Saturday, September 27, 2014

Nanowrimo musing bits

So. I began my notes a bit back with a single line: 'Jay buys a cell phone'. From there, the story is spiralling out into why magicians loathe the internet -- and, if they believe creatures from Outside are in it, the question of why they haven't damn-well banished them. It will involve entities from far, far Outside the universe, the death of a ghost and .

Some Story Bits:

  • Why does the oldest magician in the world take selfies at least once a day?
  • What if there truly is a monster from Outside the universe dwelling in the internet? What if they have made the internet too big to fail, and what does that phrase truly mean? 
  • The wandering magician once took on the Bank that dwells behind (or beside) other banks, and the scars of that are still with him: is he willing to do the same to the Internet, regardless of the price others will pay for those actions?
  • What happens when Jay isn’t allowed to play games on his phone for days?

It is basically intended to mark a new chapter for the characters and will probably be the last thing I do in the series for some time. I've been writing this series since the end of June 2013. The result has been 4 novella, over 120 short stories and, with this year's nano, 2 novels. Which is a lot in anything, and definitely something I need to take a mental break from or it will get far too stale and repetitive.

I might try another series of some kind, but not sure what genre or even the kind of story I'd end up telling. Shall see where things take me.

Thursday, September 25, 2014


The pond is clear and deep, sink hole and swimming hole both at the edge of the town. Bordered by brush and boasting an old swing on a rope that some parent probably copied from a movie and hung up for the local kids, it hangs empty and forgotten. Even the wind seems quiet here without voices on it. Two children died here last week; four others are in the local hospital being given a barrage of tests they don’t respond to. There are things mising inside them that the water has taken.

I have come to take them back, because sometimes that is what a magician does. I take Jay’s cell phone and have him play on the swing, which he does while muttering about buying a waterproof phone and he that he was getting a high score in Tetris thank you very much. I cough and he rocks the swing back and forth, losing himself in the motions of it. Jay looks to be a human boy of about ten; he’s neither of those things but hides his true nature better than anything else I’ve run across. As magicians go, I’m one of the best at making bindings: Jay’s skill with them is far beyond mine. He binds himself to the fun the children had here and makes it his own so quickly it would be mood whiplash in a human.

The waters stir. I wrap earth and air and adult disinterest about me as a ward and wait. I have no idea what lives in the pond, but I’m not expecting what emerges from it to yank Jay off the swing and under the water. I can count on two fingers the number of times I’ve seen mermaids; they’re mostly found in oceans and uncommon at the best of times. This one yanks Jay under the water and attempts to eat his energy. Jay is tough: he bound himself into the universe at a cost, and into my service as well, and there is nothing in him the mermaid is able to hold onto.

It does not stop her from yanking him back under the water with her hands strangling his throat. That I wasn’t expecting at all. I reach for the loss and confusion of everyone in the town and push it into the water, turning the lower depths into ice that spreads upwards to the surface. Jay scrambles up the forming ice and out of the water; the mermaid flings herself out at the last moment, sea-foam eyes wide in shock and fury.

“Magician,” she hisses. “This is not your place.”

I just smile as Jay shakes himself off and rubs his throat.

“The mermaid tried to thtrangle me,” he says. “You never thaid anything about that.”

“That’s because I didn’t expect that.” I crouch down beside the mermaid, who hisses at me, and thread power into my voice. “Talk.”

“Magician. Heh.” She laughs like drowning sailors. “You made a deal with water once, drowning deep under the waves. Water will kill you in the end, and I am of water. You cannot bind me so easily.”

I blink; I hope I don’t look as surprised as I feel, since this is news to me. I don’t point out I was a child and had no idea what I’d done; the mermaid would neither know nor care. I smile slowly, and the mermaid’s laugh fails like the tide as she seems something in my face that makes her go still.

“You tried to kill my friend,” I say. “I was being polite with the binding. I can do far worse if you do not tell me what is happening here.”

She blinks, sitting up as best she can. “I was trying to scare the – whatever that is away,” she says, waving a hand toward Jay. He mutters something about fish and chips as he peels his clothing off and binds sunlight to dry them. The mermaid stares in shock. Jay seems human, until one realizes he has no genitalia at all. And still seems entirely human, even when one knows he isn’t at all.

I resist the urge to sigh; he didn’t have to take clothing off to bind sunlight to it at all. “Jay.”

“Hello? Thhe tried to thrangle me,” he snaps. “I’m making a point!”

“I apologize for the harm to your throat and voice.”

Jay bristles at that. “You didn’t hurt me at all! I alwayth lithp!”

“Then why are you angry at me?”

Jay blinks, stares at the mermaid, then at me. “Honcho? Why am I angry?”

“I did have you bind the four wounded children children in the hospital to life so whatever hurt them couldn’t hurt them further; I imagine something of their pain rubbed off on you.”

“Oh. Okay.” And to Jay, that’s that and it’s fine.

