FIRST, AN INTRODUCTION (AND A CONFESSION) …
It’s hard to believe, especially for me, but it was a half-decade ago that my first novel Magicians Impossible entered the world on September 12, 2017. It was a busy time. The stresses of fatherhood, of working while promoting my first ever novel all combined forces to end up making 2017 a pretty hectic year overall.
[As to the status of my next novel, that’s on hold for the time being as I’m up to my neck in the Mixtape TV series. We film the pilot teaser later this month with everything being delivered to the network in early December, so just by typing this paragraph I’m now two weeks behind.]
The book tour for Magicians was loads of fun. Hollywood Boulevard. Orange County. San Diego. The Mysterious Bookshop. Bakka Books. And many other points in between. Podcasts, interviews, guest articles, reviews both glowing and, er, not so glowing. “Best Debut” according to Suspense Magazine. Starred reviews in Booklist, Library Journal, School Library Journal. Thanks for all of this and more go out to my editor Brendan Deneen, himself an accomplished author, as well as publicists, marketers, designers, and overall great people at St. Martins Press/Thomas Dunne Books for all their hard work in getting Magicians Impossible into the world.
That was five years ago today.
And in those five years since its publication , the question I’ve been asked more than any other about Magicians Impossible – in interviews, in reviews, on podcasts, and many years after the fact is “will there be a sequel”.
I’ve long been cagey about it, citing the usual “if there’s interest, if the first book does well enough bla bla bla-de-bla.”
But I’ve had a secret I’ve hidden from the world ever since the promotional cycle of Magicians Impossible began
There was never going to be a sequel.
There was never intended to be a sequel.
That’s because, in a way, you already read it.
Magicians Impossible was conceived, written, and released into the world as a one-and-done story. I never planned for there to be a sequel or continuation of the published novel.
The original version of the novel was much different after the midpoint. Following the events in The Louvre, the story originally went in a completely different direction, culminating in a grand Battle Royale atop the various levels of the Eiffel Tower where The Invisible Hand and The Golden Dawn squared off in an epic conclusion that set the stage for more stories in the series, and a continuation eventually leading to the equally epic Battle of the Citadel.
The fact that we reach The Battle of the Citadel in the third act of the published story (and not say in in book six or seven of a multi-year series) would indicate that things changed. It was my decision too – not Brendan’s, not anyone else’s. I wanted to get to The battle of Hogwarts, essentially, in book one. Point of fact I called my illustrious editor and said “hey, I have a new idea to pursue” which was basically me taking all those wild and crazy ideas for later in a proposed series and moving them up into Book One and Only. I wanted to make Star Wars when it was just Star Wars. Not Episode IV, not A New Hope, not one of nine installments in “The Skywalker Saga”. Just a one-and done story with no promise of more to come.
“But Brad, with everything fantasy expected to be part of an overall epic story, didn’t you essentially shoot yourself in the foot?”
“Yes. Yes I did. And I’d do it again.”
For me the best stories, the ones that resonated most with me as a child, as an adult, were the ones that were one and done. Ray Bradbury never wrote a sequel to Something Wicked This Way Comes, Stephen King never penned a follow-up to The Body (a.k.a. “Stand By Me”) although that story’s teenage hoodlum nemesis Ace Merrill did pop up now and again in subsequent King novellas and novels, most notably in Needful Things. My favorite novel by my favorite contemporary author, the great Joe R. Lansdale titled The Bottoms, was a one-and done with a definitive conclusion which makes that book so much more precious to me (spoken as a ride-or-die fan of Lansdale’s own Hap & Leonard series of crime novels)
Magicians Impossible, the book, ends with Jason Bishop’s rejecting his calling. The eons-old battle between The Golden Dawn and the Invisible Hand continues but Jason refuses to be a part of it. He’s discovered his past, he’s discovered himself, and by the time he connects with the greatest mystery in his life – spoiler alert; his father – he’s found his place in the world. The place he’s spent his life searching for. His arc is concluded. The story of Magicians Impossible is, essentially, a character-driven tale. With Jason’s journey as a character complete there really isn’t anywhere for him to go that wouldn’t be a retread of a story already told.
That’s the end of the story. The end of his story.
Thanks for buying and reading and leaving a nice review on Amazon or Goodreads.
Now … that being said …
As I finished the last final round of edits and sent the book off to my publisher I asked myself what did happen next, on that train, when Damon and Jason were sitting across from each other? I didn’t go so far as to plot out a whole second novel, but I did let ideas stew as I asked “what if there is a little bit more in the tank?”
Enough to push us over that next rise in the road to see what’s on the other side?
So today, on Magicians Impossible‘s fifth birthday, I have a little gift for everyone who read the book, enjoyed the book, befriended me because of the book, and constantly asked me “will there be a sequel”.
This is not that sequel.
But it is a bit of a coda, detailing what happened between father and son on that long train ride back to Manhattan.
