(I had hoped to finish posting this series before the new year. Nano got in the way of editing/fixing stuff so the rest will go up in January -- it is already almost all posted on tumblr, so there is that, and is mostly all edited/fixed by now though I suspect I will catch the odd typo/tense error for some time.)
4. Stories & Lies
4. Stories & Lies
I leave Jay in the back seat with instructions to rest; he curls up against the door and is out cold moments later. From the look of the fast food containers in the front neatly filled with other bottles and candy wrappers he’s gone through a staggering amount of food but needed no urging to sleep. I try not to worry about it as Charlie taps the wheel carefully and waits.
“Human vision is limited; his vision isn’t human. He can see colours we can’t, probably because a good number of Others use camouflage techniques here, if out where they’re from. It’s kin to how fish see a lot more than people do.”
“So if I had tried to see whatever that man was, I’d have been noticed?”
“Yes. I probably would have as well; for him it’s entirely normal to see such things.” I let out a breath and nudged the bond, but Jay seemed entirely asleep. “He had to use a lot of esses to explain it – or fail to, really, but he hates saying them to anyone except me.”
“He hates being reminded of how weak he is. Fine. I get that.” I say nothing and her gaze flicks over to me. “What? He told me he was worried his binding you meant I’d hate him: I said it wasn’t like that and things are okay, and now you’re going to tell me I’m wrong. Because you are the magician.”
“Which means things aren’t okay?” Charlie says nothing in turn, focusing on the road. “He’s not human. He looks it, yes, and he’s learning to act it, but I imagine he can probably see bindings as easily as we’d see sunlight but we don’t have the language to describe it.”
“That was a weighted grunt,” I say, as seriously as Jay would.
It wins a ghost of a smile. “I’m trying to get this straight in my head. Shadows attack us, and because of that we’re drive across the country with Jay to meet another magician, partially because he’s a weird little shit but mostly because you have some creatures from outside the universe pissed off at you.”
“Why the car? You’re a magician.”
“Magic is need and desire, as I’ve said before. Our need to meet Leo in Washington State isn’t great enough to risk bending space and time, not when doing so weakens the walls between the worlds. and allow Others into this world that lack the power to get in alone. Viruses. Plagues.”
“Memes? Never mind,” she says, waving it away. “So magic doesn’t step over science?”
“Not knowingly. A magician who didn’t know of cars and the like could make gateways with almost no cost: it’s about knowledge as much as anything else.”
“Another reason most magicians don’t use the internet?”
“It’s not a question of ignorance being power, but more than knowledge can constrain magic if improperly applied. I think it’s one reason few older people become magicians and why most magicians tend to be limited: a magician who is able to do anything must, in the end, do nothing.”
“Like Mary-Lee,” she says slowly.
“I don’t know. She had someone alter my drink in the bar; I’m certain it wasn’t her, but why she wanted to speak to you and Jay and to what end I’ve no idea. You are a god-eater with a god inside them, Charlie: that isn’t too usual either.”
“And we’ve never ran into one we couldn’t see before. Because we couldn’t see them,” she says before I can say it, “but also because of reasons, right?’“
“You are a god-eater: it only made sense to try and keep you away from gods. For their sake and yours. The man at the automotive shop was probably an avatar, a human imbued with some of the gods power. Any place because care about deeply can manifest a god, which protects and limits it at the same time. Your business won’t expand but neither is it likely to fall victim to weird acts you’ll never explain to insurance or basic threats like recessions. Assuming one manages to call and manifest the right sort of god, of course. I did try and keep us eating in chain restaurants to avoid incidents.”
“And you never told me.”
“That did seem a way to help avoid incidents, yes.” Charlie looks back at the road at that, the god a flash of anger in her eyes for a moment despite an attempt at steadied calm, her anger a wash of warmth that bubbles through the car. “If I had told you, would you haver avoided gods?”
“That’s not the point: it was my choice to make.”
“No. You exist as you are now because of a working I did, Charlie. Magic doesn’t allow me to evade the responsibility of that while we travel together and I’d rather you didn’t leave.” I let out a breath. “I’ve done enough harm in my life without adding more if I can avoid it.”
“Magic as a guilt trip, huh? ’Magic is not power’, and all the stuff?”
“Yes. Consider it like balancing a pendulum. So far you’ve been one for my plus column.”
She snorts at that but does relax a little. “And Jay?”
