The Poison Pie Publishing House presents:

2017: The Year of the Every-Day Magician
A Second-Hand Account of the Rise and Fall
of the Renegades of the American Muslim Registry
David J. Keffer
(link to main page of novel)

February

February 1, 2017

The second month of the year began with lingering public protests. The new president had banned entry into the United States of visitors from seven predominantly Muslim countries. Omar's parents hailed from Iran, one of these seven nations. Any discussion of a visit to the United States by Omar's maternal grandparents, who resided in Tehran, was indefinitely postponed. Omar's parents held the status of legal permanent residents and were engaged in the decade-long process to pursue citizenship. They clearly could no longer leave the country, if they wished to return. Omar himself had been born in the hospital attached to the university when his parents were graduate students in Michigan. As such, he was the lone United States citizen in the family.

"I'm the anchor baby," he said to Oscar after school on Wednesday.

Oscar smiled. He understood that the remark was intended to be self-deprecating.

"The Renegades of the American Muslim Registry," said Omar, "are not pulling their weight." To date, they had not participated in the protests in any visible manner whatsoever. "What should we do?" Omar asked.

Oscar thought for a moment. "We should write a letter to our U.S. senators."

"And sign our names to it?" Omar asked.

"Of course."

"That's the stupidest idea ever. Do you want my whole family to be deported tomorrow?"

The boys parted ways, irritated with each other but individually intent on coming up with a more productive course of action.

written while listening to:  Eric Dolphy - Out to Lunch! (Blue Note, BST 84163, 1964, United States, lp, discogs.com)

February 2, 2017

On Thursday, Oscar met Omar on the front porch of his home, after Omar had finished his music lessons. Oscar had forgotten about their quarrel of the previous day but apparently Omar had not because the latter had prepared a question and asked it as soon as they were settled. "On those first days, before we were introduced, what were you doing standing in the neighbor's yard?"

Oscar frowned. He had no wish to revisit that embarrassing episode. Put on the spot, he replied, "I was practicing an invisibility spell."

"What did you put on your coat?"

"Some spells require a material component," Oscar answered, without further elaboration.

"Did you think we couldn't see you?" Omar asked pointedly.

Oscar bit at his lip and looked over for a moment at a passing car. "I have already recognized that I am not cut out to be an illusionist."

"You were terrible," Omar agreed. "My mother said you were mentally disturbed."

Oscar wondered why his friend would say such obviously unpleasant things. Perhaps, Omar intentionally meant to hurt him. Although he had known the boy scarcely two weeks, it seemed out of character for him. Perhaps, he bore some other, hidden anxiety, which caused him to act this way--maybe related to the on-going immigration protests. Oscar was no angel and did not seek to make peace. He more closely resembled an owl. He studied Omar with an inscrutable gaze before stating, rather obtusely, "Your mother is certainly not the first to suggest a connection between magical proficiency and mental illness. Perhaps, to have perceived such a link, she has some witch in her."

written while listening to:  David Grubbs - Banana Cabbage, Potato Lettuce, Onion Orange (Table Of The Elements, Zn 30, 1996, United States, cd, discogs.com)

February 3, 2017

Students in the school of Abjuration concentrated upon magic that repudiated other magic. The word abjuration itself originally meant to recant a heresy on oath. The most common Abjuration spell was dispel magic. Numerous variations, refined to specific ends--true sight to dispel illusions, true form to reverse transmutations, resist energy to weaken the destructive force of evocation spells and protection from evil to thwart necromancy--also existed.

Oscar's interest lay in one particular spell from the school of Abjuration: globe of invulnerability, which generated a faintly shimmering but otherwise invisible sphere around the caster, protecting him from a broad range of attacks and deleterious effects. Oscar often dreamt of being surrounded by such a globe. When he was younger and lay in bed at night, afraid of the hidden creatures of the dark, the thought of such a protective bubble proved sufficient to grant him the peace of mind to fall asleep. Even now he took great comfort in reminding himself at times that much that was evil in the world could not affect him because he had been born with some version of a natural globe about him.

