by Xenophon Hendrix
Mom and Dad were staying home; forcing Dad to go shopping three nights in a row was unnecessarily cruel. At dinner, Mary had talked excitedly about Danny's pedal car, and I believe everyone in my family was disappointed when he didn't drive it over. "Sorry," he said, "my mom won't let me take it out in the dark until I put some lights on it."
He did bring three harmonicas in different keys, and we went downstairs to play. I said, "Mike and Terry will be here in a few minutes." I taught Danny the melody and harmony of "The Shepherd's Lament," and we went through it a couple times with each of us taking lead once. Dan also kept the beat on his bass drum.
Mary and all three cats came down when Mike and Terry arrived. We picked up where we had let off the evening before, except sometimes Danny played along with the harmony, sometimes the melody, and sometime he just blew the occasional accent here and there. He also suggested that Mary double on the keyboard part of the organ the bass note of each chord in addition to pressing the chord buttons.
I thought we were sounding passably good, and we must have been, because after we had worked out the kinks for hour or so, the rest of my family members came down and went over to the sitting area where they could listen.
Once we had an audience, Ursus reached out for the manna. It was close. Come to me, he told it. Come to me. It was difficult to play the rhythm correctly and also coax the manna, but I managed. Still, we couldn't quite draw it in. Maybe when everyone got a little better, or maybe when we had a bigger audience, or maybe the problem was something else entirely.
I noticed that my friends seemed to be getting somewhat bored, so I said, "There are other things the rhythm guitarist can do besides just playing four strums on the beat. One is to provide an alternating bass line. On every other beat, instead of the chord, play the bottom note of the chord on one of the two lowest strings." I demonstrated, and we worked on that a while.
Everyone cleared out around 8:30. "Mary," I said, "it looks like once I achieve trance, it's hard to bother me, so why don't you wait about a half-hour and then come back and practice with your lesson book on the chord organ. You can also run interference for me if anyone else comes down."
"OK. I'll keep the volume low."
I did the setup rituals and began tracing over my money-finding glyph with blood and feeding it manna. It was a bit before ten when I finished, and I was still in trance and holding some manna. I deepened the trance and filled myself with as much manna as I could hold.
Mary, at the chord organ, had her back to me. I didn't say anything, but I rapped on the table to get her attention while I struggled to maintain intense concentration. Mary looked up, and I made a "come here" motion.
When she crossed the circle without ritual preparation, I lost about half the manna I was holding. Still, once she was close enough to touch, I passed her more than I ever had before.
Her eyes opened in surprise even as she smiled with pleasure. "What did you just do?" Of course, she didn't know how to actually maintain a hold on magical energy yet, but she had felt it pass through her.
"That's what manna, feels like. To put it crudely, it's the fuel that makes magic work. If you want to be a magician, you need to learn how to get manna and hold on to it."
"It felt really good."
"It does. It has been helping me feel better lately."
"I've noticed you've been happier and, well, nicer."
"I'm sorry that I was so hard to get along with for so long."
"It's OK. I'm just glad you've been treating everyone better."
"So am I."
I was tired and went to bed. Before we went to sleep, Ursus thought, I think we should try making an amulet soon.
How do we do that?
Lots of ways are possible. One is to carve or mold a sigil into something durable. One pours as much manna into it as possible during creation, and then keeps it on one's person.
I thought about that. Why don't we make all of our sigils into amulets, so we don't have to destroy them?
There are tradeoffs. For a given level of magical ability, the initial power of a sigil-sacrifice spell is larger. When one makes an amulet, one is trading peak power for durability. Too, amulets do need to be recharged occasionally, the frequency in part depending upon the material with which they're made. The more amulets you carry, the more of your time you need to spend recharging them.
I guess that makes sense.
The next morning, I woke up about eight. Mom and Dad were going shopping, so there was no way for me to cast the money spell. In any case, Ursus had warned that it was going to be more powerful than before, and thus take more out of me, so I was going to have to work it before bed. Sunday, therefore, was going to be money-search day.
I went downstairs and worked on the final copy of my term paper. I had it finished, in my neatest handwriting, just before Mom and Dad left at about ten. I would look it over again and have Mom, Dad, and Mary each read it later.
