by Xenophon Hendrix
"Oh ho, just under the wire," said Mom as I came in the back door. Dinner was being put on the table. I washed my hands and sat down in my usual place.
"How was your visit with your girlfriend?"
"You shouldn't call her that."
"Why the hell not?"
"Nothing is official yet."
"OK, how was your visit with Kirsten?"
"She was her usual charming self, although her and her mother did torment me a bit."
"How's this?" Mom had keen interest in tormenting me.
I encouraged the Ursus section of my brain to take over my tongue. He didn't go overboard and make me sound too much more sophisticated than my normal eleven-year-old self, but he shaded things to make it entertaining and not let on I had become as embarrassed as I had. There was no point in giving my family additional ammunition.
Mom had made meatloaf. She made great meatloaf, and whipped potatoes, and baby carrots in garlic butter, and rolls. I went to work on supper. I was still feeling rattled, but a belly full of good food did much to calm me down.
I didn't mention the Carol incident at all. I feared that Mom, especially, would count the number of enemies I had accumulated between our house and Kirsten's and refuse to let me go over there without an escort of tanks supported by air cover. I figured if she and Mrs. Kennedy kept talking to each other, Mom would eventually hear about the rumor, but she wouldn't hear about the pursuit.
I got right to work after supper. There were more things to do than time to do them. When Mike and Terry arrived for guitar, I pushed to get down to business, and then firmly quit after an hour. "I got to get back to work, guys. I spent all afternoon with Kirsten, and now I have a ton of things to finish."
Mike made a fake sob and said, "Now he's putting women before his friends."
"Do you blame me?"
"Hell no. If I had a chick as hot as her, I'd throw you to the wolves."
"I'd throw you and my brother to the wolves," said Terry. "Just to make sure me and her got away."
After the Prestors left, I did just enough homework to get by the next day, and then I started preparing for the spell. Ursus wanted to try out sigil magic on this node. If it worked as intended, it would encourage my subconscious to help carry out and maintain the spell. The idea was to create a symbol--a more concrete manifestation of the metaphor that controlled the spell--to go along with my inner visualization. Visualization primarily used imagined sights--hence the name--but it was best to involve all senses as much as possible.
First, I needed a symbol to represent myself. Ursus long ago had created his own identity sigil, and he sketched it out. Now, we had to make one for Arthur, and then we had to combine the two to create a sigil to represent the new self that was arising from the merger of Ursus and Arthur.
I sat on the couch with a notebook and a pencil to sketch out ideas. Arthur was the consciousness primarily in charge. A place to start was simplified drawings of things Arthur liked and that interested him. Artistic quality didn't matter for now. By the time I was done, every thing would be boiled down to an abstract representation in any case.
Arthur made a drawing of a shelf full of books, the outline of a guitar, a rocket, a calendar to represent the future, a brain, and stick figures to represent family and friends. He wanted to include something to represent Kirsten, but Ursus warned that the relationship was far too new for her to be a core feature of his identity.
How about girls in general?
Fine. Upon consideration the outline of the guitar could be slightly modified to represent both guitars and females.
Next he wrote out the letters of his full name, Arthur Teagan Powyr, all in capitals. Those along with the sketches of likes and interests would provide plenty to work with. After that, start combining the various symbols so that they shared as many lines as possible in common. Aesthetics counts!
"T," "P," and "R" can all be attractively combined one atop the other. Put in a backwards "E" so that it comes out the other side. Hmm, an "H" can be put atop the whole works. An "A" can be put right inside the "W," and the bottom points of the "W" can stand atop the arms of the "Y." Wow, that looks pleasantly tree like. Move the first clump of letters down so that the right leg of the "H" is on top of the trunk of the tree. Cool. Combining "U" with the "H" is a snap. A diagonal line forms the "N."
Now we have something to start with. The arms of the "E" could easily be bookshelves. Sketch in a few books. Let's drop some feminine curves down from the arms of the "W." Those represent both guitars and girls. Put an abstraction of a brain on the point of the "A," and drop vertical lines down from the legs of the "A" to make an outline of a rocket. Put in a few grid lines to represent the calendar.
OK, forget about the stick figures; there are too many lines in this thing already. It's damn ugly. Get rid of some lines. Simplify and abstract. Simplify and abstract. Mirror a few things for pleasing symmetry. Put it all in a big circle.
That looks pretty good, but something is missing. Arthur drew a few lines radiating from the circle, spines, he thought.
Now we have a sigil for Arthur and a sigil for Ursus. We have to unite the two. Remember, combine lines as much as possible, and simplify and abstract. I worked on the sigil until I had something acceptable. Ursus assured us that we could refine it over time, but for now we should keep moving forward.
