Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Raining Gods

Where winter has gripped the rest of the county, driving rain has pounded down on the town of Hornbay for four days. The sky is thick with clouds, the thunder rumbling with laughter as I walk into town. The rain doesn’t touch me, which tells me enough about it to make me worried. The ghosts that called me here told me more but I’ve been travelling with the wandering magician long enough to like confirmation when I can get it.

Besides, I have no idea how accurate the ghosts of gods are. Or what they could be forced to say.

“You murdered eleven other gods; there are easier ways to get my attention,” I say, not raising my voice. I can’t do what the magician or Jay can, but I can put power into my voice when I have to. I don’t bother; the wind about me has died, the thunder rumbling overhead like vast stones grinding together. I don’t even flinch at the lightning that arcs down from the sky and splits before touching me. I’m a god-eater and the powers of gods cannot touch me like they do others.

“They call you Charlie, and claim you are the last god-eater in the world,” the god inside the thunder rumbles.

“I am,” I say, not bothering to claim I’m only responding to the first: other species have god-eaters still, and the order of god-eaters may be training other human ones; I’ve no desire to reveal that. “Your point?”

“We are not afraid of you; you have neglected your duties,” the god who calls itself Ibraxis says.

“God-eaters are meant to police gods; we can help as well as harm.”

“That is not your function.”

I smile at that. The god inside me stirs, anger mirroring my own. “You don’t get to decide that, Ibraxis. Few gods have true power in this age: that you subsumed so many others means you have done that, and nothing more.”

“You have allies: the magician and a boy.”

Jay is far more than ‘a boy’ but I nod. “I do; you will notice that they aren’t here.”

“Their power makes you weak!”

I blink as thunder rolls through the sky. “Having allies doesn’t make one weak, though I can see where you’d understand that.” And I let the god within me out, a thing of nightmare claws, blood-tinged fur. Under every bed, in every closet – not all gods are nice, and the one that terrified my childhood not kind at all. But the wandering magician had bound us together – for reasons I think not even his magic understands – and it had been months since I let the god out.

“This isn’t an ally,” I say, the god’s voice rumbling with my own, and we reach up and tear the entire storm apart and yank the god down to the earth.

Gods of rain are common, and this flows in the air like a living puddle, something more elemental than humanoid at all. “You dare? You dare,” it shrieks.

I reach out, god-eater to god, and it whimpers in agony as my power brushes the edges of its own. “I could eat you now, Ibraxis. You devoured other gods for power, but that’s nothing next to my own. Which I think you must have known, so why this?”

“A test; there are others who think you weak. Old gods who think you do not stir yourself often enough.”

“Murdering gods isn’t strength,” I say, stepping back. I speak five words, a reverse exorcism, and the ghosts of the murdered gods tear into Ibraxis. “But I can be an agent for justice.”

I turn and walk away as the god tries not to beg for aid. There were gods trying to test me, and I had no idea why – or what they thought they could gain at all. I wonder how many elementals existed that are gods, or had been gods, and how they’ve managed to hide from me. I travel with a magician, but I have duties of my own and sometimes I forget them.

This was a reminder. I make a mental note to never need one again and head back toward the hotel the magician and Jay are in. Anger is easy, but the god within me can be far more than that. If he wishes to be, and if I allow it. I consider options as I walk, the sky behind me changing as it begins to snow on the town, and I find myself wondering just how terrified gods are of me, and if there is anything I can ever do to truly change that.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

The Start of Jaymas

 “Ah.” Charlie turns slowly to Jay. “Would you like to explain why my sweater is howling at the moon?”

“Oh! I made it with wool from a weresheep with tons of wool.” And Jay beams at that. “It means your sweater might bite and attack meany people too so it’s really usefulicious. And I bet you could make even more sweaters for yourself from it, too!”

“I don’t actually need attack clothing,” she says patiently.

“But it has lots of functions, Charlie.”

“Lots of other functions such as?” I ask, because part of being a magician is catching the meaning under words.

“If she eats some of the wool, she could become a werecharlie,” he says proudly. “And it might turn into steel wool as armour because I did some jaysome bindings on it.”

“I see.” I pause. “And the belt you got me?”

“Dragon scales, but but but they won’t turn into a dragon even if you water them!”

I decide not to ask how Jay found a bonsai dragon. “It’s very nice. But you probably should have warned Charlie earlier.”

“Oh! I’ll do that about your New Years Eve present then, Charlie!”

Charlie stares at Jay, counts to ten. Out loud. “Does it involve fireworks?” she asks.

“Maybe! But also not,” Jay says, and refuses to say anything else about it.

Charlie just thanks him, no doubt planning gifts of her own in return - or retaliation.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Christmas Days

The house we stay in was lonely before we arrived, the family gone somewhere far warmer for the holidays. The doors opened for the wandering magician, and not only because doors do so. We decorated the inside a bit because this was Jay’s first Christmas with both me and the magician, and because Nathen was able to function at this time of year at all. It’s a bad time for magicians, all told: this year it wasn’t as bad for him, something Jay figured as a Christmas spirit-event and never questioned.

Innocence seldom asks questions like that; it’s part of Jay’s power but also his armour. Christmas Eve involved finding a decorated tree in the living room and Jay beaming with pride. I could feel the power inside the tree, deep and wild and more than a little confused. Until today I hadn’t even known Christmas trees had a god. I had to promise on my power as a god-eater that I was not going to eat the tree and it remained to store presents Jay pulled out of the air from places he’d hidden them, piling them up and singing off-key carols to himself.

Which most kids do, but Jay is from far Outside the universe and tends to get very, very enthusiastic about things with little provocation – and sometimes even less reason. I’ve at least managed to talk him out of a snowball fort though we had a few small wars. Jay vanishes sideways from the world with some gifts he’s taking to other people, and both myself and the magician are wise enough not to ask where. Or who. Or what the gifts are.

“So. Nathen.”

The magician raises one eyebrow as a box comes into existence: magic answers need and desire, and sometimes that is even those of the magician. “You know I don’t like my name being used, Charlie.”

“Well, yes, but it’s Christmas. And I figured it was a good in to asking what you got Jay. I got him some new clothes, a few dinosaur toys and gift cards for his phone. All of which he’ll love, being Jay, but it’s a bit – normal.”

“I wrapped up Schrödinger's Cat.”

I blink. “What?”

“As a gift: it’s neither real nor not-real, but the act of opening will make it so.”

“You made Jay a gift he can’t even open.”

The magician’s smile is positively wicked. “His reaction will count as a present to us. I’ve also arranged for running with dinosaurs.”

“Not walking?”

“Not when they’re real. Different dimension, some favours owed and cashed in. It will definitely make him quite happy, as will the resulting bindings. You looked into the god of Christmas?”

“A real Santa?” I shrug. “I asked about and tried to sense one, but without any luck. They might be hiding from me.”

“We’ll work on that later,” he says, and it’s a mark of how much he’s perhaps changing that he’s willing to casually combine gods and magic together.

I don’t mention it, as a gift of my own, and we drink eggnog, add alcohol, and listen to Jay’s adventures giving ‘huggings’ to tumblr followers when he comes back, play charades, watch some Christmas movies and sleep.

I think things might actually be sane until I wake up in the morning and find out that the god inside me is wearing a Christmas hat. A god who was the nightmare of my childhood, a creature of dark closets and shadows under the bed is now festooned in lights. “Uh,” I say aloud.

A Christmas present. The god’s voice is a low rumble inside my head. From Jay. Who thought I should celebrate.

“Of course he did.” I let out a sigh, almost consider going back to sleep, and then realize that if Jay somehow arranged a gift for the god inside me, he might try one for the magician’s magic.

I’m out of bed and running down the hallway so fast I almost make it.

