A Vision

Simon opened the door part way and stuck his head through. “Your next appointment is here, two minutes early just like you said.”

Matthew nodded at his assistant. “Have them wait in the outer room.”

“Very well.” Simon closed the door.

Matthew looked down at his notes. Cristina. She would be mad if her name was spelled wrong. Indeed, she would almost certainly see Simon’s calendar. He should have warned Simon to make the correction earlier. What was she coming to him for?

Boyfriend. That’s right. Is he cheating on her. Matthew hadn’t even bothered to do a reading beyond getting that much information. In his experience, anyone who came to him wondering whether their partner was cheating already knew the answer. They came either looking for confirmation for their anger, or hoping that they were wrong. No one was wrong. You don’t pay a hundred dollars for a reading if you’re wrong.

Beyond the bit about her name and why she had come, there was nothing else written. No point in going further. He just had to make a show about “uncovering” her answer and collect his fee. It would be a simple visit.

Two minutes having passed, the door opened and a woman walked in. She was in her late 20s or early 30s and wore a frown.

Matthew stood and gestured to a chair across the table from him. “Welcome, Ms. …”

She cut him off before he could finish his greeting. “Cristina. Just a C. Not a Ch. Not a K.”

“Ah yes. I’m sorry about that. Simon means well, but he doesn’t always remember to ask for a spelling. My apologies for not catching it. What can I do for you today?”

His quick apology seemed to have caught her off guard and deflated her ire. She sighed and looked down at her hands on the table. “Well, I originally came here because I thought my boyfriend was cheating on me.”

Matthew frowned. “And now you don’t?”

“I still do. But I don’t really need to ask you because he left me this morning, said he found someone else.”

“Oh. Well, that is too bad. I’m sorry.”

“Thanks. Miserable bastard. Probably better this way. Still, I already had the appointment, so I thought maybe you could still help me.”

“Of course. You have another question?”  Matthew forced himself to smile, all the while berating himself for his overconfidence. How hard would it have been to do a full reading, to see deeper into today? Instead, so sure of himself and of the shallowness of his clients, he stopped at infidelity. Now he was going to have to do some real seeing in front of another person. And he had no idea where it would go.

“Maybe. I don’t know. I just feel lost and aimless. I’m finally free of… him… of anything. And I don’t know what I want to do next. I thought maybe you could point me in a direction. Give me an idea of where I should go now, you know?”

“I don’t think I can help. It sounds like you need a friend. Or maybe a counselor. I can only provide answers to specific questions.”

“Fine. What should I do next? That’s a specific question.”

“That’s not really that specific.”

“Can you tell fortunes or not? Are you just a fraud?”

A flash of this woman angrily spreading word that he had not helped her scared Matthew a bit. It wouldn’t matter that he wasn’t a fraud if everyone believed he was. It would not look good.

“Fine. I just… I am not in the business of giving advice. I’m not a life coach. I can just share what I see. I’m not responsible for what you do with it. Understand?”

She nodded.

“Okay. Let me see.” He walked over to a shelf. On it were several popular divination tools. Decks of cards. Dice. Stones. Even a crystal ball. None of them worked, of course, but he understood that people expected them. And they did sometimes help focus the mind. He selected a deck of cards and brought them back to the table, placing them in front of her.

“Shuffle those while you concentrate on your question. When you feel like you have shuffled them enough, hand them back to me.”

Cristina did as she was told. Her hands fumbled a bit, but managed to shuffle them several times. Then she gave them back to Matthew.

As he began to lay out the cards in an appropriately complicated pattern, he focused his attention inward, looking for potential futures. Immediately, a scene appeared before him. His client was sitting amongst the white flames of a summoning circle. A demon stood outside. He was … old. And the two were bargaining. Fear crawled up his spine.

“So what does it say?”

He opened his eyes and looked her.

“The cards. What do they tell you?”

His gaze followed her gesture down to the cards. Not even an implausible lie occurred to him. There was danger all around and he wanted to be far from it.

“You should go,” he finally choked out.

“What? What is it?”

“Go. Now. There is no fee for your visit, but you must leave.”

Anger and confusion took turns on her face as she stood. “Fine. Thanks for nothing.”

After she stormed out of the room, he summoned Simon. “Cancel the rest of my day. Take the rest of it off yourself.” Before his assistant could ask any questions, Matthew left the room and climbed the stairs to his private apartment. He needed more information.

Winter, with a Voice

They say it’s going to snow tomorrow.

“Who’s they?”

Will you shut up. I’m not writing that kind of dialogue right now.

“What kind of dialogue are you writing?”

