Saturday, April 12, 2008

Chapter 3: School and Temptation

Magician's Merger

by Xenophon Hendrix

Chapter 3

After supper, I headed back to the dungeon and resumed work. With my new memories, it didn't take very long to get through even eight days' worth of arithmetic. I then got caught up on the social studies reading and outlining. English was a new language to the Ursus part of my mind, but having him (it?) there still sped up my reading. Ursus also had centuries of note-taking experience, so the outlining went faster, too.

I'm happy to be of assistance, Ursus thought.

I'm beginning to see where you might be useful.

That's good. I feel pretty awful about what I did to you.

I know. I can feel your guilt. It kind of makes me feel guilty, too.

Sorry, he said.

I know that, too. Look, I kind of see it like someone drowning. You know how they can sometimes panic and drag someone else down with them?

That's a pretty good metaphor for what I did. I felt Ursus's sense of guilt increase. Except I had a lot more time to think about my actions than a drowning man does.

Still, you tried to do what's right. You were under pressure and just didn't consider everything. It happens.

I'm old and powerful. I'm not supposed to be thoughtless.

It happened. You need to deal with this, or you are going to mess both of us up.

My body started to take a series of deep breaths. I felt the beginning of the meditation technique that Ursus had taught me, but we didn't go all the way into trance. After a few minutes, my minds had calmed down, and I felt a lot better. We resumed my schoolwork.

I had missed an entire social studies project on cities. The students were supposed to work in groups of two and make a large combination map/model of their ideal city. This is a total crock, Arthur thought.

What do kids your age know about city planning and administration? Ursus agreed. At best, such a project is just an imagination game. With arts and crafts! You might as well be building doll houses.

I'll put it aside until I can talk to Mr. Dean.

I didn't have any of the lecture notes from science, so the worksheets only made partial sense, even with my new memories helping me. There was some reading to do in the health book, though. I picked the book up, flipped through it, and spotted the chapter on reproduction in the back. The text was vague, and the pictures didn't actually show anything that was remotely sexually arousing to a normal human being, but I had the body of an eleven-year-old boy who had recently entered puberty, and I found myself horny as hell.

O sweet Bog, Ursus mourned. I'm going to have to go through puberty again.

What did you do about it the first time?

I jerked off a lot.

Oh. I had hoped you had learned something better.

No, sorry.

There wasn't any good way to masturbate in the basement. Someone could come wandering down at any time, and I didn't have a sanitary method of semen disposal handy. I considered going upstairs and ducking into a bathroom, but it was getting near bedtime for my brothers, so they would probably be using them.

I'm just going to have to ignore it, thought Arthur.

Good luck, thought Ursus. I turned back to my reading. Once that was finished, it was getting near my own bedtime, and I was exhausted.

I left my schoolwork on the basement table to collect in the morning and headed upstairs. In passing, I said goodnight to my parents, quietly entered my bedroom, and got my pajamas on without turning on the light. Rich and Charlie were asleep in their bunk bed. My bed, a single, was on the wall opposite theirs.

Harvey, one of our cats, was already on the bed. He usually slept with me. The rest of the menagerie consisted of two more cats--Sylph and Puff--an old mongrel named Audrey, and Mom's goldfish, Max. Sylph normally slept on the family-room couch, Puff with Mary, and Audrey in a basket beside Mom and Dad's bed.

I moved Harvey off my pillow and climbed in. The Arthur part of me was a worrier who usually had trouble falling asleep, but Ursus began guiding us (me?) through the relaxation technique we had been using. I was asleep before I got to tightening and relaxing my forehead.

I had another dream-filled night. In my final dream, a popular young actress--blonde, beautiful, and built--was with me. I was incongruously standing in my pajamas. She was wearing tight shorts and a belly-baring halter top, and she was standing within arm's reach. "You're cute," she said. "Do you like me?"

"I like you a lot."

She gave me a kiss and knelt down in front of me. Before I could react, she fished out my already hard penis and began licking and sucking on it. Arthur had heard the insult "cocksucker" before, but he had so far never considered the act to be sexual. The idea, therefore, must have come from Ursus. Both (all three?) of my consciousnesses thought it felt wonderful.

