Magical Life

This is the second story I submitted for the Los Angeles County Library Summer Contest. It didn’t win. I think I like it more than the one that did win, but I have always been a sucker for magic. So, what do you think?

…..

I’ve held fire in my hand, captivated by its beauty and validated by its power. I’ve felt it sear my flesh in agonizing waves of triumph. I’ve swelled with maniacal pride as the flames, enthralled by my command, tasted the air in licks and lashes. I’ve smiled in purest pleasure as I unleashed it upon my enemies to watch them dance away to ash.

That was all before, in what I have come to feel was my previous life.

It is as if I have lived two very different lives. First, I was a power-hungry wizard intent upon destroying all who dared to stand in my way of becoming the greatest to ever live. My thirst for new spells and artifacts was unquenchable. My hunger for power insatiable. I feasted on all I could find and honed myself and my craft until I was the finest sorcerer in the land.

When I was at the pinnacle of my talent, witches and wizards challenged me to duels to try to dethrone me. These were dealt with, not always easily but dealt with nonetheless. Others, too insecure in their craft or timid in their pursuit of knowledge, came to try to learn from me instead. These I turned away. I would not freely give away what had cost me my life to obtain.

I was feared and respected. I was invincible and immortal. I was everything I had ever wanted to be. And, yet, then I was shown that I had only really become everything I had thought that I wanted to be. My dream had been incomplete. There was something else, something more, that I ended up wanting even more.

She arrived on my doorstep, the friend of a friend, and, in those days, I had few enough of the latter to turn any away. She was no magician but she had her own magic to be sure. She was a temptress.

She didn’t mean to be. But she was. Every bit. And I was every bit tempted as well. In short order, the temptress turned into a companion, and a companion to a lover, and a lover to a wife.

Then came a family, one child and then a second, and those responsibilities trumped my other desires. In those early days, the magic was never far from my thoughts, of course. Having tasted its power before, I would never be rid of the want and the need for more. But my love for my wife and our children was equally strong, and putting their needs above my own was easy.

There is, I found, a certain magic to a child’s laugh and the way they bounce with joy when being held. I also found a certain magic in giving myself to another person completely, just as I had given myself to my craft. And there is a certain magic in helping someone become greater than they were before.

I hadn’t understood that, obviously, when I’d turned away all those magicians. Helping them would have helped myself as well. I had missed those opportunities. I did not, and do not, miss the chances I have to raise my children up.

…..

It has been wonderful to watch them grow into magic on their own. Both children are blessed with the gift to some degree. How much will not be determined for many years, as is normal. For now, I am delighted by their wide-eyed retelling of the minor things they accomplish through their will or accidentally through their rampant emotional outbursts. Children will be children, and with magical children that means that tantrums can be rather extraordinary and rather destructive, to their delight.

Preventing what I could and undoing the damages I couldn’t contain in time, have kept me well enough versed in my own craft. Plus, I have found it comforting on occasion to read through my scrolls and tomes to keep the magic fresh in my mind and blood, even if I’m not using it nearly as much as I once was or to anywhere near the same purpose. The thrill of use remains unchanged. If anything, the thrill has intensified because I am using it for those I love.

As for my enemies, those who were still alive before I became a family man, they have been around here and there over the years. Early on, some, emboldened by my absence, took strides to supplant me to become recognized as the greatest to ever live and practice the art of magic. I have noted their progress and, should they grow powerful enough and, perhaps, paranoid enough to think they must challenge me to really get what they are after, I will deal with them. Or someone else will.

My stepping aside created a vacuum in which the lesser magicians have scrambled for control and, in their jealous and hungry squabbles, have mostly just caused their own demise. They fight amongst themselves and plot and plan for their own gains without ever really achieving anything great. Perhaps the younger generations no longer have the stomach for what must really be done, what must really be sacrificed for the craft. I do not know, nor do I care as long as they leave my family alone.

Thankfully, none have been foolish enough to move against me directly in all these years. They either figure I am retired, or no longer a threat, or both. Perhaps I am retired in a way. I certainly no longer crave the power of new spells with the jealous fervor that once gripped my waking moments and my most vibrant dreams. The hours and days I once spent researching, obtaining, studying and perfecting new spells is now spent nurturing my loved ones. My dreams involve lifting my children to their greatest heights.

For the most part.

The odd dream still fills me with the sense of fulfillment that comes with the mastery of a spell and the dance that follows, almost always circling back to flickering flames weaving through my fingertips and reaching out from my upraised palm. I smile as I watch the oranges and reds waltz across my flesh before turning my hand upon a deserving foe. My breathing goes ragged with excitement. My eyes fly wide with anticipation. And then… And then I invariably wake.

My breathing quickly returns to normal, and my eyes are usually only half open as I struggle from the depths of the dream. No fire encircles either of my hands. The smile, however, remains, for my wife is still beside me and, in the quiet darkness, I can hear the sleepy stirrings of my children. Everything is as it should be. Everything is as I want it to be.


perspective

They are protesting again.”

