Monday, July 28, 2014


Derek Yakinov is a tall, jowly man with cool eyes and a grim expression. That he doesn’t want me here is a given, but the quarry we are in is empty save for him and a handful of jumpy construction workers: everyone else has been quitting, calling in sick or off from various accidents.

“My wife emailed you,” he says, as if it’s obvious his wife would believe in a magician with a webpage rather than he. “I’ve lost two-thirds of my workforce in two weeks. No one knows why. I had a priest in last week; he was about as useless as pissing into the wind, so don’t expect to get paid until I see some results.”

“Of course not.” I smile kindly; he doesn’t so much as twitch. I turn in a slow circle, taking in the quarry. Nothing jumps out: no echo of a curse, no hate directed at the site that could manifest as a psychic wound – which is a lot less common than new age books claim – no hint of someone with a minor talent shoving magic at this place. And yet everyone is jumpy, scared, eyes darting frantically into shadows.

“Well? Think it’s an ancient Indian burial ground?” he says.

I raise my estimation of him a couple of notches and grin. “I actually ran into that once in Canada. I had to make up a story as the client refused to believe the truth. As for here: not sure yet. The workers know the priest was here?”

He nods.

“Huh. That should have had an effect, or at least left a mark.” I turn again, letting my senses expand further. Nothing. Even the fear of the men is leaving nothing I can sense, which means someone – or thing – is masking itself, and masking that masking as well. Which means nothing good at all. I walk about the property. There is nothing in this place to make decent wards with, so I use my own energy to weave basic wards and protections against harm both real and imagined.

The other workers have all left by the time I am finished; only Derek remains, waiting and watching. I’m almost positive he’s not involved, but I’m not certain. He scowls as I walk back.

“The priest did more.”

“I imagine so. Jay.”

Jay steps into the world and out of hiding; he looks to be a kid of about ten, small and pale, but he’s not human at all and from far Outside the universe. He can hide better than anything I’ve ever seen, he’s tough and bound into my service and sees the world as bindings to an extent I cannot manage and I’m very good at bindings.

Derek jumps, eyes wide in shock.


Jay gnaws on his lower lip for a few seconds. “It’th thomething from Outthide, but it ith hiding real good,” he says, his lisp even more thick and pronounced than usual.

There are six trucks still on the lot and two bobcats. One of the bobcats roars to life and guns across the gravel in moments, driving over Jay even as I shove the client aside.
I reach out: wind, will, anger. I grab the bobcat with that and hurl it through the air into the other one with a gesture as Jay scrambles to his feet. He’s a little bruised but tough, like I said. And made himself a target.

“What?” Derek says, eyes wild.

“Magic. You asked for a magician, you get one. This time,” I say, holding his gaze and threading power into the words. Enough to numb the shock, and bind him against harm if he does turn out to be involved in this.

Jay is beside me in an inhuman blur and grins. “I drew the Outthider out!”

“Believe it or not, I did notice.”

He sticks his tongue out at that.

The bobcats have righted themselves, space twisting to accommodate them, all eight vehicles hurling toward us. I can hear horns and diesel I the distance, feel the earth rumble a little underfoot.

“Derek. How many vehicles are at this quarry every day?”


“And you got a good deal on renting them, yes?”

“Uhm, yeah?”

“Fantastic. Jay, over to the left. Say nothing.”

He nods, and moves. We wait, and all six trucks barrel toward Jay. I drop the wards and two veer toward me: they hid me, it seems, but at least I know Jay isn’t their primary target. I throw the warding up over Derek, gather wind from outside the quarry and drag it in. It takes time I don’t have; one of the trucks strikes hard. My personal wards buckle but hold; I’m flung back and roll with it, using the wind as cushion and weapon; both trucks veering at me hit a ramp of wind and hurl through the air like a cheap movie special effect.

“Honcho!” Jay is beside me in moments, eyes wide and scared.

“I’m fine. Up for drawing the Outsider out?”

“Huh?” The kid just stares up at me in confusion.

“It is an Outsider, yes?”

“Yeth? But I think the vehicleth are the Outthider?”

I blink. “You’re seriously suggesting that something entered the universe from Outside, had power enough to choose its own form entirely and became a fleet of construction vehicles?”

Jay nods. “Maybe they really liked the tranthformerth?”

I rub the bridge of my nose as two of the trucks barrel down on us and hold out my hand. “Hold.

Both vehicles shudder to a halt at the force of the command.

“I am the wandering magician.”

The trucks cease straining against the command, engines a low growl.

“I am very good at binding and banishing Outsiders. I am going to assume you know this, and that I could banish you. I would prefer to know why you are here and to what end.”

The other vehicles have arrived, circling the quarry with lights trained on us.

One of the trucks moves forward, speakers crackling. The voice that comes out is a high, flat whistle. “Another magician found me, and said we would be spared banishment if you were destroyed.”

“And do you/we believe that?”

Silence answers that.

“Right. Why are you here?”

“If we are to be in this universe, I thought it would be best to be helpful.”

“So you became a fleet of construction vehicles.” It sounds no less silly this time around, but I guess I should be really happy if never occurred to the entity to become bacteria. “You were harming people to draw me out.”


