Monday, May 26, 2008

Chapter 28: Searching and Finding

Magician's Merger

by Xenophon Hendrix

Chapter 28

Saturday morning, I woke up on the basement couch again. I didn't remember walking over to it. The last thing I remembered was my feeling of elation that the glyphs had worked. I must have been asleep on my feet. Harvey was now lying upon them, and I was under the afghan. I hadn't taken off my robe before hitting the couch, and part of the robe was balled up underneath me. It wasn't too comfortable.

I pulled my feet from underneath the cat and sat up. I felt pretty good. My watch, which I hadn't removed before falling asleep, said it was 8:34. I gave Harvey a couple of pets and headed upstairs to use the bathroom. Once I came out and went into the kitchen, I saw that Mom and Dad were both at the table. Dad must have decided to take Saturday off.

We exchanged good mornings. Dad said, "I went downstairs last night to tell you to get to bed, but you were already asleep on the couch, so I left you there."

"I must have been tired right out," I said.

"You guys really went at the music yesterday," Mom said. "I'm impressed with your progress."

"Thanks. Is everyone else still asleep?"

"Mary's up. I think she's taking a shower in the big bathroom."

As I munched down a bowl of cornflakes, Ursus and I formed our morning plans. I want to find some dead wood that's still on the tree, he thought.

I know quite a few places where we can look. Several vacant lots were nearby, some of them pretty big.

By the time I finished eating and got dressed, all of the kids were astir. I took Mary aside, "Do you want to go for a walk?"

"Where?"

"The vacant lot with the garage in it." I whispered, "Magic stuff."

"Oh, OK."

We put on our winter gear. Before we left, I filled a bucket full of packed snow to provide water for my rituals and put it aside. I took a folding pruning saw and an aluminum stepladder from the garage with me. As we walked, I explained what we were after.

The property in question wasn't that far away. We went down Dewey to the south end of Bradley, along three suburban lot widths to Cord, turned west and went one suburban lot length to the southeast corner of the undeveloped chunk of land. It was a good size, at least ten acres, over twice the size of the even closer vacant lot we called "the field." There was an old garage standing on it. The house that had gone with the garage had been torn down farther back than my memories went. I had decided to check this lot first because it had quite a few older trees growing on it.

The snow had developed a hard crust, and crunching through it was tiring. The first place we stopped to check was a clump of four old willow trees. Underneath the trees, the snow wasn't quite as bad. "There's some," Mary said. She pointed to a dead willow branch I should just be able to reach from the top of the ladder. I climbed up and cut it down. It was about two-and-a-half inches across at its widest.

There was also a knot sticking out of the trunk. It's still green, but cut it anyway, Ursus thought. It was harder to cut off than the branch had been, but I managed.

Ursus wanted a variety of woods, so I handed the branch and the knot to Mary and we tromp-crunched over to the remains of a hedgerow that ran along most of the west side of the field. Over there, it was adjacent to the yard of the high school, separated by a fence. As one might expect, the old hedgerow was a popular place for teenagers to consume illicit alcohol, and we saw several empty beer and wine containers.

Mary and I were methodically searching the narrow expanse of trees and bush. Branches kept snagging the damn ladder, but we managed to find good poles of maple and elm and about three feet of two-inch-wide ash. I heard Mary say, "Ew, gross," and I looked where she was looking. It was a dead goat, partially concealed by a dense part of the hedgerow.

"I'm pretty sure that's the goat I saw when I was scrying."

So am I, Ursus thought.

Animals had been at work on it. Ursus took control of our body and walked over to it. He bent down and pulled a few hairs out of the carcass. Mary asked, "What are you doing?" She sounded disgusted.

"Killing something creates a powerful bond between the killer and the killed. I might be able to use these in a spell that will help me find the person who made the sacrifice." Finding the goat had ended our desire to search more in the hedgerow, so we went home. We had enough materials to make a bunch of wooden amulets and maybe some other types of tools.

I didn't want my parents questioning what I was doing with the stuff we had collected, so we took the wood and the bucket of snow down to the basement without making any fuss. Because the stairs were near the back door, doing so unobserved and unimpeded was easy.

