Chapter 03 — Setting the Stage
The lights shone bright on his eyes, but with a few clever spells, he’d altered how the photons struck him so he could remain fully illuminated without actually blind. In his line of work, being able to read everybody around him was critical to success. Adjustments were always necessary, no matter how perfect his performance—after all, every show was dependent on how well the audience reacted.
”And now, if you’d be so kind,” said Jonathan Hudson with a wide grin. He gestured—making sure his cape flew out wide as he did—to an ordinary chair sitting on the stage.
The young woman giggled and started forward. As loathe as Jonathan felt toward the idea, it held true that everybody in the audience tended to prefer when a cute girl ended up his volunteer. He was a showman, through and through, and if that’s what it took to put on the best show… so be it. At least he didn’t make them out to be fools like some other magicians he’d seen.
As the young woman sat down, the chair suddenly lifted into midair.
Jonathan smiled, lifting his hands in unison with the chair—and inwardly buckling from the strain a little. She’s heavier than I expected… That’s the other reason to use cute girls, I guess. “Hold on tight!”
The chair flew out above the audience, trailing sparks and fog as it did. The fog was actually created by tiny canisters concealed inside the legs, to save Jonathan a bit of energy. He’d learned to mix practical effects and legitimate magic over the last few weeks to give his shows that extra level of excitement without additional drain.
As soon as I learn how to enchant objects… this is going to a whole new level. I hear they’re developing it in the Greywood right now.
As the young woman swung out over the small theater, people gasped and clapped. The sparks were totally harmless, of course—they weren’t even real, just photons of light generated by Jonathan—while the fog dissipated before it reached eye-level. The chair did two circuits before bringing the young woman back to the stage, flustered but excited.
Jonathan held out a hand and helped her up. She shook on unsteady legs, but her eyes were wide with excitement.
”Can I go again?” she asked breathlessly.
He grinned. “My dear, you can only ask so much of magic!” As he did, the chair suddenly shattered into a hundred pieces behind them—right on cue, of course. “Ah…”
Jonathan scratched his head, playing up the confusion, while the audience leaned forward with bated breath. Murmuring under his breath—which wasn’t required for magic at all, but thanks to Hailey, many assumed it was—Jonathan began to assemble the chair in his mind piece by piece, making sure every component of the spell was just right. He’d practiced it a thousand times, if not more, but to do it in a single smooth motion was the real trick.
He had to press the wood shards back together, fuse the fibers again, smooth the edges, and make it look seamless. It had to be perfect.
”And voila!” he cried, throwing forward his hands.
The chair snapped back together. Jonathan had executed it perfectly. The young woman next to him burst into applause, while the audience—only a hundred and fifty or so, but still, he’d filled the theater—burst into applause yet again. Jonathan turned around and took a sweeping bow, basking in the praise, the glory, his accomplishments come to light.
The rest of the show went well. Jonathan didn’t slip once, and more importantly, neither did his disguise. When he was done, the fog let him escape backstage with a clap of thunder and a series of dancing lights, as had become his signature. He knew better than to let anyone follow him again. Even the theater staff had no idea where he went, and he never interacted with them beyond the absolute necessities. Still, he drew enough of a crowd to be worth signing, again and again.
Jonathan had worried that magic becoming public would put a dent in his career, but if anything, it was the opposite. Particularly in the weeks since awakenings stopped, Jonathan found interest in his show doubled up, if not even more. People were eager to see magic, and he was all too happy to oblige.
Still… everything else that happened certainly put fear in his steps.
As Jonathan left the building through the emergency side door, he used a tiny spell to hold the emergency alarm lever in place, so it wouldn’t trigger. Outside, back in his street clothes once more with his cape hidden underneath a plain dark blue hoodie, dress pants underneath his jeans, Jonathan just looked like a kid wearing bulky clothes.
It was Thursday, December the twenty seventh. Four weeks had passed since the attack on the awakened camp near Rallsburg, the capture of Brian Hendricks and his associates, the blackout zone, and a general quiet fell over the world. Somehow, it seemed like after the most insane November anyone could remember, the Northwest decided it was time for a break.
Jonathan couldn’t be happier with that. His whole bus ride home consisted of nervous glances in every direction, praying none of Brian’s followers remembered what he looked like, or still had one of those stones. There had been a few suspicious deaths in the area, but since nobody could prove the victims were awakened—the identifying stones didn’t work after death—they’d been ruled accidents.
He didn’t believe it. He knew both of them were awakened, though to out them would be to out himself. Neither of them were suicidal or clumsy. The war wasn’t over… it just went quiet.
The bus driver called out his stop from the front. Jonathan pulled the cord and got to his feet, stumbling a little as the bus braked unexpectedly.
His heartrate quickened—is this something? Do I need to run? What’s going on?
Except… nothing. It was only another car, a bad driver cutting off the bus. Jonathan heaved a sigh of relief.
Remember what Julie taught you. Deep breaths. Don’t assume the worst. Hold to my strengths.