The word is soft, bitter. I pull on that, find the binding within it and unmake it. “You don’t need to now.”

A few horns go off. I assume this is a cheer.

I unwrap the last of the binding around Derek, pulling energy back into myself. Collapsing would be a bad idea at this point. “Your move. Do you want to keep a fleet of aware vehicles?”

He opens his mouth, closes it, then just nods, looking numb. I don’t try bindings to help or hinder this, just leave it for him to process as he can. He doesn’t attempt anything against me or command the vehicles in a voice of power, all of which is something of a relief that my instincts about him were at least correct.

“If you’re asked: we warded you to a standstill and got away. Which we’ve done, though with words instead. Deal?”

“A deal,” the entity says.

I nod, and Derek pulls money from his wallet and hands it over. I take it before Jay can snag it, since we need money for more things than his cell phone, thank him for the education and the experience and leave. The vehicles let us depart in silence.

“Honcho?” Jay says after a couple of minutes; we’d not quite at our car yet. I’m too tired to walk fast right now. “You’re being really quiet.”

“Just wondering how many other Outsiders have entered the universe and done things like that. It’s not a comforting thought.”

“But it wath being helpful,” he protests.

“I know. But it isn’t human. You’re not human, Jay. You see the world differently than we do, and it’s not a bad thing – not always – but it does mean what an Outsider thinks is being helpful won’t always be that.”

“But you didn’t bind it.”

“I am tired, Jay.”

Jay snorts at that. “You’d do it anyway if you thought they were a threat to the univerthe, honcho.”

“A good point.” He grins hugely at that. “Sometimes we need to trust, even if we shouldn’t. Perhaps especially if we shouldn’t.” I pull out a couple of twenties from the money Derek gave me. “Here.”

Jay’s eyes narrow to slits. “That’th not fair at all.”

“I know. You could buy games for your phone.”

“I can’t now,” he mutters, and stomps his way to the car. “Maybe uth Outthiderth hate humanth becauthe you’re all really mean!”

I start laughing at that, and he turns and glares, then collapses into laughter as well.

“One twenty on games, okay?” I say as I get into the car.

He plops down into the passenger seat and nods firmly, poking at his phone as I drive toward the highway. And some small part of me wonders if there was a truth under those words, and to what extent the bindings and banishings of magicians have engendered hate.

I turn on the radio and try to drown my thoughts in music.

It doesn’t work.

Once upon

Once upon a time, there was a grandmother who loved a wolf, a wolf who mourned her death so much he dressed up as her, and a girl who killed the wolf because she was unable to accept a love that didn’t fit into her worldview.

Once upon a time, there was a wicked fairy godmother who cursed a princess to always appear as she was, and no amount of magic or plastic surgery would ever change that.

Once upon a time, there was stepmother who was not wicked at all but no one could bring themselves to believe it so: in the end, not even she could, and it went so very bad for everyone.

Once upon a time, there was a good fairy godmother who didn’t grant a single wish and inspired princesses and princes, stableboys and country lasses to improve their own lives instead of waiting for her to come: there are no stories about her.

Once upon a time, there was an evil witch who would curse her enemies with tooth rot and let the dentists take care of the rest of her work for her.

Once upon a time, there was a hero who rescued so many damsels in distress that the kingdom plum ran out of them; in order to keep him happy, the damsels began capturing each other using elaborate disguises to fool him.

Once upon a time, there was a dragon who let himself be slain by the knight in the sure and certain knowledge that his hoard of gold would devastate the local economy.

Once upon a time, there was a wolf and three little pigs and they made a reality TV show together and lived happily ever after.

Saturday, July 26, 2014


Once upon a time there was a prince rescuing a princess, because it happened that way and no one thought anything more of it.

Once upon a time, there was a monster who died when the world moved on, for Medusa was tricked into taking a selfie.

Once upon a time, a dragon burned down a castle and the king rejoiced because he had insured the castle against dragons.

Once upon a time, a princess rescued a prince and he refused to marry her (not that she asked) and he sulked about the incident for years.

Once upon a time, there was a witch in the woods who lured two children into her home with a promise of free wi-fi.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014


The world doesn’t have secret rulers. Most of the time, I think it’s because no one wants the resulting headaches and paperwork. But it does have vested interests, powers who seek to keep their power and prevent it from being lost. The Power that holds together corporations is a secretary named Maureen, while banks have the Bank, a shadowy organization that exists to fund magicians with money on the condition that magicians do not rock the boat – perhaps meaning theirs or the world entire. A magician can do disturbing and shattering things with magic; if given enough money, they never even think to try most of them.

Most magicians accept the money the banks offer them, with reservations; others, such as I, avoid it. Until this week I hadn’t gone as far as to declare war against the Bank, but Jay had stolen money from an ATM to help someone – he’s not human, from far outside the universe and bound into my service. Which meant the banks came after me, and tried to insist I use the account my father left me. I responded by giving Jay my power, and he used his own talent for binding to take the account and give it to someone else. As far as I was concerned, it solved a problem. As far as they were concerned, it was impossible.