We had just finished stashing the stuff in unobtrusive parts of the storage room when Mom called down the stairs, "Mike and Terry were by. They were heading over to Danny's to work on his pedal car and wanted to know if it was OK to postpone practicing until after lunch."

"OK, thanks. I guess I'll head over there to see what's up." I didn't really want to go over to Dan's that much, because I had a lot of magic stuff I wanted to start. On the other hand, I expected to derive considerable benefit from the pedal car, and I hadn't been doing much of the work.

Go help your friends, Ursus thought. There's going to be a lot of time in your future to let magic take over your life. I accessed memories of long hours of solitary work.

Is it worth it? I asked.

Worth it, not worth it--it's what we are.

Mary opted to stay home and practice on the chord organ rather than go to Danny's with me. When I got there, the super tricycle was looking good. The heavy-duty basket was welded above the axle. Danny had cut slots in the basket for the chain and gears to pass through, and he had brazed on a few attachment points at strategic locations for the fairing. He had also found some long brake cables--meant for tandem bicycles--and had mounted caliper brakes on the rear wheels. Thank Bog, thought Ursus.

The fairing for the front of the pedal car was finished. Danny's mother had a hot-glue gun for crafts, and Dan had borrowed it. All of the seams in the fairing were glued together on top of narrow strips of corrugated plastic. He had also added several stiffener strips so that the fairing was self-supporting but entirely of plastic. Thus, it only weighed a few pounds. It was attached to the frame with zip ties so that it was easily removable.

The top half wrapped around the front wheel and came about halfway down its height. At its highest point, the fairing attached to a bent piece of conduit that ran across the width of the car and came about chest high on a man. Dan planned to mount a plastic windshield on top of the pipe at a future date, but he had not yet acquired the materials.

The bottom half came to within an inch of the front wheel, ran underneath the seats and all of the support structure, and attached to the tube the axle ran through. It was lower to the ground in the front than in the back, and had a seam to accommodate the change in height.

When I arrived, Dan assigned Mike and me to mounting the rear fairing while he and Terry worked on making chain guards. The rear fairing simply ran from roughly the outside edge of the seats--it was left unattached to the seats so that they remained adjustable--and attached to the sides of the basket and part of the frame.

Mike said, "Is the pedal car not totally kick ass?"

"It is. I thought we had established that."

"It's going to be great for picking up chicks."

"How so?"

"They see it and immediately want a ride."

"I guess I can see how that would work."

"Yeah. When Danny brought it home from school yesterday, he told me a hot girl asked him for a ride before he had it out of the schoolyard. He drove her home and got her phone number."

"I now see your basic motivation for making this thing," I said to Dan.

"Money and chicks are what make the world work," he said.

"What about art?"

"Most art is either about chicks or a way of attracting them."

Danny had made working doors from the corrugated plastic. We put those on after mounting the rear fairing. The hinges were zip ties, and the doors were held shut by cabinet magnets hot glued onto the fairing. When noon came around, the four of us had the pedal car almost completely faired. The chain guards weren't quite finished, and Danny still wanted to make covers that attached to the body and came halfway down the rear wheels. He also wanted to make fairings for the spokes. Still, it looked good. We took a couple of turns around the block and adjourned for lunch. The plan was to meet in my basement for band practice at one o'clock.

After I had eaten a handful of potato chips and one of the fried baloney sandwiches Mom was making with Mary's help, I gave Kirsten a call. After I had spoken to her father for a few minutes, he put her on. "Hi, Artie."

"Hi. The band is going to practice after lunch. Do you want in on it?"

"How serious are you about having me as a member?"

"Danny is dead serious, and I want you to be part of it, whether or not we ever become a real working band. No one else has raised any objections, and I don't think they will."

"I don't object," Mary yelled.

"OK, I'll be there. Do you mind if I bring Pam along? She's been my best friend for a long time, and I don't want to start abandoning her."

"That's fine. Do you want someone to come pick you up?"

"Hang on a sec." I heard her talk to someone in the background. "No, that's OK. Mom will give us a ride."

After we hung up, I helped clean up the lunch mess. As I was doing that, Mom asked, "Just how intent are you on forming a band?"

