The Last Magus

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Dreamer or Madman...

Joe sat, just staring blankly, dazed beyond coherent thought, until finally he was stirred into action. He had to keep the fire burning in place at any rate…however he might have lit the thing. The flames leapt hungrily at the wood, dried by the intensity of the initial heat, but the rest was still too damp to use. So Joe started using the last of his remaining coal supply to build up the fire, seven large nuggets of compressed coal dust. He stacked the sodden wood just out of reach of the hot flames, the stack hissed and steamed as it dried. He picked up a log after what felt like only a short while and thoughtfully placed into the fire where it burned brightly, it was already dry. Soon the room was wonderfully warm, warmer than a bakery. Joe was quiet, lost in his thoughts. Through the evening he heated water for half a dozen mugs of strong black coffee and cooked his meagre evening meal…cheap spaghetti in a thin cheese sauce, it was about all he could afford now. He even heated enough water that he felt he could wash his face and hands, he knew he had a tendency towards looking like a crazed mountain man. He thought about it a moment and broke out his razor to have a shave…two shaves, so he made sure the last of his stubble was gone and his skin smooth. He hoped all of it might wake him up from this intense dream…if that was what this was. The implication being that if it wasn’t, then he was obviously insane.

“It’s impossible…just plain impossible! I saw that last match go out…I saw it! So how is this fire burning?” He had no other means of lighting it, his lighter was next to useless and he didn’t have a handy pair of boy scouts to rub together. It was just plain impossible you couldn’t just will a thing to happen like that! If it had been that easy would his life be the miserable failure it was? He’d willed and begged and prayed to God over every aspect, especially the girlfriends. “Please let her like me this time!” He’d plead, but if God was listening he’d not made any show of saying yes or of even hearing Joe’s heartfelt pleas. For a few more moments Joe looked into the bright orange heart of the fireplace at the burning embers and coals…yet there it was! The fire was alight, impossibly alight, and he was feeling warm and comfortable as a result. “No!” His mind resisted, impossible, that match had fizzled out you couldn’t light a fire or do anything else just by willing it…or could you?

In our modern world there is a tendency to imagine there is just no such thing as magic. A quote says “any sufficiently advanced technology will be considered as magic” but magic as such is an object of fantasy so there never has been magic…that’s what made it fantasy! Joe stared at the dancing flames again. His match had died…yet here undeniably he was sitting reasonably contented by a bright burning fire. A fire he’d lit by using what…magic? The word sounded so simplistic but it also was the only possible explanation that fitted the evidence.

Joe was an avid reader of fantasy fiction, he particularly liked the so called Swords and Sorcery genre but well that was fantasy wasn’t it? You just didn’t have wizards tossing around fireballs and summoning demons, it was fantasy! He sipped absent mindedly at a bowl of hot soup, another barely affordable item, but Joe hadn’t eaten anything for a couple of days so he sipped quietly as he sat lost in thought. The soup was hot to the point Joe felt he’d probably burnt his lower lip with the piping hot spoon. He couldn’t even try to explain what had happened but he’d think on it…yes he’d sleep on it and maybe it would look more reasonable in the morning. With the fire still reassuringly warm and bright Joe stripped out of his clothes and changed into some grey pyjamas, next to the fire he could be warm tonight. That thought made him pause, next to the fire he could be warm. He settled down to sleep in his place by the fire, he’d given up trying to sleep in a regular bed since the operation and by the fire was the only warm part of the house now. His chronic pain meant if he tried to sleep on his side, his natural position, his arms would burn and hurt until he rolled onto his back, which then kept him awake. As a result he’d adopted a pattern more like meditation, sleeping in a half sitting position, relaxing his mind and closing his eyes as he released the tension in his body. At points it even helped keep the pain at bay. So since the fire was his only source of warmth in the house right now he seated himself near it and started to drift into his relaxed state. If the fire kept away that fizzing sensation for just one night he’d be grateful! He still couldn’t get over it though…“I can keep warm by the fire tonight.” he said in a hushed voice, how was this fire alight? He put a couple more logs on in silence. He hoped it might keep in for a few more hours if he was careful. The logs spat and hissed, they weren’t entirely dry. Joe sighed, he knew that it would all be cold white ash by morning anyway.