So without any further ado I give you …
SPITE THE DEVIL: A MAGICIANS IMPOSSIBLE STORY
The gentle rock of the train had driven Jason Bishop underwater, into a dark, warm calm that reminded him of death. It was peaceful there. It was quiet. The considerable cares of the world but a distant memory. It was a wonderful dream, but the tricky thing about dreams was you always awoke from them in the end. And so when Jason’s eyes opened the first thing he noticed was the deck of playing cards on the seat next to him. The next was the figure sitting across from him. Jason studied the man quietly, like he was running every possible scenario through his head. That was good, and smart as well; in a world of magic you never could be too certain the person sitting across from you was the person they seemed. Finally, Jason settled back in his seat.
“You owe me a hell of an explanation, you know that?” he asked.
“A good magician never reveals his secrets,” Damon King replied. “But I should probably make an exception in your case.”
“We’re an hour out from New York. Will that be enough time?”
“Should be,” said Damon. “Though to be fair I’m dying for a drink.”
“I know a place near Fort Tryon.”
“Time enough for me to answer some of those questions of yours?”
“Time enough to answer all of them.”
Damon settled back in his seat. He tented his fingers and flashed a grin.
“So where would you like to start?”
Jason raised the deck of cards. “How about a magic trick?”
Damon nodded, slowly. He knew what came next. The question was; did Jason?
“You sensed them too?” Damon asked.
“From the moment I stepped on the train.”
“You tell me; you’re the Mage.”
Jason stared at Damon silently. Then, he closed his eyes.
Damon leaned forward and could see his son’s pupils darting back and forth behind his eyelids. Seeking was a simple enough trick for a Mage; not unlike REM sleep. It was like those moments in bed, when you could sense someone else slip inside the room before you opened your eyes.
“First one’s three rows in from the rear doors,” Jason said. “You know the type; the Alpha Male with the bushy hillbilly beard they think makes them look like some Special Forces badass but in reality hides bad skin and a weak fucking chin?”
Damon nodded. Not bad. Not bad at all. “Who else?”
Jason shook his head. “Quid pro quo, Clarice; you ask me something I ask you something back.”
Damon checked his watch.
“We have time,” Jason said.
“We’ll be to Spuyten Duyvil in twenty minutes. We have time, just not a lot of it.”
“Twenty minutes?!” Jason shook his head. “We’re nowhere near close to – ”
“This train is about to go express. But you were saying …?”
“Last fall, at Murder Hill. I scattered your ashes there, like you requested. I poured them in, I waited. I expected … something to happen. Only ‘something’ never did.”
Damon smiled. That had been the last test of Jason’s training; the one Carter Block, leader of the Invisible Hand, had failed to anticipate when he’d hatched his plot. He’d thought Jason would be just another pawn, a powerful Bishop on his chessboard. But Carter hadn’t anticipated that Jason was a King and the son of a Queen.
“What were you expecting?” Damon asked. “A big pillar of water, a puff of smoke, your dear departed dad returning to save the day?”
“Kind of. Yeah.”
“Well, to answer your question, yes, returning my ashes to the water was what I needed for you to pull me back out of the Pocket. But returning from death isn’t a simple matter. It’s … painful. Exhausting. Even when I did return I didn’t know who I was, where I’d come from. I was just a shadow, struggling to manifest a corporeal form. It took months to return completely.”
“But what I don’t understand is –”
“Uh-uh, my turn. Who else?”
Jason leaned back in his seat and furrowed his brow. The train was rocking faster now. It didn’t slow as it rolled through Ossining, leaving confused commuters and conductors and dispatchers in its wake. It accelerated as it raced to meet and blast through the next stop.
It was beginning.
And they were running out of time.
“The woman, midway-down, window seat,” Jason said. “Hitchcock blonde. Business professional. Very well put-together. Why’s she on her way to the city and not out of it?”
“Lots of people reverse commute,” Damon offered.
“Not on a Tuesday afternoon and not carrying a Gucci handbag they don’t. The genuine article, not a Canal Street knock-off. I could tell that when I boarded. The bigger give-away were the shoes. They look fresh-out-of-the-box. Never worn before today. That’s a hell of a gamble on the Metro North no matter where you board. Clumsy feet, scuff-marks –”
“Then how did she board the train?” Damon asked.
“My serve.” Jason picked up the deck, opened it, and slipped the cards out. “Our little chess-game. That was all real. It happened. But where was it? You mentioned a ‘Pocket’?”
Now it was Damon’s turn to lean back.
“Carter didn’t tell you everything.”
Jason began to shuffle. Marking the cards. Making them his. An extension of his own self. That was good; he was going to need them shortly.
“Pockets are Way-Points between this world and the magical,” Damon began.
“A Soft Place,” Jason interrupted. “How Mages move instantaneously to points on a map. Or moved – past tense.” He smiled, awkwardly. “I, uhh, kind of broke all that last time ‘round.”
