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.

Negotiations (part two)

The next day, I sat in a hotel room with the representatives who had been negotiating with me. I had no idea what they might really look like, but they appeared human. The technology they had demonstrated at our first meeting was sufficient to prove otherwise.

The news was on the television screen; it was showing scenes from a factory somewhere in Eastern Europe where hundreds of people stood on the roof. Responding to some signal I couldn’t detect, the people all began to jump off, falling over fifty feet to the ground.

“I can’t believe they actually did it.” The one who looked like a human female said to me.

I nodded, still staring at the television, trying to seem shocked. “I knew Howard was a bastard, but even I didn’t think he would actually go so far. This is who you are dealing with.”

The other one, who wore a male countenance, asked, “And what did he say about this?”

“He threatened to kill more of the population if you didn’t give him everything he demands.”

The two exchanged glances I couldn’t interpret. Then she spoke. “And what would you have us do?”

“I think it’s pretty clear we have to stop him before more people get hurt or even die.”

“Very well.”

*     *     *

An hour later, we had all reconvened in the meeting room. All except Tucker. Just as I was about to ask Tess where he was, the negotiators walked in.

Howard spoke before anyone else had a chance. “Was that an acceptable display?”

“So that was your doing?” the female asked.

“Indeed, I …” Before he could say another word, Howard disintegrated. I didn’t even see her draw a weapon.

I was shocked. Yes, it was the result I had been working towards, but the perfunctory nature of the execution was unexpected.

Leslie slammed her hand on the table. “What the hell? We did what you asked! Why kill him for it?”

This time I caught a glimpse of the small device in the negotiator’s hand before she used it. Without a word, Leslie vanished into dust. I began to feel a genuine fear. I thought only Howard would be at risk. Would they kill us all? Had they already gotten Tucker?

As if in response, Tucker entered the room. And the female turned her attention to me.

“Is there anyone else to implicate in this crime?”

“Well…” I began, but her glare silenced me.

Instead, Tucker spoke up. “You already know everything. Just him.” He pointed a finger at me.

“Your sister wasn’t part of it?”

“Um… well… I mean, no. Of course not,” Tucker stammered.

“Tucker, what is going on?” Tess’s voice betrayed only the slightest hint of unease.

“What did you do?” I asked, before he could answer his sister.

He turned to me with an accusatory look. “I told them I thought their demand was absurd. That’s when I found out you had made the whole thing up. They never asked us to arrange a mass suicide.”

“WHAT?!” Tess was on her feet, her face bright with anger.

“You seemed fine with it at the time,” I shot back.

“That’s because I …” Tess vanished in a cloud of dust.

“No!” Tucker sobbed.

“You heard her. She admitted to going along with this plan,” the female negotiator said calmly.

“What about him?” Tucker managed to spit out through his grief.

“Did he agree to the plan?”

“Yes.”

“I thought you said he offered to come to us to try a different route?”

“Well, yeah. But if he hadn’t lied to us, Tess never would have agreed.”

“But he didn’t agree?”

“No, he didn’t.” Tucker slumped, defeated.

I exhaled a breath I hadn’t realized I was holding. “Now that that is out of the way…”

Another look from her stopped me. “Your former colleagues were unworthy of sharing the planet with their fellows. But you have proven yourself untrustworthy. We are done with you.” She turned to her partner. “Have you arranged the next meeting?”

“Yes.”

“Then let’s go. I don’t want to be here any longer.”

After they left, Tucker stood and tried to look menacing. “I will ruin you for this. For what you did to my sister.”

I laughed. “Your sister did it to herself. You can do what you want, but we’re done.” I stood and left without looking back. I still had to finalize my take over of Howard’s empire. At least this hadn’t been a total waste of time.

