I walked in. I was about 4 minutes late to my shift, but I was on my game, smiling and holding doors for customers. Red Lobster’s public smile was already firmly in place as customers filled the parking lot, even at opening on a Sunday. No one was concerned about my tardiness, and the energy of the place had already hit its stride.
Smiles turned to bustle as I entered the kitchen. Click, click, yes, no, swipe – and I’m clocked in, immersed in the swing of things. Hello to the manager, hang the coat, and wash my hands so I can wipe down any remaining fluff that may have clung to my black T-shirt and dress slacks. After filling a mug with coffee and topping it with a cream and a sugar, I’m already snagged to get a table’s salads to them. I straighten the drink stand, sip my coffee, help with an order, and I have a table.
Sashaying to the table side, I stumble at first before hitting my stride as a food tour guide. Consider me the key to the map that is our menus: “Our promotional has some amazing choices, and here’s my favorite. We also have fresh fish in both lunch and dinner portions, all delicious. Can I get you a drink or some appetizers? Here’s our lunch menu, and the dinner options – I’ll be right back with your rolls!” Just like any day, the same schtick still leaves me with a nudge of stage fright.
It’s as I settle in with drinks, bread, and the first round of orders that I notice it. A glance, a nervous smile, an excess of tentative eye contact. The men at one table seem like motion contained. The managers feel pleasant but anxious, the servers are activity that parts in my wake, both groups feeling hesitant and unsure. What on earth? I feel so on my game, a glance of motion perfected as I miss no step. So why would all people in my vicinity seem pent up?
I flash back to high school. I once decided that magic was BS, and decided to prove it by wearing a string of garnets – potent embodiments of passion in solid form – on a string of gold wire with a quartz clasp, both of which amplify the effect of anything they’re paired with. As I walked through the halls after, though, I noticed the eyes of all following me. My guy friends quickly went from casual and cool to arguing quietly over shared desire of – me. Plain old me was breaking up a lifelong friendship…? As soon as the necklace was removed, the waves of passion settled into invisible ripples, easing slowly back toward their original trends.
Upon my senior year, though, this same area effect became impossible to ignore. Should anyone near me have even the slightest attraction toward women, I became a target of barely controlled desire. It wasn’t something I would call “love.” When books speak of love spells, they warn of the potential effects ranging more toward addiction. The soul seems to fade into a monotone need for another. This is precisely what I saw first hand, with the males around me all turning into two-dimensional cut-outs of urge and need. No sign of personality or casual interaction remained in the sight of this area effect I seemed to radiate.
Starvation of the soul results from being unable to personally connect with others. I was terrified to share my issues, and while I tried to ease it by connecting with those who seemed most compatible, it didn’t seem to prevent the ongoing effect. A boyfriend might give me an outlet, but the relationship would be plagued with a one-sided need for intimacy. I seemed to provide enough of a deep surge of connection for my current “him” just by being present, due to my apparently intoxicating aura. Meanwhile, I had so much to my story that remained untold, so much of my being that was unimportant in the face of that blast. Plus, they themselves offered little of that depth of interaction in return, even if I begged for it. My happy interest in females didn’t solve this, as so many men presented themselves for romance or refusal.
Some people learn about magic due to curiosity. I had to learn it to keep from destroying my friends, and myself. Eventually, I found a way to cover the depth of my magic, for lack of a better word. I carefully compacted the flame of my being under what the magical community calls a shield, wrapping myself in a semblance of normalcy. My strength and sparkle faded under the wraps that contained the areal effect. I felt smaller, more ordinary, and while I suffered from depression and ego-blows with the max of my being restricted, I could finally be around the public without collecting long strings of admirers. Restricting my soul led to my ability to live with my affects on those of others. A sad compromise, but until I could find a way to prevent or, better yet, reverse the effects I had on others, it would have to do.
It had been thirteen years. The same number as the changes of the moon in the year, the lucky number of the Goddess. One would think I’d have gotten the swing of it by now. Instead I had just gotten used to the feeling of being contained. Wrapped in shields like plastic wrap, I had gotten so used to barely breathing that I didn’t remember how to miss the air.
I had managed to become quite impressive in the meantime despite the binding, or maybe even because of it. When I had met with a magical student the night before my shift at Red Lobster, though, I had to present the whole shebang to see his reaction. I was teaching him the metaphysics of battle – exorcism, inspection, careful investigation, and personal protection. If he could handle enemies but not his teacher, we would have issues.