And banks don’t like impossible things unless they are doing it and it involves money. Which is why Jay is checking the email account Charlie set up for me jobs while I’m watching the small cheap lotto tickets I’m buying not win money. A magician is many things, and part of that lets us bend the universe in our favour as we need to. Some other force was bending it back against me. I assume the banks were paying another magician, which is the only reason I haven’t pushed the issue yet.

“Honcho?” Jay says. “You have thix emailth from one perthon wanting a love thpell and willing to pay a lot of money.”

“What’s a lot?” The kid tells me. I take the phone, look at the total, hand it back. “Who and where are they?”

Jay pokes at the screen on his phone. “In thith town, and a ten minute walk away. It’th a trap?”

“I’d like to say yes, but I imagine there are people who would pay ten million dollars for a love spell.” I sip the last of the coffee I’ve been drinking for an hour, consider options. We’re not broke, not yet: I can pay Jay’s cell phone bill for at least two months if he doesn’t buy any new games, and the car Lucas bought me to pay back a favour is running fine. If we just fill it with gas and sleep in it we’ll get by, but somehow I doubt the Bank will sit back and let that happen.

“Make the appointment.”

Jay taps his phone a bit. “We’re to meet her at her houthe in an hour; I thaid you’d be bringing along your familiar,” he says with a huge grin.

I just grin and stand, heading out the door. Jay follows quickly; I’ve told him that what happened with the banks wasn’t his fault, but I had to order him – almost as master to servant – to stop him from continuing to apologize. Everyone makes mistakes, I’d said, and he’d said I didn’t, and I asked what he was and he looked so stricken it took me over five minutes to get him to stuck sucking on his right thumb in fear at that. I’d pointed out the joke had been a mistake, and he was slowly getting around to that.

Jay looks to be ten; he’s not but he hides his true nature with a skill I’ve never encountered before and mostly acts likes any normal kid, even if he’s pale and has a pronounced lisp. I walk slowly and he keeps beside me the whole way, trying not to look worried and failing entirely.


“You wouldn’t be getting into thith trap if not for me,” bursts out of him.

“I know that, kiddo. I asked you to change my account with the bank; I knew there’d be fallout. Consider this me testing what the banks can do. Other magicians are paying attention to this; I can feel presences touch the air, scrying from other cities and towns. Word is getting out: there is only so much the banks can do, and probably less they dare do, or their hold over every magician will be broken once every account shuts down.”

“And that’th worth thith?” he demands.

“They’re making magicians soft, so yes. I think so. I would have done that on my own long ago if I thought I could pull it off. Think of yourself as a tool I’m using, okay? Like a – a game on your phone, and you’re a cheat code I can press?”

That wins a startled giggle. “You know I’m going to tell Charlie I’m a cheat code the next time thhe callth to talk.”

“I’m sure.” I ruffle his hair and he relaxes a little, not even thinking of sucking his thumb. He does it when stressed, thanks to my damaging his nature a while back. He refused to blame me for it; Charlie couldn’t not blame me, so she left to travel on her own. He doesn’t blame me for that either, and has no clue that might hurt at all.

The house we were called to is at the edge of the town, the closest thing they have to a mansion: stone walls, wrought iron fencing, a police car parked inside. Which could complicate: the police are seldom unaware that magic exists, if they’re at all competent at their jobs. Listen to enough stories and you eventually sift some truth out of them.

“Who lives here?”

“Mark Lamproth and hith wife Tabitha. Thhe called becauthe thhe doethn’t want Mark cheating on her anymore and thaid that thhe can pay uth in inthtallmentth,” he says quickly.

I grunt and slow my pace as Jay puts his phone away. A magician is a wall between the universe and what lies Outside; magic is only a part of that, but sometimes a very important one. Will. Need. Desire. I open my senses, and get nothing. A home this valuable would have wards, in the general course of things, even if they were just shadow-energies made by ownership and greed. This place has nothing at all.

Hide, I send to Jay through the bindings between us. He’s gone between one moment and the next; hiding so well the world itself can’t find him. Some day I need to find out where he even goes when he does that, but I shove the thought aside for later. The Bank is made out of some of what makes magicians: need, desire, wishing, will. But greed comes before all other things, in the end. I am a magician, and what I am greedy for is nothing those who desire power could understand.

I draw that truth up about me, throw my senses wide and pull in every hurt the banks have caused, each needless wound and baseless pain ignored by those who think people are numbers, who reduce the world to objects and things. The house remains, solid and seemingly real. A small part of me wants to enter, if only to see how it would try and eat me, but I have responsibilities.

I smile, and thread power into my voice. “I foreclose you,” I whisper, and it’s almost too easy to hurl what people feel about banks into the home and watch it dissipate into nothing in a moment. The police car remains, along with a more mundane house on the lot. I unweave the power before it can affect the real house even as cold metal presses to the back of my head.

“You are welcome to fire, officer, but your home will be repossessed. Definitely by the banks, and probably by some very angry people who haven’t forgiven you for killing them. I like to take re-possession literally when I can.”

“My wife has ten million dollars on our bank account; it wasn’t there last night,” he says, his voice deadly calm. He is a police officer, and he knows the gun will fire: I don’t have time to bend enough magic to break that certainty, so I step sideways to where the bullet isn’t.

