What is magic other than the applied use of mystery? And what is more mysterious than a city full of millions of people, each with their own stories, their own mysteries? Their own magic? Queer Magic is a collection of stories about mysterious, magical people and the city they live in.
Remember though: all magic has cost. Forget that, and you may forget what price you are willing to pay.
Part the First:
Looking for A Small Corner in a Big City
We can not stand the light.
I? Is it me? I do not remember.
We are ourselves a cockroach, a scuttler who abhors the light. We hide under bags of refuse and peer into windows, pulling our hat down to hide our eyes when the lights within shine too brightly and we must cry. We were naked until we scrounged gloves to hide our hands and dirty white shoes to hide our feet. We wear a winter coat despite the heat of the summer. The stench and filth cling to us and our withered legs, match-sticks that shiver, trying to spark a light. Our hands hurt. They always hurt.
We are. We do not know what we are.
I. I should be an I only and not a We. But who are these other voices in my head? Is it my head?
Hush. Go back to sleep.
I shall, thank you.
& & &
We have our dog. His name is Dog. He does not go far away. We do not have to feed Dog, which is good because we do not have to feed ourselves. His skull grins with many eyes, yellow and yellow and yellow and yellow and yellow on gleaming white. The candles burning atop its head illuminate the nights we spend together, flitting from garbage heap to dumpster. His light we can manage. His light we can bear, curled into a ball atop the refuse, holding him close to us. We shudder. The nights are very long and very cold.
He loves us. We do not know why. We did this to him.
Did I do this to myself?
Dog would lick us but he has no tongue. His skull smiles. His tail wags. He loves us.
What have I done to us? To me?
Hush. Sleep now.
& & &
They scream if they see us so we do not let them see. We have become very good at becoming small, as small as the little people made of light. The faeries follow us on gossamer wings and spit curses black as ink. They call us Demon. We ignore them. Curses we can bear. We hide and watch the People.
The People fascinate us. They move in streams like water, their silver fish honking and beeping through the flood of them. They are so beautiful, all of them. The brown ones and white ones and small ones and big ones and angry ones and happy ones and ones with little ones inside. We love them, but only from our corners and our hiding places. We peer with glowing eyes and watch with strange feelings inside ourself. We do not know why we love the People but we do. We watch for hours.
Dog looks to us and wags his tail, waiting for us to finish. He will snap at one of the faeries if he can. If he misses then they shout more curses at him, and if he catches one he crushes them between his teeth with a tiny scream and a tiny blood and they do not curse him any more.
We long to touch them. Sometimes, we will take off our gloves and hold out our hands, only to imagine what it would feel like to hold on. What does skin feel like? What does it feel like to have blood flow inside again? We can only imagine. The imagining pleases us. The imagining punishes us.
This hurts me. I can’t bear it. I can’t! I can’t! I CAN’T!
It does not have to. Sleep.
& & &
It is a cold night. They are all cold, but this night the cold sears worse than most. There is no relief anywhere. We stumble through empty streets lit with electric suns that burn us but we cannot stop. We want to lie down we are so tired but we have no place to go.
We go. We go go go go. Our feet wander and we wander atop them, burning and freezing.
Dog howls. A Person hears it and sees us. They scream. Dog howls again and we are sad. But still cold.
Our feet have taken us to a door and we cannot think anymore. There is only coldy cold and burning light and we want to scream but our mouth has forgotten how to form the sounds so we freeze and burn and our gloved hands cannot open the door. We beg.
It opens for us.
There is light inside, but there is also darkness. We slink into the dark, our lips jabbering sounds that are either happiness or sadness. We do not know but at least we are not burning anymore. There is warmth. People sit in booths; men and women and more sit in quiet and drink. Music hangs in the air and it is beautiful. A piano; we remember that word. A piano plays. Laughter.
“Welcome back. What’ll you have, friend?”
A man is standing behind a bar. He is not screaming but he is looking straight at us. We point at ourself. Are you speaking to me? A strange feeling, a dove alights inside me: is a Person talking to us? We respond but our lips have forgotten what words are, our mouth does not recall what function syllables serve.
The man is polishing a glass with a towel no our eyes lie he is a fat man holding a sack giving candy to children no our eyes lie he is a demon of fire wielding a sword that slays the world no our eyes lie. They always lie.
“I see you friend. I’m going to mix something special. On the house.”
He puts down the glass. He reaches below the bar and pulls out a bottle. It is clear and cold and it pours like molten glass. There is a mirror behind him and a hundred moths rest on it, antennae twitching.
“I make a mean g&t but I think you need something stronger, eh? Have this.”
The glass is offered. Our hands tremble and we take off our gloves. The glass is cold, we burn no longer, and the liquid is fire, we freeze no more. The man steps from behind the bar and lays out a bowl for Dog. Dog does not drink, but it is no bother. The bowl is empty but the offering is what matters. He allows the man to pat him on the head, bobbing with happiness.
We finish the glass. We do not know how, we do not have a mouth. The moths look at us in the mirror. Somewhere, there is laughter. Somewhere, there is weeping. Perhaps it is from us? How would we even know? But we look. The voices. They speak to us in sounds not forgotten. The voices mean something. We look.
There, a man who is a wolf clutches his head in his hands, a dozen bottles broken at his feet and his mouth red with blood.
There, a woman with a mouth in her head with teeth as long as fingers and a tongue that speaks to her and she hates herself.
There, a man of God who cannot help but vomit sadness. He smiles and he burns and he is happy.
There are many more. They mean something. A word occurs to us, a word we have not heard in so very, very long.
I have been here before. I know this place.
The man goes back behind the bar and takes the bottle again. He looks at us.
“The first is on the house. But the rest will have to be paid for.” His smile is glass that breaks. “There is always cost.”
We have nothing. We tell him as much without words.
“It’s not money I’m after. I’ve plenty of that.” He waves his hand and a golden coin rolls across his knuckles. He waves again and it is gone. “Money’s no trouble for one like me. I deal in dearer stuff than that.”
Fingers. He snaps his fingers and the moths flutter away. We see ourselves. Our eyes, so many eyes and we have no face. No, not anymore. We are not one of those anymore. We raise our hand and there is only air there where flesh should be.
Should? Why should it be there?
Yes. Yes it should. I…I should be there.
“No time for that now.” The bartender says, sharp as a knife. “I’d rather you were awake. Let’s start with your name.”
I remember that. Not the name I had, but the name we have now. Dog whines and rubs his head against me.
My voice is unfamiliar. It is the one in me, but not mine.
He nods. “A good name. It does what it needs to, and nothing more.” He pours and I drink.
SLEEP. SLEEP. SLEEP NOW.
“Ah, but the pianist is just getting started! She’s doing some Peterson tonight.” The bartender smiles, drumming his fingers along with in time with the sounds. It is beautiful. Is this music? “There’s time to sleep later. The patrons here, you know them.”
It is not a question. I nod. He pours a drink and holds it out to me, but just beyond my reach. My fingers tremble, air in air. I need it. The warmth and welcome and companionship. Just to be spoken to as a Person. I need it. I need it.
“I told you, there is always a cost to magic.” The bartender smiles and it is not gentle. It is cold and hard but fair, fair as the pain when gravity drags you down to the ground. He holds out the glass and I need it so badly I remember what desperation is. “Will you pay it?”
I ignore the voice.
“Yes.” I drink.
“Here, sit. Take a load off. Tell me about the Dreamer. We’ll start with him.” The bartender says. I sit at the stool, red velvet red as blood on a brass cylinder taking me to Heaven, and I remember. Dog sits quietly beside me as I begin.
“Once, there was a mouse and a cat…”