There is an explosion. It is thankfully that of a Christmas cracker as the magician is staring at Jay thoughtfully, destructive force having been earthed into the toy. Even I can feel wards humming in the air, not quite going off. Jay is Jay, but the magician’s magic defends itself against anything at all.

“But it’s a Christmas hat,” Jay sulks, holding shimmering energies in the air in front of him.

“Did you ask if the magic that I am would want that?”

Jay looks shocked at that. “Who wouldn’t want one?”

And I almost laugh as the magician closes his eyes for a moment, then reaches over and takes something hat-shaped from Jay’s hands and puts it on Jay’s head. “You can have one instead.”

“Oh! Okay,” Jay says, and hugs him tightly and then comes bouncing over to inform me that he has a hat for me too.

It looks normal. It turns out to be normal. Sometimes, even with Jay, Christmas miracles do happen.

And always take turns I didn’t expect, because Santa Claus turns up later wanting his hat back and the god of Christmas is entirely unamused to find a god-eater wearing it.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Winter Debriefing

“Patrick –.”

“Officer McLane, Ma’am.”

Fingers are steepled together on a desk. “As you choose. The footage of the event is subpar at best, and eyewitness testimony is, of course, worthless. You were given two days paid leave.” There is pause. “Now is the time where you explain what happened at the Marmoset Hotel.”

“We had received word about a large snow fort in Regent’s Park, just outside the hotel. Last year we had drug dealers in other parks building large ‘forts’ and doing drug deals in them for months before we caught on. Sergeant Li gave us standing orders to investigate larger snow forts as a matter of course this year. This one was constructed quite well, and home to an eleven year old boy.”

“Home, McLane?”

“Not literally, but it could have been. There were at least three rooms. Two sets of walls. All designed for a short kid, naturally. He – or those helping him – had used up over half the snow in the park and cleared three roads. The city crews can verify this, I imagine. We arrived, and he informed us his name was Jay, and that he was waiting for ‘Charlie and Honcho’, who were apparently in the hotel and not coming out because his fort was ‘totally jaysome’. And then he sulked, and asked if we’d like to try taking it so he could practise.”

“So four police officers suspended their duties to engage in a snowball fight.”

“He asked... nicely, ma’am. He was so eager for a snowball fight that we couldn’t say no.”

“All right.” The commissioner unsteepled her fingers. “That I can understand. It was good PR. Who called in the SWAT team?”

“I was the lead officer –.”


“Officer West, ma’am. Caroline. We were losing, and she decided we needed more manpower. It – made sense at the time.”

“Four police officers were failing to take a snow fort.”

“Jay is very good at snowball fights. He told us he’d had a lot of practise when he was blind.”

“Pardon me?”

“It also made sense at the time. He told us he got better.”

“From being blind.”

“He wasn’t lying. I had the distinct impression he doesn’t understand lies, or at least why people use them. The SWAT team was eight men, giving us twelve in total. Two tried to use guns, but they were jammed. Jay was – quick. I’ve never seen a kid that quick, ducking and weaving, making and throwing snowballs and declaring everyone was jaysome when we finally breached a wall and got attacked by – ah, hugs.”

“Hugs, officer.”

“He hugged everyone and told us we were ‘best buddies’ and he had a jaysome time and he was really sad he won’t be here tomorrow – that was Monday, ma’am – but he’d be travelling and Charlie might be cross at the snowball fight but that it was all her fault for trying to get out of the snowball fight anyway. And then he – he grinned at us.”

“He grinned.”

“Beamed. Smiled. I – I’m not even going to try and describe it, Cynthia. You worked street. Homicide out in LA, didn’t you?”

“You know I did.”

“Then you’ve run into weird shit. Heard stories about what else is out there. The things that we deal with and no reports are ever filed. Lance.”

“You’ve met Lance Christensen?”

“Once. He was – severe. Powerful, aweful. Jay wasn’t like that. If there are monsters, then it stands to reason that there are anti-monsters. Not angels, but monsters who – who help people. Who want to be friends. Who are – are jaysome, ma’am.”

“That makes no sense at all.”

“With all due respect, you weren’t there. You didn’t – it didn’t even feel like power at the time, or even strange. He pulled us into his joy and made us part of it. He was – is – innocent of what any of that could mean to the wider world. The idea that a SWAT team wouldn’t have a snowball fight with a kid in the park never crossed his mind at all. Nor the idea that we wouldn’t want to be friends with him. You can suspend me. You could fire all of us, if you must, but it won’t change the fact that we did the right thing. That was community policing, on a level I’m not sure we’re meant to operate on, but it was and we were jaysome. And nothing the public, politicians or even Internal Affairs can do will ever change that.”

“I see.” She pauses. There are questions she wants to ask, but I think she’s scared of the answers. “And now?”

“Now I think I need to find Lance Christensen. The police officer who is More than police. And ask questions, find out where I go from here. What we might become. I don’t think Jay meant to destroy, but he – changed us. The spirit of the season, maybe, in a glory too great for humans to bear. I think Lance could help us, if he comes. If not – if not, I’m not sure how many of us will have the steel in us to remain on the force.”

“You’d quit?”

“I don’t know. We might do outreach. Become social workers. It takes a different kind of steel, but I think it’s one Jay gave us.” I stand, and leave, and the commissioner says nothing at all.

I don’t even ask if she’ll be home for dinner tonight. I don’t think about that until I’m almost out of the building. I’ve changed, and I don’t know what to do about it. Beyond go to Regents Park, circle it in my car, and hope to find a snowball fort. 

Monday, December 21, 2015

Avoiding Miracles

The hotel suite doesn’t have much in the way of a living room or kitchen, but I enter what passes for both to find the wandering magician drinking coffee and skimming a newspaper; there is no sign of Jay, who is no doubt out having adventures. “It’s late,” I say.

“Mmm.” The magician doesn’t look up.

I pour myself coffee; I justify getting up late because most gods sleep in so a god-eater can as well. Also because I like doing it, but Jay is always up early and the magician often up and abroad in whatever town we’re in long before I get out of bed. I sit across from him at the small island. “Talk.”

He looks up. Seeming ordinary is one of his tricks, but I’ve known him for three years running. His coffee only has a lot of cream in it when he’s worried about something. Not that he shares. Magicians don’t, as a rule. “The town is mostly quiet right now; I did a few wards, undid some minor harm last night.”

“And you haven’t left the hotel anyway?”

“It snowed. Jay is making snowballs outside.”

One doesn’t have to be a magician to know that. And some days it would explain enough, but not today. “You’ve been acting off ever since you went into that meditative trance for a few hours a couple of nights ago. I don’t know what you learned, but it has you worried. Distracted. Off your game. I don’t need to be the one to tell you that such things are dangerous, do I?”

He smiles strangely at that, pours himself some more coffee and sits back down. “You know how Christmas affects magicians?”

“People’s needs and desires gone haywire so most run away and hide. Things like that. I know Jay can do bindings to stop that from bothering you.”

“He hasn’t.” He pauses. “Or not near as many as he thinks.”

I drink coffee. “That was an important pause, wasn’t it?”

That wins no smile at all. “The magic isn’t pulling me toward things as it used to.”

“You’re still a magician though.” That much I’m sure of, no matter what was done to him by the fae.

“And other things. I don’t know what those are yet.” He drinks his coffee slowly. “I don’t know what I will be in the end, Charlie. Where I am going, what path I’m walking down. I don’t even know if I am walking down it or being pulled.”

“You’re still human though.”

“For the moment.” He sets his coffee down, his fingers trembling a little for a moment. Someone else would be screaming, but magicians learn to control themselves quickly. “I’ve done many impossible things in my time. Because of necessity, or you, or Jay, or simply having no other choice I could find or make. And the price of that seems to be that I may well become something impossible.”