Oscar proudly declared his decision to Omar. The choice of school had been made at last. However, Omar was not convinced of the wisdom of the choice. "Why do you want to be an abjurist? That doesn't sound nearly as cool as Transmutation." He thought of flying again.

"I want to repudiate the whole world!" Oscar shouted defiantly. Later, he regretted having revealed that secret to anyone, even Omar. It had been kept hidden in his heart for a long time.

written while listening to:  Sachiko M, Günter Müller & Otomo Yoshihide - Filament 2 (For 4 Ears, CD 1031, 1999, Switzerland, cd, discogs.com)

February 4, 2017

Omar thought Transmutation too fine an idea to simply abandon. However, he did not know precisely how to phrase his request to Oscar. It took him a day to gather his courage, but on Saturday mid-morning, as he and Oscar rode their bicycles up and down the street, he said, "If you are going to study Abjuration, I think I will study Transmutation." They had been biking at a good clip and Omar had been forced to shout to make himself heard.

Oscar applied the brakes and came to a halt with Omar beside him. "But you are not a wizard," he said.

"You are not a Muslim," Omar replied, "yet you joined the Renegades of the American Muslim Registry." Omar smiled. "By the way, did you know that a federal judge lifted the president's Muslim travel ban?" Oscar, without internet, was unaware of this late-breaking news from the previous evening.

Oscar tried to separate the two issues--Omar's newly declared desire to study magic and the anti-Muslim politics of their president. He did not understand how these two disparate subjects were linked. Part of him wanted to tell Omar it was too soon for him to begin his study. However, another, wiser part of Oscar accepted that just as the pursuit of magic was for him connected to making the world a better place, so too might a similar, though nebulous relationship exist for Omar.

So it came to pass that the top two offices within the Renegades of the American Muslim Registry came to be known as the Transmuter and the Abjurer. It had not yet dawned on either officer that this gang would eventually require eight members, a representative from each school, to accomplish the great task before them. Thus neither boy suggested that they immediately launch a recruiting campaign to fill the other, vacant positions.

written while listening to:  Susie Ibarra - Drum Sketches (Innova Recordings, innova 67, 2007, United States, cd, discogs.com)

February 5, 2017

Both boys hoped to reproduce the fun they had exploring the quarry on the previous weekend, but fate or chance, depending upon one's point of view, had other plans for them. In fact, the pair did cross the vacant lot early in the morning and walk the mile of greenway to the nature preserve. They did forget the world's troubles until lunch. They ate what they had brought in their backpacks, then lingered a little while longer. In the afternoon, they returned. Halfway across the vacant lot, an enormous, terrible canine leapt from the bushes. With fur as black as the darkest shadows of Hell, its wild snarls sent all thought of hope and cheer fleeing from their minds.

Oscar instinctively activated his globe of invulnerability and sprinted for the far edge of the lot. He knew that the dog, as savage as it was, remained within the boundaries of its God-forsaken territory. He had only to reach the street.

With a mere fifteen yards between him and safety, Oscar dared look over his shoulder. What he saw brought him to a dead stop. Omar, in his panic, had made an incomprehensible decision. Rather than racing toward safety, or even returning to the greenway to take the long way home, Omar had made a left turn and dashed toward the house. He emitted a continuous, high-pitched shriek of terror as he ran with the dog lunging at his heels. Just as Omar reached the house, Oscar observed the back door open. The timing was perfect; Omar, never slowing, disappeared inside. A thin white hand held the panting dog, disappointed but obedient, at bay. The door closed.

In the street, Oscar waited for ten minutes. When Omar did not emerge from the house, Oscar returned home. Several hours later, his mother questioned him on his state of agitation, but he refused to yield and said nothing of the incident to her or to anyone else.

written while listening to:  Mary Halvorson Trio - Dragon's Head (Firehouse 12 Records, FH12-04-01-007, 2008, United States, cd, discogs.com)

February 6, 2017

From behind the front window, Oscar observed Omar emerge from his mother's SUV. He seemed to hurry up the stairs into the house. Neither he nor his mother cast a glance across the street. Oscar felt some relief, for this was his first glimpse of Omar since his friend had disappeared into the house adjacent to the vacant lot on the day before.

