by Xenophon Hendrix
Mom called me for lunch shortly after my friends left. She had made a pot of homemade beef barley soup and had warmed a couple loaves of crusty bread in the oven. Part of me didn't have much of an appetite, but part of me knew I should eat. I stared at my food for about a minute.
Mom apparently intuited what was going on. She broke off a hunk of bread, stuck it in my soup, and held it near my mouth. "Just try a little." I opened up, and she popped it in. Once my taste buds started functioning, the despairing nausea in my innards backed off enough to let me eat.
On the couch in the basement, I settled in after lunch with the same notebook I had used to design the protection sigil. I wondered if I could come up with something to change the mind of Kirsten's father.
Manipulating people against their will is an unethical use of magic, thought Ursus. At least it is in matters that aren't clear cases of self-defense or the defense of others.
Keeping Kirsten and me apart is against our wills.
As the parent of a child, his responsibility is to protect her. You might think he's overreacting, but he has no choice but to use his best judgment. Who else's can he use? In any case, it's still wrong to use magic that way.
If it's wrong to do it physically, it's wrong to do it magically. It's like walking up to someone and beating him with a stick. Except using magic that way is even worse, because you can often do it covertly. Using magical force against someone is still using force.
I sat thinking it over. I didn't really want to see his point, but I saw it nonetheless. Being good can be hard sometimes.
Indeed, but you can sleep well and look at yourself in the mirror. Besides, life is more enjoyable when people trust you.
I thought that over for a little while, too. What should we do, then? I'd like to get more practice with magic.
Well, we've come up with a way to make a little money, and we've devised a way to increase our safety. How about a health spell? It won't be perfect, but it ought to make us at least somewhat healthier.
We were of one mind that it was a good idea, so I started designing a sigil. Health is an abstract concept rather hard to visualize. I began with the letters in the word and then turned to my health textbook for help. I made rough sketches of healthy hearts, blood vessels, lungs, bone, skin, kidneys, and so on. I drew a generic germ with a slash through it. Getting into the spirit of things, I drew a sketch of a kid in bed with a thermometer in his mouth and put a slash through the picture. I drew a sketch of a healthy me--slender, straight, muscular. None of it was good art, but it didn't have to be at this point.
I started the iterative process of combining and simplifying. Part way through, Mary came over and sat on the end of the couch. "Watcha doin'?"
I showed her the notebook and explained the idea behind sigil making. "Magic is controlled by visualization--purposefully imagining things vividly in your mind--and metaphor. You've learned about metaphors in reading, right?"
"That's using a comparison to show your meaning. 'Quick as a wink' or 'He was a giant of a man.'"
"Yeah, like that. But they can be other kinds of symbols rather than just words. A sigil is a type of concentrated metaphor."
"You can make one of these sigil things and it does magic?"
"Not by itself. You need to use them in a ritual. You saw me doing one of those last week."
"So you can do magic with a sigil and a ritual?"
"Yeah, but not everyone can do magic, and for the ritual to work, you first have to gather magical energy, called manna."
She was starting to look a little frustrated. "And how do you do that?"
"So far, the only way I've figured out how to do it is by putting myself into a trance and calling the manna to me."
"OK, how do you do that, then?"
"That takes a lot of practice, but I can tell you how to begin learning." I taught her how to do diaphragmatic breathing and then the progressive relaxation technique. "A way to start is to relax like I showed you every night before going to sleep. If you're still awake at the end of it, try to pay attention to your deep breathing and nothing else. Once you get good at doing it before you fall asleep, start trying it sitting up so that you don't fall asleep. When you can get to the point where your head starts emptying out of stray thoughts, you're ready for more."
"This magic stuff sounds hard."
"It's good that it is. Can you imagine what someone like Carol Flagler would do if he was able to do magic?"
She thought for a moment and then gave a little shudder. "That would be awful."
I got back to making my sigil. Mary sat on the end of the couch and practiced relaxing and breathing. For a first effort, she kept at it longer than I would have if I hadn't had internal help. Her ability to suppress boredom was better than mine, but she did wander off after a while.
When I was satisfied with the rough sigil, I sat at the table and reproduced it neatly in pencil. I wouldn't finish it in blood and charge it until closer to bedtime, because it was sure to make me tired, although not nearly as much as the actual spell on Sunday. In the meantime, I practiced guitar and read The Iliad, which I had been halfway through when I'd started the guitar books.
