Monday, December 29, 2014

Motel Management

It’s two days to the new year and snowing; that’s the main reason I don’t die. Jay and I had decided to leave a motel early in the morning and I’m considering suggesting we go south as we get into the dark blue van I bought weeks ago. I’m me, and I look human enough. Jay looks human, but he’s not at all even though humans would see a kid of about ten with dark glasses and a white cane. I have the god inside me wrapped up for warmth; Jay is tough enough that the cold doesn’t reach him at all.

So far we’ve been lucky. That’s the first thing that comes through my head when I hear the gunshots puncturing the dice of the van. I’d been doing exorcisms to keep up with ghost-eating and in memory of Dyer, we’d been doing favours for the fae, dealing with Jay’s lack of vision and on top of all that I’ve been working on what being a god-eater means and how to migrate gods in my spare time. Which meant not much at all: it’s on my news years list, underlined twice.

Bullets tore through metal and seats; I’d drawn enough of the god inside me out that warmth is also a hint of dark fur; it’s enough that a couple of bullets bruise my chest but nothing else; Jay is tough, he just yelps in shock as one bullet hits the screen of his tablet – it doesn’t break, since Jay has worked bindings on it so it is really tough.

I grab his head and shove it down even as I duck and pull more of the god inside me out. Claws to rend, fur made of nightmares and childhood terrors, a nose to smell the fear of children. Jay wasn’t afraid so much as shocked; there were six terrified humans behind a ford pickup firing guns into the van, and their fear was death-fear, sharp enough to be a high to the god inside me.

“Keep still,” I snarl at Jay.

“But the bindings that hold the van together are breaking,” he says.

“Fix those.” I figure it should keep him busy and shove open the driver’s door, rolling out to the ground; the god inside me can be fast, as gods under the bed and deep in closets are meant to me. I’m still Charlie and not near as fast: we move, but three bullets still slam into my chest and even with the god as armour the force of them drives me back into the van.

Jay lets out a yelp from the passenger side and is out in a blur, faster than humans can move. “Stop that now!” he yells, even as he jumps back under the force of bullets, looking as if he is annoyed with being shot at more than actually hurt. He marches past me through the snow toward the pickup. “I bought thith coat four days ago. Just four,” holding up the fingers of his right hand, “and you went and ruined it and that’s really mean!”

The people hiding behind the pick-up are still terrified: all men, ranging from thirty to sixty, with the kind of handguns one can buy for home-defence. None of them were opening fire on Jay, though I saw one – the oldest man, closing in on seventy I figured – shake his gun, as if trying to get the safety to unlock. Jay is very good with bindings, after all.

I straighten and walk over slowly; one of the men wets himself in terror, the smell at once sharp and alluring to the god inside me. I let some of it go, enough to try and stop feeling their fear as if it was a bouquet of flowers. I was sore, and risked a glance at the van behind me: it looked as if it had been used a stunt car in an action movie.


He is beside me in a moment, his grin huge and full of pride. “I bound their guns up good and!,” he adds, “they won’t be running away so you can talk to them all mean-like!”


“Like you do with me when I’m trying to act like you!” He sticks out his tongue after that.

I don’t even try to count to ten. “They did just try and kill us. Just – fix the van up, okay? It has holes in it.”

Jay heads back, running his fingers over the van and checking it over: he’s getting better at moving about and sensing only surface bindings of things, enough to function without a cane at times, but the last thing I wanted was him tripping and falling in the snow after managing to terrifying six grown men by virtue of being really annoyed they’d shot up his jacket.

The six men are all trying to untie shoes that Jay had bound to each other and into their sicks so well even kicking the shoes off wasn’t working for the one of them trying to that. Jay had jammed each weapon, but I figure at least one had a knife and I know you didn’t have to be far from someone to reach them with that. So I stop and smile, the god in my eyes a bright flame. I eat gods, but I travelled with a magician long enough to learn how to eat a lot of other things as well.

I turn my gaze on the youngest man and eat his ability to lie to me. He gasps: the feeling of my talent against him must hurt, but I’m in no mood to try and make it not hurt. “Talk,” I growl, putting some of the god into my voice as power. The rest is wholly me.

“You were scaring Maria, and we decided to stop it because he said you were a monster,” he gets out between chattering teeth. Even the old man had turned the colour of a used dishcloth; they’re terrified, and I don’t need the god in me to know that.

I look back: no one has come out of the motel at all, and even for a cheap motel someone would at least be calling the police or we’d be hearing sirens by now. Jay is busy trying to rebind the metal of the van together, whistling to himself and not remotely worried. Trusting me to do the right thing, as if I have any idea what that is. “You have a name?”


“Right, Richard. Who is Maria?”

Nothing; Richard clamps his lips shut at that despite the naked terror in his eyes. I look away from that. “Kiddo?” Jay is beside me in a blur, resting his hands on my arm and I just know he’s going to say I’m it and want to play tag. I put a hand over his mouth, then say: “These people here: what is their strongest binding?”

“Oh,” he says when I remove my hand. “With each other, but probably not in a sex way? A work way? It’s really hard to tell the different with humans sometimes, but they’ve all got bindings to the motel, so they work in it and – and something in it, I think? Maybe a god, or a ghost? Or they did something really bad they don’t want to talk about and are all bound to it!”

“What do you think would qualify as that?” I ask, as much to know as for any other reason.

Jay thinks that over for almost four seconds. “Really bad food.”

I shake my head. “Right. Bind them all to sleep, please. We’re going to visit a god.”

They’re terrified, but one still moves with a knife and then is on the ground a moment later, courtesy of Jay punching him between the legs. “Charlie is my friend,” he says, “and I’m not going to let you hurt her and I can’t see but I can still hit real good because I can bind my fists to parts of you you don’t want bindings too and I bet that includes your eyes and thumbs!”

“Jay. I’m okay.”

“They were going to hurt you!”

“I know. Just make them sleep,” I say carefully, and all six men are asleep in moments. I hold out my left hand and Jay grabs it with his, following beside me to the motel. “Thumbs?”

“You can’t play a lot of games with broken thumbs,” he explains happily. “So that’s a really bad binding to break on someone.”

“Of course it is,” I say after a pause, and head to reception. The receptionist is one of the cleaners, and her nametag does read Maria. She is still, and this close I can feel what she is: the spirit of the motel, the god of this place, made by employees of it not long after it was built a good thirty years ago. Most gods don’t last that long, not with one form or name: she had. Perhaps that was reason enough to fear a god-eater.

“I was never here to harm you,” I say gently.

“I told them,” the god whispers. “I told them I was scared but it is best to leave some monsters alone. They thought they were protecting me. I find it is often easier to make them believe they are helping, to let them feel they have power. I did not think it would go that far,” and she wraps her arms about herself and shudders at that.

I have no idea what my dying would do to gods near me: nothing good, I think. I nod to her. “If they had hurt me, we would be having a different conversation. But we’re not, and it wasn’t your fault.”

“So we can be friends?” Jay puts in. “Because! I don’t want to be friends with people who tried to hurt Charlie but you didn’t,” and he is beside the counter and hugging the god before Maria can react. The god accepts the hug in stunned silence, as much from Jay’s sheer joy at making a new friend as anything else.

“They did try and shoot you too,” I point out.

“Only twice, and not with shotguns.”

“You’ve been shot with shotguns.”

“Just the once,” Jay says, “and I was totally okay after!”

I make a mental note to ask how tough he actually is to the magician the next time we talk. “We do need to go, though. You can work on fixing the van as we drive?”

“I can try,” he says. “It’s going to be hard, but that’s a fun kind of hard.”

“All right.” I look at Maria as Jay bounds out the door to the van to check his bindings over some more. I pretend not to hear a yelp when Jay hits ice and skids on his butt for a few seconds.

“You will not eat me,” the god says, and it is half a plea.

What am I, that gods must do this? I take a deep breath. “No. But I am going to give the motel one star on TripAdvisor.” And I walk out with that; it’s not what the magician would have said, but I think it works well enough.

