Monday, 22 May 2017
Ch 9. Crazy People
As usual, there is adult language ahead, and this is a first draft, so expect some errors. I couldn't find a good place to break this chapter into more manageable chunks, so I decided to post the whole shebang.
Feel free to comment below, and thanks for reading!
“This is my only rain jacket!” said Dimitri, glaring at the jagged piece of metal in his shoulder.
He gripped the rod, and without ceremony, yanked it free. For the next twenty seconds what followed was an exhaustive treatise on the many uses of the word, “fuck.”
When he was finished, Dimitri held up the sheared off length of metal in front of Stirling’s nose. “Do you have any idea how much that just cost?”
Cost? What the hell was that supposed to mean? Stirling looked closer at the protruding bit of metal to see if he could gain any insight there. He didn’t. It was galvanised threaded rod, maybe a centimetre thick, it’s tip coated in blood for a good ten centimetres. Beyond that, it was a regular piece of metal he wouldn’t think twice about if he saw it on the side of the road. He looked back up at Dimitri. “Doesn’t that hurt?”
Dimitri looked at him flatly for a beat. “Well, duh.
Dimitri unbuckled himself from his seatbelt and popped the hood release under the dash before stepping out of the wrecked car. He stumbled over the half-concealed door that was sticking out from, under the car and gave it a spiteful kick.
Stirling grabbed his box of books and followed him outside. The little car was an absolute mess. The front bumper and driver’s door were simply missing, the back end had been smashed on all three sides, and three long rents of torn metal ran from where the driver side door used to be all the way to the demolished rear bumper.
Dimitri didn’t pause to be impressed at the state of the car, instead, he started to run his fingers under the edge of the hood looking for the release.
“I think it’s going to need more than an oil change to get back one the road,” said Stirling.
“A comedian, huh?”
Dimitri wrenched hard on the hood a few times before if sprung free of the twisted frame. His shoulder didn’t seem to be giving him any problems. Maybe Stirling was just a pansy, but he didn’t think he’d be taking the injury as well as Dimitri was.
“Hold this,” said Dimitri, waving his phone in Stirling's direction. Stirling put his box down and directed the little light on the back of the phone at the engine. Dimitri took an object out of his pocket that looked like a thin metal pencil and leant over the hot radiator. He gingerly reached an arm into the metal and rubber guts of the car with the stylus. Stirling couldn’t see what he was doing, but he heard the distinct sound of metal scratching on metal.
Whatever he needed to do didn’t take long, because a few seconds later Dimitri straightened and let the hood fall back into place.
“Come on, we need to go. A trip over the bridge isn’t going to slow Rag and Bone down for long. We need to get gone.”
Dimitri led him away from the lights of Hastings and into a darkened residential neighbourhood. The dripping branches of old trees overhung the streets making them into tunnels. As they walked, Stirling noticed that Dimitri was paying close attention to the cars parked on the road.
“So Rag and Bone, who are they? A failed nineties porn act or something?”
“That’s funny. I need to remember that one.” Dimitri kept walking and eyeing the cars they passed.
“Seriously, who are they?”
Dimitri turned his head to look at him in disbelief. “Really? You’re joking, right?”
Stirling shrugged and shook his head.
“I am serious.”
“So, what are you, some kind of shut-in? I thought everyone knew about Madame Rag and Mister Bone. The Two Stations Massacre? The Bloody Snatchers? The Fitzgerald Assassination? None of this ringing a bell?”
“Nope, you got me there.”
A look of suspicion began to creep onto Dimitri’s face. “Wait a second, what exactly did Rag want with you at that restaurant?”
“She wanted to make me an offer I had to refuse.”
“What kind of offer?”
“The usual, the money, the power, the women,” he finished the last few words a bit wistfully.
“Uh huh. And what did she want in return for all that?
Stirling looked at him. Dimitri was fishing, and Stirling thought—hoped he knew what he was fishing for. “She wanted me for my enormous unit, of course” he said.
At the words, he let his mental barriers relax just a fraction. A faint ripple of cold expanded away from him like a skim of ice forming in still water.
