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The epic climax of the Magic Time saga finds former lawyer turned visionary leader Cal Griffin continuing his quest across the changed face of America, where machines no longer run and magic holds sway. Accompanied by his loyal band of followers—fierce warrior Colleen Brooks, expatriate Russian physician Doc Lysenko, and bipolar street wizard Herman “Goldie” Goldman—Cal follows a trail of clues he hopes will lead him to the Source of the Change that overthrew the world and to his abducted sister, Christina, who ...
The epic climax of the Magic Time saga finds former lawyer turned visionary leader Cal Griffin continuing his quest across the changed face of America, where machines no longer run and magic holds sway. Accompanied by his loyal band of followers—fierce warrior Colleen Brooks, expatriate Russian physician Doc Lysenko, and bipolar street wizard Herman “Goldie” Goldman—Cal follows a trail of clues he hopes will lead him to the Source of the Change that overthrew the world and to his abducted sister, Christina, who was transformed into one of the powerful, enigmatic beings know as flares.
Facing the most harrowing challenges of his life, Cal encounters old friends and foes, plus new ones such as Lady Blade of the Oglala Lakota, tracing her Storm-fled husband; the grunter boy Inigo Devine, emissary from a dread region and bearing a frightful secret; Mama Diamond, the elderly Japanese-American stone and bone dealer, who discovers an awesome, dragon-born talent within herself; and Jeff Arcott, Theo Siegel, and Melissa Wade, the triumvirate of brilliant grad students that just might have found the trick to getting everything running again but at a terrible cost.
In this gripping tale of families torn apart and seeking reunion, of men and women haunted by past griefs and phantom futures, of unimaginable beauties and magnificent horrors, Cal Griffin and his friends find themselves called to rise above all limits of strength and endurance, armed with little more than forgiveness, compassion, and an unshakable determination to heal the world and one another, in the depths of the Ghostlands.
He knelt by the steam grate with Colleen and Doc. Although it was only late afternoon, Fifth was barely populated, the stores closed up tight. The smell was worse far worse than it had been yesterday. A few timid passersby glanced their way curiously, then hurried on at Colleen's challenging glare. The crossbow and quiver of arrows hung easily across her back. Cal noted she was taking the weapon everywhere now, its polished steel and wood a fierce kind of beauty. It suited her.
And she was far from the only person he saw armed.
Colleen's pry bar eased under the grate, and now the three of them put their shoulders to it, dislodging years of accumulated muck, forcing the barred covering up and off the square hole in the sidewalk. They dropped the grate clattering onto the pavement, then stood over the open, waiting maw. A black murmur like distant ocean reverberated out of it, accompanied by a wafting, stale stink.
"This doesn't impress me as the greatest idea," said Colleen.
"Yeah. sure wish I had a better one." There was no way to track his quarry with any certainty, to get a lead. But at least the many times Cal had seen Goldie, it had been around these few blocks, they seemed to be his stomping grounds. Just maybe, when he’d gone below each night, burrowed beneath the earth, he’d been inclined not to go far.
Or maybe not. But it was all Cal had, and it was a place to start.
He peered down into the darkness, tightened the straps of his backpack. "Wait forty-five minutes."
"Then?" Doc questioned.
"Then." Cal realized he didn't have a then. Saying no more, he slid into the opening.
It's like climbing into a grave. Cal pushed the thought away. He focused on the task at hand, gripping the metal rungs set in the concrete wall of the midline vent shaft, lowering himself how far? He couldn't see clearly below, couldn't gauge the depth. As far as it took. That was all the answer he had, for any of this.
The metal and concrete and air about him were sharp with chill, but he felt flushed nonetheless, the wound on his scalp screeching, his head an overinflated balloon. Everything had a slightly dreamy aspect to it, a muzzy edge of unreality. Glancing up, he saw the world above was now no more than a distant square of blue surrounded by blackness. Rung by rung, arms straining with effort, moving stiffly as though needing lubrication. Oil can, he thought sardonically. Oil can what?
He felt a subtle shift in the flow of air around him and abruptly his feet found support. He released the last rung and stood, gaining his balance. His eyes had adjusted to the gloom, and the light from above cast a pallid radiance he could barely discern as he glanced about.
