There is no magic in Oklahoma. Except...there is. (Magic Words Comp 05.21)
Word Count: 4,929
Both word lists have been used.
As Trey Willabee pulled his shirt over his head and dropped it on the rock in a smooth swoop, he noticed the woods around the strip pit were quiet today, devoid of the usual songs from the scissor tails and mockingbirds, no calls of young grasshoppers in the early Oklahoma spring. The puffy, cotton clouds, blinding white at the top and dark gray underneath, buffered his skin from the scrutiny of the sun’s rays. The thick smell of water was in his nostrils, disappearing into the wind as the aromas of wild onions and sweet honeysuckle were ushered in. He stood on a rock overhang above the surface of the water, the occasional ripple disrupting the surface as a sluggish bass appeared near the top. The warm breeze offered no relief as it stirred the hot air. He closed his eyes, inhaled, and imagined the water as the rolling waves of an ocean, the oak trees as palms; if not for the dense humidity, he could have been in a tropical location.
He opened his eyes and removed the rest of his clothes. This strip pit was far enough away from town, a hidden-away place where he could find peace when his life morphed into an unrecognizable mess. It was where he spent most of his free time. When he felt more confusion than clarity, when the magic seemed to dissipate, he could come to the woods and revitalize his spirituality. There once had been a spark to his life, a dancing flame, a decree of greater things ahead. But somewhere the zest had been drained until there was nothing left in the cup of inspiration from which he slurped.
The water was clear, though the depth of the pit gave it a murky appearance, an abyss underneath. Perch were treading the shallow areas, leisurely creatures perusing the surface for distressed mayflies and wayward moths. He could see the head of a turtle near the other side, the stiff neck protruding above the water. It created a peaceful ripple effect as the series of rings spread, causing the shiny blue and red dragonflies to launch into frantic flight.
With no further thought, he catapulted himself from the ledge. Time slowed as the green of the elm and oak leaves moved to the sky as he succumbed to gravity, and he heard peaceful nothingness. Just before he collided with the water, he closed his eyes and waited for the exhilarating temperature change. After what felt like too long, when he didn’t think he would ever break the water, he opened his eyes as he landed back on the rock, his rump absorbing the impact and jolting his coccyx. He lurched to his feet as if a bolt of lightning had just motivated his rear. He snatched his behind, high-stepping as he worked out the pain. It began to subside, and as it did, there was a difference. His clothes were still lying on the rock. Everything looked the same, but there was a discrepancy in the feeling, a buzz in the air he hadn’t felt before. The pain in his rear having eased, all he could focus on now was what felt like an electric buzz surrounding him.
A sharp noise refocused his attention, the sound of a rock chucked into a hearty pine trunk before it ricocheted back into the bushes. Trey looked around, squinting as he searched for another person, but there was nobody. The breeze brushed the ivies and saplings as it had before, but there was an inherent musicality to the sound as the larks and wrens made themselves known. As he replayed what happened, the forest seemed to come to life, a force emanating from deeper within the woods surrounding the strip pit. There was something here that wasn’t before, a sense of life he could only feel.
He looked back to the water, perplexed why it had rejected him. He remembered leaping from the ledge, could recall time slowing down, and then he had landed back on the rock. Had he only jumped up and down instead of up and out? He was sure he knew how to propel himself against gravity, could tell how to use his legs and body to land where he’d planned. So what had happened?
Another rock was flung into a nearby pine, bouncing from it and rolling past Trey’s bare feet and off the ledge, splashing into the water. He jerked his head toward the woods, bending down to pull his jeans on as he scanned the ground unobscured by branches with fresh leaves, the yellow color of youthful vegetation before it matured into the cool green of late spring. When he investigated, he could see a tight swarm of lightning bugs. He couldn’t remember ever having noticed them in the daylight before, and the shadows of the canopy weren’t dark enough to fool them into thinking it was night. He stepped forward, careful not to step on any sharp rocks, his eyes doing their best to sketch out for his mind what he was seeing. The bugs lit up, one at a time, and it reminded him of what the stars might look like in the daytime.
