More from the Back Catalogue

It’s been a crap out day, time wise. I spent most of it looking for a book that I want to review, but had mislaid, which is something that happens far too often in Chez Pete, though seldom on this epic scale.

Anyway, long story short, here’s another crappy short story for your amusement:-

THE CHEAP TRICK

‘Curiosity,’ said the Master one day when he grew weary of his apprentice’s constant questions, ‘can be an expensive vice.’
‘But Master, you told me to always question,’ said the young man, stung by the unfairness of the rebuke.
The Master frowned. ‘Wisdom dictates a limit to all things, even knowledge.’
He gestured for the apprentice to join him over at the great window which looked out on the Street of the Ox, down which the ladies of The Quarter paraded in all their finery and dull eyed zombies shuffled on errands set for them by their owners, and pointed at a man crouched in the mud on the other side of the street, in his lap a wooden bowl, sun glinting on the few coins that it contained. ‘See that beggar.’
‘Yes Master,’ said the apprentice, who saw the beggar every day, but until now had never given the man a second thought. The city was full of beggars and only a fool paid them any mind when there were far more interesting things on which to train the eye.
‘He was once one of the wealthiest merchants in Shand, but curiosity cost the man all that he owned.’
‘Master, I do not understand.’
‘As a child he was fascinated by conjurors and their tricks, and when he grew into a man this fascination became an obsession, so that he vowed to know all the secrets of their art.
‘Coming into wealth the man approached a lowly street magician, one who belonged to no Guild and was not bound to secrecy by their by-laws, and offered him a precious gem to reveal the trick of how to saw a woman in half. The conjuror agreed, on condition that the merchant’s young bride, who he had just married and still loved very much, was the subject of his demonstration, and so great was the man’s curiosity that he consented to this.’
‘But surely a single gem, no matter how precious, was not the sum of that great merchant’s wealth?’
The Master smiled in a way that sent cold tremors racing up the apprentice’s spine and made him wish, not for the first time, that he had chosen a different career and another master.
‘Sawing a woman in half is a cheap trick, one that any lout with a sharp blade and a strong arm can perform. But knowing how to join those parts together again, how to knit torn flesh and sinew, how to mend that which is broken, is a secret worth the fortune of any man in love.’
The apprentice said nothing. He was remembering that his Master, who lived in a palace and was served by a host of the living dead, who had lavished untold wealth on acquiring the volumes of arcane lore that made him the greatest sorcerer in all of Shand, was rumoured to have begun his career as a lowly street magician.

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3 Responses to More from the Back Catalogue

  1. I really liked this, Pete. The world it creates in very few words; the way it takes a moment for the significance of what happened to sink in. “…a secret worth the fortune of any man in love.” Indeed.

  2. Alison Littlewood says:

    It’s a goodie 🙂

  3. petertennant says:

    Thank you both for the kind comments. This is one of three stories that I wrote intended to be similar in style to the lusher, more fantastical work of HPL and, more pointedly, Clark Ashton Smith. I’ll post another one for Sunday as it’s now way too late in the day to write the blog post I should have tackled first thing this morning.

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