“That’s why we’re on a train.” Damon continued. “With the destruction of the Citadel, Soft Places have become much harder to access, but they still exist. Soft places are how we traveled between worlds, how we opened a door in Los Angeles and walked out into Moscow. Way-Points are kind of like highway rest stops. Some are massive; some are only the size of a sitting room. They’re a place to catch your breath; a place where the rules of Magic don’t work. A place where the Mages of old could meet to parlay without threat of battle.”
“When the Temple of Bones collapsed, I remember falling …”
“Was that a question?”
Damon nodded knowingly. The Temple of Bones had been a hiding place for the Golden Dawn, beneath the Paris Catacombs. It had been destroyed by Damon’s protégé, Allegra Sand, with Jason in the middle of it. He’d been struck unconscious, but the rending of the Temple had opened a Soft Place, and deposited him in the Pocket where Damon could reach him.
“It’s no coincidence the phrases ‘falling to sleep’ and ‘falling unconscious’ employ identical adjectives.” Damon said. “Unconsciousness is not quite dreaming but it is close enough. All the unconscious mind needs is someone already inside a Way-Point to pull them in. That’s where I was and that’s where I was waiting. I couldn’t reach you in the Citadel; not awake, not in dreams. I could only do so when you were outside, in the mundane world. Now, who else?”
The train rocketed past Scarborough. Angry shouts filled the car, from passengers facing a longer-than-usual commute back north, from crew just as confused as their angry patrons. The only two who weren’t perturbed were, notably, Special Forces and Hitchcock Blonde. The noise made Seeing more difficult. It wasn’t until they were on the approach to Irvington that Jason was able to isolate the third.
“The Influencer,” Jason said.
On the opposite side of the car a few rows back, a raven-haired woman in designer shades, designer dress, was clutching a designer phone case and flashing an alluring expression for the benefit of her iPhone and who-knew-how-many social media followers.
“She’s not complaining to her followers that the Metro North just blew through the last two stops,” Jason continued. “Influencers live for that shit. They wither and die without attention.”
“Well done,” Damon said. “But we’ll have to continue the quid pro quo portion of the conversation another time.” He tented his fingers and stared into space. “We’re approximately fourteen miles from where this train makes the curve at Spuyten Duyvil; where the Harlem River meets the Hudson. At a normal rate of speed, that trip takes twenty-seven minutes–”
More angry shouts sounded as the train accelerated past Irvington, now bound for Dobbs Ferry.
“At the current rate, this train will take that bend in fifteen minutes. It’ll hit the curve at over one hundred twenty miles an hour. I don’t need to paint a picture of what happens if that happens, but if I do, it will utilize a lot of red.”
“I suppose that means someone has to stop this train,” Jason mused.
“Which means stopping the four Mages aboard it first.”
“Two cars up. The one manipulating whoever’s manning the controls in the locomotive.”
Jason pocketed the deck of cards and cracked his knuckles.
“Well let’s get this done.” He moved to stand. “I’ll take Special Forces if you want to –”
“There is one other thing…”
Jason stared at Damon, and then sunk back into his seat.
“There always is …”
“Ley Lines. They’re conduits between Soft Places. Not as powerful; more like tributaries feeding into a river. The entire world is crisscrossed with Leys. They’re how the first Mages were able to map Soft Places in the beginning.” Damon tapped his arm-rest with his finger. “This particular line intersects with a Ley just below Greystone. It runs straight south from there to just above Spuyten Duyvil. While we’re on that particular stretch of track, magical abilities will be amplified.”
“So we hit hard, it lands harder?”
“And the inverse. This particular Ley is powerful. Short but strong. Any magic utilized while on it will be amplified tenfold. Bad for us, bad for anyone on this train not a Mage.”
“So what you’re saying is we need to stop these four before that happens.”
“In five minutes, at current rate of speed.”
“Sounds impossible,” said Jason.
He raised hands over his face and slowly dragged them down and as he did his visage changed as the Enchantment did its work. Gone was the face not so dissimilar to Damon’s own. In its stead was that of a much older man’s; the shell Jason had worn to his uncle’s funeral earlier that day. The same he’d boarded the train with. His sandy-blonde hair went silver-gray, his taut face muscles went soft, his cheeks jowly, his eyes sunken into recesses of tired flesh. He looked, Damon reflected, exactly what you’d expect to see at a funeral.
But still, Jason’s youthful eyes glittered from his now aged face.
“Fortunately, ‘Impossible’ is our specialty,” he said.
Ramon Santos was so busy getting an earful from seemingly everyone in the car he barely noticed the old man in the black suit until he was right in front of him. The Metro North conductor was just as confused, just as angry, as everyone else. Maybe even more so, because he sensed that this was all going to land on his head and hard. Bullshit always ran downhill, and Ramon was at the bottom of the ramp. Just his luck; his first week on the job and he already had his hands full with a speeding train not making its scheduled stops, no response from the engineer, dispatch screaming at him through his walkie, and a baker’s dozen passengers throwing their Noo Yawk attitudes in his face, the same they did every time something went wrong. There was nothing that he could recall in the manual or months of training that told him what to do in case of a speeding train other than tucking your head between your legs and kissing your ass goodbye. So he was well and unprepared for the old man as he grabbed Ramon by the lapels, and pulled him close.
