Understanding Wranglers: A Primer
Charles C Cole
Nobody ever thinks about where old wizards go to die. Why would they? They look human enough, but they’ve had transformative magic pulsing through their bodies for so many decades that they are lightyears closer to sentient stardust than to crude flesh and blood.
Unlike clay-made man, the Old Ones do not face the indignity of a damp grave; they get the tremors and then the shimmers, levitate higher and higher off the ground, then burst like fireworks and return skyward to stardust.
Like a Persian genie, wizards are a walking, talking fount of raw wishes waiting to be realized. And like diamonds and love, they are diminished when underutilized, but they can also be the wrong solution to a simpler problem.
Let’s back up. I have it on good authority that many of these boots-wearing folk in broad black hats who manipulate the mortal world with supernatural forces prefer to be called wranglers, as in stardust wranglers, at least in the southwestern States where I’m from.
When they excel at what they do, wranglers are so overflowing with magic that they leave traces of it wherever they go, on whatever they touch, the way you and I might leave oily fingerprints. They can’t help it; it’s not a deliberate or even conscious act.
That time you were angry and stressed and stopped by the bar or the local diner and felt a jolt of unexpected joy when you touched the door on your way out…that’s because a wrangler had just entered and unintentionally left his essence for you to encounter.
So, where did magic come from? The dust of shooting stars sprinkled across the earth over thousands of years before humans first appeared, too light and ethereal to settle onto the earth’s surface, but waiting to be tapped by those with the right skills and experience.
The story of the first wrangler is a tale passed down from my great-great-grandpappy. A farmer had an inconsolable baby. He and the baby’s mama invited the local shaman for dinner and a solution. Was it gas, incoming teeth, demonic possession, something threatening outside the house in a color spectrum the grownups could no longer see?
Following a bountiful meal and a delightful dessert, the shaman lit some sacred herbs and asked help from the ever watchful sky god. Though he was never told the issue, he was clearly instructed that a single eagle feather hung above the crib would bring the child lasting peace.
The farmer climbed a nearby mountain where eagles were known to nest. The journey was steep and dangerous. Just before he got to the top, he passed through a layer of floating, sparkling dust that he had not seen from the ground. The sight made him gasp and he accidentally swallowed some. This in turn made him lightheaded and he stumbled. Eventually, he found the empty eagle’s nest and grabbed a loose feather, only to tumble off the cliff’s edge.
At the bottom of the trail, the farmer’s wife and frustrated baby waited impatiently. He fell like a stone, right at their feet, without any injuries. He stood and brushed himself off and quickly held the feather above his baby’s head. The baby quieted and smiled and cooed. The farmer’s hair had turned white and long, like he had been gone for years instead of hours. His skin shimmered like sand and he felt a profound pull to return up the mountain.
Another major correction: Wranglers can bring back the dead or make people fall in love but, due to the Law of Constant Balance of the universe, somewhere someone else will die or fall out of love. Is that their fault? I heard of a generous wrangler (drunk in some versions) who, for one brief holiday, made everybody in his hardworking village feel the happiest they’d ever experienced – just because. By the time the day was over, most of their distant neighbors across the river and around the bend had killed themselves or each other.
Though many are too shy to consider it, wranglers cannot be rulers. That would be too much power for any individual; that’s why, instead, they are often thought of as advisers to leaders.
Wranglers can’t marry other wranglers. My momma said it’s because of an ugly story where the relationship of a magical husband and wife rotted like an old potato. The two sought dissolution from the same shaman who had married them, each petitioning for sole custody of their alchemical closet, and each later going to angry and violent extremes, with some collateral damage to their community, to make the other pay for shattering their fragile vision of perfect fairytale love.
But there’s always a time and place when magic and wranglers are the only viable combination, say when the one village well runs dry or when a monster twister is racing right toward the schoolhouse.
You may think such measures are out of your reach. But I’ll tell you a well-guarded secret: like lawyers, all wranglers must take one pro bono (charity) case per year. You’ve just got to be the one. Make a nuisance of yourself; they’ll tell you just to get rid of you. Wranglers need concentration, and a whiny hanger-on is the opposite of inspiration to them.
But, if you get their attention, ask as specific and fine-tuned a request as you can. I heard of a fella who wanted his old pickup to be able to have a mind of its own, so’s after his night shift in the mine he could sleep during the drive home. Damned if his truck didn’t yearn for more excitement than found in our one-diner town and ride off into the sunset, never to be seen again.
You’d have found out these stories eventually; they’re not secrets so much as disposable folklore to be believed or not.
As for that famous bright flickering in the far northern sky known as the aurora borealis, I’ll let you decide for yourself.