by Xenophon Hendrix
"Artie! What's wrong?" Mary asked.
"He cut its throat. Blood was everywhere."
Mom yelled down the stairs. "Is everything all right down there?"
It took me a couple of seconds to come to myself. I called back, "Everything is fine. I was only startled."
"Well, don't scream like that unless you've cut off a hand, or at least a finger. You scare the shit out of everyone when you do that."
In a quiet voice, Mary asked, "What happened?"
"I saw a man in a black robe. He took a big knife and killed a goat. The blood sprayed out." I hadn't seen his face, but the size and build made me believe it was a man.
"Ew. You saw that in the water?"
"Yeah." It had taken place inside a building. The goat's blood had landed on tile.
It was probably an animal sacrifice, thought Ursus. They are metaphorically powerful, but I don't like them, and I don't do them.
"How horrible!" Mary said.
"I didn't like seeing it, and I'm sure the goat didn't like it."
"Is that something that just now happened?"
Ursus took over answering. "Probably, scrying the present and the recent past are easiest."
"Is there anything we can do?"
"I don't think slaughtering an animal is illegal. The people down the street kill their own rabbits all the time, you know."
Mary looked upset. "I don't know if this magic stuff is for me."
"That has to be your decision," I said. After a few moments, she turned off the chord organ and went upstairs.
My concentration was gone, so I called it a night as far as magic was concerned and settled into the corner of the couch with the Norse mythology book. Why did I see what I saw?, I thought.
You were specifically looking for something interesting. That was interesting, wasn't it?
Technically, I guess, but I'd rather not have seen it.
Scrying isn't that easy to control. It takes a lot of practice, and some luck, to see exactly what you want to see.
Could the guy with the goat have been up to something evil?
Sure, but he might have been making a sacrifice in an attempt to cure a sick child or any number of other good things. There is no way to know, given the small bit we saw.
I'm sorry for losing it like that.
You're a beginner, and I'm pleased with the rate you're learning. It takes a long time to train yourself to remain unfazed when confronted with the unexpected, and no one can do it all the time.
Did the sacrifice happen around here?
Probably, nearby in time and space are the easiest things to see. The next time such a situation arises, there are tests we can attempt to learn such things, if you can maintain control of your collected manna.
I'm not scolding. I'm just stating the facts. As I said, you're doing a good job.
I read until bedtime.
Other than my learning that Sean was grounded as well as banned from the cafeteria, Wednesday was uneventful until it was time to go to Kirsten's for lunch. Of course, we walked over holding hands. Mrs. Kennedy was friendly. She wanted to hear about the great snowball incident, so I told her about it in full, only editing for language. She put hoagies, potato chips, and milk in front of Kirsten and me as I talked.
When I finished with my story, she got down to the reason I'd been invited to lunch. "I know that Kirsten has told you that she is again allowed to see you outside of class."
"Yes, the news made me happy."
"As it did her. And, with reservations, I approve as well. Let me talk about those reservations. Kirsten's father likes you. I like you. You seem like a nice, intelligent young man. Mr. Kennedy was wary for a while about the violence that seems to be surrounding you of late, but I talked with your mother, and Kirsten and I eventually convinced him that recent events are atypical for you. We also pointed out the fact that a boy able to defeat four other boys simultaneously, all around his own age and size, was someone probably safer for Kirsten to be around than not."
"I really don't get in that many fights, at least, not until lately."
"I believe you. But the fighting wasn't the only issue. What thrills neither Mr. Kennedy nor I is that our young daughter is showing such interest in the opposite sex at her age. We had hoped that we wouldn't have to deal with this issue until she was a year--or perhaps two--older. But I'm a realist, and I know that hormones start having their way with us at varying ages. She is interested in boys, and as her parents, it's up to us to deal with it."
"I understand," I said. It seemed the safest thing to say.
"It's my life," Kirsten said. "Shouldn't it be up to me to deal with it?" It sounded like she was taking up an old debate.
"It is, but you aren't even twelve years old yet. Your father and I still have a responsibility to supervise you closely for your own protection, and for ours, for that matter. Letting you run loose could be construed as a form of child abuse."
"I'm not asking to run loose. I just want to have a boyfriend in peace."
"And within certain limitations, that's exactly what we're letting you have."
Mrs. Kennedy turned back toward me. "If our daughter weren't so supremely self-confident, her father and I might have tried simply forbidding her to have anything to do with boys. She is self-confident, however, and most of the time we're glad of that blessing. But roses come with thorns, and in this case I'm firmly convinced that Kirsten will do as she wills rather than as she is told." She paused. "May I ask you a question, Arthur?"
"I don't promise to answer."
"When Kirsten's father told her she wasn't allowed to see you, did Kirsten tell you that she wasn't your girlfriend?"
Thank you for putting me on the spot. I knew where my strongest loyalty lay in this situation, at least. "Is it OK with you if I answer that, Kirsten?"
"Go ahead." Her body language looked neutral.
