Saturday, March 26, 2016

Tired Walkings

Being a magician means many things, but less of them are important the older I get. I walk through the small town of Horseshoe Creek and no one pays any attention to me: the town is small, but not small enough that any stranger is taken as a sign or omen. No one rushes out of small tourist shops to try and get me to buy things, but that is more the ward I have drawn up about myself than anything else. Every place has energies all its own that a magician can tease into certain shapes. Not being bothered is often one of the easier ones.

I walk, reaching out with the magic within me. I pull anger from an arguing couple, give it to someone who needs the motive force to quit their job, reach out to the axle of a car and fix it as I walk past. It has been months since I was - imprisoned, since I escaped. The magic doesn’t pull me to places that need to be fixed as it used to. And won’t talk to me about why.

Not that I am worrying right now. This is what I became a magician for - not the grand and terrible gestures, but the small magics no one notices. Making places better without fanfare, without applause: doing what I can to help nudge the world toward better destinations. I ease stress on a road, help a tree dig deep into roots, open a bin for a fox as I pass an alleyway.

It doesn’t last, of course. I get almost an hour of peace before I feel a twisting in the air, a pressure mounting against the skin of the world. Outsiders prefer to sneak into the universe - when they can - in places where they hope not to be noticed. I have no idea if it trying to manifest inside the lone tourist information booth in the town is some kind of irony.

I walk over, threading a little power into my voice. “This place is not for you.”

“Magician? Here?” The voice is a low hiss in the shadows that shadows cast.

“The wandering magician, yes.” And it is one of my gifts to speak truth that can not be ignored.

Not that the Outsider doesn’t try. Sometimes I feel my reputation in certain circles has become so big that some can’t believe I am actually me. “Prove -.”

I feel it trying to gather power and reach. This isn’t magic as much as what magicians are. I bind it, toss it back Outside with no effort and walk to the edges of the town where the weave of civilization meets fields and trees. Edges are important, for all sorts of reasons.

“So,” I say to the magic with me, stepping aside and leaving it where I was. Some tricks aren’t tricks at all, but one doesn’t become a magician without mastery of the self – sometimes regardless of what your self thinks at all.

It manifests as a duplicate of me, though oddly with a British accent and eyes that I hope look more worn than mine do. “You are persistent.”

“We are. Your point?”

“You need a rest. I am giving you that rest from certain callings.”

“By having Jay and Charlie deal with them?”

“Sometimes. You - we - need time to heal. We cannot continue to put out fires if we risk burning up ourselves each time.”

I let out a breath. It hurts. “I know. I don’t know what we can do though. ”

And the magic looks away at that. “Nor do I. I am scared.”

I step close, pull the magic back into me. It trembles, then gasps as I offer up a gentle kiss and a hug I hope is jaysome. “We will figure this out. We have to. But we can’t ignore situations where we are needed. I don’t think that’s helping me heal at all.”

“Then we will break before we bend.”

“Perhaps. Perhaps we must,” I say, and walk back toward the motel Charlie and Jay are playing poker in. I know they want to help. I know they can help. But part of me is scared of being weak, even to those I trust more than anyone else in the world.

One cannot last as a magician without being strong. I try to remind myself that there are strengths that destroy more than weakness. I don’t know if it helps.

The Fictioning

Okay, so! I was asked to write a fiction story, which is one that isn’t real at all. And this is pretty tough for a Jay, since all the stories I’m in are real cuz they happened to me and Honcho and Charlie and lots of other people too! Plus plus plus when you have fiction the characters have to make sense in a world that isn’t fiction, so they gotta be believable as peoples even if they’re not people at all and that makes it even more confusling if you think it might be real when it’s not real-real but only dream-real and you end up pretty sad-face and lost.

But that means this is totally a prologue! And probably an introdictioning, but no one reads those :(


Oolag squithered through the vast Ionish’qua with a quasi-feeling of murphle flowing through their kyshin sacs. The Yurt was behind, althling a path all its own, seeking to Jermiaj the Oolag and achieve a result almost akin to like a Burphab but more Odeblesh than suited the Ionish’qua. Oolag kysh-althed a tunnel, the murphle unploding at the strain and almost Jermiaj’d themself with the effort. The Yurk let out a Zeriek in reply and the rfgult was on!


