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The Bestowal of the Magician

Tianyue is a high school student with a fondness for books, drawing, chalcopyrite, and the life and times of dead mythologized folks. She has lived in Wisconsin for the last seven years but will probably have been shipped off to a Beijing boarding school by the time this story is published. She hears the food there is terrible. She would like to give a shout out to the Madison West Science Olympiad team and coaches, may you guys medal the crap out of Menominee. This is her first published story.

The magician says: "The price will be steep. Death magic demands no less."
"I can pay." The husband declares it unhesitatingly, but the bedchamber they stand in belies his words. Like the rest of the house, the room is a little too grandiose in size for its few remaining items of furniture; the four-poster monstrosity upon which the body rests fails to obscure the missing wardrobes, the absent bedside stand, the dark rectangles on the wallpaper where paintings had hung. The unwashed windows fade the late afternoon sunlight to the color of old milk.
The magician observes all this with no outward sign of amusement. "She will awaken dazed. Confused. She will forget things."
"As long as she lives again." The husband touches his wife's cold, wan hand. "I will be at her side to comfort her, to remind her of anything she has forgotten--"
"You will not live to be at her side," the magician informs him patiently. "As I said, death magic demands its price."
"And as I said, I can pay." The husband thins his lips. His eyes shine fiercely, feverishly. Dangerously, a more altruistic soul than the magician might say.
But everyone should know that magicians are never altruists. This one says, "I will see the material payment first."
The husband reaches into his pockets, looking for a wallet, a pocketbook; his hands find nothing but pawn tickets and rumpled moneylender's receipts. He reads them slowly. He puts them back. His gaze falls to the one ring left on fingers striped with paler, fading bands. It matches the ring on his wife's hand: a diamond like a small star, nestled in red gold.
"Is this enough?" the husband says, finally.
The star winks out as a thin hand closes over it.
The magician says: "The price will be steep. Death magic demands no less."
"I can pay." The wife declares it unhesitatingly, but the bedchamber they stand in belies her words. A few crumpled bank notices lie on the ground where she has dropped them. On the four-poster bed, her husband's body rests in darkness; there are holes in the walls where lamp fixtures had been pried off and sold. The only light comes from the windows, filmy blue.
The magician observes all this with no outward sign of amusement. "He will awaken dazed. Confused. He will forget things."
"As long as he lives again." The wife brushes light fingers over her husband's cold, bloodless forehead. "I will be at his side to comfort him, to reteach him anything he has forgotten--"
"You will not live to be at his side," the magician informs her, not for the first time, nor the second, nor the third. "As I said, death magic demands its price."
The wife looks down at her hand, at the lonely circle of her wedding ring. "And as I said, I can pay."
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, October 31st, 2013

Author Comments

This story is inspired by O. Henry's "The Gift of the Magi," of course. When I first read the kiddie-book version in elementary school, I found it terribly depressing. The couple lose the things they hold most dear, and all for nothing. Any emotional gain of theirs was completely lost on a materialistic eight-year-old. The kiddie-book version cut out the last paragraph, too, so I was rather puzzled at the title. Was a Magi the same thing as a magician?

Then, last semester, someone did a presentation on "The Gift of the Magi" in English class during our unit on short stories. My earlier thoughts resurfaced, combined fortuitously, and I ended up with the idea for "Bestowal of the Magician."

Actually writing the story took another month and a half, on-and-off, between finals and translation and my short attention span. But I think only my chat friends are patient enough to endure my whinin-- er, commentary on my writing process.

- Tianyue Zhang
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