The coin fell making a dull thud on the pavement. Coins do not usually make dull thuds but this one did.
"Tails." the man at the newspaper stand said.
"Yes," Joel acknowledged as he could certainly not argue with the newspaperman's observation.
"It is a prophecy, you know."
"A prophecy? What kind of prophecy can you get from a fifty cent piece?"
"A damn good one."
"Well what does it say?"
The man winked,"Watch your ass."
"What does heads mean then?"
"Oh, very good," Joel replied.
"Of course it is. What do you expect from one such as myself?"
"A newspaper."
The man rolled his eyes, "Oh, very droll."
"Well you do run a newspaper stand, "Joel pointed out.
"That's just my cover, "the man looked from side to side, "Actually," he said donning a conspiratorial whisper, "I'm a wizard"
"The Wizard of Union square?" He studied the man carefully. He looked the part. He had the long white beard and Ice blue eyes with just the slightest hint of a mischievous twinkle, and of course, the bushy eyebrows.
"I thought of being the Wizard of Times square but New York just wasn't right for me. Baghdad-by-the-Bay is a much more appropriate place than the Big Apple. Too many worms.."
"I see." he wasn't sure he did really, but he said it anyway.
"Do you?" the wizard asked, "most people have automatic blinders that prevent them from seeing the things they don't want to. Sometimes it's too much work to deal with reality. It's so much easier to use unreality."
"Unreality?" Joel cocked an eyebrow.
"Yes. For everything there is an equal and opposite reaction. Thus the opposite of reality is unreality just as with matter and antimatter."
Joel thought about that for a moment, "Are you sure you have the science right on that?"
"Science!?" the Wizard exclaimed, "What do you think I am?"
"A nut?"
"No, you ninny! I'm a Magician. What concern have I with science?"
"So magic is unreality?"
Joel's eyes searched first the left hemisphere of his brain than the right, neither helped,"But then..."
The wizard cut him off with a gesture.
"Magic is the opposite of science-to an extent."
"Then what is the opposite of nature?"Joel asked.
The wizard shook his head vigorously from side to side. Paused. Looked at the floor then slowly raised himself up to look at Joel."Un-nature."
You mean like that building ," Joel pointed to the Nordstrom's on the other side of Market.
"What do you mean like that building?" the wizard turned and looked at the back of his newspaper stand.
"Well it's unnatural."
"Whatever gave you that idea?" the wizard exploded.
"Well..."Joel shuffled uncomfortably.
"What's that building made of?" the wizard leaned forward and peered intently at Joel.
Joel fidgeted, "Steel ,," he shrugged.
"Right," said the wizard, "And what are they made of?"
"Molecules, which are made of elements all found in nature. So to say that the building is unnatural is ridiculous."
"Well it wasn't created by nature."
"What created it?" the wizard asked sitting back on his stool.
Joel pursed his lips thoughtfully, "Man."
"Uh huh, and what created man?"
The wizard threw both arms and eyes to the sky "Nature!!"
Joel flinched, "Oh, right."
The Wizard leaned forward peering intently at Joel, "Yes, now what gave us the ability to build such a structure?"
"Very good," the wizard said, "you may keep your thumbs."
"My thumbs?"
"And your pelvis,"
"My p..." Joel scrunched up his face and thought.
"You need those just as much as you need a hole in the head."
Joel's eyebrows raised, "I need a hole in my head?"
"I don't think I want one," said Joel shuddering.
"You already have one."
"I do?"
"Yes, how do you think you stand upright. The hole centers your head on your spine."
"Oh," Joel said, exasperated.
"You're not very bright, are you?"
Joel wasn't sure if it was a question.
"Wait a moment," Joel said getting angry, "I came here to get a paper and you give me some fool story about how your a wizard, then you insult me."
" Down go the blinders, bye, bye, bye." the wizard sang to the tune of Up on the Roof Top.
"What are you singing."
"Your closing your eyes."
Joel crossed his arms, "My eyes are open."
The wizards head rolled back as his eyes rolled skyward. His head hit the back of the booth and he sat back up.
"You're being difficult."
"I'm being difficult?!" Joel said through clenched teeth, "your the one who claims to be a wizard. Let's see some magic."
