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  • Writer's pictureJabe Stafford

One Page Wonders IX - Since Liches Were Liches

Flash fiction is a love of mine, and so are geeky tropes and pulp-style stories of every variety. Sometimes it's the characters that spur the writing. Other times it's atmosphere, concept, magic system, or a twist. One Page Wonders blogs started as a writing exercise. Now they're digestible, one-shot stories you can read on the bus or while sneaking 5 minutes at work!

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“There is always a time in someone’s life when they need you,” the lich said into the rear view mirror for the ten thousand, nine hundred fiftieth time. “I only wish that time would come soon for someone.”

Said former magician—named Taraxes, but who goes by Tara—considered speaking that wish again, but refrained. Those words came from that mouth once a night at three a.m. for thirty consecutive years. Always there was the same uniform: pressed slacks, a work badge and a screen printed navy blue hoodie with the city’s logo on front and back. So Tara could look official and conceal that which every lich carries and has carried since liches were liches.

Tara opened the hybrid bus’s doors to allow a trio of three a.m. riders aboard. The first, a sweaty, tattooed man who wore his t-shirt around his neck, swiped his orange one-week bus pass and crossed to the back.

The second and third riders were twenty-somethings with tequila on their breath and crop tops barely visible beneath long, sleek hair. One woman had paid for the year-long pass, a green reloadable plastic card rather than the red paper one in the second woman’s hand. A one-day pass.

They ranted and raved all the way to the seats in the middle of the bus.

“That’s absolute bullshit. How dare he treat you that way,” green pass said.

“Guess it’s just what I’ve grown to expect these days," said red pass. "Didn’t start out like this.”

“I never heard that dirtbag talk about any of his dreams or shit. What a parasite.”

Tara muttered, “No one can tell me I didn’t do what I’m here for,” before sliding the doors shut again. “There was a day when passengers on the old trains had to have their tickets inspected one by one.” The lich was right about this, and was speaking from experience.

Eyes lingering on the man with the tattoos, Tara focused on the designs themselves. One, a colorful sleeve down the right arm with a tiger, a name, and a beret. Other inked artwork included a leopard and a lynx on the parts of the man’s chest that were visible. No hint of a spell on his outward appearance. There almost never was, but the best opponents knew how to hide.

Tara then realized the need to quit staring and faced forward, driving east on Pine Street toward the interstate. The lich tuned out the women’s conversation and drove past big box stores, fattening food franchises, and various vehicles still out even at this hour in the city. Making the stops the route required brought no other passengers. No one who needed an ex-magician’s help.

“Not one single warlock with rage-balls of fire,” Tara said sotto voce. “No modern vampires or shapeshifters preying on the gullible. It’s not like it was centuries ago. People used to know all about us and seek us out. I had the pick of the best work for centuries. Now look at me. After all the work I did. Can’t spell-sling. Can’t even keep my skin on right. No magic anymore.”

Glancing in the rear view mirror again, the lich was indeed still a lich.

“No magic anymore.” Tara’s ears almost mistook the women’s words for more late night lich ramblings. They’d raised their voices. Green pass was enraged. “Now you gotta straight-up investigate a guy before you date him.”

“And you can’t break things off without expecting retaliation.”

“How’re you using such big words after the night you been through and all them shots?”

Slowing to a stop at the corner of Gulch and Twenty-Seventh, Tara slid the doors open in front of an apartment tower with a bodega for a ground floor. The lich turned in the driver’s seat to find the tattooed man must have gotten off at an earlier stop. He wasn’t an opponent seeking to cause magical destruction, then. Tara's shoulders slumped.

Both women were getting up and staggering toward the exit at the front. “Stay at my place for a couple weeks until that animal calms down,” the one holding the green pass said. “I got a couch and a laptop. Find work and get your stuff back next week or something.”

As the women left, the one carrying the red one-day bus pass told her friend, “I don’t know what we’d have done if the bus had missed our stop. My ex could have chased us out of The Honeyed Tongue or—”

Slamming the doors closed, Tara drove on through the dead of night. Along the rest of the route, fantasies of slaying monsters for a neighborhood danced alongside daydreams of dragon wrangling in Tara’s heart.

The lich thought the words to that wish at every stop until the sun came up, but did not speak them again.

Not until three a.m. the next shift.

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