1.23.2018

The Molasses Marathon and RBC Week 3: The Magic Virus (excerpt)

This is now the fourth week of 2018.  By all accounts I should be hard at work on my 4th short story in the Ray Bradbury Challenge (and technically, I am. More on that in a bit).

But Todd, if you're working on the 4th story, where is the story from Week 3??

That is a good and fair question. The short answer is, it's in the same place as the story for Week 4 and Week 5 and Week 6.  All four stories are in various stages from outline to draft to oh my god I will probably never let anyone see that!!

I had a bit of a moment last week where things just clicked in to place about this Ray Bradbury Challenge. He was convinced that its impossible to write 52 bad stories in a row.  I'm convinced to prove him wrong. But at the end of the day, even if I do churn out 52 bad stories in a row, I will have still written 52 stories. And there is a good chance one of them will be good.

Week 1 and 2 hummed along pretty well. The stories flowed and had a natural point where it made sense (to me) to conclude. There are apparently more questions that I need to go back and answer in the story from Week 2 (which might grow up to be an actual book). 

Week 3 is going slowly. Obviously by the fact that I don't have a full story for you yet. 

Part of it is my fault. I got caught up in the whole 'make the story the best possible story I can make it' instead of 'pump something out every 7 days.'  And, if I'm being honest, I think that's the point that Bradbury was trying to make.

Can I write a short story every week for 52 weeks? Yes. I can certainly do the quantity and put out a story from 5K-15K every week. I think most people who fancy themselves writers, could. But for me, there was a shift last week. 

I'm looking at this story and my first thought was, how can I end it here so I can post it?  I was in that headspace for all of 23 seconds before the second question hit me. "Do I want to end it before its time? Or do I want to keep working on it, despite falling behind in the challenge (which is really only a personal challenge, I'm not competing).

The answer was clear. Keep writing. 

And I think that's Bradbury's point. Keep writing. Set small goals. Work on a short story a week. Just keep writing. 

Just.
Keep.
Writing.

That has been the struggle lately. There are some major changes coming in my life that will cause me to look back on 2018 as the year I turned the corner on a lot of things in my life. I know they are good things, but they are still huge. I'm trying, sometimes to no avail, to roll with them, but it's not easily. At least it's not easy for. 

So, the whole just keep writing thing is key right now. When I sit down to write lately, it feels like I am trying to run a marathon in a river of molasses. 

Do I have a full short story for you? No. Will I catch up and have 52 short stories by Dec 31, 2018? I have no doubt. 

Like I said, I have 4 ideas that I'm dancing between right now. A paragraph here, a page there. They will be done when they are done.

Today's excerpt comes from a short story that I was originally working on for submission to an anthology about magic, but the deadline came upon me before I was ready to  turn this one in, so another took its place. 

What if, in every lifetime, there were only one person on the whole of the earth who knew the true nature of magic? What if that knowledge comes at a terrible cost? What if that person were you? These are the questions Alistair Smith must answer the day he receives a most peculiar letter...


The Magic Virus (excerpt)
By Todd Skaggs

27 January 2057
Ernest Mann
92C St. John’s Hill
London
SW11 1SH, UK

Dear Mr. Alistair Smith,

Everything you think you know about magic is, I am sorry to say, wrong. Please don’t waste your time responding to this. By the time you read these words, I will be dead. Oh, please don’t be sad for me. Just two seconds ago you were ready to kill me yourself. I’ve lived a good life, but if I were to die without telling you what I know about magic, it would be an incomplete life. Ironically, it is this very telling that will cost me my life.

So, why do it? Why sign my own death warrant? Because, what you know of magic is harmful. And what you don’t know of magic is deadly. Lastly, for purely selfish reasons, I am tired of being the only living person who knows the truth. It is a terrible burden, and you will curse me for sharing this knowledge, just as I have long since cursed the day I received my own letter of truth from the one who sent it to me.

First, the housekeeping. You have a decision to make. You must decide if you are going to continue to read this letter or disregard it outright. If you decide to reject this appointment, you must burn the letter. Under no circumstances can this knowledge be let out in to the wild. The very fabric of our world depends on this simple tenet: Only one person at a time in any lifetime may know the true nature of magic. It is for this reason, that you must also burn the letter should you decide to accept the responsibility.  If someone were to chance upon the letter and read it’s full contents, they would become the keeper and your life would be forfeit.

There are some facts you should know that may aid you in your decision.

If you accept this mantle, your life will never be the same.  That is neither good nor bad, merely the truth. You will never be able to go back to not knowing.