"You want to see some magic?" the wizard stared coldly at Joel.
"Uh," Joel fidgeted.
The wizard snapped his fingers loudly. Joel was impressed by the strength of the snap but it seemed hardly magical to him.
"Look at the coin."
"Huh," Joel said, not comprehending.
"The coin."
"Oh," Joel looked down at the coin. It read tails.
"What does that mean?"
Joel ducked. There was a white flash. The wizard groaned. Joel got slowly up, looking around.
"What happened?"
The wizard was clutching his chest with one hand and feeling into his pocket with the right.
"What's wrong?" Joel was now quite distressed.
The wizard took in a ragged breath, "She's finally gotten me."
"Quiet! Listen. Take this ring."
The wizard put out his right hand. In it was a ruby ring with a sapphire in the center.
"What do I do with it?"Joel's eyes darted quickly from the ring to the wizard..
"Remember,"the wizard began to collapse. Joel reached for him but couldn't get a good hold.
"Remember to watch your ass," the wizard gave a shudder and fell to the floor of the newsstand. Joel stood there for a minute shuffling back and forth nervously. He leaned over the front of the stand and cautiously looked in. The wizard's body was gone.
Joel stumbled backward, dazed. His eyes drifted down to the ground. The coin read tails. He turned around. Leaning against the building was a man in black watching him. He held something in his left hand.
Joel exerted all of his will power and managed not to run. He walked though, very quickly. He headed for the subway station, looking back just as he was descending the stairs. The man was following. Joel now lost his self control. Down the stairs he ran, pausing momentarily to choose his escape. BART or MUNI? He chose MUNI. More trains. Or at least he thought, he wasn't sure. He boarded the first train.
The J Church pulled out of the Powell street station just as the man in black arrived at the bottom of the stairs.
Four bus changes, a short cut down an alley, over a fence, across Mrs. Hedgeford's roses and a lot of anxiety later got Joel home. Mrs. Hedgeford, a woman totally unknown to Joel, was interestingly enough also the president of the 'Old Ladies Society for Christian thought and Moral Rectitude in a Heathenistic society'...not to mention an unofficial spokeswoman for Christian morality anywhere. She went on to damn Joel to hell for the next five days. Only she made the mistake of calling him Fred. After a week, Fred Lorado subsequently burst into flame. The papers called it,"Possible spontaneous human combustion" in small print, in the obituary.
Joel closed his door locked and double bolted it. He then picked up the mail on the floor and, sitting at the sofa, began to pretend it was a normal day by reading his junk mail.
Are you having problems of a supernatural nature!?
Do you have problems with:
Ghosts, ghouls, goblins, witches, mysterious men in black, frothing astronomers, musty tomes, things that go bump in the night or cockroaches that hum Hey Jude at three in the morning?
then you need:
Call 1-800-55-LIMBO
It is perhaps interesting to note that there has only been one cockroach ever known to hum Hey Jude at 3AM. This particular cockroach lived in a garbage heap in an alleyway in Seattle. It was eaten in mid-verse by a cat named Rabia. Actually most cockroaches hum Pink Floyd tunes giving some credence to the little bandied rumor that Roger Waters is the third cousin twice removed of Kafka.
However, this was all unknown to Joel. He was coming to the realization that the day had not been normal. At least by his standards. By the standards of Anton Fremuth it would have been a very dull day which perhaps explains why Anton is now a resident of Bellevue mental hospital.
Joel set the flyer down, let out a large sigh and looked out the window. Standing across the street, looking at what appeared to be a pocket watch in his left hand, was the man in black.
Joel wondered how much the services of Limbo Inc. were going to cost. He reached over picked up the phone, dialed the number and put the receiver to his ear.
"Limbo Incorporated!" the voice on the other end of the phone said.
"Uh, yes. I have a problem."
"Of course you do," the voice said. "We'll send someone over right away."
"Okay, I'm at..."
"Oh, we know."
"Right," Joel sighed, "Still, you should know, there is a man in black watching my house."
"Gotcha," the voice said, then hung up.
Joel let the receiver fall to the floor.
The receiver went, "Booo."
