You don’t become the kind of person I am without learning control. Control of yourself, of your surroundings, of the moment and the moments between those. You can be a monster, yes, but it is you that lets that out, you that pulls it back inside. If one succeeds at anything in being a magician, it is in that or nothing at all. Not if one is to last. And the key, the core, is to know when you should never do magic at all. There are times, even for magicians, when magic is so tempting that it can’t be the solution to a problem. Once you think ‘only magic can fix this’ you start down a dangerous path.
I know all this; most of the time I even believe it. Three days into the job and I am fighting the urge to tell a customer in the electronics department to go away with power threaded into my voice, speaking words that would ensure they never went near electronics again in their life. “No, Mr. Carmichael, I do not know where every part in this hair dryer comes from. Nor if the remote for the TV was made in Japan along with the rest of the TV.”
“Well! There is no need to take that tone with me, young man. The customer is always right and it is your job to –.”
I am trying to take a break from being a magician. From knowing that I can’t give up being the wandering magician, that too much depends on me, on magicians in general, for me to just cast the magic aside and try and live in the normal world. Some part of me probably thought this would be a vacation, to pull my magic in as far as I could. To seem as normal as I could, and I can seem very normal indeed even when I am myself.
“My job,” I say softly, so softly he has to fall silent to hear me. I use softness like others would a scream, saying: “My job is to sell items to customers and move onto the next to meet invisible quotas no one talks about but everyone working here knows exists. It is not to spend over one hour dealing with the asinine questions of people so desperate for attention that they drive the rest of the world away from them.”
“I demand to –.”
“Speak to my manager? For the fourth time this month, or the fifth? Do you honestly think he cares what you have to say? That anyone does?” I say as he stares in shock. “At least some of the children who wreck the toy department have a valid excuse for their actions. You have nothing at all beyond some desire to treat others as if they were your servants, as if they should be beholden to your whims.”
He raises a hand, and drops it as I feel my slow smile widen. Mr. Carmichael spins and storms away, bellowing about how he’s never been treated like this and how poor the customer service is, screaming at the assistant manager for over ten minutes. Afterward, the assistant manager comes over to shake my hand. It doesn’t make me feel any better.
I am left to wonder that there are not more holes torn into the universe in this place, that every department store is not riddled with creatures from Outside the universe. Later, I take my break with Aki, who works in the stock room and whose eyes are sometimes doorways to distant worlds. She is tall and solid, and no one here thinks she is anything but human because fae work their glamors on monsters quite well indeed.
“You’re not going to last, are you?” she asks between carrot sticks.
“I think I will manage the rest of the shift.”
“I meant the week,” she says dryly.
“I am trying.”
“I once worked for a new age bookstore,” Aki says. “The kind that sold actual sasquatch-hunting kits and published books filled with the kind of tripe the Weekly World News wouldn’t have dared to publish.”
“May I ask why?”
“Fae might give us human glamours, but jobs still aren’t easy to come by, I had to binge on YouTube and Netflix for two years to be able to have normal conversations with human co-workers. Better than being stuck with family though, at least sometimes.”
“It’s enough, then?”
“It helps. It also helps that once I start killing idiots, I might never know when to stop.” She chuckles after.
“Does that happen to bigfoot often?” I ask, because I can’t not be me.
“Often enough. Start killing, even for the best of reasons, and eventually the killing becomes all that you are. Consumes you, if you aren’t careful, if you don’t mourn every time you take a life. The thing about well-intentioned extremists is that eventually all that is left is the extremist.” She grins, a flash iof large yellowed teeth. “It doesn’t matter to the dead if those who killed them acted from noble causes or not.”
“Point. Sometimes being a magician is like that. You have power, though not in the sense that the powerful would understand. And eventually all that is left is what you can do, rather than the reasons that you do it.”
“We police ourselves. Sasquatches, some of the other monsters as well. My uncle is one and he said you never go off duty. I imagine it’s like that, magician.”
“It is.” I smile and stand, shrugging slightly as I am myself again, rather than merely me. “Thank you for that.”
“Least I could do; you helped me with the flea problem,” Aki says easily. By unspoken consent, we mention nothing else.
I walk through the store, checking departments, greeting people. Using magic to pull tension from places, place it into bags customers will struggle to open at home, turn the frustration of the staff into a ward about myself when a manager demands to know why I’m not in electronics. I ask what he is doing, what work he is contributing, and he stumbles back from my voice. I keep walking, and gentle the world about me.
Some of it is magic, some of it is simply me. I laugh once, softly, at how foolish the idea of closing my magic off is. I can’t not be a magician, and not only because I’m not suited to any other job at all. We invest so much in being ourselves, and we think we can take a break from our lives by walking away from that. All I have, all I can do, is grow more deeply into being who and what I am. I apologize to my magic in silence.
I am not fired by day’s end, but I tell the assistant manager I will not be back. He asks no questions, doesn’t press for me to remain. I suggest that Aki may have some friends seeking work, and he just nods, though there are questions in his eyes. He saw something, or once knew something, and I watch the knowledge rise and then fade as he walks away. He is not weak in this: everyone is strong in the ways they can afford to me.
I head back to the motel room Dana and I are renting, and suggest we pack. The fae looks up from a paperback novel she is reading, seeming entirely human. “Better?”
Only that, and nothing more. “I think so. I’m getting there.”
She just nods and pulls our packed bags from inside the dresser in silence, carrying them out to be van she rented using her CSIS credit card. I wonder how much of her human form is tied up into Dana-as-a-CSIS-agent. I wonder if that is why she offered no comment when I told her I was applying for jobs. But I leave her silence alone and get into the van.
“Where do we need to be?”
“Anywhere we want,” she says, and pulls out of the parking lot; I am pretty sure she does a glamour so that I don’t hear the tires squeal at all.
We pass where I worked, and I let go. But this time it is only a letting go, and not a farewell.