I find the god hiding in the closet it had been born in. The god towers above me, composed of smoke-tinged fur, nightlight red eyes and claws of bleached bone; too big for too small a space. I step into the closet, which expands itself to fit me as the god's claws slide away from me. I'd be a poorer excuse for a magician than I am if I let a god kill me, especially one this small.
I call up light in my right hand. It comes up grey, a ball of dim fog that doesn't even try to be sunlight. I've been so tired lately, but Aaron was so afraid I agreed to come home with him. We met at a coffee shop earlier. He talked about his ex-wife, his daughter, letting me know whatever we'd have between us wouldn't last. I didn't much care about that: I've hurt enough people in my life that I figure I can hurt them a little less with one-night stands.
Then he mentioned the closet and her fear. So here I was, light flicking about my fingers and staring up at a god. I didn't try to smile. "Her name is Charlie. She's eighteen, and that is too old to be scared of monsters hiding in closets."
The god rumbles a reply in a voice as deep as the ocean, filled with something other than words.
"I know. Aaron's mom told him stories about monsters under bed and he made you. It's not hard to make a god, and his fear has kept you going for a long time. Of himself, what people would think if they really knew him. The monster in the closet." I snort. "Sometimes people are so damn literal."
The god snarls and lashes out again. I step aside, reach up and smack it in the nose. "No."
This time it growls, fear underlying everything. Still too far from words, but not too far from fear. There's nothing good I can make of knowing that.
I step back, raising hands. I have nothing in them, but a magician's hands are never empty. The god goes still, eyes flaring. "I don't want to hurt you. I could: Aaron has let me into his life enough to bind you here so you would never leave. Charlie would go to school, her parents leave and no one think of you again. I imagine the dying of a god is a long and slow thing."
The god stares down. No attacks, just a waiting silence like a deer in front of a car.
I walk back out of the closet to the sharp smell of nicotine. Charlie is standing in the doorway to her bedroom, all punk hair, black dye and clothing, her eyes a challenge the world falls short of. I told her to stay downstairs, in the way of magicians, and she is shaking a little from strain, trying to seem casual as if making it up the stairs had been easy.
"You didn't knock over anything. My closet isn't that big." Her voice is rough and low, trying so hard to be tough.
I almost say she'd be surprised, but I don't think it's true. I wait, which is almost a lost art.
"Dad brought you home. He doesn't do that with most of them. He told you about the monster, and he never does that." She puts more into the never than she knows, her sadness so big a wound that no one ever sees it.
We all hurt each other; sometimes I think that's all that keeps the world turning.
There are enough currents under anyone's surface for even magicians to drown in. Maybe especially magicians. Look deep into someone and all you see is pain, but not what gets them up each morning, what pushes them past it. We see the broken window, but not how much of the glass remains. We're all stronger than we think we are. Sometimes that's the worst thing about being human, magician or not.
"Your father made a monster when he was young. A god in the closet, of shadows and red eyes and claws like dead glass."
She pulls back, breath hitching sharply.
"It is only doing what it was made for; that is what gods are. And it will die alone in there unless it does something else, unless someone lets it out."
I open the closet door without touching it; that steadies her at some level. Charlie walks toward it, slow despite everything or because of it: I don't know, and I'm not sure she does as well. I thread power into the doorway: her need, her father's, the hole her mother left in their world. I don't know if the god makes it easier or not, but it is in the doorway a moment later.
Charlie stops. The god takes one step out of the closet, claws sliding along the floor. Stops in turn.
"Choose." I thread no power into my words, no magic into my actions. I can be a door, when needed.
They step in tandem. Shadows leap out of the god to engulf them in a whisper of alien words, each a terrible crushing on the world. I stand, force myself not to look away as the god slides into her. To my eyes, she eats it: just opens her mouth and draws the god inside in a rush of claws, shadows and everything. To hers, I imagine it's something else altogether.
She lets out a breath. Shuders. Another breath. Shudders. Turns. "How?"
I just smile to that. I hope it looks enigmatic.
Charlie runs her fingers through her hair, fingers shuddering a little. "I feel – I don't know what I feel. Like I've put on weight and don't give a shit, but not like that at all." She blinks, shakes her head, the rest of her body following. "You need a shave."
"Dad needs to call mom. You need a shave and new clothing. I can pack while we shave."
"Where are we going?"
"I don't know. Might be fun to find out," she says, and a hint of red flares in her eyes.
I smile to the both of them and head to the bathroom, not surprised to find my feet seem to know the way without me.