The Last Magus

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The depths of despair...

Joe lived in a small house on a quiet road, in a tiny village, on the South East coast of England. He was a loner by every description, he lived in the house his parents had left him on their death and could go weeks without seeing a single living person. He didn’t mind the loneliness so much, except at times when it just seemed to grasp him by the throat. The house itself was totally nondescript, though its layout was admittedly strange. The front of the house was a single-storey bungalow. In fact since his father had knocked down a partition wall the front room was one big single room, hell to heat in the winter. The rear part though was two storeys, the house having been built onto a hillside. That would be curious in itself, but the really curious thing was that the house never seemed to have the same number of rooms from one week, or even one day to the next. To outward appearances the house never changed, not a single brick. But inside rooms could appear, disappear and shuffle around seemingly at the will of the householder, or more ominously at the will of the house itself! Joe’s dad had called it a house of intentions, when you went from one room to another you had to have a clear idea of the room you wanted to get to…or you might very well get lost!

Joe’s life had never really amounted to much, he was in his forties now. He’d lived his entire life in this house. He’d dropped out of college after the second year when the course he wanted changed in ways he didn’t like and couldn’t cope with, money also became a problem and would become a recurring problem throughout his life. He by bad luck dropped out slap bang into the middle of an economic recession. This had meant ten years of depressing unemployment and being told how his qualifications were excellent but he lacked experience so they couldn’t consider him for the job. “How was I supposed to get experience when no-one would try me out?”

After ten fruitless years one place, just one, a shop where he had known the owner, had taken a chance and employed him. For that year…well ten months, he had felt great! He felt he was at last starting to achieve everything that he wanted with his life…that was until the fateful day the boss had decided that redundancies were required and based on last in, first out Joe had been let go. It hurt Joe still, he hadn’t been the last in for a start. But even though it had been eighteen years since that day, he’d not forgotten...he’d liked that job! OK the money hadn’t been amazing but he’d felt a part of something, maybe something that could have got to be really good if it had only been allowed to grow. The timing had been terrible too, in that month he had lost his father to cancer, his job (the boss had given him the bad news just four days after his father’s funeral), his youth (having reached the supposedly more mature age of thirty) and finally to cap his misery a young woman he had held hopes of having a relationship with had deserted him without a word (indeed he had found out on his birthday that she had moved...about as far away as she could physically get from him, while still being in the same country. To add insult to this injury she had moved away after getting married. So she had met and married someone else during the summer, the summer that Joe had been working so hard to raise money to take her out somewhere really special…and no one had bothered to tell him.) As a result of all of that misery piling in on him he had almost taken his own life! Joe remembered the despair he’d felt as he’d stood in his room, an old bed sheet tied around an exposed rafter and the other end wrapped firmly around his neck, willing himself to step off the desk he was standing on and end it all…he couldn’t see any point to continuing his life. He felt lost, alone and how could he build anything of a life when it kept getting taken from him so completely. So he just wanted to be done with it all!

…But, call it cowardice, call it a change of heart, call it whatever you want Joe couldn’t say why he had but he had pulled the noose away and stepped down, praying to whatever Gods might be listening “Please let things get better…please!”

In a way, perhaps they had listened, things got better…for a while. He found a new job with his previous employer’s biggest customer and spent some years working there, enough to start relaxing and believing this would be it, his life at last! Again he enjoyed the varied work and had just started to settle. But they say fate is fickle, whenever Joe started to relax that would be the moment it would change and the change was almost always for the worse. So that same terrible word reared its ugly head again…redundancy! Joe was initially stunned, two times? Then faced with no other alternative accepted it. “What good would shouting and screaming about it have done?” This time some fool in the finance office had screwed up and the place was in a deficit, Joe had been given the “Sorry you’ve been selected for redundancy…” speech and maybe part of him felt relieved. In those last years he’d sensed he was being sidelined maybe as some excuse to get rid of him. This of course meant that when he was selected nobody really cared. They commiserated of course, but deep down maybe they felt relieved that it was Joe and not themselves being pushed out.

