In Pursuit of Jam
It started with harmless, sometimes useful, items floating down the river from the wizard’s house. Sheets of paper that never got soggy were ideal for patching roofs, and scraps of fabric that produced their own heat were sewn into winter clothes – gloves and socks, hats and underwear. Even in the middle of winter, none of the villagers complained about leaky ceilings or frozen nethers.
This continued for several years and the village of Ebon thrived. Considering it was home to no more than one hundred people, such prosperity was a great, if occasionally unnerving, achievement. With so few residents, every villager knew each other a bit too well. If one of them boasted about their underwear always being toasty warm, at least a dozen others would have no qualms about borrowing them (and at least half of those wouldn’t care enough to ask for them to be washed first).
None of the villagers thought that it mattered why such things were in the river or how they came to be enchanted in such odd ways in the first place. They were made by a wizard; that was enough. As is often the way, as long as they benefitted, none of the villagers cared how or why these things came to be.
One of the best-loved items was a bottle of green liquid that came bobbing down the river one spring. It had a label that read “growth potion.” There were some other notes on the label but the ink had run too much to be legible. It was lucky enough that two people in the village could read at all. Though the label had stayed remarkably dry, the ink had been your usual garden variety.
Coincidentally, the time was approaching for the new crops to be planted and Farmer Luddel believed the wizard had sent the potion on purpose. He started telling others that the wizard could see the future so he knew what to send and when. Mrs Brush had countered him by pointing out that the first pieces of self-heating fabric came at the start of summer and had been of no use for several months. Neither of them cared enough to turn this into an actual argument and returned to being thankful the wizard was there at all.
The growth potion was put to the test and rewarded the villagers with the biggest crops they had ever seen. They also grew in half the time it took their more standard predecessors and were never bothered by the weather.
Farmer Luddel was so pleased with the results that he proclaimed himself an expert on the potion. One of his pigs gave birth, and upon seeing that there was a definite runt, Luddel decided that there was no reason the potion would not work on pigs as well as it had worked on their radishes. He put the runt in a separate pen and gave it a bowl of feed into which he mixed several drops of the potion, just to be sure it would work.
And it did. Mostly.
The runt grew. And grew. And grew until it was several times the size of Farmer Luddel’s fattest pigs. Curiously, though, only its body and head grew, not its legs. It became unable to move on its own and had to be rolled around the pen during the day. This had-been runt became a great inconvenience, not just to Farmer Luddel, but also to the villagers whom he asked to help him roll this pig around. Everyone quickly forgot these inconveniences when it came to choosing the next animal to be eaten, and the whole village was well-fed for a week.
From then on, the objects that came down from the wizard’s house became less useful and increasingly inconvenient, even aggravating. Mrs Brush fished out a quill that wrote on its own without needing ink, but it only knew how to write insults that the two literate villagers could not bring themselves to read aloud. She tried to throw it away, but the quill got its revenge by scratching a few choice words on her front window. Since she could not read them, her anger came from the damage done to a perfectly good window that she was rather fond of looking out of.
Little Jimmy Jr. pulled a hooded cloak from the water, which promptly freed itself from the child’s hands and hovered upright as if it was being worn by an invisible figure. Water dripped from it and anyone who tried to get close, was warded off with a wet slap. After a couple of days, Little Jimmy Jr. went to check on the cloak, but was disappointed to see that it had gone. Everyone thought that was the end of it, but the cloak started to appear outside people’s windows. In the middle of the night, it would float outside bedrooms like a spectre, giving the people inside the distinct impression that they were being watched even though the cloak had no eyes. This problem was easily solved in the same way many problems are solved: with curtains. Then the cloak would be seen outside front doors. Mr Blinkin intended to step out for some fresh air before starting the day’s work but was surprised to be met with the floating garment, but he quickly recovered and asked if it wanted to come in (Mr Blinkin was proud of his manners). The hood shook from side to side and the cloak stayed where it was. Satisfied that the time for manners had passed, Mr Blinkin pushed the cloak out of the way, whilst muttering something about it “not being very fashionable anyway” and “no wonder the wizard didn’t want you”. Despite having no face, the cloak managed to look both sad and angry.
The cloak hung around for a while and the villagers grew wary, checking each corner as they crept down familiar paths. Its temper had worsened and anyone who accidentally ran into it got slapped or flapped at. One day it vanished and Little Jimmy Jr. found a heap of familiar fabric by the river that became an acceptably handsome set of curtains if his mother did say so herself.