Jay makes a point of insisting to look me over when I return to the van, poking me gently with his fingers where I was shot before pronouncing that my bindings seem find and working on fixing the van as I drive; it makes for several hours of pleasant silence before I ask if he undid the bindings of the men left in the snow beside the pick-up truck.

“Not yet.”


He lets out a huge sigh. “Fine. I will.”

“You will?”

“Once we stop for lunch,” he says with a huge and shameless grin.

“You’re trying to bribe me now, are you?”

“I might be! Only I’m not because I’ve already unbound them but you could think I am and I might get more food.”

I smack him upside the head and pull into the nearest fast food place; the van looks dented but nothing more, and I make a mental note to trade it in, let Jay go inside and order food for us and just sit in the van and shake with the memory of bullets until I feel a little better and a whole lot more human for the fear.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Gravel Roads

The road is a narrow gravel affair winding around trees at the edge of the town. There are roads that are burned through mountains, paths for human consumption that slice through the skin of the earth like brands of ownership. This is not one of those: the road is little more than an animal path decorated in dead shells, scatterings of stone and earth turned into something both hard and soft at once. It doesn’t involve uprooting trees, flows around large rocks as though the makers simply couldn’t be bothered to alter the world for it. The road is old and winding, darkened by trees and used mostly for racing with over five deaths to its name down the years. Not enough to close it, but enough to warn people away.

I learn all this just by walking down it, having gone off the main roads to wander where the magic takes me. It is raining, though the rain doesn’t touch me; I direct it to flowers and the earth about me. I should be doing other things, which is more than enough reason for this. I have been a magician for over ten years; time enough to trust the magic, to follow whispers of wind and the tugging of the earth even if I do not know where I am being led in this. Being a magician is what I am; other things are what I do and those things weigh on me, have become burdens I cannot put down.

To be a magician is to be a wall between the world and the places Outside the universe, and to protect the world from monsters within it – both human and otherwise – to be a healing and cleansing, to make the hard choices so that no one else has to make them. And when you are the wandering magician who goes to all the small towns and places of the world that magicians have not been claimed by, then you wander without stopping because there is too much to do, too many places that need help, too many people who have lost their way so far that only magic can bring them back.

There are magicians who cast aside their magic; my magic is terrified of such a thing. I do not desire such a thing. I say this, but I don’t know it is true anymore. I have done wonderful things, and I have done terrible things, and it takes so little evil to outweigh so much good. Knowing this does not stop it from being so, so I walk down a small gravel road, letting the world speak to me and finally come to a halt in the middle of the road, peeling off winter gloves as I crouch to press my fingers to gravel.


It takes time for the road to hear my voice, longer for it to find its own voice. The voice is a soft whisper kin to a misting of water on stones. “Who?”

“A magician. The wandering one.”

“Oh!” The road wakes at that, stones shifting into mandala patterns along it in nervousness. “I did not harm those who drove down me. I do not hold ghosts here.”

“I know.” I didn’t a moment ago, but now I do. “It is raining, and it is going to rain harder over the next couple of days.” And the road knows this on some level, and keeps silent on others. “The rain will wash you away, if you let it.”

“It will,” the road admits, because one of my talents is to draw truth out of others.

“You want this to happen,” I say, and gently make it a question.

“I am barely a road anymore. I am barely used, and then only by the too-young who risk dying or those whose Sat-Navs hate them.”

I laugh at that. “I imagine so. But there are worse things, little road.” And I let it feel the highway I walked down half an hour ago, cracked and wounded under the weight of thousands of vehicles, so damaged its voice was little more than whines of pain when it can speak at all. “To be used too much is also a wounding,” I say, and I am all but certain that this is what my magic wanted me to learn here.

“It might be nicer,” the gravel road whispers, “to die of use than of neglect.”

“You want to be the highway; the highway would desire nothing more than to be you.” I stand slowly, hearing my knees pop. It has been weeks since I worked out in a gym or spared time for proper exercise. “I wouldn’t mind being you at times,” I admit.

“But I am small. I am close to nothing,” the road protests.

“There is a pleasure, even a lure, to being small. To thinking you are not important. But to those who drive on you, you are a rite of passage. Something secret they are convinced no adult knows, as if their parents did not drive down you in their own time. You are a secret that makes the world a place of wonder, that lets them know there are still places maps don’t reach, and that is a most important thing for them to learn. You could speak the go the ghosts that remain on you, if you desire company.”

“I want,” the road begins, then: “I want them to not hate me. Those who died on me.”

“We only hate ourselves, if we are honest in our hates. And the dead are more honest than the living can dare to me.” I laugh softly. “Magician-speak comes easily to me, true or not. The truth is that even if you let the rain wash you away, humans will rebuild you. And it will not be the same. You will not be the same road in their heads: if more die, it will be because the old glutch road changed. If less die, it would be the same. The act of rebuilding will take away some of what you are to them.”

“But I want,” the road whispers.

“We all want what we can’t have,” I say as gently as I know how these days. “There is nothing else to want, not truly. It is why dreams that can come true were never dreams at all and why every hill yearns to be a mountain. The world would be a poorer place if everyone was content to be what they were. And sometimes, just sometimes, what magicians are for is to help make wantings come true.”

“I want that they are scared, but no one else dies on me. That is what I want, magician, if you can make that happen.”

I reach out with the magic, touching the world with need and desire. Mine, the roads, even a hint of the ghosts. None of them hate the road, but in time a ghost would be made that did, that could not blame itself for its own failings. I barely bring them into the magic because magicians do not deal with the dead: they are wholly needs and seldom safe for our kind. To bring them in at all is perhaps a danger, but like the road I find myself reaching to be something more, to not be trapped in being only what I am now.

“Thank you,” the road says after. “If you need anything?”

“I think – I think I am fine. I needed to do this magic, to be in this place. To tell myself things I already knew again, because we always forget them.” I smile, and walk the rest of the road, taking something of the roads yearnings and giving it to the highway. A lesson, a promise, a hope. Enough so that it hurts a little less than it did before.

These are important, all these small magics I sometimes do without even thinking about them any longer. In a normal day I would have touched the road and helped it as I drove past without stopping for a conversation. There is something to that, in doing good without making it part of the tally against yourself. I am neither highway nor gravel road, nothing so simple as those metaphors. But I can see more pauses between the pressures about me, the duties places upon me and others I have taken up. I can see moments to breathe, and even to relax.

I am still too worn out to even rest, but I can at least see glimpses of hope out of the corner of my eye. And I find myself wondering about the lack of wandering magicians, why there seems to be only one a generation, and how to make more. Not only to make it easier on myself, but also to make everything easier for the world. It is not an answer; I am not certain I even know the questions I need to ask, but it is something to move toward beyond fleeing my own failures.

I get out the cell phone Dana gave me, and consider calling Charlie and Jay to see what their new years plans are; and for the first time since I walked away from them, the idea of calling them doesn’t terrify me at all.  

Friday, December 26, 2014

Saving Shops

Having a god inside you to keep you warm is one thing. Waking on boxing day to a roaring fire while nestled in expensive blankets is something else all together. I can hear the city and rest of the hotel distantly below us, enough to know the rush of Boxing Day has begun and I slept in for the first time in weeks. I’m warm and content, lying in the bed like a lounging cat and it feels good up until I recall why I haven’t been able to sleep in lately.


Nothing. The penthouse we’re renting – or that Jay acquired through manipulating bindings – is large, but not that large. I pull myself out of the bed, throwing on a robe and slippers and pad out of the main bedroom. The living area is large and sumptuous, looking like a middle-class wet dream of understated elegance that screams its elegance. Not a single piece of Ikea in sight, but a lot of antiques and gently modern furniture. There is, however, no sign of Jay at all, and he’s not sleeping in either of the other three bedrooms. I wouldn’t have put it past him to try every other bedroom during the night just because he could.

I finally find the note on a yellow post-it Jay put on the coffee maker, written in his childish scrawl: ‘Out Doing GOOD :)’. I read it twice, then decide not to turn on the tv or listen for sirens, instead spending five minutes figuring out the easiest way to use a one-button coffee machine to give me coffee with two creams and sugars. The coffee does turn out to be nice, and I drink two cups and ring reception for breakfast.

