lost time incident 28 – all is illusion


lost time incident 28

Welcome back again to our ongoing writing experiment. I’ve had this last week off from work, which means I’ve had time for more sleep, leisurely showers, and all sorts of idle time. These work in concert to help me imagine more of the world of The Beulah Candlewick School for Young Magicks.

No wonder so many writers come from the ranks of the idle rich. Must be nice.

Oh, one thing I ought to announce here: There’s a new Facebook community page for subscribers to this newsletter. I’ll be posting links, talking about behind-the-scenes stuff, and you’re welcome to join if you like. We’ll see how it goes.

random sample for quality control

I was up pretty late last night and it turns out when I’m tired, I don’t want to fight with character limits on Twitter.


monsters in halls and kitchens
This section is set at The Beulah Candlewick School for Young Magicks, an instructional school with a high failure rate for safely teaching students how to wield magic. See previous installments of the lost time incident newsletter for more context.

“It got out! It got out!” Students turned from their open lockers in time to see a young woman running down the corridor, just steps ahead of a creature out of nightmares.

Luckily, among the witnesses was faculty member Lemoyne Wills, Perception Witch. He had just finished making use of a nearby water fountain. With a resigned expression on his face, he brushed his long hair back out of his face and concentrated.

The creature in pursuit had purple skin and a dorsal fin that scraped along the ceiling as it shuffled after the screaming young lady, her eyes white with terror, her white-knuckled grip on an Infinity Box that had, up until moments ago, been keeping the creature in other-dimensional stasis.

Its low-slung mouth resembled a lizard’s, its eyes like ashy coals, its limbs over-muscled in a fashion Lemoyne thought of as “trying too hard.” “Whoever invented that creature had issues,” he thought.

Lemoyne, eyes closed, extended his concentration, reaching out to the creature’s mind. With some effort, he felt his way into its nervous system, cataloging its senses. He could smell the student who had released the monster, her panicked sweat leaving a river of attractive perfume in her wake that was easily followed. He could feel the pooling saliva in the creature’s bone-ridged mouth. He could sense that its name for itself was Need.


Easy enough to reroute its senses, hiding the students in the hallway from its senses of sight and smell. Well, except for the young woman who was initially pursued. After all, she had opened the Infinity Box, even though it was plainly labeled “Expired Corn Dogs,” a clever disguise designed to prevent any curious young troublemaker from peeking inside and freeing the beast. Actions have consequences, and this was a place of learning.

The young woman skidded around a corner and disappeared out of sight, with Need galloping after her, huffing with hunger.

In hindsight, maybe the faculty should have actually put some corn dogs in the box to feed the thing. But the Infinity Box was never meant to be more than a temporary home for the beast. At some point, the staff of the cafeteria was supposed to figure out if Need was edible.

Maybe they’ll get another shot at it once someone steps up and captures the creature again. But Lemoyne had a class to prepare for.

In the cafeteria, the ovens screamed when opened. The head of the cafeteria, known to the students only as “Pizza,” pulled out a tray of bland lasagna. He set it down and grabbed a passing student kitchen worker.

“My boy, come here a second.” His strong hands, insensible now to extremes of heat, guided the student by the back of the neck.

Pizza pointed into the oven, his arm over the shoulder of the young student dressed in a white apron and head scarf. Inside the oven, tiny flames danced and cried out, sometimes taking almost human form, clinging to the baking food in either anger or despair.

“You know where those souls came from?” Pizza grinned. “They’re ghosts.”

“Ghosts?” said the student.

“Each of them used to be a student here, but they couldn’t move on. They had… unfinished business.” Pizza nodded sagely.

“In class,” said the student, “We were told that you can help ghosts move on to the next realm if you can help them resolve their unfinished business. Do we– do we know what’s the deal with these oven ghosts? What, for them is unresolved?”

“That we do,” said Pizza, laughing. “Lunch. Lunch is unresolved. Dinner tonight is unresolved. Every meal we’ve got coming is unresolved. So grab a carving knife and get that bucket of potatoes over there peeled. You want to finish all your kitchen business, don’t you?”


ending theme song
A good chunk of today was spent playing a cartoony golf video game. It comes with all the frustration of missed putts, but with none of the benefits of exercise. But it helped me postpone thinking about the fact that my week-long vacation is coming to a close and I have to prepare to return to my social role as a wage-earner.

I hope you’re all enjoying the Candlewick stuff. If you’re not, well… there’s an unsubscribe notice somewhere on this email. I have a Google document that keeps growing with more details about the world and characters of Candlewick. Personally, I’m finding this pretty exciting. I’ve never been much for world-building, as my previous short fiction demonstrates. I usually just get an idea for a scene, or some dialogue, and then it’s a quick in-and-out.

