“Let’s get down to it. Do you use dark magic?”
“Well, yes, I do use dark magic…” she shifted in her seat. “Oh, don’t make that face. Dark magic isn’t evil, it isn’t bad. It’s just… it’s just, dark!”
I tapped my pen on my notepad, leaned closer. “What is it, then? There are so many warnings, so much stigma regarding dark magic. Can you explain to me why you think you can use it, where others cannot?”
“What do you think of, when you think of darkness? What comes to mind?” She was smiling now, her teeth looked sharp.
I thought for a moment. “Nighttime. Evil. Creatures of the night, danger…” I trailed off, unsure if I should continue.
She smiled again, this time with a hint of sadness. “There is this idea that things that are dark are bad. The night is dangerous, unpredictable, it hides things. That the light is good, safe, we can see everything. But that isn’t quite true, is it?”
She began to pace around the room, gesturing as she spoke. “The light can blind us just as much as the dark. Think of the good that comes with the absence of light. You can see the stars. The night creatures spend their lives without light; does that make them evil? Dark magic is a velvet cloak that embraces it’s wearer. It is unpredictable by nature, wild, powerful. There is freedom in the darkness. I use it, because it feels natural.”
I rummaged through my notes. “Oh! Oh… I meant… black magic. Do you use black magic?”
“Oh! No, black magic is evil. No one should use black magic, bad stuff.”
James stared out the window as the instructor lectured animatedly at the whiteboard. He let his hand drift over the clean white paper, his pen lazily floating across the page. He purposefully kept his eyes away from the notebook, giving his hand free rein.
He usually came up with some interesting scribbles; someday, he knew that he would turn his eyes to the desk and see a masterpiece. He just knew it. He let another few seconds go by, the ticking of the clock on the wall seemed painfully slow. He pulled back his hand, breathless, and turned his face to the page…
“James. What did I just say?” The professor stared at him expectantly, toe tapping the linoleum, scowling at the wide-eyed look of incomprehension from James. “Quit doodling and pay attention!”
“Sorry, man.” James scowled with ferocity equal to that of the professor, glaring at the mass of incomprehensible scribbles in his notebook. “Just spacing out.” He tore off the top sheet of paper and crumpled it loudly. James returned his gaze to the window.
* * * * *
He jerked awake suddenly, elbows sliding off the desk. Had he fallen asleep? James darted a few surreptitious glances at his instructor and classmates; no one seemed to have noticed. Relaxing his tense shoulders with a sigh, his eyes dropped to his notebook, expecting to see the usual mess of indecipherable scribbles.
Instead, the stark image of a tree was scrawled across the page. The roots twisted in a tangled mass, the grim branches stretched alarmingly to the edges of the page. He blinked fiercely, screwing his eyes shut so tightly that they watered. He looked again. Just scribbles… the usual swirls and jagged slashes of an aimless, wandering pen. He was sweating, but a chill shivered through him.
A tree. James shook his head. My mind is playing tricks on me, and for a split second I thought that I saw a tree. He looked at the page again; it hadn’t changed. It was nothing, just a mess of ink scrawled across the page.
But if it was nothing, why wouldn’t his hands stop shaking?
The second time I saw the mermaid, she was singing.
Now, when most people think of a singing mermaid, they think of the red-haired songstress with a penchant for hoarding, bewitching siren songs, etc.
This was more like… well, imagine an old cat yowling for dinner. Scratchy, off-key and off-putting.
She was in the water this time, her back to me, and she was splashing while squawking a familiar tune.
“Are… are you singing Crocodile Rock?” I asked from the shore.
She gasped and submerged, then resurfaced about twenty feet away, scowling.
“Are you following me?” she hissed, her sea green eyes seemed to glow from the sun reflecting off of the water.
I pointed down the beach. “I am living in one of the beach houses for the summer, I just walk the beach a lot.”
“Whatever. Get a life.”
She was gone with a flick of her strong tail, leaving a wake of bubbles and Elton John stuck in my head.
The office was silent. Usually filled with the sound of keyboards tapping, mouses clicking and hushed conversations, it was unnaturally quiet. My coworkers all sat still, some with heads tilted, as if listening.
A few moments passed.
“What… what is that?” the intern hissed.
“You hear that too, right?”
“Oh, thank god I am not imagining it.”
“What IS that?”
The chorus of whispered questions died down, as everyone listened again.
“It sounds like it is coming from outside…”
Without speaking, they all stood, and filed out of their cubicles. Other offices were emptying into the hallway, everyone speaking softly. Listening.
“Bells… like, sleigh bells.” One woman gasped.
“No, it is definitely a violin. Beethoven!” Someone else chimed in.
“No one else hears… singing?”
They drifted towards the exit, entranced. I followed them out.
The street was filled with people. Many appeared joyful, as if they were listening to beautiful music. The mass of people was starting to drift down the street, laughing, listening, looking to the sky.
“Where is it coming from?”
“It sound like the angels are laughing!”
The crowd grew and grew. People came out of their houses as we reached the suburbs, joining the exhilarated group.
Soon we were at the city limits, open fields and blue sky for miles.
I noticed a small group had stayed back, and did not join the euphoric crowd, who were now dancing and hugging and gleefully cheering to the sky.
I moved towards them. They looked how I felt; fearful.
As I stepped close, a man in front looked me in the eye.
“You hear it, too? Don’t you?”
There was no music from the sky. No bells, no laughter or gentle singing.
I knew without asking that we all heard the same thing.
Screaming and the crackle of flames.
An envelope was sitting on my doorstep today. No return address, just my name printed in block letters, stark and official. I cautiously opened it, and pulled out a sheaf of papers.
The pages were yellowed with age, stiff and crackling. The blue ink was faded and pale.
Puzzled, I began to read. The story was unfamiliar, the language flowery, prose-like, an ode to magic and mystery. The secrets of night and the glory of dawn, all wrapped into a few sheets of scribbled notes. Diagrams and equations filled the margins, complex mathematics beyond my comprehension. Theories of gravity and coincidence, planetary alignment, faerie magic and brain chemistry, the Answers were here. It was all here.
The handwriting was mine.
My hands began to shake, the brittle pages trembled. I had no memory of writing these words, filling the lines with such care.
How could I have written this?
The clumsy cursive was unmistakable, the smears from my left hand were an unequivocal signature. I still had ink blots from a letter I had written this morning, freshly marking my skin like a tattoo. The stains matched, mirror images. Like birthmarks, fingerprints; there was no doubt.
My words. How could these be mine?
I stood there for a long time, trying to make sense of it. With each reading, I felt farther away from the conclusion, farther away from what I was supposed to understand.
And then the pages began to crumble.
Disintegrating before my eyes, the fragile words turned to dust, leaving nothing but glitter and ash in my hands.
The first time I saw the mermaid she pretended not to see me.
I inched closer, trying to catch her attention without startling her back into the water. She continued to sunbathe in the golden sand, lightly rocking her fin back and forth as she sorted sea glass.
I cleared my throat.
Her eyes flicked my direction for an instant, then went back to the piles of glass shards. She began to hum softly and flipped her hair.
Taking another step closer, I waved.
Again her eyes darted towards me, and a look of irritation flashed over her lovely face. She shoved her treasures into a woven grass bag, and wriggled into the water with ease.
She surfaced briefly, to look at me over her shoulder, brows low with disdain. Then she was gone.
Ignored then rejected, I stood lonely and alone.
It was like high school all over again.