The Wizard of Lowell Road
Charles C Cole
Last cheery fire of the fading summer. Vacation would be over in the morning. Back to work. Winston tossed some remaining burnable chunks onto the smoldering pit.
“So long, grandfather oak!” It was from an old, never-forested corner of the wood lot. In fact, Winston had an oil painting of the original farmhouse, and the oak in the background was already standing tall.
The dancing flames sparked high and orange, the wood popping and groaning. Then a prone bearded man in a robe appeared in the center of the blaze, stood, and stepped onto the lawn, unharmed and clothes undamaged. He looked about to get his bearings.
“You did that?” demanded the stranger, pointing at the flames.
“Made the fire? Yep, that’d be me. I didn’t notice a man sleeping under the ashes at the time.”
“Many thanks!” said the bearded one. “The witch buried my heart hereabouts. One of your trees, apparently, made generous use of it.”
“Who are you?” asked Winston.
“Magnus the Mild. You?”
“Winston Donlevy, the webmaster. It’s my land.”
“You don’t say. Wasn’t once.”
“You’re not burned.”
“We wizards don’t burn. Or drown. Explode, yes. Melt into puddles on occasion. At least in my time, but this might not be my time. I don’t recall that building with all the windows.” He nodded at the traditional colonial home some forty feet away.
“Been there over 80 years. Built over the foundation of another one.”
“In 1763, we had a nasty fiend in these parts doing all sorts of beastly violence. A witch was hired to watch the nights. I watched the day. People were spread thin. Not enough common interests to make a town. We were the only authorities. I didn’t know that the witch was actually extorting the locals. When I was young, my mentor trained me: the powerful always help the oppressed in a sort of payment for our powers. It was a cruel time. There were countless territorial skirmishes. It broke my heart to see children killed.”
“I’d been sleeping in the bottom of the lake, recharging after one too many battles. The witch sent an otter, a curmudgeonly sort who never liked me, down to ask for my help. But it was all just to lure me out. I was always sensitive. One day when we stumbled across this terrible massacre, while I was collapsed, crying and vulnerable, she reached in and yanked my heart out of my chest, just like that. Sure, it hurt, but it was the sting of betrayal that hurt more. Over the years, I heard the muffled sounds of children laughing and rumbling machines, life hurtling along without me. I was ‘aware’ but as if imprisoned in a dark chamber, something you broke with your fire.”
“You’re magic folk?”
“What’s left, it sounds. No feral unicorns about, mischievous little people, a grumpy toadman?”
“So, what’s my purpose in this world?” asked Magnus.
“We’ve come a long way since your era,” Winston explained. “We’re very civilized now. And advanced. Say, can you fix TVs? Mine’s on the fritz.”
“What’s a TV?”
“Picture a telescope that shows plays from a stage, miles away, and then displays them on something the size of a wall mirror, like a painting that moves. Everyone’s got one.”
“Sounds like magic to me. Go on.”
“We can speak into a small box and the message can be heard in another small box hours or days later, sounding exactly like the original voice, and only received by the intended recipient.”
“No place for magic, you say?”
“Not unless you can end world hunger or climate change.”
“I wouldn’t know where to find a planet’s mouth or what to feed it, but any wizard can make it rain. Tis for beginners.”
“We have these horseless mechanical carriages that can travel hundreds of miles on liquid fuel, go as fast as a galloping thoroughbred the entire time, with some long enough to carry all the furniture from a large house. But there’s a tradeoff for the fancy technology. You see, they fart constantly, not too smelly, but enough where the world’s getting hotter in places where it shouldn’t.”
“From the farts? Like the tops of mountains?”
“So, you want me to make them not fart. Are there many?”
“Hundreds of thousands, give or take.”
“I’m not a miracle worker! Maybe, instead, you want someone to fall in love with you. I’m good at that. Have a reputation actually.”
“I don’t believe in love and I don’t have the time,” said Winston. “You see my house? Keeps me dry from the rain. Has special alarms for intruders. Has a food cupboard that talks to me if the temperature gets too hot.”
“It’s as bright as a lighthouse and twice as big,” said the wizard.
“There’s that. Costs money to maintain. We have lights everywhere; some bigger cities are almost as bright as day in the middle of the night. So, except for sleep, I have few excuses for NOT working through the night if my boss, ‘master’ to you, requests it.”
“And what of the king?” asked the wizard. “Surely, he must have needs. In my experience, they always do.”
“Who’s in charge?” asked the wizard.
“A committee of sorts. The people who are voted for by a majority of the masses.”
“Democracy?! It’ll never last.”
“We’ve done okay for over two hundred years.”
The wizard sighed and looked up at the distant stars.
“Tell me this: Is there still an enchanted cave nearby or a remote bottomless lake, some place where a guy can take a decades-long nap and wake up when things are more wizard-friendly?”
Winston pulled his smartphone from his pocket. “Siri, directions to the nearest cave.”
The wizard was still stunned when he said, “You don’t need more magic; you need more humanity.”