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Potion Paradox

The Fitzgerald Manor, Year 2104 of the Murican Republic

Gerty screamed when she saw my face. I couldn't help but laugh at the how she covered her mouth, as if her hands could mute her glass-shattering wail.

"Sam, what the in the seven realms did you do?"

"I've almost perfected my mood potion."  I took a step closer to her.

 "I don't know if perfected is the right term." Gerty stepped back, picked up her wand and busied herself blowing dust off my ancestors' busts, very careful to keep her eyes on them, not my transformed face.

The likenesses were carved in gold and very detailed, right down to the smug smiles and arrogantly puffed chests. All of the certifications and awards that they'd won during their lives surrounded them. Once upon a time, I admired those men. Now, I hated them. I only kept the busts because I enjoyed watching Gerty clean them, and she needed the money I paid her.

She pointed her wand at the bust of Gregory Fitzgerald, my great grandfather, furrowed her brows and spoke a word of power. The wind vane tattooed on her arm glowed bright blue. A gust of wind sent dust flying up to a cloud hovering near the hallway's cracked ceiling. She took out a cloth and rubbed his nose until it shone.

After repeating the process on the bust of my Grandmother, Louise Fitzgerald, she looked at me and cringed. "Please tell me it isn't permanent. I might have to quit if it's permanent."

"I should be able to reverse it." I scratched my head, retracing the steps I took to mix the potion.

"Good, because there isn't a big market for cleaning witches these days. Ever since Mage Michael created that spell to enhance canine intelligence, it's been cheaper to hire one of those fluffy pooches to do the housework since they work for food. It's slave labor if you ask me."

Gerty went on about the rights of intellectually modified animals while she cleaned my ancestors memorials. The more she talked, the more I felt like their ghosts were sneering us. Any of them would've made someone like poor Gerty try the potion instead of testing it on themselves.

I wandered down the hall, letting her voice act like white noise. It drowned out the voices of the dead and their whispering disapproval until all that was left were my own calculations. I reviewed all the potion's ingredients: the pig's blood, the magical crystals, the chocolate, narcotic powders, and luscious leaves. I counted the proportions, listed the properties and worked out the equations that explained the interactions. What had I missed last time?

"Are you even listening to me?" Gerty finished the last figures, which had the least wrinkles of all since my father, Richard Fitzgerald, died the youngest. The Pharma Guild claimed he overdosed because he was so distraught by my expulsion from the Pharma Academy that he just couldn't go on living. In reality, he was clinically depressed to the point where the approved treatments couldn't help him. He needed something stronger, something like my potion. If his father and the rest of the board hadn't been so pig-headed and narrow-minded about acceptable potion ingredients and where they're sourced from, then perhaps the only kind member of my family would still be alive.

"Definitely not listening," muttered Gerty. "Might as well can me and hire a canine dust mop to clean."

"Animals should have equal rights," I stared into the mirror where my likeness would go after my death. The potion mishap had caused all my hair to fall out. My ears had grown large, pointy and pink. My nose was a round snout protruding from the center of my face and my eyes were two black buttons. Every aspect of my face had turned into a pig's, except for the mouth and skin color. My lips were frozen in the shape of an oversized smile, and my skin was bright yellow.

Gerty laughed. "I stopped talking about animal rights three statues ago. I was talking about how much I miss your father. He was sad, but he was the gentlest man I'd ever met. Back when he was a boy, his father wanted to test a potion on a piglet, but your father had grown attached to the little runt, and ran away with it. I can still… "

"It's the pig's blood!" I grabbed her tattooed arms. "It needs to be fired into the ceramic, so it doesn't interfere with the powder's transformative properties. If the pig's blood is in the mug, it can still amplify the crystals, but it won't bond with the powder, so the powder can just transform the mood, not the face. That's it! Put the pig's blood in the ceramic and the mood converter will finally work! It will work!"

I jumped up and down like a little boy at the height of Yuletide, but Gerty, frowned. "Aren't you happy? If you're not, you can try the potion once it's safe. I'll give it to you free, since I couldn't have done it without you keeping my house so clean."

She shook her head. "I'm happy. I just wish you could have perfected this ten years ago, when your father was still alive."

