’s not a stranger.

“What do you and Kyle do, Asham?”

I never told him my name. I’m almost sure of that. “He lets me eat ice cream for supper.”

“Really?! I’m not allowed to and that’s pretty sad.”

“No, I – that wasn’t true,” I fumble.

“But you said it.” And he looks so hurt I fall back from it. “That’s really rude if you’re lying to a Jay.”

“I’m sorry. I just – I didn’t mean to –.”

“Oh. Okay,” and his grin is back like something I’ve done nothing to deserve.

Jay orders pizza for supper for us, eating two entire pizzas by himself and watching two movies with me. I think I head something outside for a second, like the dog next door, only nasty, but it stops a moment later and then the doorbell rings and I barely see Jay move.

“Hi,” he says.

The man who comes in looks at me, then the living room. He looks ordinary, like Dad, only his eyes aren’t ordinary at all. He looks about the room like mom looking for places where I’ve tried to hide toys. “Jay. Charlie told me you were babysitting.”

“Uh-huh! I’m really good at it,” Jay says happily. “But it would be better if we had adventures!”

“I imagine so, but Asham’s parents might not approve.”

“I’d take care of Asham. I’m good at taking care of things, Honcho.” Jay says.

“I know. But Charlie wants your help dealing with the army of frogs from last night. From when you were really good at looking after frogs.”

“Oh, okay,” and Jay is gone. Not fast, simply gone.

I rub my eyes and the man walks over. “You’re all right,” he says.

I nod. “Jay did a good job. We had pizza and –.”

“I know.” He smiles. “I’m glad things worked out. But talking to other people about Jay could get – complicated.”

Jay says words that are joy; his are warnings, quiet and firm. I nod.

“Is Kyle okay?” I blurt out.

“He’s fine. He might not remember tonight, however.” Honcho smiles. “You will, because Jay would be sad if you don’t. And sad if you try and hurt Kyle with this knowledge.”

I nod. Sometimes Kyle tells me to do things I don’t like, and maybe I would have said things. Now this Honcho knows I won’t. “What about mom and dad?” I ask.

“I’ll talk to them.”

I nod, and head upstairs, and I hear mom and dad come home later, but later still there is a knocking inside my head that wakes me up in strange ways. And Jay says hi, and we have adventures and I’m not sharing those with my diary ever.  

A Magician’s Walk

People talk about dawn and dusk as though they were times of power. They wax lyrical over the gloaming and daybreak but there is no time that doesn’t have power, no moment that doesn’t carry meaning. You can find meaning in anything if you look hard enough, and power too if you desire it deeply. Eleven o’clock in the morning is a good as time as any other and I’m finishing removing rust from the underbelly of a car when I hear a cough behind me. The owner of the car is occupied inside with a phone call, and it is easy in the morning to make wards in the morning so that I am not noticed by other people.

But no magic is perfect or it would be something other than magic. I turn and find myself staring at a tired-looking woman in her early twenties who studies me frankly from dark eyes that don’t blink enough. “Can I help you?”

“I do not think so. You are the wandering magician? This town has no magician,” she adds quickly. “It is too small and had one been born I would have felt it or been told by others. But there is a magician who wanders the small places with no magicians to call their own, and I am assuming you are that one?”

“I am, yes.”

The Outsider nods. I have no idea how far Outside the universe she is from, nor what her real form is. I could find out; I don’t press the issue. She licks her lips. “There are stories about you. The Grand Canyon. Angels and demons in the state of Washington. The fae,” added even softer. “And that you travel with power as well.”

“And?”

“You are removing rust from my neighbour’s car?” she asks.

“The events – the stories – are things I do. Who I am is this. Wandering, offering small helpings. Little miracles and quiet magics.”

She stares. “You do not lie, but you are more than that.”

“I am when I have to be. Are you?”

“No.” She shakes her head. “I am a graduate of the Deep School and forbidden to be more. I work as a waitress, to better fit in with humanity. I am not sure if this is a punishment or not, however,” she admits.

“How long have you been a waitress?”

“Seven years.”

“There are other worlds you could pick,” I say dryly.

“I would be penalized for leaving this one, questioned and judged both. But it is hard to serve when too often service is taken as other things.”

I nod. I’ve never worked in a restaurant, but I’ve eaten in enough. “You wish for aid?”

She looks startled. “No. That would be noticed.”

I smile, reach through the bindings I have with Jay, and the Outsider blinks as bindings flicker about them and vanish a moment later. “That should make people be a little more jaysome too you.”

“Jaysome?”

“Jay made the bindings.”

“I cannot sense them at all, even though they have become part of me.” The Outsider shivers slightly. “I rather wished those stories about you were not true.”

