Magic Time: Angelfire, page 1
Praise for MAGIC TIME
About the Authors
Of Angelfire and Blindman’s Blues
Welcome to the further adventures of Cal, Colleen, Doc and Goldie.
It’s been said by many a megalomaniac before me, “I like to create worlds.”
But I also like to share them.
It’s one of the big reasons I work in TV. Whether it’s taking my boyhood friendship with the late great Ted Sturgeon and transmuting it into Deep Space Nine’s “Far Beyond the Stars,” or sitting around with a bunch of fellow writers and saying, “We’ve got twenty-two hours of Sliders to create—let’s do something we’ve never seen before,” it is pure, unadulterated joy to play in a shared yard with other creative souls.
If you’ve read Magic Time, you may suspect that it’s a vision that has haunted me for years.
It was forged by several crucial moments in my life:
When the earth shook during the Northridge quake and the lights went out, and we all surged from our separate homes in search of the reassurance of companionship.
When riots seized L.A. and the night glowed red, palm trees burning like tiki torches flanking the Hollywood Freeway.
When El Nino howled, turning streets into rivers, driving people together, chilled and dispossessed, onto higher ground.
Those moments when all the clutter and noise of modernity were stripped away, and people crossed barriers of class and race and money to protect and hold on to each other, even in the riots.
Magic Time first emerged as the script for a two-hour television pilot, written by myself and my writing-partner wife, Elaine. But the land and characters continued speaking to me, demanding more elbow room.
Wherever I went, I found myself viewing a place through the lens of Magic Time, reshaping it into what Cal and his cronies might see and hear and smell.
I invited my friend Barbara Hambly along for the first trip, moving from Manhattan across a very altered world to Boone’s Gap, Virginia. Then Maya Bohnhoff joined up, leading Cal and his friends in their search to Chicago and beyond.
Here’s how we worked: we plotted out the journey beyond Manhattan more or less simultaneously. As Barbara and I wrote chapters of book one, we’d fire them off to Maya, and she in turn sent us the developing chapters of book two. It was an exciting time, as we would be inspired by each other, alter bits and pieces to match, polish it all together into a (hopefully) seamless whole. Along the way, new characters stepped up, insisting they be included, among them Barbara’s Secret Service agent Larry Shango and Maya’s fierce, heartbroken flare Magritte.
But let me be clear on one point—Maya wrote the book you now hold in your hands. I may have created the world and the lead characters, done minor course corrections … but this tale is all hers.
And what a tale it is.
As for the next installment, our intrepid band of chroniclers will be joined by Mr. Robert Charles Wilson, the brilliant author of Darwinia. Watch this space.
Now, however, switch off your pagers and cell phones, unplug the TV, turn your back on the computer and the internal combustion engine … and give yourself over to a time and place where all miracles—both dark and light— emanate from the burning core of our own true selves.
MARC SCOTT ZICREE
West Hollywood, California June 2002
This, O my best-beloved, is a story quite different from the other stories—a story about the Most Wise Sovereign Suleiman-bin-Daoud—Solomon the Son of David.
There are three hundred and fifty-five stories about Suleiman-bin-Daoud; but this is not one of them… . It is not the story of the Glass Pavement, or the Ruby with the Crooked Hole, or the Gold Bars of Balkis. It is the story of the Butterfly that Stamped. Now attend all over again and listen!
“The Butterfly That Stamped,” from Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling
Manhattan, New York
“Your young men will dream dreams…”
Cal Griffin blinks up into my eyes and gives me a look that says he’d willingly crawl out of his skin if that would get him away from me. He glances at the building he is hoping to flee into and tries to pull his arm out of my grasp— not hard enough to succeed.
Around us, the chaos concert of city traffic is deafening. I put my lips close to his ear. “I’m telling you this because you talk to me, don’t just look through. No such thing as coincidences. It’s omens, Cal. Something’s coming.” A line of verse leaps into my head and off the tip of my tongue before I can stop it: “ ‘Metal wings will fail, leather ones prevail.’ ”
Cal stares at me, puzzled, wondering what I’m blathering about. That makes two of us.
I let go of him and step aside. “You keep your head low.”
Cal nods mutely, turns to the doors. Just before he enters, he glances back, face going ashy when he sees me watching him.
“I’ll see you later, Goldie,” he murmurs.
“If there is a later,” I say, and he falters, missing the revolving door. He has to wait for it to come around again.
I watch him vanish into the building, lost among all the
2 / Marc Scott Zicree & Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff
other Suits. He doesn’t believe me, of course. Can’t blame him, but I had to try.
I wipe some powdered sugar from my chin. Time to go through the Dumpsters in search of another Gillette. This is a use-it-then-lose-it society. There are always throwaways.
The street empties as the Suits swarm into their termite towers. Anyone looking at me now would find it hard to believe I was once on my way to becoming one of them. I hadn’t known myself then, hadn’t known a strange truth about the world. Onion. The world is like an onion. One thing with many layers. Stinking or succulent, depending on how you look at it.
