Wizard Trouble

I was staring out the diner window, watching it rain, when Jimmy the werewolf slid into the booth behind me. “We got trouble, boss,” he said, and I spilled coffee over the back of my hand.

“Asshole,” I said, not turning around. “How about a little warning next time?”

“Don’t want to let on I know you. Because of the trouble.”

“How can we be in trouble? We haven’t done anything yet. What kind of trouble?” I probably sounded a little petulant, but I was annoyed about the coffee.

“Wizard trouble.” That’s a whole lot worse than spilled coffee.


“Across the street, bus stop.” I did my best to look at the bus stop without obviously looking at the bus stop. An enormously fat woman talking on a cell phone was taking up most of the bench inside the shelter, and what room she wasn’t occupying herself was filled by her two kids, engaged in some sort of punching game. Pushed out of the shelter by this little domestic scene were two young women with umbrellas, glaring daggers at the serenely oblivious woman inside, and a bedraggled little man in a tan raincoat, who was attempting to keep himself dry by holding a newspaper over his head, like you see in old movies. It doesn’t work nearly as well as it does in Hollywood.

None of them looked remotely wizardly. “Who?”

“Tan coat.”

“Him? He’s no wizard. He doesn’t have enough sense to stay out of the rain, for Chrissakes.”

“Yeah. One thing, though: why’s he carrying an umbrella?” I looked again, and sure enough. His left hand was holding the newspaper aloft, but down by his side, clutched in his right hand, was a long, narrow, fabric-wrapped object that looked like a golf umbrella.

Magic’s a tricky business at the best of times, but combat magic is a bitch and a half. The usual way to make it easier is to pre-load a bunch of stuff into some object, traditionally a long wooden stick. When the time comes, you trigger it, and hopefully wreak some havoc. And if magic doesn’t do the trick, well, you’re holding a nice solid chunk of wood, and can always hit the other guy with it.

Problem is, it’s not exactly inconspicuous. It hasn’t been fashionable for healthy young men to carry walking sticks for nigh on a century now, so if you want to openly carry a staff, you have to either fake a limp, or raise a lot of questions. Or, you can wrap your wizardly stick in a piece of nylon cloth, and it looks for all the world like a large umbrella. Problem solved—you just look like you’re cautious about the weather.

Until it actually rains. At which point, you look like a dumbass standing in the rain holding a closed umbrella.

I stared across the street at the bus shelter, looking at that umbrella. And at its holder, who on, closer inspection, was clearly watching me back.

“Shit,” I said. “Wizard trouble.”


This is the opening scene of an urban fantasy caper story I've been poking at for a good long while now, when I need something frivolous and morale-boosting to do. It's pretty much finished now, but I lack the patience to actually shop it around to places that publish such things. So, since I'm feeling a little sluggish after a very busy weekend, and my writing schedule was thrown off by a change in SteelyKid's routine, I'll post this tease here.

The full thing is a bit over 9,000 words, so I don't want to paste it all into a blog post and deal with fixing the inevitable formatting screw-ups. I've been toying with trying to paste some blog posts together as an ebook; maybe I'll use this as an excuse to figure out how you do the formatting for an epub, and put the file up somewhere. If there's any interest in seeing the rest.

But, for now, here's this.

More like this

I like it!

Sounds good to me; I'm in. A definite Dresden Files vibe but I'm sure you're not walking straight down that path. If you need beta readers or anything, I'd be happy to help out. Otherwise, I'll be queuing up quietly over here for the yet-to-be-determined release date...

I like it, keep posting!

By Justa Retiree (not verified) on 10 Aug 2015 #permalink

It's a promising start to a story.

I've been pondering the question of what happens in a world where magic exists but is known to only a few people, while most people (let's call them "Muggles", because Harry Potter lives in such a world) are ignorant of the existence of magic. A secret like that is hard to keep forever--what happens when the Muggles find out that wizards really exist? My hunch is that it will turn into a world consistent with what you have posted so far: wizards have to go to some trouble to conceal themselves, or bad things happen (particularly to them). Sure, a wizard can take out a Muggle in one-on-one combat, but when the odds are more like a thousand (or more) to one in favor of the Muggles, the life expectancy of wizards would likely become nasty, brutish, and short.

