#FFC52 – 2014 Flash Fiction Challenge Week 26 – “A Subtle Streak of Red”

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Howdy all! Time for week 26 of the lovely Thain in Vain’s Flash Fiction Challenge! This week, I return to a world I touched on briefly in “A Little Bit of Magic…” with this week’s theme, ”Do you notice anything different about me?”.  I thought it apt! Here we are, right at 500 words, with “A Subtle Streak of Red.”

Magic is a squirrely thing. The universe doesn’t like it, but it’s willing to accept it, so long as it stays quiet and unobtrusive. Kind of like that weird kid who sits in the corner and hums all the time; you can pretend he isn’t there, until he does something shocking.

But there’s nothing wrong with him. His reality is just different from yours, the two don’t agree with each other. He does little things; rearranging the pieces on a chessboard repetitively. No one cares. He stacks books on each other. No one cares. It’s not till he’s jumping on tables, flinging objects and howling at the top of his lungs that we react. Depending on the intensity of his outburst, we don’t do anything at first. We sit there, shocked, watching as he screams obscenities and beats his chest.

It may take a moment but eventually, someone snaps, tries to settle him down. They straighten up the mess, shush him, and guide him back to the corner, humming. Then, everyone pretends it didn’t happen, and goes back to doing their thing. But things have changed. The books he threw are damaged, torn. The plates, shattered. The nick-knacks all unbalanced and rearranged. Everyone pretends like it’s back to normal, but it’s not.

That’s magic. Either you work your casting carefully, making tiny changes that the universe will ignore, or you do something drastic, and accept that parts will fade as entropy forces itself upon reality. If you know what you’re doing, things won’t be the way they were before the reset. You’ll make big changes, even if they weren’t what everyone thought they were. Like a stage magician, it’s distraction, making a big show with one hand while carefully doing the real work with the other. It’s harder than it sounds. Or, wait…maybe it’s exactly as hard as it sounds. Because it doesn’t sound easy, does it?

So I’m practicing. A subtle change, a streak of color in my hair. The kind of thing that someone will look at and double-take, but then make excuses for having missed. Small magic, to get the hang of the basics. I close my eyes, concentrate. I recite softly the incantations that let me exert my will over reality…and there. A streak of red sprouts from my bangs.

I turn to the guy next to me on the bus. He doesn’t know me, but I made sure to chat him up when I got on, made sure he got a good look at me. That’s important. I get his attention.

”Do you notice anything different about me?”

He looks at me, friendly at first, then his brow furrows. His eyes glaze slightly. I can smell the faint hint of ozone, that indicates that the universe is about to rebel. Damn it!

And then…

“No, sorry. Should I?”

I breathe out, just becoming aware I’d been holding my breath.

“No, thanks man.”

He nods, turns back to his book.

The color stays. Just like magic.

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18 comments

  1. “Parts will fade as entropy forces itself upon reality.” Very good! This is an interesting story about change. It’s the subtle changes that stick and the big ones that cause chaos. But that’s just how I read this story! Intriguing take on the prompt, Mark! TiV

    1. That’s the point entirely! :D Little changes go unnoticed, and as such, have permanence. Big changes, the universe rejects, and tries to reset, so the goal is to do something so audacious that the universe attacks the “flash” and not the “substance.” Just a fun little idea I’ve been working on for an urban fantasy setting. :)

      1. Interesting. It’s like a red herring for the universe, so we can quietly change without it resetting itself. So, how are you using this concept in an urban fantasy setting?

        1. I’m still swishing the idea around the glass of my imagination, but my basic concept is a group of modern day mages who decide to use big magic to effect changes upon the modern world. Along the way, they’ll find out just what it is that prevents “big” magic from sticking, and learn just how perilous their audacity can be. The whole story, the conflict will build as the universe exerts the mundane world against them, and they find themselves in increasing levels of peril. In the end, though, the idea is to have woven enough hints through the plot to see that, when the heroes are “defeated” at the end, they actually succeeded completely in their goals, the whole thing having been a huge distraction from the actual things they were trying to do. The whole idea stems from a conversation I had with some friends; I am a (fairly terrible) amateur hand magician (coin disappearing, card tricks) and am friends with some amazing magicians. Another friend, unfamiliar with stage magic, commented on how certain stage acts must be “real” because he could think of no explanation for them, and it got the idea of shock and acceptance being part of the power of magic rolling in my head. :)

  2. This is a thoroughly fascinating concept. It’s a really good thing you weren’t sitting beside me on the bus or it would have been smoke you smelled, rather than ozone. I am not good at noticing small changes.

    Looking forward to where this leads

    1. Thanks man! :D I am working slowly towards a full plot on this. Right now, I plan to use flash fiction to explore the limits of the magical system I’ve dreamed up, so there will definitely be future stories set here!

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