Monday, December 31, 2007

Episode 52: Solstice (redux)

The gifts were presented to each of the travelers as they boarded the rebuilt and repaired Polar Express, shaking hands with wide eyed wonder with the man they had stopped believing in so many years prior. For each of them, he withdrew an object from the legendary sack of toys, and whispered something before they stepped onto the train, overcome with awe.

To Courtney he gave a gleaming katana and a scabbard. It was worked with odd symbols she couldn't recognize, but knew weren't Japanese. "For the warrior," Father Christmas said. "It will never lose its edge. It will cut through the scales of an Ice Drake, or cleave rock in twain."

To Blackout he said, "For the Master of the Dungeon, the storyteller," and handed him a black rectangular velvet bag. Blackout could feel something inside. He opened the neck of the bag and peeked inside.

"Tarot cards?" Blackout said.

"Not just any Tarot cards. Take them out."

Blackout pulled out one of the cards; The Fool, a young man capering in blissful ignorance at the edge of a cliff. But it wasn't just artwork. This Fool was actually dancing, in motion.

"Incredible," Blackout said.

"You think that's great," said the Fool from the card. "Wait until you see some of my breakdancing moves."

Blackout was speechless as he entered the train.

"For the Pathfinder," Father Christmas said as he hung a necklace with a compass on it around Silke's neck. "It will always lead you where you need to go...although that will not always mean where you want to."

"For the youngest Fate and the Guardian of the Tree," he said, turning to the only two who hadn't boarded yet. "You both have power within you, so I have no baubles or trinkets. For you, I have a much greater gift."

He pulled a long wooden plank from the bag.

"This gift will be both a blessing and curse," he told them. "It will identify the shop as a haven, a sanctuary for beings of magic traveling the Tree, and crossing from their world into yours, and from yours into others. It has been carved from the very wood of the Tree itself."

He held it so that Lara and Andrew could read it. Lara giggled and gave Andrew a hug.

"It's perfect," she said.

Andrew nodded, grinning from ear to ear. He was about to board the train when he suddenly stopped, turned, and looked back at the man with the white beard.

"You," he said in disbelief.

"Me?" Father Christmas replied.

"You were the gave me the beans."

The man's eyes twinkled indeed as he smiled and nodded.

"Why? And what were you doing in Edmonton dressed as a bum?"

"Every year I make my way south for a vacation. I leave the world of magic and then spend some time in one of the worlds I visit, enjoying living as a mortal again, if only for a brief period. I was in your neck of the woods on the errand of choosing a new guardian for the Tree's avatar in your world."

"But why me? Out of all the people in the world...?"

"I watch you all as you grow up and keep a list of all you do, and all you do not do. The sum of your life is my business. It's why I was appointed with the task in the worlds I visit. And I chose you, because I knew you would do well. Which you have."

"But I didn't do well...I nearly got the Tree destroyed..."

"And yet here you are. You're asking too many questions, and some of you still have work left to do. You have a coffee shop to run. Best you get back to it."

* * * * * * *

The first elf who entered the coffee shop found himself facing a rather fierce and unshaven looking math professor wielding a long wooden walking stick like it was a sword, and a teenage boy who was attempting two fisted fury with a coffee pot in each hand.

"Kill it!" the teenage boy shouted. "It's a Leprechaun!"

"It's an elf," a familiar voice said, stepping out of the shadowy foliage of the Tree. Blackout smiled down at the two vigilant watchmen. "Leprechauns have rounder faces."

The ladder was put in place, and a group of weary travelers, both elf and human alike climbed down into the shop. Geo and Mikey shook hands, embraced friends they'd given up on seeing ever again, and laughed through tears at seeing how many changes were written on the faces of Andrew, Sunny, Courtney and Ripper.

"We have gifts," Andrew announced, taking the book of Magic spells based on mathematical formulae Father Christmas had intended for Geo and the boots of Stealth he'd had made for Mikey.

