Another story about Monette, a magic worker of modest powers, in Vancouver, Canada, in the 21st century. Monette is a paper mage. You can read about her previous adventures here:
Feb 2020 challenge – Café Terrace
April 2020 challenge – Antique Vase
This story is my entry for the WEP June 2020 challenge.
Monette gazed at the cheap four-storey apartment building. She doubted anyone living in this dump had enough money to pay her fee, but that was the address her client had given her. A bad address.
She eyed the plastic bags bulging with garbage along the sidewalk. Disgusting content spilled out of many torn bags. Fat black flies buzzed happily. She couldn’t see the dumpster in the alley behind the house, but she knew it was overflowing, like all the other dumpsters in the city. The stink was even worse here than where she lived, in a much more decent district. This poor eastern side of Vancouver stunk the worst.
The city garbage collectors had been on strike for almost a month; started as soon as the heat wave hit. Neither the muggy heat nor the garbage collectors showed any signs of relenting, and meanwhile, the city choked on garbage.
Labor negotiations, my ass, she thought angrily, as she trudged the stairs to the third floor. Even the stairwell reeked. Why couldn’t the garbage companies go on strike in winter? Why couldn’t the Magic Guild deal with the garbage while the strike lasted, for that matter? They did, for select rich people, but what about the rest of the population?
“Hi,” Monette told the pale young woman who opened the door. “Are you Tara? I’m Monette from Small Magics. You called me.”
“Yes, please, come in. Thank you for coming so quickly.”
Monette stepped inside. The apartment was small, hot, and stuffy. A boy around two years old, as thin and pale as his mother, wore nothing but diapers. He played with colorful plastic blocks in the middle of the living room. Although the large window was firmly closed, the odor of the rotting garbage penetrated through.
Monette wrinkled her nose. “This strike is horrible,” she said. “The worst nightmare.”
“Yes,” Tara agreed. “My window looks on the alley, at the dumpster. I can’t open it because of the smell. But Tony has asthma. He needs fresh air, and I don’t know what to do. He’s been getting worse and worse. He needs his inhaler a few times a day. That’s why I called you. Could you do anything about this stench?” She lifted her hopeful eyes from her son to Monette’s face. “I can pay your fee.”
“I’m sorry,” Monette said helplessly. “I don’t think I can help you. It’s a city-wide problem, and my magic is small, confined to paper. It says so on my website.”
“I thought … maybe … if you could do it for one apartment only …” Tara winced. She started saying something else when the boy on the floor began coughing and wheezing. Tara hurried to her son.
Monette crossed the room with its second-hand furniture and looked out the closed window. The wall of another building loomed close. In the dim alley between them, the dumpster had its lid flung open, and the garbage bags piled up like a mountain, almost reaching the second floor. What didn’t fit inside formed another, equally large pile around the dumpster, its metal sides invisible beneath the heaps of bags. Small gray creatures nosed around, industrious and unafraid. The rats having a field day. A field month.
Darn it! Monette should be able to help this poor family somehow. But with her weak paper magic, she could do squat against the city-wide garbage strike. Maybe she could deal with the stink in one little apartment, as Tara suggested. She felt so sorry for the kid.
“Tara, I’ll think about it. I’ll be back in a day or two. I promise,” she said.
“Of course. Thank you,” Tara said dully. She sounded resigned. She didn’t believe Monette’s promise. “How much do I owe you for your visit?”
“Nothing,” Monette said. “We’ll talk about my fee when I come back. Bye.” She fled the depressing little apartment.
What could she do? Maybe the strike would end tomorrow, she mused without much hope.
The strike didn’t end tomorrow or the next day, but Monette found an amazing photograph of the alpine blue sky on the internet. She printed it and made a larger copy to fit Tara’s window screen. Then she spent an entire afternoon paging through her talking grimoire, Spellingra, searching for the right spell.
Finally, Spellingra deigned to make a suggestion. “Filter. Make a filter, stupid magician.” The heavy pages flipped so quickly Monette just managed to snatch her fingers away. The book stopped on the page describing the filter spell.
“Genius book!” Monette exclaimed.
“Yes!” said Spellingra. The sparkling emanating from her binding intensified.
Monette painted the complex spell on the blank side of the large sky picture. Three days later, she was back, ringing Tara’s doorbell.
“You came back?” Tara gasped.
“Yes, I’m back.” Monette marched towards the window. She removed the screen from the window and affixed the picture, the spell facing outside. Then she concentrated and touched one corner of the elaborate spell with her finger. And poured her magic into the spell, as much as she had. Even when her headache started, she didn’t stop. The more power the spell absorbed, the longer it would last.
The spell lines flashed, pulsing with magic, and the paper turned transparent, transforming whatever foul stink would come from the outside into the luminous clean air of the Alps in the picture. Monette only stopped when she was drained completely. She sagged onto the sofa.
“You’ll have to put the screen back yourself,” she said to Tara and closed her eyes. “I need a few minutes to recharge.” Of course, the complete magical recharge would probably take a whole week, but she didn’t have any new cases waiting.
“Thank you,” Tara whispered. “Are you going to be okay?”
Monette inhaled deeply and smiled. The air inside the apartment was already improving. Instead of rot, it now smelled faintly of rain and grass. “It won’t last forever, Tara,” she cautioned. “But I hope it’ll outlast this nightmarish strike. I’m going to make a similar one for my own windows. When my magic comes back.”
She opened her eyes and saw Tara fiddling with her wallet. “No,” Monette said. “Clean air shouldn’t cost money. That’s a pro bono spell. A fine name for a spell, isn’t it?”