I thought before answering. "I don't have any problem with the idea. I'm going to play the guitar whether I'm in a band or not, but Dan wants to form a band. Mike and Terry will usually go where Dan leads. I will, too, for that matter, as long as it's not criminal, dangerous, or immoral; Danny usually comes up with fun ideas. So if being in a band helps motivate my friends to do something constructive, why not?"

"What about your sister?"

"It's clear that everyone considers her in, if she wants to be."

"I want to be," Mary said. "I like making music with you guys." Mom had an unreadable expression on her face as we finished cleaning up and headed downstairs.

Mary and I had a few minutes before others started to arrive. We took up position by the chord organ. "I want to try something," I said. I began to play "The Shepard's Lament." "I'm going to brush your foot with mine when I start collecting manna so that I can pass it to you. I want you to learn how to hold it. You're going to have to do so by trial and error." I passed her manna until the end of the song.

"I couldn't keep any of it," she said.

"I didn't expect you to. It's going to take a while. If I touch you during practice, don't draw away. I'm going to be giving you manna. Just keep trying to hold it when I do."

Mike and Terry arrived first. After they had set up their amp and I had helped Mike get their guitar in tune, he said, "I hope we get another guitar for Christmas. Having to pass it back and forth all the time sucks."

"Think of it as an opportunity to learn a little about drumming and keeping time."

We managed to get through "Up in the Air" once before Kirsten and Pam arrived. Kirsten had her flute and sax. Pam was carrying maracas, claves, and a tambourine. We played "Up in the Air" again with Kirsten playing the lead this time, Mike, Mary, and I playing chords, and Terry and Pam on percussion.

Mom shouted down the stairs, "Danny brought his pedal car." This induced general excitement and chaos for about a half hour. All of the Powyrs wanted rides, including Mom and Dad. Fortunately, Danny had mounted the bench seat he had made for the purpose into the wire basket, so four people could ride at a time. Mike and Terry's older sisters, Colleen and Janet--who was home from university--also turned out for a ride.

At one point, Danny gave a ride to Colleen, Kirsten, and Pam. "I see what you mean about picking up chicks," I said to Mike.

Finally, things settled down again and we used up the rest of the afternoon practicing. We spent a lot of time working on "Up in the Air" and "Bob Dobson," but we also worked out the chordal accompaniment for several Christmas songs and sang them in honor of the season. Colleen and Janet both listened in for a while, as did my parents and siblings.

As we played, I frequently fed manna to Mary. We were crowded near the chord organ, so we were pretty much all sitting close enough that incidental touching was to be expected. I also tried passing manna to Kirsten. I was happy to see that she could accept it. She smiled whenever I gave her some magical energy, much like when I first tried the experiment with Mary.

Despite our hard work at learning new stuff, we were all surprised when five o'clock came around and Kirsten's mom showed up to collect her and Pam. Danny offered Mrs. Kennedy a ride in the pedal car, and she accepted. She was co-pedaler while Kirsten and Pam rode in the back.

Everyone headed home for their various suppers after that. When I was finished with my own supper, I asked Dad, "Do you have a map of the neighborhood?"

"I have a street-level map of the county, somewhere."

"Can I borrow it, please?"

"Why?"

"Why not? I live in this neighborhood."

He gave me that kids look that parents do so well, but he got the map for me. I took it downstairs and used it to help me make a larger sketch of the immediate area. Mary must have been curious about what was up, because she soon came down and watched what I was doing. "If he lives nearby, this will help me locate the person who killed the goat," I said.

I set up my ritual area, filled the pie pan with melted snow, and tied a hair from the sacrificed goat to a toothpick with a thread. Ursus warned, Make sure you are clear in your mind which is the front of the toothpick and which is the back.

Instead of using a trance to call manna, I softly played a tune on the guitar and hummed. I still had to maintain concentration so that I didn't lose the magical energy once I collected it, but it nevertheless was quite a bit faster. I cast the circle with my athame; called some more manna; purified the circle with the bell, water, fire, and salt; and called some more manna again. I took a seat in front of my scrying pan.

I pricked a finger with the athame and let a drop of blood fall into the water. I floated the toothpick with the goat hair on the surface. I began working my way into a trance. We need to be careful, now, said Ursus. The magician who sacrificed the goat might not want people tracing him, and he might have set up active measures to prevent it.

