Shortwave Magazine

Fiction / Short Stories

"What If It Were This"

a story about magic, in novel-numerical-musical form
by Nicole Dieker

October 1, 2022
5,749 Words

For L, my first reader and fellow magician.

First movement.

It was a wet-fingered October morning, the air like a formerly-celebrated guest who refused to notice the repeated glances at the calendar, when Annilee Morgan Fox first performed real magic.

She knew it right away, of course. They had been trying for it, she and Elliott together, for over a year. Thirteen months since they had moved into that house and begun their practice. Eight additional months since the funeral, a five-minute conversation about the teacher who had brought them together turning into everything that had happened since.

Three tarot cards on the floor of an apartment where Annalee no longer lived.

Two decades since they had first met and first separated.

Annilee and Elliott, one and one.

And now, standing in their shared kitchen and stirring coffee into a saucepan, Annilee decided she would wait to tell Elliott about what she had just done. She had to make sure she could do it again, after all. She had to make sure that the balance she had held, disciplinedly and assuredly and with so much unexpected-and-yet-expected knowing, would stay.

Anyway he would know, if it were real. He had known, the first time she was close. He had said it, that she had done something he had never seen her do before, and she had said “I know,” and then the two of them had gone upstairs to her side of the lab and closed the door and lit the candle.

If Annilee had someone she could have texted, about that day, she would have made a joke about ritual bathing.

She didn’t have anyone she could text about this day, either. Not that she wanted to; it was still too new, still too potentially unrepeatable, still the beginning rather than the end of the work.

But she wanted to. She wanted to tell someone, one of the friends who had picked up “former” after Annilee had put down what had formerly held them in alignment — first, the city, to be close to her family; then, at nearly the same time, the online chat that pinged and dinged and percolated with jokes and jabber and concerns that she no longer shared. She and Monica had kept up video calls for nearly two years, stopping only after everyone else in the world started — and then, for three months, Annilee had written letters that only ever left their house in one direction. Scotch tape on the back, so her friends would know she had not sent any of her saliva along. It was funny how they had all thought they would write letters, at the beginning. Annilee did not know if she was good at writing a letter, if the lack of response had derived from boredom rather than inconvenience or the inertia that comes with anxiety, but she had enjoyed it. She had drawn colored-pencil sketches of herself and Elliott, the latter with stick-up-straight hair in alternating black-and-white lines like piano keys, in the margins. Nobody had noticed; nobody had responded.

But she would text her mother as the coffee simmered, because she had a family and Elliott did not and because of that they kept hers close (and because your mother had noticed, Annilee, tell the story properly, your mother was the one person who saw what you and Elliott could become and the one person who said that you had drawn him like his piano).

good morning good morning

am going to call Bev later today

Annilee’s phone was perpetually set to do-not-disturb; her mother’s was not, which meant the response arrived by the time Annilee finished pouring her boiled-off, condensed brew into the mug her father had given her.

Thank you. Make sure to ask Bev whether she’s getting the booster. She doesn’t want to talk to me about it.

Have you checked in with Daisy yet? I want to know when you are planning your visit. Do you think you will be there on your birthday?

Annilee did not want to think about her birthday. Not because she was afraid of it — she understood that age both was and was not "just a number", though it was not a number she was prioritizing at the moment — but because everyone seemed to have an expectation about how she should celebrate it. Leanna Morgan, who had named her first daughter after herself and her second daughter after her favorite flower, seemed to think that Annilee and Elliott should drive for three days and crowd into Daisy’s townhouse, cake and candles and cartoon-festooned bedsheets in a home that wasn’t meant to sleep five.

That was what her mother would have done, after all. That was what Annilee could do that she couldn’t.

It would be a gift to her, for Annilee’s fortieth birthday.

Annilee had her phone open, trying to decide how to reply — the obvious answer was “no,” but the answer that would be more appropriate was “I’ll check in later today” — when Elliott wrapped his arms around her and kissed the spot where her neck became her shoulder. His lips fit precisely into that particular curve. They fit together, the two of them; always had, since the very first day they met. Sometimes they said they should have started the lab that very day.

