Back when you used to go to school, you were made to wear a white shirt and blue shorts. The shorts were always too long or too short, and you got your leg pulled for it either way. The shirts were all supposed to be white – but they never really were. Everyone’s shirt was a different shade of brown, with a botch of ink thrown in for good measure. They had the nerve to call it a “uniform”. The seats won their war against the buttocks, but the desks lost to the pencils, the pens and every other pointed or sharp instrument of education. In the afternoon, after spending the recess gobbling up food as fast as possible, and running around in a frenzy to spend all the energy confined to a space of about a foot and a half square, getting back to the classroom was a taxing experience. A few times you were lucky to be late enough to spend the time on your own but on your knees. When you had submitted to the classroom, you were forced to listen to what the teacher was saying. The teacher said something like “…to find the reciprocal of a number using the simple division method…” you would spot a contradiction in the sentence, you were not stupid, so you got bored. Then the drowsiness would come, despite all the pleasures of the last bench, and you would go to sleep. Good thing you did. You escaped a lot of bullshit, but school taught you much more than you give it credit for.
It is the middle of the night. You are unable to sleep, so you go out for a walk. Outside your apartment complex, the dark grey concrete is hardly illuminated by the long row of spaced out yellow streetlamps. You start walking in no particular direction. A few dogs are hiding in the shadows. You are familiar with a few of them. A car zooms by. Some guy is watching late night television a little too loudly. You have your time. You feel the air heavy with smog, though you cannot smell it or see it. You feel the chill. It is the chill of the night. Of the darkness. You think of the sun, in a distant place, relentlessly exploding in heat and light. At least the earth, and everything on it takes a rest and rejuvenates. You like walking.
You begin to run. You can feel your breath almost break into a pant. You control it, you time your lungs, you can feel the muscles and tendons moving in your limbs. Your feet move in a rhythm on feet, the careful but rapid footfalls beating to the sound of the heart. Your arms swing, their momentum keeping you steady. You break into sweat, you can feel your shirt getting wet, a few drops trickle down your spine.
You reach the highway. Cars and trucks are going up and down it, busy even in the middle of the night. You wait, catch your breath, and look at each vehicle in turn. You see the headlights streaming your way from a long away. You hear the doppler of different engines. You are at the edge of the road, your eyes catch the headlights of an approaching vehicle. It looks like a large 4x4, but the headlights put the vehicle in the shadows. You cannot see anything but a vague frame. Your breathing slows down. You move to a side, the headlights are still trained on you. You are a little startled. You try to stare at the windscreen, you can’t even make out if it is tinted. You step further back. The vehicle keeps coming right at you. For a second, you stop thinking, and the light blinds you, but you can hear a harsh screech of the tires. You stand there, a little shocked, when a figure nimbly gets out of the car. You expect the man to come to you, but he moves out to the back of the car. You walk around the large black vehicle, but the headlights have temporarily blinded you, so you cannot really make out enough to move much. You stop for a second, by the time you can see anything, the figure is on a cycle, and riding away. You start to follow him, but you turn around at the sound of the vehicle starting up and going away. On the ground though, is a carelessly thrown cycle. You take a closer look at it. The bicycle has a light frame, no fenders, a high seat and a good suspension. It is a racing bike. The fellow who got down was a little down the street, cycling at probably looking in your direction. You call out “Hey!”. The cyclist does not say anything. He starts taking the cycle around in circles, at a little distance from you. He looks like he is waiting. You don’t know what his problem is, but you get onto the bike, and start to pedal after him, down the road you ran up.
He sees you on the bike, and starts cycling away. You think it is a good thing you warmed up. You begin to peddle, and catch up speed. The faster you go, the faster he goes. You daren’t go any faster, so you settle down to a decent coast, pedaling every now and then. You shout a few more times, but he shouts nothing back, but measures pace with you so that he is always a little ahead. He is wearing a loose yellow t-shirt, and a pair of aged jeans, and sneakers without socks. You follow him around a bend in the road, and there is a flash of lightning in the sky. You slow down a bit, temporarily suspending the pedaling. The sky thunders, and you worry about the rain. Suddenly, for just a flash, you see a fork of lightning move across the road, from the bike in front of you, towards you. You wonder if you imagined it, and a little intrigued, you follow the cyclist. A dog starts barking at him, and follows him, signaling the stranger in the area. He leads you to a relatively quiet area, and you start down a road without any streetlights. It is a colony under construction, the half build buildings around the place looming all around. There are piles of sand, mud and bricks lying around carelessly on the road. High above, there are a few lights. A few rusted iron rods are jutting about. You look at the cyclist, and you make out a glimmer in the air around him. There is another flash, you just imagine you zipped through a ring of fire, look around, and see no ring receding from you, but a faint, glimmer in the air – or maybe you are imagining that too. You shout again. He does nothing to acknowledge you. Then you hear it, the heavy footfalls, of hoofs beating on the concrete. A heavy black bulk is coming towards you, its back undulating a distant light catching a glimmer of white on a black coat with small, thick hair. You see the points of the yellowish horns, coming straight at you. You see the large, flaring nostrils, a heavy drool flying out of it. The bull passes you, you hear the footsteps fading quickly but the bull fades quicker. You lose your balance and fall down.
You are on the ground, stunned, immobile, and you feel long, careful fingers on your back, a soft but icy voice help you on your feet. You can make out a round head, but you cannot see any features. There is a sliver of light, where the eyes of a man a little shorter than you would be. He is stockier than you are. He jabs a strip to your elbow, and you feel him taking a drop of your blood. He removes a strange rectangular gadget from his pocket. He pushes a button, and the LCD comes on with a green light. You can make out some figures on the screen. He slips the strip of paper into the machine. The display changes. He looks at the screen, and not you, when he says “Hello.”
