Saturday, February 21, 2009

Chapter 06: Some Magic

Mary practiced until suppertime. Mom and Dad left right after eating. Mary and I were still doing the dishes when Mike and Terry arrived. I told them to go ahead and set up. Now that they had two guitars, a bass, and three practice amplifiers, it took them two trips to bring all their stuff. When I went downstairs, I noted that the guitar stands had brought order to quite a bit of the chaos.

Mike and Terry were going through the exercises their tutors had given them. I demonstrated the exercises that Hank had given me, and we all compared notes. Danny showed up in a little while, and then Mary came downstairs herding Rich, Charlie, and Susan with Mrs. Kennedy and Kirsten. If anyone thought it odd that Mrs. Kennedy was over in the sitting area while we practiced, he never said anything to me about it. Susan stuck close to Mrs. Kennedy. I couldn't hear much of what she was saying, but Mrs. Kennedy would nod and ask questions.

We mostly worked on "Hop a Train (and Ride for Free)." When I showed Mike and Terry the plectrum work that was going to be involved, Mike said, "You are evil." Kirsten, experienced musician that she was, didn't have any trouble transposing the tune to her sax, and Danny could already play it by ear on the harmonica. He spent most of practice with his growing drum kit.

We ended the session just before 8:00. Mary put Susan to bed. Because of the impending home-improvement project, band practice was cancelled for Saturday. Mrs. Kennedy and Kirsten left. Mike, Terry, and Danny hung around longer and were rewarded by being available hands when Mom and Dad returned with a van full of stuff. We all pitched in carrying it downstairs. When we were finished, Terry surveyed the pile. "We have a big job ahead of us tomorrow."

"Don't whine," Danny said. "We're getting a better practice space than someone's garage."

"Not complainin', just sayin'."

"The assholes around here would call the cops if we did try to use someone's garage," Mike said.

"Mrs. Pullik," Danny, Terry, Mary, and I all said simultaneously. That cracked everyone up. We didn't like Gertrude Pullik, the woman who lived across the street. For some unfathomable reason, Mom did like her.

About 9:00 pm, I finally got some time to be alone with the voices in my head. I was physically weary after a long day, but I hadn't used up the strength that I tapped while performing spells.

It's probably not necessary, Ursus said, but given our reinvigorated policy of not being idiots with magic, it would be an appropriate gesture to work within a double protective circle until we have our amulet recharged.

Yes, yes it would. I played my acoustic guitar, which was inscribed with manna attracting and controlling sigils, until we had collected all the manna we could hold. Arthur concentrated on keeping our "grip" on it. Ursus worked at putting us into a light trance. I, Bear, went upstairs slowly and quietly, so as not to attract attention, and slipped into my winter gear. I eased out the back door, which went into the garage, and then out the side door.

The house more-or-less faced north. I walked to the foot of the driveway and stood for a little while as Ursus deepened our trance. I dug my athame, a consecrated lock-blade with a mostly black handle, from my trouser pocket and opened it up. When everything felt ready, I inscribed the pentagram for air while intoning, "May the elemental power of air bless and protect this circle and those within and shield them from prying eyes."

I visualized a line of swirling leaves and ribbons flowing from the tip of the knife--the leaves and ribbons representing air, which was hard to visualize by itself. How does the wind feel on my skin? How does it smell? Hear the sound of someone blowing over the opening of a pop bottle. What does wind sound like as it rustles through leaves? As I drew the line of air, I fed it a trickle of manna while attempting to pace the release so that I didn't run out before the ritual was finished.

I tromped through the snow while circling east, moving with the direction of the sun. As I moved closer to the east, I visualized the line of air slowly turning into a line of earth. I remembered the sting of wind-driven sand on my face. How does sun-warmed soil feel when I pick it up? What does it smell like? What does it sound like when a garden trowel cuts into the earth?

The gate to the backyard hadn't been dug out, and it was well stuck. I had to climb over. I took a moment to repair my concentration and then resumed scribing the circle. When I was approximately to the east of the house I intoned as I drew the pentagram for earth, "May the elemental power of earth bless and protect this circle and those within and shield them from prying eyes."

Paying out manna steadily, I circled south. As I did so, the line of earth flowing from the athame's tip slowly transformed into fire. Remember the smell of hot earth as a campfire heats it. Feel the fire as it warms my hands. See the dancing flames. The warm glow of a candle in a dark room. Hear a log crackle in the fireplace. I faced the brick wall that stretched across the back of the yard. I intoned as I inscribed the pentagram for fire, "May the elemental power of fire bless and protect this circle and those within and shield them from prying eyes."

