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110th And Last

I’m not sure I can handle any more important stuff. This whole Magic deal seemed fun this morning. But mercilessly Rolf goes on, ‘He has been tracking your mother for a long time. Once before, he nearly caught up with her. But he has been severely constricted by his human form and needs, and by his human old age. When he did finally hunt her down, however, he was delighted to find her much more vulnerable than before, now that she has children. And the reason his attention was attracted by your mother, I am sorry to tell you, is that she has been teetering on the edge practically from the word go. He had been observing her while still in the Council.’

I try to speak, but can’t. I clear my throat. ‘On the edge?’ I repeat hoarsely.

‘Yes, on the line between having credit and being in the red. Although, as I explained earlier, being in the red has no immediately visible consequences for your kind.’ Rolf averts his gaze from mine. ‘Please do not judge her too harshly. It is at the very least… partly my fault.’ He clearly has to force the last bit out. ‘I see she has been doing alright lately, though. And now her first child is of age. With a bang!’ He smiles a lopsided little smile, which somehow makes me look at the spot on the floor where the body has been. ‘So… have I… crossed the line now through… what I did today?’ I ask.

‘No,’ replies Rolf. ‘The reason being that you haven’t done anything. He succumbed to you, and very swiftly owing to your exaltation, because he was trying to make a child pay. A child is not allowed to pay. Not in the presence of Magic in credit. That’s not your doing.’ He tries another little smile. They’re clearly not his strong suit. It makes me ask the question I’m burning to ask. ‘So… would you have saved my sister if I hadn’t?’

Although Rolf must have expected this, there’s the briefest sore flicker on his face before it settles into deadpan. ‘That… is not my place. I must leave you now. I’m sorry that your birthday had to be like this. But remember, you are Juno’s firstborn. Remember your name!’

‘My name?’ I repeat, puzzled.

‘Use your powers wisely!’ says Rolf, and is gone.

I’m still staring at his empty chair when my sister says, ‘Where am I?’ She’s sitting up.

‘Umm… in Lab A,’ I answer cagily.

Why are we here?’ she asks.

‘We… I brought you here ’cause… you weren’t well. After you hurt your leg, remember? I figured you should lie down.’

‘I remember heading for the staff room…’ she mutters slowly. ‘But I don’t actually remember getting there.’

‘Yeah, I found you… in the hall,’ I lie.

‘So you took me to a lab?’

‘Well, ha ha, funny, that,’ I stall. ‘Ahm… y’know, I tried a little Magic. Since it’s my birthday? But, ahm, turns out… I’m not that good at it yet. ’Cause instead of at a physician’s, as I’d planned, we ended up in a physics lab.’ I’m kinda pleased with myself for that one.

‘Gosh, remind me not to rely on your Magic for anything serious,’ says Bobby and gets up.

 

So I was supposed to use my powers. Wisely. To find out about my name, apparently. But how? That’s what I was wondering as I sat with my back to a tree in Hastings Park a little while later. It was a clear day with just a few drops of spring watered down in the sea of snow around me. Yet I wasn’t cold. My name, I pondered. Jock…

And then it happened. ‘Dreary…’ I thought. ‘Aptly named, the place. Depression for sure. Oops! Damn stairs. Damn size twelve feet.’

I was so shocked about thinking thoughts that weren’t mine that I somehow gave the inside of my head a regular yank. That seemed to do it. I was back in my own mind.

Almost.

For some reason I was still half-convinced it was Friday, September 13, 1963.

 

I spent nearly the whole day under that tree in Hastings Park. I learned to read minds irrespective of space and time, and to read what I read. And I learned what it means to come of age. It means to find out that your parents haven’t got a clue.       