If you think that's dystopian, recall the plot of Heinlein's Methuselah's Children, in which a small minority of humans (the Howard Families) has an exceptionally long life expectancy. The Howard Families got their long life expectancies not by supernatural means, but by a scientifically plausible (at least at the time Heinlein wrote it) method: intentionally breeding for longevity. The survivors of the ensuing pogrom are forced to flee the Earth, and only manage to do so with considerable help from the head of the Terran government (who is forced to leave with them, lest the mob turn on him for letting the Howard Families escape). I expect a similar result for wizards in a Harry Potter-type world, except that the wizards wouldn't have the option of fleeing.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 10 Aug 2015 #permalink


By Max Millhiser (not verified) on 10 Aug 2015 #permalink

May we have some more, please?

By Sue VanHattum (not verified) on 10 Aug 2015 #permalink

I second that.
Some more, please.

By Elijah Marshall (not verified) on 10 Aug 2015 #permalink

More, please!

Good stuff, Chad, and I look forward to seeing where you're going to publish this. (Posting it in the blog is A-OK. Ideal case, no need for us to register for anything or pick up any pesky bugs or trackers to read it.) Clever premise & opening re. the umbrella being a concealed magical object, and it definitely draws one into the story since it's entirely unexpected.

A few years ago I ran across a lengthy piece of "fan fiction" for Harry Potter, that brought a scientific / skeptic / rationalist paradigm to a world where magic was lawful. It was interesting & well-written, though since I'd never read any of the original Harry Potter stuff I can't say how well it worked in that context.

Eric @ 4:

We already have something like a world in which wizards have to conceal themselves. Urban cultures in which smart kids have to play dumb in order to avoid getting bullied in school. Atheists having to stay in the closet to avoid discrimination in places where religious extremism reigns. And conversely, religious believers having to stay in closets in places where they'll be subject to scorn. Generalization: closets built and occupied by those in fear of various types of conformity pressure.

Re. _Methuselah's Children_, we already have that problem as well: members of the Singularity religion seeking eternal life via "upload" (quackery) into AI god-boxes (pseudoscience), while the lay public thinks "there might be something to it." Will the mortal masses tolerate an immortality-seeking elite in times of global ecological crisis and economic crunch? See also _Bug Jack Barron_ by Norman Spinrad for a treatment of the issue of immortality at the expense of moral atrocities.

That intro would make a good opening for a screenplay.

By CCPhysicist (not verified) on 11 Aug 2015 #permalink

That's certainly a good start and I would like to add more of it to my reading piles.

@Eric Lund#4
I keep getting tempted to try writing a fairly stock urban fantasy piece with a twist that shows up just as our plucky band of underdogs is getting ready to stop the {insert evil plot here} that the authorities could never even know of because of the masquerade: Their preparations are interrupted by a special forces team who thank them for revealing what's been going on and causing the {supernatural bad guys} to tip their hands.

I expect at least some people to be shocked at the concept of agencies which exist, at least in part, to detect secretive conspiracies actually detecting a secretive conspiracy. Sure, the CIA et.al. don't exactly advertise that they know about the underground societies of vampires/lycanthropes/fairies/etc. but that's just because it's easier to let them think that they are hiding.

@G #10:
Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality: http://hpmor.com/

You also don't need to scare quote fan fiction for it: Fixfics[1] and character substitution fics[2] fall fully within the realms of fan fiction.

[1] There are problems with the original story, I will re-do it with them fixed.

[2] Involving either flat out replacing a major character, (e.g. Harry Potter will be played by a young Arsène Lupin III), or changing a major portion of his/her character, (e.g. having Harry raised by a well-educated and loving father).

By Chakat Firepaw (not verified) on 11 Aug 2015 #permalink

"If there's any interest in seeing the rest," he says.

Silly fellow. Yeah, hello, of course there is!

The excerpt reads as if the writer is an actual, accomplished author (as opposed to someone who sort of, kinda, wants to maybe try writing something sometime, perhaps). Of course, you're an author already, in non-fiction. Looks like your skill translates to fiction, too.

I like the set-up, I like the tone, the words all do what they're supposed to -- anyway: more, please.

Also: if you want to try formatting for epub yourself, Scrivener is good. Somewhat steep learning curve, though not as steep as other formatting software, and it will spit out upload-ready files -- epub, mobi, pdf.

I don't compose my fiction in directly in Scrivener, as some writers do, but I did use it for all my Kindle conversions.

By Rosemary Kirstein (not verified) on 15 Aug 2015 #permalink

Me! *raises hand* I'd read more of that!


By Amy Nichols (not verified) on 15 Aug 2015 #permalink