Boo as you may or may not know is the person, if indeed she could be called that, who resides within your telephone. Boo has a one word vocabulary, Booo, which makes it exceedingly difficult to communicate with her.
Joel who was now slumped on the sofa made no attempt. His anxiety level had burned out such thoughts.
There came a knocking at his closet door.
Joel looked at the door.
There came some more knocking.
Joel looked at the door.
There came some more knocking.
Joel walked over to the door and opened it.
In walked a short man with black hair that had a swath of silver running from his forehead, to the top of his head, to his left ear in an arc. He had a black duffel bag slung over his shoulder, wore a thick scarf that fell to his knees and a button on his vest lapel that read,"would you". Which was just what the universe will say several billion years from now, when it implodes. (It is uncertain if it is meant as an unfinished question or a response to an unheard question.) He stood a total of five feet six inches tall. He also stood in Joel's living room looking around with a large magnifying glass.
"Who are you?"
"I'm Limbo," the short man was now closely inspecting the coffee table.
"Oh," Joel let his shoulders slump and sighed.
"Ah-ha!" Limbo exclaimed stamping on the floor with his foot.
"That cockroach was humming Wish You Were Here," Limbo was still not looking at Joel but now examining the northern wall.
"What do they wish for?"
"More cockroaches."
"Oh,"Joel shook his head.
He watched Limbo as he began examining the ceilings, back arched.
"Uh, are you going to do anything about the man in black?"
Limbo turned to look at Joel, "Oh yes. Where is he?"
Joel pointed to the window.
Limbo looked out the window still through the magnifying lens, left eye squinted of course. After a moments observation he lowered the glass in his right hand and raised his left hand to stroke his chin.
"Yep, That's the mysterious man in black alright. Wonder who he's contracting out to."
"Could we maybe ask him?"
Limbo turned to regard him, "He's a professional, he will keep his employers identity secret unless said employer wishes otherwise."
"You sound as if you know him."
"Well of course, the mysterious man in black is very famous. I run across him a lot in this business."
"You mean there's just one?"
"Yeah, you've never seen two have you?"
"I don't think I want to see two."
"So," Limbo said jumping on to the sofa, putting his magnifying glass in the duffel bag, and kicking both feet onto the coffee table all at once, "tell me about your situation."
"Sit down."
Joel sat down.
"Now tell me your story."
Joel let out a sigh, "Well I met this newspaper salesman."
"Uh, huh," Limbo replied, ignoring Joel's misuse of the word this.
"But he wasn't a newspaper salesman, he was a wizard."
Limbo nodded,"Uh, huh, Did he have a name?"
"He never told me."
"Figures, title?'
"Uh," Joel thought, "Oh yeah! The Wizard of Union Square."
"Uh, huh."
"Well anyway.."
"Not anyway," Limbo admonished, "some ways are painful."
"Excuse me?"
"Nevermind. Continue."
"Well, he told my fortune."
Limbo nodded, "Uh huh, What was it?"
"Watch your ass."
"Good advise. Continue."
"Well, he got zapped by a white light , gave me a ring and died."
"Uh huh, what happened to the body?"
"Figures. Did he say anything else?"
"Uh yeah. She's finally gotten me."
Limbo nodded,"Did he say who she was?"
"Figures. Anything else?"
"Well he talked about un-nature and some other strange things."
"Figures. That it?"
"Yes," said Joel nodding.
"So all we have to do," Limbo removed his feet from the coffee table, "Is find out who she is," he stood up, "and what the significance of the ring is. Can I see it?"
Pulling the ring from his pocket, Joel held it out to Limbo.
Limbo shook his head,"I don't want to touch it. Just look at it."
"Is it dangerous?"Joel looked down at the ring in his hand nervously.
"You should be safe from it," he pushed the side of his cheek out with his tongue, "but I wouldn't recommend trying it on."
Reaching into his bag he retrieved his magnifying lens. He peered intently through it at the ring.
"It wouldn't fit you anyway," Limbo said finally, "put it away."
Joel pocketed the ring and Limbo put the lens back into his bag.
"What do we do now?"
Limbo hooked his fingers together, stretched his arms, and cracked all ten fingers at the same time, "We flee to a very deserted locale where it would be easy to dispose of us without a lot of fuss."