Dimitri flinched like someone had sneaked up to him in a dark alley and whispered, “you sure have a purdy mouth,” directly into his ear.
“Fuck! Was that you?!”
“Well, I don’t like to toot my own horn, but yeah.”
“At least you’re not a straight. I thought I might have grabbed the wrong guy, you not knowing about Rag and Bone.”
“That was fucking creepy, by the way. Do not do that around me again. Dimitri chafed his forearms and gave him a dark look.
Dimitri began to drift across the street to where a newer model Jeep SUV was parked. After a quick once over, he pulled his phone from his pocket and without dialling, put the glowing screen to his ear.
“How does this one look?”
“Huh?” asked Stirling, eloquently.
A moment later, the Jeep’s lights flashed, the doors unlocked, and the engine started.
“Wasn't talking to you. Let’s go,” said Dimitri, putting words to action and climbing into the driver’s seat.
Stirling eyed the empty street and walked quickly to his door. He hoisted himself and his office box of notebooks into the passenger seat and buckled himself in a bit more quickly than he might have done normally.
Dimitri pulled away from the curb and accelerated smoothly down the rain-slick street.
“How did you do that? That was amazing,” said Stirling.
“It’s my knack, I’m a technomancer. What’s yours by the way? I’ve never felt a trick like that one you threw out in the street.”
“My what now?”
“Your knack, what’s your knack?”
“That’s what I thought you said. What do you mean when you say, ‘knack?’”
“Are you fucking with me?!”
“Not fucking with you. Also, did you know you say ‘fuck’ a lot?”
“You’re about to hear it a lot more if you don’t start answering my fucking questions!”
“Fine, you let me know what a knack is, and maybe I can give you an answer.”
“You know, your knack, what’s in your wheelhouse? What’s the voodoo that you do best?”
Stirling nodded at him, “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Do not fuck with me!”
“I’ve already told you, I’m not fucking with you. What is this? Some kind of homoerotic reverse psychology?”
“Listen to me,” said Stirling, pointing back the way they had come. “That psycho bitch in the Cadillac is only the second person I ever met who knew about magic, and the first one refused to tell me shit.”
“Bullshit. Someone had to teach you.”
“I taught me.”
“Nobody just teaches themselves.”
“Because only crazy people believe in magic,” said Dimitri.
“Who’s fucking with who now?”
“I’m serious. You have to be crazy to believe in magic.”
“Yeah, well, that little Honda shouldn’t have been able to do a hundred and ninety down the highway either. Don’t try and tell me you don’t do magic.”
“So, are you crazy then?”
“No, but I’m not claiming I taught myself either. Magic isn’t something people should be able to do.”
“I’ve got some pretty damn compelling evidence against that statement.”
“You’re not getting it,” said Dimitri.“Look, I’ll give an example. What happens when you tell a stone to burn?”
“Uh, nothing. Stones aren’t known for being all that flammable.”
“Exactly. You can tell a stone to burn as many times as you want, but it’ll never do anything but sit there and be a stone. A cold, boring-ass stone. That’s reality. Reality is always there, and it’s always turned on.”
“Okay, I’m with you so far.”
“Magic is not only about making the stone burst into flames, or fly, or whatever, it’s about absolutely believing that you live in a world where that stone should do those things. You can’t do magic without the absolutely uncluttered faith that it’ll work.”
“So, ponder this,” Dimitri went on, turning the wheel and smoothly accelerating back onto Hastings. “What are the chances that you’re that one rare person out of all the tens of thousands who has the inborn ability to do magic. Then, out of that tiny number, you also happen to believe that the laws of the universe just don’t apply to you. In your world, stones should burn, cats should fly, in short, it’s the world of a crazy person. That belief is what it would take to teach yourself magic.”
“So how did you learn then?”
“Somebody showed me. Seeing is believing. Now, would you like to change your story?”
“No, but I have a question.”
“Well, if magic is so difficult to learn, how come people can do magic at all?”
