Prompt Short Story: Failure (Interviews with a Sorcerer #8)

CWs: pain and disabilities, road accident, injuries, death

I can’t believe you actually asked this one. You’ve heard all these stories, and all about how our egos are huge and fragile – including my own. And you want me to tell you, and therefore anybody else who reads whatever you write from it, about a time I fucked up? Are you serious? I guess you are, but. Really?! I don’t know if I can answer this one.

Of course, the deal I made means I have to. I just don’t want to. Why the fuck did I volunteer for this? I was living out my days in peace! I’ve made myself a nice life after the Fall, you know. I saw it coming (alright, I was warned it was coming), and I planned it all out. And then the ask came to me, and I said sure! I feel vaguely magnanimous towards the humans that managed not to be dead, the ones that picked up and carried on. Why not be the one to show them the world beside their world, so we can all work together, and…

Yep, OK, it was my ego that made me agree. Shit. Fine. You want a time I fucked up? You got it.

Right before the Fall, there was a couple of years that I spent gathering together the resources I would need to find myself a nice, quiet place to depart to, where I could spend the rest of my days in peace. I’m old now, I have perhaps a couple of decades left, and I mostly just want to be left alone. I can’t imagine you were alive yet, when everything happened; at least, you sound too young. It’s hard to describe how much of a chaotic nightmare it was – better wordy people than me have tried, and I’ll leave that to them. But all the things that the smart people had been warning of – they started happening, in ways that even the most hardened refusers of climate change were finding hard to ignore or write off. Wildfires everywhere one minute, snap freezes the next. Almost all of the animals suddenly became endangered, or at the very least started dying off in stacks. Humans did, too. The rich had fucked everyone over so hard, and were so fucking selfish, that when it came down to it they just took everything they could and either bunkered down somewhere hidden, or fucked off to the stars for a while in resource-laden ships.

The world was left to the people most needing, and least equipped, to fix it. And there’s only so much a sorcerer can do, against the desperate anger of an entire planet. We who chose to help protected where we could, helped where we could, encouraged growth in the few hardy crops there were left. Those of us that could, quietly cast multiplication spells – trying to make more for everyone.

When the volcanoes began erupting, and the sea levels all shot up, anyone who hadn’t made it to a high enough spot, well they burned or they drowned.

There were a handful of years after the fires and frost began and before the final eruptions and melts, where I just tried to help as many people as I could get out of the predicted hot zones and up as high as possible to avoid the sea.

One couple I helped, they were both starving. They were homeless, and disabled, and they’d just been left behind by people too concerned with their own skins to help. I found them during one of my sweeps, and I talked to them to figure out what I could do..

The fella, Jackson, he got caught in a factory accident that broke and fucked up his shoulder – I say, ‘accident’, malfeasance more like, but the companies ran everything. They didn’t want him to get benefits or the compensation he sued for, so they blocked it all, and blackballed him. There were no independent companies anymore, so a couple of calls and nobody would give him a job. Those that might have done so quietly were too scared of their parent companies, so while he could occasionally get a week or two or cash work when they could fudge the info…that was all anyone dared.

As to his wife, Bett, she was broken from years and years of performing every shitty job she could find, usually 3 at a time. Warehousing, washing, sewing, sales, whatever. Her whole body was literally just exhausted, and from the limited medical knowledge I had, even I managed to figure out 3 slipped discs, and lots of nerve damage in her legs and shoulders.

They’d lost everything when they couldn’t keep up with the extortionate rent, the ever-rising bills, and the ever scarce and even more pricey food. So there they were, huddled in a little hut of corrugated metal against the wall of a filthy back alley.

They tried to refuse my help at first, but when they realised I was genuine, and knew where they could go to find other people…well they started telling me they couldn’t possibly because they couldn’t work, so surely they’d just be left to die, and they could do that just fine where they were.

So I told them a bit more about the place. It was one of the Enclaves that supernaturals had set up, so I was able to tell them honestly that not only would they never be left to die, but that they would be helped to settle in, fed and restored, and when they were well again there would be something they could do to help back.

They were still not sure, but that’s ok, I have some pretty good ways of convincing folk. I had

By this point the rule about not revealing magic was being ignored a lot. For those of us that were helping folk (which was by a long shot not even half of the sorcerers), we’d all come to a sort of unspoken agreement that we could tell, show or use as was necessary in order to do so.