“You don’t think being Honcho to jay counts as that?”

His laugh is soft, startled out him. “It might at that. But I don’t know. Part of being a magician is that you know things: yourself, where you are, that the universe allows knowledge you’d otherwise not have.” I know all that, or near enough, but I say nothing and wait for him to continue. “Right now it feels like I could walk by myself in the street and not recognize that person at all, and I am scared.”

“Scared,” I repeat, almost evenly.

“The world is littered with monsters, and many of them were human once. I have no desire to become one of those.”

“Then don’t.”

“You think it is that easy?”

“You’d tell me it is.”

“I would be lying.”

I snort at that. “You don’t lie. And if you don’t think that’s a scary thing about you, then I’m worried for you already.” That wins a faint smile. “You’re not telling Jay, then?”

“I think he already knows, but to him I’m always me.” He stands, putting his coffee cup in the sink.

I follow suite, eyeing the door to the hotel room. “You told me once that most magicians can’t teleport often because cars exist. That magic is a cheat code to the universe, but only when one needs those codes: otherwise it is very hard to teleport or doesn’t work at all. Does that still apply to you?”

“I have no idea.”

“I’d like you to find out, because Jay has had at least two hours to build snowballs and a fort and I’d rather not try and brave it if we can avoid doing so. There are benefits to becoming something more than you were,” I add when he just looks at me.

We share a slow grin, and we’re outside a mall moments later.

I head inside, and I’m starting to feel rather pleased we pulled this off when the local news reports a police standoff in the park outside a hotel. A standoff with a kid in a snowball fort who is holding off an entire SWAT team. With snowballs.

I’m starting to wish I hadn’t got up at all.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Christmas Cheering

I had nightmares about them for the last two two nights.

Six year old girls screaming with need, demanding to know where the presents I’ve hidden are, why Shelly got two tops from the Gap last year while Lia only got two from Roots and if everything was made in the North Pole why could they exchange it. Topped it off by demanding that I should be thin because I was promoting childhood obesity by glorifying the fat liberation movement when fat should only be liberated via liposuction. They were six. I don’t pretend to remember six, or even my own daughters at six anymore. But it wasn’t like that.

Five days so far in the grotto with the elves, reindeer, desperate parents and screaming children. The screaming parents were the icing on the proverbial cake of shit. I felt like I was starting to feel like Hitler in the bunker. I didn’t share that observation with anyone, thankfully. By the end of the shift the mall had drafted in some local kids to be Santa’s Elves as well. Because any nightmare can be improved by the inclusion of more children.

I finish the shift using the skills one hones after years of office jobs and dealing with in-laws. Fifty years of work just teaching me how to fit into polite society by lying. Once you’re old, the jobs are harder to come by: every year I bulk up for Christmas, make money on the side that doesn’t quite get my pension checks dinged, buy a few small things for family that would break our budget otherwise. Each year it seems less worthwhile than the year before, harder to justify. Maybe the kids grow up too early, or I am too old, but the season gets meaner and uglier with each store competing with each other, malls waging wars for consumers and the fact that all gift-buying could be on the Internet in minutes hanging overhead like a ghost of Christmas future.

I almost laugh at the thought as I leave the mall. It’s just after eight in the evening, and the grotto closed a few minutes ago. I make more money because I don’t need a pillow and my beard is real, but I’m not sure I’ll bother with either next year. Everything about the season just drains and tires and I almost don’t notice the kid until he coughs.

He’s short and pale; I think he was being one of the elves, but by them I was dreaming about eggnog and rum.

“Santa has gone home,” I snap. I have this idea of the elves sitting in Santa’s lap, demanding shorter work weeks and paid holidays. It’s not as funny as it should be.

“He went home hours ago,” the boy says firmly.


“You weren’t being a proper Santa at all and that’s not very jaysome you know!”

“What?” I manage. I didn’t think they let disabled kids be the elves, but maybe the kid got past them just by being screwed-up in the head.

“Being jaysome is sometimes work, but! it’s important work,” he flings out, and pouts after. The pout is epic, astonishing: everything kids want in a pout perfected into a single cute sulk.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“You weren’t being Santa. You were being all kinds of grumpy inside and kids can tell when adults aren’t real, which is why most of them grow up badly! You tell kids not to lie and then lie all the time and expect them to believe you, and then Santa comes along and he’s the worst of the lot, and even worse when they find out that Santa isn’t wholly real. But the gift-giving and kindness are, and Santa is what parents want to be but can’t always be and kids eventually get that and it’s okay. It’s not if you ruin that for everyone.”

“Kid. This is just a job I do for a few weeks every year,” I say, pushing past.

“But it’s not! Being a person is being them, not just a job,” and he’s in front of me, quick. Kids are like cats, so fast at tangling between legs it can be amazing. He looks up, and something in his eyes stops me from pushing past again. “If you make it just a job, if you hate it but you do it, you turn into a Krampus. Into a monster that pretends to be a Santa and is why kids cry in Santa’s lap because they can sense the change happening,” and I step back at the fierceness under the words.

“Being a parent is hard I bet,” he continues, soft. “There’s lots of things you’ve hidden from children to protect them, and sometimes it’s necessary because the world has lots of dark corners and the worst monsters are sometimes way too human. But Santa isn’t something that has to be hidden: giving gifts is important to the giver more than even the receiver and being a Santa is a gift of time and listening, and helping parents know what to get their kids and if you think it’s not important you can’t be one again.”

“I can’t?” I repeat, wondering if this is really the kid of someone who works at the mall, some weird TV sting.

“You’d turn into a Krampus, and that would be bad for everyone. But you don’t have to. You could be jaysome. Be happy, find joy in this again, and lots of other things too. Most worthwhile things are pretty hard cuz that’s what gives them worth and – and I’d like to stop a Krampus before it happens, as a gift from me to me!”

And the kid grins at that. The grin isn’t a blow, not a weapon. I don’t have words. It’s open, and pure, and entirely a sharing. I don’t know how I know this, don’t understand if the kid knows just how potent his grin is. I manage to say something – I have no idea what – and the kid grins even wider, somehow, and heads down the street, skipping and singing Christmas carols to himself at the top of his voice. Off-key.

I keep walking toward the car. Thinking about the grin, the desperate sadness under his earlier words. I don’t know what happened. I have no idea how it happened. I just know he was hurt, and doesn’t want me to hurt people. That simple, that innocent. I get in the car slowly and drive home as slowly. Thinking about things I’ve hidden, how hard this season has to be on my wife because it’s hard on me. Thinking about how to make her smile a little like the one that boy offered like the unwrapping of the dawn as a present. About my grandkids, and that Santa should visit some of them at home if our budget can stretch to it.

I don’t think I’m going to have nightmares about screaming children tonight. Because even Santa is given gifts at Christmas.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Taking Time

Charlie and Jay have left: going out, doing something. Somewhere I am sitting on cement, or perhaps earth, warded and protected in all the ways of magicians save for one. Few things are impossible for magicians, though many are deeply ill-advised. Even Mary-Lee, once the oldest and most terrible magician in all the world, might not have done this. But I died, and that gives me an edge. The fae imprisoned me in a waking-awareness for billions of years, and that taught lessons.

I find stillness in mere hours, following it far from my body. There are places bodies cannot travel to because magic requires certain constants to work. Perception is one of those: the place I enter is nothing. My brain calls it white, to call it anything at all, but it’s not that. The white is behind me, moving. Awareness as much as purpose, the impact amused but so very cold as well.

“Few magicians can find me,” the voice says around me. “Even among the other Powers – most thing me in the middle of the universe, at the moment of birthing.”

