Another Terribleminds challenge story!
As If by Magic
Detective Redd flicked her thumb against edge of the badge on her belt.
“What exactly am I looking at?”
“Right now? Nothing.”
She narrowed her gaze at the officer kneeling next to the patch of strangely discolored earth. The very bit of public park that held a dead body less than an hour ago.
“So who moved him?”
“Nobody, ma’am, that’s the thing. We were setting up a perimeter, and when we turned around…”
“Bodies don’t vanish, Hank.”
“No sign of anything being disturbed, though. And this dark spot wasn’t here before it happened. You think maybe he liquefied?”
“Into, what is that?” Redd knelt down for a better view. “Blue goo? I would have guessed he was drown in it and moved, but you said cause of death couldn’t be determined here.”
“He looked in bad shape, but not anything that caused his death. Junkie maybe? Dr. Mae was going to do a big toxicology workup, until our victim…”
Redd pulled a pair of gloves on so she could examine the slimy silhouette their victim apparently left behind. When she touched her finger to it, she received a tiny static shock. How odd. The thin film of goo glittered in the sunlight. Rubbing it between her fingers, she could swear it was pulsing with a pale glow.
It felt… alive.
She turned to Hank.
“Please tell me you got a wallet or something off him before this happened.”
He nodded and rushed off to retrieve an evidence bag. It contained some loose change, a stone token roughly the shape of a guitar pick, and a weathered business card.
Redd used her clean glove to pull out the business card.
“This is everything?”
“Yes, ma’am. Like I said, possibly a junkie.”
The business card was gray-blue with iridescent blue text. Couldn’t be the same blue as the body, could it? The card advertised a thaumaturgist by the name of Ulysses Aurexius. Redd rolled her eyes. What an overly dramatic way of saying he ran a magic shop. Still, if the victim was a customer, maybe the owner would know something. She put the card away, shed the gloves into a bag of their own, and took both bags to her car.
She had Hank send her the photos they managed to take before the body vanished. God, he looked like crap. Early twenties, but with the leathery, haggard look of a man three times his age who’d worked in a mine their whole life. She would guess he was a painter, by the spattering of colors running up his arms.
When she arrived at Aurexius Thaumaturgy, Redd was surprised to find no top hats with rabbits, no trick cards, or even any ‘mystic’ crystal balls. It looked like a shoddy consulting firm. There was nothing in the office but a couple of desks, a waiting space with a chair and a potted plant, and a door to a back room.
Redd flashed her badge to the middle-aged man wearing a gray suit with a flashy blue shirt underneath. He wore blue silken gloves.
“Mr. Aurexius, I presume?”
He stood up and offered her to sit in the client chair at his desk.
“That’s me. What can I do for you, uh, detective?”
She walked over, but stayed standing. She produced a photo of the victim.
“I have an unusual case. No ID, but he had your card in his pocket. I have to ask, Mr. Aurexius, did you know this man?”
Ulysses Aurexius ran a hand through his short, silver hair. His face pulled to a deep frown.
“I was afraid this might happen. When you pulled up, I just knew it.”
“Who was he?”
He tipped his head toward the smaller, empty desk across the room.
“My apprentice. Poor fellow. I’d hoped this job would help him control his urges.” Mr. Aurexius set aside his pen and closed the ledger he’d been writing in. “If you’ll give me a moment, I’ll be along to help with any cleanup necessary.”
Redd placed her hands on her hips. A bit presumptuous, isn’t he? Clearly he knew more than he should.
“Why, yes. It could get quite messy once he decomposes.”
Oh yeah, this guy was suspect as hell.
“Ah. By the look on your face, it’s already happened.”
“And what would that be? Exactly?”
Mr. Aurexius sighed as he appeared to search the room for his thoughts.
“How do I put this in layman’s terms? He… was a heavy magic user, had no sense of moderation or respect for the raw forces he was toying with.”
“He overdosed. They did say he might have been a junkie. You know his dealer?”
“His dealer was the universe, detective. And, as with all users of magic, including myself, the universe takes back all that was given in the end. I presume his body appeared to vanish? Well, he did not. Magical decomposition is simply an order of magnitude faster than the nonmagical kind.”
Redd’s fingers tingled at Mr. Aurexius’s words. Electricity crackled through her veins as she thought about arresting this man. She couldn’t stand this load of bull she was being fed. Magic. If people could do real magic, it would have been in the news, or on the internet at least. She felt the stone token in the bag her pocket. If she could do real magic, she would–
The bulb in Mr. Aurexius’s desk lamp burst. Glass shards scorched the leather cover of his ledger and the wooden desktop. A sheet of paper began to burn.
They both jumped, but Mr. Aurexius quickly recovered from the shock. He grabbed something in his pocket, and blew out a breath that lowered the temperature of the room by a good forty degrees. The glass gained a layer of frost, and he wiped it away from his belongings.
Redd’s hand went to her gun.
“What did you just do?”
He met her glare, then gestured to her hand.
“The question, my dear, is what did you do?”
She looked down. Her fingers looked as though a box of markers had exploded on them. She held her hand up. It was the same as her victim’s arms. Mr. Aurexius revealed that beneath his gloves, he was afflicted with the same rainbow coloration.
Redd realized in horror that it was the hand she’d used to touch that slime on the grass. It had somehow infected her.
“What is this?! I had gloves on!”
“Magic is energy. You can’t block it with latex.”
She grabbed her phone.
“Hank! Don’t go near that blue goo.”
“Too late. The team’s already–”
“Don’t leave the park. Anyone who touched that stuff is contaminated.”
“Should I call haz–”
“No. I’ve got a specialist.” She eyed Mr. Aurexius. “You can fix this, right? Fix me?”
The thaumaturgist hesitated, before giving a solemn nod.
Redd returned to her call.
“We’ll be there in ten.”
When she hung up, she realized Mr. Aurexius had gone. She swore under her breath. Her hand went once again to her gun. She hurried to the door to the back room. There must be a second exit he used to escape.
As she reached the door, it opened from the other side. Mr. Aurexius had a heavy leather bag slung over his shoulder, and carried a box of chemistry equipment.
He rushed past her.
“Come along, detective. We should hurry before this turns from misfortune to a full blown tragedy.”
Redd drove back one-handed. The magic-infected hand she held out to the thaumaturgist. He slathered the skin with creams while performing ritualized incantations. The electric feeling was beginning to subside as they reached the park.
A couple of trees were missing their leaves. A squirrel was encased in ice. There was sand everywhere, and not a beach in sight.
Hank strode up to her with a slice of pizza in his mouth.
“I don’t know how it happened, I swear. But, this appeared. It’s good. Want a slice?”
Redd’s brow furrowed. There were at least a half dozen with colorful arms, and one whose leg looked the same way. She grumbled as Ulysses Aurexius dragged all of his equipment out of the car. Her hand was better, but not completely clean of magic.
“You can do something about all this, yes?”
“I’ll do my best, of course. Usually, one of our community finds and takes care of the dead before anyone, uh, unspecialized, stumbles upon a mess like this. Honestly, I’m surprised this scene is still as calm as it is.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
The thaumaturgist mimed an explosion.
Redd pinched the bridge of her nose with her clean hand. She only just found out magic was a thing, and she was pretty sure she hated it.