Pol’s Sketchbook

I’m unhappy with the colors of magic being such a loaded binary — white vs black. This basic concept needs changed, substituted, or something. Any ideas?

Just beyond the tips of Alucio’s outstretched fingers, the pages of the open book fluttered and shone, their plain edges suddenly gilt, limned in green magic. Placing his hands on the worktable and bending in to sniff the heat he’d conjured, and with the book now hovering just above the slats, he could see the stories the book could tell:

— Two naked young mer-girls and their boyfriend dive below the surf in an explosion of foam — one with hair the color of tide pools at dusk; the other’s like sunlight knifing white through glass; the boy shaved with a black pate and seal-skinned. Night-racing translucent skates over the sandy bottom, under the waves, looking up the moon looks to them like a pale blue ball bobbing on black water. Pink dolphins glide in their wakes, slip over and under their palms, bump noses. The younger pups slide between their legs.

— A boy stands butt-naked in front of an open window, one hand on its casement, the other in a tight grip. He watches the older shirtless gardeners in the courtyard below, fascinated by the damp trails of dirt ridging their pectorals, outlining the hubs and creases of muscle in their arms and backs. A hot vegetal wind whips in and roasts his nostrils, dries his sweat. Letting go of the cooler stone with a gasp, he comes and sees stars.

Within those few seconds, Alucio experienced, not only the forbidden personal stories of people he knew, or wanted to know, but also the rise and rage of worlds and cultures and the collapse of systems, across a galaxy, a universe of transverse politics — the murder of a chancellor in chains, the accident that poisoned a rural enclave’s well and started a war on three worlds. The splitting of colors and magics, the annulment of White, the coup of Black, blood and chaos in the waterways of Dev, his own city. His paging fingers wrote suppressed histories in his head and reintroduced them to the world.

But he had been born a binder, not a scribe. He had been told that he would never weld those stories to that vellum. That gift was for another family, another guild, to transcribe the proscribed, the predetermined words: Tomes of acceptable lore; tracts of traditional power and propaganda, reinforcing dogma; books of final love, chastely chosen and of promises kept, no matter the personal cost.

Those were not the types of stories that Alucio wanted to scribe. He would scribe what he’d seen in his head when his fingers had probed the pages of the virgin book.

“You’re scribing again,” a voice said behind him and to his left, deeper-than-normal and with feigned authority. Alucio immediately smelled paint, faint, but its stony, mineral character still strong in the air. The odor began to tell him stories, too — street lamps shining on color pools spread wet over yielding walls melting under brush and pen. He saw the head of a bird and a long-necked xe with yellow skin opening xyr’s mouth and drinking the rain. The scribing spell he’d cast was still strong in his mind.

He shook the amber out of his fingers as he turned to face his friend, who suddenly shimmered into sight and appeared leaning up against the doorjamb.

“Pol,” Alucio said, as neutrally as possible, glancing down at the stone floor, trying to conceal his smile.

Which made Pol laugh.

They’d been companions since the crib and up until today, when they were both 17, neither had been able to remember when they hadn’t greeted each other with a smile and a laugh and maybe a hug. So often that others assumed they’d chosen one another, that way, way ahead of their 18th when choices stick forever.

“I bet you’ve been looking at Nacho again,” Pol teased, crossing the room and throwing one long arm around his shorter friend and placing his other hand on top of the book on the table. “I saw him working in the yard on my way up.”

“His name’s Ignacio,” Alucio countered, going on tiptoe to kiss Pol on the cheek.

“Nacho, Nacho, Nacho,” Pol chanted and pulled Lu to the window. “He’s looking goooood!”

Alucio looked down at the young shirtless boy working in the yard, smiled but said nothing.

“And he hasn’t chosen yet,” Pol said, trying to rub off some red paint that had dried to his fingers.

“Mmmm,” Alucio said. “I haven’t chosen yet.”

“I have,” Pol said, removing his arm and hopping up into the window. “NObody!”

Alucio laughed and leaned out a bit out the window as he saw Ignacio throw a rake over his shoulder and move closer to the low tower.

“And I’ve kissed plenty of girls,” Alucio reminded Pol, his eyes still focused out the window.

“Yeah, but you don’t talk about them afterward like you did — for weeks — like when you kissed Nacho.” Pol was gnawing his fingers now. The berries that made scarlet tasted sweet.

“And you don’t spend the night with them, either.”

“We just slept,” Alucio said, turning to watch Pol lick the paint off his palm.

“Uh huh,” Pol answering, rolling his eyes and smacking his lips. “Slept way past noon, past Verde’s Call. And Loretta was angry. And you lied about where you’d been. You never do that, perfect boy.”

Alucio ignored him, turned and walked past the table toward a large bookshelf that took up the small room’s entire east wall. He stepped onto a small ladder, climbed to the top then inserted two hands into a row of old books and fished out a small, handmade sketchpad hidden behind them.

Pol had been watching him and jumped off the sill in excitement.

“It’s ready?!”

“Almost,” Alucio said, climbing down. “I waited for you. I know you like to…”

“Feel the magic!” Pol interrupted, spreading his arms wide, and bringing them back quickly with a slap on his chest, and almost shouting.

Alucio laughed and said, “Shhhh! Loretta…” He paused and looked down at the pad. “This one’s special, I think.”

“What do you mean?” Paul asked as he came up beside his friend, and laid his hand on the cover.

“I don’t know…I think…I think you’ll do things with it.”

“What things?” Pol asked, trying not to grab the pad out of his friend’s hands.

Alucio moved past Pol and placed the sketchpad in front of him on the large wooden table. He turned both palms up and cupped his hands.

“Come here.” Alucio motioned Pol over next to him. A flash of clear light beamed out from the shadowed bowl of his hands.

“Wha?” Pol said, amazed. As Alucio reversed his palms and laid both hands on the sketchpad’s rough cover, made of thin birch bark, white liquid light spread out from beneath his fingers and covered the book.

“Put your hand over mine, and listen.”

“I know the words,” Pol said.

“Not these you don’t.”

Alucio intoned:
This book is bound to you, Pol Pablo Paul Corona
And only you can break open its pages,
Paint its stories, make them yours,
And fill its whiteness with your colors.

“You changed the words!”

“I did. They’re not that great, yet, But… I did…for you.”

“You can do that?”

“Now I can,” Alucio said, still amazed himself, at what he’d learned to do.
A lingering flash coruscated up his arm and darted around his eyes like minnows.

“And the magic..it’s not a binder’s color. It’s…”

“Magic is white, Pol,” Alucio said and tears filled his eyes.

Photo by Tony Sebastian on Unsplash

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