Sample Chapter From:
Magical Certainty, Volume One: In Which Our Hero Lands A Fancy New Job…
Scribed, the Toronto tattoo parlor where she now worked, occupied a narrow storefront on Yonge Street. Inside were glass display cases filed with rings and studs, and jewelry for piercings in every imaginable body part. Above the suggested tattoo designs that lined the dark purple walls were photos of the tattoo artists, snapshots of their best work, and their various diplomas—mostly from art schools or trade colleges, but Eugenie’s first degree, a BA in English Lit, was there too. Gary the owner, whose only diploma was his highschool equivalency, was holding the ladder for her while she put a screw high up into the wall with the power-drill.
“Pretty impressive girl, pretty impressive.” Gary was holding her new diploma in his free hand. “Master’s Degree of Information, University of Toronto. Very impressive.”
“Don’t you doubt it,” she mumbled, taking the screw out from between her lips. She hadn’t grown much since that day in grade ten; she was short and petite, and her thick dark hair was longer, though less kept. “Eugenie Rose Walker, BA, MI. Put that in your hat. Of course it’s all a terrible mistake. I read the course syllabus wrong, I was aiming for PI, not MI. I only realized at graduation that I wasn’t becoming a Private Detective. It was a rainy afternoon see, the streets were so wet you could almost believe this filthy city was clean, and that’s when she walked in…” Eugenie ran the drill, bracing herself as the screw slipped into the brick.
“But really, what are you going to do with it?” Gary asked her as she stepped halfway down the ladder and traded the drill for the framed diploma.
“I haven’t really decided. A lot of people go into library science to get jobs in corporations dealing with data management: filing, archiving, that type of thing. I’m not going to touch that stuff; but a lot of people want to work in libraries too, and, while that appeals to me … ugh, the people I’d be working with. Talk about square.”
Eugenie slipped the frame onto the hook and looked down at him. “There’s two reasons people want to become librarians: They love kids, or they love books.”
“Well, you love books,” he said.
“Sure thing, but I love reading books, not the books themselves. These girls, and I do mean girls, love the actual books. They spend hours caressing the spines and discussing the binding. It’s kind of fetishistic.”
“There’s nothing wrong with a good fetish.”
This wasn’t Gary’s voice. Eugenie whipped her head around and found that the two of them were no longer alone in the shop. The drill must have drowned out the sound of the door chime. An old man—ancient yet tall, erect, and broad shouldered— stood near the door, leaning on a cane. He wore a green turtleneck, a tweed blazer, and grey slacks. He still had most of his hair, though it was all a brilliant white, and a thick, well-trimmed mustache marked his handsome face with an imperial military quality. His hand-carved cane and wry grin were both a little crooked, yet he gave the impression of indomitable strength. The image of him leading an African safari struck her as fitting, but the image of him with a tattoo was jarring and almost unthinkable—except possibly for a crude anchor on his arm.
The old man continued: “Not “fetish” in the modern sexual sense of course, although I’ve really nothing to say against one’s particular tastes; but I meant in the traditional sense of fetish: a carving or small object believed to have magical powers.” He spoke with a clipped, clear British accent, deep voiced, with what she would describe as a “just short of hurried” pace.
“Like a curio,” Eugenie suggested.
“Yes, a curio with the ability to smite your enemies.”
Eugenie laughed as she stepped down the ladder. “A good heavy paper weight can do that.”
“Quite,” the old man agreed.
The three of them stood silently for a moment. The old man turned his head, scanning the walls, and this jarred Gary and Eugenie from their distracted daze. Gary put down the drill on the counter and carried the ladder into the back room.
“What kind of tattoo were you thinking about?” Eugenie asked.
“Oh, I have enough tattoos for now,” he answered distantly.
“Then what can we do for you?”
“I need to find a librarian.”
Eugenie laughed. “We just happen to have a librarian. What size were you thinking?” He didn’t respond, and she stepped towards him. “How did you know I worked here? Who are you?”
The man reached into his jacket pocket and removed a business card. She took it and saw that it belonged to her thesis advisor. He said: “My name is… oh, heaven’s I’ve forgotten. Just a moment.” She waited while he closed his eyes, touched his chest with his right hand, and began rubbing and pressing his sternum with his knuckles. Finally he opened his eyes and said: “No, I’m sorry I don’t recall it.”
