(April 2022’s short story of the month)
(Finally done, I KNOW! SOOOOOOOO LATE!)
Don’t let this one get away, she thought to herself. Tom had the look of a man quietly planning his escape. Christine watched him closely as he tried to check his phone without making it obvious that he was checking his phone.
Christine cleared her throat loudly. Tom barely heard it through the din of the music.
“I’m sorry,” Tom said. “Did you ask me something?”
“I wanted to hear more about your work,” answered Christine, while batting her eyelashes and smiling her warmest grin. Her eyes went to his phone, but she hoped he didn’t notice and quickly looked back at Tom’s face.
“It’s honestly about what you might think. Artifacts come in. I run them through tests. Data is collected and verified. If the item is genuine, the museum keeps it.” He shrugged.
“It has to be more exciting than that. What is the strangest item that’s come in?” she asked. She wouldn’t let him get away easily. She knew there was something here. She’d felt it the first time they’d met. She locked her eyes on his, hoping he would glance up and there would be an instant connection between them.
He kept shifting his gaze back to his phone and looked at every item on the table, avoiding her at all costs. He couldn’t stop thinking about earlier that day.
Christine waited an awkwardly long time before she cleared her throat. Tom’s involuntary reaction was to look towards the sound. Christine was staring at him intently with one eyebrow raised.
“I’m sorry,” Tom said. “Did you say something?”
Christine was trying not to lose her patience. Maybe she’d been wrong, again. It wouldn’t be the first time she’d fell hard for a man she barely knew.
She straightened up in her seat and sighed. “I was just making conversation, but I can see that you have other more important things going on. Perhaps this was a bad idea.” She dropped the cloth napkin on the table and pushed her chair back.
Before she stood, Tom reached across the table and touched her hand.
“Wait,” he said. “Don’t go. I’m sorry. You’re right. I’ve been very rude. Let me…let me explain. Please.” He had to tell someone, even if she would think he was crazy. He had to say it out loud.
Christine thought about it for a second. Her heart wouldn’t let her just leave without giving him a chance. She sat back down, lowering herself without looking away from him. She was worried that if she broke eye contact, he would return to his previous distracted state.
Tom waited until Christine was fully sitting again. “Okay,” he said and then took a deep breath. “I know what I’m about to tell you will sound crazy, but I swear it’s true. I haven’t told anyone because I don’t really believe it myself.”
Christine sighed again and folded her arms across her chest. What now? Her impression of Tom had clearly been wrong.
Tom watched her face change from simply annoyed to judging. “Please, just let me tell you everything, and then if you want to leave, I won’t stop you,” he said.
Tom put on a freshly cleansed set of gloves and said the enchantment spell that activated all the magics sewn into the fabric. Today was going to be another day of opening packages and finding mundane objects, just like every day had been for the past few years.
When he’d graduated and entered into the field of magical archeology, he’d been young and thought he would be one of those famous wizards who discovered a legendary magical artifact. He’d daydreamed about it all through his studies. How could he not? Every course focused on another area of magic and told another story of how it had been rediscovered by some unsuspecting wizard. Then that one find solidified their career. They rode that wave for the rest of their days, landing the best jobs, at the best museums or worked for private collectors. Some didn’t even have to search for funding. Tom wanted all of that for himself.
However, when he finally found work after applying for every position under the sun, he realized that magical archeology was not as exciting as the books made it seem. He spent his days sorting through items that people mailed to the verification department.
The packages were scanned and if even a microscopic amount of magic remained, the scanner fed it to the verification department, also known as Tom. He worked alone in a room filled with machines, many of which he didn’t get to use. Few objects were more than rudimentary magic items. They had trace on them from being in contact with a spell, but so far, nothing was a truly magical item.
This week he’d verified a small pile of cauldrons. Yes, they’d been used for magic, but no, they didn’t have any magic of their own.
Wands came in by the dozens. People wanted to know if a famous wizard had used them. Again, like the cauldrons, the wands were usually mundane, and there was rarely enough magic left in any of them to complete even a small light spell. And to date, he’d not been able to verify previous users of the wand. Something like that required DNA or embedded magic. Wands of that caliber were usually passed down and inherited by family members. They didn’t need the magical verification department to prove their value.
He could have buried himself in the countless number of stones that were sent in. Stones had magical properties, but they weren’t magical without someone to conduct them.
What he really hoped to find was something that a truly powerful wizard had imbued with magic. The greatest find of them all would be a Book of Shadows. Wizards each made their own. They spent their whole lives filling them with personal spells and information. Their magic soaked into the ink and melded with the pages. Books belonging to really powerful wizards had more magic in them than most people could summon in a lifetime. And for some reason that no theoretical physicist wizard could explain yet, the magic never faded from them.