“Simple,” said Dimitri, “people panic, they get amazingly pissed, or sometimes they just flip out.”
“Well gosh, that clears everything up.”
“Just listen,” said Dimitri. “When people panic, their brain stops working.” He took his hands off the wheel to make a head exploding gesture. “It’s basic biology, fight or flight. People losing their shit is actually the main reason most people throw their first trick. War zones, natural disasters, places like those are where you’ll find lots of new talent.”
“That too. When the shit hits the fan, the need to keep breathing overrules everything, including a rational understanding how the world should work. It’s why you see so many non-religious people suddenly get godly in a crisis. Praying never worked before, but when you’re grasping at straws what have you got to lose?”
“But back to what I was talking about, so there you are, a tornado bearing down on your double-wide and you just happen to be one of the rare people that have some kind of magical ability. Cows are flying through the air like migrating geese, you freak, and poof! spontaneous magic. The tornado passes, and despite everyone else being sent on a one-way trip to the Great Beyond, you’re somehow still alive”
“People will call it a fluke, or maybe a miracle depending on their religious convictions. What they won’t do is claim it was magic, because only people who are nuts believe in magic.” He eyed Stirling significantly.
“So, where’s the problem? People do magic, I already know that. I do magic. Are you arguing or agreeing with me?”
“The problem is, is that’s panic magic. It’s completely uncontrolled and spontaneous. You never know what’s going to happen with panic magic. There’s huge difference between someone freaking out and deflecting bullets, and throwing a trick on purpose. That shit takes some serious skill and dedication.”
“To do real magic you need three things; The ability, the skill to shape a trick, and the belief that it’ll work. They call it the Magic Triangle. Putting all three of those things together without a teacher just doesn’t happen.”
“Sure, that all sounds good,” said Stirling, “but it’s the chicken and the egg argument. Somebody had to figure it out for themselves. If they did, why not me? You can’t have anyone to teach you if nobody knows, and if nobody figured it out to begin with, there’s no magic, and I think we both know that’s bullshit.”
“Alright, fine, I don’t know how the very first person to do controlled magic learned. What I do know, is that without the skill, the faith, and the knowledge, you get squat. If you’re claiming you taught yourself magic, you at least need to start with the faith, and that kind of belief doesn’t happen unless you’ve seen something to make you believe in magic, or unless you’re batshit, barking, crazy.”
“Oh, I’ve seen some arcane shenanigans. I’ve seen shit that you wouldn’t believe.”
“See, I knew it had to be something. Fess up, who was it?”
“It wasn’t a who, and it’s a bit creepy.”
“Half of all magic is creepy. If you cut out the tricks that need bodily fluids to work, you’d be cutting my list in half. Seriously, the ability to do magic should come with an economy-sized roll of paper towels and a jug of brain bleach. I’ve been doing this for years, I can take it. Lay it on me.”
“I can tell when people are going to die.”
Dimitri was quiet for a moment. He poked at the radio until a station he liked came on, before finally saying, “You’re right, that’s creepy.”
The PNE fairgrounds scrolled past on their right, the wooden roller coaster and rides were silhouetted against the light from North Vancouver. Stirling decided that if he was going to tell some of it, he might as well go all in.
“And you know when I did that thing you didn’t like? The thing you asked me not to do again?”
“Yeah, what about it?”
“I do that. All the time.”
Dimitri looked over at him. “You’re not doing it now.”
“No, right now I’m concentrating on not doing it. It’s like trying to stop pee in mid-stream. I can do it, but when I stop concentrating wham! Magic pee all over the place.”
“Wow, that was needlessly graphic. I’m afraid to ask, but anything else you need to tell me?”
“Well, I can see ghosts, but I bet a lot of people can.”
“No, they can't.”
“Really? Even people who do magic?”
“Yeah, even them. Especially them,” he added darkly. “Anything else?”
“What is it?”
“Ghosts explode when I touch them. Also, they all hate me.”
“Ghosts hate you.”
“Ever since the time I blew one of them up by accident.”
“You blow up ghosts by accident,” Dimitri said, deadpan. “This keeps getting better.”
