by Vitaliy Kubushyn
Bugs fountained up from the center of the geometric design like an elaborate water show. The cockroaches pirouetted in midair, meaty horned beetles pelted the ground like hail, and grasshoppers jumped every which way over the uneven chalk lines of the spell.
“Damn, damn, damn!“ I cursed, and cut power to the invocation. The flood of many-legged creatures ceased. At least no spiders this time.
An involuntary shudder passed through me as a determined cockroach darted towards me. I quickly drew a circle and cast my trusty bug repellent spell. The glossy insect crashed into the chalk border and flipped over, helpless.
“Jerry!” I screamed with only a tiny bit of panic in my voice. The pile of magical knick-knacks in the corner stirred and a hairy long-snouted beast rose from within. The enormous anteater eagerly sniffed around and went to work. I watched Jerry stuff himself with bugs any other member of his species would have choked on. I sighed with relief as the last horned beetle disappeared into his snout like an oversized booger.
Bugs were an inevitable and unfortunate side effect of any badly-concocted magic spell. A wizard often had to deal with these disgusting many-legged nightmares, as the development of a new magic pattern was a very error-prone process. My extreme, tremor-inducing fear of the little pests didn’t help matters.
Jerry flipped onto his back, belly distended, and began snoring loudly. I looked at my pentagram and started the repetitive task of testing every segment of the complicated drawing. I poured a tiny bit of magic power into each line, on the lookout for any problems in the flow.
After three hours of this exercise, my back felt like it had been replaced with a particularly cranky electric eel, the blood vessels in my eyes had committed seppuku, and I had not found a single flaw in my design.
“Mister Perkins, how is the project going?” A loud basso voice echoed through the room. I jumped into the air, stumbled gracelessly over my anteater, and crashed face-first into a pile of design drawings for old spells. Jerry trumpeted and barreled out of the room, giving me an outraged look.
The image of my boss, Douglas Percy Merlin the Twenty Seventh, over nine feet tall and in full Technicolor, floated in the center of the room. It was all very impressive and scary if you didn’t know that the man was actually 5 foot nothing and was using a spell for temporal image projection I had invented last year.
“What do you want, Percy?” I asked. He hated to be called by his middle name, but I had tenure and there was nothing he could do about it. He was an annoying, corporate ladder climbing, petty little man. The fact that he was married to my ex-wife didn’t help his cause either.
Percy looked down his crooked nose at the diagram below him, sniffed, and said “I have just a few additional flavors that absolutely must be available in the final spell.”
“Have you been outside lately, Perkins? Ever since that Witch of the West… Or was it Witch of the North?” My insufferable boss stroked his thin mustache, contemplating. “Well, ever since a witch of some geographical directionality figured out how to turn coffee beans into magic ones we’ve been having a real shortage. Everyone’s climbing bean stalks left and right while coffee shops all over the place are having to close their doors. People are getting testy. We’re one missed mocha cappuccino order away from a lynch mob out there, man!”
“But…” I tried to interject.
“The deadline is still next Monday,” Percy said, a toothy yellow smile stretching his mustached face.
I glared at him and opened my mouth to argue. The projection disappeared with a loud pop. A young troll with glasses on his nose walked into my lab, dropped a stack of papers that looked like a Tolstoy novel next to my Bottled Essence of Youth, and shambled away. The front page read “Features for Project Bean, v72.”
I pulled on my rapidly dwindling supply of hair, transformed the stack of papers into a replica of Percy’s head, kicked it as hard as I could, and watched it bounce against the walls for a while. Then I turned it back into the pile of documents and began reading.
Five hours later I stood in the only corner of the room not covered with chalk lines, looking with disgust at the monstrosity I had created. The new features were hacked onto the sides of the diagram with barely adequate lines of power. I no longer even pretended to comprehend what parts of the drawing were responsible for what. Jerry refused to eat any more bugs and lay on his back in front of the window. His enormous stuffed belly rose and fell between four comically upraised feet. I enchanted a vacuum cleaner to hunt down and suck up the insects that my creation was producing in alarming quantities.
A knock sounded and Ted leaned in over the lines of my diagram that were invading into the corridor.
“Heya Jimmy! This looks intense,” he remarked jovially. I wanted to strangle him right there.
“Listen, man... Sorry to ask you this, but can you stop doing whatever you’re doing here? Your spell is causing temporal interference with the printer and it’s spewing pictures of unicorns instead of our financial reports,” Ted said.
The man pounding on the inside of my skull upgraded his hammer to a power drill and went to work.
“How could my spell be impacting what you’re doing all the way on the other side of the building?” I asked. Then a nasty suspicion scraped its claws against an imaginary chalkboard inside my head. “Are you using my ley line?”
“Well, Jimmy, hold on... we ran out of ink, and there was some sort of paper jam, and the financials are due tomorrow,” he swallowed. “So... we rerouted your ley line to the printer to force it to work magically. Jimmy, just stay calm.”
The little man with the power drill broke through and the world turned red. The temperature of my lab rose about twenty degrees. Ted, his face pinched with fear, spun a protective shield around himself and pelted down the corridor. My target having slipped away, I sent the fireball I had conjured through the open window. The spell narrowly avoided frying a monkey that was flying by dressed in a pristine suit and clutching a briefcase. The chimp chittered and flipped me off. I got back to work.
