Jason Is Dead

Sarah sat alone in the living area. The room seemed smaller each time she entered; she was certain Julia was taking space from it little by little. It was hard to blame her, though; no one ever used it. Sarah still made a point to sit occasionally, in the hopes she might encourage others to socialize. So far, it hadn’t worked.

Now Thomas’ secrets were undermining whatever little cohesiveness the house had. Maybe Madeline was right; maybe she should start her own house. This place was not what she had had in mind when she, Thomas, and Matthew had started the house. Now Matthew was gone, Julia was an anti-social recluse, Jason was . . . strange. Rebecca and David were too new to really have a sense of. A new house might be the answer. Maybe she could even convince Matthew to join her.

Her thoughts were interrupted by a stuffed animal running into the room. It was a . . . rabbit? Grey and brown, with long, floppy ears. Instead of hopping around, it was walking upright on its two back legs, though rather unsteadily. It looked up at Sarah with black eyes full of intelligence, and clambered up onto the couch next to her.

If she had lived a normal life, the situation would be terrifying. However, she recognized Rebecca’s handiwork, even if this one was new, and it was hardly threatening. The doll touched her hand, but soon got a frustrated look and stopped.

Rebecca walked in. “Sarah, have you . . .”

Before the other woman could finish, Sarah pointed to the rabbit.

“Oh, good. Thank you.”

“A new project, Rebecca?”

“Yeah…uh…no. Sarah, no. No lies. This is David.” Rebecca slumped into a chair. “I had to stick David’s spirit in the rabbit.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Last night. David followed Julia after she stormed off. Thomas and I followed. David was attacked, but I managed to capture his spirit before it vanished.”

“This all happened last night? How did you even know to follow them?”

Rebecca sighed. “It’s a long story.”

“I need to know what’s going on. Tell me everything.”

“I don’t know everything. What I do know is that a couple of months ago, right after David moved in, Thomas came to me and asked me to find a way to safeguard David. He really didn’t tell me much, just that David was likely to be fatally attacked, and that I might know how to save him. So I prepared a vessel, a receptacle for David’s spirit, but left the last step undone. Then it would be a matter of moments to trap him in the container.”

Rebecca stopped talking and stared at the rabbit for a few moments. “Yes. That’s why the bear took some of your hair. I’m sorry I didn’t say anything then. Thomas told me not to.”

She turned back to Sarah. “And I’m sorry to you, too. I really didn’t know what was going on. I trusted Thomas. I should have trusted you, too.”

“So then, David was attacked and you completed the container to stop his spirit from leaving.”

Rebecca looked back at the rabbit. “I’m getting to it.

“David wants me to get to the most important part. After David was attacked, Jason stepped in. I . . . I didn’t have a receptacle made for him.”

Sarah sat quietly, as the implication of that last detail slowly smothered her.

“Jason is . . .”

“. . . Dead. Yes. Whatever the creature was – Thomas called it a mana worm – attached itself to Jason. There was an explosion. When it subsided, the worm was nowhere to be seen. And Jason was dead.”

This couldn’t be happening. David was a stuffed rabbit. Jason was dead. This wasn’t possible.

“What about Julia?”

“She survived. Physically, at least. After yelling at Thomas, she shunted him and me back here. I haven’t seen her since.”

“And Thomas? Where is he?”

“His room, I imagine. I went immediately to my lab to re-embody David. Unfortunately, David’s body is back in whatever space we found Julia. We need to get that back.”

“We will. But I need to talk with Thomas.” Jason was dead. “Thank you for telling me all this, Rebecca. And for saving David. You two should rest. We’ll talk again. After I’ve spoken with Thomas.” Jason was dead. The time for talking had passed. Yelling would be a better approach. How could Thomas have let this happen?

Sacred

Longest night of the year. A sacred time.

You don’t think anything is sacred.

Yes, I do. Humanity. This night, maybe more than any other, reminds us that we need one another. The darkness can only win if we try to face it alone. Humanity is sacred.

Humanity isn’t sacred. It is an insignificant blip in the universe. In the grand scheme of things, we just don’t matter.

I’m not talking about the universe, not saying it thinks us sacred. I’m talking about us. What do we hold dear? For my part, that’s humanity. It’s worthy of honor and respect. That is what we owe each other. And ourselves.

And God?

Who is more important? God? Or people? Listen closely to how someone answers; it will tell you everything you need to know about them. Does God need anything from us? If so, that’s not God. Who needs? Humans. We need others. God doesn’t need anything from us. Other human beings need help. And that’s where our focus should be. Winter reminds us how fragile we are. Look to your neighbor, to the stranger. That is where the sacred is. If we cannot see the sacred in each other, it doesn’t matter what else we call sacred.