I didn't last very long. About halfway through my orgasm, I woke up still spurting.

"Shit," I said softly.

Arthur, of course, recognized that he was having an orgasm, but it had been his first wet dream. He had never accurately heard of the concept, except for something in the grade-five sex-education program that was just vague enough to be confusing, but Ursus's memories told him what it was.

The wet dream had felt pretty good, but it also was somewhat frustrating--an orgasm without quite enough stimulation--and now my pajamas were filled with goo. My consciousness split in the way it had been doing, but I noticed that there seemed to be a third presence in my head taking note of the other two.

What if Mom finds semen stains on my pajamas? Arthur worried.

Your mom knows what wet dreams are, Ursus thought. In fact, she probably recognizes the signs that you have begun masturbating.

Arthur felt shocked. Ursus felt amused. That's horrible! thought Arthur.

That's life, Art. Respect her privacy, and she'll probably respect yours. From what I've seen so far, your mother strikes me as having more than her share of good sense.

Light was coming in around the closed blind. I glanced at the clock. It was only a few minutes before the time Mom normally woke us. I got out of bed, grabbed some clothes, and headed into the bathroom. I cleaned my pajamas up with toilet paper and then a little water. I brushed my teeth, took a fast shower, and then scrubbed at my pajamas some more with my damp washcloth. It would have to do.

The rest of the kids were up by the time I got out. Rich claimed the bathroom as I exited. I shoved my pajamas under the covers, made my bed, and then headed for breakfast. Mom and Mary wished me a good morning when I entered the kitchen. I returned the greeting. "You sound unusually chipper this morning," said Mom. "It's almost like you're not grouchy." Mary grinned at Mom's jest.

"I'm just glad to be alive." Mom didn't have anything to say to that. She handed me a bowl of cereal. Dad was already at work. All of the kids except Rich were eating flakes or nuggets of various brands.

"If you want, you can stay home today."

Arthur, though good at it, didn't particularly like school, and despite Ursus's (vast) maturity, he found Arthur's memories of the place to be largely absurd. Still, I supposed that I had better start working on improving my self-control. "I already have a lot of work to make up. I need to go." I dug into my cereal, finding it unpleasantly sweet.

Bog! thought Ursus. Do you really eat this shit?

I used to like it, before you invaded my head. Now, I'm going to have to get Mom to start buying me something else.

You can thank me for that, at least.

Before I was born, Mom had worked her way up to manager of a small cinema chain, but she quit and became a full-time homemaker after I came along. She drove in the four of us who were attending school, because she had decided that it was unreasonably far for younger kids to walk. School was about a mile away as the tortoise crawled, and once the kid around the corner had moved on to junior high, our house was literally the farthest away that had any children attending that elementary school. We usually left the house at about 9:00 and got there a little early. The school doors were unlocked at 9:05, and classes started at 9:10.

When I got in line at the door, the other grade-six kids were full of questions. My two best friends at school, Sean MacDougle, who was in my class, and Al Gallo, who was in Miss Gorse's class, had been informed by my parents what had happened to me. They, in turn, had spread the word. I didn't mention receiving the memories and, increasingly, the personality of an ancient wizard, but I told everyone the rest. Yeah, I had chicken pox, had slept for a week, and the doctors didn't know why. I'm feeling much better, now.

When the doors opened, I hung my coat on one of the hooks along the hallway and entered Mr. Dean's classroom. He saw me come in. "Hello, Mr. Powyr. Glad to see you back. How are you feeling?"

"Hello, Mr. Dean. I feel good." I put my books and folders down on my desk. "I have some work to turn in." I brought him the arithmetic and the outline for social studies.

"I just sent that home with your sister yesterday. You got a lot done."

"I worked on it pretty steadily since I got out of the hospital. I'm concerned, though, about the city design project."

"That's too big for you to make up. Don't worry about it." So that absurdity was out of the way, at least.

I'm sure the quality and scope of your education will remain unaffected, Ursus remarked.

I had to answer some questions from people who hadn't heard me in line (the milling mob) outside, and then the school day started. Along with everyone else, I rose to recite the loyalty oath to king and country, but Ursus refused to let me speak.

What are you doing? I asked.

