Door to Portal: A Salesman's Story
By Adam Jarvis
Just a door.

My first, in what should be the start to a glorious, magical career, but I’ll be lucky if it’s enough to feed me, pay my rent, and survive to the next month.

I knock.

“Hope Springs Eternal,” I say, as the old woman answers. “Leonard Boxwell, at your service.”

“Of course, dear.” She brushes aside a tangle of white hair. “You’re here to sell me a used wand.”

I adjust my faded suit jacket, heft my oversized case, and stride into her tiny entranceway. Old tea, stale air, and onion smack into my nose like a Putridus spell. “Quite right,” I choke out. “Thank you for having me, Mrs. Adrenski.”

“Oh, it’s just Mary,” she says, with a titter that turns into a frown. “I haven’t had many visitors since the, well, you know, took my husband.”

I nod sadly. The Collapse had affected us all, and more than just lives were lost. Futures vanished too.

Her smile returns quickly. “Please, come in dear! Don’t worry about your shoes; my they’ve seen better days, haven’t they? Cup of tea? I am so looking forward to your little presentation.”

She traipses into her kitchen without me, still yammering about nothing and everything. I kneel and make a show of checking my case. 

During training, they’d warned me about her type. Told me to cut the presentation short, sell anything I could, and get out quickly. Yet here I am, rehearsing my lines, strolling into her kitchen, unpacking the display racks onto her table.

“Aren’t they delightful!” She claps her delicate hands. “I remember our Tyler used to bring them home, when you could still buy them new. Always after the latest model, he was. Not like your suit. Hand-me-down? Oh, don’t be cross, I know the look, had six children myself. I remem—”

“Seventh,” I say, feeling bad for cutting her off, despite her casual insult. “I’m the seventh son.”

She closes her eyes and smiles. “Lucky number seven.”

It isn’t. I don’t know who started the myth of the seventh son, but they never knew one. Being the last in a long line of brothers meant having to work harder to stand out, not get kicked around, and eat enough to survive. 

But maybe I am lucky, to still be alive.

Selling used wands.

Maybe not.

“May I show you some of our more popular models? Perhaps one that would remind you of what your Tyler used to own?”

“Oh, I would most enjoy that!”

I muddle bits of my presentation between her chatting, with occasional demonstrations: spells well within my license, barely noticeable releases of magic.

But there is no sale to be made here. Even if she insisted, I can’t bring myself to take what little she has.

“I’ll need to be going.” I tap an ochre box, tastelessly adorned with faux-sliver trim, onto her table. “As a thank-you for choosing Hope Springs Eternal, may I present you with this set of enchanted carving knives? Guaranteed not to dull so long as the Gift flows in your family.”

“Simply marvelous!” she squeals. “I’ll pass those down to, well…” The light in her eyes fades. “Thank you all the same. It was nice talking with someone for a while.”

I stuff my wares into my case. Outside, in the summer heat, I adjust my suit jacket.

My career has sputtered to a start.
I drive out of town for the next presentation. In a gas vehicle, a clunky, reeking old thing. But since the Collapse it’s become too expensive to get magical transportation.

This house is smaller than the last. Unkempt yard, overgrown gravel driveway. Car older than mine. But I’m here to sell wands.

I knock.

A man with a dark beard and a collared shirt as unkempt as the yard answers. 

“Hope Springs Eternal,” I say. “Leonard Boxwell, at your service.”

He nods. I step inside. Two scrawny kids play on a threadbare rug with more holes than the road out of town. They smile at me, in the curious way children do.

But there is an absence. It tickles the hairs on the back of my neck. “I believe a Mrs. Cooper booked the presentation?”

“She gone,” he whispers. “Um, when your world…”

“My world?” The pieces fall into place. “None of you are Gifted.”

“I used my wife’s name to book,” he says, staring at his kids. Neither could be older than six. Did they even remember their mother? 

Mr. Cooper rubs the back of his neck. “Sorry, I know it’s against your laws. The last guy didn’t mind. Can we still have the…giveaway?”

“Carving knives? Their enchantment is worth less than my car. And you couldn’t use them, without the Gift.”

“Oh.” He sounds way more disappointed than anyone should about cheap knives. “Last time it was a sack of onions.”

