Monday, April 16, 2018

The Wizard’s Task: Part One with new Introduction

I  have made a mistake or two in this blog. I write as if the reader should understand what is going on with me going back to 2006. I do this because, in my mind, I have always been writing one narrative. My blog has had a few different titles, hosts, and purposes over the past 12 years, but it really is one big project.
What I am going to do here today is introduce again my fiction. I have such a passion for writing. I enjoy all kinds of stories, but urban fantasy is at the top of the list. When I sat down to consider the type of novels I want to write I developed an interesting plan.
I believe strongly in giving back when you benefit. If a friend does something nice, I take note. When I get a contextually appropriate time to return that kindness, I then give back. That balance is so important.
I am such a bibliophile (look it up). I certainly feel that I owe the world back some unique stories. Specifically, I feel I owe a fantasy story, a science fiction epic, a romance, and a truly twisted tale of horror.
I have made some progress on fantasy, romance, and horror. By that, I mean that I have story ideas that are developing. I have at least high-level concepts, and in the case of fantasy and horror, I have some decent development underway.
In my fantasy universe, I keep coming up with these short stories. They expand on my fictional reality, but they aren’t really a prime narrative. Sometimes a character or concept is too good not to give some time. To that end, I once set out to build a blog in that fictional universe. It served to gain an audience for my world, keep me inspired and making progress, and also to separate my opinion from my fiction.
I don’t see the point in keeping things separate any longer. Some days I sit in front of the keyboard and all I want is to talk about the real world stuff that I am doing or feeling. Occasionally, I want to tell a story. There is no reason those ideas cannot exist side by side.
That means I am going to be posting stories here from time to time. I am going to start with The Wizard’s Task. This is a fun little story that I blogged out in five parts between August of 2015 and January of 2016. I got quite a bit of feedback on the original post. Each time my blog as moved I have regretted taking Wizard’s Task down.
I plan to post The Wizard’s Task again in pieces. Hopefully, if you enjoy part one you will stick with me through the five weeks of release. If you already know you enjoy the story, I apologize for teasing it out in pieces again. No matter your feelings, give me all the feedback you can. Untended gardens run wild. I appreciate criticism and comments very much. I hope you all enjoy.
The Wizard’s Task: Part One
I was sitting in the Starbucks on Merchants Drive in Knoxville, Tennessee pecking away at my laptop when the man tapped me on the shoulder and asked,”Can I buy you a coffee and join you?” One of the first rules of living off the grid is to stay beneath the notice of normals. I wondered if the hiker’s pack at my feet had drawn his attention or if there was something about myself that I was missing. I had intentionally made a point to hit the Starbucks after the usual morning crowd had made their commutes. Normally Tuesdays after 10am are not prime hours to run into trouble.
I sized the man up as he pulled out the seat across from me. His teeth, showing in a broad grin, were large and square and the too white that you get from ample use of cosmetic dentistry. He had a dark brown, neatly trimmed beard that seemed to be popular these days and fashionably long hair slicked back so that it didn’t get in his face or touch his collar. It made me self-conscious about the scruff that framed my own face and the loose ponytail hanging out the back of my cap. It had been a few weeks since I had batteries to put into my portable trimmer sitting dead in the bottom of my shower kit in the lower end of my pack. I couldn’t tame my scruff easily, and a haircut or styling product wasn’t even a consideration.
Behind his hipster glasses, I could see eyes of a green so pure I could only describe them as emerald. The look was filled out perfectly with a plaid shirt tucked into a pair of form-fitting jeans. I suspected the black t-shirt underneath would display the logo of some obscure band that I wouldn’t have heard of. Between his very together hipster ensemble and his I-go-to-the-gym-daily build, I suspected the intruder was a young man of some small means. I wondered for a moment if his rather modest height, I put him under 5’7″, was what lead him to the gym with such intensity. If he had me pegged as a drifter this would be a short conversation. Muscleheads often assume drifters are easy marks.
“I prefer tea,” I answered trying not to sound too surly. He had interrupted me as I read through the local drifter postings. Homelessness is still a problem for a lot of people in America, but some of us have chosen it as a lifestyle. A smart drifter can live like a king if he is smart enough to stay mobile, keep to himself, keep his load light, and stay connected to the web when he can.