 

THE END

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109

I don’t understand at all, which I’m reckoning he should know. He clearly does, because he goes on, ‘The man you met today was once a member of the Sorcery Council. Your mother will have mentioned that we are the cosmos-wide umbrella organization of all immortal practitioners of Magic. You witches are strictly speaking not our responsibility, but I have come to suspect that… we may have… made some mistakes in our dealings with you in the past.’ Rolf grips his staff with both hands and looks straight ahead. ‘Which is why we are left with situations like the one today. Which is why I am here… talking to you.’ He promptly falls silent, and stays it.

When nothing’s forthcoming after what seems like an age, I decide to get the show back on the road. ‘So, this guy… isn’t dead?’

Rolf slowly turns his head to face me. ‘Oh, he is. But he has had it coming for a long time.’ Well, we all kinda have, I’m thinking, which sure surprises me. It’s a pretty novel thought for a thirteen-year-old. I frown at Rolf.

‘You see, we members of the Council are bound by a strict moral code,’ he continues, real deliberately, as if he’s gotta get his head around it himself while he’s talking. ‘Selflessness and impartiality are part of it. If we violate this code we lose our powers, and hence our immortality. Now I’m afraid to say that your kind and mine have not always been on the best of terms. This is because you witches and warlocks are not bound by any moral codes, and you do not lose your powers if you act immorally. Which has given rise to a certain… dislike of you among some of my Fellows. The chap you met this morning had a run-in with a witch many years ago. He was convinced he had the moral high ground, but, as it transpired, he hadn’t. He was excluded – from the Council, from Magic, and from immortality. This is not something we Fellows bring about, you understand. It happens… automatically, as it were. Anyway, since he originally hailed from this world where you live, he has been walking it since. You will have noticed a taut sort of emptiness emanating from him. You might have perceived that this is the utter absence of Magic in him. It signifies, as we say, that he is in the red. His proximity and intent on her caused your sister to hurt herself before he even touched her. And here comes the important part.’

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‘Ah,’ says Rolf. ‘Yes. I thought that might be coming up… Well, let’s see. Your mother will have explained to you that you hold witching license class A in exaltation, which incorporates all other classes. If I know her at all she won’t have mentioned that there is a price to pay for Magic on this world where you live, but we’ll get to that later. Class A straight, which your father holds, enables you, in addition to standard witching skills, to read minds. In order for him to accomplish this he needs to be in the presence of the person whose mind he is aiming to read and do the usual focussing, intending etcetera.’ Rolf makes a vague stirring movement in the air with his staff-free hand. ‘Now, in your case, where there is an exaltation, this does not apply. You can read minds irrespective of space and time. It is a rare skill, and a useful one, you might think. Unfortunately the price attached to this particular talent on this world where you live is what you have just experienced. Visions. People or events intruding into your head, irrespective of space and time. And I must inform you that the more you make use of your exalted class A abilities, the more the latter will occur.’

‘But… it happened just now and I haven’t done any mind-reading yet!’ I exclaim.

‘Really?’ replies Rolf. ‘Why were you not worried about being late for school?’

‘Umm…’ I mumble.

‘I shall tell you,’ continues Rolf. ‘It was because you already knew that Miss Pickering would be playing Chopin for your class today. Which, as you are well aware, fairly sends her into raptures. You were planning to sneak in while she was at the piano.’

It’s true. I know I wasn’t totally aware of doing any mind-reading when I wondered how to get ’round being late. The knowledge just kinda… arrived in my head. Much like the vision.

‘But… why are you saying that visions are the price I gotta pay? This one saved my sister!’ I’m not mentioning that in order for my sister to be saved I also had to kill someone. I’m not ready to go there yet.

‘Ah, but you see, your sister being in danger was payment already! Although not for your actions,’ says Rolf.

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‘Oh, don’t worry about her,’ says Rolf. ‘She will be as new the very moment I leave.’

I kinda gurgle in response.

‘Indeed,’ replies Rolf. ‘An eventful day. I am not in fact scheduled to visit you today, since you’re not a foundling. As far from a foundling as possible, one could say. But it’s not every day a former member of the Sorcery Council is killed!’

I’m wishing I’d faint, if only I could. But I’m suspended by intense, boundless shock. I can’t speak.

