My name is Charlie, and I eat gods. There's not really a support group for that and not much of anything in the way of explanations either. I can do other stuff, like scare people, and children trust me. That might say something good about me only if you don't know children. Today is one of those craptastic mornings that three cups of coffee doesn't budge.
I used up all the hot water in the bathroom – payment to the magician for not renting a real hotel room – and he wandered into the bathroom and came out half an hour later smelling of fresh-cut grass and trailing steam. "I asked the water to warm up," he says as if that makes perfect sense before pouring himself a coffee. He sits at the small table that is the only other furniture in our motel room beyond the two uncomfortable single beds we slept in. The coffee machine and cups take up a third of the table themselves. I imagine the room would classify as retro in some tv show.
"If everyone could do that, what would power companies do?"
He looks over with the puzzled blankness of someone who has never given it any thought and then offers up: "Find another way to screw people over, I imagine, given companies in general?"
"You could do something about it," I snap, dumping more sugar and cream into my coffee. It's not helping.
"I could." He sips his coffee. "But companies are made of people. If magicians went around making people into not-people it would be–" he pauses for more coffee "–unwise. I can show people errors. Force them to face their hypocrisies – at least some of them – but there are things even magic shouldn't do."
"People require a great deal of disharmony to be, Charlie. We have to hold opposing ideas without seeing them as that, pretend that our beliefs are solid as facts, convince ourselves the world is solid when we know it is mostly empty. And those are the easy bits. People are complicated, and you don't get that kind of complexity without at least some level of hypocrisy in it."
I pause. "Cognitive dissonance. Another name for some of that." I've read a lot about psychiatric shit. For reasons.
"Ah. I'll need to remember that. It is shorter." He pours himself another coffee and waits.
He doesn't ask a single question. That's the worst part. He just waits. "My nose."
"Acne. You know magic to get rid of it?"
"You're fine just as you are."
I don't throw my coffee in his face. "You're a magician." My voice is almost even. I think. "You think that about everyone."
His smile is almost shy as he nods.
"But you have changed people. 'Fine' isn't 'Perfect'. It can even be better, right?" He sits back and sighs. "Oh, come on: you must have had acne."
"A little bit, but not for long."
"Of course not. So."
"Do you think it would help you?" There is something in his voice that makes me draw back. "You'll like yourself more because of that one small thing?"
"I won't like myself less." He raises an eyebrow. "Please don't tell me you're saying acne has some kind of magic to it."
"Most things do depending on how you look at them. Being a teenager is a time of chance, and chance is always hard and ugly. People often hate their bodies at some point, but they can blame it on a problem that goes away, make that the focus and ignore everything else. I have acne, therefore I am not desirable. It goes away, and I will be fine." He shrugs. "Most mantras can be made into personal magics without conscious choice."
"Let's say I know that's all bullshit."
He grins at that. "Feel it, then. On your skin, under it. What is it, what it means to you. Do that, and visualize it being gone."
I blink prod my nose with my left hand. It feels tender but nothing else. "That's it?"
"We wasted five minutes talking in order for you to do that?"
"No." He stands and gets his duffel bag, tossing it on the bed and zipping it up.
I put my coffee aside and get my bag. I know enough about him to know he can't tell true lies to people because he can speak truth people can't ignore, that it's part of what he is.
"That was me, then." He doesn't look over. "And it wasn't magic."
"You eat gods. Energy. Things," he says, his face carefully bland as he looks back at me. "This is just another facet of that."
I zip up my bag. "And I could do it to other parts of me." He says nothing. "You think I'm that shallow, magician?"
He just smiles, slow and sad, and walks out the door without a single word.