I look up from flipping through the morning paper for the town we ended up in last night. The major news headline was ‘local man dies of natural causes’ which apparently hadn’t been a joke at all. The hotel is just outside the town proper, boasting free cable and a pool currently closed for repairs. Possibly for several years, judging by the state of it. The suite was clean: two rooms, a sitting area with two comfy fake leather chairs, a table and coffee machine that worked and I’ve been spending the last hour using magic to help the pool clean itself up, since it wanted to be used. Jay had been sleeping in the other room.
He pads into the room, fighting back sleepy yawn and at least wearing pyjamas. He looked to be ten, perhaps younger, all thin and pale and entirely human. Removing clothing would reveal he was as sexless as a ken doll and hotel staff had run screaming in shock enough times that he wore clothing to sleep now. Jay’s from Outside the universe, bound into my service since serving a magician might not be wise but every alternative had been perhaps worse.
“Morning?” I offer. “I think there’s hot chocolate in a cupboard but I wouldn’t try it.”
Jay shakes his head and holds out his cell phone in his left hand. “It’th broken,” he says, biting his lower lip. Entering the universe damaged him: the lisp is one small sign of that.
He nods. “Bindingth are breaking apart and going all weird.”
“In the internet?”
Another nod. He sets the phone down on the table and just stares wordlessly. He knows I don’t have anything to do with cell phones and the internet – some of that is from being a magician, some from simply not wanting certain people to find me – so I just raise an eyebrow and wait.
“You know what google is, yeth?” he says softly.
“Yes,” I say dryly.
“It’th making joketh at people and hurting them!”
“Jokes. Oh,” I say, in a different tone. Jay sees the entire world in terms of bindings and loosing. He’s learning to see it in other ways, or at least to understand that other people can’t see it like that so won’t always do what makes perfect sense to him. It’s a work in progress, like most other things in this world. Even being a magician, when one gets down to it: perhaps especially that.
He nods and gulps loudly. “Even online paperth are doing it and it’th weird and – and – and –.”
“Jay,” I say, and he whimpers and flings himself into my arms, sitting in my lap and starting to suck his right thumb. Some time ago I used his nature to save some people: this is part of that damage to him, and he hates doing it some days but can’t stop himself when he’s thrown out of sorts. I just wrap my arms about him. I could use magic to take his fear away; I don’t. “It’s April Fools Day. Everyone does jokes on it.”
“You don’t,” he mumbles around his thumb, then pulls it out and flushes. Sometimes he catches himself doing it, other times he doesn’t notice at all.
I gently push his thumb back into his mouth and he doesn’t protest, which is – something he’s never done before. I cover my pause with words. “I don’t do pranks because the last time I did one I was sixteen, newly a magician and the result was called a miracle by at least a dozen people. Which was, at the least, a very uncomfortable result.”
Jay doesn’t ask why. He does remove his thumb after a good minute and just wraps his arms around me and hugs me in turn before going to sit in the other chair.
“A little. It wath thcary,” he says. “People do thith for fun?”
“People do a lot of weird things for fun.” He opens his mouth, a grin spreading across his face. “And no, that doesn’t always include sex. Or wars, come to think of it.” I wait until he makes hot chocolate and sip my coffee as he fights back another grin. “You used your phone before coming in here.”
His eyes narrow for a moment. “Yeth,” he says warily.
“And it would have been the work of a few seconds to realize what day this was. And why people were doing pranks.” Jay says nothing, slurping his drink loudly. “I almost fell for it until you didn’t protest at the thumb.”
“Thomeone hath to prank you,” Jay says, half-defiant.
“Uh-huh. And this wasn’t just a reason to try and get a new phone?”
“It might not be,” he mumbles.
“As pleased as I am that you’re now comfortable enough with the thumb to use it as a prank, you played your hand a little too strong. And forgot one other major thing. I know what day this is too.”
Jay’s eyes widen and he sets down his hot chocolate to stare into it. “It’th blue?”
“Along with your tongue and lips, yes.” I have another sip of my coffee. “Before you decide to escalate this, were you at all serious about pranks and the effect on bindings?”
Jay nods to that. “It hurtth.”
“All right.” I grab my coat and stand. “We’re going for a walk then: you tell me where the bindings are breaking down due to it, I’ll use magic to fix it. Deal?”