I am appalled that your nation requires children to take a loyalty oath that they lack the maturity to understand. Oh. If anyone noticed that I didn't join in, they didn't say anything about it.

We sat down and listened to what Mr. Dean had to say. Mr. Dean tended to front-load the lectures into the morning and then give us more time to work on our own during the afternoon. Trying to absorb through context as much of what I had missed as possible, I paid sharp attention.

Lunch period was for a half hour and held in the gymnasium, which had long tables that folded into the walls when not in use. Mary and I had lunch at the same time, but we didn't sit together, because seating was segregated by grade and gender.

I'm sure glad Mom makes me a sack lunch, Arthur thought.

The stuff that they are selling here doesn't precisely resemble food, Ursus agreed.

Al sat beside me, and Sean sat across from us. As usual, Al talked like an over-powered buzz saw while Sean mostly just ate.

"What, you just fell asleep and wouldn't wake up?"

"That's what it boils down to. No one could wake me up, and I slept for over a week."

"Did you dream or anything."

"Yeah, a lot."

"Did you dream of anything good, like chicks?" Al was definitely interested in girls, and he wasn't embarrassed to admit it.

"Yeah, some."

"Hot chicks?" He waggled his eyebrows.

"Yeah, some."

"Anyone I know?"

"Yeah, some."

"Who?"

"Kirsten Kennedy." I was now pulling Al's chain. Kirsten had been absent the day of my return, but she was in Mr. Dean's class with me. Al had a major crush on her. In truth, I had a little one myself, but had never admitted it. She was definitely a cutie, and was already filling out. Unfortunately for him, whereas I was pudgy, Al was noticeably obese. Arthur had never really thought about it, but Ursus realized that in all probability, she was out of Al's league. I continued with my teasing. "You know, if my dreams were any indication, she is even better than she looks."

"What? How?"

"A gentleman doesn't speak of such things."

Al looked at me speechless for a few moments. "I've never heard you talk this way before."

"Yeah, well, Kirsten Kennedy has never graced my dreams before."

He looked absolutely flabbergasted. I cracked up, and after a few seconds, Al did too. "Man, you had me going." Sean just grinned and kept eating.

Once they were finished with lunch, the kids were allowed to go out for recess for the balance of the period. There was a pick-up game of kickball going on, but the three of us just took a brisk walk around the schoolyard a couple times. Donald Beauchamp, the resident bully, glared at us but didn't try anything with the three of us together. Donbo, or Dumbo, as some of us put it, liked to hassle kids that he found alone. He was the biggest student in the school and about a year older than most of the other sixth graders, for he'd had to attend a special program after kindergarten called "Reading Readiness." The less kind students at the school referred to it as "flunking kindergarten."

Al and Sean were their usual selves, but I felt even more distant than I had before. A juvenile mind and an adult mind shared my body, probably were slowly merging, and the adult mind couldn't help but find sixth graders rather inane. It wasn't that they were bad guys, but I was already starting to find some of their concerns a bit silly. For instance, Al liked monster movies, but after waking up, I simply no longer cared about which actor portrayed the best werewolf.

Sean's comment that Michelle Palermo was a "hot chick, almost as hot as Kirsten Kennedy," caused me a different problem.

Bog, I feel like a pedophile, thought Ursus.

What?

I can recognize exactly what Sean means, Ursus replied.

So? Michelle is really hot.

I'm in your body, and it's manifest that you think that, and I can totally understand why you think that. Furthermore, it's absolutely fine that you think that. But I'm an adult. I'm not supposed to think that.

But what if it's true?

It doesn't matter. Adults are supposed to pretend it isn't true, even if it is. It's a protective function to keep pubescent young girls away from dirty old men.

Arthur started piecing together ideas he had picked up from his health text and lectures, from what passed for sex education in elementary school, his general reading, and doubtless, from some of Ursus's memories that had already merged with our brain's store of ready knowledge. If she's pubescent, that means she has begun to display secondary sexual characteristics, right?

Right enough. Stipulated, the young woman is beginning to fill out, Ursus conceded.

And it's natural that these characteristics attract males.

Agreed, but that doesn't matter.

But doesn't pedophilia mean that someone is attracted to little girls who aren't yet pubescent?