The final straw came when Bugle (that being his only name, and probably not his original one) decided to give his trousers their second wash of the year and they caught a glass jar as he swept them through the water. It had no label but inside was a swirling grey puff with what looked like tiny leaves tumbling in all directions. Bugle didn’t bother to think, which was how he lived life, and pulled off the lid and shook out the contents. It was a very pretty jar that could likely prove useful. The grey cloud rose higher and grew wider until it covered the whole village.
Wind whipped up, tearing leaves from trees and prying tiles and chunks of thatching free. Satisfied, the wind swirled and picked up water from the river, twisting it up and over, dumping it on the village and through the roofs that now resembled Farmer Luddel’s old socks. Once its work was done, the wind died down and the clouds dispersed, leaving a thoroughly soaked village with about a hundred drenched residents, though at least some of them still had warm toes and nethers.
With the villagers as soggy as their houses, a meeting was held to determine what exactly had happened.
“’Twas no normal wind, mark me.”
“Course not. Magic was involved, make no mistake o’ that.”
“D’you reckon the wizard is turning against us?”
Bugle bumbled around, not contributing much. Though he was not known for his intelligence, what little he had was enough to make him afraid of confessing his part in the incident. Everyone was quick to blame the wizard and Bugle was happy enough to let this continue being the case. The shock of the event, though, had fastened his fingers around the now-empty jar and even at this meeting, he still had it clutched to his chest. Luckily for him, most of the villagers were not observant enough to think anything odd about this.
Until, of course, he collided with Mrs Brush, who just so happened to be in one of her more astute moods. She noticed that such craftsmanship could not be seen in their village. Most of their pots and jars were made of clay or wood. The only place one could find such a fine item was floating down the river.
Through his stammering, Mrs Brush eventually got the truth out of Bugle. Farmer Luddel overheard and started to berate the poor young man, shaking his fists above his head.
“Calm down Lloyd! You know better than anyone you woulda done the same thing.” Mrs Brush’s admonished all arguments (as per her usual talent).
Voices raised and continued, blaming the wizard. The last few objects to arrive had been frustrating or annoying but caused no damage to the village itself. Now that the benefits had run out everyone was eager to put an end to this nonsense.
The villagers agreed – meaning Mrs Brush decided and no one thought of anything better – to send someone to the wizard’s house, discover what he has been doing and ask if he can stop, or at least go back to sending them more beneficial items. The children were growing up and could do with new socks for the winter. If that didn’t work, then they could all march up there and force him to leave. Somehow, everyone forgot this wizard was capable of creating wind powerful enough to significantly damage their homes.
Deciding to send someone was one thing but finding that someone was another. At first, no one volunteered themselves, so they started volunteering each other.
“Mrs Brush should go, it’s her idea.”
“Farmer Luddel should go.”
“What about Bugle? He let that wind out.”
“Bugle? That’s the worst idea you’ve ever had!” This last comment elicited a round of laughter and Bugle stayed blissfully unaware of the insult.
As the discussion became an argument, a hand rose above the crowd. A few people became quiet, but only when a single shaky voice broke through did the quiet spread.
“I...I’ll go.” The slightly quivering hand and voice belonged to Lonny Brush.
“No, no, absolutely not.” Mrs Brush wanted to shake or slap the idea from her son’s head.
“But nobody else wants to go.” Now that someone had volunteered, everyone eagerly agreed that Lonny should go. Some started saying they wished they’d thought of it sooner; he was the obvious choice.
Lonny Brush (Mrs Brush’s third child) had just learned to dress himself when the first enchanted items started to arrive. By this time, he had become a young man who was somewhat reliable and of average strength. His main use was to run errands for whoever needed him, though he was never given anything vital since he had the tendency to get distracted and forget what he was asked to do. Still, he was kept busy and his easy nature never allowed anyone to stay mad at him for long, though it also incited much jealousy as he became the only adult in Ebon with no worry lines etched on his face and his hands were softer than the village beauty’s.
Despite his mother’s protests, Lonny Brush packed a bag of food and was told to go straight to the house, speak to the wizard, and come straight back. The whole trip should take him no more than a day if he set off first thing in the morning.
Under no circumstances was he to eat anything at or near the wizard’s house.
He was told to just follow the river and to only move away from it if absolutely necessary. Mrs Brush made it clear that he could not let himself get distracted, being only too familiar with her son’s character. Everyone admitted, though, that if anyone could charm the wizard into agreeing to their requests, that person would be Lonny.
