Decrypting the Wizard By Alex S. Johnson

The wizard arrived Tuesday with the new tide.

That is to say, something floated in: a medley of zigzags and straight lines, vaguely coffin-shaped.

Until the object could be properly identified, it was placed in a storage facility. There it was held for weeks. When fresh objects deposited themselves on the beach, the wizard was pushed further and further back into the storeroom behind town hall, there gathering dust. Because newer objects had more form and definition, the clerks were much quicker to begin the work of cataloging them. They trundled in boxes on hand carts filled with tackles and bright lures, the odd bottle with a message nobody could decipher (these bottles were arranged around the wizard), hand bones, toe bones and a whole assortment of reeking, waterlogged shoes.

This was a simple fishing village. Nobody had ever seen a wizard, at least that they were aware of. If asked to describe such a being, most of the inhabitants would shake their head and hold up a net, as if to indicate that time not spent fishing was time that could never be recouped. They had neither the inclination nor the background knowledge to verify if, in fact, the thing in the storeroom was capable of sorcery. Its apparent lack of gills notwithstanding.

Months after the wizard arrived, a new mayor was elected in the village. He had been educated in the big city, and found his fellow villagers’ lack of intellectual curiosity appalling.

The new mayor demanded an inventory of all unusual phenomena. The villagers muttered about his nerve, the sheer gall of it. “Sancho Tortillo used to be one of us,” was a line repeated in the cantina and elsewhere, in the middle of passionate lovemaking, in church—like a ritual chant—and even in the cemetery where generations of villagers were buried and new villagers created. They took their women over crypts, and the cries of passion echoed long into the night. Drops of comingled love juice splashed upon the crypts and oozed down through cracks in the stone to where the bodies lay. On occasion, a body long past dust revived, and melancholy dust-wraiths cut unexpectedly dashing figures as they danced their way through town.

The villagers held to tradition like a long-decayed funeral wreath.

Until Sancho took a wrecking ball to the old ways.

When the dust cleared, the mayor had their undivided attention. They stood knee-deep in the rubble, men, women and children, waiting for him to speak.

“I know how many of you feel,” he began.  “You’re asking, what happened to Sancho? We saw him grow up, a little boy who loved fish—the smell, the taste, fried, boiled, steamed, you name it, he would eat it. Later he developed a taste for wine with his fish. And, frankly, got pretty deep into the wine, at the expense of his better judgment. But I’m not here to make excuses for myself—the drunken rages, and the pyromania—or justify my parents’ decision to send me off to school. I studied Management, and Philosophy, and because of these two disciplines, I understood—the wine was for drunken oblivion, the vida loca; whereas the fish was for life. And fire was for cooking. Fish.

“I want the same thing you all do. And I’m sorry about the wrecking ball. But the thing is, changes are coming to our little village. You can’t help but see that the ocean is no longer clean. It’s rank, defiled. Sometimes it glows at night. That zesty iodine smell, the salty tonic winds, smell more like burning garbage. So yes, I did take radical initiative and send an iron sphere through the church, straight down the aisles. I did mash the old graveyard into marble angel bits and ancestral grue. But I did it for a reason. I did it…”

“Excuse me,” said Tortalini Masschechi, one of the most revered of village elders. “Pardon the hoary wisdom—I am an old man, and to the brisk forward motion of the big city I prefer a quiet snack of fish, my young mistress Chantale and the long, lapping waves of the ocean you say is tainted. My nose is not your nose, and perhaps you sniff of the future. But tell me truly, was it absolutely necessary to destroy what it took centuries to create, on a whim? We’re listening to you, Little Sancho. Tell us something our simple brains can grasp.”

Sancho grimaced, and his eyes grew dark and terrible.

“Little Sancho is dead!”

Cries of shock and disbelief came from the crowd. The Widow Panchito fainted dead away. Babies screamed.

“If you had shown any interest whatsoever in matters outside of your back yard, you wouldn’t have just shoved the zigzag coffin thingie into the back storeroom. You would have wondered, analyzed, acquired outside expertise. Now, it is far too late. The wizards are arriving on all the shores of the planet, and when forced to decrypt themselves, they become exceedingly wroth. Yes, you once called me Little Sancho, because I was small and knew nothing of the world. But then I escaped. I went away, and my mind was transformed. I studied with magicians, sorcerers, knowers of the occult. And I became…” Sancho paused, trembling…flames crackled over his body, scorched his clothes and blackened his skin. A tall conical hat rose directly from his skull. His new flesh was made of sterner stuff than that which is bequeathed to mere mortals. He grasped a long rod in one hand and unrolled a parchment with another. On the parchment was a map of interlocking grid lines that pulsed in the darkness that now consumed the village, the crowd and the wizard formerly known as Sanchito.

While some might adduce a moral that fits this little fable of mine, I myself cannot.

*

Bio: Called “a mad, genre-defying genius” by author/filmmaker Terry M. West, Alex S. Johnson is the author of such books as The Doom Hippies, Bad Sunset, Shattergirl and Doctor Flesh. He has also edited and published the Floppy Shoes Apocalypse clown horror series, the Axes of Evil heavy metal horror series, Chunks: A Barfzarro Anthology and others now in preparation through Nocturnicorn Books. He recently edited the dystopian satirical anthology Trumpocalypse for Horrified Press, and plans to do more work with them soon. Johnson‘s novella Freaks of Hell is due to arrive later in the year from Sleazy Viking Press. He enjoys salty, sour and spicy foods, coffee and all manner of media. Johnson currently lives in Sacramento, California, at the heart of the Central Valley.

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