I got my pocketknife athame back from Dad, who had absentmindedly left it on his dresser when he had cleaned out his pockets Friday night. "Do you carry that thing in school?"
"Isn't that against the rules?"
"Yes, but as long as I never take it out, I won't get caught."
"If you can't use it, why carry it?"
"I might need it on the way there or on the way back here."
He gave me a skeptical look and said, "You're full of old rope," but he dropped the subject.
Sunday was much like Saturday. I decided to work somewhat ahead in my social studies text; I could pretty much guess where we were going next in the book even if it wasn't yet assigned. Danny, Mike, and Terry came over for a couple of hours in the afternoon to play music.
Sean arrived while the others were still around. The grapevine had reached him, and he wanted to hear what happened from the source. I thoroughly filled him in, knowing he could be counted upon to spread the word. "Beating up four guys, that's totally flipped out."
After everyone left, I read and practiced guitar. I even made three of the damn stupid book reports for the two guitar books and the Iliad, which were the only books I'd finished since the recent beginning of the second quarter.
The spell before bed went fine, and Mary quietly observed me working it. She helped with the cleanup, which I much appreciated as I staggered around in exhaustion.
The big event of the weekend as far as I was concerned, though, wasn't the spell. It was a resolution I made with myself: I wasn't going to let Kirsten go without a fight. I wasn't sure what I was going to do, but I liked her too much to just give up.
Considering that I was on parole or its moral equivalent, Mom insisted that I ride to school with her. When I arrived in front of the grade-six door on Monday, 29 November, Kirsten walked straight up to me and gave me a hug. She whispered, "Dad can keep me away from you after school, but he can't do a thing about school hours. Besides, Mom's on my side."
I immediately felt better than I had since Friday evening. No, that is an understatement. I felt terrific knowing that Kirsten wasn't going to give up, either. I held on to her long enough that some of the other students began making "woo hoo" noises and wolf whistles.
When I released her, she immediately grabbed my hand. I looked around some, now that my eyes were able to look upon more than Kirsten. Carol and Pat were in the crowd and had several people surrounding them. They weren't looking at me, but a lot of the people with them were. Sean had gone over to talk to Al. Donald wasn't around, but he seldom arrived before the doors were unlocked.
When Miss Gorse opened the door, I looked back and caught a glimpse of Donbo slowly getting out of a car. His leg was in a cast, and he had crutches.
Maybe it will be the beginning of wisdom, thought Ursus.
As we were hanging up our coats, I saw Pat's face. He was wearing a plastic shield that covered his nose, and he had two black eyes. As news spread, a crowd started surrounding me asking about what had happened. I continued into Mr. Dean's room and saw that Carol was wearing unfashionably baggy pants. I thought to Ursus, could it be?
Certainly. They can swell up, and I imagine his got badly bruised.
I felt ashamed over the amount of satisfaction I took in that information.
The bruises on my face clearly indicated that I had been in a fight, and the rumors were flying about Friday evening's events. Most of the students in the class wanted to know what had happened. So I told them. Ursus helped me keep any bragging tone out of my voice. I spoke with normal loudness and made a report much like I had given the police officer. I left nothing out but the bad language, because I knew Mr. Dean was listening and bad language was basis for punishment. Ursus kept me from lowering my voice out of shyness. The only student who wasn't looking at me was Carol Flagler. When I looked at Mr. Dean, he raised his eyebrows at me.
The bell rang and we rose for the loyalty oath. As usual, I didn't recite it. Ursus told me that if I felt loyal when I was of adult age, I could take any oath that I wanted, but he wasn't going to be any part of extracting such a thing from a child.
Mr. Dean returned our note cards as the first order of business. "I'm very disappointed in the amount of progress many of you have made. In light of this, and because I don't want half the class to fail, I'm extending the deadline for the paper to the day after winter break. Those of you who still want to turn your papers in by the original deadline--and thereby get it off your minds--are encouraged to do so. Those who turn them in early will get them graded early." At least I had 100% on my note cards.
Ursus thought, with the amount of worrying you do about that paper, we're going to finish it as soon as possible, and there is no better time than when you are under house arrest. I supposed he was right.
At lunch I was the center of attention. Carol, Pat, and Don joined Al in sitting as far away from me as they could get. I hoped they weren't forming an alliance. I again told the story while following the same stick-to-the-facts procedure I used in the morning, and I had to repeat it all on the playground after lunch. Perhaps everyone would decide that it was a bad idea to fight me.
