Saturday, March 29, 2014

Monday Morning (a series of 4 stories)

A Series of Mornings

Monday Morning

Being a magician sometimes means waking to screams of terror. In this case I don’t even open my eyes as I hear the hotel room door slam shut. “How late is it?”
        “About eleven,” Jay’s voice says.
        “You were sleeping beside me in the bed again.”
        “And housekeeping came in and saw you.”
        “I thought it wath okay,” he mumbles. “I’m not human and I let her thee that.”
        “Please put clothing on and pack the bags.” I don’t add the now as I head to the shower. Being bound to a creature from Outside the universe is one thing; having it look like a ten year old kid and be as sexless as a ken doll is something else. So, too, is him trying to be your friend. And having no idea what that was.
        “It’th thafe with you,” he says as I come out of the shower. Jay is small and pale but has the bags packed neatly and is glaring defiantly up at me. Most people wouldn’t find being near a magician safe but he wasn’t a people and in his case he wasn’t far wrong.
        I sigh. “I know that. But humans don’t understand. We’ve been over this.”
        He looks down at his shoes. “Thorry.”
        He’s been better at not avoiding esses. I have to give him that much and it’s not as if the two months he’s been with me have been devoid of danger. “Jay. Try harder, please.”
        He bites his lip at my saying please and nods, looking miserable. A town tried to kill us a few weeks ago: I had to call up his potential future to help fix the town and he’s still recovering from that. I sit down on the bed and he sits down beside me and rests his head on my arm with a huge sigh of relief.
        I ruffle his hair. “I didn’t mean to hurt. But we do have to go.”
        He stands up and grins, then hurls back into the bed and over the other side as the first bullets slam into his body, the middle of the motel room door dissolving into dust under the roar of a shotgun.
        I sigh and walk over to the door; Jay’s body is tough enough that a shotgun should only bruise him but it’s definitely not going to help him not be afraid.
        The shotgun roars again. I touch the world with magic and the roar becomes a whimper as the bullets force themselves back into the weapon in tune with my desire. There is a moment of resistance, the police officer on the other side a throbbing of fear strong enough to resist a magician’s will: she’s ran into nasty shit before. It explains but does not excuse.
        The rest of the door falls apart under her kick, a silver-tipped nightstick in her right hand as Sheriff Melissa Yates comes through the doorway with death in her eyes.
        “You know, the housekeeper could have got her story wrong,” I say calmly. “In which case, you might have murdered someone doing horrible or killed a child waking up their parent and even in a small town you would have had trouble sweeping wholesale murder under the rug.”
        She swings the nightstick at my head as I talk. I move where it isn’t once, then twice, and pluck it from her hands before she can do a third swing even as I pull the energy out of her taser and fill the doorway with it to stop her deputy from entering; it’s rather blatant but I’m in a mood.
        “Monster, I –.”
        “Magician. So a human monster at least.” I hand back the nightstick. “If you’d like to try swimming towards sanity I’d appreciate it.”
        “Thhooting me ith not thane,” Jay says fiercely, having scrambled to his feet, his face set in glare.
        “Not helping.”
        The sheriff stares past me. “What is that?”
        “He is Jay.”
        “I shot him.”
        “Funny thing: he doesn’t like getting shot.”
        “You ruined my coat,” Jay snaps.
        He grumbles and marches over to his bag to dig out another coat. His shirt and coat are ruined, the bruising on his chest deep and purple. He mutters about humans and stupid not-friends and unfollowing.
        The sheriff lowers her nightstick slowly. “You had an alien creature sleeping in your bed, magician.”
        “He tends to sneak in when he’s scared. Getting shot at through a door isn’t going to help that.”
She has another mental pause. Jay isn’t scary. He’s tough, fast when he has to be, but is too miffed about his coat to consider running circles about her and tickling her into submission, which is a small mercy.
        “He is not a vampire?”
        “No,” Jay snaps, not looking up as he digs out a shirt, the word edged. He glares up. “A monthter can have a lithp and not be a vampire! Okay?”
        “Okay,” she says numbly.
        I wrap the numbness about her memories, catch her gaze in mine. “You survived. That means other people can survive monsters as well. You’ve met human monsters, Melissa, and humans who were not monsters. Not all monsters are monsters. Hold that in the future.”
        She looks a bit dazed but nods. I don’t dare press for more without damaging her – or learning what damaged her that badly in the first place. A magician knows many things if they know anything at all, and one of those is that there are bounds even to knowledge. Wisdom is knowing when to avoid knowledge of that nature. I’ve had a long, long week and I’m too tired to go hunting through memories.
        I dissolve the barrier on the door, weave words around her deputy and get them all leaving. It won’t last long but it lasts enough for us to slip out and to the truck and for me to drive away from the town. Some day I might come back and help her, but some day is not today. I am not burnt out, but I can feel that from where I am. I have wandered for a long time. I have wondered for a longer time.
        And I am feeling tired.

Tuesday Morning

There are many reasons to love larger towns. Anonymity. Fast food. Starbucks. I get up, half-asleep, stumble out of the hotel, cross to a Starbucks, skim the local paper and return with three breakfast sandwiches, hot chocolate and coffee. In a city, someone might have tried to mug me. In a smaller town, people would have insisted on talking and becoming my friend. At least until they learn how dangerous it is to be friends with a magician.
        Jay is still sleeping in his bed when I enter: I half-expected him end up on my bed during the night or wake when I did and follow me: the binding between is is powerful but in his head being closer makes it stronger, and being friends makes it stronger still. He’s small and pale, passing entirely for human even to my senses now. Most creatures from outside the universe can’t do that: until him, I wouldn’t have thought it was possible to bind yourself to anyone and hide that binding from them. He might be strong in the future, if he survives, but right now he is weak and damaged.
        And sucking his right thumb as he sleeps.
        Using his future nature to scare off creatures trying to take over a town had worked, but not without cost. That he didn’t blame me for it had been enough to get Charlie to leave us and wander onto her own paths. I pull his thumb free, wipe it off with a sheet and then shake him lightly. He wakens in moments, the binding between us thrumming with fear for a second before he registers me and tries to hide the fear behind a huge yawn and grin. “Food?”
        “You think I’d dare wake you without food?”
        “I don’t eat that much now,” he protests, but wolfs back the two sandwiches in seconds and begins drinking his hot chocolate in deep slurps.
        I eat mine slower and sip my coffee after as he watches me. “Better?”
        “Good. There’s something nasty holed up in the local mall I’d like to look into. Claws, teeth, fangs ….”
        “Like the god in Charlie?”
        “Charlie could have –.” He bites his lower lip. “Charlie left uth!”
        “She did.” He waits. “Because you didn’t hate me for damaging you.”
        “But you’re my mathter.”
        “You could still hate me.” He shakes his head. “You could. You won’t and she was afraid she would in your stead.”
        “But –.”
        “It’s not your fault. Or hers, or mine. Sometimes things just turn out the way they do, Jay.”
        “I know that!”
        “Like Charlie knew our binding makes me your master?”
        He blinks, then scowls and offers nothing.
        “We have at least one monster of some kind in the mall. You distract it and I will bind it. Deal?”

