Maxwell

If our bodies were better

We could fire the doctors

Shut down the hospitals

Burn the stethoscopes for kindling.

 

We’ll be able to breathe the plastic air,

With our new, perfect lungs.

 

(If I could change one thing about my body I would make my pancreas work. What would you change?)

Advertisements

The New Lab: Better Climate, Possible Biohazards

(A scene that takes place in When We Made Monsters a few months into the school year. Max is a high school sophomore who enlisted the help of some other kids at his school on a project to find the secret of immortality. Initially they were performing experimental spellwork in an old shed in the woods, but an accident has recently led to its destruction. Discovery of the accident and the experiments by some adults in the community has led to the offer of a safer space to study.

Joe is empathic. Della and Sonia are dating.)

The bright side of losing the shed came in the form of an offer from Professor Stevens. They would be allowed to use the college chemistry lab if they cleaned up after the last class. While Max griped about the waste of time cleaning up after others and having to redraw the circles every day the others pointed out the surplus of equipment and, most importantly, the air conditioning. The first day, however, left them wondering if they had actually been tricked. There was glassware clustered around the sink and scattered almost everywhere else. Spills or graffiti covered almost every lab table. Prof. Stevens was stuffing a briefcase with exams at the front of the room and slammed the case closed as they entered, saying, “I want everything spotless!” as he dashed past them through the door.

“Fuck the police,” Della said, as her assessment of the situation.

“Well we should…” Max put his hand on his chin, surveyed the mess and started again, “Joe and I can wash glassware. Della, Sonia, you can handle the tables?”

“I guess we have to,” Della pushed up the sleeves to her hoodie, which promptly fell back done. Sonia had been staring at a gelatinous looking brown spill since they came in and did not take her eyes off it, but did nod slightly.

The job took less time than they thought, but they also thought that they would be there forever, trapped in a hell of bottle brushes and table cleaner that smelled like the artificial mint and pine of Christmas. Sonia’s initial terror had transformed into giddiness, with an end to the scrubbing in sight she started chasing Della around with a dirty rag, “Oh my God, you have to smell this. I think I have brain damage.”

“No! I already lost half my brain cells today!” Della laughed as she dodged around tables and stools.

Joe looked over his shoulder, pausing mid brush, “Aw, aren’t they just precious.”

“Adorable,” Said Max, scowling and concentrating on a stubborn mass of particles at the bottom of his test tube.

“Jealous?”

Max stopped brushing to glare at him and then returned with renewed energy.

“Oh, don’t worry, I’m sure there are tons of girls who’d go out with you if you just asked them, and maybe didn’t look at them like that, yeah the murder look. Don’t do that,” Max continued to focus on the stain, so Joe kept going, “A couple of boys too, I bet. You know Marcus? I could ask him if you want.”

Max rinsed out the tube, held it to the light, and set it in the clean rack. The stain was still faintly visible. “I have no idea if you think that’s a good idea or if you’re trying to make fun of me, but the whole haha, you actually know how to dress yourself, you must be gay, isn’t that funny, got old in middle school.”

“I… well,” Joe looked down into the drain like maybe the quickly diminishing soap suds would know what he had meant, “I was kind of joking, and I kind of just honestly don’t know. Like, you do realize you can tell me, right.”

Max let his shoulders drop for the first time since he started furiously cleaning and hour ago, “Honestly? I don’t really know either.”

“Really? I thought I told you. I’m straight, unless it’s David Beckham.”

“I meant,” He almost whispered, “I don’t know about me. I’ve never felt that way about anyone.”

“Huh? Not at all?”

Max shook his head. He’d turned to face Joe but now only looked at the ground, “And please don’t act like I’m lying.”

“Why would I? I mean, I can tell. You’re feelings right now are like, the opposite of lying, and actually kind of making me queasy. Can you stand back for a minute?”

That made Max look up, giving a half smile and a nasal laugh as he moved a couple steps backward. “I’m sorry you can’t handle the truth,”

“Ugh, apparently not. The truth feels awful.”

Cleaning had taken so long they only had time to mark out the places they could draw the circles tomorrow before it was time to pack up and go home. Max left dissatisfied at the almost complete lack of progress, but feeling somewhat lighter all the same.