Why are we doing this, then?

Curiosity. I want to learn about the state of magical practice on this node. I'm in your head, so don't you deny that you're just as curious as I am.

I thought you were supposed to be the cautious one, thought Arthur.

I am, but curiosity is my greatest vice, and I don't think we're in much danger. We're working in a well constructed, if weak, protective circle, and I don't think the magical practice in these parts is that sophisticated or powerful. Still, many a wizard has met his end sticking his nose where it doesn't belong, so care is indicated. In short, if you feel me trying to break our contact with this magician, help me break it, and if I try to guide things, don't fight me, either of you.

We went into trance and pictured in our collective mind the place where the sacrifice had taken place. Because none of us really wanted to vividly see it again in our head, we stopped short of the sacrifice itself. When we had the scene just before the killing of the goat as clearly visualized as we could make it, we started to will the toothpick to point in the direction of the sacrificial spot. I found myself softly chanting "point, point, point."

The toothpick began to move. Before Arthur and I became too excited, Ursus calmed us. Once our improvised pointing device came to rest, I put a finger on the edge of the pan on the point at which the toothpick indicated.

I felt a jolt of fear come from outside myself, and Ursus immediately broke our trance. The toothpick again began to float normally. That fear, Ursus thought, was most likely our victim feeling an unseen presence with him. It is indeed a creepy feeling.

I marked on the pan the place my finger was resting and then lined up the sketch of the neighborhood as well as I could with my present orientation. I used a ruler to draw on the sketch a light line that ran from my house along a direction somewhat south of west. "See, Mary," I said. She had taken a seat on the couch and was still watching the proceedings. "The goat's hair pointed to the place where he had been killed. Now, I need to do this spell again in another location, and draw another directional line. Where the two lines cross will be the approximate place where the sacrifice happened. That is, if the spell is actually working." Mary got up to take a closer look.

"I don't mind you crossing the circle now," I said, "because I'm about to dismiss it. But you shouldn't cross it unless there's an emergency. If my magic were stronger, it might actually hurt you. In any case, it badly degrades the circle, so don't get in the habit."

"Sorry."

"Don't be. It's not your fault if you've never been told. Have you been practicing going into trance?"

"Yep, every night before I go to sleep, and a little every day."

I broke the circle and thanked and dismissed the elemental powers. The location spell, one step removed from scrying, wasn't exhausting. It did leave me feeling a bit tired, though. What are we going to do if we find the unknown magician? I asked Ursus.

Who knows? Perhaps we will be able to observe him. If so, and he looks OK, perhaps we'll make contact. Perhaps we will do nothing. In any case, it's good practice for you. I cleaned up my work area, and Mary helped me put the chairs away.

Other than my now habitual brief pauses for guitar practice, I spent the rest of the evening reading Spells for the Modern Witch. Mary borrowed Witchcraft in the Contemporary Empire and claimed the other end of the couch. Dad and Rich came down to shoot a game of pool shortly before Rich's bedtime. If Dad took note of what we were reading, he didn't say anything. It had been a good day.

7 comments:

Katie said...

Oh noes, I'm caught up!
I'm loving this. The only minor complaint I have is Arthur's dialogue seems very stiff, much too stiff for an 11 year old. I know Ursus has a lot to do with that, but still...

Xenophon Hendrix said...

Thank you.

Yeah, Ursus has a lot to do with it. Poor Arthur isn't really eleven anymore.

Plus, some of it is no doubt me just screwing up. There is only so much time I have to spend working on this. I can spend it polishing, or I can spend it writing new stuff.

Anonymous said...

please, by all means, polish. A good story is better than a fast one

Robert said...

I'm enjoying the story so far. pagesunbound says you update 3 days a week. Is that still accurate?

Xenophon Hendrix said...

Three days per week is the approximate average. Which actual days tends to be random.

buzybee06 said...

Hi,
I am loving your story,
but I find that I can not visualize what the peddle bike that Danny is building looks like.
you have gone into great detail but for the life of me, I keep getting some deranged 'Speed Buggy' look in my head.

rabababa said...

"I'm pretty sure that's the goat I saw when I was scrying." should be italicized.