On to the eighth one.
I’ve settled on a total of 10 waiting stories. It’s an unconventional series, but one I’m really enjoying. I’m going to take your silence as agreement. (It’s my website. I can do that.)
This week’s tale pushes beyond the idea of merely waiting, unraveling the theme on another level. Sometimes the waiting is tedious. Sometimes it feels like a tremendous burden, in and of itself. And sometimes, when the waiting is done, you’re faced with the harsh reality that waiting was easier than…this…
Such is the case for our protagonist.
the waiting 8
She was restless.
She paced beside the work table, her hands thrust into the pockets of her hoodie, pushing against the fabric so that she looked like she had a pouch. She was an impatient kangaroo, too irritated to hop. Instead she shuffled, breaking from her natural mode of movement in silent protest to the passage of time.
“This is old magic,” her mentor said. “It isn’t quick.”
He was nested in his chair in the corner, a book in his hands. He didn’t even look up when he spoke. He knew where she was, what she was doing, and how the interlude was affecting both her mind and her manner.
She slowed at the sound of his voice but continued to pace.
He was most likely reading urban fantasy. Something in the vein of Butcher or Hearne or Simon R. Green. She made it a point not to ask anymore.
When first they met and she began her formal internship, she was a huge fan of the very same fiction. They spent hours during their first week sharing favorite scenes and cooing over characters like middle school girls talking about boy bands. And then her proper lessons began.
She learned quickly that real magic isn’t anything like the books. No one conjures fireballs from thin air. You can’t actually pull power from the earth. There are no enchanted cities whose location is known only to non-muggles.
This information attacked her imagination with relentless fury, burning away years of dreams and schemes. She’d known she was different for some time, and she hoped she could learn to do the very same things she’d read in those books.
But real magic is not like that.
Real magic is slow and calculated. It’s more like baking than surfing some metaphysical wave. And its effects are often subtle. Annoying subtle.
She wanted to feel the wind blowing through her hair while she chanted some other-worldly language that would call forth forces of unspeakable power. Instead, she spent most of her time doing what she was doing now. Waiting.
Moreno, her mentor, insisted that she first read book after book about the delicate art of spellcraft. Enormous tomes that made bewitching sound bland. She memorized recipes and charts, learned about ingredients and effects, and even researched the personal histories of principle sorcerers and witches dating back for hundreds of years.
All of this before casting a single spell.
When the time came to cast, she was restricted to the most basic, most boring of possible options. She turned the petals of a red rose black. She gave an orange tabby brilliant blue eyes. She conjured the fleeting image of her own shadow on a wall across the room.
In each case, the process was tedious. The rose, for example, took almost a week. In less time, she could have made a celery stalk blue just by leaving it in a bowl of water with food coloring.
Moreno was nonplussed. When she complained of the pace, he simply shrugged and said theirs was a craft for the diligent, not the demanding.
It took her months to convince him to allow for this little experiment. Something truly powerful. A summoning.
The ritual called for several exotic ingredients not easily acquired. What’s more, it was a dangerous undertaking. The subject of her interest was not one to mince words. They had to take precautions to design a flawless method of containment, lest their guest break away and roam freely on this plane.
For her part, she cared only about completion—achieving what she conceived of as a landmark act. To call down a deity, a goddess, and speak to her.
She had not, however, considered the actual encounter.
“Why don’t you sit and meditate?” Moreno suggested as she paced.
“Will it speed things up?” she asked.
He chuckled. “Not one second.”
“Then no thanks.”
The candles were lit. They’d said the words. The offering was there, bleeding out on the floor next to the circle made of salt and iron and silver and blood. Her blood. But the prick of Moreno’s knife hadn’t hurt half as much as the slow tick of the clock while she waited.
Then something began to happen.
The light shifted, as if the rays were bent in the air. Shadows moved on the walls and a slight breeze drifted in carrying on it the scent of sulfur and sweetness.
She looked to her mentor, but he didn’t seem to care. His eyes remained fixed on the page, even as a form began to materialize within the binding circle. Before her very eyes, the subject of their summoning appeared.
She was both ragged and beautiful. She was breathtaking and heartbreaking. She was divine, a true god of the old world, and she was there, standing on her own two legs before this novice witch and her patient tutor.
And the first-time caster, she of little patience and small disciple, immediately longed for black pedals and blue-eyed kittens.
For it is one thing to want to perform magic. And it is another thing entirely to do it, and then bear witness to that which old magic can conjure.