Do you have any friends at all?

I have you.

I suppose that’s true. Happy solstice, then.

Happy solstice.

The Beginning of a Beautiful Friendship

“So this is where you live?” Julia looked around at the unremarkable, and very cluttered, apartment.

“Yep.” Jason replied absently as he dug through one of the piles of miscellany.

After she had gotten him out of the collapsed building, he had convinced her to come to his apartment to repay her for saving him. Uncharacteristically, she had agreed. That, by itself, bothered her. She should have said no. The fact that she didn’t only intensified her curiosity about him.

Though he looked a few years older than she was, he acted younger. Even taking account of the fact that a building had just collapsed on top of him, he appeared disheveled. If she couldn’t feel the power coming off him, it would be easy to mistake him for a vagrant. She didn’t understand this strange man, and she wanted to.

“So if this is your home, what were you doing at that other place?”

“Research.” He didn’t look up.

“Why there and not here?”

“Because then my apartment would have been destroyed.”

The reasoning was impeccable and completely baffling. “You knew the building was going to fall down?”

“No.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Just a sense I get. I thought I would have better luck trying my spell there than I would here. Since the building didn’t survive, I’d say it was rather lucky I didn’t do it here.”Jason gave up on the pile he had been digging through and started searching another one.

“Aha! Here it is.” He sat back, a triumphant grin on his face. In his hands was a long, slender crystal that glowed. He held it out towards her. “Here you go.”

“What’s this?”

“A crystal.”

“I know that. I meant, what’s it for?”

“You can use it to power magic. I thought you were a mage?”

“I am. Ugh… Why are you giving it to me?”

“Oh. You saved my life. Least I could do.”

“I can feel the power from here. It must be worth a fortune.”

Jason shrugged. “I don’t know. I make them in my spare time. Useful to have around. I just wanted to show my appreciation.”

Julia took the crystal carefully and turned it over slowly. It was one of the strongest crystals she had ever encountered, and he just had it laying around. It would provide enough power for a normal month’s worth of spells for her.

“Why do you live by yourself, in this apartment? If you can make this, you should have people beating down your door begging you to join their house.”

“Not really interested. I have an old friend who keeps inviting me, but I’m not much for joining.” Jason cleared off a seat on the couch and offered Julia a nearby armchair. “I like the solitude. Easier to focus.” As if to give the lie to his words, a black cat jumped up onto the table in front of the couch and stared at him.

“Uh huh. What’s your cat’s name?”

“I don’t know. And he isn’t mine.”

“Is he a neighbor’s? How did he get in?”

“Oh, he lives here, but he doesn’t belong to me. He’s his own person.”

“He lives here, but you don’t know his name?”

“No. He hasn’t told me yet.”

“He hasn’t told you? His name?” Everything Jason said or did made him seem more strange.

“Right…” Jason’s voice seemed to trail off.

“What?” Julia had been too focused on the cat.

“I asked if you belong to a house?”

“No. I don’t mix well with others.” Why did she say that? It was true, of course, but why tell this mage she had just met?

“Too bad. Your command of spatial dimensions is fascinating. I’d love to learn more about it.”

“You seem to have your own talents.” She indicated the crystal she was holding.

He slapped his hands down on his knees and stood up suddenly. “It’s settled then. You will teach me about your magic, and I’ll teach you mine.”

“What? I didn’t…”

He pulled her to her feet and began walking her to the door. “Tomorrow afternoon. Back here.” The cat, who had been following them, meowed. “Fine,” Jason replied to the animal before turning back to Julia. “Bring some food for the cat. He insists. Thinks you will get better food than I give him.”

With that, Julia found herself in the hallway, the door to the apartment closed behind her. How had he arrived at the conclusion that they would swap magic? This was insane. No, Jason was insane. He had to be. She should just leave and never come back. As she considered the crystal in her hand, she knew she would return.

Maze

David struggled to focus on the maze Samuel had set before him. Moving the snowball with his thoughts as quickly as he dared, he struggled to avoid the flames that constituted the walls. Its size had already been noticeably reduced.

“You are trying to force it.” Samuel’s voice came from behind him. “Magic is not a tool. It is an extension of the self. It is you. You are it.”

David knew this lesson by heart. However, knowing the words and putting them into practice were very different things. Samuel’s presence added a level of pressure that annoyed him. After being a searcher for several years, he thought he should be immune to such anxiety.