“I am a magician,” I say softly, “if we could simply be killed by bullets, there would be far fewer of us in this world. Your wife made a deal with the Bank, and I imagine you made one as well.”

The deputy is a tall, stern man with a military haircut and a second gun drawn swiftly even as I speak.

“I don’t know what you are in debt because of, and frankly I don’t much care either.” I reach out, grab his senses, bind them into mine and let me see the path the bullet he fired will take.

He goes still. His wife is inside, waiting, and there are two walls, and then her. I reach out my will, and push the bullet sideways. It resists, but the deputy doesn’t want his wife to die and that gives me an edge. The deputy stares at his house, then at me, and puts both his guns away. “I was told you wouldn’t be able to avoid both guns.”

I shrug easily; I’m tired, but I’m damned if I’m letting him see it. “I have been a magician for ten yours. You’re hardly the first person to try and kill me.”

He looks away at that. “I –.”

“Go home. Talk to her. Don’t touch their money. A bank that didn’t make a profit wouldn’t be in business.”

He nods and heads down the driveway to his house. I turn and walk away, heading into town again. I made it halfway before I have to sit down and rest; It’s been easily two weeks since I pulled that much power at once. The Bank didn’t expect me to pull this off, but that doesn’t mean they’ll let me walk away without something to show for it. For a moment I almost consider leaving Jay to hide and dealing with it alone, but it wouldn’t be fair to him at all.


Jay appears, looking relieved I’m okay and plopping down beside me. “You puthhed yourthelf too hard!”

“I know. I’m going to need you to find a real job for us. We’re going to need the money before this is through.”

“Before what ith?”

“I don’t know. It depends on what the Bank does next.” I hope my smile doesn’t look as evil as it feels, but Jay shrinks back a little and just nods, offering nothing else.

I stand, walking back to the car. I don’t borrow energy from him, not yet, but I begin making wards for us and the car, drawing up wind and asphalt and wrapping a blanket of wi-fi messages about it all. It won’t stop them, but it will slow them down a little. I don’t think the global economy would collapse if the Bank did, but I have no way of knowing. Which means we need to make sure everyone wins.

I just wish I had some idea how to do that.

Part of Chapter 12

The magician looks tired; he sits at the table, the rest of us following suit. Jay looks curious; I'm trying to avoid the magician's gaze. Whatever he is, Roan respects him and that's enough to make me not want to wave the fact that I do curses in his face. "I didn't come here because of Lucas, not directly. This city already has a magician."
        Roan doesn't move her wheelchair back from the table; the magician doesn't flinch even a little at the glare she levels on him. “Pardon me?”
        “When did you stop being a magician?” He asks softly, and she goes still at whatever she sees in his face. It’s not pity; I don’t know what it is. Something private between magicians.
        “When my legs were fucking eaten,” Roan says harshly. "You may have noticed that."
        “You didn’t cast the magic aside,” he says. “I’m sorry, but you didn’t.”
        “Honcho? I'm confuthed,” Jay says. “I thought Roan wanted her legth eaten off?”
        Roan is silent for a few seconds. “Why do you think anyone would want that?”
        Jay scoots back a little in his chair at her expression, looking baffled. “Becauthe being in that powerchair ith tho much cooler than walking. Could I try it?”
        Roan blinks. The magician buries his face in his hands. A small, horrible part of me wants to laugh at the sheer absurdity of it all.
        “You can stop talking anytime now, Jay,” the magician says.
        “I didn’t mean with her in it, of courthe!” he says.
        “Of course not.” Roan looks dazed. “How silly of me. I have a spare chair in the garage with a key in it; you could try that on the driveway?”
        “Really? Thankth!” Jay grins and is gone from the table in a blur to the sound of doors opening and closing in rapid succession.
        Roan smiles at the magician. “I haven’t seen you that discomfited since the incident in the Grand Canyon.”
        He smiles back. “You’re lucky you don’t have an artificial limb; he would have insisted on trying to fix it for you.”
        “He thinks I wanted this. Do you?”
        “Jay doesn’t see the world in ways humans do.”
        “That isn’t an answer.”
        “You have wards about this place,” he says softly. “You bound Lucas’s power, Roan. You can speak in the voice of a magician, and you think you somehow stopped being one? Where, why, and when?”
        “You know the fucking answer to that,” she snaps.
        “You buried much of your power, yes. But you did not renounce it nor set it aside. You think this would still be being paid for if you had,” the magician asks, gesturing to the house around us. “I sent Jay here because you were not holding the city together well enough, Roan. I did not know why then. I’m not arrogant to believe I do now.”

Friday, July 18, 2014

The glorious failure

The Lucas Series story is done. 12 chapters, 23,000 and change words. I had a plot, and characters, but the plot decided to die in chapter 3 when one character objected to being cursed even minutely in the strongest terms and certain plot threads felt too closely tied in tone and nature to Roadside Attractions at the End of the World, a novel I first wrote in 2007 (and revised in 2009). Some of it was the nature of a magic involving cursing, some a character I excised from the draft. Which also removed most of the role for a major character. And so the story fell apart entirely despite efforts to shore up and fix the plot.

