• Jabe Stafford

One Page Worlds - The Magician's Verdict

A whole world on a single page!

The short story morsels of One Page Worlds are flash fiction adventures of all flavors. Every Wednesday will feature a complete story in one page, or the first page of what could be a novel or novelette.

Sharing the fun and geekery is the best part of writing! Please tweet or comment with your guesses on what genre, character, and job is central to each tale. Enjoy touring new universes each week with One Page Worlds!

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Emerging from the courthouse into the back alley is as flying home from a favorite vacation spot.

Everything went as scheduled. Media-heavy entrance. Freedom of choice upheld. The charges against me dismissed.

Sometimes one must give a little to the people one climbed over to reach power. Show them you’re a sympathetic man as well as a charismatic pub chain owner and the public licks its chops for more.

“Lawrence Grant,” a youth shouts. “You murdered my little sister. Now confess.”

The maintenance door clangs shut behind me, the only noise in the empty back lot aside from the clamoring at the courthouse’s front. Those craving more of my Booze Warden persona—journalists and protesters—were supposed to be up front. The Judge had assured me this rear exit would be unimpeded.

Ryne Clayten stomps toward me and fumes, the pit stains on his red shirt and tie combo revealing his frame of mind.

“Good afternoon Master Clayten,” I say, brushing back long iron-black hair. “You were with your family in the gallery. Where was your Craft instructor?”

“I’m done with Savana and her cheap alchemy,” he hisses. “You’re lucky the media back there’s hungry for your fake image. We both know you don’t care as long as you get something out of everyone.”

I peer behind him. Half a block away, camerawomen and two of my lawyers exchange words like whip lashings. While I watch, a red-haired employee of mine in her lime-and-gold Booze Warden polo smiles and intercedes. It is an overcast day with rain spitting now and then, making her polo and my matching suit and tie the brightest, most attractive colors around.

I reach into an inside pocket and withdraw a metal flask. “Apathy is a shield to a lot of people, Master Clayten. Savana cares in her own way, and I care in mine. Her way does not make me irrelevant. We both create an atmosphere. An experience.”

“Your experience kills people by the hundreds.”

“Didn’t you hear the verdict? Cleared of all charges.”

“Underage drinkers get their liquor from somewhere.”

“People will feed their addiction of choice whether legal or not.” I spin the flask. A Craft symbol I etched gleams on the side: Two halves of an oval struck through with a jagged line ending in circumpuncts. It isn’t the usual addictive blend I sell across the country. This small batch is more aggressive. “My Craft bourbon is simply one addiction among thousands.”

Ryne forces calm onto his pinched face. “Your pub chain is richer than the two biggest beer companies combined. You’re one of four people left alive that can Craft alchemy. It should have died out after the Roaring Twenties.”

My lip curls. “Savana has taught you more than the Craft, but you have not learned enough to be even a beginner Craftsman. Three of us remain including me.”

Ryne takes the flask I pass him, eyes the symbol, and swigs. “And you’re all terrified of exposure. Of not mattering or of falling off.”

My bourbon’s woodsmoke burn wafts into my nose when he passes the flask back. I smile with a predator’s confidence. “We cannot be removed from the positions we have built. Not without extreme damage to the public’s mental health. My kind converse with the dead, enrich the senses, and intensify the release gotten from a favorite past time. All services that mankind needs in this era.”

“You’re so guilty it stinks like week-old gym clothes.”

“And this is why people remain animals. Schoolboy insults are a choice, Master Clayten.”

“So is the choice to use a beautiful thing like alchemy to poison thousands. My sister’s gone and I’m through with eating yours and Savana’s lies. I’ve got family to help out.”

I shut the flask and pocket it, then glance behind him at the now departing crowd. “Family that cared enough to follow you into a back alley to harass a Craftsman CEO.”

“I cared enough to keep them and my big sister away from you.”

A chuckle escapes my throat. “You told your mother and father that I got away with murder by alchemy? Do you enjoy the thought of wearing a straightjacket?”

Ryne reaches into his pants pocket, drawing something out in his fist. “I like learning, Mr. Grant. There’s so much of your Craft left to learn.”

“Lessons are repeated until learned,” I say before turning away from the courthouse. A dark SUV awaits at the nearby curb with a man wearing lime-and-gold behind the wheel. “You will find that is why people don’t learn, Master Clayten. They fear the repetition if they do not learn, and they fear the increased pressure and pain of what they must do after they learn.” I stride away from the man-child.

Ryne follows. “I’ll show the world there are better ways than avoiding the pain. I’m gonna show them it’s you that’s keeping them in that rut.”

I arrive at the SUV and spin to face him, snarling. “My bourbon is the leash they use to control the fears that boil inside them. After a few drinks, it feels like the fear is gone. They don’t have to face a fear that isn’t there.” I wink at Ryne and step into the SUV. “One that isn’t harming them.”

He raises what he held in his fist-a minute bottle with Craft etchings I don’t immediately recognize. It shimmers acid-green in his hand. “When I’m done, you won’t be harming anyone. Call me The Magician now.”

Uncorking the bottle, he watches a smooth foam head bubble on what smells like an ale. He should have begun seizing and dying by now, but he downs the brew and smacks his lips. “I think I’ll share a drink with my big sister tonight. She’s a cop.”

Ryne The Magician pockets his Craft bottle, then crosses the courthouse’s back lawn toward the commotion that’s still going at the main entrance.

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