“I thought Time would want to be where time wasn’t, at the edges of all things. Catching up to yourself, rushing ahead.”

“Hm.” And he is beside me. Winter, paler than white, hair long and moving in unknown winds, eyes like hard ice. Sexless, but the body is somehow more male than female – I think it would be different for others, but I am not certain. Few can see the creature I can summon by name as Arth’Ba’Toch and fewer still survive the experience. You don’t call upon Time lightly, and the power such a Power wields is beyond anything I can comfortable compass. “You think I won’t destroy you, little magician?”

“I don’t know. I have questions: there is no one else I can ask.”

“You know of Justice.”

“I don’t know how to call Lance. Or to trust him.”

“And you trust me?” Winter asks, dry as something long dead.

“I don’t see why Time would bother lying. It is almost Christmas, and magicians fear the holidays. The bindings, the desires, how magic answers need and joy: I haven’t felt that this year, and I know that is not just Jay’s doing with bindings. I’ve changed. I would like to know into what.”

Winter smiles, and the smile is too kind to be human. “No one wants to know that, magician. How else could you become if all you knew was what you be?”

“I don’t mean that.”

“I know.” Mild, a fact more solid than any stone, more real than any world. How could Time not know?

“What am I becoming?”

“That has not yet been decided. You are one of those who must decide, magician, wanderer – there are no easy ways off the path you now walk. It may be that you cannot leave it at all.”

“Jay was on it. To become the new Grave for the Cone and the Grave, to guard the entrance of the universe from harm.”

“So we thought. I think We were wrong.”

I almost laugh, but I’m not sure I could stop. The Powers that govern the functions of the universe, that are barely forms at all – the universe works because they are the grease that runs it, and their province is all that exists within in. “Wrong,” I repeat instead.

“Yes.” Nothing else. Whatever Winter suspects, it will not be shared with me.

“And me?”

“Not the Grave, no. I do not know what. We are the custodians of the universe, but we did not make it. The road you walk will be long and hard, and you will lose and be made to lose again. You will be unmade and remade, lost more than found. There is nothing I can do in this. You have gone too far down this path.”

“I never meant to walk it,” I manage.

“No one ever does, not if they make it.” And Winter smiles a final time. “We will not meet like this agaon,” he says, and I wake up in my body, the stillness I found gone. According to the clock, I’ve only been under three hours. I stand up slowly, stiffly, walking outside into the snow.

Inside, I am screaming at what awaits me. But I won’t do it alone. No matter what even Time thinks, Charlie, Jay and I have been together for too long for that to end. Even for something like that.

I have no idea what I am going to tell them, or even how.

I watch snow fall and I find myself wondering how many others I will see. And how long they will matter.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Terrible Tidings

Krampus is red from head to toe, though thin like something dead wearing human skin – no weaker for it, but we stopped most of the deaths. The Krampus comes as Santa Claus, and children aren’t scared until it is almost too late; their need reached the wandering magician barely in time for us to save some of them. The Krampus ran, claws tearing gouges into stone and earth, but we followed. My name is Charlie, and I can eat gods. Krampus is something else, a monster born of the world and not a god, but it carries enough myth for me to find it no matter how well it can hide itself.

Jay follows beside me. He is young, born far Outside the universe though he looks like an ordinary human boy. He is pale, and quiet in a way that worries me. Krampus flees into a warehouse, one storing goods for a toy drive – whether out of irony, luck, or simply because such places are open to it, I’ve no idea.

“A god eater?” The Krampus laughs, voice like iron filings. “I am beyond your power, and the god I see within you.”

Most can’t see the god inside me, but the Krampus is a very old monster. The first Krampus, perhaps, or near enough to.

“And the boy with you must not be human, for all he looks like he’ll taste divine when I kill you.” Krampus flexed long, thin fingers ending in ugly talons, smile a baring of hungry teeth. Fattened on more children, it would resemble Santa Claus with a terrible accuracy.

“You killed them,” Jay says softly, his voice carrying because he is so very good with bindings. “You killed them slowly, because you could, and you enjoyed it because you’re the kind of monster that other monsters are scared of!” He trembles beside me, small hands balled into fists.

Jay has seen many things, but I don’t think he’d ever walked in on a torture scene like we did mere minutes ago. The wandering magician is generally always ahead of monsters would would butcher humans and preventing them from doing so. I reach for his hand, not thinking, but Jay evades my grip and walks toward the Krampus.

It laughs, unafraid. It has been a monster in the world for a very long time. Blood drips down from its fingers and the Krampus licks them gently, mocking. Four children only, so much blood covering bone and fur, and it was still so thin after.

Jay is an inhuman blur as he moves, but the Krampus is not human at all. I’ve seen Jay be hit by cars and get back up only bruised: the Krampus slices right into his skin and draws blood as Jay skids backwards with a yelp.

But Jay says nothing. Not about how he’s going to win, or how he’s totally jaysome. Krampus licks the blood with a giggling laugh. “Small child. Quick, an Outsider thing I think, hidden but not well enough. You will be such a delicious meal.”

“No.” Not nope. Just a soft, solid finality. “I’m a Jay, but I’m also a Jaysaurus.”

The Krampus laughs, then hiccups, then doubles over and screams, the sound shocking low like a broken church bell being molested.

You let me inside you,” Jay says, and his voice is a roar filling the room. “And I’m not going to try and get you to be jaysome, and I’m not sure I would try even if I could. I can’t bind you, but I can do other things.”

“Whu – hah –?” The creature manages before dropping to its knees and begins wasting away, bones and flesh twisting as Jay’s blood – or whatever Jay put into his blood – rips it apart from the inside out. The Krampus lets out whines as it gasps for air, curling up in agony on the ground as bones and flesh twist and shatter.

“Jay.” I move beside him.

Jay turns slowly and looks up at me. Something ancient and pitiless stares up out of his eyes. “You should go, Charlie. You don’t want to see this.”

“And you do?” I manage.

“He can slip out of bindings. I had to do something else.” Jay turns back to the Krampus. It has no eyes now, but seems aware of him and screams, soft but shrill, then collapses inward into a husk and to ashes moments after.

“Jay.” I don’t move.

“He murdered orphans. You couldn’t stop him, and Honcho is busy healing the – the others at the orphanage, and he couldn’t get away. I couldn’t – we couldn’t let him do that.”

“I know.” I reach over, pull Jay back from staring at the dust that had been the Krampus, and I hug him tightly.

“I’m fine, Charlie,” he says muffled. “It was a monster, and we had to beat it and I did!”

I pull back, raise his chin and meet his gaze. “But are you jaysome?”

Jay opens his mouth to speak, closes it, then bursts into tears and flings himself into my hug as he trembles all over.

I say nothing, holding him so tight that if he was human I’d break bones. I pull him toward the door finally and he follows me slowly, breath hitching as we leave and find the wandering magician waiting for us.

“Honcho.” Jay says nothing else: I’ve no idea how much passes through the bindings they share, but the magician just walks over and gently ruffles Jay’s hair.

“You did what you had to,” the magician says. “And you’re going to doubt it, Jay or not, and it’s going to hurt you inside for a long time. But if it doesn’t hurt, that’s when you should be scared.”

“Oh.” Jay nods to that, pressing close to the magician as we walk away from the warehouse. He’s trembling, sniffing a little and trying so very hard not to cry. By the time we reach the hotel, he says he has to have a shower even though he hasn’t had one – or needed to – once since entering the universe. There is running water, and crying Jay doesn’t want us to hear.

“He’ll be okay,” I ask, not wanting to but needing to.

The magician lets out a breath. “If we think he will, yes. He did what he had to, and destroyed a monster.”

“The Krampus wanted you trapped, thinking it could get away.”

