In my April Update post I mentioned my new writing project, the beginning of a Christian urban fantasy trilogy. While Jubilant and the followingShallic Sea Chronicles are collaborations with Galadriel Coffeen, Modern Magic is all me. And today I’d like to share an excerpt of it.
Content Warning: This excerpt revolves around a hospital death-bed scene, which may be disturbing to some readers. Please treat yourself kindly when considering whether you should continue reading or not.
“It’s almost time.”
I nodded to the nurse standing next to me, adjusting settings on the monitors that displayed the remaining life of George Albert Assenberg, a giant among men.
He might actually have been part giant. Genetic research had yet to conclusively rule out the existence of nonhuman races, I worked with magic on a daily basis so I tended to have an open mind. And George, who I generally referred to as Grandpa, certainly qualified as gigantic. Before his illness, he had stood nearly seven feet tall and consumed every room he entered. Growing up at his feet, hugging his knees and receiving lollipops from his shovel-sized hands, I’d never been afraid of him. But my three children all found him intimidating.
He wasn’t intimidating now, though. He was dying. Sallow cheeks, closed eyes, a body easily covered by a hospital blanket, he was less than half the man he’d been six months ago. The cancer had swept through him like a tornado through an old-growth forest, leaving nothing but destruction in its wake.
“You’re sure he’s not in pain?” I asked the nurse. He gave me a sympathetic look, one I’m sure hundreds of family members had seen on his young face before.
“We’ve given him enough morphine to make sure he’s comfortable, Mrs. Hasekura,” he assured me. He almost managed to avoid hesitating on my last name, but his eyes darted toward me for a second, giving him away before he could hide his curiosity in the monitor readings again.
I didn’t blame him. Most people gave me a double-take when they heard my last name. For some reason it never occurs to them that a honey-blonde blue-eyed woman would be married to a Japanese American, even though it’s the most logical explanation. The incongruity of my European ancestry paired with my Japanese name seemed to thwart basic reasoning skills, even in the year 2052 in the most cosmopolitan city in the southeast.
I reached out to take Grandpa’s hand. It was cold, with skin like thin paper over brittle bones. I felt no flesh between my fingers as I ran them lightly over the back of his hand. The heart monitor ticked away his life, and my fingers slowed their motions to follow the faint beat.
He didn’t open his eyes. I doubted he was aware of me. I drew in a little magic and channeled it into my fingertips as I rubbed his hand. Just enough to let him know who was here, that he wasn’t alone. I felt the faintest warmth flush across his skin, then it faded. That was the only answer I received, but it was enough. I squeezed his hand, letting the magic circulate between our two palms.
“Ma’am,’ the nurse gently touched my arm. “It can be…disconcerting to feel magic leave the body. A lot of people say it makes the last moment worse.”
I drew in a careful breath that coincided with the two chimes of an elevator on its way to the ground floor somewhere in the depths of the hospital. This little room, with its faux wood paneling, shaded lamps, and forest of expensive bouquets, felt detached from the rest of the building, as if we were in a separate wing stretching far away from the core of people dedicated to life. In this room, with its faint echoes of the PA system, the hum of distant orderlies gathered round a coffee urn, life seemed to have found its tidal mark. It stopped at the metal railing I leaned against, would not pass that barrier into George’s body, but ebbed away with each slowing beep. I could feel the magic ebbing, too.
I let it go. I had enough experience with both death and magic to know the nurse was right. Grieving would be complicated enough already. At some point Grandpa of the Booming Laugh and Piggy back Rides had turned into George, the man who became my father after he drove my real father away. George was the one who’d hijacked my career dreams to mold them into his idea of the family legacy, but the fragile face with soft wrinkles around his closed eyes looked more like my grandpa of twenty years ago.
By the time I realized I hadn’t thanked the nurse for reminding me to let go, the moment had passed. “Almost time,” he repeated softly. I nodded, and somehow felt that he understood my lapse.
Then it stopped. The beeping, the barely perceptible motion of the blanket, the wisping breath. Everything just stopped.
For one whole breath, silence reigned. I couldn’t even hear the distant murmur of hospital life at my back. I held that breath, held it as long as I could until I felt it burning to escape, ready to release the pain and be free. I let it go.