I squeeze the handle of my case to keep from dropping it. Onions? Had we brought ourselves so low? The Directorate had ensured our survival. But for this?

“Sorry,” the man says again. “I was just, well, hoping…”

Hope Springs Eternal. It’s embossed on the front of my case. It’s built into their entire marketing campaign. Buy a used wand, use your magic again! Remember what we used to be! Hope could move a mountain of magic. Or convince a man to break laws for onions. I couldn’t leave this as it was. 

I trundle out the display racks on their living room floor. “Let’s get started.”

Both children stop playing. “Ooh!”

“But, wait!” Their father waves his hands. “We can’t…”

I lift a charcoal grey wand, gnarled and scarred. “One of our most powerful models is the Darcalex, crafted with the bone of a dragon, infused with the magic of creation. Once owned by the great Bodhi of Constantinople.”

My speech hooks the children, but their father stands still, mouth open like he’s forgotten something.

“If you’ll follow me.” I lead them to their tiny kitchen. I check the fridge. I check the cupboard. Nothing more than black holes and hungry dust bunnies. I raise the wand. The room buzzes with magic. Even the Ungifted feel it. The rush of air helps— creation always causes displacement. “Something from nothing,” I say, opening a fridge overflowing with food.

The children scream and laugh and run to the fridge. Their father covers his mouth and blinks, but can’t stop the tears. “But this is—”

“All part of the presentation,” I say. And against our laws, I don’t say. My heart pounds at my throat. I raise the wand again, wave it over the fold-away table. Three gold rings appear with a quiet whoosh, fitted rubies sparkling in the afternoon sun. “Pretend they belonged to your wife,” I whisper. “Sell them one at a time.”

I march back to my case. “And that concludes my presentation.” I bow, replace the wand in its rack, and remove another ochre box. “As a thank-you for choosing Hope Springs Eternal, may I present you with this set of enchanted carving knives?” 

Mr. Cooper stares at me.

“Sometimes the Gift skips a generation.” I nod to his children, their smiles red from fresh strawberries.

I pack my case, adjust my suit jacket, and leave before I’m tempted to do more damage.

Only a few spells. A world of difference to one family. But what difference to our world? 

The wand wouldn’t be drained, powerful as it was. But the spells were powerful. More than my license allowed. Strong enough to show up like a Luminosus spell on a moonless night, if anyone from the Directorate of Magical Enforcement was scrying. 

Even if someone hadn’t noticed, I had broken our laws. Laws meant to keep magic under control. Laws meant to prevent another Collapse.

I could lose my magic. Everything that defined me.

Hand-me-down car, hand-me-down suit, hand-me-down wands. This wasn’t what my father promised me when he sent me to school. Not what my six older brothers had achieved before me, the well-trodden paths they’d expected me to follow.

I miss them.

Our world had broken. Was I merely grasping at spell dust? Just a kid, in trouble on my first day at work. But if I was already in trouble, then it wasn’t a question of what I could do, but what I could do until I got caught.

I couldn’t make a difference to our world. But I could make a world of difference to a few.

Back at the office, I sign up for every presentation I can.

My supervisor pats my shoulder. “Getting right into it, eh?” She smiles, like we all used to.

The aging man who trained me, Atticus, or Titus, or something, smiles ruefully. “I guess it’s worth a go,” he says, well out of earshot of our supervisor.

My little message cubby flashes green. Inside lays an unsigned white card with a simple message in black script: Congrats on your first day!

No one had expected me to make a sale. Why would they? How could they not know how broken we had become? But people still had dreams, even if they didn’t have money, so they lined up to drool over used wands. 

I would fulfill their dreams.

At every home, I take greater and greater risks.

Sure, some of the spells are simple. A dilapidated yard cleaned up, a leaky pipe fixed, a flat tire mended. Unnoticeable things, barely exceeding my license, more like bending rules. 

Not like healing the puppy, too young to have lost an eye. 

Or extracting all the rot from a collapsing farmhouse.

Or reversing time across the roofs of an entire row-housing complex. 

That last drained half the power from a hickory Chronosil, one of our most powerful wands. I might as well have launched a Signalis spell from the roof and waited for the Directorate to take me away.