Sometime after midnight, I stood in the center of my lab, giggling maniacally. Every surface was covered with intricate chalk patterns. Only an occasional ant popped into existence every couple of minutes. Each one was mercilessly sucked up by the vacuum cleaner, which had developed a rather disturbing eagerness for consuming insect flesh.
I picked up the test mug - a yellow ceramic abomination with “My Magic is Powered by Caffeine” scrawled across the front. I held it at arm’s length, stretching to get the thing as far away from my face and other delicate areas as possible. I sent my will flowing through the diagram. A small trickle of hot brown liquid formed in the air just above the mug and began filling it up. It smelled nothing like the rich dark coffee the spell was designed to produce. Instead it exuded a faint odor of old cheese with a hint of landfill.
I pushed down the nausea that so stubbornly tried to warn me of an impending poisoning, and lifted the cup to my lips. I muttered some toxin protection spells, mastered on numerous previous projects, and took a tentative sip.
The most I had hoped for was a taste at least slightly akin to black coffee, hopefully tolerable enough not to trigger the average gag reflex. What I got was nothing like that.
The beverage tasted as though a seductive angel had decided to make vigorous love to my taste buds. The concoction was liquid ecstasy, better than any candy I’ve ever tried. I eagerly gulped down the remainder of the fluid and then conjured and sucked in three more helpings.
With a manic gleam in my eye, I began recording every intricate line of the spell in my notebook. Every so often I conjured up an image of Percy, pointed my finger at it, loudly proclaimed “Ha!”, and continued with my frantic scribbling.
The next morning, reeking of old cheese, I slammed the door to Percy’s office open and slapped a piece of paper on his desk. His secretary detached her lips from his mouth, sprung from his lap like a frightened cat, and ran out of the room screaming. I stared at Percy, who seemed a lot paler than usual for some reason.
“Haven’t you heard of knocking, Perkins! I could have you fired for this!” he yelled. I grunted and pointed at the piece of paper, panting heavily.
“What is this? I, James Perkins, hereby tender my resignation from Magic Instruments Inc.... Are you serious, man?” Percy read the paper and looked up to find my index finger squarely between his eyes.
“Ha!” I said and walked out of the room. Jerry, whom I had left out in the hall, obediently fell in behind me as we walked out of the grey corporate hell that had been my prison for so long.
Three years later I relaxed on the sandy beach of my private island, sipping some Mr. Perkins. Jerry lay on his back on the sand, soaking up the midday sunshine.
The drink I had created, after appropriate marketing, became wildly successful. The stench was a problem at first, but when I discovered that a single magic bean dropped into a thousand-gallon tank of my beverage completely neutralized the odor, the orders started flowing in. True, chopping down the beanstalk every time was a chore, but the reward was well worth it. The sales of Mr. Perkins surpassed those of Coca Cola and Pepsi combined, making me one of the richest men in the world.
Surprisingly enough, I still worked on magic designs almost every day. The little man that loved to drill the inside of my skull had packed his belongings and left for faraway lands. Nowadays, every moment spent in the lab felt like a blessing.
I set down my drink and headed inland, feeling the soft sand caress my toes with each step. I couldn’t wait to debug my most recent spell.
About the Creator
Vitaliy Kubushyn lives in the scorching casino-infested suburbs of Las Vegas, Nevada, USA, with his wife and pup. He spends most of his time programming and producing bugs, with a small amount of functional code peeking through the garbled mess here and there. He wastes the downtime while the latest "code" he wrote brings down the servers by playing entirely too many video games. This is his first publication.
World's Shortest Creator Interview
The robot overlords have gifted you with the choice of one cybernetic module that will make one of your existing skills or traits all bionic and stuff. What do you choose to buff up, and what would be the unexpected plot twist?
I am ecstatic that my robot overlords are pleased with me. I have betrayed humanity by serving our cruel masters for many years now. I even mercilessly put down a small human rebellion at one point. I am their greatest pet.
At least that's what they think. In reality, I've been working to gain their favor for most of my life, brushing up on my hacking skills in the meantime. When they finally recognize my achievements, I ask for a neural interface into their network. None the wiser, they grant my innocuous request. In the next hours, all their circuits begin to fry as the virus I spent years perfecting is unleashed into their cybernetic nervous systems. When the sun dawns, humanity emerges from their underground warrens to find smoking heaps of rubble instead of their long-time oppressors. I walk over their metallic bodies into the sunrise, never to be seen again.
The Queen of Saturn has commissioned you to design for her a new pet that will fit in her handbag, to replace Skittles, the late royal pet who made the mistake of pooping on the royal phone. What would be the notable characteristics of your pet?
Your Highness deserves only the best, and for this reason I bring you the "Mind Gobbler." This remarkable floating brain makes a great pet and will definitely NOT mind control any monarch within telepathic distance. Please disregard this "Power to the Proletariat" sticker I've got on the bottom of the floating containment sphere. See, it comes right off. Now, please, go enjoy your new master... I mean companion.
About the Artists
Our very own D Chang is a designer and game writer from Austin, Texas. His short fiction has appeared in Avast, Ye Airships! and the Cryptopolis science fiction anthology, and he has a janky retro JRPG on Steam. He does the Space Squid illustrations, editing, and other squid stuff.