by Xenophon Hendrix
Monday, the twentieth of December, Christmas Eve--the Arthur part of me was still young enough to be excited about Christmas being nearly there. Ursus simply noted it as an example of a solstice festival. I got up and started going through my morning routine.
A solstice is an in-between time, Ursus thought; thus, it's metaphorically potent. It will increase the effectiveness of a magic ritual performed at that time, especially anything to do with transformation.
What do you have in mind?
It would be a shame to let such an opportunity pass without casting a spell. We should come up with something good.
I'm all ears, I thought.
I'm not complaining, mind you, but the problem is, we have so many things about our life that could use improvement, the possibilities are nigh endless.
So, just pick something, and we'll get one thing off the list.
Wisdom from the mouths of babes, Ursus thought.
I like to believe that I come by it inherently.
Indeed. We'll let the problem rattle around in our subconscious for a few hours before we make up our mind.
Do we have to work the spell at the exact moment of the solstice to get the magic bonus points?
The ideal would be to time the peak of the spell with the instant of the solstice, but that is seldom possible, and getting close still yields benefits, which is good, because we don't know the exact moment of the solstice.
The newspaper might have it, especially with it being tied in to Christmas and all.
We'll check this morning.
How about a muscle-building spell--become a burly beast, strike fear into the hearts of my enemies?
I can see the appeal, especially for an eleven-year-old, but is it really a high priority? We already cast a health and fitness spell, and this body naturally gains muscle fairly easily.
How about a memorization spell? It would help with the homework.
We'd have to attach that one to an amulet, so we could put it on and take it off. It wouldn't do to have an enhanced memory for every bit of random crap we encounter. Still, it's not a bad thought.
We continued thinking over spell possibilities as we did a little exercise, some guitar practice, got cleaned up, and poured some cereal and milk. Mom, Mary, and Rich were at the table when I sat down. I reached for the front section of the newspaper.
"Are you already looking for your vocabulary words?" Mom asked. "You have two weeks off."
"I've got hooked on reading the thing. Besides, I'm curious about the exact time of the solstice tomorrow."
"It's in there, in a little box on the third page."
"Thanks." I looked. The solstice was 12:34 pm, local time.
We'll open presents as soon as the younger kids rouse everyone I thought. Then we'll have brunch somewhat later. We'll have to slip away to work the spell and take a nap to recover in time for supper. Mom will have a turkey, and maybe a ham or something to go with it, and we'll be eating leftovers for a week.
At least they'll be good leftovers.
"I have some good news," Mom said. "Kate and Andy are coming over tonight for Christmas." Kate was Mom's older sister. Andy was her husband. They lived a four-hour or so drive away. Aunt Kate couldn't have children, but she spoiled her nieces and nephews.
"That's great!" Mary said.
"Yay! Aunt Kate!" Rich said.
"Wouldn't you have preferred more notice?" I asked.
Mom gave me an unreadable look. "From most people, but this is Kate and Andy. Don't you want to see them?"
"Kate is welcome in my house any time. Besides, we talked this over earlier. They weren't sure they could make it, and I didn't want to get your hopes up, so I didn't mention it. You kids usually get so wound up when you hear they're coming over." She looked at me. "Usually."
"Don't mind me; I'll be glad to see them." Rich was now excitedly marching around the table. "I guess my eagerness levels just aren't what they used to be."
"Are you OK? You've been acting strange lately."
"You mean stranger than normal?" I grinned.
"Yes, smartass." Mom grinned, too, but I could tell she was bothered.
"You've been keeping to yourself even more than you usually do. You seem calmer, but you don't get as happy. It's not all bad. You don't get as cranky or as downright belligerent, either. But you've been different."
"Maybe I'm just growing up."
"Maybe." She looked a little sad. "Mary, Rich, excuse us for a few minutes." She waited until they were gone. "Artie, I need to ask this one more time. Are you sure you aren't on dope? If you confide in me, I won't punish you. I'll just try to help."
"Mom, I swear I'm not on any drugs. If it will make you feel better, search all my stuff. I forgive you in advance, and there's nothing that I'm worried about you seeing."
What about your porn collection? asked Ursus.
I don't have a porn collection, answered Arthur.
That's a good question, I said.
I didn't want to be bad, and I didn't want to get caught, Arthur answered.
Mom was talking again. "You know that I trust you to tell me the truth, but you've been so different lately. There have been so many small changes that they add up to a big change. Is something bothering you? Are you worried about something?"
"You know I'm a worrywart, but it hasn't been that much worse than normal. I get a lot of homework. I've acquired a girlfriend, almost by accident. I've been in a few fights, but I seem to have all my foes but Carol wary of me, at least."
