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Deal 1025: Shiny but not real enough

The mirror had one job, and it cracked. Of course, showing a cockatrice its own reflection it a lot to ask of any mirror. And that leaves Sydney trapped in the maze with one more cockatrice running free, and without the tool he needs to make escape possible.

Syd arrived at this predicament in the usual way. He answered an ad.

“Explorers wanted. No pay. Some risk. Must provide own sword. Knock twice on the second door.”

In the modern world, what could that mean other than an offer to play a game? Or perhaps it was just a coded message drop and the phone number was not real. But the number was real, and the guy who answered sounded real enough too. Syd was heavily into gaming, and had a habit to feed, so he showed up at the virtually unmarked warehouse right on schedule, his trusty handmade longsword strapped to his back, where it had gathered stares all the way there on his bike.

He’d put a lot of work into that sword. It was made out of a stiff but lightweight thermoplastic, bonded to an aluminized mylar layer that let light from the internal ultrabright LED lights shine through the engraved scrollwork and runes that ran down the length of the blade. It could be turned up bright enough to appear to glow in daylight, and at night it could be blinding. The batteries and controls were in the handle for balance.

So when he stepped into the dimly lit, dusty warehouse, Syd was confident that his magical sword was interesting enough to protect him.

He didn’t expect to find a portal to another world waiting.

A world where magic worked.

A world where his pitiful imitation of enchantment was doomed to fail.

A world where the power of story forces the role of barbarian hero on even a nerdy weakling if he steps out in leathers and an apparently enchanted sword. Sydney quickly discovered his mistake.

And that brings us back to the maze. After the dust settled from his first encounter with a raiding party, they threw him into the catacombs under the town’s temple, and told him that he had to find an exit from the maze and return alive, or he might as well just let any of its many denizens kill and eat him. Worse, just returning alive was not going to be enough. He had to return the hero he appeared to be.

His only hope is that he can find a way to survive his fate while avoiding the remaining creatures. Actually enchanting his plastic sword to be sharp and deadly would be icing on a cake he knows he has no chance of seeing.

But he has hope.

And a shiny, glowing sword. Which might be enough to scare the next cockatrice.

So Syd abandoned the pieces of the useless broken mirror where he sat, finished off his last Snickers Bar, and bravely set off to see what lurked around the next corner.

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Deal 1011: The Gift of Wonder

I’ve found some old photos of a visit to the fair, when I was younger, so much younger. I’d almost forgotten about being talked into the magician’s tent show that day. From the pictures, it must have been a two act show. As I sit here and remember, with pictures of the posters that promised the worlds of wonder to behold within as reminders, I recall the shows.

The first act blustered out on stage, and left the audience alternately confused and annoyed, the stinker. By which I mean he stunk. Somewhat literally stunk. He drug me on stage, and proceeded to taunt me at every turn. The balloon became a dog on his command, but then was promptly popped with a needle. He showed a magic mirror that could tell the future, but all it predicted for me was humdrum work at the factory. He didn’t even give me a choice! And when he finished with me, he just shooed me away like an unwanted puppy.

Sure, the things he did were astounding, but at every turn, he popped everyone’s sense of wonder and left the crowd sitting on their fingers. By that point I was ready to write it all off, and expected the other act to phone it in as badly as this one did.

But I stuck it out. I’d paid my hard-earned dime for my seat, after all!

I could tell the next performer was different just from the way he walked on stage. He had presence under the lights. The stage wasn’t all that fancy, but he knew he belonged on the best stages in the world, and acted as if this was one of them. His act exuded quiet strength at every turn, especially when dealing with gentler topics.

He produced a flock of birds from nowhere that swarmed around the audience and returned to the stage to line up and mutter amongst themselves. Each bird did a trick as it appeared. You could tell the birds respected him, and that he loved his birds as he tore them in two to double them, found them folded up in silk, and even lined them up, invisible, on his stick so clearly that when the stick vanished and a line of birds was suddenly beating their wings in its place, it took a moment to realize the stick was gone.

He seemed to single out each of the people humiliated earlier for a special moment. To me, he offered a choice among several jewelry boxes. The one I chose had an egg inside, which he broke open to reveal a gemstone on a chain. It was only as he was settling it around my neck that I realized it was my birthstone. Or at least a good simulation of it. He took that moment to carry my imagination outside of the tent on the boardwalk, and to see the opportunities that were hiding in all things mundane.

After his last bow, I could tell the whole audience was profoundly affected. Usually loud conversations about how the tricks were done are overheard in the aisles and lobby. But this time, the conversations I heard seemed less about tricks and more about what each had seen, and people felt. That schmuck from the opening act had left everyone cold. But this guy, well he had us all dreaming.

Years have passed, and I still occasionally rediscover that stone stored safely away in its cheap mount and slowly tarnishing cheap chain. With it, I’ve preserved the program, and some snapshots. And I cherish those memories.

Much of what he had promised had indeed come true. I had married well and happily. I made a difference in the world, and would someday (but not too soon!) leave it a better place than I found it. But in the end, all of that was incidental. As I sit here and reminisce, I can see how those moments of wonder opened my eyes to the wonders around me, and changed me for the better.

Now today, I get to offer a moment of wonder to an audience of my own.

I hope I can find my way to do for them what was done for me those many years ago.

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Deal 977: Phoned

The voice was doing their best to be tempting. Clearly they knew how I would treat them otherwise.

Usually I just let reputation and nature take its course.

But just this once I was tempted to see what would happen if I listened to the pitch.

So whatever it was, I agreed. They could try again in person.

There was a puzzled silence. Then confusion.

Now I was having to justify myself to them. I let it go on for a bit, then growled something about this being why I don’t permit solicitation by phone or at the door.

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Deal 886: Nonnet farce reflected

Strung or not, puppets require feeding.
With chickens and ducks in the yard,
the supply exceeds demand.
Mister Punch, bearing axe,
chased his chosen prey
until both were
out of breath.
Bird said
“Peep!”
With that
the puppet
allowed that they
could part friends today;
but made no promises
about tomorrow’s diner,
when the scene would likely repeat,
and puppets hoped to feast on chicken.