"These really work?" Mikey asked.

"You'll make no sound while you're in them. You can sneak out the front door of your house now," Ripper said.

Geo looked up from the book's parchment like pages, inscribed with mathematical formula and esoteric symbols, tears in his eyes. "I always knew the universe worked this way. I just knew it."

"But what about Blackout?" Mikey asked. "And the new girl, Lara...what happened to them...they're all right, aren't they?"

Andrew and Ripper exchanged knowing looks and grinned. Courtney playfully punched Ripper's arm, and said, "They're both all right."

"I'd say they're better than just all right," Ripper snorted and he and Andrew broke into peals of laughter.

"So where are they?" Mikey persisted.

* * * * * * *

"You and Lara need to take our place at the Grotto to bring Spring.” Eostre had told him.

“You mean have sex?” Blackout had asked, his mouth having gone completely dry. "Why us?"

"You're the only two with a strong enough bond amongst your friends. None of the others could work this magic."

"Sunny and Ripper?"

"Sunny is still too badly wounded...and Ripper's heart is not fit to the task--yet."

"None of the elves either?"

"Not the menninkäinen, no. There are elves who can, but we have no time to seek them out and make arrangements, nor is Dieter fit to travel to work the passing ritual. The solstice is coming soon. You are here, and we need your help. Is there a problem?"

“I don't think so," Blackout said. "It's just...I wanted to get to know her know?”

Eostre paused, her whiskers twitching. “I think I can help you,” she said at last. A furry paw reached into a leather satchel and produced a rock, which was handed over to Randy. “An amulet,” the hare told him.

“Is it magic?” he asked.

Eostre said nothing, her brow furrowed. Then she nodded. “Oh yes. It will help you make her understand the depth of your feeling for her. But,” she added, “there are a series of rituals which must be performed right prior to making love. They have to be performed so Lara can see them done or the amulet won’t work.”

As Blackout cooked a meal to Eostre's specifications, he and Lara talked. About everything. What had happened, what they'd do when they got home, and in uncomfortable jokes, about what lay before them. Finally, the meal was ready and they ate in silence, looking at each other occasionally, speaking with their gazes.

“That was wonderful,” Lara said when they were finished. “What’s for desert?”

“The second ritual,” Eostre had told Blackout, “is to rub this ointment all over her body. This is to clothe you in the essence of Spring...the force which lives within Dieter and I.”

The ointment was a golden, translucent liquid with the consistency of honey. Blackout produced the bottle and smiled at Lara. She raised here eyebrows and asked, “What’s this?”

Instead of answering, Blackout began laying out their sleeping bags on the Grotto floor. He didn’t exactly know how much of his body needed to be touching the earth when he and Lara finally...did what they were there to do, but he wasn’t interested in trying to make love on wet grass or moss. This accomplished, he went back to Lara and helped her to her feet. Then, slowly, deliberately, gently he undressed her.

The smell of the oil was wonderful, filling the air with it’s thick, sweet scent. Blackout’s hands worked up and down the entire length of Lara’s body. At times, she made little noises of pleasure, making it all the more difficult to complete the ritual. Finally, her entire body covered by a light layer of the oil, Lara was ready for the third ritual.

“Can you sing?” Dieter had asked him.

“Can't carry a tune in a bucket,” Blackout replied.

“That complicates matters," Eostre said. "It would help if you could sing. Or recite a poem.”

“Which one?”

“Something about love.”

“A poem about love,” Blackout said. "I don't suppose you could 'vague that up for me'?"

Lara’s eyes were still closed when Blackout recited the first words...

"Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?" Blackout intoned, "Thou art more lovely, and more temperate..." Slowly, her lids raised and she turned her head to look at Blackout. He was shaking. He missed a line. He stammered. He was beautiful.

Blackout was absorbed with trying to remember all the words he screamed and jumped and cried out when Lara kissed him. Deeply. Passionately. He opened his eyes to see her, one of the sleeping bags draped around her shoulders for warmth.