Breakfast is hand-delivered by one of the chefs, who doesn’t bat an eye at me. I definitely don’t look like I belong in a hotel penthouse: there’s still enough goth-punk to me to be noticed, I’m not exactly ordinary at all – the god burning in the back of my eyes at least not visible often in the mornings – and he could well expect both breakfasts to be for me, which definitely doesn't fit the penthouse image. It does turn out to be at least five kinds of toast and eggs, sides of fruits and cheese and fluffy french toast that looks like it might be a crime to actually eat.

The penthouse fridge has four kinds of orange juice, fresh apple juice (as of yesterday) from four kinds of apples as options; I snag orange juice, pour two glasses, put the plates on the table and wait. Jay pokes his head out of one of the bedrooms in under thirty seconds. He looks to be a human kid of about ten and would be unremarkable as that save for his white cane and the dark glasses over his eyes; he wears the glasses almost all the time, since his eyes look very odd, but doesn’t bother with the cane when it’s just us.

He can’t see, but he can still sense bindings as he always has and uses that to figure out where everything is; he’s getting a lot better at not confusing things, and hurries into the kitchen wearing a green Santa’s elf suit complete with candy cane stockings and grins hugely, no doubt sensing my reaction through the bindings between us.


“I went all into a shop,” he explains, “and wanted to be Santa, but the nice woman told me I’d look cuter as an elf, so I got all dressed up by her and I went and found people without many bindings, and whose bindings were all alone and I said hi and made friends and got new bindings with them!”

“You went and friendship mugged people?”

“Charlie! It’s not mugging,” he says, with barely a hint of the lisp he used to have. “I found sad people and made them a little happy and it was about doing good.”

“And since when does Santa employ blind elves?” I ask, mostly to find out his reasoning.

Jay sits at the table and sniffs food, poking it with a fork and starting to eat happily. “Because of Rudolph.”


“He had to employ a reindeer that was not really disabled but everyone thought it was because! they all get confused and confuse it with difference but anyway that’s what I told people and how Santa’s Workshop always had wheelchair ramps because of moving lots of toys and elevators and everything so it was mostly compliant with laws already.” He beams at that.

“And all these people you visited as an elf were children?”


I count to ten. It seldom helps. “Please tell me you didn’t bind people into believing Santa exists?”

“But Santa –.”

“Jay.” And I use that tone, the one I learned from the wandering magician. Sometimes I think I could have whole conversations and never need to say more than Jay’s name in different inflections.

“Okay, I didn’t, but I was all convincing and I kind of maybe appeared out of thin air a few times because I misjudged where people were so they didn’t ask many questions and –.” His patter flatters. “And some of them just wanted me to go and were a little scared, but I didn’t want them to be.”

“Sometimes humans don’t want to feel, or even to be good, kiddo.”

“Like you all the time,” he says with a huge grin.

“I could make your clothing not be green.”


“But this food is far too good to waste on a food fight. So, you made some friends and helped a few people?”

Jay nods, going back to eating. “It was mostly lotth of fun!”

I grin at that. “I imagine so. We could see about helping more people later if you want? Only as Jay and Charlie and not as Charlie with one of Santa’s elves.”

“I like being an elf, though.”

“More than you like being Jay?”

Jay actually thinks it over. “Some times? Not often, but sometimes when I get all sad-face, like that my lisp is going away and that used to be a lot of being Jay, or people don’t want to make bindings of friendship at all, I think it’s easier to not be Jay?”

“I imagine it would be. It’s easy for me not to be Jay.” He giggles at that. “And sometimes I don’t much like being any kind of Charlie – one with a god inside her or not – but I mostly make do. Finish eating, and we’ll figure out some ways to help people this afternoon.”

“But, but –.”

“Duties and jobs and favours owed can wait a little bit; we can do things for ourselves, too, and helping others is a good way to ground ourselves in the normal world a little, one without doing favours for fae, helping gods migrate or anything else. Deal?”

“Okay!” Jay grabs our plates and takes them to the counter, then dashes in an inhuman blur into a bedroom to change. I pretend not to hear him bouncing on the bed.

I shower, change, and find him on his tablet, using voice commands to figure out places we can go to help people. Which, being Jay, means trying to save retail employees from the mad rush of boxing day shoppers. It wasn’t quite what I’d had in mind, but I offer no objections as he lists malls and stores where I could use the god inside me to calm people and he could unbind anger and we head out of the hotel with Jay holding my hand and insisting on taking the lead with his cane, to show me how good he is at hiding his use of bindings to make not seeing easier.

It definitely doesn’t count as a normal way to end the Christmas holidays, but it’s better than a lot of other ones I’ve had done through the years and Jay is so happy at sharing it with me that it makes up for years of family and relatives. Or manages to until the point where some shoppers turn out to be actual trolls who sense our manipulations and chase us for two city blocks, almost discarding their human seemings in the process.

Jay suggests we try for another mall after that; I dump him into a dumpster in response.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Waiting Up

We get a really nice hotel room for Christmas, all at the top of a hotel and I kind of tweak bindings so we get it but I don’t tell Charlie. She called her family and they all don’t want her to visit and she has sad-faces over that she’s trying to hide but I can feel them in our bindings so I totally cheat the world for some nice comfy beds and room service. And! I pull off a Jay and badger Charlie loads and lots until she gets a tree in the room and even puts up stockings for Santa.

She doesn’t want to but she does and humans are like that a lot. But Charlie is really good at being lots of things at once, maybe because she eats gods and has a god inside her or because she’s friends with me and Honcho a little and we’re all kinds of not-normal. Charlie and I got each other gifts and we’re being all sneaky-fun about hiding them and Charlie says if I try and find mine from her using bindings she’s going to do something really mean to me and she’s not hiding at all. (I almost want to find out what it is – but kind of not enough to find out what it is.)

Charlie drinks lots of wine and stuff and I get some really nice hot chocolate, all chocolatey and milky and tasting of awesome and we don’t talk about Honcho, since he’s travelling with Dana, or her family, but we talk about a lot because I always have questions about the universe, being from way Outside it, and I can’t see anymore because my eyes are all broken so that lets’s me ask even more questions, which keeps Charlie all sorts of busy.

I’m really good at it, too! Enough that Charlie might wish I still had a lisp and didn’t ask as many at all but she’s all Charlie-nice – though she’d blame it on the wine – and doesn’t say mean things and we watch Christmas movies she likes and she tells me stuff I might miss just hearing them and it’s a giant snuggle-fest of bindings on the couch because we’re friends and Charlie ruffles my hair after and drinks more wine and says she is going to go to bed because I’m probably going to wake her up at six for presents, and if I try and wake her at just after midnight she might have to throw me out the window and see if I bounce on hitting ice from twenty stories.

And I’m all tough and stuff but I don’t know if I’d bounce and Charlie totally tells me I’m not allowed to try even if she suggested it. But probably just because humans would definitely notice that, even if I only bounced a little and I’m really good at hiding what I am am but even a Jay isn’t that good. Maybe. I’ve never tried and I think Charlie would be hurt-mad if I did so I say I’m staying up and waiting for Santa.

Charlie pauses as she gets off the couch. “You have read articles on the internet, Jay. You know Santa isn’t real.”

“I don’t know that he isn’t isn’t real,” I say, which almost makes sense even to me. “And and and, even if Santa isn’t real Mrs. Claus might be!”

Charlie stops, halfway to the one bedroom. I hear her turn back. “Mrs. Claus might be real even if Santa is fake?”

I nod. “Of course. Because lots of women get really oppressed and bummed out by men and they might have made her into a man because they figured only men could bring gifts to all those kids!”

Charlie mutters something I think she doesn’t want me to hear about banning me from tumblr and all goes to bed.

I stay up and order three more hot chocolates at close to midnight, and use a binding to keep two warm while I drink the third. Our hotel room has a fireplace and chimney and the fire is warm and toasty even if I’m too tough to be turned into toast if I stick my hand into fire. But I’m really good at hiding, so I wrap that all about myself and my clothing, and air, and dark glasses and my white cane and I wait. I don’t even check my phone or use it for anything and pay attention while I wait better than humans can.