“On the floor! NOW!” he shouted
Almost simultaneous, Ramon felt something heavy press down, like a blast of air had hurtled down upon him and the other passengers milling about. They all hit the floor hard and stayed there. Ramon was the only one facing down the car, so he was the only one on the train outside its participants, to watch a battle unfold.
The old man pivoted and thrust his hands out, and a blast of … something … catapulted a muscular, bearded passenger out of his seat and into the reinforced glass of the window beside him, cracking it under the force of the blow and splintering the glass lengthwise. The shock of this moment was doubled as the passenger recovered and crouched on the window itself. He yanked his shirt sleeves down to reveal tattoos comprised of words and symbols crisscrossing his powerful forearms. He slammed those arms together. A shockwave hammered the air and propelled the old man into the seats opposite. The old man’s skin disappeared in puff of smoke, dissipating and revealing a thirty-something man Ramon didn’t remember even seeing board the train.
Further down a well-dressed man stood, and faced one, then a second woman opposite. The two women seemed to be in league with each other because the ice-cold blonde made a pushing motion with her hands that propelled the second girl at the other man. As she rocketed at him she disappeared in a burst of smoke that split the air with a thunderclap and shattered windows all down the length of the car. The glass splintered but held, thanks to its engineering but the cracks widened with each jolt of the train as it rocketed down the tracks. The Dobbs Ferry station was an indistinct blur of grey and green through fractured glass.
And impossibly, the train was still accelerating.
The second girl erupted from a blast of smoke behind the well-dressed man. Her hands clenched into fists that glowed red, then white-hot, then nearly translucent. Ramon felt the hairs on his arms and neck stand rigid. He could smell ozone in the air.
What the hell was happening?!
A hand grasped his. The thirty-something man’s face was inches from Ramon’s.
“Get everyone off this car!” he shouted.
He swiped left with his hand. Behind Ramon, the door leading to the next car up slid open. The man then pushed with that same hand and Ramon felt himself slide backward along with the other screaming passengers. Ramon didn’t wait for further instruction; he scrambled to his knees, grabbed the nearest passenger, and hauled them back with him.
“C’mon people let’s MOVE!” he shouted.
Further down, Ramon saw the younger woman thrust out with her hands. White-hot energy erupted from her palms. The well-dressed man either saw them or sensed them because he pivoted smoothly, and redirected the energy with his hands, sending them slamming into the blonde woman and catapulting her backward with a pained, surprised yelp.
Something slipped from the younger man’s jacket sleeve. It was a deck of cards.
“What the fu –” Ramon began.
“Sorry. Trade secret,” the younger man said.
He swiped his hand right. The door slid shut, and there was a harsh metallic rending sound.
The passenger car shuddered and screamed –
Then there was just the clatter of wheels on the track. Ramon stood and stared out the window to see the front two cars of the train and its locomotive screaming ahead, doubling the speed the tail of the train was diminishing by, slowing with each clatter of rails under its wheels. By the time the Metro-North’s five rear cars had come to a gentle stop Ramon Santos could only wonder what the hell had just happened, and what was still happening somewhere down track on that runaway train.
The card deck in his hand felt like an extension of his own being. It had been months since he’d last wielded one in battle but it had been a long winter and he’d had plenty of time to practice. He parted the deck swiftly and pivoted as Special Forces propelled himself off the window and landed in the aisle mid-way down. Special Forces thought this would be easy.
Special Forces was about to learn a hard lesson.
Jason dealt the cards in a flurry, sending them on their deadly path. Special Forces quickly cast a defensive spell, scattering the cards, sending them wild. The bulk buried themselves in seatbacks and ceiling, but the ones that remained the most found their carefully-aimed marks, slicing Special Forces’ arms, slashing a groove across his cheek, and giving his bushy beard a trim. He retreated, trying to cast spells by mashing the tattooed markings on his arms together in an attempt to form a word, a command to unleash hell back on Jason.
Special Forces wasn’t looking so “special” now.
Further down, Damon had his hands full with the twins, as he was calling the two women he was facing off against. He recognized their magic, but not them, even though they were natural-born Mages; not conjurers like the Golden Dawn, presently getting his ass handed to him by Jason. They must have been Carter’s acolytes. Or maybe new recruits. Either way, they were definitely –
“Invisible Hand, huh?” Damon asked. “I guess this means I’m off the team.”
“It’s a new world now, old man.” Influencer smiled. “And you’re history.”
“Your time is over,” Hitchcock Blonde added. Her clenched fists crackled with malignant energy. “Our time is beginning and we will –”
Damon unleashed the full deck. Not at her but past her, striking the glass behind her, widening the cracks, tearing the opening wider, wider still. Air rushed in and that coupled with the speed of the train did the rest. The entire window exploded outward, the wind howling its way inside. It was enough distraction for a quick jolt of a push from Damon to catapult Hitchcock Blonde out the window and off the train entirely.
