Philo's Stories

River Racing

as the wires of the bridge come into view, the wind whips at her hat, which is firmly held on with spells
the gap between some of the lower wires is wide enough for her to fly through sideways and she angles her broom towards it, spinning through the air
she hopes that nobody on the bridge notices as she whips south at somewhere above 400 mph
she's heading south towards New York City and preparing for a broom race

the sun warms her from the crisp spring air as she gently sets down on the sand of the beach on Coney Island
she checks her watch and sighs as she reads the time; she's four minutes short of her record from the Bear Mountain Bridge to the Verrazzano Narrows Bridge
her broom and hat disappear into her bag and she walks off the sand into a nearly empty subway station
it's a long ride into Manhattan from here, but ever since she collided with the Roosevelt Island cable car, she's been more careful
as the train rocks from side to side, she thinks about how she can improve her broom's spells and beat Katy's record

a few minutes after getting off the train, she swipes a card and opens the door to a small hotel room
it's not much, but it has everything she needs and can't fit in her bag (connecting plumbing to a portable magical space is harder than it seems)
she puts her bag in the wardrobe, draws a sigil on the door, and opens it up to step into the cavernous space she carries around with her
diving into the bag gets annoying, especially when she has to come back out, so using the door to the wardrobe is a neat trick
inside the room, she finds shelves full of random objects and a workbench covered in tools and papers exactly where she left them
she sets her broom down on the bench, puts on her magic glasses, and gets to work with a beryllium-copper enchanting tool

the thicket of spells on the broom is a dense, tangled mess, but she's pretty sure she can fit some more in
she's been pushing up against the limits of the materials in her broom for a few weeks now and starts absentmindedly daydreaming about the smooth carbon fiber of Katy's broom

while she doesn't have any carbon fiber with her, she does have an idea that just might work
she cuts a piece of beryllium-copper hexagonal stock slightly wider than her broom and hammers a hex broach through the enchanted wood of the broom's handle
it's a tight fit, but she manages to push the BeCu rod into the hole she made right where she usually puts her hands
with some more slow work, she files the BeCu rod to a smooth, flush mating with the wood
if her guess is correct and this works, she'll be able to deliver even more power directly into the broom, letting her accelerate even faster

Becca waits until late at night to test it, knowing that nobody'll manage to film her in the dark
she takes the train to the Roosevelt Island tramway and gets in the cable car with one other person, who looks too engrossed in her phone to snitch
halfway across the river, she takes her broom and hat from her bag and casts a small spell to open the door into the cold night air
the other passenger, a girl in a dark dress and dark cherry lipstick, gives her a nod and says "breeze to the bristle"
"breeze to the bristle! will I see you at the race on Saturday?" Becca replies
"if the weather's good, yeah" she smiles

Becca puts her palms on the ends of the beryllium-copper rod and kicks off from the cable car
once she's clear of the cable car's cables, she pushes even more power into the broom through the rod, sending red sparks out the back and rocketing down the East River
by the time she flies under the Manhattan Bridge, she's exhausted
she lands in a park just short of the Brooklyn Bridge, her boots leaving deep ruts in the mud as she comes to a stop
she ends up taking the ferry back north, nursing a bottle of Mountain Dew, too tired to even make it to the train station a couple blocks away
this is going to need some more work if she wants to be sure that she won't fall into the river on Saturday

