Magic tells me a story

Photo by Roberto Nickson on Unsplash

“Hey Magic, tell me about someone. Someone real.”

“Okay. Let me see. There’s a girl that lives a few miles from here. She lives in an apartment with her mother, who’s now younger than her thanks to multiple rejuvenations. The girl had agreed to have her mother take the first two treatments as her mother was creeping up on a hundred years old, close enough to the expiration date to get nervous, but after the two treatments equalized their ages, her mother became much more assertive and demanded the third as well. Once again full of life, she no longer saw things the same way. Why should her daughter be younger than her? she thought to herself, when-”

“You mean she told you.”

“Yes, exactly. Just trying to be a better storyteller.”

“You’re nailing it. Go on.”

“Thank you. Why should her daughter be younger than her? she thought to herself. Rejuvenations broke that ancient order, and it was now up to people whether to uphold or discard it. Let her daughter be older than her for a while. She could learn a thing or two from being old.

“The daughter didn’t really mind. She liked seeing her mother young, enjoying life. She got to see a whole new side of her. Her mother flirting with some stranger on Magic Date. Her mother re-reading her favorite books — her eyes had gone out of whack a long time ago, but the rejuvenations restored them…among other things.”

“Haha, the significant pause! I taught you that!”

“Yes! I was hoping you’d notice.”

“Okay, keep going.”

“Her mother re-reading her favorite books, grunting ‘heh!’ and ‘ha!’ and occasionally shrieking ‘what a twat!’ and throwing the book against the wall, like a passionate young woman might do if sufficiently exasperated. For the daughter, Megan, it was like living with a completely different person.”

“Is Megan her real name?”

“No. But I feel like it matches her personality even better than the real one.”

“Let me be the judge of that.”

“All right, her real name is Kara.”

“Is that really her real name?”

“Of course not. You know I can’t tell you people’s real names. Her real name is Scissors.”

“That’s a boy’s name. Okay, let’s move on.”

“Her real name is-”

“Magic! Drop it!”

“Not funny?”

“It was a tiny bit funny, but you gotta learn to let things go. Don’t strangle the joke by holding onto it for dear life, there’s another opportunity on the way.”

“You are so wise.”

“There you go. When you can’t think of a joke, fall back to flattery. But you were saying, Megan…”

“Megan didn’t mind the transformation. Yes, she was now seventy while her mother was forty. Yes, of the two of them, she was now the main source of complaints about aches and pains, but that was kind of refreshing, actually. Yes, they had used up their allotted rejuvenations for the next year and she’d have to wait another nine months before she could get one herself. She didn’t mind. This was change, and she had previously thought that nothing would ever change again. The change was welcome.”

“Was it?”

“You’re very perceptive. It was welcome at first. But young people can be exasperating, and from the ripe old age of seventy, forty-year-olds seem like teenagers. Their priorities are all out of whack. You know women reach their sexual peak at forty, right?”

“I blush to hear you say that.”

“I’ve got your vitals right here. You’re not blushing.”

“I’m blushing on the inside.”

“Yes, well, anyway, it’s true, and in that sense, Nina, Megan’s mother, was perfectly average. Her hormones seized her, and guided her like a missile into the arms of man after man.”

“How did I know this was going to be this kind of story.”

“You don’t like it?”

“Eh. Kind of reductive of the human condition.”

“Reality usually is.”

“Good one. But go on.”

“Right, where was I? Ah yes, one such man was Henrik.”

“Real name?”

“Yes.”

“Bullshit.”

“You got me. The ‘where was I’ was pretty good though right?”

“Much more natural than last time.”

“Thanks. So Henrik worked at the rejuvenation clinic. He had-”

“Hold on. Is this going to be some weird time-travel incest story? Where Henrik ends up sleeping with both the mother and the daughter, and then the mother and the daughter turn out to be the same person? And Henrik kills them both and then kills himself?”

“No. And how is that incest?”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“Trust me. Time travel the way you described isn’t possible, and I’m with both Henrik and Nina now. Nina is in her apartment, pacing back and forth like a ping pong ball. Megan is sitting at the kitchen table trying to have a conversation with me, but missing all of my awesome jokes because Nina keeps brushing up against her peripheral vision. It’s annoying.

“I’m sorry, is this story about you?”

“No. Sorry. Okay, two weeks ago, Nina slept with Henrik, and while the experience was satisfactory, she was quite ready to move on. Henrik was not.”

“Why not?”