Because my English vocabulary comes entirely from you, you know that is the technical definition. I merely used the closest available word to my intended meaning. To put it bluntly: dude, she's jailbait.

Is this going to be a problem between us? Arthur asked.

Almost certainly. The part of my brain that was listening to their conversation found itself amused.

I felt someone give my shoulder a light push. "Ease up, man, you're really staring," Al said. I hadn't been staring; I had been inwardly focused. I had no idea what Al and Sean had even been saying. Michelle had turned her back and was stomping away, though.

That afternoon, while the rest of the class had time to work on arithmetic, Mr. Dean called me up to his desk to go over what I had missed. I should borrow the lecture notes from someone, especially those from science. There had been a filmstrip that I could go to the library to see on my own. Take notes on it. I had spelling and definition quizzes to make up from last week. Oh, and how was my term paper going? "Remember, I'm going to be collecting note cards the Friday after next to makes sure everyone is making decent progress. They will be worth fifteen percent of the paper's grade."

Ah, the term paper. Over the course of the school year, we had two research papers to do. Mr. Dean claimed that they would help us be well prepared for junior high. For the first one, due just before winter break, he had slowly been teaching us how to take note cards, how to do footnotes, how to make a bibliography, and so on. We were supposed to be working on our research and note cards as time permitted. I was reasonably sure that no one in the class had ever before attempted such a major academic undertaking. Arthur, whose chosen topic was the Greek pantheon, had found the project daunting and had been worrying about it constantly while reading several books on Greek mythology and making copious notes.

The paper isn't going to be a problem, Art, Ursus assured him. For a person who doesn't like school, you take it damn seriously.

"I'm doing fine," I replied to Mr. Dean. "Did you want to see the notes I have so far?"

"No, that's OK. Next week will be soon enough."

"Is that all?"

"I think we covered everything."

I thanked him and went back to my desk. I needed to borrow the lecture notes from someone. I would have no problem getting Sean's, but he was a poor student and took terrible notes. Whom to ask?

Mr. Dean's class had an unusually high number of brains and over-achievers. Back in grade five, for the first time, the school had asked the students which teacher they wanted for the next year. They would make no promises, but they would try to accommodate a student's choice. My friend Al had selected Miss Gorse because she was young and "a total babe." I didn't know anything about the grade six teachers and had no clue whom to put down until I had heard one of the aforementioned brains say that Mr. Dean was the best. I had been cursing my choice ever since the beginning of the school year, but the class still had the top six or so students out of the approximately ninety that were in the grade.

Curtis Romden was probably the smartest guy in class. I was about to ask to borrow his notes when Ursus supplied me with some insight dredged from my memories: Curtis is smart, but he has a great memory and probably doesn't bother taking notes on a lot of stuff that he knows he'll just remember. You want the notes of someone who is both smart and compulsive enough to write down everything.

That would probably be Debbie Taylor, but she's a girl, thought Arthur.

O great Bog and all the tentacle monsters in the multiverse, thought Ursus. You need to get over your fear of girls.

Hey, I'm only eleven; it's normal for me to be scared of girls, and weren't you worrying a little while ago about feeling like a pedophile?

There's a gargantuan difference between me lusting after a little girl and you politely asking one to borrow her notes. Now get over there and do it.

It was strange, but having two voices in my head, plus a third that I was increasingly thinking of as I or me, was turning out to be rather entertaining. The I voice decided that Ursus had a point, and I forced myself to walk over to Debbie's desk and, on my best manners, quietly ask her, "Hi Debbie. May I borrow your lecture notes from last week, please?"

"Sure," she replied with a smile. "It'll just take a minute." She retrieved the correct notebooks from her precisely arranged desk and began grouping the relevant pages with paper clips. Thorough and helpful she was, and whereas she wasn't as filled out yet as Kirsten Kennedy or Michelle Palermo, she was still attractive in a lanky sort of way. "Here you go," she said as she handed me the notes.

I thanked her and headed back to my desk to begin copying. Her penmanship was impeccable. Good Lord, she used two different colors of pencil and three different colors of ink.

School was let out at 3:15 pm. I didn't get everything copied by the end of the day, so I asked Debbie if I could borrow her notes again tomorrow. "You can take the notes you still need home with you, if you want," she said.

