Necessary preamble: Back in 2017, the SyFy (is that the logo of that network? whatever) ran The Magicians, a series adapted from the trilogy of novels by Lev Grossman. I loved the novels (first clued in on them by Joe Hill while walking the stacks of a bookstore all the way back in 2009 or 2010, before he gave a reading from his then-new novel Horns), and so watched the series with great interest.
At some point, the network decided to run a contest of some sort for some reason (a cash prize? having the story to be adapted into a webisode? at this point, I forget), where entrants would write a flash-fiction piece, not greater than 1,500 words, about one of the many attempts the protagonists made to stop the antagonist. I’m being light on the details here for two reasons–one, it involves “time-loops”, and, two, I’m trying to avoid spoiling anything for the trilogy/series (unspoken third reason, this was six years ago, and, in the immortal wordss of the philosopher Ferris Bueller, life comes at you pretty fast). The rules were: pick one of the attempts, which were barely referenced in the television series, and write about that. Post the results on Wattpad, a website I had never heard of but is apparently very well known in fan-fiction circles, and the winner (of the most votes? can’t remember!) gets whatever it was I just typed at the top of this graf ninety seconds ago.
For whatever reason, I felt inspired to play with existing IP–and other than wanting to write comics (I have an awesome idea for a proper Generation X comic, Marvel!), that’s never happened before. Still, I was between ideas, and I needed some flash fiction practice, so what the fuck. However, in spite of the insinuation that the POV character would be one of the protagonists and a specific attempt, I had this idea of making Martin, the antagonist, the POV character and focus on his 30+ attempts and why they kept failing.
It was a fun story to write, and it was fun to focus on just the nuggets of each attempt to progress the story forward. I really didn’t care about the contest, although I wouldn’t have kicked the cash prize out of bed–it was just fun to play with these existing characters and see what I can do with them once I cracked them open.
Predictably, I didn’t win–in fact, if I hadn’t had the specific URL for my entry, I doubted I could’ve found it; a LOT of people entered, on top of the standard flood of postings from would-be writers on that site. I think Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam, an excellent writer in her own right, won it, but I can’t remember, off-hand.
Still, I dug the story, and, over the years, I’ve opened the file and reread it. It’ll never be included in a book of mine, if only because it’s not really mine, but I wanted to share it with others. I don’t know if it’s a “good” fan-fic, since I don’t tend to read them (nothing against them; just not my genre) so I don’t know the rules or if you have to backfill a lot of info in order to get readers up to speed with who your characters are or what their deal is, but, as something, nowadays, just for me, I still like it.
So, using characters I don’t own and can’t profit from, enjoy this quick Sunday read: Based on both the television series and the truly excellent series of novels (I snuck in a few references to the books), enjoy this story from The Magicians: “Thirty-Eight, With One To Grow On”.
He kills the six quickly, in their sleep. In his mind—and, for all the Fillory strangeness, it is still a very English mind—he thinks of it as a preemptive action, like locking the door before going to sleep. He is locking the door to Fillory.
Starting with the traveler and ending with the lover, he doesn’t even use magic. He could easily overwhelm Brakebills’s wards, but he thinks, in his still-English mind, that it would be inefficient to do so. He simply uses whatever weapons he finds in their rooms.
But, as he stabs the lover in the heart with a letter-opener, and Quentin Coldwater’s eyes pop open, the part of his mind that never leaves Fillory hears/senses what sounds like the crackle-rush of leaves.
Or the frantic ticking of many clocks.
What— Martin Chatwin has time to think, and then the world goes dark.
He kills them quickly—again. He doesn’t know it, but they sleep in different places around Brakebills.
The sudden crackle-rush of leaves (or clocks) is the same.
As is his reaction. What—
3 through 6
He kills them again and again, always before they can come together and pose a real problem for him, and always with the same crackle-rush of leaves as he kills Coldwater.
I think it is clocks, he thinks the sixth time with an uncomfortable sense of déjà vu, and then—
He uses magic, even though he knows it’s inefficient and a waste of energy to deal with Brakebills’s wards, and he kills more than the six, but again he hears the surge of clocks when he finishes Coldwater.
And this time, maybe because he is using magic, he thinks, Jane—
Time-loops, when focused on those not controlling said time-loops, are invisible. They are a god-magic—or, rather, as-close-to-a-god-magic-as-to-be-identical—and only the most powerful of magicians can sense them…and only when, you should pardon the expression, given enough time. Martin Chatwin might be a god in Fillory, but time-magic exists beyond Fillory, encompassing the entirety of the Multiverse.
So, when the clocks start in the part of Martin’s mind that will never leave Fillory, he thinks a very specific thought, at a very specific person: What do you hope to accomplish, Jane?
She doesn’t answer him.
Nor does she answer when he levels all of Brakebills.
What do you think will happen, Jane? he mentally-screams at her as the clocks surge, ticking so loudly they would split a normal man’s head, and darkness falls.
11 through 20
And he kills the six—the traveler, the gossip, the elemental, the royal, the touched, the lover—over and over again. He uses different tactics, different spells. Sometimes the sheep make the connection—one time, Coldwater figures out that they are in a time-loop—sometimes not. On the sixteenth loop, Coldwater and Julia attempt to come for him. On the nineteenth, they all try to come for him.
