Smoke and Mirrors
Copyright© 2016 by Cuentista
Fantasy Sex Story: Chapter 1 - Merlin Jacobs was a man who was successful in his career, not so successful in his love life. His hobby, collecting antiques, occasioned an encounter with a being that had a profound impact on both.
Merlin Jacobs, who has always believed himself to be a reasonably intelligent and responsible man, was seriously wondering whether his brain had slipped a cog and the events about to be described were the manifestations of some incipient mental illness, or whether he had in fact stumbled upon some medieval wizardry, some arcane, atavistic magic not encountered outside children’s fairy tales.
He’s always considered himself a common sense kind of person, a believer in science, evidence, fact. Practicality might have been his middle name. He appreciates why many grownups still want to believe in fantasies, and he even believes some fantasies, some delusions can be beneficial in that they might offer some small ray of hope in the face of grim reality. But as for Merlin, given the choice between hard truth and fiction, he choses truth every time. He has never once read his horoscope, he doesn’t toss salt over his left shoulder if he knocks over the shaker, he doesn’t avoid black cats, and breaking a mirror doesn’t evoke in him any sense of dread. Friday the 13th is just another Friday.
But there came a time about a year and a half ago when he was forced by circumstances to reconsider his worldview, and for a man like Merlin who’s comfort and sense of wellbeing are to no small degree reliant upon an entirely predictable day-to-day routine, those circumstances were very upsetting indeed.
But before we get into the details of our protagonist’s enlightenment, perhaps a little something about the man himself might be useful. You can judge for yourself whether he’s a sane, rational creature or a man teetering on the edge.
Merlin was and is flawed in some ways, as are we all, but not so flawed that he stands out among his peers; i.e., there’s nothing glaringly unusual about his appearance or his behavior. Certainly he has his quirks and eccentricities, like being an OC neat freak and his insistence on never ever being late for an appointment! He may have a few personal mildly embarrassing secrets he doesn’t choose to share with anyone, but then who doesn’t?
As this story begins, Merlin is a healthy forty-one year-old man, five-eleven, one hundred eighty-two pounds, generally fit and reasonably attractive, in his own humble estimation. He grew up on a farm in rural Oklahoma and attended Colorado State University where he earned his MS in chemistry. Following a few years spent in R&D, he earned his MBA and became a regional honcho heading up product development at a medical supply company, earning a generous enough salary to place him at the lower end of the upper middle-class economic stratum. When it comes time for him to retire in twenty-five years or so, his 401(k) and investment portfolio will provide him with a very comfortable living throughout his remaining years unless government and industry find some way to cheat him out of it.
So far, nothing all that unusual.
Merlin is divorced. He didn’t intend to be, but he got caught the one and only time he ever cheated on his wife. It was a combination of bad luck and a small lapse in judgment on his part. His two children, a fifteen year-old boy and an eleven year-old girl live with their mom; not their choice, but the court’s. The law in its wisdom isn’t inclined to be very forgiving of fathers who stray. Straying mothers seem to fare better in that respect.
Since he lives several hundred miles from his estranged family, he only gets to have his children with him for one month during the summer. Of course they talk often on the phone and visit on Skype, but it’s just not the same when you can’t hug them. They look forward to their time together as much as he does, and that’s a lot. If prodded, he might own up to a sense of schadenfreude that the kids are always less than enthusiastic about returning home to their mother, but Merlin is a man of principle and he’s very careful to never drop any disparaging remarks about his ex in their presence.
In the love-life department since his divorce, he’s had a couple of minor flings, neither of them initiated by him. Although sex with a real woman was certainly preferable to autoeroticism, nothing could tempt him to consider remarrying. The mere thought of another wedding in his future was enough to give him the vapors. Having fulfilled his biological imperative by fathering two healthy children, he saw no reason to risk his tender sensibilities on another foray into that matrimonial abyss.