I first let him in on my magical resume, something I don’t often share. I discussed the many aspects of my abilities, the list of accomplishments I never claim, the battles I had faced and the overview of my relatively invisible victories. You see, despite my strength, were I to match my face and/or name with the challenges I had triumphed over, I would likely find my way into a limelight that my husband and three children would have to share. My professional career would also be colored by its glow, and, simply put, I wish my work to stand on its own merit and not teeter on the pinnacle of experience in a field many people believe to be a fallacy. Whether researching, teaching, art, or writing, I was unwilling to surmount people’s adamant disbelief to be taken seriously.
Okay, that’s not total honesty. The full reality is, if you’re the biggest badass on the block, it attracts a lot of negative interest. I’d started my magical career not only by being insanely attractive to the masses, but also by being hunted by some terrifying creatures who may or may not have had flesh. I had managed to only barely avoid finding out if they had earthly bodies to go with their metaphysical attacks by getting very good at staying out of sight. It was no small feat tackling threatening demons, the messes left by bored teenagers set on wreaking terror, and decrypting huge local energy imbalances. All this while reporting sedate and ready for work the next day, or appearing at big family events with hair coiffed and clothes smoothed. Yet it was vitally important to me to not only preserve my day-to-day life, but also to prevent my loved ones from being at all endangered by my metaphysical work. The whole point of my labor was to allow the “real world” to continue churning through, unaffected by the crazy motherfuckers who insisted on pushing it toward one precipice or another. If I didn’t do it, very few could. But I didn’t want my bills to sit unpaid, or my family – especially my children – to ever feel the brunt of the scary shit I kept under control with my iron will.
Hence the new magical student. If you’re one of three people you would trust in a gun fight, you better make sure there aren’t many gun fights! Or, better yet, train someone else to be able to march in. Oh, and to win. If they can’t win, then it’s just one more casualty to clean up later. So we came in strong, covering the basics in the first half hour. How to ground and center – to settle one’s energy into a smooth ripple, while increasing the overall amount. How to shield – to create a barrier that can be sustained even when distracted (especially when distracted) that welcomes good energy and turns away any bad energy. And especially, what battle magic is and isn’t.
The best way to win a battle is not to fight. If you want someone to stop doing something, the little old lady technique of “can you PLEASE stop doing that!” tends to work far more effectively than threatening with a bat, if you want to walk invisibly home afterward. If you walk up to an enemy swinging, what will the enemy do? Hint: it’s not peaceful. However, if you don’t walk in at all, how will they even know they’re fighting? If a hungry wolf is patrolling your fields, luring him back into his home territory with food is much simpler than shooting or trapping. It is better that your “enemy,” whatever is threatening you, get its needs met, rather than insisting it stop messing with yours. Simply put, I never pretend to be more important than anyone else, no matter how many teeth or claws they might have. This doesn’t mean I don’t utterly destroy anything that intentionally tries to destroy me and mine, of course. It’s just a matter of their intention, as to whether I try to make them happy or eradicate all sign of their existence.
So there, I’ve said it. I’m a badass. I fight to win, if I fight at all. I’m a preschool teacher, an artist, an art historian – and a magical exterminator. Who also can make anyone an addict, if I forget to keep my shields up. It’s still true that I exude allure with any energy rise. In practice this means that I have more people trying to fuck me than fight me, which proves lucky in the long run. Even virtual strangers will rise to my aid, if I turn on the charm. It’s not exactly like the succubus from the show Lost Girl, but that’s a good CGI-enhanced basis of comparison. Like Bo, I had to learn how to turn it off so that I had the ability to turn it on. Unlike her, any time I relax over a few drinks it…leaks. And battle itself involves a much larger release of control. Hear: area effects, all over again. This gives “friendly fire” a whole new definition.
So once we covered the basics of what battle magic is and isn’t, and shields were negotiated, the next steps involved showing my own strengths and seeing his response. I started by explaining what we were dealing with a little bit, and removing the top layer of illusion that keeps it from leaking. As he is indeed male and inevitably heterosexual, the response from the initial blast was predictable.
“Yeah, I tend to have that effect on people.”
After shaking off the initial blast, he flashed a brazen smile. “You know, I had a crush on you for the first month I knew you, right?”
I’m sitting here smiling, thinking *Dodge, dodge, dodge….* “That’s why I made sure to tell you I was married the second time we talked.”
“Yeah, that’s the first thing I typically do, is to check for a ring.” Meaning he had already ascertained I was married before the crush.
