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Rated: 18+ · Short Story · Dark · #2245967
The mage explains things to his friend. Winner of SCREAMS!!! March 06 2021.
Uriah and the Tagman

“I’m not a wizard, I’m a mage.” Uriah was obviously quite insulted at the description of himself pronounced by his old friend, Tagman the Unforgiven.

“Wizard, mage, what’s the difference?” asked Tagman, still peering at his cards as if willing them to change into aces.

Uriah frowned. “It’s subtle, I’ll give you that,” he answered slowly. “Basically, the wizard is sort of a male witch. He’s interested in chemistry and mixing things into concoctions that produce the desired effects. But the mage is wiser than that. He’s no mere chemist, fooling about with substances. No, the mage knows the deep magic, the power that lurks in words. He gets what he wants from uttering words that change the laws of the universe.”

The Tagman had decided upon which of his cards to play and produced the two of clubs, slapping it on the pile with feigned bravado. His friend took one glance at the card, let out a whoop and threw down the two of diamonds. “Snap!” he yelled.

“Ah, not again, said Tagman with disgust. “I thought you agreed you wouldn’t use magic.”

The mage chuckled as he pushed the discarded cards into a heap. “And I didn’t. It’s the cards I was dealt, that’s all. Guess who was dealer this time anyway. You can’t blame me for the cards you hand out.”

“Well, that’s me done,” announced the Tagman. “Stupid game anyway.”

Uriah patted the cards into a neat pack and secreted them in an inside pocket of his coat. “So what shall we do now, then?”

“You could explain a bit more about being a… mage,” said Tagman, putting a wry stress on the last word as though unused to the taste of it on his tongue.

“That’s what I’ve been doing ever since we met,” answered Uriah. “Every day I’ve told you of my business ventures and the fun I’ve had with stupid mortals, twisting their weaknesses to destroy themselves. It’s all done with spells, you know.”

The Tagman snorted. “Hah, so you say. But you’ve never actually told me the words, the actual spell or incandation you used. I’m just supposed to believe whatever you say and I’m not sure that I do.”

“Incan-tation,” corrected Uriah. “Of course I don’t tell you the words, Tagman. You’re not trained in their use and who knows what trouble you might get into, fooling about with such power? You’d be off blowing yourself up the moment my back was turned. And, anyway, I’m not supposed to pass on the knowledge to anyone not approved of by the mages’ guild. That’s more than my certificate’s worth.”

Tagman was not impressed. “So I’m still supposed to take your word for this, like it or not. You’re probably making a right fool of me with your tales of unlikely deeds and magic. Well, you wouldn’t be the first to take advantage of this old bastard, that’s for sure.”

His friend looked at him with a resigned expression and shrugged. For a while there was silence between them as they considered their respective positions, the one a ragged down-and-out with big claims to supernatural powers and the other a follower who had been led down so many garden paths by the unscrupulous that he was quite resigned to his fate. To an unbiased observer they would seem to be just a pair of homeless drifters, passing their time in the dirty alley that held them in its grasp, surrounded by the sheets of cardboard and boxes that formed the building blocks of their nightly shelters.

Eventually, the Tagman looked up at Uriah again. “So what have you been up to today?” he asked. “Been up and about, performing your wonders, have you?”

“As a matter of fact, I have,” said Uriah. “Did old Rabbit Hanson down at the bridge a favour. Bought him a meal at Zippie’s Diner, I did.”

“Where’d you get money for that? You never bought me anything.” Tagman seemed quite hurt at his friend’s apparently random selection of someone else to benefit from his unlikely wealth.

“Don’t need money when you’ve got magic, do you? Just a few words muttered under my breath at the till and Zippie thinks I’ve paid him and even given him a tip.” Uriah laughed as he recalled the proprietor’s surprise at the amount handed to him.

“Well I don’t see why you couldn’t help me out like that occasionally,” grumbled the Tagman.

The mage waved a finger in his face. “Don’t be so hasty, Tagman. Everything has a price and I haven’t told you the whole story yet.”

Tagman settled to listen, though he muttered something about not caring about price as he did so.

Uriah continued. “Well, as I said, Rabbit ate every last morsel and then licked his plate. Happy as Larry he was, never seen such a grin on his face before and you know how his buck teeth make it impossible for him to close his mouth. But there’s no such thing as a free lunch, they say, and they’re right. And Rabbit paid for it later, under the bridge.”

A new light of interest appeared in the Tagman’s eye as they approached the point of Uriah’s tale. He knew from experience that the mage did not dispense his favours without expecting something in return.

Uriah was into his flow now and was clearly enjoying the Tagman’s increasing expectation. “His stomach started making noises at first. You should have seen his face as they increased and he heard the churning his guts were putting him through. Then his belly started to expand. It parted his pants from the sweater above, it was swelling so much. And the pain became quite clear. He began to squeal as his body became immersed in agony. He dropped his pants and tried to release pressure by crapping but produced nothing, not even a fart.

“He was yelling that ne needed to pee but I knew it was time to get some distance from him. I backed away until I could turn the corner of the bridge support, then waited there as his screams became louder and louder. The explosion when it came was quite satisfying. I had a quick look round the corner and the Rabbit was just a mess smeared on the walls of the bridge and floating off down the river.

“And that’s it really. You know what they say. Happiness comes at a price. And the Rabbit paid for his meal, that’s for sure.”

There was silence again as the Tagman considered the gruesome images that Uriah’s story had created in his mind. The denouement was not unexpected, since he had heard so many of the mage’s stories and they all ended with the death of the tale’s subject. But the variety with which the serial killer achieved his aim was apparently unending and the exploding stomach was a startling innovation indeed.

It was the Tagman who spoke first. “So you’re saying that the Rabbit’s death was the result of something you did?”

“Of course,” replied Uriah. “Just spoke the words quietly while he was eating.”

The Tagman looked hard at him. “So tell me the words of the spell.”

Uriah shook his head. “You know I can’t. You’d use it, the guild would find out and that would be the end of me.”

“Won’t use it,” said Tagman. “But I’ve got no proof of what you say. Tell me the words and, you know my memory, I’ll forget ‘em immediately. Never could remember the words of a song even.”

The mage scratched his chin as he considered the Tagman. “You know, you might be right. Took me a few goes to get it right so I can’t see you ever being able to use it.”

“Exactly,” said Tagman. “Say the words, say the words.”

“Okay, but remember, it’s on your head I do this. Don’t come running to me if anything goes wrong.”

He began to mumble quietly then, not words but sounds under his breath. Suddenly he seemed to hit the flow of it and the words emerged, words of some strange language, complete nonsense to Tagman’s ear, but words that growled with menace and implied ill will. The mage stared intently at Tagman, his lips moving in unusual contortions around the arcane words, and the Tagman looked back, unable to tear his eyes away from the sight.

The mage finished and the alley went quiet again. Uriah regarded his friend and then spoke. “There, it is finished. Do you believe me now?”

The Tagman nodded.

The mage continued. “Are you happy now?”

Once again, Tagman nodded.

Uriah turned and began to walk away as the first sounds issued from the Tagman’s belly. “Happiness comes at a price,” said the mage as he turned the corner into the main street.

Word Count: 1,473
For SCREAMS!!! March 06 2021
Prompt: Happiness comes at a price.

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