                “Who?  The humans?”

“Yes, sir.”

                “Do I need to know or can the local council deal with it?”

“I wouldn’t have bothered you at all if you didn’t need to know.”

                “Fine.  What is it this time?”

“It appears they do not care for the improvements we made to one of their buildings.”

                “They are protesting over a building?  That sounds absurd even by their standards.  Which building?”

“It is our Hall of Honors.”

                “The building we put up to give respect to the warriors lost on both sides when we conquered this world?  It honors their fallen as well as our own.  What do they find so offensive about it?”

“Honestly, sir, I think it has less to do about what we’ve done with it specifically and more to do with what it used to be.”

                “Which is?”

“It was called the Vatican.”

                “I’m not understanding why you think this was worth bothering me with.”

“Sorry, I’ll get to the point.  It was some sort of religious place, one of their bigger ones, known around the world even by those who didn’t worship there.  The protestors feel that it should have been preserved for them.”

                “Fine, yes, I get that.  Why do I need to concern myself with it.”

“If left unchecked, based on a study of their histories, this protest could turn into something larger.  They used to take their religions very seriously.  Most of their bloodiest wars were fought with one or another at the heart of the conflict.  It has been many long years, especially by human standards, since the largest of these wars but, as we know, history has a way of coming around again and again, and why take the chance when we can squash this nonsense now.  There is no sense in delaying a response only for this minor protest to have turned into some kind of unifying thing across the historic nations.”

                “Hmm.  I see your point.  What is the consensus?  To return the building to what it was before?  That seems too weak of a move.  That might galvanize them further, would it not?  Raze the sight and put up some sort of plaque to ‘honor’ what once stood there?  A place they could visit if they so wished without being the same beacon as it once was?”

“Actually, sir, we were thinking of just killing these protestors to dissuade the idea of protest at all.”

                “Harsh.  But, yes.  Silence these and that will teach the rest to remain silent.  I agree.  Proceed.”

“It shall be done.”

…..

The other day I saw a picture of three individuals giving the middle finger to Mount Rushmore.  I would have been appalled… as recently as last year.  I have recently learned, however, that Mt. Rushmore was carved out of a place known as Six Grandfathers.  It wasn’t just some rock out in the Black Hills.  It was a special rock on special land that was first stolen and then desecrated.

Some might argue that is just the way things had to be in the name of progress.  I’m not sure I can swallow this argument as I once did and I tried to think of an equivalent transgression going on now, to try and put it in some sort of context.  This example isn’t perfect, of course.  I’m not sure anything could be.

I’m not sure what the solution is, either.  There likely isn’t one, unfortunately.  Not one that all parties could agree on in any case.  So,  I’m not sure why I wrote this or felt it necessary to share it…  Perhaps just to challenge everyone to think of what came before and what, as things always do, might come again.

Some important reading: https://indiancountrytoday.com/archive/native-history-construction-of-mount-rushmore-begins-nNaLMzte1kKPJmtJoLoFZA

 

 

Safe, The End

I passed the alcove the other day, the one I had seen her resting in from time to time, and was surprised to see a single candle burning there.  Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised.  Life on the streets is not easy and life, regardless of where it is lived, only ever ends one way.  We will all have a candle lit in our memory at some point.  Still, I was surprised.

She was the inspiration for this series, these “Safe” posts.  I had seen her sitting in the alcove, smiling out at the warming day, as the princes and I passed along on our way to the park.  She wasn’t always there but she was there enough that it made me start to think about why she would be there and where she would go when she wasn’t there.  Each of these posts has been about my thoughts working through the life she had.  And now that life has come to an end so these posts will as well.

I will never know why she was on the streets in the first place and what caused her death.  I could speculate based on appearance, based on the observations I made on her behavior, but what purpose would that serve.  If I truly cared, I could have done more.  I could have done more than say “Hello” and offer the occasional donut or bottle of water or spare dollar from my pocket.  I could have asked her name.  I could have asked what she really needed rather than falling on what was easy for me to offer at the time.  My opportunities to do so, with her, have been missed.

If someone else claims the alcove once her candle has burned out and been swept away, will I do more?

Only time will tell.

Thank you for going on this journey with me.  When I wrote the first post I had no idea what it would become.  Without some encouragement from my readers it likely would have ended there.  I’m glad it didn’t.  I’m glad I forced my eyes to open a little more and to see the parts of my community that I most often ignored.  I wish it could have had a happier ending.  Though, in truth, I’m not sure what that would have looked like…  speculative fiction at best…  The real world rarely provides happy endings.  Death is inevitable.  And a candle will be lit if we are lucky enough to have people who care to light them.