Joel's jaw dropped, "What?! Why would we do that?"
"It.s perfect bait," Limbo was now picking at something in his teeth thus making speech difficult. "No...felf...refrecting...willian... would,..." whatever it was suddenly came free, "pass up the opportunity."
"Oh, great," Joel threw his arms up in exasperation.
"Isn't it though?" Limbo said throwing open the closet door.
Joel was seriously regretting ever wanting a newspaper, fifteen minutes later as he stood in a dockside warehouse in Bayview.
"Wasn't this place used in a Dirty Harry film?" Joel asked of Limbo who was comfortably sitting crosslegged on a box leaning against a tall stack of crates and pulling lint off his socks.
He didn't look up, "Fitting isn't it?"
Joel paced back and forth nervously.
"I don't like this."
"That's the fifth time you've said that."
Limbo continued picking the lint from his socks. Had Joel understood the significance of Limbo's actions he would have undoubtedly done the same. It is a well known fact among the magically literate, that pulling lint off your socks allows you to flee much quicker than would otherwise be possible.
Joel stopped, "Why are you doing that?"
Limbo held a hand up for silence.
"I heard something."
"Where?" Joel looked around.
"Shh, it's coming this way."
Joel's blood ran cold and his heart caught in his throat. It is still unknown if there is a causal relationship between these two events.
From behind a stack of crates stepped a man who looked very much like a rotting corpse as he was dropping pieces of flesh and wearing a tacky polyester suit. A black one.
"Oh no," Limbo moaned, "undead."
For a panicked moment Joel wondered, if undead were the opposite of dead, what was the opposite of life?
Limbo hopped to his feet and threw some lint at the zombie's socks. Limbo and Joel then both began to back up. Right into the arms of several more zombies.
Joel leaped forward, turning in midair to see what was behind him. There were three zombies. Limbo had ducked from under the zombie (which wasn't difficult as he was 5'6") and stood next to Joel, putting his back to the stack of crates he had been sitting on. Joel looked around, on either side of them were crates. On the other two sides were zombies. He followed Limbo's example and put a stack of crates to his back.
"Oh damn,"Limbo said,"Why didn't you tell me she was a Necromancer?"
"I didn't know!"
"That's no excuse!"
The zombies stopped. There were now five on either side of them. Limbo began to rummage through his bags.
"Your toys won't help you, Prestidigitator."
Joel looked over at Limbo, "What's a prestidigitator?"
"A very low level Magician."
"Oh, great."
"Oh, shut up."
A woman in black robes stepped into view. She had long, straight dark hair that fell to the small of her back. She was quite beautiful. It was, however, little consolation to Joel and Limbo.
"Give me the ring."
"Give her the ring."
"Because she's a Necromancer and because she asked nice. Now give it to her," Limbo hissed through clenched teeth.
"But the wizard..."
"Did the wizard say not to give it to her?"
Joel fidgeted, "No, but..."
"What did he say?"
"To watch my ass."
Limbo nodded, "Exactly, now give her the ring." Joel thought about it for a moment, then realizing that it was the first thing anyone had said to him that made sense he produced the ring.
The Necromancer gestured and the ring flew onto her left ring finger.
"I've got you now Wizard," she cackled, "after all your pitiful excuses and evasions, you're mine."
"She turned to Limbo and Joel, "You two may go."
With a gesture from her the zombies turned to dust, polyester suits and all.
"I have a question," Joel said.
The Necromancer turned to regard him, "What is it?"
"What is the opposite of Life?"
She laughed, "Unlife."
"Just wondering."
The Necromancer disappeared in a burst of flame.
Limbo raised his eyebrows, "Impressive."
"What did she need the ring for?" Joel wished he had asked her before she left.
"Didn't you notice?" Limbo looked at Joel, "that was an engagement ring."
"Engagement ring!?"
"Yes that's what she meant by getting the Wizard."
"But he's dead," Joel said perplexed.
"That won't stop a necromancer."
"I suppose not, what'll happen to him?"
"He'll live a state of unlife as most married persons do."
"Oh," Joel grimaced.
"I'm just glad it's all over."
"Right! Now there's the small matter of my fee..."