If you have any thoughts, or wish to lobby on behalf of seeing other topics, please do drop by the Facebook page and leave a comment. Or you can respond to this email directly. I get replies to this newsletter.

Or write a letter on parchment, and bury it under a willow by the river under the moon’s light. Those messages reach me as well, but they’re muddy and smeared, so it slows response time ’cause I don’t want to touch them.

— Michael Van Vleet

lost time incident 27 – all of the fabled six months of laughing


lost time incident 27
In many of these introductory comments, I’ve casually alluded to staying indoors all day, writing this newsletter on a Sunday, and otherwise avoiding the fiery ball that roars through the sky. Well, yesterday, the wife and I tried our hands at being social, standing about with friends in a park under the burning sky, out of our element, allowing our skin to pinken. Disaster.

How did the sun even know what to do with us? It shouldn’t even have recognized us.

It’s probably not a bad idea, every once in a while, to revisit your lifestyle choices. Remind yourself why you made certain decision. See if situations have changed.

The sun has not changed.

It is still a friend to plants, and to solar panels, and that’s it.

Do not trust it.


keep the remakes coming


A note: The next section’s story fragment takes place at Beulah Candlewick’s School for Young Magicks, a school for the young and magically gifted. The lure of spellcraft overshadows the fact that its accreditation is dubious and it boasts a terrible graduation rate. Children, it turns out, are not usually responsible enough to be trusted with reality-warping power. Previous installments of this newsletter also contain odds and ends in this setting, should that be of interest.


past, present, Futura
The student stood in front of his wobbly office desk, her hands fidgeting with the hem of her skirt. A child, really, sent to this school to learn how to be a warlock, or a witch, or a soothsayer, or some other variant of dangerous fool. Unlikely to survive the semester.

But as long as as a student was alive and capable of forming sentences, it was his job to see if he could impart some magical knowledge to them. Trevor, the Mage of Shaking Hands, had an obligation. Time to earn that paycheck.

“What was your name again?” he asked.

“Didn’t say,” the student mumbled. “Names are power.”

“Quite right… quite right. Then I will call you Six, because you’re the sixth student to take advantage of my office hours this semester.” On a notepad on his desk, Trevor discreetly wrote down the student’s true name, a parenthetical (“Six”), and the time. “Now… how can I help you.”

“I’m new here. This is my first semester.”

“I see,” said Trevor.

“I’ve had homework where I had to chat with a demon. It… told me things. And my roommate was melted in front of me. She was casting a spell, but with her her accent, I think she pronounced a phrase in the spell incorrectly, or something.” The student, Six, refused to look up. She had the look of someone who was not actually gazing at her shoes, but was seeing instead the vivid memory of a friend’s last melting moments.

“Accents aren’t supposed to matter that much in spell-casting, but go on,” said Trevor.

“I just wanted to ask for a favor. For a reading. I was told you can do that.”

“You want to know the future,” said Trevor.

The student may have nodded. Trevor wasn’t quite sure. She certainly seemed intent on staying still. Not drawing more attention to herself than she had to. “I want to know what’s coming. If I can. So I can be ready.”

“Well. You’ve come to the right place. As a special favor to the students I mentor, I’m happy to do a reading.” Trevor opened his desk and pulled out a long cardboard box. Its sides were decorated with protective runes that he paid little attention to as he pulled off its lid. Inside, the long box was stuffed with tiny cards. “We’ll do a simple one, shall we? Past, present, future?”

His fingers twitched over the tops of the cards and he hummed to himself, waiting for one of the cards to volunteer itself. When he found one between his fingers, he laid it down on the desk in front of him.

“This card represents the Past. Let’s see. It’s the card of Amelia Dunhardt, a certified public accountant. Nice business card. Phone and fax. No email. An old card. That’s telling. The card tells me that you’ve come from money. Your parents have done well for themselves, which is why you can afford to come here. So far, so good?”

Six nodded. “They started putting money aside for tuition when I was four and I taught our cat to talk.”

“Your cat? In English?”

“Yeah,” Six said. “Changed its vocal cords and brain, the vet said.”

“Fascinating,” said Trevor. “Precocious. Okay, now let’s look at the Present.”

His fingers trailed over the business cards, ruffling them together, until one came free.

“This is a customer reward card. Inverted. Only two stamps out of ten. If it were upright, it would be telling me that you’re not reaching your potential. But inverted… you’re working quite hard, but circumstances are still not seeing fit to reward you for your effort. Interesting, interesting. Okay, now, let’s see what you’ve come here to see…”

A third card was set carefully on the table. Trevor allowed his fingertips to trace the embossed lettering that read STERN, ECHOES & LAVENDER. A law firm.

