Vision: A Resource for Writers
Lazette Gifford, Editor
Vision@sff.net
Holly Lisle's Vision

When Magic Goes Wrong

By Jim Francis

2001, Jim Francis 

One of the fun things about magic stories is, well, the fun. Take a look at the magic your characters can work.  They might use magic so they can fly without the aid of an aircraft, though at times they may need a battery powered electric broom; they can temporarily freeze people while forgotten things are fixed; or, when pushed for time, whop up a banquet from the fixings at a moment's notice. Whatever needs doing, it can be done with magic. There is, however, one small problem; much like the rest of the universe, magic is prone to error.

What might go wrong when your average magic-practicing and harassed housewife needs to go to the supermarket, or mall? Naturally, the first thing she does is to open the requisite program on her computer. If she presses enter the exit portal will appear and everybody at her destination will be momentarily frozen to avoid shocking them when she suddenly steps into their midst. But before she does this, she realizes that she has forgotten her Palm computer. The last time she did that, being unable to re-open the portal, she had the annoyance and expense of a taxi home.

She keeps her Palm locked away because her husband tends to play with things. One cold night last winter he played with it and the kitchen window panes vanished. While she's getting the Palm, her kitten jumps up to the keyboard and touches a key. The computer beeps, the monitor screen flashes, and the kitten jumps down. This is hint #1 to your reader that a problem is in the offing.

She comes back ,hits enter, and the computer speakers intone the spell. After all, there is no rule that says magic spells need a human voice. The portal takes marginally longer than normal to open. This is hint #2 that things will go wrong. In the supermarket she passes an obviously impoverished, pregnant woman with two very young children. The woman gives her a puzzled glance and, after a moment of puzzlement herself, she realizes that the two of them look very much alike. This is hint #3 that the unsuspecting housewife is running into trouble.

At the check out her debit card is rejected, and the cashier hits a key. Two security guards dressed like Turkish harem eunuchs materialize from thin air. They have huge scimitars hanging from tightly cinched cummerbunds. This is beyond a hint. She has landed somewhere strange, and probably dangerous. Her debit card rejected, she is dragged off, and her Palm is seized. All the police are dressed like eunuchs. Locked in a cell, she eventually manages to remember an oral spell, escapes and re-gains her Palm. There's an exciting chase, but eventually the Palm computer opens a portal into the kitchen. Home at last, she collapses into a chair, closes her eyes, and breathes a sigh of relief as the portal closes on her pursuers.

The adventure, however, is not yet over. She hears a gasp and opens her eyes to see that another version of herself has entered the room. This is not her world either. Oh well, in magic, as in the rest of the world, nothing's perfect. That's kind of adventure that can happen "When Magic Goes Wrong." Enjoy your writing. Have fun.