“Jay.” I look up at Charlie. “This is the start of your story.”

“Uh huh!”

“It – do you know what these terms mean?”

“Of course!”

“And the, oh, Kysh-althing of a tunnel?”

“That is quantum tunnelling, but on a hugey scale, Charlie.” I beam proudly.

“And your story doesn’t say this because?”

“I wanted to make sure everyone knew it was fiction, and not be trickified into thinking it wasn’t because that wouldn’t be jaysome at all!”

“Of course not,” Charlie says after a pause. “But the point of fiction is to trick people, to an extent, just like movies and TV do.”

“Nope! I’m not doing that because it’s totally wrong.”

“Wrong,” she repeats.

“I read about how people can only really care about two hundred people before it’s too many bindings and they can’t more than are real so! it would be all kinds of wrong-face if some of those bindings were to fictional people and not real ones.”

“Oh. I see.” And Charlie walks away at that, because sometimes I’m really clever for a Jay.


The rfgult led to a fdish of squithering and plkreked in hawiix, so you know! Which meant Oolag did a kwertlewertz and could only begin again the Ionish’qua rapeliv.  

Monday, March 21, 2016

Of Protectors and Maelstroms

Ingress IV-2 wasn’t much of a moon, being little more than a refuelling station circling a gas giant at the edges of the Duvellin Cluster. It wasn’t where I expected to find him, but I knew enough of my target to know that expecting anything was dangerous at the best of times. Even so, if there was a place that wasn’t important Ingress IV-2 wouldn’t even be in the running for that.

He was sitting at the only bar the station had. There were a half-dozen pirates, smugglers and traders scattered about the crude interior, all sitting at a collection of cheap tables and talking or making bets in the tones of people who had nothing else to do with their time at all. No one that would be missed if worse came to worse. Some looked up as I entered, a few looked wary. He didn’t look back at the door at all. He was twenty-one, and it was strange how I simply knew that, as though it were some sort of warning.

“Jaysel –.”

“I go by Jay.” He didn’t turn around. “I believe you go by Lady Vestra.”

“Sometimes. In some places.”

He turned. He looked young and human, but there was a calmness to him. “Are you going to try and kill me now or later?” he asked as if that was a minor thing. A few people began scrambling for windows or the back door. Jay just waited in silence, pale eyes steady and unafraid.

“I serve two masters,” I said evenly. “Only one of them wishes you dead.”

“Three.” He smiled then, and despite everything I’d seen and been told, the kindness of it staggered me almost physically. “You are also a master of yourself, I think?”

“You know of me?”

“We just met. But I am pretty jaysome at bindings,” Jay said. “You thought your name loudly enough for me to sense, and everything about you screams killer.” He paused. “And protector.”

“And if it did not?”

“We wouldn’t be here talking,” he said evenly.

The bar had emptied save for the bartender; she remained, as bartenders always do. “I have this,” I said from within my own calm, and unsheathed the Verkonis blade. Translucent metal hummed like a hungry thing, the air about the blade twisting with strange colours. There were, to my knowledge, less than twenty Verkonis blades in circulation. They cut through dimension as easily as through energy, which made them dangerous enough, but when used on a vessel in hyperspace a Verkonis blade slices through the hyperspace membrane and drops the ship back into real space. Few spacecraft or crew survive the experience, so the blades were illegal most everywhere.

I never saw Jay move. One moment I was holding the blade, the next it was sheathed in his lap as he continued to drink his beer. “I knew you did; I was stabbed with a Verkonis blade once. I would rather it never happened again, so I was aware of it.” His voice was soft, almost calm still.

“When was that?” I asked, trying to buy myself time. It’s one thing to be told how dangerous a target is, another to see them in action. Or not see them at all, in this case.

“Two days before Verkonis itself vanished from the universe.” Jay paused a beat. “In Galchwar.”

I didn’t freeze, but it was a near thing. I walked to the bar, bought a drink, gulped half of it back without tasting it. The Galchwar Cluster had been destroyed a century ago: four star systems obliterated in an instant, cause unknown. The strangest part, historically, was that none of the neighbouring systems had gone to war over who might have done that and trying to find secret weapons the other systems might have had.

“You stopped wars from happening because of it?”