”Thanks,” said Jonathan as he got off. The bus driver waved to him cheerfully—Jonathan had always made sure to keep a good relationship with the man who drove his regular route. For one, he was just a really nice guy and worth talking to, but beyond that, Jonathan wanted to trust everybody on his path back home—back to safety.
I hope it’s safe, anyway…
He trudged through the evening rain in the dark, one block this way, one block that, until he finally reached the little custom mailbox. His mom decorated it with all her favorite things—mostly fish, he never really got her obsession with fish—and painted in bright colors was their last name.
Wonder if Hailey and Alden ever found out I gave them a fake last name… Even built a whole fake profile. It was for my career. I meant to tell them the truth, but… guess neither of them are gonna see me again.
Hailey, of course, was traveling the country and beyond, helping people wherever she went, playing the hero. Jonathan was honestly a little jealous. If he could, he’d do the same, but he didn’t have anything like her power. The fact they’d even met was one of his most treasured memories.
Alden, meanwhile, had moved down to Olympia to be with his sister, who’d been left in a coma. Though somehow the media still hadn’t learned it, most of the awakened knew Meg Bensen was the last person to try to awaken. It filtered through the camp and managed to reach one of the private awakened social groups online before the blackout struck.
Since then, Jonathan had sent his condolences to Alden, and received a grateful reply, but otherwise they’d not really conversed. It wasn’t that big a deal—they’d really only met a few times—but Jonathan felt bad for the guy. They were the same age, they were both relatively new to magic, and it had struck his sister in the worst possible way. He couldn’t imagine how Alden’s family was dealing with it.
”Hey Mom,” called Jonathan as he walked in the front door and rubbed his shoes on the welcome mat, “hey Da—”
He cut off. His mother Abigail—or Abby, to friends and family—came around the corner with a fresh load of laundry in her arms. At Jonathan’s slip, her eyes softened just a little. She forced a smile. “Welcome home. How was your gaming night?”
”Pretty good,” said Jonathan. I should tell her… Julie thought I should. I just… I can’t. Not while we’re still dealing with… everything else. “What’s dinner?”
”Well, I’m not really hungry yet. You in the mood for anything?”
”I think I’ll just have leftovers.”
”Let me make you something,” said Abby, setting the laundry down on the bench nearby. “Take that coat off and hang it to dry, all right?”
”Okay, okay,” said Jonathan.
He took the drenched coat off as soon as she walked away, hung it to dry, then rushed upstairs to his room to remove the rest of his theater outfit. By the time he’d come back to the kitchen, Abby was already well into making him a sandwich using some of the challah she’d made a few days prior. She waved at him as he walked in, half-obscured by the wispy menorah candles, gesturing toward the table.
”So,” she started, finally speaking more seriously as Jonathan began to dig in. It was delicious, as expected. “You’re halfway through senior year. Isn’t it time to start thinking about next steps?”
Jonathan shrugged noncommittally. “I’m already thinking about them.”
”So what’s the idea?”
That my career’s already started. “I’m looking at a couple schools.”
”Still sticking to theater, or do you want to branch out?”
Abby sighed goodnaturedly. “Honestly, why is it so hard to get a straight answer out of this generation?”
”Well, I thought I had an idea, but the world keeps changing on me,” said Jonathan.
”Clear your mouth before you speak.”
He did, and took a sip of water before he went on. “I’m still figuring it out. I don’t know exactly what I want to do yet.”
”College is a great place to start doing that, you know.”
”Not really,” said Jonathan with another shrug. “If I really want to do theater, that’s kind of a specialty thing. I can’t just go to a tech school but want to do theater. I gotta know something first.”
”Sometimes we can’t know everything in advance,” said Abby—and Jonathan really felt the undercurrent of tension in her words. He’d tensed up too, though he suspected for a very different reason. “Life’s always going to throw curveballs at you, Jonathan. You can’t wait for an easy pitch that might never come.”
”I know,” he said glumly, finishing off the sandwich. “I just…”
They both trailed off. An awkward, uncomfortable silence fell over the room. Abby was staring into space, her eyes twitching slightly as she tried to process her emotions. Jonathan knew what she was going through, even as he dealt with his problems in his own head.
”Think on it, okay?” Abby gave him a hug from behind, which did do a lot for his mental state. “If you need to, you can always just attend community college for a year before committing to anything. We’ll support you.”
”Are you coming to shul tomorrow?” she asked as she stood up.
”I’ve got my support group on Fridays, remember?”
He stood up. “I’m gonna go upstairs now.”
Abby nodded. Jonathan gave his mother a kiss on the cheek, cleaned up his plate and went upstairs. He needed some time to think, especially after the uncomfortable pauses and silence of that conversation. Jonathan loved her without question, unconditionally, but… sometimes they just weren’t quite on the same wavelength.