He was in a subway tunnel, was standing, in fact, on the track itself, which snaked away into the darkness. Another time, this would have been cause for alarm, but there was no roar of an approaching train, nothing save the hushed ocean-like murmur that was a sound and not a sound. His fingertips brushed the cold wall and found no vibration in the stone, no rumble of distant engine and cars. A dead place. at least as far as the machines were concerned.
As all the world seemed to be dead.
He leaned against the wall and considered his options. Goldie had said, "I prefer the subterranean," but had he meant directly below them or some other hidey-hole? How many hundreds, thousands of miles of tunnel serpentined under the streets? I'm looking for a crazy man, Cal thought. Does that make me crazy?
Cal shrugged out of his backpack and unzipped it. His probing hand found the cool glass and metal of the Coleman lantern. He withdrew it, closed up the pack and replaced it, then dug in his jeans pocket for the lighter.
Suddenly, his ears pricked at a strange flitting sound, here and there about him, like an immense, unseen hummingbird. He spun, trying to detect the source.
And then he spied it, in an arched recess against the tunnel wall, twenty feet off. There, seeming to hover in the blackness, was the glowing face of a pale boy, eyes all liquid blue with slitted pupils, regarding him with wary surprise.
Cal saw him just for a twinkling, then the boy darted back into the darkness, face wild with fear.
"Wait!" Cal ran a few strides after him, lantern banging in his hand. The sound of his voice rebounded off the walls, frighteningly loud, his footfalls staccato accompaniment. But the boy, there was no sound of the boy running at all, just that odd thrumming tone, higher now, climbing in pitch then cutting out to silence.
Cal reached the archway, saw that it was an opening between inbound and outbound tunnels. He dropped onto the other side, eyes straining the darkness, alert for any sound. But there was nothing.
The boy or whatever it had been was gone.
Slowing, Cal lit the lantern, watched it flare, dingy light spreading slowly along the tracked. Ahead of him, vast and still, lay a subway train like a row of steel coffins. He moved cautiously along it, raising the lantern high to illumine the interior of the cars, the untenanted seats and straps, the ads for skin treatments and personal injury lawyers. “You may have been the victim of an injustice,” one proclaimed. “Have you suffered a recent calamity?”
In the darkness, a pebble thwanged off a metal rail, sending up an echoing reverberation. Cal snapped to wariness, ears keen. The boy? No. Something else. Listening intently, not breathing, he could make out a soft padding of many feet. Voices too, whispery, guttural. He had a sudden flash of the clump of shadowy figures he'd seen the other night on the street, moving in that queer, flowing rhythm. They had sounded like that. It had made his skin crawl, he'd felt an immediate, unaccountable revulsion.
The sound of their steps was growing louder, coming his way. And with their approach, their voices grew into a din of expectation, excitement. hunger.
Cal felt a stab of terror. They know I'm here.
He took to his heels, lantern grasped, knowing he should extinguish it, unable to bear being alone with these pursuers in the dark.
Hearing him take flight spurred them, and they broke into a clamorous run behind him, shouting with frenzy and cries of delight. Cal rounded a bend, could hear them closing. His free hand shot to his belt, to the buck knife in its sheath. He pulled it free in a wild arc, heart hammering, the blood loud in his ears.
And then his foot caught on something, a wire strung taut. Abruptly, he was flying, tumbling headlong. He landed hard, breath knocked out of him, lantern and knife skittering away. He floundered wildly, fighting to rise, and something heavy fell on him from above. A net, it was a weighted net. Snared, he cried out in fear and rage, tore at the ropes. It held fast.
His pursuers slowed, watching. The lantern lay on its side some yards off, miraculously unbroken, its sickly light rendering a grotesque tableau.
They were perhaps fifteen in number, grunting among themselves, chuckling malignly as they drew near. There was something loathsome, furtive in the way they moved. In their oversized, bunched clothing, they looked like some demented, stunted street gang, pale as grubs, eyes milky white with slitted pupils.
Cal's eyes darted to his knife, impossibly out of reach. A bare hairy foot came down on the handle. Cal lifted his gaze to the figure, took in the baggy jeans, scuffed bomber jacket, ragged "I Love NY" t-shirt. With a thrill of surprise, Cal realized he knew this one.
It was Rory.
“I seen you….” Rory’s lips curled nastily, revealing stained icepick teeth. "You were with my chick.”
Rory scooped up the knife. As he advanced on Cal, the others followed, pressing close. Cal struggled against the net. Futile. They reached toward him with hideous malformed fingers, as Rory swung the knife high and back….
