Phineas Bloom Book I: The Man with the Crystal Wand CHAPTER ONE

~CHAPTER ONE~

 

 

 

The Man with

the Long, White Hair

 

 

 

 

 

 

The streets of the sultry, poor district were nothing short of disappointing in appearance. Everywhere there was the stench of human waste and degradation, people, probably without any income at all, littered the sidewalks and pedestrian lanes. Sunken eyes would stare out at any passerby, eyeing where they thought your pockets might be positioned for a quick pick… you would never know, you wouldn’t have felt it. The streets were always wet with something day and night. Sometimes the moisture would stink and at other times it would be nothing more then leftover rainwater from the previous day – it took forever for these streets to dry up.

            Night had just dawned on this part of town and the lowliest of hags began to creep from their hidey-holes, prostitutes took up their posts along the street corners and in front of their brothels, boasting about their bodily prowess and taunting passing men to come in for a drink or to relax. Some did, while others just mingled with them there on the street. There were some who had stationed up a game of cards in one of the nearby pubs and men and women were taking to the ale. Carriages passed by, but not many, probably some aristocratic bloke making his way to a party or dinner. Everyone seemed to be so busy with what they were doing that they didn’t notice the man walking down the lane to the tavern on the corner of Ballast-drive: Orangeman’s Gold the tavern was called.

            The man was very tall, about a shoulder higher than anyone else walking along the lanes of filth. He wore a very large greatcoat the color of the blackest coal and a top hat that gleamed in the moonlight. But compared to the moonlight, his skin was considerably pale, paler and chalkier then probably any man alive. He had the longest white, silvery hair that anyone else had, of that you can be certain. Anyone who laid eyes on him for but only a moment would probably think that his hair would trip him up it was so long. But it wasn’t very fluid hair and seemed to mind where it was it would sway as the man walked. There wasn’t a person who would meet his gaze; either they ignored him altogether or didn’t bother to confront him with a gaze. Mostly everyone there in the district were more concerned about how to classify him. Was he a gentleman? A politician? A foreigner?

            Did he have any money on him?

            When he arrived at the entrance to the Orangeman’s he towered over the peak of the doorway. Ducking extremely low he made his way inside where he was instantly greeted with the most peculiar gazes any person could make, and all the attendants made it. It was rather hard for the man to explain to himself what it looked like, but felt that he was being invaded with regard to his privacy. “Will you all stop looking at me, dammit!” he said in a raised tone. They went back to their drinking, but their conversation, the man knew, had took on a change of direction.

            “Who th’ bloody ‘ell was tha’?” “D’ ye know ‘im?” “Na’ I don’t, maybe Horace does? Hey! Horace!” “Yeah?” “Get ye rump o’er here ye goat!”

            The man passed by, minding himself and paying no heed to any of the words transpiring. He worked his way through the crowd with his eye on one of the tables toward to back corner of the tavern where there was a figure sitting ominously, minding his own business just the same, but keeping an ear out it appeared, for any word he might be unwilling to let pass the lips of any of these drunkards. This other man was certainly of a normal human’s height, but was nonetheless shorter than the white-haired one that was just approaching him. The man in the booth didn’t stir or take to fright as he watched the tall figure come closer to him.

            Above the din of a newly struck chorus of intoxicated rabble the man sitting in the booth said, “Apparently, Mr. Magyster, you are a man of your word.”

            “I am on time then,” said the tall man called Magyster.

            “You approached me on the spot, you did.” He motioned with his hand for the man to sit opposite him. “Have a seat, I insist.”

            Magyster maneuvered his way into the booth, bumping the table with his knees as he attempted to sit as straight as he could, but the space between both ends of the booth was not wide enough for him to make himself comfortable.

            “I suspect,” said Magyster, “that you are aware of why I inquired you to attend me here tonight?” His voice was a mid-tone, pleasant, and cool, but though it might have charmed a lady of the court it was more malicious than anything else. There was a distinct vibration of villainy when he hit low notes and a maniacal cackle when he hit higher ones.

            “Certainly you plan of referring to the soon-to-be-late Mr. Cambridge?” said the other man.

            “Yes,” hissed Magyster. “I want you to follow him wherever he goes. Even if it means to follow him to the ends of the earth.”

            “You needn’t worry yourself,” said the other man. “I’ve been keeping a close eye on him ever since you first spoke to me about him.”

            “That was a very long time ago, Mr. Partridge,” said Magyster.