Next morning Joe woke early, he’d been troubled in his sleep; strange dreams that he couldn’t explain had plagued him endlessly. Joe normally barely remembered going to sleep, let alone recalled his dreams, but the previous night had been filled with exploding fires, matches fizzling, his own shouting which was joined by shouts as if armies were fighting ancient battles, strange words written in fire, words he couldn’t remember and then there were the voices…voices calling and talking in his mind, shouting, cursing, screaming so loud and so incessant. More than once he’d roused out of his sleep to a sound he thought he’d heard, someone speaking in the quiet darkness of his room. Did they call his name? Voices had been calling him in his dream, voices he didn’t recognise. So he sat motionless stuck in that half world between waking and sleep and stared blankly into the darkness. “Hello? Is there someone there?” only silence met him in response. He waited a minute or two trying to scan the dark room for any movement. His fire had died down to red glowing embers, the room comfortably warm but pitch dark. When Joe saw nothing after two more minutes he shrugged and shuffled down deeper into his covers and tried to regain his mentally relaxed state; breathing deeply he closed his eyes. Everything was quiet, the house was at peace, just the sound of his deep even breathing as he relaxed…yes that was it, relax, let the tension, the pain flow away. It was his overactive imagination playing tricks on him that was all, just an over active imagination. All was quiet…all was peace, for the next ten minutes, then the noise in his head started again thumping, pounding, incessant, filling his mind until it felt painful. Each time it reached a crescendo he’d awoken, a couple of times in that half world existence he’d even believed he’d seen a shadow move or a dark figure standing over him. Convinced someone had broken in he reached for his battery powered lantern, no room lights as he wanted to keep the electric bills down as much as he could, plus the light switch was by the door. With a click he turned on the little lantern driving away the shadows in his immediate vicinity. He blinked a few times and looked at the door. It was shut tight, locked like it almost always was and there was no evidence of anyone having been in his room with him, everything looked as it had. So he’d switched off the light, shrugged and shuffled down again and gone back to breathing deeply and relaxing his mind…until it had all started in his head once more.

Joe shivered now in the morning cold, he looked at the fireplace, the room was cold, his thermometer was showing five degrees. He exhaled to a cloud of white steam, the fireplace was just a heap of cold white ash, no surprise there…but there was that troubling thought, that last match had gone out, he’d seen it fizzle…so how was his fireplace filled with ash now?
Questions, like the voices, crowded in on him, he stretched out a hand to the fire, nothing! Everything was cold, quiet…normal! What was today? Thursday? Friday? that was right it was Sunday, of course it was, tomorrow he would be flat broke…and then what? “Sunday…” he mused, how many days had he been cooped up inside the house now? Snow on the ground meant he tried to stay inside, the cold or a careless slip on ice and he could, maybe would, undo that operation and leave himself paralysed lying on the ground unable to move until what? He was found or he died? There had been plenty of snow that week, that was why it felt so cold!

He touched the ashes gingerly, everything was cold. “Maybe the ashes were from the previous fire…yeah that must be it, I didn’t clear it away. You’re slipping Joe, get a bloody grip! No magic just you not clearing up after yourself…” He chastised himself, it was part of his daily routine, it kept his sanity. He’d read somewhere that having something to occupy his mind would do that, but he couldn’t remember where he’d read it. So if he’d broken his routine then he needed to put it right. His gaze strayed to the mantle, “But I saw the match go out…I saw it! Least…I think I saw it…it died, I couldn’t have lit that fire last night and I’ve not got anything else to do it with. Maybe I’m finally going crazy? All this time alone and I’m going stir crazy, it’s a case of cabin fever Joe!” Joe nodded to himself, that must be the answer, “I’m finally going off the rails…the match died and I imagined the fire, that’s all! I need to get out and about or I’ll really go off my rocker.” Joe half smiled, “even start talking to myself and that’s not healthy is it?”

