An Imperfect Solution

The door opened then closed. Several quiet footsteps indicated it was her attendant.

“Yes, Maire, what is it?”

“Excuse me, Miss. You have a visitor.”

“Who?”

“He refused to give me a name. Merely insisted I informed you of his presence.”

“Send him away. I am not here to be gawked at by anyone who decides to drop by.”

“Very well.”

A thought occurred to her, and she stopped Maire before she could leave. “What did he look like?”

“Miss?”

“His appearance. Describe it to me.”

“Older. His hair was unkempt and his face unshaven. A shabby overcoat. And I do not think he has had a bath in some time.”

“Very well. Bring him here, then leave us.”

“Miss, I must…”

“Just bring him, Maire. No arguments.”

It did not require sight to know that her attendant was glaring with disapproval, but Maire knew better than to voice it.

“As you say.”

Several minutes passed before the door opened again. The footsteps were slower and heavier this time.

“Why did you not give Maire your name? I almost refused your visit.”

“I prefer my comings and goings to be quieter than that. As you know.”

“Yes, well…”

“It is good seeing you again. How are you?”

“Was that a joke? Do not make me regret letting you in, engineer.”

“What? Oh, no. No joke. It is good to see you. I meant no offense. Indeed, it is your lack of sight that brings me today.”

“Is it? And why is that?”

“I may have a solution for you.”

“Do not toy with me. You work with machines. How could you solve my blindness?”

“Humor me. If it does not work, the only thing you have lost is a few minutes of your day.”

She thought for a moment, considering his reputation. “What does it involve? Describe it to me.”

“You only need to wear a special set of goggles I have constructed. They are connected to a box, which captures images and sends those images to the goggles. The goggles, in turn, stimulate the eyes, or the area around them. This should let you see the images.”

“And this works?”

“Yes. At least it should. It worked when I tested it, but I am not blind.”

“So you come to me to be your test subject.”

“I wanted to offer it to you, first.”

After another moment of consideration, she agreed. “Let us see how your contraption works, then.”

A sense of joy permeated the room as the engineer placed a pair of googles on her. She felt him adjust them and then listened to him throw switches, presumably on the box he mentioned.

“Are you ready?”

“Go ahead.”

“This may be disorienting for a moment.”

The first thing she noticed was tingling around the goggles. Then light seeped into her mind. She had nearly forgotten what it looked like. Slowly colors turned into shapes, and she could see her room. Her attention was drawn to her own body and the goggles strapped to her head.

“Oh!”

“Yes, disorienting. You are seeing from the vantage point of the box. It is not… ideal.”

“No, it is not. Still it works. You have given me quite a gift.”

“I am glad you think so.”

The engineer faced her – her body – and it was difficult to see his face from the perspective of the box.

“Is something wrong?”

“You cannot keep it.”

“I can afford to pay you for your efforts.” The thought of losing her sight, after reacquiring it, was difficult to bear.

“It is not a matter of payment. You know better than that.”

“Then what?”

“There are… imperfections in the device.”

“Such as?” Normally, it was impossible to stop him from talking for hours about his inventions. She was growing uneasy.

“For one, I need to make it all smaller. If I can get the mechanisms to take up less space, I can make it portable, fit on your head. That should minimize the perspective discrepancy.”

“But that is not the problem.”

“No.” He paused again. “My tests indicate that, over time, the machine will stop working for a given user. What remains of the sensitive powers of the eyes seem to burn out with too much exposure. In other words, this fix is temporary. And it would make your blindness immune to any other possible treatments. I am sorry.”

She laughed at that. “Sorry? My dear engineer, no other treatments have ever presented themselves. You rob me of nothing. And you have provided me at least one last opportunity to see the world around me.”

“I suppose that is true.”

“How long?”

“My best guess is six months.”

“Can I spread the time out by not using it continuously?”

“Perhaps. I believe so, but I cannot be certain.”

She chewed the inside of her cheek. When she saw how that made her face look, she immediately stopped and vowed never to do it again.

“Look at me.”

“I am looking at you.”

“No, engineer, look at the box, let me see your face.”

He bent down to the table where the box sat.

“Fix this device. Remove its imperfections. You have created something wonderful. Do better.”

“I will try…”

“No! You will. I demand it of you.”

A smile slowly spread across his face, and she knew he would satisfy her.

“Now, do you not have things to see to?”

He nodded, his face already half vacant for being lost in thought. “Indeed. If you will excuse me.”

“Of course.”

She watched him hurry out. With great reluctance, she removed the goggles. The returning darkness seemed deeper, more ominous. Under her breath, she whispered, “Hurry.”

Matthew Grimes

Matthew Grimes lived alone. His wife had passed away several years ago, and his children now had lives of their own. Still in his early sixties, Matthew had retired, though not entirely voluntarily, from a successful run as a museum curator. Now, most days, he found himself not just alone, but lonely.