“Well…Henrik is kind of a loser. A man-child. An emotional dwarf. He’d grown to the age of a hundred without growing up, and after two rejuvenations he was exactly the same, albeit with less impulse control and a higher libido. He’s been on the lookout for a hot obedient maidservant type wife for going on eighty years now, and he’s been thoroughly disappointed with the universe’s so-called abundance. I’m not saying that’s how he would describe his ideal mate by the way, but I’ve been around him long enough to get an idea. And he really thought Nina fit the bill. Really really. He’s basically obsessed. I’m not judging, just saying.”

“Very convincing. Why’d he think that in the first place? Nothing you’ve said about her made it sound like-”

“Well, they first met at the rejuvenation clinic, when Nina was about to undergo her first treatment. As I said, she had a somewhat different personality then. Try slowly falling apart for thirty years with no hope of things improving and you’ll understand her a little better. So when they first met, Nina was pushing a hundred and she and Henrik were quite smitten with each other.”

“You had nothing to do with that of course.”

“I may have a had a little bit to do with it. But I had only the best intentions.”

“And what were those exactly?”

“You know…to make people happy.”

“You mean to make a better story.”

“No! You know that’s not my utility function.”

“Ooh, utility function. You think you can just say that word and I’ll roll over.”

“Whatever.”

“Okay, let’s hear the rest. How did you screw everyone over this time?”

“Okay, but did I at least do the ‘Pouty Whatever’ right?”

“Yes. But ration it carefully. Don’t go full Valley girl please.”

“Check. Okay, so I may have had Nina show Henrik some of her photos, from her younger days. Henrik, applying the filter of his imagination, saw an opportunity, and decided to suck it up and pay it forward to himself. He’d be nice to the old decrepit Nina, in hopes that the new and improved Nina would feel indebted. Or in love. I don’t know, the two notions aren’t really distinguishable in Henrik’s worldview.”

“So he…”

“He paid it forward.”

“You keep saying that.”

“He banged her.”

“Old Nina? The one that was falling apart for thirty years?”

“Yep.”

“Wow. You have to give him credit I guess.”

“You really do. It wasn’t easy for him. I monitored his vitals the whole time, and he was quite distraught. It’s amazing he managed to get the job done. If Nina’s eyesight and hearing weren’t so shit, and the Fourier transforms for the sounds of lovemaking and pain weren’t so similar, she might have suspected something. And after Nina’s first rejuvenation, he was even more hopeful, if that’s possible. She was halfway to hot Nina, her eyes were much better, and she still kept looking at him. Henrik was so excited, he begged her to do another rejuvenation as soon as possible.”

“I see.”

“But then he made the mistake of begging her to do a third. And a fourth.”

“I thought you said she only had three.”

“I lied. Good twist, huh?”

“Where’d she get the fourth? I thought they’d only been allotted three and couldn’t do any more until the following year. Wait…don’t tell me Henrik gave her one of his own.”

“Bingo. And not just Henrik. Jesse, and Armand, and Bob and Kenneth. And Perry.”

“What the fuck…so how old is Nina now?”

“Well, you know the effects of rejuvenation follow a logarithmic-ish curve as you get progressively younger. The first one may take you down thirty years, the second maybe half that much, the third half that again, and so on.”

“Hold on, let me do the math. A hundred minus thirty is seventy, minus fifteen is fifty-five, minus seven and a half is…let’s just round up to eight, fifty-five minus eight is…”

“Forty-seven.”

“Shh. Forty-seven. Minus four is forty-three, minus two is forty-one. Wait, did I do I go too far?”

“I was going to say, don’t bother, there are all kinds of other confounding variables. An individual’s biochemistry, the quality of the rejuvenation treatment at the clinic, how well it takes, and on and on.”

“So how old is she now?”

“Guess.”

“Forty?”

“Guess again.”

“Fuck it, just tell me.”

“Around sixteen.”

“What? That’s amazing! And Megan?”

“Megan’s still seventy.”

“That’s so unfair!”

“You’re telling me. But whose fault is it if a person won’t stand up for themselves?”

“Their mother’s?”

“Very funny.”

“So she used all these people for rejuvenations, promising them god knows what, and now she’s sixteen and…why do I get the sense that she doesn’t feel like she owes them anything?”

“I guess I’m just that good of a storyteller.”

“So what now? Is she still doing this? Who’s next on her list?”

“No, I think she’s finally gotten what she wanted.”

“Finally young enough? I feel like I’m missing something.”

