The Twa Magicians
by Sandi Leibowitz
He ran with all he had, but Tom knew he couldn’t run fast enough. Beyond the heaves and huffs of his own breath, he heard hoofbeats hard behind him. Nothing for it now but to expend his energy in a better way. Tom summoned up the power.
No longer did the sound of his own gasps trouble him. His roots reached down into the earth. He felt the cool comfort of the soil, the solid safety of the depths. Acknowledged the multitude of others’ roots about him. He’d become a clump of heather among the hundreds on the hill. The sun warmed him. His purple flowers nodded, content, in the breeze. He’d best be careful, or the pleasure of this form might seduce him into an eternity of heatherdom.
The horse came into view, slowing down, assessing the countryside with a shrewd gaze. Tom shivered, losing two browned leaves. He tried his best to look nonchalant. Nothing different here, same as every other heather clump, no taller, no shorter. He’d done a fine job, he was sure of it.
The horse clomped closer and closer. The giant brown muzzle paused inches away. The horse neighed, a mighty blast that shook Tom like a storm wind. The tremendous choppers aimed for him.
But he was too quick. He became a fly and flitted out of the horse’s reach. Ha, the currents! Ho, the way he buzzed and—
Damn! The lapwing dived after him. “Peewit! Peewit!” it cried exultantly. One, two, wing-beats and—
Tom shook off transparent wings, trading them for a swallow’s brilliant blue. He lit out for the clouds. In an eye-blink he outpaced the lapwing and swooped in the wide expanse of air. Ah, the joy of it!
He felt a prickle along his spine. He darted a look behind him. Sparrow-hawk!
Enough of this dallying! He abandoned the sky, becoming a fox. Ha! He was too big a morsel for that sparrow-hawk! Admiring his dainty white boots, and the fine red brush of a tail fluttering behind him, he loped his way northwards. He leapt amongst the grasses and heather, pouncing on his own shadow just for the fun of it
What was that scent, rising up from the grass behind him, that made his hackles rise?
A hound, nosing its way after him! No worries, no worries. For Tom was quick, oh yes, and Tom was clever. He doubled over his own tracks, when he was sure he was far enough ahead. Padded in and out of streams. There were acres of ground between him and that hound. It’d never catch him now!
He skirted around the edges of a cottage. His fine black nose twitched at the enticing scents emerging from the coop. Feathery, eggy, meaty, chicken-shitty. He lingered, trying to find a way in. He licked a drip of spit that spotted his lower lip.
“Whoosh! Away wi’ ye!” Peg Ramsey emerged from her cottage, swatting at him with her broom. He slunk off.
No matter, no matter. He was almost in the village. Tom left the fox-form behind, and became a man. He felt attached enough to the fox to give himself a handsome head of ginger hair and quick brown eyes. He held off adding a pair of spotless white gloves, for that would give him away at once.
There was the Hue and Cry at last. Tom slipped into the pub, mumbled hellos, ordered himself a pint, and made his way to a dark back table with some other fellas. Hunching down into his tweed jacket, his back to the door, he pulled the cap down over his eyes just in case. Who would notice him there amongst the rest?
He’d just taken the first sweet gulp of ale, when the door creaked open. No matter, no matter. He sidled further into the darkness, head cupped in his hand, pretending to be intent on Donald Ackroyd’s boastful tale of the bargain he’d made buying his new ram. Tom was a shadow among shadows in the pipe-smoke.
A hulking form towered over him.
“TOM SUNDERLAND! Do you think you’re going to spend a Saturday of fine weather like this drinking in the pub, when there’s a fence that needs mending? Think you can hide from ME?”
Uneasy laughter rippled around him. None too loud, for not a man in Fenway wished to catch Jeannie Sunderland’s notice.
She elbowed Billy Ainshaw from the table and parked herself alongside Tom.
“John McAuley, a pint!” she bellowed. Her face reddened from her recent exertions, her fair hair tumbled wild the way Tom liked it best, her eyes twinkling from the chase, she added, “And then it’s to home, Tom.”
Sandi Leibowitz writes fiction and poetry for adults and children, mostly fantasy, often based on myths and fairy-tales. Her works have appeared or are forthcoming in Apex, Goblin Fruit, Mythic Delirium, Jabberwocky, Abyss & Apex and Cricket. When not writing or being a school librarian, she performs with NY Revels, the classical vocal ensemble Cerddorion and the early-music trio Choraulos. A native New Yorker, Ms. Leibowitz shares her aerie with some ravens, two ghost-dogs and the occasional dragon.
Where do you get the ideas for your poems?
Sometimes a line or phrase enters my head and insists on being turned into something. It doesn’t always work—but I usually try. When I was a kid, I kept notebooks littered with such phrases, or scribbled them on scraps of paper, but seldom did anything with them. When I began to take my writing more seriously, I paid better attention to these whispers from the muse.