The Best of the Mage (Page 56 and 57)


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The Best of the Mage (Page 56 and 57)


Science Fiction


These pages describe the continuation story of Blessed Are Those... by William P. Cunningham.


Rizky Suwoto


The Best of the Mage (Number 8, Fall 1987)


Colgate University Student Association


Fall 1987


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Science Fiction

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ative. "Say, what are you doing out here with me? I'm an old man. You're young, new. You have a weird name. And I probably couldn't get it up if I tried." The Mage knew that if she didn't protest, he would go home soon. Zondra, · who had been close, came closer and looked into the wonderful eyes of the Mage, "Betcha could." The Mage brought up his arms, "Could not." The steam from both their breaths formed crystals in his beard. Zondra breathed in the Mage's smell and thought that she would faint with sweet warmth and that maybe she should have a few martinis. "Could." Unnecessarily, the Mage whispered, "Well, maybe," before moving the needed inch. As they kissed, Zondra 's fingers twirled the hair above the back of the Mage's neck, right where the rim of the hat rested. You have to wonder exactly what the architect had been doing when he was designing this apartment building because just as Zondra' s fingers started their twirling, a bit of wind poked its way under the Mage's hat and neatly carried it away into the night For Zondra, this was a good thing because she now had an entire head of hair to twirl. The fact that his hat was gone penetrated the Mage only to the extent that he was glad he wasn't bald.
*** A few blocks away the bum was living through a familiar hangover as he thought of stopping somewhere and sleeping for a while. His feet both ached worse than his head; the left, housed in a red Pro Ked, was in constant competition with the right, which was covered with a chewed penny loafer. Getting ahead, falling behind, the bum's feet declared truce only at night: the dark hid which was higher than the other. Because he was always alone, in one way or another, it didn't impress the bum that there weren't many people on the streets.
When the bum felt the padded slap through his garbage-ridden hair he stopped walking and paused, like a child deciding whether or not to cry, before spinning angrily to see who had thrown-what? a hat?-at him. He saw no one behind him. Spitting and mumbling curses and feeling used, he abruptly decided that he was sick of it all-the city and all the rotten, unfeeling people in it. He began to walk back downtown toward Times Square and, eleven or so blocks beyond that, the escape of Penn Station. Halfway down the block he discovered that he was gripping something tightly in his left hand. He looked at the bundle held in his other ann and threw it aside: they were just rags. Finally arriving at Penn Station,. the bum knew he needed money to buy a ticket. He wanted it quickly and thought about stealing, but rejected that. Begging was something he had ex perience with, but it tended to be slow. After thinking a minute, he found a fair sized piece of paper and, with the stamped out ends of cigarettes, scribbled "12th Street Mission" on it. It looked terrible, but that was to effect he wanted. Next he positioned himself next to a newsstand, just out of sight of the vendor. He smiled dourly as his pocket filled with the change people were getting ready to put in their pockets and purses from buying something from the busy newsstand. People find it easier to give when you are staring at the coins in their hands. Even then, they find it better to give to a cause than to a mere person. He scratched at his nose and wondered why he hadn't ever thought of it like that before. After buying a ticket for points south, the bum made an effort to clean himself up a bit in the men's room. Still having a lot of time before his train left, he wandered into a book shop, picked up a book from one of the shelves and started to read.
''T alk about the typical male! This place is a mess!
exclaimed Zondra as the Mage turned on the lights. Well, she assumed he had turned them on, though he was standing in the middle of the studio apartment. Could be a sound activator, she thought. Zondra followed the Mage as he hopped around the apartment getting some wine and glasses and tripping over an amber cat several times along the way. "You hungry?" asked the Mage as he poured some wine into the glasses, as well as on the table and floor. "You wouldn't believe it! I'll give you a thousand bucks if you can guess what I'm hungry for right now." She got up from the divan and reached out to one of the lights on the wall. "Ouch! Hey, these are real candles! How did you-" "Popcorn," cut in the Mage loudly as he turned on the microwave. "What?" she asked, candle forgotten in her surprise. "Popcorn. You looked like you wanted some popcorn," he replied. "Be ready in a jiffy." Flipping on the stereo, the Mage embraced Zondra and they started to dance around the room. "Your eat's a pain in the ass, you know that?" she sighed. "Mnnm," he agreed, nibbling an ear. "Just who are you, anyway? This place is too weird." The question was asked as if it was no big deal, but the Mage knew it was The Question Before Sex. He thought, Goddamn it, every time, every single time. It always threw him when The Question was asked and, per usual, he had to claw through the webs and brick walls of his mind for the right answer. If wrong, the buzzer would sound and the beautiful young woman would go home. If right, well, she wouldn't. He recalled the first Question he had been asked-how could they always be different? It wasn't fair-long ago, "What are we doing?" Oh, sure, they always seemed simple enough, but what were they really asking? He had· fudged his way through that first one successfully. Though he
