The Prof Searches for Magic Books – Cont

The professor drapes the red cloth over her outstretched hands covering both like a stage magician might drape a sheet over a levitating assistant.  Karen’s been around mages enough to know he’s preparing a spell and not just about to clean her hands.

“Malachi probably calls this getting the stink off,” the Professor says.

“He’s not taught me this.”

“No?  Well, he should have and it’s time.”

Bleh don’t like that last exchange at all.  …not just about to clean her hands.  He grasps her hands in his and begins to scrub through the cloth with his thumbs.  He starts at her fingers doing the group in a few swathes then focuses on individual fingers.  The cleansing isn’t symbolic or ritual it’s rough and abrasive.

“Turn them over, but stay under the cloth,” he repeats the method of scrubbing on the back of her hands.  He’s careful to not touch her hands with his or expose her to the reverse of the cloth.  He pulls his hands away, but leaves the cloth draped.  He catches her attention with his eye and demonstrates his hands coming together flat fingers horizontal and fingertips pointing to her chest.  He nods tosses a nod to her indicating she should do the same.  She does.  The Professor matches the corners to straighten out the fold then pinches the centerline of the bight and folds it the rest of the way into squares.  He tucks it away in his pocket.

“Tingly?” he asks.

“Raw.”  His chuckle is a mixture of apology and amusement.  “Aaaa, you’ll be fine.  This is delicate work.  Can’t have your touch clouded by the mundane.”

The Professor does something plausible to cast a spell over the books.  Maybe the glow, maybe they gleam a bit.  Maybe they shudder, I don’t know but in any case the result is something Karen can sense or see or hear.

“I’ve been perfecting this spell for many years.  It’s like a net or a filter.  Trace your fingers over the books and tell me what you find.”

Touching the first book, Karen’s eye’s widen.  She pulls her hand back brushing her thumb across her finger tips like she has cookie crumbs on them.  She looks at the Professor.  He smiles back.

“I’ve never read this book yet it feels as though I have.”

“What’s it about?”

“It’s the story of…the main character has this…it takes place in…” Karen’s joy sours.

“You haven’t read it.  There’s no substitute to actual reading.  I’ve tried to find one, believe me.  No magic”

“I’m sure I could have told you all about it if only you hadn’t asked me to tell you.”

“Exactly the same for me.  And for all of the few others I’ve shown this to.  It still works for what we need it to work for.”  He sweeps his hand down the table and gestures to the remainder of the stall.  “Try the rest.”

Karen drags hand along the contour of the books,  Testing and tasting each in turn.  Each time her touch strikes a new book she feels the joy of adventure, or learning and enjoying something new.  In the brief moment after as her touch separates from the book she feels the disappointment there isn’t more to read and the story is over.  The sensation is of a complete reading but no memory of the content.  Equal parts satisfying and false.  She tastes one table of books right handed then heads down the next row with her left hand.

She’s headed down the penultimate rack of books when one zings her and she snatches her hand back.  “Shit.”

“Point to it for me.”  Karen indicates the book that stung like a bad key on a piano backing away while she does.  “No need to worry, Karen.  There’s nothing wrong with the book.  I’m getting old and I like the spell definitive to the touch.  Let’s see here.  Ah yes, there we go.”

“What is it?” she asks.

“Nothing really.  I embedded a copy of [Hornswaggle’s Guide to Unicorns] into this Netter Anatomy book.  Both are quite good actually.”

“This was a test?”

“Think on it more as training or just think on it as experience.  I wanted to share.”  She still looks a little hurt.  A little duped.  “I’m an old teacher.  I like my lesson plans to work.  Believe me this would not have been as useful if you’d found nothing at all.”

Blah blah blah.