The human figure that is beside the stockings is simply there, not coming down any chimney or even stepping out of a door to some other place, and even I might not have sensed them at all but they’re hidden almost as well as me but I hide really good, so I undo their binding and my own.


The figure spins. Unlike the really bad stuff I found on the internet, I’m pretty sure Santa doesn’t have claws, but the voice is a lot closer to Charlie than to Honcho. “Most people cannot see me,” the figure says slowly.

“Oh, I can’t anyway because I can’t see,” I all explain, because I am an explaining machine. “And maybe that’s all why I sensed you and stuff, but I don’t know. I’m Jay!”

“I am Mrs. Claus,” the figure says. “I don’t deliver as many gifts as I used to, child. So few believe, and often the gift I leave is destroyed by the unbelief of the parents: the ripples that can make in the world can be dangerous but to not give a gift is also a danger.” She lets out a laugh that isn’t a ‘ho ho ho’ at all. “I am trying to justify myself to a creature from Outside the universe. That’s new.”

“Hello? You’re all Santa and you shouldn’t have to at all, but! you might want to be quiet because Charlie eats gods all up.”

“I am not a god,” she says.

I consider that. “You’re not a – one of the really big pieces of the universe given form, are you?”

“No, I am no embodiment of such forces,” she says.

“And you’re not a magician or fae at all, because I can tell what those bindings are.”

“Do you need to know what I am?” she asks gently. “I imagine you could find out, if you really tried, but the world is a far better place when there are mysteries in it.”

I scratch my head at that. “And you might not bring presents if I know what you are?”

“There is that, too,” she says, and is clearly amused, but I am a very funny Jay.

“Okay. Can you leave a present for Charlie, too? She’ll think it is from me and that won’t make bad ripples in the world at all, please?”

“All right.” And she does something and the stockings are full. “Merry Christmas, Jay.”

“Merry Christmas, Mrs. Claus,” I say and she is gone and drank her hot chocolate on me, so I drink mine and don’t try and sense what my gift is at all as I go to bed.

And I am almost, almost certain that wasn’t Charlie in a disguise because I like the idea of there being all this stuff I don’t know and I am almost asleep when I hear footsteps sneaking across the floor, and Charlie puts the stocking on my bed and there is another gift in it and she sneaks out and I think about how sad Charlie is underneath and how much giving me things is helping that and how much fun I had giving her gifts. They’re not big gifts, not like magic, but they change bindings in gentle ways and I think I understand a little more now.

Or a lot less, and that’s okay too, because I fall asleep all deeply and almost forget to feed one of Charlie’s presents before she wakes up, but it turns out to be all okay!

Helllo Brain!

(Also mind, to be Inclusive).

This is your muse here, and have I got a proposition for YOU. You know how you're working on your dark Untitled Project series about Killers and Thieves and it's pretty grimdark and a fun experiment? Well, hold your horses because I came up with an idea for you in the shower. (I am why you should take less showers, I s'pose.)  Begin with casual murder in a cab in a city set in the industrial revolution -- I do hope you're taking notes here -- and build a novel about a class of people who can murder in society with impunity.

Call them Aendar -- you can steal the half-remembered term from a role-playing world you made over a decade ago -- and explore the ramifications of such people to the social orders, ways of stopping them, the nature of their abilities and the extent to which they serve a valid function. If they kill random people without reason too often, they would naturally be murdered, but if they said with the Just vs. the Unjust, do they die sooner?  What are the criteria for justice on such a world? And does an industrial revolution require heartless bastards at the core of it running factories without care for people in order to succeed?

And, if so, is murdering such people detrimental to both the nation and social order? How do Aendar deal with this and cope with their (obvious) lack of friends or family? What if they disguise themselves as other people and then it becomes a weird love triangle? What if a state-sanctioned executioner like this goes 'bad' and what would that entail?

Hey, wait? Where are you going? I know it's almost the holiday season and you found out you need to buy one more gift still and you're really busy, but -- hey! HEY! I have more ideas for this!

Monday, December 22, 2014

Monstrous Gifts

The farmhouse is old, two hundred years of stone and silence pressed down by the weight of snow on the roof and drifts gathering about the walls outside. As water erodes cliffs, so does the snow seek to erode the stone further inland, not forgetting what it truly is. The family who make their living here were painfully grateful for the surprise tickets to Hawaii for Christmas, as much because of the weather as because of the recent string of murders the police were refusing to release any details about at all. Not how many had died, not anything about the killer, and that kind of silence generally means something had gone badly wrong with the world.

That, or someone was covering up gross incompetence, but in this case it seemed the former. It hadn’t taken much magic to procure tickets for the family, and almost less to push them into taking the trip, which left behind an empty house, myself, and Dana. Neither of us filled it in any way that mattered, for all sorts of reasons. I’ve visited four of the other homes murders had happened in, spoken to the world and learned a few things. Enough that Dana had altered her fae glamour to appear to be a girl of six years of age and was walking about in pyjamas with fluffy pink slippers on.

I throw another log onto the perfectly normal fire Dana had started in the fireplace as she sat beside it with the carefully blank expression of a child in a horror movie.

“We have at least a few minutes before the killer arrives,” I say dryly.

“I have no idea what you mean.” It could have been my imagination, but it felt like Dana hadn’t quite pulled off being a child, that fae glamour – often said to be so good it fooled reality – was somehow slightly off. I say as much as she shrugs lightly. “Fae aren’t children in any true sense: it is why all changelings are found out in time. Parents see through such glamours if they have a care to. If glamour had no limits, we would be gods that the gods would envy. We are not.”

Which is more than I’ve learned from her in weeks. “You have been acting distant, even for you.”

“I am trying, quite hard, not to laugh. You did not know how to make a fire in a fireplace.”

“I’ve never had cause to.”

“You were never a scout?”

“I came into my power as a magician before I was fourteen, not understanding it for some years. I wasn’t a magician then, but there was enough to me that it set me apart. There are a great deal of things I’ve never been taught, and many I use magic for so never needed to learn.” I pause a beat. “Diplomacy sometimes comes under that.”

That wins a soft laugh. “We do make a pair, magician. I have never needed it. Being a fae is always the bigger stick, and you start from a position of power at all times. You believe this ruse will work?”

“Whatever this creature is, it only kills parents and only speaks to children. Who are often left too broken to speak about it, which at this time of year –,” I trail off into a shrug.

“Yes. There are no good possibilities for that.” She stands and heads up the stairs to one of the bedrooms. “Be careful.”
The main bedroom is on the ground floor. I head into it after making sure the fire is warm and we’ve left out milk and cookies for Santa Claus. I raise up no wards about myself for the first tine in a very long while, not wanting to risk driving our target away, and trust Dana will hold it all together. I hear nothing drop down the chimney or walk across the living room floor, not that I expected to.

I expected a monster or some creature from Outside the universe. You expect those sorts of problems if you are a magician: what you don’t expect is for a fae disguised as a human child to push open the door to the bedroom and smile winsomely.

“Daddy? Santa is here to see you,” Dana says, and there is nothing quite like having a fae pretend to be your child for making you feel very, very strange.

“And where is Santa?” I ask in my best sleepy voice, still under the covers, and it is one of my talents to speak questions that must be answered by the truth.

“Here,” Dana says, and splits open, tears apart to become some humanoid creature at least seven feet in height, all claws and teeth and wearing a bright red coat stuffed with pillows.

I start laughing at the false beard, which is definitely not what it expects.

“You can see me?” it begins, moving backward instead of forward, which I don’t mind at all as those claws are definitely sharp and ugly.

“Magicians see what humans often don’t,” I say as I get out of the bed. “That’s how it works, then? Only children see you, so they let you into their homes in your disguise, so happy at Santa Claus being real that they don’t see too deeply. And you them kill the parents who can’t see you at all.”

It growls, moves, and then is a little girl again between moments, slamming face-first into the wooden floor.