“You mean, your name?”
“My name?” he asked startled. “Aldebrand, Colonel Patrick Aldebrand.”
She tilted her head. “Colonel Aldebrand?”
“Yes?” Again, he said this as though she were addressing him for the first time, as though she’d just caught his attention.
“You couldn’t remember your name a moment ago.”
“Very possibly,” he agreed. “That’s hardly important though right now. What is important is you, Eugenie Rose Walker. I need you to be my librarian.”
“Okay, but for what?” She asked, leaning against the counter and crossing her arms. “I should tell you right off that I’m not interested in corporate work.”
“Quite right,” he said with a nod. “Who wants to work? Who said anything about work?”
“I said I needed to find a librarian. I have found one!” He motioned to her with his palm up. “Miss Eugenie Rose Walker. A truly wonderful name, by the way. I haven’t known a Eugenie in quite a long time. But now that I have found a librarian, the question remains: How does she find me?”
She chuckled nervously. “You’re right there.”
“Yes, yes, but how do you find me? Do you find me fascinating? Fantastic? Interesting? You must at least give me interesting. Astounding?”
“Off-putting,” she said, and he smiled at this. She turned her head. “Gary!” she called back to her boss, who seemed to have disappeared into the back room.
“Oh, we don’t need Gary, although I’m sure he’s quite nice. Off-putting you say? I shall have to work to improve that. Will you allow me?”
She looked back at him. “I guess,” she agreed slowly. “Hold on, is this some kind of come-on, cause I’m…”
“Not a come-on, more of a come-along.”
“Come along?” she asked.
“Yes, come along!” He swept his hand towards the door, but when she didn’t move he took the initiative and opened it, then stepped into the street, and held it for her.
Eugenie had no appointments scheduled, she’d only come in to the parlor to hang her diploma. Gary didn’t need her, and as strange as this man was, he seemed to be offering her a job in her field—and she needed one.
“Later, Gary!” she called, as she followed the old man into the street.
Colonel Aldebrand walked quickly south on Yonge Street, his long strides slightly difficult to keep up with.
He stopped and turned to her, saying sharply: “I have a number of rules. The first rule is: Keep up.”
“Okay,” she said, half-jogging after him. “What exactly is the job?”
“Oh, lets not think of it as a job. Jobs are boring. Jobs are things people dread when they get up in the morning. Jobs are things that, when you’re finally done them, people give you a gold watch as though to say: ‘Look how little time you have left before you finally die! Don’t you wish you’d done something more exciting with your life than having a job?’”
“Okay, career then.”
“Oh, from bad to worse! No, call it an adventure, please.” He was walking so quickly that the other pedestrians needed to hastily step out of the old man’s way lest they be bowled over by his progress. His pace was quite astonishing given that his cane was clearly not an affectation, but a necessary support. Each long stride was a limping one.
“Okay,” Eugenie agreed. “What exactly would I be doing on this adventure?”
“I need you to file things.”
Eugenie laughed. “Thrilling, I’m sure.”
“Well, it all depends on what you’re filing doesn’t it?”
“I suppose. Then what would I be filing?”
“Lots of things, but mostly my mind. I guess you’d say my memories. You see I have a filing system now, but it’s not working very well. You might have noticed that already. I knew a good librarian once, back in Babylon, amazing chap. He kept every book in his head—could walk you right to whatever you wanted, but I’m thinking I need something a little more advanced.”
She took a breath. “For your memories?” she asked tentatively.
“I don’t understand,” she said as they crossed a side street, moving against the traffic light. “Is… are you writing a memoir?”
“Not just now. It would be thrilling I’m sure, sell a billion copies, but that’s really the kind of thing you do towards the end of your life.”
She looked up at him as he strode quickly down the broad street, his crooked cane tapping the sidewalk, punctuating each long stride. He was craning his neck this way and that, looking intently for something. How do you tell someone they seem to have forgotten that they’re in their eighties?
“No, I just need to get my memories… tidied up, I guess you might say. You’ll see what I mean.”
“I haven’t agreed to anything. Where are we going?”
“Nowhere,” he said.
“Okay, then what are we doing? What are you looking for?”
“Why, what’s happened?” she asked anxiously, the thought that he might really be nuts occurring to her for the first time.