The local mall isn’t much to speak of. The story in the local paper about missing teens has increased the police presence at least. I convince doors to open for us and head into the basement levels: parking, storage and the security office nestle among it like cast-offs from a wedding. I wish up light in my right hand and walk, humming softly to myself. Tension hums in the air in turn, a sense of something in darkness waiting to leap forth. Using magic is generally enough to warn such creatures to get gone but not always.
        My feet pull me down the hallway to the security office, a path of narrow cement and burnt-out lights. It screams horror movie, enough that I doubt anyone has been this way in some time. Jay pads silently behind me as I push open the door. The office is all battered cubicles with one security officer behind a single desk at the far end of the room looking like a hobo Santa Claus in a uniform straining under his girth.
        I have time to say nothing else before it heaves itself up, chest splitting open to disgorge tendrils that glitter with obsidian teeth. I hurl the ball of light into them.
        Nothing. I turn my head and find he has dived back into the hallway in fear. It costs me a moment, and in that moment tendrils tear through the light and across my right arm. I hiss, hurling the pain into a wall between the creature and me and scramble back as tendrils tear themselves out of the floor and ceiling. Bigger than I thought. Bad sign.
        Something slices into my back as I spin, wrapping the stale basement winds about myself and diving into the narrowing hallway. The wall has turned into teeth. I hau Jay up into my arms, which costs in time – and pain, as tendrils lash into me – then run. I can’t protect him and bind and banish it at once, not like this.
        Blades slash out and around. I’m good. Sometimes I’m very good. But my warning light advising it to run just gave it time to prepare. I hit the parking garage and pull electricity into a net around us, forcing it away and binding it into the security office. I can do that much.
        It hurts. My back is sticky as I kill security cameras and find a car to steal. Jay is whispering “thorry” over and over. I say nothing and drive until we’re out of the mall, two blocks from it. An empty house offers shelter and I accept the offer, stumbling inside after warding the car so no one steals it. The owners will get it back. I do that much before I fall out of pain and into sleep.

Wednesday Morning

Arrogant. Careless.
        The thoughts whisper to each other in my head as I wake up. I’ve destroyed gods. I’ve faced down armies and banished them, freed entire towns from invasions from Outside. I’ve done other things, alone or with others, and you get careless. Cocky. It was just a minor creature under a mall.
        Just. I’m lying on a bed, naked save for bandages wrapped about me like I was a mummy extra in a movie. I hurt all over, but there is a bottle of painkillers beside the bed and water. I down a few, let the pain dial down a few levels, sit up. My back aches along with my left arm but nothing feels broken or severed inside. I try stretches, which makes the world spin a little, but hold myself together and begin repairing scars and harm.
        It is almost half an hour before Jay slinks into the room. He’s wearing the same clothing from yesterday and has a coffee that he brings over. His face is pale and drawn and he trembles in fear despite not spilling a drop of coffee. He’s from Outside the universe, so he can do things like that. He’s also why I’m hurt since he froze in terror yesterday in the basement of a mall against something that had been hiding inside a security guard.
        He bites into his lower lip as hard as he can but doesn’t look away as he hands me the coffee.
        “It wath thcary,” he whispers, “and we didn’t have Charlie with uth and I – I don’t –.” His face twists up but he just takes deep and slow breaths.
        I want to tell him I don’t mind if he avoids esses but I don’t think that will help. His gaze flits over bandages.
        “You did this?”
        “Yeah.” He gulps. “I uthed the internet and cleaned each wound.”
        “I think you did good.” I take the coffee and begin drinking it. “I’ll heal up fine.”
        “You’re not going to banithh me?”
        “Why would I banish you?”
        “Becauthe I –. And. I–.”
        “Breathe.” He does so, and sits on the bed the second time I ask, trembling as he stares at me. He wants to use the binding between us to understand what I’m feeling and to deal with his own fear. He doesn’t.
        “I’ll need food and –.”
        He shakes his head. “Nope. You need to heal.”
        “I need to stop that creature first.”
        He flinches back. “I went back,” he says, and his voice is so soft I almost miss it. “To the mall. Becauthe I didn’t know if your ward would hold it and it wath my fault –.”
        “Jay, everyone –.”
        “It wath!” He looks so shocked at shouting at me that I almost want to laugh despite the fact that it would hurt my back. “I went back and let it eat me and I didn’t tathte good at all. It exploded,” he says without a trace of pride.
        “You let it eat you.”
        “I’m tough. But that’th all I am, all I could think to do. You were hurt and I wath rethponth –.” He makes a face, tries the word responsible again, and then says: “And it wath my fault. I wanted to fix it even if I can’t make it right.”
        “You’re right that you can’t, but we’re in the same boat.” He just looks blank. “I should have known you were this shaky, Jay. We’re bound together and I threw you over the deep end yet again without a single life preserver. I was wrong to do that.”
        He looks even blanker at that.
        “A magician is allowed to be wrong, even me.”
        “Really?” he says, managing to sound suspicious until his face breaks into a huge grin.
        I brace myself for the hug that follows and manage not to hiss as he pulls away after. “Better?”
        “A little bit.”
        “Okay.” I hold out my right hand. “I’m going to need to borrow energy.”
        He nods and relaxes, letting out a huge yawn after I pull strength from him and curls up onto the bed to sleep. I stretch slowly and get up, pulling the pain out my wounds and threading it into Jay. He’s taken shotguns to the chest with minimal harm; he barely twitches at the pain, the binding between us pulsing with his relief that I’m no longer hurt.
        I write a note telling him where I am even though he should know anyway and head outside. It takes me over half an hour to walk to the mall and I’m feeling a bit tired by the time I reach it. I pull bitterness out of people and strength out of stones to form wards during the walk. People are hurrying past decorated stores and winding their way around the mall Christmas tree as if it wasn’t there at all. I head down again, slipping through the crowds to the basement.
        The hallway remains dark but the undertones echo normal sounds. The office is a disaster: shattered walls, floor, and ceiling where tendrils of the creature grabbed Jay and ate him and holes pitted everywhere after it had exploded. It is definitely dead and gone at least, so I pull on the unease the place still has and make that into a barrier. They’ll have a new security office elsewhere and this one slowly become forgotten until it heals. I add an invite to friendly Others in need of a place to stay into the warding and head back up.
        The post-Christmas season is wild and crazy, offering no safe energy for me to draw on. I let it wash through me and walk back to the house, wondering what to do about Jay and finally calling in an old favour over the wind.