In truth, the idea of entering into any kind of relationship with a woman made Merlin uncomfortable because he was by nature a shy man, somewhat socially inept and not inclined to initiate anything of a sexual nature. His ex-wife had been the aggressor from the very beginning, practically railroading him into a marriage he was less than enthusiastic about, probably because she believed he had good financial prospects. But it wasn’t long after they were married that the sex part became merely perfunctory.
When he was caught in the tryst that was the grounds for his divorce, it was the pretty young redheaded divorcee down the hall who had lured him into her apartment under the pretext that she couldn’t get her computer to work properly and seduced him on the spot. His wife caught him exiting the woman’s apartment, flushed and reeking of sex, and browbeat him into confessing his adultery. She cared not a whit that the seduction had been carefully planned and engineered by the horny young widow.
Merlin’s likes include reading good literature (he loves good sci-fi and mysteries), good music (preferably classical, but he appreciates virtuosity in most genres), and hiking. He takes a week by himself every summer to do an extended solo hike somewhere in the world. His last adventure was in Nova Scotia.
Oh, and he has an abiding passion of antique furnishings.
So there you are. On the surface, Merlin Jacobs is so conventional, so ordinary, that his acquaintances sometimes jokingly refer to him as Mr. Vanilla.
And now to the issue at hand, brought about because of his interest in antiques.
Once upon a nice warm Saturday morning in May, Merlin was poking around the antique shops in the south part of the city. He wasn’t shopping for anything in particular, he just wanted to look around to see if an interesting piece would reach out and grab him.
If you know antiques - and Merlin considered himself very well informed on the subject - there are some pretty amazing bargains to be had if you have a sharp eye. Of course most of the dealers in the district are quite aware of what their pieces are worth, but a few of them are actually more junk dealers than antique dealers and their shops are often where you find some of the best bargains.
He’d been to at least a half dozen boutiques and found nothing for which he was willing to shell out his hard-earned money, so he was about to give up and head home when his keen eye caught sight of a large oval framed mirror peeking from behind an atrocious oil landscape. It was about five feet high and three across, and it was leaning against the back wall of an old shop stuffed from floor to ceiling with mostly useless and tasteless crap. He lifted it out of its hiding place and stood back to take a good look. The damned thing must have weighed nearly a hundred pounds and he began to examine it closely to determine what kind of wood the heavy frame was carved from, how thick the glass was, and what it was backed with.
He recognized the wood as walnut, beautifully carved in an ornate, baroque style. His first estimate was that it might be very old indeed, possibly seventeenth century, but he’d never seen or even read about a very old mirror so large. The back of the mirror was painted over with cheap flat black paint. He couldn’t imagine why someone would do that, but you see it all the time. He looked around to make sure no one was watching and took out his pen knife to scraped off a little of the black paint, hoping to see what kind of original backing lay underneath.
As he began scraping, he was startled to hear someone challenge rather brusquely, “Do you mind?!”
For an embarrassing moment, he assumed he’d just been busted, and looked around to explain that he wasn’t vandalizing the piece, just trying to verify its age.
But there was no one there. How strange.
“Hello?” he called out tentatively.
No answer. Could he have imagined it? He shrugged and bent over to examine the spot where he’d scraped off a half-inch square area of the paint ... and damn near peed himself!
The mirror was backed with gold leaf, and that meant two things: One, that it was probably worth a hell of a lot of money, and two, that it was probably very, very old; possibly from as far back as the middle ages. Gold leaf hadn’t been used to back mirrors for centuries!
Feeling rather excited and hoping that little fact hadn’t been discovered yet, he went to find the proprietor. He approached a pot-bellied, sixtyish man at the front counter dressed in baggy pants, an age-yellowed white shirt and red suspenders. The man was puffing away on a cigar and studying a green ledger book through thick horn-rimmed glasses. Merlin put on his best poker face and asked the man how much he wanted for the old mirror in the back.