“You don’t think I did this,” the mermaid says to me.

“Let’s say killing two kids and draining four others isn’t what I’d expect from a mermaid, unless you decided to diet after the first kills?”

She laughs at that, soft and inhuman. “No. I was trying to warn children away from this place. I hurt some without meaning to; they are far from the ocean and I touched them with too deep a truth.”

“Will you let us undo that?”

She takes a deep breath and nods. “I will,” and Jay pulls energy out of her and wraps it into the kids as he puts his clothing on, doing it without any effort at all. The mermaid shudders, her scales taking on a dull lustre.

I let the ice become water so she can return to the pond. “Do you know who killed the other children?”

“An adult who saw me and sought to use me with fishhooks as bindings,” she says, and has the waters draw a picture of a severe-looking woman. “She killed the children before she saw me, and tried to bind me to disposing of the bodies for her. I scared the others away to mock the attempt.”

I ask the water to lead me to the owner of the face and ask Jay to stay with the mermaid; he takes the hint, willing to make sure she cannot leave but does ask me for his phone back so he can finish his game of tetris. I return it and walk back into the town, following the water’s whispers to the owner of the voice. She is at home, and doors open when I ask, and her shell of false grief shatters when I demand answers. One of the children was her own, another a nephew. She was due a great deal of insurance money, money she’d planned to use to sue the town for the waterhole and get that much more out of it.

Her husband does not know; he is at work, trying to drown his grief in toil. I smile, the one smile I’ve never let Jay see on my face, and the murderer goes pale at it as I bind her to follow me, wrap illusions about us that hide us from all prying eyes. I take the woman to the pond and ask the mermaid to dispose of the body in the depths of the ocean to never be found or seen for some time.

The mermaid returns after a time, though I did not bind her to do so. “She will surface miles from here, where the river meets the ocean. You could have asked me to do far worse things, magician.”

“Revenge doesn’t do anything for the dead. Tell me: can you take on human form?”

She blinks at that, surprised in turn. “If a magician aids me. And not forever, but for a time.”

“There is a man in this town who has lost his son and now his wife as well. He will need someone to speak to, someone who can bring a small bit of magic into his life. To make sure that, when they leave, he is left with hope.”

“You ask much of me.”


I pull the tire off the branch, bending it with will and desire until it becomes a small black ring I set at the edge of the pond. “This will give you the magic you need, for as long as it can. If you wish the binding to ask longer, you will some day need to find Jay and ask him to do this.”

Jay starts at that but says nothing. The mermaid stares at him, her eyes full of questions, but she does not ask them and merely watches us depart. I wonder how long she will remain her, how deep the tide runs through her, but I am not sure even she knows so I just get into our car and drive, and the radio plays ‘Singing in the Rain’ on every station Jay turns it to.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014


She calls herself Mary-Lee, because it amuses her to. Because the sounds faintly echo other names she has used down the long, winding centuries. She is old: one has only to look into her eyes and know it, and it has been long since she was able to hide that. She was walked with gods, the woman called Mary-Lee, and made them bow before her. She has raised up kings and pharaohs and brought them down as well. Every story about a witch is a story about her, at the back of things, though she would never admit to it.

None of the stories are true, of course. She has lived long enough to see almost every truth she knew become a lie, and everything she knew fade even from legend. This much remains: she is the oldest magician in all the world waking or dreaming and there is no power that can bind her to its will. The latter she has always taken as true, but of late – of late she finds herself wandering old roads she hasn’t walked in thousands of years, hunting down old memories with a feeling of letting go. She is old, but she knows that is not forever.

“I have been having bad dreams,” she says in a language that was lost long beyond the pyramids were built. “I do not sleep. I do not dream, and yet I know I have been having bad dreams.”

The creature that walks beside her is beautiful and aweful and was never of this world at all. It looks human, because it wants to, and Mary-Lee is amused to find a small fraction of desire for it inside her. She has, after all, worn human clothing for a long time. “You think I am the cause?” it says, and the Walker of the Far Reaches sounds almost amused.

“Perhaps. Your kind are the magicians of the places Outside the universe. Or at least, that is how we think of you. I imagine you are more than that, but so are magicians if the choose to be.”

“The wandering magician has surprised me. As have you,” the Walker says, turning eyes on her that seem gently and kind. “My kind have not done this thing. We know a thing has been done, and something of the shape of it, but the making of it eludes us.”

“And this worries you.”

“It terrifies us. We are not a Power that anything is easily hid from, not even the workers of the Lords of the Far Reaches. We serve them, but we are mot mastered by them.”

“Perhaps not. I suspect I am being used,” she says softly. “I do not know how. Or to what end. If you learn more, you will tell me.”

The Walker laughs at that with no hint of kindness. “Even you cannot bind me to that.”

“I know one who can. Do not push me in this.”

It pauses, then nods and offers up a thin smile. “So I gather.” offers up a longer pause, then says: “Pleasant dreams,” and is simply no longer on the road.