“Stop.” Samuel tried to hide his disappointment, but David knew him too well. “You have come very far, but you still have work to do. You cannot let yourself become distracted so easily. And you still need to learn to see the magic as a part of you, rather than a separate thing.” Samuel’s voice softened. “You did make it further than you ever have before. You should be proud of your progress.”

That was typical of Samuel. Chastise and then encourage. Still, David did feel a little better. Samuel had been his guide since the beginning, and there must be some hope if he was still willing to train David.

* * *

Years later, after David had mastered the maze, the two sat down together.

“You are nearly ready.”

David had waited a long time to hear those words, but he kept his excitement in check lest he give Samuel a reason to doubt his own judgment.

After seeing no reaction in his searcher, Samuel continued. “It’s time for you to consider what is next.”

This was not the conversation he had been expecting. “Would I not simply stay here? Help you carry on your work?”

Samuel shook his head. “You have learned much here, yet there is much I cannot teach you. To continue to grow, you must go elsewhere. You must find your own way.”

“I thought you wanted me here. To take over for you eventually.”

The smile on Samuel’s face was big and genuine. “Perhaps someday. You need experience. You need to learn things I do not know. Then, if… when… you do come back, you will bring skills you cannot get here. You will be a better mage.”

David’s mind reeled. “Where will I go?”

“I have a… an old acquaintance. He has a house and has asked after you. He wanted to send you an invitation, but I asked that he let me speak with you. In certain circles, he is well respected. This is a good opportunity for you.”

“So I must leave?”

“Everyone must leave at some time. You have been given a choice, however, and not everyone gets that.”

“But you want me to go.”

“It’s not a question of want. Being around Thomas, the other members of his house, will expose you to other ways of thinking about magic. It will give you experiences that can only deepen your understanding of our art.”

“Very well.”

“Good. Resume your studies. We can talk more about this at dinner.”

* * *

“David? David?”

At first, the voice sounded far away, and then became almost unbearably loud. It took several moments for his vision to clear. When it finally did, he saw Rebecca standing over him. She seemed much larger than he remembered.

“Good. You made it.”

He tried to ask what happened, but his mouth wouldn’t move.

“Don’t try to speak. Just think what you want to say. Clearly. I’ll be able to hear you.”

It took him a minute to figure out how to think the words without saying them aloud. What’s going on?

“You were attacked by a mana worm. Do you remember?”

What’s that?

“Long story. You were attacked. Nearly died.”

You saved me?

“After a fashion. I managed to trap your spirit before the worm completely devoured it. Unfortunately, your body was seriously damaged, so…”

Her voice trailing off sent a chill down his back. He raised his head a bit to look down at himself. Where his body should have been there was only the body of a stuffed animal.

Rote Thankfulness

What are you thankful for?

I hate that question.

Why?

Because the answers always seem so rote. Family. Friends. Home. Health.

You aren’t thankful for those things?

I am, but that’s not the point. We have answers like that memorized. One day of the year, we give the most cursory thought to what we have before moving on to other concerns. We rarely stop to truly reflect on what we have to appreciate. Most of the year, we take things for granted. Then we set aside one day for token thankfulness.

Is that true for everyone? Or is that just your cynicism showing?

So it’s just me, projecting my own failing onto everyone else?

Is it?

I hate you.

Because I’m right?

… Maybe.

Set aside everyone else. What are you thankful for? And don’t give your rote answer. Don’t do the thing you hate. Really reflect. What are you thankful for?

That is a hard question.

Quit deflecting. What are you doing, right now?

Writing.

So?

I am thankful I can write?

Bragging, now?

No. I mean, I am thankful for the ability to hold a pen, the resources to own paper, the luxury of time. I am thankful I can write, whether or not I’m any good at it.

Okay. That’s a start. Anything else?

Ugh. I keep going back to negative things.

Look, it’s not a question of ignoring the bad. But you’ve got all year for that. Just a few moments for balance. You don’t need to pretend it’s all sunshine and roses. Just acknowledge some good.

I am thankful that there are other people who love and care for animals.

Really?

Yeah. It gives me hope. It connects me to other people, even if I don’t know them. I’m glad people feel something I do. And that animals are getting taken care of.

Okay, then.

For that matter, I am thankful for the internet, for showing me that there are others who share my values, my concern about the world. As much crap as there is, it’s good to know I’m not entirely alone.

You think it’s important to remember this more than one day a year?

Yes.

Do you think others might share that value?

… Yes.

Then – and I don’t mean to sound preachy – maybe dial back the cynicism a little?

… Yeah.