Shortly after my parents left, Danny, Mike, and Terry all came over to work on music. I noticed that they seemed both more mellow and happier than normal. "Are you guys high?"
Rich, Charlie, and Susan had dug a big box of blocks out of the storage room and were paying us no mind. Danny looked at Mary. "Are you going to narc on us?"
I had been letting her hang around with my friends more than before, and she seemed to like it. Her face looked troubled, but then it firmed. "No, no I won't. What you guys do to your brains and lungs is your own business."
"Yeah," said Danny, "I scored a little sin semilla, and the three of us smoked it before coming over."
As long as they weren't lighting up in the basement, I didn't much care. I said, "I hope it doesn't interfere with practice."
"We didn't have that much," said Mike.
I believed we actually sounded somewhat better than the previous evening. On the rhythm parts we concentrated on alternating bass lines. I tried calling manna several times--still, no joy.
During one pause, Danny said, "I believe we could use a high-hat to go along with the kick drum."
"Ek-skellent idea," Mike agreed.
"Do you know where you can get one?" Terry asked.
"Other than at a store, you mean?"
"Of course. You're the sultan of swap."
"I might be able to get one the same place I got the drum, but I'd need to find something he wanted."
"More weed?" suggested Mike.
"Then I have to find something the person with the pot wants. Don't worry about it; I'll work on the problem."
Everyone got ready to disperse at lunchtime. Just before they left, I said, "Guys, I'm not going to be available at our normal time tomorrow. Do you think we could delay practice until three o'clock or so?"
"What's up?" Mike asked.
"It's Christmas related, so I don't want to talk about it." The explanation was true enough that it didn't activate my conscience.
"We'll see what we can do, I guess," said Terry. My friends planned on spending the afternoon working on the pedal car.
Mary and I made some sandwiches and warmed up some soup. As the five of us Powyr kids sat around the table eating, Rich said, "You guys are starting to sound good."
"Great!" chimed in Charlie.
"So, are you going to form a band?" Rich asked.
"No one has said much about it, but you never know." I knew we weren't good enough for that, yet.
After we cleaned up the lunch mess, Rich and Charlie were getting antsy over being stuck inside, so we all went out in the backyard and threw a Fliskus around for a while. When Susan began looking cold, Mary herded us inside, and we played board games for the rest of the afternoon.
It was getting late when Mary said, "What should we do about supper?"
"My guess is the folks are going to bring some carryout home."
"What if they don't?"
"I can't believe that Mom would expect us to make supper. Our kitchen skills aren't up to it." Actually, Ursus's were, but Arthur's weren't. Fortunately, my prophecy was correct, and Mom and Dad soon arrived with pizza.
"Pizza! Pizza! Pizza!" yelled Rich and Charlie until Dad told them to "be still." They even had managed to get Susan to chime in a few times.
After supper, I gave my term paper to the parents to read. "If you see something wrong, please mark it very lightly with this pencil." I then went to the basement to finish up my homework for the weekend.
That finished, I went up and borrowed the example money from Mom again. "You say you use this to train yourself to find money?"
"It worked the first two times, didn't it?"
"Yes, but it's such a weird-ass idea."
"I'm not going to change my method at this point. If it works because it actually works, or if it works because it just gives me more confidence, I don't really care for now."
Mom turned over the loot with a shake of her head, and I took Mary downstairs. I told her to bring something to read with her. "I'm going to cast the money-finding spell now. I need you to make sure no one interrupts, or we're going to have to wait until next weekend to cast it, and there might be snow on the ground by then."
"I'll do my best, but I can't run off Mom or Dad if they want to come down."
"Don't try with them. Just tell them my method of training myself is a magic money-finding spell, and it will be ruined if I break concentration. With luck, they'll just assume it's kid nonsense."
The spell went much like the previous two times I had cast it, except this time I finished by meditating upon the sigil and feeding it manna until I simply knew it was complete. When I broke the circle and thanked and dismissed the elemental powers, I felt as if I had been dragged through a marathon. "Mary, help." I leaned against a support post.
She came over and assisted me by opening the window and giving me a shoulder to lean on as I burned the sigil. I burned my original voodoo portrait as well. After that, I flopped on the couch, and that was it.