Suddenly, from the far end of the tunnel came a flashing of lights and booming sounds, like myriad skyrockets going off. The creatures gaped, shielding their eyes. Astonished, Cal turned his head, craned his neck to see through the netting.
A figure was approaching, fireballs of light shooting out of his hands and bouncing off the walls.
"BEGONE!" The voice was huge and commanding, God on the mountaintop -- and a vengeful God, to boot. Terrified, blinded, the little brutes skittered down the tunnel into the darkness, their frantic screams floating in the air and then evaporating.
The fireballs ceased. The figure reached Cal, bent down to him.
"Well. Hello, Cal."
It was Goldie.
He looked the same as before, with his cascade of hair, electric clothing, cacophony of buttons pinned to his padded vest. Through his amazement, one of them caught Cal's eye REALITY'S A BITCH.
"How " Cal was gasping, breathless. "How did you ?"
Goldie wiggled his fingers. "That? Little something I just picked up. Doesn't do jack, but it scares the hell out of them."
Cal tried to speak, but he was overwhelmed.
"I can see you're a little freaked. Lemme help you." Rory had dropped Cal's knife in his flight, and now Goldie grabbed it up, started to cut away the net.
Cal felt sheepish, ashamed. "I walked right into their trap."
"Hm?" The netting fell away and Goldie helped Cal to his feet, made sure he was steady on his pins. "Oh no, this is mine." He grinned, and handed him back his knife. "I'm very particular who comes to my place."
Near Ground Zero -- Before Dawn
Randy Waller had heard all the stories about Medicine Water Creek.
It was a load of bullshit, as far as he was concerned, dreamed up by some drunk sad-sack Sioux to make up for the fact that they'd got their asses kicked by the U.S. cavalry and hadn't done a damn thing since.
He drew rein at the top of the draw and lit up, scanning the fence line in the glimmer of first light. Fuckin' miles to cover today, and they were saying it'd rain tonight. That meant Black Hat Coulee would flood by tomorrow and he'd have to dick around with wire and fence posts and nails while standing knee-deep in muddy water, oh joy. Better to get up early and get the whole thing done today and talk the foreman into letting him take the truck into town tonight.
Under him his horse snorted, rubbed a cheek on the fence post. Randy nudged the animal forward along the fence, down into the long dip of bottomlands where the clay-colored stream appeared and disappeared among twisted hummocks of rock. The city kids who came up here in vans, with their long hair and their two-hundred-dollar hiking boots, to "find communion with the Earth" -- which, by all Randy could see, meant smoking pot and humping in the bushes -- talked about old Indian legends and ate up stories about how horses would spook here in broad daylight and even the coyotes would avoid the place at night.
Of course, they didn't come here at night. Randy blew a double line of smoke from his nostrils and scouted the matte-blue shadows among the rocks, the waving thickness of grass that grew everywhere on the level ground. They were allover at the ranch house, raiding the garbage.
And as for "Medicine Water" -- which Randy's dad had called Piss Creek ...
It was low this time of year, midsummer. A glistening thread among the dark convolutions of eroded rock, course echoed by the pale bands that marked the water-chewed banks. Mounds and turrets of gray-black lava lifted like sleeping buffalo from the deep grass. This time of the morning, before the prairie winds started up, the place was deathly silent, filled with the hard cold of the night.
That'd wear off goddam soon. Randy stubbed the butt on his boot heel, flicked it away into the creek. "Let's go, Bean," he said and twitched the reins. Whole place'd get hot as the inside of a cow by ...
Movement caught his eye. The horse flung up its head, reared and veered sidelong, and Randy hauled savagely on the bit. Just a goddam cow for Chrissake.
Only it wasn't a cow, he saw, when he'd dragged his mount around to a trembling standstill. It was a buffalo.
Shit, where'd that come from? Government herd taking up good grassland over in the national fuckin' monument ...
The smell of blood hit him, metallic and savage. He saw it glisten darkly on the buffalo's muzzle, long strings dripping down to the grass. The buffalo shook its horns warningly and lowed; Randy saw the nasty glitter of a small black eye. More blood smell; ol' Bean jittered and tried to run again, and Randy saw there was another buffalo close to the first. Holy shit, must be them ritual mutilators like in the newspaper! Because this one, a huge curly-haired bull, had been hacked savagely, the whole hump cut off its back, raw meat gleaming where the skin had been pulled back.