“And that, if it couldn’t, it could still do damage.” The magician smiles, tight and cold. “Which means we help Jay and we don’t let it win,” he says fiercely, and I just nod in silence before what blazes from the magician in that moment.

I’m pretty sure Jay can hear us. I hope it helps. I hope everything we can do helps. I turn on Christmas specials on the tv, and Jay comes out of the bathroom and plops down beside me on the couch to watch them.

“Better?” I ask.

“Not yet,” he says, but crowds close on and relaxes when I hug him. Sometimes so much is made from such small steps.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Hungry Wetlands

There are magicians for cities, but never enough for the wide spaces between them. Twenty dead people in a month brings news vans hovering at the edges of a swamp, speaking to locals who affect every hillbilly accent they can dream up and spin lies for free minutes of tv fame. No one knows why people came here, what they were seeking. Only that they entered the swamp and never came back out. The world is full of places like that, though most are made rather than born.

Awareness fills the air like fetid smoke, darkness seeping through pores into flesh. This close, the swamp is trying to call everyone nearby into it. Hunger turned into devouring. What the bermuda triangle is, this place wishes to be. And if not for Jay and Charlie catching the news stories, I might have never come this way at all. Magic doesn’t draw magicians to such places: they are wounds in the skin of the world, but not unnatural ones. Sometimes the world shifts with unseen earthquakes and the awareness of a place changes. Charlie is keeping the news crews back, using the gods TV people believe in to aid her, and her nature as a god-eater with a god inside her to intimidate those she can’t trick.

I’m walking into the swamp, because I am the wandering magician. And part of wandering is that few places are closed from me. Jay walks beside me in silence, not even making ripples as he walks through the water. He’s eleven, from far outside the universe and has a mastery over bindings that magicians can barely touch. I doubt he’s even aware he’s not leaving ripples in the water, but Jay not talking is a warning sign akin to every time a politician opens their mouth to speak.


“The swamp is really sad, Honcho!”

“I imagine eating twenty people does cause indigestion.”

As usual, the sarcasm passes clear over his head. “It doesn’t have friends except for the insects and animals and lots of buzzing things, squeaking things, scratching, wriggling and biting things too! But they’re part of the swamp and not really friends and it’s probably really lonely!”

“That excuses nothing, Jay,” I say softly.

“Honcho?” His term for me, from years ago, but one he has never let go of. There is a waiting in the question.

“Why places – or people – become monsters isn’t important, Jay. That they are monsters is: what they were driven to or chose to be means nothing to the victims. A monster is a monster in the end, unless it can learn to be otherwise.”

“Oh! I can totally help with that,” Jay says, and offers up a huge grin of innocent pride.

The trees around us shudder like wounded things, the water frothing wildly for several moments. I feel Jay reach out, his nature overriding the swamp for a moment as he hugs it within and without. Being Jay. Trying to make friends.

I make wards about the both of us as the swamp screams. The sound of fury, loss, rage and many things not human at all. The wards I make hold, because I was expecting this, but Jay only looks lost and confused as the swamp lashes out with its nature, trying to destroy him even though it must know Jay goes deeper than it ever could.

“Honcho?” he says in a small voice. “I did a hugging and it’s gone all kinds of not-jaysome.”

Wind howls about us. I reach out with magic, touching the fear of the creatures of the swamp, unmaking the building storm with their desire. “It thought you were going to eat or replace it, Jay.”

“But I had a big lunch an hour ago,” he says in surprise. “I could even share that as a binding and –.”

“No.” He stops, looks up at me. “The swamp is new to awareness, and to power. It is terrified of losing both.”

“But I’m me, so I’d never be a swamp!”

“It doesn’t know that; explaining would not help. Sometimes places are like people, and they don’t like hugs either, Jay,” I say gently.

“I’m really sorry,” he whispers.

“I know. Go join Charlie: if you leave, the swamp should be nicer. Tell her what happened.”

“But then she’ll yell at me!”

“You think you don’t deserve being yelled at?”

Jay blinks at that, thinks it over, then bites his lower lip and vanishes in an inhuman blur.

I wait until he’s occupied with Charlie and explanations, then use the remains of Jay’s attempted offering of friendship to wrap a binding into the swamp. “You will not drag any creature to their death here,” I say, threading power into my voice. “Human or otherwise: this is the binding I put upon you, and if you break it you will cease to exist.”

The swamp screams, lashing out with power, but I deal with Outsiders often and avoid every strike as I walk out of the swamp, letting it use impotent rage until I’ve had enough. It is the work of a moment to cut through the swamps power with the fear of those it killed, the deeper fear the news vans are creating only adding to that.

“You did what you did without understanding: now you understand, and you will be given no other warnings,” I say, and this time it is entirely silent as I go and join Jay and Charlie. At least Jay learned a lesson, or the start of one: I’ve a feeling I can’t say the same about the swamp at all, at least not for now.

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Unseasonal Woe

I find Jay sitting in a small park, his back against a tree. There is a faint dusting of snow on him and he’s staring off into space. Not crying, though I have no idea if that’s good or bad. Sirens cut off in the distance as though it was possibly to unsummon a disaster. But this is the wandering magician we’re talking about, so he probably is.

I sit down beside him, reach an arm around him and hug Jay tightly against me.

He shudders, and snow melts as he shoves hard against me and lets out soft whimpers.

“It’s okay, kiddo. It’s being fixed.”

“But Honcho shouldn’t have had to fix it,” he says. Not many people can make a whisper also a wail, but Jay does have talents.

“All I know is that you tried to take down Krampus and a lot of people got hurt?”

“He was really mean,” Jay says, in the way only kids can believe that. Jay looks to be a kid of about eleven, but he’s from far, far Outside the universe. “And hurting Santa with evil stories and doing horrible things to kids so I did a binding.”


Jay twists his head to stare up at me, his face so pale it hurts to see. His eyes are wide wounds as he says: “He got away,” as if he doesn’t believe that yet himself.

I blink. Jay is very good at making bindings; he can see them and shape them at levels even magicians can’t grasp at all. Until today, I wouldn’t have thought it was at all possible for anything native to earth to break a binding Jay made if he was serious about it. “How?”

“I don’t know. It went all – he twisted the binding into places I’ve never been and got away and I didn’t stop him and that wasn’t jaysome at all!”

“So you came to the park?”

“I can’t help Honcho fix people cuz I don’t know humans like he does and I cried earlier and now I’m just – I was kind of feeling sorry for myself, I think? Like a jaysulk, only with more sulk.”

The words are almost close to Jay as he normally is, but there is no grin to go along with them. “You set a trap for Krampus then?”

Jay stirs a little at that. He loves sharing, after all. “I was a reindeer,” he says proudly.

I decide not to ask if he’s being literal, if only because Jay would probably be convinced his plan had failed because he wasn’t a reindeer and then try and transform into one. I’ve seen Jay become something Other before; I have no desire to ever do so again. “And you caught him?”

“He was whispering really bad words to kid that broke bindings deep inside them, all the ones that say Santa is real and I caught him outside and did the binding and he got free and – and – and things got weird because he hurt people inside them in response and that’s when I called you to get hold of Honcho and .... and ...” Jay trails off, then presses hard against me. “I’m scared, Charlie.”

“Of?” I ask.

“Me. Losing is weird, and I might get mad and I don’t want to.”

“Then don’t,” I say, because Jay can do things like that with his emotions.

“It’s a bit hard right now,” he says, “but you’re helping a lot,” and nothing else at all.

I just hug him gently for a good ten minutes before the wandering magician wanders his way into the park. Jay stiffens, but doesn’t try and break free of my hug.