Good metaphor. I am still capable of good metaphors. Any other time, I’d be absurdly pleased with it, but not today. Today, my cleverness offers no satisfaction.
Because something’s coming and it’s going to be bad.
I spy Doc Lysenko manning his hot dog cart nearby. Someone else I should warn. I take a step in his direction, but with a suddenness that steals my breath, all the oxygen has been sucked out of the world. My legs threaten to fold up under me and I put a hand out to a nearby wall. Heat radiates from it—from the pavement—and the din of the city is like Thor’s hammer.
What a world, what a world. Who would’ve thought a good little girl like you could destroy my beautiful wickedness? Shit, Goldman, get a grip.
I send my mind into a ritual I started when I was nine: I take the sturdy brown tome down from the bookshelf. Needing inviolable privacy, I go into an upstairs bathroom and perch on the closed lid of the toilet. I open the book—Ency-clopedia Britannica, Volume One—and begin
Non compos mentis, my sister called me, and told me to look it up. I did, and then read from A to Z, passing through all the points between. A safe haven, a fortress where I couldn’t hear Mom and Dad snarling psychobabble and legalese at each other. Order from chaos. I was transported. By words.
Words have power. Rituals have power.
My mind steadies. I have to get home, to hunker down and wait while there’s still time. I slip into the narrow alley behind me, let it shield me from the noise. Dumpsters radiate hot garbage smell. Funny how, even now, my nose is so easily offended. You’d think, given where I’ve been living lo, these many years, my sense of smell would’ve gone on permanent vacation.
I mentally run over the possible routes back to the underground, discarding Rockefeller Center for Grand Central. This time of day there’ll be less scrutiny, easier to slip into the darkness. Just gotta be careful not to touch the third rail.
There is a rustling behind me, an odd, whispery sound.
I turn. Wadded candy wrappers, stained sheets of the Post, and bits of excelsior that have tumbled out of the Dumpster are starting to swirl about in a minitornado, gathering speed. What’s wrong with this picture is that there’s no wind. None. In spite of this logistical oversight, the trash is still dancing in the air.
Abruptly the force swells, pushing the Dumpsters back and forth on their wheels, their heavy metal lids rising and then banging down again and again, like in a bad horror flick. My skin feels prickly; the smell of ozone charges the air.
Not yet, I think, please, not yet.
Doesn’t matter that I’ve been expecting this; I’m terrified. Above me there’s a crackling, snapping noise. And it ain’t Rice Krispies. I look up to see blue electrical discharges whipping about in the sky. Dark clouds roil, casting a yellow-gray pall over Manhattan, over the alley, over me. I feel incredibly small and watched—by what, I don’t know and don’t want to know.
The blue lightning is ferocious, slashing in all directions with a sound like ice sheets splintering. And behind it another, greater sound, a low roar that vibrates through me, growing in power and rumbling the ground. I want to run, to hide, but I can’t. I’m not even sure there’s anyplace I can hide.
Sudden desire overwhelms me, a compulsion to leave the shelter of the alley, to see what is happening to the city. This is not my desire; this comes from outside, but it so invades me that I feel imprisoned, shackled from the inside out.
The pavement beneath my feet heaves and buckles, as if some massive serpent is struggling to burst forth from below. Obeying my captor’s voice, I fight my way back to the alley mouth and peer out.
The sky is alive with blue lightning. It spits its hatred down at the city, frenzied fingers reaching out to every spire. The roar is deafening, a spike through my head. I clap my hands to my ears, but that does nothing. The sound is in my head, too, and now it rises to a scream.
The buildings are melting. Like ice cream cones on a hot day, dripping down—the entire city is liquefying. Proud towers turn to slag as the lightning dances its mad dance and the clouds enfold it like a shroud.
My mouth is open and I think I’m screaming, but I can’t hear it against the shriek of the city. I fold in on myself, covering my eyes, rocking, defenseless. In what I know are my last moments, I surrender to it, realizing that no matter how much I prepare, how much I might know, in the end it will do with me whatever it wishes.
I open up to it, and the world falls away.
There’s a jolt, as if the earth is taking one last token stand, and I realize I’m the only one screaming. I clamp my mouth shut, force myself to stop, and cautiously open my eyes.
The buildings are still upright; people still crowd the streets; but the cars, moments ago surging and huffing, are suddenly going nowhere. Sure, I might be looking at normal gridlock, but I know that’s not what this is. The normal sounds of Manhattan have stopped, leaving something as close to silence as this city has known since Peter Stuyvesant stepped off the boat and wowed the locals.
And I, Herman Goldman, saw it coming.
I find my feet, supporting myself against the once again solid brick and mortar of the nearest building. “Your old men will see visions…” I murmur, and wonder if I can still score some antipsychotics at the Roosevelt’s Free Clinic.
