Here it is, in all its glory. My first published bit of fan fiction. Set in Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files universe, we follow the exploits of Harry Dresden on yet another job with yet another client. Debrief to follow.
(Cover image copyright Jeff Lindsay)
I held the chunk of cardboard up closer to my face. The spinner attached to it fluttered in the breeze sweeping along the Chicago street and wreaked havoc on my tracking spell.
“No birthday parties, Harry,” I muttered, reminding myself of that qualifier in my phonebook ad. Well, the kid, my client, at least hadn’t hired me to entertain at the party, so there was that.
Little Josephine had dragged her daycare provider up the stairs of my office building to hire me. Her hand, which I spied through the frosted glass of the door’s window, couldn’t even reach the words printed there: Harry Dresden, Wizard.
“Look, kid,” I had said, setting aside the paperback I’d been, well, consulting for the last two days. “I’m sorry you lost your playing card–”
“Someone stole it,” Josephine insisted.
I lifted a consoling hand. “Fine, but it can’t be worth my fees.”
Josephine’s scowl preceded her quote of the going price for her trading card, which preceded my jaw hitting the floor. I could pay the rent on my office — currently overdue by two days — for a few months for that price.
“It’s an ultra-rare,” Josephine had explained. “All the kids are playing Mage Wars and my deck is broken without that card.”
Some rare spurt of self-control helped me resist telling the kid how strange it was to hire a real wizard to find a fake cardstock representation of one.
Now, as the mariachi band down the street struck a distinct disharmony, I wanted to kick myself.
Holding my hand up to block the wind let the spinner wobble to focus in one direction.
Further down the street.
Josephine had argued past my no parties policy. She had been prepared, I had to give her that.
I hadn’t expected her birthday party to take up three freaking city blocks.
Now I understood how Josephine could afford a mint condition Spinetacular Warlock.
The tracking spell had been tricky. Everything in the world may be connected to every other thing via holistic philosophy mumbo jumbo, but some connections are stronger. A wizard can find a person with, say, a fresh clipping of hair and some know-how. I could, in theory, use one link to find the rest of the chain, if they had been separated recently enough.
Josephine, needless to say, had not the prescience to slice apart her Mage Wars equivalent of a Lamborghini. The closest connection I had to the card was the sleeve that had protected it.
That sleeve, just a clear sheaf of plastic with a stiff cardboard backing that had Josephine’s name on it, was pinned to the underside of the spinner. Another connection to the card, the spinner itself is apparently part of the gameplay in Mage Wars.
I guess they never heard of good ol’ dice.
Walking down the street in this classy section of Chicago — actually on the street, because the sidewalks were crammed with food carts and squirrely children — I started to get the feeling that my suspect pool was somewhere in the range of a few hundred individuals.
Kids playing Mage Wars took up every available raised horizontal surface. I swear, I hadn’t even heard of this game until Josephine hired me.
Maybe I ought to get out of the office a little more often.
The needle on the spinner, when I could keep the wind off of it, did seem to hone in on one particular set of tables. These were away from the main mass closer to Josephine’s Cadillac-sized birthday cake — in an open-air entrance of a hotel that Josephine’s parents had presumably rented out for the occasion — but still a couple dozen kids sat or stood around. They slapped cards to the table, flicked spinners, scribbled on little pads of paper. Josephine had tried to summarize the game for me. My guess is she grows up to be a tax accountant.
I walked back and forth along the street, trying to triangulate. Yes, the card had to be over there. Heaving a sigh, I heaved myself past parked cars and placed a foot on the sidewalk.
The mime planted itself in my path.
I blinked at the sudden intrusion and stumbled back down to the street. “Hey, watch it,” I grumbled and moved to step around the mime.
With a cutesy antic like he was sliding along a wall, the mime sidled back into my path before I could get onto the sidewalk.
“Funny,” I said, my voice very carefully drained of any traces of humor.
The mime knocked on the invisible wall between us then pressed his ear up to it.
I cupped my hands around my mouth to be sure he could hear. “Leave me alone.”
That drew a shocked expression from the mime, who showed it in the flauntingest way possible. He drew the attention of some passing parents and made gestures that were almost rude toward me.
They ignored him, and I decided to do the same. The spinner seemed locked on one of the kids playing at the table, so if I could just figure out which one…
The mime got into my personal space this time.
It took a fair amount of self control to resist breaking out the aikido throw that Murphy had shown me the other day. I stepped back, now in the center of the sidewalk and tried to plot another course.
The mime packed itself into a tiny box while a crowd of kids washed over and around me. As soon as the traffic passed and I had the chance to move, the mime stepped in my way again.
“Look, buddy, what the hell do you want?” I grabbed at the pockets in my duster but there was no change for me to toss as a tip. Josephine had made her down payment in all hundreds, and there was no way I was going to give this guy a Benjamin just to get him out of my path.
The mime drooped his arms and hung his head in mock sorrow, and paced around me. Some sort of comedic act, I guessed, for he trailed confetti-speckled sand from his fingertips as he went.