That is something we should hope for.  That is something we should more than hope for.  We should work for it.  We should care about others and prove that we care through words and actions and thoughts and prayers and whatever it takes.  If we care, they will.  Then when it is our turn, the candles will be lit and those who strike the match and touch it to the wick will have happy memories to hold onto.  And there is the best happy ending any of us could hope for.

Safe 6

She’d been standing most of the day and the few times she had sat down to give her legs a break the cold, hard cement had not provided much relief.  It had needed to be done, though.  She had run low on funds again and the gnawing low in her belly had forced her to go out and stand on the corner while also giving her the fire to stay long after she would have otherwise.  She was exhausted all the same.  Despite the chill in the air, the sun had taken its normal toll.  Her feet ached.  Her joints ached.  Her back ached.  Her eyelids seemed to weigh more than the rest of her head and as they closed in slow blinks her whole head tilted down with them.

Perhaps it was ill-timed to attempt crossing the street during one such blink but she was tired and thoughtfulness of decisions decrease as exhaustion increases.  Wind whistled past her as one car after another careened too close for comfort.  She hadn’t seen them coming.  Had she even looked?  She was certain she had?  Certain and yet uncertain.  Of all the streets she crossed in a day in her normal wanderings and collections, who could tell if she was remembering this most recent one or any of the ones that came before.

Stumbling backwards, away from the road and buffeting wind of the passing cars, she tripped over the curb and fell painfully to her butt.  Tendrils of agony arced up her back and arms.  She sat there until the pain subsided.  Then she continued to sit there, unsure where the strength would come from to regain her feet.  The fire that had driven her earlier had disappeared with the first rush of air that had pressed her away from the traffic.  She had nothing left in her.  She needed to move, though.  She couldn’t curl up where she was to sleep.  She still needed food.  She needed to eat and then find her way to one her safe spots before night fell.

Where had all those cars come from?  Did they really think they needed to honk?  What purpose did that serve, she was already off the road?  Was a single one of them going the speed limit?  Had a single one of them ever spent the night away from the shelter of their roofs and walls?

She couldn’t answer.  She wasn’t them.

She tried to stay upbeat and usually succeeded.  For the most part she understood that her situation was of her own making and there means by which she could return to a normal life.  She chose not to.  That didn’t mean, however, that those who did fall into societal norms should make things harder on her, couldn’t at least have some empathy for her.  She didn’t want their pity.  Pity and empathy are not the same.  She accepted money from those who felt like giving.  She didn’t beg.  She stood on corners or in front of stores and people gave when they felt like it for whatever reason compelled them to.  She never asked.  Those who gave just did.  Perhaps they did so out of pity sometimes but that was beyond her control.

The drivers still careening down the street could move ever so slightly away from the curb.  They could see her sitting there and adjust their wheels to move the car a few inches further away.  It cost them nothing to do so and made a world of difference for her.  It would be less effort than those who chose to remove a hand from the wheel and honk their horns.  Those few inches kept the wind from buffeting her fiercely.  Some did move but most did not.  She wondered if they would move if it was their wife, their daughter, their grandmother sitting on the curb or if they were so self-absorbed that they wouldn’t notice anyone regardless of who it was.  That couldn’t have been all of it, though, for she was being noticed.  The honks were proof of that.

A fire, small but still burning, returned and she pushed herself to her feet.  Her eyes, clearer now, scanned the traffic for an opening and then she strode across the road with confidence.  The coins and bills in her pockets jangled as she moved.  Soon she would trade those funds in for food and then she would have even more strength to make the journey to where she would spend the night.  While she slept her anger would subside and she would be fresh again in the morning, hopeful for what the new day may bring.

rain

The ground was slick from the nearly invisible drops.  They were so light and tiny that he could barely feel them.  It was more like walking through a mist than normal rain but still was falling enough to accumulate on the concrete at his feet.  It had been a wet winter and he had been thoroughly enjoying it.  Rain was a special thing, a rare thing in his opinion, meant to be celebrated and enjoyed.  Perhaps that was a result of growing up in the desert where rain was scarce or perhaps that was just part of who he was, who he would have been regardless of where and how he was raised.

He used to go walking in the rain, let it pour over him, drench him, and exalt in the experience.  Then, frozen and dripping, peel off his clothes and take a warm shower.  Afterwards, he would curl up in a chair near a window and spend hours watching the rain, watching it catch the light, watching it slash sideways in the wind, watching pool.  He was enchanted by it.  In truth, he still was but no longer had the leisurely hours to spend in such a manner.

The sound of his steps echoed in the narrow corridor.  He walked under an awning, sheltered from the drizzle.  He longed to step out into the open and once again revel in the feeling of the water soaking into him but his responsibilities came first.  He had to finish his day at work.  Had to get home and spend time with his family and get his chores done.  Then, if it was still raining and all went smoothly, he might be able to carve out a few minutes to sit by the window and listen and watch.  In the meantime, his short walk around the building would have to suffice.  He was close enough he could reach out and touch the storm, even though he kept himself from it.