Here's a very odd story with magic in.
The Fork in the Road
Halting the group under the rapidly-blackening shadows of the trees, the wizard said, "This is how you do it."
He looked around at them, and asked if anyone had a clean fork left over from the supper picnic. After a moment of scrambling, someone passed him one.
"Good. Now look," said the wizard. He walked five steps forward in the thick grass, pushed some of it aside with the toes of his pointy blue boots (wet from walking through the evening grass), and showed them two bricks set into the ground. People peered down.
They were ordinary bricks, one slightly paler than the other, which made it show up more clearly in the dimness. They were set in a V-shape whose point was towards the group, and towards the way they'd come walking.
"Here," said the wizard. He drew his arm up, holding the fork firmly, and threw it down, its three points first, at the bricks. It was a shining metal fork - it caught early moonlight briefly as it fell.
Gerard expected to hear a clanging sound, and made a small movement backwards, but what he heard instead was the soft sound of something entering water with hardly a splash.
For a moment, the fork stood, handle upright, embedded in the bricks, which the wizard had stood firmly on just a moment ago. Murmuring, some of Gerard's group moved in for a closer look.
Then the fork rippled, and sank. As it did, it seemed to stretch, and extend - and the bricks extended with it. Silently, blurrily, they flowed backwards and in two directions forwards. Nothing else changed, except that Gerard had the uncanny feeling that trees had moved out of the way to reveal this path.
It was now a Y-shape of brick road - the downstroke was the path that they stood on, continuing on back the way they'd come, and the other two lines followed the V-shape directions of the original two bricks. Through the darkness, Gerard couldn't see the end of the roads.
"There," said the wizard, smiling pleasantly. "Can anyone tell me where this road leads back to?"
"The main hall?" someone offered. It was where they'd started out from.
"Almost," the wizard corrected, "but not quite. It leads due west. In a perfectly straight line, that takes us to the sundial in the Library courtyard."
Some people nodded. Gerard didn't, because he didn't know his way around the Sphinx University of Alternative Science. The others were students here - he had simply chosen the most interesting-sounding of the Pre-Enrollment Tours.
"And if that way leads due west, where do you think this road's branches lead?" The wizard paused.
Several people near Gerard looked as though they would like to speak up, but weren't too sure of their answers. In the torchlight, some people's faces were clearer than others.
The wizard's tall hat had a glowing blue light at the top. It held perfectly still as he waited.
"Were the bricks at right-angles to each other?" someone asked.
Their professor considered. "Yes."
"North-east and south-east, then?"
"Very good." The wizard turned. "Which way would you like to go?"
Several torch-bearers swung their lights around to bear on the speaker. She thought quickly. "I... don't know."
"Anyone else?" asked the wizard, half-smiling. He waited again.
"Should we go right?" someone suggested.
"Because, symbolically, the 'right-hand path' is the safer, more prudent one?"
The wizard's smile broadened. "Why are you thinking of this in symbolic terms?"
Because the bricks are the symbol of a road,Gerard thought. Because the fork (as a utensil) turned out to be a symbol for something else. He had gradually become fascinated, and realised it just then.
"The left-hand one is going to be brighter," someone countered. "The moon's over that way. If it's symbolic, isn't the path with more light more 'safe' or, um, 'prudent'?"
The students began to debate, and the wizard stepped back, looking entertained. Now the torches bobbed and wavered as students raised their voices and moved about. There were lots of different viewpoints on each side, with occasional allusions to things Gerard had never heard of. A couple of people looked bored, but even they spoke.
The wizard said conversationally, next to him, "Which way would you choose?" Gerard jumped. The wizard had moved up to him very quietly.
Gerard did not feel up to debating with the wizard. He was going to say something mundane, like, "The right path, because I'm right-handed," because that would stand up to a lot of "Why?", but said instead, "The middle path."
The wizard raised his eyebrows. "Hm. That's a little difficult to follow." He turned back to the students, saying, "Have you made a decision yet? We haven't got all night - or, at least, I haven't."
They turned to him, and presented him with their conclusions. They'd decided on the left-hand path.
The wizard shrugged, smiling, and led the way.
