• Mark Meier

By Mark W. Meier

Act I

The Final Spell

Scene 1

“I lied.”

-Mastema

You were reading a dust jacket the day we met. A shiver crawled up your spine as you sensed me watching. You reached into the pocket of your cheap suit for your concealed Beretta and glanced over your shoulder. Eyes darting from person to person, you looked right through me.

But I saw you.

The sweet aroma of power-hunger oozed from your pores. All remaining doubt dissipated when I read the title of the book in your hand: Magick – my area of expertise.

I followed you home, watched you sleep, got into your mind.

Searching your crummy apartment in Bristol, I found several magazines: Magick Runes, Effective Spells, and Cursing the Enemy. Each address sticker revealed a different false name – twenty-one in all. When I found three mailings with the same name, I knew your real identity: Ken Jensen.

You’d learned the difference between “magic” and “magick”; those who practiced the latter called the former legerdemain – parlor tricks.

Magick was your only vice. Your home was devoid of hard liquor, pictures of a wife or lover, crayon drawings on the refrigerator door – it lacked even a hint of personal connection with neighbors. With anyone.

I’d learned all I needed. As you woke the next morning, I reshaped my invisible form into the image of a spectral human body. I stood just over six feet tall, sported a long, flowing gray beard, and wore a black wizard’s robe. I added a few unidentifiable sigils to the robe. Embroidered stars and moons would have been too cliché, as would a pointed hat.

“Gaaah!” You screamed, sitting bolt upright, bed covers flying. You yanked a pistol from beneath your pillow and pointed it at me.

I chuckled with a sepulchral tone. “A bullet will go right through me, that wall,” I poked a thumb over my shoulder, “and out into the street. Some unlucky kid might get killed.”

Not that I cared either way.

“Who are you?”

I bowed with a flourish and floated an inch or two above the floor. “I am the spirit of the previous wizard of North America. I’ve selected you as my replacement.” I pointed at your book, Magick, on the nightstand. “You won’t be learning anything from that, so I’ll be your tutor, Ken.”

“How do you know my name?” The nine-millimeter pistol never wavered, proving your courage.

“I’m a wizard, albeit a dead one. I have my ways.” I used the driest tone I could muster, one that, Kulak has said, reminds him of clattering bones.

You raised a skeptical eyebrow, so I continued. “Tell you what – if it would make you feel better, pull the trigger.”

Your pistol dipped a fraction of an inch. You looked from me to the clock to the closet – that’s where you kept a more powerful handgun, I knew – then back to me. Edging to the side of the bed, you pulled open a drawer on the nightstand and withdrew an illegal suppressor. With practiced ease you fixed it to the weapon and aimed for my head.

You fired.

I could have stopped the bullet in mid-air, then let it fall or hover, but instead I allowed it to pass through me and hit the wall. My extra senses informed me the slug penetrated the wall at my back, plowed through the drywall, insulation, Styrofoam, then siding. Instead of having it tear through a passing car, I deflected the pellet into the blacktop. There was no sense getting the police involved when I had a job to do.

I asked, “Are you ready to begin?”

***

For a year I trained you in the arts of herbalism and dream interpretation. No real skill was needed there – plenty of books already existed on those subjects. I insisted you learn my way of doing things, and you obliged. You knew I could provide what you wanted.

Our spartan tent-booth at the Columbia County Fair drew a reasonable crowd of slobs gorging themselves on deep-fried foods. Most of their dreams were as simplistic as they were disgusting. They all craved money or fame or power or love, and you told them they’d find it. That made people happy, and they all spread the word.

“Why can’t they see or hear you?” you asked during a lull. I subtly deepened the darkness within the mauve booth. Most of your kind seemed to like that during any sort of reading.

“You’ll learn that, too, if you stick with it long enough.” I waved to the entrance. “Call in another client. This one might stretch your ability a bit.”

“Next!” you shouted.

The canvas divider opened to admit the smell of corn dogs and wood chips. The day was early enough for only a slight tang of sweat, most of it from farm animals. A young man in a suit sauntered in, and his cologne pushed the other scents toward the background without being overpowering. His expression was canny; I could see he didn’t believe you could tell him anything, but was willing to risk a dollar to find out. This was your first real test.

“Tell me your dream.”

“First tell me what’s going to happen tomorrow.” He crossed his legs and turned to one side.