OK, I have a sigil to represent myself--Ursus Arthur Teagan Enlil Powyr. We'll use that as the base figure for the sigil that represents the controlling metaphor of the spell. The plan is to draw my identity sigil and surround it by a wall to protect me. Then, for anything that gets through the wall, we want it slowed. Let's imagine a thick gel between the wall and me. We can represent the gel with these wavy lines. Finally, let's put a few curves around the wall to represent a "deflector shield" to possibly guide some stuff away from the wall altogether.
That was the basic concept. I went to the table and copied it using a ruler, protractor, and compass so that it was neat and attractive looking as possible. Beauty mattered when dealing with the subconscious. I was just finishing up when Dad yelled down the stairs, "Arthur, get your ass in bed." I looked at my watch, 10:10 pm. Oops.
I got my ass in bed. We hadn't done any genuine magic, but we at least finished some of the prep work.
It was cold and raining Thursday. Mom insisted that Mary and I ride in with her. She had me call Sean and tell him to wait at home for her to pick him up. The day was same old, same old. It was still raining at lunch, so the kids had to stay inside. At least the fight between Al and me was old news. I found myself actually looking forward to gym. Dancing still sucked, but Arthur was young and unjaded enough that just touching Kirsten was still a big thrill. I got a hug when we left school for the day, and I risked kissing her cheek. She smiled at me, so I guessed that was OK. Right about then, I realized that the lingering apprehension I had around her was gone.
When we got home, I asked Mom to take a message if anyone called, and I went straight to the basement. I didn't skip my after school guitar practice, but after I did fifteen minutes of that, I finished up all the homework I needed for Friday. I was strongly motivated to get back to work on my protection spell. It would be done in two steps. The first step was to charge the sigil.
I achieved a state of trance. Gathered manna. Cast and purified the circle. Improved the trance. Gathered more manna. And while constantly feeding it magical energy, traced over in my blood the pencil sigil I had drawn the night before. It wasn't that magic required blood, far from it. But Ursus was cut off from several centuries of acquired tools when he got blasted on his tower, and blood was the most metaphorically potent substance with which we had to work. The only other thing we had that approached it in effectiveness was semen, and I didn't feel like going there.
I broke the circle and thanked and dismissed the elemental powers. Ursus didn't yet know if the classical elements had any actual existence in this node, but they were still potent metaphors whether they had any "concrete" reality or not. It was close to suppertime by then, so I just practiced the guitar until the noises coming from the kitchen indicated the food was ready. I went up to help set the table.
Mike and Terry came over for an hour of guitar lessons and practice. We decided that we would add one open chord per day to their practice list until each of the basic fifteen was added. Of course, they also wanted to talk about the great standoff of the day before. The glory of it had grown overnight. Had that Carol dude hassled me at school? No, in fact, all he had done was glare, but I didn't think I had seen the end of the situation yet.
When they left, I finally got down to the final phase of the spell. Again: trance, circle, and purification. Then I reinforced the trance and gathered more magical energy. The rest was an exercise in visualization. Imagine someone throwing a right-hand punch at my head. Hear it whistle through the air. Imagine the punch being deflected away from me. Feel the breeze of the near miss. Now imagine a left-hand punch. Keep gathering manna and feeding the spell. Imagine punches to my midsection, my throat, my crotch, the back of my head, my neck, my kidneys. See them turned aside. Now imagine kicks to all those places. Rocks, bullets, baseball bats, baseballs, sticks, hammers, chains, knives, swords, arrows, axes--a whole vast list of example items.
Now, what happens if they get through my deflector shield? They are going to hit the wall and bounce off. Imagine my whole example list bouncing off the wall. What do they sound like? And if they get through the wall, they are going to be slowed by my protective gel. Visualize it all again.
When the visualization was complete, I stared at the sigil that was the condensed representation of all that I had visualized. Slowly the sigil filled my entire awareness until it was all that was in my awareness. An indeterminate amount of time passed, and then suddenly I had a feeling of completion. The spell was finished. I simply knew it.
When I finally broke the circle, I was feeling the buzz of manna, but I also was wearier than I'd ever been before. It was almost bedtime. I had to force myself to finish my final tasks. I got an old pot from the storage room. It was one of those things that are too good to throw away but still something that no one ever uses. I dragged a chair beneath a basement window and moved the clear plastic ceiling panel out of the way so I could stand on the chair and open the window.
Fetching the sigil, pot, and still burning candle, I stood beneath the window, lit the sigil, and dropped it burning into the pot. I blew out the candle. Once the sigil had burned. I closed the window and replaced the panel and the chair.
Just one last task to perform: I staggered over to the bar sink, washed out the pot, and took a long drink. I put the pot away and almost crawled up the stairs.
I didn't bother to put my pajamas on. I just shed most of my clothes and crawled into bed. I passed out immediately.