As soon as he was in his room with the door shut, Jonathan flipped open his laptop and laid back on his bed. He needed space, but Jonathan wasn’t really the type to be alone. People were always better than no people—except when they were trying to kill him, of course.
To his relief, she was online. He pressed call.
”Hey you.” Jonathan smiled as soon as her face popped onscreen.
”Hey you,” said Nell. She was distracted by something clearly, and as she leaned back, he saw a controller in her hands.
”What are you playing?”
”Something you hate,” she smirked. “What’s going on?”
”Just got home.”
”How was the show?”
Jonathan sighed. “Went perfectly. Didn’t even get tired this time. No fatigue at all.”
”So you’re getting better.” Nell slammed a few buttons harder than she needed to, violently jerking her controller. She was one of those, but even so, she still played better than he did. “Got him.”
”Still scary though,” Jonathan muttered.
Nell immediately paused the game and turned to him. Her expression softened. “Dude, if you’re scared, that’s normal. You nearly died like three times.”
”Do you want to stop?”
Jonathan shook his head. “I don’t know what else I’d do.”
”…That’s not exactly the best reason to keep going,” said Nell, rolling her eyes. “I’m on your side, man, but you better be committed to this. If magic’s not what you really want to do with your life, is it worth risking your life for it? Maybe it’s time to give it a break.”
”That’s easy for you to say,” said Jonathan, his temper rising. “You can’t even do magic.”
Nell sighed. “You’re in a bad place, so I’m not gonna hold that against you, but not cool, Jonathan.”
”I’m sorry,” he said, though he couldn’t put enough sincerity into it.
”Look, you’ve had a rough summer, a crazy fall, and now it’s been a painful winter on top of it,” said Nell. “I still like you, but you’ve gotta find a way to deal with all this buildup.”
”Are you still seeing Julie?”
Jonathan shook his head. “I stopped after…” He trailed off. Nell didn’t need him to explain; she knew everything about his life, even down to his encounters with Hailey, with Alden, with Jeremy and all the others.
It helped that she didn’t even live in the same state as him.
Nell nodded slowly. “I think it’s worth more sessions. I’ll help pay for them, if you still don’t want your parents to know.”
”I can afford it.” Jonathan smiled slightly. “I’m getting bigger advances and ticket royalties now.”
”Oh, Mr. Moneybags with the theater cash?” Nell grinned. “Congrats, dude.”
”I’ll… I’ll start seeing her again,” said Jonathan slowly. “I just gotta find a time to put it in my schedule.”
She’s only available Monday to Friday, and I’ve still got school after break ends, plus my evening shows, plus the support group on Fridays, and I still want time to talk to Nell, plus there’s my friends… it’s just too much.
”You awake over there?” asked Nell, peeking at the screen. Jonathan realized he’d zone out, and at some point his new laptop went to sleep—he’d left the default idle setting on way too low.
”Yeah.” Jonathan changed the settings and grabbed his own controller. “Can we just play something for a while?”
”Sure,” said Nell, and to Jonathan’s relief, they didn’t say another word about his family or magic the rest of the night.
Jonathan fidgeted on the couch. He was still unused to a setting like this, and he hated the feeling of being exposed. Theater was one thing, but it was his choice, and he was usually portraying a character—not himself, not like this. Worse, he knew he needed to talk to someone about what was happening, since he couldn’t speak to anyone close. Not yet. Not even Nell.
”It’s our ninth session, Jonathan,” said Julie Mendosza patiently. She had a clipboard in front of her, but Jonathan could see even from a distance the top page was totally blank. Julie was giving him her full attention, without any distractions. He appreciated that. “Do you know that nearly thirty-five percent of people don’t come back after their first?”
”It takes a lot of courage to admit you need help the first time, but the second time is still difficult,” she said. “You said something huge occurred unrelated to your parents, and that you need a new session because you’re worried about what might happen next. Particularly when you’re already going through such a massive change in your life, it’s important to have a space where you can express your feelings without any risk of judgment. “
Jonathan shook his head. “I don’t think there’s risk.”
Julie frowned. “What do you mean?”
”Well… they’d never kick me out. No matter what I said or did. They love me. We’re just not that kind of family.”
”I don’t mean a physical risk,” said Julie. “Whether or not it comes to mind, you may have a lot of emotional risk.”
”It’s not like they’re going to shout at me or anything,” said Jonathan with a shrug. “Even if I told them what’s really going on. If we got through this summer, we can get through anything.”
”It can be more subtle than that.” Julie glanced down at a note she’d taken on their previous visits. “You expressed a lot of similar thoughts back when your parent came out to you, and I think you’re still processing that change in your life.”
”I mean… would you be over it?” Jonathan shook his head. “I just didn’t get it. I still don’t.”
”Well, speaking as one cisgender person to another, I don’t think we can,” said Julie. “It’s something you can’t truly understand unless you’re actually experiencing it yourself.” She took a sip from her water before continuing. “One of your parents went through a huge change, and the other’s still figuring out what it means, exactly.”
