Sunday, February 15, 2009

Chapter 04: Heavy Talk, Badinage, and Ominous Warnings

When we got home, Mom and Mrs. Kennedy were still talking at the kitchen table. They both had coffee. I think coffee was Mom's staple food. My little brothers, Rich and Charlie, both appeared to be out. Susan was in the family room playing with the cats, rolling balls for them to chase.

"Mind if I take this drum downstairs, Mrs. P.?" Danny asked.

"Go ahead." She looked at me. "Let's see what you got." Mike and Terry unwrapped the amplifier while I opened up the guitar case on the table.

"What in the hell is it with you and ugly guitars?" Mom asked. "That thing looks like a festered ass."

"That's one of the reasons I could afford it. It sounds good, though."

"Let's hear it."

I played "The Shepard's Lament" with some reverb and vibrato.

"Hmph. Well, maybe you can talk your father into refinishing it for you." She paused. "You know, now that you kids are using electric instruments, we're going to have to do something about the damn noise."

"You aren't kicking us out, are you Mrs. P.?" asked Danny, who had returned from the basement.

"No, but I might have some strenuous volunteer work for you all to do this weekend."

That was ominous. "What's that?" asked Kirsten.

"Mr. Powyr and I were discussing installing sound insulation in the basement. The hung ceiling needs to be dropped, and the insulation rolled out and fastened. We're going to need to wrap the pipes and ductwork, too, and install a solid door at the top of the stairs. We'll pay for it, but it would be nice if the people practicing down there helped out with the work."

Oh.

"I'll be here first thing Saturday morning," said Dan. He was good at that sort of stuff.

"Yeah, me and Terry too, I guess," said Mike.

Kirsten looked at her mother. "You should help out, too, after your jujutsu lesson on Saturday," Mrs. Kennedy said. "I'll drive you over." Of course, there was no need for Mary or me to respond.

"I have to get going," said Dan. "I'll see you guys later for shoveling. Are we going to practice?"

"We shouldn't start skipping it, if we're serious about it," I said. "I guess we'll practice from 6:30 to 7:30, and then resume shoveling after that." I turned to Mike and Terry. "If you guys can get over here right after supper, we'll get in some dedicated guitar time before everyone else shows up."

"I take it you ambitious young go-getters are planning to go shoveling drives again," Mom said. "Don't overdo it this time."

"Heh," said Dan. "I guess I shouldn't have hit the weights so hard earlier." I saw him to the door.

When I came back, Terry was telling Mom about lifting weights that afternoon. Mom said, "Be careful with that crap. You can rack yourself up pretty bad if you don't know what you're doing."

"Danny's brother Russ seems to know what he's about," said Mike. "He was showing us." Mike paused for a second. "I think I'll go hang with Dan while the snow piles up enough to be worth shoveling. It's not right that he gets stuck alone so often."

Mike cleared out, and the rest of the kids, except Susan, went downstairs. I was the worst billiards player there, so I let Kirsten, Pam, Mary and Terry play while I set up my new guitar in what had become our rehearsal corner between the pool table and the stairs. The amp had a practice setting that boosted the bass at low volumes. I put that on, adjusted the volume so that the electric wasn't any louder than my acoustic, opened up the guitar songbook that Kirsten had got me for Christmas, and started looking for a song to learn.

No, not "Stick in the Spokes", advised Ursus. This early in your relationship, you don't want Kirsten to wonder if you're singing about her.

Maybe it would be for the best if I let her go, said Arthur. Now that the excitement was over, Arthur was starting to feel guilty again, much to the dismay of Ursus and me. His feelings of guilt, of course, were experienced by all of us.

Ursus tried a different tack in dealing with Arthur while I made use of our developing ability to think of three things at once and searched through the book for a good song. Ursus carefully recalled the terror of the girl who the diabolist was going to sacrifice. He remembered the demon attacking our protective circle around the house and then later attacking us on our bicycle. He imagined the fear of the women who were found dismembered in Guzman's freezer. Guzman murdered his own wife, Arthur.

We went to his house to kill him. We had no idea that he intended to kill that girl. Then when we had him down, we finished him off. I might be just a kid, but I know enough about the law to know that that is murder.

Ursus let out a mighty mental sigh. Yes, technically, by the laws of your land, we murdered that man. Arthur, I hate to play age and wisdom vs. youth and immaturity, but I understand what you are going through. Right now, you're maturing rapidly, but you still have a youthful tendency to see things in black and white sometimes. The real world doesn't work that way.

Arthur fumed. I felt my face flush. I know that murder is wrong.

I very much don't want to have to spend years locked up in a juvenile prison if you spill the beans and manage to convince a judge that we committed premeditated murder, Ursus said. And if you think about it, I'm sure you don't want that either.

Arthur, will you trust me? Ursus continued. In a relatively short while, a year or so--at most two--your picture of the world is going to be a lot more complex. I know, because I went through the same development, and you have a copy of my brain. By that time, I'm sure you'll agree with me that we had no choice about Guzman.

So you're saying, Arthur said, that in about a year I'm going to become more immoral, maybe evil.