Okay, ignore it and move on? No, shoot it down. “You know, I’ve recently realized that about 90% of the guys I’m friends with and 50% of the girls have crushes on me before we’re really friends. I’m having to get used to it, but it’s really awkward for me. Not to be weird in response, but it’s true. And I have no idea how to deal with it. I’m…sorry?”
Being a gentleman, he stumbles through an “It’s okay, no, I understand,” looking mildly uncomfortable and totally unsure how to proceed.
So I lead back in. “It’s okay, sorry. But especially with that in mind, we’ll need to know that you can be exposed to all of it and not lose it. All I did just now was allow it to leak out. I can addict people. It’s a common affect. I need to be able to know that I can take off my shields and not,” I shrug, smile gently, “have your brains turn to jelly. Are you ready?”
This is always where it gets interesting, if this comes up at all. Of course he says he’s ready, and of course he has no idea. But we’ll see.
It feels like my being is simply bigger than my body, always. But if I pay attention, I notice the casing around my edges: a thickness, a boundary, that forces my aura into a thickening of the air. I feel my hold on that casing, easing gaps into its ironclad seal. In my mind, rays of light seem to shoot through as my being begins to expand. The hint of wings behind me push off the gel-like layer, while the warmth of my heart melts it away from my front. My spine still feels thoroughly constricted – a necessary concern, thanks to an old injury – until I consciously relax my energy and unfold it like stiff limbs reaching out. Speaking of which, my legs and arms begin to expand their own strength, letting their glow also spill out in all directions. I close my eyes with the flush of pleasure, smiling small as one would at the rush of blood flow from a morning jog. My flesh and bones relax physically, enjoying this rare release – when I suddenly remember why it’s so rare.
I open my eyes and look to my young student. His face is aglow. His eyes shine while his mouth is studiously neither smile nor frown. Pleasant and nondescript, he plays coy, yet I don’t only see with my eyes. The same aura I just unfolded touches his, and his leaps at the touch. It rolls in my proximity like a dog on a fresh scent. His eyes glow with the same desire to allure that flexes his emotions against mine, as my empathic abilities inform me. I can feel the beat of his racing heart, subtly smell his pheromones – no doubt about it, he’s twinked.
“I’m sorry,” I tell him, “I hate to throw this at you so early on. I wouldn’t have done it if I didn’t have faith in your ability to hold up to it. I generally avoid letting this out around most because it’s so hard to deal with.” I sigh with pleasure. I don’t mean to mislead him, it just feels so good to be able to flex my whole being for once. And his admiration feeds it, which feels mighty good. “Please don’t misunderstand. I love letting this out, and I hate to have to put it back away – I get a chance to do this so rarely. But at the same time, you see why it’s so dangerous.”
A scary lack of response on his glazed face precedes the return of his warrior demeanor. He then nods sagely, saying something vague while he regains control.
As I put it slowly back away, I proceed. “Okay, we need to see how you hold up to that. You’ll have to let me know if you experience dreams or aftereffects. You can see how convenient it is in the long-run, though. If I want to win, I can simply expose a potential enemy to that. And many of my aspects can feed on that.”
“You mean like a vampire?”
“More or less.”
“Do you know if I feed on people the same way?”
This luckily leads into safer territory. I proceed to dissect the manner in which he picks up other people’s energy leavings. Despite having never knowingly seen him in action, an ability to rewind memories, if you will, lets me take a closer look. I relax into it, not fighting it, and easily emulate it.
I make this sound easy, yet I hear that it generally isn’t. However, I just don’t seem to work like other people. I don’t know why. My whole life, the kind of people around me have been much the same they are for most anyone else. Yet when I got lost at the mall at 18 months old, I turned up eating candy with a nice old lady, sitting happily on a bench waiting for my mother to find me. When I tried massage at age 12, I was a natural adept, going right at the knots and cramps and eradicating them with total ease. When I asked God for a miracle at around the same age, I got it. Okay, it was the reappearance of a pudding pop, but as those generally don’t appear out of thin air on command I still call it the miracle it was. In time, these factors mixed with study, effort, and the universe’s hand mixing the pot with little coincidences and odd acquaintances. In the process, I discovered that regardless of what anyone else could do, I was able to emulate virtually anything I was shown magically. Years of book study from the masters of the magical field only reinforced this, despite also proving the rarity of the trait I carry.