Thursday Morning

Jay forced himself not to sleep beside me last night despite being exhausted from my draining energy out of him to heal my wounds. The creature from Outside the universe is curled up in a spare bedroom of the house that let us sleep in it, small body wrapped in a nest of blankets and sucking his right thumb in his sleep. The thumb-sucking is painfully new. Entering the universe damaged him, which manifests as a lisp. I had to call up his potential future a week ago in order to save a town and it has damaged him deeper.
        He senses me enter; pale eyes snap open and his body freezing a moment later as he removes his thumb from his mouth and stares at it. The binding between us thrums with his shame but he still refuses to blame me for it. He looks human and now passes for younger than ten under the right light.
        “You’re better,” he says, and grins, getting out of the bed in a blur and throwing himself at me in a huge hug of relief. I return it until he pulls away. “I healed you.”
        “You helped, yes.” I ruffle his hair gently. “Shower and get into fresh clothing: we’ll have breakfast after.”
        It never even occurs to him to wonder why I don’t shower or why we’re up at dawn. I use the time to draw up my need and desire, bending magic to my will as we slip out of the house. He follows me into the small park near the centre of the town, asking no questions and trusting my lead, his fear a soft flow in the binding between us.
        The day is still spitting back the dark, dawn fighting free of night as I slip into the park, trying not to shoot Jay worried looks. He pretends not to notice. It is hard to keep secrets from a creature who bound itself to you, but sometimes the best secrets are not secrets at all. He feels the worry and senses nothing else.
        “Honcho.” He stops dead, reaching to grab my hand as he catches something else, but the creature slips out from between trees before he can utter another word.
It is honey-eyed and dark haired, gliding toward me with a smile the Mona Lisa would have thought perfection. It is from far Outside the world, a predator with many forms. All beautiful. This time it comes as a woman, holding my gaze with a smile both gentle and catching. I wrap a binding about it, but it is familiar with me – so familiar – and slips out of it as easily as a breath of wind, running a finger along my cheek.
        “No one else since me, magician?” it whispers almost gently.
        Jay moves between us, shoves the creature hard. It smiles down at him and he just glares up in turn. “Leave him alone!”
        The creature smiles, eyes bleeding white, fingers flowing into claws between moments.
        Jay tenses, eyes narrowing. His gaze snaps from the creature to me, then back and forth again before he glares up at me. “Thith ith a trick!”
        “A test.”
        “Becauthe I wath afraid in the mall,” he says.
        “You froze, Jay. We were both hurt because of it,” I say mildly. Behind him, the creature slips into shadows, close enough to the world to hear us.
        Jay draws himself up at that and favours me with a furious glare, fists clenched tight to his side. “I can be brave when I’m not afraid!”
        There are moments when I am not a magician. Few of them, but his righteous fury and words make one and I start laughing, almost doubling over as he continues to glare as hard as he can not seeing anything funny in this at all.
        “That’s a good point,” I say once I can manage speech.
        “You laughed at me.” Jay’s voice is very soft, with an edge I’ve seldom heard. I pause. He isn’t glaring anymore, his face empty of expression.
        “Jay,” I say gently, “you told me you wouldn’t be scared if nothing scary was about.”
        He pauses, mouthing the words he’d said back to himself, then: “Oh,” in a small voice, a flush creeping across his cheeks.
        I reach over and give him a gentle smack upside the head. “Thank you; I needed that.”
        He nods, not understanding why but not wanting to press.
        I leave the creature I called back into the world to the shadows and begin walking back toward the road, Jay falling into step beside me. “Courage is a well, Jay. As is will. We can draw from it, often and deeply, but no well is inexhaustible.”
        “Inex...?” he trails off.
        “Without end. Everything runs out, even will and courage. We can’t draw on those wells forever, not even in the name of duty or love, without rest to replenish them. Sometimes they never do and we’re broken ever after. You weren’t.”
        “Oh! Tho I did good?”
        “You did, and better than expected since you caught what I was doing.”
        He beams at that and half-skips the rest of the way from the park without a worry in the world.

Thursday, March 27, 2014


Magicians are drawn to bars like lodestones. There’s something numbing about them that lets us relax, pushes pressures and worries slightly to the side even if we are just drinking mineral water. I’ve been trying to drink nothing stronger than coffee lately, for a lot of reason that mostly make me miserable. Things that make sense tend to do that, which in turn helps them not make sense. Like how someone once told me diets functioned as anti-magic, and was probably right.

The dead man walks in half an hour before closing as I’m nursing a beer almost as expensive as the bottled water the bar offers and checking the time. Jay is watching movies at the local theatre and I said we’d get pizza after that; bars don’t much care if you sit and drink and bother no one, so I’m doing all three until he comes in. He doesn’t look dead, truth be told, or even smell it, but I catch a glimpse of him in a window and see symbols and veves drawn under his skin and on his bones. He’s bargained with someone for a long life and that almost never goes right.

Thing is, no matter how many stories tell people it is a bad idea, they still attempt to make bargains like this. Speak with magicians, try and breach the walls of the world to address entities from Outside the universe or even make deals with stranger things beside. He’s done the latter: hunted and cornered an elemental and reached some agreement for immortality. He spots me in turn and walks over, sitting beside me.

I say nothing. If his agreement involved trying to kill a magician he was in for more trouble than he knew. Mostly because I wander a lot and had some friends who would hunt him down and destroy him even if he did manage to kill me.

“I am not here for you,” he says, his voice old in a young face. “This I swear on my power.”

“How nice for you.” He buys himself a beer in turn: nothing fancy, nothing that would stand out. You learn not to do that if you’ve made that sort of bargain, not unless you want to spend a few centuries chained up under the earth and being tortured for your secrets. I wait until he finishes half his beer before asking: “Why that bargain? Power, wealth, love: those I understand. I’ve never understood people who want to live forever.”

“Think of what I will be witness to.”

“I am.”

“I was told that magicians have a poets soul; is yours so clouded that you cannot see the Light that burns within us all?”

“I’m not the kind of magician who can lie to myself,” I say, and flowery words slipped out that I might have held back sober. “I know happiness is no constant to be sought, that joy only has meaning because it is rare. And I know that if I lived long enough no joy would be strong enough to blunt the rest of the world unless I was ignorant or mad.”

“There are magicians who aren’t mad?” he says tightly.

I just smile and sip my beer, linking our drinks together and weaving magic into his. I’ve been nursing the same one all evening, because two drinks would become four. “We’re sane enough not to make bargains like you made, by and large, to find our own power rather than to steal it from others.”

“We are not all fools,” he said, and then said a most foolish thing, tongue loosened by both his drink and the magic I’ve weaved into it: “My bargain was perfections itself: I cannot die unless I touch an innocent and this world has no innocents in it at all.”

“You made a bargain like that and wanted to live forever?” I sigh and pushed the rest of the bottle to the bartender as I stand. “I know at least one innocent and I could have a dozen in this bar within moments. But you are quiet, and seek no riches, no fame, no glories. Most of your kind aren’t that wise, so let me offer you this: anything from Outside the universe is an innocent to this one. Any of those could destroy you with a touch.”

He set his own drink aside, the colour draining from his face as he stood in turn. “Oh,” he says, and almost manages to sound like he hadn’t known that himself. It gets harder to act the longer you exist, I think, to be someone other than yourself. He does a good job of faking it. I’d almost believe he didn’t want to kill me if he hadn’t come in the bar looking for me. Arrogant, but that also goes with extended lives.

I walked out the back, not surprised when he follows. The lone chef in the kitchen cleaning up the sink didn’t bat an eye at either of us. The dead man closed the door behind us and said nothing as we enter the back alleyway.

“You think killing a magician will help you get a new bargain or change your current one,” I say as I turn to face him. “I run into this about once a year or so,” I add into his silence. “I am still here.”

“You forced my weakness from me, but there is no innocence to you,” he says and takes a step forward, fingers flexing into unnatural forms. “I can recognize creatures not from this universe and learnt long ago to avoid them.”

I sigh and reached for the bond between myself and Jay, pull it about me like armour. He was Other, and bound to my service: it would be innocence enough to destroy with. “Walk away.”

The dead man steps forward, swift and sure, his right hand snapping out to catch my left wrist, words of power on his lips dying a moment later as his body topples over. I let go of the binding, sending reassurance to Jay’s confusion, and whistle sharply. Creatures that looked like fireflies flit into the back alley moments later, light descending into the dead man to devour the body whole. They are the light that eats darkness, and leave after the meal without a single glance in my direction.