The characters worked, though the story became less dark than it should have; some characters never got a chance to shine at all, and eventually I mean to rectify that. Point of order: I wrote 23,000 words in 18 days. To some, that might seem like a lot but the first 7K were on the first day: everything after became a bit of a slog, for many reasons, enough that only 2 of the 12 chapters will survive semi-intact in the next version.

Things to fix:
  • This story wanted to be a novel. I knew I didn’t have the time to give a novel treatment what it deserved. A first draft is basically the writer telling themselves how the story works, and I knew this wouldn’t even be that at this point.
  • It needs to be told from multiple POVs: Taylor needs a POV chapter (at least one) since he’s too damn shy otherwise. Also, with a longer timeframe Rico could show up and having to explain to your boyfriend exactly why you have a friend he doesn’t know, a magician and a ten year old kid staying at their condo will be a scene that practically writes itself.
  • Kells and Eric both got shafted, plot and story wise. They need bigger roles and a lot more time in the story. Also, Lucas’ family needs to be involved.
  • I need to work out the actual feel of a magic based on cursing a lot better, and have Lucas use it more often as well as having it use him. This is magic in the horrible evil witch sense of things and the story should be made dark and ugly because of it.
  • The story is character-based. My idea of doing such a story with a friend and publishing it online won’t work too well with such a story; I’m not a person who writes in chapters by nature, and the beats required for a serial story don’t fit my writing style for such stories; will need to re-think the approach toward one. 

Saturday, July 12, 2014

And there is now a Jay in the Lucas series...

It doesn’t take long to hear footsteps; I duck behind a couple of trees and spot a pale boy of about ten wandering along with headphones in his ears. Behind him is what appears to be a thin older man who is moving too swiftly and silently to be human at all. I hesitate, because it seems too quick and far too easy, and the man moves. The kid is faster, so quick I barely catch it as he spins and slams a palm inrto the old man’s chest with a shout of “Hi-ya!”

The old man – whatever he was – dissolves into shadows that pull apart like cheap toffee. The kid bounces happily from foot to foot and whoops in joy. I remember what Roan said about monsters and Outsiders fighting each other for power and prestige, take a deep breath. I broke my arm in four places when I was seven. I pull up the memory of that, think of breaking bones as a curse, try to will the pressure inside my head from the talent to grow and hurl it right at the kid.

He spins. Seeing me or sensing me, but the curse slams into him regardless, and the idea of breaking bones punches him clear through at least a dozen trees into the forest. I make my way back onto the path slowly, trying to catch my breath. I feel as though I’ve just ran a three-minute mile and my head doesn’t hurt at all.

Which means I’ve nothing to give when the kid is simply there, standing on the path and staring up at me with a shocked look on his face. His clothing is torn and dirty but he doesn’t have a single scratch on his skin. “What wath that for?” he demands with a furious glare up at me.


“You hurt me!” His hands unclench from his sides and he lifts up his right hand to reveal one small, broken molar. No blood on his mouth or the tooth. “Thee?”

I open my mouth, snap it shut after. “What are you?”

“Are you thtupid? I am hurt. Honcho thaid I could deal with the troubleth in thith thity just fine and then you – you – I don’t even know you and that wath a killing magic! What kind of perthon trieth to kill thomeone they don’t even know?” he finishes, and it is the wounded hurt in his face that forces me back a few steps rather than his anger.

“I was hunting monsters to – to try and become a magician. I think,” I whisper, and it sounds stupid even as I say it.

“Oh.” The kid blinks once at that. “You thought I wath a monthter?”

“You moved faster than humans do.”

“Oh!” He actually smacks himself on the forehead with his left palm at that. “I wath buthy trying to banithh the lurker and you thaw....” He trails off.

“I thought I was a bigger monster taking out the competition.”

The kid’s jaw drops at that and he stares up at me as if I had at least four heads, then breaks into a huge grin. “You thought I was thtrong?”


“Awethome! I’m glad you hit me now,’ he says happily, then opens his mouth wide and shoves his tooth to the back, eyes unfocusing for a second before he pulls his hand out and rubs his jaw a little. “That’th better, but it thtill feelth weird.”

“You still have a lisp.”

He looks confused, then grins again. “I alwayth have that,” and thrust out his right hand. “I’m Jay.”

“Lucas.” His grip doesn’t break my hand. I’m not eaten or worse. I have no idea if that is a good thing or not.

“I think Luke thoundth better,” he says seriously. “I’m going to call you that.”


“Good!” He beams up at me and turns and heads further into the park. “I can find monthterth for you.”


My head is aching a little again, which I take to be a good sign if I need to curse anyone. I follow, my way more clumsy and loud but Jay doesn’t seem all that worried by that as he grabs my right hand and pulls me around trees and roots, not even bothering to suggest either of us use phones as flashlights. I just try not to fall, and come to a halt as he does to see something moving between trees. It is tall, at least ten feet in height, thin and grey, looking for all the world like a vine growing up into the sky as it flows and moves along the ground, sprouting limbs and shoots like blades that move about trees.

Jay just stands, not moving, actually shutting up. And that’s enough for me to pause and watch as whatever this creature is continues to move. It’s hard to make out with just moonlight, but I’m almost certain it is removing dead branches.