I’m avoiding people at the office. Get in, sign up, get out. Every time someone calls my name, I assume they’re reporting me. Every time I open my message cubby, I sweat a rainstorm while my heart sprints a marathon.

If I’m not at work, I hide in my apartment, blinds drawn. I see Directorate spies everywhere, like some Ungifted conspiracy junkie, while my rage blossoms at their blindness to our plight.

Just a door.

Word has gotten out. At every house I expect a trap, expect to find the Directorate waiting for me on the other side. But I can’t stop.

I knock.

“Hope Springs Eternal,” I say to the man answering. “Leonard Boxwell at…your…”

Tears streak down his cheeks. Red rings his eyes. His hair and beard are a mess, poking out in patches of red and grey.

“Sorry,” I say. “Is this a bad time?”

“There isn’t much time left,” he says. “Come in.”

He leads me through the scattered chaos of months of activity no one has bothered to clean, but stacked away, as if to say they’d get to it later. To a bedroom, with cheerful pink walls. In a traditional four-post bed with a puffy bedspread lays a young girl, pale enough to be death’s shadow. Her eyes are closed. She has no hair.

Have I walked into a funeral?

A woman slumps on the bed, holding the hand of the girl. She sits up as I enter. “Cassandra,” she whispers.

The girl opens her eyes. Blue eyes, nearly drained of colour. She stares, not with resignation, not with fear, but with acceptance.

I freeze. “She’s—”

“My daughter is dying,” the man says. “Leukemia. The Vorselt syndrome.”

From the Collapse. How had she survived this long, using brutal, Ungifted treatments, pumping her body full of death instead of life? What had her family given up to hold on? How could the Directorate let this happen?

Her father wipes his eyes. “We can’t afford a magical cure, but maybe something to ease her pain?”

Cassandra smiles.

In all of this, a smile? Hope, how had we perverted it? What had we done to ourselves? 

From my case I extract a single wand, a Novacel. Once owned by the legendary witch Roxanne of Limoges. Crafted from ancient amber moulded over the white tentacle of a Turritopsis dohrnii, the immortal jellyfish. For healing. For renewal.

“Thank you so much,” the mother says.

The father raises his hands. “No, but that’s…” 

So, he was Gifted, and she was not. But their daughter, it was inside of her, waiting to come out. She could not have manifested, not with her body under so much stress. I would give her the chance.

I adjust my faded suit jacket and begin weaving the spell. “There will be no cost,” I say. But there would be. Such simple magic, the art of healing, but with this wand, with the power renewing a life would take, there’s no way I’ll avoid detection. I couldn’t be more obvious if I rode a comet over town.

The magic fills Cassandra’s skin with radiance, fills her eyes with vibrant blue, and fills her head with beautiful, amber hair. Life flows through her in a dazzling display of colour. When it fades, before me is no longer a skeleton but a child. Full of hope. Full of future.

Inside the wand, the white tentacle crumbles to dust.

Cassandra’s mother collapses onto the bed, sobbing, laughing, grasping at her daughter. Her father stares, tears dripping from his chin.

I replace the dead wand and stand with an ochre box, tastelessly adorned with faux-sliver trim. “As a thank-you for choosing Hope Springs Eternal, may I present you with this set of enchanted carving knives?” I nod toward their daughter. “Guaranteed not to dull so long as the Gift flows in your family.”

I storm back to the office, squeezing the fraying steering wheel until my hands shake, my anger as red as the setting sun. I would fight the Directorate— with magic, with my fists, with whatever I can throw at them. They would be waiting, their extravagant, enchanted carriages clogging the tiny parking lot, their deceptively dull grey suits crowding the lobby.

And yet.

The parking lot is nearly empty. The office is a dismal hub of inactivity. All except my message cubby, flashing green.

I open its cover slowly. Inside lays an unsigned white card with a simple message in black script: I’m covering for you. Keep up the good work.

My thoughts collide with each other. I glance around. No one glances back, but the office stops looking so dismal. 

Hope Springs Eternal, I think.

DreamForge Anvil © 2022 DreamForge Press
Door to Portal: A Salesman's Story © 2022 Adam Jarvis