“I’m sorry, Honcho. I didn’t mean to do that and I kinda broke thingth,” he says, and it says a lot about how shaken Jay is that he’s lisping when he hasn’t had a hint of a lisp in months. And even more than he hasn’t noticed and boasted about it. Because Jay.

The magician just crouches down. “Krampus is an old monster, Jay, and one native to this world. Which means magicians can’t banish him Outside, or really bind him properly. Many have tried, alone or with allies.” He pauses. “You knew he was a terrible kind of monster, yes?”

Jay nods.

“Then why do you think I – or Charlie – or someone else, wouldn’t have dealt with him?”

Jay blinks at that. “I didn’t even – I should have thought that cuz you’re jaysome too and I didn’t!”

“Which means Krampus was testing you,” the magician says as he stands. “You might have a chance, with allies. But not tonight. Tonight there is a department store Santa needing an elf, and you promised to be one.”

Jay grins. The grin is huge, delighted and pure Jay as he hugs the magician and is gone from the park in an inhuman blur.

I stand and wait until I’m sure Jay is occupied and just look at the magician. “A test?”

“If it helps him to believe that, yes. It didn’t occur to Jay to wonder why we didn’t deal with the Krampus simply because he didn’t even think of that option. A human would, but Jay isn’t human – his priorities aren’t the same as ours at all, and sometimes he forgets that. I had no wish to wound him with that fact.”

“You didn’t like to him.”

“Of course not; it is not always the same as telling the truth,” he says, sounding as tired as he looks for a moment.

“And now?”

“Now, I think, we need to find a way to contain Krampus if we can.”

“We’ve still won even if we can’t,” I say.

The magician pauses. “Pardon?”

“He was scared of losing his temper even if he didn’t want to; he says I helped him not lose it. Maybe I did, but it’s an important lesson in control.”

The magician chuckles at that, low and soft. “Do you want to go to the shopping centre and see how long this control has lasted?”

“No,” I say, quite wisely, and we head back toward the hotel we’re renting a room from. I don’t ask if the magician has ever tried to kill a monster that’s at least half a myth before; some conversations you don’t want to have until you have no other way to avoid them.

Tuesday, December 01, 2015


Nanowrimo went well this year. Got the first draft in for novel #3 in the magician series, which was the intent. Unlike the second one, this draft held together far better even if I did do some horrible things to Jay. Getting messages from people on how a fictional character 'better be OK' was definitely a surreal part of it :)  Granted, I did inform people that Jay's blog would have spoilers for the series during early November but most of the readers didn't avoid that. It definitely made for interesting interactions.

Other stuff was 3 novellas (ranging from 12K to 25K) getting some ideas out of my head and in one case having fun with the thriller genre. Unlike in previous years, I didn't turn the 'other' nanos into true novels, mostly because I knew I wasn't going to do anything with at least one of the concepts. (The Egress one I will probably revisit for a YA story at some point; the concept was fascinating even if the execution sucked and my ideas for the characters didn't work as planned). I also did a chunk of short stories for the magician series, some of which will end up as part of the third novel in the second draft I think.

All told, it was a good year. End total was just over 113K and it took 9 days to hit 50K - I also wrote out four pages of notes that will go toward next years nano I think. And a small chunk of Boy & Fox as I figured out another plot-problem with that story too :)   Plan to do some short stories for the magician series the rest of this month, one entry for a writing contest (if I can find a paying one I can get an idea for) and not sure what else. Given that I will be away for a good chunk of February, I have no desire to start any Project until I get back. At which point the mass-edits of the magician series will begin.

Facebook status updates part XLI (Nov. 2015)

Some day, when asked if I want a dark roast or medium roast I plan to just say, “Half and half.”

Nano close to 6K. Here is a line:
“It would perhaps be nice if there were limits to what we can endure, but I’m not sure there are.”

“Left at the next intersection, toward the town of Hockston.”
“North and west? I thought we were going east.”
“Most of the world is made up of detours.”

this morning in typos:
The roads are narrow and snow, snow falling in spurts while the weatherwoman on the radio tells everyone about it and tries to hide her glee at having her predictions come right and how all the accidents could have been avoided had people listened to her for once.
…. because roads are definitely narrow and snow. Yup. Nothing odd here at all…

I take a moment to clean off my hands and open the door. An asymmetrical arrowhead is floating in the air in front of me. “Star Trek insignia?”
“I am the god of a store four blocks away,” the god says diffidently. “My form changes depending on what property is the most popular at the moment. The store does not open for several hours, so I thought I could come speak with you?”
Some gods must despair over being overwhelmed with prayers; I imagine this one must get very tired of “Beam me up” comments.

From nano:
Sometimes happiness sneaks up on you even when you’re really sad!

From today's output:
Jay is, however, singing along to the radio as he drives. Which wouldn’t be bad, if he wasn’t doing it to the news.

From today's scant output so far:
“You think guilt will balance anything, little fae? Saying that you are sorry does not make one less of a monster; if anything, it is quite the opposite.”

Mankind has spread across six galaxies to burn in the universe like a star of its own making. All the old calendars have no meaning and Earth is just a fairy tale told to children sometimes, no more real than the stories of the Mellanic Cluster or more dark than the depredations of the Nightmare Colonels. For there were giants in the old days: Sideways Sam, who never met a prison he could not escape, Elenya of the Wastes who claimed a dozen ruined worlds and built an empire out of them, Whispering Song who could tell lies so true that no one knows if they are real at all. There was Ctul the Forsaken, the only man to escape the collapse of the Gostal Nebula alive – if the word alive could apply to him any longer; Bright Salwyn, who brought in more bounties than any other bounty hunter who ever lived and never fired a shot that didn’t kill her enemies; so, too, there was the scholarly Edwul Krosp, who learned secrets of the past that even entropy could not hide. There was the Sireal Doctor, who made even death bow to their wishes; Nuada the greatest hunter the galaxies had ever seen and Alys of the Wandering Eye who never saw anything she could not steal.
... first paragraph of weird sci-fi novel fun :)

He tells me his star sign when I said I wanted to get to know him better.

Characters not appearing in this novel:
Admiral Not That Ackbar

“The banker always wins,” they said when repossessing our home. “In Monopoly as in life.”

“What can we do? We’re not heroes, we –.”
“No, but we have something heroes don’t. We know what’s going on.”
She laughs, sharp and breaking. “You this despair is stronger than hope? We know what’s coming.”
“And we’ll do things heroes would never consider in order to stop it.”

Arrest every voice that cries out for war, and perhaps one could find a way to peace.

Story seed:
Your main character is kidnapped by people pretending to be strangers.

'Wqqaw' is the poem my phone wrote for you in my pocket and you say that technology cannot feel but the wqqaw is the lone cry of Siri existing to answer what you won't ask - not even 'what is a wqqaw?'

“You aren’t a child,” the woman says.
“It is an appearance only,” I say, because I speak the truth whenever I can. Lies only comfort.
She sits across from me, hands together on the table. “I was walking by yesterday, and I saw you. I had thoughts. That you could – that you could help.” She flatters. “You are not the Devil, are you?”
“Would I tell you if I was?” I ask curiously.
“I don’t know. There are stories. There are stories,” she says vaguely, as if trying to recall any of them.”
“You would not be here if you did not know what I was.”

I keep forgetting that there are other names for silence.

"I'm scared," Boy whispered.
"Sometimes that is the only sane thing to be," said Reynard Fox dryly.
"Are you ever scared, Mr. Fox?"
The fox looked up. "When I was young, and I was once young even in the ways of foxes, I was scared of failure. And so I never failed, not at anything at all. I learned almost too late to be scared of my successes as well."

The rise in adult colouring books isn’t a fad at all. Teaching adults how to colour between the lines again is obviously an attempt to help hold the world together.

