I have done many years in almost two years of travelling with magicians and ghosts and creatures from Outside the universe: until this morning I’ve never woke up to the sound of crumpling bricks and found myself sailing four stories toward the road outside a hotel on a bed. Fun fact: it’s actally a loess less fun than it sounds before coffee. But probably safer before breakfast as the landing was bumpy and ugly.
I’m not most people. My name is Charlie, and I eat gods. It’s a living. I can do other things, and one of those is call up the god inside me for aid. A creature of shadows and the places under beds and in children’s closets that rose to flow over my body with a darkness akin to dusy bunnies in the early morning light. The armour made the landing barely bumpy but I could hear breaking windows and got to actually watch an entire cheap motel lean to the side before righting itself as I got off the bed. I sleep clothed these days. Travel with a magician teaches you that, if only to escape from pissed-off people.
I shake my head, thank the god in the silence of my own head and walk back to the hotel. The hotel front door opens, possibly because it has more sense than not to, but also because of the people running out screaming. I flex the god inside me. Eyes the colour of a nightmare, claws as red as blood and blood and the smell of forbidden things makes even terrified hotel guests break around me and give me space. That, and I’m in a foul mood. I take the stairs up to the fourth floor two at a time and peole flee my path like pins in a bowling alley from a pissed-off ball. Bad image, but I am trying to catch my breath at the top and that that doesn’t help at all.
A few ugly coughs keep everyone still on the fourth floor inside their rooms as I walk back to what had been room 414 with a view of the road and the harbour. Walls are cracked, plaster shattered apart, ceiling fixtures hanging dead to dangle in the air like the worst oxygen masks a cheap airliner would offer. The power has been killed to the entire floor, possibly a couple of others as well, the carpet is covered in dust and the destruction actually ebbs as I get closer to the centre.
I let the god inside me slip back inside, mostly because barging in with the god about me will terrify what is in 414. The door is standing, as though to try and claim nothing that happened was caused by this room. I push it open, enter, close it behind me. Jay is standing wide-eyed in the middle of the what had been a hotel room. He looks to be a normal human kid of about ten, if human kids could walk through broken glass without hurting their feet. His glasses are missing, and his eyes under them aren’t human at all. Pale and filled with fragments of broken colours like a shattered disco ball or falling stars. They don’t track right at all, rolling about in his head like dead mice being thrown about a washing machine.
He snaps his head toward me and moves in an inhuman blur, slamming into my stomach and bursting into sobs. He can’t cry properly anymore, but that doesn’t stop him from being scared. I wrap my arms about him until he stops making scared sounds, and shake him a little for good measure.
“What. Happened?” I’m not a magician; I can’t put power in my voice like the wandering magician who used to travel with us did, but I manage enough of my own mood that his falls dead silent, staring up at me. “Talk to me.”
He gulps, then looks down at his feet. “I wath calling Honcho and he wouldn’t answer any phone he passed.”
I take a deep breath. I take a second. Jay is (was?) bound to the wandering magician of his era. He’s done some nasty things, but the last involved using Jay’s talent for bindings to unmake something really nasty. The resulting actions removed most of a lisp Jay has had since he came into the universe and destroyed most of his vision. He can still see bindings just fine: see every connection that makes up people and the world, but translating that into ‘this is just the wall’ or apple or me or anything else is taking time. And the magician looked at what he had done, and left. He couldn’t travel with Jay after hurting him like that, even if he says Jay will heal.
To say Jay cannot understand that is stating it mildly. To say he’s taking it badly seems to be an understatement. “And?” I say when he adds nothing else.
“I got mad and threw my cell phone throgh the wall and thish guy came to yell and I thaid he should go away real loud and you went flying out the wall and everything broke and I fixed the bindings as fast as I could but I broke a lot of them,” he says, hunched over and miserable.
“You did, yes. Do you feel any better?”
He shakes his head, refusing to look up at me.
“The magician isn’t here to fix this.”
“I know.” Jay looks up, eyes wide. It’s hard to look into his eyes sometimes, but I don’t look away. I’m not sure he can actually see him physically yet, but he senses a lot through bindings, more than even magicians can. “I got mad. He alwayth told me not to and I got mad and I can’t fix that except by doing bindings he wouldn’t want me to do to people.”
“And there has to be a payment. Balanceth?” he offers, and colour slowly drains from his face.
“You destroyed an entire floor of a hotel, Jay. What counts as an acceptable balance for that?”
“We won’t get the damage deposit back?”
I remind myself he’s not human, keep hold of my temper. “No. No, we won’t. What cost?”
“I don’t get my phone back for a while,” he says firmly.
I bury my face in my hands. “Jay.”
“I like my phone; I get lots of high scoreth and I can check my tumblr all the time and play games even when my eyes don’t look right and it’s going to be hard to not have it,” he says, not quite yelling the last bit, then clamps his hands over his mouth.
“It’s okay to yell, Jay. It’s even okay to be mad. It’s not okay to take it out on others like this. No phone, and you fix the walls, and floor and ceilings and lights as best you can.”
Jay bites into his lower lip at that, looking scared.
“I don’t know if I can. I can’t – I can’t see right. Real things. It’th hard,” he whispers, his voice cracking a little, and he means far more than the magician leaving now.
“I know. I’m not the magician. I can’t be him. We’re friends,” I say, “but not the same kind. We’ll start here: I’ll talk you through it.”
He sniffs. “R-really?”
“You think I’d leave you to this alone?”
“Honcho did,” he says, so small I barely catch it.
“Jay. He didn’t leave you. He hurt you, and he can’t heal himself from that if he’s around you. You can. But magicians are human: he has to heal in his own way.Calling him to inform him you are entirely fine is not going to help.”
Jay blushes at that; I don’t know whether to laugh or cry that I guess what he’s been trying to do that easily. In some ways he is a very simple creature.
I reach over and raise his chin. “Ready?”
He offers a small nod and grabs my right hand tight in his left before walking over to the hole that had been a window and wall and holds up his left hand, scowling intently. “What thould be here?”
“Wall. Window.” I begin describing things and he begins binding the shattered bricks and stones on the ground back together, binding everything back in place as we move from wall to wall and then room to room, getting into a rhythm of questions and response for a good hour until he is done. We find his glasses halfway through fixing things and he relaxes visibly once they’re on. Jay is very good at hiding what he is, but his eyes make that harder now. There are still cracks in walls and broken lights and people who will have strange memories of his morning but he does the best he can and we head out to the van I’ve bought after all that.
He thumps int the passenger seat, exhausted and panting for air.
“So,” I say as I turn the van on. “You fixed it.”
Jay blinks, then looks over and nods. “I – I did. I broke it and I fixed it.”
“You did good.” I ruffle his hair gently and he relaxes at that, resting his head against my shoulder as I pull into traffic and consider where we can grab breakfast.
“How long won’t I have my phone for?”
“How long do you think?”
“That long?” he says in a small voice, twisting his head up to stare at me in horror.
“You did break a hotel in a fit of pique, Jay.”
“But a whole day without a phone?!” he says in a tone of horror, then breaks into a huge grin as I stare at him. It’s been days since I’ve seen an honest grin from him.
I cuff him alongside the head, which wins a fit of giggles and he presses tight against my side with a huge and happy sigh. “I was thinking a week,” I say. “Seven days.”
“Okay.” He doesn’t even protest or make a counter-offer, but does keep his hand in mine as I drive. Being close to be must be helping him cope with all this; I don’t protest in turn, just turn on a country station and we spend a few minutes fighting over what music to listen to.
It’s not healing, but I can see the way to it from here.