I circled west. The line making the circle slowly became water. See the steam as the fire boils the water. Hear the bubbles. Feel warm summer rain. Hear it on the steel roof of the back porch. The shock as I plunge into the Prestor's swimming pool on a hot day. Taste the water coming out of the garden hosepipe. Hear a creek trickle over its stony bed. I was to the west of the house. I intoned as I inscribed the pentagram for water, "May the elemental power of water bless and protect this circle and those within and shield them from prying eyes."

I circled back north. I had to climb the fence on that side, too. The circle slowly changed back to air. White caps leaping from the ocean as I stood upon the wharf from which my grandfather once fished. Feel the spray. Smell the salt air. How does the air smell after a rain? Snow. See it sparkle. Feel it on my face. See the flakes blown about. Wind-driven ice. How it stabs and burns! The calm after the storm has passed. The tug of a kite string. A swirl of leaves. Wind chimes tinkling in a light breeze. I fed in the last of the manna as the circle closed.

Well, that's a rush, I said to my brain mates. We went back inside and started taking off our winter clothes.

Mom came into the laundry room. "What in hell were you doing out there?"

"You don't want to know," I replied.

"Yes, I do."

"A magic ritual."

"God damn it!"

"I won't swear to it, but I don't believe God minds."

"Am I going to have to lock you up in the rubber room?"

"I'm just as sane as I've ever been," I said on my way toward the little bathroom.

"That's just as comforting as hell," Mom said as I was shutting the door. "Get your ass back out here."

"I have to pee and brush my teeth," I said.

I took my time. When I was finished, no one was outside the door, so I went down to the basement and put on my pajamas and a robe. As I waited to see if Mom was going to come downstairs to continue the argument, I set up my ritual area. I pivoted the old kitchen table I used as a desk and work area away from the wall so that it was close to the center of my bedroom, and I put kitchen chairs to the north, south, east, and west. I neatened up my schoolbooks that were sitting on the table.

On the north chair I put an old sleigh bell, on the east a dish of table salt, the south a candle, and the west a carved bowl full of melted snow, which I kept handy in a bucket. I had carved the bowl from a willow burl myself. I intended, eventually, to make all of my own ritual tools as time and opportunity permitted, because the more of himself a magician puts into a spell, the more efficient it is. Ursus assured Arthur and me that the most dedicated mages went right back to nature itself to provide the raw materials used to make the tools that they in turn used to make their ritual tools in an iterative progression. Learning all of the necessary skills was a multi-decade undertaking.

I slid another chair, this one for me to sit on, under the southern edge of the table and put my acoustic guitar, a box of wooden matches, and my open athame on top of the table where they would be handy. I took the protective amulet from around my neck and put it on the table, too. My battle with the demon had completely discharged it. Tonight's project was to get it working again.

It didn't look as if Mom was going to come down. I shut my bedroom door and resumed ritual work. I again summoned manna with my guitar and used the magical energy to cast around my work area a circle like the one outside. The difference was that I used the same amount of manna to construct a smaller circle, so it was stronger per unit length if someone or something unfriendly wanted to get in magically.

I again gathered manna and took some time to deepen my concentration. The next step was the ritual purification. I took the bell from the north chair and began to shake it as I walked around the circle widdershins, for I was banishing, not creating. "May the elemental power of air purify this circle." As I slowly walked the entire circuit, I visualized great winds blowing away old magic and evil influences, leaving my work area clean and pure. Demons; old, broken circles; blotches of black goo; magnified germs; giant eyeballs with unwelcome gazes--all were lifted up and carried away.

I replaced the bell and continued on to the bowl of water. "May the elemental power of water purify this circle." This time it was floods washing the undesirable away as I sprinkled a few drops around the perimeter. I lit the candle. Now it was fire burning them up in crackling flames. Finally, it was salt burying, smothering, desiccating. I put down the bowl of salt and continued walking the circle back to north before I returned to the table.

I picked up my guitar and again replenished my supply of manna. I sat down and locked my gaze upon the amulet. My dried blood still stained the lines I had carved. The disk of wood was still strongly bound to me by ritual, so for that spell, at least, I didn't have to bleed. The carving, on both sides, represented a ritual circle with symbols for air at the top, earth to the right as it faced me, fire to the south, and water to the left. In the center of the circle was a glyph that represented my collective self.

I let my trance deepen until all that was left in my awareness was the disk and my internal vision. I imagined spells bouncing off the protective circle. What might a spell feel like? Sound like? Smell like? Taste like? I pictured, heard, felt, smelt, tasted them as arrows, fireballs, bolts of lightning, rain, gas, handfuls of mud, pellets, glitter, sand, snowballs, buckshot--in short, anything my imagination could come up with. Feel my circle push them away. While I was doing that, I constantly fed the spell a stream of manna.