“There’s an old mirror back there?” the shop owner asked, squinting against the smoke from his smelly cigar.
Merlin was hopeful. “Um, yes, it’s in a walnut frame. It’s really the frame I’m most interested in.”
The man smiled lopsidedly around the cigar clenched in his teeth and said, “Well I guess it must have come in with that last load from the estate sale my wife went to a couple of days ago, so I haven’t really had a chance to look at it yet. Let me give her a call and ask her what she has in mind for a price.”
Merlin’s hopes faded. If she’d bid on it at an estate auction, she probably had a pretty good idea what she was buying.
But for whatever reason, she wasn’t answering her phone. The proprietor shrugged and said, “I guess she must be on the road somewhere. She has this thing about not answering her cell phone if she’s driving, so I can’t say when I’ll be able to talk to her. Tell you what, let’s go back and take a look and see if we can’t come up with something satisfactory to both of us.”
The man stood in front of the mirror, grabbed it and spun it around, probably grinding off a good millimeter of ancient wood. Merlin almost gasped out loud at such callous treatment of the piece, but he managed to hold his tongue.
The proprietor leaned it against the wall, crossed his arms over his protruding belly and stepped back to look at it. “Kind of an odd piece, isn’t it? A little too fancy-schmancy for my taste. Don’t think I’d hang it on a wall in my house, but then it’s different strokes for different folks, I guess. What would you be willing to give me for it?”
A little thrill went through Merlin when the man’s comments indicated he was no antique dealer, that he didn’t have a clue what he was looking at. Still in his casual voice, Merlin said, “Yes, well I thought I could restore the frame and replace the mirror with a nice still life, maybe hang it sideways on the wall.” He stepped forward and ran his fingers over the wood. “Looks like it’s going to need a lot of cleaning up, though. I don’t know, I guess I might go a hundred bucks.”
The shopkeeper tried to look shrewd, cocking his head to the side. “I was thinking more like one-fifty.”
Merlin had played this game many times before and he was good at it.
“Really? Seems like a lot. Well, let me see what I brought with me.” He patted his jacket pocket, looked slightly distressed, and said, “Damn, I’ve gone off without my wallet.” He reached into his front pocket and pulled out some bills, turning his back on the man to count them. “Sorry,” he said with a shrug, “I guess I’m out of luck. I’ve only got a hundred and six dollars with me. Oh well, thanks anyway.” He turned to walk away.
“We take credit cards.”
“But my cards are in my wallet. All I’ve got is the cash. Sorry.” Again, he turned to walk away.
“A hundred and five it is, then! That’ll leave you a dollar for gas.” He thought he’d made a very funny joke and laughed loudly.
The man took Merlin’s money, no doubt thinking he’d just made the best deal he could on an ugly old mirror, then he helped Merlin carry the piece out to his Highlander. There were always blankets and pads in the back for just such an occasion and they wrapped the piece securely before Merlin quickly drove away in case the shopkeeper came to his senses or his wife arrived and discovered what a dreadfully stupid thing he’d just done. All the way home, Merlin was mentally patting himself on the back for not writing a check or using a credit card. There was no way he could be tracked down if the man ever learned what the piece was really worth.
Back at his apartment building, Merlin knocked on the super’s door and asked for help moving the bulky piece up to his apartment on the ninth floor. Sammy was a pretty nice old guy and gladly lent a hand. He got a dolly out of the storeroom and they used the freight elevator.
They laid the mirror on the worktable in Merlin’s shop/exercise room, and he offered Sammy a beer for his trouble. Sammy, of course, accepted the offer. The kindly old building super was a bit of a lush, but a pleasant one.
Once alone with his new antique, Merlin went to work cleaning decades, possibly centuries of accumulated grime off of the wood with lemon oil and some old cotton socks he kept for just that purpose. On an ornately carved piece like that, it’s difficult to always rub with the grain, but it’s important to do that so the wood doesn’t get damaged. He used dozens of Q-Tips to clean in the crevasses.
