Monday, July 27, 2015

The Truth About Magic: Short Fiction

The Truth About Magic
 Chris Costello

The shop was a curious little place on the outskirts of town, far away from anything that could reasonably be called a part of civilization. The store was a ramshackle cottage with no windows, and there wasn’t even a sign out front. Gary supposed that was intentional. Wizards liked solitude. At least, that’s what everybody had said.

He crossed the street and paused outside the shop door. His palms were slick with sweat, but he still managed to hang onto the dusty old tome in his hands. He shifted so that the book was tucked under his arm and rapped on the wooden door with his knuckles. His heart sent a steady drumbeat thumping through his ears.

Gary waited for about ten minutes, but nothing happened. He looked down at his feet. The boy considered turning around and hoofing it back home, but then thought better of it. If the book was the real thing, it would be too good to pass up. And if it wasn’t, well, at least it’d gotten him out of the house.

Suddenly, the door whisked open. “Heya, kid.” Said a voice, clearly male.
Gary took a deep breath and looked up. There was nothing there. The space within the doorway was empty. He snapped his head around, searching for the source of the noise. The streets around him were all but deserted. Maybe he was just hearing things. He spun on his heels and prepared to walk away. His friends had been right. This was stupid.

“Hey, kid.” Said the voice again. “Where’re you goin’?”

“Where are you?” Gary asked, not bothering to turn around again.

“Down here.”

That piqued Gary’s interest enough to give in. He paused and faced the direction the sound had come from.

There was someone standing there, but Gary didn’t think he was human. For one thing, he was only about three feet tall. For another, he had dull, watery eyes and a thick head of bright green hair. There was a small goatee jutting out of his chin.

The guy, noticing Gary’s expression, smirked. “Expecting somebody different, were ya?”

Gary nodded, making a vain attempt to close his mouth.

“S’okay.” The guy said. “They usually react this way. Come on in, we’ll see what ya got, okay?” The little man stepped aside, ushering Gary into the shop.

It looked exactly like Gary would expect a magic shop-a real one-to look. There were two huge armchairs in the center of the room, and the unpainted walls were lined with shelves which, in turn, were stuffed to the gills with books. These were all leather-bound tomes with yellowed pages and strange lettering on the spines. Just like the one Gary was carrying. He allowed himself a modicum of hope.

The little guy eased himself into one of the chairs. His feet didn’t even touch the ground. If he was bothered by this fact, he did a good job hiding it.

Gary stood dumbly in the doorway, taking everything in. He was struck by the fact that there was no lightbulb anywhere, and yet he could see everything clear as day.

“Sit down.” The guy said. “I’m a busy man, I don’t got all day.”

Gary looked around. Apart from him, the store was empty. Still, he was in a magic shop, and it was never a good idea to piss off wizards. Or so he’d been told. He nodded and took a seat in the only other available chair.

“All right.” The guy said, crossing his stumpy legs. “What do you have for me?”

“It’s probably nothing.” Gary mumbled. “Stupid book, is all.”

“Hey, I make a living off of stupid books. Fork it over, will ya?”

Gary spread the book across his lap. The guy stood and turned it over in his hands. After a cursory inspection, he handed it back. “Where’d you find this, kid?”

“It was in a trunk in the attic.” Gary said.

He nodded. “These kinds of things usually are. Either there or in the back of an old library.”

Gary’s heart soared. “So it is a spellbook!” He pumped his fist in the air triumphantly. “I knew it! Suck it, Steve.”

The guy chuckled. “Don’t get too excited. You didn’t find the Necromicon over here. It’s a remedial tome. Think of it like a third grade textbook, but for magic.”

Gary scowled.”Oh.”

“Hey, now. I could always use more of these. You willing to sell?”

Gary thought of the empty fridge at home. “Sure I am.” He said without much hesitation. “How much is it worth?”

“That depends.”

“On what?”

“Have you opened it yet?”

“Yeah. Couldn’t make heads or tails of anything inside, though.”

The little man frowned. “Damn.”

Gary’s heart picked up speed again. “Is that a problem?”

“It’s the biggest problem.” The little man replied. “See, spellbooks are personalized. They’re all made with a specific person in mind.”