"What if you need them? I don't want to interfere with your studying."

"I'll be all right if you take them for tonight, you just can't hang on to them for very long."

"OK, thank you. I'll take good care of them." I carefully put the papers away in a folder. It felt a little as if I were defiling a work of art by storing them next to my habitual scrawl.

The grade-six wing of the elementary school was the farthest away from where Mom parked, so I was the last Powyr spawn to arrive at the van. Sean walked with me because Mom usually gave him a ride home. I got into my traditional corner--behind the driver, third bench seat. Because he was the first one out, Sean got shotgun, but as usual, he had to wait for Mrs. Rundgrin, a friend of my mother's, to clear out and go to her own car. Mrs. Rundgrin always BSed with Mom while waiting for school to finish for the day.

That is one scary looking woman, Ursus commented. I agreed. She wore too much makeup and kept her puffy blonde hair sprayed into a kind of helmet.

As usual, the kids were asked how their day went. As usual, I let the younger kids do the talking. When Mom pulled into our driveway, the two guys who lived next door were standing in theirs. Mike and Terry Prestor bracketed my age, but they went to a parochial school rather than the public schools. The brothers had both been born in October, so Terry was about eight months younger than I was, and Mike was about sixteen months older.

It worked out so that Terry was in the grade six like me, but Mike was in grade eight. He was still in elementary school, though, because the parochial school was a traditional grammar school that went to grade eight. They walked over to me as I climbed out of the van. Both were lean of build and had a mixture of light and dark blond hair. Mike had brown eyes, but Terry's were hazel. Mike was the taller. Terry had a somewhat heavier frame.

"It lives," Mike declared.

"It does," I agreed.

"What's this about being in the hospital?" asked Mike. I was sure he already knew the basics but wanted more details.

"I had some trouble waking up, but I seem to be undamaged."

"They have any idea what was wrong?"

"No, but when I finally woke up, a whole line of doctors wanted to take a look at me. I felt like a sideshow attraction."

"With your face, that's understandable."

Arthur had always been somewhat bad at taking jokes at his expense, but I felt the calming influence of Ursus and decided to play along--and show off my vocabulary. "You, sir, would impugn this noble visage?" I struck a pose. "I am shocked, appalled and saddened."

"Shocking, appalling, and saddening maybe," said Mike.

I forced a chuckle and declaimed, "Desist, varlet, lest I chastise you."

You chastise me? How?

I lowered my voice to its normal tone and said, "Well, I could heave one of these books at you, or several of them."

"You have quite a stack there," said Terry.

"Yeah, I have a lot of make-up work to do."

"See, it really is about problems with your face," said Mike.

"What?" I said, baffled.

"You know, makeup work."

It took me a second, and then I got it and groaned. "I need to put these books down," I said heading toward the door.

"Are you going to come back out?" asked Terry.

I felt only mild enthusiasm for the idea of hanging out, but I didn't think it wise to start rejecting Arthur's friends. "I have a lot to do, but I think I can spare an hour."

I took the books straight to the basement table, changed clothes, and told Mom that I was going outside for a little while.

"I picked up the dictionary you wanted," she said, handing me a bag.

Arthur, as he got older, had become increasingly put off by physical contact, but at the prompting of Ursus, I leaned in and gave Mom a quick hug. "Thanks, this will help me get done with my vocabulary words quicker." Mom looked pleased.

I made a quick trip back downstairs to put the dictionary on the table. When I came back up, Mom said, "Where are you going, and who are you going to be with?"

"I'll be with Mike and Terry. We might hang around out front, but we'll probably go over to Danny's. He'll most likely want to know how I'm doing."

"Can I go?" asked Mary. I suspected that she had a crush on Terry, but I wasn't quite sure. Usually, Mary made sure to stay clear when Danny was around, so something was motivating her to suppress her dislike.

Part of me didn't want her to come along, and I was about to tell he no. You have spent your entire life being a selfish asshole toward her, Ursus declared.

Arthur knew it was true. She always had been willing to be a friend and ally to him, but he had seldom let her. "Sure," I said.