He turned to face Influencer. The cards swept back through the air past her, and filled his waiting hand with a perfectly shaped deck.
“First rule, kid? Show, don’t tell, and certainly don’t talk when you should –”
Something lurched. But it wasn’t the train, it wasn’t the compartment; it wasn’t even Damon. He wasn’t the only one who felt it too. He could see it in the stunned expression on Influencer’s face. In the brightening glow on Special Force’s tattooed arms.
The Metro North had crossed over. They were riding the Ley Line.
“You feel that?” Special Forces asked. “Yeah, you feel that; that vibration in your fillings? Those hairs standing on end. That electricity in the air, that …” He sniffed dramatically. “… that burnt-metal aroma? That’s power just waiting to be tapped.” Special Forces’ tattoos burned white hot, and Jason had to avert his eyes from their brilliance. “Unlimited power.”
Jason unleashed his remaining cards. They cut their deadly path through the air with Ley-fueled lethality, but Special Forces merely gave them a disgusted flick of the wrist, scattering them and embedding several into the walls, floor, and seats of the passenger car.
Special Forces raised his hands. With a mighty rending the passenger car shuddered as chairs and tables were wrenched from their mounts and brackets and catapulted at Jason. He had a moment’s grace and took it, focusing on a point further down, and blinking towards it, past Special Forces, past the debris hurtling at the empty space Jason was standing in a heartbeat before. He got clear of it for the most part; a glancing, painful blow across the shoulders from the last of the seats twisted him about and sent him crashing.
Special Forces raised his hands again. The debris piled about him lifted off the floor.
“Remember what I told you!” someone behind him shouted.
A man’s voice. Damon’s voice. And a reminder.
That the Ley Lines amplified everything.
Special Forces directed the wreckage full-blast at Jason, who raced forward and thrust his hands out at the precise moment of what would have been impact. The fragments stopped on a dime and blasted back at their thrower, slamming arms and legs and chest, pinning him to the door and holding him as the remaining projectiles crashed into him and burying him beneath their ruin.
Jason could feel the energy pulse through him. His muscles, his very veins trembled with white-hot adrenaline. He felt like he could do anything.
The train car began to roll, like it had uncoupled from the tracks. Jason lurched, staggered, and fell against a wall. He was going over. The entire train was going over. He slid up the wall to the roof, felt himself dragged across that by the incredible force of the barrel roll.
Influencer was standing on the ceiling, now the floor, perfectly perched and seemingly unaffected by the warping of the compartment. She had her hands cupped before her, like she was cradling something round and precious in her hands. As she twisted her hands, manipulating the unseen shape, her movements were matched by the rolling of the train car.
This wasn’t a derailment. This was magic. Unlike anything Jason had seen or experienced.
And by the looks of things, neither had Damon. He was pinned against the same ceiling as Jason, only he was trying to push himself back off it. Influencer countered, sending the train and its occupants, save her, careening and falling with the movement of the train.
One-eighty degrees. Three-sixty.
And around again.
This isn’t real, Jason thought. It’s an illusion. She’s enchanting us, destabilizing our equilibrium.
He fell to the floor, bouncing hard off a chairback and landing harder on the ground.
Feels pretty damn real to me …
A hastily discarded iPhone tumbled across the floor between them, as they held on. The phone slid up the incline, up the wall, and was sucked out the window as it rolled over the tracks. Twin beams of steel were briefly visible, then there was the embankment, houses and high-rises racing by, the blue sky above. The train was corkscrewing again.
Jason could sense the crash of debris a moment before he could hear it. Special Forces was freeing himself from his prison. A quick glance confirmed it; the conjurer was bruised, battered, bloodied, his eyes burning hatred.
“Jason!” Damon shouted above the crashing din.
They were going over again.
“Get ready! I set him up you knock him down!”
Jason braced himself between two seats as Special Forces stood, the tattooed markings on his arms burning angry. He tightened his fists, and brought his arms back. As he slammed his forearms together Damon reached out and grasped Special Forces and yanked him towards them. Special Forces was caught off guard by the sudden pressure and was mid-way to Jason when Jason pushed.
The force of the blast threw Special Forces out the shattered window just at the moment the train rolled, and he was out and under the train a second later. There was a pained scream, then a wet crunch of bone and blood and meat as the side of the train mashed him to pulp along a mile-long stretch of rail.
“Told you,” Jason muttered. “Bushy beard and a weak fucking chin.”
The passenger car slammed down hard on the tracks. Jason and Damon were thrown up to the ceiling, hard-bounced off it and collapsed to the floor.
Pain stabbed at Damon’s side; a cracked rib. Jason managed slightly better.
Influencer set down on the floor. Her tear-streaked cheeks glistened against the harsh glow of her hateful eyes. She and Special Forces clearly had been more than just team-mates.
“At least we outnumber her –” Jason began to articulate.