Joe scrubbed his eyes with his hand and exhaled a deep moaning breath, he looked at the fireplace again…yes he imagined it all...or maybe dreamed it? But then that had to be the most vivid dream he’d ever experienced. Joe absent mindedly stroked his hand on his cheek, he’d shaved in his dream so expected to feel the growth of beard, but his cheek felt smooth now. He stroked his other cheek and chin, all smooth, hair free. But how could that be true? If he hadn’t had the fire the previous night to heat the water how had he shaved? With the water freezing cold it would have been amazingly hard to shave properly and he hated cold shaves almost as much as he hated the cold itself…yet here he was clean shaven, without even his usual trace of stubble. So that had to mean he’d had good HOT water and plenty of it… He looked across at his coffee mug, it had certainly been used and recently, but had it been the previous evening or the evening before? Next to it the bowl he’d had the soup in…there was the spoon with faint traces of tomato soup still on it. “Now that can’t be right!” But there it was, he even remembered the taste of the tomato soup, so it all meant the fire had to have been real, hot water for coffee and piping hot soup. Joe touched his lower lip a small burn blister was there, he had burned his lip on the spoon in his dream…but how could it have happened if he’d imagined or dreamed it?

“The mind is a powerful thing Joe, maybe you imagined it and you are trying to make it real…Oh God!” That thought made him sound even closer to insanity. He closed his fists and pressed them to his temples, the thudding in his head from the previous night was still there if only a little more subdued than it had been.

…He drew a deep shuddering breath and tried to start again. He looked at the empty matchbox, OK he’d used that last match, it had failed, so the box was empty now. He turned to look at the mantle again and there was that useless match, the head black and burnt out but precious little else, it had failed so of course it looked like that. Fine so far…

His head started to fill with noise again but Joe pushed it down fearing it would start to overwhelm him. The incessant thudding noise in his head grew a little louder anyway. He peeled off his covers; he slept in his clothes when it was cold, plenty of layers with lots of air to insulate him. He instead looked down at his grey pyjamas, “So that means I had something else to keep warm a good fire.” He looked across at the stack of logs he’d brought in the previous afternoon…or was it the afternoon before? No! No, it must have been yesterday, he remembered his neighbour greeting him and chatting as he’d held a double armful of logs. Joe gave a little moan, he had to stop second guessing himself or he really would drive himself insane. So there was his stack, it was certainly diminished in size, logically therefore he must have had a fire. Those last seven precious nuggets of coal were gone too…

But he’d SEEN that match die! It had been his last had died right after he lit it. Exasperated he rubbed his face and rubbed his eyes to get the sleep out, maybe he had dreamed it all but then why was everything saying he hadn’t?

He reached up to his fringe and felt the hair at the front, it felt rough and stiff like it had been burned at the tips. He grabbed a small mirror and looked into it searchingly, yes the hair had been singed and his forehead had a small red angry burn mark.

“But that had been a dream...Oh man this is just too weird by half. If there wasn’t a fire why is everything saying there was? And if there was why do I know there couldn’t have been?” Joe rubbed his eyes and face again, he was bone tired and he felt as if his brain should be audibly ticking. “What the hell was all that noise about last night too? All those sounded like a fight going on outside. Hell, it sounded like a war! I’ve heard noisy nights when they let the pubs out, but that sounded like they were actually fighting, I mean sword and armour! Did someone start world war three without me knowing? Or have the Templars come back?” A thought dawned on him maybe the answer was staring him in the face after all. He’d imagined the match dying and he’d actually had a good blaze? That would explain the wood, the coal, his mug and bowl and the fact he was smooth shaven. Yes he’d imagined the match...then he looked onto the mantle again. “Bugger!” if that were true there would be a bare stub of match, but there was the match…his last one, barely burnt. “How do you get a good blaze going with just the head of the match?”

With a deep sigh Joe put the mirror down, he had more questions than he had answers right now so he felt confused, he felt sick and more than anything he felt tired…bone dragging tired! His head throbbed and pounded, thudding with that same feeling from last night and he could swear he was starting to hear all those voices again. “Now I’m hearing voices too...I really am going batshit!”, would they never cease, they were faint but they were there and growing.