I stare down at where the body had been and sigh. It seems epitaph enough as I walk away, heading toward the pizzeria I’d told Jay we’d meet at, wondering at what kind of bargain being a magician was to magic and what prices I might be asked to pay after I died. I think a second beer would stop such thoughts, but don’t go back for it. 

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

part of the evenings writing

 I kicked a stone off the side of the road and heard it crack into five trees before stopping. The north road was quiet, all gravel and silence around us. “You’re a magician, I’m a monster and that’s the all of it.”
        “Wray.” There was an odd catch in his voice. “You want something else?”
“I’d like to be friends, not just some family project for you to work on. And I don’t know if you can do that.”
        Bryce stopped and stared down at me. Something intense and private went across his face for a moment and he let out a sigh and slumped. “I don’t know if I’ll be allowed to. I’d like to.”
        “Why?” I let my face slide away from human and glared up at him, clenching clawed fingers loosely. “I’m a broken monster that eats corpses. There’s a lot better friends for a magician to have that me.”
        “The Smiths and Joneses have been at war for over a hundred years over the town of Nowhere, Wray. I don’t have friends here. I never will. Anyone could be turned into a weapon to be used against my family.”
        “A war.”
        “A hundred years ago Reginald Jones the Second founded the town of Nowhere. He was murdered by a Smith ten years later when we realized the entire town had been built as an amplifier for magic. Cast a simple spell to cause harm, amplify it, feed it back into itself and the town would boost the spell until the world itself was destroyed. We killed him and we’ve kept the Joneses from using Nowhere for that ever since.”
        “And your mom has been doing that by herself for ten years.”
        “Yes.” Nothing else, his pride firm enough for that word alone.
        I scratched my scalp. “Then why did you take me home from the cemetery? I could be some weapon the Joneses made.”
        “You bit my finger off then ran away.”
        “I know that,” I growled. “But it could be long term, like a sleeper agent. You all have magic and I don’t need it and I could just come in one night and kill you all.”
        “We do have weapons,” he said mildly. “And we all know how to use mundane ones as well as the magical.”
        Another growl slipped out. I moved, toes digging into gravel, and hauled Bryce up into the air a moment later, driving his back into a tree across the road hard enough to knock the wind out of him. I dropped him back down to the ground a moment later and just crouched beside him, waiting as he wheezed for air.
        “I am a ghoul,” I said, the words harsh even to my ears. “I can rip tombstones apart, dig through earth for bones and your magic doesn’t work on me, Bryce Smith. So, this time for real: why did you trust me enough to take me home?”
        Bryce stood on his third try, staring down at me as if he’d never seen me before, breath coming in weak wheezes. I was was panting for air myself, fighting the urge to attack him as best I could. Telling myself he wasn’t prey. Trying to ignore the scent of cinnamon in his bones.
        “I can’t tell you.” His voice was so soft I almost missed the words.
        “What?” My voice was almost human, the ghoul-self sliding back in shock as I stared at him.
        He looked over my head, not meeting my gaze. “I can’t tell you that.”

Monday, March 24, 2014


The magician walks in places where even shadow fears to tread,
His will burns a cool grey light that shimmers through the air.
Beside him pads a creature clothed in a child’s human guise
Who reaches a small hand for his, is calmed by steady strength.
About them was a penthouse that felt both sterile and sick:
Open-planned, modern-lined, no room for darkness anywhere
But every sound had sullen echo, breath fogged in summer air.

“Jay,” the magician says, waiting for answers he must learn.
“There’th broken bindingth,” Jay lisps, “like a show gone bad.”
The magician silence presses, the boy mouths words in thought.
“On TV, everything ith fixed in half an hour,” he says proudly.
“You don’t say,” the magician says, his tone dry as the dead air.
Jay sticks out his tongue and grins, the darkness flatters slight.
“So there is a problem here that can be fixed with ease?”
“Yup! That,” the boy responds with a pride fit to bursting.

The magician wanders room to room to pause and study them.
Each bedroom boasts a king-sized bed fit for company of kings,
The ten-year old boy is pulled away from pianos fit for gods
And vast TVs adorn each room like idols in modern temples.
“Who haunts a place so full as to be empty?” the magician says
And Jay just shrugs and looks about and no ghost does he see.
The magician studies wooden floors, his magic a soft whisper.
The floors remain untouched and gleam as statues did for kings.

“The movers scratched nothing,” he says and laughs quite soft.
He raises his voice, his power gentle thrum to match the fridge.
“I make a point to not see ghosts and Jay’s nature would destroy
So if you could offer up a sign you’re here we’d be much obliged.”
Drawers shuddered, chairs danced, the place shook short and sharp.
The magician nods and turns to leave, the boy’s silence a trust.
“She hired a poltergeist moving company. I will suggest she pays,”
he says and kills his light, the boy’s pride warmth enough.

Idea in my head this morning

The teleconference was small, made in meeting rooms a world apart. There were two hundred of them, as people had always supposed, the men who ran the world. It was no longer true that all were white men, and not even strictly true that all were men, though one of the two cases had once been a man. No one talked about that, and it was seen as a sign of progress. Both sides had chosen one to speak for them. On one side one who had drawn the long straw, the other one who had drawn the shortest.

“Our civilization is a dead-end road,” One said in a voice of rolling vowels and perfect elocution. A gift of breeding rather than lessons, as so much is.

“It might be,” the Other said, younger. He was perhaps younger, and his eyes were hardened with desperation. “It doesn’t have to be.”

“We have the figures,” the One said, with a mirthless smile. “The facts. We consume more resources than the world produces.”

“We have done so since records began,” the Other said, softer.

“And it destroyed so many. Easter Island. Rome. So much fallen, so much lost to time. We cannot think our civilization will be any different though we leave less behind than all others did.”

“The solar project –.”

“Ah, yes.” The One cut him off, causing a murmur from both sides. “Science will save us, because it has always done so. Because each time we were about to fall, someone built a bridge. That cannot go on forever. Every sign says this is a dead-end road but no one believes. Such is the power of science, such the strength of the promise. Do you not wonder at that?” the One continued, softer still. “If we did not have this hope, we would be forced to make due with less. We would pull back. We would entrench and put reins on the drives of growth.”