“None of us have true jobs; Egress as a game could be a psychological weapon to make us realize we somehow should, regardless of all other factors? If we can do this – which we are, even if barely – then we could be more?” Luka offered. “The method is, at best, crude and ill-conceived, but this is the government we are speaking of. One cannot be in a position of power and understand poverty.”
“Even if they used to be poor?” Jaci asked, half joking.
“I think perhaps especially then. Like addicts who break an addiction and shame all others who cannot break free as if all spokes in a hub are the same.”

We grab food at the McDonalds and then just wander the WalMart while we wait. Connor and I might be noticed, but it feels safer to be moving, to not be in one place. The police just want us for questioning, as far as they know. What the OSS want from us, I have no idea, but I’ve seen enough movies to know when the government hunts down people with strange abilities, it always goes badly. And nothing I know of the world so far has convinced me otherwise. I don’t know how far I’d go to protect my son from then, but I don’t think Connor does either or he might be scared of me.
He hasn’t asked yet how his mom knew how to hotwire a car, but the question is coming. I walk a little faster, almost without thinking. We don’t escape our pasts, but that’s something I never had to learn from Hollywood. We carry it with us, but sometimes we can put it down in ways we can use.

From nano:
Every parent says they hope their child will be unique, but secretly we all want our children to be as normal as we are. That’s not the hardest lesson Connor has taught me, though some days it used to feel like it was.

from current novella:
Ron wasn’t good for many things, but I never forgot what he told me on one of our first dates. A composer – German, I think – with synesthesia, seeing sound as colours – who spent his childhood convinced that orchestras dimmed their lights so that everyone could see the colours better. I think it was like that for Connor even after he got his glasses – the assumption that everyone else saw the world the same way he did. That when other people went quiet or paused too long, they were staring into the future and picking the one that felt right to them. Which is why he never understood why conversations could be minefields if everyone could avoid the mines most of the time.

This was a poem until I forgot the line breaks. Sorry.

He eats, almost like other kids do to buy time before speaking. “I never thought I was the only person like me, Mom, but if we’re being followed, tracked, if – if we’re being hunted, I don’t know what to do.”
“We keep running. North, into Canada. Whatever this OSS is, its boundaries are probably national and I doubt Canada has anything comparable to them, or at least it’s not as large even if they do.”
“You’ve thought about this before,” he asks, making it at least almost a question.
“I work in insurance: you learn to expect the worst odds, or at least to plan for them.”
“The worst?” He raises both eyebrows. “Mom, Canada isn’t that bad.”
I don’t throw a bread roll at his head, but it’s a near thing.

A short story:
We don’t play truth or dare anymore.

“We aren’t alone,” she says gently, so very gently. “Even in our darkest moments we understand that at some level. The shadow that looks like a person for a moment, the shape half-glimpsed from the corner of our eyes. Mirrors we never stare into for too long - they are there. Watching. Waiting. Hungry. So, so very hungry. And foul yes, but company. No matter their intents, they stand with us as proof we aren’t alone and that we matter, that we will all be missed.
"We are such a good source of nourishment,” she adds to my silence. “You don’t want to disappoint them now, do you? Not when they’re the best friends you never knew you had.”

They said that now that Black Friday was over, it was time for White Monday. And when I asked what that was, they just smiled and said nothing at all.

thoughts on writing this morning:
I often wonder to what extent an author's style/voice can also be their rut.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

The Body

I find her in the cemetery crying beside her gravestone: there are few things that can complicate a life more than resurrection does. She looks normal enough, even to a magician if they look too closely. Perhaps a little pale, but it’s not as if she’s going to be eating the living. Few things work like they do in stories: I sometimes think it would be kinder if it did.

“Nora Baker.”

She spins. Not a ghost, but dead enough to see deeper than humans do. “Are you an angel?”

But perhaps not as deep as she should. “I am the wandering magician of this era. Someone brought you back?”

Nora nods. She is young, perhaps fifteen all told, and I feel no hunger inside her.

That is bad, though I try to hide it. “Do you know who would want to bring you back?”

“No. No, it’s not – it’s not possible,” she says.

“I imagine you can see ghosts now: they tend to be imprints left behind, like your shadow taking on a life all its own. Someone like you is like a wrecking ball, imprinted so hard into the world that your body is restored. There is nothing in that grave anymore.”

“I’m haunting myself?”

“No. You were recalled to life. It is not a thing magicians do, for many reasons. The cost is far higher than even love is willing to pay, but madness is something else entirely. It is the main reason few magicians dare fall in love, for fear of the madness that might follow. Or at least will not give themselves up wholly to love even when they do,” I say, threading power into my voice, letting the words wash over her in a soothing. “You must know who cared for you enough to do this?”

“No. My parents love me, but this transgresses – they would not do this, not sell their souls for me.”

“Someone did, and I doubt it was you. May I?”

She nods, not sure what she is agreeing to, but I reach out with the magic and feel the edges of her, touching what lies within. A face appears. A boy her own age. Not warded, because he doesn’t know enough to do that. I pull light and air together until an image form the light of the moon and stars. The boy is taller than Nora, with long hair trying to cover up an acne-scarred face, shoulders hunched against the world. The image fades, as if his desire to not be seen even extends to this moment.

“That – that’s ac- Tony tee – Tony Brown,” Nora says, looking shocked. “I don’t think he’s ever talked to me once.”

“But you know him?”

She hesitates, then nods. “This is magic, making him appear?”

“An image only, but it will help to find him. I imagine you desire answers?”

“But you know what he did?” she says, and it is only just a question.

“I have suspicions. I imagine you wish to know the truth, and that he should as well.”

“I couldn’t go home. I wanted to, but everyone knows I died. The had the funeral three days ago, and this town is not that large in ways that matter. I have spent the last six hours hiding, wandering, not understanding. I can enter churches, I don’t have demonic urges. I haven’t eaten a single brain.”

“I know. The conversation would be far different if you had.”

Nora pulls back at something in my voice. “I should be?”

“Not brains, no, but there are many reasons the dead aren’t brought back. Tell me about you and Tony.”

“There’s nothing to tell. I knew him, everyone knows of him, but that’s not like being his friend. I wasn’t a cheerleader, nothing like that. I don’t even get good grades, I haven’t even had a proper boyfriend yet!”

I decline to point out that she’s only fifteen, if only because such things probably don’t apply to the undead.

“Tell me about Tony himself, then?” I ask when Nora adds nothing else about her. Almost no one sees themselves properly from the outside, even after they’d died.

“I don’t think I’ve ever talked to him. He’s Acne Anthony, Tony Teeth: those are what everyone calls him. You saw the acne. He has the kind of buck teeth everyone makes jokes about, that he’ll never see a beaver because he is one. People said things like that,” Nora says.

“Did you?” I ask; I don’t need to thread power into it. Lying comes less easily to the dead than it does to the living, at least for a time.

“I – no. I have an uncle who was a volunteer firefighter until he was badly burned. People made so many jokes, so I guess I learned not to say such things about people?”

“You were never mean to him.”

“But that – that’s not reason enough to bring me back from the dead!”

“How does your uncle react when people do him the kindness of treating him like he’s everyone else?”

Nora is silent at that. “I didn’t even think,” she says finally. “I didn’t even think that all. I was texting on my phone, crossing a road, not thinking then either. And now I am – what I am, magician?”

“Only Tony can answer that,” I say and she just nods and walks. Starting to see her life from the outside, learning that she is probably not the monster she always thought she was. I almost envy her that luxury, since it is one magicians almost never have.

I wrap wards about us to make us unseen as we walk. Nora moves quickly after some gasps as staring into people’s homes. Starting to see more about people she knew than the living ever wish to, and remains human enough to both want to know more and to fear what might come of that.