“Altho,” Jay says without looking over, “putting birdth nethtth back into plathe.”


“Those, yup! And it hath teeth, and clawth, so you can kill thith monthter right now.”

I stare at the moving vine-creature, then down at Jay. “Please tell me you’re not trying to be subtle?”

The kid crosses his arms. “I might be!”

I count to ten silently in order to stop myself from laughing. “Yelling at someone doesn’t work if you’re trying to be subtle.”

“Oh.” He thinks that over. “It could be a double bluff?”

“Look, I meant – hell, I don’t know what I mean. I have a talent to curse things and I need to control it. Becoming a magician could do that, and the only way I think it happens is if you defeat monsters. Unless I’m wrong?”

Jay scratches his head and begins walking back toward the trail. “You’re athking me?”

“You do seem to know stuff,” I say, as patiently as I can manage.

“I do?” He looks shocked at that, then breaks into another huge grin and pumps the air with one fist. “That’th awethome, but it’th not true at all. I don’t know how people become magithans at all; Honcho doethn’t talk about it.”

“So this Honcho person is a magician?”


“And you are?” I press.

“Hith friend,” Jay snaps, as if that should be obvious.  

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Lucas Series: Chapter 1

I’m not dead enough when my ex-girlfriend breaks into my apartment. Dead asleep, I mean, though not for want of trying. The only reason I hear the door give is because it’s finally quiet: the screaming from the asshole up in 402 had stopped yesterday, and I’m almost sure it’s my fault that the screams were replaced with sirens this morning. I self-medicated that thought with the last of the booze above the fridge, ignored the landlord screaming about rent somewhere in all that. But Kelly breaking the door in with her shoulder wakes me from my tangle of filthy sheets and clothing in the middle of the floor.

I figured someone would come eventually once bills stopped being paid and I didn’t show up for work. I’m not sure what to make of the fact that it took almost a week, trying to put it all together in my head when she stares down at me as if she’s never seen me before, with something that is at least one part pity to two parts shock. Throw in disgust and horror and you have the cocktail of my life for the last few days.

I don’t want to kill her, but I’m not sure I can stop myself.

“Lucas?” she says, sounding as if she wasn’t certain.

I wanted to say: it’s only been a week. Or ask: am I that far gone? but all that comes out is: “Go away, Kells.”

Everyone else calls her Kelly. That pulls her into the room. It’s a cheap bachelor deal: room for a double bed, couch, tv on a dresser, bathroom and the microwave stand it advertised as a ‘kitchen’ taking up a whole wall. It wasn’t pretty when I moved in, but right now it’s all discarded garbage, ruined clothing and a weeks worth of BO making some death metal music jam of smells.

Kelly doesn’t even try for her retail-mask of a smile, just crouches down without coming closer like I’m some homeless man in a back alley she’s half-scared of catching rabies from. “Lucas.” She pauses, then: “Eric called me when you missed the match at his place last night. You don’t miss the match for anything.”

Not even your birthday, I almost say, catch myself. Even this far gone I can do that much. It had been our first big fight since we’d moved in together last year, before everything fell apart between us. She’s staring at me, waiting, and I fumble toward words. “I’m fine. Go away.”

“Fine.” She lets out a short bark and stands, gesturing to compass the room sharply with both hands; her voice is calm, her anger in movement like it always is. “Show me how this is fine.”

I look around, half against my will. It’s been almost a week. I haven’t done dishes. Bathed. Laundry. I’ve done nothing but finish the last of the food, drink, and sleep. I’ve been terrified to watch TV, piss-pants scared to go outside. I don’t know why that led to letting the apartment fall apart. I stand on my second try, the bed not wanting to let go of me, move into the bathroom. There is black mold all over the ceiling; I could have sworn it wasn’t there last week.

“I wanted my outside to mirror the inside.” I don’t know if Kelly hears me, or even if I speak out loud. I splash water into my face, run some through my hair, remember working in a McDonalds years back: my hair feels like the grease trap. Has it been just one week? I don’t know. I’m scared to ask. She hasn’t called the police yet, or even Eric. He and I’ve been friends for over ten years and always watched the football matches together – insisting on calling it that and not soccer – and there had been a big match coming up. I’m sure of that, even if I can’t quite recall what.

I turn on the bathtub and dunk my head under ice water until the cold punishes me awake, stagger up, shake it off and go back into the room proper. Kelly is close to the door. She hasn’t bolted but her cell phone is in her right hand like a talisman. I don’t think she trusts me right now. Only fair. I don’t either. There is a buzzing behind my eyes, between them. I shudder from it, take a breath, manage another without coughing.

“You have a cig? I ran out four days ago.” For some reason, this seems important.

“You haven’t been out for cigarettes.” Her words are careful. Measured. “Why?” she says then. To that. To everything.

“I’m scared,” I say, to the everything, and it is terribly easy to say.

“All right. I called a cab; they’ll take us to the hospital, you can be checked out. I have an aunt who snapped once: she collected glass butterflies and one day she just broke them all and my uncle came come to find her eating them. She had a vacation, took a couple of drugs for a few weeks and was fine after that. No one is okay all the time.”

“No shrinks. I’m not –.”