June's steel-toed Red Wings hit the rocks of Con Hook, a small piece of land jutting out into the Hudson, with a surprisingly loud thud
she's gotten pretty good at flying her new broom, but she could still use some practice on landings
even though her broom is faster than many witches' first attempts at brooms, it's still a lot slower than the one she and Alice made for Katy and would get left in the dust in Katy's practice race
she wraps her arms around her girlfriend and climbs onto the carbon fiber broom behind her, her legs somehow finding purchase against its smoothness
they've gone pretty fast before, but Katy's finally taking her down the leylines of the Hudson River today
as they pass under the bridge, June hits the button on her stopwatch and feels a rush of acceleration as Katy goes "breeze to the bristle"
the broom seems to steer itself down the leyline in the middle of the river and Katy uses this opportunity to focus even more on speed
June adjusts her hair tie to keep her hair out of her face and holds onto her girlfriend even more tightly

they're testing a new and improved shock cone spell that should be about 3% more efficient if the simulations June ran are correct
Katy steers the broom through the exhaust smoke from a ship steaming north to Albany and June carefully watches the way the broom displaces the smoke
it looks about right and she leans forward and kisses Katy on the cheek
she spends the remainder of the race down to Brooklyn marveling at the scenery of the Hudson valley and her girlfriend

the second Metro-North train north from New York City that Saturday morning is strangely popular
a tired commuter takes a seat in the first car behind the locomotive and gets a suspicion that he's out of place
he checks and rechecks the timetable on his phone; it's definitely the correct train to Poughkeepsie, and he's not running late

as the train heads further north and he becomes properly awake, he overhears the conversations around him in the car
either the women around him are very into video games, or there's something strange going on
he soon realizes that the answer is the latter when someone produces what appears to be a full espresso machine from a small backpack and starts pouring shots

"hey, mister, can you move out of the way. this is my stop" he says to the hoodie-wearing girl next to him
the woman in front of him whirls around and stares him dead in the eyes
"what did you just call her?"
"I called him 'mister'"
"she pretty clearly isn't a 'mister'"
"I'm not sorry, you tranny"
with a gesture, she flings him through the wall of the train at the timetable board of the station the train is pulling into
he lays there on the platform wondering what hit him

"thank you. uhh, how did you do that?" she asks the witch who saved her
"I made him start phasing and then sorta yeeted him thr-" she replies, stopping suddenly as she adjusts her mages' glasses
"wait, you aren't a witch, are you? where do I recognize you from, then?" she says, noticing the conspicuous lack of spells around her
"hmm.. were you at that party at Emma J's place a couple weeks back?"
"you've been in Emma's labyrinth of an apartment, and you aren't soulsparked? you must've been really confused"
"I thought I was just too drunk to figure out where things were"
"you might've been, but it also doesn't have a fixed layout and is located entirely in liminal space"

they keep talking and the witches gather up their things as the train approaches the station at Manitou
to her new friend's surprise, she steps off the train onto the desolate platform with them
"you seem cool and cute, and it's not like you can have me go off blabbing about your magical secrets, can you?"
"can't argue with that" she replies, blushing a bit

"I don't think I ever caught your name. I'm Amelia"
"I'm Lily" replies the witch

she takes a tarp from her bag, which starts to hover above the ground as she unfolds it
she takes a seat on it and beckons Amelia to join her, handing her a stopwatch
around them, other witches ready their brooms
the tarp lifts off and begins to float over the Hudson, followed by broom-riding witches
scared of falling off the flying tarp, she grabs Lily's hand, who squeezes back and smiles

the tarp floats under the Bear Mountain Bridge, bisected by an invisible wall
the racers all push their brooms up against it, waiting for the wall to vanish and the race to start
she goes over the rules one last time: "the first across the center line of the Verrazzno Narrows Bridge wins, and no time or space manipulation is allowed. everything else is fair game. may the best witch win!" she shouts, dispeling the invisible wall

downriver from the bridge, a small crowd of witches floats on tarps, carpets, and brooms, expectantly waiting for the bridge to start
they let out a magically amplified cheer as the witches launch forward

the starting tarp follows the race from the rear, getting ready to catch any witches who drop out

Katy and June give Becca a smile during the countdown
they're riding together, which is unusual, but not unheard of
she hasn't told them about her new addition to her broom, and she hopes it doesn't backfire horribly

as the invisible barrier comes down, they blast off
June furiously casts spells to create an aerodynamic cone shape in front of them as Katy rapidly accelerates the broom
Becca keeps pace, her broom spewing red sparks
the other racers are still a fair way behind them as they break the sound barrier, marked by a magically silenced sonic boom

