No Rehab for Wizards – a suburban fantasy tale

I cut off one of my eyelids today. It was definitely worth it.
“Now why on Earth would you want to do something like that?” Mum asks.
I shake my head, tut. “So I can control manatees,” I say.
“And what do you want to control manatees for?”
I shrug and turn the volume up on Match of the Day. Mum never gets me. She was banging on the other day about how I need to go into rehab. “There’s something not right about you, boy,” she said. “You’re always chopping bits off yourself. It’s not right.”
I tried to tell her there’s no rehab for wizards. Magic always has a price: a sacrifice of flesh always has to be made. A chunk of skin off your arm will give you control of a mayfly, but what’s the point in that? At least manatees have got a half-decent shelf-life.
I was telling her the other day about these wizards around Birmingham way who kill dogs and badgers for their magic. I asked if she’d rather me do that. She just cried.
The thing people don’t realise about using animals is that if you want to take control of dog, you have to kill about thirteen or fourteen of them. And even then, you only get to control one of those shitty little yappy ones. Seems pointless to me.
When Mum had a go at me for lopping off my little toe a couple of weeks back, I made a joke that I’d sacrifice her if she carried on having a go at me. She cried at that as well, and I really only meant it as a joke. Thing is, though, the more I think about it, the more it seems like a good idea.
I’d have to work out how strong the magic would be if I did it, though. I’m assuming it would be a bit like with the dogs. Kill a whole bunch of people to take control of a shitty one? I’d get in trouble for sure. But I’m thinking it’d probably count for a lot more if it’s your own mum. It must do.
I turn off Match of the Day and go upstairs.
“And where do you think you’re going?” Mum asks. “You’re not going to chop any more body parts again, I hope? What would your father say if he could see you now with all them bits hanging off?”
I turn back and smile. “I’m just going for a wee,” I say. “Stick the kettle on will you?”
When the kettle starts to boil, I reach behind the toilet and pull out my blade. I run my finger across its edge and grin as a small cut opens along my fingertip.
“Your tea’s on the hearth,” Mum says, shouting up the stairs.
“Coming.” I tuck the blade under my hoodie.
Limping back downstairs, I see Mum has put Eastenders on. “You don’t mind me watching this on catch-up do you?” she asks. “You’d turned your football off.”
“It’s fine,” I say.
I stand behind her and look down at her grey-streaked hair. I take the blade and bring it across her throat. She makes a weird gurgling noise.
I panic and run to the kitchen to grab some tea towels and kitchen roll. I try dabbing at the blood, but it makes a right mess.
Mum always said that when I started to get into one of my panics I should stop, take a deep breath, and have a nice cup of tea. So I sit down on the opposite sofa and sip my tea, my eyes half on Eastenders and half on my mum bleeding out all over her nice cream carpet.
If I let her keep bleeding, it will stop eventually. Then it will dry and be easier to mop up. I really don’t want to ruin any more tea towels, so it’s probably for the best to wait.
Then I remember: I’d forgotten to do the incantation. What a complete waste of time.
I turn Match of the Day back on. At least I still had my manatee.

Host – a dark short story

  The tunnels around me are dark, dark. I yearn for the hum of the strip lights, the drip, drip of the pipes. It’s cold down here. I lie, weighed down by my sac, as a dozen babies claw and writhe inside me.
It never used to be this way, but when the plague came, we all changed. Those that survived were never the same. A new norm emerged.
I whisper to the children. They’re not my children. They grow inside me, but they grow from the seeds of men and women. I am not like them. I am a host.
The men bring me food and water. The women bring me stories and blankets. They fear me, but they need me. Like soil, they need me to grow their seeds. Through their worship, their reverence, I can still taste their fear, bitter on my tongue. They look upon me as something else, something neither here nor there: a host.
I’ve heard whispers in the dark of “necessary evils” and “unfortunate realities”. Without me — without us — they cannot breed.
When they bring their offerings of sperm and ovum, I eat until I can eat no more. A desire to swallow the men and women, to tear them apart limb from limb — like a mantis extinguishing her mate — is only expunged by their restraints, their binds.
I know there are hosts like me who roam the tunnels and the wastes, feeding on their mates once the impregnation is complete. They aren’t like me — they are free.
There’s a tear in my sac. Amniotic fluid seeps around me, soaking my flesh. Men and women arrive. The first child is born a host. The child is cast to the flames.

To Grip the Bright White Chains

The ocean reflected a sky the colour of hung meat. Elsie coughed as a chill wind changed direction, bringing with it the stench of washed-up fish.