So, Lonny set out as soon as the last traces of night disappeared. By the way he gripped the straps of his bag, his heavy steps, and the way he looked back at the village before moving out of sight, one would think he was going on a long quest from which he may never return. In going on this expedition, Lonny ventured further from the village than anyone else had gone since the first magical items arrived. A few people travelled to Ebon and, upon experiencing its miraculous prosperity, settled down and never left. Having such great luck, it is no surprise that none of the villagers ever felt the need to venture far from home, especially upriver.
The first part of Lonny’s journey was easy, winding through trees, the ground level, allowing him to stay on the riverbank. After about an hour, though, his path started to move uphill and Lonny was suddenly up against a waterfall that, though small in comparison to some waterfalls, was slightly taller than Lonny himself. Possessing only average strength and having had very little experience of climbing, Lonny had to move away from the river to find a point where he could continue. With the help of a couple of trees growing at convenient angles, Lonny hauled himself up and continued on his way.
The riverbank became increasingly rocky and Lonny discovered that he also had little talent for balancing. He wobbled over the loose rocks, slipping on damp stones. Points and ridges dug into the soles of his feet as if he were not wearing shoes at all. He thought he’d probably need a new pair by the time he returned home. Along this part of the river, the water ran quicker, like it was trying to escape from danger.
Lonny recognised the wizard’s house as soon as he saw it. Not because he knew what to look for, but because, according to Lonny’s limited imagination, only a wizard could build and live in such a house. It resembled four shacks that had been shoved together; there were four distinct sections, built from four different materials, with four different roofs. The section with the front door appeared to be the original, with the other sections crushed against it. Set against the river, against a cliff with a waterfall, one of the most striking features was a great wheel on the side of the house. As the water fell, it turned the wheel before continuing to roar on its path. Lonny had never seen anything like it and could not fathom its purpose. What truly gave it away as a wizard’s house were the bursts of coloured light that sparked through the windows.
Even colours that didn’t have names yet flashed for split seconds.
Lonny kept a distance for several minutes as the colours flashed in front. A particularly violent flash of pink made him step back, ready to run. He kept his eyes on the house and for several moments after the last flash, nothing happened, until one of the windows crashed open, bouncing off the side of the house.
“Odds seize it!”
Something flew out the window and landed with a plop in the river. It bobbed past where Lonny stood on the bank and he saw that it was another jar. He couldn’t tell what was in it, only that whatever it glowed an unnaturally bright orange. By the time he considered plucking it out of the water, the jar had been carried out of sight.
Oh well, he thought, I’m sure mother will know what to do. Or, at least, would know not to open it without a thought.
Lonny straightened his back, pulled at his sleeves, and stepped forward in a moment of courage. “Excuse me! Hello?”
Then the ground rumbled as a cloud of rainbow-coloured smoke burst through the windows and front door, covering the walls and ground outside in dust. As it settled, the dust turned from the magical assortment of colours to a disappointingly normal grey.
“What, what, what? Who’s interrupting me?” A hunched figure came staggering and coughing out of the dust cloud. Once they cleared their lungs, the figure straightened and their steps became spry and assured.
“Lonny Brush, sir.”
Lonny expected the wizard to be a surly old man, crooked and haggard as his house. The man before him was only slightly more than middled-aged, but underneath the layers of dust, his hair still held onto its original colour of a rich, earthy red.
The wizard has a small pair of lenses perched on his nose that was coated in dust. He took them off, blew on them with a couple of quick puffs, and tried to use a corner of his apron to clean them. However, this just spread the dust in swirls since his apron was also covered in dust. The wizard frowned at his lenses and settled for squinting at Lonny.
“Lonny brush? I don’t need a lonny brush…What even is a lonny brush anyway?” The wizard turned and started to survey his house.
Lonny followed and stood next to the wizard. “Me, sir. I’m Lonny Brush.”
The wizard raised an eyebrow and looked Lonny up and down with a sidewards glance. “How unfortunate. Sounds like something I’d use in the lavatory.” He inspected his doorway then stepped inside and called back, “So why are you here, Lonny Brush? Hm? And what are you standing around for? Come on, come on.” The wizard clapped his hands like he was summoning a pet to his side, and, without thinking, Lonny trotted up behind him.
“I’m very sorry, sir. Actually, um, sir, I came from Ebon.”
“The village downriver from here. I’ve come to....”
“I didn’t know there was a village downriver,” interrupted the wizard as he took careful steps through and around piles of books, papers, and miscellaneous objects.
Lonny copied this path as well as he could but staggered when he got distracted by something else. “Oh, well, it’s been there for a while, sir. Much longer than me, at least.” The wizard made a noise that conveyed curiosity as he dug through a pile of faded clothes, but Lonny thought it was a sign to continue. “You see, sir, things have been coming to Ebon for years, now. Strange, magical things. From your house, sir. They’ve been coming on...in the river.”