The silence resolved into a single line of sound coming from the faithful monitor. I thought of the clock in the front hall at George’s estate, and the morbidly sweet children’s song about the Grandfather Clock that stopped short, never to be heard again when the old man died. The nurse shut off the monitor and other life-sustaining machines, and again the room fell still for a heartbeat.
“Time of death, 1837” said the doctor, who hadn’t spoken since I had come in. He and I had had sharp words earlier regarding something that seemed unimportant now. I couldn’t even remember what it was.
I bowed my head, gathering in God’s strength. George was free. My struggles had just begun. I turned away from the bed, not wanting to see what they would do next. Grandpa had left very specific instructions about his death. He’d had time to plan, and of course he’d planned every detail. Only I was to be in the room, except for hospital personnel. He’d reserved the hospital, and the room, in advance. Being the president of Modern Magic Inc. meant he could buy hospital policy, and give himself permission to violate any rule he couldn’t simply buy. He’d also had some specific instructions about how to treat his body. I remembered reading those instructions with his Green Knight and his lawyer present. I didn’t remember what they were, only that I needn’t be involved. My role was outside the door rapidly approaching me.
I stopped at the door, feeling a strong urge to turn around, go back to Grandpa. If I went through that door I had responsibilities. I had a job to do. If I went through that door my life would change. The longer I stayed in this room, with its sink, medical waste bin, IV, and the iconic hospital smell not quite masked by the fragrance of roses sitting white against the yellowed blinds, then for a moment I was just a grieving woman, a granddaughter. I wanted just one more moment of that identity. When I went out that door, George would take that identity away from me. He’d told me so, in person and in writing. He had plans for me, and somehow I had to find a way to honor him and thwart those plans at the same time.
And I wouldn’t get any closer to a solution standing here staring at the papered-over window slit in the door. I grabbed the handle, jerked it down, and strode out into the hallway.
A quick left brought me into the waiting room, ringed with white plastic chairs and fake plants. A few paper coffee cups mingled with metal-toned hydro flasks on rickety end tables, abandoned by the silent crowd holding vigil here. In each chair sat a statuesque person wearing a suit no less costly than $3,000. By each chair stood a younger person dressed to the nines with cell phones and briefcases in hand. The only person slouching waited at the farthest end of the room, but I felt his strength radiating through the hard anticipation separating us.
I kept my gaze fixed firmly on my husband, Kansuke, where he leaned nonchalantly against the wall with his arms folded across his blue polo shirt. No press photographer or peer pressure could convince him to be anything other than he was — a Best Buy look-alike with a little scar on his jaw from a motorcycle accident two years ago, and eyes only for me. I stared at him, and his gaze held me, ready for the moment to be over so we could go away, and grieve in private.
As the group noticed me, they rose in a rustle of silk and plastic to stand at attention. Kan straightened and gave me a little nod. I drew back my shoulders and gave my audience a moment to accept what I was about to say before they heard it.
“Ladies, Gentlemen, and others” I said, including the two nonbinary personal assistants in the mix, “I regret to announce that at 1837 hours on the evening of September the 1st, 2052, George Albert Assenberg succumbed to his illness and passed away. Sir Assenberg, Knight and Lord of the Order of Wreaths, is dead.”
No one moved for a moment. They weren’t shocked or surprised. They’d all come here for the purpose of hearing those very words. But their weight still clung to the air, and for an instant I wondered if our collective grief would somehow postpone what was to come next. But of course it wouldn’t. George’s will was inevitable, even in death.
The Green Knight, an elegant African American man with kind eyes and genuine sorrow on his face stepped from the ranks assembled before me, dropping gracefully to one knee. He took my hand and declared, “I pledge loyalty and service to Maeryn Eleanora Assenberg Hasekura,Lady of the Order of Wreaths.”
“In the name of our King Jesus, I pledge my life to the Order of Wreaths,’ I intoned. Damocles’ blade was sharp and clean as it cut off my escape.
I plan on publishing this book in 2025 as a 35th birthday present to myself. I never planned on Becoming an author, but doing so has given me more joy and opportunities for growth than I ever imagined. Today your favorite blindfluencer challenges you to find a 4-hour segment in the month of May that you can dedicate to an uninterrupted session with a good book.