Well, early evening of, anyway. Here's a short Tale of Magic for you. Maybe even of Magick, if we're all feeling that pretentious.
(Points to E. at work. I told her my (deeply, if briefly, held) theory that a better past tense of "pretend" than the cumbersome "pretended" was "pretent", and she pointed out that it also formed a tidier root for "pretentious". Let us award her the Hooked on Phonics Tidying Up the Language plaque for September.)
Right, the story. Let's call it... um...
"Like becomes like," said the examiners together.
"Like becomes like," I answered, numb to the usual pleasures of ritual.
The examiners were certainly alike, and could have been transformed one into the other without anyone, possibly including themselves, taking notice. They say that's true -- the more you transform things, move them through possibility according to their characteristics, the more nondescript you become.
They showed me the transformation exercise.
"That's all?" I said, surprised. The three shifted. A smile, a frown, a cough.
"That's all." said one of them.
I looked at the two cups. This, after all my study? Endless listing of analogies and similes. Taking random things from a sack and likening them as quickly as possible. Sorting and resorting endless nearly identical buttons. Find their differences, so that similarity wouldn't obscure likeness.
Two cups. One of blue glass, shuddering with ribbons of light cast up the river. The other (no, not other -- the same, the equal) a grey mug of indifferent manufacture, lumpy, badly glazed, unappealing.
Their only real difference was their Final Shape -- the glass cup had none, but the mug was a ring, the hole through the handle defining it, limiting the changes it could make. So. Logically, you change along the path of least resistance. It preserves energy. I thought briefly of doing it the hard way to impress them, but the rule won out.
I fixed my eyes on the glass cup, holding the clay in my mind. It gave way easily, growing thicker, shorter, becoming opaque. That handle. I split the cup's side along a thread of weakness in the glass. It folded back, lips parting to speak, petals, pages. Bent forward in a spout, a beak, a tube, an arc, then, touching, only a handle. The glass flowed into itself. I shivered. A hole appeared along the flaw in the wall of the new mug, where I'd encouraged division. I struggled to seal it. I thought of soft things, sticky things, things glad to join, but I could tell I was losing. I let go. Left the eye-shaped hole under the handle. It was a magic test, not a pottery competition.
I sat back, stretching out my neck, shaking my shoulders. I glanced up at the examiners. They'd been nothing to me while I worked: scenery. Now they moved into slow life, like unliving things animated by magic.
Together, they peered down at the table. There was a silence.
"No good?" I said cheerfully. I thought I'd done quite well. The new mug didn't look exactly like the old. It was almost a caricature of its ugliness, like a cup made out of a toad's carcass. And there was the hole.
An examiner cleared her throat. The cougher. "No, it's not that." she said. "It was a very good showing for your level." She looked towards the others, perplexed.
The frowner frowned. "It's just," he said, "Usually people turn the clay into glass."
I looked down at my two ugly cups. A flush of humiliation spread up my neck, into my face.
"It doesn't matter," said the smiler, smiling. "It's a skills test, and you did very well."
I ignored her. I knew what test I'd failed, though none of us had known it was being set. Other people knew enough to turn the ugly into the beautiful. I was a manufacturer of ugliness.