“It seemed the right thing to do.” The words were still calm, but there was a coldness in his manner that made me very glad I hadn’t intended to try and use the weapon at all. “May I ask why you are here?”

“You don’t know?”

That won a grin. “It would be rude to.”

“I am here as a Protector on behalf of the world of Aldemayer in the Qwa Conglomerate,” I said.

“A single planet can afford your services?” he asked.

“This one can. A seer on the planet – Chielin – found a way to combat the bloating plague in the Conglomerate, but it requires medicines found only in the Great Maelstrom. It is said that you can make barriers that cannot be breached; I am more than adequate as a pilot, so together we’d enter the Maelstrom, find what Chielin needs, and depart.”

“A seer?”

“A historian, in point of fact. She learns things in old records and others take it as proof of prophetic powers, which irks her to no end.”

“Would you object if I asked to meet this Chielin?” he asked.

“There is a plague in Qwa. Taking the time to return would be –.”

I felt a breeze behind me, turned as my hairs rippled in the wind. I resisted base urges with an effort as I stared into the great library of Aldemayar.

“Is that the right place?” Jay asked.

I nodded. The bartender chose that moment to faint dead away as we stepped through a portal from one world to another as easily as walking out of any doorway. The Great Archives were Chielin’s domain, so I was unsurprised when she came striding through the crystal fields toward us with a weapon in hand and a look of fury on her face.

“Chielin.” I bowed. “I have brought the one who asked for to this place.”

“The famous Jay, and this soon?” she asked, not lowering the weapon.

Jay was still beside me. I glanced over; his eyes were wide, and he looked about to speak before catching himself. “I made a doorway to this place,” he sayd in the careful way people speak when concealing pain.

“I have heard of that.” Chielin studied him openly, lowering her weapon. “Can you make a door right into the Great Maelstrom?”

I bit back a curse word at not thinking of that option myself.

“I made one to this place because Lady Vestra resonated with it; I would need to know something about the Maelstrom to make one connected to it.”

Chielin gestured, and information spilled into the air in front of Jay. I almost jumped; she never opened an archive casually to anyone. “Most of this is speculation.”

Jay nodded, gestured at the air in front of him. He grunted, gestures again. “Huh.”

Something about the ‘huh’ made my ears twitch.

“It is closed to me,” Jay said quietly. “And there was very few entities in the universe who can close a place to me. The ones I know of at present would not do so.” He held out a hand to the air in front of him. His voice didn’t deepen, didn’t change in any way I could discern, but every crystal in the archive rang discordantly when he spoke to the air in front of him. “Holder of the Great Maelstrom, speak. I invoke the Cone and Grave.” Jay paused, and his voice roughened. “I invoke them in the name of Honcho that you speak.”

Nothing happened.

Jay blinked, then dropped his hand. “You have made me speak the name of the wandering magician,” he said, and his voice was terribly gentle as he stared at something only he could see. “That was not a safe thing to do at all.”

Chielin made a sound, and Jay seemed to recall himself and turned, looking at me with a flatness that almost made me step back. Almost.

“When do we leave?” he asked.

“We will need a craft, yes?”

“It might be safest,” he said, and followed me out of the Archive to the spaceport without a single look back. I think he wanted to, though I had no idea why.


“What do you mean, you have no idea how to fly a spacecraft?” I screamed as the hull shuddered under stresses.

“Well, I’ve never had to learn how to, now have I?” Jay said crossly.

“I can’t use flight and guidance systems and keep us on course,” I snarled as system alerts flared and screamed. “The Maelstrom is disrupting the hyperspace pathway itself from over four systems away, so do something!”

Metal screamed throughout the ship and every alarm went burgundy to my eyes before shutting down entirely, as if the very alarm system had been overloaded past capacity. Every sensor on the ship died, then shuddered back on as if our craft was waking from a dream. I turned on the long-range scanners, blinked. We’d traversed six star systems in a moment and the hull was covered in multiple fractures and what looked for all the world like vast claw marks.

I turned and stared at Jay, who actually blushed.

“We might have gone through underspace. It’s shorter than hyperspace but loads more dangerous. Mostly because of the risk of creatures in it getting out every time it is used.”

“And there was no risk of that?” I asked slowly.