Mary-Lee continues to walk down the road. It has been so long since anyone tried to use her that she is almost amused by it. A few villagers walk by carrying water to their town; none think to warn her about the dangers of being along after dark, and this is how it is and how it should be. She is determined to keep it that way, and pulls out her cell phone, putting it away before making a call. She has time. Not as much as she usually does, but she has time.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014


She stares at me with eyes scarred with needs. “I know what you are,” she say, and her voice isn’t rough, not yet crushed velvet and burnt smoke.

“I know that too.” I offer up a smile the Cheshire Cat would have given up so much to own.

It wins a bark of not-laughter. “Magician. Magic-man.” Her heads cocks to the side. “What can you give me?” she asks, not smiling though she fakes it well.

“What do you need?”

“Fuck. If I knew that – fuck.”

I light a cigarette, offer her one. She shakes her head, hair twisting in winds all its own.

“No. They don’t do anything for me. I need,” and the first time she flatters. “I need stronger things.”

“Perhaps.” I pull smoke in, let it out.

“You don’t need that.”

“Perhaps not. It is easy to give people what they want. But what they need, what they desire – there’s no magician born who can match the impossible needs of young love. For example.”

“Don’t want that. I’ve seen what it does.”

“Not every story is the same every time it is told.”

“Enough are. Enough of them.”

I drop the half-smoked cigarette, ask the wind to take the ash where it is needed. Sometimes that is all being a magician is: knowing what to let go. And sometimes why, or even when. “I can take away the longing,” I say quietly.

“For him?”

“No. But for the drugs.”

“Won’t matter. They’re about forgetting him. Without them – heh! Without them I’d go back. I’m not strong enough not to. Karmic butt-monkey, that’s me. You believe in karma?”

“No. But I understand that my belief has no basis on whether it exists or not.” I consider her. “I could take away your memories of him. If you’d let me.”

She lets out a laugh. “I don’t think you’d have talked to me, if I wanted that. You have power, magician?”

“I do.”

“Yeah. I can see it. Like worlds of hurt in your eyes.”

“Everyone has that; most people spread it out more than we do.” I reach into my wallet and pull out a billfold, handing it over. “You can go to a new city. Build a new life. He won’t follow.”

“I could come back.”

“You could.”

“You could stop me. Make sure I couldn’t.”

“Magic isn’t about taking away choices,” I say as gently as I can.

“But you gave me money. That’s it?”

“I would be a poor magician if I thought every problem had to be solved with magic. Or that magic could solve them. No one can make a choice they don’t know how to make; I’ve opened up your options. It’s up to you what you do with them.”

She nods; I am halfway down the street when she picks up my cigarette and begins to burn the billfold with the last smoulder of ash. I do nothing to stop it. I could. But not without hurting her. I bend the world, just a little, turn the money she burns into luck she’ll find as she needs it. Money for when she is ready. Or a friend who answers her phone call when she needs it most.

She doesn’t burn the entire billfold. She accepts some of the gift. Sometimes that’s the best we can hope for in this world.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Too tired to write the start of a novel draft; having fun checking notes, altering names. EX: I had a monster-hunter named Glavon; after some googling to be sure it probably didn’t Mean Anything, it is now Galvin. Which has the benefit of being an actual name people use. The problem with my typing style is that I don’t know if Galvon was a conscious choice or a typo that I just used thereafter not realizing it was one.

I tend to be very scattershot in naming; sometimes I wait for a name to come to me, othertimes use a random generator several times and combine results, others do fun in-jokes no one reading the story will get. For example, one of the two groups of witches at war is a Bridge Club. Some of them even play bridge, so the members of it were named via combining first and last names of writers of books about bridge. All the werewolves in a chess club have names that mean wolf. There is nothing like that for the rest of the characters [I think] beyond some named for various hints/plots a reader might get.

That the rest of the names probably have no neat meanings or hints about them would probably drive someone mad who tried to find them. So this post might be a helpful note to literary scholars of the future. Or probably not.

… time to figure out more plot stuff.

Friday, September 12, 2014

A bevy of updates

So. Progress reports. HAH!

Let's see. I wrote ~30K of the darsverse tales short stories as an experiment in serial story fun all based on prompts. Did a novella for the magician series for nano in the summer (most of it won't survive the next draft, but that's normal so what they hey.) Wrote over 50 short stories for the magician series, and 3-4 for the Charlie Series.

Began rewriting the Ghoulish first novel in march. It hit about 20K and Boy and Fox rammed into my head to say hello violently all over the place. I blame Reynard Fox. I started work on that in May and It's September. It has hit 30K. Most of it is decent stuff, I think. I'm trying to write drafts I don't toss out entirely for the next draft, because I am horribly at writing drafts when I mostly know the plot already for what I'm writing. Boy and Fox also requires me writing it in short bursts or the tone slips more to my default style.

