Monday, 27 December 1973--I decided to avoid people as much as possible all morning. Not for any negative reason, I simply had reached my limit for human contact. We introverts can get that way, sometimes. For breakfast, again under the influence of manna, I made myself eat two slices of toast with peanut butter and an apple. Then I made the physical part of my memory amulet.
I decided that of the woods I had available, maple would be the best choice. With the jigsaw in Dad's workroom, the only power saw I was allowed to use, I cut a disk from the wide end of the maple pole I had gathered from a vacant lot. Then I equalized the thickness, sanded it, laid out the sigil I had designed the night before, carved it in using Dad's smallest gouge, and gave it a finish sanding. It was ready to ritually charge that night, and I still had the other side of the disk for another glyph once I determined what it should be.
Except for a fifteen-minute break for guitar practice, I read the rest of the morning. When I came up for lunch, Mom said, "Hark! The fearsome cave bear approaches!" She was in the process of making grilled cheese sandwiches. Mary was helping.
"Eeeeek!" said Susan as she hid behind Rich.
Charlie pointed a finger at me and yelled, "Bang!"
"Grrrrrr," I said.
"Do you want one?" Mom asked with a gesture at the food.
"Yes, please." I picked up the newspaper, which I hadn't bothered to look at yet.
"Kirsten's really looking forward to going to the cinema with you," Mary said.
"It's just a movie," I said, "and how do you know that?"
"It's your first official date, and she told me when we were ice skating this morning."
First official--oh, come on! "We've been doing stuff together for weeks," I said.
"This is different," Mary said.
"It just is," Mary said. "You're taking her to the movies."
I looked at Mom. Mom just laughed at me. Heartless harridan.
I change the subject. "I didn't know you and Kirsten were planning on going skating this morning."
"We didn't really plan it. I asked Mom, and then I called Kirsten. Kirsten thought it was a good idea, so Mom drove me over, and Mrs. Kennedy drove me home. Kirsten, Pam, and I spent most of the morning together. I would have mentioned it to you, but you were down there being a cave troll, and everyone knows it's best to leave well enough alone when you're in that kind of mood."
I hadn't realized that I had everyone trained. As long as one is consistent with rewards and punishments, Ursus remarked, human beings are reasonably trainable.
What about Carol? I asked--Carol (Carl) Flagler, my self-appointed nemesis. Since our confrontations had turned physical, he had been getting much the worst of it, but he kept coming back for more.
That one is particularly thick headed, Ursus said.
Mom put a sandwich on a paper plate and handed it to Mary. Mary put some potato chips on it and handed it to me. I retreated to the family room with the newspaper. The cinema listings said that Infinity Mall was showing a horror movie and a western that afternoon. We were too young to get into the horror movie, so Kirsten was going to have to choose the western. That was fine with me; Arthur liked westerns. Showtime was 1:15 pm.
I searched the paper for any mention of Joseph Guzman, the demon summoner, and related events. I didn't find anything, but thinking about it made Arthur feel guilty and nauseated again, which killed our appetite. Nevertheless, I tried to make myself relax and forced down my lunch in small bites.
I called Kirsten. She answered. "Hi, Artie."
"Would you like to head over to the mall a little early?" I asked. "There's something I want to pick up."
"A small eyehook for a wooden medallion I'm making myself."
"'Wooden medallion'--isn't that self-contradictory?"
"It sounds like it, but I can't think of a better term for it."
"I suppose not. I can come over now, then. Showtime is quarter after one. The Wayne Duke movie, Big River, is the only one we're allowed in."
"OK, I'll see you in a few." We said our goodbyes.
"You made another medallion?" Mom asked. She didn't even pretend not to hear the telephone calls that took place in her kitchen.
"What did you do with the other one?"
"I wear it around my neck." I kept it beneath my clothing. In fact, I kept two amulets beneath my clothing: the star amulet Mom knew about and the protective-circle amulet she didn't.
"I don't see the sense of jewelry that people can't see."
"I don't really consider it jewelry. It's not meant for others, only me."
Please don't connect it with magic, I thought. If she put two and two together, she didn't say anything.
"Can I see it again?" asked Rich.
"Not right now." I retreated into the bathroom. I didn't really have to use the bathroom, but it was a handy way of ending a subject. I took the opportunity to brush my teeth so that I would have fresh breath for Kirsten's benefit.