I put up the garage door, and Mary and I got our bikes out. Mine was a green, second-hand five-speed with ape hangers and a banana seat. Mary's was an ancient blue three-speed with straight handlebars and a conventional seat that had a spring rack mounted behind it. Much to my chagrin, her larger wheels and more efficient seat allowed her to go faster than I could.

Mike and Terry were already sitting on their bicycles. "Want to go to Danny's?" asked Mike.

"Yeah, I figured that's where we'd be going." Danny was in grade eight like Mike, but Danny attended the public junior high. His house was only about a minute's ride away by bicycle--just down the street, around the corner, and one house down.

Danny Lukowski, sometimes called Dan, had to stay close to home after school to keep an eye on his little sister, so Mike, Terry, and I tended to go to his house on school days. Sometimes Al or Sean also showed up. Dan's father had died of a massive heart attack a few years before, and his mother worked as a secretary. He had two older brothers who were in high school, but they had jobs, so Danny was babysitter-in-chief.

A benefit of Dan's house, therefore, was that there was no adult supervision until his mother got home from work. This didn't thrill my mom, but she also felt enough sympathy for Dan's situation that she wasn't going to keep me away. Ursus, who had just as much access to Arthur's memories as Arthur had to his, thought, You know, this Danny kid is an incipient hoodlum.

Upon consideration, the I that was forming as the resultant of the merger of Arthur and Ursus agreed. Danny smoked marijuana and drank beer when he could get them. He had few qualms about petty theft. He was respectful to the adults he liked, but he would smart off to those he didn't. He ignored the classes at school that didn't interest him, had no hesitation about lying to authority, had a crude sense of humor, liked pornography, trespassed with impunity, and earnestly tried to have sex with girls (but I suspected he hadn't yet succeeded).

Don't worry, I thought back. I have high resistance to peer pressure.

Don't be a smartass.

How can I be a smartass to myself?

Point taken.

Despite his bad qualities, Danny had some good ones, too. He was extremely creative and better with his hands than anyone Arthur knew about near his own age. Danny could build bicycles from parts, weld, fix small engines, reupholster furniture, spray paint, play a mean tune on the harmonica, do basic wiring, finish wood, do respectable rough carpentry, and paint houses. He also had a green thumb, and Ursus, from Arthur's memories, recognized that he was a natural leader.

Most of all, though, Dan could draw. He was only just getting into oil paints. Mainly, his work was in pencil, pastels, and marker, but he could create a portrait that looked like the person or a tiger that looked as if it were about to jump off the page and eat you. When Danny's hands weren't busy with something else, they were holding a drawing tool.

As far back as he could remember, Arthur always had been attracted to talent and creativity. Looking through Ursus's memories--at least as much as I could in a few seconds--I saw that Ursus was, too. I said to the various minds residing in my brain, We're just going to have to take our chances with the hoodlum.

Danny was working in the garage as we all rode up. As soon as his little sister, Jenny, saw us, she ran over to Mary. Danny was stocky and had red hair. Jenny had pale blonde hair and was in grade two.

Danny put down the bicycle frame he had been sanding as all of us but Mary and Jenny walked over. "So, you got out of the hospital yesterday, eh?"

I again had to tell my story.

"Flipped out," Danny said. He glanced over to where Mary and Jenny were in some type of animated conversation in the driveway.

Mary is a born mother, Ursus informed me.

"Hey, Mary, can you take care of Jenny for a few minutes?" Danny asked.

"OK," she replied.

Danny led the boys into his house. He went into the kitchen and pulled a beer out of the freezer, where he had no doubt put it to get cold quickly.

"Where did you get that?" asked Terry.

"I stole it from my brother's stash."

"Won't he be pissed?" asked Mike.

"If he counted them, he might be, but he can't exactly narc me out."

"I'd be more worried about him kicking my ass."

"Nah, he wouldn't over something like that." Danny led us upstairs into his bedroom. He lived in a four-bedroom, two-storey house. Because his oldest brother had a room in the basement, each of the kids had his or her own bedroom. Dan's was decorated with his artwork, and various projects lay scattered about.

Ursus took a look around at the art. Your memories about his talent aren't gilded, he observed.

Dan opened the beer, took a long pull, and handed the can to Mike. Mike took a deep swallow of his own and reached out toward me with the can. I wondered what I should do.

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