"I wish I could have too, but I didn't, so the best I can do is carry on in memory of him and make sure no one else suffers like he did." I leaned forward to give the old witch a hug.

 "What are you going to do when it's finally done?"

"I might go back to school and study quantumphysmaturgy."

"Haven't you had enough of academia?" She crossed her arms so that the bottom of her sweeping broom tattoo was hitting the weather vane on the arm below it. She hadn't cut power to the dusting spell she was working, so the wind cooled my porky face.

"Yes, but I need to perfect quantumphysmaturgy for my next project."

"And what is that?" she asked.

I placed my hands on her creased cheeks. "I want to make a time machine."

A facility "owned" by the Chickcargo Street Mages, Year 2107 of the Murican Republic

The rope binding my hands behind my back wasn't tight enough to stop them from shaking as I paced around and around in the dark, ten by ten room.

I wasn't a prisoner, or at least, that's what the meat-heads told me. They claimed this was standard operating procedure for all first time visitors. Whether or not I became a prisoner depended on how the meeting went. Part of their test was to see how long I lasted in the dark cell before I broke. If they were anything like the other organized criminals I had dealt with, going breaking would mean I'd never get my meeting, so I passed the time by doing what I did best: pacing and thinking.

The past three years were a dream-come-true transfigured into a nightmare. Western Realm University let me take all the quantumphysmaturgy courses I could pay for, but the Pharma-Guild made sure no one funded my research or the research of anyone even indirectly affiliated with me. It got to the point where no one would even look at me in class.

Since Pharma also made sure I couldn't sell my potion, my studies were limited to what my meager inheritance allowed. When the funds got too low and my income was zero, I had two choices: find a way to make money or give up.

Sam Fitzgerald does not give up.

After three years of being ignored by classmates and professors alike, I had gleaned enough information to build my time machine, but hardly had enough money to eat and pay my property taxes in the same month, let alone buy the supplies from my invention. 

Most legal methods of earning gold were closed to me, but thankfully, there were dozens of sub-cultures on and beneath the Nine Realms with no regard for the government's petty rules.

One such group was the Chickcargo Street Mages, notorious for allegedly stealing children and making wands out of their bones.

The Street Mages were the last people I expected to do business with. However, after spending enough time drinking in seedy bars, negotiating herb prices with the Witches Guild of the Southern Most Realm, and testing products for Enchantress Ellie, I not only learned that most rumors about Street Mages were utter dragon-dung, but also that they might be the partners I was looking for.

A thundering groan drew my attention back to the present. My cell quaked. I felt powder dust my head like light snow, but the room was too dark to see anything. I closed my eyes to better ignore the dark and sniffed. At first, the dust seemed odorless, but as my other sense dulled and my sense of smell heightened, I smelt the faintest traces of magic.

Spells were hard to work when bound up in the dark, but not impossible. I took a few calculated breaths and focused on channeling power through the spiral inked on my nose. Energy looped through the lines, spinning faster and faster until it spun right out of the spiral and sunk through my skin into my nervous system. The next time I inhaled, I smelled past the magic and sneezed as cornstarch filled my hypersensitive nostrils.

I laughed, relieved it was a harmless substance and not something meant to kill me.

"Sam Fitzgerald," boomed a voice as deep as a southern drum. "Why are you so amused?"

"Because the cornstarch is ticking my oversized nostrils," I replied, chuckling a little more. I managed to de-pig my face, but I never gotten my nostrils to fully shrink back to their normal size. Most people assumed it was a cosmetic procedure gone wrong.

"It seems you are as wise as Enchantress Ellie claims," said the voice. "Most mages panic when the feel the powder."

"I studied at the Pharma University for nearly ten years. Substances are my specialty."

"Indeed," said the voice.

Suddenly, the room lit up with a blinding white light. I had to blink a dozen times before I could distinguish the people from the spots.

The man in front of me was over six feet tall, bald, ebony skinned and covered from head to toe in tattoos. The burnt powder smell sizzling in the air around him told me he was a very powerful mage, and every one of his tattoos was tied in with his magic. There were skulls, flames, blades and images of contorted bodies, but behind the horrors, I saw brilliant flowers, mending bones, and smiling children.

"I apologize for the wait," said the man. "My name is Faxua Denzel. I'm the head of the Chickcargo Street Mages."