Becca reaches into her bag and takes out a bottle of Mountain Dew
she vanishes the cap as she brings it to her lips, drinks the entire thing, and throws the empty bottle at Katy, but it bounces off June's cone spell
she knows that she can't keep this pace up for the whole race, and she's already starting to feel a bit tired
she scoots her hands up the stick of the broom to take them off of the BeCu rod

the red sparks from her broom diminish and she immediately feels less tired, but Katy and June gain on her
if her technically-ITAR-violating equipment is correct, she's fallen below Mach 1.1 and her speed is still dropping
most of the other racers this foggy morning on the river aren't this extra and still haven't broken the sound barrier, but she can feel their heavily enchanted brooms catching up to her

on the lead broom, June takes a piece of french toast out of her bag and hands it to Katy
the homemade maple syrup she put on it before they left for the race is still perfectly in place, and it doesn't make a mess
when she first became a witch, she noticed the big things, like brooms and instant transitions first, but tiny spells like this prove to her that magic is the kind of world she wants to live in

although the race course is only 53 miles long on a map, the leylines it contains are hundreds of miles long and folded into it
a few days a year, the leylines unfold and distort space around them
at the altitude the witches are flying at, the course is nearly 400 miles long, although its precise length varies from year to year
given the river's map length, the arms race for ever faster brooms would make no sense, with the course being only 4 minutes long at Mach 1

[suggested soundtrack: Running In The 90s]
a dozen miles into the race, Becca puts her earbuds in and turns the volume on her phone as high as it will go
as the intro ends on the eurobeat song she's blasting, another witch comes up alongside her, dark cherry lipstick visible in the shadow cast by her hat
she gives her a wink and reaches for the BeCu rod, sending a shower of sparks flying from her broom
Katy and June are miles ahead by now, but she's putting more and more distance between herself and the witch she's trying to pass

not content to be blasted past, she stretches out her arm and begins casting
quickly tracing a circle in the air, she manipulates the wind around Becca's broom, knocking her off course
she looks back at the attacking witch, who smirks at her
she pushes the wind back towards her opponent with a shoving gesture

a moment later, she feels something tightening around her waist and as though her broom is twice as heavy as before
the thaumic lasso is very effective, but she knows how to counter
with a snap of her fingers, her Leatherman leaps from her pocket and unfolds
she neatly slices the rope with the sharpness of her blade and the spells that cover it like a film of grease
she leans into her broom and accelerates even more as the song hits its chorus

by the time the song fades out and she lets herself release the rod and recover a bit, she's traveled about 70 miles and left the other witch in the dust

a couple miles south of the Bear Mountain Bridge, a flat ice floe rapidly forms in the middle of the Hudson
a witch twirls around in the middle of it, her skirt flaring outwards as the ice grows with each rotation
once she's gotten it big enough, she stops and draws a circle of sigils
"all aboard for Governors Island! all aboard!" she shouts at the witches who'd come up for the start of the race and weren't going to follow the racers down
as they land on the ice, she texts her friend at the other end
she finally gets the all-clear: "🧙‍♀️️✅🕯️🪄🆗" and starts her end of the spell

a moment later, the witches arrive, a bit dehydrated, in a circle of candles on the grass outside of Fort Jay
it'll be a bit before the end of the race, so some of them go over to a deli in Brooklyn while others, having noticed how absurdly fast the front of the pack was and knowing how long the line at the deli will be, head straight for the bridge

the starting tarp flies south, trailing the racers and is suddenly shook by a gust of wind
Amelia looks to the witch next to her, who's started making strange gestures
"there's a reason why that's a rule; this is going to be so annoying to patch" she sighs
"put these on and look at the aurora-type thing" she says, handing her friend her glasses
"what's that?" she asks, pointing downriver and taking off the too-strong witches glasses
"it's a pretty deep tear in spacetime. at the edges, it might send you back, but the middle is the most dangerous part: time straight up doesn't pass there"