Two days after his final day at work he’d been admitted to hospital for an operation, an operation not designed to fix anything. It was an operation to prevent things getting any worse. The operation had a small chance of leaving him dead. Nobody had come to visit, nobody had cared…he wondered what might have happened if he had really died on the operating table.

Things had then gone in a steady downward spiral from there, months recovering from the operation had then all but destroyed any chance of a new job. The constant pain he now suffered meant he felt next to useless most days. In fact most days he just wished fervently that the day would just go away. He’d pull the covers up over his head and stay in bed sometimes all day…at least there he had a chance of being warm! In his dreams also he could find the companionship he inwardly craved and it could be with anyone he wished. It was however the cold that really messed him up, cold seemed to affect him in strange ways, he would shiver and shake as if his body was being electrocuted or suffer strong convulsions that made any task he tried a serious struggle. Of course with physical limitations like that his home had gone completely to hell, his garden resembled something out of the deepest jungles. If scientists ever wanted to locate some missing tribe or animal believed extinct Joe was pretty sure they’d find it in his garden! Each time he’d try to clear it he’d get just so far, then a bad spell would hit him and he’d be back to square one again. So in response he kept himself mainly to the front room, he knew he had all that space in the rear, seemingly as much as he wanted...but he just felt too exhausted to deal with it all.

Today, Joe was depressed, even the word depression didn’t describe the depths of his despair. It seemed that if it wasn’t one thing it was always another and this morning he had received a letter from the bank telling him he was officially and completely broke...or would be in two days! The worst thing about the bank was the manager. He was, in Joe’s opinion, a loathsome little man called Franklin Jolly and would officially rank as someone Joe truly hated! To add to things he lived right opposite Joe so there was nowhere for Joe to run and hide. Joe wasn’t really the sort to hate anyone, everyone said how passive a character he was, but Franklin Jolly would make a definite exception! Come nine o’clock Monday morning Joe would officially have nothing! His last and only savings having finally gone, he had nothing left to break his fall now. What welfare he got was a pittance that barely covered his living expenses, he had tried to carve them back right to the bone too. As a result he’d been living a sort of survivalist lifestyle, feeling like a squatter in his own home. He’d been considering a tent at the bottom of his jungle garden hidden away to convince everyone the house was abandoned. To cut the bills down he was using little to no electricity, no gas; his only gas appliance needed maintenance he couldn’t afford. So he’d been trying to light a small wood fire, his only form of heat and he’d been unsuccessful.

Joe, with a deep sigh of resignation, removed the last match from the box. It was late on a Saturday night in the second week of January, there was no chance of getting any more matches until tomorrow morning at the earliest...that was assuming he could find somewhere on a Sunday and afford them with what money he had left.

He shivered violently, he was COLD…FREEZING! It may have been as a result of the accident years earlier that had left him in such pain, the accident that had facilitated the operation, but he felt the cold more keenly than ever and today was BAD on every level. He’d woken shivering, had spent much of the day shivering at one point or another. “C-C-Christ almighty, I know it’s J-J-January and it’s supposed to be bloody c-c-cold…but this is f-f-f-freezing!” He shivered, his teeth chattering as his hands shook. He cursed looking forlornly at the empty matchbox willing a last match to be tucked into a fold in the cardboard. Finally, with another deep sigh of resignation he put the box to one side and looked at the last match pinched between his fingers. “What the hell can I do with one bloody stinking match huh? If you don’t light this fire this time I’m going to have one bleak, cold night ahead. I can’t even have a decent hot coffee. I just knew I should have gotten more matches…one left, bloody one left!” Joe cursed his memory, maybe another effect of the accident, but he seemed to forget simple things with increasing regularity.

