Gender Bending Entry #7 The Hated by A.K. Reid

The Gender Bending continues with A.K. Reid. Here is how it works:

Several authors submitted pieces they had lying around. I asked only that they choose something that would not easily be identified with their writing style. Fans can easily pick up on an author's voice, and since several of the authors are very well known, I didn't want people recognizing specific writing styles.

When an author didn't have pre-written piece, they wrote a piece just for this blog, primarily because we knew that once it hit the interwebs, it would become a freebie for everyone.

We took a brief hiatus for the holidays; however, I'm back now and will be running posts until we reach the end of the contest. Please keep your comments focused on the question at hand.

As always, please don't break my website.

Here we go ...

READ THIS FIRST: The rules and the prizes. Your mission: comment on whether you believe the author of this excerpt is male or female.

The Hated by A.K. Reid

The boys at the bar glare at Fisher when he walks in. Fisher knows they hate him. Everyone in town hates him. Hell, if he were in their situation, he'd probably be filled with hate, too.

Need makes many enemies. Magic, even more.

After Fisher sits down and orders a beer, the boys go back to their chatter. They’re old enough to know about the world, but still young enough to pretend it's not as bad as they've been told. Give them another five years and the laughter will be gone, along with any sort of light in their eyes. Fisher's seen their kind plenty of times, in plenty of dusty little towns like this one.

One of the boys lets out a hoot of laughter and slides a bottle cap down the length of the bar. It ends up in front of Fisher. Nothing but a harmless bit of fun, but fun isn't in Fisher's vocabulary. Fun can get you killed on this side of the river.

The boys are watching him. The bartender, too. Fisher picks up the bottle cap, rolls it around his fingers until it vanishes.

The boys look away. The barman pulls a face.

Just because they need Fisher doesn't mean they like reminders of what he can do. Or maybe they don't like that it reminds them of what he can't.

The beer is strong--one benefit he'll give the town. It isn't strong enough to keep the taste of the magic in the river from creeping into his mouth, but it helps. The river magic tastes like a bad hangover minus the pounding head. If the boys at the end of the bar could taste it, they wouldn't be chattering like magpies on a vine, and they probably wouldn't hate him so much.

But it is what it is. Fisher is who, what, he is. Gift, curse, or dumb luck, it doesn't matter.

He drains the last of his beer, tips his hat to the barman, and walks through the town. He passes a woman wearing tired on her face like yesterday's fashion. She doesn't smile, doesn't meet his eyes. A group of kids are kicking around a few stones. They fall to silence when he walks by, the stone forgotten.

As he draws closer to the river, the foul taste in his mouth grows stronger. When he was younger, he'd try to spit it out. He knows better now.

He stops about five feet away from the water and crosses his arms over his chest. The river itself is a wide black snake oozing along the edge of the town. Some say there used to be a bridge spanning across long before Fisher's time. About the only one in town who might remember would be Old Lady Twist, and she went mindfuck a few years ago. The only things she's capable of now are shitting in her diapers and drooling in her lap.

Bridge or no bridge, doesn't matter anyway. The river, like hate and fate, is what it is. Fisher is the only one who can get close, and he's the only one who can keep it from creeping closer.

No one knows what's on the other side of the river anymore or if there's even another side. The air there is all hazy grey. No signs of light. No signs of life.

Like a bullet or a bad choice, the wrong kind of magic sticks. You can't change it. You can't erase it. You can only deal with the fallout. The magician who broke rank and went haywire is long dead, but his ghost is a path of destruction half a country wide.

The dry soil crunches beneath Fisher's boot heels as he checks his wards and the marker he left on the shoreline. So far, his magic is holding firm. He takes a deep breath, digging deep inside to find what he needs, and extends his arms. The taste in his mouth changes, the foul vanishing beneath something similar to honey and orange water. When the magic starts to flow, his fingers tingle and warmth seeps through his limbs.

Maybe one day there'll be a magician strong enough to put everything to right, but right now, he'll have to do.