I've also been asked to consider contributing completed stuff for Things I Am Probably Not Allowed To Talk About. That may or may not happen. Which means finishing up the Miskatonic Elementary short YA bits because the only other thing I could really submit would be the magician series short stories, and short story collections don't sell.

As for the magician series, I'm going to do a novel for it as Nano. And then let it sit for several months while working on novel stuff. The short stories have been fun, but I have done over 110 short stories set in the world, 3 novellas and one novel. So this novel in November will be a stopping place for it for a good time, and a break from those characters. The downside of having multiple projects on the go with magic is that things can seep into each other and I'd rather avoid that if I can.

There's also 20 other short stories. It's not that the year hasn't been productive, but it has been relatively slow. A slowness that will lead to better finished drafts, I think, but still an odd place to be in for me. I've also realized that I need to have far more detailed notes on plots for stories after I finish the story, so the second draft doesn't involve quite as much flailing around. But that will be another post.

Monday, September 08, 2014


“Her name ith Emily.” That is how the night began, with Jay shoving his phone into my face, showing me a woman’s face and telling me when the reservation was for. I spent almost twenty minutes figuring it was someone needing a magician. Words gets out that magicians exist, though seldom through unusual channels. Jay, of course, had no problem with me thinking that at all, telling me I should look nice and half shoving me out of the apartment door. He put a map to the restaurant in my hand.

I opened the door back up and asked what kind of meeting this was. Jay isn’t human: he can lie, but lies break bindings and he hates to do it. He can do tricks, and deceive, though his face gives it away almost all the time. I’m not sure how much of that is Jay, and how much because he appears to be a human boy of about ten when he’s not either of those things.

“Jay.” That was all it took, his name stern and hard and he confessed that he’d set me up on a date. Using the internet. And he expected it to go well and he was paying for it with money I’d given him to spend on games so I didn’t get to say no, thank you very much. I told him a few ways it could go wrong – from experience, in at least half the cases – and he listed ways it could go right.

His list told me he’s watching way too much prime-time TV on his phone. But he meant well. And if he thought I needed a date, I probably did. He sees the world in terms of bindings, to a degree even magicians can’t manage. It can tell him a lot, but how he interprets it depends a lot on him. So I left with the map and walked. I made wards out of lovers spats in case I was running into a succubus, and other ones from the wind and rain for general danger.

I’m almost at the restaurant when I pause, and reach through the bindings Jay and I have with each other. Emily is a girl?

Yep! comes back.

I date more men than I do women, Jay. So why –?

Becauthe I’ve theen the kind of guys you date. By which he meant creatures from far Outside the universe that Jay didn’t really get on with at all. Not that Walkers of the Far Reaches were the kind of creatures one got on with. They were the kind of monsters who policed other monsters, and definitely not the sort magicians slept with.

I’d had my reasons; Jay didn’t care about any of them. And he didn’t normally lisp when thinking, which meant he was seriously nervous about this. So I let it go, come into the restaurant. Smile. Magicians are good at smiling, often enough. It’s an easy magic, and one most people seldom notice.

Emily turns out to be a tall, dark-haired woman who lives in the city. Her husband died two years ago, her sister has been urging her to date again. She’s 25, a pices and works for a law firm getting data for cases. I tell her I travel, often doing magic tricks for a living – and send one of her earrings away and bring it back as a simple proof – and keep the conversation about the city, her life, her friends.

I am a powerful magician; I seldom consider myself a good person, but I am good at listening. I listen, make space for her in my life, and she talks and we end up leaving and just walking through a park near her home. It doesn’t occur to her that she isn’t safe with me, though she might never be sure why: I look ordinary. Dull, boring. The kind of person you could drop into an office and lose in cubicles. It’s a look I’ve spent a few years working at and I do nothing to dispel it. Emily Chitwood is entirely human and living in a normal world and I do nothing to break that.

Which means I bind Jay against speech and coming closer when I sense him following us.

Emily invites me further into her life; I decline, though gently, and make sure she makes it to her steps safely before walking away. I fling a ward out as I walk, sharp and hard, and Jay is flung back head over heels, then scrambles to his feet and breaks my binding with a glare that is more hurt than glower.

“You forthed me to stay away,” he says, and the hurt in his voice asks for reply.

“Jay. What would you have done?”

“Told you to kith her, of courthe!”

“And how do you think she would have reacted to a random ten year old kid showing up and demanding we kiss?”

Jay pauses, giving the matter thought as I keep walking. He falls into step beside me. “I’m tough.”

“I am aware of that.”

“I would have been fine if thhe had tathered me,” he says proudly.

“And you think Emily would have been if you’d broken the bindings she’d placed around her life?”

“Yeth?” he says warily. I say nothing. He fills the silence, still wary. “Becauthe they thtop her from theeing the world ath it really ith, Honcho.”