3 a.m. Texts and Early Class

Since moving to the group home Joe had gotten used to being woken up in the middle of the night. On Sunday Lacey had decided that 5 a.m. was the perfect time to make everyone breakfast, and Joe had taken his half of a dry, burnt pancake and gone immediately back to bed. On Wednesday his roommate had sat up and started screaming, and Joe had nudged him out of whatever dream he was having and gone immediately back to sleep. On Friday it had been him waking up screaming, he took a few deep breaths, tried in vain to remember what had been so terrifying, and gone slowly back to sleep.

He tried his best, then, not to be annoyed when Della texted him at three on Monday morning only to tell him “DUDE SHE CAN LIFT ME!!!!” For a moment the desire for sleep fought the desire to figure out what the hell she was going on about now.

He texted her back, “What”

“SONIA BRIDAL CARRIED ME! FUCK!”  Joe mentally composed a few texts in return. “Weren’t you breaking up” or “Yea she’s a cheerleader its what she does” But he would see her in home room in a few hours, so he rolled over and immediately went back to sleep.

Joe was taking a nap in the back row of the empty classroom when Della charged in and dropped her backpack in the seat in front of him. He barely had a chance to raise his head before she started talking, “I have no idea what I’m going to do?”

“Does this have to do with you texting me about marriage at the ass crack of dawn?” He said with one eye open.

“She can pick me up, Joe,” She whispered, as much as Della ever whispered, “I was joking about not wanting to get my shoes dirty and she just picks me up and carries me around this puddle.”

Her hands grasped the metal bar that connected the seat to the desk, she was almost on tiptoe as she looked at him expectantly. Joe stretched out his arms, then winced at the pop in his back as he straightened up.

“So you can’t break up with her because she can pick you up?”

“Okay, it sounds stupid but…” Della sank down into her seat, squishing her backpack before jumping back up, laughing in a little squeak. “It’s like every time I think this is it. Today I’m going to break it off she literally sweeps me off my feet like some fucking fairytale and I really don’t want to.” She threw the backpack to the floor and took its place.

“Della, I don’t know what you should do, but you need to choose,”

“I know, I know. I have! I know I have to dump her, I just really don’t want to.”

“Do you have to? You say you can’t keep a secret, but you’ve been with her for a month.”

“And I’m about to explode! If I didn’t have you to talk to I would have…” Footsteps cut her off as another student entered the room, shuffling into a seat by the door.

“Anyway, that’s enough about my problems. Thanks for listening, I know I’ve been sounding like a broken record,” She shrugged.

“Hey, no problem. You’ve always been cool with me,” Joseph shrugged back, thinking about last week, when Della had spent nearly an hour sitting with him as he lay dizzy and weeping in the diner’s parking lot. Humming what might have been a spell and might have just been an old, soothing song.

(Note: I spent way too long thinking about how to make those texts realistically misspelled before I remembered that these two have smartphones. I think Della might always write in ALL CAPS.)

When We Made Monsters – An Introduction

When We Made Monsters is my obligatory, self-indulgent, novel-type project. It’s a fantasy story that takes place in the suburbs about growing up sheltered, working too hard, keeping secrets, and destroying the laws of nature.

The Setting: St. Martin’s was built as your average middle-class housing development, but the first families hadn’t had the chance to unpack when the ghosts started moving in. The developers had a meeting and called in some exorcists, some being an insufficient amount, they called in some more. Eventually they were providing discounted housing to anyone who could chant a few lines and draw a few signs. Following the exorcists, who have never been able to turn down a good spell, were the magicians.

Cut to today. While spellery and witchcraft is distrusted in most of middle-America it’s found a comfortable haven in St. Martin’s.

Characters:

Max: From a family of doctor’s, though his dad is the first one to have a PhD. He’s bright, finicky, slightly asocial and obsessed with immortality. 15, lives with his parents in a house that seems to change by magic, though it’s really just his mom getting bored with the decorating.

Joseph: Recently discovered he’s a powerful empath. He’s the envy of other St. Martin’s students for having natural ability, but since he doesn’t know how to do anything it seems like an empty gift. Cheerful, friendly, and ill-equipped to talk about his feelings or anyone else’s. He lives in a group home for kids from out of town that need the unique facilities and resources provided in St. Martin’s.

Della: A seventeen-year-old hailing from a long line of magicians. She is apprenticing to her mother, who has focused their family’s brand of magic, which once focused on weaponry, to augment electronics. While you’ll have to go somewhere else to expand your computer’s memory or fix your cracked iphone head to Della’s if you you want a phone that’s resistant to water lightning strikes or is able to tell you when suspicious people or wolves are close. Della and Joseph became fast friends due to similar personalities (their both loud and direct) and their shared love of soccer and cheap vodka. She is almost incapable of being dishonest, which makes both Max (who is working on borderline illegal experiments) and her closeted girlfriend very nervous.

