Monday, March 26, 2012


A Wizard Has Stolen Your Heart!

A wizard has stolen your heart! You sag and shake onto the ground as he issues his final set of instructions.

There will be seven transformations. If you can find and catch your heart in each passage, it will be yours again and no one will take it from you. If not, not.

The wizard disappears. You sit up, finding it difficult to breathe deeply, and the world changes within and around you.

You are a temple of jade and jaguar bones and your heart is a stone knife. The people who built you have a taboo against bringing any weapons inside your doors, so the knife never comes past the altar standing at the entrance. You host gods. Small animals nest in the roof. The people stop coming; the statues go to pieces; the jade is stolen. Travelers occasionally pass the night in your ruined halls, pulling the furnishings down from the walls for makeshift bedding and fuel. One night the altar is dragged inside and picked clean of anything that could feed a fire. A worn stone knife clatters to the floor, your first victory.

Your heart is a small heap of laundry and you are a housecat. This seems suspiciously easy. You jump onto the pile and burrow your head in an errant sleeve. You sprawl out, stretching your limbs in every direction to hedge your bets. You are warm, your second victory.

Your heart is a credit card and you are a bus pass. A thin layer of translucent plastic within the wallet separates you. You make quick and desperate friends with a dime and a museum ticket stub. When you leave me, you ask them, if you make it to the other compartment -

But how to finish your request? The dime is extracted for a parking meter. The ticket stub stays and grays and sheds uselessly at the edges. You wait.

One morning, the jacket is ripped off, the pockets torn open, the wallet taken. Fingers rifle through the compartments, dumping the contents onto the street. The driver’s license goes first, followed by a debit card, some petty cash, a dry cleaning receipt — and the card. You fall next, connect, hold your position. You wonder what happens to the ticket stub.

Your heart is a spider and you are a rooster. You eat it. Was that right? God, that was delicious. You’d eat more spiders, but there just isn’t time.

You are a labyrinth and your heart is a minotaur. This round confuses you — if your heart is already inside, haven’t you won the game? Wizard, you think, is this a test or are you cheating?

Wizards, as you already know, are allowed to cheat and often do. If he were a spider, you’d eat him.

Your heart stumbles blindly inside you. It sleeps, it eats the errant youth, it charges around corners and gibbers and beats its head against the walls. Bones pile up. Sometimes your heart tries to speak, although language is not the minotaur’s strongest skill and everyone capable of hearing it has been eaten.

One day, the minotaur stumbles into a corridor and feels a breeze on its skin. You stiffen, or you would if you weren’t a labyrinth. It turns its sightless head toward the entrance and starts to move. No, you think, no you don’t, and rocks shift and slide until the air is filled with dust and the way is blocked.

The minotaur is still. Is it dead? Is it over? The dust settles. You hear breathing. The minotaur sits up and exhales a deep, shuddering breath. Slowly it gets to its feet and starts to walk back in. It turns left and right and past piles of bones, away from the entrance and down toward the center of the maze.

This is enough. You win again.

You are an asteroid and your heart is an iceberg. You skirt the atmosphere for months, scanning the blue underneath you. Space is as cold as you have always suspected, and very quiet, which makes it easy to concentrate. Clouds can be a problem. In the autumn, blizzards crop up along the white coastline and drift hazily toward the polar troughs, making it impossible to distinguish your iceberg from the rest of the herd. You circle and you watch. The closer you get to the earth’s surface, the greater the risk you’ll burn up before figuring out where to land. Ice storms and mile-high waves roll away underneath you. The features of the sea resolve and sharpen and then at last you see it, bone-white in the sun. You close your eyes and you hit home.