”…Yeah. We’re both as typical as it comes, straight white people. Well, Jewish, but still…” said Jonathan. “She still hasn’t told anybody on her side of the family. I think she’s afraid of how they’ll react.”
”Were they particularly attached to Victor?”
He shrugged. “I dunno. But… I think—I mean I’m not totally sure, Mom’s the only one who’s really Jewish in our family—I think they aren’t the kind who are okay with that sort of thing.”
”And she’s afraid of getting ostracized herself by her community, because of the person she married,” said Julie, nodding. “What about your friends?”
”I told them,” said Jonathan with a shrug. “I kinda had to, since they come over often enough. They’re all pretty cool about it. Way more than I was.”
”Do you think you reacted poorly?”
”I mean… I refused to call her mom for a long time…” Jonathan sighed. “I still mess up a lot, and sometimes I worry that it’s on purpose, but like, not that I know it is. I know her name’s really Annabelle, and that Mom’s weirded out that her name is so similar, and that they aren’t on good terms yet, but… yeah, I just have a lot of trouble seeing her as… you know, her.”
”You still see your father,” said Julie.
”Yeah.” Jonathan shrugged. “I’m trying. I don’t want to hurt him—err, her, and I know she’s got it really bad from Mom. I just feel like I should be doing something.”
”It’s not your responsibility to fix the situation,” said Julie. “Your mother has to figure out their new relationship in the same way that you do. All you can do is support and love them both, and if they decide to reconcile or they decide they have to remain separated, you might have to accept that decision.”
”I just hate all of it,” said Jonathan. “Is that selfish?”
”It’s not selfish to want your life to be a bit easier,” said Julie. “I think you’re handling this better than many families, and that means a lot. I’m sure Annabelle appreciates it too. She’s going through one of the most difficult experiences in her life, and something she’s probably been suppressing for a long time.”
”Thanks… That’s… that’s not really why I came here today though.”
Julie nodded. “It’s still good to explore anything giving you anxiety, even if it’s not on your agenda. If it comes to the surface, it was clearly bothering you to some degree.”
”Right.” Jonathan glanced at the door nervously, then at the window. He’d already built up the anticipation and tension to this moment so many times in his head that it was almost a letdown by now. Still, there was enough fear trickling through his body to prompt yet another paranoid check of his surroundings.
”My office is soundproofed,” said Julie, “and nobody else is in this building. You can say whatever you want.”
”…Well, in a few seconds, you’re gonna realize why those might mean nothing,” said Jonathan.
”Do you believe you’re in danger, Jonathan?” asked Julie seriously. She leaned forward slightly.
Jonathan shook his head. “Nah. It’s more… I should just show you. The rest kinda explains itself.”
”…What do you mean?”
He held up his hand, and in his palm, a tiny flame burst into life. “Well… I can do magic. For real.”
Jonathan’s memory of that session was a little hazy, but the image of Julie’s shocked reaction to his reveal had stuck forever in his brain. He hadn’t exactly been trying for drama, but that sort of genuine reaction became his goal forever after in his theater career.
The couple of games turned into hours of games with Nell. In fact, Jonathan fell asleep with the video call still open, his controller resting on top of his palm. It was the middle of winter break, so he didn’t need to worry about school the next day, but even so, Jonathan still liked to stick to some kind of typical schedule. It helped him stay focused and alert—and he really needed to stay focused and alert.
”What time is it…” muttered Nell as she struggled to wake up. “…Oh crap.” She glanced at the clock, somewhere off-screen. “I was supposed to be at my brother’s thing. Are you good?”
”Yeah, go,” said Jonathan. “I’m just practicing and staying in today until group.”
”Call me after?”
”Of course.” Jonathan gave her a little wave. “Bye.”
Nell took off without even a goodbye, but Jonathan didn’t mind. She was already late for sure. He’d meant to set an alarm after she’d mentioned it, but they’d both gotten too distracted.
Jonathan did exactly as he’d told Nell—as soon as the house was empty, he practiced his act. Jonathan put on his full outfit and used the family room in the back, as the largest space. He imagined a crowd past the couch, playing to the nonexistent back row, casting every spell he could in that tiny space.
It wasn’t as easy as it used to be. Sure, Jonathan was getting better, and he was still inventing new spells, but the really flashy stuff wasn’t easy to pull off without the old website. Sadly, sometime in late November, just after Hailey took off for London, the whole secret awakened forum had gone down. Jonathan had managed to get back in touch with a few people, but for the most part, the greater community connection was gone.
Losing that had seriously hurt his act. Jonathan relied on always having something new and exciting to show off. With magic being virtually infinite in possibility, he’d figured that could last him a very long time. He’d made good money, too, selling out one of the larger theaters nearby and promising things they had never seen.
The forum supplied him with that magic. It wasn’t as easy as it sounded—Jonathan still had to take their ideas, master them, and integrate them into his show—but the spells gave him a place to start at the very least. The reconstructed object he’d used only the night before was one from a girl named Solveig. He sent her a thanks after seeing the post, but before she could reply, the site was gone.