‘Well, your family has certainly afforded me more than the usual excursions to earthly realms…’ says Rolf now. Some barely functioning recess of my mind seems to reckon that he isn’t as displeased as he’s letting on. ‘Let’s clean up this mess, shall we,’ he adds. The body disappears.

Somehow this releases me from my suspension. I can feel my legs giving out. I just about manage to reach a nearby chair. After a moment Rolf pulls another one up beside me and parks himself on it. He puts his free hand on his knee and sits dead straight and stock still for a minute, which I use to fret extensively and stare at Bobby. She’s breathing real regularly, with a smile on her face. For all the world she could be asleep. Just when I’m recovered enough to decide I should go check on her all the same, Rolf finally speaks again.

‘She’s fine, I assure you,’ he says. ‘Please bear with me for a moment. It does occur to me… that you… might have some questions.’

Now keep in mind that I’ve never met the guy before. All I know from mom and dad is that he’s the one who comes to foundlings on their thirteenth birthday and dishes out the licenses. He’s figured in games we played when all of us were small, in which he’d sometimes turn into some kinda bogeyman, as our parents haven’t made him sound all that benign. So maybe I should say we’ve come to regard him more like the old Saint Niklaas than the new-world Santa Claus. My point is that, while apprehensive, I’m totally unaware at this point of Rolf’s track record on answering questions. So I’m finding his behaviour pretty normal in the circumstances. ’Course I got loadsa questions! Ahm… one, actually. ‘What the hell happened?’ I burst out.

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Bang. I’m back in the staff room. My hands are my own. Hoping that time’s been congruent with my vision this time ’round, I start running. I know what room Bobby’s in. Science Lab A. As soon as I’ve had the thought I’m in the lab. As I was running when I had the thought, though, I slam into a desk. At least the beardy guy by the blackboard is startled into letting go of Bobby. She slides to the ground, whimpering, thankfully. I take a breath and jump at the guy. I’m hardly afraid now. He’s real old, and I know he hasn’t got any Magic. I’m not getting the intensely boundless Magic hit I got off of mom this morning. Instead, I’m feeling a kind of vacant, rigid, anti-Magic vibe. But I sure ain’t stopping to think about that. He’s surprisingly sinewy, and I’m only thirteen. I’m of age, though, I finally remember. ‘Oh, exalted, are we,’ he rasps the very moment I hit him with all the random concentrated Magic I can muster, and he crumbles.

He’s not moving when I prod him with my foot, then my finger. He’s not breathing either. I am, though, heavily. To say I’m hyperventilating is a hell of an understatement. This sure ain’t how I imagined coming of age.

My state of mind isn’t improved by the unannounced appearance of a cloaked, staffed and bearded man. 1982 and still no modernization of the look. I recognize Rolf instantly. In a neat kinda ironic twist he’s become a figure of such legend in our family that his status with us children could be said to equal that of Santa Claus among regular kids. But let’s not jump ahead. By that stage I haven’t actually found out about his former connection to Sinterklaas yet.

While I’m now backing off, painfully aware of the uselessness of that move, my eyes flit between Rolf, the lifeless form on the floor and… oh, yeah, Bobby!

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At this point I’m understandably nervous. I haven’t got a crystal ball yet as mom and I were going to see to that after school. What I do have is not a clue what’s going on. It doesn’t help that the harsh laughter’s ringing ’round my head again. Into it cuts a loud ‘Ouch!’ from Bobby. I barely hear Mr Redwood ask, ‘What is it, Roberta?’, as, without attempting to think anymore, I’m racing into the building and up the stairs. I’m hoping that Bobby is where I assume she is, in the room I took maths in last year. Without knocking I yank the door open. Mr Redwood at the blackboard spins around. Panting, I scan the students’ faces. No Bobby. ‘Jock!’ says Mr Redwood. ‘Take it easy, son! I guess you’re looking for your sister. A molehill really does become a mountain in no time in this place.’ ‘What?’ I gasp. ‘Calm down, Jock! It’s just a little graze on her leg. Her compasses were poking through her backpack. I sent her to the staff room, whoever’s there’ll clean it up and put a plaster on it. That’s all it is,’ he stresses again when I don’t calm down at all. It hasn’t taken me thirty seconds to run up the stairs, and I haven’t met Bobby. ‘When was this?’ I hear myself ask. ‘About five minutes ago,’ replies Mr Redwood. ‘She’ll be back any moment.’ ‘Thanks,’ I say, breathlessly adding, ‘Sir,’ and shut the door.

