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CONDEMNED

We pulled up to the condemned house at sundown. In the recycling business, you have to move fast. George opened the door and I showed my token. The sealing spell broke across my face like a cobweb.

There wasn’t much on the first floor. An empty goblin nest, and some shards from a smashed crystal ball. George swept those up.

Anything is worth saving. Magic can neither be created nor destroyed, which means there’s a limited amount, and everybody is always looking for it.

“Boss!” George called from upstairs. “You need to see this!”

The first room off the hall was littered with broken wands. I picked one up, then dropped it. One of those single-use, untraceable types. Snapped like a wishbone from the force of a deadly curse.

Suddenly I wanted to leave everything, just get out.  But any magic is better than none. I can’t forget what I am now—a rag-and-bone man, making my living by picking up the bits.

The next room smelled like a sloth demon had been squatting there. But through the reek I caught a tang of salt water, and I found a lock of mermaid hair in the dresser. That went in my pocket.

Yes, I keep some stuff, like everybody else. George is living proof. Well, proof, anyway.

“Boss…” George sounded apologetic this time.

I sighed. “Your leg again?”

“No, a finger. It fell off when I was taking down this mirror.”

“Well, pick it up and we’ll fix it later,” I said automatically. Then what he’d said hit me. “Mirror?”

“Big one. Up here.”

I ducked in under the attic’s slanting roof. The mirror hung there, shrouded like a corpse.

George reached for it again, but I shook my head. “Let’s see it first.”

He pulled off the cover.  Something broke softly inside of me. I wanted to keep staring at the image, not even blinking.

But I closed my eyes. “Cover it up again.”

I heard cloth rustle, but didn’t open my eyes yet.  Sweat iced my skin. Mirrors of Desire are rare, and always in demand. They show you what you really want, deep down in whatever passes for your heart.

“Disposal,” I whispered.

“Boss…it’s worth a fortune.”

“Not to me.”

The front door closed behind us with a hollow sound.

Yes, we handle disposal too. We don’t advertise because legally, you need a license, which is impossible to get. But I have something better—a chamber in the truck filled with Muspel fire. Fire from before the world began, the same fire that will end the universe someday.

Of course, that’s impossible to get, too. You have to steal it. I had magic to burn, once. I traded it all for the fire.

George tossed the mirror in and it vaporized. I sighed. Being myself was okay again. As much as it ever is.

Magic can neither be created or destroyed.

Did I say that? Actually, it all depends on how much you pay.

By Eric Tanafon, author of “Robin Hood: Wolf’s Head

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Here There Be:

Creatures of darkness, not all alike. Kings without crowns, knights who left their shining armor behind. Witches, hermits, berserkers, and other honest outlaws. Ballads sung to the lute and spells spoken by moonlight.

Stories within stories, a Thousand and One Sherwoodian Nights.

And in the end…redemption.

Bio: Eric Tanafon lives in New Hampshire with his lovely wife in an 130-year old house. They don’t have any ghosts, but make up for it with five children and three cats.  https://etanafon.wordpress.com/

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