“We did,” Annilee always said, “without knowing it.”

“We did,” Elliott said. They kissed then, too.

They kissed often, Annilee and Elliott. This time the kisses traveled up Annilee’s neck until they met her hairline, then made a left turn towards her left ear; she turned herself, widdershins — a word they had learned in their magic study, though it had not proven applicable to the magic they were trying to do — until they were face to face, eye to eye, forehead against forehead and then mouth against mouth.

Her breath tasted of coffee; his breath tasted of tea. They had tried mouthwashing, first, before giving up; this is what it would be — “this is what it is,” as Elliott always said — and that little bit of letting themselves be who they were made them love each other even more. Elliott was still in his robe. Annilee still had her phone open; she held it in the hand wrapped around Elliott’s left shoulder. The kiss was enough to stop her from thinking about anything else; the screen, which was set to remain on until she manually turned it off, would remind her that she needed to reply to her mother.

Which she would, once she had her coffee and Elliott had his breakfast and they went to their respective offices to start their respective work-for-money-days. She would text her mother and text Daisy and send two invoices and hold three client meetings and walk five miles.

And then she and Elliott would have the rest of the day for their real work. Their secret work, the work that could change the world — “or at least change us,” as Elliott always finished.

“It already has,” Annilee said.

That was when she could have told Elliott about the magic. Right after they kissed, and before she stepped out of the way so Elliott could navigate eggs and toast and marmalade in their octopus-tight kitchen. She did not. Annilee counted the reasons in her head as she took her coffee back to her desk and opened her laptop to see what was waiting for her —

First, Annilee didn’t know if she could repeat what she had done. She was pretty sure she could, mostly because she was pretty sure she knew how she had done it, but she wanted to confirm. She wanted to codify. She wanted to prove its consistency, and hers.

Second, Annilee wanted to make sure that what she was doing was actually magic. They had talked about this, the close-to-it-ness that came with the combination of competence and confidence. She had to check, repeat, confirm that she had moved past the close to the actual — but that was just the first reason again, with different words. Here was the second reason:

They had also talked, Annilee and Elliott, about the idea that to say that what you were doing was magic was not enough. Someone else had to say that it was magic. Preferably another magician. “Only another magician,” Elliott had said.

Which meant that what Annilee had to do was find a way to contact someone else who was doing what they were doing, and to ask them if she could show them what she was doing.

But what she and Elliott really wanted — or what Annilee really wanted, Elliott never said he wanted this — was to show these other magicians what they were doing. Elliott always said he was fine if one of them moved forward, further, faster.  Annilee wanted it to be both of them, discovering the secret Annilee had discovered that morning, at the same time.

Or, at least, giving Elliott a few more days to see if he discovered it on his own.

Or just telling him — but that meant he could tell her that what she had discovered was not magic after all, it was simply ordinary capability taken to its extremity, and that only meant that it was time to go back to the lab and find the next extremity to push against.

And that, which was what Annilee had known even before she had decided to formalize it into thought, was the real reason why she did not mention it. Instead, she slipped out of her office and came up behind Elliott in the kitchen and kissed him one more time.

This time he tasted of butter and orange peel, the sweetness passing from his lips to hers.

“I love you,” Annilee said.

“I love you,” Elliott said. “I love our life.”

“I love our lab,” Annilee said. “See you at five?”

This is how their days usually went.

Annilee woke up at five. Elliott went to bed at one, sometimes one or two, sometimes — when he was working in the way that left him no mental capacity to care about the clock — three. His circadian rhythm was either less important to him, or more flexible.

Annilee created flexibility through structure. She began her mornings by lying flat on her back, her right leg bent so that her right foot curved into her left knee. From there she waited until the burden of bowels shifted — until the poop moved into her doop, as she thought of it. Then she evacuated, weighed herself, irrigated her nose, brushed her teeth, flossed, and then brushed her teeth again. Annilee had once provided financial advice for a website that focused on self-optimization, and from there had seen an article that suggested dentists were unclear on which was better, dental-health-wise — flossing before you brushed or flossing afterwards. Annilee thought the only logical response would be to floss in between, though the article had not mentioned it as an option.