Joe looked at the fireplace now with desperation, he wished he could light a fire to make himself a coffee…he picked up his mug absent mindedly looking for his little kettle. Yes! That would wake him up properly, a good hot coffee; strong, black with plenty of sugar. Then Joe groaned aloud and let his hand fall as he put the coffee mug down with a thump. “How eh? I used the last match.” How on God’s green earth could he light a fire to make that coffee? If that match had lit it last night he couldn’t use the same match twice! “Oh man…Shit! Why me eh? What have I ever done to you God that you have to make this life so bloody impossible? I am not Job you know? You don’t have to take everything from me to win a bet with Satan. Can’t you give me even a small break? Is it just too much to ask?”

With a deep groan he got to his feet, he was in obvious pain from the awkward way he moved. His movements were sluggish, his joints felt stiff and he could swear he felt bone grating against bone when he moved. Each time he reached down or forward he would groan and pull back then try again more tentatively.

Well, regardless of dream or not, he got dressed, his usual meagre clothes: a pair of faded threadbare jeans, basketball trainers that had seen better days, a sweatshirt that had also seen one too many summers and a fleece top to try and keep the cold out…it was about all he had now in terms of clothes. “When you hit rock bottom, you hit hard!”

Once dressed, reluctantly he went through his routine and cleared away the pile of ash, shovelling it into a big old saucepan he kept for just that purpose. With a grim determination to ignore the now thudding that was filling his head he laid a fresh fire in the fireplace. Carefully examining each log as if it might burst into flame spontaneously in his hands. Even if he couldn’t get more matches anywhere at least rebuilding the fire took his mind off things for a moment, everything except the pain that is. For a fleeting moment he wondered if he should try to recreate his dream, like the previous night, see if he could will the fire to light. It was an insane thought, but then he was insane wasn’t he? So maybe it would prove, if he needed proof, that he was insane after all. But then again if he was insane...hey why not be crazy with a nice imaginary warm fire? There was also the extremely faint possibility that it hadn’t all been a vivid dream after all. Joe weighed this in his mind, back and forth finally slapping a hand on his mantle. God damn it he really needed a coffee! The morning was cold and he needed something to warm him, but as hard as he thought about it the word he’d said didn’t come to him.
“See Joe? Do you see boy? Just a vivid dream that’s all!” Joe laughed a little, shaking his head regretfully, “As if I could start a fire with a word…I’ve been reading too much fantasy stuff recently that’s all, it’s playing on my mind. Besides even if I could do it again I’d probably burn the house down this time. The way that thing blew up last night…assuming it did and I wasn’t actually dreaming it after all. Oh man this is just going to mess my mind up now…” Joe slapped his cheek to wake himself up, “Just a bad dream Joe, get over it! Don’t eat cheese before you go to bed son or you’ll have nightmares…as if I can afford cheese right now!” His head throbbed again, thudding. It felt like an army of hobnail booted people had moved in and were marching up and down inside demanding his attention. “I could do with an aspirin or two to calm it all down.”

After a visit to the bathroom and two dry swallowed tablets Joe walked back into his front room feeling more like himself…no that was wrong! Strangely he felt nothing like himself at all! He felt different, there was a confidence he’d never felt before. The thudding rumble in his head hadn’t eased, in fact it had stepped up, the hobnail boot brigade had been joined by a marching band with drums and horns and something else banging and thudding. Longingly he looked at the fireplace. “Coffee would be nice right now…but how eh Joe, how? No way to light the damn fire! Not until you get yourself something…and it’s bloody Sunday too! Then there’s if I have the money left to be able to get it! Only a vivid dream of having one last night. Sucks to be me right now don’t it? As if saying the word…ignatio would light a fire!” Joe stopped dead in his tracks, that was it…that was the word he’d been trying to remember…why had it suddenly popped into his mind at that precise moment? He didn’t know but there it was…plain as day. “Give it another try? What can I lose right except my sanity!” He strode over to the fireplace and looked down at the small neatly laid fire he’d prepared. Some part of his reasoning mind spoke up, maybe it had blown up like it did because he had screamed it at the fireplace. “Hmmm OK...Ignatio” he whispered in a hoarse croaking breath. Nothing, not even the tiniest of sparks. He crouched down by the small logs and looked into the heart of the stack, “Ignatio” he whispered more forcefully, he even laid a quivering hand on the stack still nothing! “See…said so Joe, just a bloody vivid dream! Read too much about magic and hobbits and elves…then you mix it with this cursed pain and night terrors.” Joe shivered remembering the intensity of the feeling that some shadowy figure had been standing over him the previous night, “and you’ll start believing anything…next stop the loony bin, don’t bother to pack! First class ticket all ready to go! You need to get out’ve got a bad case of cabin fever!”