Suddenly as if from some unseen cue, he felt something he’d been experiencing since the temperature had started to drop. A fizzing pins and needles like sensation crept across his torso in a slow wave. It crossed his chest, fizzing and popping like his skin was passing an electric current and then flowed down his arm; the arm that ended in the hand holding the match! All Joe could do at these moments was sit and wait for it to pass, any movement hurt like nothing he could describe, at least not without plenty of expletives! His right arm involuntarily snap straightened as he heard a nerve lock in his elbow crack like a whip, the pain was going to be bad! His arm muscles bunched and constricted even more painfully. His hand, which was at the best of times incapable of feeling himself holding the match, almost snapped it as the muscles cramped. “Arrrrghh! Son of a…not now!” Joe screamed, the fizzing pain racked through him, wave following painful wave. He knew the cold played a major part in this new sensation, it seemed to hit him when he felt a chill, but it wasn’t every time and came on in random spurts. It was absolute hell trying to sleep not knowing when he’d experience another torture session. He had found a temporary reprieve from this new curse in holding his breath, it seemed to suppress the fizzing and drive it back but he could only hold his breath so long and releasing it usually only started another painful cycle. He prayed and pleaded, silently hoping this would pass quickly. His eyes fixed on the match as his right hand quivered, he let the sensation work its worst. “Please don’t let me snap it! Please don’t let me drop it!” he repeated over and over, finally the fizzing started to abate. After a few moments of peace Joe moved tentatively, the pain had backed off enough for him to move again without wanting to scream, he hurriedly struck the match. It flared with a bright orange flame…Joe didn’t dare breathe in case his breath blew it out, his very last match! Then with eyes filling with dismay the bright little flame guttered and went out leaving a tiny red glowing ember of the former match head and a tiny wisp of smoke. “NO!!!! God damn it! You miserable bastard! Just what am I supposed to do now?” Joe threw the useless match onto the mantle over the fireplace and sunk his face into his hands. “Why…why is it nothing goes right for me…just once, just one day, one hour would be nice…all I’ve ever wanted is for something to go right for me. Why am I so cursed?” Another cycle of the fizzing started to wash through him, “No you don’t!” Joe sucked in his breath and held it as long as he could. He finally expelled the held breath in an explosive blast. “Ever since that redundancy I’ve been losing…What am I saying? Ever since I was born I’ve been losing! All I ever seem to have is bad luck! I’m broke all the bloody time.” He talked to the empty space of his room, “OK, like I get the need for redundancies when the money is short, I get it…I do! But that deficit in their budget wasn’t my fault! So why did I have to pay the price?” He lifted his face for a moment to stare at the cold fireplace, tears were starting to streak his face and he sniffed loudly. “Just one thing after another ever since and I am so sick of all this!” He pounded a useless fist on the mantle as he felt himself getting to the point he would cry…and if he started crying he doubted he’d ever stop!

Truth be told, his whole life had felt like this, one thing after another going wrong. Cursed? Maybe that was the word, in his quiet moments he remembered a primary school report from when he was seven or eight years old “Joe finds it hard to make friends…” it had said under the pastoral care section. That was true, from a certain point of view. Joe was friendly enough, it was the friends he tried to make that wanted nothing to do with him. He’d never been allowed to bring any friends home and his family never had visitors, all because of the weirdness of the rear of the house. He’d been bullied of course, he hadn’t fit in, he was a loner even then. One particular boy had delighted in making his school days a living hell, relentless torment, forever rubbing his nose in his luckless life and stealing his lunch money! It was true now more than ever, he had no friends and felt sure those he had had would want nothing to do with him any more. He was in his forties and had no-one to rely on, or rely on him, absolutely no-one! His parents had died a few years before, cancer had claimed his father then his mother had suffered another form, so he now lived alone. The accident had been bad too, he’d spent time in hospital but it had taken months to find the cause of the pain he felt, and inevitably the delay had worsened the problem. Now he felt almost constant pain, there was so little he felt he could comfortably do, his life had literally fallen apart. Every time he tried to shore up one part, another had given way. He despaired especially of ever having that someone special. Not one single relationship had ever lead anywhere, every woman he had felt a passing liking for had looked at him then turned away, like she would prefer a case of some terminal disease to a few moments alone with Joe. They all made excuses if he tried to make any sort of small talk with them. Joe’s own mother had greeted his rising interest in the fairer sex with “Oh thank God…I thought you were gay…well you pay so little attention to women Joe.” The truth was, like his attempts at friends, they paid little to no attention to him or consigned him to some pigeon hole or other that was invariably not labelled potential boyfriend! His father had been more direct, telling him to his face that practically the only woman he’d ever share time with would be a prostitute he’d paid for! “Only in it for the money…and then I doubt it would happen anyway!” Like his father was saying even prostitutes had their standards and Joe was beneath them. Whatever the reason Joe’s life was cursed with failure, one continuous losing streak from the day he was born!