“No.” He said it with a simply finality, and nothing else at all as we drifted toward the Great Maelstrom proper.

Alien energies surged in the air in front of us. Even a craft built by the finest Qwa engineers could barely make out a third of what we were witnesses, but then again the craft’s scanners claimed Jay was entirely a normal human. I picked up black holes, two supernovas, a quasar, one grey hole, at least two white holes and three aendar variables that were entirely off any scale. “Hyperspace isn’t active at all,” I said.

“Neither is underspace, which is curious,” Jay said. He didn’t move, but out craft ceased rocking and most of the warning lights went away as a shield flowed into existence over us in a shimmer of golden hues. Darkness seemed to leap out of the maelstrom, slamming into the shield like hungry blades. The shield held, though Jay took a step back.

“That shouldn’t be possible,” he said in a tone of shock that almost had me looking for a place to hide. Entities like Jay shouldn’t sound shocked. “There are almost no magicians left in the universe, and none capable of working on a scale like this.”


“It was a long time ago and the universe was different then.” Jay smiled without humour. “It may not be wise for you to continue down this path, Lady Vestra.” For a moment, I almost thought he was going to call me by a name I hadn’t used in over thirty years. “I cannot guarantee your safety; I am not entirely certain of my own.”

“I have my duties.”

“I am certain that you do.” Jay glanced toward the maelstrom; the craft rocked, then hurled forward on a straight course even as stray energies crackled against whatever shield he had made. Jay said nothing, his lips a thin line, silence a weight of its own as we finally spotted a structure.

The tower floated in a void, a metallic collection of rooms and corridors interwoven together to form a mesh that tried to hide anything important under a multitude of bland designs; it was a fashion that had gone out of of style over a century ago as scanners made it obsolete. I managed to find a docking bay out craft could fit in; the atmosphere wasn’t breathable but I had a pressure suit. Jay needed nothing at all. It was cold despite the energies that hummed in the air and I couldn’t shake a feeling that the structure itself was alive somehow, aware of us in a way that was more than just scanning us.

“Hello?” Jay called out as we walked down a narrow corridor.

“This is my home,” a voice spoke, coming from all about us.

“I know, but I thought it must be lonely here at least sometimes? We could be friends you know.”

“I have no need of that weakness,” the voice roared.

“Oh.” Jay let out a sigh. “I used to be a lot better at making friends than I am these days. I am Jayseltosche.”

“That name means nothing to me.”

“It can: you are a machine intelligence,” Jay said. “I knew the core Val in the first terran system, and your archives should contain something of that. Probably filed under jaysome, I imagine. I know you are a magician, and I know what that means. I can help you.”

“No! I will not be tricked,” the voice roared, and the corridor about us shrunk inward, though only for a moment.

“Don’t do this.” Jay didn’t move, his voice softer. “I could destroy you: depend upon it that such a thing is within my power. But also depend upon knowing that I don’t want to. You can think, friend – that means you can make another choice than this.”


“You cannot destroy this creature,” I said to Jay.

“Unchecked, it could damage the universe more deeply than even it knows. Madness in magicians is a very bad thing,” Jay said.

“You misunderstand me.” And I fired the Verkonis dart that had been hidden within my right palm. The containment field it would make it hold Jay gave me a small chance of surviving; I suspected the maelstrom would survive just fine.

The dart vanished.

Jay didn’t even look over at me. “There are dimensions of me a Verkonis blade cannot reach at all. That is where I stored the blade, and now the dart as well.” He must have done something, because the maelstrom let out a roar of thwarted fury about us. “I am jaysome, and I have quite a few skills: you could have asked me to look into this plague, but you did not. Because, I imagine, I would discover that Qwa made it themselves.” He turned toward me, looking tired. “What did they hope to gain here, Lady Vestra?”

“A weapon. An edge over our enemies.”

“A better edge would be making friends rather than enemies.”

I was going to say that might be easier for him when the Great Maelstrom manifested all its energy at once as a burning ball that obliterated much of the structure as it came into existence before us. Jay made some shield about me, though I had no idea why, before he turned to face the heart of the maelstrom.

“Please,” he said, his voice breaking. “We don’t have to do this. Fear doesn’t have to be stronger.”