Next, I knew from bitter experience my sensory reactions to getting close to a demon. In truth, what I remembered was less brutal than what I had sensed, but it was bad enough. I imagined the protective circle on my amulet stopping demons and channeling them away from me.

Then I imagined it resisting scrying. Imagine a wizard staring into a dish of water. The water was empty. Imagine a sorcerer gazing in a crystal. The crystal was opaque. I was invisible to sight, inaudible to hearing.

After an unknown while, the first side of the amulet felt done.

I let my trance lighten, but I didn't come completely out of it. Ursus maintained a light trance while Arthur gathered manna and I played the guitar. I felt noticeably tired, and I knew that I could easily collapse into bed and be asleep in seconds, but I forced myself to do more. I flipped the disk over and repeated the spell on the other side.

When it was finished, I was utterly exhausted. I hung the amulet around my neck, painfully stood up, removed my robe, and picked up my athame. Leaning on the table, I worked my way around and drew a slash through the imagined glyph for air while I mumbled, "I thank and dismiss the elemental power of air." I did the same for water, fire (blowing out the candle on the way), and earth. My last coherent thought was, I should open the door for Harvey. I was out as soon as I hit the sheets.

The next morning, I was awakened by people moving around in the basement. I stuck my head out the door. I saw Dad, Mike, Terry, and Danny. "Hey," Danny said. Terry pointed and mimicked laughing at me.

"What time is it?" I asked.

"About a quarter after eight," Mike said.

"What time did you get to bed last night?" Dad asked.

"I'm not sure, but it couldn't have been that late. I'll be right with you guys." I grabbed some clothes and took them with me as I headed upstairs to use the bathroom. I heard Mom, Mary, and my younger brothers talking, but I didn't pay attention to what they said. When I was finished, I just washed my hands and splashed some water on my face before getting dressed.

When I came out of the bathroom, Mary was in the family room with the rest of my siblings. "I've got kid wrangling duty so Mom can go downstairs and help," she said.

My stomach was in an uproar, which I assumed was from bad dreams and the after effects of traumatic stress. I ate a piece of dry toast and went downstairs. They were already taking down the ceiling panels. I began to help.

We worked all morning. Mom fed everyone lunch. Kirsten and her dad showed up. Mr. Kennedy stayed to help. We worked all afternoon. The kid wrangler was changed at intervals. The storage room was emptied so that we could insulate the ceiling in there, and Mom seized the opportunity to throw out some junk. We tested the soundproofing with my guitar and amplifier, and Terry fetched the Prestor's bass, which was the worst offender. The transmission through the floor was noticeably reduced, but the ductwork might as well have been a PA system.

Everyone else went home, but Dad, Mary, and I did some work after supper. I turned in by 9:00.

We worked all Sunday, with Mike and Terry taking time out for mandatory church attendance. In the end, we insulated the basement ceiling, wrapped all the ductwork and pipes, and took down and put back up a suspended ceiling. All the lenses for the fluorescent lighting were cushioned with putty to dampen their vibrations. Because there were ducts in the storage room, we replaced that hollow door with a solid one. We also insulated the interior storage room walls. They never had been finished, so they were easy to get at. We insulated the interior wall of Dad's workroom and replaced its door, because that was where the furnace lived, the evil heart of all the ducts. More insulation needed to be bought. The extra doors required an extra trip to the store.

The half door at the top of the stairs was replaced with a solid Dutch/stable door, because Mom didn't want to block the cats from being able to go downstairs. Their litter boxes were kept in Dad's workroom. On the other hand, she wanted the stairs at least partially closed off at all times to prevent people from falling down them. I suspected that she liked to be able to hear what was going on downstairs, too.

Terry plucked the bass a few times. The Dutch door made hideous vibrations. "Shit," Dad muttered. Weather stripping was applied all around the door. That mostly tamed it, so stripping was applied to all of the doors in the basement, too.

Our various measures had reduced the PA effect of the furnace ducts but had not cured it. "Maybe we could fix it if we replaced the ceiling panels with acoustic tiles," Dad mused.

"Those things are expensive as hell," Mom said. It was declared that music simply had to end when the younger kids started going to bed. At least we were no longer interfering with conversations or television watching.

It was about suppertime on Sunday when the noise situation was declared adequately solved for the time being. Mom ordered pizza. Mrs. Prestor wanted Mike and Terry home for supper, so they left. Danny didn't have any better options, so he ate with us. All three Kennedy's were there.