Oscar fidgeted with his homework in the winter light that passed through the south-facing window. After a period of time that might very well have been occupied with homework and violin practice, Omar emerged from the house. Oscar leapt up and raced out onto the porch. From there, he watched Omar descend the stairs. Oscar mentally prepared the words he intended to speak. However, instead of crossing the street, Omar turned to the right and walked by himself down the sidewalk. He paid no mind to Oscar, as if he were invisible again. At the next intersection, he crossed and, heading in the direction of the river, disappeared from sight.

The possibility that Omar might return to the sanctuary of the house beside the vacant lot completely exceeded Oscar's imagination. He could not conceive of the conversation that continued between Omar and the owner of the thin, white hand that had rescued him from the threat of the dog. Had St. Jerome or some other well-meaning individual suggested to Oscar that a discussion now took place regarding his expulsion from the Renegades of the American Muslim Registry, he would have scarcely believed it. However, given time, he might have conceded that membership in any gang hinged on risking much for the sake of one's fellows. Due to Omar's extraordinary poor decision-making, Oscar was made to look as if, in an effort to save his own skin, he had abandoned his friend.

written while listening to:  Cecil Taylor - Unit Structures (Blue Note, BLP 4237, 1966, United States, lp, discogs.com)

February 7, 2017

A girl with a familiar face appeared on Oscar's doorstep shortly after six. The sun had already set, though the overcast sky revealed no stars. Oscar's mother had that night off. She answered the door and called Oscar, when the girl, much to her surprise, politely requested him by name. His mother fixed him with a curious glance as he passed her.

On the front porch, Oscar stared at the girl, making them both uncomfortable. He knew that she lived in the neighborhood. He had seen her around but had never spoken to her. He did not know her name. Several inches taller than Oscar, the girl had straight, black hair, parted in the middle, revealing a curious face in which many potentially pleasant elements were arranged in such a manner as to leave the observer uneasy. The face was perhaps too thin, the eyes too large, the pursed lips chapped by the dry, winter air. Oscar had no idea what she was doing on his porch.

Before he could speak, the girl said, "I live in the house on the greenway, next to the vacant lot. I rescued Omar last weekend. After serious consultation, he asked me to tell you that you are now on probationary status in the Renegades of the American Muslim Registry." She let slip a wry smirk as she delivered a last declaration. "If you wish to reclaim your full membership, you will have to work some appropriate magic to redeem yourself." She did not wait for Oscar to reply. She turned smartly and marched off down the steps and into the darkening night.

written while listening to:  Lester Bowie - The 5th Power (Black Saint, 120020-2, 1978, Italy, cd, discogs.com)

February 8, 2017

On Wednesday, Oscar faced a dilemma. His social studies assignment required internet access but he did not want to face Omar. He had not yet overcome his resentment at having been placed on probationary status for what seemed to him an act of common sense.

Consequently, Oscar procrastinated until 4:30 when Omar and his mother arrived home and disappeared inside the house. Then, surreptitiously, Oscar moved onto the porch, plugged his laptop into the outlet, positioned himself between two windows and set to work. Oscar understood that his situation was fraught with the potential for misunderstanding but a better alternative did not appear to him.

It turned out that Omar was angrier than he had imagined about being left at the mercy of the dog. When Omar emerged from the front door to discover Oscar's presence, he revoked Oscar's access to their internet in no uncertain terms. Without a word of protest, Oscar carried his laptop across the street.

In the evening, Omar asked his father to change the wireless password. When the reason for the request was revealed, his father grew outraged. Soon, Omar appeared at Oscar's door and, in a forced voice, informed Oscar that it was his father's opinion that Oscar could continue to do his homework on their front porch.