“No idea at all. I’m trying not to think about that too hard.” I snag a pop and chocolate bar to eat. “To work magic, one must shape reality to one’s will. Become the very thing you change, so that there is no point where it ends and you do not begin. Some magicians never recover from that, from what it means, from what we are. I have seen too much, too clearly, to be wise, but it is easy to mistake wisdom for knowledge when you know more than others do. And magicians often do, in matters that concern us.”
“That’s a marginally better excuse for being an ass than most guys have,” she says, but her smile has less edges to it now. “So I could leave and really screw you up, huh?”
“How can leaving not harm another?” I offer, not meaning to wound, knowing it can’t help but do so. “Sometimes staying harms more, it is true, but it is hard to know which is worse even for a magician. If you can see deeper into someone than they themselves can, knowing what they desire and what they need becomes hard to understand at times.”
Charlie grunts, lights a cigarette and begins driving one-handed. “Tell me a story, then. About you, magic, Others.”
I let out a breath. “I spent some time in a small town on the outer edges of Vegas not long after the great Working Leo and I helped with. As the only survivors, we figured we should best lie low and major centres are a good way to vanish for anyone. Problem was that local drug lords had been vanishing for a good month before I arrived. It made the papers, mostly in a ’well, the police are looking into it, mostly to hand out civic awards’ sense. They’d all been out seeking homes for grow ups, hideaways and the like and vanished without a trace.
I helped myself to another pop. “So I went into Vegas and bent chance in my favour, returned in a suit and with a small fortune to begin renting places I could sublease to others. Wave around money, pay in cash, get cheaper deals. The end result was cheap rent for people and a small profit going back to the casino I’d made a deal with. It took almost five days to find a real estate agent who wasn’t human – it might be easier now, of course. It looked female, had a smile so bright it could only be fake and didn’t fool me.
“I fooled it, enough to be taken to a home on the outskirts of anything that ate people. Another Other, unable to leave the building it had become. The result of some poor banishing or attempted return outside the universe. The weaker one brought it nasty people as food so it didn’t call non-nasty people to it.”
“So they’re still there?” Charlie asks as she finishes her cigarette.
“I banished both, returned the money I’d acquired to the casino and the business itself to a family fallen on hard times. The building has no concern over who it ate, and the weaker Other wanted to return home but couldn’t alone. It turned out better than it could have.”
“They were helping the community, weren’t they?”
“The real estate agent was using the papers and rumours to find evil people to feed to the house: it was only a matter of time before they made a mistake. The house didn’t care who it ate, and it was only a matter of time before the real estate agent was caught.”
“Huh.” She peels open one of the candy bars, eyes on the road. “And you had to make that kind of judgement call alone?”
“One isn’t alive if one doesn’t make judgement calls,” I offer with a smile, “and knowing when to alter them and why is as important as making them. Now I would probably have kept them in the world and bound them: then I did what was basically reflex for a magician, even if it was for the right reasons.”
“Huh.” She drives for a good minute in silence, the back roads mostly empty except for a few trucks passing us that don’t give our car a second look, though one guy does bellow at us to find a satnav.
“What about you?”
“You have stories, I imagine. Everyone does.”
She pauses. “I was at a party once with a guy I knew who slipped LSD into random drinks. Richard was his name: Dick the dick we called him, for a lot of good reasons including that. One kid named Tyrone ended up screaming about mirrors and leapt off the roof of the house. Ended up in the hospital far as I know. Before I met you, I’d have called it the weirdest thing I’d seen, a serious spazz-out.”
I don’t point out Tyrone was probably right about mirrors or that her pause probably meant some buried memory. “I meant about you, Charlie.”
She lights a cigarette and takes a deep drag of it. “I was eight years old when I first brought my mom a steaming pot of coffee to wake her up in the morning. You know functioning alcoholics: fuck that noise. Mom didn’t function at all most of the time, near as I could tell. Dad did sales. Travelled,” she says, giving the word a sharp weight.
I met her dad in a coffee shop. I don’t add to it.
“I think he loved her. Asked myself that a lot, once I figured things out. Why else would a gay man marry a woman if he didn’t love her?”
There is cruelty in telling people truths they know; I don’t point out nothing is that simple.
“By the time I realized what was going on, mom didn’t. Maybe she never wanted to. She’d had to give up drink after DT hit and dad’s money couldn’t cover for something she did at some event. So she fell into valium, stuff like that. Medicate the world to happiness, shit like that. Mom fell apart, dad held the family together. It was normal enough, from what my friends said, though for most of them it was therapists that held their families together.” She lets out a smoke ring. “That and prenups.”
“And yet you smoke,” I say.
“Fuck yeah. Everyone needs a crutch; this is mine. Less expensive than most others. You drink.”
“Not as much as I used to.”