Sunday, June 29, 2014



“Third-order Designate Miriam Akins, reporting to a council of eight. Second-order Chief Bartholomew, hereafter known as me, has been placed in the role of Speaker. Judgement and revision of operating procedure to follow. Let it be known that this is not an inquest and neither punishment nor reward is to be rendered to the Designate for the report. Please explain the situation involving yourself, third-order Designate Martinez and fourth-order Designate Saunders in your own words, Designate.”

“Yes, sir. We tracked down the incursion into our world via an automated search engine; anomalous high scores in a staggering variety of games used on modern phones were noted in a routine internet search. Said anomalies were traced to two phones and subsequent investigation at shops revealed both to have been the property of what appeared to be a human boy, approximately ten years of age. Further examination revealed him to be in the company of the wandering magician. A report found in the records of the Black Chamber mentioned such a boy, noted for being shockingly quick.

“We tracked down the subject to a cheap motel and found him to be on his own. Third-order Designate Martinez decided that capture and containment was warranted. We had successful captured and – when needed – eliminated several entities from Outside the universe as per the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, public law 414-stroke-C, the clause dealing with entities from outside the known universe. Fourth-order Designate Saunders and myself both expressed misgivings but were overruled.”

“Please state the nature of your misgivings, Miriam.”

“The boy registered as human to all available technologies, sir. That a magician had done this – especially a magician who is not tied down to any location and could follow said Outsider – made it likely that he would take offence and attempt to retrieve said Outsider. Martinez thought it would be a good test of operational procedure. The boy was discovered alone playing a computer game known as flappybird with a high score close to the four-digit range, which no human could successful produce. His scores in other games are likewise high. His focus on the game allowed us to enter from three access points – the door, ceiling and a flimsy wall between two units. The room was gassed and the subject held down by both myself and Saunders.

“The subject proved remarkably fast, but the drugged air meant he did not escape us quickly enough. Attempts to administer a sedative failed as his skin proved too tough for a needle. A tungten-tipped needle applied with sufficient force was found to pierce skin adequately though it took four doses to render the Outsider unconscious. Containment secured, we department the motel in a standard-issue black helicopter devoid of markings. Travel to Safe house 11 was accomplished in under an hour and the Outsider confined to cell 21. The subject woke after 16 minutes and attempted to exit the cell to no avail.”

“Please elaborate on the confinement methods for this council.”

“Yes, sir. The cell had no walls and only one-way windows: we could see the subject, and the subject not see us. A transit shift – also known as matter displacement or teleportation – placed the subject in the cell. Said transit shift is not survivable by humans at this time due to stresses on the body. The subject seemed a little dizzy when he woke, and uttered the word “Honcho” several times in a frantic tone while attempting egress. Movement was impossible to follow with the human eye but the subject came to a stop after roughly two minutes, panting a little for air, and then turned and faced us.

“The method by which the subject was aware of our presences was unknown. No unusual energies were detected in the cell at this time and every scan revealed him to be human despite evidence to the contrary. The subject then glared up at us and said, verbatim, “You’ve made a really big mithtake,” and then grinned and sat down. As per a request by Saunders I scanned the subject and found no obvious cause of his noticeable lisp in either movements of tongue nor the state of his teeth or mouth. Precisely why a creature so good at hiding would have such a noticeable tell was puzzling but beyond our purview at the time.

“The subject held his breath when we gassed the room again and ignored us entirely. Martinez proceeded to electrify said cell, which did cause the subject to jolt and jump about. The degree of electricity required to render the subject unconscious was enough to power a dozen other cells and was far less effective than it should have been. We were unable to ascertain why. Permission to speak freely to the council?”

“Permission granted.”

“Martinez fucked up. Saunders twigged to that before I did and insisted Martinez cease electrocuting the Outsider. He did, but said Saunders would be reported for violating operational procedure and defiance of a superior officer in the field. As they were otherwise occupied, I was the one to notice the magician walking up to the entrance to the Safehouse. He just stepped out of thin air, walked up to the front entrance and the door opened. I activated every countermeasure I was cleared for, and not a single one was successful. As far as I could determine, most did not activate at all. Martinez then did the same, for fourth-order clearance, only with even less success.

“The magician just walked down the stairs toward us in silence. He passed several empty cells and paused at each, then walked a little slower after, staring at the walls as though listening to them. He was wearing jeans and a cheap jacket, hands shoved in his pockets, and entered the control room. Martinez collapsed unconscious as the magician looked at him. I didn’t move. Saunders produced a weapon. Sonic-based, at least second-order – and how a supposed fourth-order Designate had such a weapon I will not speculate about at time time – then collapsed with blood coming out of his ears when he went to fire it. I guess the magician turned it against him, but I didn’t hear a single sound. He just walked up to cell 21 and the walls opened like a door would, never mind that cee 21 was apparently not in the building proper. It was when he walked into it.

“Over three hundred billion dollars went into Safe house 11 and the magician just – ignored it. All I could think was to wonder why the fuck we’d decided to get him angry, or draw his attention to us.”

“You may proceed, Miriam.”

“That’s for the offical report. Bart. And the question about Saunders. Anyway, the kid came out of the room in a blur and collided into the magician, who had braced himself. They didn’t talk. The kid was grinning ear to ear, maybe wider than humans could grin, and stepped back, his kept his eyes fixed on the magician as if worried at being left behind. They didn’t talk for a few seconds, then the magician turned to me.

“He asked ‘How did you find Jay?’ and his voice – I don’t have words for it. I couldn’t not tell him, that’s what his voice did to me. I understood a little about why we really fear magicians in that. And he blinked, and looked so shocked at my reply that I almost laughed. He looked human, then. Maybe that’s why we really fear magicians? All the things they can do and they’re still so very human.

“His high scores on games he played on his phone were anomalies,” the magician said slowly, as if not sure he’d heard me.

“What’th the point of playing if not to win?” the creature snapped, looking churlish as the magician stared down at him. I’d seen it move, I knew how tough it was, but in my head it was a pouty kid and I couldn’t shake that. “A lot of people friend my account when I win,” he continued proudly.

“I see,” the magician said. “And there’s a reason you didn’t escape, then, kiddo?”

“They wanted to thee you a lot,” the creature said, “becauthe they’re thcared of you.”

“And not you?” the magician said dryly.

“Nope!” The creature grinned at that, looking so smug it was hard not to see it as just a kid.

The magician just shook his head, then turned and walked back toward the exit, the creature tagging along beside him. He didn’t warn me away. I guess he thought he didn’t have to. I tried to revive Martinez, to get him sensible. Is he –?”

“That is not your concern.”

“I guess not. That’s it. They left. Walked away. We stole data from the Black Chamber, sunk billions into this program of capturing Creatures and our best success just upped and walked away from our cells. I think that is why I was laughing when the support team arrived. It was laugh or give up. I haven’t given up, but I think – I think we should be a lot more careful when dealing with magicians. And with their friends.”

Saturday, June 28, 2014


It is a dangerous lie for magicians to think magic is more important than it is. A magician is a wall, a doing, a being – sometimes even a becoming – and it is a terribly easy mistake to think that magic is the world, the secret underpinning on which all depends. Normal people would speak of oil, quickly, and coral reefs if they took more time to think. But sometimes, often more than sometimes, a product is more important than the cause. It only takes a power failure to teach that, for people to realize how much they depend in electricity. How little they understand it. And what happens to the darkness once we remove the light that makes us civilized.

I waken to darkness in a hotel room. Jay is shaking me furiously, saying: “The lightth won’t turn on.”

The hotel was small and cheap, each room barely enough for a doube bed to fit in it. I hadn’t given him a key to my room, but that didn’t stop Jay from breaking in via unbinding the lock. He looks to be ten and is from far Outside the universe. It’s not as uncommon as people think for such creatures to end up in the universe. That’s he bound himself into my service and loves games on his phone is hopefully less common, but given the popularity of cell phones I’m never quite sure.