"Are you worried about that little bastard?"
"You shouldn't talk about Kirsten like that!" I said in a mock shocked voice.
"Cut that out. You know I'm talking about the mean little shit head."
"Carol doesn't have me especially upset. I figure he's going to keep after me until I give him a good pounding, but I don't get the impression that he'll attack with a gang again. His self-image requires that he proves he's tougher than I am, so a gang won't cut it."
"'His self-image requires…' You've always been a smart little bugger and liked to show off your vocabulary, but since when have you talked like that?"
"What can I say?"
"You seem older than you used to be."
"Everyone is always older than he used to be, continuously."
"You know what I mean, you little shit."
"Yeah, I do. Maybe sleeping for a week aged me."
"Did something happen to you while you were asleep?"
I nodded my head. "Yes, but I don't want to talk about it."
"Have you quit trusting me?"
"It's really private, Mom."
She had a thoughtful look on her face. "When I was a girl--I guess I was thirteen--my great aunt, Kate, had a stroke and became paralyzed. (Both my Aunt Kate, my mother's sister, and your Aunt Kate, my sister, were named after her.) She couldn't talk. She couldn't take care of her herself. We girls had to take turns watching over her and helping clean her up. Mostly, we were trying to keep her comfortable as she died.
"Now, my father was an Irish Catholic, and my mother was a Scottish Presbyterian. Before they were married, they hadn't agreed on which church they were going to rear their children in, and we kids were put under a lot of pressure. I tried to please both my parents by attending both churches.
"Times were different then. In the Catholic Church, I'd hear how Protestants were misguided heretics who were doomed to hell if they didn't see the light. In the Presbyterian Church, I'd hear how Catholics were misguided papists who were doomed to hell if they didn't see the light. As you might imagine, I became confused and upset.
"I used to talk to Great Aunt Kate when I was looking after her. She couldn't answer. I didn't even know if she could hear me. Still, I talked to her. One Sunday afternoon, after again listening to how one group or another was doomed to hell, I broke down crying while I was watching Great Aunt Kate and told her how frightened and confused I was. I had trouble eating, sleeping--you name it. I thought I was going crazy.
"With God as my witness, I swear that she spoke to me. She said, in her Scots accent, 'Have faith in God. That's all that matters.'
"She never spoke to me again after that. So far as I know, she never spoke to anyone again at all. She died a few days later. Ever since she talked to me, though, I've had faith in God and haven't worried about the details." Mom had some tears in her eyes and took a paper napkin to wipe her face.
I didn't know what to say after a story like that. Is it possible? I asked Ursus.
I've found, in the vast multiverse, that lots of things are possible. I'm pretty sure your mom, at least, believed everything she just said.
"Mom, if you're asking if I met God or witnessed a miracle or achieved enlightenment or something, nothing like that happened." I paused. "There was, however, this giant bipedal rat." I made a gesture with my hand to show how tall it had been.
She made one of those unwilling chuckles. "Get! Get out of here, you!"
I got up and told Mary she could come out of her room. I went to my room and saw that Charlie was now up, too. "You guys can come out, now."
"I gotta pee," said Charlie as he squeezed by me.
"Hey, Mary," I said. "Do you want to go for a bike ride later?"
"Magic," I whispered.
I went to the basement. I wanted to repeat in another place the location spell with the goat's hair, but finding that place was going to be tricky. I couldn't think of anyplace inside where I could set up and execute a magic ritual, so it was going to have to be outside. It needed to be out of the wind so that the toothpick didn't get blown around and I didn't freeze to death while I was in trance. It had to be some ways away from my house so that the triangulation had a chance to be accurate, and I needed privacy.
Outside the high school had some sheltered spots, but it was too close. Jewel Staid Elementary School was a good distance to the north, but it wasn't that far away in a westerly direction. I decided that my best bet was Grove Elementary, the school that was somewhat closer than the one I attended. There was a courtyard where I could avoid the wind, and no one was likely to be around on Christmas Eve.
Before I left, I needed to tape a couple sheets of paper to my sketch map and draw in more stuff. I took my time and made sure I had the scale about right. As I was working, Mary came downstairs. I explained to her what I intended to do.
I packed my new bowl (or wide cup, depending how one looked at it), the bell, candle, salt, scrying pan, and so on into my backpack. I filled a plastic bottle with water from melted snow and packed it, too. I didn't want my guitar exposed to the weather, so I didn't take it. I'd collect manna by going into trance. I said to Mary, "You go upstairs first and tell Mom we're going for a bike ride. I'll be right behind you and head into the garage for a second. I don't want Mom seeing my pack and asking questions."
