Sitting by the fireplace in his too comfortable living room, Oliver Richard Lloyd held the brandy snifter in a trembling hand. Old. Too old. Every year he had tried to work the spell and every year Oliver Richard Lloyd had failed. This was his last chance, he knew it. Decade after decade had gradually devoured his vitality and now he felt the final tiredness washing over his limbs.
Slow magic was the best, given time to well up and change it all, change him. He thought slowly to himself as he dragged at another cigarette.
He had to concentrate on holding his glass. The amber brandy rippled around the snifter in time with his palsied hands. He felt the ennui spread though his body—the last cold, death. But the mind worked the magic, the mind! That was still clear. He wanted more, ached for another chance. He only had to remember the slow magic in life, to remember that one magical night, to remember her.
As his body gently melted into the soft chair and the crackling fire impotently strove to hold off that final cold, his mind raced, raced to remember the magic:
Talk yourself through it, old fool. Take your time. Take your time.
Where had all the time gone?
What had it been like to feel, grasp, touch with clarity, burn with youth?
Sip the brandy. Feel the burn.
Some of the years were wasted, to be sure.
Remember, remember, remember.
Not brandy, back then. Oh no. Then it was cheap vodka, flooding the brain, the vibrant passions, inviting fights and brawls and boasts. That youthful spirit in stupor brought such vile impulses to that handsome body: vile, but simplistic in their carnality. Even the hangover pains of spirit and body were exciting in their idiotic rebelliousness, in their drama.
Those were the days, but wasted days, before the magic.
Sip the brandy. Feel the burn slide down a raw throat.
Another fire had bestowed warmth, long ago, but after the years of debauchery. A sweet woman—ah, love.
No. There’s no way to say that word, not that word with innocence, not anymore. Listen as the walls echo an ugly, soft laugh. Now, there’s too much melancholy and empty lust in this withered frame. In youth’s time—even during the heart thumping haze of alcohol poisoning—that word still rang clearly from the throat.
Remember, remember, remember.
Bright red dresses always adorned her—thick folds of cloth, shrouding her. Graceful arms peeked from billowing sleeves. Black curls played down her shoulders to sway against that burning red cloth. Rachel, legs akimbo on that dusty vinyl floor of his cramped kitchen, stared at nothing but her small hands as thoughts whirled through her mind—thoughts like his youth, like the way he wanted to think, to be.
Another laugh, sardonic this time, degenerates to a rough hack. Don’t breathe too deeply anymore, dotard. The years have caught up with the flesh. Where did that image go? Feel the pain of the years, old man: Blood rushes up to the face; the diaphragm contracts; mucus jumps up from the throat and is spat into the fire.
The memory jumps up like a spark. Too much fresh pine in that fire. An old mind, too full with memories, wanders, and the magic dims. Don’t panic; it’s still there, the magic, in the mind.
Remember, remember, remember.
Rachel, yes, Rachel made fires, loved them. Pyromancy. Flames flew from her fingertips to envelop a besotted heart. Grab her, hold her, want her—need her.
That was the kernel of destruction, planted at the onset in a youthful, masculine heart, a frightened heart.
Move your legs from the fire, old man. Don’t let senility catch you, no, never that: There are ways to die now (so many atrophying organs: failing kidneys, scarred liver—the heart), but still a way to live. Slow magic, like slow love, is the best, magic building as the fire dwindles.
Remember, remember, remember.
He followed her. He needed her. Rachel taught her pupil well. She put the magic in her eyes, colorful veils that caressed him, angered him. It’s so easy to make a young man dance. And she was a skillful sorceress. The innocence of a girl with pink ribbons in her hair, the worldly wisdom of measured, graceful gestures, the playfulness of splashing in a lake: All were jesters in the court of her eyes. To be a fool in her court was not such a bad thing. There was much to learn, so much to feel.
The magic comes, getting stronger. Only twice, this time.