“I’m cold,” she said in a husky voice. “Come warm me up.”

“I love you,” he whispered in the darkness. "For quite some time now, I think."

"I suspected as much."

They slept in the embrace of the earth that evening. In the morning, they woke to a Spring sunrise.

* * * * * *

The elves hung the sign Father Christmas had made in place of the old one, which had simply read "Coffee Shop". With the same exquisite craftsmanship that had transformed the interior of the shop from a typical modern cafe into a sacred space filled with decor that evoked enchantment, they mounted the sign, casting spells on it to illuminate it; passersby would marvel at how the sign seemed to be lit from within, and how the letters glowed a faint eldritch green on nights of the New Moon.

The letters could be seen by more than just human eyes. They called out to the fairy folk who walked through the campus, those who were coming for a cup of good strong coffee before commencing their journeys to other worlds, and other branches of the Tree.

Magik Beans, the sign read.


Gotthammer said...

Well. There it is. A year's worth of story, all wrapped up. It feels pretty damn good to cross the finish line, even knowing there are quite a few places where I tripped along the way. The journey has been worth it, and the sense of accomplishment is pretty grand.

I nearly went back and excised Sunny to replace her with Courtney, just to have fewer active characters, but then I realized that having Courtney being Ripper's love bunny would take away from her warrior aspect. That's not to say romance isn't in the future for the warrior woman, but it ain't with Ripper, that's for sure.

All the characters have been writing themselves backwards, so that when I go to work on editing the book, I'll be able to flesh out and foreshadow a lot of what "just happened" in this first draft.

Here ends Magik Beans Book 1: Winter. Hope you've enjoyed it. Please leave a "Happy New Year" or a "Hey Yeah!" if you've enjoyed the ride. I know the readers are out there! We went from 64 returning readers back in January to over 250 these past two months, with 278 being our all time high for the year in December. I'm glad to know the readership is growing. It's been a hell of lot of fun, and I'm looking forward to maintaining the momentum in 2008 with Magik Beans Book Two: Spring.

Blackout said...

Way to go! I'm proud of you and your accomplishments with Magik Beans. It has been an awesome read. You have a great mix of characters that are relatable and are the type of people I want to see and hear about week after week. I'm jealous of your talent.

By the way, loving the sexual tension between Blackout and Lara but couldn't he have at least gotten an innocent kiss? Geez, story of my life. Looking forward to Book Two. Rock on!

bertha e. said...

rock, rock on!

Matthew Littel said...

Fantastic story and ending. I love the life in your writing and in the way you have done your writing. I wish you all the best in the New Year and all the best in the writing. Keep it up!

Meredith said...

While other stories I've read online I've been able to classify it as "this kind" or "that kind" of story, this one keeps ripping those paradigms apart and adding new elements.

I've really enjoyed this one, and look forward to the rest.

Phil said...

Awesome. Turns the coffee shop into a "House of Elrond" in Edmonton so to speak, a kind of waystation/hospice (in the pilgrim sense). Thanks for the ride Mike. It's been positively wonderful to read throughout the year.

I can't wait for spring.

Carl said...

Absolutely excellent Mike. I can't wait to read the fleshed out version. And any and all sequels. Keep on going man. And happy new year!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for yet another great story, Mike.

Gotthammer said...

Thanks to everyone for dropping a comment. I had to do this redux; it was absolutely killing me since I wrote the original. It just felt WRONG to have Ripper and Sunny suddenly in the limelight when they'd been fifth business most of the story. And as I set to work on Book 2 and realized one of the plot threads was going to involve Blackout and Lara's relationship, I knew it would be better ended thusly.

So if I forgot to change any names, please let me know. It's Blackout and Lara who bring the Spring at the end of Book One, and now I can sleep at nights. And Mark can quit bugging me for a chaste kiss.