The home of Tony Brown is dark. No lights on, no TV, no cars in the driveway. No wards, no ghosts, no power. I walk up to the front door, which opens without my touching it. Nora makes a startled sound at that small magic, and I close my eyes a moment. It would be funny if the sadness underneath wasn’t rising up. There is no power here, the house almost devoid of furniture, and we find Tony Brown upstairs in a largely empty bedroom. There are tacks on the walls where posters used to be, a power bar where a computer once was and shelves empty of books.

“Nora?” he whispers, sensing her without knowing how.

“What have you done to me?” she asks, the words coming out close to a scream.

I step in beside after her as the boy’s face crumples, wrapping bindings about her so we won’t attack him. “Tony Brown. Tell her,” I say, and there is nothing in him to stand against the command of a magician.

He jerks his head up. For a moment, he tries to resist as if he can hide from the truth even now. “I love you,” he says to Nora. “I kept wanting to ask, but I knew you’d say no. That kindness only went so far, and then you died and I couldn’t help – I couldn’t help but wonder what if, what if, and what if? It burned in me like an obsession, like how much I wanted to see the new Star Wars movies, only bigger even than that.

“I looked online. In places where I shouldn’t, and I did what I had to,” he says, his voice raw.

Nora steps forward, gently pushing long hair out of Tony’s face. His acne is bad, even worse than the imagie suggested, bucktoothed yellowed teeth trying to hide behind thin lips. He gulps loudly, his face naked terror and yearning both.

“She needs to know what you did to bring her back,” I say, cutting through the moment before it can be more.

Emotions spasm across the boy’s face, but he does speak: “Sacrifice. Everything I owned, my friends – online only, but without a computer they are lost,” he says.

“You didn’t use magic on yourself?” she asks.

“I know that doesn’t end well in any story,” he says simply.

“Tell her the rest of the sacrifice,” I say softly.

“I had to sacrifice everything that meant anything, for it to work.”

Nora goes still, drawing back from him. “Where are your parents and sister, Tony?”

“They – they were – it costs, to bring the dead back,” he says. “I love you. Love is worth … isn’t it?”

She says nothing at all, then turns to me. Her anger is cold and ugly. “You knew? You brought me here and you knew!”

“To bring the dead back has a cost; I didn’t know what it was in his case, Nora. Nor what you would consider acceptable.”

“You thought –.”

“The dead are not the living,” I say flatly.

“What do you know,” she demands, and power begins to rise as a coldness from places the living aren’t meant to tread. Light burns about her in an unnatural calling.

Tony whimpers; I’m not sure Nora notices.

“I am a magician.” I smile, and her power shatters against me. No power, just the force of memory in the smile. “And I know more of death than you, and more of the sleep that does not end than you can grasp.”

“I –.” She draws back. “I don’t want that. Not this, and not that. Please?”

“I don’t know how to undo it,” Tony whispers.

“We do terrible things for love that we would do for no other cause,” I offer quietly. “And there is more that you can do.”

Tony closes his eyes, then straightens and looks at Nora. “I release you from love, from the bonds I made and the crime I did. My life holds you, my – my life releases you.”

And he closes his eyes again, and falls back onto his bed in silence.

Nora doesn’t move, even as power shimmers about her. He murdered his family for her, and that’s shaken her deeper than she can easily understand. The body dissolves, the spell unmade by Tony’s death and two ghosts face each other in what comes afterward.

“You may meet in the Grey Lands,” I say, “But not until after prices are paid.”

Tony nods to that, and vanishes as hands and fingers swirl around him.

“His family,” I say to Nora, who hovers in the air.

“What happens now?” she whispers.

“That is up to you,” and I turn and walk away.

“Magician? Why did you do this?” she demands, meaning so many things.

“Because sometimes the only way forward is through the fire and out the other side,” I say, and I’m not talking to the ghost at all as I leave the home. It begins to burn behind me, and I am almost certain that’s not my doing.

But I don’t think almost is enough.  

Friday, November 20, 2015

Jay Hooks

The window opens silently without being touched. Given that the fourth hotel windows aren’t even meant to open, this is mildly impressive. I’m on my fourth cup of coffee to keep away at ungodly’o’clock in the morning as Jay slips in the window. He’s dressed entirely in black like a ninja would be, only his black seems to blend into the darkness and light both, the effect mildly disconcerting as the window closes behind him and he seems to fade in and out of view. He is holding what looks to be a grappling hook and vanishes as the window closes.

I cough. Not loudly, but I do cough.

Jay spins, eyes wide, the clothing fading into view as a drab black. “Charlie?”

“Jay. It isn’t even four in the morning. What are you doing?”

“I was out flying,” he says. “Like a jayboss does!”

“Wearing black?”

“Uhm. Uhm. Yes?” he says hopefully.

“And with a grappling hook in your right hand?”

“I hid it somewhere else, so you can’t get me with that,” Jay says proudly.

I wait. It takes a few seconds before his eyes widen. I missed Jay being able to see, if only for the addition it has to the look of panic in the kid’s face.

“I mean that I might have hidden it if I had one, but I don’t.”

“Hidden what?” I ask, unable to help myself.

“The – uhm. Something that –.” Jay bites into his lower lip. “You know!”


“That I’m secretly BatJay!” He glares accusingly up at me with all the force one can muster at eleven, even if he’s not really eleven or human at all.

“Jay. You told me and the wandering magician about it. And posted it on your tumblr, which I do read.”

“But –. But –.”

“You’re jaysome, so how could I not read it?”

“But superheroes have secret identities,” he wails.

I fight back a grin. “You could have thought about that before telling us.”

“I was really new to it, and – and you know I’m SuperJay too and could figure out I’m SuperJaysome as well,” he says with a pout, looking like he’s about to cry.

I reach over, and grab him into a hug. “It’s okay, Jay. It’s not like we’re going to tell anyone.”

“But it was one of my secrets,” he says as he bursts into tears against me.

I pause. ‘One of’ sets off alarm bells in my head, but now isn’t the time. “It can still be a secret even if it’s shared, Jay. I was trying to make a joke about it, not hurt you.”

“Honest?” he sniffs, looking up at me.

“Honest, with extra bindings on top,” I say, which wins a giggle. “What adventures did BatJay have?”

“Well, I –.”

“He. Or you might accidentally tell someone, remember?”

“Oh! Right, so BatJay was busy flying and helped save a bird from flying into a plane that wasn’t using lights and the plane landed in the water outside the town and there were people on boards who weren’t jaysome and they had boxes that were filled with really icky bindings. So BatJay took care of them just like a jayboss would only as a batboss and he used the grappling hook to bounce some of them off the plane,” he says with a huge grin.

“Grappling hooks do that?”

“They do in Just Cause, and it gave me lots of ideas!”

“Okay. Anything else?”

“BatJay took their money and did a sneak-giving to some homeless people and then came back here and met me and you kinda know the rest?”

“All right. You want to get some more sleep then?”

“Okay,” Jay says, and bounces off to the one motel bed.

I don’t even try to sleep after three cups of coffee. I poke the internet for information to find out what Just Cause even is and how grappling hooks factor in. I then spend over an hour in horrified silence. A video game where the goal is destroying structures and hurting people with grappling hooks and it had given Jay ‘ideas’. I wait up for the morning paper, and turn the tv on to local news as soon as I can.

The wandering magician wakes at the latter, asking if anything is wrong.

I say I have no idea yet, show him footage of the game and explain.

The lead story involved some probably drug dealers who were found unconscious on a beach with drugs on them and no sign of their craft anywhere.

I tell the wandering magician it’s up to him to find out what Jay did with an entire float plane. He pours himself coffee, asks for the crossword puzzle in the paper and we do our best not to think too hard about it as Jay sleeps.