A new moon in november, a whispered chant, flesh on flesh, warm palm to palm against the chill: A fool and his Queen joined together outside, in defiance of the howling, cold wind. An initiation rite called him to her on that night. The young man was gone now, still a fool, but grey had invaded the coal black shocks of hair. Two hearts beat in rhythm on the manicured lawn of a college campus against the sterile, grim faces of red brick dormitories. Most people were home with their families, eating turkey and pleasantly plodding through a repetitious holiday. But Rachel chanted softly, chanted for the forlorn, the lost, the other fools, those for whom the night was a blanket of loneliness. Rachel was never a cruel Queen, merely perverse by Thanksgiving standards.
They came to her song, then. One by one, the few stumbled out their dormitories, too blurry and confused to bother with the electric lights. Naked feet pressed down on the cold grass lawn. They encircled Rachel, but not her fool, being, after all, only the fool. But a fool who learned well.
No. Foolish, very foolish, old man. Don’t let pride make eddies in the stream of magic. Slow magic with time to feel it, know it all, is the best, but the fire is dying. Stay your course, dying man. Remember that night.
Gentle, spine undulating rhythms began the dance, but not any dance, the dance of Rachel, his Queen. Only her hair touched him as she flung her head from side to side. Her body pirouetted, faster and faster. Her fiery red skirt spun and blazed around her. Sorceress Rachel called life to that lawn: her delicately balanced twirls were the luxurious ecstacy of breathing, seeing, touching—being; her swift, arrogant stomps were the action, the doing, loving, hating. Every movement whispered her name and her joy to the forlorn on that lawn. Rachel danced against silence, emptiness, entropy: Her roar of movement shouted defiance of the cold, mindless november winds and the indifferent darkness.
Don’t lose it now, old man. Don’t give in to vicarious reality, memories, the mind’s television. Sip the brandy and feel the burn.
Remember, old man. Remember the magic and live.
The lawn was aglow. The cold wind had numbed her court, numbed the pain of the lonely gatherers. And the new moon shed no light. The only glow, the only music emanated from Rachel: music without sound, glow without light. The forlorn immitated her to the best of their abilities. Slowly, hesitantly, they moved, joined the dance. Then the lawn became hectic, frantic with the stomping, the twirling. One young man howled into the night, unable to contain his joy—stark contrast from the silent, dark room he had brooded in moments before he had heard the soft chant of Rachel. Couples and groups spontaneously drifted together on the grass lawn as the forlorn—now celebrants sought others who interpreted her dance with a similar abandon.
Rachel slowed. Her stomps were smaller, growing softer. The twirls ceased. Her celebrants left arm in arm. The sorceress’ dance filled their eyes, but their newly discovered partners filled their thoughts. Each group retreated to the dormitories. The electric lights flicked on. Excited voices, the first human sounds since her initial chant, snuck past the cold brick buildings.
Rachel bent down and kissed the eyes of her fool, exhausted from his closeness to the magic dance of his Queen. She left him dazed upon the lawn.
Only a wisp of flame sputtered from one lonely ember, red coated with black char. A firm, smooth hand gripped the bottle of brandy and poured another glass as the fire died: The magic was finished; the spell, done. He raised his glass high in salute to her, now sitting in the chair across from him after all the years: Rachel, just as she had been that night.
"You came." His voice was smooth and firm.
"You called me. Love? I used you that night."
"I’ve always been an old fool. I never minded. I—I’m glad you came, Rachel. I feel different now that you’re here."
"You’re like me, now. Young body with an old spirit. What will you do?"
"I want to bring it to others—the magic. I want to roar as you roared, dance as you danced."
Rachel rose from the chair. "You can do that now. You did learn well." She lightly sighed—a wisp of amusement, "though it took you long enough."
"Don’t leave." He said it softly, a gentle entreaty.
She looked into his eyes and saw no reflection of herself. "Why? You’ve made it. You’re a mystic now. You don’t need me to summon the magic."
"I know." He smiled, straight and white teeth. "But I want to be with you, Queen." He stood and took her hand.
She never broke her gaze, piercing, almost feral. "You see yourself as King?"
"King of the forlorn, with you, Queen."
Rachel laughed, savoring his shameless bravado, the sound of his voice, his touch; just as he savored her. They locked arms and left the house, slicing through the night.