Remembering Ellie's instructions, I bowed. "As you already know, I am Sam Fitzgerald."

I remained prostrate until he clasped my cheeks with his massive hands and raised me up to his level. "I am very happy to meet you. Did you bring the product?"

"Yes."

He grinned, revealing gleaming white teeth that were filed to points.

I shuddered as he leaned forward. His breath smelled like soggy, dead rat. Its moist heat tickled my neck as he leaned in like he was going to kiss me. I didn't flinch, and thankfully, all he did was reach behind me and whisper the magic word required to undo my bonds.

"Come. I will give you a tour of our facilities on our way to the patients." Faxua Dezel led me through the most pleasant factory floor I had ever seen. The walls were painted colors like grass green, buttercup yellow and peony pink. Instrumental music played in the background: loud enough to distract the ear from the distant hum of machinery, but not so loud that you couldn't talk over it.

Each room was lined with long worktables where woman and children sat laughing and smiling while they stirred liquids, ground stones and cooked potions. Everyone looked well fed, dressed in bright but slightly worn clothing, and most importantly, happy. This may have been an underground drug factory, but the people who worked in it were treated better than the workers in legal pharma-potions facilities.

Faxua explained that the children his people allegedly murdered were orphans, victims of domestic abuse, and/or run-aways. He didn't steal or kill them. He saved them from their parents, government run orphanages, and human traffickers. He thought of himself as a hero, not a criminal.

"So why do you need me and my potion?" I asked as we passed through yet another cheerful workroom.

He frowned. "Not all of my family is this happy. Someone has to maintain our street facade. Playing the villain takes its toll, sooner or later."

"My mood converter isn't permanent," I reminded him.

"I know," said Faxua, "But being happy for a short amount of time will help them put things in perspective, give them hope, and delay suicide attempts."

"You want to use it as a therapy tool." I stared at the black door blocking me from going any further down the purple hallway. "That is a perfect application for it."

"I'm glad you agree. Are you ready to meet the clients?"

"Of course."

Faxua lead me into a dimly lit room with lilac walls, plush carpet, and cozy armchairs. The men sitting in them had almost as much ink as Faxua did, but none of his charisma. They watched the wall with the same blank eyes and drooping lips that my father wore for the last year of his short life.

"You the doc?" asked a boy who couldn't be any older than 16.

"I am. I have a potion that will help you, but you have to follow each step exactly, or you might die."

They nodded nonchalantly. I conjured my bottles out of my vest's hidden pocket and walked the men through the process of mixing the mood converter, making sure they did everything right so they didn't create an explosion large enough to kill everyone in the warehouse. Nine out of ten mixed it just right. As they drank, their eyes brightened. Their shoulders perked up. Their frowns morphed into smiles. The tenth slumped, convulsed, and died.

Faxua shook his head and called someone to remove the body. "If one of the nine recover from depression, we will be better off than we were before. Keep me supplied with mood potion and I'll fund your time machine."

An Alley in Lawtown, Year 2090 of the Murican Republic

Richard Fitzgerald stumbled out of the bar into a steamy night. Nearly naked women called to him from the alley, offering pleasures that would make his dead grandmother roll in her grave, all for the reasonable rate of five gold coins per hour. He imagined some men would have felt a rush of heat at the sight of the pierced breast or dyed pubic hair, but he felt nothing: no flush of arousal, no disgust, and no outrage. He could hardly even feel the buzz from the bottle of whisky he drank in the tavern.

Something crunched beneath his boots. The streetlamps dull flicker reflected on a shard of brown glass. Richard picked it up and stabbed his palm with it. He saw the skin break and the blood run, but he felt nothing, so he dug it in harder, scooping out red and pink clumps of flesh with each jab.

"What are you doing?" shouted a voice that was both strange and familiar.

"Why in the twenty hells do you care?" He turned to face the person who'd just burst out of the shadows.

He tried to look into the person's eyes to get a sense of whether or not he could provoke a fight. One could tell a lot about a person from their eyes, but Richard couldn't see anything but shadow under the stranger's wide brimmed hat.

Richard couldn't gauge much, but he wanted a fight just to see if it would make him feel something. If he got lucky, the stranger would just kill him.