“Jay can be scary even though he never intends to be.”

“And you?”

“I always intend to be scary when I am.” I smile, to blunt the truth, and the Outsider walks away as I finish removing rust from the car, walking down the street and touching the world with power.A ladder straightens here, an argument shifts into other directions there. Small magics, but I live for the days when I never have to do anything else. When it is just me and those who need help, when almost none of them will sense my coming or going.

The best magic remains the kind people are never aware happened to them at all.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Jay Drew and the Case of the Crimes That Wouldn’t Be Solved

Jay marches into the hotel suite and throws a hat onto the table with a sulk. The hat looks like the one Sherlock Holmes has in stories despite being bright yellow: I don’t ask where he got it, or from who.

“Kiddo. Something wrong?”

“Solving crimes is really hard, Charlie!”

I resist the urge to turn on the TV. We’re on the eighth floor, so the odds are good any sirens I hear might not involve Jay. It’s at least possible that none of them do, but he has been on his own for over two hours so I wouldn’t bet money on it. I set the book I was reading aside. “Jay. You can do bindings like nothing else in the universe. How is it hard to solve crimes?”

“Lots of them don’t want to be solved at all,” he wails.

I pause. Mentally back up a few steps. “You – ask the crimes if they want to be solved?”

“It would be really rude to solve them otherwise,” he explains.

“People normally solve crimes by finding and following clues.”

“Oh! I don’t do that. Clues are just traps to throw you off guard,” he says.

“Clues are traps?”

“Like in Clue, because you end up thinking wrong-things even if they make sense cuz clues lead you away from stuff you should be really seeing and a smart criminal would leave lots of clues so they never get found at all!” He beams proudly at that logic.

“So instead you ignore clues and talk to the crime itself.” I can’t help myself. “What if it doesn’t want to talk to you?”

“Who wouldn’t want to talk to a Jay?” he asks, honestly baffled.

“What kind of crime did you try and solve today?” I ask slowly.

“I found a dead end street and I asked why it was dead and! helped make it not dead, but that wasn’t a crime so I found a wall that didn’t want to have graffiti and the graffiti didn’t want to tell me who wrote it and that was all kinds of rude-face.” He thumps down in the chair beside me.

“Ah. You might want to talk to Honcho about this?”

“But then he might solve crimes for me and – ooh! I just sensed another one,” and Jay vanishes a moment later.

I text the wandering magician. The text includes several rude and urgent words. And then I turn on the tv. The news anchor is explaining that the station can’t field any more calls or tweets at this time regarding the state of Cloverside Road. If nothing else, Jay has probably solve the crime of people not watching the local news. I send a text to the number the fae gave me over a year ago, with just the word ‘Adventures.’ They’ll pinpoint the city we’re in and send someone to cover up Jay’s enthusiasm with glamour. Hopefully.

All I can do is hope Jay doesn’t try and solve a true crime, or run into one.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Trying To Schism

“So. I’ve been patient like a Jay, but that’s not patient like a human and it’s time you went away.”

Heh. The sickness laughs like a shuddering cough. You invited me in. I am here.

“Charlie was getting sick like Honcho and I didn’t want that. So I took you into me and now you have to go. There’s you there, and me here, and that’ll be a schism.”

No. There is no laughter now, just a hunger that has taken away hunger.

“I did warn you. It’s important to warn, you know,” I say firmly.

You called me.

“Uh-huh. But I am huge like a Jay.”

Laughter, tinged with things that aren’t jaysome at all. That is the only reason why you are not dead.

I roll my eyes at that, and I can do it like a champ because I learned it from Charlie. “Nope.” And I reach, in a way that isn’t unbinding at all. “Hi!”

I stare at me. Me blinks. I’m twelve, staring at me at eleven, and somehow it’s a memory and not one as well. “A sickness. You break time for this.”

“I bend it. Jaysomely,” I inform myself.

Future-me flinches. The world goes funny. There are things I’m not allowed to know about the future, for all sorts of reasons, and future-me reaches and kills the sickness with a single snap of fingers and tricks I haven’t even learned to do yet.

“I called it into me. And destroyed it,” he says, and his – my smile – it’s not me at all.

I flinch back, making it a flinch-fest. I want to say he doesn’t have to be like this, to do a binding on myself, but this me is older and deeper and other things as well too.

“There is no schism between us,” I say to me. “I wish there was.”

I stare at him. At me. I have words, but somehow I know they can only make me hurt more. “Thank you,” I say.

The smile is almost an echo of jaysome, and then I’m gone back to the future.


I go back inside, and my tummy is growling for real food but I head into the living room instead and watch lots of TV and try not to remember how not-jaysome I become.