couldn't recall what his answer had been, he knew that it hadn't been the first thing to pop into his head. Now, centuries later, the Mage despaired in a small apartment in New York City. I'm too drunk and senile to think of an Answer, he thought resignedly. Giving up the game, the Mage took a deep breath and sulked out, "I'm a mage." "What? You want to put me in a cage?" Zondra jerked back a little. "A mage, a mage, a wizard of the order of, oh, a wizard, hang it all!" There, it is done, he thought, it's all over. She was impressed as hell by the outpouring of emotion. It was obvious that the man had kept that bottled up inside himself for a long time. Why he had chosen her to revel his inner belief in his own excellence in some field, she couldn't guess. But she decided to reciprocate and not press him as to whether he was a wizard at stamp collecting, art dealing or what. Tightening her embrace a bit she said, "I think you're just great; and if you can keep a secret, urn, my real name's Beth." The Mage held Beth at arm's length and almost wept with joy, "Beth? I love the name Beth!" Recharged with confidence, he emitted all kinds of sparkling energy in his next kiss. At it's end, Beth was sending a mental thank-you to a certain psych professor. Then she sniffed. A thin layer of smoke floated through the apartment. "I think the popcorn's done." But the Mage only had time to glimpse in the direction of the microwave as Beth drew him to the bed. He mumbled, "I'll never figure out this Question shit." Beth answered, hands working, "Who does?"
*** BY noon the next day, the bum had been thrown out of three bookstores in the downtown area before chancing upon a text on speed reading. After that, he flipped through the pages so quickly that no one believed he
was actually reading them. Stopping for a few minutes by the Science/Computer section on his way to the door, the bum left the bookstore and headed toward · the library. In the Penn Station bookstore, the night before, the bum had stopped reading long enough to realize that he had missed his train and wonder why he hadn't done much reading before. "Before . . . " he whispered, reaching up to lightly touch the hat that had appeared from nowhere. It had something to do with the hat, but he didn't care how or why. Mental thirst turned him back to the books until the store closed. By that time, he had decided to stay in the city and help people like himself-or at least people that were like what he was before the hat found him. The bum, not walking or acting like a bum any longer, spent the night huddled on the floor of Penn Station next to a trash can, deep in thought. Toward morning, a woman throwing away a newspaper heard him mumbling, "It's in the books, I know it's in the books," The woman frowned and turned toward gate twelve, shaking her head, "Poor bastard." The morning's search through bookstores saw him through social researches, economics, and scientific data on the homeless. But he found that it was an outward spiral of knowledge and he couldn't ignore psychology, logic, religion, mathematics, or even popular literature. Just before flipping through the computer books, he had come to a mind boggling conclusion: It was all one big, inseparable piece. Shit. In the library, he went to a reference terminal, quickly broke through the running program and began to type his own. A few minutes later, Subject Query? appeared on the screen. He typed 'Philosophy' and copied down the titles and call numbers that started to scroll. All kinds of people go to the library. The former bum fit in, or at least didn't stick out very much ashe studied quietly with alampto his left. Through the afternoon,
the man's face had taken on all manner of expressions: agitation, fear, anger, joy. Once he even cried, his head bowed so that the tears fell directly from his eyes onto the page. The tiny caps of water shrank as the ancient leaves took them in, and there, in a branch of the Public Library of the City of New York one man decided that the world was indeed one big piece and that he was part of it; and when the time came, someone would take up his place after he left. Approaching the reference terminal for the second time, his face shone and his walk had the quality of a breeze over the vast swelling of an ocean. He had decided what he would do, but first he had to get something out of the way. His response to Subject Query? this time was "The Occult."
The Mage woke with a headache, cotton mouth, and the sun streaming into his apartment. Looking left, out the windows, he could see tufts of snow here and there on the sills of other buildings; and he got the impression it was late afternoon. Looking right he saw Beth, in a half slumber, petting Niko the cat who was settled happily in the rumpled sheets. "Wow," he said, and started to laugh. He shut himself off with a choke as he remembered the hat. Half falling, half diving off the bed, the pile of clean laundry he had been meaning to put away started to fly in all directions. Beth was fully awake by the time the Mage was attired in leather pants (no belt), a plaid cotton shirt, and socks of not only different color but of different size. He was hunting for his white Rebocks under the bed when Beth slapped his behind, causing him to bang his head. "Why so uptight, Wizy?" drawled Beth, now sitting up. "Do you wear briefs or boxers? I didn't notice." "This will sound slightly demented, my dear," puffed the Mage as he sat on the floor tying

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