As he neared the fireflies, he blinked several times, but his brain fought against what was there. The lightning bugs weren’t bugs at all; instead, he saw small bursts of quiet light, energy exploding around a little figure floating in the air. And now that he was closer, Trey could see the lights weren’t a single color so much as they were an array of rainbow light exploding in silence before fading away, ephemeral energy putting on a show.
“Is it always so difficult to get your attention?” the hovering figure asked. Trey cut his eyes up to the face, the chubby roundness of a baby, and this little flying man reminded Trey of Cupid as a cherub with blue eyes and tufts of soft, blonde hair.
“Are you levitatin’?” Trey asked as he stepped closer. “What and who are you?” He looked around. “Why are you here?”
“I, sir, am Boh Polie. I’m here because you wished for me to show up so I can introduce you to those who will help on your quest.”
“Quest? What quest?”
“I may have buried the lead,” Boh replied. “I’m still learning.”
“How to be a fairie?”
“I’m not a fairie!” Boh defended. “I’m a spirit of the land. And you are about to do something big. I was sent to tell you specifically, Laine, that-“
“I’m not Laine. My name is Trey.”
Boh stopped and stared.
“Are you...are you sure?” he asked. He snapped his fingers, and a clipboard appeared in his hand as he used his other to shuffle through the pages.
“I’ve been usin’ ‘Trey’ for forty-two years.”
“You humans look too much alike,” Boh said. “Anyway, we need to be moving along. There’s a darkness coming, and it threatens to destroy the world!”
“Can I get dressed first?”
“Sure, just hurry. I wouldn’t...worry about putting your shirt back on.” Boh shifted his eyes away when Trey stopped for a second to watch him.
“Are you sure you’re not a -“
“I’m a land spirit!” Boh yelled back.
“If you say so,” Trey whispered as he pulled his socks and boots on. He looked up at Boh. “What’s this quest we’re goin’ on? And what if I refuse?”
“Refuse? No, that’s simply not part of the plan,” Boh responded as he shifted through his papers. He tossed the clipboard up, and it disappeared with a pop! while he looked around. “We need to be on our way.” He began drifting to Trey’s right, looking back to make sure the man was following him. After they had walked a few yards, Boh stopped.
“I thought we didn’t have time to waste,” Trey inquired.
“We didn’t,” Boh informed, his attention focused toward the ground. “We needed to be expeditious while on our journey. I know she’s here somewhere...help me look...she’s old, incredibly old, and she’s wise.”
“Okay,” Trey said as his eyebrows scrunched together. He searched, his eyes moving back and forth in a searching pattern, combing over the land, looking up into the trees. He couldn’t see anyone, didn’t even know who he was looking for, but still, his eyes moved. “Wait, we’re already done with the journey?”
“Yoooooou are neeeeeeeeeeeeveeeeer done with the journeeeeeeey,” he heard from the ground. It was a feminine voice, but as he looked, he saw nobody.
“There you are,” Boh exhaled as he rubbed his forehead. “I was afraid we may have walked all this way in the wrong direction.”
“Yooooou aaaaaaaare right wheeeeeeere you neeeeeeeeeed to beeeee,” the voice came again.
“I give up,” Trey said. He shook his head and put his palms on his hips. “I don’t see who we’re talkin’ to.”
“It’s ruuuuuuuuude to speak of soooooooooomeone as if they weeeeeeeeeeren’t theeeeeeere,” came the voice again, and this time, Trey searched around the ground until he saw the turtle on the stump. It moved as slowly as he figured it would, its head craning from Boh to Trey.
“Nope,” Trey said as he turned to walk away. “I’m not doin’ this today.” He stepped forward, his boots crunching on twigs and dried leaves from the previous year.
“Stop!” he heard from behind him. He knew it was the turtle, but he still stopped and turned.
“I don’t understand this,” Trey confessed. “Am I dead? Did I hit my head on a rock when I jumped in the water?”
“Yoooooooooou have neeeeeeeeeever been fuuuuuuuurther from dead,” the turtle said, looking directly into Trey’s eyes.
“That’s Tortella,” Boh introduced. “She’s one of the guardians, been around since the Great Flood fertilized the land.”
“Do you mean the flood from four years ago when the river washed out the bottoms and the farms?” Trey asked.
“No!” Boh quipped. “I mean the flood at the beginning of existence.”