But, each time, he stands over their corpses and feels the fluttery beginnings of triumph, beating back the growing sense of desperation.
And, each time, the clocks fill his head and the darkness falls, and he is back in Fillory and the six are still a problem, still an unlocked door, still a threat to his ownership of the land that had, for so long, been denied to him.
And so, holding Quentin Coldwater’s decapitated head high as the sound of clocks roar throughout the Brakebills classroom, he mentally screams, Answer me, you pale excuse for a witch! JANE! Answer me NOW or I come for YOU!
And, this time, she does.
Instead of the clocks bringing darkness, Martin and the world freezes, just as his strange hands curl in the gestures that will pop all the heads in the classroom like balloons.
What— he thinks.
“I should think it is quite obvious, Martin,” Jane’s voice says. Out of the corner of his eye, the mirror he’d come through shimmers, and she steps into the room. Her hair shines like copper, her face the radiant extrapolation of the girl she’d once been, in Cornwall, but he can see the lines, the cracks, that reveal the stress she’s under. A part of him thrills at this, even as the brother in him feels a green squirt of shame.
“I’m answering you,” she says, coming down the steps. In her hand, she carries an ornate pocket-watch with chain.
He tries to move his lips, but cannot.
“You can send me your thoughts well enough, dear,” she says.
I’ll get you eventually, he thinks.
She smiles, but it doesn’t reach her eyes. “Did you ever get the Watcherwoman?”
You’re not the Watcherwoman.
“You say, an instant from being hurtled back through time.”
Cramps form in his hands; the need to silence this monster is greater than whatever minor affections he once had.
Her eyes drop to his hands. “And this is why you are not moving, Martin,” she says, softly.
What do you hope to accomplish, Jane?
“That you will be defeated,” she says. “I used to have hopes you would remember the boy that—”
That you left behind? That Fillory denied? That Plover had his way with?
Her lips thin. Color rises in her cheeks. When she drops her eyes this time, it’s to the floor.
“But I have no hopes for that, anymore,” she continues. She meets his eyes. “I only have hopes that they can stop you.” She gestures towards the students.
They can never stop me. You can never stop me.
She cocks her head. “That is why I keep trying, brother. I will figure it out eventually”
Jane turns back to the mirror and the sound of the clocks rush up.
21 through 33
She anticipates his moves, even when he thinks he’s being erratic. Martin comes for them at Brakebills, in Antarctica. Separate or together. Awake or drunken or asleep or in the midst of love-making. He goes himself, or turns others into possessed magic missiles.
She changes things, hopes to see some difference that will allow the six to figure out a way to stop Martin. For three loops, she denies Brakebills to Penny, Julia, and Quentin. In one loop, they become hedge witches. In another, only Penny and Julia. In a third, the twenty-ninth loop, only Julia.
It doesn’t matter; it always ends with the six coming together and Martin killing them. As much as she can anticipate him, he can anticipate her.
And Jane, dejected, resets the watch again.
And so it is back to the beginning, brother and sister moving humans and events around like chess pieces. Except Martin is a king, Fillory is the queen, and she is using pawns.
And she’s running out of combinations.
Martin possesses all the other Physical Kids in the cottage, and they turn on the six like cannibals.
She makes sure Quentin doesn’t lose Book 6. All six travel to England and Martin is waiting for them.
I’m having them kill each other now, dear sister, Martin thinks, standing beside Eliot, both of them looking down at Quentin’s drunken form in the Physical Kids cottage, their hands mirror images, frozen in the gesture that will twist Coldwater’s head around like the cap of a soft-drink. Are you feeling the pressure? The inevitability of my victory?
Not yet, she lies (to herself; Martin can’t hear her), and resets the watch.
Through the voices, Martin has Penny teleport all six to the Marianas Trench.
Alice’s eyes flash a cold blue when she finds Quentin and Julia in the library, huddled at one of the corner tables near the windows, a large green-brown tome open in front of them.
Quentin looks up, smiles. “Hey, we found—”
Alice’s hands come up, already gesturing, and Quentin throws himself in front of Julia, also gesturing. Power crackles.
But Alice is perfect, and she fires first. The blast shoves Julia and Quentin’s fried bodies through the window and out onto the rainy quad.
Julia’s eyes flash blue when she finds Quentin and Alice sitting across from each other at the dining room table in the Physical Kids cottage, flipping through the Fillory books.
Quentin looks up, smiles. “Hey, we found—”
Julia’s hands come up, already gesturing, and confusion flickers across Quentin’s face, and, before he can raise his own hands, Julia’s blast hits Alice through her back, burning through her, the table, and, ultimately, Quentin.
Jane freezes that instant of hesitation from Quentin.
And has an idea.
The Watcherwoman resets the clock a final time.
“Regrettably,” the professor says, looking squashed at the tiny desk in the tiny office, “you failed the written exam.”
“What?” Julia says. The revelation makes Julia appear small, hunched-over. “I can’t just go to Yale if I know this place exists.”