After lunch I posted my three book reports on the wall and immediately took the lead in the contest. The most anyone else had so far, so early in the quarter, was one. Debbie Taylor said to me as I passed her desk, "I see I'm going to have a challenge this marking period."
"Yep. May the best bookworm win."
By Tuesday the fight was old news. Not much exciting happened through the week. My assailants all stayed away from me, which was just fine. Mike and Terry came over to practice every day after supper, and they kept me informed about the pedal car they were building with Danny. He was taking parts into shop class to weld.
During school hours, Kirsten treated me like her boyfriend, but we didn't see each other after school. I read The Odyssey and posted a report about it. Debbie posted another report, too. I started the rough draft of my term paper.
The police interviewed Danny, Mike, Terry, and even little Jenny. Mom called the prosecutor's office to office to ask them how long everyone was going to dawdle before I could again leave the house. A friendly source told Mom that the stories of my attackers didn't match when the police first interviewed them. I finally learned that Pat's last name was Hughes and that Nameless's name was Brian Onken. He was in seventh grade at Lager Junior High, and he had two cracked ribs from where I'd kicked him.
Kick them when they're down, Ursus thought. It makes it harder for them to get back up.
On the magic front, I encouraged Mary in her attempts to attain trance, and Ursus and I created and cast a weight-loss spell and a physical-fitness spell to go along with the health spell. Dad came wandering down the basement when I was engaged with the fitness spell. "What in hell are you doing?"
"I'm casting a magic spell."
"You get some weird-ass ideas."
"So I've been told, often."
"Do you really think such silly nonsense will work?"
"I don't see why not."
He looked at me for a few seconds. "Carry on, I guess."
Unfortunately, his interruption had totally destroyed my concentration, and I had to retry the spell the next day.
Thursday was the last day of the square-dance unit in gym. Of course, Kirsten and I were partners again. It was nice. Dancing still didn't do much for me, but Kirsten made it better. She told me that she was making it quite clear to her father that she was very unhappy with his decision.
Friday after school, Ursus started showing me a number of stretches. He knew a whole bunch of them. I also did some knee bends, pushups, and crunches. I stretched again on Saturday and repeated Friday's routine on Sunday. I noticed that I felt less resistance toward exercising than before I had cast the spell.
Saturday and Sunday, Danny, Mike, and Terry again came over to play music and lighten the burden of my imprisonment. We were noticeably better from the week before.
Danny also delivered the bike he had built for me. It had ten speeds, thumb shifters, straight handlebars, fenders, and a conventional saddle. Because I had no interest in taking it off road, he'd given it slick tires. We decided that with my friend-of-Dan discount, a fair price was my old bike plus a pound.
I finished the rough draft of my term paper. I also, for the sixth time, read the classic novel Badinage and Bloody Steel. I did a book report on it and posted it Monday morning before class started, giving me a total of five reports. Mr. Dean noticed. "You're reading a lot this marking period, Mr. Powyr."
"I suppose so. I read about the same amount last quarter."
"Really? You didn't write up any reports."
"No, but I usually read one or two books per week when school is in. In the summer, I read more."
"So why no reports? They aren't that much work."
I didn't want to tell him the reason was that I had no desire to win the contest and have to eat lunch with him. "I have a lot of interests and prefer to spend as much time on them as I can."
"So what's so different about this marking period, then?"
"I'm trying to impress Kirsten's mother." Pretty much everyone who heard chuckled a little at my response, including Kirsten.
"Ah. I believe I see. Watch it, kid, or you'll find yourself washing her car and wearing a necktie. You might even end up with a haircut." I theatrically covered my hair with both hands and returned to my seat.
Finally, on Tuesday, 7 December, on the way home from school, Mom said, "The good news is that you aren't going to be charged with anything."
Despite lots of assurances from just about everyone that I had acted in self-defense and was unlikely to be prosecuted, I felt great relief.
"The bad news is neither are the little bastards who attacked you. The oldest of them isn't yet thirteen, and there isn't much interest in prosecuting anyone so young. You got special treatment because the results of your attack were so strange that no one believed your story, except your old mother."
"Yes, Mother, you're a very good mother. I don't deserve you."
There was still a chance that some parents might sue, but their case didn't look good. I was to inform her immediately if one of the little bastards tried anything at all against me.
When we got home and changed into our play clothes, I said, "Hey, Mary, you want to go to the library?"