Finally you are a taper-bodied and gently disfigured seabird. Your heart is a small brown bird with tilted eyes. As you try to keep up with your darting and diving heart, you discover that one of your wings is a little bit longer than the other. At first it isn’t difficult for you to manage, but when your heart spurs out over a northern ocean, keeping up becomes a struggle. Slowly but surely you begin to veer off course. You find yourself caught in a breeze — not a strong one, just enough to peel a series of whitecaps off the ocean underneath you — and now the unevenly distributed strength of your wracked body finally betrays you. Your heart becomes a small, steady point on the horizon and then becomes nothing at all, and the two of you are lost to one another. You spend the remainder of your brief and sun-addled days searching for his shadow on the waves, but never find it, never stop to rest, never hear the answering rush of his wings coming up to meet yours as you finally collapse, exhausted, into your own reflection in the sea.

Previously: Text Messages From a Ghost.

Mallory Ortberg is a writer in the Bay Area. Her work has also appeared on Slacktory and Ecosalon.

137 Comments / Post A Comment

The Lady of Shalott



@The Lady of Shalott this weekend I discovered some graffiti--in Chicago, carved into a rock on the Lake Michigan lakefront--reading "Joe + Melis." I was shocked beyond words.


@nonvolleyball WHO THE HELL IS JOE?


@kristenstewart I KNOW, RIGHT?!?!?!? thank god you're here. I hope you brought your suit of armor.


this is a very good story@a


My heart is YOUR WORDS melis, and I am my eyes. Simple problems with simple solutions.


Oh god, too good.


Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful.


I really thought this was gonna be about something else.


Well well well.















@atipofthehat I AM LORD VOLDEMORT






This made me feel a lot of...feelings that I can't quite put names to.


Melis has stolen my heart? This is too perfect.


"..your heart spurs out over a northern ocean, keeping up becomes a struggle. Slowly but surely you begin to veer off course. You find yourself caught in a breeze — not a strong one, just enough to peel a series of whitecaps off the ocean underneath you — and now the unevenly distributed strength of your wracked body finally betrays you. Your heart becomes a small, steady point on the horizon and then becomes nothing at all, and the two of you are lost to one another."

Kinda sounds like your heart is waiting in the halls of Mandos.



sorry your heinous

Read it then read it again.


Wizards are allowed to cheat.


@Tulletilsynet Fucking wizards, man!


You can't take them anywhere. You always have to be watching them.


@Tulletilsynet And that facial hair!


@Tulletilsynet They're always stealing princesses...


I put on my robe and wizard hat.


Oh my god. I didn't think anything could ever top text messages from a ghost, and then we get this.

If these get any better, I might shatter into tiny little reader's pieces.

oh! valencia

wonderful, wonderful!


More like this, please.


Never-ending "hearts", "likes" and "thumbs-up".


@@serenityfound I want to give it hearts too but an asshole wizard stole mine, can I borrow yours?


I am going to print this out and keep it with me forever and ever, until I have folded and unfolded it so much that it is ripped in the corners and when it opens there are little holes at the intersecting creases, and there are no straight lines anymore because it is all ripped, and the paper isn't stiff and white, but beige and wrinkled and soft, and I can't even see the words because they're physically no longer there, but that's OK because I will know it by heart. Is that alright with you?


@MissO Yeah, but with more jokes in it. Imagine this had more jokes.


@melis No. It needs nothing more. It is perfect.


@MissO The last thing I did that with was an interview with Hunter S. Thompson that my First True Love thrust into my hand as I was getting on a plane to go to China. The one where he talks about locking some politician in a room with a bull moose on LSD.

I feel like that interview and this piece are thematically similar.


Oh man.
I just...
This is perfect.


this is a delight.

Carrie Hill Wilner

>kill grue with sword


@Carrie Hill Wilner A hollow voice says, "FOOL."


@Carrie Hill Wilner You were in a dark place.


Well, so this is beautiful and perfect, and also I have a serious crush on a gentleman my friends refer to as "the wizard", so...




@melis I really would eat him, if he were a spider. SIGH.


@apb I bet he'd be delicious.


