And this wasn't entirely true, either. Alfie was there from the start, and now had taken up permanent residence on Magnus's sofa. He had grown only more morose as time wore on. He went off to wherever he worked during the day, came back drunk, and stayed that way. Then he stopped going to work.

"It's getting bad, Magnus," he said one afternoon, waking from a whiskey-induced stupor.

"I'm sure it is," Magnus said, not looking up from his copy of War and Peace.

"I mean it."

"I'm sure you do."


Magnus lifted his head wearily.

"It's getting bad. It can't last. It's already starting to crumble. See?"

He rattled a newspaper in Magnus's direction.

"Alfie, you need to be a bit more specific. Unless you are talking about that newspaper, which seems fine."

"I mean" - Alfie pulled himself up and looked over the back of the sofa - "that the entire financial structure of the United States could fall down at any second. Everybody said it could happen and I never believed them, but now it seems like it could really happen."

"These things do."

"How can you not care?"

"Practice," Magnus said, looking back to his book and turning the page.

"I don't know." Alfie slid down a bit. "Maybe you're right. Maybe it will all be fine. It has to be, right?"

Magnus didn't bother to point out that that wasn't what he had said. Alfie seemed appeased, and that was good enough. But now Magnus had lost the flow of what he was reading and no longer felt like continuing. These visitors were getting annoying.

After a few days, Magnus was completely tired of the company, but he was not inclined to throw them out. That would have been unseemly. He simply took a second suite on a different floor and stopped coming home. His guests seemed aware of this, but no one minded as long as the door to Magnus's old suite was open and no one cut off the room service account.

Magnus tried to fill the time with ordinary pursuits - reading, walks in Central Park, a talking picture or a show, some shopping. The heat broke, and a mellow October settled over the city. One day he hired a boat and spent the day drifting around Manhattan, looking at the skeletons of the many new skyscrapers and wondering what actually would happen if it all fell apart, and wondering how much he currently cared. He had seen governments and economies fall before. But these people . . . they made big things and had a long way to fall.

So he opened some champagne.

He noticed that many people spent their days huddled around the stock tickers that graced every club and hotel, many restaurants, even some bars and barbershops. It amazed Magnus how these silly little clockworks under glass could fascinate some people. People gathered around them, sitting hour after hour, just watching the machine spit out a long tongue of paper full of symbols. Someone would catch the paper as it unscrolled and read the magic it contained.

The twenty-fourth of October brought the first scare, with the market tumbling and regaining a bit of footing. Everyone had an uneasy weekend; then the next week came, and everything got much worse. Then came Tuesday the twenty-ninth, and it all came down, just like everyone had apparently predicted, yet never really believed would happen. Magnus couldn't avoid the shock wave, not even in the peace of his room at the Plaza. The telephone began to ring. There were voices in the hall, even a scream or two. He went down to the lobby, where a full-on panic was in progress, people running out with their suitcases, every telephone cabinet occupied, a man crying in the corner.

Out on the street it was worse. A group of people outside were in fevered conversation.

"They're jumping out of buildings downtown," one man said. "I heard it. My friend works down there, and he says they're just opening the windows and throwing themselves out."

"So it's really happening?" another man said, grabbing his hat off his head and holding it over his heart, as if for protection.

"Happening? It's happened! The banks are starting to board up the doors!"

Magnus decided it was probably best to go back upstairs, lock the door, and get out a good bottle of wine.


He did get upstairs, and he did get into his room, but the moment he arrived, one of the recent strangers from his other room appeared in the doorway.

"Magnus," he said, his breath reeking of booze, "you gotta come. Alfie's trying to jump out the window."

"Well, that craze took hold fast," Magnus said with a sigh. "Where?"

"In your old room."

There was no time for Magnus to inquire how long they had known about his new room. He followed the man as he stagger-ran through the halls of the Plaza. They took the back stairs up three floors to the old suite, where the door was hanging open and several people were gathered around the door to Magnus's old bedroom.