I told them about magic, and I proved it by relieving both of their pains and giving them their bodies back. I explained that I wasn’t a healer. I couldn’t fix their problems, and this was only temporary so I could get them someplace safe, but that I’d add them to the lists going to the sorcerers who could do a more permanent heal, and they would get to them when they could.

But of course that only solved one problem. How to get them there? I asked them to gather their things, and wait for me to return, and I went to find some form of transport. Most cars and motorbikes weren’t in use anymore – there was no more petrol, and the oil companies had squashed every opportunity to make enough clean energy to replace it. Even the electric ones were owned and controlled by them, and charging stations didn’t stay free for long, once these cars got popular enough for them to levy them.

I managed to hunt down a motorbike, though. I say managed. I used a spell, obviously. I’m not running around a whole city to find something if I can do it by making a spell show me! Anyway, the thing was old and a little rusted, but still solid and useable, once I managed to get the little bit of petrol inside flowing. Then increased the amount, and set as much as I dared to auto-replace itself with a very carefully made localised time spell.

I wheeled this back to the couple, along with some gear I picked up – two each of helmets, jackets, boots, trousers and gloves, and balaclavas.

Of course their immediate reaction was that they couldn’t ride a motorbike. Not only did they have no idea how, neither of them was physically capable!

By this point the rule about not revealing magic was being ignored a lot. For those of us that were helping folk (which was by a long shot not even half of the sorcerers), we’d all come to a sort of unspoken agreement that we could tell, show or use as was necessary in order to do so.

Next problem: how to drive a motorbike? We didn’t have time for lessons in safe driving and, even without any cars moving along the road, there were still far too many ways in which they could come to harm – and most of them were by not knowing how to drive and ride a motorbike in the first place. So I did the only thing I could. I told them I knew how, and could do it for them.

I couldn’t drive the thing and fit them both on, and I hadn’t driven one of these things in a long time, but it was all I had to offer, and the only way to get them anywhere without getting stuck a few hundred times like they would in anything bigger. So I told them to choose who would be front and back, and therefore be the one inside whose head I would be.

The plan was for me to use my magic to take over the mechanical side of things – I’d use their body, and a portion of their consciousness, to do the driving.

I didn’t mention that this was magic I had rarely used – maybe a couple of times ever. I just got myself comfortable while they discussed it, and after a discussion amongst themselves they agreed Jackson would be the one.

They got themselves into the gear I’d found, settled into their seats, and proclaimed themselves ready.

I did something I almost never did. I offered a prayer to the gods I didn’t even believe in, asking anyone that might be listening to help me get them there safely.

I’d found a dry spot by slightly breaking into a nearby store. They had a breakroom that was fairly warm, and there were a couple of sofas there. Good enough for me! I could see their essences through the wall with ease – thanks magical sight – and I shouldn’t be disturbed.

Now ask me why these two didn’t just do the same, instead of huddling outside. Because I asked that question.

They told me they didn’t want to become the same as the looters and thieves, taking and using what wasn’t theirs. They were prepared for having to die down here, and didn’t want to do so with that on their conscience.

I swear any other time in my life I would have heard that and walked away in disgust. Nobody is actually that good! But maybe I remember it wrong. Maybe I need these two people to be that good . Even if it was a lie from them, or from my memory, these were still good people, and that was confirmed the second I looked at their essences. Both together and combined, they showed me people who, if the world had more of them, would never have let this happen.

But I digress.

Once we were all comfortable I began. I teased the strings into the shape of my essence, then formed Jackson’s essence around it. I made a thick rope to connect that to me, and fitted my package into him.

I took a few minutes to settle, testing his arms, legs, reach, reactions, vision. All the stuff I was about to need. Once I felt comfortable, I started the bike up. No flashy standing on the starter nonsense, just a turn of the key. I turned the throttle until I felt the wheels ready to bite, and slowly released the brake.

I rode out of the town at a speed just above walking, avoiding all the abandoned cars, potholes, and whatever else. I breathed deep, keeping both of us calm, and after an hour or so I met open road. Well, open-ish. Road open enough to ride this thing through, and do so at a better speed.

I turned it up a notch and held steady at about 40kph. The road was mostly straight, so any obstacles showed up early, and this was slow enough to weave around them easily. I settled in. It was going to take a few hours, but we’d get there.

But this is a story of a time I fucked up. Up until the moment it happened, I’d been doing great. All this stuff, and every second until it all went wrong. Ego, you see? I was too arrogant to admit there had to be a better way, even if it was slower. I felt for these two, and I couldn’t not give myself this opportunity to be a hero.