One evening a knock at the door interrupted the empty silence of the house. Matthew opened the door on a man he did not know but who seemed vaguely familiar. His hair was short and well-kept, and his age was impossible to determine. He wore dark slacks and a matching sport coat, though his white shirt’s top two buttons were undone.

“Hello?”

“Good evening, Machali. Happy to see me?”

“I’m sorry, I think you must have the wrong house.” Matthew began to close the door, but the other man stopped him.”

“Pardon me. I apologize if I got your name wrong, but you are the person I need to speak with. May I come in?”

Matthew looked at him again, trying to decide whether he was a threat. There was really no reason to think so, but Matthew wasn’t sure what he should be looking for.

“What is this about?”

“I have some information for you, from an old friend. Something you need to know.”

“What information? What old friend?”

“Please, it’s best that I tell you inside. You may need to sit down.”

“Oh very well.” Matthew knew it was foolish to let a stranger in, but he found it difficult to care. His life had become a stagnant bore, so what did he really need to protect?

“Have a seat in the living room.” Matthew gestured to his right. “Would you like anything to drink?”

The other man nodded his appreciation as he walked through the doorway. “Some whiskey, if you have it.”

Matthew couldn’t contain a gruff chuckle. “Well, you’re straightforward. I’ll give you that.” He went into the kitchen and found two tumblers, into which he poured three fingers of his best bottle.

The man had taken a seat in one of a pair of armchairs. Matthew handed him one of the glasses and sat in the other chair.

“So. What do you have to tell me?”

“What name are you going by?”

“Going by? My name is Matthew. I don’t ‘go by’ any other names.”

“To start with, that’s not your name.”

“Of course it is.”

“No, it isn’t. You just think it is. In fact, you’re supposed to know all of this already. Unless I’ve got the date wrong.” The man shook his head to dismiss the thought. “This…” He gestured widely indicating the whole house. “… is all a facade. An identity you put on, to see how they lived. To understand them better. But you… You’re an immortal. And it’s time you woke up.”

“An immortal? You must be joking. Is this some sort of prank?”

“It’s no prank. You are Machali, one of the immortals. And you have been away from us long enough. I’ve come to bring you home.”

“This is insane. There are no such things as immortals. And even if there were, I am definitely not one of them.”

“I assure you, you are.”

“Well, if it’s all the same to you, I refuse. I don’t want to be one of your immortals. And I think it’s time for you to leave.”

“You misunderstand. I’m not offering immortality. And it doesn’t matter if you believe me or not. You are immortal. At some point, people around you are going to start noticing your failure to age. It’s better to end this now, before anyone starts asking questions.”

“No. Now please leave. I’ve listened to your tale. And you’re either crazy, or you think I am. I don’t want to have to call the police, but I will.”

“Fine, fine. I’ll go. But I will come back. You simply cannot stay forever.”

“Of course.”

After the man left, Matthew reflected on what he had to say. It obviously wasn’t true, but he couldn’t shake the feeling that he knew that man from somewhere.

He sighed. The visit had broken up the monotony of the evening, yet it was so ridiculous. Best to forget about it. Still, the idea tugged at the back of his mind the rest of the night.

Just The Depression Talking

The world is a mess. People hate more readily, more broadly. Life is a chore. It’s hard to find any reason at all.

That’s just your depression talking.

I’m lazy and procrastinate. I’m unmotivated and squander my potential. I’m unremarkable and of no use to anyone.

That’s just your depression talking.

I’m inconsiderate, a bad friend. I’ve hurt people. I’m not good and shouldn’t be around others.

That’s just your depression talking.

So… what? All my thoughts are just my depression? Is that all anyone sees when they look at me? My depression? I have become defined by an illness. Nothing remains of me. My every thought, word, action is attributed to my depression.

That’s just your depression talking.

Unless it’s a happy thought, a positive word. If I act happy, people say that is the real me, even though I know it’s fake. The act lets other people feel comfortable, let’s them believe everything is alright. It’s necessary because if you show them how you really feel,

That’s just your depression talking.

So I lead a double-life. The life I fake for those around me, and the depression eating away inside. But neither is me. One is a fake, and the other is an illness that keeps me from trusting anything in my head. I don’t exist anymore. It’s all a lie. But I shouldn’t worry about it because

That’s just the depression talking.

Learn and Live

“I can’t believe he cut you off!”

The line at the coffee shop drive-thru was long and moving slowly. We had already been there ten minutes. The waiting cars had squeezed in wherever they could, making for a rather haphazard queue. In the barely controlled chaos, another car, which had just arrived, slipped in front of me when I didn’t pull forward fast enough.

I threw the car into park and opened my door.

“Where are you going? What are you doing?”

“Don’t worry. I’ll take care of it,” I said over my shoulder as I closed the door.