“What does it mean?” asked Six.

“The law. A profession that requires much study. Lots of time among books. A profession that helps those in need to navigate the complexity of the modern world. I think you’ve got a lot of studying in your future. Hit the books. Don’t be intimidated by judgement… a judge serves an essential function as well.”

Trevor carefully placed the business cards at random intervals back in his storage box. “Does that help?” he asked.

A shy smile, a quick thanks, and Six was out the door. It felt good to give a student a bit of hope. To help them believe that just because their friend was melted due to the dangers inherent in attempting to master occult powers, and just because conversations with demons are rarely about pleasant subjects… none of that necessarily meant that things wouldn’t work out.

But things wouldn’t work out.

Trevor opened his office window and a raven swooped down to land on the sill. He placed a finger on the crow’s head and its eyes began to glow.

“Hey, hey. Just a heads up. Did a quick reading for a student named Javice. There’s a lawsuit in her future. Got the STERN, ECHOES & LAVENDER card. That trio of dicks. So tell our lawyers to start sharpening their teeth and look into her family’s background, because she’s not going to make it, and if we’re not ready, it’ll be expensive.”

As Trevor sucked his teeth thoughtfully, the glow faded from the raven’s eyes and it flew off to deliver his message to the Principal.

“Well, that’s too bad,” he muttered, then circled his desk to kick his office door shut. The door’s lock snapped into place. “She seemed nice.”


ending theme song
Took all day to get here, but we got here. The weekend’s end. Or, depending on your time zone, it’s the work week already. Or, if you’re an archaeologist  who has dug this string of characters out of a long lost data library: I hope you were entertained. This was all fiction. Please don’t report this as folklore to future social scientists.

Night has fallen. The only sounds are of a cat trying to claw treats out of a container designed to make it hard to get treats out of, and music from Berlin, Germany, streaming out the very device I’m typing these words on. Let’s all get our treats where we can find them.

–Michael Van Vleet

education was the real magic all along

At the beginning of the semester, the dining hall was full. It was the only time during the school year when that was true. The wizards and witches who stuck it out, year after year, attempting to educate the next generation of magic users, would do their best.

They’d bring out the Book of All Flesh, each page an animated and living face of a former student, transfigured into a tome-shaped warning of the dangers of wandering off the well-lit paths of the library wing. Before the semester was over, the book would have about a dozen new pages, no matter where the staff hid the thing. From that point on, each former student would live mostly in darkness, their face flat as a page, having their cheeks tickled by the eyelashes of their cursed neighbor on the facing page. Conversation impossible in such compressed circumstances, reduced to merely feeling the vibration of speech and the wiggling of smashed lips somewhere on one’s face.

After the book, the faculty wheel out Corbyn Crowsbatten, his body a giant jagged ball of exposed bone. “Corbyn was an athlete, but he broke a bone,” a feather bedecked crone might say, gently patting what looks like an elephant’s tibia jutting out of Corbyn’s central mass. “He thought he knew enough to magically regrow the bone. How hard could it be? A hangman’s deck of cards, burned and applied with a wolf’s paw. The moonlight at the right angle in the window. A mouth full of corn. And yet. Something went wrong. Now Corbyn looks like this. Forever.”

The giant mass of living bones is then rolled back into the ward the faculty set up for Corbyn. His parents don’t know yet, because then the tuition checks would stop coming.

As the weeks go by, the student population begins to drop. Potion mishaps. Eaten by monsters, both encountered and created. Usually two or three students a year will become monsters and need to be hunted down in turn. Every student dance seems to have at least one jealousy-fueled fight that ends with someone being burned into a silhouette on a gymnasium wall.

It’s quite possible that the school is a mistake. That young minds, in a stew of hormones, struggling to figure out who they are, or who they can be, are not capable of gauging the dangers involved in applying your will to the powers drawn from the Glowing Realms.

Last year, as the final semester wound down, they thought they’d actually have a graduate this year. Charlotte Lumnack. Good marks in Boons & Hexes. Good attendance. Unfortunately, under interrogation it was determined that actually, Charlotte had fled the grounds, and left in her place a very detailed illusory version of herself to make the rounds through her classes. Regulations are quite strict about graduation requirements, and illusory copies of students don’t qualify as actual students.

Once again, a semester draws to a close. The wizards and witches sigh and walk empty corridors. Dress in formal robes to stand in an empty graduation hall. The sound of wind outside. The rustling of acceptance letters folding themselves, addressing themselves, and fluttering out into the world to find new students.


originally appeared in the newsletter “lost time incident”
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