“What is this?” Trey asked, his palms up as he walked back to the two forest creatures.
“Theeeeeeeeeeere’s a daaaaaaaark fooooooorce-“
“A dark force comin’, yeah, I got that,” Trey said, cutting Tortella off. “Can you be a little more specific about what kind of dark force we’re talkin’ ‘bout here? I’m not really big on the whole ‘sacrificin’-myself-without-knowin’-anything-about-it’ thing.”
“Haaaaaaas he beeeeeeeeen like thiiiiiiiiiis the whoooooole time?” Tortella asked.
“Every second,” Boh replied.
“Harry? Wheeeeeeeeere’s Haaaaaarry?” Tortella asked.
“I’m here,” they heard, and when Trey looked up, he saw a rabbit running on two legs toward the congregation.
“Explaaaaaaaaain the situaaaaaaaaaaation to the kiiiiiiiiiiiiiid,” Tortella instructed.
“Wait,” Trey interrupted, “is that English-speakin’ rabbit drinkin’ a Red Bull?”
“Do you want the turtle to explain all this to you?” Harry asked as he raised his furry little eyebrows. “Keep up, ‘cause we’re goin’ over this real quick. There’s a shadow destroying the magic of humanity, digging through their souls to eat everything good. It’s the only darkness stronger than ordinary light.”
“And I have this stronger than ordinary light?” Trey asked.
“Don’t be silly. You are that stronger than ordinary light,” Harry responded as he lifted the can to his twitchy lips.
“Yoooooooou haaaaaaaaave mooooooooore natiiiiiiiiive blooooooooood than your skiiiiin shoooooows,” Tortella said.
“We can’t say his name, but the Eater is closing in on this part of the world. We have one chance to battle it back. And you have to lead us,” Boh said.
“I have to lead you?” Trey asked. “Okay, see, I’m not buyin’ any of this. Seriously, did I hit my head in the water?”
“No,” Harry the rabbit replied. “You broke through the film.”
“You did a loop,” Boh said.
“I jumped into the water and was then thrown back out?” Trey asked.
“Yeeeeeeeeeeees aaaaaaaaaaand noooooooo,” Tortella said.
“When you jumped into the water,” Harry explained, “you jumped into our world. You jumped from your world into the water and from the water into our world.”
“I broke through the film,” Trey said slowly.
“And now you can see our world,” Boh explained with unusual patience. “We need you, Trey.”
“So once I do this, am I allowed to go back to my world? Do I get to go back to somethin’ normal where rabbits aren’t addicted to Redbull?”
“Noooooooooo,” Tortella answered.
“You have to stop the Eater from turning humanity into a drab rabble,” Boh said. “You wanted to see the magic in the world. Here it is, just a thin film laid over your world. Once you see the magic, you can’t go back.”
“I’m guessin’ no credit is also to be taken from this,” Trey whispered.
“No,” Boh said. “Nobody would ever believe you even if you pointed us out in front of them. They wouldn’t see us the same way you see us. They would see me as a grouping of fireflies, and you’d be hard-pressed to get Tortella to speak in front of any humans unworthy of our world.”
“If I say no?”
“The daaaaaaaarkness wiiiiiiiiiins,” Tortella said, shaking her head back and forth.
“You don’t have to help us,” Harry interjected, “but right now, you’re the only human who can.”
“Why?” Trey asked. This day had changed quickly. “What’s the story here?”
“From the beginning, there has been a balance,” Boh explained. “For every this, there’s that. For life to remain in harmony as it should, there must be light equal to dark. But the Eater has grown stronger. It’s no coincidence very little good energy is out in the world. Would you agree with that?”
“The lack of good things in the world?” Trey surmised. “Yeah, I’m down with that assertion. People have turned ugly and divisive, they just aren’t...good anymore. Everybody is tryin’ to get revenge, more worried about their rights than the well-bein’ of those around them. We’re shootin’ schools up, and the negative aspects of more organized religions are tearin’ us apart from the inside. I don’t think we, as a species, could be much worse than we are right now.”
“Thaaaaaaaaaaat’s the imbaaaaaaaaaaaalaaaaaaaance,” Tortella said.
“I mean, what do I have to do?” Trey stammered. “I don’t know how to fight. I’m just an English teacher.”