She turned as a boy shuffled toward her with purple-rimmed eyes. The boy looked like every other addict: dishevelled, dirty, desperate, dead. He was beyond saving.

The boy crouched on one knee then swung a grubby rucksack from his shoulder. “You got the plez?”

Elsie nodded. “Three caps. I assume you’ve got what I asked for?”

The boy looked up at her as he unfastened the rucksack. “This stuff wasn’t easy to get hold of.”

Raising her chin, she pursed her lips and glowered at the boy. “A deal’s a deal. If you want the caps—”

“Fine, fine.” The boy scratched at his hair, and laid the items out on the mottled concrete.

A smile crept over Elsie’s face. “Real. Unopened.” She knelt down on creaking knees to touch the pair of tins. “This is good work, but I asked for a brush.”

The boy groped inside his rucksack for several seconds and then pulled out a paintbrush. “It’s not perfect. It’s the best I could find.”

He handed Elsie the paintbrush with trembling fingers. It was sticky to the touch and coated with long-dried drips of paint.

She placed the brush into her shopping trolley, tucking it between a roll of polythene and a coil of blue rope.

The boy lifted the tins into the trolley and stood before her. She dropped three plezerra capsules into the boy’s outstretched hand. He nodded, turned, and ran. She shook her head and sighed as the boy disappeared beyond the sea wall.

Pushing her trolley, Elsie looked across the water, slick with oil and algae. The trolley’s wheels squeaked and snagged on stones and discarded plastic as it clattered along the promenade. Turning left, she pushed the trolley along a street lined with boarded-up and barricaded terraced houses.

She thought about the boy and about the drugs. He would feel wonderful for a day at most and then be back on the streets, stealing and whoring; each day bringing him closer to an early death.

The demand was there—the demand was always there. She told herself it was better for the drugs to come from her than from a violent street thug.

Turning right, Elsie walked down an alleyway, and shouldered her way backwards through a gate, closing it behind her. She gripped the trolley as she regained her breath. Feeling the twinge in her back, she lifted the tins from her trolley.

She surveyed her months of work. Bees buzzed around her while she inspected a bed of chrysanthemums, red and pink blooms swaying gently with the breeze, their fragrance tickling her memories, reminding her of carefree, more playful times.

She walked over to her bench, and ran a finger along its framing of curled wrought iron, glossy and black and detailed with twists of ivy. Varnished slats creaked as they took her weight, and Elsie looked over to the strawberry plants crawling up the wall. The berries were weeks from ripening.

The tins were the finishing touch.

Rummaging through her trolley, Elsie found a flat-head screwdriver and used it to lever open the first lid. She lingered on the old, familiar smell, a fresh smell she had not experienced for many, many years. She wiped the brush with a cloth and dipped it into the white gloss paint, brilliant and gloopy. Satisfied, she watched the paint fall in slow, deliberate drips from the brush and back into the tin.

Dragging the tin over to the first pole, she set to work applying the paint, grinning as it clung skin-like to the rust. She looked up at the chains hanging from the crossbeam and painted them too. She worked until the sky went dark and the air dropped cold.

She rushed to her garden early the next morning to see the paint had dried. Her work was complete. She stepped out through her gate as the sun emerged in the hung-meat sky, and approached a pair of children begging on the corner: a boy and a girl no older than eight.

“I’ve got something to show you,” Elsie said.

The children stared up at her and scowled. “Piss off,” the girl said.

“You’ll like it. I promise.”

The children exchanged furtive glances and rose to their feet. The boy regarded Elsie for a long moment before nodding to the girl.

“Okay, but if you try anything funny.” The boy patted a blade on his belt.

Elsie led the way and the children followed. She opened her gate and welcomed the children into her garden—their garden.

“Whenever you feel sad, whenever you feel desperate, I want you to come here. If you ever feel tempted by plezerra, come here instead. This is your sanctuary.”

“This is for us?” the boy asked.

“For you, for any child who needs to feel safe.”

The children smiled. “What’s that do?” The girl gestured past Elsie.

“I’ll show you. It’s perfectly safe.” She signalled for the girl to sit on the wooden seat and to grip the bright white chains.

“Hold on.” Elsie walked behind the girl. She pushed her and the girl swung up and back, up and back. Elsie felt the girl stiffen for a moment. Then the girl laughed. Then the boy joined in.

Elsie wiped a tear.

It had been a long, long time since she had heard the laughter of children.

The end.

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