Once upon a time, a young man stopped in at Leon’s Neon City and asked for work to tide him over until spring. The shop foreman grinned and winked at one of his journeyman crafters.Too many folks thought bending glass was something anyone could do.
The foreman held out a clean and glistening length of quarter-inch glass tubing. “Show us what you got, kid.”
The young man accepted the delicate and brittle tube. He brought it close to his face to study it, running his fingers and his eyes along its length, smiling as if he could see and feel a hidden shape within. Finally, he stepped to a workbench, held the tube above a steady jet of blue-white flame and began to turn it into what he had found.
It only took a moment. He finished by attaching electrodes and pumping in some inert gas, then handed his creation to the foreman, who plugged it in and switched on power. A baby dragon, deep green as a polished emerald, came to lighted life in his callused hands.
A woman, a customer, murmured, “Oh, God, it looks alive.”
“Geez,” one of the glass-benders muttered. “That’s almost like magic, ain’t it?”
It took two tries for the foreman to clear his throat. He half-stuttered, “Can you start first thing in the morning?”
“Yes,” the young man said. “But only until spring.”
As those things go, he met a young woman, they were married and April came and went. The doctor said their first child would arrive by mid-December.
And so he stayed.
One day, not long ago, an eight-year-old boy asked, “Do you believe in magic, Grandpa Joe?”
“What do you mean by magic?” the old man replied.
“You know. Like the movie. Wizards, dragons and elves.”
The old man shook his head. “No. I don’t believe in that sort of magic.”
“Is there another sort?” the boy asked.
The boy was the old man’s great-grandson, had been in town from Ohio for six summer weeks, visiting the old man’s son and daughter-in-law. He and the old man had spent a lot of time together and had become best friends. The boy would be headed home soon, so he and the old man decided to make a day of it.
The King Tut exhibit at the science center, first thing in the morning. Lunch at a burger joint. A movie at the multiplex, something the boy had picked, something about hobbits. The old man hadn’t really cared for it. They bought ice-cream afterward, and sauntered through the shopping mall as they ate their cones.
“Another sort of magic?” the old man glanced down to study the boy’s face for a moment. He smiled at his reflection there. “It’s possible. Perhaps -“
Someone screamed, “He’s got a gun!”
The stuttering roar of an automatic rifle ripped through the happy hum of shoppers. The old man reached for the boy just as the plate glass window behind them shattered, spraying them with thumb-sized shards. The old man wrapped his arms around the boy and rolled the two of them into the alcove beneath a nearby concrete bench.
“Quiet now,” the old man said. “Don’t make a sound.”
The boy nodded and pushed in tight.
More shooting; more screams. In the distance, the old man heard sirens, wailing as they rushed to help. The gunfire died off and the old man heard the cries of other shoppers. And then he heard an angry thump and crunch of thick-soled boots upon terrazzo and broken glass.
The police would not arrive in time.
“Close your eyes,” he whispered to the boy.
“Yes, sir,” the boy whispered back.
The old man reached out, scooped up a handful of the shards from the broken window. He waited, praying that the footsteps would pass them by. Hoping they would be spared. No such luck. Khaki-clad legs appeared and a heavy boot kicked at the bench.
“Come out from under there.” It was a man’s voice, deep and angry, almost growling.
The old man held his breath and didn’t move.
“You don’t come out, I’ll kill you in your hidey hole.”
Moving in a way much younger than his years, the old man rolled across the boy, grunting with the effort, knowing he’d pay in aches and pains and bruises, come tomorrow, but right now that didn’t matter.
He came out in a crouch, eyes on the gunman, right hand stretching out to fling a glittering length of hardened glass. The gunman’s eyes widened in surprise, just for an instant, and the hurled six-inch glass spike pierced the left lens of his tinted shooter’s glasses and sank into his eye. The automatic rifle barked again, a triple burst, and the gunman pitched forward to his knees.
As the gun fired, the old man’s left hand swept up, nothing but a blur. He grunted at the three quick, hard impacts, then drew a long and cleansing breath and watched the gunman’s body topple to the floor.
The boy squirmed into the old man’s arms. “Grandpa Joe. Oh, Grandpa Joe. Are you all right?”
The old man hugged him. “I’m fine,” he whispered. “And it’s all over now.”
He stood, took the boy’s hand in his own, waiting for the fast-approaching cops and all their questions. With his left hand, held behind his back, he flicked away the three spent and flattened bullets he had caught. He felt wrung out; exhausted. It had taken so much effort – that catching – for he had never cared to work his magic against explosive energy.
The glass spike had not been difficult. The window shards had begged to be reshaped. Almost sixty years gone by since that day he asked for work at Leon’s, since he had shaped the emerald dragon, and in all that time he had never told another soul that when he worked with glass he did not need the fire.
K.C. Ball lives in Seattle. In addition to Every Day Fiction, her stories have appeared in various inline and print publications, including Analog, Lightspeed and Murky Depths, the British fantasy magazine. A collection of her stories, Snapshots From A Black Hole & Other Oddities, is available through Hydra House Books. K.C. won the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future award in 2009 and the Speculative Literature Foundation’s Older Writers award in 2012. She is a 2010 graduate of the Clarion West writers workshop and an active member of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America.
This story was first published at Every Day Fiction in February 2013.