“It’s a power failure; go back to bed.”

“My phone ithn’t working, honcho.”

I blink a few times, feel the shape of the world around me, wake up enough to wish I wasn’t awake at all. “It’s two in the morning. You should be asleep anyway,” I mumble.

“I wath getting a high thcore,” he says, as if that explains it all. “And my phone died. You can fix it.”

“Go. To. Bed.”

He shakes me again, harder than before. “You thould be up anyway, becauthe the electrithity ith gone and the thity feelth weird.”

It takes me a few seconds to parse what he means, and I’ve travelled with Jay for months. I’m used to his lisp; at least half the time I don’t even notice it anymore. I shake him off, hard, and sit up slowly in the bed. Jay is bouncing from foot to foot nervously, and beyond that is silence. No neon, not even emergency lights in the hallway, and I want to sleep and Jay is shaking me.


I close my eyes. Me. Jay. The bindings between us. My magic. I wrap a binding about it all, since I can make bindings better than any other magic I do. It takes longer than it should, and feels like I’m swimming in treacle, but a moment later my head is clear, sharp. I shake my head gingerly and get out of bed. I sleep clothed; most magicians do.

Jay is not a magician. “Clothing, please. Meet me outside after.”

He nods and dashes across the hotel to his room in a blur; Jay hides his nature terribly well, but anyone looking at him naked would know he’s not human at all. I wait until I hear him rumaging in his bag, sure nothing tried to eat him, and head down the stairs. The man sitting at the reception desk is at it, but barely notices me. The vehicles outside are at a standstill, people moving about in slow, sluggish fashion.

The only light visible is the faint glimmer of the moon, and hints that the outer edges of the city and the suburbs still have power. I wrap a binding about a random woman’s head, watch as she shakes off her torpor, undo the binding after. I call up the magic inside me, a ball of electricity flaring to life in my palm. It vanishes a moment later, but I feel the direction it is being pulled in and begin to walk quickly.

“When did your phone die?” I say to Jay as he comes up beside me.

“Twenty minuteth ago, or tho?” he says. “Not long. I didn’t do thith, did I?”

“Getting a high score in a computer game can’t kill power to a city, Jay.”

“But it wath in a verthion of Flappy Bird that ith really hard.”

I decide it’s safer not to ask what that is. “It wasn’t you. People have elecrcity inside them, and even that has been diminished.” I make another ball, watch it die, cross a road and walk quicker, slipping it and around people as needed. The source turns out to be an office building: a dozen stories of gleaming modern glass and steel with something in the second basement that should not be there at all. The sign outside the building is dead as well, but I make out the word ‘Dynamic’ as part of it before unbinding the door. I call up lightning, and then light, only to have whatever is below absorb both in moments. I don’t dare anything more solid without being noticed.

“You can see in the dark better than humans, yes?”

“Of courthe,” Jay says, and grabs my right hand in my left, leading me down the stairs. I ask about the first basement, which is all office furniture and storage. The second one has a door of solid steel, and two other massive ones behind it.

I press a hand to each, wishing for entrance, and there is a gust of wind as the doors are replaced by air. The steps down are slower, narrow, and Jay stops me once or twice as he pokes the wall in the dark before we keep going; traps of some kind, but he sees their bindings and leads me down to another door, the true entrance to the basement. I can feel power behind it, slow and sleepy and barely awake. This door is not protected as much; I unbind the locks and push it open to behold computers and tables of gleaming technologies I barely known the names of.

The middle of the room is a container of tempered glas in which a figure glows with pale hunger. It is smaller than I figured it would be, currently sluggish from eating so much energy, but that won’t last. It looks like a small rabbit, which is probably important even if I can’t see how yet.


It watches warily, tries to pull energy out of me, hits my power and simply keeps trying, battering at my will like a child.

“You’re not from Outside the universe; just a made thing, created by people with more sense of adventure than of the common world. You will hurt them if you stay here, and I cannot allow that to happen, not like this.” I thread power into my words; it tries to eat even that, not yet enough to understanding my words, perhaps not even their intent.

Sleep.” I don’t ask, and the tiredness it caused in people feels back into it, sending it somewhere far away, wherever ideas might go when they die. I wait a beat, a second, and then find a woman in a lab coat near the site, and tell her to wake up.

“What were you doing here?”

“Who are you? How did you –.”

What were you doing here?

She shudders under the force of the command. “A perpetual motion machine; free energy for the whole world, that was our intent,” and then looks shocked by her own admission.

“An energizer bunny. It was meant to keep going and going –.” I’d laugh, but things progressed too far for that. I reach out, snag her right hand and let her feel the city: the exhaustion, the sleepiness, the drained minds. How far it had gone, how much worse it could have become.

“You will end this project,” I say as I let go. She is gulping in air, looking stunned, trying to find words but power has begun to return to the city that we head upstairs in the chaos that results, easily finding a short cut back to the hotel.

“You might not have woke up,” Jay says as we reach the hotel; I’m amazed he’d managed to keep quiet this far. “I wath playing gameth and felt thingth go weird.”

“You did.”

“Honcho,” he says, not quite pleading.

I shake my head and ruffle his hair gently. “A gift card tomorrow for twenty-five dollars toward new games, okay?”

“Theventy-five,” he says. “I helped you in the dark.”

“Yes, but theventy isn’t a number.”

He sticks his tongue out at that. “Eighty.”



I shake his hand formally on it and he bounces up the stairs and hurries into his room, not quite slamming the door. No doubt to decide what games to buy before morning. I’d tell him to sleep, but I doubt he’s going to even pretend to.

I stay up, open the hotel room window – it wants to be open despite never been made to – and watch lights and sounds return to the city, watch the ancient darkness that used to lurk in the shadows retreat before modern wonders. I watch the play of electric lights until the sun rises and finally head to bed to sleep.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Planning out camp nano....

See, I wasn't going to do Camp Nano (The last two times I did it the results were essentially forgettable), but it's been altered to 'pick your own WC goal' and added private cabins so -- yeah.  The goal is to write 30K worth  of short story material for the magician series: which, to be fair, I'd be working on anyway though not to that extent. In order for it to work I'm throwing in a new character and some odd situations and problems before Lucas runs into Charlie and Dyer and then later the magician and Jay. At least, that is the plan.

Currently trying to figure out Lucas a a character. Did one backstory-story idea that failed, so scrapping it and trying to work out some other ideas. The other characters in the magician series have all left (or abandoned) their families and I want Lucas to be in a position where he believes he can't just walk away from them, even if he technically could.

Lucas is a talent: he has one ability to work magic, but in his case this is the power to put curses on people. Amd he's learning, fast and hard, that he can't undo them and that he has a lot more anger inside him than he ever knew, anger that is finding its way out into anyone who even annoys him ... the results should be pretty fun to write.

I'm also planning to continue Boy and Fox during the same time. Naturally. Progress has been slow and steady; I've been trying to keep the pace in a slower mode so I don't end up with 'wrote 4000 words, only 400 can be salvaged in the next draft' outcomes. Shall see how it all goes :)

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Facebook status updates part XXIV (April – May 2014)

Today I am grateful that telepathy exists only in fiction.

Tomorrow I am grateful that time travel isn't possible.

Today I was grateful time travel isn't real. Until it happened, and I read the news. Saw the paper. Listened to the radio. Now I don't know what to be grateful for. With just two numbers, I could have won the lottery. But if time travel was real, they would win all the lotteries.
I am grateful I have aspirin for problems like this.

Today I am grateful that, some day, my parents will tell me I am adopted.
.... they have to tell you eventually, right?

Today I am grateful that
An error has occured. To continue:
Present enter to return to Reality, or
Press CTRL+ALT+DEL to restart your life. If you do this, you will lose all unsaved information in all open applications.
Error: 0G : 0123 : EGF34L1F5

At the rally, he wore a clown costume complete with red nose and make-up, holding up a sign reading: ‘Is it OK to rape me now?!’
So many people said: “Yes.”