Shut up! I’m not writing any kind of dialogue. I don’t need you, or any other voice, for help with this. I just want to talk about snow.

“Oh. Got it. Sorry.”

Okay, so… Tomorrow it’s supposed to snow. There is even a blizzard warning up for the afternoon. It’s almost enough to get my hopes up. But I’ve been disappointed so many times, it’s hard to get too excited. I know we got some snow last year, but it still didn’t feel like a proper winter.

So far, the change in our winter weather feels like the biggest personal impact climate change has had…

“Oh. A political post. You haven’t done one of those in years.”

It’s not a political post. I’m talking about winter.

“Yeah, but climate change is so charged with partisanship these days.”

Hmm. I suppose you might be right. But this isn’t about politics. Just that I worry about not having proper winters anymore. We never got a lot of snow around here, but when we did, it stuck around. Now we get melts in January and February. During my favorite season. It’s depressing.

Anyway, sorry the repeated interruptions. Sometimes the voices get restless. And if I haven’t done any writing for them in awhile, they get really restless.

Back to winter.

I have always found peace in the snow, in the cold of winter. The world grows quiet, still. Sound is muffled. It’s a time for introspection, for rest, for regrouping. It gives reasons for drinking hot tea while curled up under blankets and cats. A season of long nights, beautiful skies, and twinkling lights. It brings a softness and peace to the world. Without its pause, it feels as though the world will never stop. It will just keep going and going until it wears itself out or tears itself apart. Winter is our chance to step back and consider what really matters.

So even thought I might be let down again, I still have hope for snow tomorrow. Hope that we might get a little peace. The moon needs something to reflect off of, after all.

“That was nice.”

I didn’t ask you.

Attack on Christmas

Snow covered the ground and countless stars filled the night sky. The sun would not rise above the horizon for months. The world was beautiful and cold.

Two friends sat on the porch, which looked out over the whole world.

“It’s that time of year again.”

“Yes, I suppose it is.”

“Aren’t you excited? You must have lots to do in order to get ready.”

“Not really. There is very little to do, honestly.”

“Oh, did you get all the gifts done early?”

“No, there weren’t many letters. Fewer kids believe anymore. Parents have taken over most of the heavy lifting. Surely you’ve noticed something similar?”

“Not at all. Probably helps that my situation doesn’t really depend on people writing to me. They just expect eggs and chocolate. That hasn’t changed.”

“You’re lucky, then. I’ve started dreading Christmas.”

“You cannot mean that.”

“It’s true. It just reminds me of how things used to be. I had to let go of 75 percent of my staff.”

“I know, a lot of them came to me for work.”

“That’s something, at least.”

“Actually, I could only take on a few of them. My work is really low maintenance. Most of them left.”

“Oh my. I wonder what’s become of them.”

“I can’t imagine.”

From inside the house came a loud voice. “Nicholas! You better come see this!”

They exchanged question-filled glances before standing and entering the house.

“What is it, dear?”

“Look.”

The television was an old model that sat inside a large cabinet. Even so, it seemed out of place in the quaint home. The news was on.

“… from all over the country. Christmas decorations have been torn down. Trees and presents have been set on fire. The authorities have not released casualty figures from the resulting house fires yet, but it is expected to be in the hundreds at the least.

“To repeat, there has been a large and well-coordinated attack on Christmas…”

His friend scratched his chin thoughtfully. “Well, Nick, I think we know what happened to the elves.”

Grateful

You know the voice in your head that tells you when something is a bad idea? My voice is apparently a late sleeper and only chimes in long after I’ve already followed through with the bad idea. It is almost certainly asleep right now. And since it’s quiet, I can do whatever I want, such as post this little meditation. Later, when I can’t sleep, we’ll all know what’s keeping me up.

On Thanksgiving, as thoughts turn to gratitude, I’m reminded of how thankful I am for suicide. I do not expect many to understand this, but suicide – or rather the thought of suicide – is a source of comfort. Knowing that the possibility of escape exists reduces the horror of the future. There is consolation in knowing that if it stays bad – or becomes worse – there is a way out. We are not trapped in this life, this world. We can take control of our own fate, rather than waiting for the world to end our misery. This is no small comfort. This awareness also makes it possible to make it one more day. I can give the world more time precisely because I know I can cut that time short. Knowing that I can end the pain whenever I want gives me some reason for trying just a little longer.

Our society generally treats suicide as either immoral or an irrational act or, paradoxically, both. The suicide threatens our view of life. Perhaps it is not as good, not as desirable as we want to believe. It is not enough for only some to love life; everyone must share in – and by sharing, confirm – that love of life. The suicide threatens to undermine our (often uncritical) view of the value of life.