“We will be undone by hope?” the Other said, but his laugh cut off as the One merely nodded.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Ghoulish Happenings, chapter 1: Dumpster Munchies

Lives are never straight lines: there’s no one point we can look to and say, ‘this is where it all went wrong.’ I’d like to have one of those but people who know he would probably say my life is fine or has always been going wrong. Strangers might point to right now, when I find myself in the middle of a turf war I hadn’t even known about. That would probably be a lie though, since I only noticed the frenzy of howls by the time I was at the bottom of the McDonalds dumpster at the corner of Fourth and Cameron.
             I’d been in it for almost an hour, working my way through nuggets, fish and finally to a dead pigeon. I probably should have sensed two werewolves having a growlfest before that point but it was a really good pigeon: four days dead, marinated by fries and gravy, the bones almost at a consistency of chocolate. It was the best meal I’d found in four days and it’s easy to get lost in the taste of good food, up to a point.
             The point, for me, included scenting both werewolves at either end of the alleyway. Neither had caught my scent: I’d been in the dumpster long enough to blend into it, and I tried to be quiet in dumpsters so people didn’t notice me in them and run screaming. The local police really don’t like me and I don’t want to give them more reasons not to. So I’d been eating quietly, lost in food, and the howls jolted me out of it. They were low howls, the kind that vibrate through bones and flesh rather than split the air. I had no idea if that was a wolf thing or a werewolf thing and just kept mouse-still.
             I was strong and tough, but ending up with a pissed or hurt werewolf in the same dumpster as me would pretty much be like someone tossing a normal person into an industrial blender set onto ‘aggravated mulch’ or something. I didn’t even eat the last leg of the pigeon, just kept still as the werewolves impacted like cars. Growls and snarls and whines cut through the air as they tore into each other, bones and flesh shattering and healing between movement. Both were male, one older by at least twenty years. Maybe. I can tell how old a person is by sniffing them, but werewolves are monsters as well and heal so fast that for all I know they might not even age like humans do.
             I wasn’t about to look at check. And definitely not about to ask. They were related: brothers, parent and kid fighting? No idea. They didn’t talk, just tore into each other again and again. One was faster, smaller, healed quicker: the older one, probably, the other was bigger and stronger, not healing quite as quick but the bone of them was more fluid, the shifts in healing and changing more controlled. I bit back a whine at the thought of what their bones would taste like.
             I think the fight lasted a minute. It felt longer, but the younger werewolf broke away first and fled. He’d expected a faster fight, uncertainty creeping into his scent. And if I could smell that, the other werewolf definitely could. I had no idea who’d win the next time they fought, less desire to ever find out. The older werewolf whined softly to himself as his wounds healed a final time, bones shattering and remaking themselves as he took on human form. His clothing must have changed with him, because I head the ring of a cell phone closer to the dumpster than I’d have liked.
             “It’s me. I won. He should be home by breakfast.” There was a pause. “I don’t know who is going to win the next time, love. I’m running low on tricks.” He sounded tired, and the phone snapped off as the werewolf walked away.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014


“We sunk five billion dollars into Project C.A.R.E. Contain And Reduce Enemies: that was the mandate and that was our goal. I personally figured we should just spend the money on an MK-Ultra mind control satellite and alter foreign policies that terrorism becomes the only sane response to, but I was voted down. It’s an election year. Our goal was to weaponize hope, crudely speaking, but that was about as unsuccessful as the attempts at building love bombs.

“So we did various polls and children the world-over have an affinity for stuffed animals. Make it anthropomorphic and one has a guaranteed sale of a product. We determined that this would be method of delivery for the weapon, akin to a trojan horse. Slip children’s toys across enemy lines, activate them and the enemy is pacified. Turn an enemy into your friend and he is no longer your enemy. Put simply, sirs, one cannot hate what one understands.

“The weapon itself was a modified laser fired into the pleasure receptors of the brain coupled with a virus that overwrote certain areas of the brain while the subject was under a wash of edorphins. we modelled the stuffed animals after bears and Henson called it a ‘care bear stare’ and the name sort of stuck. The capacity to hate is removed by the weapon, but a side effect is removal of certain creative impulses. Which would not be a deal-breaker except that the weapon also renders the subjects impotent. 
  “We discovered that little wrinkle when Li decided to zap her husband to get him to be a better father. In light of this, the committee does not believe Project C.A.R.E. is a viable weapon in the war against foreign bodies, though the capacity to rewrite portions of the human brain will doubtless have other uses in the coming decades, particularly once we introduce the personal computer. It is my belief that the project should be scrapped.

“If sirs wish, we may also turn it into a children’s tv show in order to foster public support for any future implimentations of Project C.A.R.E. we may decide we require in the coming decades. We apologize for the failure and await the judgment of the Agency.”

Sunday, March 16, 2014

On Voice

I was asked for writing advice earlier, during which I pointed out that my writing a novel (2 drafts of) while trying to work out a plot problem for a novel I mean to be editing means I am probably not the best person to ask. I made a comment in it about finding one's voice and learning when to let go of it. One that is going to fit into Ghoulish Happenings rather well. My default 'voice' tends to be this low-level snark that works well for some stories* but not for others.

It pretty much won't exist for the MCs in Ghoulish Happenings as far as the two MCs are concerned. Both are rather insecure in themselves and not too likely to use humour as a defense against the world. This will change as the series goes on, but not to a level normally found in urban fantasy, ideally. The genre is pretty much littered with the default male protagonist as walking dead-pan snark and a pop-culture machine even when the humour no longer fits the thrust of the stories. I won't avoid it -- a few secondary characters will be pretty snarky for one reason or another -- but both MCs will be far less in that voice than for other similar projects I've done.

We shall see how it all goes. I have notes on magic and monsters semi-done for this draft of GH and will work on characters proper today as well, fleshing out new relationships and backgrounds. I am slowly getting ready to dive back into that world and quite looking forward to what results from it as well as how many of the characters are even going to survive this draft, and how they cope with that later on. Currently I have plans for three novels in total, the second one being redone entirely because of an evil writing prompt, which should at least make it work rather well...

* Such as in nanowrimo last year for a thriller/lit style story in which one character described the nanowrimo of another as 'Lolita, as if it was written by a five year old'

Friday, March 14, 2014

On writing and editing

And now 35K into story. The actual plot proper is heating up, secrets are being revealed and soon the antagonist will reveal himself and his plans. Hopefully. I'm hoping to get a good chunk of it done this weekend as the Ghoulish story is nudging me to yell: 'okay, you've fixed plot issue. EDIT ME NOW!' though I'm starting to think the edit might be 'write draft 2 without looking at draft one', ideally. And I'm debating removing my favourite characters from Ghoulish Happenings in one way or another. I do need to fix stuff and get a far, far better handle on how magic works in said series.

To be fair, the MC of it is being lied to about magic for most of the story, but I also need to work that out as well. I think I need to scrap some of the basic ideas behind magic for it, but I'm not quite sure what will come of it at all yet. Shall finish this draft of Kiln and then dive back into that and see where it takes me. I at least have a far, far better handle on the MCs in Ghoulish now.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Small scene

 Mrs. Thompson began her lecture on world war two by explaining to showing the class baby pictures of Hitler, and photos and video of him smiling and flirting with people. “That is what makes people monsters, that none of them are wholly monstrous,” she explained after she shut the projector off. “We are, none of us, as evil we we think or as good as we pretend to be. Not even the superintendent of the school board.”

That didn’t even win weak laughs, but I’m not sure she noticed.

Everyone who hates people who do monstrous things act as if they grew up in a vacuum. And sometimes people do, but a vacuum can suck as well as blow. It can pull ideas into it, and funnel out apathy – which is far more dangerous than evil, and more insidious beside. Who here watches those X-Factor and Talent shows? Enough of you,” she said, barely looking at raised hands. “In the last United Kingdon general election, more people voted for the winner of X Factor than voted in said election. We tell people that personal responsibility is a holy grail, that we alone are responsible for our actions, regardless of who put us in them or the actions of others!

“We say that no man – or woman – is an island, and yet we say that we have to take personal responsibility for our failings as if we were islands. We pretend that free will does not exist an an aggregate in order to punish criminals, in order to satisfy some primitive notions of justice. What do we reinforce by that? We punish people for not exercising their free will to avoid events, as if freedom and will were simple. As if we had a sound understanding of our own motivations of why we do the things we do. If we didn’t lack that, there would be no psychiatry.”