I tried so hard
to escape you
but every mirror
I broke showed
your face.

Today I am grateful that I am not grateful that I am gratefully non-grateful about things I should be grateful for notwithstanding being grateful about gratitude and naturally not ungrateful or disungrateful except insofar as one can be not grateful. This is great, right?

Say NO to MMOs! (Magically Modified Organisms.)

If our lives were silent films, perhaps then they might make sense.

At 2 am my brain decided to wake me from sleep and inform me that Bugsy Malone shot and killed other gangsters with a rocket launcher while screaming: “I am the Congress!” at them.
Al Capone finally killed him with a bazooka. … You may now return to your own thoughts.

“You always are writing stories for me. So for your birthday I thought I’d write you a story.”
“You did?”
“It’s sexetry!”
“… thank you, Grandma. I – I’ll read it later, okay?”

"There is something terrible inside you," the witch whispered to Boy.
"I think, Boy said after he thought it over, "you mean my conscience? Bess says that not everyone has one and Mr. Fox would probably call it a burden. Do you mean that?"
"Oh, child. If only it was that simple. The world holds many evil people who would be quite less evil were they entirely devoid of goodness."

"I have a door I dare not open," he said.
"And you expect me to do something about this?" I enquired.
"I merely expect you to know."

Trying to find a poetics of numbers
Is why I am in jail for tax evasion

Every time I hear a siren
I remember why you left.

I'm grateful for the lack of sirens between my to-do items. So much to do, so little time to do it in it.

Today I am quite grateful that I am not a golfer, since four seems to be the only number that they know -- why else would they shout it to each other all the time?

“Six Word Poem Series Number One”

The writer soon discovered, not long after becoming a Writer, that the delete key was the only friend they had

I was so scared that I kissed you and I am so sorry that there isn’t enough magic in the world to stop you from thinking it was something more.

"Goodbye," I lied.

Tonight has been one for research. Results thus far:
'Felo de se' is an archaic word for suicide (meaning felon of yourself, since suicide counted as a felony), Vancouver's war against doorknobs, a kidnapped boy who got free via using gospel songs, how many people were murdered world-wide in 2012, why people gesture even if no one is looking at them. Also the notion that yawning cools brains along with how the moon's phases affect life on earth. And stuff about making fake mermaids,a missing kid who only existed on facebook and reading a patent on vacuuming corpses for burial.
... some of this will be used in a YA story.

Today I am grateful that you read this -- no, really: you could have been reading far better things, more edifying things, works of literature or even of lol and yet you read this long sentence (which will not include a metaphor for prison or a joke about meeting a four) when you could have been doing so many other things with your time and in the interests of making this post even longer I am going to now list all 10,234 other things you could have been doing.
Or perhaps not.

Today my attitude of gratitude is that I am not an internet meme. Unlike you. You know who you are.

Today I am so grateful that I have finally run out of ways to love you.

Today my altitude is full of great outed that auto-cured prevent spelling errors.

What if the dialogue “??” isn’t really a question at all?
What if it is what happens when someone shouts “!!” during a fire and the heat warps the punctuation?

Today I am filled with gratitude that every 'what X should you be' quiz on the internet is clearly right.

Today I am grateful, so grateful, that you are not real.

Today I am grateful there is no such thing as ghosts. Because if there was, I could not bear to haunt the person you have become.

Today I am grateful that this is twitter so I only have 140 characters to write what I am grateful for and it is easy to run out before I ha

Today I am grateful that only Hoffa knows where the real bodies are buried.

Today I want to be grateful that I have finally, probably, stopped writing the sci-fi short stories that were distracting me from novel-stuff. Maybe. Possibly.
(Probably not. I wonder if a muse ends up grateful if you chain them in a basement and try to get them to shut up.)

My superpower turned out to be the ability to push open doors even if they were pull-only.

“It’s a lie that we don’t drink wine. Anything red is – acceptable. Good. A substitute.” The vampire slumped back into the cheap plastic chair, somehow seeming gorgeous while doing that, and glared definitely at the circle of humans around him. “My name is Alvin Smythe; I am 212 years old and I am an alcoholic.”

"Everything I am is made up of things you are not." The tulpa smiled. "Is that not reason enough to fear me?"

Bodies float and yet we drown
Not under water but the weights
Of everything we are and aren’t.

I now picture a world. A world where the computers have taken over, and all factories are run by robots. Where sewing is illegal, because the robots do it better. Do it faster. Do it stronger. But one group of renegade humans is trying to reclaim this ancient rite, draw up on the power of needle and thread to weave a tapestry for the ages. And they shall call themselves ... Cosplay.

The fox stopped and stared up at him. “You think the police will have your best interests in mind?”
“And you do?” Boy’s hands flew over his mouth and his eyes widened. “I mean – I didn’t mean – I mean –,” he got out, words stumbling over each other.
“Whose interests do you think I serve?” the fox said and his eyes glittered in kinship with pyrite. “Well, Boy?” he said when Boy didn’t speak.
“I don’t know.” Boy forced himself not to look away, though the effort left him trembling. “I want to trust you because-because trust isn't part of the Wasting. Because trust is what people do. And going away, too, in the end.”

After our world ended (it was not quite the end, but we could see it from where we were) the next war began, fought in gardens and kitchens across the world as the zombies tried to find the perfect blend of 11 herbs and spices to make humans taste just like KFC.

"If it pleases the court, I submit that I see only one monster here: it is the one that dares to call itself justice."

The first fine handed out for excessive exuberance told a story all its own.

After years of effort, the time traveller was able to get the length of twitter messages reduced to 100 characters. It was still not enough to prevent world war three. Not enough at all.

The Detective smiled sourly. "I am sorry commissioner, but this case looks weak. Not replace-sugar-with-Splenda weak but still pretty weak."
"I drink tea with honey in it."
"Ah. Do you reuse tea bags? The metaphor might hold together if --."
"Get out of my office! If you ever mention that idea again I will have you fired."
"Sir, there are worse things. We ARE trying to catch a serial killer."
"No, there are not."

Thursday, June 19, 2014


I don’t have anyone to talk to, Jess. I had you. Before. Now there’s no one. We were learning so much, from that website, from a few POD books we’d found. How to bend the world, to make it do things. You’re the one who couched it all in quantum terms: mentioned charm, spin, strangeness, went on rants about entanglement. I never believed any of that. I tried, because you did, but for me it was always magic. Like how entropy hasn’t destroyed everything, how we fight it. What holds the universe together. To me that’s magic. We never had fights about that, because I wouldn’t fight you, but it wasn’t just words.

It was about how we saw the world. I’d like to think it’s why you’ve never been in love. I don’t think you can do that, not wholly, and not believe in magic somehow. Belief without believing, maybe, that it might turn out all right. Happily ever after. I think that’s all magic is now. I don’t know. You’d go on about waveforms and how no one died because the universe was a hologram and it might have worked for you. It didn’t for me, after the car hit you. When I was told.

All we’d been trying to learn, to become,and you went and got hit by a car speeding through an intersection. Maybe you wouldn’t have tried a seance. You wouldn’t have done it like I did, I know that. I felt like I didn’t have a choice. That if magic – if making street lights change colour, or someone forget your name for few seconds – if that couldn’t do anything, then there was no point to anything. I’d be the first to admit I wasn’t right in the head, even then.

We do stuff out of anger we’d never do out of love. You can quote me on that, wherever you are. So I did up symbols in the attic – no sacrifices, because you were a vegan – tried to focus, and reach, spoke words that made no sense at all. Near the end I felt like the words were speaking me, but I kept going. Pushing. Trying to pull a miracle out of the shit-can of life, and not caring what it would cost.
I had wards up, the kind we knew would confuse and slow people. The kid wandered right through them, each symbol dissolving as if it never was. He was thin and pale and looked to be maybe ten, the kind who could pass for younger easily and maybe even older if he had to. Jeans. T-shirt, shoes, a bag from the local pharmacy in his left hand. Nothing special at all, but he walked up into the attic as if the wards didn’t exist and scratched his head as he stared at me.