Yet the suicide is not offering a general condemnation of life. The suicide declares that their life is not worth it, not that no one’s life is. The act of murdering others is a judgment on the worth of their lives, but the suicide only makes a judgment for their own life. Of course we may disagree about their estimation of their life’s worth, but that is made from the external perspective, not the internal. But the internal evaluation is the one that matters. For I am the one who must live my life; no one else can do that for me.

Taking away the possibility of suicide then, is to take away the comfort it offers. The knowledge that I am free to make a different judgment on my life makes it easier to hold off making that final judgment. Those who absolutely reject suicide, will reject this notion as well. But that rejection, that desire not to contemplate suicide is already sufficient to avoid the fate of the suicide. The judgment of the suicide is irrelevant to them, and not something to fear. The value of an individual’s life, to that individual, can only be decided by that individual. The suicide’s judgment, then, has no bearing on your judgment. But the reverse is also true.

The hope then, offered by suicide, is merely the knowledge that tomorrow can be the last day. So there is nothing to lose by seeing what today has to offer. And the moment it all becomes unbearable, finally, there is an escape. Until that moment, perhaps there is something that might make it better.

Parsenon’s Magical Machines

The bell on the door rang when it opened. It was just a small tinkling sound, but in the quiet shop, it alerted everyone inside. The owner looked up from his desk at the front of the store, but his assistant was already approaching the potential customer.

“Good day, sir,” she said cheerfully. The owner gritted his teeth a bit at her bubbly attitude, yet remained silent. “Is there something we can do for you today?”

“Hello. I was just passing by and saw this place. The sign out front caught my eye. What do you sell here?”

“Well, we have all sorts of fantastic tools and other items. If there is something you need to do, we have something that can help. And more than a few things that will impress and amaze your friends.”

The owner sighed heavily. “She means curios. We have a number of items that make for interesting conversation pieces.” As soon as he finished speaking, he returned to looking through the papers in front of him.

“But the name, it’s very interesting. ‘Parsenon’s Magical Machines.’ Very tantalizing.”

The assistant shot the owner, who was still looking down, an angry look to make sure he wouldn’t start talking again. “Indeed,” she replied after making sure there wouldn’t be another interruption. “We have a knife that can cut through anything with no more effort than it takes to move through water. It uses a very intense light.”

“That sounds… dangerous.”

“And useful!”

“What else do you have?”

She looked around and picked up a box not much bigger than her hand. “This device creates a small doorway to another place, accessible only through it. You can store all manner of money or important documents inside it and be assured that it is completely safe.”

“That is incredible.”

“I know! And it…”

“No, I mean I don’t believe it.”

“Well, there is…”

“I think I’ve heard enough. This is all just tricks to fool gullible…”

“My assistant is imaginative,” the owner was suddenly next to them, “but she is not malicious, just enthusiastic about the items we have. Our stock is unique, but we have no interest in taking advantage of those who wander in.”

“Hmph.”

“Here, look at this.” The owner produced a statue of a raven made entirely out of gears and other metal. “This is an odd statue, made by the finest artisans. Perfect for any mantlepiece.”

The man looked at it closely, amazement slowly spreading across his features. “It looks nearly real!”

“Yes. And the clockwork inside it causes its wings to spread several times a day.”

“That is amazing. How much is it?”

The owner looked at the bird with a bit of pride and admiration. “Normally, I would sell such an item for a hundred. But I  want to apologize for my assistant’s eagerness. I can let it go for twenty-five pieces.”

“Still a high sum.”

“Yes, it is. Any cheaper, and I fear you will think me trying to put one over on you.”

“Very well. Is there anything I need to do in order to keep it in good condition?”

“No. But if it should fail in any way, you need only bring it back for me to work on it, no additional charge.”

The man seemed pleased. As soon as the purchase was finalized and the customer had left, the assistant approached the owner.

“The finest artisans?”

“Are you implying I’m not the finest?”

“And you didn’t tell him that it was a fully functioning bird, not a statue.”

“I imagine he will figure it out.”

“And why must you make me look crazy?”

“Because you are too earnest. Our regular customers know what we are. The drop-in business requires a lighter touch. You are a good apprentice, but you need to learn how to hide in plain sight, else you will scare people off.”

She scowled. “Very well. But you are talking to him when he comes back.”

Trapped

With a practiced hand, he drew a large circle with chalk and inscribed several runes within it, two for strength, three for protection. It was not sufficient; it never was. But it was all there was time for. Taking his place inside, he mumbled a few syllables under his breath and the lines began to glow.

The door swung open with some force, and a man stepped through. “On your feet, mage!” It seemed obvious he had practiced that.