My head’s now truly a mess. Quite apart from everything else I’m worried about one thing. In my family, we’re not your regular accident-prone bunch of kids. None of us has ever had so much as a hint of a graze. And Bobby’s still only twelve. She oughta be protected. Mom’s told us all about it.

I floor it to the staff room. Five minutes ago, I’m thinking. Anything could’ve happened. And, right on cue, here are more voices. It’s Bobby first, and she’s screaming. ‘Shut up, you filthy little witch!’ comes the familiar snarl. Then Bobby’s scream dies. Beside myself, I tumble into the staff room. It’s completely empty of people. But my head isn’t. It’s like a big bang goes through my whole body, and I’m in an otherwise vacant school lab. I’m holding my sister Bobby. Throttling her with one arm, to be precise. My extremely gnarled other hand is covering her mouth. She’s struggling less and less. I look up from her ruffled hazel hair as my arm increases its pressure. I meet the inquisitive gaze of a white-maned, moustachioed man on a poster on the wall.

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On that day mom sat me down after breakfast and explained Magic to me. Her way, obviously. She said it was a privilege and that I should be proud of my abilities. That the world was my oyster, basically. Which isn’t true, ’cause you can eat oysters. She told me I could read minds, which I’d figured already from things she’d let drop and that had kinda half-happened over the years, and by then it was clear that I could also do the recognizing Magic bit. But she admitted she didn’t know what else my exaltation meant. Boy, did I find out.

I went on to school as normal that day. Normal, huh. The last time in a long while I’d feel that way. ’Cause no sooner had I come of Magic age than I had my first vision. Although calling these things visions is pretty incorrect in their first stages. They always start with sound only, like an old TV set. By the time the tube warms up and I’m able to figure out what’s going on it can be too late.

I went to Templeton, just like mom. And like her I’d had to make very little effort up until then. The low-level child protection Magic had done its thing.

Anyhow, I’m now just coming up to the school doors when I hear this hollow, raspy kinda voice. ‘Gotcha!’ it says, and follows this up with a coarse laugh. Obviously I look around. Nobody there. Not even other students, ’cause thanks to my birthday chat with mom I’m late. Which I’m not worried about. It’s hardly gonna be a problem, I’m thinking. I do get a little worried, though, when the next voice I hear is my sister Bobby’s. ‘Forty-two,’ it says, in the same bored, blasé kinda tone I use when giving my answers in class. ‘That’s correct, thank you, Roberta,’ comes the reply. I recognize this voice too. It belongs to Mr Redwood, Bobby’s maths teacher. Before I can arrive at a halfway proper thought or even clutch my head in my hands, the first voice is back again. ‘Mother, daughter, all the same,’ it growls. ‘At last I got one of you. And you’re going to pay, you are!’

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Amazingly my parents settled into an almost normal kinda groove. By their standards. Demetrio got to hang out daily with a bunch of guys again and really got into motors. He became a whiz in no time. No idea either whether that was down to his brand of organic Magic or a genuine ability. For despite my exaltation on class A, I can still only tell if somebody’s got Magic as such in them or not. Without reading minds I can’t tell when Magic’s actually being performed. No witch or warlock can, as far as I’m aware. Life would be a whole lot easier if this could be done, is my theory.