She decides to finish up the stacks anyway and it turns out she finds a second book.  She assumes it’s been planted like the first.  Instead of calling it out to him she pockets it or ignores it to see what he’ll say.  Later after they’ve left and he’s said nothing she goes back to retrieve it and it’s gone or evil or taken by some other mage the seller can’t easily identify.  Either way it’s suddenly a plot point I hadn’t expected to write.  And may not actually need.  Gives me something to consider at least.

The Prof Searches for Magic Books

Carroll Palmer glides among the tables of books like a phonograph playing a record.  His fingers touching every book on every table.  He likes this stall at the flea market.  They display the books spine up in empty cardboard soda can pallets.  Each row book ended with a neatly stacked pile of books.  His eyes run along the rows glimpsing portions of titles just ahead of his more through touch.  He knows what he’s looking for but expects to find it only rarely.

This flea market meets Saturdays, Sundays, and Mondays.  He comes all three days if he can, but not every week.  In two years of attending he’s bought three sets of crew socks, an arrangement of silk flowers, and a swivel seated barstool rescued from a diner, but no books.  No, no he did buy that spine broken John Jakes novel; he’s a sucker for Historicals and a first edition, though book club edition, of Stranger in a Strange Land in pretty good shape.  All of this before his author died of shame.


Karen dabbed the last bite of her funnel cake in the powdered sugar still on her paper plate.  Professor Palmer was late.

“Karen,” Professor Palmer tapped her shoulder from behind.  She turned her surprised jump into a folding of the plate and a throwing of it away. (eesh)

He held up his arm to show off his digital watch.  It was a sports watch and it looked new except for the display which read out a splash of characters that looked Cyrillic or alien.  In one corner, the liquid crystal had popped, the ink expanded out.

“I have a charm I do that usually gives me three months before they die.  But I had this one running on [jarbly] time for a project I’m working on.”

“Guess they don’t mix?”

“I’ll have to tweak the charm next time.”  He opened his arms for a hug and to offer a further apology for being late.  Karen hugged him back warmly.

“Can you teach me?” she asked.

“The tweak? No, no.  I’d need to teach you the charm first.  That [jarbly] tweak wouldn’t make sense without it. Oh!  But that’s what you meant.  Sorry, sorry.  Having my watch lie to me about the time throws me all off.”

Karen smiles back at him and throws in an quick second hug.  “Why are we here?”

Professor Palmer claps his hands together and rubs his palms like he’s getting down to business.  He presses his clasped hands to his lips and draws a preparatory breath.  He let’s is out again. “What?  What did you ask me just now?”

“Why are we here?  Are we looking for something or have we found it already?”

“I love how your brain works.  You’re all figure-ground. Solid-void.  Then you reverse it like Rubin could: ground-figure; void-solid.”  The Professor’s head drifted to the right in other thoughts, “God, I miss Edgar.  Huff, oh well.  Why are we here today you asked.”

Karen licks a tantalizing bit of powdered sugar from the corner of her mouth.  It’s sweet but you can only take so much of it.

“We’ve found this flea market so the finding’s covered, but we’re also looking for something else so we’re at both ends here.  Books.”  He points a finger-gun over her shoulder past the concession stand.  He pops his lips.  “Allons-y.”

Karen stuffs her funnel cake trash in the Rubbermaid bin and follows after the old man.


The Professor moves quickly to their goal.  As he navigates the unordered strollers she’s certain he’s unconsciously casting charms to slide the human obstacles out of the way but she’s not seeing any gestures or hearing any invocations.  It’s one thing to know a person is a master it’s another to see it—or not see it—in use.  She keeps quiet the whole way down the lane past socks, luggage, and stuffed magenta monkeys.

Karen spies the stall just before they arrive.  He’s parted the crowd before getting there and pauses  a moment to look.  He clucks his teeth with his tongue like an owner would call a cat.  The few remaining patrons depart the book stall.  He looks back.

“I like it to myself,” he gives her a wink and a cluck.  They stroll under the tent’s arch and into the sun lit stall.

