Bewildering Stories

Change the color of the text to:

Change the color of the background to:


by Alex Shternshain

Raising his hand above his head and then lowering it in a sharp motion, the Emperor opened the duel. The two mages slowly circled the arena, carefully sizing each other’s movements. The younger of the two was wearing a light crème-colored tunic, and wielding a heavy wooden staff with a sharp metal tip in his hands. Slowly, he rotated the staff like the wings of a windmill. His steps were so light that he left almost no footprints in the white sand of the Coliseum of Magic. His long blonde hair was waving in the breeze like a flag. His muscles were as tight as springs, ready to act upon the slightest opening of opportunity.

His adversary was a stout middle-aged man. His tanned and proud face was adorned with a large moustache, and his lips were pressed together in a tight grin. His long multicolored robes were flowing behind him like the tail of an exotic serpent. His movements didn’t have the lightness of his opponent, but they were economical, and there was a sense of certainty in the way he treaded the Coliseum’s sand. His weapon was not quite as impressive — a short metal wand, without any adornments whatsoever.

The crowd observed their motions, mesmerized. Not one of the many pairs of eyes focused on them, from the Emperor’s entourage in their comfortable box, to the commoners in the nosebleeds, dared to even blink. And then, the younger mage decided to make the first move; Makarius hit the ground with his staff. The arena’s floor around him shifted like the surface of the sea on a windy day. The largest wave raced towards Garyl. But the older combatant reacted well — with a flick of his wand, his body levitated in the air, well above the restless sand.

Garyl smiled above the cheering of the crowd. A few seconds later, the waves settled down and he landed safely on his feet. He didn’t waste any time. Speaking a short incantation, he pointed his wand at Makarius and a blue beam of light came out of it. The crowd gasped.

Makarius narrowly avoided the paralyzing ray by deftly stepping aside. Even before the blue streak would dissipate in the air, he quickly raised his staff and shot a bolt of lightning at his adversary. But Garyl was ready for that too. Forcefully, he set the palm of his left hand forward, deflecting the lightning up in a perfectly vertical path. The bolt rose high above the circular arena, and burst into a myriad of sparks, illuminating the faces of the amazed spectators with the brightness of a second sun.

Before the audience had a chance to break into applause, however, a booming voice was heard on the loudspeakers: “C-U-U-U-T!”. Makarius and Garyl froze in their positions, and turned their heads to Mr. Shelton. The young, but already balding Director jumped from his chair and walked over to the two wizards, kicking sand with his short chubby legs and waving his hands furiously.

“Tell me, Mr. Garyl” — he started off, with a voice as sweet and soft as a honeycomb — “Who are you?”

“I am Garyl the Warlock, Sir”

“And who are you in the goddamn movie, Garyl?”

“Oh. In the movie, I am The Black Falcon, the best Gladiator-Wizard of the Siloise Empire, Sir.”

“And tell me, Mr. Gladiator-Wizard, do they wear digital watches in the Siloise Empire?”

“I believe not, Sir.”

“Fine. And can you please tell me” — the Director's voice suddenly rose to a rumbling crescendo — “WHAT TIME IS IT??”

“It is 13:43, Sir. Ooooh, I see what you mean, Sir!” — Garyl passed his eyes from his wrist to the director, to the cameraman, who used the unexpected break to treat himself to a bottle of Evian, to the quietly suffering extras in the stands (6.00$ per hour, times 10 minutes per ruined take, times 2000 people, is, well, a lot).

“I am sick and tired of this unprofessional behavior!” — continued Mr. Shelton — “I don't care if you're a Wizard or...”

“He’s a Warlock, I’m a Wizard.” — corrected Makarius, who had meanwhile walked over to join their conversation. His long hair was no longer waving, but hanged perfectly still — the huge wind-producing fan was turned off between takes.

“Whatever. You are both totally and utterly ... what about the man you turned into a frog during the castle scene yesterday?”

“And wasn’t it a lovely scene, Sir! What about him?”

“He's still a frog!”

“The script didn't say anything about turning him back” — Makarius tried to defend his companion.

“Isn't it obvious!?”

“No, Sir.”

“Isn't it obvious to you numbskulls that when you turn someone into a frog for a scene, you have to turn him back? Do you know that his family is going to sue?”

“Well... now that you put it this way, I think it would have been more prudent of us to use a reversible enchantment, Sir.”

“Even though it doesn’t say so in the script” — Makarius hastened to add. “And more prudent of me to use computer-generated special effects, just like everyone else in the business” — Mr. Shelton concluded. Makarius and Garyl took a break from the discussion to examine their shoes. Mr. Shelton wiped the sweat from his forehead, and then started talking again, underlining each sentence with a cutting motion of his hand, as if chopping a particularly resilient wooden log: “I will not take any more of your wizard, warlock, sorcerer, enchanter or whatever mumbo-jumbo! I have had it up to here with you! You are fired, you hear me! You are both f-i-r-e-d! Get out of the set this very instant! Pick up your stuff and go! On second thought, don't bother to pick up your stuff! I’ll relish throwing it to the trash myself.” — and, after stopping only to fill his lungs with a fresh dose of air, he finished with the dreaded sentence directors have been uttering since the dawn of silent movies, and will keep uttering as long as there will be celluloid:


Makarius and Garyl lowered their heads sadly and turned to leave. But, after walking only a few steps, Makarius stopped, tugged the sleeve of his companion’s robe and whispered something in his ear.

“Stop it! It’s stupid!” — Garyl hushed him off.

“Ask him!” — Makarius insisted.


“Just ask him! Or I will.”

With a sigh of acceptance, Garyl turned to the director and, taking care not to make eye contact, asked one last clarification question:

“Does that include television, Sir?”

Copyright © 2003 by by Alex Shternshain