I walked over to the drive side of the dark grey SUV that had jumped the line. A man, a few years older than me, sat behind the wheel. At first, he pretended not to see me, so I knocked on his window.

He rolled it down and, in a gruff voice, said, “What?”

“You just cut in line.”

“You weren’t in line.”

“Yes, I was. And see all those cars, they were in line behind me.”

“So what? You can’t wait a few extra seconds to get your coffee?”

“That’s the point! I have been waiting. You just got here. You need to wait.”

“Forget it.” With that, he rolled his window back up.

“Back up!” I kicked his tire. He just stared straight ahead. I could feel my face getting hot as my anger grew, and I knocked on his window again. I must have hit it harder, though, because it shattered under my blows.

“Oh crap. I’m sorry…” I began. I looked up to see the end of the barrel of a gun pointed at me. “Okay, listen…” A gun shot interrupted me, and the world went black.

“Honey? Did you hear me?”

“What?” I tried to shake myself alert.

“I said, I can’t believe that guy just cut you off.”

“Yeah. People are assholes.”

“Aren’t you going to say something to him? At least honk?”

I thought about it only for a moment. “No. Not worth getting bent out of shape over something minor.”

“Hmm. That’s different for you.”

“Is it? Well, learn and live, I guess.”

A Ghost Story?

The security guard squinted against the headlights of a car that had pulled up to the backdoor of the warehouse. Two men got out and headed to the door. Hand on his gun, he spoke quietly into his radio, though no one acknowledged him. Then he turned his attention back to the intruders.

“Hey! Who are you? What are you doing here?”

Neither of the men paid him any attention.

“I’m talking to you! Identify yourselves!”

They kept working on the lock and ignored him. His nervousness gave way to irritation, and he walked closer to the men. One kept looking over his shoulder while the other concentrated on the door.

“Will you hurry up,” the first said.

“Just give me a sec. This is tricky,” the other replied.

They still acted as though they they hadn’t noticed him. With his gun drawn, he walked to within a few feet of them. “Hands up!” There was no reaction.

At his wits’ end, he put his hand on the lookout’s shoulder in order to force his attention. His hand passed right through. Startled, he accidentally pulled the trigger on his revolver. Luckily, the shot missed both of the men, but they did jump.

“Holy… What was that?”

“A gun shot. Sounded far away, though.”

“Still…”

“Yeah. Hey did you notice anything just before it happened?”

“No.”

“I felt a chill. Now my shoulder’s numb.”

“You think this place is haunted, like they say?”

“I don’t know. But this got a lot creepier.”

“Yeah. Let’s get outta here.”

Still pretending he wasn’t there, they quickly got back in their car and sped off.

Had they been ghosts? How else had his hand gone through one of them? He didn’t know what to make of the encounter. Ultimately, he shrugged his shoulders and returned to his patrol.

Thread Magic

Threads permeate reality. Connecting everything to everything else, they are too numerous to count. Indeed, they cannot be separated without much concentration. Or a lot of practice. And that’s only if you can see them in the first place.

The weave is what matters. How you wrap the threads around your fingers, pulling things together or pushing them apart. The number of things that can be made with them is limited only by skill and imagination. After you learn to see and understand the connections, you begin to understand how they might be modified.

They’re not real, of course. Every mage has her or his own way of seeing magic and, thus, manipulating it. Each method is difficult to describe, and even now I am painfully aware of how inadequate my own attempt is.

Different approaches to magic lend themselves more readily to different types of spells. Run magic deals in knowledge and divination. Potions are useful for affecting the body of an individual. Incantations help focus more aggressive energies. And thread magic is best suited for protection. It can bind things together to prevent separation, or keep things apart to avoid injury. The threads can even be woven together to create a shield of sorts.

As you begin your own journey you will need to train. The point of training is not to see the threads. As I said, they aren’t real. The point of training is to find how magic manifests to you, how you will interact with it. No one but you can discover that.

Rituals

The sky was grey, and there was a chill in the air. Winter was not going away easily, which made a perfect setting for a cemetery visit. The stone in front of me listed a name and two dates, all the evidence that remained of a single life.

I know I could talk to her anywhere, but it always seemed important to come back here. I didn’t really believe that she remained in this place, but the tradition, the symbolism, was not easily ignored. Rituals become rituals for a reason. They have meaning. We imbue them with meaning. As much as I resist many rituals, this is one I still felt compelled to follow.

So I stood there, expecting snow or rain at any moment, and stared at the letters and numbers that had been carved in granite nearly thirty years ago. As I spoke, I found myself saying things I had said many times before. Apologies. Regrets. Even the occasional lame joke. Whatever came to mind to strengthen a connection that had lasted years.

I wondered, not for the first time, nor for the last, if she bothered listening, if she still cared. In the end, I decided it didn’t matter. If there was even a slight chance she heard, I wanted her to know she was not forgotten.

When the rain finally came, I said, my farewell, promising to return once more.