Books stand on their edges in cardboard soda pallets, spines up.  They have the energy of race horses clamoring in a gate waiting on a gun’s crack.  Boxes of National Geographics and TV Guides bookend each table.  The vibrancy of colors and scattered rhythm of sizes would be dizzying if the humid musk of wood pulp weren’t already intoxicating.  Large square hard bound picture books congregate with and blend into cookbooks of similar sizes.  Fat yellow dictionaries give way to brown clad Bibles.  On another table several class sets of Catcher in the Rye, Romeo and Juliet, and Animal Farm are arranged in replacement bundles.  Along the back of the U-shaped stall the near noon sun floods in warming the repeatedly sold paperbacks.  Index cards helpfully call out the alphabet to aid purchase.  The aroma of paper in this part of the stall is like the last sip of a cocktail: all liquor.

Karen realizes only the two of them are under the awning.  The seller has gone with the patrons.  “Shouldn’t we…”  The Professor waves a hand dismissively.

“…I’ll bring him back when we’re ready.  If we find anything.  This looks like the same stock from a month ago when I was here in the rain.”

“What’s the title of the book?”

“No idea.”

“OK.  What kind of book are we looking for?”

“Magic of course.”  She knows he’s playing with her.  He’s never not teaching.

“Is it big or small?”

“Today it’s not one answer for the right question, it’s the right questioning for the one answering.”

“You’ve been working on that line.  I don’t think it makes as much sense as you think it does.”

“It probably doesn’t.  I’ll have to fidget the wording a bit for next time.  Come here.”  Karen joins Professor Palmer by the big books near the entrance.  He’s holding a red chamois that looks suspiciously like it’s been borrowed from a filling station.  “Put you hands out.  Palms up.”

Her hands are clean—sugar brushed off on here pants—so she doesn’t expect the severe scouring the get under his strong hands.  Just when she wants to complain and pull them back he folds the chamois carefully and purposefully wraps it in another thing of some kind that would make sense and I wouldn’t have to rewrite if I were allowed to take the time to write it right in the first place.  Basically this action will come back in the end, but I don’t know how or why.

Summoning the Clockwork Spider

These NaNoWriMo entries will not be in chronological order.  You are not guaranteed a coherent plot, consistent characterization, nor understandability.  I’m certainly striving for quality within the scope of each post, but at a 1000 plus words a day I’m not holding me feet to the fire over it.

Karen stroked the worn green velvet of the of the Victorian settee. The green was almost black. The worn spots contoured the ridge line where one might rest an arm. They were so sever imagining them as desert continents on a wide ocean came to mind. Out of habit she reversed her perception to make them a string of lakes in an expanse of dark grass.

She waited alone—as she was instructed—for the first hour listening to the ebb and flow of the conversation in the library. First it was polite greetings and invitations to have a drink or a seat. Which naturally evolved into reminiscences and occasional genuine but quiet laughter. The eleven people in the library Karen could not enter knew each other as well as family and as poorly as strangers.

She thought she and Malachi arrived last, so was surprised when a mage entered the sitting room and passed through to the library with only a curt nod; all she could recall of him was that he had dark hair. After his arrival the genial conversation went silent briefly then became aggravated muttering. Karen startled a second time when another mage, a woman who immediately brought to mind a donut maker, passed through the sitting room.

“Hi Karen, Sweetie.” Karen acknowledged the woman with a limp wave and a doubtful smile. She had never seen this woman. Whether it was a glamour of the library or her unreadiness, Karen never saw into the library with either’s entrance.

The conversation recycled after the doughy woman’s entrance but at the extremes: louder and swifter than before. Finally it turned to business. She heard the first lines of a concealment spell being spoken then absolute silence. Easily another hour would pass before she would know what happened inside if she ever did.