Joe turned from the fireplace and looked unsighted around his room. Suddenly the thudding throb behind his eyes intensified to a crashing crescendo point. He almost stumbled as his vision blurred at the edges. He involuntarily looked back at the fire. “Ignatio” he said in his normal speaking voice as his right hand stretched toward the fireplace pointing. The air chilled, he shivered, and there it was a wisp of wood smoke, a faint wisp that grew rapidly thicker. Within moments the smoke was billowing in a steady white trail up the chimney then small bright orange flames started to dance as the smoke thickened even further. Joe stood bent over unable to move, his mouth hanging open…all strength had left him, his eyes goggled. Was he dreaming now? Could you have a dream where you believed you were awake? Was it morning after all? Could he be dreaming he was awake, asking if he was dreaming? Odd to dream about lighting a fire with a word though! He stepped back and almost felt his legs buckle under him as he sat down. The flames grew stronger as they hungrily multiplied in number and started to consume the fuel. Soon the whole fireplace was a brightly glowing blaze of orange and yellow flame. “ That’s not possible! I didn’t…I mean I can’t…but that fire is really there! No way…no way! There is no such thing as magic?” Joe looked at the flames again. Slowly he shook his head unable to take his staring eyes from the fire. Magic was for kids parties, drawing rabbits from concealed trapdoors in black hats, card tricks…there was no real magic! Magician was just a name, there is NO real magic…at least not the sword and sorcery type of his books. You couldn’t find anyone who could conjure a fireball or call down a bolt of lightning, not outside of fantasy you couldn’t. “…and yet…” Joe caught his breath, no real magic. He stared at his right hand flexing the fingers…there was his fire burning quite brightly for the second time, that he had started for the second time with a word. “No…” Joe shook his head slowly, his gaze fixed on his fingertips, “this is nuts! What next huh? I get to summon a bloody dragon to keep me company? This is Earth, twenty first century Earth, it is not something out of Dungeons and Dragons! There is categorically not and never was any real magic…I mean ever! It’s all just myth, fantasy…I cannot start a fire with a word, you need matches or a lighter, a word is just a word it can’t do this shit! Even if it is a word like…” Joe stopped he couldn’t recall the word again, it had been so obvious just moments before but now it was as if it had been burned from his mind. He looked around dumbly, his eyes fell on his kettle, he picked it up, his hands numb and unfeeling he gave it an autonomous shake…water sloshed inside, enough for a coffee, that was something anyway. Joe put the kettle into its place over the fire and just sat watching the flames, flames he’d…summoned that was the only word he could find to describe it, flames he had summoned…with a word!

A few minutes of absolutely dumbstruck stare and the kettle was steaming and rattling in the heat as the water neared the boil. That heat was real, the water in the kettle was real, piping hot to the point of boiling. Joe roused from his torpor and hurriedly made a steaming mug of coffee for himself. He sipped at it quietly, the coffee was good and strong, black and sweet the way he liked it. He looked at his hands clasping the mug, they felt warm…OK so he was drinking hot coffee, but he still couldn’t believe it! Even now in broad daylight…there was his fire unmistakably burning brightly in its fireplace. He scrubbed his eyes with his hands and blinked several times, he pinched himself several more times until he was sure he’d see blood but there was his fire, there was his EMPTY matchbox and that last stupid worthless match burnt out and dead on the mantle. “Get a grip Joe! This cannot be happening you are not Gandalf the grey…or the white or any other colour OK? Wizards are objects of fantasy…they are FICTION…they aren’t real!” He said the words over and over as if trying to reassure himself of their veracity. “The only magicians in this society are card sharks and slight of hand operators.” Joe spoke as a teacher might address an aberrant child. But try as hard as he might Joe just couldn’t deny the obviousness of the fire in front of him, he could feel the heat coming from it, how warm his hands were on the steaming hot mug of black coffee he was holding…made from water he had boiled over the fire…a fire that he absolutely could not have lit…and especially not with just a single word, a word that he couldn’t remember any more!