Meanwhile Juno had lots of children to give birth to and bring up. She managed to do only one major bit of vanity Magic ’round that time, when a new name was sought for the Gold Leaf Canadian Music Awards in ’71. You might be aware that these have been known as the Juno Awards since then. Very rarely she’d check up on Jackson in those days, but stopped even that when he finally, at long last, got to release his debut album in ’72. A top ten hit followed instantly. I remember her playing it for me. Doctor My Eyes. But even more vivid is my memory of his follow-up album a year later. For Everyman, it was called. On the title track Jackson and David sang in perfect harmony about someone with all the answers, who holds out a father’s hand and takes them back to the sunny safety of childhood. I distinctly recall the intense wide-open feeling I got when the swelling drums over the quiet, searching acoustic guitar gave way to the blissed release of the electric right at the end. It made me believe that anything was possible. Anything. It’s my favourite early memory.

By then there were three of us. Carey had joined us in ’71. Clyde, Bernard and Inés arrived over the following three years. All of us had Magic. Obviously we were all geniuses. My brothers and sisters went along with this from the earliest age, and I guess I often did too, although I now like to tell myself that I always felt uneasy about it. Considering how keen I was to spend time at my grandfolks’ house, it could be true. It all ended on my thirteenth birthday anyhow. That’s when my exaltation hit the fan.

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The upshot from Rolf’s visit was that my parents and I moved to Vancouver. Dad put his foot down this time. He was more than bored with the village by now. But it was the apparent unlikelihood of his wife running into witches or warlocks in a city that made him real determined. Aurelia took it well. She’d let life into her belly and was pregnant with my cousin Parsibál. Her husband took it even better. Juno, who since Rolf’s visit had been unable to extract much fun from Aurelia, voiced no real objections to returning to her origins now that she’d achieved what she set out to do and bagged a warlock. She, too, was pregnant, with my sister Roberta.

Grandma and pop were delirious to see their daughter after all this time. They’d received regular letters as well as the odd phone call with news of her academic progress in California, but had found that something unforeseen always happened to prevent them visiting her. Juno kept all this up whilst on the island, pretending she was still in LA. It was a stroke of luck that her return to Vancouver occurred at precisely the time she should’ve graduated. That they now had a son-in-law and new grandchild with another one on the way was a surprise for her parents, but the joy at their enlarged family and the prospect of Juno and brood living nearby soon made up for their disappointment at having been left out.

Dad initially spoke English by means of roughly the same Magic Juno’d used to sing Joni’s songs, and mind-read to understand it. Pop offered him a job in his garage, which despite mom’s protestations he took. She got to make the domestic decisions though, so we wound up living not in Hastings but in a turn-of-the-century pad in leafy next-door Burnaby. No idea whether the previous householders took to the seas. Don’t wanna know.

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‘Well, clearly she wasn’t happy, and clearly you’re full of shit,’ spat Juno. ‘Hey, let’s try you on something else. Why didn’t they…’ – she indicated my silent aunt and dad – ‘…show up in my crystal ball, when they ain’t even got a manual to tell them about the protective spell? And while we’re on the subject, why is it that everybody’s ex-directory? Why don’t witches and warlocks wanna meet up? We met up, and we get on fine! Fine!

A pained expression crossed Rolf’s face. He stood still as a statue for long seconds, his beard gently moving in the breeze. ‘Alright,’ he said then, looking Aurelia right in the eyes. ‘I’ll spell it out. On my head be it. A lot of witches have ended badly. Badly. Warlocks too, but there aren’t that many. You lot are foundlings, so you don’t know about anything that’s been going on. There aren’t that many foundlings either. And some of them…’ – he frowned at Juno – ‘…produce a proper manual.’ His eyes were drawn back to Aurelia. ‘But right now your kind have come to understand what’s been going wrong. This is the best time ever to be a witch or warlock, really. You’ve got a chance. But only if you… keep the balance. Let life in. You won’t find any witches in the big cities right now. A few foundlings here and there, maybe…’ Rolf seemed distracted by the setting sun. He considered it while nobody spoke, before his distant gaze returned to Aurelia. ‘You’re lucky, you’ve got a husband…’ At this he suddenly came to, with an uneasy air. ‘I should go now,’ he said abruptly. ‘Good-bye. Heed my advice.’ Gone he was.