"He's locked himself in there and put something against the door," one of the men said. "We looked out of this window and saw him on the ledge."

"All of you, get out," Magnus said. "Now."

When they were gone, Magnus extended his hand and sent the bedroom door flying open. The bedroom window, once the source of a beautiful view of Central Park and too much sunlight, now framed the crouching figure of Alfie. He was perched on the thin concrete lip just outside, nervously smoking a cigarette.

"Don't come any closer, Magnus!" he said.

"I don't plan on it," Magnus said, sitting on the bed. "But could you share your cigarettes? This is my room you plan on defenestrating from, after all."

This puzzled Alfie for a moment, but he carefully reached into his pocket, produced a pack of cigarettes, and threw them inside.

"So," Magnus said, picking them up off the floor and pulling one from the pack, "before you go, why don't you tell me what this is all about?"

He snapped his fingers and the cigarette caught flame. This was entirely for Alfie's benefit, and definitely caught his attention.

"You . . . you know what this is about . . . what did you just do?"

"I lit a cigarette."

"I mean, what did you just do?"

"Oh, that." Magnus crossed his legs and sat back a bit. "Well, I think you've guessed by now, Alfie, that I'm not like the other children."

Alfie squat-bounced on his heels for a moment, considering this. His gaze was clear, and Magnus thought this was probably the first time in weeks that he had been completely sober.

"So it's true," he said.

"So it's true."

"So, what are you?"

"What I am is someone who doesn't want you to jump out of the window. The rest are details."

"Give me one good reason not to jump," Alfie said. "Everything is gone. Louisa. Everything I owned, everything I made."

"Nothing is permanent," Magnus said. "I know this from experience. But you can get new things. You can meet new people. You can go on."

"Not when I remember what I had," Alfie said. "So if you are . . . whatever you are, you can do something, can't you?"

Magnus drew on the cigarette for a moment in thought.

"Come inside, Alfie," he finally said. "And I will help you."


The actual process of altering memory was tricky. The mind is a complex web, and memory is important to learning. Pull the wrong memory and you might make someone who forgets that fire burns. But memories can be softened, or shortened. A talented warlock - and Magnus was nothing if not talented - can embroider the past into something quite different in shape and tone.

But it was not easy work.

Why Magnus was doing this for no money for a mundane who had been freeloading off him for weeks was unclear. Maybe it was because this day was a day of great suffering, and this was the part of the suffering Magnus could end.

An hour later Alfie walked out of his suite not quite remembering a girl named Louisa, who was a bus fare collector or something. Perhaps a librarian in his hometown? He couldn't have told you why he even had thought of her name. He also had no clear recollection of his brief fortune.

It was tiring, and when it was done, Magnus leaned against the sill of the window and looked over the darkening city, over the great expanse of Central Park.

That was when he noticed the strange light in the sky, right over the uptown area. It was a cone-shaped light, smaller toward the skyline and widening into the clouds, and it had a faintly greenish cast.

It was right over the Hotel Dumont.


There was no getting a cab. Every cab in the city was taken, and they were all speeding. Everybody was going somewhere, trying to ditch stocks or sell something, or they were just moving in total panic, zigzagging the city in a frenzy. So Magnus ran up the east side of the park, all the way to 116th Street. The Hotel Dumont looked exactly the same as it had when Magnus had last seen it. All the curtains were still drawn, the doors still closed. It was cold, quiet, and unwelcoming. But when Magnus tried the front door, he found it unlocked.

The first odd thing was that the hotel seemed to be completely vacant. There was no one at the desk, no one in the lobby, no one anywhere. It was certainly a magnificent setting, with a graceful and gilded grand staircase. And it was all very plush and padded. A rich red-and-gold carpet covered the floor, and the windows were covered with heavy drapes that stretched from floor to ceiling. It was cool, shaded, muffled, and disturbingly quiet. Magnus looked up and around, right up to the frescoed ceiling with its fat-faced cherubs pointing at one another and gleefully swinging on vine swings in gardens. Copyright 2016 - 2023