“Think bigger,” Boh whispered. “Much, much bigger.”
Trey stood in silence, blinking and waiting as the breeze disturbed the leaves.
“Magic,” Harry said.
“Magic? In Oklahoma? Doesn’t fantasy seem to be more of a British thing? Y'all are makin’ this so difficult to believe.”
“He says to the talking woodland creatures,” Harry whispered to Tortella.
“This laaaaaaaaand held the maaaaaaaaaagic of liiiiiiiife before otheeeeeeeeeeeeeeer laaaaaaaaands even greeeeeeeeew frooooooooom the swaaaaaaaaamps.”
“It’s true,” Harry concurred. “You’re just as likely to find magic here than everywhere else in the world.”
“I don’t know magic,” Trey excused.
“You don’t know what you don’t know,” Boh replied, his attitude back again.
“And how long do I have to find out what I don’t know? A month?”
“Ooooooooooh, dear chiiiiiiiiiiiiiiild, nooooooooo,” Tortella answered.
“We have less than ten minutes now,” Harry said.
“Ten minutes? This has to be some sort of blunder. There’s no way,” Trey said.
“Theeeeeeeeeeeeeere’s nooooooo other waaaaaaaaaaaay,” Tortella protested.
“I can’t do this,” Trey insisted. He looked from face to face of the characters here, and though their eyes begged for help, he felt backed into a corner.
“Yooooooooou caaaaaaan,” Tortella said. “Yooooooooou broooooooooooke through the fiiiiiiiiiilm. Yoooooooooou aaaaaaaare the only oooooooone.”
“I don’t know how-“
“Yoooooooou wiiiiiiiiiiill,” Tortella answered.
“What are you doin’ on my property?” they all heard. When they turned, there stood a man in overalls, a man Trey figured was about his age with a baseball cap, cowboy boots, and no undershirt. In his right hand, pointed to the ground was a rifle.
Trey looked to the animals, but Harry and Boh were gone, Tortella just a normal tortoise munching on the moss of a fallen tree. There was nothing suspicious happening except for Trespassin’ Trey.
“Hi,” Trey said. “We’ve never met, but I live on the property next to yours, right over there.” He pointed back behind him. “My parents left it to me when the Johnstons owned this bit of land.” He hadn’t even been aware these acres had sold.
“What are you doin’ on my property?” the man repeated. His accent was thick, and Trey didn’t believe he was local.
“I like to swim here when it’s hot,” Trey answered.
“Looks like there’s a storm comin’,” the man said. He rolled his eyes to the sky, twisting his head with a minute but graceful movement. His inflection seemed to indicate he no longer cared what Trey’s intentions were. He was more interested in the clouds rolling in and shielding the sun. The breeze picked up, and there was dirt in the air as the leaves shook from the wind, abrasive and loud. Trey crouched, the sudden influx of energy around him surprising. Where had this weather come from?
“I think maybe I should go,” Trey said as he started to turn to leave. The other man moved with speed, and in a flash, he was standing next to Trey. There was an odor now, also, the offensive smell of decayed leaves and putrid soil causing Trey to snarl his lips. He stepped to the side, moving away from the man, away from the smell, and away from the feeling Trey was experiencing. His energy was draining, and he felt sluggish as if his mind was stuck in a peanut butter and maple syrup sandwich.
“He’s here, ya know,” the man whispered. The words came out in a hiss, and their shade coated Trey’s spine like black paint. As he looked into the man’s eyes, they began to change shape. The corners moved upward, his cap and hair disappeared, and his ears pointed up. The skin was turning colors, morphing into a cadaverous gray. It opened its mouth, displaying rows of ragged and rigid teeth perfect for sawing. It dropped its jaw, unhinged and swinging, and it roared a sound of all the winds Trey had heard in his life. The force shook the trees, it rattled the ground, and Trey never knew when the panic struck him, only the realization it was there.
He turned to run, swinging his arms and using his legs as pistons into the softer earth. He heaved his chest as he escaped, racing to get away from the thing behind him as it stopped its screaming. He heard the groundbreaking as the thing came upon him, and as he began to panic knowing he wouldn’t survive, he saw the strip pit. He sped toward it, thunder cracking above as the land grew darker from the thick clouds. The robust wind was against him, the dust stinging his eyes as small twigs and leaves flew through the air as organic shrapnel.