I,” the boy said as he glared at me, “am taking medithine to the Honcho and we don’t have time for people to rip holeth in the world and he’th got the flu and ithn’t up to fixing them right now tho you can thtop it right now!”

He talked like that, with a lisp so pronounced it would have been funny any other time. I spoke that word that made your mom go cross-eyed for two days, and he didn’t even blink, just let out this huge put-upon sigh.

“You’re not doing a thingle binding right and I can thee what ith there,” he snapped, waving his other hand to the space beside the old broken window.

“What?” That was me, articulate as all get out.

“I thaid I can thee….” The boy made a face and was quiet a few moments, mouthing words under his breath. “A hole in the fabric of the world can be felt right there,” he said, pointing at the wall, “and you will close it or I will.”

“I want to see Jess again.” I said that. You can laugh. I meant other things too, but that’s what came out.

“Oh. You mean a ghotht?” He scowled, then tried: “Thpirit, right? They’re not that good to meet,” the boy said, as if he did that all the time. “And that ith not what ith there.”

I lost a few seconds. At least six, maybe ten. The air smelled like burnt cinnamon and there was a hole in the wall where the insulation had been. Like something had eaten through it, and the kid was just standing in front of it with his hands raised, then turned back to stare at me as smoke raised off his fingers.

“That almotht hurt,” he said, looking stunned as he stared up at me. “That wath thome kind of-of grief eater and you jutht opened a way for it without a bargain or limitth on it? Humanth,” he added, “I don’t underthtand how you haven’t all been eaten up yet. Maybe the eater wath afraid to catch the thtupid?”

It might have sounded silly — even thilly — except he’d said ‘humans’ and sounded utterly serious in the question. I had no idea what the kid was, or even what I’d done, but he’d almost been hurt and he didn’t get hurt often, at least not by whatever a grief-eater was. I haven’t tried to find out. The kid just picked up his bag from the floor, flexing his fingers and glaring at what had been insulation.

“If you try to come back, I will have Charlie eat you,” he said to the wall, and seemed quite satisfied with that.

“What – what are you?”

He thought that over. “Jay.”

“That’s a name.”

“Altho a what,” he snapped.

The air felt strange still, Jess. Sickly-sweet. Wrong. I’d done something wrong here and I was finally realizing that, coming down off the high that I’d done anything at all. That’s why I asked: “Are you an angel?”

The boy blinked. Blinked again. If anything, he seemed more stunned by that than by his hands earlier. “I am tho glad honcho ith thick and not here,” he said finally. I have no idea who or what this honcho was, but the kid just added: “Nope,” quite firmly, clearly fighting back a grin at the idea.
I wanted to ask something else, find out – I don’t know what. Something, but he had the bag in hand and was past me and down the stairs so quick I barely saw him move. I reached the window at least as the kid crossed the road. He was on his cell phone and looked ordinary. Normal. I watched until he walked around the corner, thought about you. And me.

Maybe about angels, too, because I cleaned up the attic and came here, to your marker. To talk. Because I can’t do it. I don’t know what that grief-eater was. I don’t know what that ‘Jay’ is. But he was scared and it was my fault and I think if this magic is real, if I’m going to be something more than use it, I have a lot to learn.

I wish you could be here to learn it with me, but everyone thinks that sometimes. And whatever magic is, I don’t think it’s meant to take away our griefs.

Monday, June 16, 2014


The truth-knowing is incomplete. We are part of a whole long gone. Time eats us all. There was a war, and a song that cut through the war. He is not us. We are not inside him. We were dying, side-effect of a battle in the great sea. The Host had sent something new inside to murder pain and we screamed and died, fled with nowhere to flee

and then the song. The voice. It was not words. It was nothing so small. It wrapped about us, gentle – nothing had been gentle before, gentle is not part of life – and it was not hunger. All we had known was hunger. Eat. Feed. Expand. Move. That is life. But the song was something wholly other that the truth-knowing falls apart.

The song called itself magician, and said it was not truth, but a Way, and wrapped about us. It called the enemy pepto-bismal, and said it was aimed at other enemies, that the song was just passing by and offered a few notes to shield us from death. There is a world beyond the world we know. The song called out world a stomach, and we know there is more to the Host than our domain, than our kin. The Host is vast and terrible, somehow a Host and perhaps Itself as well. We do not understand.

(We are not sure even the magician-song understands, but this may be a heresy to know.)

The song guarded us, and others as well. But it was a sad song; it was here, but not in other Hosts. There would be others like us, what the magician-song called ‘bacteria’, who would die to the enemy while we lived. We know this is the way of all things: that for one to exist, another must cease. Hungry meets hunger, desire meets greater need. We said as much, and the song calmed a little, and thanked us.

The song thanked us after we were safe, and this is far beyond the Whole and even Hosts so we pass it on, to all. To reach other Hosts, so the story will not die. The Hosts know us, though not by name, and seldom know all they do. It is not silence. There was a song. There could be another. That it might defend another part of the Host against us does not make it any less a song.

We who cannot sing can at least share.  

Saturday, June 14, 2014


There are silences even magic cannot fill. Jay slums deep into the passenger seat of the rented car beside me, hands flying over his tablet as he pays a computer game. To human eyes, he’s a surly kid of about ten, all pouting and mopey. To a magician he would appear the same, able to hide his nature very well. But he has restarted the game twice in half an hour, and Jay doesn’t lose computer games. When you can see bindings as easily as people breathe and move faster than anything human, you’re very good at some things. Computer games are among the gentlest of the things he could be good at, so I buy him games and let him lose himself in them.

Jay is from far Outside the universe and scared all the time. You would be too if your entire life had been spent trying not to be eaten by creatures far larger than you. And he is scared of me now, and has no idea how to deal with that. And I don’t either; the bindings between us are frayed and thinned: I worked magic recently, some melding of need, of desire that is wishing and will both, and removed what I did from my memory. It is not something magicians do often, for all kinds of reasons. Even Jay seems to barely recall it, knowing only enough to be scared of me like he is of everything else.

I have an email account I never check; Jay does, and found someone asking for help in a small farmhouse north of the town we were in. The usual worries about ghosts that are probably just leaky pipes and small animals, but one never knows. The road is a logging road, and I pull over for a truck to pass and then kill the engine.


He looks up with a snap of movement, trying not to look afraid. He gulps, and I hope my face doesn’t show how much it hurts.

I take a deep breath, then let the magic out. The car doors lock, the windows hardening with a shimmer of energy. “I will not hurt you,” I say, power threaded under the words. I am a magician, and part of that is being able to speak truths that cannot be ignored.

Jay screams, hands flying up over his ears as he tries to block the words without thinking.

We are bound together and I will not hurt you.” I raise my voice, push through his crude attempt to block the magic with his own will. “Jay, hear this: I will not hurt you,” I repeat, because repetitions have some small power to them. I wrap the binding of the words inside and outside him, in his nature and the world itself. There are banishings I have done with less power than I weave into this.

“No, no, no, no,” he says between shudders and small gasps of fear.

“I am a magician. You are bound into my service, and by that binding I end the strife between us,” I say flatly.

“Honcho –.”

Enough.” My voice causes the car to shudder, and the birds in the forest around us go silent.

Jay goes entirely still, eyes wide and unfocused, then says: “No. I’m not letting you do thith. Not to uth,” his voice pale as he stares up at me.

I smile with the second-coldest smile I have.

Jay squeezes his eyes shut, fists clenching tight, and reaches into his own nature. He can see bindings, but he’s learning to break them as well. He breaks each binding I made in the last minute perfectly, sundering them with an effort that leaves him drenched in sweat and trembling, letting out small whimpers of terror after.



