There are days that are like every other day, and then there are days that remind me of things half-forgot, of voices and dreaming and the wonders that stir in the world waiting to be known, wishing to be seen if we have eyes that do not look away. There are callings, if you follow a god or gods, if your hearts claim or are claimed by them. One must see, one must listen. And one must hear.
And hearing, one must act. The town is small, but justice is ugly and quiet in small towns and seldom pauses for mercy or kindness. Rough music, it was called long ago, when those who committed crimes were dragged from homes and murdered in the streets. Frontier justice, the kind accompanied by pots and banging and wailing of crimes and the brandishing of guns. So loud, because they would drown out the accused. So loud, because they hoped their God would not hear them forgetting that justice is not theirs to mete out in this manner.
The sound draws me to the motel at the outskirts of town. It is small and shady and cheap: locals don’t use it, having far more sense and knowing the owner had cameras in the rooms and a ready desire for blackmail in his crooked fingers. He comes to church. They all come to the church as though one day a week of penance can absolve them of their lives. Sometimes I am bitter, other times merely cynical. but even so, my office has a power and the crowd parts, the screams lowering to a dark undercurrent outside room 104. No one has been dragged one. No door has been shattered inward. But the maid – the owner’s elderly aunt, comes forward.
“A man and a boy in a bed together,” she hisses, certain I will join in their hate.
I walk up to the door. It is pulled open by an ordinary looking man in his mid-twenties. Brown hair, hazel eyes, agerage build and looks: you’d pass him in the streets and never give him a second look, but his eyes are steady and his smile strange. “Hello.”
“Hello,” I say in return. “May I come in?”
“Of course.” He opens the door wide; the crowd moves forward and then falls back as he turns his gaze on them. The room is cheap, with one bed, and a warren of blankets and pillow on the floor. A boy is sitting in the bed, duvet pulled up over him. He looks to be about ten, pale and thin and sporting a deep pout on his face.
“I put up wardth,” the boy says sullenly, and the thick lisp is too old for a child of ten but seems natural to his voice.
“Yes, but Father Hillary does not mean harm,” the man says, though I haven’t said my name. It’s possible someone else did, but he closes the door gently when I look back at him, his eyes bright and sharp, his smile a thing of knowing and deep wisdom.
“Magician,” I say softly.
“Why this?” I wave my hand to the mob outside. “You could have made sure nothing happened. Stopped any of this from becoming real; I know that much about magicians, though a town this small seldom has one visit for any time.”
“I am a wandering magician. This is Jay,” he says, waving a hand to the boy. “He is bound to my service and from far Outside the universe.”
“I was thleeping,” the boy snaps, colour coming to his cheeks as he blushing. “It’th not my fault the maid ran outthide thcreaming, Honcho!”
The magician sighs. “Jay, I’ve told you about this. You’ve been shot by police officers for this: people see an adult and kid in the same bed and they reach conclusions that mean violence and bloodshed. Especially when you hide your nature as well as you do.”
The boy says nothing, lips a thin line.
The magician rubs the bridge of his nose. “I will deal with the mob. You can speak to Thomas when I do so.” He opens the door and walks outside, and the rough music dies against his wishing, against the force magicians can bring to bear in the world.
I stare at the boy, who stares back with a defiant glare. “The magician thinks you need to talk to someone?”
“I’m fine,” he snaps, hurling the words like a challenge.
“He doesn’t think so, I imagine, if he let things get this far.” I say it as gently as I can, but the boy flinches as if struck and bites his teeth into his lower lip so hard I’m amazed he’s not drawing blood. I step closer; he doesn’t seem afraid at all, at least not of me. “I’m willing to listen.”
“Oh.” He tosses the duvet off himself, the movement almost too far for me to follow. Under it the boy is wearing only socks, his pale body devoid of human genetlia at all. “I don’t have any holes,” he says.
He nods and stands, turning to face me, bends over so I can see more of him than I want and turns back. “Thee? I can thleep in the thame bed as Honcho doeth jutht fine!”
“And he wants you to?”
“No,” Jay says, and plops down onto the bed as if the word drained him of anger. “Becauthe it maketh for problemth and he ith human. Humanth are weird about bodieth.”
“All right. So why did you do it?”
Jay stares up at me, going still for a moment, pale eyes sharp and searching, then relaxes slightly. “I had a nightmare. I get them,” he says softly.
I walk over and sit on the bed and he relaxes further and is beside me, pressed asgainst my side like a cat. “Everyone has bad dreams.”
“I don’t, not like – not like thith. I can bind mythelf to have only good oneth and thethe are thtill getting through!” His voice cracks and that and the boy shoves his right thumb into his mouth and begins to suck on it, speaking around it easily as he relaxes a little again. “I don’t even remember them at all; that’th how bad they are.”
I wait, but the boy just sucks his thumb for comfort as if defying me to comment or try and remove it. “Everyone has bad dreams, Jay. I imagine even the magician does.”
“He doeth all the time,” the kid says, as if that was a simple fact about the universe. “He’th done lotths of terrible thingth to thave people and becauthe they had to be done.”
“And they’re good things, that this magician does?”
“Of courthe!” He twists his head to stare up at me in shock. “If doing good wath eathy, more people would do it. But they don’t, tho he hath to and it can hurt a lot!”
“Well, then perhaps you are having nightmares about some good deed you will do?”
Jay blinks in shock at that, pops his thumb out his mouth and gapes at me as if he was an ordinary kid. “Really?”
“I’m not human.”
“And you think that means you can’t do good?”
The boy blinks again, and sits back to stare at me before breaking into a huge grin and flinging himself into my hard in a tight hug. “Honcho thaid that but I thought he wath jutht being nithe but you thaid it too!”
I pull away gently and he just beams and is off the bed in a blur, putting clothing on and packing bags at an inhuman speed. “Thith meanth we can probably go and there won’t be a mob and you’re a good perthon becauthe I can thee bindingth and I thee that in you and you probably need to be told that becauthe people have to all the time or they forget,” he says in a rush, stopping in front of me.
The magician opens the door and comes in. “Ready?”
“Yup! You were lithening?”
“No,” the magican says.
Jay stares at him suspiciously. “You weren’t?”
“You warded the room against me.” Jay goes still, colour draining from his face, and the magician catches his hand gently before the boy can start sucking on his thumb again. “It’s okay, Jay. Everyone is entitled to have secrets.”
“That’th not what you thaid when I uthed your credit card latht week,” the boy mutters.
“Well, run them by me next time and we’ll see what ones you can have.”
Jay gapes at that, then giggles as the magician grins. “I packed and I’m ready and no one tried to kill uth,” he says proudly.
“I know.” The magician looks at me. “Thank you.”
I just nod; I’m not sure why I’m being thanked, and he walks out with Jay to a dark rented car without looking back. He offers no magic, I ask for none. I think on what the boy said, and how his face was so open he couldn’t have lied even if he thought he could. He could see that I was a good person. I walk back toward the small house I live in behind the church without looking back at the magician or the boy.
For once my own sleep is not troubled by everything I have failed to do and the times – so many – when all I could do felt like it was never enough. The world is bigger than me, and even my faith, but I don’t think it bigger than God, and I suspect I saw something all my own in that huge smile and fierce pride. And I try not to worry at where pride often leads.