 

fin

Negotiations (part one)

Four people were waiting for me when I walked into the meeting room. The man at the head of the table was also easily the oldest person present. Howard Massey had become ridiculously wealthy selling weapons to anyone who could pay. To his right sat the twins, Tess and Tucker van Auk. They had made their billions in the tech sector, though no one quite understood how. I’m not even certain they knew. Finally, across from them was Leslie Switt. Her financial firm had its hand in nearly every market.

I sat down next to Leslie. I was there because I had inherited control of so many patents, money was always pouring in. Also, I had something everyone else in the room lacked, charisma. I was our spokesperson.

Howard spoke up first. “How are the negotiations going?”

“They have agreed to our terms,” I said. I paused long enough to let everyone relax and begin planning their own celebrations. “But there is a complication.”

The scowl on Howard’s face was priceless. “You just said they accepted our offer.” He didn’t try to hide his disdain for me. Every chance he got, he made clear that only he had ever made anything to earn his money. It was a wonder to me that the others never objected or crossed him in any way. I, on the other hand, was constantly on the lookout for such opportunities.

“They did, but they want proof that the population is docile, that it is as easy to control as we’ve represented it to be.”

Howard began to rise to his feet in order to launch into one of his tirades when Leslie put her hand on his arm. She was the only one he showed even the slightest bit of respect to. She turned back to me. “What did you tell them?”

“I asked them what sort of proof they wanted.”

“And what did they say?” I had seen Leslie be abrasive on countless occasions, but she was only ever pleasant toward me.

“That’s why I called this meeting. I needed your input and agreement. They want us to arrange a mass suicide. At least a hundred people.”

“How the hell do they expect us to do that?” Howard screamed.

“They said it was up to us. If they are as easily controlled as we’ve said, it shouldn’t be a difficult feat.”

“Still,” Leslie spoke again, “that is a rather brutish approach.”

Tucker nodded with more energy than I think I’d ever seen from him.

Tess, who was almost always the one to speak for them both, sounded rather matter-of-fact. “And if we do this, we have a deal?”

I nodded. “Yes. Passage to another planet that meets all of our requirements as well as the resources to live as comfortably as possible.”

“And access to the bio tech they showed us?” Howard had calmed down as soon as he was reminded of what we stood to gain.

I nodded again. “In exchange for Earth, we will have everything we ever wanted. We just need to to prove the malleability of the people. So what do you all think?”

Tucker gave his sister a worried look, but she avoided turning his way. Leslie was chewing the inside of her lip, which she always did when she was weighing out risks and rewards. And Howard, uncharacteristically, was lost in thought.

“I can tell them no. See if there is some other way forward,” I offered.

Howard shook his head. “We would look weak, not in control. They came to us; if we started showing hesitation, they might think we weren’t the people they should be dealing with.”

Leslie indicated her agreement. “No sense getting squeamish now. The planet is doomed. We ought to see this through.”

Tess had to push Tucker off of her arm. “We, too, support going ahead.” Tucker seemed about to speak, but a look from his sister stopped him.

“Okay, so how do we proceed?” I stared at Howard, knowing he would have an idea.

“I will arrange it,” he said on cue. “Tell them to pay attention to this location,” he wrote down a place in China, “Wednesday, 4:00 pm local time. That gives me a little over 24 hours to set everything up through my contacts. Will that satisfy them?”

“It should. I’ll make sure of it.”

“Fine. I have work to do.” Howard stood and left the room without another word.

Everyone else sat quietly for a few moments until Tucker finally found his voice. “I can’t believe you’re all okay with this.”

Leslie sighed as Tess looked him in the eye. “Do you want to stay here? When they take over?”

“Well, no, but…”

“No buts. This is what we have to do, Tucker. This is how we survive.”

Tucker’s courage gave out, and he slumped back into silence.

“Well, as much fun as this has been,” I said, standing up, “I should go update the other side.” I looked at Tucker. “This will all be over soon.” I didn’t bother looking at anyone else as I left.

A Brave New Sunrise

“Gather around, my children. I have a story to tell from before your time. This story comes from the history of our village. From the time before The Great Darkness.”