Now, Jonathan relied on his own wits, Nell’s ideas, and whatever magic he heard about coming out of the Olympic Forest. It took a lot longer every day to figure out exactly how the spells worked and how to use them, but he’d always been good at figure out puzzles. To Jonathan, magic was the most complicated puzzle in the world, and he was just putting it together little by little.
Since mastering the reconstruction spell, his next goal was more transformative magic. Jonathan was currently working on shrinking and growing objects. It wasn’t as easy as he’d hoped—sure, he could make something larger, but he was really just stretching it. In order to properly grow it, Jonathan had to create actual material, and Creation magic was a good deal harder than most.
Shrinking was a little easier. Jonathan could do it as a pure illusion, obviously, with photon manipulation hiding the true object—but that wouldn’t stand up to closer scrutiny. These days, with real magic everywhere and Cinza’s light tricks practically common knowledge, Jonathan had to assume a more skeptical, knowledgeable audience.
His solution was to combine the three pieces into one. Jonathan removed material from the object as evenly as possible, hiding the removal with photon manipulation, all while making sure the object fused together correctly as it shrank. There were a ton of moving pieces to the spell, but he was confident in his theory.
Jonathan started with the simplest object he could think of—a plain white piece of paper. After days of attempts, he managed to shrink it intact, without bothering to add on the invisibility yet. Next, Jonathan made his first attempts at regrowth—taking the material he’d removed and basically stitching it back into the paper again at a molecular level. It took another few days, but he finally pulled it off.
A piece of paper, shrunk to a quarter of its size and back again. When Jonathan handed it to his mom that night for a grocery list, she hadn’t given it a second glance.
He’d moved on to more complex objects next—something wooden, then a pencil. Graphite proved more difficult to recombine properly, but still, Jonathan managed it. As he went, he slowly integrated the invisibility element. It wasn’t anywhere near impressive or smooth enough for the stage yet, but… he really felt like he was onto something.
Practice took him all the way up until group that evening. Jonathan took his mom’s car and drove out of Tacoma down to the church in Olympia where they met every other Friday.
He pulled into the back parking lot and parked as far away from the building as he could. As far as a cursory scan went, Jonathan’s car looked like it was just one of the typical people who used the church as overflow parking for the stripmall next door—which was packed as usual for a Friday evening, especially in the winter. Wrapped up in a coat and scarf, Jonathan hurried across the windy parking lot, pushing through the chilly December air.
”Jonathan!” said Drew Jacobs, waving to him from the circle as he walked in. It looked like everybody else was already here. Traffic had been worse than expected, and Jonathan lost track of time while practicing.
He waved back, smiling slightly. Drew was about the same age as him, an electrician apprentice who’d been through a very similar experience—finding a Scrap on his own and shortly thereafter getting a visit from Alden and Hailey. Likewise, Katie Nelson—also giving him a wave—had done much the same, though she was a mother of three boys rather than fresh out of high school.
”Welcome. Good to see you,” said Rupert Roche.
Rupert had been the one to organize these meetings after the sudden loss of the website. Between his natural ability to network and his authority as Hailey’s boyfriend—though many assumed they’d separated given that Hailey was never seen near him anymore—Rupert became the natural leader for many of the scattered awakened across the Tacoma-Olympia region.
Plus that accent really doesn’t hurt. I wish I had a natural voice like that. Gotta use some magic to modify mine for the show every night.
Jonathan took a seat next to Drew, scooting his chair in close. “How’s it going?”
”I think I’ve almost figured it out,” said Drew quietly.
Though nobody else in the group knew it, Drew had been developing electricity magic on his own. There wasn’t exactly a taboo against it, but given the drama surrounding electricity-magic users ever since it was used as evidence against Rika—plus the people killed by it—most seemed a little adverse to try and learn it.
”Awesome.” He clapped Drew on the back. “Remind me to show you shrinking later. I’m getting seriously good at it lately.”
”We good to start?” asked Trevor Halliday, glancing at Rupert.
Rupert looked around the group. “Do we know if anyone else is coming?”
Elissa Piao spoke up from next to Trevor. “Nobody we know.”
Katie and Jonathan both shook their heads as well, while Drew just shrugged. Above them, the wind rattled the high windows of the church, as if prompting them to get on with it.
”Right,” said Rupert, glancing at the guy next to him. “Wes, if you’d be so kind?”
Weston Davis nodded. He murmured something under his breath—something Jonathan had always found a little odd about him, that he spoke when he cast spells—and the familiar muffling sensation enveloped them. The whole church room had been muted, so that no sound would escape during their meeting. Likewise, the door locks clicked in every direction.
”Hey, there’s exactly eight of us.” said Drew aloud. “Funny, huh?”