“No.” Ice allowed himself a tiny smile.

The Terrgat drew his sword. “Get up, or I will run you through right here.”

“You intend to do that anyway. I have no interest in making it easier for you.”

As if that had been the sign he was waiting for, the Terrgat thrust his sword towards Ice. It glanced off of the barrier he had erected.

“I have studied that medallion you wear. It protects against magic cast directly at you, but it does not let you circumvent barriers. You cannot touch me.”

After a few more swings, the Terrgat appeared to accept Ice’s claim. He sheathed his blade and glared at the mage. “So you are protected in there. But for how long? I will wait. You cannot escape.”

Ice said nothing; he simply watched the man pace about the room. The Terrgat had a point about being tramped, but his impatience was evident. How long would he be willing to wait for Ice to lower his barrier?

Only a few minutes went by before he spoke again. “Why delay this? Are you hoping to be rescued? By whom? End this now.”

“I think I will stay right here.” Ice decided to try to force the issue. “But it is rather warm in here. Perhaps you would be willing to open the window?”

“No, I…” He caught himself up short. “That is a good idea.” The Terrgat left the room and returned quickly with a lit log from the fire in the public room. He tossed it on the bed. “Perhaps you are safe from my sword. But if heat still bothers you, you may want to come out now.” He stood smirking, pleased with his own cleverness.

Ice smiled again. “Do you know me?”

“Just another mage that people need to be protected against.”

“Well, I suppose you are correct after a fashion, but I am not just any mage.”

The flames had gotten higher and begun to spread, engulfing the entire bed. The Terggat was beginning to look worried. “If you are not eager to be burned alive, you should come out now.”

“I will be fine. But I think your medallion will offer you little protection.” The room was fully ablaze now. Ice could tell that the heat was nearly unbearable; only his magic kept his small circle safe. Fire magic had always eluded him, but it was a simple matter to protect against mundane heat. “Perhaps you should go now.”

The Terrgat scowled at him, but the fire was already pushing him out of the room. His departure  was timely, for the room itself was beginning to come apart. With his would be captor gone, Ice cast a version of his heat ward that would travel with him.  While the Terrgat was explaining the situation to the owner and trying to clear out the inn, Ice was able to sneak out the window and into the night.

Table For One

The coffee shop was quiet and nearly empty. He could not imagine how they stayed in business.  Besides the barista – a college-aged man who sat on his stool, reading a book – only one other person was in the place, a woman sitting at a table against the far wall.  She was reading something, too. The only sound either of them made was occasionally turning a page.

Unlike a library, where every sound is grating and out of place, the shop felt as if it were on the verge of springing to life. But it never did, and so he was left to his own thoughts and imagination. That is, until someone else came in and sat in the chair next to his.

“Hi. How are you?”

“Oh. It’s you.”

“That’s not very friendly. I saw you sitting alone and thought I’d say hi, but I can leave if you want.”

“No, that’s fine. Just sitting here thinking.”

“About what?”

“You know. The usual.”

“The past. The different ways you’ve messed up your life. The many people you’ve hurt. How you vaguely wish your life would just be over. That stuff, right?”

“Shut up.”

“Again with the attitude.”

“You know all this. You know how it feels. Why are we talking about this again?”

“You brought it up.”

“No. I politely replied to your question.”

“Okay, okay. So are you going to do anything about it? Or just sit and mope?”

“Now who’s being unfriendly?”

“It’s just that all of this gets old.”

“For me, too. It’d be nice if you would quit bringing it up.”

“Passing the blame again. Take some responsibility; don’t put this on other people.”

“You’re not other people.”

“Still, you know what I mean.”

“You think I like sitting around and moping? I don’t. I wish all of this would stop.”

“Then stop it. You make it sound like this is happening to you, instead of coming from you. This is your life; take control of it. And if you can’t do it by yourself, find someone to help you figure it out.”

“I would if I could.”

“What’s stopping you?”

“You know.”

“Say it. Say it so that you know.”

“I’m afraid.”

“Of what?”

“Of changing. Of not knowing who I am. That if I give this up, there will be nothing left. Of being happy. Of finding out that my entire life was a lie, and I’ve wasted it.”

“It doesn’t have to be that way.”

“Prove it.”

“I… I can’t.”

“I know.”

“Excuse me.” He looked up to see a woman standing behind the chair next to him. “I’m sorry for interrupting; you seemed really lost in thought. Would you mind if I take this chair so my friend and I can sit together?”

He looked at the empty chair and sighed. “I don’t mind. Please help yourself.”

“Thanks.”

After she dragged the chair away, he was again alone with his thoughts.