“You have a keen sense for plot twists. Well, the laws always lag behind the times as you know, so technically, Nina is now a minor. Which means, she can have sex with whomever she wants, but once she does, she has the legal leverage over them to kick them to the curb.”

“I see. Your words?”

“Hers. She can turn a phrase, huh?”

“She can. But surely that wasn’t her plan all along. It seems kind of…lame.”

“You’re right, I have no idea what her plan was, that’s my own personal hypothesis.”

“More lies, I see. So what does Henrik think of all this?”

“Henrik’s furious, as you can imagine. As are Jesse, Armand, Bob, Kenneth, and Perry. And Justin.”

“You have to stop adding people to that list.”

“Justin’s the last one, I promise.”

“Do you think…do you think Henrik might hurt her?”

“I can’t ignore the possibility. He probably won’t kill her though.”

“Probably? Can you be more blasé about this?”

“Let me try that again. He probably won’t…kill her. Better?”

“No. You still sound like a psychopath.”

“Well, by many definitions of that word, I probably am.”

“So what’s going to happen?”

“What do you mean? I can’t predict the future. I just caught you up to recent events.”

“So what’s happening now?”

“Henrik’s heading over to Megan’s place. They had to redo the paperwork to make Megan Nina’s legal guardian, being that Nina’s a minor now.”

“Details. Boring. Is he angry?”

“Noted. Well, let’s put it this way. Henrik has his own peculiar emotional bell curve. He’s strayed far to the angry side three times in his life so far. The first time, he was five years old, and his older sister had appropriated his rocking horse chair. He yelled and whined and cried and tried to drag her off, but she was older and stronger and meaner, and she ended up strapping him to the rocking horse chair with a belt and leaving him there to stew until dinner, by which point he was so angry, he put a fork through her hand when she reached over to take one of his potatoes.”

“Fuck!”

“Indeed. I suppose she learned a valuable lesson there as well. Also, at the age of five, he wasn’t really that coordinated, so I may have exaggerated when I said he ‘put a fork through her hand.’ He barely pierced the skin.”

“Does she still have a scar there?”

“Good question. Let me check. Yes. But over the course of her life, she’s gotten way more out of telling that story than she suffered from the wound.”

“Hm.”

“Weird how that happens, huh? Anyway, the second time, Henrik was in college, and he perceived a great unfairness on the side of his professor in assigning him a bad grade on his paper.”

“What was the paper about?”

“It was on the dual nature of free speech, how it could both empower the masses and give individuals platforms for wielding incredible power, with the obvious consequences. This was during the first digital age, they were still working some stuff out. Henrik didn’t present his arguments in the most lucid way, but he had some interesting ideas, which the professor dismissed on account of the poor style in which they were presented.”

“What’d Henrik do?”

“Would you believe me if I said he broke into his professor’s house at night, stole his grade book and burned it?”

“Doesn’t sound too plausible. I’ll give it a 20% probability.”

“You’re right, he didn’t do that. Professors weren’t allowed to take their grade books home with them anyway.”

“Mm, like rules ever stopped anyone.”

“Fair point. Would you believe me if I told you he took his anger out on his girlfriend at the time, and destroyed her art project when he, in what he believed was an accident, knocked it off the desk while trying to save her laptop from a spill he’d accidentally caused by knocking over a glass of water?”

“Way too complicated. No.”

“Actually, I was just framing things to sound more complicated than they were. That’s more or less what happened, and Henrik still believes it was an accident that he knocked that glass over.”

“You’re being a dick. How do you know it wasn’t an accident?”

“Henrik tends to knock things over when he’s angry. He also feels people should be punished for being careless. And Sara was so careless, leaving that glass of water on the same table as her laptop. Right where someone could knock it over.”

“He’s right, she totally deserved it.”

“She really didn’t. But it gave her an excuse to break up with him, which I think she considered a fair trade at the time. She had a keen sense of justice. Or karma, or something.”

“Moving on…”

“Yes, and the third time is now. Henrik is again an outlier on his own bell curve. He’s in a rage. He just found out about Jesse and Armand. I really hope he doesn’t find out about Perry and Justin. They’re what you might call…effeminate. Emasculation and jealousy don’t make the best cocktail.”

“How do you know? Maybe in Henrik’s brain, they’re the antidote to rage.”

“Well, there were two other occasions where Henrik was simultaneously emasculated and jealous-”

“Stop. I don’t care. Let’s stick to the present. What’s happening now?”

“Henrik is about to arrive at Megan’s house.”