Jonathan grinned slightly, and a faint smile twitched on Katie’s face, but nobody else seemed to like the joke. The three of them had always felt a connection, as the ones who Hailey and Alden had found out of the group. Apparently the rest of the group were also connected to Hailey in some way or another, though Jonathan didn’t see how that applied to Elissa, Trevor, or Kyle.
Not that this was a “Hailey Winscombe” group or anything—this was for staying in touch with other awakened, and keeping each other safe in a world that hated and feared them.
”Does anybody have anything they need to get off their chest?” asked Rupert. “Anything goes here, remember.”
Nobody spoke for a few moments. Everybody was glancing between each other—they’d gotten a little close over the last couple months, but not exactly on the greatest terms. Finally, Kyle shrugged and broke the silence.
”It’s been really fucking quiet for weeks,” he said aloud. “Kinda freaks me out.”
”You want something to happen?” asked Katie uncomfortably.
”Nah,” said Kyle quickly. “Quiet’s not bad. I just wish we knew when things were getting back to normal.”
”It’s magic,” said Drew. “Is there such a thing as normal?”
”Hey man, I had a legit business. I’m still coasting, but eventually I gotta figure out a new line of work.”
Jonathan shrugged. “You would’ve needed it sooner or later though. Eventually you’d run out of people to buy second-gen Scraps, or somebody else would’ve figured out your technique.”
”Yeah…” Kyle sighed. “Good while it lasted though. Got a lot of money out of mundies looking for magic.”
Out of the corner of his eye, Jonathan noticed both Drew and Katie looking far less than sympathetic toward Kyle. Everyone in the room had awakened from a proper Scrap—and most still had theirs, as far as Jonathan knew—and there was a certain resentment toward the wave of second-gen awakenings created by Kyle’s invention. It hadn’t been around long enough before the blackout to really know the extent of new awakened Kyle might have birthed, though.
Jonathan didn’t really care how somebody might have awakened—so long as they took it seriously and didn’t out anybody, he was fine with however people got there. It was the rest of the world that worried him.
”You guys see the news this morning?” asked Trevor. A few nods in reply.
”No,” said Jonathan. “I think I slept through it.”
”Rika Nishimura got denied bail.”
Immediately, every head swiveled to watch Weston’s reaction. Though it wasn’t public knowledge he was awakened, everyone knew he’d lived in Rallsburg for a very long time while dating Hailey Winscombe, and certainly would have known Rika.
Weston sighed. “Yeah, I heard.”
”What for?” asked Jonathan.
”The same reasoning as Hailey received,” said Rupert, “with the added weight of Rika’s previous illegal entries and exits from the country, as recorded in Cinza’s diaries.”
”Such bullshit,” muttered Elissa. “I can’t believe they’re still citing that Kleiner paper.”
”Nobody can prove it was written with prejudice,” said Weston wearily. “Especially since he revealed he was awakened too. He’s still under investigation for the accusations related to Cornelius Malton and Stefen Gearhardt, but right now he’s a free man.”
”And now people are citing it just at random,” said Drew. He sat up slightly. “I’ve had customers bring it up to my face, people on the street even. It’s like ‘hey, this dude in England with a science background wrote a paper saying you’re an unstable explosion waiting to happen, so can you please go away now’?”
”How’s your boss feel about that?” asked Katie gently.
Drew sighed. “He’s still on my side. Even kicked out a long-time customer who made threats at me. But still… I know he’s taking a hit to his business for this. People who support awakened aren’t willing to come in and make up for the lost cash.”
”That really sucks, man,” said Jonathan, patting him on the shoulder.
”Thanks.” He smiled, but Jonathan was more than ready to pick up the outrage slack he’d dropped.
”Everybody thinks they’re an expert from what they just read online,” he said, sitting up straight. “It’s ridiculous. Magic’s only been around a couple months, and only really been around a couple years before that. How’s anybody supposed to know what it does yet?”
”It’s not like we agree with him, Jonathan,” said Trevor. “But when he’s the only source of information—”
”We’ve got Hailey, we’ve got Kendra Laushire, we’ve got the FBI guy and Cinza and the whole U.S. government on our side,” said Jonathan, his blood pumping a little harder. He knew it was starting to boil over, but he didn’t care—this had been on his mind ever since Hailey’s bail hearing, and now with a repeat performance, Jonathan needed to let it out. “Why can’t they just take a hint?”
”What are they meant to learn?” asked Rupert gently. “Magic isn’t the most precise or definable concept. We barely understand it ourselves. Caution isn’t the most unreasonable reaction, particularly given the events of this year.”
”Acceptance takes time,” added Weston. “We’ve thrown a huge new concept into the world, and we’re forcing everybody to accept it without question. Worse, it’s already shown a chaotic shift in practically no time at all. We went from ‘magic is real and anybody can have it’ to ‘nobody can awaken and if you try, you die’ in three short weeks.”
Above, another gust of wind rattled the church. Jonathan was breathing a little heavier as he went on—he hadn’t yet said his piece, and Jonathan really needed to speak his mind. “Stuff changes fast. They just gotta keep up. It didn’t take the mundies three weeks to start murdering us.”