My entire mental collective was feeling guilty by then for the expense my parents had gone through. It's not just for Arthur, Ursus said, but for Mary, too, and possibly the younger kids if they get interested. Still, I feel obligated to pay them back somehow. I might be permanently attached to one of their kids, but I'm not one of them.

Any ideas? Arthur asked.

Nothing in particular. It will have to be something that they won't feel awkward accepting from their children. We have time, and we'll keep our ears and eyes open.

Mike and Terry came back with the rest of their equipment, and the band went through everything we knew and numerous things we didn't until Susan began nodding. That was the signal for everyone to go home. Near the door, Kirsten gave Arthur a long hug and a brief kiss. "What a weekend," she said softly.

"It probably wasn't as bad as breaking rocks," I said. The unusual movements and stretching had left all participants lumps of moderate pain. I seemed to be taking it worse than most of the others. My frequent attacks of nausea had reduced my food intake, and I was feeling it.

"I don't want to find out for sure," Kirsten said. "Do you think that just the two of us can do something tomorrow?"

Her mother heard. "Make sure that any activities are within the specified and agreed upon guidelines."

"How about if we go over to Infinity Mall and catch the matinee?"

Kirsten looked at her mother. Her mother looked at me. "You will keep your hands off any portion of my daughter's anatomy that she does not explicitly give you permission to touch. You will not coax, beg, wheedle, or bribe in an attempt to get said permission."

"Understood and agreed," I said.

"Fine. Go ahead." Did all mothers have a noncommittal fine?

"What's playing?" Kirsten asked me.

"I have no idea. There are two choices at the theater. You can pick one."

"Make sure it's reasonably kid friendly," Mrs. Kennedy said.

By about half-past eight, I had some solitude. All three of my consciousnesses were introverts, and over the preceding few days I had overdosed on human company. I spent a few minutes lying on my bed and collecting my thoughts. First things first, Ursus thought. We aren't eating enough, so we are becoming weak. We are losing weight too quickly, and at this rate, we are losing muscle with the fat. If we keep up like this, we'll get sick. We need to get some more food into us.

I went upstairs, dug a couple cold slices of pizza from the refrigerator, put them on a paper plate, and went back downstairs. We went through the relaxation routine that preceded entering trance, but remained just out of it. The relaxation response reduced the nausea we had been feeling more often than not since killing Guzman. We played the guitar and collecting manna. I held onto the manna to maintain the feeling of wellbeing it induced while Ursus ate.

My mental collective had a long list of spells we wanted to cast, so we took the one from the top and spent some time designing a memory-improvement amulet. The basic sigil would be stylized eyes and ears with arrows pointing to a simplified sketch of a brain. The arrows passed through funnel-like shapes inspired by the lobster traps I had seen when visiting my mother's childhood home in Nova Scotia. The funnels made it easy for the lobsters to go in after the bait but difficult to get back out. Unlike inside the traps, I sketched inward pointing barbs in the funnels, all the better to catch escaping memories.

Harvey wandered in and jumped up on my bed at about the same time I finished the design. Ursus thought, I want to do some scrying before we go to bed.

We had already discussed the issue, but Arthur and I weren't thrilled with the idea. Are you sure it's not going to get us into more trouble? we both asked, thinking in parallel.

How can I be sure of something like that? But I suspect, in the case of the diabolist, that a greater force steered our vision so that we could stop him. Assuming that there are no more rogue magicians close by, we should have more control, and I intend to be a lot more careful.

Ursus felt our reluctance, so he continued, We've been over this. Scrying has its risks, but it's a powerful scouting and information-gathering tool. Learning things the easy way is a lot safer than learning them the hard way.

The problem with all of us being in the same brain was that we were largely forced to acknowledge that Ursus's argument was persuasive. Yeah, OK, I said.

Right, Arthur said. He dug out our scrying pan, an old aluminum foil pie pan we had scratched glyphs upon, and filled it with melted snow. The table was already moved away from the wall. Arthur picked up his guitar and gathered in some manna.

Now that our protection-from-magic amulet was again recharged, casting a circle outside the house was unnecessarily provocative. It wouldn't do to rub Mom's nose in the fact that we weren't going to quit practicing magic. We cast and purified a circle around the table, collected some more manna, and sat at the table with the pan in front of us. I took my athame and poked myself hard enough to get a drop of blood. For a change, I victimized my forearm rather than a finger.

There has to be a better way to get blood, Arthur said.

Maybe something sharper, I said.