“Juuuuuuuuuuuuuump!” he heard Tortella’s weak voice scream. He did, and as gravity took care of his weight, he hoped he would not break another dimension film just to land back on the rock to be obliterated by this thing. He was satisfied when he felt the jolt of cold water slowing his body down. Immersed in the strip pit, he opened his eyes in a thin line, and there was a face in front of him, the skin of an albino with light blue eyes and blonde hair obscuring any other details. He tried to turn, kicking his legs to escape this monster, but his wrist was bound, and he could go nowhere. He began to punch in the water, hoping to make contact with this creature before he became its dinner. The way this day had gone, he was losing hope.
Then he was breaking the surface of the water, his lungs pulling in oxygen until his chest seared. He gulped as much of the air as he could, preparing himself to be forced back under the water in the epic final battle, but it wasn’t coming as quickly as his mind could make up possible scenarios.
“I swear to the Light,” he heard, “if you strike me once more, I will hit you back. Hard.”
He opened his eyes and stilled his body, looking around as he considered these events. The splashes stopped when he ceased, and he realized he was not under attack, that there was no need at this moment to be defensive. A woman was swimming just beyond him, moving toward the deliverance from his blows into deeper water. Her skin, out of the water, was whiter than any human he had ever seen, her wet hair sticking to her head and across her neck, down to her-
Trey blushed when he realized her top was exposed, but she didn’t seem to mind. Maybe this was some sort of crunchy hippie chick who didn’t care if her breasts floated in the water. He was certain this was how specific romantic movies on the internet started, but he was also aware horror movies could begin the same way.
“You can stand up, you know,” she informed him. She arched one eyebrow, her red lips smiling. “It is okay, I know I am beautiful.” She lowered her voice to a whisper. “I am made to appear this way.” She winked.
“What or who are you?” Trey said as he stood and backed up. He looked around. They were on the other side of the strip pit, down just a little where it exited from the woods and looked out onto the pasture. He knew if he left the water and walked a little, he would be able to see his own house. “How did we get all the way over here?” He neared the shallow end, stumbling up on the bank as the woman stayed where she was. “What is all of this?”
“I am Rela of the White People of the Water, but that is of no concern. He’s coming,” she said. She looked up. The sky was dark here, too, and the wind was strengthening.
“I don’t know what that thing was! How can I beat it?”
“Long Boy is not the Eater,” she replied with a full smile. “No, the Dark One is coming. In fact, he’s already here.”
“I don’t know what to do!” Trey screamed into the wind. He pushed his insides from panic and frustration, an obvious ignorance concerning any plan. He hitched his breath in, his shoulders heaving up and down as he stood, pathetic and helpless. His hair was blowing as if it was prairie grass billowing in the arriving gale.
“You will,” she affirmed as she went under the water. He did not expect to see a tail where her legs should have been as she kicked off and down into the depths.
He was on the shore watching the ripples widen before they lost inertia and disappeared into the water stirred up by the wind. Thunder snapped above him, lightning strobing the land. He looked, his eyes searching with urgency the woods. Just above the tree line was a black cloud, moving and living as it pushed in. Trey shielded his face, protecting himself from the debris, but through squinted eyes, he could make out a figure as the clouds lowered to the top of the water. It swirled, and for a moment, Trey feared a waterspout, but then the cloud disappeared.
Floating just above the surface of the water was a four-yard-high praying mantis, black with a bayonet of white bone at the end of each leg. There were orange stripes down its limbs, its eyes red and inflamed from the inside. Smoke unfurled from the sturdy frame, and Trey was immobilized by icy terror. It lifted its head into the air as it opened its mandibles, teeth and tongue visible as it called out, a high-pitched squeal Trey was certain shook everything around him. It screeched what felt like a victory as immense, shadowy wings opened up behind it. At the bottom of the wings, the fire was burning up without damaging the skin of the animal. It snapped its mouth shut, then reared up on its back legs, swaying gently from side to side despite the forceful wind. It opened its mouth again, crying out with the same effects, only this time, there was a flame shooting into the air as if the breath of the massive insect. Its wings began to flap as they tossed sparks into the water. After a few seconds, it quietened. Still on its hind legs, it hunched over as if it was about to launch at Trey.