The wizard looked up, his patchy eyebrows raised, and started to laugh. “Ha! So that’s where it all went, eh? Ha, ha.” He continued to snigger as he resumed his rummaging.
“Yes, sir. It’s just that...some of the things have been, um, a bother, sir. Not that we’re not grateful; some of the things have been wonderful. That fabric that’s always warm. I’m wearing some of it now and my…” Lonny cleared his throat (his mother had taught him that one should not speak so openly about his own nethers), “anyway, I’m warm even now. But your last item did a great deal of damage.”
“Oh? And what was that?”
Lonny wondered how the wizard could forget about creating such an intelligent piece of weather. “The wind? The clever wind in a jar?”
“Is that what it ended up being? I didn’t check when I tossed it out. I was trying to make jam.”
Lonny did not know what jam was – Ebon as a whole did not have enough sugar to make a single jar – but he imagined it was another kind of weather.
“Anyway, as I was saying, sir, it did a good deal of damage. So, we were hoping that you could stop sending objects, or...at least...the dangerous ones.”
“Huh? Oh, well yes. I suppose I can try. Can’t predict the outcomes, though, you see.”
“May I ask, sir, is there something you’re trying to create?”
The wizard found a satisfactory piece of fabric and used it to clean his lenses before he put them back on his nose. “Depends. Most things tend to take on a life of their own, or they just become unnecessary. As I said, I’ve recently been trying to make jam. My last attempt was close, though it was the wrong flavour. Wanted strawberry. So don’t worry, there won’t, uh, shouldn’t, be any danger.” The wizard sent Lonny a thin, stretched smile that crinkled his eyes.
Lonny was surprised at how easy his task had been. He had worried that the wizard would grow angry and refuse, or that he would try and turn Lonny into a frog or a stoat, or even one of Farmer Luddel’s pigs. Instead, the wizard had easily agreed to his request.
Not wishing to outstay his welcome and potentially incur the wizard’s anger, Lonny bid the man a farewell that he wasn’t sure was acknowledged and began his journey home. By the time he returned, brimming with the pride of an intrepid adventurer returning from a long voyage, the sun had not even begun to set. He had expected a warm welcome, his friends and family calling his name and rushing to embrace him. As he made his way to his house, Lonny saw nobody; the paths were empty despite the weather being perfect.
Inside his house, Lonny first saw his mother pacing around the kitchen, the whole area a mess of splatters and broken pots. At first, Mrs brush did not notice her son’s return. She was preoccupied with her pacing as she muttered under her breath “no, it’s not quite right...needs more...oh I don’t know....”
Lonny cleared his throat to get his mother’s attention.
“Oh! My boy, you’re back! Were you successful?”
Lonny puffed his chest up. “Yes, mother, the wizard said he won’t send anything harmful to us anymore.”
He thought she would be pleased and heap praise onto his shoulders until he couldn’t bear it anymore, but Mrs Brush frowned and pushed away from her son.
“No, no, that wasn’t what I meant! Is he going to send us any more of that delicious, uh, whatever it was, I’m not sure. I’ve been trying to recreate it for the last hour with no success.” Her eyes lit up and she rushed back towards Lonny. “Don’t tell me you didn’t bring any back!”
“What are you talking about, mother!”
Mrs Brush picked up the only container still intact in the kitchen and waved the jar in Lonny’s face. He took it and noticed bright orange patched in the curves and by the brim where fingers couldn’t reach. As he examined it, Mrs Brush started pushing him out the front door.
“Go and get some more and don’t think of coming back until you do.”
The door slammed shut behind Lonny, and for several moments he stood there, wondering what had just happened.
The appearance of Bugle rounding the corner and passing in front of the house caught Lonny’s attention. He called out as Bugle staggered but his vitality was restored when he saw the jar in Lonny’s hands.
“Is that? Did you bring more?” Bugle ran towards Lonny, who thought of nothing better than to run in the opposite direction, back up the river, and towards the wizard’s house. Behind him, Lonny heard a rounded thud, turning long enough to see Bugle fall face down in one of the remaining puddles. For a moment, laughter bubbled in the back of his throat.
This time, when Lonny reached the wizard’s house, he didn’t feel the need to wait and banged on the door.
“Twice in one day, I...oh! Lonny Brush.”
Lonny held the empty jar a couple of inches from the wizard’s face. “What is this and what did it do to my mother?”