“Lucas. You missed the game,” she says, and the edge under that catches me like a fish, shakes me all over.

“I don’t know what’s happening to me.”

“That’s what hospitals are for. Come on,” she says, and I take one step. Another. The first step is hard, the ones after it easier. I make it to the hallway, follow her down the stairs. I smell ripe, sour and overdone but she doesn’t say a word in protest. Part of me goes: you were never worthy of her, but I shove it aside and follow her out into the dark.

It’s raining a little as we get outside and I let the rain hit me, pretend it can wash away anything that matters. I want to say: “Look, Kells, I’m not crazy,” but I have this suspicion only crazy people say that. The cab is checkered yellow and black and I follow Kelly into it, taking the other back seat. I’m trying not to look at the driver, trying not to see the world outside the windows. I’m a good driver, so I hate bad drivers, and the last – the really last thing I need – is road rage. Because my head is hurting, and it would stop hurting after that, and I can do right now is try not to think about Kelly, tell myself I don’t hate her at all, that I never did, that she was right to leave me.

It’s easier to think that, right now. “I’m not crazy.” This time I know I say it aloud because she turns to me. “It would be easier if I was.”

It sounds silly, like a bad movie line, but she doesn’t laugh. “Eric said he went in to see you at work, about some records you’d put aside for him to buy, and they told him you hadn’t been in all week. They’d left messages. He figured it on the flu, until you never called to cancel out of seeing the match. He had to go into work, catering some party, or he’d have come. He called me instead.”

“Oh.” I don’t know what to say, so I say that. The cab ride is fast, the streets near-empty. It’s late, painfully so, but Kelly doesn’t push me. I’d probably cry at that, if I wasn’t a guy. I just sit, and wait, and she peels off worn bills for the cab driver as I realize I don’t even know where my wallet is at all only to find it my front pocket of my jeans when I always keep it in the back. The hospital is all pale lights, the kind that make everyone into zombies – or the doughy kind, in my case – and the nurse who asks questions doesn’t care and can’t care or she’d break.

The nurse says it will be a few hours, directs me to a cheap plastic seat, the kind even McDonalds no longer uses. I sit. I tell Kelly she should go. It will be a while, she has a shift in the morning – I think? – and she says she does. I try to push without anger, without being me, and she listens, fights back a yawn she doesn't want to give voice to. I pull out what money is left in my wallet, shove it to her for a cab home, insist she go. She leaves when I thank her. I’ve never been good at thanking anyone. I don’t know if that does it. I don’t know if she catches that I don’t want her to be around me, even if not why. I’m trying not to think about how she left. Trying to ignore the feeling behind the eyes, what happens after it gets out of me.

I don’t know what she catches in my voice, in my movements, in me. Maybe she’s just glad for the excuse, since it’s been almost a year. Nine months, about ten days, maybe twelve. I can remember how long it’s been since we broke up, but I can’t recall what day our anniversary was on. It’s almost a relief when the nurse comes and tells me to follow her past a room that smells of dead chemicals.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014


They are called redcaps in stories: monsters with hats the colour of blood, dipped in the bodies of their victims. I was young when I ran into one: eighteen years old, so new at magic and unaware that fae glamours could hide monsters even from magicians. I barely survived the encouter and walk slowly down side streets of the city as I remember it. Other times, too. A choir of creatures calling themselves angels, a town that tore open a place between the universe and hungry things that sometimes wait Outside. Magicians prepare for battle in diffeent ways: I armour myself with my failures, with the knowledge that I survived in every scar and ache in my body.

Jay walks along beside me in silent, scarfing down subs from Subway. He is arming himself in his own way, and from far Outside the universe as well, bound into my service to save him from creatures far more dangerous than he. He can bind and see bindings; he’s the one who connected six stories of homeless people on the ‘net and figured out something not human had to be killing them. It was not hard to guess what, and he can feel my fear through the bindings between us.

He came anyway, because it is always easier to be brave for someone else rather than yourself.

I let the magic out, feeling the shape and texture of the world ahead of me. “Corner, threee homeless men. One dead, two awake. Talk to me, Jay.”

Jay gulps back food and scowls for a few moments. “The one furthetht from uth ithn’t human,” he says firmly. “Not from outthide, but thtill not human.”

The lisp comes from damage he suffered entering the world; there is other damage was well, some far newer than that. Other kinds I dimly sense at best. He looks about ten, and is faster and tougher than humans are, but there are limits to such things. I gesture for him to remain behind me and he doesn’t protest at all.

I step around the corner. Need. Will. Desire. The magic flashes out of me in a surge of energy that makes my teeth hum slightly. The homeless man is standing over a woman, a dead man spread out behind him in a pile of bones. The man is stout and red: Flesh, blood and bone, his hair a cap of dripping blood.The redcaps absorb all the blood of their victims and turn filthy red after eating, their bodies stronger than anything human in that time. And they do it for the joy of the butchery alone.

It senses me and moves, but is not faster than magic. My will slams it into a wall and I speak a Word, the binding ripping the stolen blood and strength out of it. The redcaps screams, the sound young and shrill, formed of loss and shock. I doubt anything has hurt it like this in a long, long time. I bring myself not to care, move closer, wrapping the wind of the air and the electricity from homes about it into a net, electric fire burning through it where stolen blood once did. It convulses in weak screams before collapsing in a smell of burnt flesh.