This was one of the reasons why she tried to avoid reading the internet.

Instead, she put on her pajamas and walked carefully down the stairs that separated the two halves of the lab, avoiding every creak that would not bear her slippers. She turned on the lamp that had been Elliott’s grandmother’s. She turned on the gas stove. She began brewing a pot of stovetop coffee and squeezing a lemon into a glass of water.

She lit a candle.

In the mornings, Annilee studied. Chess, these days. Prior to that it was Douglas Hofstadter. Prior to that it was Daniel Kahneman. Prior to that it was tarot and spellcasting, all of the way back to Aleister Crowley and then not much further. She had learned sleight-of-hand, then. She and Elliott had decided it was an appropriate magic for someone else.

Now she read a book about chess openings and pulled her coffee off the stove and poured it into her mug and came back to the table and made the grandmaster’s next move. Elliott was able to keep the moves in his head, all of them. She had not yet beaten him at chess, although their weekly one-hour chess games had shifted from one to two to three to — when they last played — a five-hour battle, interrupted by coffee and tea and dinner and wine and sex.

When her coffee was finished she made her breakfast. It was the same, every day. All of her meals were the same. ½ cup carb, ½ cup protein, 1 cup fruit or veg. Salt, olive oil, a square of 100% dark chocolate that was actually baking chocolate, but she bought the high-end brand that didn’t crumble when you bit into it.

She ate it slowly, the last thing on her plate. She finished her coffee and her water. She sat, and looked at the candle, and thought about magic.

Then she blew out the candle and went upstairs and did yoga.

By 8:30 she was showered and at the piano. Scales and arpeggios, in every major and minor key; then the Chopin Nocturne in E minor, Op. posth. 72, No. 1 and Stravinsky’s Les Cinq Doigts, which she had learned before she met Elliott. (Before she met Elliott the first time.) Then Mozart’s Piano Sonata No. 12 in F Major, K332, which she and Elliott were learning together. Then Ravel’s La Valse, Garban arrangement, prima part, which she and Elliott were learning to play together. Then Bach’s Ricercar a 6, because she needed a Baroque piece and after reading Gödel, Escher, Bach it was the only one she wanted to learn.

What she really wanted to do was tell Douglas Hofstader about it, though she had no idea what she would tell him.

Dear Douglas Hofstadter, Annilee thought. I am studying the Ricercar a 6 because of you. Do you believe that magic is the next level of applied consciousness? I am studying this with Elliott, the great love of my life. I read your book about yours —

And as Annilee stumbled over the concern of how to tell Douglas Hofstadter that she knew what he had written about his late wife, even though what he had written had ended up in a book that anyone could purchase or check out from the library (not anyone, Annilee, be specific, you don’t know how many millions of people don’t have libraries or bookstores or the internet or the ability to comprehend the music of language, much less basic literacy) the fifth finger on her left hand fumbled. The third beat — the second time she’d missed it. E, not E-flat.

Annilee played the measure one time on its own and then one more time to establish a positive control that would help her remember the E-natural in the future.

Then she started the fugue again.

By 10:30 Annilee was ready for her second cup of coffee and Elliott was ready for his breakfast. They met on either end of their galley kitchen, an original bone left over from the cottage that subsequent owners had slowly expanded into the structure they had purchased for both their lab and their home, a rib so slender that they had to take turns passing through. “Technically,” Annilee had said, “we pass the piano back and forth too.”

She had kissed him, then. She always kissed Elliott in the morning. He tasted coffee and she tasted tea.

They each worked. Elliott taught children about music. Annilee taught adults about money. It probably would have been better if she had been able to teach children about money, but she wouldn’t have made so much of it herself. She worked five days a week, with three hours of direct client work per day, billing $200 an hour. One day a week she worked pro-bono, which is to say that one day a week she worked with low-income clients for free.