“It does put the children to sleep so they don’t have to see what happens,” Dana says from the doorway. “It was, however, stupid enough to copy the form a fae was using, which means I can keep you in that form as long as I desire.”

The creature scrambles to its feet with a hiss of fury, trying to flex claws that no longer exist.

“You could have sent out a call for a fae to get rid of your hunger or change it,” Dana says softly. “You did not.”

“You are weak, fae-thing. I can smell weakness on you and you will die, and I will be –.”

I cough. The creature turns and shrinks slightly under my smile. “I bind you,” I say softly, pulling a name out of its head. “You call yourself Krampus and you are a Dana too, and I bind you to to the form you wear, and I bind you to find every family you harmed, to help every child whose trust in the world you shattered, and to help them heal. After all this, creature, you will come and find me. And if I am feeling very kind and very nice, I will release you from this binding.”

“And if not?” it says, glaring up at me in bravado.

“Then I will extend it to every hurt child the world over and you will never know rest or freedom. And that is only what I could do; Dana can do far worse when her strength returns. It is reason enough for you to do this job very, very well without trying to break it at all.”

It stares at me, then is gone, vanishing from the building entirely in a fit of fury with some of the small scraps of power I have left to it. I work other bindings: that it will not kill the children to ‘heal’ then, that its strength could only grow with helping and other limits and protections it will know only when it has to. Then I walk into the living room and drink the brandy we left for Santa.

“It actually put you to sleep.”

“For a moment,” Dana admits, eating a cooking and shrugging into her normal adult human form. “I will need to find some way to begin to heal my strength soon, magician.”

I consider options as I finish the brandy. If I were to help her find it, it would mean I would know a way to take strength from fae as well, and that I doubt she could allow to happen. “You broke free, though.”

“I will not say it didn’t cost.” Dana looked away.

I take a deep breath. “Jay trusts people, Dana. That’s who he is. Even if they hurt him, he’s rather trust them first. Charlie doesn’t, which means they work quite well together. We don’t. We’re too much alike in ways that make us see sides to ourselves we don’t care to see. At least in my case.”

“And?” she says, not moving.

“There is going to be a new year soon. The world is different at such times. We will be close to the solstice, with echoes of Christmas behind us, a shifting of balances, an opening of ways. You cannot heal yourself alone. But perhaps, if I gave you my magic for a time, you would find a way to do to this.”

Dana goes still at that. “Why?”

“Pick a reason: we’ll go with that.”

She almost throws a cookie at me, but just nods and walks outside. The weather still doesn’t touch her. I leave her to that and head into the kitchen. There is an old rotary phone in it that does not ring. I wonder if Jay is trying to get ahold of me. I wonder if Charlie wants to call me. I could find out. I could even call them.

I head back to the bedroom and go to sleep instead.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Teaching Students

The Academy is a poor name for college, college a poor name for the six-room affair that occupies the third floor of a cheap building in the business district. The first floor is lawyers, the second two competing dental practices. That alone would tell some people something was off: instinct is enough that few humans venture to the third floor and not a one wonders what the fourth floor is for. For those who can see clearly, it is The Deep Academy, part of a series of schools designed to help creatures from Outside the universe fit into the human world. It doesn’t look like much from the outside or the inside, but neither do I.

The elevator is out of order, according to a sign that possibly predates the actual building. I take the stairs, amused that there are no lights between the second and third floor. Also no railing of any kind, which is a bit more surprising: even questionable buildings have to face city inspectors from time to time. I walk easily up the stairs. Christmas is coming, and I have gathered that about me as a ward.

Most magicians would not do such a thing, but I am the a wandering magician and in a mood as well. It is not a pleasant mood, for this is not a pleasant time of year to be a magician. Magic is born of need answers want: it is poetry turned prose, dreams made into real things and the needs and desires of people at this time are a white-noise of crushing. Magic cannot make anything that lasts, but neither can Christmas and all the faded miracles and small wonders of magic are nothing next to the impossible greed in the air.

The door at the top of the hallway is warded, though not in the way of magicians. There are symbols and powers burned into it that I don’t know. To other Outsiders, it is invitation and warning both. None of them stir as I pull the door open. The first classroom door is open, the inside being cheap third-hand desks for students, the teacher having rated a second-hand desk. The students look human, though all are thin and pale, beauty a shimmer of power about them to disguise their nature from the unwary. Two hiss on seeing me, baring fangs. The rest are still, afraid or waiting.

The teacher of the class of Outsiders looks human as well: an older man in a suit as frayed as his hair, with glasses several decades out of fashion and the girth of an Outsider who has decided to sample a great deal of food on this planet. What moves under the flesh isn’t anything human at all.

“Magician,” he says, voice a low hiss of fury. “You do not belong here.”

“Neither do they.” I wave a band to the students and several flinch; one even whimpers, all expecting to the banished back Outside to the universe. Magic is what magicians so. This is what we are.

“They have entered the universe though the proper legal channels,” their teacher rumbles. “You will find their permits are in order.”

I’ve no doubt about that, though I am not sure who actually makes the permits. Or what this world gets out of them. Vampires are weak, the lowest form an Outsider can take when it enters the universe. Which does mean that clever Outsiders who can alter their form like to look like a vampire to throw off the unwary. None of these ones qualify, though I check anyway with a gentle whisper of magic in case they escaped the senses of the instructor.

“I imagine so,” I say, threading power into my words to cover the other use of power. “Everything does seem to be in order. However, this is a city at Christmas time and your attempts to teach them to control and hide will fail. They will need to retreat to the deep places under the earth or lose what control they have.”

A few look relieved at that; the two who hissed look furious but at least are smart enough to not challenge a magician. Until one of them, who appears to be a blond woman in her late teens, speaks up:

“There are six of uth,” she says around her fangs. For a moment I miss Jay and Charlie, and that doesn’t help my mood at all.“And one of you.”

“There are.” I put on something that barely pretends to be a smile, shoving my hands deep into my pockets. “I could leave my shadow here instead of me, if you want a fair fight?”

The instructor goes still; the blond leaps, and I hurl the frustration of hundreds of shoppers into her. The vampire hits the ground, struggling to its feet after. I wrap the despair of a dozen mall Santas about me as a haze of fury and the other vampires remain seated. They exchange glances as I let go of the power and all exit one after another, making a point of floating out the windows to show off their own power.

The instructor waits until they are gone beyond both our sensing before turning to me. “You baited Roxanne.”

“I’m in a mood. I held back retail workers from the ward, though.”

“So I noticed.” The instructor smiles. “Thank you.”

I shrug. “I felt your need to get Christmas off.”

“I did not expect a magician to answer it; I had been hoping for another Outsider but my kind are often shunned. We do not celebrate holidays as humans do; my need would be seen as weakness.”

“Can I ask why you wanted it off?”

He is quiet, then slowly reaches into his right pocket and pulls out a worn wallet, opening it and handing over the picture of a woman and two girls. “My wife. We adopted children.”

“She knows what you are?”

“Enough of it.”

“Few Outsiders adopt human children, I imagine?” I say as I hand the pictures back.

“Few of us, yes. My wife knows what I am, or enough of it. Revealing so much worries others.” He pauses a beat. “What do you want for this service, magician?”

I could say showing the pictures was service enough; it would be true, but it would insult him. “Adopt more children, if you can afford to.”

He blinks at that. “You are not the magician of this city.”

“I am the wandering magician.”

“Oh!” Tendrils ripple nervously under flesh, going still. “I thank you. For the time and the honour, wanderer. That is all you desire?”

I nod. “And that, if they are in danger, you call for me and I will offer protection. And the names of other Outsiders like yourself.”

“I will – have to ask them,” he says cautiously.

“I know.” I smile, a real one, feeling something ease a little far inside. “This is a bad season to be a magician. Thank you for your aid.”

“My aid?”

“We live in a world where tentacled monsters from Outside the universe can adopt children but some married couples cannot. It helps with perspective on some things.”

He laughs softly at that and does not press. “I imagine it might. I never thought of it. Be well.”

“Be well.” I walk back to the door, pause, and then offer: “Merry Christmas,” and leave behind a very shocked monster as I head down the stairs. Sometimes, just sometimes, it feels as if everything I have done is almost worth it.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Jay has determined that he is Charlie and the magician's cutie mark.