“But my father says that there was no time before The Great Darkness. He says the elders who have lost their wisdom have made up such stories. Have you lost your wisdom, Eldest of the Elders?”

“No, child. Your father was too young to know anything about the time of which I speak. I tell you this story now because soon The Great Darkness will end, and the world will once again know light.

“In the years when I was young, only a little older than the three of you, there was a great light in the sky. This light was a large Ball of Fire which travelled the sky in Its path after every period of rest. This Ball of Fire spread Its light and heat to the village and the rest of the world. The brightness of the Ball was so brilliant that if It were to appear suddenly high above right now, we would all be without sight. But The Ball did not just appear; It would rise slowly and chase away the darkness. The darkness would run away in the face of the great power of the Ball of Fire.

“One day, our people attacked another village with powerful weapons. Both villages were damaged gravely. He Who Rules Above became very angry with us. He prevented the Ball of Fire from giving us heat and light by sending The Great Darkness. This Darkness was more powerful than even The Ball of Fire. The Ball was afraid to try to defeat the Darkness. So It stayed hidden.

“Soon, however, The Ball of Fire will have gained enough strength to defeat The Darkness and will rise again. Now, my children, return to you families. The sight that will be seen after we wake will be great indeed. You will need the strength from rest, just as The Ball of Fire rests now, gathering strength for Its battle.”

*     *     *

My father would scoff at the tale we had been told. He would be upset that the Eldest had shared it with children. But the Eldest did not act like one who had lost his wisdom. Still, his story was for children, and I was no longer a child. I was nearly a man, almost thirteen years of age. I knew I should listen to my father regarding such tales.

Upon entering my family’s hut, I saw my mother on her straw mat. Sweat ran down her forehead from her brown hair as she waited for my little brother or sister to arrive. In the light of the torch, the sweat looked like blood. The village medicine man did not think she would survive giving birth. Yet she refused to give up the child to save herself. My father was angry that she chose to leave him for He Who Rules Above, but he did not let her see his anger.

I began to shed my skins, but the cold hitting my flesh forced me to retain the coverings. I lay down on my mat and closed my eyes. Frightening pictures invaded my slumber; the Eldest’s story of The Ball of Fire made me restless.

Finally, I woke, ready to prepare the first meal. The medicine man was there. He told me to go outside; my mother’s time approached, and I was not needed.

Taking light with me, I found the Eldest on a hill, facing the lake. I began to ask him more about The Ball of Fire and the things I had seen while sleeping, but he motioned for me to be silent and then pointed to the far side of the lake.

Across the lake, a greyness had begun to spread above the forest. The greyness was pushed up higher by a pink glow.

“They must be on fire!”

“No, child, watch and you will come to know. It is coming to pass.”

The pink grew, pushing higher into the sky. It was the color of my sister’s cheeks in the light of the village fire. As the color reached ever higher, it began to deepen. Soon, it was the color of the blood of a deer. Then it grew yellow, like fire itself. Suddenly, a curve of pure light appeared above the treetops. I had to cover my eyes; never before had I seen such a bright light. As the curve grew larger, so did my eyes. I realized that I was seeing The Ball of Fire make its first appearance in years. Finally, after what seemed more time than I had experienced, all of The Ball was visible. The Great Darkness had been defeated, and it was no longer possible to look directly at the vanquisher.

I heard the cry of a new child ring through the village at that moment.

My sister arrived soon after. “Mother has joined He Who Rules Above. The elders have asked for the Eldest. There is much confusion about the passing of The Great Darkness.”

The water of cowards formed in my eyes, and I turned away so that I would not be disgraced.

The Eldest turned to me. “My son, do not weep for your mother’s passing. Her bravery was given to The Ball of Fire so It would fight the Darkness. She won the battle. You should be proud.”

We turned toward the village, and for the first time, I saw it in its entirety. As we walked, I knew that greater changes than this lay ahead.