Like the old buffalo hunters used to do, he thought suddenly, the ones the city kids talk about -- the ones that killed a hundred animals for their tongues or humps or hides and left the rest to rot.
The world all around him seemed suddenly to breathe.
Where the hell the buffalo came from Randy couldn't imagine. Hell, he'd looked down this way not ten minutes ago from the top of the draw, and there hadn't been so much as a chipmunk, let alone six -- ten -- twelve -- full-grown buffalo. And why hadn't he smelled the blood?
It stank to Christ now. In the thin gloom of the place he shouldn't have been able to see, but he could. Some of them had had their humps torn away, others, it seemed, only their tongues. Something came around the corner of a rock pinnacle, and Randy screamed, for this buffalo had been skinned, meat gleaming naked and pearly and rubied with dots and runnels of oozing blood -- it worked its jaws, ruminatively chewing, and it looked at Randy with deep-set black eyes.
Bean reared, fighting the brutal drag of the bit, humped his back and fishtailed, throwing Randy to the ground. Randy cursed, scrambled to his feet, made a futile snatch at the reins as the horse pelted wildly away, and the buffalo -- how the fuck many of them WERE there? -- let it pass.
Bloodied mouths. Bloodied fur. The hot smell of them, like thunder in the ground. A glimmer of blue lightning crept half-seen among the rocks before sinking into the dust. The earth quivered, and voices seemed to cry out -- chants, maybe -- endlessly far away.
Randy screamed again and ran for the nearest hummock of rock. But something tore at his leg, what felt like huge broken tusks ripping through the leather of his boot, and looking down he saw the white bones of an old skeleton rising up through the grass and the earth. Ribs snapped shut on his leg like the bony fingers of a giant hand. He wrenched his leg free and stumbled two more feet, and then another skeleton speared through the topsoil, ribs closing around his ankle again. The ground shook a second time and there was a sound, and he looked up to see them -- hundreds of them now, robbed of humps and tongues and skins -- all lower their heads and charge.Magic Time. Copyright © by Marc Zicree. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
It began in fire, flood, and earthquake.
Or, as they're more popularly known, the Northridge Quake, the L.A. riots, and El Niño.
Living in Los Angeles, we both witnessed these events up close. What struck Marc -- even with the riots -- was how in the midst of crisis most people pulled together and rose to their best selves. What struck Barbara was how different people reacted so differently to the same events.
Being writers, we reflect the world that we see. Media is a mirror that helps us define who we are: Marc in particular felt that the news media tended to reflect the darkness, rather than the light.
This was the beginning of the road that started out with "What if...?"
What if there were a traumatic event that brought people to their truest selves? What if all the machines in the world stopped running and magic blossomed in place of technology? What if, though most people remained human, a few transformed into the mythical creatures they were by their nature, and some developed remarkable powers?
But mostly, what if all the barriers of race, class, and income were swept away, the masks torn off, and we saw each other for who we truly were...which, in spite of the calamity, proved not to be such a bad thing?
Marc's experience was in TV and films -- Barbara's in novels. Together we explored the initial idea of Magic Time in varied settings, among different groups. Each contributed experiences of persons, places, and outlook that the other did not have, a shared odyssey that ranged over the Internet, over time and space, over memories of Anoka Minnesota, the sacred hills of South Dakota, Merton Station and Havertown and Gunpowder Falls. The people are real: we've met them all along the way -- the shy homebody from Middleburg Heights, Ohio; the bookish cat lady; and the bright, sad half Cherokee who lived on the streets of West Hollywood and read the encyclopedia all the way through.
In Marc's Art Deco office overlooking the Hollywood sign we tracked the many threads in colored Post-its on a huge white board. In time, the focus centered on two locales, and two themes: the tough self-reliance of a small West Virginia town -- and New York City.
Marc has always loved New York and felt it got a bad rap. Most New Yorkers he'd encountered were honest, helpful, generous of spirit, and forthright in their opinions. So in Magic Time, New Yorkers come together in trying times, help each other, put aside their differences. They shine in the face of adversity...and they prevail.
It wasn't prediction, merely observation.
But it feels good that we got it right. (Marc Scott Zicree and Barbara Hambly)
Posted September 16, 2010
No text was provided for this review.