Zero was the first Fibonacci number, after all. Everyone forgets that. Annilee and Elliott had begun their courtship, the first time around, by arguing whether zero could even be a number. Elliott had won the argument easily, because he programmed in C.

The program Annilee had been working on, when she first met Elliott, had also been in C. She was 17 then, prime and ready for someone to change her life.

Now Elliott said again — “What should we do for your fortieth birthday?”

“I want to begin learning the Schumann Symphonic Etudes,” Annilee said, because she could not say “I think we should start looking for other magicians.”

Annilee was never good at saying the most important thing.

Anyway, she knew what Elliott would say, because he had always said it — “The other magicians will find us when we’re ready.”

Which meant the rest of the day passed as it usually did. Administrative work, lunch, client work, another cup of coffee, a long walk, a strong drink for Elliott and a more subtle one for Annilee, dinner, and then an intense and very often practical examination of magic or mathematics or chess or politics or literature or poetry or whatever it took to get them both undressed and into Annilee’s bed.

Before, she lit a candle.

Afterwards, Elliott went to his half of the lab and Annilee went to sleep.

They loved their life.

They loved each other.

They both knew that an exposition could not be repeated indefinitely.

Annilee learned a lot about magic, very quickly, over the next few days.

She learned, first, that it wasn’t permanent — she had thought, after her first execution of real magic, that she would be able to do it every-single-time, especially because she knew how it worked, or had known enough about how it worked to know the difference between when it worked and when it didn’t work, and known enough about herself to guess at the conditions in which it might work again.

She was mostly right about the conditions.

She was less right about how easy they would be to maintain.

The magic, Annilee understood immediately — and she was right about this — came when she stopped thinking of her hands as something separate from herself. Her hands were not an unpredictable entity. They were not a trained animal that grew fractious or tired or distracted and disobeyed. They were not a computer meant to compile and run the instructions she had just programmed. They were the Word Made Flesh, as God (or, more specifically, John) might have put it.

They were her mind made flesh.

They were her.

The trouble came in maintaining the connection. This, Annilee realized quickly — though in truth it took her nearly forty-eight hours, one practice session and then another one over two days — had less to do with the connection between her mind and her hands and the connection between her mind and the magic.

Between her mind and what she was actually doing, moment-to-moment.

Second-to-second, really.

Or — because Annilee was nothing if not precise — transition-to-transition.

(If she had told this to Elliott, she would have started humming Fiddler on the Roof at that point. She still might.)

At first Annilee achieved this magical connection by diverging her eyes. This shift in perspective was just enough for her to see her hands as herself and to use that information to adjust her experience from mind-hands-output to mind-output and then — because this was where the magic actually happened — to simply output. Performance. Controlled execution.

Then she decided that diverging her eyes was a crutch.

So was hunching forward so that all she saw were her hands, even though blocking out the rest of the room worked — but it also worked once when she sat up straight, and Annilee immediately decided this is better.

They had agreed, she and Elliott, that they would always work towards what was better.

So she began to ask herself what it would take to achieve one controlled execution after another without interference from either herself or the outside world — the latter of which couldn’t do much interfering, in the room they had set aside for magic, but was still present. The short cough of Elliott getting up, for example. The birds, insistently reminding the rest of the world that it was morning and they were horny. The dogs, telling the entire neighborhood that there were birds and children and school buses and so many interesting things to direct your attention towards.

Which brought it back to herself, again.

And where she had to direct her attention — which, if she wanted to make magic, had to be entirely towards performance.

Which brought it back to execution.

Annilee had long understood that execution was a binary, not a continuum. Pass/fail, not AABC. It was zero, or it was one — and she wrote that down in her practice notebook to tell Elliott, when she was ready to tell him.

Magic is one.

That was actually an important part of it, though Annilee wouldn’t realize what she had discovered until much later (she knows it now, of course, but at this point only you do, which gives you the advantage). Instead, she continued to practice and think about the difference between an execution that was magical and an execution that was merely competent.