“Nope,” the man said as he turned to run. He could feel the ground shaking beneath, and he turned back to see the mantid coming at him, making contact with the land and running on all of its legs while it chopped the trunks of trees with its pinchers as if they were just sticks. He stopped and held his hands out in defense, closing his eyes and hoping this would end quickly as he awaited the teeth.
And then he felt warmth from his hands. As he landed on the ground, he felt his own blood seeping from a wound, but he opened his eyes and saw his hands were not bloody at all. They were glowing warm orange. He looked at the mantid.
It was on the bank of the pit shaking its head, disoriented and angry.
It’s the fear of losing the magic, he thought. The magic is the fear of no magic!
Trey realized what he needed to do, and he quickly maneuvered himself into a crouching position. He held his hands out, watching the mantid regain its footing, and then it was headed toward him again. It was slower, but he still wouldn’t have stood a chance.
He closed his eyes and imagined a black and white world, dead of anything more than life. There was no art, no fresh vegetation, no pets. There would be no laughter or crying from babies, no tears of excitement. Music would be as obsolete as the souls who wouldn’t even notice the disappearance of poetry. He could feel the fear entering his heart, and pushed as hard as he could from his palms as the warm breath was on his skin.
He rolled back, the recoil of sending out so much concentrated energy unexpected, but he didn’t feel anything upon him, attacking him and shredding his skin. He crawled forward, pulling himself in the grass as he tried to sit up to take stock.
The Eater was a large burning thing a few yards in front of him, and he hoped he had done enough.
It threw back its head and roared.
“Crap,” Trey said as he reached down and grabbed a branch from the ground. He ran up to the insect as it called out, and when he was close enough, it defended with a claw, snapping off the end of the large stick. From under the animal, he thrust the limb up, into the skull of the big bug as he saw all his power running up the wood, a bright rainbow swirl. As he pushed, he sent all the good energy he could muster up into the beast, colors and emotions. He filled the monster with his passion and his desire to live.
There was no crunching of bone, no squishing of organs. The mantid began disintegrating around the stick, the edges transforming into wispy shadows until the monster roared one more time, and then, the cloud was pulled up into the sky and away from sight. The sudden sunlight was bright, painful as it burned Trey’s eyes.
“You did it!” Harry said as he hopped up and down.
“Where were you?” Trey asked as he gasped for sweet air.
“Watching you save the world!”
“Sooooooooooometiiiiiiiiiiimes fear is juuuuuuuuuuuuust the poweeeeeeeeeer to heeeeeeeeeeelp us get tooooooooooo the neeeeeeeext level,” Tortella said from his other side. He looked over, and though, he was annoyed with this whole situation, he was relieved to see them.
“You knew what to do and when to do it,” Harry said. “We told you so!”
“I didn’t think you could do,” Boh said from behind as he flew up to them. “I thought you would be a huge failure and doom all of us.”
“Hey, Boh?” Trey said.
“Thanks for showing me what I can do.” With that, he sent power into his finger toward the levitator. It hit Boh, bursting into purple light and erasing the land spirit’s lips.
“I haaaaaaaaaave waaaaaaaanted to dooooooooo thaaaaaaaat for the laaaaaaaaast four huuuuuuuuuuuundred years,” Tortella chimed in. Boh flew around with erratic and short movements, the lights around him bursting black.
“So that’s all it took to defeat the Eater?” Trey asked, his voice light with victory though exhausted.
“Noooooooooooo,” Tortella said.
“You didn’t defeat him,” Harry explained. “You just ran him off by proving you are more powerful than he was expecting. And that’s all we can do for now.”
“Heeeeeeeeeeeee wiiiiiiiiiiill beeeeeeeeee baaaaaaack,” Tortella said. “But thaaaaaaaaaaat’s another stooooooooooory.”
Trey smiled, then sat down. He would need to rest here in the comfort of the woods before making the walk back to his house, but he did feel a new zeal in witnessing life through a film of magic. Not only had he done something he never knew he could do, he felt warmth in his heart as the revitalizing magic crept back in.
For the contest: