Excerpt: Only Human

At first he’d thought it was the flu: achy skin, a general sense of being under the weather, background headache. The health clinic at the university had seemed to support the idea. The doctor there had listened to his symptoms, obligingly wrote him a note for his classes, and waved him out the door.

But after a week, it still hadn’t improved, and when his aching skin began to develop strange, darkening spots, Saul decided to skip the school clinic entirely and went to the hospital’s outpatient instead. He sat for a few hours in processing, glad for Ontario’s health insurance and vaguely hoping that whatever he had—which, to his mind, could very well have been the bubonic plague, making an unlikely resurgence just for him—wasn’t too infectious.

The doctor took one look at him, put a reassuring hand on his shoulder, told him to take some time off and rest, and then referred him to a magical illness specialist, which was exactly the type of second opinion Saul had never wanted to get.

Plague aside, most physical ailments were at least predictable. They might kill you, and they would probably make you suffer first, but the details of what to do and how to treat them were almost certainly written down somewhere. Magic, he’d always thought, seemed like it could do anything. There was no way of predicting what was wrong with him if it was a spell. It opened up a wide world of impossible horrors.

No. Calm down. Breathe.

Saul tried to take a mental step back and view this logically. He couldn’t think of any situation he’d been in where anyone might have practiced magic on him—couldn’t come up with anything that had broken up his status quo in any way, really. The closest he could come was his last hookup, and that only because she’d shared a charm against disease and pregnancy. Couldn’t be too safe, she’d said, and he’d agreed.

That type of charm wasn’t too uncommon, but to the best of his knowledge, it was the only magic he’d interacted with recently. It wasn’t like he lived a particularly exciting life, especially not one that was likely to get him cursed. He got up, went to class, worked at his part-time job at HMV. Most of his time was spent in his apartment, playing games, browsing cat blogs, and sleeping. The occasional Saturday night at the bar was the exception rather than the rule.

He was pretty sure he still had Jill’s number. He searched his phone, eventually located her name typoed badly and under ‘K’, which was a momentary heart attack until he realized what had happened. He gave her a call as soon as he got back to his apartment.

“Jill? It’s Saul.”

A brief pause, and he opened his mouth to add, awkwardly, from the bar, because he couldn’t think of a way to describe himself that would be particularly helpful. Short, curly brown hair, skinny, wore that Final Fantasy T-shirt, might help narrow him down but would make it weirder that she didn’t remember him.

Fortunately, she spoke before he could put his foot in his mouth. Just as well, since this conversation was going to be weird enough as it was. “Oh! From Henderson’s, right? Nice to hear from you again…”

That last was said slightly uncomfortably, and Saul shifted a little, rubbing at one of the discolored marks on his forearm. “Uh, yeah, you too,” he said. “Listen, I was wondering…”

“No, um, listen,” she said. “I’d love to, really, but I’m actually, I’ve actually just started seeing someone, and—”

He realized abruptly that they were having two very different conversations. “Oh. No,” he said. “Not that. This is maybe a weird question, but you’re not a—” He cut himself off. She certainly hadn’t sounded like someone who would curse him. “I’m having a bit of a problem with a magical situation, and I was wondering if you—had any idea what could… I mean, it started shortly after you and I hooked up—”

“Hey,” she said, tone concerned. “You’re sounding kind of freaked out there. Can you slow down a bit and… I don’t know, deep breaths?”

Saul drew a deep breath, counted to three, and let it out. “Sorry,” he said. “It looks like I’ve been cursed, and since it happened after the bar, I was wondering if you knew anything about it. At all. If the charm turned out to have been bad or if you were having any problems too?”

“I haven’t had any…” Her voice had gone cautious. “I don’t even know any real magicians either. At least none who could cast a real curse. I’ll get the charm checked and get back to you?”

It already felt like a dead end. At least she was being decent about it. “Thanks,” he said. “I appreciate it.”

“I mean, I can also…” She trailed off.

“Jill?”

“I’ll get back to you,” she said, and hung up.

It hadn’t made him feel any better, but there was nothing he could do but wait for his next appointment or for her to call again. He tried to look up more about magical curses online—but as usual, the internet wasn’t a huge help, and mostly just did its best to convince him he was about to die.

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