I carried a pair of matching prepaid cell phones that both have wifi functionality. I hadn’t put any minutes on them in months. I get a lot more done with social media, web boards, and IRC than I ever did making phone calls or sending text messages. Craigslist can read like a road map to food, work, wifi, and shelter to the web-savvy drifter like myself. A drifter legend posting under the name Randall Flagg, a nod to the Stephen King character that I have never fully understood from his posts, is something of a drifter legend. His advice has never steered me wrong, and I had been in the middle of marking my map of Knoxville with some of his hotspots when the stranger interrupted.
The man grinned a touch wider. It gave me the disturbing impression that his mouth could open wide enough to bite off my head and he was considering the possibility. It was a wolfish and predatory smile. He nodded once and said,” I will be back with your beverage in a moment.” I looked back to find that my screen had blacked out.
The Hipster put in an order much more quietly than most of Starbucks patrons do. I have never understood how ordering a fancy coffee is some point of pride, but it does seem to be. I considered picking up my stuff and taking off, but my laptop was only at about half charged and I had not managed to plot my trek for the day. Flagg had put in notes about a couple of places where I could pick up a few bucks and a great place where I might be able to wash my clothes for free.
“Here you go,” he said sliding a large cup toward me. I opened my mouth to say,”Thank you,” and he interrupted and said,”You’re most welcome. I got you a Raspberry Chai with a splash of honey. I felt that is what you would drink.” It was exactly what I ordered when I had the extra couple of dollars to pay for it. I had opted for a muffin and a small black coffee instead because I had been hungry and that was what I could afford easily.
“How did you know what I wanted,” I asked with almost dripping skepticism. He stuck out his hand which I hesitantly shook. With another overly wide smile, he said,” My name is Andris Wolfe. I am a Wizard, and I would like to ask a favor of you.” I grinned widely. I couldn’t help myself. Even in my chosen lifestyle, which is famous for encounters with the mentally ill, you don’t hear too many claims like that one. I suspected that a put on like should come with hidden cameras or something.
A movie I had seen years before echoed through my mind, A Knight’s Tale, and I said,” I’m King Richard III, pleased to meet you.” His smile dimmed slightly and he said,”I assure you, sir, I do not jest. I am Andris Wolfe and I am a practicing Wizard.” My amusement faded completely. I should have left when my instincts indicated it was time. I let myself get greedy at the thought of a free tea and now I was caught with a crazy man.
“I assure you, sir, I am not crazy,” he said as if reading my thoughts. I considered the possibility seriously and then chided myself for allowing his insanity to sway my thoughts. “I am more than happy to give you a demonstration of my power. Would you please take the lid from your cup?,” he asked politely motioning with one hand casually.
I had no intention of drinking anything that this man put it front of me so I saw no harm in allowing him to put on some sort of show with the cup he had bought. I worked the lid off the hot tea carefully and looked at the tea inside. The steam from the cup smelled wonderful. As I watched he tapped an index finger to the outside of the cup and the tea began to spin and swirl.
A rainbow of colors spun from the vortex and ran in the opposite direction that the liquid was spinning. The colors, impossibly, remained distinct and separate as they spun to the outside edge of the cup. I glanced up from the cup to the man’s face and found him smiling contentedly with his eyes slightly narrowed. He pulled his finger away and said,” The cup is completely normal. Please pick it up.”
Fascinated, I lifted the cup from the table. When I had taken the lid off a moment before it had been too hot to drink or even sip. Now it barely was warm and seemed to be cooling rapidly. The sense of cold grew and the cup seemed to grow heavier. I looked down to see that it had frozen solid The surface of the ice was shaped into an intricate rose in full bloom. Beneath the surface of the ice colors were moving to turn the petals a deep crimson.
I sat the cup down hurriedly and as it touched the table tea sloshed from the brim and left a steaming puddle across the table top. I heard the girl behind the counter make an exasperated sigh and her coworker let out a juvenile chuckle before he could help himself.