When I got to the garage, I took a couple garbage bags so that Mary and I had something to sit on. Then I put my pack down beside the hinge side of the door in case Mom stuck her head out.
I went back inside and put on my winter gear. "Dress very warmly," I quietly told Mary.
When we went back into the garage, Mom did stick her head out behind us. "I don't want you two near any main roads today. There will be a lot of office parties this afternoon, and people will be driving around drunk. Be careful, even on the side streets."
"OK. If anyone comes weaving down the road, we'll get out of the way. We're just going to be around the neighborhood. Maybe we'll say "hi" to Kirsten if we get too cold to stay outside."
"Don't go causing work for Mrs. Kennedy. She has to get ready for Christmas, too."
"We won't." We got on our bikes and started down the driveway. Once Mom shut the back door, I turned around and quickly fetched my backpack.
Andrew M. Grove Elementary School was less than a mile away, so it only took us a few minutes to get there, even riding at a pace that would keep us from breathing hard in the cold air. I led Mary to the courtyard that I planned to use. It was enclosed on three sides and blocked the wind. Fortunately, it had been cleared of snow.
I explained Mary's role to her as I set up the ritual area. "I'm going to cast the circle with you inside it with me. Your job will be to keep me from freezing to death."
"How will I do that?"
"Once I achieve trance, you can get up and move around a bit to keep yourself warm, just as long as you don't break the circle. If you see me fall asleep or close my eyes and not open them, wake me up and force me to move around. If I won't wake up, first hide my ritual tools and then go get help."
"Who should I get?"
"It probably won't come to that, but if it does, just go get Mom. It takes a while to freeze to death. You'll have some time."
I put water in the bowl and the pie pan and some salt in its dish. Mary and I sat beside each other on the garbage bags while I prepared myself to go into trance. After about ten minutes, I thought, Maybe I should have brought my guitar after all.
It's a new ritual space, and uncomfortable. Both make trance more difficult. Ursus took control of our body and led us through the relaxation ritual again. This time, I finally felt us slipping into trance. I called the manna and it came.
I got to my feet and cast the circle, speaking the words fairly loudly for once. I remained on my feet as I renewed my concentration and gathered more manna. I did the purification ritual and then settled in front of the scrying pan. I poked my finger and put in a drop of blood and the toothpick with the hair.
As my trance deepened, I lost track of time and my surroundings. I again began to visualize the scene of the sacrifice, just before the goat was killed. When it formed in the water and the toothpick quit moving, I marked the direction on the edge of the pan.
Without my volition, the scene changed again. I recognized the tile floor from the place of the sacrifice, but the picture was of a greater area. I willed the view to move around. The room looked like a partially finished basement. There was a pentagram, point up, painted on the wall with silver paint. An altar stood before it.
What looked like a little shrine was in one corner. The shrine had small statues on a shelf. A couple of them looked like people. Most of the rest were bipedal, but they looked rather monstrous. One had the head of a goat, which disturbed me because of its satanic references.
Another wall had a big eyebolt set in it. Attached to the eyebolt was a heavy chain with a metal collar. There was a rug on the floor underneath the chain. It looked like a place where someone might keep a dog, but the chain was far heavier than anything a dog would need. It's probably for people, thought Ursus.
Could be. More likely, it's just for kinky sex.
I felt the Arthur part of my brain get a little embarrassed, but I ignored it. I continued looking around. I found the stairs. I tried to force my vision up them, but I lost concentration and felt the manna start to slip away.
"Artie!" Mary said, "you have to get up." She was shaking me.
I was shivering so violently it hurt. I tried to acknowledge her, but my teeth were chattering too badly. I nodded my head and began to stand. Mary helped me get up. I tried to jump up and down, but I landed on the garbage bags and slipped. I fell on my butt, but Mary prevented me from falling farther and smacking my head.
"C'mon, you need to get back up." She helped me again to my feet and kept a grip on my hands. Mary kicked the garbage bags away, and we both began jumping up and down. Because of the pain, it felt like a long time, but it probably was only a couple of minutes before I had generated enough body heat to move around without shivering.
"Thanks Mary. Without you here, I probably would have died."
"You're welcome. I was just doing the job you brought me for."
I picked up my athame and cut the circle with no ritual. "I thank and dismiss the elemental powers.
"Mary, did you happen to notice where I had put my finger on the pie pan?"
She walked over to the pan. "About here."
"OK," I said. "I remember the same place." I pulled out my sketch and put in a light line in the proper direction. I'd make it longer and straighter with a ruler after I got back home. Mary helped me pack things up. The ride home finished warming us.