The Kindness of Strangers

The great wizard William was annoyed. It was at least a hundred years since he last left his solitary cave, and he wasn’t impressed. The world became loud and rude and strange overnight. He was never going to visit this city again.

Carriages rushed around at an unnaturally fast pace. When he tried to cross the road, he nearly died. As it was, they almost deafened him with the loud blasts of noise as they zoomed by.

He brought some things to barter, but the shopkeepers were unfriendly and stubbornly insisted on using whatever their current currency was. So, he left without getting anything at all.

William found a small area where trees and grass grew and the world seemed quiet. He retreated there and sat on a bench. He took a nap, hoping to lift his mood. He woke up an hour later with gum in his hair.

It was the last straw. William rose from the bench, determined to hex the city. Maybe he would turn everyone into sheep for a day. Or snails. Then they’d learn to slow down and be kind to strangers. Perhaps he’d leave them as snails for a month.

He raised his arms and started to chant. A dog ran around him, dragging a small boy along. The leash wrapped around William’s legs. The boy let go, and the dog ran off.

“I’m so sorry,” the boy said. “By the way, did you know that you’re standing in a puddle?”

William looked down. Indeed, he somehow stumbled into a puddle. He looked up again.   The boy was running off, chasing the dog who was running towards the dangerously fast carriages.

William sighed. He chanted a few words and held up a hand.   The dog ran into an invisible barrier. When the boy caught up and grabbed the leash, William lowered his hand and released the barrier.

He realized he’d been too impulsive. The better choice would be to turn their carriages into pumpkins.   That would make the city safer for everyone. It would require a more permanent spell, though.

He’d need to go closer to the dangerous machines. William enlarged his staff and stalked to a busy intersection.   He began to mutter a spell.

“Sir, do you need some help crossing the street?” A young woman asked him.

“Look, he’s blind,” someone whispered. “He really should have a guide dog.”

“Did you push the button so we can cross?” someone else asked.

“Sir?” the young woman said.

“No thank you,” William said.

“All right,” the young woman said. There was a beeping sound, and high above, the lights changed. The carriages all stopped. Across the street, a picture of a hand changed to a picture of a person, and the crowd around him crossed the street in complete safety. Perhaps the carriages weren’t as dangerous as they seemed.

There was still the matter of the gum and the unfriendly shopkeepers. A smaller hex would probably be sufficient.   He’d just draw a minor bad luck sigil.   It would wash away with the next rain and then things would be back to normal.

He found a quiet piece of walkway in front of an abandoned store. He pulled out his box of chalks and began the careful work of drawing a sigil. As he drew, people began to throw money in the box.

Distracted, he paused. “Don’t stop,” someone said. “It’s starting to look pretty awesome. Like hieroglyphics or something.” William looked up. A crowd of smiling onlookers surrounded him. He looked down at his box. There was enough currency to buy the items he needed.

He sighed. He no longer felt like hexing anyone. He finished the sigil, changing the last few runes to call down good luck instead of bad.   Everyone cheered and started to walk away. A few more people threw coins and paper money into his box.

When the crowd had mostly left, an older man approached him. “Hello,” the man said. “I own the barbershop next door. This is amazing. I enjoyed watching you draw it. Would you like a free haircut? I can’t help noticing that you have some gum in your hair.”

A half hour later, William felt like he was floating. He’d really let his hair grow far too long. He felt lighter, freer. Honestly, the people in this city weren’t that bad. He was glad he left them that nice good luck sigil.

He returned to the shops and smiled at the shopkeepers as he bought a few things.   The shopkeepers smiled back. He left the city, using the buttons to activate the lights and safely cross the street. So much had changed since he last visited. He’d have to return much sooner next time.