"Familiar got your tongue?" sneered Richard.

The stranger shook their head. "I know you're numb, depressed, and lost, but I can help."

Richard snickered, not caring enough to truly laugh. "Every potioneer at the Pharma-Guild has tried to cure my depression. Why do you think you can do what they can't?"

"Because I'm not a narrow minded dragon shit," said the stranger, almost making Richard laugh. "Have you ever heard of Sam's Magical Mood Converter?"

Richard shook his head. "What in the nine-realms is that?"

"A recipe-in-a-box for a potion that can make anyone happy, even the most depressed Street Mages."

"Street Mages, huh? I bet Pharma wouldn't approve of that." Richard thought he might actually try this potion. The Street Mages were the most miserable people he had ever met. Of course, the only ones he had met were in the prison medical ward he interned at when he was in the academy. He didn't really know if the ones still at-large were any less depressed.

"Pharma can kiss my ink-stained behind."

Richard decided he liked the stranger. "How much is this going to cost me?"

"First bottle is free." The person held out a bright yellow box.

Richard took it, even though his instincts told him this was how people got hooked on narcotic potions. He ignored those instincts. Addiction to a new drug had to be better than constant, gray numbness.

"Thank you." Richard walked away before the stranger could try selling something else.

"Make sure you follow the directions exactly. You'll die if you don't."

Richard heard the words, but was too focused on trying to figure out why the voice was so familiar to really understand the implications of the words. He thought about it for the whole walk home, but by the time he passed through the ornate wooden doors and was throwing his filthy, flea ridden jacket over the bust of his great-grandfather, he was no closer to figuring it out.

"Rich, is that you?" called a hoarse, female voice.

Richard ignored it. As numb as he was, he knew it hurt his wife and child just to look at him. He kept walking as her voice got louder, catching a glimpse of her white bathrobe before ducking into his basement lab, slamming the door shut and arming the wards.

He snapped his fingers, igniting a single lantern. He sunk down to the cold stone floor and read:

I did not let expulsion from the Pharma Academy stop me from pursuing my dreams of curing depression, so you should not let anything stop you from being happy. I know better than anyone that the world can often be filled with depressing obstacles, so I designed this potion to give you a boost as you strive towards eternal exhilaration.

Sure, my ingredients and research methods are a bit unconventional, but they work. In fact, they worked so well that the greedy warlocks of the Pharma-Guild falsely accused me of violating the Healer's Code of Ethics two months before I was scheduled to graduate (I would NEVER experiment on kittens or babies!). Unable to pursue my dream in legitimate markets, I brewed healing potions in my basement and began selling them on the Black Net. Twenty years later, my potions are improving moods all around the world with a unique blend of truly magical ingredients.

Despite the excellence of this product, or perhaps because of it, you absolutely must read all directions before using Sam's Magical Mood Converter. Failure to follow the directions exactly increases the risk of harmful side effects such as vomiting, ulcers, headache, hallucinations, and death.

Directions:

  1. Make sure you are alone or accompanied by someone trustworthy.
  2. Eat three of Enchantress Ellie's Special Brownies without dropping any crumbs, as they will attract flesh-eating slugs. Be sure you do not exceed three brownies because they will impair your ability to properly follow directions. Even the smallest error in the preparation of this product can be fatal. I hate it when my products cause death instead of bliss.
  3. Boil two cups of water in a medium saucepan. Eat three ounces of unsweetened 87.5631% cocoa while waiting for it to boil. The brand does not really matter, but Collin's Cocoary does produce exquisite culinary chocolate that contains the correct percentage. The owner is a good friend of mine, so his product will never disappoint you.
  4. When the water boils, open the box. Be careful so you do not rip the side that these directions are printed on. Inside, you will find three numerically labeled bags. Place them on your clean counter, number side up. You want to make sure the counter is really clean. It would be terrible if a smudge of caramel blocked out a step or a roach ate through one.
  5. Open bag number one. It contains a sparkly white substance made from Deep Cavern Crystal enchanted by expert sorcerers to inspire happiness. Slowly pour the crystals into the boiling water. Stir rapidly with a copper fork for exactly five minutes and fifty-five seconds. Do not exceed one hundred and seventy-three strokes. Do not move onto step six until ALL the crystals are fully dissolved.
  6. Open bag number two. It should contain a white powdery substance obtained from Chickcargo Street Mages. Do not add this slowly. Dump the whole thing in at once and whisk swiftly. If it does not fully dissolve within three minutes, its magical energies might have a negative reaction with the dissolved crystals and explode. This explosion will kill you, your neighbors and possibly your neighbor's neighbors. Additionally, it will attract unwanted attention from both the authorities and the Street Mages. Even if you are dead, this will be bad for your surviving relatives, as the Street Mages are known to make ceremonial jewelry out of human intestines.
  7. Once bag number two has been safely mixed into the pan, turn the burner off and open bag number three. It contains dried leaves from the magical Canny Plant grown by the Witches Guild of the Southern Realm. Place these leaves into the water stem-side up and allow them to steep for four minutes and two milliseconds. No more, no less. If they do not steep for EXACTLY four minutes and two milliseconds, they will turn your potion into a toxin capable of causing genital lesions, brain aneurysms and ruptured intestines.
  8. While the leaves steep, remove the magical mug from the box. The outside is yellow with a smiley face drawn on the front with pig's blood. Inside the mug, you will see 12 inscribed sigils. Trace the outline of each with your right index finger, telling a story of a happy memory as you do it. You must say these memories out loud. They must be your happiest. Failure to select truly happy memories will result in an unsatisfactory experience.
  9. After you have imbued the sigils with your happiest memories, pour the contents of the pot through the provided strainer into your mug. Make sure the strainer catches all the leaves before your timer passes four minutes and two milliseconds. The genital lesions acquired by over steeping are as incurable as the brain aneurysm and ruptured intestines.
  10. Drink the potion slowly in one gulp. Happiness will come to you gradually at first, and then it will eradicate all other feelings. The euphoria lasts four to six hours and is often accompanied by a strong desire for fornication, which can be extremely unpleasant if you have the lesions.

Disclaimer:

Do not use with other mood modification potions because ingredients in this potion have strange and unpredictable interactions with other substances.

Do not use in the presence of any kind of government agents as all the ingredients are highly illegal. However, I assure you, their illegality is because of the Pharm-Guild's corruption, not ingredients' quality.

Sam's Magical Company is not responsible for any injuries, arrests, diseases, property damage or pregnancies incurred by the use of this product.

A strange sound bubbled up from Richard's belly to his tongue, making it difficult to get air in and out of his lungs. After ten minutes, he realized that it was laughter making it hard to breathe.

"I can't remember the last time I really laughed."

He opened the box and removed the oversized smiley mug. All the ingredients were neatly packaged in clear plastic bags.

"Who in twenty hells makes a potion in an enchanted smiley mug?" He munched on the brownies. They made him relax, so the laughter didn't have to fight its way through stone walls to escape.

The laughing got harder as he proceeded through each step of the potion. It became so violent that by the time he reached step seven, he dropped his stirrer and didn't realize he let the Canny Leaves steep for four minutes and two seconds instead of four minutes and two milliseconds.

He followed the rest of the directions exactly, recalling the day bought Sammy's first wand as he infused the sigils with magic. When it was done, the potion smelled like summer evening spent floating in a pool. His body felt light, tingly, and alive. His skin buzzed. The cut on his palm throbbed. He wanted to find his wife and kiss her for the first time in seven months.

Still laughing, he ran towards the stairs, collapsing just inches from the door as blood vessels burst in his brain. The aneurism felt like thousands of explosives being detonated in his skull. The pain was the most he had felt in years, and it was more euphoric than his wildest dreams. He savored the feeling, not regretting it until his wife scooped him up. Her tears wet the one cheek that still had feeling.

"Why?!!" she asked. "Sooner or later, Pharma would've found a cure!"

Richard tried to open his mouth to tell her someone had found a cure, but he had messed up: he didn't follow the directions right. It wasn't suicide, just a tiny error.

"What happened? Did Daddy fall down the floor?" squeaked Sam.

"No, Sam. Your father killed himself."

About the Author
Sara Codair lives on a lake in Massachusetts with a cat, Goose, who "edits" their work by deleting entire pages. Their debut novel, Power Surge, will be published by NineStar Press in October of 2018. FInd her online at https://saracodair.com/.