“Fine,” I said and held the spinner aloft. With the mime only occasionally in my way, I could probably work out which kid had the card from here. The mime jostled me everytime he passed in front of the spinner. I tried to ignore him. The mime seemed to be moving further and further away from me as he orbited me, which suited me just fine.
I definitely had it narrowed down to just a couple of kids, both of whom sat on one side of the nearest table. Just a little closer and I would know which one–
The magical circle popped into existence around me with an almost audible snap. I felt the pressure of it the instant it appeared, and my tracking spell, already a tenuous thread, fell apart, the pointer spinning wildly.
“Hell’s bells,” I snarled, turning to see the mime stepping back from the circle he had formed with the sand around me, sucking on a bleeding fingertip. This white-painted joker had used a drop of his blood to power the circle.
The mime forgot his sacred vow of silence and urged the kids along toward the cake end of the party.
“Time to open presents,” he said and lifted kids out of their seats, herding them onward.
I focused a bit of my will — it didn’t take much — and pressed a cowboy boot through the sand, breaking the circle. My tracking spell was worthless with the current of anger and frustration coursing through me.
The mime glanced over his shoulder and met my eyes for the briefest instant. Whatever he saw in that moment persuaded him to duck into a big inflated bouncy castle, leaving the pack of children behind.
You don’t go around trapping wizards of the White Council in magic circles. It just isn’t done. I wanted to reach out and explain this to the mime with a proper application of brute force when my other sense kicked in.
That underrated sense called ‘instinct.’
Here’s the thing. Being a wizard isn’t everything.
Sure, it lets you do some cool stuff. You can bend the rules a little, maybe accomplish something spectacular.
But wizards are human before they’re spell-slinging badasses.
Applying a small dose of what psychology I had picked up in high school, as well as common sense, told me more than my tracking spell had.
Plus, I’m a detective. I detect. It’s in the job description.
One of the two kids I had scoped out seemed like the rest, surprised and a little upset at being torn away from the game of Mage Wars by the incipient mime.
The other one looked almost happy to follow what the guy said, and not at all surprised.
I pushed my way to the table where they had been playing and glanced at his position in the game. His Mage Wars card protectors were marked as were Josephine’s.
“Hey, Benjamin,” I called. The kid, a little blond haired scamp whose attitude upon turning to face me was equal parts surprise and impudence, scowled.
I held up Josephine’s empty card protector. “Are you feeling, perhaps, a little Spinetacular?”
It took a bit of time for Josephine’s parents to argue with Benjamin’s, and then more than a bit of Josephine’s insistence, but Benjamin’s binder pockets were soon turned out. The Spinetacular Warlock proved unmarred by the thief and Josephine took it back from him with grace, aplomb, and, dare I say it, reverence.
Benjamin was hustled into a minivan and driven home. He’s probably grounded from playing Mage Wars for a while.
In the conflict between the parents, the mime managed to slip out of the party, scattering his glittering sand circle along the way. Maybe I’ll catch up with him later. I doubt it, but Chicago is a lot smaller than most people assume.
I caught up with Josephine as the party wound down.
“Ah, Mr. Dresden,” she said. “Shall I fetch the other half of your payment?”
It pained me to say it, but I couldn’t charge Josephine more than I already had for services rendered. It hadn’t been that hard to figure out her culprit.
“If you say so,” Josephine said, twisting her mouth in thought. She brightened, then told me to wait here.
I stared down the ice sculpture of the Freddled Meddler, another superstar character from Mage Wars, melting on the buffet table for a long moment, then came to my senses and stuff a few hors d’oeuvres into the pockets of my duster. My stomach growled in an appreciating manner.
Josephine returned with a slab of cake, which I graciously accepted.
“I wonder,” Josephine reflected as I smeared frosting on my chin. “I wonder just how much Mage Wars is like real magic.”
“How about this,” I said. “For the other half of your payment, you teach me how to play, and I’ll tell you.”
Josephine’s grin split her face into two cute little halves. “Great! Let me go get my deck and I’ll teach you in no time!”
It took a few hours.
Just a brief debrief, because, in brief, that’s how I “de.”
I wrote this several months ago, during a write-off with my wife. It had been a tough day and I could not for the life of me think of what to write.
Needless to say, I was (and am) pretty happy with how it turned out. I know I don’t quite capture Mr. Butcher’s voice, but hey, it’s his character, his world, and I’m just dancing around the fringes. For what it is, I like it.
I also applied a small editing process to it, after it had sat for some time, and that was useful experience, I’m still pretty new at editing so any successes (or even failures) are useful right now.
I probably won’t make a habit of publishing (or writing, even) fan fiction because I have my own stuff to do and it does not profit me that greatly to muck around in other authors’ backyards.
It is pretty fun, and sort of freeing, though to have some pre-established rules and characters to play with. If it turns out my other fan fiction project is not commercially viable (which it almost certainly is not) then you might be seeing an episodic series posted on this site in the near future.
Until next time, try to avoid random unexpected brain swapping. It really is more trouble than it’s worth.