Joe put his coffee mug down and slapped himself across the face, his cheek stung, his hand stung, but the fire was still burning. He slapped again, then twice more but each time he looked there was his hot coffee steaming gently and the bright little fire. Joe drained his coffee mug and stood uncertainly, he wobbled as he tried to find his balance, he felt like he was drunk. He walked carefully to his front door and opened it, the air of his porch smelt stale, he hadn’t set foot outside the door since Monday, practically the whole week spent inside it was no wonder he was getting cabin fever. He breathed in, the air was ice cold it stung as it touched his lungs so Joe coughed it back out! He breathed in again. He looked at a thermometer he kept by the outer door it showed a temperature of minus five degrees. He reached forward, unlocked then opened the outer door, the cold air that hit him almost took his breath with its icy blast. “Now that will wake me up if nothing does!” Joe closed the door against the cold air, blinking, he coughed once more and turned back to his room, the fire was still there, still burning brightly. “This is just too weird. If I’m dreaming, I’m dreaming I’m awake…While if I’m awake I’m seeing something that I can only explain in a bloody dream! Oh man I need help…”

Briefly Joe summoned his courage and opened the outer door again before he stepped outside the house. The morning was frighteningly cold, his breath steamed in front of him in great white clouds. Patches of snow littered the front area of his house. Joe almost laughed out loud, his garden? It was more a ragged patch of weeds and overgrown grass. He could count the number of times he told himself to do something about it. Joe shook his head sorrowfully, the pain and everything else made everything so hard for him. Joe stepped away from the door and turned to look up at the chimney stack that was attached to the front room, if the fire was a dream why was there a faint trail of white smoke rising into the cold morning air? Joe now looked deeply troubled. If he was as awake as he thought then that smoke could not, should not be there. If he was dreaming then why did he feel so cold. He gasped a breath as he inhaled cold air into his lungs, it threatened to trigger another of those juddering convulsions he hated. Someone passed him on the road. Joe felt the person pass without seeing them. Like a man possessed he leapt on the figure grabbing it by the arm, perhaps too tightly for comfort. It gave a scream and Joe’s mind vaguely saw the word woman, he grabbed the woman’s arm. He pointed up at the chimney. “Do you see it? Coming out of the chimney…” He pointed feverishly stabbing his finger towards the red clay pot insistently. Even he would admit he looked insane! His eyes were wide and his gaze feverishly intense. The woman initially struggled to be released, fighting him, but Joe held her fast. She stared up at the chimney.

“The smoke? Yes I see it, you’ve got a fire burning down below. Good thing, it is cold out this morning and the news said it would get colder tonight. Would you let me go please?”

“You see it though? You’re sure?”

“Yes of course I see it. What is the matter with you? Let me go! You’re hurting my arm.” Joe turned his face to the woman his gaze burning into her. Her face froze in terror, she was clearly scared, but Joe still did not recognise who she was.

“What if I told you I lit that fire without matches, lighter or anything more than a word?” The woman finally with a brutal grip on one of Joe’s fingers managed to get him to release his grip. She shrugged off Joe’s hand and rubbed her arm. She looked at him with an angry but not unkindly face. Joe still couldn’t immediately place her, maybe it was his mental fog but he slowly assimilated her with the memory of one of his neighbours; he saw so little of them normally he had trouble placing her.

“It’s Joe isn’t it? I don’t see much of you about these days dear. How are you?” Her words were clipped and concise and she sounded like one of those mental asylum nurses reassuring a patient that was claiming he was Napoleon with “yes dear whatever you say…now just swallow this little pill for me!”
Exasperated Joe smiled thinly and stabbed his finger toward the chimney again, “Never mind that, do you see the smoke, yes or no?”

“Yes of course I do, I said I did. Look what is this about?” Joe looked back at her face and stroked his bare chin.
“Then I guess I’m not going mental…I’m not imagining there’s a fire in my front room…which means there really must be.”