What the Trees Said
Suleiman-bin-Daoud was wise. He understood what the beasts said, what the birds said, what the fishes said, and what the insects said. He understood what the rocks said deep under the earth when they bowed in towards each other and groaned; and he understood what the trees said when they rustled in the middle of the morning….
“The Butterfly that Stamped,”
from Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling
Ihave that dream every night. The day the wheels came off the world. Bye-bye physics. Natural laws, who needs ’em? And every morning I wake, realizing it’s all real.
Okay, no buildings literally melted, nor did the sidewalks and streets actually roll like ocean waves. But the whole world experienced it, this moment of cosmic mayhem, this thing most of us refer to simply as “the Change.” At least, we think it did. Nothing we’ve seen in the intervening weeks has suggested otherwise.
I have other dreams, too, also terrifying, also rooted in so-called reality. One of them is about a girl named Tina Griffin. Like our world, she changed—or began to change— in that moment of upheaval. So did a lot of other people. But Tina’s in my nightmares because I know her. She is the reason we left New York, the reason we head inexorably west— because her brother Cal has the same nightmare, and because that’s where the Megillah has taken her.
The Megillah is my pet name for what all the evidence points to as the cause of the Change. No one else calls it that. They have their own pet names for it: Armageddon, Doomsday, Kali Yuga, the Day of Judgment, the Real Thing.
Ek velt, Grandmother would’ve said: the end of the world.
Apparently, in elite government circles it was known simply as “the Source.” A science project of sorts. Funny, the words “science project” usually bring to mind papier-mâché volcanoes and ant farms, not something that has the power to rip the world apart and put it back together all wrong.
But it appears that the Megillah has that power.
Tina Griffin, all of twelve years old, was one of the things it reassembled. And after it warped her body, clothed her in light, and granted her the power of levitation, it sorted her from among its other various types of “makeovers” and simply took her. And others like her. Where or why, we have no idea. Sort of a perverted take on the Evangelical Christian Rapture.
Before she was wrenched, screaming, out of her brother’s arms in the tiny back bedroom of a run-down house in Boone’s Gap, West Virginia, the changeling Tina spoke of Something in the West—a power, an entity, an Enigma. Something that came into the world with a roar and that now grows in it like a malevolent cancer.
And so, a Quest. Or a monumental game of hide and seek. We seek the Enigma and it … well, it doesn’t so much hide as it evades. It’s that thing you’re certain is behind you in the dark. But a swift about-face only nets you empty air and a dark slither out the corner of one eye.
Since that moment in Manhattan when buildings did not melt and sidewalks did not ripple, I’ve heard its whispers. Which makes (lucky) me the only one with half a clue about what part of the West the Megillah inhabits. And that’s about all I have—half a clue. I listen for it; I hear its Voice and we go. Tag, I’m it. Marco Polo. Games. Rough, deadly games.
Since leaving Boone’s Gap our quest has taken us through varied terrain. Quiet pastoral countryside where cows and sheep still graze and watch our passing with little interest. Places where it seem
We avoid cities. Cities are places of unimaginable darkness and violence. I suppose they always were, but it’s a different kind of violence now, at once more focused and more mindless, soul-deep and brutal.
There’s violence of a sort in the country, too. And its effects have been devastating. We’ve seen ghost towns and ghost suburbs and ghost farms. But nothing like what we saw as Manhattan unraveled like a cheap sweater.
We see other folks ever so often. And ever so often we see not-folks. Ex-people who, like Tina, had their DNA radically rearranged. “Tweaks,” Colleen calls them. I prefer “twists”—it’s a gentler word. Although there’s nothing gentle about what the Change has done to them. People tend to avoid them, and they tend to avoid people. Something I understand, completely.
Most often we don’t see them, but merely feel them. Since some of them are rather unpleasant, it pays to be vigilant. You develop a sort of ESP about these things. The sense of being watched creeps over your skin and through your brain like a trickle of freezing water. When this happens, Cal’s hand goes to his sword, Colleen’s goes to her machete, Doc’s makes the sign of the cross. Mine does nothing. At the moment, I carry neither weapons nor gods.
We’re traveling on potholed tarmac today as we head for the border between West Virginia and Ohio. Cal and Doc are mounted on fine steeds (Sooner and Koshka, by name), Colleen drives our spiffy home-built wagon, while I ride shotgun. I mean that figuratively, of course. Since the Change, no one I know has yet figured out how to make a shotgun work. This is one of those good news/bad news things.
Our “wagon” is a pickup truck from which the transmission has been removed and the engine compartment gutted back to the firewall. It still has its vinyl-covered seats, but no roof, no windows, no windshield, and sawed-off doors. You can crawl from the front seat right over into the bed. It was, as they say, a find. Only cost us our bicycles and a couple of days work in the bed ’n’ breakfast from hell.