Things from St. Martin’s: Hacking the Universe

Hacking the Universe: Magic in the Digital Age was first published in 2009 and is considered the book about Modern Magic, it is also one of the few widely released books on magic. It contains theories that relate spell casting to computer code and possible new ways to link spells together, cast from great distances, or set up spells to run long after the caster has left. The view of magic as a set of systems to be discovered, rather than a tradition that can only be learned from studying the past, did not begin with Hacking the Universe, though it may have increased this view’s popularity. 

Hacking the Universe was initially self-published by its anonymous author, the limited copies passed from magician to magician. It gained the notice of general audiences after it was picked up by a major publisher. While magicians were interested in theory and potentially more efficient spells there was a minor media outcry that this tome could be heralding a new Age of Magic. This outcry ended when people tried reading the book and found that, for the most part, it was excessively boring. 

It is still popular with magicians as a clearly written introduction to magical theory with a few philosophical tidbits thrown in.

.  Image

(The cover of the original, 2009 edition.)

(Photo credit.)

Things from St. Martin’s: The Man With the Dark Shadow

The Man With the Dark Shadow is a series of noir detective novels written in the 1980’s and set in the 1930’s. It stars Mike Gambol, a predictably gritty, disillusioned, middle-aged private detective with a knack for getting involved in what he calls “bad hoodoo”. Despite pitting Gambol, who refused any sort of spell, against magician after magician, and getting a fair number of facts wrong, it has remained popular among the magical set. Part of this comes from being one of the few works of popular fiction to include positive (if slightly stereotypical) portrayals of magicians. These include the motherly Lady Beauchene, who introduces the title mid-way through the first novel, and is a constant source of advice for Gambol as he comes up against powers far beyond his knowledge. There is also the duo of Kitty and Foxy, a performing duo of illusionists who are later revealed to be lovers. The fifth book, Reynard’s Return, centers around Foxy’s kidnapping by a cult who takes her stage name a little too literally. Kitty assists Gambol heavily in this case, eventually cracking the code which leads to her girlfriend’s rescue.

While the plots are dated all twenty books in the series have remained in print partially due to nostalgia value and partially for containing a diverse cast of enjoyable and flawed characters. Depictions of Kitty, Foxy, Lady Beauchene, and Mister Shakes (a mysterious man, always dressed to the nines, who appeared as a deus ex machina on multiple occasions) are common in the homes and businesses of magicians. In areas where magic is less acceptable these depictions sometimes act as markers for safe meeting places.

Mental Health, Witchcraft, and You (Part 2)

(Part 1)

“So, I’m a witch?” Joe stumbled over the words. The psychiatrist was silent for a moment, her face strained. Joe felt the tension in his gut grow.

“Some people would call you that, but you don’t have to. Most spell-workers would call you a conductor, or gifted, though I know this doesn’t feel much like a gift right now.”

“Eh, not so much,” He let out a strained smile.

“And it shouldn’t. This is something that’s disrupting your life, but I believe if we get you in the right program you’ll be able to learn not only to live with this, but to control it as well.”

“So what, exactly is this?” Joe asked, waving his hand near his had.

“Sorry, I got ahead of myself for a moment. Your conductivity is manifesting as hyper-empathy,” Joe stared at her, bewildered, and she started again, “The magic going through you is interacting with something in your body, likely your brain, and that creates a sort of natural spell. That spell is causing you to experience the feelings of those around you as your own. Does that make sense?”

“Hyper-empathy…”

An hour later the psychiatrist left the office and walked directly to the lobby where his parents were waiting, Joe trailed behind her.

They went through pamphlets and questionnaires, finally settling on the only program in the same state, a small group-home connected with a public high school. The school, a pamphlet with poorly spaced texts boxes explained, was surrounded by a gate which caused magic to flow around it, meaning that Joe would be able to go to class without being distracted by everyone’s emotions.

“I’ve referred students in similar situations here before, they say their life very similar to when they lived at home. You can also go home at any time, of course,” She said, “One even ended up staying in St. Martin’s.”

“How far is it?”

“Is this necessary?”

“When can I move in?”