The woman rolled her eyes, “That would seem an obvious conclusion to me dear. Where there is smoke there is fire you know...”

“Yes I know all that…” Joe snapped at her, he knew how he must look to her and how he was acting now just reinforced that view. “Yet how can that be true? Answer me that, how can it be true?” The intensity of the look in Joe’s eyes unnerved the woman, she stepped back a pace, the man was clearly raving mad!

“No it’s there alright dear, why? Do you think it isn’t real?” there was that same nurses tone...just take the pill!

“No, it’s not that I don’t think it is real…at least...I don’t think I don’t think it isn’t real. It’s the way I lit the thing. I looked at it and said a word...and it lit”
“You mean like you did it with magic?” The woman laughed somewhat haughtily, “Oh Joseph really, aren’t you a little old for children’s games? Halloween isn’t for months yet, we’ve barely got past new year, it is very cold this morning! I like to be home and warm on mornings like this but I needed a loaf of bread” She held up the loaf as if to prove her story.
“Look at it!” Joe grabbed her arm again in a vice like grip that left her squirming and jabbed his finger to the trail of white smoke. “I’m telling you as I’m standing here with you now I lit that…” he jabbed his finger feverishly up, “with a single word…a word…I…I…well I can’t remember right now…but I did it with a God damn word. Not a match or a lighter, I didn’t even rub sticks together I just said a single word and it lit by itself!” Joe’s voice trailed into an almost plaintive howl.

“Please Joseph you’re hurting me!” The woman struggled and Joe suddenly looked at his neighbour, as if some gear had engaged in his head reality smashed him square between the eyes, he saw reflected in her eyes how mad he must look. He’d thought himself insane in the house how must he look to her? He let his hand fall away from her arm.

“I’m sorry, please forgive me. I didn’t mean to hurt you.” Joe hung his head in supplication, “But it’s just I can’t explain it in any rational way…I’m not sure I trust my own senses any more.” Joe tried to smooth the fabric of the woman’s coat sleeve and then touched the fringe of his hair, “see this? I did it last night too…I was so angry though, my last match had burnt to nothing and I had no way of making myself something to keep warm. I was freezing too! My heating is all frizzed up and I’m trying to keep my electric bill down anyway. Then I saw this word in my head. I shouted it out so loud I almost blew the house up!”
“The word you can’t remember?” From the look of sympathy on her face she obviously was judging Joe to be out of his mind and was taking her nurse Ratchet role on again. She was assessing whether or not he might be dangerous with it.

“Yes. I said it in such a fit of rage, I’ve never been that angry before I don’t know what came over me. I said it and it was like I’d opened a gate to hell, flames must have been six feet high.”
“Six feet? You want to be careful that could cause a chimney fire.” Another sympathetic look as she nodded in agreement while she tried to recall the doctor’s phone number or should she just dial the emergency number? Who would she need, probably the police.

“I know that! I tried it again this morning when I suddenly could remember the word.”


“And nothing...I thought I’d imagined the whole thing! I didn’t sleep well last night either. The pain was bad.” Joe rotated his shoulder joints wincing as he moved them, “and I kept hearing things in the night…I don’t suppose you know if there was a big fight out here last night? After the pubs let out maybe?”
“Fight?” The woman now looked shocked and amazed at the same time, “No everything was quiet as far as I know.” When Joe didn’t jump on her she continued, “That’s one of the reasons my husband and I moved here, this village is so quiet. After he retired from the city we just wanted somewhere quiet to live at a slower pace. What did it sound like this fight?”…yes dear now just swallow this little pill!
“Well it didn’t sound like drunks calling each other names, not like when they turn the pubs out. This…well this was more like the old medieval battles you see on TV, knights and armour clashing, metal banging everywhere. I swear I even heard a horse or two screaming.”
“No…” she shook her head slowly, sympathetically, “nothing like that Joseph, I think I’d have noticed something that noisy!” Again with the sympathetic look as she mentally assessed whether a straitjacket might be needed now.
“That’s exactly why I thought I was losing my mind you see…just a bad dream! I’ve been having such a hard time recently with the cold and the pain, it gets really hard to sleep properly. But then that word came back and I tried it again.”