A moment later he was back. ‘Oh, and watch him,’ he said, nodding towards me. ‘He doesn’t have the endorsement either. He’s got class A in exaltation.’

This time he didn’t return. The wrestling instantly recommenced. ‘What a loada crap! “Let life in!” I’ve heard more sense from tripping hippies in California,’ said Juno as she took me back from Aurelia, who still hadn’t spoken a word.

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‘Doing really well? Doing really well?’ echoed Juno then. She thrust me into my aunt’s arms and took a step towards Rolf. ‘You got some nerve, mister. First you tell us fuck-all, then you think I give a damn if you tick me off like a schoolgirl, and now you’re saying that she…’ – she heatedly pointed at Aurelia – ‘… oughta be a good girl and spend her life cooking and washing up and waiting on everybody instead of having a harmless bit of fun!’

‘Harmless? Harmless?’ Rolf’s turn to echo Juno. ‘Do you know how lucky you are that those chaps in the lighthouse had been drinking? Do you know what a favour I’m doing you by… ticking you off? It’s on my own head that I’m here, you know!’ As he said this his eyes flickered towards Aurelia.

‘Oh, on your own head, huh? Well, you know what, no, we don’t know that you’re doing us a favour, and we don’t know how lucky we are, and if you want us to appreciate it you better explain it real fast!’

In the silence that followed these outbursts dad nodded, my aunt treaded on the spot a couple times, mom kept on scowling at Rolf, Rolf looked sternly at each of them in turn, and I apparently burped.

‘Alright,’ said Rolf at last, and again glanced at Aurelia. ‘Look, it’s like this. You have to find a balance between your life and your Magic. A balance, that’s what it’s all about.’

If he’d thought this would wash with Juno he was wrong. As he found out.

What?’ she cried. ‘And you’re saying that she…’ – this time she poked Aurelia in the arm – ‘… she was balanced ’cause she wasn’t using any at all? ’Cause she was everybody’s maid?’

‘Well… no, but… she was happy within her life, and she could have, you know, done little things at any time to… to improve her lot in a… a low-key way…’ Rolf stopped midway through the vague stirring movement he’d been making in the air with his staff-free hand. He was sinking fast, and he looked like he knew it.

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He appeared that very same evening, when Juno and Aurelia were strolling along the beach towards the wrestlers practising for the competition that was imminent again. Mom carried me in her arms. I was less than one month old. Dad lay in the sand following the fights with mild interest. In the past year he hadn’t shown much enthusiasm for his old pursuits anymore. He spent a lotta time watching his wife and sister like a wizened lion watches a bunch of cubs lay waste to the savannah from the shade of a baobab tree. He wasn’t saying that much these days.

A split second before Rolf showed, Juno knew what was coming. Everything sharply tightened and bulged. Human wax figures were all around her. Aurelia squeaked. And there he was, standing tall in the sand, cloak, staff, beard and all. Clearly the look still hadn’t been modernized.

His green eyes glowered. ‘Well, ladies,’ he said, and added to Juno, ‘We meet again.’ He sounded wrier than Jackson ever had.

Behind his back Demetrio had leapt up and was now approaching, quickly but warily. ‘Ah. The invincible man,’ said Rolf without turning. ‘Do join us.’

When dad reached all of us he put one arm protectively ’round mom and, after a moment, the other one ’round his sister.

‘Heart-warming,’ said Rolf, his eyes still shooting sparks.

‘Spare us the chit-chat and tell us why you’re here,’ replied Demetrio harshly.