Since most fortune tellers were frauds it’s no wonder a skeptic would ask that. In essence, he’d said, “Prove you’re not lying and then I’ll believe what you say.”

You shook your head. “I can’t tell the future, only what your dreams mean.”

The man’s smirk broadened. “Very well. I dreamed of a dollar bill found on the road.”

When he didn’t elaborate you asked, “Where is the road?” Knowing that could tell a lot about the man and his motivation.

“I couldn’t tell.” He squinted a little. He needed corrective lenses and didn’t wear contacts. I ran a phantasmal hand through his pockets and found a pair of glasses.

I whispered in your ear. “He doesn’t want to be recognized.”

“Tell me more.”

“When I picked up the dollar, it grew and grew until it was the size of my house. Then I found another dollar bill, and that one grew twice as large. The first bill ripped in two and puffed into confetti that blew away on the wind.”

The man lifted a hand to his mouth but forced it back to his lap. “A third dollar bill also grew, but three times the size of the second, which also tore itself in half and fell to pieces, scattering on the breeze.”

The man’s knee bobbed, and the set of his lips told me it wasn’t because he was nervous.

“There’s more,” I told you. “Dreams don’t end like that.”

You remained stock still as you said, “Then what happened?” Your absence of movement would heighten his unease.

“What makes you think that wasn’t all?” Suspicion oozed like pitch from a fir tree.

“Because a dream interpreter can tell when a dream is incomplete.” You folded your hands on the red velvet tablecloth draped over the plank propped between the two of you. “What you’ve told me doesn’t finish the dream.”

The man scowled, nibbling on a fingernail. He glanced at his hand as if surprised and forced it back to his lap. “The third dollar bill turned into a large tent. Trees, flowers, and crops grew under it. I pulled up a chair and watched everything grow, then I turned into a skeleton and fell to dust.”

You paused to think for a moment. As you began to speak I softened the noise from outside. The calliope’s music dwindling, along with the shouts of revelers diminishing, added impact to your words.

“You will find a large sum of money with no clue who it belongs to. You will invest the money in a single company. When you’re satisfied it’s earned enough, you’ll sell that stock. You’ll invest in a bigger company as the first one files for bankruptcy.”

The man’s jaw dropped. He was so focused on you he didn’t notice the absence of all sound other than you.

You forged ahead – just like I’d taught. “This second company will earn you twice the return as the first, and you’ll sell that just before it goes bankrupt. A third company will get your money. You’ll earn triple what you made on the second company, then diversify your holdings. You’ll live the rest of your life on the income generated by your investments.”

He nibbled on his fingernails again. “Will I find love?”

He wouldn’t, but I’d taught you to never say so to anyone. I allowed the noise of the fair to ramp up, signifying the end of his reading.

“Yes. You’ll live at least until eighty, maybe ninety, and will never be alone.”

Absolute hogwash. The dream had no indication he’d find companionship, but if someone wanted to hear a lie, well, so be it.

The man left after a few more questions, handing over your paltry fee plus a hundred-dollar tip.

The next phase of your training began the following day.


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  • Mark Meier

A Brotherhood Story

By Mark Meier

Part 4

Across the agora the Brother who had inhabited the man earlier scowled at us.

Chamos gave a slight nod in that Brother’s direction. “Maybe Baraqijal. He’s been a disappointment to many in the Brotherhood.”

“What would happen to him if he’s demoted?”

“He’d never remember being a full Brother.” Chamos gave Baraqijal a reassuring smile.

The lesser full Brother looked relieved.

I vowed to remember Chamos could lie, even to Brothers, and wondered what he wasn’t willin’ to have me know.

“Your client is leaving.” Chamos pointed toward where Philip was leading Simon out of the agora. “Better stay with him or you’ll never get him back.”

Weeks passed, and I noticed Baraqijal lingerin’ at the edge of my sight more often. Chamos, of course, watched both of us.

Simon never left Philip’s side. Wherever the two of ‘em were, the non-Brothers were with ‘em. Many times when Philip spoke I couldn’t hear the words, and the man’s guards seemed to know that. They smirked whenever it happened.

My “client,” accordin’ to Chamos, soaked up whatever Philip spoke. I did my best to block Simon’s understandin’. I’d grown to hate both him and Philip. The non-Brothers, too.