I hadn’t used this spell much, like I said, and I failed utterly to consider the effect of moving it away from me like this. I started to flash back to myself on the sofa, and added more strings, strengthening the connection. I needed to get them there and if I stopped now, they’d be just as stranded as they were here. So I kept on. But the flashbacks continued.

I added a second rope, hoping that would give me the connection I needed, and it went well. I was back there, riding them along just fine, for another couple of hours.

Then a red squirrel ran out into the road. Animals had begun claiming back the areas people had abandoned, and this one had no reason to expect there would be a vehicle barrelling along. Even the sound didn’t phase it. It must have been born after vehicles pretty much stopped running because it ran, then saw us coming and stopped – we probably surprised and scared it.

I tried to twist around it, but the beats of adrenaline in Jackson and me kicked me out of his head for a moment. It was no more than three seconds, but it was enough. I’d begun the loop around the squirrel, but I hadn’t turned the bike back straight. I was kicked out and by the time I got back, it was too late. Jackson was unconscious.

I pummelled him awake and looked at the view through his helmet. Safe to say it officially sucked. The bike had hit a car, and landed on his right leg, trapping him. I could feel the tears in his flesh, deep from the slide over the gravel and, and quick look told me, a broken piece of metal from something or other that was still attached tp his ribs, forced in even through the thick camo jacket I had him wear. It was keeping some of his blood in, at least, but that only meant internal bleeding unless it could be fixed. The fall was enough to make him lose consciousness even with the helmet on, and the slide had injured him much, much worse. I had no idea what had happened to Bett, and I wouldn’t unless I could get him free.

But the bike was heavier than his muscles were after so long in atrophy, and the shock of the crash had undone my temporary healing spell, leaving him helpless. All I could do at that momentum at that distance, was gently render him unconscious again with a small sleeping spell, to slow the blood loss and keep him from the pain – and from moving – until I could figure something else out.

But I couldn’t do a damned thing from where I was. I didn’t know if I could do a damned thing if I was there, but I had to try. The issue was getting there. Because I’d been inside Jackson, I didn’t have a location locked in my head. I had to try and follow their path myself.

Before I did that, I sent out an urgent call to a sorcerer I knew was at the location I was trying to get them to, and a great healer. I might or might not get a response, and they might or might not be able to leave, but it was the only thing I could do from where I was.

In the meantime, they needed me to help them however I could. So, as fast as possible whilst remembering to handle the strings delicately, I pulled enough together to form a sort of carpet, on which I could attempt to fly. This was a spell I’d never tried before – or I’d have used it to begin with. But now I needed it. This thing could barely hold me without disintegrating. It hovered 3 feet off the ground and moved even slower than the bike did, but it was still faster than me trying to run there myself.

I had to keep some of my attention on keeping my carpet together – but that was fine, compartmentalising is a thing all sorcerers can do, we just split a bit of brain off to handle the task.

The rest of my brain was just focussed on getting there in one piece.

I got there eventually, though it was well into night by then and I’d had to cast a light above me just to see. But I got there and let the carpet disintegrate, feeling in my head for whatever healing spells I might be able to try. I just needed to keep them stable while I called for someone else to find me, but I knew that could take hours or even days if I had nobody that could do this nearby or able to leave their post. But to do anything, I had to stabilise them and get some sort of idea of their injuries.

Neither of them moved, as I got closer, calling their names. I searched for their essences, but both of them were gone. There was nothing there for me to heal. Just flesh, no longer occupied.

I needed to see anyway, so I strengthened my light until it looked like daylight, and I went to them.

Bett died quickly, I think. She broke her neck when her helmet smacked off either the ground or the car, and aside from a break where the bike lay on her leg, there was no other injury, and no sign she’d struggled or tried to move. So I think she died right away.

Jackson didn’t. Even after I left him, he’d struggled, through the pain and atrophy in his shoulders now my heal had worn off, through the pain in his head, and his leg, and his side. Both showed a lot of extra trauma. He’d struggled and fought, but blood loss and shock took him away.

I’d done this. I…I did this. My arrogance, and my ignorance, killed them. Two people who deserved to live more than almost anyone else – and certainly more than me. I took on spells I didn’t fully know, spells I assumed would be fine, spells I didn’t know the full extent and weaknesses of. And I killed them.

I only wanted to help. But my arrogance blinded me, and they died because of it.

I killed them.

I can’t make up for that. I can’t wash myself clean of that. Not ever.

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Writing prompt used:

He woke up slowly from the crash and it was safe to say that the view through his cracked helmet officially sucked.

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