“I went to shake his hand and bam! no more ghost. Ever since then, they swear at me, flip me off, try and distract me when I’m crossing the street, that kind of thing.”
They pulled to a stop at a red light and Dimitri began softly banging his head against the steering wheel.
“No, I’m about as far from alright as I can be right now.”
“Want to talk about it?”
“It might help.”
“You might not know this since we just met and all, but I’m not really a ‘talk it out’ kind of guy. Just shut up for a minute, I need to think about this.”
The light turned green and they continued down Hastings. Dimitri drummed on the steering wheel while he glared out into the rainy night before violently shaking the wheel and shouting, “That bitch!”
“What bitch?” asked Stirling.
“Aleph. She set me up!”
“One of the lesser deities that hangs around here."
“A deity? Really? Like a goddess?”
“That’s what a deity is. This one has set herself up as a kind of go-between for the straights and the freaks like us. Thinks it's her job to keep us all in line.”
“Nobody asked her to, but yeah, maybe,” he said, starting to calm down a bit. “I’ve heard she works for the Duke’s Own.”
“The magic police.”
A suspicion began to form in Stirling’s mind.
“Ever since I found my name on Rag and Bone’s shopping list of people to grab, I’ve been maintaining a low profile. Aleph heard I was missing and tracked me down last night in Richmond. She gave me your name to add to my list, said those two were after you as well.”
“This Aleph? Hot, long dark hair, wears sunglasses at night like Corey Heart?”
“You’ve met her?”
“Remember I told you I met someone who wouldn’t tell me anything about magic?”
“I knew it! That manipulative, sneaky, asshole. She led me by the nose right to you!”
“So? What’s wrong with that?”
“There aren’t many laws in the community, but the ones we have, you don’t break if you know what’s good for you. One of the big ones is that if you discover someone who can do magic you bring them from the cold in to show them the ropes. It’s called being a sponsor.”
“How come she isn’t my sponsor then? Nothing against you, man, but if I had a choice of a hot goddess and you, it’s going to be the hot goddess every time.”
“The rules are a bit different when it comes to god-like beings, they have to be careful about interacting with us mere mortals. If they find someone, they’re supposed to use proxies. Guess who just got tricked into becoming hers?”
“Well, alright you got tricked, but I’m not a bad guy. Just show me what buttons not to press, and if you want I’ll be out of your hair in no time.”
“You still don’t get it.” Dimitri sighed and ran his fingers through his hair. “People who use magic come in a bunch of different flavours. We call them knacks. A knack is the magic that they’re naturally most talented at. The main categories for these knacks are: diviners, elementalists, mystics, enchanters, alchemists and necromancers.”
Stirling counted them off on his fingers as Dimitri listed them. “Demean?”
“When you list them like that it makes an acronym that spells ‘Demean.’"
“Thank god you told me that! Can you focus, please? Out of that whole list of knacks I just gave you, which knack sounds like it might stick to you?”
“So I’m a necromancer?”
“Bingo! And for a follow-up question, guess which knack comes with a bad reputation and a not-quite-secret bounty in the head of anyone claiming to be one?”
“I’m going to go with mystics. They sound shifty as balls in boxers if you ask me.”
“You’d be wrong,” said Dimitri, scowling. “On both counts.”
They slowed and stopped for another red light. A homeless man slowly walked the street divider next to them. He held up a damp cardboard sign asking for change in black marker.
“So, here’s me,” Dimitri continued, his voice sounding a bit unhinged. “On one hand I’ve got a goddess who works for the magic police tricking me into becoming legally responsible for a fucking necromancer. On the other, I’ve got a pair of immortal assassins who have already tried to recruit you, have a reputation for a high body count, and who have my name on their shit-list. Fuck. My life.”
“It could be worse.”
The panhandler who’d been slowly walking past suddenly launched himself at Dimitri’s window. He hit the glass with an almighty smack, rocking the SUV on its wheels. He howled at them wordlessly through the tempered glass, and the ghost that had been trailing unseen behind him howled with him.