Concentrate, Ursus said. He scooped up the drop of blood and put it in the scrying water. Releasing a trickle of manna, we sat gazing into the pan and went into trance. Every time we did it, it became easier.

We started chanting, "see, see, see," as a simple mantra. After a while, a vision began to form. It was the sitting area in the basement a few feet away. It was dark. It was boring.

We should be able to use dream light while we are scrying, Ursus said. After some time of concentration, we could make out the furniture. The room still felt dark, but we could see. It still was boring.

We directed our vision to go upstairs. Mom had her legs on the couch. She was knitting something big, maybe an afghan. Audrey, her dog, was curled up at her feet. Dad was in a chair. He was watching television. Boring. We went down the hall. My siblings were all asleep. Boring.

This is mainly for practice, Ursus said, and boring is good. You were the ones who wanted to stay out of trouble, remember? I endorse your wisdom.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, but still. We let our gaze wander outside. A possum was in the backyard. A narrow garden ran along the brick wall at back, and things grew surprisingly well there, considering that it had almost no southern exposure. The possum was eating some of the cabbages Mom had planted. She hadn't bothered to harvest them all.

Everyone hates possums, Arthur said. I feel sorry for them.

If any species has been given a raw deal in life, I concurred, it's the possum.

We soon grew tired of watching the ugly critter. Our vision moved over to the Prestor house. We felt some brief resistance before we were allowed to see inside. That was the threshold effect, Ursus said. Established homes have a certain amount of resistance to evil intent, at least that which is magically based. If we were a hostile power, the resistance would have been stronger. As it is, we're just snooping a bit and don't mean anyone real harm.

The threshold of our house didn't seem to slow the demon much, Arthur observed.

It probably did, actually, Ursus said. But on the other hand, we are partially a magical being because of our ability to gather and manipulate manna. A countervailing effect is that magical beings have less inherent resistance to magic than do those who are totally mundane.

So you put me in increased danger the second you entered my head, Arthur said.

No, I put you in danger the second I created you as my clone. It's not just a metaphor when I say that a wizard is what we are.

What if I had never learned how? Arthur asked.

You might have discovered some haphazard effects on your own by accident. Perhaps visions that you took to be hallucinations, or coincidences that seemed to happen far too often. In any event, the vulnerability still would have been there, but you would have received far fewer benefits.

Mr. and Mrs. Prestor were watching television. We went up to the second floor. Terry was sleeping on his back. Mike was curled up in a ball asleep. He had left a desk lamp on. Colleen, who was in grade ten, was reading a book in bed. She had on a lacy cotton gown, and I spent a minute or so enjoying the view. Janet, the oldest, was home from university on Christmas break. She was…

Oh, my!

Ursus forced our gaze away while Arthur and I were doing our best to keep looking. There is an unwritten understanding that we do not watch such private moments, he scolded, especially of those persons we know. It is far more impolite than snooping around, which is mostly considered an inherent vice of the wizard breed.

But, aw man, c'mon! Arthur said. His embarrassed feeling was overwhelmed by other feelings.

No, Ursus said.

Can we at least…? I asked.

Yes, go ahead.

I cut our ritual circle and ran for the bathroom. I needed to go there anyway to brush my teeth before bed. Efficiency is good.

Chapter 07


Alex Predoehl said...

Hi, I am very much appreciating your story as it continues. Thank you. But I believe I found a small typo. The paragraph begins:

"We worked all morning. Mom fed everyone lunch. Kirsten and her dad showed up. Mr. Kennedy stayed to help. We worked all afternoon. The kind wrangler"
I presume 'kid' wrangler.

ujj said...

more please keep typing and good work and more magic would be good thanks

Xenophon Hendrix said...

Thanks, Alex.

Andrea said...

I was kind of confused by the times that Arthur went to sleep and woke up. If someone's surprised that someone else was still asleep at 8:15, I tend to assume that it must be 8:15pm since 8:15am is REALLY early. Maybe some AMs and PMs would help?

Also, yay! Magic! :D

Xenophon Hendrix said...

They said they would be over first thing.

I didn't think Warren was acting surprised, more like a typical parent. He, of course, is normally at work before eight in the morning.

daymon said...

Now I am sure that Ursus will avoid looking into that room again late at night.

Yep better to have more protections than only a couple just to be on the safe side.

Steve Manning said...

"I have to pee and brush me teeth," I said.

Should this perhaps be "brush my teeth"? Not sure if he's doing a fake pirate accent or not. :-)

Glad your muse is speaking to you again. This is a truly delightful tale you are weaving.

Xenophon Hendrix said...

Thanks, and thanks for the catch.