He took his time, working at it for the rest of the day, skipping lunch and listening to all nine Beethoven symphonies to keep himself in the proper frame of mind. By the time he got through the fourth movement of the 9th symphony, he’d used half a bottle of lemon oil and the beautiful wood glowed a rich, deep brown. He’d even smoothed out that little spot on the bottom where the klutzy shopkeeper had damaged it on the concrete floor. The mirror itself polished up nicely, showing some cloudy spots and oxidation around the edges; another good indicator that it was pretty old.
It was going to require a length of heavy-duty cable screwed into the back and stout hooks tapped into two wall studs to support the heavy piece, so the mirror was left lying flat on the work table until he could get to the hardware store the next morning to buy what he needed. He knew Sammy would be happy to help him hang it since the old man now knew there was a likely beer reward waiting in the refrigerator. Merlin would toss in an extra twenty bucks just because.
By the next afternoon, the mirror hung on the entryway wall opposite a hard maple deacon’s bench from the early nineteenth century. As Merlin looked at himself in its refection, he was pretty damned pleased with what he saw. Of course, he’d need to get the piece appraised for insurance purposes, but until then, he’d done the pencil point test to verify that the glass was very thin. In the old days, the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, glass was very expensive, so they used as little as possible in their mirrors. That and the slightly convex surface convinced him he’d stumbled upon a very large and very ancient, probably sixteenth century sorcerer’s mirror; a hell of a buy for a hundred and five bucks.
Monday morning as he was leaving to go to his office, Merlin grabbed a light jacket and an umbrella out of the coat closet before heading out the door. They were getting one of those steady drizzly rains that would probably last for two or three days. He stood with the umbrella tucked under his arm and took his door keys out of his pocket, clumsily dropping them on the floor. When he turned and bent down to pick them up, the metal tip of the umbrella hit the mirror, chipping off a tiny flake of glass.
Before he could even curse his own clumsiness and check to see if he’d caused a crack, an angry voice cried out, “Good god, man! Why must you mistreat me so? First you attack me with your knife, and now you assault me with that - that - that thing! Have I done something to offend?”
What the fuck!! A stunned Merlin backed up against the deacon’s bench, plopping down on his butt! It felt like his heart was about to pound its way through his chest! He looked around and gasped, “Who said that? Where are you?”
In a more moderate tone, the disembodied voice answered, “Ah yes, now I understand. I suppose all this must be new to you, isn’t it? I take it you are my new master. Allow me to introduce myself. I’m called Smoke. And you are?”
But there was no one there, and the voice seemed to be coming from inside his head. Poor Merlin thought, “Holy shit, I’m hallucinating! I must be having a stroke!” He looked at his hands and flexed his fingers to make sure they were still working.
His head swiveled back and forth looking for ... for anything! Then his eye caught some movement and focused on the mirror. Now, he thought he was SEEING things as well! Grayish clouds swirled around the reflective surface until they gradually coalesced into the almost life-size shape of a man. A very old man! With a long gray beard!
“Ah! There you are,” the voice said.
The image’s eyes seemed to focus on Merlin and the face wrinkled up into what might have been a smile, although that wasn’t entirely certain through the shaggy facial hair.
“Oh fuck me!” Merlin groaned out loud, “So this is how it ends! I hope you’re not going to tell me you’re God, but if you are, I sincerely apologize for never believing in you!”
The image laughed, “God? Oh good heavens no, I’m never one of those things! I’m just a hoary old conjured spirit locked up inside this damnable mirror! Seems like forever, now. Tell me, my good man, what year is it on your calendar?”
Merlin answered the hallucination, knowing full well it was a hallucination. “Year? It’s um, let me think, um, oh, it’s twenty-fifteen.”
“Two thousand fifteen? Oh my! Then I haven’t looked out onto your world for ... let me see now, why it must be almost a hundred and fifty years! No wonder you’re dressed in such a peculiar fashion!”