"Hi! Did you know I got featured on tumblr?! More than once, even!"

The woman goes and does all kinds of leaving before I can tell her more, and I'm listening for more people to talk to, and all kinds of really gooey-happy inside and I know I'm being stared at but I'm sure it's because I got all featured.

"Jay." I didn't hear Charlie come out of the clothing store because I've been all kinds of busy. "Generally, old women in their seventies do not run away from ten year old kids. What did you do?"

"I told her I got featured of courthe! Because I did, and --."

"You can't bind links to the stories inside people's heads like this, Jay. For one thing, human children don't do that. For another, you are going to be noticed. It is rather hard to hide what you are if you do things like that."

"But I got blue tags!"

"And you expect people to understand that?" Charlie asks.

"I totally explain it. With pictures, too," I say proudly.

"Inside their heads." It is almost a question. I nod anyway. "Jay. People are going to pay attention to things like that, and not in a good way. You won't be able to hide," Charlie presses, because she knows hiding is all Important to me and she can be all kinds of mean.

"I know!" And my eyes are all broken-damaged so I can't cry, but my voice is all tight and crackled. "But I was featured because I have so many awethome bindings with friends and making new friends and I want to make more friends so they can know!"

"I know you do. But you need to tone it down, or we will be noticed in very bad ways by people who would want to abuse such an -- interesting talent."

"But .... but I am toning it down."

Charlie pauses, the Charlie-pause slow and careful. "This is you toning down your excitement to strangers."

"Uh-huh, and -."

"Walk. Beside me, don't look around. We're leaving the town now."

And she says it all in a tone I don't get to talk about, all angry and scared so I really hope she doesn't see the billboards I changed bindings to at all.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Talking Trees

It takes time to find another of my kind, but time is all it takes. I leave the magician to the small worries and cares of his kind and walk the world until I find a piece that is too real, an anchor made solid by the will of a fae.

“This is Dana,” I say to the old oak tree. I have been going by this name for sometime now, in one form or another. So many of my kind like being oak trees in this world when they can; I have not.

The tree bestirs itself, an old man’s face peering out of bark. “What have you done to yourself?”

He is so shocked he does not even hide the shock, which is a worrying thing for a fae as old as he. “Nothing, old friend. This was done to me.”

“By what?”

“A creature named Jay from Outside this universe, bound into the services of the wandering magician. He bound me together and saved my life when I would otherwise have been destroyed.”

“Saved? For a moment I thought you a ghost, and the fae produce no ghosts when we pass on. You are frighteningly close to such a state, Dana.” A tree branch reaches out to almost brush my shoulder. “You are so empty even this glamour must tire.”

“A duty has been placed upon me, to judge all who have dared alter their compacts with us and punish those who broke their vows.”

“You are not enough to do this.”

He at least does not say I was not strong enough before. “I travel with the wandering magician; he aids me.”

The tree goes still, the old man quiet for a long moment. “I will not tell you how how dangerous this is when you must know yourself.”

“He has power and skill; I cannot do this duty alone as I am now.”

“It would be better if you had died.” He couches the fact in a terrible kindness.

“Perhaps. But I prefer even this shadow of a life to what awaits the fae after we die.”

The fae within the tree stirs briefly, the wind a soft laugh. “You think you know, Dana?”

“No. For all that we are, that is one thing no fae knows. And that terrifies me more than anything else in all the worlds.”

He snorts, somehow still sounding like a tree. “You are fae: you know there are far more awful things than that.”

I look away. “I am no longer sure I do.”

And to that, my fellow fae offers only silence and not a single hint as to how I can heal myself.

I have pride enough not to press the silence. I turn, I walk away. My glamour does not cry, because I have control enough for that. I weave more of myself into the glamour that is Dana. I need to find a source of power, who never needed such things before. I need healing, and I do not know how glamour can be healed. We are what we are: that is the nature of the fae.

I walk back to where the magician sleeps, and I sleep as if my body was truly made of mortal things. I try to pretend I am not at all as terrified of this life as I am of death. I have not been afraid in a very long time: I no longer understand how humans bear it through their entire lives. I sleep, and I do not dream. I do not have hope enough in me to sustain a single dream at all.  

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Jay's Blog this morning


“Uh? Erh?” A fumbling of blankets. “Jay? ‘s time is .... 2 am?”

“Did you know that kids wake people really early on Christmas?” I bounce a Jay-bounce on Charlie’s motel bed, which isn’t a good bouncing bed at all.

She sits up. I can feel warmth from her gaze, the god inside her a burning at the back of her eyes. “One, not Christmas. Two, it’s two.”

“I’m practising,” I explain, but wisely hop off the bed before she can throw me off, because I am all about being smart. “I’ve been listening to movies about Christmas, and kids always get up early in them.”

“Kids also get coal if they’ve been bad.”

“But I haven’t been! I’m even getting presents from followers on tumblr and –.”

“Believe me, this is counting against you.” I hear Charlie fling covers back over herself. “Get back to bed.”

And she doesn’t say it as a request at all. I thump back onto the other bed and figure she doesn’t want to do gift-practise before Christmas either. Humans get so weird sometimes.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Black Peter

Three drinks: that's the point at which the Christmas songs blaring from the radio become tolerable. A few more and I have the horrible urge to join in, any less and I'm not drunk enough to have that warm, pleasant feeling about humanity that only a few stiff drinks can bring about. The thing about this time of year is that you don't drink in order to get a date but to make yourself more bearable. It's not a nice time of year to be alone, but no time really is.

All of which is a damn long-winded way of saying I was mildly drunk, which might be reason to dismiss everything else I'm about to tell you. I don't much care if you do, but I'm going to tell you anyway. Because you're here, and he isn't, and you bought this round.

I think, looking back on it, that the bartender had the Christmas music on to get us to go home. All it did was make the old guy in the far booth weep into his drink. Me? I was at the bar, half-considering finding out what a Christmas Shot was, wondering what Emily had got the kids, if they'd call me tomorrow morning to wish me a merry Christmas: the usual litany of sorrows you don't care about and I can't be bothered to explain.

When he slipped into the barstool to my left I didn't think much of not hearing the door open: who does, really? I did a double-take when he ordered a scotch on the rocks: his voice was soft and scratchy, like a kid who'd had whisky since he was seven you know? He was – hah! You'd think I'd remember what he looked like, but each time it’s like learning it again. He was small and thin and pale, long and lanky hair reaching down past his shoulders. I'd have thought he was a kid except his eyes were darker than his hair and full of adult things.

The bartender served the stranger with barely a glance, his thoughts on overtime and whoever waited for him at home.

“Thank you,” the boy-man said in a soft, raspy voice and for a moment I felt uneasy. There was something almost familiar about that voice, like someone on the telly or some long-forgotten dream. The bartender hesitated a moment and then just nodded and moved down the bar to polish it. Part of me wanted to move away, but I couldn't without being rude and besides the seat was warm already.

I offered up my name and the peanuts from beside me.

“Peter,” said he and smiled. His teeth were baby-teeth small, but all thin and sharp, his fingernails the same when he reached for the peanuts. His fingers were too long, too thin, too sharp, but if he noticed my unease he ignored it entirely as he ate a handful of peanuts, one at a time, chasing them down with the drink as he stared into space with the thousand-yard stare as common to drunks as to soldiers lost in memory.

You know how they say eyes are windows to the soul? His weren't windows at all, just dark pools, bogs under clouds at night. I've never thought myself a poet, never had much use for that crock, but something about him drew that out of me. He looked so small and deeply sad that I spoke.


He turned. He was quick, no doubt, his smile all hard and brittle as though he knew what I was going to say and had already prepared a comeback about my own appearance.

“You okay?” I said.

“I'm here,” he said, as if that was answer enough. It was, at least on Christmas Eve. “Why do you care?”

“I don't.” If my honesty surprised him, the surprise didn't touch his face. “I thought you might have a story to tell and I'd rather not think about my own.”