“They stop her from seeing the world as you see it. Or as I do. All you would have done is taken away the illusions she built her life around and left nothing but the ruins of them behind. It’s a cruel thing to do to anyone, to make them see that there is more to the world they’ve lived in all their life than they want to accept. Everything I said to her was a lie, Jay, because the truth would only wound her without cause.”

“Oh,” he says softly. “You could have told me.”

“That it wouldn’t work out?” Jay nods. “She might not have been normal. That was the better odds, given how things happen to magicians. And it was a nice evening and a quiet one.”

“Quiet is –.” He pauses. I don’t have to look over to feel his eyes narrowing. “Becauthe I wathn’t there, Honcho?”

“Now that you mention it, there was a certain lack of games played on phones. And conversation involving the word conversation being said properly.” That wins an indignant yelp and I reach over and ruffle his hair. “Thank you.”

“That didn’t thound like thankth,” he mutters.

“I didn’t want you thinking I wanted you to try that again. I am going to pay attention to what you’re watching on your phone now.”

“But –.”

“And if you try to set me up on a date again, I will do the same for you.”

Jay blinks, gapes at me, and then just walks in silence. I say nothing, knowing his imagination will make the results more terrible than anything I could actually do. He plays games on his phone when we get back to the motel, and makes a point of asking “do you want to have a converthation?” twice, sounding rather smug about the entire evening.

I find it easier to fall asleep than I do most nights; I don’t think too hard about why.

Saturday, September 06, 2014


Dyer is doing a conference call with the people who run CASPER. The kind of people who say ‘ghosts are real, but convince everyone they aren’t’ and can’t explain who figured that was the best solution to the problem or even why the Department of Education is funding it. Government people, in other words. He’s been working with them for years, and he has a lot more patience than I do. Being a ghost for a hundred years does that, even if he isn’t like any other ghost in the world. For one, he can eat them. For another, he’s been banned from the grey lands where ghosts reside. Without ever having been there or done anything to it, probably proof they have a government as well.

I’ve gone for a walk, because that is better than listening to suits talk about stuff they don’t know squat about. Some of them even refuse to admit I exist, so I’m not quite sure what they budget me under for the pittance CASPER pays us. I’m not a ghost or ghost-eater. My names Charlie, and I’m a god-eater with a god inside me. Because that sort of things happens when you run into magicians and because if there is anything better to do with the monster that lived under your bed and in your closet than to become part of it, I don’t know what that is.

Dyer is – nice. It’s probably on his tombstone somewhere. ‘Died of wasting sickness, nice boy. Didn’t complain as his body ate itself from the inside out. Which was nice.’ I’m not nice, but I get the job done when he can’t. Make the kinds of choices he’s not good at making, or that CASPER doesn’t actually allow us to make. I’ve been working with them for a few months, and I’m pretty sure my life is at least five times as boy as Dyer’s, if not more. Rules are good, up until they let monsters get away with terrible things or let people be monsters. At which point I step in and deal with shit. Hard. Doesn’t mean I don’t have regrets, just means I find there’s other things a lot more important than that.

I’m on my second coffee, wondering if every city is the same once you remove the tourist traps when my phone rings, playing the theme from Jaws. I answer without even looking. “What?”

“Honcho ith buthy,” Jay says on the other end, “Doing some magic in dreamth. I thought we could vithit?”

“Did it occur to you that I might be busy?”

“Yeth, but you’re not,” he says firmly.

“And you know this how?”

“Becauthe I’m right here,” he says. Behind me.

I pause, then turn my phone off and turn. Jay grins, beaming with pride. He looks human, a pale kid of about ten but he’s really from far Outside the universe, bound into the service of the wandering magician. They’re friends, in the complicated senses of the word. You can only travel with a magician for so long before it’s just too much. He hurt Jay, and Jay refused to blame him for it.

“Where are you and the magician right now?”

“Over there,” he says, waving a hand westward. “I ran, becauthe Honcho wanth me to practithe moving fatht and thought we could catch up on thingth!”

“And you want me to buy you food.”

“Running far ith hard,” he says shamelessly.

I buy the kid three subs and he wolfs them down, finishing with pop and sits back in the cheap subway chairs with a happy sigh. “So. In the months we’ve been away, we have talked –.”

“Once you unblocked me on your phone,” he mutters.

“And caught up on things.” I let the god inside me leak into my eyes, hints of red flickering. “You’ve never ran across at least one entire state for a visit, Jay. So talk.”

“I am talking. That’th what we’re doing right now!”


I don’t raise my voice, but he flinches back and bites into his lower lip. His body is tough enough that he can’t break skin, but he does try anyway. “I want to know why you hate me,” he says finally.

“Pardon me?”

“Why you hate me. I didn’t have a thingle eth at all.”

“I don’t hate you.”

“Then you’d be travelling with uth,” he says.

“It didn’t occur to you that I might hate the magician?”

“You don’t; you’ve talked to Honcho a lot and you’re hith friend.”