“Oh, too many things to count, but I think you wanted to know why I need a policeman, or woman really. A police officer!”
“I need a gun,” he said, “and that seems like the best way to get one.”
A passing woman gave them a startled look. Eugenie smiled, trying vainly to show with that single expression that it was all a joke, and that the octogenarian she was following wasn’t violent or dangerous. “Why do you need a gun?”
“I don’t,” he said.
“But you just said …”
“I need the bullets.”
“Why do you need bullets?”
“Ah!” He pointed and snapped his fingers then stepped into the busy street. Tires screeched as a sedan leaned forward in an anxious and frustrated stop, just feet from Colonel Aldebrand. A police cruiser had just come around the corner and was moving up the street towards them. Aldebrand was waving his hands wildly at the cop as the cars behind him blared their horns. “Come along!” he urged, motioning for Eugenie to follow him across the street. She hastily did so, smiling awkwardly and apologetically at the frustrated drivers they were holding up.
The cop car had pulled over, and Colonel Aldebrand started speaking to the constable through the cruiser’s rolled down window. The cop nodded and replied; Eugenie couldn’t make out what they were saying to each other over the thrum of the traffic. Aldebrand had left her stranded on the yellow line in the middle of the busy road; cars passed quickly behind and in front of her. A traffic light down the street changed and there was finally a gap; she rushed across to the sidewalk in time to see the cop awkwardly removing his gun from its holster and handing it to the Colonel through the open window.
“No problem Mr. Superintendent,” the cop was saying. “Is there anything else I can do for you?”
“Not at all. Just keep up the good work.” Colonel Aldebrand tapped the roof of the cruiser and the cop drove away, leaving his gun in Aldebrand’s hand. The Colonel waved the gun at her, sending other pedestrians scurrying away. He crossed to the sidewalk, holding the cane under his arm as fiddled awkwardly with the pistol.
“This is crazy,” she said. “What are you doing?”
“You’ll see in just a moment. Hold this.” He handed her the gun, having managed to remove a single unspent bullet from the chamber. The first startled passersby had rushed away, probably to call the cops, and, as others now passed, they stared at this tiny young woman with tattoos on her arms awkwardly holding the black pistol as though it were a dead bird.
“I hate guns,” she said. “What the hell have you gotten me into?”
“I feel the same way about almonds,” Aldebrand replied.
“Almonds. I can’t stand them—hate them.”
“This is ridiculous, what am I supposed to do with this?” She thrust the gun towards him.
He shrugged. “Throw it away if you like.” He motioned towards a garbage can on the corner. He was busy working with the bullet, the cane still pressed under his armpit. The fingers and thumbs of both of his hands were prying at the bullet, as though he were trying to pull it apart.
Eugenie turned to the garbage can, but stopped. “Someone could find it,” she protested.
“The sewer then.”
There was a storm drain just next to them and she quickly dropped the gun through the grate. “All you needed was the bullet?”
“Yes. Actually, all I need is the slug. But the darn thing is really wedged in there.”
“Then why didn’t you just ask for a bullet?”
He stopped trying to pull apart the bullet, frozen. Slowly he turned to stare at her.
“That cop is probably going to get in trouble,” Eugenie nervously explained. “I think the cops keep a pretty good track of where their guns are. And how did you make him give you his gun anyway? You’re not really the police superintendent?”
“No. You know, you’re right. I could have just asked for the bullet.” He snapped his fingers. “This is why I need you. Now I’ve got to go to the police station and explain everything. The poor man could lose his job. Top notch work. Excellent, Eugenie. But the police station can wait. There!” He’d finally succeeded in pulling apart the bullet. He let the brass casing fall from his hand, and the black gun powder spilled onto the street.
“Isn’t that dangerous?”
He looked at the lead slug in his palm. “It’s just lead. I mean, as you pointed out, anything can be dangerous. A paperweight! But its not the lead that makes the bullet travel, it’s the gun powder and I’ve got rid of that.”
Eugenie looked down at the gun powder. Specks had blown onto her shoes. “That’s what…”
“Now see here. Watch the bullet.” He was holding it out in his palm. It was dull and heavy looking, a kind of blue-grey. “The world isn’t quite how you know it. I’m mostly to blame for all that, but today I need to show you a little bit more of the truth than you’re used to seeing. I need you to believe me right away, and that’s why I needed the bullet.