I reach over and raise his chin. “Kiddo.” He cracks his eyes open. “You undid a magician’s binding. My binding.”

“You’re going to eat me now,” he says, almost a question.

“Do you want me to?”


“If you keep thinking you are food, you can’t then blame others for thinking the same,” I say softly, letting go of his chin. “You think I was holding back on that binding?”

“Not much,” he says warily.

“And yet you undid it.”

“Oh. Oh!” A grin breaks free of fear and anger both.

I grin in turn and ruffle his hair. “I can’t swear, not with words or binding, not anything that will truly hold, because sometimes I am more magician than I am me.”

“Thometimeth I’m not entirely Jay either,” he says, quite seriously.

“I know.”

“Of courthe you do.” He rolls his eyes.

I smack him upside the head gently in response, then undo the bindings on the car doors and windows, start it up again. “You could escape before I could eat you, Jay. If you had to. Think about that.”

He does, and the bindings between us mend a little. “I don’t want to be powerful,” he mumbles.

“I know. And you’re not. I could burn you to ashes when you ran, or banish you back Outside the universe.”

“But then I’d get mad,” he says firmly, trying to cover his fear at that idea.

“And do what?”

“I’d call Charlie. And your mom,” he adds after a pause, scared how I’ll respond.

I grin at that. “That would be rather thcary.”

Jay’s jaw drops at that. “That wath mean!”

“And calling my mother wouldn’t be?”

He lets out a giggle and relaxes visibly. I pull onto the road and he sets the tablet aside and rests his head gently against my shoulder. He believes being close helps the bindings between us; his belief is enough to mend them a little more. I wrap my right arm gently around him and he lets out happy sigh and is dead asleep a few moments later, exhausted from the effort of undoing my attempted bindings along with much else as well.

The bindings between us are not as good as they used to be, but few things seldom are. It’s different, and I like to think that different can become better at least some of the time.

Friday, June 13, 2014


There are days when a magician has to be a magician, when the world needs magic too much for you to relax. I walk through the city – it is small, as cities go, and the magician who has made it her home is swamped past capacity. Arisha doesn’t object to my being here to help: some would. So I walk, and let the magic out. Some days it is easier than breathing to be a magician, but not on a Friday the 13th with a full moon thrown up with it. Magic is borne of need and desire, and the desire all about me is for the stories to be true: for accidents and random luck, for a poor showing of miracles.

I ignore that, focusing on bindings and what the world needs. Holding one vehicle together, making sure ladders do not break. I have, in my day, made walls against creatures from Outside the universe to guard the world against harm, forced ancient powers to turn away from courses as old as time. It is a mistake younger magicians make to believe that this is not as important. A falling ladder could shatter a life, ruin a family, twist the myth of the day into something awful in their heads.

I lose track of the number of black cats I’ve saved from harm by the time evening rolls around. Jay is walking along beside me in worried silence; he is bound to me, and from far Outside the universe. I’ve been drawing on his strength slowly and steadily because he is tough and because he wants to help. We’ve walked over half the city, and the bindings I’ve made are holding or Jay would have said otherwise: he can see bindings as easily as humans see light, and even bend them if he has to.

I get hot dogs from a stand and eat two while Jay wolfs down four.

“Honcho? A lot of people are puthhing at the bindingth,” he says.

I raise an eyebrow. “Really?”

He rolls his eyes. “Not jutht yourth. It – it’th like they want the world to break, to show them...” he trails off, looking lost and confused.

I find a park bench and sit, and Jay plops down beside me. He’s not sucking on his thumb, which he does not during stress, but I can feel he’s getting there, unease humming through the bindings between us. “Humans do weird things, Jay. Sometimes people want to believe in a world bigger than the one they know, if only for a day, no matter if that world is all bad luck and missed chances, crazy-minded people and harm to everyone. We hunger, and sometimes we don’t know what we hunger for.”

“Oh! Like a hot dog. Becauthe you don’t know if it ith too thpicy until after you eat it,” he says proudly.

“Everyone does give it different toppings,” I say, “but sometimes they forget it’s a hot dog underneath all that.”

Jay nods seriously to that and gets off the bench, fighting back a yawn. “Then we need to make sure the hot dog is well cooked, right?”

I stand and stretch slowly. “I think you’re taking this metaphor a little too far.”

“You mean the fool moon and the bad luck? Becauthe,” he adds firmly, “food ith too important to be a metaphor.”

I smack him on the back of the head just before he could duck and he lets out an indignant squack that I waste magic on that. I continue to walk, circling toward the end of the city and the suburbs. Arisha would have questions about how I had kept going for so long that I have no desire to answer. There are magicians who would want me dead for being bound to Jay, and I don’t know if she is one.

We leave the city before we need to find out, and Jay doesn’t ask a single question about it since he doesn’t like saying the name Arisha at all. The bindings we made hold, dissolving as the moon begins to wan the next morning. I am certain there are people who will take the lack of weirdness as proof of weird but we did what we could in one small part of the world even if it was not enough.

I wake the next morning to Jay shaking me on my bed in the motel room. There are precisely thirteen dead mice piled outside the motel room door. I have no idea if this is the black cats thanking me or issuing a warning. I have Jay get rid of the bodies by unbinding them and removing stains as well and get the local paper. The headline is about Friday the 13th in the city and how bad luck ran rampant.

I put the paper down, head back to the motel room, and go back to bed.

Thursday, June 12, 2014


The thing that terrifies me about the universe is how quickly ones life can fall apart in it. How a place so solid can suddenly be liquid, how everything you build your life on can simply fall away and leave nothing else behind. There is a school for creatures from Outside the universe. I never went: the Deep School seemed to political, too driven. Too intent on making politicians. We don’t have those where I am from, but we have things like them. Creatures so adept at mimicry that they hide their true selves behind near-perfect masks. My experience of home and here is that the worst kind of monsters never look like monsters at all.

Her name was Myra Jeni, and she was a monster. A human one who made a deal with something Other for power. I don’t know why, or even to what end: the motives of humans confuse me even after forty years on this world, sixty before on another. The universe is solid. Real. But everything inside it can be as strange as those of us from Outside, all their certainties falling away to leave little more than fear behind. She had acquired a book made of smells rather than words, whose use could destroy minds in moments.

And so I showed her what I really looked like, when she brought the book into my office. And she is dead, and I am not. I have no passport in other names. No one I can call to remove corpses – human or otherwise – for me. And there is a magician. I can feel them circling the university, bindings and will gathering themselves together. I could fight. But the media studies department would be destroyed, my colleagues rendered mad if not destroyed. Universities are not conducive to sanity, I think: my battle against a magician would destroy too many.

I had not thought it in my nature to wait for death, or even banishment.

There is a knock on the door. A boy of perhaps 10, pale and thin, pokes his head in. “Hi? You’re Profethor Rafael Deyo?”

I have the body in the corner, behind the couch. The floor is decorated in stains. The walls are filled with old books, musty with age and power. The kid glances toward the body and then back at me, waits. I will miss this place. I stand and nod. “I am. You are not a pupil, I trust?”

The boy grins at that. “Nope. I’m Jay.”

“And that should mean something to me?”

He shakes his head firmly. “I hope not.”

“Is this some offer from the Deep School then?”

“Huh? No. I’m with Honcho. The magithan,” Jay says. “He athked me to talk to you before thingth got unavoidable.”

“I was forced to murder one of my students today. Magicians do not take kindly to my kind killing humans.”

“Oh, that.” He waves it away with a hand. “Humanth kill each other all the time. I think they get some kind of-of fun out of breaking bindingth. Like they’re all connected tho they have to prove they’re not. It’th really weird.”

“You are not human.”

“I hide my nature good,” he says. I am ancient and powerful in my own way; I could level the university with the movements of my real body, with limbs both real and not. I suspect I would bounce right off of Jay’s pride.