"No, Mrs. Kennedy," I said. "She more-or-less assured me that I was still her boyfriend."
"So that is the reality of the situation. Here are the rules that I expect you and Kirsten to follow. If either of you violate them, you will lose my support for your relationship, and I will ground Kirsten until she is fifteen, if I have to. Do you understand?"
"Rule one: you will be going on no one-on-one dates any time soon. If you're still together when Kirsten is fourteen or fifteen, ask for a revision then. The exception is for things that kids near your age normally do: school dances, roller-skating, the ice-cream parlor, and so on. Am I clear?"
"What about in groups?" Kirsten asked.
"Yes, you may do anything with groups of friends that people your age normally do. I will be the final arbiter of what is normal."
"Rule two: you will not pressure Kirsten for any physical contact for which she does not feel ready. Do you understand?"
"I understand, and I would never do that anyway." Indeed, I had someone living in my head that I suspected would assume control of my body and beat the hell out of me with it if I tried.
"Rule three: when my daughter is with you, I expect to know where she is and whom you are with at all times. I will be providing her with a supply of coins for the telephone so that she can inform me of any change in plans, and I am charging you, Arthur, with the responsibility to remind her to call me if she forgets."
"Finally, I don't want to embarrass you both by bringing this up, but as a responsible parent, I believe I have to do so. When I talked with your mother yesterday, Arthur, I received her permission to say this." She had my attention. "You two are much too young to be having sex. You might think you are old enough, but if you believe me about anything, believe me that you aren't."
"Don't 'Mother' me. I can see how smitten you two are with each other."
"But I know I'm too young for that."
"I know you do, right now, but reason has a tendency to fly out the window when passions are high."
"We'll be careful, Mrs. Kennedy. I never want to hurt Kirsten."
"Please, see that you don't."
After that, lunch returned to normal. After everything cooled down I said, "You're still going caroling tonight, right Kirsten?"
"Oh, yes. I love caroling."
"My husband and I are the parents Mr. Dean drafted as adult supervision," Mrs. Kennedy said.
"Cool. Are you going to sing?"
After school, I reminded Mom that I was going caroling with my class after supper and remembered that I hadn't informed Mike and Terry of that fact. I changed clothes, did fifteen minutes of guitar practice, and asked her, "Is it all right if I go to Danny's?"
The street was still ugly looking, but the sidewalk was clear, so I rode my bike over on the walk. The usual suspects were all in Danny's garage. "Where's the pedal car?"
"I took it to school yesterday to show Mr. Wertson my progress. I needed to weld the basket I'm making for the back, too."
Basket. That brought to mind the second question I had upon entering the garage. "Where did those shopping cart remains come from?" Some pieces were lying about from what clearly had once been two shopping carts.
"I swiped them from Roger's parking lot the other night," Danny said. "I figured I could make a few cuts and I'd have what I needed to put together a basket for the pedal car."
I needed to learn not to ask him such questions. "Didn't your shop teacher recognize that you had brought in a couple shopping-cart baskets?"
"Yeah, I told him I bought the carts at a flea market."
"He believed that?"
"He didn't question it." He was doing the final touches on what appeared to be a bench seat made from bent conduit and covered with the same mesh he had used on the pedal car seats.
"Is that for the pedal car, too?"
"Yeah, with a heavy-duty basket mounted on the axle, I figured it would support a rear-facing seat that could be clamped inside it when I wanted to carry passengers."
"Isn't that the most kick-ass idea?" Mike said.
"Cool. Who thought of it?"
"I did," Mike and Terry said simultaneously.
"You just inspired the idea," said Mike.
"That's not the way I remember it."
They bickered a bit. When they wound down, I said, "I won't be able to make guitar practice tonight, guys. My class is going Christmas caroling."
"What is this you said about committing to the guitar?" Mike asked.
"You and Terry have been doing great, and I'm impressed as hell, but this is a school function." Before anyone could say anything, I had a thought. "Why don't you all come along?"
"Why would anyone want to do that?" Danny asked.
"You want to form a band. Caroling is practice singing in public."
"I figured we were going to make you be the singer."
"If I have to sing, everyone has to sing--at least backing vocals."
"I thought I was going to be lead singer," Mike said.
"My argument remains the same," I said.
"What in hell does Christmas caroling have to do with a band?" Danny asked.
"It's a lot easier singing with a big group in from of a small audience than it is singing with a small group in front of a big audience. Think of it as getting our feet wet."
"Won't your teacher be pissed off if you show up with a bunch of people not in your class?" Mike asked.
"I'm pretty sure he'll have a more-the-merrier attitude. It's for charity. And if he objects, we'll just walk home."
"It sounds like it could be fun," said Terry. "What time?"
"Seven to nine."
"Is Mary going to be there?"
"I didn't think of inviting non-class members until now, but I'll ask her at supper."
"I'll have to ask my mom."
"Are you going to let your little brother show you up, Mike?"
"Hell no. If Mom lets us go, I'll come along."
"Are you going to give in to peer pressure, Danny?"