‘You know exactly why I’m here! I’m used to you by now,’ – he glared at mom – ‘you’ll end up in the red before long if you keep going the way you are. And so would you have.’ Here he eyeballed dad. ‘But you…’ His eyes met Aurelia’s for the first time. He seemed to lose his track a moment before blinking and continuing, pretty lamely all of a sudden, ‘… you were, ahm, doing really well.’

There was a pause.

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They gave him a new lease of life before the old one had quite run out. With every conquest his legend grew. Only someone with his popular touch and ebullience could’ve elicited so little envy and so much admiration for his constant success. It’s hard to say where the Magic began and ended in Demetrio’s life. Were his muscles Magic since he developed them hauling in one huge marlin after another? Were his sexual feats down to Magic because chicks liked the look of him? Was his continuing popularity in the village the result of Magic as being such an unfailing hit with the ladies gave him a unique kind of generous outlook on things?

In Aurelia’s life, on the other hand, the Magic didn’t even begin. Her coffers were full to the brim.                        

 

 My parents stayed in the village another year, during which I was born. The first thing mom did was that she tested me, as per the procedure outlined in her book. When a candle lit in another room after I sneezed on being tickled in the nose with a merlin feather, she was happy. Well, not right away. She repeated the whole thing another couple times just to make sure, ’cause she had to keep on running back and forth and trusted dad neither with the tickling nor the candle-watching. I reckon this might’ve been when I took against Magic.

One thing she did do right was put her foot down when it came to naming me. All first-born sons in dad’s family had always been given their father’s name.

All of that year mom and her long-subdued sister in spirit and law got up to high jinxes in town. Once Aurelia had shaken off her amazement at the world that had come knocking with Juno she opened the door wide, and caught up pretty quick. The tormenting of men became the overriding theme in her tricks. More flapping tail fins hit groins, wrestlers’ knees slipped and bowls of hot chowder tipped over with a neat aim in those twelve months than in the preceding ten decades since the village’s foundation. The birth rate would fall by half in the next two years.

Things came to a head with the abandoning of work on a new lighthouse, a revolutionary structure for its day in the village, made from nothing but that newfangled concrete. The men folk’s pride and joy. Thing was, though, the stuff wasn’t all it had been cracked up to be. Sometimes it ran like the rum that was on tap at the building site, sometimes it wouldn’t even pour. And when the walls were finally up they started to move. Twist. Wriggle. Make funny shapes. Some guy swore the second-level floor stuck a tongue out at him. After it kicked him in the cojones. You get the idea. It was easier to go back to waiting for the sardines to grow.

The ball-busting floor was a stunt too far, though. It brought back Rolf.

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Obviously the sixties hadn’t totally passed it by. By the time Juno got to the island, pylons had reached the south east and were on their way along the coast. Trucks had begun coming ’round every couple months with building materials, haberdashery, and strange, mostly disbelieved, tidings. Boats docked now and again with long-haired gringos, large guitars, and weird, mostly overlooked, customs. Coming and going had become a little less exotic and the idea of seeking one’s fortune out in the world had taken hold in some of the more adventurous minds.

But when Demetrio and Aurelia came of Magic age in ’58 and ’60 respectively, all this was in the future. In the organic kind of fashion that would necessarily characterize his approach to Magic, Demetrio first used his new powers for real not to request a manual, which Rolf hadn’t got around to mentioning, but to dodge the dreaded Jesuit school in the north that all his brothers were sent to. Their mother Inés, a second-generation blow-in from the mainland, had come with a decent dowry and sought to maintain certain standards, especially after her husband became mayor. By apparently giving his snooty mother and brothers the finger Demetrio won popular approval in the village early on. Folks were soon saying he was a lot like his father, whose only mistake, folks added, was that he’d married that stuck-up cow. Hanging around with the rest of the guys waiting for the migrating tuna, beating them at dominoes and everything else, Demetrio revelled all through his teens in being the biggest fish in a real small pond that to him was the ocean, outgrowing everybody only in height.