While I suspect anyone is capable of this if they let themselves try, that leads me to assume that I’m the only one who’s ever tried…? Rather than wrapping myself in doubt and logical fallacy, I just calmly do what I’m certain is right. I recreate a process unlike any I’ve seen before, and just ask, “I think you do it like this – does it seem right?” And, inevitably, the answer is yes.
The study session, as I call it, proceeds at a breakneck pace. We discuss different techniques for cleaning up a graveyard where souls have been disturbed, where the results leave all souls at peace and no return trips from dumb humans. We discuss the specific tools we each have available, where they do and don’t overlap. And I emphasize that at any given point he is the only one who can control his own destiny, whether through subconscious conclusions or consciously setting goals. Unlike most magical teachers, I emphasize that he can never learn my techniques; I can only use my own methods to help him develop his own. And inevitably I keep him till far later than intended.
But “real” life ensues: my husband returns from his D&D gaming group, late as always. We discuss his having purchased dinner, somehow skipping over any plot details from their grand gaming adventure. Children stir and wander late at night as we watch TV, and we cuddle them with a gentle “hush, hush” as we repeatedly pause the show to tend to them. Once it is far past our bedtime, we head towards our room to cuddle together, picking up mess on our way and attempting to organize clothes for the morning. It’s not until our heads are resting side by side on the pillow that I remember to give him the full run-down of the study session, and he’s heavy with sleep as I suddenly realize the conclusion of my own experience that evening.
“I managed to drop my shields tonight, honey.”
“Are you awake, honey?”
“Mmmyeah, of course I am. I heard you. Why did you drop your shields?”
“Well, if I’m going to train this guy, I need to know he can handle it. Plus, I need to be able to show him my full arsenal. But Aaron, I forgot how good it feels.”
“I mean, I could tell it had an effect on him. And I don’t like addicting people. But I just wish…I wish I didn’t have to be so bound up all the time. It feels to good to just be able to stretch out, to be myself. And yet, it’s so much safer if I don’t, so it’s not like it’s an option…do you know what I mean, honey? Honey?”
“Yeah. No. I’m awake.” Uh-huh. Yet he continued: “I get what you mean. You shouldn’t have to not be yourself to get around. But at least you can be you, at home.”
I smile, then cringe. “Yeah, but I worry about the effect on the kids. Do you think I need to?”
“I don’t know, honey, but I imagine you’re fine. And I love it when you let yourself shine.” A huge grin shines out of the darkness to match the comment. So I drop shields as I thank him, kiss him goodnight, and go to sleep.
The next day, walking through Red Lobster, heads are turning. My customers, the male ones, look at me with a dazed look and a strange eagerness. The females act oddly defensive in almost invisible ways. My coworkers display a quiet trepidation, acting more unsettled than my two-month employ there would justify. Yet I have a hop in my step, a friendly demeanor, and my kindnesses seem mismatched to the response.
Suddenly, I realize. I never replaced my shields!! I’ve just risked walking into a restaurant full of people with my glamour still visible. Every aspect of my power is as apparent as common eyes can see. Now that I’m looking for it, I can feel the responses of fear, of attraction, of uncertainty for what they are. My relaxed demeanor is irrelevant to those around me, due to their own innate responses as though to a wild animal in their midst. If asked, I’m sure they would say something along the lines of “She just felt different somehow, like a different person had walked in.” My customers are reacting to a sense of flirtation, of animal attraction that subsumes logic and fully mismatches my behavior. The wives are bracing themselves to defend their marriage, while their husbands and even older sons are considering things that would make me blush to know them. My own empathy can sense this now that I’m able to look for it, and it unsettles me to the core.
I slip my aura’s shield back into place. Like forcing stockings up over my foot before sliding them up my legs, I squeeze down the glow until it fits into a human-shaped package. Suddenly, I feel smaller; more benign, but also just – less. And looking to these faces that are slowly settling back into a comfortable response to my presence, I realize.
Despite all my accomplishments in magic, academia, art, and teaching, this one aspect of my world will never be visible to anyone besides me. Only my nearest and dearest, my wonderful Aaron, will ever truly understand the unique starvation my “normal” life requires. As I load a tray up with food to deliver with a reassuring smile and a subtle magical nudge to relax my customers, I know that this part of my truth will have to remain invisible to protect the life I want. As my successes in life continue to accumulate, it is this intrinsic manipulation that I will have to control, or be controlled by it.
And none can truly know the sacrifice and struggle required, not if I want all that life can give.