I think this story is great. Also, at the end of it, it says you wrote Text Messages from a Ghost, which makes sense, because that story is great, too. You're really good.


<3 the return of the gently disfigured seabird!

And there were JUST enough spiders in this. Well done!


"As you try to keep up with your darting and diving heart, you discover that one of your wings is a little bit longer than the other."



You already know how much I enjoy this, but I really do enjoy this.


I haven't felt this excitement and awe about reading something since I was 15.


Reminds me a bit of "Who knows how to make love stay?" by Tom Robbins. Very nice, melis!


Melis, I'm crying.


You're writing a book, right? Please say you're writing a book.


@blily Gimme a book deal, then, solve that fucking mystery, Velma.

Jolie Kerr

I want to love this but I'm so upset at the notion of a "heap of laundry" that I've just gone into the corner to rock myself back and forth. (At least it was a small heap. Thank you for that bit of mercy.)


@Jolie Kerr Shhhhh, shhhhh. It was clean laundry, and it was just about to be folded and put neatly into drawers.


@Ophelia No, no it was carefully collected and sorted dirty laundry waiting to be washed while its mistress skillfully pretreated a garment using a stain-appropriate method.


@Ophelia It totally was clean laundry!!!


@melis I could smell the fabric softener as I shoved my small, feline nose into that sleeve.

Jolie Kerr

@all See now? This is why you're my people.



It was still warm! Why else would a cat be interested?


@atipofthehat Dirty underpants?



That only attracts troubled teen brothers of boyfriends and fathers of fiances.


@atipofthehat What are cats but troubled teens and creepy fathers-in-law?

Hey Melis, BlackBook is looking for a weekend blogger. 'Just sayin'.

fondue with cheddar

@atipofthehat Sometimes cats love dirty laundry because it smells like feet and crotches.


@jen325 But you have to be careful or the dog will eat the crotches out of all the dirty underpants. Then he'll develop a blockage that is very expensive to remove.


@jen325 My cat is disturbingly attracted to our sex towels.


@Ophelia And that's how I knew I was home.

fondue with cheddar

@Xanthophyllippa Oh no! I'm glad he's okay now.

@Craftastrophies That is disturbing. A couple times one of my cats got up close to investigate areas of the body I don't want her anywhere near during sexytimes. I don't let the cats in the bedroom anymore.


@jen325 'Tweren't my dog, but thanks. :) My high school guidance counselor told me that story. I was horrified.

fondue with cheddar

@Xanthophyllippa Wow, that's a pretty personal story for a guidance counselor to tell a student. Sounds like you had an unusually cool one who would shoot the shit with you. I had one of those; they're rare.


@jen325 Yeah, I really can't remember if she was cool - I think she was only there my freshman year. She pulled this weird stunt where she picked some folks out of my class to form what she called "group" - I think it was supposed to be some sort of empowerment thing, because she pretty much picked all the misfits, but it ended up being really stupid. There was some game where we each had a pile of M&Ms and each color had some sort of topic/category assigned to it - like, green was "self-consciousness," or some such, and you had to come up with a problem or an issue that fell into that category, say it out loud to the group, and then eat the M&M to represent letting go of the problem. This failed miserably, because a number of us said, "oh, look, M&Ms," and ate the pile before she could explain the game.

Besides, this game fails miserably just in principle for anyone whose issues have to do with body image. Like, I'm going to label a green M&M "I feel fat all the time," then let go of the problem by EATING AN M&M? Logic fail.

fondue with cheddar

@Xanthophyllippa Yeah, I can see a lot of reasons why that might not be a good exercise. Maybe it would have been better for her to...oh, I don't know...maybe talk? If you needed to talk, that is. If you were there because you were having problems at home or failing your classes that's one thing; it's another if you dressed in all black or had purple hair.


@melis Did you ever have an email address that was "mortberg@suchandsuch?" I'm jealous of all you starts-with-a-vowel last namers.


