Called by his Mother

The brewer’s son knew lots of odd things and was supposed to be the wickedest man alive at the time, so people were always writing to him, or stopping him on the street, or calling him up at home, always with a question or a request or a demand or simply to say that they’d talked to him, listened to him, touched him, however briefly. Most people thought he was a humbug – including the brewer’s son – and some people thought he was the real thing – including the brewer’s son. The contradiction didn’t bother him. It was the first rule he’d learned when he started to study magic, that contradictions, like the orbits of electrons, only exist because you observe them. That was the germ of his big Word, the Word that he’d try to give to the world; people thought it was about free will, but it wasn’t, not at all, in fact the opposite. You could be anything in the world except what you weren’t. It was as simple as that, as inescapable and fundamental as the weak nuclear force.

A young man noticed him in the train station and approached him diffidently. “Sir? Mr. – ”

The brewer’s son smiled and cut him off. “Just the Beast will do. You’re a Gemini, aren’t you?”

The young man nodded, amazed. They chatted until the brewer’s son’s train arrived, about nothing much; numbers mostly, and chess. It wasn’t until the conductor had shouted the all-aboard that the young man delivered himself of the question he’d come across the station carrying. “Sir,” he said, over the whistle of the train, “what’s the right way to spell magic? With a k or without?”

The brewer’s son looked at him and laughed. “It doesn’t matter. Either way. Neither. Whatever seems right to you.”

The young man stared after the train for a long while, until the sky had darkened and the lamps come on, his eyes hot, angry, and baffled.