“Jay.” Charlie stares at the wall of the bathroom, then at me. “Hissing at a wall is –” she pauses “– probably not an adventure. What are you doing?”
“I was told that walls in bathrooms open and lead to pits with fridges that freeze people!”
“Fridges?” Honcho asks.
“Because sometimes if you hiss at walls it opens a chamber of secrets that leads to a monster that freezes people,” I explainify.
“The only chamber of secrets I believe this bathroom contains is the toilet,” Honcho says.
“I have this,” Charlie says and Honcho leaves.
“But I was told to have a friend or two –.”
“And I am one. Look, Jay: it’s from a fictional book. Some kids get into a trap and run into a basilisk.”
I scratch my head. “But those aren’t fictional, Charlie!”
“I know basilisks exist Jay, but –.”
“No, no. I did research like a jayboss does cuz I remembered the story and it’s at Hogwarts which isn’t real but! then it got all confusling.”
“What got confusing?” Charlie asks carefully.
“I don’t think Harry expected to be met by a Jay and he tried to use magic on me that was really meany!”
“Ah. One moment.” Charlie walks back out really fast as if I did an oops only I haven’t and Honcho comes back in.
“I do know what Harry Potter is,” Honcho is saying. “I saw one of the movies once when comforting a kid whose babysitter turned into something Else. I dealt with the Else, but didn’t want to leave the child alone. It could be a fae creation done just to screw with humans.”
“I’d notice that,” I say all firmly. “And it wasn’t but it maybe wasn’t real? Also, Harry was only wearing green clothes you know!”
“Oh,” Honcho says, and it’s a magicians ‘Oh’ that’s all about knowing stuff!
Charlie slumps against the wall. “Do I even want to know,” she grumbles when the wall opens up and she falls way down into the dark.
Honcho looks at me. “Did you make that trapdoor, Jay?”
“I’m not stupid,” I say all indignant like a Jay. “Charlie would be really cross if I let her fall down a trap!”
His lips twitch. “A good point. Follow me,” and he slips down the side without making any wards at all which is really weirdy but I follow because we’re going to have an adventure!
I hit the ground, rolling as I do. Nothing broken, a few things bruised. I’m almost certain Jay didn’t make a trapdoor, but I am certain he and the wandering magician will find me. The air is cold like I’m inside a fridge and it’s dark, but the god inside me is a thing of closets and dark spaces so I can see just fine. That the cold is reaching us at all is a surprise. I hear dripping water, and then the sounds of a clock.
I walk toward it, gently flexing my power. There are no gods here to be eaten, but there is something. Not a god, but a made thing. I don’t press it yet. The large room leads to a narrow cavern and a creature. It is long, grey-green and the clock down stops as it turns toward me. Time begins to slow, crawling, the source of the freezing evident now. I draw on the god inside me, reach out and eat the energy and keep walking.
“A basilisk has a lot of legs. You have none,” I say. I’m not Jay or the magician: I can’t just strike up conversations with most anything, but this entity is close enough to a god to understand me. Which I didn’t know I could do until now.
“I am repurposed. Remade,” it says, voice a roll of an aristocratic English accent. “Floreat Etona, you understand.”
“Not even remotely. I know of one story with a gator and a clock in it.”
“And an eaten pirate. We are one. It is very bad form,” the creature says.
I blink. Green. Oh. I almost ask a question I’m not sure I should when I hear Jay behind me.
“Hi!” He bounds over. “We’re friends, right?” he says, offering a huge grin to the creature.
“No.” It tries to use its power on Jay. I’m not sure he even notices. Jay is from far Outside the universe for all that he is 11 and the creature has no hope of binding him at all. That it resisted Jay trying to be its friend is scarier than anything else so far.
“A creature that can’t know friendship can resist jaysome,” the wandering magician says as he wanders up behind me.
The gator-thing growls.
“Hush.” The magician doesn’t thread power into his voice, just looks at it. “I am not part of your story, not this one nor the others. Sleep,” he says, and with a shudder the creature falls asleep.
“Honcho?” Jay looks baffled. “I couldn’t do a friendship binding at all!”
“I know. The sleeping should hold. We’re under a hill, and there is often a king who sleeps under a hill,” he says.
“This is a king?” I say.
“What is going on here?”
He blinks. “What do you think happens if a child becomes a magician?”
“I have no idea.”
“They burn the magic out. It’s too much – the knowing, the weight. the awareness. It gets thrown out of the world, or at least into the cracks between real things. Sometimes it manifests itself as stories.”
“But that can’t last,” Charlie says when she finds her voice. “Magic isn’t a thing that lasts.”
“I know.” I whisper a request to Jay down the bindings between us and Jay grins and vanishes a moment later. “Which is why it gets dangerous. You can come out now,” I say. This is a place of magic: anything I worked here would turn out badly, if I was lucky.
“No magicians come here. Never. None,” the voice says and a boy flies down from the shadows above us. He is young, if you don’t look at his eyes, and dressed in green and carrying a piece of wood like a talisman.
“Some have,” I say, listening to the magic around me. “Children. Lost boys and frightened girls, scared of the magic inside them. Each one seeking Neverland, knowing magic means it must be real. And they come here and you drain them all because that is their deepest wish.”
“I do no wrong. None,” he says as he lands on the ground.
“I’ve never gone looking for you because I was told you’d been destroyed. But you weren’t. You tried to move on, to become Harry but you’ve spent too long being Peter. You can’t escape, no matter how hard you try. Tick-tock.”
The boy lets out a scream and waves his wand toward Charlie and me.
I pull a wand out of thin air. It has colours I don’t know and vibrates with a friendly humming.
“Oh, dear gods,” Charlie says.
I smile. “Obviate.”
The creature ceases to exist a moment later.
“Obviate?” Charlie says as I shake the wand and it turns back into Jay.
“I thought using Latin might give it power enough to remain.”
“Being a wand was a lot of fun,” Jay says happily.
I set that worry aside to deal with later. The magic – the hunger – of this place begins to fold it on itself without the parasite to pretend something symbiotic that was holding it together.
I listen to the magic. Not hurrying, even though a children’s story that turns on itself leaves no way out. There is always a way out, a way stories won’t take if they can avoid it. Words come, and I raise my voice and speak: “I call upon the winds to scream, the sky to crack, the earth to quake. I summon powers from beyond and give myself up for my friends' sake.”
The death of the place shudders at those worse, pauses, and I use the pause to force a door back into the real world, yanking Charlie and Jay after me before Jay can try and stay and make himself another friend this morning.
“What – what was that?” Charlie demands.
“Watership Down, or at least that’s what the words told me. Death is a stranger to the really young stories. It gave us a way out.”
“So it’s gone?” she asks.
“For now. I’ll need to tell other magicians about it. We’ll need to find a way to stop it from forming again.”
“Obviate.” Charlie shakes her head. “Sometimes you are so lucky that you scare me, magician.”
I nod and look at Jay. “No more bathroom adventures for a while. Or train ones.”
“It’s okay. Bathrooms are really weirdy and... ooh! Someone needs a wand,” he says, and vanishes a moment later.
I close my eyes. I manage not to swear.
“And sometimes,” Charlie says slowly, “not so lucky at all.”
“You know Harry Potter: can I summon him back using something from that?”
“While he’s having an adventure?” She snorts. “Good luck.”
I sigh and head out of the bathroom, listening for a too-familiar sound of sirens to lead us to Jay.