At last I broke through an alleyway into a dense crowd of people still as gargoyles, snow collecting on their shoulders and the brims of their hats. I could see the flashes hot and vivid soar overtop them, then out of sight again save for the telltale glow receding into the night. Occasionally the crowd would bounce in surprise and laugh nervously or duck their heads if the flashes got too close. Again a woman shrieked, and my knightly courage (in truth, my curiosity) took hold. I wormed my way between a woman wrapped head to toe in foxfur and a man in a coal-blackened frock coat (my mother would complain of the soot on my pajamas the next day), neither of them so much as glancing down at me. I had to slip past a few more adults, gingerly keeping Bub from being crushed between the bodies, until finally I edged my way to the front of the crowd just as a fireball all but slapped me across the face.
I fell onto my behind, freezing cold compared to the scorching heat that just passed before my nose. The crowd laughed at me and Bub pummeled my ear with his wing as though trying to carry me back to my feet. I was so mesmerized by the dancing flame that I watched from the ground, my eye on the spinning, whirling little star that barely missed singing my eyebrows or worse. Even though I learned what caused the lights in my bedroom window, I didn’t really know what they were. And I needed to know.
Some of my bedtime stories featured will-o’-the-wisps, little lights that led adventurers to their destinations, and while I soon learned that this ball of fire was no living creature, I still think of it now as my wisp. The rush I felt for chasing a mystery was what led me to today.
The fireball arced across the sky, soaring up then plummeting back to the earth, only to stop short of the ground, skirt just above, then back into the air. Its movements were erratic but beautiful, sometimes spinning in little circles so fast that its movement would create orange hoops or streaks or figure-eights. It wasn’t until it passed by a second light that I even realized there were three. And then—trying to follow all three lights, down there on my backside in the gathering snow—I noticed the three conjurers.
They were dressed in flashy red double-breasted coats and matching buckled three-point hats with gigantic plumed white feathers sticking from their brims. Two of them were women, possibly identical twins, with white-blonde hair much like their feathers, and the man had a pointed goatee of the same colour. They held their hands before them, twiddling their fingers and making grand gestures to suggest they were each controlling a fireball.
Magic! These three were wizards, I thought. At first. But even then I had an analytical mind, and I pushed myself up from my patch of snow, Bub squeezing my shoulders hard enough to dot my pajamas with blood, and I took a closer look at the three red wizards. Everyone’s eyes were on the fireballs, but mine were on the conjurers’ hands. I studied their movements, their fingers, their quick little inward pulls as they brought their elbows to their hips, trying to judge the relation between hand movements and fireball movements. At first the relation between the two seemed consistent, but after a minute or so I noticed that the finger-wagging was seemingly random. The forefingers maintained a relative consistency, but the rest of the fingers wiggled and twisted and curled despite the fireballs’ movements. I hoped to learn what hand gestures I would need to perform to replicate this magic, but gradually I gathered that much of it was for show—and what was actually controlling the fire were simple pushing-and-pulling motions that anyone could do. I thought that perhaps there was a prior ritual that I hadn’t seen—one to create the flame, and from there the manipulation was a simple matter. But if so, why the spectacle, with the dazzling fingers? Why, except to mesmerize a crowd?
It was then I realized that I never wanted to believe in wizardry and spellfire, I wanted to know it. I had heard stories of the Blue Rock arcanists, the cottage witches in the Endalian woods, the spellslingers of Perditia’s mining camps, the Bubble Wizard of Ginsland, the nightmarish City of Leeches (only my uncle would tell me those stories), and countless others, but, having lived in Nocton all my nine years, I had no reason to believe—to know—any of them to be true. After all, there were so many varied accounts, and all from nursery rhymes and penny dreadful authors. Magic. A word implying impossibility—or at least an impossibility of understanding. But we are in an age of understanding, of exploration, from the pioneering efforts of Penman and Hook to the discovery of the new elements to the reclamation of the north after centuries of fear and superstition.
No—I was no longer a child willing to be a dupe to adult deception in the name of wonderment. I no longer believed in keeping iron in my pocket on moonless nights or leaving my outgrown shoes on the doorstep for littlings to spirit away to use as houses. I even began to doubt the fates, for they seemed little different from the so-called cloud folk who dropped presents along with the snows of winter solstice for good little children to find. While I had no concept of a scientific method then, I resolved to only trust observed, tested, and reproducible phenomena as “real”—including magic.
Day 244’s three random writing prompt categories were, “Scholar of magic,” “Fat bird,” and, “Pajamas.”
And a part 3. Try and stop me.