• Mark Meier

The Brotherhood (Part 1)


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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