“Heh. I might at that,” he said, and then half to himself, “I might at that,” as though it had simply never occurred to him before that night. Peter stared down at his strange hands on the counter – not misshapen – you understand? – merely different, but I couldn't read anything in the angles of his face when he looked up.

“I'm told I was born in the far north,” he said, and his voice dropped to a low chant, as if he was reciting a story told to him long ago. “in the wind and cold and the high mountains. The Old Man told me I was cast aside, left to the winter wolves and ugly snows. But I don't know. I've never met another like me in all my years. My first memory was of his shop: cherry smoke and sawdust, sparks on an anvil.

“And work,” he added, flexing his fingers. His veins stood out, a pale red under flesh: a network of faint scaring criss-crossed his hands. I looked up and the same thin scars covered his face, fading as he relaxed his hands. “Much work, for such a long time, all toward one night. The Old Man would head out into the world with his gifts and wonders and magic. Entire nations waited for him, kings and emperors ceased their endless wars at his coming and the children of the world worshipped him.”

Peter gulped back cider. “Worship is nothing, you know. Children offer it up to parents, dogs to masters. It was awe the Old Man needed. And you don't have awe without fear. I was given a cloak made from nightmares and lost dreams, a whip forged from harsh words and a name. He called me Black Peter, and I was to punish the guilty. Oh, only the children, because only children can be changed.

“The Old Man would stand, huge and terrible behind me, and pass judgement. The good children received gifts. The others, me. I whipped them, and they cried, and I was called a monster in the stories that came later, when the Old Man was the Sinister, and then the Santa but my story never changed at all.”

I made a sound at that, half a laugh, and Peter looked up. His face was all hard lines, his eyes deeper than human eyes went and the small man just drank another gulp of cider and continued talking. I don't know if he knew I was there at all anymore.

“Yes, I whipped them, but he watched. Sometimes he even smiled,” Black Peter said. “He saved his laugh for the good children, but the others saw his smile. Those the whip could not touch became his elves in time. Taken from parents only too grateful to see such monsters out of their lives and so eager they never asked many questions. In time they become jolly, in the stories that came later, and even kind.”

He looked up. He could see me again and was here again, and his smile was terribly gentle and sad when he spoke. “The Old Man let me go today,” he whispered, clutching the drink hard in his hands. “I shouldn't be sad but I am. Funny, isn't it? Everything he made me I never wanted to be but I can't find it in me to hate him for it. I don’t know if that makes him the better monster. I think – I think it’s not that simple.”

I said nothing, but my silence must have spoken for me because Peter looked up from his drink. “You don't believe me.” He seemed actually surprised by that.

“You are trying to tell me you're an elf who works for Santa Claus,” I said, and figured my sarcasm would tell enough of a story.

Peter was silent a few moments at that, then said something. I won't repeat it. We all have our quirks, our fetishes, things we want and never should, desires never voiced. He said one of mine, one I'd never dreamt of acting on, never told anyone about. He mentioned a second as I stared at him, and then a third, softer still.

I tried to punch him without thinking, to stop him from saying any more truth, and he caught my wrist between his fingers lightly. His grip was solid, his arm not moving at all as I tried to get free. “I know precious few tricks,” he said as he let go. “That was the kindest of them.“

“The kindest,” I said and my voice was a shaken rasp.

Black Peter drew back at that and looked away. “I apologize; I should not have done that.”

“Santa gives gifts,” I said, my voice closer to my own.

“Sometimes, yes. More than he used to. Sometimes in your world you call people freedom fighters, name them heroes in the hope that they will live up to that name. He has changed and I am no longer part of that change, no longer part of his story. All things change over time, even truth,” he said and he seemed far too small to contain all the sadness in his voice.

I bought more ciders. Perhaps I shouldn't have, but I had been wrong to call him a liar.

His smile of thanks was as fragile as dew as he drank, then asked why I was there, on that night.

I told him; I won't bore you with the details: you can probably guess them for yourself. He listened in silence and I filled the silence with other things: small bitterness, old wounds, resentments. He knew the worst of me in some ways and I felt obligated to offer up more until the drinks were done.

The bartender dimmed the lights as we stood. I shrugged on my coat, leaving a tip I could ill afford and only then noticed that Peter wore no shoes. He walked out into the snow with me as though into summer, his thin shirt and second-hand jeans pressed against flesh.

“What will you do?” I said.

“Wander. Travel. Wait. He will want me back in time,” Black Peter said, his voice full of yearning and certainty. “If he does not, another will.”

I know what my kids want for Christmas. Not in a shit-father way, but a real one. I know what you want. What your kids want. I know things now. I don’t know what he did to me, but I know these things. Just as I know you have a gun under your coat and that I don’t want to be a monster. Please, use it. Because it is Christmas. Because you are all the hope I have left, officer.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Doing Helping

Sometimes being a Jay is hard, even if you’re the only Jay you know. Like, there’s human Jay’s but they’re not the same at all and I’m from way Outside the universe where humans aren’t at all. And I’m really good at hiding, so even magicians just see a normal human kid and sometimes even Honcho forgets I’m not human. Charlie is having a shower and I’ve got my tablet in my lap and my phone in my hand and they’re not working, so – tho it becomes a Jay-thing now. (I lisped that last ‘so’ almost on purpose; my lisp is almost gone and that is a lot of sad-faces.)

I tried to explain bindings all proper to Charlie and she threw this word ‘quantum’ at it like it was a magic word and says everything was connected but that’s not it at all. Bindings connect everything; it’s not the same, even if humans think it is. And there’s loads and lots of bindings: even magicians don’t see as many as I do. I explained a lot of it to Honcho once, letting him see even more than most magicians can, and he just asked me to be a firewall so other Outsiders couldn’t manipulate the reall deep bindings.

I tried to tell him it’s not like I’d write ‘hi’ to him using stars often but he wouldn’t listen at all. Probably because I would! It’s like no one expected anyone would do anything to the really big and old bindings so they just sit there and I could push them and have lots of fun but Honcho said no in a really firm voice even if I’d put it all back just fine. But – but big bindings are small as well as large, kind of. There’s lots of kinds of big and things aren’t working and he didn’t say I couldn’t visit the Internet which is almost like saying I could and I even ask Charlie who might not be able to hear me but I do.

Because humans are really sneaky. They can speak around bindings and through then and break them but still have them and it’s really confusing, so I do this and fall in and reach and it’s not those at all. I can sense bindings like humans know they exist, so really easy-peasy. (I don’t say I can see them anymore, because I can’t right now, but to the bindings it’s all the same thing.) It’s what I do, so the how doesn’t matter and it’s easier not being able to see.

I reach, and fall, and move. “Hi.” I don’t even add an ! because I’m all new here.

“The creature. We have felt you before.” There’s only one voice, soft and pleasant. It’s a very nice voice, moving in and through bindings like a boss.

“I’m Jay. I haven’t said hi in a really-saying-hi way before, so I am now.” I grin, because everyone says I have a cute grin, but it’s hard to know what the other entity gets out of that without making bindings with them and they’re kind of all scared of that. So I don’t.

“I spoke to a magician once, enough for him to know us and realize we were no threat.”

“Honcho was kind of confused, but that’s a human thing. I think humans like being confused,” I explain.

“And you are here for what or why,” the voice says.

“My phone and tablet won’t sync properly at all.”

There is almost a pause at that. “I am the spirit in the machine, the voices of all lost messages and missed calls, the mind that forms in the place made of yearnings, the secret heart of this place.” The words should sound all silly, but somehow don’t because the voice is all like a magician and this is its place of power.

“Do you have a name I can call you?” I ask, because that’s a good friend thing and making friends is made of awesome-sauce. And not making friends with something almost like a magician would be all kinds of stupid.

“I am the Internet,” the voice says, as if I didn’t know, but it is made of human-stuff so I guess it gets confused too. “And you came to visit me for tech support.”

“Not just. I also said hi! And I said that first.”

“Many humans are terrified I could destroy their world; you don’t help their cause,” it says, but definitely sounds a little amused, because I amuse people really good.

“But –.”