“Prove it.”

He grins hugely and gestures and the stains are unbound from the floor and gone, in ways magicians do not operate. I am huge and aweful in my true form, but there is no power in me to simply make bodies cease to exist, or to get rid of questions humans would ask.

“My secretary saw her come in.”

“Honcho can deal with that,” Jay says, and pads over to the body, picking up the book and flipping through it. He wrinkles his nose at the smells. “Thith ith a very bad book.”

“It is.”

He walks over and hands it to me. “You thould keep it. We travel a lot.”

“You would trust me with such a thing?”

“You were willing to let Honch banith you,” he says firmly.


“Yeth, that word. I don’t like that word much at all.” Jay pauses, eyes unfocusing again. “And Honcho thinkth that monthterth who become teacherth do it to teach and to learn. You had a whole life and you threw it away to thtop one perthon with an evil book tho that maketh you good.”

“It does?”

Jay lets out a huge sigh. “I jutht thaid so.” He holds out a hand. “Come on: there ith a thtore on the camputh and you’re going to buy me a computer game.”

“I am?”

“And Honcho will come and deal with the body and do magic thingth to make everything okay. Becauthe that ith what magicithans do.”

I pause. It seems like Jay is trying to tell himself that as much as me, but his nature is too hidden for me to be certain, and I do not know the magician waiting outside the campus at all. I do know few magicians offer second chances at anything, or even alliances with our kind. I take the boy’s hand and head out the door.

“What do I do if this happens again?”

“Make friendth who can help you deal with it,” Jay says firmly. “Making friendth ith an important part of being in the univerthe.”

I have colleagues and acquaintances, but I do not trust enough to have friends. I consider his words, and nod, and head to the campus store. A human voice whispers in my head briefly, the magicians touch gone as quickly as it comes. That the magician got into my mind so easily is almost worrying. I buy Jay just one game despite his request for a second and the pouts and pleas for another game are just as entertaining as the magician said they would be.

I never went to the Deep School. I have a feeling not even it could have prepared me for this magician.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014


The town of Raven’s Bluff boasts neither ravens nor a bluff. The mighty Wagnashi River is actually a creek and the town’s claim to condominiums is a hotel trying to upsell itself. Poorly. Given all that, I didn’t expect the history of the town to have any real weight behind it but it turned out that the creature lurking in the woods was real: all shifting fur and claws, old and maddened with age. I made a door and sent it back home halfway around the world, to one of those areas explorers think they’ve mapped and understood.

The local trapper who got hold of me through the email address Charlie set up for me months ago doesn’t question whether it is gone, just thanks me and offers directions to the nearest pawn shop when I ask. It turns out to be a couple of towns away but it’s not hard to find someone offering me a ride and no questions. I buy a few older handheld computer games and take them back to Raven’s End, the hotel/condo development still renting rooms. For cash. With no questions asked, which is generally how magicians like it.

Jay is sitting on one of the two double beds in the hotel room cross-legged when I enter. He looks to be about ten and human, though is neither of those things as he is from far Outside the universe and bound into my service. He doesn’t look up from his phone when I enter.


“I’m occupied.”

“With a game.”

“Yeah. I am achieving entelechy.”

I pause, the bag of games in hand, and close the door carefully behind me before discarding shoes and coat. “And that means?”

“Actuality. My true nature and not my potential one,” he says, fingers dancing at inhuman speeds over the phone.

“You’re getting a high score in a computer game, aren’t you?”

“I might be.”

“I got some older games you might want to play.”

He pauses the phone reluctantly, takes the bag and checks the handheld games over, eyes widening at a few. I arranged to win a small lottery a few days ago when we were short on funds. Jay looks up. “They are nice. Thank you for them.”

He goes back to his phone. I give him until the count of ten and reach out, raising his chin with a finger. “Jay.”

“I am occupied,” he snaps.

“Since when are you occupied and not busy?”

He blinks, then begins blushing a little as the implications sink in. It has been a long time since he tried to avoid speaking esses in front of me. “Occupied meanth very buthy,” he says firmly.

“You could put that game on pause and play these.”

“I thaid I wath buthy!”

“Jay.” I don’t raise my voice, but a hint of power creeps under it. A magician can’t be other than what they are. He flinches back, colour draining from his pale face and whimpers softly, hands gripping his phone tightly. I sit down on the bed beside him and he scoots to the side, trembling as he tries to hide that he is trembling. “You’re scared of me. You’ve been acting scared of me for a few days now and I don’t like that.”

He says nothing, teeth digging into his lower lip. If he was human, he’d ben drawing blood. He’s tough enough to take shotguns to the chest and barely bruise, but that’s physical damage; the bindings between us hum with fear and uneasiness.

“You only try and avoid esses that much when you’re really scared of someone. Like a monster who might eat you. Which means I did something recently, and probably forgot I did that; sometimes magic has to protect a magician from themselves.” No response. “And sometimes that has costs, but they’re not ones I want my friends to pay. Please.”

“You did thomething bad to thome bindingth,” he whispers, because he sees the world in bindings as easily as we see light and hear sound. “Thomething bad, and did worthe than unmake them and it’th all not falling apart and I’m thcared!”

“I know you are. You’ve never been scared of me before, have you?”

Jay shakes his head, not moving.

“Charlie was. I am.” That wins a slow blink. “Being a magician is what I am, Jay. The magic is just part of what I do.” I reach over, resting my hand on his right hand, gently pull it off his phone. “You really think I’d eat you given how you’d taste?”

That wins a surprised giggle. “That’th why I don’t bathe,” he says with a hesitant grin.

“Uh huh.” I raise his right hand slowly toward his face. “I’m not saying to not be afraid of me, Jay. But not this much, if you can. I’m saying I won’t eat you, and I promise that.”

He relaxes abruptly, letting out a breath he didn’t even know he was holding and shoves his right thumb into his mouth to suck on it. That’s new, damage I caused to his nature over a month ago. Until now, he’s only done it under stress. This time it’s from relief. He doesn’t suck on it long before removing it and reaching for the bag of games.

“You won’t eat me even if I beat you in tetrith?” he says warily.

“I’ve never played tetris.”

“Oh.” Jay considers that. “I don’t think I thould be afraid of anyone who hath never even played tetrith,” he says, and begins describing how the game works even as he turns it on. We’re not all right: the bindings that bind him to me and me to him are not even close to all right, and he’s not able – or willing – to talk about whatever I did that fractured them, but he relaxes as he describes the game, has he play, shows me a few tricks and beats every high score I try and set.

As displays of strength go against magicians, it’s not one I consider impressive but it seems to count for him so I don’t protest at all as he insists I keep playing and beats me in every one of the games I bought until he yawns after a good ten hours and falls dead asleep, head resting on my shoulder. I put him into the bed slowly, leaving the games beside it, and half-wonder how he’s going to react when he finds out I’ve never played pacman. 

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Jay's Journal

My name is Jay. It’s not really, but I like Jay. The magician named me that, and it’s mine. I’ve never had a journal before but I like them. I can write words and they come out just fine. They don’t when I talk them, but that’s because I’m not really human. And that’s OK: most things in this world aren’t human. I’m not sending this to anyone. I’m keeping it on me. In case I forget, because the edges of the bindings have gone all fuzzy. The ones called memories. And I’m writing this on paper because I’m scared.

I’m always scared, but this is a different kind of scared. I am travelling with a the magician who wanders, and that’s rare and he’s a good person and I’m told that is rare too. But he’s still a person and people are weird and they break bindings and pretend they don’t or can’t even realize there was a binding at all. They change ALL the time and it’s hard to keep up with. But magicians are good at fixing broken things, and Honcho (that’s what I call him, and I’m using it here) is good at realizing when bindings have gone sour. Because he has me. Because I have him.


But today was bad. Today was past sour milk and into really bad.