”The danger’s past though,” said Rupert. “Brian Hendricks was captured, and his people have scattered to the winds. Hate and discrimination are horrible things and may never truly be stamped out, but we can overcome them.”
”It’s not past,” said Jonathan, back upright in an instant. “You really think it’s gone now?” He shook his head. “People are still gonna track us down. Why do you think we meet in secret here in a church where nobody can get in or hear us?”
”Because Katie volunteers here and has access to it?” supplied Elissa, clearly trying to defuse tension.
”We’ve gotta protect ourselves. Make sure we can fight when we have to. Show them we’re not to be screwed with. Maybe it’s time to replace defense with offense, too.”
”That’s what the authorities are for,” said Rupert.
Jonathan snorted. “Yeah, because they did so much in Lakewood.”
The room got very quiet as everybody winced. Weston’s eyes softened. “You don’t need to remind us, Jonathan,” he said softly.
Jonathan fell back in his chair. “I’m… I’m sorry.”
”I get you’re upset,” he went on. “I am too. I’ve lost some of my closest friends to the fighting, and I’ve no doubt they’d be with us now if we didn’t have to deal with so much prejudice and hate.”
Weston looked around the group. Everyone tended to give him a much greater breadth of respect—partly because of his true awakened status, though that wasn’t known outside this circle, but mostly due to his history in Rallsburg and his close friendship with both Hailey and Jessica Silverdale.
”This will always be a safe space for us. The world may never be truly safe, but with time, it’ll get better. It won’t be easy, and it’ll take work from all of us, but I believe it’s worth doing. I like to think of it this way,” he added with a small smile. “Even with everything I’ve seen and done, would I ever want to give up magic? Jessica went through far worse than I ever did, but she never once told us she regretted awakening. I’m never going to either.”
Weston sat back again. “Let’s change the subject for a little while, if that’s okay?”
After a few moments to cool off, focusing on the breathing technique Julie taught him, Jonathan nodded.
”Jonathan,” said Julie patiently, while he paced around her small office, flexing his fists and trying to keep calm, “would you like to tell me what happened?”
”A lot happened,” he muttered.
”The last time we spoke, you were telling me how excited you were about your next show, and the new magic you’d invented for it,” said Julie. “I’ve seen the news. Is this about what happened at the camp three days ago?”
”…Were you there?”
He nodded again.
Julie set aside her clipboard and leaned forward. “Tell me what happened.”
”It’s more than that,” said Jonathan. He still couldn’t sit down, but at least he could stop pacing. He decided to just lean against the wall near one window, playing out his restlessness in his arm and hand. “I met Alden Bensen again last Tuesday.”
”You haven’t heard from him since October,” said Julie, nodding slightly. “What changed?”
”He called me. Alden needed help getting to the Greywood, and I was just happy to hear from one of them again. And I thought he could introduce me to Cinza, I’ve always wanted to meet her. So I said yes, and he picked me up in Tacoma.” Jonathan shook his head. “It was my fault, kinda. I decided we should go see one of the meetings.”
”The meetings… you mean the ones held by Brian Hendricks’ followers?” asked Julie.
Jonathan nodded. “I thought it would be good to see the enemy. Figure out what we were up against. I didn’t… I didn’t expect him to actually be there.”
”You saw Brian yourself?”
”Yeah. Golems and everything.” Jonathan shivered. “I could’ve died. I should’ve died. Alden got me out of there.”
”I’m glad you made it out okay,” said Julie. “That sounds terrifying. What happened next?”
”Alden dropped me off at a bus stop. I went home, but then… well, I heard about a group heading up to the camp the next day, right? And I thought, well where’s safer for awakened people than the heart of magic?” Jonathan shook his head. “I’m such an idiot.”
”So you were in the camp at the time of the attack,” said Julie. “Were you injured?”
”As soon as the shooting started, I got inside a food cart,” said Jonathan. “I just… hid in there. I didn’t do anything. Didn’t fight back, didn’t try to help. I didn’t even come out til the next day. No idea that the other guns and the helicopters were the National Guard.”
”That seems like a reasonable thing to do,” said Julie. “You’re a civilian. It’s not your job to fight. Taking cover probably saved your life.”
Jonathan shook his head. “But so many people did die. People like me.”
”It’s a terrible tragedy,” said Julie. She closed her eyes for a moment and opened them again, taking a few seconds of silence. “How did you get home?”
”The next morning. I took the first chance I got,” said Jonathan bitterly. “Made it out before the blackout hit.”
Julie nodded. “Are you wishing you’d done something else?”
”No… I think. I don’t know,” said Jonathan. He stretched out his neck. Everything felt tight, tense, painful. He was overburdened by stress in every inch of his body. “I hate feeling like this.”
”I don’t want to die.”