“What are you talking about, lad? Give it here, let me see.” The wizard examined the jar through his lenses. “Well, this looks like one of my failed jam attempts. You say there’s been a problem?”
“My mother was acting strangely, and one of my friends chased after me. They both wanted more of this, they were desperate.”
The wizard raised an eyebrow and gestured for Lonny to follow him inside. He opened the jar, sniffed the contents, then scraped a bit of what was left from a nook with his smallest finger and touched it to his tongue.
“Oh,” was all he said.
Lonny darts his eyes between the jar and the wizard’s face. “Oh? What does that mean?”
The wizard scratched the back of his head. “It’s pretty tasty, even though it’s not what I wanted.” He scraped as much as he can from the inside and sucked it from his finger. “Not bad at all.”
“That’s it? There must be something else, my mother and Bugle were not themselves and nobody else was around and it’s got something to do with that!”
The wizard put his hand up. “Alright, I’ll have a closer look. Maybe I could make some more...,” he muttered as he made his way to a crowded bench.
This bench was cluttered with glass vials and tubes, small jars filled with powders of all colours and tattered books open to random pages. Lonny looked over the wizard’s shoulder as he worked and tried to read to understand the open pages but he was not one of the two literate villagers of Ebon.
“Aha!” The wizard suddenly spun around and nearly collided with Lonny. “Oh, sorry Lonny Brush. What were you doing standing there? Never mind, I think I know what has happened. A bit of an oops on my part I’m afraid.”
“What? What is it?”
The wizard’s gaze had trailed back to the empty “jam” jar, but Lonny’s question recaptured his attention. “Oh, ah, when I tried to make jam, I thought it was just the wrong flavour. To compensate for being an unwanted flavour, the jam has become incredibly addictive.”
“How do you know this?”
“Because I want more, even though I’ve only ever liked strawberry. No worries, though, the effects shouldn’t last long.”
The wizard started pacing through his house, using it as a distraction from his sudden addiction. Lonny followed behind, catching the wizard’s heels. “Are you sure?”
“In all honesty? No. But there’s not much else to do. I could try to make an antidote but it’s not an exact process and I could not predict the exact outcome.”
“So, what do we do?”
“We wait. You said that your mother and what’s-his-name chased you, acted strangely. If you don’t want to go back you can stay here and once my desire fades you can try going back. By that point, their addiction would probably have worn off as well.”
Lonny graciously accepted and wondered why the wizard was not being affected like his mother and Bugle, and he thought it was probably to do with his magic, or maybe because he only had the smallest amounts. He decided it was probably to do with magic.
The sun started to sink and the wizard still had no stomach for anything other than that jam, so Lonny found the emptiest corner to curl up in and sleep. He worked his way through the food his mother had given him and though his stomach started to rumble, he knew he could not eat anything in the house without risking a similar effect, despite the wizard promising that everything else was safe.
Lonny woke in the morning to a rhythmic kicking against his foot. He blinked blearily and jumped as the wizard’s eyes filled his view.
“Sun’s up, Lonny Brush, and I no longer want any of that jam. Better head on home and check on your village.”
Lonny did not need to be told again, and he clambered from his corner, through various piles of unidentifiable items, and out the door. He had never been an athletic child, but this time he ran as fast as he could, though he was not very quick.
He reached the edge of the village and took a deep breath before carefully winding through the familiar paths to his house. It was still early so he had to remind himself that not seeing anyone was normal.
In front of his door, he braced himself for his mother to chase him out again, but when he stepped through the door, her humming drifted through from the kitchen.
“There you are! Where have you been? You had everyone worried sick!”
Mrs Brush’s hands roamed her son’s body looking for any injuries, satisfied by the lack of broken bones or minor scuffs.
“Don’t you remember? Yesterday....”
“Oh, don’t get me started, yesterday is all a haze. Must not have gotten enough sleep. Anyway, what’s the news? Did you see the wizard?”
Lonny clutched his mother’s hands and led her over to a couple of chairs. “I did, and everything has been sorted. We won’t have to worry anymore.”
Later that afternoon, Lonny took a walk along the river, when something drifted in front of him. It was a small jar with a deep red, sticky substance inside that wobbled when he shook it. Stuck on the side was a label that he got one of the literates to read to him.
“Strawberry jam for Lonny Brush.”
Natalie Sands is currently studying for her MA in Creative Writing at the University of Lincoln and am fascinated by all styles of fantasy fiction, from epic adventures to surreal and uncanny short stories. When she is not writing, she is either reading or working on one of her many craft projects.