The position is terminal. Once you accept it, your mortal coil is intertwined with the truth. And should you share the secret with another, the truth is then bound to them and your life is over. Not figuratively, literally. Once the knowledge is shared, the previous keeper will walk this earth no more.

Magic always demands a price. The price you will pay for knowing the truth of magic is love. If you continue on to the second page of this letter, you will never again know the wonder and mystery of love. That is not to say that you will not live a full and rich life. You may still, but it will be a life without love. 

You are now at the point where you can destroy the letter. If you do so, I will know by the fact that I am still alive. And I will begin the search anew for the next Keeper. 
I would caution you to turn back now, but to do so would be for purely self-serving reasons. I have no desire to shake loose this mortal coil, but I am being told by the Magic that the time has come. It seeks a new Keeper. 

The Keeper that it has led me to is you. 

The decision is yours. Read the next page or don’t. You must now choose. 

Sincerely,
Mr. E. Mann

***
(Page 2)

If you are reading this page, know this-you are bound to the truth of magic and it is bound to you. If you choose to share this knowledge with anyone, you do so with the full understanding that upon receipt, the title of Keeper will be passed to the person with whom you have shared and upon full understanding by this person of the knowledge, you will sacrifice your life force to the Magic. 

All your life you have likely subscribed to either one of two notions. The first is that Magic is the stuff and nonsense of fairy tales. That it is completely fictional and that it’s place in our world is relegated to those things which serve to entertain us, not educate or serve us in any meaningful capacity. 

The second of these notions is that Magic is real. Whether you have seen it personally, or simply choose to believe it so, you know that deep in your heart spells and wizards and witches and dragons and faeries and the lot of them are all real. 

I know which of these you do believe, sir, but that is neither here nor there at this point and serves to add no momentum to our dialog.

The truth of the matter is Magic is real. However your perception and exposure to it is completely wrong. You, along with the entire human race since time ab initio, have been deceived. This deception has been perpetrated and disseminated through people known as the Holders. Each of the Holders exist separately and know only one small piece of the truth. Never have the Holders assembled in one place and put the whole truth together. Were that to happen, the results would be catastrophic. Holders are chosen by Magic and given gifts throughout their lives. Some mistakenly call these gifts inspiration. The Holders live their lives wanting to share the joyful side of magic. 

They are the authors, poets, writers, filmmakers, witches, and any who believe that magic could be real. This seedling is given to the Holders from an early age. Like any plant, sometimes it takes root. Sometimes the plant does not make it past the first harvest. Should this seed grow and blossom, it is then shared and spread with others. In this way the love of the benevolence of magic spreads. Much like a weed spreads and chokes the garden.

Then there are the Keepers. In every lifetime and life cycle of the earth, there is one human who is the Keeper. The Keeper of Truth is the one soul who knows all of the pieces of the truth about the nature of Magic. The single soul does not have the power itself to act upon this truth. In this way, the terrible secret of what Magic is remains unknown to the masses. The terminal binding of the Keeper to this truth is the reason that the knowledge is not known to any but one. 

In almost every instance, the candidate for Keeper was one who was originally chosen as a Holder, but for whom the glamorous notion of magic did not take root. For this Holder, magic always held a dark and serious side. This Holder fosters the belief that magic was dark and costly and that it always demanded a sacrifice.

Seventy-five years ago, that Holder was me.

Today it is you.

You have, I am remiss to say, passed the point of no return. As you continue to read, the enchantment cast on this parchment continues to bind the words to your soul. With each word passing your eyes, the bond grows stronger. By the time you reach the end of this missive, you will be fully bound to Magic. The infestation will be complete.

There is one major truth about Magic that you must know immediately and that others may not know--ever.

Magic is a virus. And you, Mr Smith, are now it’s sole carrier on the planet. All with whom you come into contact will be infected. Some will be only mildly affected, others will be terminally impacted by your touch.

In the days to come there will be additional packages forwarded to you. Legal documents, books, journals, and the like. Several secret societies will also be informed of the transference.  

Know this, there is not one single person on the planet you can trust with this truth. What you truly know of this disease you must keep to yourself.

As the sole Keeper, there is much you must learn. There are those you must teach. 
But above all else, above anything that you do, you must remain steadfastly silent about the truth nature of magic. 

I am confident I have chosen wisely, and for this I am truly sorry for the burden that is now yours.

Sincerely, 
Ernest Mann


***
I set the letter down. 

“Well, that’s just fucking great.” 