“And we’re not friends?” I say slowly.

Jay’s eyes widen at that and he says: “I didn’t mean – I meant –.” And then he shoves his right thumb into his mouth and begins sucking on it.

I force myself not to look away. “Jay. Stop that.”

He shakes his head, not looking away. “It helpth me when I’m thcared.”

“I haven’t done anything for you to be scared of,” I snap.

“You’re breaking bindingth with me and you don’t thee them and it hurtth,” he says. “Thith is part of me and Honcho did it but he didn’t know it would happen and it’th not hith fault and you don’t like me and we were friendth!” The last word is flung out like an insult and he’s trembling in the seat as he stares at me, tears streaming down his gace.

“We’re still friends, Jay.” I keep my voice calm with an effort.

He shakes his head. “You don’t even want to look at me. I can thee bindingth, Charlie, all the time and you keep breathing them with me right now and – and it’th painful and I want to make it right and I don’t know how!”

People are staring; Jay ignores them, eyes locked on me with frantic desperation.

I reach over and pull his thumb out of his mouth. “You’re not a little kid.”

“I’m not even a kid,” he snaps, trying to yank his hand free. I don’t let go, and then a moment later my fingers open, pulled by unseen force as he shoves his thumb back into his mouth and glowers up at me. “And I can undo bindingth too! You care about thith and it’th not important, Charlie. It’th thomething I am doing, but it’th not me.”

“You were damaged; that’s why you’re doing that and I don’t like it and I don’t like that it was done to you. That’s it.”

“You were damaged too when Honcho put a god inthide you,” Jay says.

“You’re claiming this is good for you, that he did this to you?”

The sarcasm misses him entirely. “It’th letting me bind mythelf, tho I am learning to do that and it maketh people underethtimate me even more and that ith always good. I could get mad at Honcho but he’th my friend and you don’t hurt your friendth for real and I’m uthing it to be thtrong!”

I take a few breaths, pull the god back entirely inside me; Jay relaxes a little at that. “You mean that?”

He nods.

I stand, and head out of the Subway. Jay follows, still suckong on his thumb as we walk down the street. “You’re just doing this to bug me right now, aren’t you?”

“Yeth.” He grins, and removes his thumb. “You can thcare me a lot, with being you and having a god in you and thith ith the betht I can do to thcare you in turn.”

I stare down at him. “All right, see it like this: if you’re strong, you can use that strength against your enemies. Sucking on your thumb isn’t going to scare anyone.”

“I can’t not do it,” he says. “If I’m thcared, it – it happenth and not doing it ith really hard and Honcho is okay with that and you’re not and it hurtth, Charlie.”

“Friends hurt each other; everyone does that.”

“Not alwayth, not over a thmall thingtlike a thumb,” he says. “Pleathe?”

I let out a breath. “I’ll try. Okay?”

He nods, and then is simply gone a moment later, probably returning to the magician. I keep walking. I would tell him how far my mom went to stop me from sucking my fingers when I was four, but it’s not that. It’s that the magician hurt Jay and Jay can’t see that, refuses to see that. Refuses to let it be that, and I find myself wondering, slowly, if that is a kind of strength even if it isn’t a human kind. To make his own truth, to refuse to hate his friends for hurting him. To keep the bindings between us whole. I’m not a nice person, but sometimes – just sometimes – I’m like that because it’s the easy option. And Dyer has pointed that out in his diffident way a few times.

I text him, just one line: ‘It takes a lot of strength to not hate someone you possibly should hate.’ I don’t get a reply; Dyer is probably busy with the government-types still, or thinks it is my version of a pep talk. Maybe it is. I don’t know.

I just know Jay has dealt with this change to himself far better than I could, and maybe that makes him stronger than I am in a lot of ways. If a magician made me suck my thumb in stress, I definitely wouldn’t try and make it a way to be strong or refuse to hide it. I think about strength, about my kind and his, and figure I’ll wait at least two weeks before bringing any of this up, in the hopes he won’t realize he won.

Thursday, September 04, 2014


A magician can work magic enough for a dozen lifetimes and find it will never be enough. The world has more need in it than magic can fill and too many that magicians can’t or won’t touch at all. I can give people what they want, sometimes: but all they desire? Not even gods do that. These are the things I think about when driving a car down country roads, taking unmarked turns down logging roads and stretches of gravel that have almost given up the pretence of being roads at all. Driving down them helps them be whole; getting lost relaxes me a little. I think that’s more being me than magician, but one never knows.

The roads we’ve ended up on are far away from cities and towns. Jay doesn’t mind where we go as long as he has internet access for his phone and can play games on it. As creatures from Outside the universe go, he’s generally quite easy to please, fingers dancing over the screen at more-than-human speeds. He looks to be a kid of about ten and can hide what he really is better than anything else I’ve come across.

“Honcho,” he whines as I hit another pothole, the car shuddering a little underneath. “I’m trying to get a high thcore.”