Joe looked bleakly at the damp wood pile, that was why the stupid fire wouldn’t light, the wood was damp thanks to a leak in the roof over his wood store. He’d meant to fix that leak a thousand times but every time something else had got in the way…just another part of the curse. He felt desolate, empty, a sense of deep inconsolable loneliness, his life was so damn empty he wondered if he died right now who would there be to mourn him, how long would it be before he was found…just a frozen corpse kneeling in front of a useless fireplace.

Quite unexpectedly at that point he felt a rage build inside him, Joe’s temper was incredibly long, such a passive sort! But even the most passive person in the world has their breaking point and Joe had just about reached his. This rage, that had been stored up over the years, exploded forth like a volcanic eruption, a boiling hot lava of pure fury…the fire had been the final straw! His whole life he’d been on the receiving end. Why was it always him that got the down side of everything? Why couldn’t it be someone else for once and give him his chance in the sun, “Just for once! Why does it always have to be me?” He pounded his chest with a fist, in truth he was more angry with himself, the pitiful excuse he had for a life was too much for anyone to take, but he needed to vent that fury on something and his target was the inanimate fireplace. Joe let out a roar of deep primal sound that would have had the biggest lions on the Serengeti plains running for cover, he yelled at the fire… “Light you god damn bastard! LIGHT!” He collapsed forwards and scrubbed his balled fists into his eyes and started to cry now in heaving sobs. He knew life wasn’t fair but did it really have to be this hard ALL the time? He felt like he was trying to move Mount Everest using a teaspoon to dig with! All he had ever wanted was that one day, just one day, would that upset the balance of the universe so badly? He rocked back and forwards just repeating “Why me?” over and over as tears streamed down his face in uncontrolled rivers, he howled again at the empty room and sobbed loudly.
However, that fury had caused a curious change. Joe hadn’t noticed anything, but as that tide of rage had boiled and seethed inside him it had brushed against something else...disturbed it, awoken it! Something deep down in the darkest pit of his genetics. Something that had lain quiet, dormant for countless generations…perhaps something that would have been better left that way. It was a trait handed down through a quirk in his genetic structure, just a curious extra knobbly bit on one strand of one single chromosome. It had lain dormant until now. In fact this thing had slept deep and dark for six millennia! Joe didn’t know it but he was a genetic twin of the greatest magic-user the world had ever seen. This genetic quirk had crept into a corner and settled down to sleep for six millennia, hiding amongst the other bits of DNA code, never making its presence known. Any geneticist would have discounted it as junk DNA. “A peculiarity of a single chromosomal strand, it serves no obvious purpose or perhaps no purpose that is required now, just an abnormality. Perhaps like the base of one’s spine was the last vestige of a tail!” But whether this thing had been waiting for the right moment or the rage had disturbed it awake, didn’t really matter. Now this thing shook itself, gave a yawn and a stretch then with a quiet determined calmness climbed up Joe’s spine like a thief climbing a trellis to enter through an upper window. Joe’s head buzzed as it entered his brain, the thing seated itself firmly in the control centre of his mind, slipped a single word into the area that was Joe’s memory centre and gripped hold of the controls. “OK let’s drive!” it said with a half sneering smile.