There was this man with a small magic who did bindings to children, of other voices. He would throw his voice and change it. Make adults hear horrible things, like their children promised to kill them. Or do worse things. Things children don’t do with adults. Things no child would ask. The man would put power in his voice and force Bad Things to happen. Things you don’t do, not to anyone. Things adults shouldn’t be forced to do, the magician said, and his voice was so cold I hid around a corner for him and Honcho didn’t even notice.

When he stops noticing Important Things like me, that’s when I have to say something, grab his attention. Stop him. I didn’t. I was too scared even to move until it was too late.

He walked down the street, and even the broken people ran from him. He walked up to the man who had done this, who had twisted people up inside and out, and said: “Why?” in a tone of voice nothing could resist. And the man had smiled a not-smile and replied: ‘Because I could.”

And the magician went quiet. Death-quiet, like big creatures do before they eat you. His silence hurt, in a way silence shouldn’t. In a way that felt like this street, with the sick man and his sick trick that made bindings worse than broken. And the magician turned to me, because I’d finally followed, but I couldn’t force words out against the cold rage I saw in his face. “Go and wait down the street.” He forced me to do it, which he’d never done before. I didn’t fight him. I don’t think I could have. He was all magician, all power and will, and
he did something bad. I can’t remember it, not right. The street is okay. The families are okay. The man never had a trick. Never hurt anyone. Never was at all. Honcho didn’t break bindings. He didn’t unmake them. He made it so they never were at all, and just thinking of that makes my inside hurt awful. He broke a piece of the world. And a piece of himself to do it? Maybe? I don’t know. I think I did know what happened, and I no longer do. There never was a Bad Thing here at all, but I think that’s a bad thing too.

And I don’t know how to fix it.

I’m scared of him, almost. Sometimes. Close to now.

I’m scared for him.

(I’m thcared.)

Saturday, June 07, 2014


“I don’t know what lies you’ve been told, but this is an elementary school. There are no monsters here,” the vice principal snaps.

A small part of me wants to ask if the school has no children; I suppress it and keep silent. Iris Melchev picks up her pace, sharp gestures pointing out classrooms, posters, the lack of graffiti on walls as she marches down the hallway. Jay had stopped me as we’d been driving past the school, saying that something about it bugged him. He’s not human and sees the world as bindings; if he can’t tell why one is damaged it’s reason enough to find out more.

I’d told Maureen – the school secretary – that I was his uncle, we were new to the area, and had been told the local school was perhaps not safe. I didn’t have to thread power into my voice, not make her believe me in the ways magicians can. The words brought the vice principal out of her office so fast it was either magic or some personal catapult. Possibly both at once. I said Jay had been told stories by the other kids, she demanded to know the stories.

Jay looks to be about ten; he can look younger when he has to. He just said, “the thorieth were thcary,” and refused to tell her more, starting to suck on his right thumb when she pressed for details. He does that now under stress, after an incident that was entirely my fault; he refuses to blame me for it even now. The lisp is damage to his nature when he entered the universe from far Outside it. That he uses both as weapons is often impressive and worrying.

Iris began the tour after that; Jay is trailing behind the both of us, staring into classrooms in wide-eyed astonishment. Teachers are busy teaching classes, and the bindings he must be seeing between the students and to the teacher are probably as much terrifying as wonderful; he knows enough not to blurt out anything yet, but I can feel his incredulity through the bindings between us. I’m going to have to answer a lot of questions when this is over.

“We have bathrooms. Boys, girls, and other,” Iris says, as if this is both a point of shame and pride. I sense Jay start behind me, but send reassurance through the binding: he passes as a human boy until someone realizes he has no genitalia at all. Charlie travelled with Jay for over a month and never noticed; Jay hides his nature terribly well.

“Ah,” I say, since she’s clearly expecting something.

She frowns but doesn’t press her point.

“Excuthe me,” Jay says, “but doeth Other mean teacher?”

The vice principal turns, but meets only innocence behind the question. “No. No, it does not,” she says, trying not to look rattled. I want to ask why they bother having a third bathroom if she clearly expects it to shock people; I resist the urge and cough lightly.

“The school has a fingerprint-based fire alarm system, doors at either end, a cafeteria for lunches and a playground for the students,” Iris continues, heading out a side door.

The playground is all asphalt and plastics that have every edge coated in rubber to prevent harm. A few kids are out in it from an early class – grade one or two, at a guess – but they’re all playing tag in the lone soccer field or sitting on it watching everyone else play tag under the eye of a teacher. Not a single student is on the swings or slide and the playground doesn’t boast a merry-go-round or even monkey bars I recall from when I was a kid.

“Is there a reason no one is using the playground?” I ask.

“A second teacher is required to be on hand,” the vice principal says, “in case anyone is injured or –.”

“Nope.” Jay scowls at the playground and edges closer to me, squeezing my right hand with his left. “No one is here becauthe it ith too thafe, Honcho.”

That’s what he calls me instead of magician. I study it but there is no magic here, no echo of anything old. Something clearly has Jay worked up about it because he hasn’t stopped sucking his thumb. “I doubt there is a burial ground under it?”

Jay considers that, then shakes his head, not getting the reference. “I don’t think tho?”

“What are you talking about,” Iris says, realizing we’re not playing the part of uncle and nephew well enough.

I crouch down and run fingers over asphalt. Nothing. The world can speak to magicians, even if we don’t want it to. This place is cold, devoid of magic, so empty it isn’t even haunted by a single echo of a child’s injury.

“Oh,” I say. “It’s so safe it’s dead, isn’t it?”

“Yup! Bindingth don’t want to work here at all. It feelth....” Jay trails off, frowning. “It feelth like dreamth can’t even be born becauthe it ith too coddled? I think?”

“Mr. Smith.” Iris Melchev’s voice is a cold warning.

She is human; it hardly means she isn’t dangerous. “Jay is a bit odd,” I say, which is nicely vague and wholly true.

“I’m thpecial,” Jay says proudly, and the vice principal’s face turns into a wall as she processes that along with the huge smile he offers.

I let the magic out, thinking about children and dreams and life. Skills that can be honed on playsets, games that can be true on pavement. It’s not enough to make this place feel alive, but it is the best I can do as Iris demands to know where Jay is staying and why his parents aren’t here.

“They are at work; I think this might work if you brightened up the playground a little. You could put in flowers?” I say, threading power under the words.

“We cannot: Some pupils may be allergic,” she says, her own authority a wall against magic.

I thank her before Jay can say anything else and pull him toward the door. She makes to follow when a few pupils drift over to the playground and ask if she can watch them on the slide, trapping her in her authority neatly.

Jay lets out a huge sigh of relief when we’re outside and removes his thumb from his mouth. “That wath not fun at all!”

“I had wondered why you didn’t stop,” I say as we head toward the car I’ve rented.

“It wath making her twitch,” he says. “And the bindingth thhe had on her own mind needed twitching a lot.” He shudders, not entirely faking it.

“The school is better now?”

“A little. You gave it room to get better,” he says proudly and hops into the car. “Now can we go away from here?”

“I could enrol you, you know.”

Jay’s eyes narrow to slits at that. He opens his mouth to reply, snaps it shut and just glowers at me when nothing suitable comes to him.

I grin and drive out into the street, circling the school once just for the glare he gives me and drive away, wondering how much else in the world is made so safe it is a kind of wound. And I have to wonder how much magic causes that: magicians defend the world against creatures from Outside, but perhaps – just perhaps – we might do the job too well at times. After all, a nightmare is a kind of dream and we protect the world against many nightmares.


There are things it is easy to forget if you’ve been a magician long enough. I imagine the police have this problem as well: you become something, you take up a mantle to help others, and you spend much of your time seeing the worst that the world has to offer. Magic can be like that: sometimes the only solution to a maze is to burn it down to ashes and walk through the result. Nevermind that the maze could be a home, an entire life, a way of seeing the world. You do what has to be done, and if you’re smart about it you learn to never mourn afterwards.