Competence wasn’t enough. In many ways, competence led to mindlessness, which was the opposite of magic.

Even if it were performed very well.

Mindlessness is zero.

That was further off, which Annilee realized right away. Zero is just as important as one, she could hear Elliott telling her. We can’t make anything without zero.

This is why she did not tell Elliott about the magic that day.

Instead, she kept practicing.

Thinking about her fortieth birthday interrupted things. She could not think of a single gift that she wanted besides the Henle edition of the Schumann Symphonic Etudes, which Elliott and her mother both argued was not a gift. It was a tool, the same way it would have been if Elliott had given her a vacuum.

“What if we got you one of those high-end coffeemakers?” Elliott had asked. Annilee didn’t understand why that wasn’t a tool, too.  Perhaps because she didn’t really need the coffeemaker to make coffee — she had solved the problem of how she liked her coffee years ago — but she did need the Henle to learn Schumann.

Though she didn’t, really.

“You can get there without the editorial notes,” Elliott had said. “They’re just someone else’s presumptions about what the composer wanted.”

“Notes on top of notes,” Annilee had responded.

Her mother would give her a necklace that she would not wear, except on the days that she and Elliott visited her parents. Necklaces dangled and tangled and swung. Necklaces interrupted.

Then her fourth finger on her right hand slipped, and Annilee realized that she had been thinking about something else besides how to create magic.

But she had to finish the thought, because it had somehow become the most important thing in her brain:

Necklaces are variable. They touch different parts of your neck at different times. We are trying to eliminate variability.

She told that bit to Elliott, that evening. He agreed about the second part, but said it was a little premature for her to assume that if she became a magician she would never be able to wear necklaces.

“Once you know how to do magic,” he said, “won’t it not matter?”

“If it prevents you from making magic,” Annilee said, “doesn’t it matter very much?”

“Well, we’re not there yet,” Elliott said, “so we don’t know.”

The next day Annilee wore her worst necklace — a lavalier, with an enormous Lucite fox as its pendant — and waited for it to get in the way of the magic. It wasn’t a very good experiment because she was anticipating a result before it happened, but it made her ask herself if part of creating magic had to do with anticipating a result before it happened. She took the necklace off and wrote the idea down.

Then she tried that particular experiment, which was a slightly better one because she wasn’t anticipating either of the potential results, and determined that it was adjacent to what she had originally learned and what she kept coming back to.

Magic is mind-to-work, moment-to-moment.

The day she had the most trouble with it was the day when Elliott asked what was for dinner. He hadn’t meant to — he said “I forgot” as soon as he saw her face fall — but the thought that had passed between them as they passed in the hallway had been enough to push all of the other thoughts out of her brain. He wasn’t even supposed to be up this early; when Annilee heard him get up, she had timed her steps so that she could meet and then kiss him, because what a wonderful thing it would be to get their first kiss of the day two hours ahead of schedule. Her breath would taste of toothpaste; his of sleep.

And they did kiss, three feet away from Annilee’s practice session, all of her plans already loaded into her head and ready to be tested and developed, and then he asked her what they were going to have for dinner.

“I forgot,” Elliott said. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay,” Annilee said. “It just means that we have to solve this problem first.”

So they went into the kitchen and took turns looking into the refrigerator and evaluating which of their produce was dangerously close to the end of its lifespan. Determining which of the frozen chunks of meat should be thawed. Planning when it would all happen, because Annilee could not think about any other problems until she knew whether it would be she or Elliott who would need to step away from their workday to put a package of chicken thighs on the counter.

“We could have figured this out at 10:30,” Elliott had said.

“You could have,” Annilee said, “but I wouldn’t have been able to do anything else until then.” She kissed him again; she’d need to brush her teeth one more time before she began her practice. “I’m sorry.”