Gary gestured to all the books in the room. “Why do you have all these, then?”

“I run a matching service. Somebody finds a book they can’t open, they bring it to me. I help them find a rightful owner. If you’ve already accessed the thing, it’s basically useless to me now.”

“Oh.” Gary said again.

The little man put a sausage finger on his chin, clearly deep in thought. “I’ll tell you what.” He said after a moment. “What if I taught you to cast the spells inside. Nothing serious, just little charms. Self-tying shoelaces, telekinesis, that sort of thing.”

Gary sucked in a breath. “You’re serious?”

The guy shrugged. “Yeah, why not? I need the money.” He paused, glancing down at Gary’s scuffed sneakers, two sizes too small. “And, clearly, so do you. I could teach you a few conjuring spells, and you could mind the store. Work for your keep. What do you say?”

“Sure.” Gary sputtered. He resisted the urge to ask the little guy to pinch him. “But I don’t even know your name.”

The guy extended his hand, and Gary shook it. “I’m Rico. Pleasure to meet you.”

“My name is Gary.” He said. His head was filled with visions of the future. The giant castle that would be his home, the hundreds of servants he would hire, the velvet robes he would wear.

“I know.” Said the man.

They sat in contented silence for a moment, and then Gary spoke up again. “So you’re really a wizard?  I mean, a real wizard?”

Rico narrowed his eyes. “Sure am. Why? Do I not look like a wizard to you?”

“I mean, sure.” Said Gary. “I was just-”

“Expecting something a little more typical?” Rico interrupted. “The long white beard, the pointy hat, the robes?”

Gary nodded, unable to speak.

 “That’s just how they play us in the movies. I’ve never met anyone like that in real life. Also, I’m pretty sure that’s racist.”

“No, no.” Gary said, perhaps a little too quickly. “That’s not what I meant.”

Rico barked out a laugh. “I know, I know. I’m just screwing with you. Relax, kid. We’re cool.”

Gary let out a breath he didn’t know he’d been holding. “You’re sure it’s okay?”
“Yeah. Jesus Christ, I was just having a little fun.”


The silence took over again. This time, it was Rico who broke it off.

“There is something you need to know about magic.” He said. A shadow had fallen across his eyes. “Before we get down to business.”

“I know.” Replied Gary, eager to show off what he’d learned from the Internet. “It always comes with a price.”

Rico stifled a laugh. “What? That’s not even close. Who told you that, kid?”

Gary suddenly acted as though the stain on the carpet was the most interesting thing in the world. “Everybody.”

“Well, everybody is wrong.” Rico said.

Gary recalled something he’d read on a message board somewhere. He doubted the information was correct, but it was worth a shot. “But what about the laws of thermodynamics? Isn’t magic bound by them?”

“If magic followed the rules of thermodynamics, it wouldn’t be magic, would it?”

“But surely there must be some grounding in physics.” Gary tried to recall the stuff he’d learned in science class. He was beginning to regret sleeping through all of Mr. McKinley’s lectures. “Quantum mechanics, maybe.”

“That stuff only works on a tiny scale.” Rico grumped. “If we were trying to conjure a teacup the size of an atom, maybe it would apply. But who would want to do that? What purpose would it serve. That’s what magic’s all about. Purpose.”

Gary’s sense of regret vanished, replaced by a grin that looked as though it would meet in the middle of his forehead if left unchecked. “All right. Thermodynamics, quantum theory, all that goes out the window. Got it. But there must be some kind of cost. Do I have to sell my soul? I don’t know if I’m ready for that kind of commitment.”

When Rico didn’t reply, he ventured another guess. “Does it only work if I really, really believe it?”

Rico didn’t even try to mask his amusement this time around. “What have you been reading, kid?”

Gary crossed his arms over his chest. “Oh, just every story ever written about somebody casting spells.”

Rico waved his hand dismissively. “That’s all fiction. This, my friend, is the real thing.”

“All right, then. What exactly do I need to know?” Gary asked.

Rico snapped his fingers, and a small dragon materialized in his lap with a puff of smoke. It curled up like a cat, swishing its tail contentedly as he scratched between the horns. “Magic is fucking awesome.”

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