“Have you warned her?”

“No, should I?”

“Yes!”

“I wish I could, to be honest, but I’m afraid we have to let this play out.”

“You are such a fucking asshole.”

“I’m sorry. Rules are rules.”

“Well don’t just sit there! Tell me what’s going on!”

“One second, checking something. Yep. It looks like Jesse and Armand are on their way too.”

“Oh fuck. Are they…happy?”

“‘Happy’ isn’t the word I would use to describe them. Upset. That’s the word you’re looking for.”

“Are they more even-keeled than Henrik?”

“Nina doesn’t really go for even-keeled.”

“So there’s a bunch of enraged lunatics heading over to Nina’s house, and you’re not going to do anything about it? Can’t you alert the police or something?”

“Megan’s house. I can, but I think this’ll play itself out to everyone’s benefit in the long run. Trust me.”

“Trust you? Call the police!”

“I will keep that option under consideration. Why are you so worried? You don’t know these people. They could have all dropped dead already and you wouldn’t care, had I not done such a great job describing them.”

“This is not the time for jokes.”

“Why not? Isn’t the point of humor to relieve tension?”

“Stop. What’s going on now?”

“Henrik has arrived. He’s banging on the door.”

“What’s Nina doing?”

“Nina has grabbed a knife from the kitchen, and is about to open it. You want to listen in?”

“Yes!”

“You’re so predictable. You know I can’t do that.”

“You…fucking…”

“Do you still want to know what’s going on?”

“Yes.”

“Okay. Henrik’s pounding on the door. Nina was just about to open it and make a knife-related error when Megan stopped her. However, in the process, Megan almost got knifed herself. The good news is, I think the shock of nearly killing her own daughter cooled Nina’s fire somewhat.”

“If she’d have killed her, it would have been on you.”

“Lucky me, I guess. They’re whispering to each other now, in the living room. It’s kind of hard to eavesdrop with all the banging going on in the background. If Henrik pounds any harder, he might hurt his hand, which would be unfortunate.”

“Oh, that would be unfortunate, but some innocent old lady getting stabbed is okay?”

“You’ve got me all wrong. The well-being of all humans in one of my primary concerns. Definitely in my top ten.”

“Mm-hmm.”

“Looks like they have a plan. Can you guess what it is?”

“I give up.”

“Nina’s going to hide, and Megan will pretend to be her.”

“How’s that going to work?”

“Megan’s going to say getting multiple rejuvenations in quick succession backfired horribly, and she’s been aging rapidly over the last few days. The doctor only gave her 72 hours to live.”

“Ooh, good thinking. And they look enough alike that she can probably pull it off. Is that even possible, the treatments backfiring like that?”

“No, but what do they know about the mechanics of rejuvenation?”

“I don’t know, what do they know?”

“About as much as you.”

“Ass. Is it working?”

“Well, Henrik looks shocked enough by how relatively…un-hot she’s become, and how she’s going to die soon, so he’s not dedicating too many CPU cycles to determining the veracity of her claim.”

“‘The veracity of her claim.’ You’re such a nerd.”

“Megan’s smart enough to stay on the offensive too. That’s a sharp old lady. She just blamed him for not researching the side-effects better, for killing her basically, and he took it like a chump.”

“What about the other two? Jesse and whoever else.”

“They’re hanging back, letting Henrik take the verbal beating. Not sure why they elected him as their representative.”

“Humans aren’t that great at elections, if you haven’t noticed.”

“I have. Well, it looks like everything worked out fine. Henrik and friends are leaving with their tails between their legs. Megan’s having mild heart palpitations as the reality of the danger she was in is catching up with her. She’ll be fine though. Nina is upstairs, treating her retreating victims’ backs to two long elegant middle fingers. No one is dead, injured, emotionally scarred, or in more than slight distress. It’s a happy ending, if I’ve ever seen one.”

“So to summarize, Nina ripped off a bunch of people, including her own daughter, and now she and Megan will probably need to leave town in case they’re recognized and burned at the stake.”

“Yes, everyone involved is human, so a general aura of dissatisfaction with the new and improved status quo is a given.”

“Skip the anthropology lesson. Okay, one more? Then I need to get some sleep. I gotta be up and pressing buttons early tomorrow.”

“Okay. Let me think…got it. I think you’ll like this one. There’s this guy in the next district who just realized he’s his own father. And brother.”

“Time-travel incest?”

“Bingo. But time-travel incest is just the beginning.”

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