There is only one story; the story of the clans, everything else is subplots.
Mubwon Book of Proverbs
To a scientist, the world makes sense only without magic. Yet, there it is, sticking its tongue out at us, defying our logic; refusing to submit to our need for causal evidence. Magic is the proverbial thorn in the foot of science, nagging us to discover what it is while mocking us for failing to do so.
“Magic,” Professor Bunkip Kindlewood mused as he pushed his writing away from himself, “Irritating phenomenon.” Bunkip turned his head toward his home’s only hallway. He wondered if Rutkin, his foster son, was awake. Doubtful at this early hour. Bunkip removed his glasses, closed his eyes, and filled his chest with air. When his lungs had reached their limit, he slowly released his breath, hoping the apprehension weighing on him would also be expelled.
He turned back to his papers, propped his glasses back on his nose, picked up the last page on which he had been working, and began to read:
Magic is the reason given when we do not understand how something works, or from where something originated. The origin of the clans is a prime example. Every clan appears to be modeled, if you will, after a lower animal or combination of lower animals. Also, there are important similarities between all the clans, most notably our large brain capable of reasoning, abstract thought, and language. Currently, it is not known how many distinct clans exist, but it could easily be in the tens of thousands. From where did this diversity come? Can we explain the multiplicity of life other than evoking the convenience of magic?
Bunkip wasn’t completely satisfied with what he wrote, but it could be honed to perfection later. He didn’t want to lose his momentum. Placing pen to paper he began to write:
To answer these questions, I will first examine my own clan: Lumin. If I were four inches tall, one could easily mistake me for a hamster; a child’s pet. Indeed, some clansmen think it a bit creepy to keep pets that resemble their own clan.
Thinking the last sentence was getting away from his point, as well as lacking a scholarly air, Bunkip drew a line through it; then continued:
Yet, if you placed a hamster next to a miniature Lumin the differences would be striking. The Lumin would have longer arms and legs, a larger head with an slightly extended neck, as well as comparatively larger feet and hands. Opposable thumbs would allow the Lumin to use and create tools, and he would stand erect.
Bunkip lay his pen down, then rubbed the back of his neck. Despite his desire to continue, other obligations were nagging him. Heaving a sigh, he pushed his writing away for the countless time that morning. Life for him was about to become interesting, and he was beginning to doubt this book would be completed. He stood and walked slowly toward his foster-son’s room on the slight chance he was awake. It’s odd, he thought, there are tasks one very much wants to do, yet they are accompanied by such dread. Bunkip was old enough to know that it was the unpredictable outcome he feared at such times, not the task itself; knowing this did not make the task easier.
Rutkin’s door was open, and to Bunkip’s surprise Rutkin was half sitting, half leaning on his windowsill, looking out into the shadows beyond his comfortable room. The moonlight shining through the open window combined with his coal black fur made the young Lumin a silhouette.
“Good Morning,” said Bunkip. “I didn’t expect to see you up this early. Something wrong?” Something wrong? What a foolish question, thought Bunkip. He knew what was wrong; his only wish was to be able to fix it.
“No, I’m fine,” Rutkin replied without turning from the window.
“Not worried about your big day, are you? It’s still a few weeks away, plenty of time to prepare.”
“Haven’t really given it much thought,” Rutkin said carelessly.
Bunkip was taken aback. “Coming-of-age, and you haven’t given it much thought? Most Lumins in your position would be unable to think of little else.”
Rutkin knew Bunkip spoke true; most of his friends could talk of nothing else but the coming-of-age. It was the time when Lumins became adults and voting members of the borough. It was emancipation from parents and trade-master. It was freedom. It was the beginning of a new life. And he, Rutkin Flintwood, approached it with a nonchalance that made him a curiosity among his friends.
Rutkin’s voice betrayed irritation. “I’ve been thinking about other things.”
Bunkip decided to let Rutkin choose where this was going. “Would you rather be alone, or would you prefer to share some of that thinking with me?”
Relieved, Bunkip stepped through the open doorway. He leaned on the edge of Rutkin’s wooden writing table, which creaked bitterly under his weight. The pause in conversation swelled, squeezing his nerves. There were things that needed to be said, but Bunkip wasn’t sure how to start.
“I’ve been worried about you,” he prompted.
Rutkin looked to the floor; embarrassed. “I guess I haven’t been acting much of-age, have I?”
“Nonsense. It can take years to piece yourself together. To make sense of the world again after a loss such as yours. It’s only been three weeks since…”
A pause crept between the Lumins once more. At last, as though a great pressure forced it out, the words cracking with grief, Rutkin confessed what he considered his dishonor, “I cannot put Father’s death behind me. I keep bouncing between anger and despair.”
“You never stop hurting, but it gets easier to bear over time. A cliché I know, but it’s true.”
“My trade-master said I should no longer mourn father. He said I should get on with life; stop being a brooding whelp.”
Bunkip straightened to his full forty-four inches; his voice was a half-shout. “He told you what?” Although the room was chiefly shadows, anger could easily be seen on Bunkip’s face, for the dark-gray fur between his eyes furrowed deeply and his white teeth bit the air fiercely as he spoke.
“He’s a bigger fool than I thought! You don’t spend your life loving someone, then dismiss his life away in a few weeks!” Bunkip lowered his voice, but his words were backed with intensity. “The pain never goes away, you just get used to it like a splinter in your skin. You can forget about it for quite awhile, but in those quiet moments, it sometimes comes back to stick you. The emptiness remains, and you learn to live with it, but it takes time.”
Bunkip searched his mind for the perfect phrase, a combination of words that would erase the pain, but found none. Bunkip felt that of all the emotions, feeling helpless was second only to grief for being the worst, and presently he felt immersed in both. There was nothing he could do. Bunkip dropped his head in frustration. He studied his boot laces while waiting for Rutkin to speak.
“This must be how Father felt when Mother died. I was so young; I don’t remember her.”
Bunkip looked up. “They both continue to live within you. I can see them at times in your eyes, in your smile, your gestures. They are forever a part of you.”
Rutkin turned his gaze back out the window. “Looking in a mirror doesn’t help me miss him less.”
The sarcasm stung Bunkip. “No, I suppose it doesn’t.” He sighed. “I know it sounds like sentimental twaddle, but you’ve helped me a great deal in coping with losing them. I loved both of them as family.”
The silence began again. A moment passed before Bunkip realized that Rutkin was crying. Bunkip moved forward, placing his hand on Rutkin’s shoulder. At the touch, Rutkin turned and buried his head into Bunkip’s soft, gray chest. A reservoir of emotion broke forth; he cried until the flow of tears waned and his eyes ached. When the sobbing ebbed, Rutkin continued to hold his foster-father—half for comfort; half because he was ashamed of his weakness and didn’t know what else to do.
After several moments, Rutkin released Bunkip and was startled to see tears running down the elderly Lumin’s face. Bunkip responded to his quizzical stare with, “Friends should share their grief, not bury it.”
Rutkin answered with a hug, and while Bunkip waited for the embrace to subside, he listened to a distant insect sing its morning-song as the memory of dead friends pricked him.
• • • •
Mubwon Chronicles: Of Dragons, Boxes, and Periapts; copyright © 2016 by Jared Mark Graham. All rights reserved.