Mrs. Kennedy and Kirsten arrived. Kirsten and I shared our traditional greeting hug. Mrs. Kennedy said, "I assume you want a ride over and back."
Kirsten was wearing slacks, which would protect her from the cold, so I said, "If it's all right with Kirsten, I'd thought we'd walk. That will give us some time to talk."
"That sounds good," Kirsten said.
"I don't know if it's safe with just the two of you alone," Mrs. Kennedy said. The termination of the diabolist and the resulting revelation of his activities were less than week-old news.
"We'll be walking along a main road and going to a busy shopping mall, and there will be two of us," Kirsten said. "How could we be in any more danger than if we were out in the front yard?"
"I'm a mother. Worry is my prerogative," Mrs. Kennedy said. She took a breath and said, "Be careful, and if you have a change of plans, I want you to telephone."
"I will," said Kirsten.
With that, we headed for the door. Before we could get it shut, my mother said, "Be careful crossing the street."
"Always," I said.
By the time we made it to the foot of our drive, I noticed that Danny, Mike, and Terry were in the process of excavating the large mound of snow in the Prestor's yard between the sidewalk and the street. The mound came to just under the lower branches of the linden tree it surrounded. Danny had a spray bottle and was coating the outside with water to create a hard dome for their snow fort.
"Kirsten! Your lovely presence again brightens our day," Terry said.
Kirsten made an away-with-you gesture toward Terry, but she smiled as she said, "You are so full of it."
"She's way too cute for you," Mike said as he looked from Kirsten to me as we stood there holding gloves.
"I tend to agree," I said.
"It should give someone as ugly as you reason for hope, Mike," Danny said. Mike flipped him off.
"We came to get you earlier," Mike said to me, "but Mary said you were in one of your moods."
"I guess I was," I confirmed.
"Do you want to come lift with us after I go home to watch Jenny?" Danny asked.
"Lift what?" I asked.
"Hay bales," Danny said. I must have still looked puzzled, because he said, "Russ's weights. We are going to lift Russ's weights later."
"We decided to start lifting Monday's and Wednesday's after school," Mike said, "and then on Saturdays, because we have guitar lessons on Fridays."
Get big and strong, Arthur said internally. Strike fear into the hearts of our enemies. Eat raw meat. Grrrrr.
"Not today," I said. "Kirsten and I were just on the way to the matinee. Remind me Wednesday, though."
I still want to cast a muscle-building spell, Arthur said.
I guess we'll have to, Ursus said. Who knows? It might even keep us out of some fights if we look more intimidating.
After we told them what was playing, Kirsten and I made our escape. "You call your friends 'hoodlums,'" Kirsten said, "but they don't seem all that bad to me."
I decided to tell her the flat truth. "They are all pretty bright, especially Mike and Terry. Their mother is highly intelligent, well educated, and articulate, and their dad is no slouch. Blood and breeding count. That's why they can both be well spoken and come across as intelligent when they feel like putting in the effort. And effort's the thing; they're both intellectually lazy. They'll learn something if they see an immediate benefit, but not otherwise. I'm amazed that they've stuck with the guitar so long."
"What about Danny?"
"You've seen how he draws and can build things." Kirsten nodded. "He can really quickly pick up anything that involves working with his hands," I continued. "I'm sure you noticed how fast he's learning the drums. The harmonica--he basically taught himself how to play years ago. He's a couple of years older than I am, and I can remember him being able to play just about anything by ear that we could name when he was seven or so."
"So why is he a hoodlum?"
"Did you notice the origin of the basket of his pedal car?"
"It looks like he made it from some shopping carts."
"Those carts came out of Rodger's parking lot."
"Oh, I see."
"All three of them will drink booze or smoke weed when they can get them. Danny has no qualms about petty theft, especially if the target is faceless, and Mike and Terry will back most of his schemes. You also can't trust anything Danny says, either, unless you can find independent confirmation."
"Is he a compulsive liar or something?"
"It's not compulsive, I don't think, but reality seems too boring for him. If he has a choice between telling the truth and making up a story, he'll make up the story."
"I guess that has some entertainment value, at least," Kirsten said.
"Yeah, that's one of the benefits of hanging around with him." I paused to choose my words. "I don't believe you should ever allow yourself to be alone with him."