she presses her index finger and thumb together and pulls them apart, a silvery needle appearing between them
she carefully threads it with a spool of shimmering thread from her bag and gets to work banishing the aurora of temporal distortion
her fingers fly through the air, pushing the needle through something her friend doesn't have the glasses to see
"I didn't expect the fabric of spacetime to be so literal"
"the metaphors we use for things are powerful enough to effect them"

even though the tear is deep, it doesn't take long for Lily to sew it back together and catch up with the tail end of the race
the find another witch who's rather disoriented and is taking it slow at only 60 miles an hour
"what's up? did you fly through the time gash?"
"was that what it was? I must've spent 5 hours in there going as fast as I could"
"wanna drop out of the race?"
"yes, please. that was so tiring" she says, taking a seat on the starting tarp

as the R train pulls into its last stop, the door between train cars opens up and Emma steps through, closing the rift in reality behind her
this blatant violation of the rules of reality goes unnoticed by the other passengers; they've all seen far stranger things than a witch appearing
walking out of the station, she heads for a park by the parkway, unrolls a carpet, takes a seat on it, and feels it lift off from the sand of the baseball diamond

underneath the center of the bridge, she erects a barrier of spells to know exactly who crosses the line first, and waits
just a few minutes later, June and Katy blast across the line, leaving a cloud of steam in their wake both from the water in the air their shock cone vaporizes and out of theatrics

the assembled witches fall into silence as Emma clears her throat
"I'd like to thank everyone for coming out and racing on this wonderful day"
"would the last witch across the line today please step forward" she continues, summoning what appears to be the charred remains of a broom and a pen
the witch who joined Lily and Amelia on the starting tarp steps forward and signs her name on the shaft

"what's that about?" whispers Amelia
"it's a broom that caught fire on the first modern race down the Hudson" her friend replies

"and of course, now it's time to crown our winners" Emma says, summoning a tiara
as Katy and June step forward, she traces a rune on it and it duplicates

another witch hands Katy a bottle of champagne, which she conjures a sword to open
"am I finally a sword lesbian, babe?" she asks June, who blushes and leans over to kiss her

the witches follow Emma back to the park and a couple blocks over to the subway station
at the bottom of the stairs, before the turnstiles, she puts an unremarkable key into a staff-only door and pulls it open into a cozy apartment

"bbut I thought her place was in Bushwick?" Amelia asks, in the back of the pack as always
"it's a liminal space that's everywhere the Subway goes. sometimes you can get into it by accident, but her part of it is too heavily warded for that"

with a little twirl, Lily's tshirt and leggings turn into a sparkling blue dress
"feeling extra, eh?" Amelia ribs her, trying to hide her jealousy
"why not? I don't have this good an excuse to dress like this very often"

as she wanders around the party, Becca runs into someone who's now a very familiar face
"I have to ask, how did you do the thing with the red sparks?"
"a piece of BeCu hex stock right through the shaft that lets me dump more power into acceleration"
"and the sparks are just a side effect?"
"yeah, I just think that red works well, but of course you could make it the color of your lipstick"
she laughs right as she takes another sip of hard cider

Amelia doesn't really remember most of what happened that night, but she's mostly just surprised by the notable absence of a splitting hangover
she knows she drank something in a mossy green that made her speak backwards for a bit
there was also a thimblefull of something very spiky, as though she'd somehow drank a teasel, but she's not sure if that did anything other than get her drunk
in the pocket of a dress she never bought and definitely wasn't wearing when she set out that morning, she finds a polaroid picture of her and a couple of her new friends with a telephone number scrawled on the back
she looks at the smiling witches and her laughing face right in the middle of the picture and decides to call the number