I spent many years in bars. I haven’t as much since a creature from Outside the universe bound himself to me. As such entities go, Jay is low-maintenance: give him a phone, tablet and internet connection, access to games and he’s happier than creatures that need sacrifices of puppies or banking executives. I’ve left him playing games and just gone out to walk, listening to the world, letting the magic out. I fix a few cars, shore up a sewer line, ease the atmosphere in one home a little to prevent another fight the kids will hear. I’ve done some terrible and impressive magic in my time, but this is what I enjoy: the small things, the little nudges toward making lives a little better.

A magician stands between the world and awful things beyond it seeking entrance. Using magic is just a small part of my nature, but the magic is why I became a magician. Sometimes one just gets so tired of being a wall. I slip out of side streets and into fields left fallow, waiting for a new season or perhaps to be host to some music festival or rally. The grass will remain. Sometimes what is able to bend is stronger than what which won’t. It’s hard to remember that. I met an exorcist once who explained his nature to me as, “I am an exorcist; we break before we bend” and being a magician is often the same: if we bend, something from Outside can enter the universe, can damage it, can hurt people.

But if we never bend –. I don’t know. Magicians don’t last, as a rule. The magic eats us up from the inside out, or we die trying to stop something or the last finally catches up with us. There has to be a balance between breaking and bending, between being river and rock. I haven’t found it. I don’t even know how to find it. I walk over grass that will survive me and wonder if perhaps magicians make the universe weak. Would the universe be strong against such things if we were not a wall against them? It’s one thing to think, but not something we can just decide to test. Not something I can risk the lives some Entities might destroy on.

So I turn back, halfway down the field, and walk back to pavement and deep into the town, touch the world with a few more small magics, focusing on that. Losing myself in it until I reach the hotel. Jay is sitting on his bed and offers up a huge grin when he sees me and begins burbling about a computer game he’s loving. I let the words wash over me, let his sheer enthusiasm ease my worries a little. There are creatures from Outside the universe like Jay, who see the universe as the best place to visit, who see it like a haven or tourist destination all rolled into one.

I think the world needs more of them. I suspect – I know – I need to meet more. I’ve met a few before, made deals with them, but far more I’ve bound or banished because it seemed necessary at the time. For now I just sit, and listen, and hope that Jay being bound to me makes me able to bend a little more than I think I can. I give him more money to buy some new games with, and Jay is wise enough not to ask me any questions at all.
Exhaling Catalysts Weekly Prompt:“a walk through the field is more about life than the walk itself, for the blades of grass that give way, hold the greater strength”

Wednesday, June 04, 2014


Small town motels tend to be cheap and grim affairs, though the one Jay and I ended up in last night is at least clean even if the mattress felt like sleeping on a rock filled with spikes. I’m stretching slowly when Jay pads into my room, cell phone clutched tight in his right hand. Jay looks to be ten but he isn’t at all, a creature from far Outside the universe bound into my service. Entering the universe when so newly born damaged him; I haven’t helped since, but he doesn’t blame me at all.

He says he does sometimes, but only because he knows it would make me feel better.

“Honcho; my phone doethn’t have a battery in it.” He holds it up, eyes narrowing, pale within a pale face. “It did when I went to thleep.”

“Yes. I took it out.”

“Why?” he snaps. I say nothing. “I could bind electrithity to it and make it work!”

“And not have the phone explode?” Jay says nothing in turn, glaring at me. The lisp is part of the damage to himself from entering the universe; that he sucks on his thumb in stress now is entirely my fault. He refuses to get angry with me over it, not truly. This – this I’m not as sure about.

“Magithans might not use phoneth, but other people do.” He crosses his arms. “I want it back.” He doesn’t add ‘now’, but we both hear the unsaid word; I’m not sure which of us is more surprised.

“It’s not a magician thing. It’s something else. I’m not going to be near any phone today; it isn’t safe.”

Jay deflates a little at that. “You could have just thaid that,” he mutters. “We didn’t have to have a fight.”

I think I manage to fight back a grin. “You consider that a fight?”

“Yeth! And that wath too,” he adds, his attempted glare spoiled by a grin trying to fight free of the scowl.

I shake my head and toss the sheets back onto the bed, grabbing my small duffel bag. “We’ll head out the back way and walk in the woods.”

“There’th thomething dangerouth in the woods?”

“No. Nothing at all.”

Jay goes and gets his own bag, waiting in the hallway. “I can’t use my phone becauthe...?” he says as we head outside, poking me in the side with a finger for a response.

“It’s Mother’s Day.”

Jay scratches his head. “Okay?”

“It’s a day devoted to being kind to mothers. You’ve met mine.”

Jay offers up a small nod. It wasn’t as bad as meeting my sister was; Jay ended up screaming at my sister to stop hurting me with words. But it was enough that he puts his phone into his pocket without another word.

“She’ll try and call me. She has a small talent, enough on a day like today to make phones ring. Perhaps even to try and make me answer them.”

“Oh,” he says in a very small voice.

I say nothing else as we cut through the parking lot and a small field leading into the woods proper. The forest is thick about the town and I hurry into it, seeking paths where we won’t meet hikers. Jay follows and is silent for almost two minutes.

“I could bind my phone tho no one can call me?”

“It might not stop her.” I wait until he scrambles over a log and beside me. “You don’t have to check your phone for messages every day, you know.”

“Checking email promptly helpth to keep the monthters in the internet locked inthide it,” he says. I know there are – forces, entities from Outside somewhere in the internet. It’s enough to avoid such things entirely; Jay radiates sincerity as I look at him.

“You’re trying too hard.”

He pouts. “But –.”

“But nothing. Imagine if your mother wanted to speak with you, kiddo.”

Jay stops dead at that, eyes growing wide.

“Jay?” I say, softly.

He lets out a whimper of fear and moves so fast I fall back into a tree as he impacts hard into my chest, shoving his right cheek against my chest and sucking violently on his right thumb before he’s simply gone: vanished from sight, even from all the ways in which a magician can see the world, though I can still feel and hear him.

“Jay.” I wrap my arms gently around him and he quivers, still hidden. Still terrified. He hasn’t had to move like he can in a long time. “It’s okay,” I say. “I didn’t think. I didn’t mean to hurt you.”

“Really?” His voice is thin, scared, and he becomes visible, pulling his thumb free of his mouth with an effort as he lets me hold him, trembling still.

I reach down and raise his chin gently. “I think you know better than to doubt that.”

Some colour seeps into his cheeks as he blushes. He doesn’t offer up what his mom was, or whatever she must have tried to do to him. I hold him until he finally lets go on his own a good ten minutes later. It’s been weeks since he’s felt the need to cling, to emphasize the bindings between us this hard.

“Feeling better?”

“No,” he says, then pulls out the ghost of a grin from somewhere. “Can I get my battery back now?”


Jay sticks out his tongue at that and looks a little better, walks a few steps and then stops. “Nathen?”

He doesn’t use my real name often, and not only because I like to keep it private. “Yes?”

“There ith a day for fatherth too?”

“Like Mother’s Day? Yes.”

Jay knows I killed my father, though no details as to the kind of magic my father was doing, or why it was necessary. He’s never asked; for all I know it’s entirely normal in the part of Outside he is from for childen to destroy parents. He is quiet for a little while, then ventures: “Ith it going to be worthe than today?”

“Probably not.”

“Oh. Good.” And he says nothing else at all, not even asking about his phone, just walks over beside me and wraps a hand in mine to squeeze it. Offering strength, as best he can.

I squeeze his hand in turn, and ask no questions about his mother, or his family at all. We just walk through the woods until day slowly turns into night, keeping company with our silences. There are days, and today is sometimes one of those, where I wish I’d never become a magician at all. I let out a breath and pull the battery for Jay’s phone from out of the air beside me.

He takes it, then places it in his other pocket without a word.

I think today might turn out be a good day after all.