I could feel Ursus losing patience, but he tried yet another angle. Remember a few weeks ago when you lied to Miss Gorse about getting into a fight with Al?

Yeah. So?

Why did you do that?

I didn't want to get punished for a fight I didn't start.

But the rules of your school say that all students in a fight are to be punished, no matter who starts it.

Those rules are wrong.

So it's OK to break rules that are wrong, Ursus concluded.

Maybe, but the rules against murdering someone aren't wrong.

Not usually, no. But in the case of Guzman, they were incomplete. Your society has no rules at all about what to do with a demon summoner.

We had him beat, and then we killed him. That's murder.

If we had left him alive with his power and knowledge intact--and I have no idea how to remove them on this node--it was just a matter of time before he summoned another demon.

I could feel Arthur becoming increasingly upset. His mixture of guilt and confusion were becoming nauseating. I think, I purposefully interjected, that "Hop a Train (and Ride for Free)" is a good song to learn. It had a somewhat harder beat than what we had been practicing, and a faster tempo than "Paragon's Parade", which was the current fastest song in our repertoire. It will make us work on our picking skills.

I think the change in topic was welcomed by all three of my consciousnesses. I felt general assent about the song choice, and then Arthur said to me, You know, we need a name for you.

What?

I'm Arthur. He's Ursus. Who are you?

I'm both.

That's not very convenient. Do you want to be called "Both"?

Eh, call me "Bear," then.

Ursus had largely figured out the local music notation, so it wasn't that difficult to begin learning the song. After we had worked on it a bit, Pam asked, "Is that 'Hop a Train'?"

"Yeah. I take it I have a ways to go before it's clearly identifiable."

"You're picking it up really fast, if you just started learning it," Kirsten said.

"You are present at my first attempt."

"My boyfriend--super genius."

"I wouldn't go that far," said Mary.

Did Mary just zing me? I looked at her. She had a small smile on her face, but it was mixed with worry. It looks like we're going to have to talk to her, Ursus noted.

"My boyfriend--regular, everyday genius?" inquired Kirsten with a grin.

"That's a little better," Mary allowed.

"Your boyfriend--bright weirdo?" Terry asked.

"To be fair, I think he is somewhat beyond bright," Kirsten said.

"Your boyfriend--brilliant weirdo," Pam said.

"Now you're going too far again," Mary said.

"What's between bright and brilliant?" Terry asked.

"Does anyone have a thesaurus?" Kirsten inquired.

"You aren't borrowing mine," I said as I went back to studying the song.

After they had played for a while, Mary asked, "Are you sure you don't want to shoot a game, Artie?"

"I'm fine, but it's nice of you to offer."

After some time, Mrs. Kennedy called Kirsten and Pam. "We better leave before the roads get too bad, and I should start dinner anyway." I went upstairs with them and gave Kirsten a goodbye hug.

Once they had gone, Terry said, "It's starting to pile up. Do you think anyone will hire us yet?"

"Let's do our drives and see if anyone else is out shoveling. If they are, it's a signal that people are worried about it getting too deep to move easily." So that's what we did. Mary and I did our drive while Terry did his. After a while, Mary and I went over to help Terry. His sister Colleen must have realized what was happening, because just as we were finishing up the Prestor drive she came out and all four of us did the drive of the old folks who were the Prestor's other next-door neighbors.

"We're going to go shoveling again, Coll," said Terry to his sister.

"We made a killing last time. I'm in if I'm welcome."

"If it's anything like last time, we can use all hands," I said, "and I'm not going to overdo it as much."

"No, certainly not," Colleen said. "According to the weather, if we get as much snow as expected tonight, it will be one of the snowiest Decembers on record for the Detroit area."

"Maybe you should give Mike a call at Danny's," I said to Terry. "While you do that, the rest of us will see if we can drum up some business."

The retired man a few houses away was out clearing his drive. Colleen, Mary, and I walked up to him. "How much?" asked Mr. Bearse.

"Right now, a pound," I said. "If you wait until it's deeper, though, it will be more."

"Do it, you little thieves." He smiled when he said it.

We set to. Soon Terry and Mike joined us. As planned, we adjourned for supper and practice, from which Kirsten was excused for bad travel conditions.

Of course, Mary's piano arrived while we were eating. It was an upright model, and the deliverymen put it in the living room. It would have been more useful in the basement, but there was no way a leased piano was going down there. They warned that it probably would need to be retuned and gave Dad the card of a piano tuner recommended by their employer.

After practice, Danny helped our snow removal efforts. Having learned from our previous mistakes, we paced ourselves and knocked off a bit before 10:00. "If we don't overdo it, we'll be able to get up first thing tomorrow and pick up some more work," I said when I thought people were starting to reach their limits.

"I'm done," said Mary. With that, we adjourned.

"Anyone want to help me rip off a billboard?" Danny asked. He pulled a pair of locking pliers from a pocket of his well-worn sheepskin coat.

"Why?" asked Terry.

"I want to make a couple drum stools. What they want for one in Hank's is way more than I want to pay."

"I'll help," said Mike.

"Can I borrow a hammer from your garage?"