“Science,” he said with enthusiasm. “Science, Eugenie Rose, is the greatest invention of all history. It might sound odd to put it that way, but the process of scientific inquiry is a technology, as much as the telephone or a space rocket. And humanity has perfected that process so fully, I would not have thought it possible. You’ve used science to discover so much about the world, but there’s a whole fantastic aspect to the universe that science has yet to explore. I’m going to change that. It’s time, but I need your help to do it.” The old man sighed, suddenly exhausted. “I’ve been planning for so long, Eugenie, but it has to happen now. My hand has been forced.”
“What has to happen?” She was still looking at the bullet, the Colonel’s steady gaze on it transfixed her attention to the tiny lump of metal.
“Humanity is unique by virtue of what it lacks. But this absence isn’t natural at all. You have all been robbed.”
“Robbed of what?”
Eugenie looked up at his wrinkled face; he was still staring at the bullet, his eyes fixed with the intensity of a surgeon. She followed his gaze back down to the slug in his palm. It was turning yellow, a brilliant rich yellow—the new color swirled over the surface of the bullet like cream stirred into black coffee. “There’s no trick,” he said. “No slight of hand—my arthritis is far too advanced for any of that,” he added with a chuckle. “It’s gold.” He handed the slug to her, but didn’t say anything further.
The lump of metal was heavy and cold, warm on the side where he’d been holding it, but, as she tapped it with her finger, she realized she had no way to know if it was real or not—you saw people biting gold coins in the movies, but she didn’t really understand why.
“Do you believe me?”
Eugenie looked up into his large grey eyes. They looked tired. She reached behind her neck and undid the clasp of her necklace. It was just a simple leather strap, but from it hung three rings. She removed the most precious of these and handed it to him.
“This was my grandmother’s ring. She left it to me when she died. Turn it into lead.”
He took the ring, pinching it carefully between his fingers, and held it up before her while he closed his eyes. “Going the other way is trickier. I’ll try not to make thallium.” He smiled and opened his eyes when he said this, but seemed instantly embarrassed by his jest. “Sorry,” he said. “I’ll be careful.”
Eugenie nodded, and watched as the tiny gold band with the single birthstone—Eugenie’s pearl—changed from its polished yellow to dull grey. She nodded again, both satisfied and baffled. “I believe you,” she said. “I don’t know how I can’t. In the face of new evidence, I guess I have to.” She blinked and looked up at him. “See, I feel the same way towards science as… as what you were saying. I don’t know much about science really, but… this destroys everything I thought I knew.”
“It doesn’t go that far,” he corrected, still holding the lead ring between them like a hypnotist’s watch. “The existence of magic doesn’t change or disprove gravity, or the laws of motion. It certainly doesn’t affect evolution, or biology. It’s a bit of a catch-22: Science has never been able to study magic, because magic can only be detected by magical means. Imagine you were a pure intellect floating in the ether; you couldn’t study the physical universe without a physical existence. Sure, you could theorize about matter, but without a body, the other intellects would write off your theories as myth.” Aldebrand took a breath, shut his eyes, and turned the ring back into gold. “But magic does exist. For all the other species on all the other planets, magic is a part of their everyday life, but it’s being stolen from humanity, and I’m going to put an end to that. I’m going to give humanity its magic back.” Aldebrand said this with a determination that instantly softened as he continued:
“But I’m old. I’m very old and so much older than I look, and my memories… I’ll need them all, but I can’t keep them in my head. I need someone to sort them.”
“And that’s me?” she asked.
Yonge Street had filled with people all rushing to their destinations, flowing around the two of them like water coursing around the piers of a bridge. Here were all these people, but only the two of them knew. And of the two of them, only Aldebrand fully understood what it was they knew. Eugenie felt like she’d lost knowledge, not gained it. The only thing she’d learned was the extent of her own ignorance, which had grown enormously, and was continuing to expand with each thought.
Aldebrand was watching her, his look bore judgement, but something else as well. She knew that look. At the heart of it, tattooing was causing pain for purpose, and while her clients might really want their ink, it was still a little scary. “But you need something else don’t you?” she asked.
“What do you mean?”
“You’re afraid. You need someone with you because you’re afraid.”