Emma raised her hand and coughed, loudly. “Mrs. Thompson? Is this about the DUI that Jane told me you got on the weekend?”

“It is not about that alleged incident at all,” Mrs. Thompson snapped.

A few people snickered, at which point she declared an impromptu quiz on the second world war and its impact on the cold war despite the fact that she hadn’t actually got around to teaching it yet.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Story fun....

It is fun when a story shifts and mutates into a stable form. (You can tell I just finished rewriting a poem, can't you?)

The story has passed the 30K mark by a bit and is chugging along nicely, the relationship between Jonas and Qirjin becoming even more uncertain now that they aren't merely friends and the latter has dropped the bomb that his family are not normal people at all. And Jonas is the one left trying to understand this. If a family has kept itself secret for centuries, how have they done it? Surely not by letting every teenaged kid tell friends about himself. How did they stop people like Jonas from telling the world, assuming things went badly with Qirjin? He doesn't know. As far as he can tell, it's never even occurred to Qirjin to wonder about that.

And Qirjin is more than just a djinn. The other boy has a talent for doors. The earth 'knows his name' and in dreams Death won't claim him. In other words, what do you do if you end up being friends -- or even more than friends -- with a Chosen One whose family has gone to great lengths to make sure they don't know of their status? A lot of Chosen One stories exist: this one gets to explore what it is like to be the other person in the relationship, the one who is without power and gets to watch from the sidelines. It should prove to be a fun dynamic for the story to explore, though much of that will be left unresolved by the end I think. (Whatever Qirjin is for is definitely about something in the future, after all.) It also means there will be more dream-world sequences than planned, since Qirjin's family use the dream worlds for many things, some of which are control. And some parts of those worlds are beyond even their power ....

Sunday, March 09, 2014

Facebook & google+ status updates part XXII (Nov. - Dec. 2013)

“No stuffed bear should tell you they are a bear of very little brain but have a large...” Charlie trailed off. “I need a drink. I need several drinks.”
.... this line will not survive into the second draft of the story :)

We love people for who they are, not who we desire them to be, or we don’t really love them at all.
... today's interesting line.

The last thing his grandfather told him:
"I wish I was old enough to start forgetting you."

Writing goes well. Did 15K yesterday, going slower this morning as I feel out a new scene and get back into one character's voice as follows:
I have a list of stupid sayings I hate. Number one is ‘if you love something, let it go’. Hell with that noise: if you love something you hold it, keep it, cherish it. The world is littered with things we can’t hold, or stuff that slips away from us. There’s not enough love or things we love to go around tossing it aside. I think men invented that one, when I’m being mean, since it’s easier for them to just toss stuff aside, loved or not, and move on – as long as they can dodge child support payments.

From this morning's output thus far:
No other questions, no pushing, no desire for answers. I am a magician and there are few things in the world that scare me more than the depth of Jay’s trust in me and what might happen when I fail it.

From this morning:
“You’re chained up underneath the church,” I snap. “Of course we came here seeking answers; It’s not like you’re on a list of tourist attractions for Sunny Creek. ”

I felt fine, but I knew that didn’t mean anything at all. I could be eating enough radiation right now to kill me in four days and I’d never know.
We were made to survive. That don’t mean we were made to come back home.

This is Josh's sanity speaking. I am alone now. I am so alone. He tried to sleep. I forced him, at midnight. He got back up at 2 AM to write and begin the one story AGAIN. Help me. I don't add to his word count. I think my time is limited.

The aliens were not what we had expected at all. We had been prepared for armies, for E.T., even for abductions.
We were not prepared for the boy band.

YAY! Done fun scene. Sci-Fi story set in the far future. The characters have found remnants of one of the original colonies on the world, and the tech is so beyond primitive to them that they're convinced it must have been an alien settlement :)

“People aren’t monsters, even the worst of us.”
“That’s not what the war taught us.”
“The war ended. That should have taught you something as well.”

Total output at work (for a later scene):
"You misunderstand: I don't hate you. I do not even pity you. You are not worth that much notice. I suppose I may mildly regret knowing you exist at all."

I know six phrases in Atlantean. but they're all Yo Momma jokes.

“You have driven the universe to many monstrous things.”
“Maybe the rest of the universe just needed an excuse.”
“That is possible, yes. I do not know. I am – no longer capable of trusting my own judgement in these matters. I believe it is why I allowed you to find out about me.”

My new nano (I know...) is going to involve a bitter washed-up author murdering Chris Baty and the entire nanowrimo board of directors [who might be ninjas] under the belief that nanowrimo is an assault on Literature and an insult to real authors while he desperately tried to get his thriller novels that died out with the fall of communism revamped to fit into a world he no longer feels he belongs in.
He may, or may not, be having a mental breakdown.

My daughter thought writing 50,000 words in a month would make her an author. It was like finding out one of your children had decided to become a neonazi or a libertarian. The worst part was knowing Jeremy Burke would have handled it better: when he discovered that The Mongoose might have successfully killed and replaced a fellow CIA operator, he coldly began setting a trap for his enemy, certain that a man who believed he was destined to destroy ‘the cobra of capitalism’ would make errors in the end.
I was not the protagonist I'd written in my novels. I just wanted a drink. I had no plan beyond that.

Her eyes narrowed. “Also, Riley crashed mom’s car into the overpass at two am.”
“A shame about the overpass.” I sipped my coffee.
“And I’m pregnant.”
“As long as it’s not with the antichrist.”
She sat back at that. “I’m considering sending the three thousand words I wrote last night as a short story to the New Yorker.”
I sat my coffee down. “We aren’t discussing this.”
“Yes, we are. Nanowrimo is about setting goals and achieving them, dad. I don’t see why you hate it so much.”
“You cannot write 50,000 words in a month and call it a novel. Not a real one that can get published.”
“I know that.”
“And you’ll still know that when you’re done? If people ask if you’ve written novels, you’ll say, ‘Oh, no, just some drafts that weren’t any good’? False hope is not better than no hope at all. Anyone who says otherwise is a liar.”

Best line from last night's writing at Chapters....
"Christopher is a first-year student whose nanowrimo novel is going to look like a five year old trying to write Lolita.”

From today's writing output:
CASPER: Centre for Secure Poltergeist Elimination Research

It is a bad sign when you try and google a conspiracy theory you vaguely recall to use in a story, manage to recall it and realize you know more about it than the entire wikipedia entry ON it :p

All I want is to tattoo these words
On the inside of your dreams.

A short story in sex six words.

He found her burning her novel draft in the garage. "What are you doing? You worked all month on that!"
"I know. It is better this way. You'll want to read it and I put you in it." And she smiled, bright and glassy. "You don't want to see what I did to you in my story." She laughed, short and sharp, her whisper carrying just over the burning flames as she said again: "It is better this way."

He moved to a newer country because there would be less history to study in school.

He looked up from the local paper. “Dear, it says here than in 1970 I could have placed you in an institution just on my word alone. Food for thought, eh?”
If it was the 70s, I would have wanted that,” she snapped back.

Does any holiday exist for which the deadline to it does not terrify some like unto the end of days?

She was like a mother to me.”
Ah. She was your mother.”
I know. That’s what I said.”

After the blinding, he was no longer able to see anything save for corporate logos.

New loss, same hope.