The core of the maelstrom collapsed inward toward us, the entire great maelstrom itself becoming a crushing weight as though to reduce us to nothing. The shield about me shuddered, and I had no words for the energies that flared up in a moment that might have been a moment, a minute, an hour or even an eternity.

Jay did not move at all, as still and distant as some terrible force far outside even this. There was a silence and then the maelstrom was unmade. The machine intelligence, whatever it had become, the core, the place it had created to hide itself from the universe – all of that was gone, unbound like a thread pulled apart with no effort at all.

I think I blinked, because a moment later we were back on the Qwa craft, and it was floating in empty space, reading no unusual energies at all.

Jay just stood, shoulders slumped. He spoke as if words were being pulled from him. “All this power, all that I am, and sometimes all I can do is destroy. Which is not jaysome, not right, not the proper thing to do at all. But forcing someone to be a friend is worse. I know this, and yet, and yet...” He trailed off.

I froze in the pressure suit, all my hair and membranes still.

“I aged a week doing that,” Jay said as he turned toward me. “Some actions make me older. Ones I am forced to, not as much. Ones done to me, not at all.”

“Galchwar didn’t,” I managed.

“It did not.” He straightened. “Where do we go from here, Lady Vestra?”

“Pardon?” I asked.

“I could use a Protector, I think. And I imagine you cannot return to Qwa since neither of your masters will be happy with you.”

“Oh,” I said, and wisely, wisely, nothing else at all as I set a course for a random galaxy. I had funds, and could easily get another ship. And if I was very lucky, I might someday atone for what I’d forced Jay to do here. 

Monday, March 14, 2016


He told anyone who would listen that he used to be a giant. He was neither tall nor short, thin nor fat. Bearded, yes, but most men were this far from the Mountain. I plied him with drinks on the third night of listening to his tales – for I’d secrets of my own, and never offered up stories myself – and his tolerance for the power of Ninkasi was not as great as my own, for as his mouth filled so too did more stories spill forth. He said his name was Jack, who had killed a giant by making her his wife, and other things he said as well. Perhaps some were even true.

He called himself Boral as he told me about a troll he tricked into being stone and the time he led twenty women in a dance that destroyed the last Witch-Queen of the Southern Marshes. He told me about the wizards of Kildesh, who spoke math as others did words, the not-men of far Ishael who lived across a desert more dangerous to cross than any ocean. It was then I realized that he took me for a man – it is one of my gifts that others see what they wish to when they speak with me, though I never know the form the seeming takes. Men often see men, women a women.

I liked to think he would not have shared the darker edges of the tales with a woman, but I could not be certain. His tales grew taller as the night advanced. Others came and went from our table, and I paid for their drinks and our own with small coin, though a great deal of them. The dead take little with them and leave much behind for others to use.

The fire burning in the fireplace had eyes when it thought no one was watching.

“You must have had many other names, to know so many tales,” I said.

And Boral was almost, almost suspicious then but I had bought so many drinks and fed his ego even more. He offered other names in the hours before dawn that are not as quiet nor as lonely as many suppose. And finally, he told me that he used to be a prince. He said it as though it was the one story he did not expect me to believe, not even after he told me his first name, oldest and truest.

“You killed Grendel,” I said.

“Yes.” And he said it without pride, which might have saved him were I kind in even the small ways humans can be kind.

“You should not have done so,” I said, and the fire vanished from the fireplace at the words.

He drew back. “Mother?”

“You killed your brother.”

“Half, surely,” he said unsteadily.

“You squandered the gift I gave you.”

“Whatever else is done with gifts?” he asked, and he was almost something more in that moment.

“Even so.”

He reached for his blade then.

I smiled, for the first time since we had begun speaking, and Beowulf’s hand fell from his blade.

“I am the monster you birthed me to be,” be said, and there was a pleading in his voice.

“Even so,” I said again. And he was brave, and did not run though the innkeeper never slept a night through for the rest of his life.

Monday, March 07, 2016

Facebook status updates part XLIII (Jan. - Feb. 2016)

The world is a silence, things sleeping and things dead, and I should be a darkness dreaming but the thoughts I cannot wander from fall deep inside to roam. And their barbs widen pathways as each digs up old sores and I am too full of ghosts I don’t know how to exorcise, the banishing a forgiving that I do not deserve. And so awake I haunt them as they haunt me in turn and we wait to learn which of us, things present or things past, is a better monster yet by far.