The roof of the Metro North unzipped from end-to-end with a rending sound. The metal peeled back and away, like it was just a strip of aluminum foil. Through the opening they both could see a figure standing, her white-blonde hair whipping madly in the ferocious wind.
Hitchcock Blonde was back for round two.
Influencer smiled, pushed against the floor, and levitated herself out of the passenger car. As she did the entire compartment began to shudder. Metal screeched, walls buckled, glass shattered. The entire car was being crushed, like it was an empty aluminum can being squeezed.
Jason locked eyes with Damon.
“After you, Damon said.
“Age before beauty,” Jason replied.
Damon grinned, but there was no joy in it. This was life-and-death now. The train raced past Glenwood. After that would be Yonkers, then Ludlow. Then Riverdale.
Then Spuyten Duyvil
They were running out of time.
They were clear of the passenger car a moment before it imploded. It was as though the unseen hand of an angry god had brought itself down upon the eighty-five foot long, ten foot wide, one hundred forty-four thousand pound metal tube, the train car was crushed flat. It slammed against the tracks and held there with such force it trailed sparks for a full three miles of drag before Damon and Jason were able to uncouple it from the train. The mangled debris came to a shuddering, smoldering stop just at the edge of Yonkers.
The train roared into the city and Jason and Damon alighted upon the first passenger car. Glass and steel skyscrapers vaulted above the rail line, jockeying for space with the 19th century brick and mortar buildings still awaiting redevelopment. Facing them were three Mages. Hitchcock Blonde and Influencer, by this point, needed no introduction.
But the third was familiar to both Damon and Jason.
In the latter case intimately so.
“Hello lover!” she shouted above the howl of wind.
Jason’s blood went molten. His fists clenched. Anger began its slow steady build.
A name and a face from the not-so-distant past. Jason’s “ex” had survived Murder Hill. Jason knew there’d been a split in the Invisible Hand’s ranks following the destruction of their Citadel; that Allegra Sand and Katja Eis were warring with each other. Clearly Katja had enlisted some outside help. But Golden Dawn involvement was another matter; one he’d have to ask his mother about the next time he saw her.
“You are looking well,” Katja continued. “Much better than our last meeting.”
A flash of memory intruded. Of a car sinking beneath Hudson river waters. Of Carla’s terrified face. Of Noah’s alarmed cries. The two people in the world Jason die to protect, facing their own deaths at the hands of Katja Eis.
Jason took a step forward. He felt Damon’s hand rest on his shoulder.
“Focus,” he muttered. “Don’t let anger get the better of you. You do and she’ll exploit it.”
Damon gave his shoulder a squeeze, then released. Jason felt the anger simmer.
Katja held steady against the hurricane
“I had to see it for myself,” she said. “Wherever you’d been hiding yourself, it was truly out of the way. But when I saw the news about your dear departed uncle I knew you wouldn’t be far.” She shifted her hateful gaze to Damon. “And look who else you brought to the party! Damon, you are looking surprisingly spry for a dead man your age!”
“It’s not the age; it’s the miles,” Damon shouted back.
Katja’s smile was like jagged ice. “Girls … ?
Influencer and Hitchcock Blonde took position, legs planted, hands at the ready. Spells on their lips, just waiting for the order. Despite the rush of wind howling, Jason and Damon could hear the cries emanating from the passenger car beneath them. Dozens of lives were in their hands; if they failed, those dozens would die.
“Prove him wrong,” Katja said.
There was a thunderclap cloudburst. When the smoke parted Katja was gone, and Hitchcock Blonde’s hands were glowing translucent. Influencer cupped her hands for another go-round.
“I’m open to ideas –” Jason began.
He didn’t get a chance to finish; the world went upside-down again.
Jason and Damon dropped to the train’s roof and grabbed onto its recessed handholds as Yonkers and all surrounding it went upside down. Jason felt himself slipping, his legs dangling into open space. If he fell off he’d keep falling, up, up into that beautiful blue sky. Until the world righted itself that is; then he’d fall all the way down.
Ahead of them the two Mages stood unaffected. Hitchcock Blonde cast her spell. Electricity spilled from her upturned hands and fell to the train’s metallic surface. It sparked there and surged across the roof, spilling along towards Jason and Damon like water from an overflowing sink.
“Those shoes of yours. Rubber soles?” Damon asked.
“What?!” Jason gasped.
“Yeah – sure, I guess!”
“Focus on Influencer. On her center of mass.”
Jason focused on Influencer. The world around her was rotating, sweeping around like the runaway second hand of an analog clock. As he set his gaze on her and concentrated, the world surrounding became less distinct, more blurred. Then, it stabilized. It was still spinning but the train felt unaffected. As the electrical charge reached them, Jason and Damon stood. The electricity licked at their shoes but did nothing else. Like a stream of water split against the toe of an insulated boot, it parted. For the first time since this ordeal began, Hitchcock Blonde and Influencer looked less certain of themselves. Like they didn’t know everything after all.
“After you …” Damon said.
Jason crouched, and blinked.
