13. Ordinary

Men called the continent Africa. In the midst of a jungle people thought fit to name The Congo, then called a rainforest instead, there was part of what could be considered a country. The country, to call it that, had had two dozen names in twice as many years, almost all of which were just different ways of saying ‘mine.’ Out in the spiralling edges of where men could consider themselves in control, where they built big hard walls and tight windows, spread across with netting and filled with light from tubes, sat a squat little building, barely more than five paces by two, with one room. Some of the men who had ordered the building made had called the building, with its rig of steel up the side and its short, squat tower designed to handle the winds Onderstation Twaalf. Some other men had called it substasie 12, and another set of men had called it a thing that could not be written down, because their language had not yet learned to sit still on paper.

It was an old building, and time had been unkind to many parts of it. When last people had lived in it, they had managed the wire and the mesh; they had stamped down the grasses that grew near the door, they had slept on the bunks and noticed when the mosquitos were getting in. Whatever reason they had had for leaving, it had been in a hurry; glass chambers remained in the walls and ceiling, an old radio sat unattended on the desk, coiled cable tethering the tower outside to the building. Ports sat around the building’s edges, prepared to be connected to a generator, capable of turning gasoline into power. When the men had left – and make no mistake, in that time and in that place, they were men, because women might go getting periods on things and weren’t as capable as white European men, especially at the important task of institutionalised racist oppression – had taken the generator with them.

From time to time, in the storms, the wind picked up. The trees around the tower leant in the wind, but the cross-stitch pattern of metal didn’t; and in these moments, ever so briefly, that tower was the tallest thing that could stand, in the rain and howling wind. A dubious honour, because it also meant in those gusting moments, the wet tower was the thing most likely to be struck by lightning.

In those instants, for a few seconds, power charged down the lines, jumped through frayed points and into the many discarded pieces. Blue lightning coursed through old wires and circuits, and for a few glorious seconds, bulbs were lit, the radio blared, and a single rattling whirr suggested that the old, dilapidated fan remembered its futile duty to try and cool air that started on the unpleasant side of heat exhaustion. For just an instant, a discarded relic of an old world was gifted power, and acted as if nothing had ever changed. The devices did not need intention. They just needed power.

*
Hands in his pockets, Hank hopped from foot to foot while watching the rotating hot dogs in the window. Nothing about this place smelled good; it was hot food, it was cheap food, and when you were twenty meters away from the building, with nothing but snow in the air around you, that off-brown chemical scent turned through profane alchemy into cholesterol so potent the brain recognised the onset of future diseases and accepted the devil’s bargain. Delicious, hot, salty and sour, fries and fish and battered sticks of maybe-fish and pressed something. Inside, Jenn paid, then darted outside again, away from the roof-peeling cloud of boiling oil vapour.

“Okay…” she said, as they stood outside on the sidewalk.

“Okay?” he asked, looking up at his cousin.

“… You’re in a bad mood.”

“Huh?”

“Be honest with me here, Enk.”

“Hank.”

“Enk.”

Hank.”

“… Did you ever wonder why your mom called you that? why my dad called me Innogen? Why we’re… not normal?”

“We are normal.”

“Enk, I can throw lightning bolts. We aren’t normal.”

And there it was. “What do you mean we?”

A dread pause crept in the air between them. Silent and seething, Enk looked back down to his shoes, kicking them in under the waft of snow.

“Your mother,” Innogen began.

“My mum is…” and there. That was when he ran out of things to say. Think ahead, Enk. Hank! Dammit!

“Your mother’s been talking about this all day. She says that something’s massively increased the amount of magic that exists – that everything we’ve been taught, everything she heard of as myth is real, now, and… Enk, it’s like-”

“Hank.”

“- we’ve just had an industrial revolution drop in on our heads.”

“Yeah, but, you said our. You said we. You can do this. I…” Oh god. How long did that pause take? Has it been an hour? Ten hours? Oh shit, finish the sentence, Hank, somehow find a way to finish the damn sentence… “… can’t.” Enk finally exhaled.

And then, damn her, Innogen slung her arm around his shoulder, pulling him in close, hugging him tight, a one-sided bro-hug. “Enk, we’ve been doing the same stuff since we were kids. I seriously cannot think of a single piece of ritual I have done that you haven’t done. The only thing that’s ever been different was yesterday, when I lit a match.”

“But you’ve always believed it.” Enk murmured. “You’ve always talked about it like it matters, like it’s not just something crazy your mum makes you do. It’s… it’s…”

And Innogen laughed. Oh god, don’t laugh, don’t make this something easy. Don’t make me care about it like that…

“Enk… it’s always been something crazy mum makes me do. Don’t you remember? I lit a match and mum and dad peed themselves, and talk about how I might be able to do it again next year. It’s crazy to set fires with your mind. How many problems do, I mean, c’mon!” she laughed again, bumping her head against his. “Enk,”

“Hank.”

Enk. Do not do that. Do not accept that. You are not ordinary, Enk. You’re not Hank Billy from Ontario whose mum works in a Call Centre. You know how to swim and fish and spit and sing and your mum’s a witch who can do magic.” She brushed her hand through his hair, letting the boring brown locks bob in her hand. “And you’re a witch’s son. So stop trying to be someone else.”

*
Most magical practice isn’t about achieving anything at all. To throw energy around, to create force, that’s the sort of thing that is rare and unnecessary. Magic is about patterns, and practice is about creating those patterns in the mind. How well the lessons stick, how well the patterns repeat, that’s the trick to it. A boy could spend a lifetime repeating the mental routine, finding himself falling into it oh so easily, and never once see any effect, in the same way the bulbs and radio sit still and fallow, their circuits pointless and still.

Until the moment of power.

The ocean was full of eyes – it always was. The drifting, green shape that swelled up underneath the surface and belled upwards, its three inhuman faces pointing ouwards did not look, to any of those eyes, like anything that mattered. To those eyes, there was nothing that mattered that did not move like fish, or falling food. A large green shape, breaching the surface, its triune faces sloughing sand and soil from the very depth of the ocean itself turned, just once, runes upon its surface glittering bright with green. Magic had returned. Lightning had struck.

What state was the world in, when last magic had been lost?

Three perfectly circular mouths, cut in expressions of dull surprise, didn’t move, didn’t draw breath, but spoke just the same. A single, resonating sound that went unheard by all but those to whom the patterns fell.

*
Innogen dropped to a knee, her hands clapped to her ears. A scream unheard fell past her lips. Eyes spilling with blue lightning, she turned to look down the street, drawing in a single ragged breath that echoed of thunder, one hand flailing next to her, to catch Enk’s side. To grab his arm. To steady herself.

And the sound stopped.

Or rather – the pain stopped. Enk looked down, his head tilted to the side, at his cousin, his expression worried: “Innogen? Are you okay?”

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