The American Way
by Alex Singer

There was a time when you could buy anything you wanted out of a bottle. You just hopped on down to your friendly local pharmacist.

Pharmacists can do some crazy things. They can give you a little bottle to fix a headache, they can give you a pill to fix your cough, and, not too long ago, they could give you a shot that gave you the ability to light up a whole street with a smile.

That ain't figurative. It's a basic lux brew. You get it from a certain process involving several kinds of roots and the right amount of pressure. Typically works best through the veins. Itís less effective when you drink it, but if you are sorry enough to down it in a gulp it makes you feel awful special for a good six to seven hours. Not too long ago you could buy it from any one of your friendly pharmacists. That same bottle, with a few added helpings of sulfur and a little longer in cold storage, could blow up seven men and two horses on a battle field in France.

They have that on record.

That was what that spell was used for in the Great War. Lighting the trenches where you could see the guys you wanted to blow to Kingdom Come. The army ordered crates and barrels of it, thousands of pounds of it, when they went over to win the war. They won it, so if your friendly local pharmacists over any certain age, you can guarantee he's probably some kind of war hero by Uncle Sam's standards.

But Uncle Sam had something to say about the lights.

You could say it was an issue of morality. Guys who came back from the war, they came back all wrong. They said it was like nothing you ever saw: those modern magics up against all those old world values. Those Europeans, they prized the old Alchemist, not the modern pharmacist, and a spell was still considered something of an art with the Frenchies. This was before the breweries. This was before the gas. Before the transmog bombs. The spell-throwers. The old Alchemist didn't stand a chance. They say men lost their humanity in that war, and they don't mean it figurative. Men came back with the head of a pig and the leg of a chicken. It don't take much. And for a nickel, you could get the components from your friendly pharmacist down the road.

Morality. It'd be nice to say that fighting the war to end all wars was enough reason to come down on the breweries, the barrels of blow-bottles. It'd be nice to say we wrote it in the constitution: we the people, we're done with blowing each other's heads off.

Truth told though, our boys down in Washington weren't thinking much about the Great War when they said enough was enough. They were thinking about the Anti-Coven League, who was thinking about all those mage societies. They were thinking about the parties. Those fine young boys studying alchemy in school. Those good little girls whose mama's taught them to be witches at home. They were thinking about the drinking, the lights, the brightness, and all those things that just weren't good and Christian. Magic makes your head all funny, they said. Magic ruins your health. Magic makes you forget to be a good citizen. Magic invites the devil into you and leaves nothing left. It's an attack on our decency. It's against the good of the community, the country, and whatever sounds prettiest when you're campaigning on the back of a train.

To say nothing of all that money those brewers made on the side. Just wasn't decent.

We don't need magic in our lives, they said. Look what it did to those poor bastards across the sea. To be American, truly American, is to work your life with your own two hands. You don't need spells, you don't need your local doctor. All a man needs is the ingenuity and the hard work that made this country great.

Sounds pretty, don't it? I'm sure someone out there believes it.

Me, I was just tired of seeing guys blowing their girls' heads off because they had the sense to try and get when the going was good. I was tired of seeing tenements going down because of fires the firefighters couldn't put out. I was tired of kids turning themselves into monsters.

Some say it didn't make much sense to come down on the friendly pharmacist, the alchemist, the man with the bottle. Plenty say it just drove them down into the deep. Made it harder to root 'em out. I said: let them wallow in the gutter. Makes 'em stink more, and a good dog can sniff them out wherever they run.

I guess you could say I'm all about the American way.

The End

NOTES: Prelude story to Small Town Witch.

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