The Wizard, now I couldn’t deny that he had some sort of power, sat back and crossed his legs at the knees before putting his hands in his lap. We sat in silence as the girl wiped off the table, rolled her eyes, and went back to her station. I didn’t dare take my eyes off him. I had goosebumps all over my neck and arms. Every instinct told me that I was in the presence of a dangerous man and to run away. After a long silence, he said,” I apologize if my demonstration made you ill at ease. I assure you that I mean you no harm. I simply am in need of an agent to act in my stead, and I sense you are a capable young man quite prepared for adventure.”
I wanted no part of any sort of adventure that involved things beyond my understanding and I said so. In an almost reproachful voice, he said,” You never favored me with your name though I have freely given my own.” Using a fake name while traveling is a tradition. I actually carried three wallets with three separate sets of identification. Deep in my favorite book, I also had copies of my real legal documents. There was no way I was going to even give one of my fake identities to him.
“Call me Shadow,” I said naming the protagonist from Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. He raised an eyebrow momentarily and said,” Well met.” I nodded before he went on to say,”All I need from you is to deliver a package to a man in the picnic area of Cades Cove in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The delivery needs to happen tomorrow at 7 am. If you agree to do this for me I will give you $2,000 in cash. $500 up front and $1500 upon delivery. In addition to this, I will pay you any expenses that you incur, reasonably, in the execution of these duties and I have arranged your transport to Townsend and back.”
The money was too tempting to simply get up and walk away, and I decided that was exactly what I needed to do. “Mr. Wolfe, I’m sorry, but I cannot accept your offer. When something sounds too good to be true, it always is. Thank you though,” I said and began to stand up taking my pack in hand in one practiced motion and slinging it onto my back. He nodded once as if giving me my leave. I immediately hated the feeling of being dismissed.
I was three steps past the door when the Wizard appeared out of thin air a few step steps in front of me. I stopped short and said,” I do not want any trouble with you, sir. I admit you are the first wizard I have ever met, but you aren’t the first person of power who has asked me to do something for them. Jobs like that come with strings. I am not interested.” I watched his face and realized that any trace of a smile had vanished.
“I could certainly threaten and cajole you into doing my bidding, Ethan, or Mr. Shadow if you prefer. That somewhat defeats the purpose of me offering to reward you and having you do this task of your own free will, I’m afraid. I need you to understand I am trying to continue a conversation here not force you into anything,” the Wizard said while looking into my eyes. I saw enough sincerity there to make me reconsider hearing him out. In my experience, people can fake a lot of things, but the conviction is hard to layer on.”Will you hear out the rest of my proposal? I assure you I will tell you every pertinent detail,” he said.
I nodded and said,” I won’t carry anything illegal. That means no drugs, no money, nothing living, not even a plant that isn’t native to the area. I won’t hurt anybody, and I won’t take the fall for anything. If your job doesn’t cause me to do any of that I will hear you out.” The Wizard said,” The package is nothing but a letter. You are even welcome to read it before you agree to take the job. Come with me. Let us discuss this and put some miles between us and this place. I fear my displays of power have not gone unnoticed.”
He waved his arms in front of him in a flourish that looked like the start of a martial arts routine and a large black Cadillac pulled from the road into the parking lot and stopped. One second the road had been empty. The next the big shiny car had been there and aimed at us. A tiny little man climbed out of the driver’s side door, walked awkwardly around the car as if every movement hurt him, and opened the rear passenger’s side door.
The little man was wearing a baggy suit. It was ill-fitting and the overlarge jacket seemed to hang from a thin frame. The pants might have come from a children’s section and seemed to be rolled up so as to not drag the ground. Shiny shoes and a pair of black leather gloves covered the man’s hands and feet and a large chauffeurs cap covered most of the strange little man’s head and face. He seemed to almost bow as he opened the door.

The Wizard slid inside, I pushed my pack ahead of me, and I followed. As I moved in I noticed that between the little man’s glove and the start of his sleeve his wrist was showing and the skin was a dull green. I was about to comment on this when the door closed. A moment later the little man climbed into the front seat. The Wizard said sternly,” Drive at a reasonable speed toward Sevierville, Githix,” and the Cadillac sped away from the Starbucks with squealing tires.

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