“You said nothing happened.”

“The first couple of times yes. But I turned away from the fireplace…then I felt so strange.” Joe’s fist rose to his temple as his face looked pained. The woman nodded as if fully sympathetic…clearly insane! Joe lowered his fist, “my head thumped so bad, I thought it was a bad migraine.”

“You get migraines? I can’t say I’ve ever suffered from them myself but my cousin is a martyr to them.”

“I thought my head was going to split open, the pounding it just didn’t stop. That was when I turned back to the fire and said the word again. I did it without consciously saying it…and well you can see the result.”

The woman smiled sweetly, Joe was clearly psychotic and she’d better get away from him before he started reaching for sharp axe shaped implements.

“I think you need to see a doctor dear.” She hesitantly reached a hand forward to comfort him, “you’re clearly on too high a dose of your medication…or maybe you should take more water with your alcohol?”
“I’m not on any medication and I don’t drink!” Joe almost snatched his arm away from her hand, “I was on pain killers but the tablets didn’t work for me so the GP gave up.”

“Oh well then maybe he should put you on something else don’t you think?” just take the pill dear! “Some sort of tranquilliser to calm you down maybe, or sedatives if you’re having trouble sleeping.”

“Maybe you’re right…” Joe’s fist again rose to his temple, his expression was one of confusion, desperation and deep pain. “But you do see the smoke don’t you? It is really there?”

“Yes of course I see it, now please...I do have to be going…my husband will want his Sunday breakfast and he does so love his warm toast. I’ll see you later maybe.” The woman walked off, quickly, her heels clicking on the tarmac like a Teletype machine; occasionally she looked back as if checking to see that Joe wasn’t following her, axe in hand after all. She had clearly decided he was dangerous and the sooner and further she was away from him the safer she would feel. Joe followed her with his gaze and then looked up at the smoke.

“She sees the smoke so I guess it must really be there, but how the hell did it get there without me having anything to light the fire with?”
“That’s easy magus, you willed the fire to light by absorbing some of the mana energy from your surroundings and channelling it into the fireplace which caused the fire to light…a simple cantrip spell easy enough to perform! Most trainee magus learn cantrips, they forget them when they graduate to higher learning. Like a child will stop using blocks to spell with when they learn to write, but you seem to have kept at least one cantrip.” Joe wheeled around as if he’d just seen Elvis ride by on Red Rum. There was no one and nothing on the road, no one at all! His neighbour had gone inside her house. The voice had been deep and rolling like distant thunder in the hills.

“Who said that?” Joe spun around again desperately trying to look in every direction at the same time. “If I’m not going mad then who said that?”
“I did!” The voice boomed and rolled again.

“And who are you? More correctly where are you? I can’t see anyone out here to be able to say anything. I’m going out of my mind I knew it! Now I’m hearing things…”
“YOU ARE NOT CRAZY MAGUS!” The voice boomed like an artillery barrage as the syllables rolled and echoed, “I am really here with you…but I didn’t want to alarm you or the lady by just dropping in front of you both, so I hid myself diplomatically one might say. It is called a spell of immateriality and can be useful in certain situations. Let me partly release it and then you can see me.” Joe heard the sound of singing in his head, the thudding quieted for a few moments as his head filled with the sounds of a heavenly almost angelic choir, the singing was amazingly beautiful moving Joe close to tears. Then slowly a head appeared above him, a long way above him. It descended like a scenic elevator coming down the outside of an invisible building until the chin rested flat on the ground. The head was the size of a family saloon car covered in brilliant shining gold scales that glinted and reflected in the sunlight. It looked reptilian while two luminous huge cat like slitted eyes glinted a curious golden green. Joe saw himself reflected in their surface. He drew in a breath and almost forgot how to expel it again. “Is this any better magus or do you want to see more? I must warn you there is a great deal more of me if I fully uncover.” Joe’s jaw dropped open involuntarily.

“You’re a…you’re a…” he stammered.
“Dragon, I believe the word you are looking for is dragon, yes magus. To be more correct...I am your dragon. You and I should be considered to be bound together, you summoned me…so here I am!”

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