Annilee could not have been more than five minutes late, but the discrepancy in expectation and experience was enough to make it difficult to get started — she spent another eight minutes asking herself whether she should have been different, somehow. Whether she shouldn’t have waited to kiss him (no, she should have), whether she should have hurried to get out of the hallway and into the practice room (no, she shouldn’t have), whether she shouldn’t have let the thought of what should be for dinner crowd out the other thoughts in her head (yes, she should have, but she didn’t know how to do it yet).

Thirteen warm-ups, each of them with eight unique, measurable, controllable executions. That was all she had to do.

Elliott had to be upstairs, regretting her.

No. He loved her. He loved their life. They said so, together, every day.

Keep your fifth finger relaxed, Annilee, remember that you and your mind and your hands and these notes are all the same thing.

She couldn’t even make it through a simple kiss, a simple request, the kind of thing they would have to ask themselves every day or they’d never be able to eat, without being so much of a project-focused failure that the great love of her life had to apologize to her for interrupting her all-important thoughts.

That’s the third time you’ve missed that. You’re not paying attention.

How had she done it before? She diverged her eyes, hunched over her fingers, tried every trick she had previously abandoned.

Magic isn’t tricks. You learned that two days ago.

She wrote that down, because “magic isn’t tricks” was clever, but also because it was just clever enough to circle around in her head until she put it somewhere where she could think of something else.

You will never be magic if you do not know how to get back to the magic. You will never be magic if you do not know how to make magic even after being interrupted.

Annilee stopped. She sat very still. She considered the problem in front of her.

Then she understood the solution.

After that it was easy — not easy in the way that meant it didn’t require everything Annilee had, but easy in the way that meant she knew what she needed to do to make real magic happen.

After that it was time to tell Elliott.

Annilee did not tell Elliott at 10:30, when toast popped and coffee simmered and they kissed like they hadn’t just kissed each other two hours ago. This needed to be saved for their evening session, when they would have three hours or more in which to discuss and test and prove.

“See you at five,” Annilee said.

“Do good work,” Elliott said.

“We already are.”

Annilee mostly tuned Elliott out while she worked, as did her clients. Most of them didn’t even know what he was doing — although one of them guessed, once.

“Nice Winter Wind,” the client had said. A secret passed through the three of them before Annilee returned to discussing partnerships and pass-throughs.

But now she listened, carefully, in between the emails and the calls and the spaces within the conversations.

To see how close he was.

He was better than he’d been the last time she’d stopped to listen, she knew that. He was also different, in a way she found difficult to articulate. Something was stronger — the connection between what he wanted and what he was achieving, maybe. That’s what she always told her clients to do, after all; to connect the results they wanted with the actions they needed to get there. Most of them seemed to assume that it would happen in some other way.

“How are you going to balance that expense against your budget?” Annilee had asked. Her client had yet to respond. She kept listening.

Elliott was better than she was, he had been practicing for longer, but that didn’t mean he could turn his technical prowess into magic. Magic wasn’t proficiency, after all. It was a state of mind.

If he hadn’t figured it out yet was one thing. If he didn’t believe what she had figured out was another. The ideal situation would be for them to proceed from Annilee’s discovery, the two of them together, and then — well, then they would have to see.

But first she would have to tell him.

She started by writing him a series of notes — eighths and quarters as dots and dashes, slur marks designating individual letters, the melody improvised — and Elliott deciphered it, or deciphered just enough of it to guess the meaning, and met Annilee in the practice room after his final piano lesson.

“May I make myself a bourbon first?” he asked.

“Of course,” Annilee said. Her glass of red was already on the coffee table, breathing.

When he returned, wet fingers cooling over ice — he’d poured the good stuff, no mixer — Annilee was ready. She looked at her hands, then at the keyboard, and thought about what she had just learned.

Magic is making what you are doing the most important thing.

Then she played.

Mozart first, beginning as she had discovered how to begin that morning, shaping the Alberti bass to ensure each note could be heard both on its own and in context. Making each of the turns and trills into something that she was playing for the first time, for the only time, for the most important time, instead of something she had learned how to play months ago and was now reciting from a part of her memory she was not actively using. Letting each run take its time, not trying to rush past the parts that were difficult, not trying to show off. If you played something so quickly that it lost accuracy, it was no longer the most important thing. It was no longer magic.