There are a hundred different ways you can respond right now. As a result, you remain silent for an unusually long amount of time. He looks at you. “What the fuck do you think you are doing?” you have lost your mind. You grab the thing from him, look at it, can’t figure out anything, and ask him “What the hell is this about?”. He looks at you, sizes you up, considers something for a moment, “What…” he asks, “…do you know about magic?”
You consider him for a moment. You wonder sarcastically if he is going to levitate. You decide to humor him, “I know a few card tricks my uncle thought me.” “You talk of mere deception” The stranger says, in a raspy voice, as if your answer disappointed him. “I donno… making stuff float I guess.” “That is nonsense.” He answers, definitely glum. “What do you know about magic then?” You ask, a little irritated with him. “Glad you asked” he says, and waves a hand towards a sofa that just showed up where the bikes were lying a second ago. “Please, have a seat” he says. “Is it really there?” you ask, definitely a little bewildered now. You sit down, and he sits down after you. “Let us have a little chit-chat, what will you drink?” You look around for the cameras, wondering if you are stuck in some stupid show. You cannot spot anything or anyone close by. Just the empty stretch of the road. You get excited though, you behave as if a thousand people were watching you. You become theatrical; you hide certain aspects of your reactions by exaggerating others. You wonder if this is the magic. You cannot think straight. “Do you have watermelon juice?” you ask. He gives you a glass of it. He is holding a glass in his own hand. “Thank you” you say rather meekly “How did you…”
“Free will” he shrugs, before you can finish your question. “Free will?” you repeat, a little hesitantly “You can will things to happen?”. “Not exactly. There is only one kind of magic, that of creation, of conjuring.” You consider what he just told you for a second. “So, you can create anything?” you ask him. “Yes… and no. You can create only two basic things – good and…” He stops speaking for a second. He looks around. He stands up. You look around to. He starts sniffing. “Dammit. They are here.” He says. You look around. You cannot see anyone. He turns around. You can make out an approaching figure. “Hello Mer, how are you?” calls out the figure. He is wearing green pants and a yellow shirt. He has a large tattoo of a dancing elephant on his right arm. His face is round, his eyes deep, and his nose a large bulbous protrusion. He is wearing a wide red hat with a tall peacock feather sticking out at an odd angle. You gape at him. “Hello Lok” says Mer, a little wryly. I see Dom is here and listening. “No you don’t” says a voice from just behind you. You turn around startled. You can sense something. You cannot see anything. “Oh, how can I forget, you are invisible” says Lok. “Invisible only to the blind” says the voice of Dom. “Don’t start with your cryptic bullshit.” Says Mer. And you are lost in the middle of the magi.
“Don’t believe what this freak told you” says Lok, “all magic is illusion, deception… that’s all there is to it.” “Oh yeah?” answers Mer, kicking the sofa, and addressing you “You think this is an illusion? That your brains are addled somehow? You can be fooled into seeing and feeling things that aren’t?” You cannot think of an answer. You are wondering if this is true, and wondering what this is to begin with. “Magic is not too different from knowledge.” The voice of the invisible guy says, a little farther away than the last time he spoke. “Knowledge is the light, knowledge of all things, past, future and present, knowledge of nature, of…” You cannot stand it. The freaks. You wan’t nothing to do with this. You start to run away from them. They call out things to you. Ask you to stop. Ask you to come back. But you run without paying heed. You look back. The night has swallowed them. You keep running. You hear a rustling. You look to your left. Nothing. You look to your right. Nothing. You look behind you again, and again, nothing. You look up. There is a fat woman in a billowing rainbow colored dress flying above you. She has a smirk on her face. “Hi” she says, in a voice like the ringing of a small bell. “Hi. I am Oona. Running away from them was the smartest thing you ever did.” You scream. Not because you are scared, but because you cannot escape them. Whoever they are. “Why are you after me?” you ask, stopping to run, as you realize you cannot get away. “Because.” She says. You think about it for a second. You shrug.
“So…” you ask her “… what is magic according to you?” You have to bend your neck upwards to speak to her, she is hovering above you, perhaps forgetting that she can stay on the ground. “To put it simply, it is the language of the cosmos. Not numbers. Not physics, but magic. It has a syntax, and a grammar. Spells and enchantments. You speak the right words, read out from the right spellbooks, and you can tweak the universe to your convenience.” “So” you ask, a little sarcastically, “how can I help you?”
She begins to speak, utters a syllable, when she begins to fall. You realize you are standing right beneath her. You get out of the way, and then suddenly, you realize you cannot, because you are falling too. Falling through the ground. You look up she is not there. In her stead, is an ugly creature. You recognize it as a gargoyle. It speaks in a slow, raspy voice. “The only true magic, is not your own, but of creatures from other dimensions. You have to summon them, and they will do your bidding. Beware though, it is difficult to control them without a force of will.”
And then you fall. Floating around you, are the figures – the ghosts of Mer, Lok, Oona, the gargoyle, and the invisible Dom. You hear them calling out to you, beckoning you to choose one of them. “it’s the spells, you always knew its in the words!” “Its imagination, of creation, the fundamental magic in existence itself!” “Deception, illusion, lies, but magic nonetheless!” “Sell it, a soul is nothing without pleasures, and you may yet discover that hell is a good place” “wisdom, my friend, knowledge, the light”.
You think. Each kind of magic encompasses all the others. You cannot figure out which of it is real. However, this IS happening to you, and one of them must be speaking the truth. You realize one thing. To stop falling, you have to choose. But this is not about a choice, this is about a quest. You have a lifetime to get there, but not more.