It didn’t occur to Aurelia to use her powers to be sent to school. Not even to dodge housework. She found she had no use for them really. Visiting fancy stores in the capital was scary and everyone looked at her funny, no matter how she dressed up. And she’d never been anyplace on her own before. By then Demetrio wasn’t interested in talking to or doing Magic experiments with his little sister anymore. Since education and travel didn’t figure and she had to do something, she did what all the girls and women in the village did, except mending the nets which her mother deemed beneath her, and continued to keep a good house for her brother and father as well as her new husband when Inés succumbed to pneumonia a mere month after her only daughter’d got hitched.

Chances are Demetrio would’ve got bored if the hippie chicks hadn’t started showing up.

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Demetrio matured, aged and got married all in one go. Aurelia had finally, after being married nearly three years, met a kindred spirit. Somebody who kindled her spirit. Juno to her was like a bird of paradise, but one who regarded this earthly life as absolutely her oyster. And Juno finally had her companion, twofold.

And she obviously found out everything her new relations knew about Magic. Which wasn’t a lot either, unfortunately. Rolf had come to Demetrio on his thirteenth birthday and informed him of his witching license class A straight, adding grudgingly that this meant that in addition to standard witching he could mind-read. Demetrio hadn’t been as overwhelmed as Juno, mainly because he and Aurelia had had each other to talk to and experiment a little with. He’d managed to extract from his robe-clad visitor that he and his sister were the only Magic folks not just in their village but on the whole island. Rolf also let slip that he put some kind of shield ’round himself when visiting the homes of foundling witches and warlocks who also held class B – which he said Aurelia did and for whom and her endorsement on class A, he added sniffily, he wouldn’t return – in order to protect them from most of his strong Magic field that would otherwise knock them out. Checking himself after that, Rolf barely touched on the fact that there was a price to pay, but did toss in the counsel that the siblings were best off staying where they were and lead as normal a life as possible within their community.

It could be called pretty ironic that he gave this advice to two people who hardly needed it. You’d struggle to find a more self-contained place in the western world than the village was at the time. It had no electricity, no telephone, no newspaper. The next settlement was a day’s walk away up in the mountains. It had no electricity, telephone, paper or running water. The island was basically the tip of a volcano sticking out of the sea, and consisted of nothing but mighty steep cliffs carved through by deep valleys. There were no sloping hills and no plains. Almost everything was vertical. The capital on the northern shore beyond a craggy line of peaks was a world away back then. A world of which the village was the all-encompassing centre to its folk.

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‘It won’t last long,’ she yelled over the noise. ‘He usually gives them a bit of a show. For about two minutes.’

And sure enough, in no time the manic roaring turned into rapturous chants of ‘De-me-tri-o! De-me-tri-o!’ and applause.

Juno shifted from foot to foot and craned her neck. She needed to stick to her plan. ‘I gotta go see this,’ she said to Aurelia.

Aurelia regarded her real steady for a long moment. ‘I see,’ she said then. She took a step towards the heaving spectators but presently stopped dead. She turned back to Juno. ‘Be careful,’ she said. ‘He’s just class A, but he doesn’t have the endorsement. Come on.’

The crowd parted as they strode through it, but when Juno got to the front Aurelia had disappeared.

Juno took a deep breath, braced herself, and looked.

If this was what he was really like, Demetrio could probably have won without Magic. He was the tallest man around by far, on the right side of brawny and the right side of lean. His deltoids were defined and the light coat on his broad chest petered out towards his navel. His brown hair was wild and his beard neatly trimmed. His eyes were of the clearest blue.

He was, as Juno had expected, a picture of a man.

As his bright gaze wandered along his crowd it obviously came to Juno. It widened and widened. She languidly shook her mane. Silence fell on the gathering. Somewhere a tinny church bell began to ring the Angelus. Juno steeled herself against his Magic air, sashayed right up to him, hips wriggling, and gave him her very best submerging, swamping smile. His triumphant grin turned infinitesimally insecure the exact moment before she deftly floored him with a left hook.