"I don't give in to peer pressure; I provide it."
"So? It's something different to do, and it's in support of winos, junkies, the destitute, and the insane."
"Our cause is a homeless shelter."
"Shit, why didn't you say so? I'll see what my mom says."
And so at about 6:30 pm, Mike, Terry, Mary, and I first stopped at Danny's, and then the five of us walked to Jewel Staid Elementary School. As assured, the fire door was unlocked and we all went in. Mr. Dean said, "Introduce your friends, Art."
Not too long before, I would have felt self-conscious being put on the spot like that. "This is Dan Lukowski. He goes to Lager. This is Mike Prestor and his bother Terry. They both attend St. Dionysius. And this is my sister Mary. She's in grade five here."
Dan pulled out a harmonica. "Would it be OK if I played this?"
"That would be great," said Mr. Dean.
People nodded greetings or said hi. I noticed that some other students in Mr. Dean's class had brought some apparent siblings along. Kirsten and her parents were already there. Pam was with them. When I walked over to Kirsten, her father stuck out has hand and said, "No hard feelings, Art?"
"None, sir. You were trying to protect your daughter."
"I'm glad you feel that way."
Kirsten took my hand and said to my friends, "It's nice seeing you all again." Sean--allowed out for the charitable cause--and Chris came ambling over.
Terry, the genetically driven flirt, said, "How could we not be thrilled to see you again, Kirsten?"
Kirsten smiled and said to the group with me, "These are my parents, guys." More hellos were exchanged. At seven sharp, we all set forth to harass the locals. The only person in the class who I noticed hadn't shown up was Carol, which suited me fine.
Just before we went out the door, Mr. Dean spotted something on his desk and held it up. "Does anyone want to play the tambourine?"
"I do," said Terry. "I've been getting lots of practice keeping a beat lately."
"How's that?" Mr. Dean asked as he handed over the instrument and then pushed open the door.
"Artie, his sister, Danny, my brother, and I are forming a band."
"Yeah, we're learning to play our second song."
"What's the first?"
"Something Art came up with called 'The Shepherd's Lament.'"
Mr. Dean got the mob moving forward. We'd go up to a house in mass, ring the doorbell, and begin singing. If someone showed up at the door, Mr. Dean would pass him or her a leaflet explaining our cause. If they gave some money, we sang another carol. If no one opened the door, we left after one song.
Kirsten sang beautifully in tune, as did her parents. I decided to do my best, and Ursus helped me control our shared vocal cords. Danny, of course, played our accompaniment. Mary and the rest of my friends must have been inspired by something, because they all tried to stay on key and sang loud.
Mike really could sing when he wanted to do so. Over the course of our childhoods, I'd heard him sing a lot, but that night was the first time I'd heard him when he was seriously trying. If we ever actually did form a band, we were going to be able to harmonize.
Mr. Dean led us in a big loop, and by nine o'clock we were back at the school. Everyone began to disperse. Kirsten gave me a quick kiss right in front of her parents before they made their short walk home. Sean was picked up by his father. Mr. Dean said, "Hang on a minute Art, I want to talk to you for a second." We were standing on the sidewalk, under a streetlight, in front of the school. My group waited while Mr. Dean finished up thanking people for coming.
"First," he said, "thank you for bringing along some more people who can actually sing. That always helps." Mary and my friends nodded in acknowledgement of the compliment. "Second, notice that the school function is officially over, and we aren't on school property. You promised me you'd answer my questions if we ever found ourselves in such a situation."
"So I did."
"My first one is, what actually happened the afternoon you came into class with a fat lip?"
"Al Gallo attacked me. I'm pretty sure it was jealousy over Kirsten."
"I thought something like that was the case. You guys never made up?"
"No. At least he ignores me now, rather than walk away or scowl."
"Losing friends is sad."
"Question number two: did you really defeat four guys without a weapon?"
"I fought really dirty, and the timing was such that I managed to badly hurt two of them right at the start of the fight."
"OK. Next question, you've changed a lot from the guy who was in my class at the beginning of the year. You did great written work right from the start, but I used to have to pull teeth to get an audible mumble out of you. Now, you're speaking up in a normal tone of voice, participating in class, have attracted the interest of Kirsten Kennedy, and I hear you're in a band. What happened?"
"Sleeping for a week affected me. It's hard to go into it beyond that."
"You mean you reassessed your life or something?"
"In part. In part I changed my attitude. It was all around a life-altering experience."
"All right then, I suppose an experience like that would be hard to explain. One more thing: the big snowball fight. Rumor has it that you started it. True?"
"Well, Carol threw the first snowball, but I suppose I escalated the situation." I was smiling when I said it, and Mr. Dean grinned. I gave a fast summary of the story.
"Why do you call him Carol?"
"That's his name."
"He prefers Carl."
"I know." I smiled again.
"Well, folks, I'll let you go. Thank you all again for coming. Mary, if you're in my class, feel free to bring them all along when we do this next year." Mr. Dean headed for the school parking lot, and the rest of us headed toward home.