He was on Influencer a moment later, pushing her with a blast of concentrated magic. She slid and staggered backward to the edge of the train where it was coupled to the engine. Jason skidded to a stop as Influencer teetered on the precipice, her eyes registering genuine fear for the first time.
“This is your stop,” he said.
He flicked his wrist. Influencer was wrenched off the train and sent crashing through the plate-glass window of a passing condominium tower. Not enough to kill, but certainly enough to sting.
Further behind, Damon and Hitchcock Blonde faced off. The shattering of glass directed them momentarily to Influencer’s exit from the stage, but only momentarily. The train was screaming through Yonkers and now actually and impossibly accelerating towards Ludlow.
“Get to the engine!” Damon shouted to Jason. “Stop it!”
Jason nodded. There was a blast of air and smoke and he was gone.
“He won’t be able to stop it,” Hitchcock Blonde said. “And he won’t be able to stop her.”
“You’re awful confident for one so young,” Damon replied.
“And you’re quite arrogant for someone whose time’s long passed, old man.”
“You know, a lot of people say I look a bit like Cary Grant.”
“Who’s Cary Grant?” she sneered.
Kids these days … Damon thought.
The train cleared Yonkers. Further down through a break in the trees the GWB loomed closer.
Hitchcock Blonde’s hands blurred. Damon felt the blast take him square in the chest. He staggered and slipped, tumbling hard to the roof. He felt that cracked rib break. The pain was so sharp, so jarring, it almost ended everything.
But he was wounded now, and Hitchcock Blonde couldn’t resist assuming the role of the cat.
She approached calmly. Slowly.
She held her hand out and Damon felt the fingers enclose him. They squeezed, sending paroxysms of pain tearing through him as he was slid backwards, to the rear edge of the train. Hitchcock Blonde’s mouth curled into a sneer as she pushed him the last way and released him. He fell, grasping the edge of the train, holding on as best as he could. But his hands were damp. Sweaty.
She stopped to loom imposingly over him.
“So, ‘Cary’; any famous last words?”
“Just one,” he said with a pained grimace. “‘Duck …’”
Her brow creased in confusion. Then she turned.
The bridge overhang Damon had spotted thirty seconds prior slammed into her body with lethal force. It was so fast, so brutal, so final. Hitchcock Blonde was there one moment, gone the next. The train passed beneath the bridge and was out the other side a three-count later. Damon pulled himself painfully to the roof and collapsed there. His side was throbbing. Just to breathe sent fresh pain cutting through him. He could feel the bones grinding against each other. Setting a broken rib was something he’d done several times before. To others. To himself.
But in his defense he was a lot older now.
He just hoped Jason could handle the rest of it.
He closed his eyes, reached inward with his magic, and snapped the rib back into place.
Prying the door to the engine compartment open proved a challenge courtesy of the hurricane intensity wind pressing against it. Inside the cab, the first thing Jason noticed was the eerie calm. Like the cab was the eye of a particularly violent storm. Everything vibrated; the floor, the walls, the front-facing windows. Through those he could see Ludlow station approaching, slow at first but closing the distance rapidly and blasting past the train a short intake of breath later. So fast you could barely see the commuters, the station employees, the police. Emergency cherries flashed against the window but they disappeared as quickly as the station had.
Riverdale next. Then Spuyten Duyvil. Then …
He turned his attention to the engineer. It was a heavy-set man with a bushy mustache and a beer belly resting on his thick thighs as he sat, staring benumbed at the monitors displaying the forward and rear views of the train. His eyes were glazed over, his meaty hand was on the throttle, pressing it all the way forward. His arm was rigid, as he was rigid.
Jason moved to the engineer and grasped the throttle. He struggled against it almost as much as he had with the door. The engineer was not letting go.
“Think, think,” Jason muttered. Was there a sleep spell? Something he could cast that would break the connection, the enchantment, the whatever Katja had done to –
The engineer’s hand was on his throat a second later. His grip was like frost-bitten steel. He threw Jason, catapulting him back into the cab door. The wind pressing against it, thankfully kept him from falling through it but it still hurt. He shook the pain away and stood as the engineer’s fat potato of a body evaporated like mist.
Katja stood in his place.
“It was never going to be that easy, Jason,” she said. “I’m disappointed, but not surprised. You always chose ‘easy’ over literally anything else.”
“Well, I did choose you didn’t I?” he replied.
Rage flashed across Katja’s face. There was a barely perceptible ripple and for a momentary gasp, Jason could see the scarred visage beneath. The scar bisecting her from eyebrow to lip, clean through the mangled nub of a nose; Katja’s true face. The one she hid from everyone at all times, most pointedly, from herself. Then it was gone.
“Where’s the engineer?” he asked.
“He went under the wheels south of Cold Spring. I’m certain he is many places by now.”
“Why?” he asked. “What’s the point? To all of it?”
“You went to ground, Jason; too well, in fact. I needed to flush you out. The world has changed, you see. And we need to know where you stand. You and your father.”