Kirsten stopped walking. "Are you saying he's a rapist?"
"No, I don't believe he's that bad. But I'm not at all sure that he wouldn't get pushy and just go for it. I also don't know that he'd make moves on a friend's girlfriend, but I don't know that he wouldn't, either. If he gets you alone, he could get grabby."
"And you put me in a band with these people. Why?"
"Put that way, you pose a good question." We started walking again. "I guess I wanted something that you and I could do together, and my friends--and sister--were already talking about starting a band."
"And you didn't consider the hoodlum part."
"I don't want to make them sound worse than they are. I've known them all my life, and they've never managed to get me in trouble. You just have to be willing to tell them 'no' and leave if they get started on something notably stupid. Really, Mike and Danny aren't that bad when compared to other eighth graders, at least from some of the stories I've heard, and Mom assures me that older siblings often lead younger siblings astray, so Terry's probably not that bad, either."
"They don't sound like they're necessarily that good. Why not find better friends?"
"Present company excluded?" I gave her hand a squeeze, and she smiled. "Mike and Terry live right next door. Danny lives just around the corner. I've known them a long time, but it's more than that." I paused.
"You know that Sean MacDougle and I have been friends since he moved here at the beginning of grade five."
"Right. I was kind of surprised when I noticed that. You two didn't seem to have a lot in common."
"We don't. There's not much we can even talk about. It's a harsh sounding thing to say, but I don't miss Sean when I haven't seen him in a while. I like him, and we get along fine, but there's no connection."
"You know that Al Gallo and I were friends since grade three or so. Al's willing to talk about anything, and he gets really enthusiastic, but I still never felt much of an intellectual connection."
"And you do feel a connection with your band of hoodlums."
"More than with most people, at least. I think it has to do with raw brains. There are a lot fewer smart people than average people, and Mike, Terry, and Danny are all pretty bright, despite being dangerous to know."
We didn't say anything for a bit. "What about me?" Kirsten asked.
All three consciousnesses in my brain felt in tune. We didn't like lying, and we especially didn't like lying to friends, and Kirsten was more than that. "You are the prettiest girl in grade six, but if you also weren't exceptionally smart, we wouldn't ever be more than casual friends."
"I guess it's good to know that I'm valued for my mind."
"And your personality, and your talent, and yes, for your looks, too. Plus, you know, we seem to get along really well. But I've learned the hard way that intelligence matters."
"I guess I can accept that. I guess I have to."
"Are you upset?"
"Not really. You can be pretty blunt, though."
"You shine, you know," I said.
"Put everything together that makes you you, and you shine."
"I-- Thank you." She stopped again. We shared a tight hug.
When we got to the mall, I bought us tickets to see Big River, and then we walked to the hobby store. Unlike the larger mall a few miles to the northwest, Infinity Mall was friendly to pre-teens unaccompanied by adults, as long as they behaved reasonably well. We did occasionally hear of someone getting banned.
I knew where they were, so I went right to the bins of small hardware and picked out several eyehooks. "So, what's this wooden medallion you're making?" Kirsten asked.
"The design on it is different, but it's similar in concept to this one." I pulled my amulet with a pentagram on one side and a hexagram on the other from underneath my shirt.
"So that's what I've been feeling when I hug you sometimes."
"You've never said anything."
"You've never worn it in the open, so I thought it might be personal."
"It is. It's not meant for decoration, it's just something I like to have with me."
Kirsten looked at it closely. "Is that dried blood in the grooves?"
"Yes. It makes it very personal." I put the amulet away.
"You know," Kirsten said, "you're kind of weird."
"I get told that a lot."
When we got back to the theater, Kirsten said, "Mom gave me money for popcorn." She bought a large box for us to share. I bought us some pop. Before sitting down, we took off out coats and spread them over our chairs while taking turns holding the various containers.
Despite the apparent fears of Kirsten's mother, we just held hands during the film. Ursus was fascinated by the movie, especially as a manifestation of Novi Orban culture. We had been so busy since Arthur woke up with Ursus in his head that we hadn't had much time for Ursus to observe the popular culture first hand, and there was nothing more typical of Novi Orban self-image than the western.