“Peculiar?” Merlin looked down at his expensive, fashionable clothes and shoes and felt just a fraction of a second of resentment before he caught himself and refocused on the image.
The old man in the mirror went on, “Look here, my good man, I’ve given you my name. If you’re to be my new master, how shall I address you?”
“Master? Address me?”
The old face took on an exasperated expression. “Must you repeat every word I say?”
“Oh, uh, sorry. My name is Merlin. Merlin Jacobs.”
The image smiled broadly. “Oh, how delightful! My very first master, the one who conjured me in the first place was named Merlin. Are you related? But wait, how could you possibly know that after a thousand years?”
Well, Merlin might have been hallucinating, but his arithmetic was still in tact, and he did know his antiques. “A thousand years? That can’t be! Mirrors like this didn’t show up until the sixteenth century! In fact, I’ve never heard of one this large. The glass would be too fragile and expensive.”
“Well I don’t mean to sound disrespectful, Master, but Merlin Number One was a very clever and resourceful man. He invented many things ahead of their time. After all, he conjured me from the infinite void! A man who can do that can certainly come up with a simple mirror!” The old man’s eyes traveled all around the perimeter of the glass, and he added, “Although I don’t remember it being quite so ornate. I might have been reframed.”
Merlin’s heart was still pounding and his hands began to shake. He was wishing that if he were going to die, he’d just go ahead and get it over with.
He tried addressing his fears to the image (spirit?) in the mirror. “Spirit, er, Smoke, see, I can’t believe any of this is real. I think I must be checking out of this world and I think you, or rather your image in the mirror is just a fragment of what’s left of my consciousness, a trick my dying brain is playing on me. At any moment now, I expect to see a very bright light at the end of a tunnel! And here is sit actually TALKING to you!”
The bearded face looked sympathetic and consoled, “There, there, Merlin, do try to get a grip on yourself. The truth is that you’re handling it much better than any of my previous masters, Merlin the First excepted, of course. Why, my last master - mistress, actually - went totally insane and screamed obscenities at me for several minutes before she ran to a window and threw herself out, never giving me a chance to explain. Poor creature! I do hope you’re not contemplating anything so dramatic!”
“Look here, my good fellow, I suggest you suck it up and accept the fact that you are my true and legitimate master until you either die or formally turn me over to someone else, perhaps an heir. Oh, and may I suggest that it’s unnecessary to do me any more physical harm to get my attention. Normally, I wouldn’t have appeared until you summoned me by name, but your abusive acts left me no choice but to present myself. In the future you merely need to say, ‘Smoke, come!’ and I’ll be here. Now, unless you have a specific request, perhaps you should get on with your day. I do so look forward to our next chat.”
The image started to fade, but then it came back and added, “By the way, I realize this image may look rather out of context for these modern times. It was modeled after a Mister Galileo, and as for my speech, my last master resided in nineteenth-century England. I get the impression that’s not were we are now, based upon your peculiar form of English. If you’d prefer some other, perhaps more familiar image, just tell me what you’d like to see and I’ll arrange it. Ta-ta for now, and do try to be more careful with that ... that ... thing, won’t you?”
“Wait!” Merlin called out.
“Um, did you say your name was Smoke? What kind of a name is that for a ... a ... well whatever your are?”
“You know, I can only surmise it has something to do with how my image appears when I’m summoned. That’s the best I can offer. Will there be anything else?”
“No, but thanks.”
The face broke up into swirling clouds, then poof, it was gone. Merlin was looking at a reflection of his own confused and haggard face.
He wasn’t sure how long he sat there staring at the mirror. His breathing eventually slowed and the pounding in his chest eased. Did this just happen? Was he still hallucinating? Had he just gone bat-shit crazy?
He had to know! He stood, took one step forward, focused on his reflection in the mirror and said, “Smoke, come!”
Swirling clouds, bearded face. “You called, master?”