“I’m retired. You and Allegra want to squabble over the pieces, do it without me.”
“Oh Jason …” Katja’s sigh was almost disappointed. “You cannot hide from what’s coming.”
She raised a hand, and clenched it slowly into a fist. Beside her the control console of the train crumpled, into a mass of twisted steel and crackling electronics. It all enclosed over the throttle, locking it in its forward position, shielding it from anything Jason could do.
“So consider this your warning,” Katja said. “Next time there will not be one.”
She snapped her fingers. The forward windows her imploded. Wind shrieked into the cab. There was a crack of air and smoke, then Katja was gone.
Damon arrived a moment later. He was clearly in pain, but hid it well.
“Where’s Katja?” he asked.
“She dumped me. Where’s the Hitchcock Blonde?”
“She had a hot date with an immovable object,” Damon replied.
“Well, there’s bad news and there’s bad news,” Jason said.
“Oh, there’s bad news?”
Jason gave him the low-down on what Katja had done, but Damon waved off her warning dismissively. Like he already knew what she’d told Jason. Or maybe because they were still on a speeding runaway train and that took precedent. In either event, Damon had eyes and could see for himself. He took a moment to consider their limited options.
“Alright, we need to cut the passenger car loose. Then we deal with the engine.”
“Why?” Jason asked. “The track bends at Spuyten Duyvil. Just let it derail. I know the area; it’ll land in the river. Big splash, end of story.”
Damon shook his head.
“Too risky. If a Circle Line boat is sightseeing or there are track workers on the line? They’re long-shots but not ones I’m willing to take. You uncouple the train. I’ll slow the engine.”
Damon blinked out of the train compartment. A moment later, Jason followed.
The wind whipped his hair, his suit and tie, but as Jason crouched at the front of the passenger car and focused on the train coupling below he felt calm surround him. The wind diminished. His clothing ceased their flag-in-the-wind flapping. Silence descended like a shroud as he studied the coupling for a moment, then reached out with his thoughts, with his magic. It was slightly more elaborate than a padlock but the principal was the same. Because Damon had done the lion’s share with the previous car, it took Jason a few attempts before he was able to separate the lock lift assembly from the knuckle. There was an audible clank of metal separating, then the rattling passenger car steadied. The engine pulled away, speeding forward as the remainder began its gradual slow-down. Jason crouched there watching the locomotive and Damon atop it racing down the track until both had disappeared from view.
The passenger car screeched to a stop at Riverdale station. Those watching, dumbfounded, from the platform were so focused on the lone train car delivered without aid of the locomotive that had raced past moments before they didn’t notice Jason atop or the puff of smoke as he blinked away a second later.
Spuyten Duyvil station was approaching rapidly. The waters of Spuyten Duyvil Creek, where the Harlem River joined the Hudson were unoccupied. Beyond it, the forested springtime green of Inwood Hill Park gleamed in the afternoon sun. Trees had begun to bud, leaves unfurling. Rebirth was well underway.
Crouching atop the locomotive, Damon tried to slow the accelerating train but Katja’s enchantment kept that throttle buried in the forward position. It would have been simple enough to disembark and let the train derail to plunge into the waters, but he wanted to send a message to whomever may be watching; that Damon King was back, and ready for anything his multiplying adversaries had in store for him and his son.
Damon raised his hands.
At the curve a half-mile ahead, there was a metallic rending as one, then a second train rail was pried off of the ground. Ties popped loose with a ping-ping-ping of clattering steel. The rails squealed as they bent backwards, their twin blades pointed at the locomotive rushing to meet them.
When the moment did happen Damon was already off the engine, blinking from the locomotive to the safety of the platform at Spuyten Duyvil station. Nobody on the platform noticed his arrival; their attentions were directed to the locomotive as it was impaled through the front of the cab by the bent steel rails. There was a titanic groan of metal loud enough to be heard in Hoboken as the locomotive upended, catapulting end over end, landing with a crash that set off the alarms of automobiles parked up on Edsall Avenue. The locomotive landed on its back, tearing deep furrows in the ground as it slid across that last length of land … and stopped at the water’s edge. The rumble sounded over Upper Manhattan – a mighty roar not unlike the death throes of a dying prehistoric beast.
It was over.
* * *
Jason stood on the small peninsula that jutted from Inwood Park out into Spuyten Duyvil Creek. Across from him, the wreckage site swarmed with emergency vehicles and crew. Sirens screamed through the air, nearly drowning out the beat of NYPD and network news choppers circling like angry flies above.
He heard the approach of footsteps behind him. He didn’t need to turn to know who it was.
“Not exactly how I’d envisioned my return to New York,” Jason said.
“I’m sure it isn’t how you envisioned a lot of things,” Damon replied
For a moment or several, father and son just watched the unfolding action across the smoothly flowing waters of Spuyten Duyvil Creek. Then Damon turned to Jason, and smiled.
“So … how about that drink?”
TM and (C) 2022 by Brad Abraham. All Rights Reserved