The town Jay and I find ourselves in when the car breaks down is hardly a town at all. Not that the car was much of one, but a car owned by a magician can continue to run under many circumstances. This one died when the engine entirely fell out of it and couldn’t be persuaded to become part of the car again; I didn’t push the issue. We had a tent in the back, so I left Jay to set it up, watch our belongings and grumble about having no internet access for his phone. For a creature from Outside the universe he did an eerie impression of being a normal ten year old at times.
The town doesn’t boast a sign welcoming anyone and probably only appears on vintage maps, being little more than a collection of beaten-down houses around an intersection. The old gas station and corner store has no shingle up and is the only thing not a home in what is left of a town. I walk slowly through the evening’s haze and nothing draws the attention of the magic for almost an entire ten seconds.
My eyes are drawn to thin dogs in mud-caked yards and children with wide and wary eyes that don’t leave the scant comfort of homes as they peer at me through grimed windows. The dogs don’t growl; neither do they speak. One old man is out mowing his lawn with an old push mower, his gaze flat and unfriendly as I walk past. I draw the magic up from inside me, not touching the energy of the world around me in such a place. There are sinkholes littering the earth below.
People – even magicians – always speak about entropy but few realize that apathy is far worse. Things fall apart, but that is still movement and destruction is nothing if not creative. This is a dead place: too poor in every sense of the word and more as well, the kind that would never produce even a single ghost to call its own. Such places sometimes had darkness under the surface, the kind that reared up to consume wildly. This town doesn’t have even that.
I circle the town twice in a slow walk in under five minutes, feeling out the heart of the absence. It turns out to be a small trailer half-rusted out in front of a house that was little more than a shade of what it had been. The trailer could have been pulled away; it hadn’t been, squatting in the middle of the town like a spider. The old man who answers the rusting door is balding, pot-bellied, a thing of sour breath and stale eyes.
People’s names hover in the air about them like unsaid screams, walls between them and the world to say as long – as loud – as they can, “I am here! I exist!” He has no name, his nature having twisted so far from such things. There are ways to cast magic away from oneself, to break one’s will, to give up what once was claimed. He did no such thing. The magic inside him simply rotted away and what it left behind almost makes me take a step back as my magic recoils from him.
“Go away.” There is no power to his voice, only the ugliness of a life lived too long and hard.
“You should know magicians aren’t good at that,” I say as gently as I dare.
The earth whimpers far below us as pain gouges into it and he raises a hand as if to backhand me, then lowers it. “You’re the one who got away. The wanderer, the magician not bound to a place like this,” he spits out.
“I am.” I let out a sigh. “These people can’t remain here.”
He says nothing.
“I can be your death, if that is what you desire.”
“I would be dead if I desired death, magician.”
“Perhaps. Perhaps not.”
I feel what he is begin to gather in the earth like oil spilled in water: he had pushed the magic so far away, tried to destroy the very place he is bound to. I wonder how long it has been since he’s touched the power, but I have no desire to find out. I reach through the bindings I have with Jay: he sees the world as bindings spiralling up and down into infinity. I permit myself to see enough, then place my will upon it as Jay isn’t truly able to yet. I see, I reach, and I sever.
The man staggers visibly, though there is no outward sign of harm. “What – what have you done?”
“You are no longer a magician.” I don’t sound casual at all. My fingers tremble and won’t stop. Some things, even necessary ones, should not always be done.
“What are you, to do that?” he whispers.
I say nothing, letting go of Jay’s nature, letting the magic out of me to begin healing the world and people here. I turn and walk away.
“There are rules,” the man screams behind me. “A magician’s magic cannot be removed without consent or a duel! No matter how far I placed it from me, it was mine and me!”
“I don’t care.” I don’t look back but feel him scramble back. He is no longer a magician but he remembers what a magician can do, what my voice could command or compel from him. I could say other things, about what he did to his magic, how he drew people here to feed on despair. Nothing he does not know. “Go,” I say and he scrambles to his trailer and begins to hitch it up.
It will take time to help this place and people begin to heal; I walk back to the tent and tell Jay we will be staying for at least a week.
“With no internet,” he says slowly.
“I could try and coax wifi here. That is the term, isn’t it?”
“Yeth.” Jay rolls his eyes. “And it’th important.”
“This isn’t about a high score in some game?”
He grins at that. “Not only!”I shake my head, thank him for letting me borrow his energy and begin calling wifi to the area. If I were wise, I might destroy the ex-magician now, but there are kinds of wisdom I don’t aspire to, and a kind of person I have no desire to become. I let him run, sit on the ground, and begin the long process of healing this place.