There are probably other ways to deal with redcaps; I only know the one that has worked for me.

“Honcho!” Jay’s voice is sharp and he is around me in a blur, slamming bodily into the woman the redcap was standing over and driving her into the wall. She is homeless, smelling of old clothing and cheap cigarettes and only beaten things lie behind her eyes. Which is – odd, if a redcap just tried to kill her. Death normally brings people to life, no matter how far from themselves they’ve gone.

The woman throws Jay off of her and he lands in a crouch, springs to his feet in a blur, a foot slamming into her throat. She staggers, not falling, and the world tears as she rips a hole between it and what lies Outside with a sharp gesture.

Jay’s scream shakes me from watching, and I close the hole with a thought, binding the world in the alleyway to be just the world. Jay is behind me, stumbling even with his speed, the idea of having been sent back away sending fear spasming between us as he crouches behind me in a low whine of terror.

“Jay.” I don’t turn. “Talk to me.”

“Honcho,” he manages, and then is against my left side, pressed hard against me for protection, sucking in frantic terror on his right thumb. I wrap my arm about him and the kid just pushes harder, using the bindings between us to make himself believe he’s safe, trembling in violent terror.

“I wouldn’t have let you be sent away.”

“I know,” he mumbles, but doesn’t cease sucking on his thumb. he does that when scared; nothing I say could stop it now, or get more from him.

The woman is rubbing her throat and stares at me in silence. She seems thinner than she did a moment ago, and shorter as well. Or taller. I am not surte which, and not at all sure what she looks like.


She nods. “I am. I was about to – discipline this creature in the ways we do such things. Your arrival changed that, magician. As did whatever that creature us beside you.”

Jay relaxes a little but doesn’t stop sucking his thumb. His truest ability is that he can hide his nature from almost anything I’ve met. Even me if he needs to, and we’re bound together.

“He is a friend. That,” I wave a hand to the redcap, “is not. Nor are you, if fae put glamours on such things.”

For a moment the bindings I made don’t exist in the alleyway at all, her illusion that they aren’t overriding even magic. The fae are ancient and powerful, but a moment later the bindings exist again as she nods slightly. “We offer glamours to creatures from Outside, and monsters on your world as well. Else many would have been made extinct long ago. We put conditions upon them, to hunt nothing without just cause and to serve us if we have need in our armies.”

I’ve heard as much, but never from a fae themselves. “And how large are these armies?”

“In the thousands, at least. Our kingdoms are far from this world, but not entirely Outside the universe. You can consider us to be forts in the wall, magician, with many conscripts ready to aid us. It keeps make creatures from trying to break in by force, and magicians deal with most of us the rest. This one broke our trust.”

“What would you have done?”

The fae pauses, then says: “I had not decided yet. I will take it from this place and mete out judgement.”

“Jay?” I make the question as gentle as I can.

He forces his thumb free of his mouth and stands, trying so hard to seem brave. “The fae ithn’t lying, about the redcap, but it had planth for the creature before we got here. I dunno what.”

“Ah.” I consider the fae, then let it go. I can beind reality to my wishes; the fae can make glamours that override reality. “If I run into this redcap again, we will have words.”

The fae doesn’t mock my threat, doesn’t even laugh. Just studies me, then Jay, and nods. A moment later there is no fae or redcap in the alleyway, along with no butchered human body for us to clean up. I have no idea if that is an apology, or if such a term can truly apply to the fae. I reach down and Jay grabs my hand and follows me out, still trembling but holding my hand tight so he doesn’t suck on his thumb.

“I don’t mind if you do. You know that,” I say gently.

“I’m trying to be brave,” Jay snaps.

“How is that working?”

“It’th not; and you’re athking ithn’t helping at all!”

I let go of his hand and crouch down; the boy stares at me wide-eyed and pale, looking so human and very, very scared. I wrap both arms around him and he collapses into the hug and cries until he feels better, pulling away after.

“Sometimes it’s better not to be brave,” I say as I stand.

“Okay,” he says, not understanding yet.

“You sensed a fae; I couldn’t do that on my best day, not alone.” I ruffle his hair gently. “That was pretty awesome.”

“It wath?”

“It was. I’d just like to know how the hell you learned to jump-kick anyone in their throat.”

“Video gameth.”

I look down; he grins hugely in reply, the truth radiating between our bindings.

“You seriously copied a move from a video game to fight a fae. Having never done either before.”

“Well. Yeah?”

I shake my head and ruffle his hair again, snagging his hand and walking further from the alley. “This doesn’t mean I’m going to buy you another video game, you know.”

“It thhould,” he sulks, and spends the next ten minutes telling me video game moves he means to practise now as a kind of punishment.

I let the words wash over me and just relax. The redcap is gone, no more people will be needlessly butchered for it and Jay’s indignation has banishes most of his terror away without him even knowing. I buy ice cream before he can get into the next round of video game characters, and the ice cream headache he acquires from sixteen cones keeps him quiet for a few minutes at least.