Hate was new to me. For the decades I’d been a senior imp I’d focused on havin’ fun, but now all I wanted was to destroy those two humans and spoil what those non-Brothers had planned.

Then two other men joined Philip. They were called Peter and John, and each had two non-Brothers with ‘em.

“They’re trouble.” Chamos hissed his displeasure. “You won’t be able to withstand all of them.”

Again I knew he weren’t talkin’about the humans, but all six non-Brothers. The three humans, I’d heard, referred to themselves as “apostles,” whatever that meant. To be honest, whenever the word was said I heard it through a background of buzzin’, like a thousand bees swarmed around my head.

As if I had a head. I’d been relating to humans for so long it was hard not to think of myself as shaped like ‘em. The reality was far different.

Simon followed the three humans wherever they went. Together the four were nearly inseparable. Until the day when Peter touched one of the human trash followin’ ‘em.

A surge of power pushed me away from my human. The searin’ agony of that power was unbelievable. When I recovered, that follower of Peter glowed like the non-Brothers already there.

One of ‘em turned toward me. “A mere taste, imp.”

I didn’t know what he meant. If Chamos were near I’d ask about it, but I couldn’t find him.

Maybe I could keep Simon from gettin’ touched that way. I prompted a thought.

With wide eyes, Simon said, “Peter! That’s awesome! Can you teach me to do that?”

Peter and John exchanged a mysterious glance. I could tell Simon hadn’t made himself one of ‘em yet. I pushed another thought into Simon’s mind.

Simon opened his mouth to speak, but the non-Brothers reached out to stifle the man’s words. They failed. “I’ll pay anything – anything at all.”

The non-Brothers frowned.

Peter said, “This is not a power to be taught or bought. Your money will die with you. If you turn away from this kind of thought you may yet live, but right now all I see is doom and destruction hovering around you.” The man looked directly at me.

Simon must have realized his error. “Pray for me.”

Again the bees buzzed. What was that word “pray?”

The two newcomers left the next day, and Chamos returned to me.

“You’ve done exceptionally well, imp.”

“I don’t see how.” I was depressed. Simon still followed Philip. I hadn’t pulled him away.

“You have not failed.” Chamos smiled, but it was the feral smile of a predator. “You’ve succeeded. Now Simon is in a position to corrupt and deflect our enemy’s plan.”

Enemy? Was that the non-Brothers? Who were they? I had so many questions, but didn’t know how to ask.

“What’s goin’ on here, Chamos?”

“An imp can’t know. A full Brother can. I give that to you now, along with the name of Mastema.”

The world around me suddenly grew sharper than ever. Understanding blossomed, and I knew so much more than before. The change was akin to the difference between junior imp and senior. With that came awareness of the Brotherhood’s eventual fate. No wonder full Brothers were so serious.

The hatred I’d felt toward Philip, Peter, and John exploded.

Chamos waved toward an imp, formerly known as Baraqijal. “You. Follow Simon, and see to it he never progresses in faith.”

The imp nodded, then vanished with a POP!

Then Chamos pointed toward me. “Now you know what’s been happening. I have a project for you in Ephesus.”


If you appreciate this story, please consider supporting the author's ability to write more stories by purchasing The Brotherhood, available in print and on Kindle. Any shares to social media would also be appreciated. The Wizards of Ephesus is coming.



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  • Mark Meier

A Brotherhood Story

By Mark Meier

Part 3

I followed Simon as he followed the new guy. I noticed the thousands of imps keepin’ their distance. They’d clustered in a ring about two hundred paces from the non-Brothers, whisperin’ to people.

Chamos then seemed to solidify and interact personally with the humans. Imps couldn’t do that, and I got jealous. My limits were now so obvious it hurt. I couldn’t affect livin’ things all that much, and I couldn’t actually speak to Simon. All I could do was whisper and hope he understood.

I could tell Simon thought about Philip. Since I’d been distracted I didn’t know directly, but from what I could sense the stranger had spoken of a powerful being able to work wonders.

That’s exactly what I’d promised Simon, but somehow he wanted more than what I’d given him. I seethed. Simon was doin’ exactly what he’d wanted for years – taking what he wanted, amazin’ people with his words, and even his father had come to listen a few times. Now this Philip was goin’ to pull him away from me?

I’d been yankin’ folks out of Simone’s way, but then I was so mad I pulled on a man’s tunic and it tore from his body. I stood there lookin’ at it. Others walkin’ by only saw the cloth hangin’ in thin air. They laughed at the half-naked man with his clothin’ floatin’ next to him.