I didn’t need this. I really didn’t need this. Not now. I thought for a long second about who may go to elaborate lengths to send me a letter by post. The postal service was expensive. This letter had no return address. It was sent certified and there were two pages. Whoever it was, they were racking up quite a bill just to fuck with me.

And why? It wasn’t my birthday. It wasn’t my anniversary. The last of the cheating whores had seen to it that there wouldn’t be any more of those. When I filed for divorce this last time, that was it. After filing 3 times, I lost my license to marry again. No more tax breaks or medical breaks.

It was worth it though. If I had to spend another month married to that bitch, I would have been filing for widower’s benefits. And that was a lot more paperwork than the divorce. And a longer investigation process, too. 

I looked at the letter sitting on the coffee table in front of my sofa. It was glowing. Honest to shit, it was glowing. The pages that had been a stark white as I was reading them had shifted to a pulsing, bright amber hue. Was that smoke?

“Shit!”  I grabbed the pages and envelope from the table just as the flame sprouted from one corner of the paper. I ran in to the kitchen in to the sink and turned on the faucet.

“Mr. Ernest forget to do his research. Apparently he didn’t know I didn’t have a fireplace.” I said, to no one in particular.

I felt my mouth drop as I looked at the smoldering envelope in the sink with freshly written words, “Of course I knew. This was just more fun.”

I had about three seconds for the reality of what I had just seen to set in before the entire part and parcel gave one last exhale and was completely consumed by fire. 

Christ on a cracker.  I need a drink.

I made my way to the shelf that housed my liquor. A nice stiff bourbon sounded great right now. It’s been sounding good for about 7 months. That’s how long it’s been since I’ve had any bourbon in the house. 

“Rum it is,” I said reaching for the half full bottle of Sailor Jerry. I turned, heading for the ice box, hoping like hell I hadn’t burned through the cola I picked up last week.  

“Thank fuck,” I said as I saw three cans remaining. The way I mixed my drinks, Three cans of soda was about 8 or 9 full drinks. 

Assessing the rum and the soda situation before me, I thought to myself, Yup. Should be about enough to pass the fuck out. I can convince myself this was all a terrible dream after I make it through tomorrow’s hangover. 

Sounded like a good enough plan to me.

I was three drinks in before the full weight of the words of the letter hit me. Either that, or the weak-ass rum was starting to do its thing. 

I couldn’t hold off any longer. Everything in the letter rang true, but I had to know. The best lies 
contain truth and because of that, they ring truer when shouted from the rooftops. I was too drunk at this point to go to the roof, but I could at least test the truth of the letter.

I shuffled down the back hallway to my bedroom. I knelt by the bed. Anyone walking in would think I was saying my bedtime prayers. I had long since given up on a god that kills babies for sport and puts dictators in power for its own sick amusement. No, I wasn’t praying. I reached one arm under the bed and started feeling around. Ammo box. Nope. Pistol safe. Nope. Shoebox. There it was. 

Pulling it out, I took off the lid and set it aside. Photographs from a lifetime ago and letters and concert tickets filled the box. I rummaged around until I found what I was looking for.  My hand wrapped around a crystal.  I pulled it out of the box, my fist clenched tightly around it. I had closed my eyes as soon as my fingers touched it’s smooth, unforgiving surface.

I opened my eyes and looked at my closed fist.

There was no delaying this.

Opening my hand, I focused on the center of the crystal.

It was glowing.

Fuck me sideways, it was glowing. 

“No no no no no no no. Fuck me. No!”

I didn’t know if the words were in my head or coming out of my mouth at this point.  I wanted to throw the pale blue glowing crystal across the room. But I couldn’t. I was transfixed.

Not only that, but I now possessed magic.

Again.

This wasn’t supposed to be possible. Once the Council of Mystics stripped you, it was done. There would be no way that you could ever again possess magic. To do more than a common card trick would bring death.

Well, I suppose that was true. I would die, according to the letter, were I to share this secret with anyone. The truth. The truth of magic was destined to kill me.

But that wasn’t the same thing. The Death Penalty associated with what was called “recharging” on the streets was a swift and deliciously public death by vivisection. The crowd watched the magic flow out of you like so many embers of ash dancing playfully above a pile of burning leaves in the fall. 

I waited for the knock.

I waited for the call.

I waited for the electronic notification.

I waited for the Council to send word and to fetch me so that they might do their worst.

I waited for something. 

I waited for anything.

And nothing came. 

Except the darkness born of too many artificial spirits. 
****

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