            “I know it, too, sir.”

            “Can you tell me anything you might have learned?”

            The other man, Mr. Partridge, leaned over the table and placed his elbows on it, weaving together his fingers and staring at Magyster from above them. He took a sigh, not one of annoyance but of remembrance, of someone trying with difficulty to remember. He said,

            “As far as I know – and I’m speaking in terms of an outward appearance – the man is a very good stage magician – a damn good one, too. He was certainly very impressive and gave the crowd assembled there something worth their pennies. He starts out with simple tricks that could be preformed by any magician of that profession, but later on in the show the tricks become more elaborate, more complex, and eventually you can’t help but wonder whether or not they are impossible, yet he does them. Oh, the crowd goes completely insane whilst he does these tricks.”

            “Could you tell if they were tricks or not?” inquired Magyster.

            “There is one trick,” said Partridge. “He takes a handkerchief from one in the audience and roll up his sleeves, showing his bare arms to the crowd. Then he puts his hands together, over the kerchief, and it disappears. This act in itself is surely a trick of slight-of-hand, making the kerchief disappear, but then there is the prestige. He holds up his one hand, pinching his fingers together as if he were holding the kerchief and then mockingly lets the imaginary object fall to the floor. He follows it down till it supposedly reaches the floor and when it does – poof – there it is, sitting in a heap, the kerchief.”

            Magyster, who had not taken to this spasm of fanatics, balled his fists up and said sternly, “Is there any magic involved? Are they tricks or not?”

            Partridge shrunk into his seat as Magyster corrected him. That voice was not to be reckoned with. And in that moment he didn’t know whether he obeyed because he wanted to or whether he had been enchanted to do so. Nevertheless, Magyster had his attention and was pressing for an answer.

            “The trick I just described to you,” he said meekly. “That was one of them that I had a hard time understanding in terms of slight-of-hand. Otherwise, I concluded indefinitely that it had to be nothing short of real magic. So, yes, it was something other than trickery.”

            Magyster seemed to take this moment as one of silence despite the raging clamor of the poor singers off to the side of the booth. Apparently they were singing about some tragic young woman who was a gipsy. The story itself wasn’t very appropriate and it distracted Magyster, making him cross and tempered. Partridge noticed this and wondered what it was his acquaintance was pondering. He knew that it was only a matter of seconds before Magyster took unkindly to refrain. And just as soon as the thought occurred to Partridge it happened…

            Magyster never moved a muscle and looked to still within his deep thought. But there was definitely something in his eyes that changed from how they were before. In the gloom of the tavern Partridge couldn’t tell if it was the color of Magyster’s eyes or the shape of the pupils. Perhaps it was both. Then as the group of drunken tenors broke out into the main chorus again… but they didn’t. Just before the first of them made out with the first word in the refrain… nothing came, nothing sounded. He had gone instantly mute as did the rest of the cluster. At first they didn’t realize it due to their intoxicated state, but in the end they began to notice that they weren’t making any noise. One tried to scream out a swear word, but could only mouth it. Others in the tavern began to notice this as well and turned their necks around to find what had just gone on. “`ang on,” said a gruff, plump little man with his pudgy hand caught in the handle of his mug. “Wha’ i’ this?” Others sounded off their astonishment until the entire tavern was filled with the noise of the crowd.

            This was no great pleasure to Magyster, however, and as soon as the din rose above the volume of his own thought he stood up, knocking over the table onto Partridge’s lap. As he ascended to his full height his hat was thrown off by the hanging lamp above the table, displaying his full set of hair, which was gleaming as though it were reflecting an invisible source of light not present in the room. His face was distorted in anger, his brows lowering. When he spoke his voice boomed through the walls and vibrated the mugs and glasses on all the tables and counters, their contents rippling and spilling out. He said,

            “You filthy rabble! You inconsiderate roaches! I’d have cut you all down had I a more practical reason to do so! You should all be disgraced by your actions here tonight, especially in my presence. Do you not know what I am?!”

            There was a long silence and no one seemed to say anything, taking in what was said by the tall man standing in the middle of the room.

            “An’ wha’tar ye, anyway?” asked someone.

            “A politician,” cried someone else, possibly a woman.

            “An aristocrat,” cried another.

            “A bloomin’ idiot!” and they all laughed for a moment before pausing to listen to Magyster’s response.

            His breathing had gotten deeper and quicker as his anger grew.