This performance was.

So was the Chopin, the nocturne executed to match the evening that was changing second-by-second outside their windows, the sky shifting from civil twilight to the uncivil potential of darkness.

Annilee did not get to play the Stravinsky. Elliott was already up, his empty bourbon glass already set down.

“That is the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen you do,” he said.

“I know,” Annilee said.

He sat next to her on the piano bench and linked one of his hands into one of hers. They remained still, the two of them, for just a few moments.

“I figured it out,” Annilee finally said. 

“You figured out the next part of it,” Elliott said.

“No, it’s the only part,” Annilee said, taking her notebook off the music rack and showing him what she had written down.

Elliott studied it. Then he took her pen and clicked it and wrote a single sentence and handed the notebook back to her.

Making what you are doing the most important thing is the first condition of creating magic.

“Do you think” — Annilee could barely say it — “what I did” — and she knew it didn’t matter what Elliott thought, not as much as it mattered what she thought, but she still had to know — “wasn’t?”

“I think you played better than I’ve ever heard you play before,” Elliott said. “I mean, I was pretty sure this was coming. This whole week, you’ve been practicing differently. I’ve even been practicing differently because you were practicing differently. When I got your note —”

“So you don’t think it was magic,” Annilee said.

“It is what it is,” Elliott said. “We still have work to do.”

Annilee detached her hand. Put both of hers in her lap. Felt Elliott put one of his around her shoulder.

“I love you,” he said.

“I love you,” she echoed.

“Did you think you would stop there?” Elliott continued. “That this was the end of everything we were working towards, and not just the pause between movements?”

“No.”

“So keep going.”

“It was real, though,” Annilee said. “It felt magical.”

“Magical and magic are two different things,” Elliott said. “When we can do magic, we’ll know not because of what we feel, but because we’ll be able to see how our work affects other people.”

“Other magicians.”

“Especially other magicians.”

“Then we need to find other magicians,” Annilee said.

“They’ll find us when we’re ready,” Elliott said. “The same way you found me.”

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About the Author

Nicole Dieker is a writer, teacher, and musician. She began her writing career as a full-time freelancer with a focus on personal finance and habit formation; she launched her fiction career with The Biographies of Ordinary People, a definitely-not-autobiographical novel that follows three sisters from 1989 to 2016.

Currently, Dieker writes the Larkin Day mystery series and the perzine WHAT IT IS and WHAT TO DO NEXT, both of which are published through Shortwave Media. She also maintains an active freelance career; her work has appeared in Vox, Morning Brew, Lifehacker, Bankrate, Haven Life, Popular Science, and more. Dieker spent five years as writer and editor for The Billfold, a personal finance blog where people had honest conversations about money.

Dieker lives in Quincy, Illinois with the great love of her life, his piano, and their garden.

nicoledieker.com

Copyright ©2022 by Nicole Dieker.

Published by Shortwave Magazine. First print rights reserved.

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Fiction / Short Stories
Live in the glamorous heart of Hollywood! Spacious bachelor studio. Shared utilities in a growing community. Close to nature with stunning natural light. Won’t last long! Jeff’s holding his phone across the coffeeshop table for me to read the listing…
Fiction / Short Stories
The scuffed Plexiglas is hard to see through, but you can’t resist shuttering your eyes like using a View-Master to peer inside and look at your past. Like the wheel-card of slides in the stereoscopic toy, the scenes don’t change…
Culture / Survival
Every millennia or so, this terrifying global catastrophe brings forth a season that zombie hunters everywhere simultaneously hold dear and dread. It is as much a time of creativity and perseverance as it is the worst fucking thing we do to ourselves…
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October 24, 2022
The 2022 BookLife Prize by Publishers Weekly announced semi-finalists this morning, and Alan Lastufka’s debut novel, Face the Night, moved on to the next round of judging…