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Art by Melissa Mead

The Thinning

Christopher Owen lives in Texas with his wife and two cats. His writing has appeared in Perspectives and The Meteor, and for many years he wrote a column about beer for Brewing News Magazine.

Becky was in her kitchen, mixing up a batch of love potion, when the electric people knocked at her door. For weeks they had been working in her neighborhood, the engines of their trucks roaring and sputtering, brakes squeaking, voices of the men shouting away the early morning silence as they erected tall wooden poles with which to run their wires. One by one, houses further up their street began to glow with an unnatural light as the wires were run like dark jungle vines from the new poles to the houses.
Becky answered the front door. The winter morning was cold and blustery, and the man from the electric company was bundled in thick wool overalls, a flapped leather cap pulled over his head.
"Ma'am." he said. "Gonna be runnin' your power lines today."
"I don't want 'em." Becky said. "What do I need electricity for?"
"Lotta folks say that at first. But just go pay a visit to your neighbors. Have a look-see at what they got. Electric lights. Radios. Electric stoves."
"I got oil lamps," said Becky, "and a wood stove. Don't see much need for a radio."
"They're awful nice. My wife loves to listen to them big bands from up the city. You'll get used to it."
"No I won't," Becky scowled at the man. "I don't want it."
"Well, whether you sign up for it or not, I gotta run the wires."
"Who says?"
"The county says. It's called an easement, ma'am. Every house on the street gotta be wired up. Don't worry, we'll be finished up in a couple hours."
The man went back to his truck and Becky slammed the door. She hurried back to her kitchen, but already the distraction of the power man's arrival had caused her to mistime her preparations, and the potion was spoiled.
Becky's husband Caleb came home at dusk, a heavy weariness from his day of work at the quarry measured on his face. But his demeanor changed when he saw the wires running from the street to the house, and the small glowing light that the power company had attached as well.
"We got 'lectricity!" he shouted when he walked through the front door. His smile faded when he saw the look of scorn on his wife's face. "What?" he asked.
"I know we got electricity now, and I hate it."
"What are you talking about, Becky? Everyone's getting it. We got it at the quarry. It's the future."
"Well it ain't mine. Its mere presence interferes with my arts, Caleb. It already spoiled a love potion I was making for Mrs. Phillips' daughter."
"Mrs. Phillips' Daughter? What does that girl need a love potion for, anyway? Ain't she amorous enough as it is?"
"It ain't an 'in love' potion. It's an 'out of love' potion. She's been mooning over that Farmer boy for weeks now, and her mother needs help."
"You and your arts. Why don't you mind your own affairs?"
"I do. People come to me for help. I'm the only Hexen left round these parts. And that electricity is like a fly in my ointment. It corrupts the magic. What are folks gonna do for their healing salves? Their baby birthing needs? The sure-grow for their crops?"
"I think modern science has an answer for all that." Caleb walked to the kitchen, found a bottle of whiskey in the cabinet, and poured himself a shot. As he downed it, he looked to the empty table. "I see your arts weren't able to conjure us up any supper tonight. God damn it, Becky."
"Humph," she muttered, and walked out the front door and into the yard. She stared at the new light bulb on the side of her house, its incandescent glow seeming to mock her. At length she picked up a walking stick and marched over to the fixture. Swinging the stick, she smashed the bulb, jumping back in horror at the unworldly pop the wretched thing made as it died. She made the sign of the goddess as the hairs on her arms and neck pricked up from the newly ionized air.
"Miss Becky? Are you okay?" she heard a voice call. Becky looked to the street and saw Mrs. Phillips' daughter walking along the street.
"It's okay, darling," she called. "Just fixing a little problem." Becky stepped down from the porch and walked to the street, all the while silently cursing the buzzing flow of the wires she could feel from overhead. "What are you up to, Caroline?" she asked as she neared the girl.
"Oh, I just walked down to the Farmer's place. I baked a batch of cookies for Jeb, but he didn't want them." Caroline held up the full basket she carried, which she'd intended to give to her would-be boyfriend.
"It's okay, girl. Go home and eat them yourself. Make you feel better," Becky said.
"I wish something would," Caroline said as she started down the road toward her home.
"Tell your mother I'll be round tomorrow," Becky called after the girl, who turned and nodded to her.
She watched the girl walk away, feeling her pain. "Perhaps if I go off into the woods, I'll get far enough away for my arts to still work. I can take my stuff, build a fire, and make that girl a good out-of-love potion for sure. Or maybe..." She looked the other way, down the street to the Farmer's place. "An in-love charm wouldn't be too hard to cast on that boy," she mused.
"Nah, better not," she decided as she looked back to her house, and watched her husband slowly pacing through the kitchen window. "I better not do that again," she said with a weak laugh.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, June 13th, 2011

Author Comments

The reduction, or lessening, of magic in a fantasy milieu is a concept known as "thinning." With this story I wanted to explore thinning as a direct result of the encroachment of technology, which is sort of a magic in its own right.

- Christopher Owen
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