I wrap more magic into the car. Desire, need and will pull energy from the earth and strength from the air to help it hold together. “Are there times when you aren’t?”

“There might be.” I wait. “Okay, tho there ithn’t but you’re thtill making it hard,” he grumbles. The lisp is part of damage entering the universe caused him; I’ve caused more, but he refuses to blame me for the fact that he sucks his thumb when stressed. Anyone else would, but we’re friends, which means more to him than it does to humans. I try not to think too hard about that.

I turn down another echo of a road that is a little less bumpy as Jay mutters about how a real magician would have a flying car. I let the words wash over me and just drive, losing myself in the small magics that come with travel without a destination until Jay pokes me in the side.

“There’th a binding trying to hold uth,” he says simply. He’s better at working and shaping bindings than even magicians, seeing the world as bindings more than anything else. It complicates, but seldom as often as it helps for what that’s worth.

I pull my awareness back to the present and stare in the rearview mirror in disbelief wail behind us. “A police car. Somewhere past the middle of nowhere.”

“It’th a trap?”

“Probably, but a pretty bad one if so. Keep quiet.”

Jay nods and focuses on his phone as I pull over. The car is warded against most usual problems: parking tickets, gremlins, police officers, mechanics, vandalism. But no ward is perfect and focus has a magic all its own. I remind myself that it could just be chance, even if coincidence is almost always a stranger in the lives of magicians.

The police officer who gets out of the car is alone. Big, burly, blond hair, build of an ex-football player and blue eyes that are deceptively friendly.

I swear. With feeling. Jay looks up at that, eyes wide. “Hide,” I say, and he pulls the world about him and vanishes. Some day I need to find out where he goes when he does that; I know he doesn’t go back Outside the universe since that terrifies him beyond easy comprehension.

The police officer walks over at a slow amble. We’ve never met, but I know of him. Enough to know Lance Christensen is kin to the forces that guard and govern the universe. He is law and justice and other things as well. The police officer, in nature as in name. He can die but always returns and if he answers to any other power beyond his nature I have no idea what it is.

He shines his flashlight in the vehicle, shadows scurrying away from it. Even mine tries to leave me, but I hold it in place and meet his gaze. He says my name and title calmly, his other hand resting on his gun. I resist the urge to bend the world and make the gun something else, mostly because I’m not sure I could where Lance is concerned. He isn’t from Outside the universe and perhaps more a part of it than even magic is.

“You have been busy the past few years, wanderer. I could arrest you for a great many things.”

I shrug. “You’ve never arrested a magician yet. Executed, yes, but you aren’t alone in that. If you were to, I imagine Mary-Lee would be far more likely to face arrest.”

He doesn’t pretend not to know the current name of the oldest magician in all the world. “Perhaps. There is one who travels with you. I am to cast judgement on his binding to you.”

I consider playing dumb for half a moment, then say: “Jay.”

He appears in the seat again, eyes almost as pale as his face, clutching his phone tight with both hands. “H-Honcho?”

“This is Lance. He’s a police officer.” I smile, and am not sure what to make of it that Lance pauses a beat before it.

He studies Jay, who doesn’t even try to glare at him. “He is bound into your service.”


“And you to his. A magician and Outsider bound together. That is rare, magician, but I find no crime here.” He smiles then, as kindly as his nature allows. “What would you have done if I had?”

I almost speak, then realize Lance is looking at Jay.

“Honcho needth me,” Jay says firmly. “But I need him more. Tho I would have fought until you hurt him and then – then –.” Jay isn’t strong, but the screen of his phone cracks under pressure. He grips it tight, fighting sucking on his thumb as best he can, not wanting to be weak.

“Jay?” I say softly.

“If he hurt you like he can hurt you, I would go away,” Jay whispers, his voice a weak croak. He forces more words out, fingers gouging deep into the guts of his cell phone. “Back outthide the univerthe.”

“I’m not worth that,” I say.

He says nothing, trying to hold himself together. Outside the universe, there are things that would eat him and destroy him in moments. And possibly do worse than that, given his fear.

“And.” Jay gulps, forces his gaze to meet Lance’s cool indifference. “And if I survived that, I would come back and I would destroy you,” and there is no lisp in his voice, his face pared down to bone and flesh and will.

I blink. I don’t move.

“I imagine you well might,” Lance says, and turns and walks back to his police car without another word. The sirens shut off before he reaches it, and then car vanishes to somewhere else in the world after he starts it. Going where he is needed, or perhaps just for donuts and coffee.

I look at Jay. “You okay?”

“No,” he says in a very small voice.

“All right.” I start the car up again. “North. We can reach a town in about half an hour and you can get a new phone.”

Jay starts, stares down at his phone in shock, then looks up at me. “I broke my phone for you!”

“I noticed,” I say dryly. “Is that a bigger thing than willing to be banished outside the universe for me?”