You know a short story about a date (and snowball fight) with Cthulhu has gone weird even by those standards when the heart of the piece is Cthulhu being utterly baffled by racism since humans should be scared of Him and not the colour of His skin.

She discovered she was immortal the hard way.

“I don’t care,” I whispered, “not about this.” My voice was steady and cold, but my hands betrayed me with their tremor.

I think you are better at being me than I am.

We go seeking answers but sometimes I am not sure we deserve even the questions

Goodbye,” he said, and how she wished it was for the last time.

I was scared of how dead your eyes looked until I realized you were only reflecting mine.

I thought I was the evil twin. Some things you never want to be wrong about.

This is a viral post. All hail the meme gods. Hashtag gif.

I was scared of how dead your eyes looked until I realized you were only reflecting mine.

We all have our defences against the world. Only it turned out your pills beat my willpower in the end.

They tried to explain that pain was a present. A gift, a wonder, an offering from the universe, a balancing of gifts and scales. But all he could do was scream in agony as the witches smiled their delighted smiles and said, “You said the pain of childbirth was a gift, little god. What do you think of it now?”
Please,” he begged on the altar, but their smiles didn’t waver at all.

I’m sorry but where I work isn’t who I am. Being a butcher doesn’t make me a butcher of people. That’s just a coincidence.”

“You had me at hello.”
“I did not realize one word could wound so deeply.”
“Not even love?”
“Especially not that one.”

It’s not that you are a monster, more that your priorities are so different than my own that it is hard not to see you as monstrous.

Once upon a time there was a story that almost ended happily.

When they arrested the mayor for his killing spree, he only released one statement. “We will get tourists and that will stimulate the economy,” he said as though it justified the murder of 33 people.

The predictive text on my phone keeps saying that we should break up.
I think Siri is jealous.

Revenge was so simple: a knife, a hammer, and more damage than a plastic surgeon could ever fix.

What’s the use of magic if it cannot make a happy ending? The lengths we go to achieve them stretch behind us like shadows and everyone who knows what we are stares at us. Waiting. Judging. Their silence a demand.

“I was tired.”
“Tired? Tired?! You slept through the rapture!”
“I was very tired all right? Who was raptured?”
“Dogs. It was mostly dogs.”

They say cameras steal a portion of your soul, like mirrors do. But it has been so long since they began saying that, so it cannot be strictly true: one cannot steal what no longer exists.

All I wanted was to be the only status update you’d like online.
But even love cannot compete with memes.

I wish there was more than all the things we’ve never been. I keep reaching for things I’m scared to wait for, seeing broken glass inside every mirror. I am a wanting when I should be a waiting, too scared for more. Too scared of being afraid. I am here, we are now: I daren’t try for more.

In the future, imagine the AI version of the NRA:
“AIs never hurt people; only programmers hurt people!”

"If it was not hard, if there was no cost to it, what power could it possibly have?"

“I wish I’d had the courage to get into politics. Only courage isn’t the right word for it at all …”

The worlds greatest thief steals only hearts.

The stars twinkle in the sky because they too dream in their wild sleeping.

I was going to write you a poem about broken things, forgetting that nothing is broken at all. Waiting for your slivers of wholeness. Forgetting the sky is full of colours we forget under the twilight and the dawning. We forget the beauty of the ordinary – this is the lie that rainbows teach.

I tried to find some meaning of worth in my pain. When that failed, I realized your pain could enlighten me more than my own.

Even your silences are not gentle.

You told me you held reason higher than logic but that explained nothing at all.

This used to be a post. Before autocorrect darned us all.

Trying to find words to fill the gaping maw of experiences.

She marked every post tbd but never deleted a single one.

We speak of sound and fury as if our words were not merely real.

“Mommy? Gramma says that by the time you die, Heaven will be full!”

The irony of security procedures longer than your flight.

A bus stop built better than the homes around it.

The only foreign countries left are the ones with no signs in English at all.

There is no non-fiction. It is only that sometimes, just sometimes, we wrap our stories in thin skeins of hollow facts we try to pretend are akin to art.

