Fiction Friday: Short Prose | The Stolen Book
I love a good story about someone seeking out power, to protect themselves or the ones they love, that might harm them in the process. Don’t you?
It’s a theme that’s in a lot of fantasy media I’ve loved. A Great And Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray, the Caster Chronicles series by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl… it’s a theme in a lot of things. Isn’t it what we all want? A way to protect ourselves, our loved ones, and if magic is a thing, wouldn’t that be the best way?
Even most recently on HBO’s Lovecraft Country, it was a huge theme throughout the show — using magic as a way to take back power. The season finale was just on Sunday and I’ve been thinking about this show all week. It was SO GOOD and if you haven’t watched it yet, and you liked Watchmen from earlier this year, you need to get into it. It is just as wild, just as ambitious, and just as grounded in real issues despite the world of magic, monsters, and racism in 1954 Chicago.
How does that pursuit of power, corrupt even the most well-intentioned? Or even more, not the most well-intentioned? Aggie has never had a problem using magic to fight for those she loves, after all, and could probably be best described as a “chaotic good” character.
So naturally, of course she would want more tools, more resources, to protect Denny and maybe herself. Even if it might not end well.
I want to do more.
That’s what she told herself, all the time. When Denny had been captured by that mad scientist, when Noah had been possessed by that demon, when Callie had come back to try and take Fran’s power.
The whole point of magic was to no longer feel powerless, no longer be powerless, and yet Aggie was forced to face it every time someone she loved was put into a position where magic should’ve, would’ve, could’ve helped. Magic was wondrous, a beautiful and cursed thing to manipulate energy into helping you achieve your ends. Help you protect the people that you love, or to save them when they are in danger.
It was never enough, though.
That temptation, a dark whisper in the back of her heart, drawing her towards that bookshop she knew she shouldn’t have gone into. To that woman she knew had a darker power than she was letting on, trying to coax Aggie into an agreement she wasn’t prepared to pay for. She’d only escaped by the skin of her teeth, a small, dark, and haunted book tucked into her bag.
That was why they got out of New York.
(Not the thievery, although that was a good reason too).
To avoid that temptation, or at least make it harder for that voice to grow louder. Oregon had less to worry about, more run of the mill things that went bump in the night for Denny to chase after once a month. Less people in the small town they had found, less chances to find good or bad magic (although she wasn’t unaware of the covens that were settled there). Easier to hide away, from those things that had found them, dual trouble magnets that Aggie and Denny seemed to be.
No more assassins, mad scientists, escaped gods or demons, cursed objects, vengeful ex-friends.
At least, none that they had found just yet.
There was still that need, though.
Aggie had always been naturally curious, her parents had told her it would get the best of her one day. Curiosity killed the cat, her mother would sing song to her as she snipped herbs from their stems. It was what had led her to magic, to her friends in New Orleans and that stupid demon they had summoned. It was what had made her the witch that she was to this day, more capable than maybe any other covens would give her credit for - despite being a loner. She devoured books and practiced endlessly, always working, always learning, always trying to nurture her gift.
She had the feeling, writhing in her chest as she took that book out from its hiding place under a loose wall panel in her greenhouse, that maybe her mom was right.
It didn’t stop her, though, from drawing the salt circle to protect herself and lighting the candles, opening the book under the waxing moonlight falling through the glass ceiling.
Aggie dragged her fingers, lightly, across the pages, the words and phrases and shapes. It whispered to her, just like that voice, sounding just like that woman who maybe hadn’t been a human woman at all, in that shop. Softly, in a language she couldn’t decipher just yet, in symbols she didn’t know.
That had never stopped her before.
She was thankful, reading through what she could, that she hadn’t stolen a book of potions, her least developed skill (one her mother was particularly good at), but she couldn’t quite figure out what the book did contain. Her Latin was rusty, and this looked older than even that, as she copied symbols and tried to connect alphabets, taking notes in the spare notebook she had brought along. “Not potions,” she grumbled to herself, as she scribbled by the candlelight, turning pages as carefully as could be.
There was something there, in those pages. She could feel it, a buzzing at her fingertips, chills on her skin from every turned page. Her moonflowers tilted towards her, soft white blooms looking for her candlelight, and any other night she would dote on them - on all her plants. This reading required all her focus, as she tried to distill whatever magic was hidden in the spine and old pages of this book, onto the pages of her own notebook.
“Aggie? What are you doing up?”
She was so deep into it, reading and translating (or attempting to) she had missed the gentle bell over the door of the greenhouse as Denny walked in, sleepy eyed and in his pajamas. He frowned at her on the ground and she closed the book quickly, not at all suspiciously.
“Reading, taking notes,” she admitted, gathering her things, although she left the important part out. Analyzing this book I stole from maybe a bad witch or something worse.
He stepped closer to her, taking her hand to help her up from where she was sitting. He was warm, not that that was unusual, and Aggie guessed he had woken up to find her not in bed. She snuffed out her candles, leaving the book and notebook on her table, acutely aware of Denny watching her every move. “What were you reading? In the middle of the night?” He asked and she didn’t have an answer.
“Magic stuff,” was all she could come up with, a sheepish admission, and he raised an eyebrow.
“Out here? It’s cold, Ags, and you can barely see. Come back to bed.” He wrapped his arms around her and she felt goosebumps finally, not from the book but the warmth of him fresh out of their bed. She murmured an acceptance and he led them out after she made sure all the candles were properly out, moonlight guiding them back to the house, cold wet grass crunching beneath their feet.
Even as Aggie changed and got back into bed, settling under the covers, she could still hear the whispers. Still feel the buzzing at her fingertips. Coaxing her to come back.