I was still on the basement couch when I awoke with a start. Someone had covered me with the afghan that normally hung on the back. Harvey was on my feet. That answered the question of whether it was my bed or me he preferred to sleep upon.
I immediately began scanning the basement for money. The tied coin was around my neck, and I tucked it inside my shirt. Mary had cleaned up the mess from my ritual. She really was a nice person and a good sister.
I could smell brunch cooking, and I slowly made my way up the stairs and slipped into the bathroom before anyone noted my presence. To minimize my family's exposure to my odd spell-induced behavior, I used up some time by taking a quick shower. Before I was finished, I had scanned every crack between the tiles covering the stall.
"There's the sleepy head," Mom said as I came out. "Mary said you fell asleep on the couch downstairs last night and that she had covered you up."
"Thanks, Mary. I appreciate it." I helped carry the food to the table--bacon, sausage, pancakes, and eggs. Once we had all sat down, I began to scan the table for lost money.
"What are you looking for?" Dad asked.
"Any syrup?" My response was close enough to lying that I felt guilty.
"It's right in front of you."
"Oh." I gave my head what I hoped looked like an embarrassed shake.
Mary and I got ready to leave soon after eating. Mom and Dad weren't going shopping, nor were they going for a Sunday drive. Keeping their children cooped up all weekend would have resulted in a spontaneous revolt of one kind or another, most likely a mass fit. We were a pretty well behaved bunch as kids went, but there were limits.
"Can we cross Wool Road? We haven't checked over there yet."
"Go. Be careful."
Mary kept me out of trouble, and the spell seemed truly to be working better than ever. We had a big find that morning. Part of our search area was a cemetery surrounded by a wrought-iron fence. We didn't walk the cemetery, but we went along the outside. Wrapped around one of the fence posts and partially hidden by a bit of poorly trimmed grass was a five-pound note. Mary let out an excited squeal when I found it.
Our success motivated us to search for an hour longer than our two previous excursions, and we were trying to limp on both feet at once by the time we made it home. "Artie, we made a lot of money, and I'm really glad you're including me in stuff and teaching me about magic, but I think I'm going to die."
I unwrapped the coin around my neck, thus breaking the spell. "Dividing up the loot will make us feel better." We limped through the backdoor and dumped our gleanings on the table. Mom and Dad watched as we counted and divided it up. It totaled out to thirteen pounds, six cents.
"Damn, you two did good," said Dad. "Maybe I'll take up scavenging for a living."
"Your methods are weird," said Mom, "but I can't fault the results."
"Have you two looked over my term paper?"
"I didn't see anything wrong with it," Mom said.
"It looks good to me," Dad replied.
The haunted feeling that the damn thing had been giving me eased some more. Now, I had to get it safely into Mr. Dean's hands, and I would be free--at least until I had to start the second term paper of the school year.
Don't think about it for now, advised Ursus. We've had another successful day. Enjoy it.
Mary and I had about a half-hour to rest before my friends arrived. We collapsed on either end of the family-room couch and rested our legs on top of each other. All three cats soon joined us. When the knock came at the door, we let Mom get it. "Mom," I said. "Don't tell them about the money."
"Hello, Mrs. P.," said Danny. I think he genuinely liked her. He wasn't shy about his disdain for adults he didn't like. I saw through the opening for the counter that Danny was carrying something rolled up. Mike and Terry were behind him with their guitar and amp. Mary and I helped each other up.
"What have you got?" I asked, recognizing his large-size drawing paper.
"Check it out." Danny unrolled it on the kitchen table and weighted the corners down with the salt- and peppershakers and the paper-napkin holder. It was a pastel drawing. Mike and I were holding guitars. Terry had a bass. Danny was behind a drum kit. Mary was behind a keyboard, and so was Kirsten.
"Kirsten hasn't been playing with us," said Mary.
"Artie says she's some kind of musical genius."
"I don't know if she's a genius," I said, "but she plays several instruments and intends to keep learning new ones for her entire life."
"Then we can use her in the band," said Danny. "Wouldn't she look great on stage?"
"What band?" Mom asked.
"The band we're forming."
"I didn't know you were forming a band." Neither did I.
"What else would you call what we've been doing," said Danny. "This is for the wall in the basement, for inspiration."
"It's nice work," Mom said. "How are you planning to hang it?"