In a lot of ways, westerns were the national myths of Novi Orbis. The brave colonists, seeking to start a new way of life, came from the Mother Country and, after much hardship, established a new civilization. They found the continent nearly uninhabited and almost immediately started heading west, filling it with people in a population explosion never before seen in history. The more historical westerns noted that the reason the continent was mostly uninhabited was because the natives of the new world had been almost killed off by the diseases of the old world. The more mythical ones left that ugly part out.
England was less than pleased at this disorganized expansion. It wasn't fair to the few natives who had survived. It caused friction between other world powers--namely France and Spain--that had their own claims on the continent. Furthermore, far-flung colonists were almost impossible to tax, and their industries were impossible to regulate.
The land hunger of the colonists was not to be denied, however, and the first of the Compromises between England and her unruly New World colonies was signed. England would be in charge of foreign policy, but the colonists would have seats in Parliament and be mostly self-governing for their internal affairs, just as long as they paid their taxes and provided for the common defense of the Empire. The Mother Country was politely told to shove any ideas about mercantilism.
War with France was avoided by a large payment of gold, which the colonists were expected to pay back. They chafed under the burden, but they had land--beautiful, fertile land. Those who settled down paid their taxes. The restless kept heading west.
Within twenty years of the First Compromise, Anglophone settlers, a trickle at first, started colonizing land claimed by the Spanish crown. Why not? The Spanish were hardly making use of it, and there was farmland, and ranch land, and gold. Some patriots began making noises about the entire northern continent of the New World being manifestly destined to be part of the Empire. Back east, the Novi Orban government saw fit to allow in selected immigrants who were not already Imperial subjects. Why not? There was a continent to fill.
Within thirty more years, the Spanish crown was protesting loudly to the English crown. His Majesty William XII, King of England and nominal ruler of its by then surprisingly large empire, needed to do something about his colonists. They were ignoring the Spanish government, settling where they wished, and taking up arms whenever the lawful authorities tried to instill order. To the limited extent they would take telling, they took their orders from back in the English provinces. This would not do at all.
William XII complained to the Imperial Parliament. The Imperial Parliament complained to the Novi Orban Parliament, which was by then in existence under the auspices of the Second Compromise. The Parliament of Novi Orbis collectively shrugged and said, "What would you have us do?"
The Imperial Parliament emphasized, "The. English. And. Spanish. Empires. Do. NOT. Want. War."
The English and Spanish colonies disagreed. The war was one sided from the start. The Anglophones were far more numerous, and with a wink and a nod they were backed by the growing might of Novi Orban industry and no small number of volunteers. The Spanish resistance was crushed in less than a year.
The Novi Orban Parliament immediately annexed, with their conquerors' consent, the former Spanish colonies. In a fait accompli, Novi Orbis handed William XII an entire continent from the Atlas Ocean to the Zephyrus Ocean, from the Arctic Circle to the Scott Isthmus.
The official position was that the Emperor was greatly displeased. Spain was furious. A great deal of gold and a treaty were offered. Spain asked, "Can you make your barbarians honor the treaty?"
The Fourth Compromise with the colonies, territories, and provinces of Novi Orbis was reached. One, they would keep their greedy paws off the southern continent of the New World. Two, they would damn well pay England back all of that gold. In less than a decade, the mines of the new territories had produced more gold than Novi Orbis owed, and the settlement continued apace.
That, at least, was the popular version of the settlement of Novi Orbis that every citizen absorbed from countless novels, movies, television programs, stories, and stage plays; and Arthur knew the outline well. Depending on how historically accurate a given narrative was trying to be, the gruesome bits might or might not be left in. For example, the anger in Novi Orbis over the Imperial edict of 1821 banning slavery, and the resulting necessity for the Third Compromise, were usually left out of most popular entertainments.
Big River, the movie Kirsten and I were watching, was set shortly after the conquest of the Spanish territories. It was thus an example of the most western of the western genre. Wayne Duke was no longer young enough to play youthful characters burning with ambition. He had moved on to the role of the grizzled survivor who had been around and knew the way things were. For somewhat different reasons, both Arthur and Ursus loved the film.
Kirsten and I shared a kiss in the lobby before we zipped up and put on our hats and gloves. We went outside and spent a couple of moments blinking in the sunshine.
"Right here, Powyr. Right now," I heard the unwelcome voice of Carol Flagler say.