"Why not?" The two of them headed for the Prestor's garage and then the vacant lot we called "the field." It usually had a billboard or two along Cord Road. Liberated billboards, often made from good plywood, had provided Danny with much building material over the years. Mary and I went home.

Ursus took note of Arthur's feelings. You don't seem offended at all that someone's property rights are about to be violated, Ursus observed.

I guess not. Billboards from the field just seem to be a natural resource.

Clearly, taking them is theft.

That's true, but it doesn't feel like it. Also, the things are damn ugly. Pulling them down aids beautification.

That's just rationalization, Ursus said.

I agree, Arthur said, but I can't get worked up over billboards.

Neither can I, said Ursus. I just wanted you to note a shade of gray.

After Mom and Dad asked us about our earnings, I swallowed a couple aspirins with a full glass of water before heading to the bathroom to brush my teeth. "Are you hurting already?" Mom asked.

"I'm a little sore, but those were mostly to make sure I didn't hurt as much in the morning."

"That sounds like a good idea," said Mary as she moved to duplicate my actions. Mom shook her head, but she didn't say anything.

Harvey the cat followed me downstairs. My brain mates and I practiced scales on the acoustic for about ten minutes, then Ursus thought, We are going to keep working magic.

I guess, thought Arthur. I hate all the trouble it caused, though.

Magic didn't cause the trouble. Guzman the diabolist caused the trouble. Magic allowed us to discover his depredations. If we hadn't scried him, who knows how long he would have gone on hurting people before he was caught?

Was it all a coincidence? I asked to interrupt the feeling of building guilt from Arthur.

What?

Ursus was already getting the answer to his question before I thought it explicitly in mental words, but I "said" it to him anyway. When we were split like that, it seemed more natural. Living so close together that we could easily reach him.

I don't know. I've sometimes thought that there might be a benign force in the multiverse, and magic, I believe, polices itself. If you make a promise involving magic, for instance, and you break it, it can look like the multiverse itself has turned against you, your "luck" gets so bad. I've seen it happen, and I've been careful never to make any oath on my magic that I couldn't easily keep.

Let me get this straight, thought Arthur. You think God or magic or manna or something caused Mom and Dad to move near Guzman so we could one day stop him?

Either that, or it made Guzman move near your parents. I don't know it for sure, but through my long life I've been in the right place at the right time, or depending on how you look at it, the wrong place at the wrong time far too often for me to believe it has all been coincidence. We were treated with examples from Ursus's memory.

Oh. Being a wizard is an even bigger responsibility than I thought, Arthur said. We were feeling mixed pride and apprehension.

It can be, thought Ursus, but it's also a lot of fun.

Amen to that, I thought.

Now, getting back to what I was about to get at, Ursus said, I was acting foolish when I let us leap into magic without taking adequate safety precautions. That demon could have easily killed us. From now on, we're going to proceed more cautiously.

We climbed into bed. Ursus explained some of the precautions we were going to take. Harvey made himself comfortable on my feet. We had nightmares as we slept, but that was to be expected.

Chapter 05

9 comments:

sam said...

Nice!

Steve H said...

Arthurs not gonna be over this for a long time, but at least we get to see more magic soon.

ujj said...

more please keep typing and sorry about your dad and i need more magic to please

Slaxor said...

You know, if Arthur's kicking up a fuss about the murder, I'd think mentioning the FREAKING DEMONS would shut him up pretty quick. But that's just me.

haley said...

I'm interested to see how Arthur ends up dealing with Mary over the whole issue.

Xenophon Hendrix said...

Slaxor, Arthur is between the stage of ethical development where being good is a matter of obeying the rules and the stage where being good is a matter of facilitating the larger intent the rules are attempting to bring about.

pyroarcher said...

Great! cant wait for more!

Mark Mayhugh said...

I think Bear should try to intervene more in the moral discussions, instead of trying to change the subject. Bear could hopefully expose Arthur to a pretty compelling chain of logic:

1. With no real provocation, the summoner sent a demon to kill Arthur and potentially his family. After this point, anything that is done to keep the summoner from trying to kill Arthur and his family again is self defense, NOT murder. Just as if a sniper was taking pot shots at your family, and you got the drop on him while he was reloading, it would be self defense to kill him, even if technical he was not actually armed at that point. If you did not kill him when you had the chance, he would later become armed, and would likely kill you and your family.

2. Defeating the summoner and having him put in jail would NOT prevent the summoner from summoning a demon to try to kill Arthur and his family again. He could potentially summon a demon from jail. As Ursus pointed out, the police are not equipped to deal with this kind of criminal. If Arthur had stopped short of killing him as his conscience was telling him that he should have done, he would be putting himself and his family at great risk.

3. The summoner had murdered at least twice, raped numerous times, and was clearly about to murder again. He had already earned a death sentence several times over, but the authorities were in no position to bring him to trial and judgment. One should feel no more more guilt killing a monster like this as one would feel putting down a rabid dog.

daymon said...

And now he has a name, Bear is who they are going to be one day. Arthur is at least willing to keep up with the magic, here is to hoping it stays quite for him for a little while.