"Can I tack it up?"
"It's too good to punch holes in. I'll buy a frame."
"We need a name," said Mike.
"We have a long time to think about it," I said.
We went downstairs. Danny gave me his poster for safekeeping. It must have been inspiring us already, because we practiced with a will until after five. As I was showing everyone out, I noticed it was starting to snow--big fluffy flakes, and lots of them, shining in the streetlights.
"I've got a errand to run before it gets too deep," Danny said.
"Just over to Roger's," the grocery store a short walk away on the northeast corner of Chord and Wool.
"Quit letting the cold air in," Dad yelled.
"I better let you get to it."
When everyone was gone, Mary said, "Maybe Danny isn't as bad as I thought."
"Yes, yes he is," I said.
"But he's your friend."
"He is, and I trust him, because I stay on his good side, and he's loyal. You, though, can never let your guard down with him, and I don't want you two ever to be alone."
"You're a girl. He might try something."
"But I'm three years younger than he is."
"Danny has unconventional morals, and you're pretty as heck and starting to fill out." She blushed at that.
"Oh. Thank you, I guess. But if he's so bad, why is he your friend?"
"He's not bad to me, and you've seen him in action: He shines with talent."
She thought for a moment. "Is that why you like Kirsten so much?"
"You're getting disturbingly insightful. But, yes, it's one of the reasons. She also has enough self-confidence for two people, and you know how nice she is, and pretty. The pretty, though, wouldn't mean much to me without the rest."
"I didn't think it would. I've never thought you were shallow."
Mom must have been listening to us, because she said, "You pay attention to your brother about that Danny. I can't help liking him, but don't you ever trust him, young lady."
Supper was homemade beef stew with dumplings, one of the family's favorites. When we were done eating and cleaning up the mess, I looked out the window. "It's still coming down."
"Do you think we'll have a snow day?" Rich asked.
"If it keeps up like this, almost certainly."
I went to the coat rack in the laundry room and started putting on my winter gear. "What are you doing?" Mom asked.
"Shoveling. There's already a couple of inches down."
Mary got her stuff, too. A few minutes after we started, Rich joined us, and a few minutes after that Mike, Terry, and their sister Colleen came out and began clearing their driveway next door. When we were all as done with our respective drives and walks as the rate of snowfall allowed, the Prestors went over to do the drive of the old couple who were their neighbors on the other side. Mary, Rich, and I went to help.
As we worked, Terry said, "This is a good opportunity to make some money." Terry liked making money.
Mary and I were tired, but it was an outstanding chance. Mike said, "You mean shoveling drives?"
"I'm in," said Colleen.
"So am I," said Mike. "What about you guys?"
"We'll have to ask our parents, but if it's OK with them, I'm in."
"Me, too," said Mary.
"What about me?" Rich asked.
"If you think you can handle it, come along," I said.
"Do you think we should get Danny?" Mike asked.
"Give him a call," I said. "There's going to be more work tonight than we can handle." The last was an insight provided by Ursus.
After we all gave our own drives another fast hit, I went in to check with Mom. "We want to go around shoveling driveways."
"That's ambitious of you."
"An opportunity this good seldom comes along, and it will take a miracle for there to be school tomorrow."
"Fine. Make sure you do a good job."
"We will. Can we stay out until eleven?"
She had to think about that. "Don't ring any bells unless the lights are clearly on. Are you bringing Rich with you?"
"For as long as he can take it."
Danny showed up as the six of us were working on our first drive, two houses down. Rich held on for about an hour before he went home. The rest of us easily found work right until the eleven o'clock deadline. We noticed that the kids around the block, whom we never really hung out with, had the same idea that we did, but as Ursus predicted, there was more than enough work to go around, and we all cleaned up in more ways than one.
We started out charging two pounds per drive. As the snow got deeper, we charged three. Finally, when it was almost eleven, someone offered us four. We sent Terry as runner to tell our parents what was happening. Just when we were about to quit, someone offered us four again. After taking care of his drive, we had to call it a night no matter what. My earnings added to what I'd found that morning was now more money than I ever had before.
About midnight, with Mom's blessing, Mary and I gave our own drive another cleaning, and then collapsed into bed to sleep the sleep of the utterly exhausted.