Gerard waited to follow the rest as they moved off. Instead, he stared down between the two branches of the road. He wondered if there might not actually be something in the middle, because the wizard hadn't denied it, and for a moment, when he'd answered, he'd seen something glinting there.
Although bricks didn't glint.
As the group was now completely out of sight around a corner, Gerard took the left-hand northeast path and hurried to catch up with them.
But shouldn't there be a path? The fork had had three tines. The bricks had pointed in two new directions. There was a difference. Was it an important one?
It irked him that he hadn't even applied to become a student magician, and he was caught up in stupid questions about magic.
But none of the others seemed to have asked this. So perhaps the students were used to thinking logically. This was possibly comforting. To Gerard, magic seemed to be too much about asking irrelevant questions.
Gerard caught up to the group. Up at the front, the wizard was explaining how the little blue light on his hat worked. The discussions around him were about complicated magical theories which went over his head, which he'd expected to be the case anyway. Nearer the back, people were laughing more freely.
Gerard's coat was keeping him warm enough, but he was getting tired. His watch told him it was past eleven o'clock already.
The wizard stopped them when they reached the bay. The path ended above it, at a cliff, and the wizard gently stopped them all to take a look, keeping them well back from the edge. It really was a nice sight. The moon was high in the sky, now, above the sea, and although it was just a crescent, that wasn't a bad thing - it held back light from the bay that would have made it less mysterious, and less grand.
The wizard turned them home.
The walk back was a lot slower. The wizard was chatting about simple practical spells this time, and he walked at the back, to make sure no one got left behind. The group walked slowly along the pale brick road, which mostly ran straight.
This stuff is really useful,Gerard thought. It's the magical Theory and Philosophy that puts me off.
It was a good thing he'd been shown his dormitory before the hike. He would only be staying overnight, but he would really be in need of his bed when he got back.
He yawned, but he wasn't the last of the walkers. They reached the fork, and headed home along the western path.
The wizard didn't remove the 'fork' when they passed it, which started Gerard wondering again about the middle path. The wizard had called it 'difficult to follow'. And Gerard turned back, to look at the fork again.
Perhaps there seemed to be nothing, but he said the words "Middle path" aloud again, and the same glint puzzled him.
He visualised what the wizard had done - raised the fork, thrown it down, let it stretch and spread, let the path grow... Remembering what had happened at the right and left, he turned his mind back to the middle point of the fork, when it had still been a utensil.
And there it was as a path, glinting. He stepped out on it.
Now that he was standing on the middle path, he could see it. It wasn't brick. It was smooth, stainless metal, curving from side to side, narrowing gradually as it went, looking like a kind of stylised sun-ray, and seeming to dodge trees, rather than push them aside.
He ran its length.
It wasn't long; it narrowed too quickly. It ended at the foot of a tree, seeming to extend under the tree for a short distance, as if impaling the tree somehow.
"Ahah," said Gerard aloud.
The wizard stepped out from behind the tree, illuminated by his hat-light. "Hello," he remarked. "So, what do you think?" Gerard was taken aback.
"About what?" he stalled. The wizard waved his hand.
"A nature scene. In the middle of the grass, two bricks are set in the ground. They are at an angle to each other, touching, making a V-shape. They are ordinary bricks... one is slightly lighter than the other. If one combines a common cutlery-fork with these two bricks, a pathway will spring up. A fork in the road. What do you think of that?"
"Hmm. You are planning to be a wizard, aren't you?" The wizard took his hat off, and stood dangling it.
"No - um - I don't know."
"You should be. You've the indications. How do you like your middle fork?"
Gerard felt puzzled. "What? Don't you mean branch?"
The wizard was smiling again. "Figuratively, it's a fork as well. Which means infinite pathways. Infinite possibilities. I hope they get some of that. I try to tell them, absolutely everything can be used in their essays."
"Right..." A reply occurred to him. "I hope they take that literally."
The wizard chuckled. "Yes. Run along now. Someone will organise a search party for you if you aren't in your bed soon."
And Gerard did run, fascinated by the feeling of the cold metal, smooth and curved, under his feet. The wizard had called it 'his'. It represented things. Ideas. Viewpoints. Futures. Possibilities. All kinds of things.
Whatever he wanted it to.