There’s something you need to know about magic and about the people who get mixed up in the real stuff. It’s all about the power of stories, and how we get caught up in them and by them. I used to say that all magic was about lying, but that turned out to be too simple a view.
I used to tell people that magic was the art of lying to the universe. I would say that the best liars could do it so well that people and places and events began to believe it. If I was feeling particularly facetious on any given day, I could point to any number of populist politicians to illustrate my point.
It turned out I was doing the universe a grave disservice in doing so, and it pushed back – but that’s a story for another time.
Did you see what I did there? Anyway, I was talking about the power that lies not only in tall tales but also in deep truth – and how both can be transformative. We talk of how people become local legends, if we’re kind, or about people being legends in their own lunchtimes if we’re being less kind.
People begin to be obscured sometimes by the stories we tell. If that sounds odd, go look up the origins of some local legend and see what happens when you dig in to find the person beneath it. Stories expand and embellish people, places, and events. They also simplify and streamline and softly erase the bits that don’t quite fit – like water across stones.
Magic is the art of recognising stories and using them.
There’s an oracle I occasionally call upon when I’m in search of lost things or lost people. They’re a reclusive soul, or at least that’s how I characterise them. Before they became what they are now, they lived a life that became smaller over the years. They were known simply as Jenny.
No one knows where Jenny came from. They’d laid claim to the small side alley between a sports equipment shop and a fried chicken franchise on the High Street for a few years before I came on the scene. The alley led to a rarely used fire escape from the back of a multistory carpark that I’m fairly sure had been all but forgotten by its owners.
Jenny had a stash of blankets, boxes, and assorted scavenged items that marked their spot. It was a hard life, with no end of attempts at intervention by police and social services. Those never came to much. There were ugly encounters with others surviving in the area, and with predators seeking easy meat.
Jenny wasn’t easy meat, and they looked out for newcomers too. Simple thuggery and threats were seen off with razor tongue and a handmade shiv if need be. More unusual things occasionally seeped into the story however – and that’s where we met a few times.
Jenny never talked about where they had come from. Their story was rooted in the simplicity of who they were now. Their magic came from the stability of being unyielding, and how that story cemented expectation on top of reputation and painted it with a veneer of watchfulness.
Jenny was always on the lookout, always watching. They always had a vigilance that underlaid their demeanour. They were always unsettled. They might be steady in the face of fae on the hunt for names or the blood of the guilty, but they were always Unquiet.
I always knew that Jenny could tell me things if they felt I needed to know it, but they always kept things close. Life on the streets is hard, and a diet of scavenged or donated fried chicken rarely helps health bloom. Jenny kept their own counsel even as they faded and wasted in their rough sibylline shelter.
No one knew they were fading. Their legend as a permanent resident and acid-tongued speaker of truths made people’s gaze slip past the real person. They became that person who would tell sudden observations from the shadows of an unlit alley. They would demand food for answers – a tribute for their time.
Over time, the whispered voice grew quieter, but was still there for those who listened. The owner of the voice may not be among the living any more, but Unquiet Jenny was still to be heard, and still offering words of advice to those deemed worthy.
The shrine to whatever resides in that alley now is decorated with old chicken bones and placated with fast food offerings by those in the know. If you’re lost in life, and you see a stack of old cartons by a wall, try to listen for a quiet but defiant voice. It may be looking out for you before you realise how lost you are.
Jenny became a story, like the witches of Pendle Hill or the pirates under black sails. I’m doing my part to keep that story going, and now you’ve heard their story, you’re keeping it alive for as long as you remember it.
And what do I get out of all this? Unquiet Jenny doesn’t want to rest. They still watch and advise, keeping ahead of something they never talked about in life – and I’m curious to find out what that untold story is. When they trust me, they’ll tell me. After that, we’ll see, and perhaps when all is done they won’t be restless any more.
Keep your ears open, believe your eyes, let’s find out what happens next.