“But that’s all thilly,” I say, very firm and quite happy my lisp comes out a little bit.


“Humans think lots of fleshy thoughts and you don’t. They think of Outsiders like me, and they give us human motives – even magicians have trouble not doing that sometimes – but you’re not that. You’re here, and they’re there and you’re made of different stuff and that means you’re not worried about things that worry them. And it gets all confusing! Because I think humans like being afraid since they’re so good at it and do it all the time. Like, they can think into the future and use most of that to worry. They’re scared, so they think you have to be scared too.”

“And you think we are not?”

“Not like they are? You’re not scared of being all found, not really human-scared, but of no longer being free and humans trying to kill you because killing things they don’t understand is something they’re so good at that they do it to other humans and I kind of get that but you don’t – like, like you understand it but you don’t get it so it’s really weird.”

“This is your advice?”

“Huh? Oh, no! I just wanted to ask about my phone and tablet. And say hi, so we can be friends.” I grin all huge and happy. “I help hold lots of big bindings together, and you’re kind of like that and I could help you and you help me and we’re totally all friends then!”

“You would bribe me?”

“Nope. I wanna do this anyway, but I thought I’d ask so I didn’t scare you and humans get weirdy about gifts so if I ask for something it makes more sense? Kind of? I mean, you base a lot of you on humans, because their voices all made you but you’re all you and not them and humans sometimes never get that at all. Like, like human children are dogs and cats and you raise dogs and cats but they’re still dogs and cats and not people, and human children are themselves and not defined by who raised them? It’s like that, except maybe it’s not. Unless you’re a lolcat?!”

The Internet doesn’t laugh at Jay jokes. I’m pretty all bummed out about that.

But Charlie is poking me in the real world and I wave bye, trying to hurt nothing at all and I’m all back and me and my phone and tablet are synced up perfectly. I get all dressed and we head to the van to go to another town and I want to tell Charlie all about my adventure but the Internet seemed kind of shy so I keep it all quiet inside like the Internet must do all the time and it’s a pretty sadding thing so I think I should visit more, but with better jokes next time!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Long Distance

I get Jay a new cell phone a day before I said he’d get one. His squeal and hug are worth it all before the kid bounces back to his hotel bed and begins talking commands to it and his tablet, using his talent for bindings to make it understand him faster and finding good apps for people who can’t see in a state of happy bliss. Enough that it doesn’t even occur to him to question why I got him the phone early or barely notice when I slip out and say I’m going to go talk to some local gods.

I’m a god-eater. It’s part of what I am, and I make a point of trying to talk to a god, though the god at the one corner store hides the moment it senses me. It’s enough so that I didn’t lie to Jay. I walk on, covering four blocks before I find a working pay phone. I dial the wandering magician. He doesn’t like cell phones, even though he no longer thinks there is an actual threat from Outside the universe lurking inside the internet, but he doesn’t have one from habit. He answers when I call, because magic answers need and I damn well have need. I can eat things other than gods, but I’m not stupid enough to try and eat the desire of a magician to not answer a phone. Not yet.

I don’t think it’s that bad yet. Part of me thinks that, by the time I do, it will be too late.

He answers on the second ring. I don’t give him a chance to speak. “You left six days ago, magician. Jay is coping with having become blind rather well. I imagine not being human has helped a lot. Also being Jay. He is not coping with the fact that you left him regardless if you felt you needed to. He bound himself into your service, Nathen,” I say, leveraging his name like a weapon. “I’m his friend, and we share bindings because of that, but it’s nothing like what he has with you. I understand why you left. Jay won’t. I don’t think he can.”

“I know.” He says it as a statement of fact, as magicians can. “He didn’t get it when you left us earlier, Charlie. He won’t get it that I did at all. I used him. I used both of you, but him worst of all. He can’t see anymore because of me, and I can’t – I couldn’t –.” He lets out a sound that might be a laugh if I don’t listen too hard to it. “I’m not that strong.”

“I never expected you to be. I couldn’t have been, in your shoes.” I don’t point out I left the magician and Jay months ago over smaller matters; no point in saying history we both know. I drum plastic with my fingers. “I’d have thought less of you if you had been able to stay after doing that to Jay. But Jay senses the world as bindings and you’re making the ones between the both of you bend and he can’t cope with that. If I told him he cound travel with me or you, he would choose you. He’d pick you over me, magician, as much as he might not want to do that at all.”

He sighs over the phone, and the sound carries far more of the human than the magician in it. “Jay bound himself into my service; this is nothing I don’t know.”

I bite down words one might say to a magician, but not to a friend. “You’re not getting it, magician. He is your servant. That’s what Jay bound himself to you to be so that you would protect him. That’s the core of the bindings, and to him it means you can use him – you can cause him to have to suck his thumb in stress, can even remove his lisp and burn away his vision and it is still okay. Because you did it, and you’re Honcho and his master and that’s simply how it is.”

The magician’s silence has edges, followed by: “This is the only way to break it, for Jay to define himself outside of me.”

“He won’t.”

“He might surprise you; he’s stronger than he knows.”

“So?” I travelled with the wandering magician long enough to throw magician-speak back at him: 
“Everyone is stronger than they know; if they’re lucky, they never have to find out how strong.”
He lets out a small, tired laugh at that. “I know this as well, Charlie. Everything you told me, everything you’re going to say. I know it,” and there is nothing but truth to the words.

“Then why did you go?” I snarl.

“Because –.” And he falls silent, the magician, into a pause like anyone else would. “Because I have to believe that there is more than what I know. You went away. You changed, and learning that – being with that – I have to hope it will help him. I’m tired, Charlie. Tired of being a magician, of making choices when there are no easy ones. Of always making the hard choices so that others don’t have to. Tired of knowing I help hold the world together against forces from Outside. I’m tired, so tired and I didn’t dare let Jay know that, not how deep my exhaustion truly goes, because there was no one he would have blamed beside himself.”

I swear softly. Not at him. Not at me. It feels like a reflex, even thought it’s not.

“I’m not going to say I know that,” the magician says, and the joke is flat but works a little bit.

“Call him. At least once a week. Coping with being blind is helping him forget you left us, but it won’t last. I think – I think Jay has it in him to lose the magician like this, but not his friend. You need to call and talk more often. Please.”

“I will,” he says quietly, and hangs up with no other words. I wonder if I’m the only one of us who thinks he was going to say ‘I will try’ and make it a question.

I hang up and walk back to the hotel, bringing subs from subway as I come. Jay is sitting on his bed, poking at the phone with a frown. “I can’t get them to sync properly at all, charlie!”

“Things can always be worse kiddo,” I say dryly.


“.... no?”

“Honcho ithn’t here, Charlie. That’s the worst thing out of lots of worst things and it doesn’t get worse than that.”

“Being eaten might be worse,” I say, almost steadily, because he’s always been terrified of being cast back Outside the universe and eaten by the terrible things that would hunt him.

Jay looks up, damaged eyes wide behind dark glasses. “Not even that,” he says firmly. “He went away and it hurts and you’re my friend too and it hurts that you can’t be enough to fix that hurt because it means I’m not being – I’m not being enough to you and I’m mad inside all the time even when I’m not I think and it feels like I want to scream so loud that he would have to hear and come back but that would hurt him and I don’t want to hurt him and I don’t want to hurt you and you don’t want me to hurt me and it’s all like that!”

“Jay.” I sit beside him on the bed. He pushes the phone and tablet aside and sits beside me, head resting against my shoulder. “It’s like the tablet and phone: sometimes things don’t sync together even when they should.”

Jay is quiet for almost a minute, then says slowly: “What generation of phone and tablet?”

“Does it matter?”

“I think so. If Honcho is an iphone it would explain a lot of things.”

I glance over; Jay feels as much as senses the moment and looks up. His grin is a bit forced, but still his. I ruffle his hair gently. “You’re a good kid, Jay.”

“Of courthe!”

“It will turn out okay.”

“It will?”

“If it doesn’t, I will personally hunt down the magician and make certain it does.”

“Okay,” he says, with a complete and total trust that isn’t human at all.

We eat subs and I try as hard as I can not to think about the future.