Across the room a floor lamp with a poorly made Tiffany shade gave off more light than it should have in this Grandma’s-house of a sitting room. Two chairs flanked the lamp. Both were out of place in this place and they did not match. One was a Southwestern thing with actual cowhide and leather pillows. Its wooden legs were punctuated with brass tacks the showroom salesman no doubt jokingly referred to as Texas-sized. “You know. Like the toast. Ha ha.” The other was a bar stool stolen from a diner in the 50s. Its seat was slick and sparkling and red; its chrome plated legs shone mirror-bright. Karen discovered forty-five minutes ago it swiveled.

Karen fished her pocket watch out to check the time almost exactly an hour had passed in silence. The door to the library irrupted into the sitting room. Karen looked up like an expectant child waiting at the doctor’s office or an assistant babysitting a conference room full of management. Instead of a polite stream of bodies exiting the room a single crashed backward into the room and onto the floor. His head concussed the floor so hard it shook his toupee loose.

A brass-geared clockwork spider the size of a Chihuahua leapt out of the library from about halfway up the door, plopped on the floor between the man’s legs, scuttled up his torso, and bounded to the other door trying to get out. Before Karen could register this oddity, Malachi strode from the library. His manner a veteran surgeon who didn’t expect the surgery to go bad, but is nonetheless prepared when it does. After stepping over the man he fearlessly reached in between the brasswork’s eight legs and turned it off or killed it. Immediately the well-oiled whir of gears wound down to nothing. A click. The opisthosoma tucked under the soma and the legs pinched closed evenly around it. It became and egg-shaped cage protecting the engine and rocked over like a child’s toy.

“Your bag!” Karen had the same idea and was already reaching for her amethyst daypack trying to recall if there was anything in it she didn’t need. She popped the clips, unzipped it, and dumped the contents onto the settee. She had time to think “Tampons, great.” before thrusting the daypack into Malachi’s outstretched hand. With less haste than she expected, he picked up the spider and tucked it into her bag. He seemed more intent on hiding the thing than securing it.


All but a few of the mages had departed. Some said good-bye to the group; some just left. Though Karen knew each of them by name, some rather well, none acknowledged her as they exited. The last mage, the donut maker, attended Jim Creason, the man who had fallen out of the library, on the soft cow chair. He was injured enough to not feel embarrassed yet. Barrett Smith, the dark-haired fellow, and Malachi chatted in the threshold between the library and the sitting room. Her daypack hung from Malachi’s tattooed hand like a titanium briefcase filled with launch codes.

Barrett dipped his head looking for agreement from the other two. Malachi nodded back as if the unspoken question need not have been asked. The dark-haired mage agreed thoughtfully like he’d already moved on to other matters.

Barrett and the other man disappeared deeper into the place through the library. Malachi lit a cigarette practiced negligence and tipped a booklet from one of the shelves. He checked his watch then thumbed through the booklet. He checked his watch again and shelved the booklet. Karen walked up to him in the library.

Malachi blew smoke out the corner of his mouth; he was being polite. That smoke, the smoke that had been steeping his lungs and tainting his blood just moments before, drifted to her left. She turned her head to avoid it but a crisp tendril directly from the Lucky Strike seared her nostrils anyway. As much as she would have preferred to call him father, she was glad he was her lover.

“Karen.” He called her Karen when he didn’t want argument. “I must go. This is not what we were after. Get your things. Margaret will take you back.” Malachi’s voice always pitched higher than she expected and soft like a leather Bible not coarse like bootlegger tires on gravel.

“I’m going with you.”

“You don’t know where I’m going or why. You don’t need to be there and I don’t want you along.” He brushed passed her into the sitting room. “Margaret?”

“Yes. Yes, of course, Mal.” the donut maker agreed without looking up from Jim Creason or even knowing Malachi’s question. “I’ll look after Dorothy and get her back to Kansas and all.”

“Thanks.” He shouldered Karen’s daypack and headed toward the exit.

“Mal? Wait a damn minute would you?” Malachi paused at the door, took a deep drag, and exhaled as he left the place.

“Son of a bitch.”