Every travel guide for every country omits one small town from their guide. If you travel to every country and visit each of those towns, you fly free for the rest of your life.

“All I asked of the genie was for some peace and quiet. I never expected world peace to happen as a byproduct of that.”

No one was safe. Not after the election. Not after the hackers made sure everyone knew who their neighbours had really voted to be on the strata council.

This was going to be a post. Really. Before it was deleted and you were left with nothing but this notice that explains naught a thing at all.

People think it’s weird that I’m putting up ‘Drying Paint’ signs even if they put up 'Wet Paint’ ones all the time!
- Jay

Saturday, March 05, 2016

Don’ts & Dues

The Bookmobile came into town twice every year. For some, the height of the year was the small circus in the summer, or the fall high school sports competitions. For me, it was when the Bookmobile came during the first week of April each year: a converted RV filled with books that were sometimes new and always well-priced. The owner, Ms. Worthing, was old and kind and so British you almost suspected she wasn’t British at all. The best part was the library service where you could borrow one book for every two you bought. She made a brief stop back in the first week of September to collect borrowed books and returned the following April.

For six years, my family jokingly called the first week of April my Christmas.

But it was the seventh year that changed everything I thought I knew.

I had borrowed a whole ten books from the Bookmobile that April, but an ugly flu left me bedridden for a week. My sister promised to return them but only returned four, misplacing the other six during our weekly housecleaning. I thought nothing of it, not even when none of us were able to find the six missing books at all – our house wasn’t that big, after all, and I figured I could do an in-depth search when I felt better and just return them next April. Only catching up on missed classes took time and October saw me with agonizing pains stabbing through my abdomen. I was given drugs and antibiotics, had blood work twice and ended up on drugs that barely kept the pain at bay but also meant I had no free time, not even to read, as I struggled to keep up with school.

Somehow, on October 31st, the pain went away. My stomach still looked bloated, and my sister joked to anyone who asked that her brother was pregnant, but I finally felt almost normal for the first time in weeks. My parents didn’t want me going out, but after so long cooped up inside the house I felt I had to at least take a walk and went to a small park two minutes from our house over their objections and just watched the full moon and wondered how people coped with worse pains than my own.

It was quiet, which was strange for Halloween, which is why the rumble of a vehicle on the street caught my ear. It sounded strangely familiar and I turned, did a double-take – I even removed my glasses and put them back on – and I stared at the Bookmobile in confusion. I didn’t move, figuring someone was pranking people like me until Ms. Worthing got out and walked over, the engine juttering to silence. I’m not sure she made any noise as she walked.

“You have something that belongs to me,” she rasped, “do you not, Eric Arthur McTavish?”

The pain in my stomach flared to life and I doubled over, the agony too great even to scream.

Ms. Worthing stepped forward, or perhaps I fell into her. Her grip was hard, but her voice almost kind. “I thought better of you, Eric. But no one steals from the Bookmobile.”

And with that, she reached – Ms. Worthing did – with her right hand, right into my stomach, and pulled out all six missing books one after another as I whined in agony.

Somehow the books were unharmed. My stomach as well. I panted for air, shaking all over, and Ms. Worthing just calmly held one of the books up to her left ear as though listening to it. “It would seem I was wrong; you intended to return them entirely, and would have come April.”

I said nothing, trying to grab what had happened in a way that could make sense.

“I owe you a boon for my error, young Eric,” she said, and her eyes looked so old I was finally scared but couldn’t bring myself to look away. “Are there any books that you desire?”
And I did, of course I did, but something stayed my voice. The pain I had experienced, the impossibility of this evening. “How – what are you?” I asked, and my voice was almost steady. “Please?”

“Oh child,” Ms. Worthing said, and there was grief under the worlds, and a strange kind of pride as well.


People ask what I am going to do when I get older. I smile – my new smile that my sister called inscrutable – and say something will come up. And I add nothing else at all; even the guidance counsellor has stopped asking, perhaps worried I might tell him. Because when I turn eighteen, the Bookmobile will come a week after my birthday in March, and I will learn everything Ms. Worthing can teach me. And then I will drive my own Bookmobile from town to town in turn. Because that is the bargain that I made, and it is the one that the books accepted.

I don’t think I’ll have a British accent. At least not all the time.

But one never knows.