@theharpoon In college, I think. UGH SO GLAD SOMEBODY 'GOT' THIS STORY


(it's an allegory for email address naming conventions and also for my libertarian beliefs)


(the minotaur was Nathaniel Branden and the iceberg is child labor laws and the ocean is the free market)


@melis So the wizard is Obama then, right? AM I GETTING THIS?!


@melis I thought it was a text based video game and you were trying to attract programmers to make it for you so that you can sell it and be independently wealthy?


@melis The cat is Jolie and it wants you to make your bed so she can sleep on it? The bus pass is Greece?


@The Everpresent Wordsnatcher But who is the stone knife? Curious minds want to know.


@Ophelia The Spider is the Gold Standard and the Rooster is the sixteen to one silver ratio.


@Craftastrophies The temple is the Glorious Revolution and the stone knife is the Proletariat.


I feel like I'm going to be speaking really loudly for the rest of the day because of this, like, will not be able to control the volume of my voice


..wait, what? That was an unexpected bit of pleasure. That was great! What!

Veronica Mars is smarter than me

You gave us a secret preview! I SEE WHAT YOU DID THERE.

Veronica Mars is smarter than me

Also I just really liked this. Also also can we get a "ghost" part 2? And maybe "A wizard has stolen your spleen"? (Or, you know, keep being awesome and original. That works too.)


@Veronica Mars is smarter than me I am on wisdom teeth drugs right now, and time is sort of meaningless, and I got caught in a little recursive loop, in that last paragraph. This comment is a little anchor to reality right now, bless you.

('So, you've decided to have your heart stolen by a mobile phone ghost')


You: This article. Your heart: comment on http://thehairpin.com/2012/03/come-here-from-over-there-often . Together at last.

Veronica Mars is smarter than me

@toastercat Ahhh I just said that! But without the tie-in.


@Veronica Mars is smarter than me
Ahhh oops I didn't see yours or I would have replied there! Sorry :)

Also--I'm super glad I'm not the only melis comment-stalker who remembered this. Not gonna lie, I felt a little creepy.


@toastercat Not at all! Or else I'm a creepy stalker, too? Sigh.

Lola P.

can i go here when i die

Lola P.

@Lola McClure can my life's work be painstakingly reconstructing a 100,000 piece jigsaw puzzle of this

because i know it would be worth it

Lola P.

@Lola McClure trying to pretend i am there right now by sitting so close to my computer. my nose is touches the screen


ugh i really want my heart to be a small heap of laundry and me to be a house cat but i know, deep inside, my heart is really a credit card and i am a bus pass. also, i missed the bus twice today.


"Your heart is a small heap of laundry and you are a housecat. This seems suspiciously easy. You jump onto the pile and burrow your head in an errant sleeve. You sprawl out, stretching your limbs in every direction to hedge your bets. You are warm, your second victory."

A Purr-hic victory, more like!

*collapses in laughter*


There are some days when I feel like it is such a privilege to read everything that is posted on here, and today is one of those days. Thank you.


This was wonderful. THANK YOU!


Dammit, Melis, all this pathos! It's beautiful but it's also scary and unsettling, like a little mammal's skull, you know??


@SuperGogo Or butterflies on a pin-board.

I was going to say "you nailed it," but then that seemed a little weird, considering.


I can't even tell you how much I loved this. It spoke to my heart. Whatever form it has taken today...

Oh, squiggles

This was delicious. The best way I can describe how I feel about this, is that it was a snack, when you are really hungry, but can't eat too much at one time, cause it is not a designated meal time, and it just tastes so good, and is such the right amount that you just feel soooo satisfied.

Like that, you know?


@Awesomely Nonfunctional I totally know what you mean. This story was like a deeply complex and sublime piece of dark chocolate to me.


Damnit, stop making me cry!! (I even wore mascara today!)

Vera Knoop

Melis, you are beautiful.


wait a second. Melis = Mallory Ortberg??