Simon’s surprise didn’t last long. He waved the cloth toward the ground and I let it drop.

“See what I can do?” Simon glared at the man in front of him. “Stay out of my way.”

My wrath faded. Simon was mine again.

Then he said to himself, “Philip will teach me to do even more.”

Hate rose in me. I’d never been that mad before. In a way it scared me, but mostly it felt good. I vowed to destroy Simon just for the fun of it. I didn’t like bein’ crossed by a human.

The next day Philip was in the agora again. Crowds gathered, and the man and his attendants cured diseases, healed wounds, and spoke wisdom.

Chamos had told me to stay away, but since Simon was mine I could draw strength from him and be close by. Eventually I noticed a man bein’ forced toward Philip. He had the signs – obvious to Brothers – of bein’ inhabited. The full Brother inside him had the man convulsin’ and fightin’ every step of the way.

As the man was thrown at Philip’s feet, the Brother inside him spat and snarled. “I know you, Philip. The time hasn’t arrived yet, so you can do nothing to me.” He laughed like a crazy man.

Philip’s face fell. “No, it’s not that time. But I can do some things.”

What he said next I couldn’t hear, though Philip spoke loud. For some reason the words wouldn’t stick in my mind. But the next moment the Brother fell away.

When that Brother looked at me he snarled in hatred. “What are you looking at, imp?” The Brother shook himself and vanished into thin air with a POP!

Then the man with no Brother inside him blinked like he was confused. He dropped to his knees and said, “Thank you, Philip. You’ve saved my life. Thanks be to –”

Again his next words were gibberish to me.

Simon stepped forward, and I could see his lust for that kind of power. I did my best to build that up.

“Philip, my name is Simon. How might I gain this ability?”

The people around us in the agora gasped. They’d been in awe of Simon for years. He’d struck down people, blasted buildings, even ended droughts. Now he was askin’ Philip how to do what he’d done to my Brother.

A familiar voice spoke from behind me. “You’re not a Brother, imp.”

“No, but I’m a one of the Brotherhood.” I turned to look at Chamos, who was directin’ a pair of women to entice a man, distractin’ him from Philip.

“I told you to avoid those three.”

One women touched the man, and he allowed himself to be drawn away. Chamos followed, sneerin’ at me over his shoulder. The women parroted exactly what Chamos said.

My attention turned back to Simon, who was gettin’ dunked in a watering trough. Disgustin’. Animals drank from that water, leavin’ trails of drool and slime behind. Why would anyone do that?

I felt my influence on Simon weaken, though not vanish. Over the next few weeks I did my best to strengthen my bond with him – to a certain degree of success.

Whenever Simon tried to emulate Philip, I’d interfere. A woman with a crippled left arm approached. Philip gestured for Simon to perform a healin’.

Simon reached out and grabbed the arm, and I was able to swat away the non-Brothers. Then I drove invisible knives into the woman’s arm, opening her flesh. She bled profusely.

The woman screamed and pulled away.

“Leave us, imp!” one of Philips attendants commanded.

Though I felt an urge to follow the woman as she ran off, I drew more strength from Simon. “No. He is mine, and I will stay.”

That non-Brother whispered to Philip. Again I couldn’t make out the words.

Philip said to Simon, “You have an evil influence in your life, brother. That is why you couldn’t heal that woman. You must throw off all other concerns except for,” and the rest was gibberish.

Philip and his non-Brothers went back to healin’ those in the crowd.

I noticed Chamos watchin’ me, so I asked, “What’s goin’ on here?”

“Something you’re not equipped for,” he said. “However, I’m impressed an imp could stand up to those two.” He nodded toward Philip and Simon.

For some reason I knew he didn’t mean the humans, but rather the two shiny folk who weren’t Brothers. “Who are they?”

Chamos paused for a moment. “If I say who they are, you wouldn’t be able to hear the words. You’re an imp, not a full Brother.”

“Could I be made a full Brother?”

“Perhaps.” He looked toward the crowd. “Another Brother would have to be demoted to imp for that to happen, though.”


If you appreciate this story, please consider supporting the author's ability to write more stories by purchasing The Brotherhood, available in print and on Kindle. Any shares to social media would also be appreciated. The next section of Mastema will be posted next week.


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