The apprentice eases open the door into the magicians library. The smell of books welcomes him.
A library is somewhere to be safe. Somewhere to be snug. A relaxation of the body and mind from the qualms and pangs of the world.
The long work table is covered in a shimmering satin cloth, glossy smooth to the touch. The books he needs are arranged in a perfect stack upon it, as if they know what he intends. Gold embossed covers, ornate penmanship on the flyleaf…he closes the volume just in time. Not yet. He must prepare.
As he stands he sees a single drop of red staining the table cloth. Just one tiny drop. A tinge of disquiet enters through that solitary red drop. What if this isn’t what it seems? These spell books…what if they prove no help?
He has lost hope before. Found the world bereft of magic. That is why he sought the magician. He could not endure the thought of the blank forever.
"There must be more," he’d begged of the magician. "Let there be more in this world, please."
He claimed that science had ruined him. Myth had been punctured and left him staring into the abyss. But this was a lie. This was too abstract a justification for his torment. There was, as there always is, a deeper reason, one much more simple.
Outside the library, he touches nothing. Holds his breath. He would close his eyes if he did not have to see to navigate the halls of the magician’s house.
When he returns later, the notepad is there waiting, the ink-well brimming with black ink, the long pen begging to be held, a silver goblet of wine for when his throat becomes parched.
Notes. Copious notes. So much information. His pen is a blur. He will do it, perform the evocation.
But then, an accident. His elbow knocks the cup of wine. The wine fans out over the table cloth. He snatches at his freshly-written pages. Most of them are saved. Some are not.
In the night, sleeping in the magician’s bed, he has a dream that every book is a fake. Every incantation, enchantment ritual, each password of the lore is false. He wakes in an icy sweat, the magician’s sheets twisted round his body. It isn’t true. It cannot be. All his hopes reside in those books. Everything depends…
The magician saw through his feeble explanation when he came to her. She didn’t mind his moulding of the truth. She welcomed him.
He wanted proof from her, a magic trick to set his mind at ease.
"These days," she said, "it is the responsibility of a magician not to let the magic out."
In the library, he takes more notes and tells himself that everything is as it seems. The magic is real. It must be so.
At last, the day of the casting comes. The apprentice’s notes are complete. He is prepared for the summoning.
The apprentice recites his prepared spell from top to bottom, his voice rusty from disuse. The words drip power, each one spiced on his tongue, pepperish, salty as blood, sweet as honey. To his nose comes the smells of tar and iron, smoke and electricity.
The hours pass. He wets his throat with wine and continues. Nothing happens. No one comes.
There’s an ache inside his chest where there should be something. His mouth feels tongueless. No one comes. There is no magic. There is nothing.
Quiet calm steadies his voice. A thought drips into his skull: there…is…nothing…more.
At the end of his spell he pauses to let his voice die away, to let all the remnants of the spell decay into the silence of the magician’s house. Then he begins to read again, back to front, his eyes moving right to left, his tongueless mouth speaking in a nothing voice
He hears the voices in the hall outside. And hope grows bright inside him. The voices slobber and growl. He hears a shallow scream, a saw-toothed moan.
This is wrong, he thinks. Someone is walking on his grave.
From somewhere outside himself he sees the magician’s grandfather Clock turn inside out. The shining silver bell that hangs by the house’s front door rings a sonorous silence. His heart beat pulses out into the bell, vibrates away from him.
In the yard he sees the yellow finches swimming in the crystal waters of the fish pond. He hears the soft twittering of the fish in the trees before the bell’s ringing silences them. He hears a knocking upon the library door.
The apprentice stops reading. Closes his lips around the tail of the spell. Tries to hold it between his teeth. It flexes and squeals and tries to bite him and scratch his eyes.
The door of the library becomes a window and he sees the magician through it, watching him. Strings dance from the magician’s arms and legs, each finger and each toe, her lips and tongue, her two eyes. He holds those strings inside himself, inside his chest. He can feel them. They thrum with his racing heart.
"Master," says the magician to the apprentice.
The apprentice tips his goblet of wine over his notes. He takes the sodden pages and thrusts them into the fire. He does not look at the door. He hardly breathes.
Slowly, the spell smolders into ashes. The library is just a library. The house is just a house.
The apprentice goes out to see that the dead lie still. That the one particular body still remains. "Quiet forever," the apprentice promises. "Forever more."