The only time he was ever struck by inspiration was the time he was struck by lightning. Taking up golfing was the only logical conclusion.

It is not that your poem isn’t good. Far from it. It merely requires a wheelchair ramp.”
There are laws, my boy, and your poem is not accessible.”

It is a sin before God and man!”
I really don’t think you understand what 3-way stop means.”

I lied, I lied, to get inside,”
The devil said with a broken smile.
If you could let me out of you
I would be much obliged.”

Why is everyone so concerned about robots rising up against humanity and taking over the world? Don’t they realize that housecats did that years ago?

When her son counted the number of people on the bus, he always added one.

Not wanting to exist forever is, I feel, a sure sign of sanity.”

We are all fragments of unfinished poems: the lucky ones are rhyming couplets.

What if art is not a reaction against man’s fate in the universe?”
Art if creation. To create for its own sake is art.”
Perhaps so. But consider: nothing exists in vacuum. All art is a response, a reaction. One cannot make a statement without having something to state.”
It might just make me happy.”
I’ve no doubt it does. But to be happy must there not also be a sadness you again against?”

Sometimes we can sing in ways even gods forget to dream.

Every monster has a human side to them. This is what makes them, in the end, so very monstrous.

If poltergeists were real, wouldn’t security alarms go off more often without any discernible cause?

Everything is bigger when you are a child and sometimes – not often, but sometimes – some things always remain that way.

If we can make it through the failure of our dreams
about ourselves, each other, the world entire –
if we can fall through that but hold together
with fingers, worlds, whispers, promises.
If we can hold together with cracked hearts.
If we can make each other whole
Our dreams won't matter then.

No one speaks English over a tannoy system – there is not a one of us who hears the same words.

I love mornings that are my own, coffee brewing in a pot, the world quiet outside my apartment and a day free of distractions such as work. I love stories that come quickly and poems that can take days to form, the long waiting and deep relaxation of time that is my own to waste or spend as I see fit. I love how things can hold together even when they fall apart and that we are all stronger than we know but so seldom have to learn that.

You plan to steal a car even though you said stealing is wrong?”
I plan to kill the owner first, so it’s acquiring,” he says triumphantly. “Dead people don’t have stuff so it’s not stealing.”

She realized she was becoming too much a fan of Doctor Who when her little cousin asked if Grandma was coming home from the hospital and all she said was: “Spoilers.”

I hate how much I need you.”

I know my master, the Lord of the Undying Wastes, was supposed to wake and ravage the lands of the living and the death – all of that, yes. But no one set his alarm and he really could use some coffee first. Perhaps we could reschedule this for the next time there are two blue moons in the sky and the sun bleeds in the heavens?”

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Secret of the New Clock

He is here, and so this home has no other ghosts beside him. He pulls silence about himself as he walks between rooms, making no noises and giving none in turn. He calls himself Dyer, though he has other names, and he is the only ghost barred from the grey lands, the only one able to be solid as the living in the waking worlds. And all it cost him is their hatred, for a ghost who is a ghost-eater is not like other ghost at all.

But he is still dead for all of that, for all that he is, and the dead do not sleep. So he walks in a bid to outpace memory, building traps inside his head. He loved once – he is not sure when, quite, and all he remembers is her name. It is a price, to guard against the memories of other deeds he has done. There are things other than ghosts that haunt the world between words, and he has faced down and destroyed many things in his time. Often, they deserved it. Sometimes they did not.

There was a ghost here, but it fled at his arrival and will not return again. The dead fear him in ways the living do not fear death, and sometimes it seems too much to bear. But he bears it even so. There is a reason – his love, answers to some question – but he has buried it deep inside. It is a hard thing, to be a ghost and not hate the living, so he eats his own hates as if they were ghosts, remembers his duty, moves on.

His fellow CASPER agent sleeps in a spare bed, guarded by a god that lives inside her. That Dyer still finds this odd gives him small comfort, that in a hundred years he has not lost that much of himself. Even dead, he can be surprised. Even being the death of ghosts – not a title he claims, but one he knows he is sometimes given, like the Grand Exorcist and other foolish terms – has not removed all that he was when alive.

There is a new clock in the living room, a restored grandfather clock. Dyer reaches a hand into it, find gears, twists them a little. In the morning they will tell Mrs. Bunwether that the odd noises she heard were just her new clock and nothing more. And she, not wanting to see her house devalued by rumours of ghosts, will never think to disagree. 

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Almost 26K into draft two....

I am at page 34, and just finished the scene that was on page 38 in the first draft, which is the turning point in the first third of the tale. I still need a lot more B-plots but plan to weave those in once Qirjin does his reveal of not being all that normal soon, which will be a nice juxtaposition with the weird stuff seeping into the story. So far Jonas has bit his tongue at the odd things Qirjin has gone or refuses to talk about but that point is about to end and the story shift gears. The fun part about the relationship building between both boys is that they are both aware of how unlikely it is on the surface -- become friends quickly, and within two weeks become more than that -- and both are leery of that. Jonas is convinced he'd abused Qirjin's friendship/trust of him, while Qirjin is terrified that he somehow used his gift of wishing to make Jonas fall in love with him. That both explanations are partially right will only add to the fun as the story goes on.

As a narrative level,the story is becoming about the gifted, how they're hidden and just how much Qirjin simply doesn't know or never actually thought about. What seems to be common sense to someone on the outside (i.e. how DO the gifted really hide themselves?) is something he's never thought of since to him that's just how the gifted live and the way the world is. The worldview of all the characters will be nicely shaken up and how they deal with it, and an antagonist who has actually not shown up yet at all, should prove interesting. Even if I am probably breaking rules in that the antagonist has yet to be mentioned by name -- his younger sibling has shown up briefly, but Qirjin hasn't been able to explain what she is to anyone else, or even knows what is going on himself.

Now, however: work!

Monday, March 03, 2014

Start of one scene....

I woke up in a dream to find myself crouched down, as if from a blow. I was wearing the same white clothing I’d worn in the forest and on the mountain, only as I stood I realized I had boots on as well this time; the clothing wouldn’t come off when I tugged at it but I didn’t try too hard. I don’t have dreams where I’m naked. I was standing on black asphalt in a narrow alleyway, the walls around me brownstone brick, like in movies, with old fire escapes and piping running down them and windows that were all narrow and shuttered. I was in the movie version of New York, or maybe Boston, and could see the tops of the buildings. Five or six stories above me, so nothing like the impossible forest.

The sky was a deep purple, like a kind of bruised twilight through which stars flickered weakly. The moon was large, at least twice as big as normal, and shone down on empty dumpsters, me, and distant sounds of vehicles. Not a single emergency siren. I took a deep breath and walked ahead of me. There were bits of newspaper on the ground, wrappers from McMeals and Starbucks coffee cups but no other fast food outlets. The newspaper bits were all written in what looked like Russian, or maybe Greek, walls of text and no pictures at all.

The alleyway opened up to a gleaming-new road with fresh white paint, while the sidewalks were filled with cracks from which greenery sprouted up like fungus between the toes. The building across the road was also a movie-style apartment, though done up in white brick. Further down the street it fell apart entirely as I stared up at one glass and steel building that rose at least twenty stories above me and ended in what looked like the scrapers used on car windows in the winter in place of a roof.