Julie nodded. “Nobody wants to die. Jonathan, one thing I have noticed, however, is that you tend to put yourself in situations where danger finds you.” She gestured to the couch, and Jonathan reluctantly took a seat. “Your magic show attracted Brian’s men to you. You just told me you decided to go to one of the meetings yourself, and then the next day, you decided to go to a place where people practice magic openly, only a day after witnessing their hate firsthand.”
”So I’m an idiot,” said Jonathan. “I knew that.”
She shook her head. “I think you’re someone who doesn’t want to restrict his life based on other people’s whims. I can certainly empathize with that.”
”But I have to,” said Jonathan, rising to his feet again. He was angry, and in this space, with his therapist, he couldn’t really keep a lid on it. “I’m one of the smallest minorities in the world. Mundies outnumber us almost two million to one. I’m at risk every time I walk out the door. Awakened people lose their jobs, get attacked, get murdered, and it can come from anywhere. Anyone on the street might be somebody who’d kill me for what I am, if they find out.”
Julie nodded, but Jonathan wasn’t done yet. He kept going, venting his frustrations, his fears, his anger. By the time he’d finished, falling back on the couch again, she’d settled back into her own chair.
”I’m going to ask you something, and I don’t want you to answer right away,” said Julie finally. Jonathan hesitated, but nodded. “Don’t you think almost everything you’ve just said applies exactly the same to Annabelle?”
He opened his mouth, but Julie held up a hand. Jonathan reluctantly shut it once again.
”I’ve taken down a lot of what you’ve researched and what we’ve discussed in the past regarding her transition, and nearly all of these were on your old list when we worked on empathizing with her fears. This isn’t necessarily true, nor do I think you’re doing it consciously even if you are, but there’s a lot of parallels here. I think you may be projecting some of your anxiety and frustrations from Annabelle’s transition onto your own life.”
”That’s not—” said Jonathan, but cut off. He took a second to phrase his thoughts properly before continuing. “Yeah, Da—, er, Annabelle has to deal with a lot of that too. But it’s not the same.”
”You’re both exploring huge changes in your life which make you reexamine who you are, what options you have lying before you, how the world will treat you and the new prejudices and fears you now face,” said Julie. “I think you share a lot more in common than you might think, with one important distinction.”
”You got to choose,” said Julie simply. “For Annabelle, there wasn’t ever really a choice, except whether or not to reveal it. For you, awakening was a choice. I’m not saying it was the wrong one, but I think it’s important to remember. You didn’t bring any of this on yourself, and you don’t deserve the hate and prejudice you’ve seen, but I think you might be able to recognize some of what she experiences. It wasn’t the best way to empathize, but maybe some good can come out of your horrible experience last week.”
Jonathan was still clenching and unclenching his fist, clearly unsettled.
Julie glanced at the clock. “We still have time, but I wanted to bring up something for you now. You selected me because I specialize in family counseling and transgender care, but I’m sorry to say I don’t have a whole lot of experience with trauma therapy. Jonathan, you’ve been through something seriously traumatic, and I think you may want to see one of my colleagues about what’s happened to you this week.”
”I don’t want to,” said Jonathan. “I trust you.”
She smiled. “I’m glad, and I’ll keep these sessions as long as you want. I’m just letting you know the option’s open, and I know several excellent specialists in that field. They won’t know anything from our sessions unless you wish it, and they can be trusted with any of the secrets you’ve shared with me.”
Jonathan trailed off. He wasn’t sure. All he knew was rage, fear, anxiety, frustration… raw emotions, bundled up, pressing him to do something, to act. His instincts were for the big moment, the performance, the show. Right now, Jonathan needed that big moment, but he wasn’t sure how to find it. All he could do was put on a magic act—and if he were being honest, not a particularly good one, either.
He was just… angry.
When the group came to a close, Jonathan headed back to his car at the end of the parking lot. It was starting to get late, but the whole place was lit well enough. Still, Jonathan kept a firm hand in his jacket clutching a small pile of gemstones. If someone came at him, he was ready to fight.
To his surprise, though, somebody was already waiting near his car.
”Hey,” said Drew.
Jonathan stopped, a little suspicious. He liked Drew, and trusted him more than most in the group… but he’d still never told anyone his real name. Jonathan liked to keep his two worlds as separate as possible.
”I just wanted to say I completely agree,” Drew continued. He gestured vaguely out in the distance. “There’s a couple other people who feel the same way, especially now that Grey-eyes is gone. Other awakened.”
”…Okay?” asked Jonathan, still not taking a step forward.
”We’re meeting tonight. We usually meet after the group here. I thought you might be interested.” Drew shrugged. “If not, then I’ll just see you next time.”
Putting myself in dangerous situations… The thought echoed in Jonathan’s mind. Nell was waiting for his call tonight, and he really need to schedule a session with Julie… but at the same time, wasn’t this the opposite? He wasn’t putting himself in danger—he was about to take a step toward preventing it.
Jonathan opened the door to his car and gestured inside. “Where to?”