            He said, “You’re all wrong, as was to be expected. I am nothing more than a Fairie.”

            For a slight moment everyone just stared out at him, unblinkingly. Then in one cacophony they all burst out laughing at the top of their lungs they couldn’t believe what they were hearing. There had never been the likes of it heard by anyone’s ear before. Many began to double over as they started to lose breath, others took larges gulps of their ale, not bothering with the large quantities of dribble running down the front of their shirts and blouses, and soon began to choke and laugh at the same time, hiccupping and gagging. Tears rolled down their eyes and spittle down their chins. Some spat in Magyster’s direction while others made mocking looks at him, saying, “I a Fairie, don’t you know,” and waving their hands in the air or stiffening up themselves like a pole to mimic his tallness.

            Magyster scanned the enthralled crowd, his face still contorted in rage at such insolence, and singled out one from the lot. He focused his gaze on that particular man and, again, his eyes either change color or shape. What he chose to do wasn’t apparent until that one man fell to the ground, knocking his head off a chair as he did. His body was limp like a dead fish. A woman from across the room screamed. “John,” she said. “M’ love! What ‘ave you done you white bastard?” Whoever the woman was brushed past Magyster, making sure to get him to shuffle for his balance. His eye went wide and the woman instantly burst into flames, disintegrating in a few seconds into the dust she was made of. All that was left was a pile of ashes.

            The rest of the crowd went silent then as they watched the rest of the ashes settle into the heap. They now knew that whatever it was that was going on it must have had something to do with the tall, white man standing in front of them all. In the heat of a moment one of the bartenders pulled out from beneath the counter a flint pistol and pulled back the hammer and plate, took steady aim, and fired the musket ball. It flew across the room toward Magyster whose eyes were following it at the same speed. Then the projectile stopped in midair for but a second so that all could see what he had just done. Before anyone had time to even think what would happen next the ball was sent flying into the middle of the bartender’s forehead. He fell backwards by the momentum of the bullet until he was no longer visible behind the counter. Those that were near the bartender found that they had been splattered with blood across their faces and coats.

            “Scotland Yard!” cried a voice from the entrance to the tavern. Magyster turned his gaze toward that direction and saw a man attired in a black uniform burst into the room, his own flint pistol cocked and at the ready. Just as the officer began to pull the trigger he was instantly frozen in place and could not move except for his eyes, which darted left and right in an attempt to get someone to help him.

            The crowd erupted into a fit of terror, screaming in fright at what was going on and not wanting to be the next to receive the wrath of a Fairie. They poured past Magyster and the officer, through the door, until the room was now empty and quiet, with the exception of the muffled screams that came from outside.

            Partridge, who had been watching with interest all the while, stood up, rubbing his thighs after having the table fall upon them. He approached Magyster with an air of condolences. “My friend,” he said. “My, how you fair in these dark, modern days. If only things were the way they once were.”

            “You don’t know how right you are, Partridge,” said Magyster. “All the same, I believe that I must go back into hiding, but only for a little while; long enough till this episode has relieved itself from the memory of your putrid race.” He took in a calming, deep breath and lowered his shoulders. “All the same, you must be cautious whilst following Cambridge. If it is true that he possesses the knowledge of the source of all my magic then he will be very dangerous to your health.”

            “I forgot to mention, sir,” said Partridge, now speaking meekly for fear of punishment. “I’ve seen him scribbling down into a little booklet he keeps in his pocket.”

            “What?”

            “I’ve sneaked backstage a couple of times to spy him consulting the pages. After a show or two something seems to dawn on him and he must be writing it all down.”

            “You do realize,” said Magyster, his tone rising again, “that this booklet of which you speak may become the human’s manifesto for my magic.”

            “I doubt that he’d publish it, sir,” insisted Partridge. “He’s a performing magician, remember. They all keep to their secrets, don’t they?”

            “All the same, you must obtain this booklet from him. I know you can do it for I don’t know of any better wizard than you, though you may be human.”

            Partridge took a bow of gratitude. “Why, thank you, sir.” When he straightened himself up again Magyster was gone and he was left alone to escape the scene of the most baffling atrocities he had ever witnessed. “I shall have to find that booklet, indeed,” he said then took quickly to gather up an amount of the woman’s ashes for it was rare to come by. Stashing the few vials into his inner coat pocket he made a dash for the rear exit into the alley and headed on to his residence.

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