He actually considers that for a moment, then offers up a huge grin. “Maybe!”

I shake my head and take the phone, reducing it to dust and wind so no one can somehow trace it back to him as they could a discarded one. “You okay?”


“Jay. It’s okay. It’s always okay for you to be you.”

He blinks, then shoves his right thumb into his mouth and sucks on it a little as I drive. “I can’t help my lithp. I can help thith,” he says, not looking over at me.

“You can. That doesn’t mean you have to. Decide when it matters, and only do it then.”

“Okay.” He grins around his thumb. “I’m going to be able to make a new game account and get high thcoreth in all my gameth!”

“So you’re okay now?” I say dryly.

He considers that, then nods. He doesn’t ask what I would have done if Lance had tried to banish me, just rests is head against the door and closes his eyes. “I’m going to nap so I can play more gameth tonight.”

I don’t press the issue; I let things go and just drive, and he is asleep in moments. I wonder why Lance came all the way here to do this, but I suspect I’ll find out some day.


After the doctor told him, it was almost a relief. “How long?” That was all he asked. How long until sickness eats me from the inside out? How long until I die or take my own life? How much do you know even if you cannot heal me? The doctor told him, trying to be gentle, and the writer took the information in calmly and went home. To write. This was a deadline. His body. His death. His legacy. Everything else fell away from the future and he wrote the novel he’d have never tried to write earlier. The one he considered his Great Novel. The one that scared him, because it would eat him up as well and nothing he could write after would ever be as good.

The words flew out from under his fingers not like any metaphor at all and he wrote in record time, turned it into his publisher and held on grimly until the first reviews came in. It hurt to hold on, but by then the pain was an unwelcome friend he endured. He had forgot, in his eagerness, that this was the social media age. Everyone knew he was dying, if they wanted to. And every review compared his novel to his death. He told them: “No.” And: “I planned this novel years ago. It is not about the cancer. It is not about the fucking cancer!”

And not a single review believed him.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014


There are things I don’t do, as a magician. I don’t see ghosts if I can avoid it, and I never answer phones. The kind of people who call me aren’t the kind I want to talk to, and I very much include family in that. You don’t become a magician without hurting others, even if you never mean to. Perhaps especially if you never mean to. You learn quickly that sorry doesn’t mean a damn thing at all, or you learn nothing that matters at all.

Which is why waking up to a ghost at the foot of the cheap motel bed I’m sleeping in isn’t anything I expected to happen. I have wards about me, and Jay is in the other bed: he is from far Outside the universe, and unbinds ghosts from existence just by walking through them since to him they don’t exist at all. I could wake him and end this, but I recognize the ghost and get out of the bed, pulling shoes on and walking outside; it floats through the wall after me.

“You sleep clothed.” The ghost’s voice is a dry whisper of dead paper.

“It saves time.” I pull out a cigarette from a pocket, light it with a thought. Showing off, but I can’t quite stop myself. The smoke drifts out with my breath, binding the ghost. He doesn’t notice, which means he’s newly dead. “Ben.”

He says my name. His eyes are dark as they were when he was alive, his smile a flash of crooked teeth. I’d fallen in love with him for the smile; his father had made enough money to fix his teeth a dozen times over. Ben had refused every time. He was the first guy I slept with, and the first one I’d kissed and wished for the moment to last. Binding us together without even noticing, because I was so new to being a magician and so alone away from home. Stupid, but everyone is young and stupid at seventeen, and magicians aren’t an exception to that.

“What do you want?”


“You’re dead, and you came to me. That means you want something.”

Ben stares down, through his hands and then up to me. “My heart gave out during a workout.”

“Huh.” He looks as he did when we knew each other: chubby, with a smile that came quick or not at all, and a face that couldn’t hide secrets. He’d known I was going to leave long before I did, and needed no magic to do that. “I can’t undo that.”

“I know. I just – I wanted to say goodbye.”

“We did that.”

Ben hesitates. “I don’t think we did entirely, if I am bound to you?”

“Magicians are bad at letting go of things.” I let out a breath, and undo every binding to him. They are old and it is not without pain, but I hope he doesn’t see that at all.

He tells me nothing of his life. I say nothing about mine.

“Your smile is different,” he says finally, and even he does not seem to know if that is a judgement. I just nod, and the ghost is gone between one moment and the next. I light a second cigarette, using its smoke to undo the binding against harm I’d done earlier. Not that I’d expected him to harm me, but one can never be sure.

I don’t say I’m sorry, even if his sprit is somehow listening. I just smoke a third cigarette and let it burn down to my fingers until even I am not sure if I am judging myself. I go back inside and wait for sleep that takes too long to come.

I don’t dream.

I try not to think about what that says about me.

Monday, September 01, 2014

There’s a moral to this. Write what’s in your heart, not what’s in your head. Write from the basement, not from the living room. Write from the places that make you afraid.
- Dylan Landis