“A sky scraper.” I didn’t know whether to laugh or groan. If someone ever made lucid dreaming an Olympic sport I figured I’d place somewhere near bottom. I could hear cars but still didn’t see anyone else. Some lights were on in buildings, mostly pale electric lights or what looked to the candles in the skyscraper. Further down the road were other apartment buildings, varying in size and style – sometimes within the same building, as though someone had cut apartments in half and simply welded them together. Most were vertical welds, though one looked like a broken jigsaw puzzle of brick, siding and stone. Weirdly, each building rarely had uneven windows as if my dream had some architect laying down certain rules while ignoring everything else. I spotted one distant building that looked to be made of honeycomb and tried not to think about what a dream interpreter would have made of any of this.

The street connected to another, and then another, and the apartment buildings gave way to empty strip malls, the parking lots littered with shopping carts and rusted out vintage cars. The street lights were lit by some kind of Victorian steampunk affairs that let off train-like whistles as they flickered to life each time I got close to them. Because motion-sensitive steam-powered streetlights made no less sense than the rest of the dream. 

Saturday, March 01, 2014


Among the side-effects of a creature from Outside the universe binding itself to you are spending an inordinate amount of time in malls. If you are a magician, or at least me. Jay still has days where he will happily eat three pizzas and the like in a single sitting or just want to watch the bindings between humans play out in public, a music only he can hear. Malls are a good place to see while not being seen; the predators I spot in the malls quickly find some other place to be often enough.

Jay has been talking non-stop all morning, not trying to avoid saying a single ess at all, worry radiating from him in its own kind of heat. He knows something is wrong between us but doesn’t truly know what. It is close to noon when he pulls me toward the food court. I peel off bills from my dwindling wallet and nudge him to the ice cream stand. Thirty-two flavours, and he buys a cone of each, eating all but two in a single sitting before cleaning up his fingers and face and following me with the last two cones.

Two nights ago, on new year’s eve, he killed a human being. When I first bound him to my service, it included a ban on killing but he seems to have dissolved that without knowing it existed at all. Charlie is no longer travelling with us, and she could be a monster when she had to – so he thought he had to take her place, and tested that on the kind of person who kidnaps small children alone in parks. He killed the man. Watched him bleed out and then wandered back to the motel with as much regard as we would have for a rabbit.

He is not human. Sometimes I need to remind myself of how deep that goes, how much his past shapes whatever present we are making. He shifted the balance between us in his eagerness to help me and I am trying to decide what to do, or what will become of our binding. Jay is trying not to be terrified that I will cast him aside, looking everywhere but right at me, which is why he spots them before I do, slows his pace slightly as he finishes the last cone.

“There are two people behind you; they’re watching me,” he says softly.

I grunt and find reason to turn and check a shop window. Two males, twenty-somethings with an air of geek about them so strong it could make me believe in auras. One is wearing an ill-fitting plaid shirt with thick glasses, pens in the a front pocket, mismatched socks and shoes and seems so much a stereotype that it’s definitely a trap of some kind. The other has expensive glasses and clothing, what Charlie would have called off-the-rack fashions, and walks beside his friend while pretending to be a long-suffering relative.

They normally come in groups of three, which means the third is probably covering an exit or busy
at a real job. Neither seems armed, though the second is waving a cell phone about and tapping keys on it. Both have hats on.

“Good catch,” I murmur to Jay.

He blinks up at me. “We’re going to eat them?” he says hesitantly, trying to fight back a grin.

“I meant in spotting them.” I give him a light swat on the back of the head and turn to the elevator, heading down to the basement: it’s only half developed and easy to lose crowds in. I walk as if I know where I’m going. No one gives Jay a second look, presuming he’s a younger relative.

I pause and study myself in a window for a moment. All my clothing is dark, down to the shoes. Probably some joke on Charlie’s part involving black magic but it definitely didn’t help hide us from the two men following us. I shove my hands into my pockets as turn a second corner, and then a third. “Get behind me and keep quiet,” I say quietly to Jay, who does so without further prompting.

The one I’ve labelled Glasses comes around the corner first, his clothing as fluid as his movements. Martial arts of some kind, hidden under his geek exterior. It wouldn’t fool anyone who knows what to look for, but it probably surprises other people quite often. The other one comes next, phone in hand, left hand held firmly in an over-sized pocket. Tranquilizer gun, if anything.

“Can I help you?” I say while Jay remains hiding behind me.

“Give us the specimen,” Glasses says. No preamble, no games. No attempt to hide that he is in charge.

“Ah,” the other one says, “I’m just getting human –.”

“Humans don’t eat 32 varieties of ice cream in one sitting without an ice cream headache.”

“Wait.” They stiffen, eyes on me. “That is your proof that this boy is an alien? Really?”

“You know what we are,” Glasses says fiercely, “consider that another proof.”

I sigh. I know it’s useless, but I have to try: “You do know that ET wasn’t a documentary, don’t you?” Nothing. “If I was a real Man In Black, wouldn’t you both be dead by now?”

“We are Protected,” the one with the phone says tightly.

“You’re wearing tin-foil hats.”

“As I said.”

I thread a hint of power in my voice and snap, “Go away.”

Neither moves, their beliefs a solid wall. “I could use some hats,” I say, not turning around.

Glasses is quick; he has time to raise an arm defensively but Jay is already moving in a blur and is beside me a moment later with their tin-foil lined hats, one in each hand, grinning proudly.

I smile. The other one pulls out his tranquilizer dart; I cause it to malfunction with a small flick of magic. The leader moves toward me quickly and I let my smile widen.

“You misunderstand,” I whisper, the words carrying around both of them, felt as much as heard. “He was my cover – modified, yes, but still merely that.”

They both fall back, uncertainty giving way to deeper fears. “The Glactic Order has no desire to be discovered at this time, and no plans for this small world. Do not press us,” I say, and bind a forgetting into the words, letting my shadow twist and writhe behind me like some caged evil. Hokey, but it holds them in frozen shock long enough for me to step back into my shadow with Jay and step out a moment later on the second floor.

“What wath that?” Jay demands, looking baffled.

“Alien hunters. They figured you were an alien.”

“But I hide well,” he snaps, glaring up at me.

“People do notice you eat. And there are people who notice things others don’t. They were a threat.” He snorts at that. “You could have killed them,” I add mildly.

“Why?” Jay just looks even more baffled at the question. “They don’t – they’re not binding-breakerth. Not human monthterth at all,” he says, trying to put alien instincts into human words.

I crouch down, holding his gaze. “You’ve spent your whole life running, Jay. Do you want to become the kind of monster others run away from?”

His jaw drops and he just stares at me and then offers up a small shake of his head.

“Do you think I am?”

“Not unleth you have to,” he mumbles, then flings himself at me, wrapping his arms about me. “Thorry,” he says, over and over until I gently push him away. He begins sucking on his right thumb, eyes wide and stricken.

He’s taken to doing that when scared now because I drew on his true nature to save a town; sometimes he notices he’s doing it, most of the time he doesn’t.

I reach over and pull his thumb out gently. “It will be okay.”

He stares at his thumb, then me. “Thorry,” he says again, sniffing.

“You don’t need be sorry.” I stand and snag his right hand in mine, walking toward the exit. “We’ll work it out.”

“We will?” he says, half-begging.

I just squeeze his hand in reply and he lets out a huge relieved sigh.

There is a third alien-hunter waiting outside the main doors; he doesn’t notice either of us at all.