“Oh great! Things just get better and better…Now I’m getting a migraine come on too! Is today ever going to stop?” Joe rolled his eyes up to the ceiling his head had started to pound, “Please God, if I just go to bed right now can I wake up and start the day over?” His head throbbed, it thumped, it pounded so hard he felt as if his eyes were on the point of exploding. His ears filled with a deep loud droning rumble. It resembled a thousand people all talking at the same time as they marched toward him. One word flared to the front of his mind, the word slipped into his memory…Ignatio. Joe didn’t know what it meant, he didn’t know why he’d thought of it, it sounded Italian maybe Latin? He just knew that one word burned like a sizzling red hot iron in the front of his mind.

Joe looked at the fireplace again, his vision blurred by his tears. He roared another deep felt burst of rage and upset as his chest heaved with sobbing, “Just light…please! Just light, I know the wood’s damp, I should fix that roof but it’s been so cold. Please light!” He pleaded, wringing his hands, he knew it was pointless but what else did he have? When the fire stayed silent and cold, he didn’t know why but he grew angrier than he’d ever been in his life, the boiling fury returned and seized him in a vicious grip. This final straw wasn’t just going to break the camel’s back it would cleave the poor creature in two! What had he done to deserve any of this? So with the combined rage and the thunderous roar of those thousand people clamouring in his mind he screamed. The strange thing in his mind sneered “Just say it...go on be a good boy!” Joe roared loud and long, he screamed with his pain and humiliation, he screamed the only word he could think of at that moment, “IGNATIO!”, his right arm rose and stretched toward the fire with his hand in a pointing gesture.

The second he howled the word, the very instant his mouth closed, the air temperature plummeted. The thermometer fell twenty degrees in the space between two heartbeats. Joe violently shivered, he assumed a draught had just blown down the chimney...and boy was it cold! It felt like a wind straight off of the Siberian tundra. He mentally pictured Russians frozen to the spot in their labours. His teeth chattered so hard they felt like they were going to break apart in his mouth. If that was the temperature outside it was going to be cold tonight, severely deep cold! And here he was with no fire, no warmth! The very air around him felt like ice, he exhaled a huge cloud of white steam. With a tight chested gasp he fully expected to feel his tears frozen to his cheeks as ice gripped his lungs. Joe glanced to the small thermometer he kept on his mantle next to the now empty matchbox, the mercury level had dropped another twenty degrees and was falling even further maybe the tube was ruptured?

…Then the clock ticked, or his heart beat, and the fireplace exploded…literally exploded! An intense burst of light and heat accompanied by a loud bang catapulted Joe backwards from his crouch. Being thrown clear by the blast actually saved him as flames shot out of the fireplace. Six feet of intense, white hot flame burst forth from the wood stack with another loud crackling bang that toppled ornaments from the end of the mantle. The top most logs were engulfed in a flame so bright that the entire room lit up. The flames roared outwards and upwards threatening to engulf everything. Then the monstrous flame sucked in, like drawing a breath, and leapt straight up the chimney. The intensity reminded Joe of films of the tail flame of a jet engine with the throttle jammed all the way into full after burn. Joe sat dumbstruck, mouth hanging open in awe at the ferocity of what he was witnessing. Then as if creeping across his mind the thought suddenly dawned that Joe could cause a chimney fire, he’d kept his fires small because the chimney needed cleaning, another expense he couldn’t afford. A fire like this might burn his house down! He struggled to regain his feet, his arms and legs flailing. A loud pop and hiss and he watched the kindling he’d stacked into the base of the fire incinerate to white hot ash and crumble. He doubted any fire could burn like this, short of someone throwing open the gates of hell itself.

…and then just as quickly as it had started the fire died back. The ravening monstrous flames which had howled and hissed, quietened and fell to a more normal, sedate brightly dancing orange flame with wood crackling and spitting that sent reassuringly comfortable waves of warmth into the room. Joe gave up trying to stand and sat on his cold floor staring at the fireplace uncomprehending. His face felt roasted and his hair had been singed from the heat blast, the front fringe of his hair was still smoking. What the hell had just happened? Joe sat staring at the fire, at a loss for any words. Had he just ignited his fire in that explosive way with a…a word?

“That’s impossible!”

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