1. We have the same name!! weee


Ok... I need to just come out and say that I don't quite understand what's happening here. I want to, as the words conjure deep imagery/impressions, but the inner meaning, the purport is lost to me.


(Thank you in advance, dear Hairpinners!)


@Barracuda It's OK, don't lose heart!


@nyikin Still not understanding this post... Reread it a few times... It seems everyone is loving it, but I don't get it and I want to get it. :/

Bus Driver Stu Benedict

@Barracuda You know how in Arthurian romances and Greek myths an omnipotent being would create trials for the hero(ine) to overcome? It's kind of like that.

A Morte d'Ortberg, if you will...


@Bus Driver Stu Benedict Ahhhh!!! Yes!!! Much appreciated, Bus Driver. :)


@Barracuda: This is how I interpreted the story (maybe too literally).

When I was the jade temple I learned to recognize when there was a disconnect between where I was and where my heart was. Just as importantly I learned patience and faith that the two would come to naturally align if I could endure.

When I was the cat I learned to recognize, be grateful and revel in the little moments when the disconnect didn’t exist.

By the time I was the credit card, I could spot the disconnect and had experience with patience, but had to learn to accept lack of control and the value of luck. I was fortunate to make good friends during this time.

When I was the rooster, I learned that my heart will act on instinct sometimes before I even know what’s happening, without any help from my mind. When that happens, it will always be right.

When I was the labyrinth my heart was raging over something it couldn’t have, and this thing I knew I couldn’t have I also knew wasn’t right but I wanted it so so much. While my heart raged and floundered and broke open I had to learn to contain and subdue and comfort it. It was my duty to myself to restrain my heart when the thing it wanted was wrong.

When I was the asteroid I was grateful that sometimes alignment is simply about being hard working, disciplined and brave.

When I was the seabird it was a revelation to actually glimpse my heart’s true home. But surprisingly, instead of fulfillment my lesson was loss. I had to learn that sometimes you lose your heart through no fault of your own, through circumstance, ill luck or bad timing. That once you lose it you can neither live fully without it nor recover it completely. My last grace was to relate more tenderly to other’s hearts in the time I had left.


@Tracy I like your interpretation. For the last section, I had maybe a less severe interpretation. I think that this one perhaps shows the possible perils of following your heart. Maybe you have a body or a mindset or irreversible circumstances that won't let you follow your heart, so it gets away from you and you lose sight of it. It seems to sad to me that a person might have to live their life in the way of that disfigured seabird. What are the seabird's options? It's heart, the brown bird, is stronger and quicker than him and he can never catch up. But, he's already out to sea. Is he supposed to stop searching for his heart and try to find land? Would he have maybe found the brown bird back on land after all?


@Tracy you know you've made the big time when...


@Tracy Oooohhhh, nice.... Thank you so much.


@MalPal It's now doing something like that for me.... My mind is wandering along what it means for me.

Thank you, everyone. Hugs and gratitude!!!!

Fig. 1 (formerly myfanwy)

Thank you, melis. This was March beach lonely, acute and windswept clean. I love it. It is tender and perfect, like pieces of sea-glass.


Get rid of your wizards, seriously, they are disgusting.

let's pretend we're bunny rabbits

I'm reminded of this poem:

In the Desert
By Stephen Crane

In the desert
I saw a creature, naked, bestial,
Who, squatting upon the ground,
Held his heart in his hands,
And ate of it.
I said, "Is it good, friend?"
"It is bitter—bitter," he answered;

"But I like it
"Because it is bitter,
"And because it is my heart."


I just saw Finding Nemo for the first time, and this story reminded me of it, and also recreated the ridiculous yet inescapable sense of anxiety I felt throughout the entire movie. Bravo.


Reading this gave me the same crushing feeling that reading anything good gives me, because I will never be this good.


This piece is sincerely amazing.


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