Oscar waited for Omar to return home before he raced across the street to finish his work. It took another thirty minutes. He could have been done sooner but Omar's father came out and, sitting beside Oscar, told him a ten-minute story about a daily war he had once waged for a year against a surly shopkeeper who refused to allow him to travel through an alley on his way to school. "Old Hajj Dib was much meaner than any dog," he assured Oscar.

written while listening to:  Jimmy Giuffre 3 - Fusion collected in 1961 (ECM Records, ECM 1438/39, 1992 (originally recorded and released 1961), Germany, cdx2, discogs.com)

February 9, 2017

After practicing violin, Omar left the house through the back door, avoiding the possibility of encountering Oscar, who might have been perched on his front porch. He followed the one-lane alley that ran between the backyards of the two rows of houses to the intersection. Then he turned and made his way to the house adjacent to the vacant lot. There he sat on a plush sofa in the living room with Cybil, by whose hand he had first entered the house. Moving through-out the many rooms was her mother, something of a local socialite, who occupied herself with the news of the city and kept her husband, an architect, abreast of events deserving of notice. Also in the house was a large, black dog named Jellybean and a pair of Siamese cats. The latter ignored Omar entirely while the former, once properly introduced, showered affection indiscriminately upon all visitors, Omar notwithstanding.

"His brother wasn't a wizard," Cybil explained to Omar. "He was just a lame gamer; he and his friends pretended to be knights and sorcerers as part of a fantasy game. Sometimes, they wandered through the neighborhood in goofy costumes--and not just on Halloween."

Omar received this news stoically. He had almost thrown in his lot with a lame gamer. Luckily, this charming young woman had saved him in more than one way. "How did his brother die?"

"It's nothing too unusual," Cybil informed him in a knowing voice. "He bought a bottle of prescription opioids from another student at school. He and one of his gaming buddies took too many all at once. One of them lived and one of them died. My mother says it was the stress of his brother's death that caused his parents to separate."

Omar wondered briefly if this additional information would provide sufficient cause for his father to revoke Oscar's internet access.

written while listening to:  Irène Schweizer, Rüdiger Carl & Louis Moholo - Messer Und... (FMP Records, FMP CD 139, 2011 (originally released 1976), Germany, cd, discogs.com)

February 10, 2017

On Friday evening, Omar's parents were somewhat surprised to discover their son entertaining a girl that was two years older than him. However, she was impeccably courteous to them. Her mannerisms in walking, in arranging her legs as she sat, in enunciating each consonant communicated to them that she had been carefully raised. Of her different culture, the parents thought nothing; they understood that they were raising Omar in America to be an American first and an Iranian-American second. Satisfied, the mother and father retreated to a side room and left the main living room to the two children.

Once Omar was sure that they were alone, he explained how the president, during his campaign, had proposed the idea of a registry of all American Muslims. He further explained in a conspiratorial tone that the way to defeat such a registry was for all citizens, irrespective of religious faith, to sign up for the registry. In a whisper, he confessed with a certain bravado that he had defied his parents' orders and had created a local chapter of civil resistance, which he called the Renegades of the American Muslim Registry. He asked in a lowered voice, "Will you join the cause?"

"How thrilling!" said Cybil. "A secret society!" Her youthful enthusiasm was captured not just by the sense of rebelliousness but also by the foreign, exotic ambiance she attached to Omar's complexion and name, not to mention the accent of his parents' speech, a trait which Omar disappointingly lacked.

written while listening to:  Andrew Hill - Smoke Stack (Blue Note, BLP 4160, 1966, United States, lp, discogs.com)

February 11, 2017

On Saturday, Omar accessed the greenway by a rather different means than that which he had tried with Oscar. He entered the front door of Cybil's house, greeting with some residual trepidation the beast named Jellybean, then exited the house via the back door in Cybil's company. Together, the pair walked the distance to the preserve. The greenway meandered in a course mimicking the erratic shape of the river bank. Often the placid surface of the river was visible through the narrow margin of trunks and bare branches. Above the river, Cybil pointed to Omar when a bald eagle flew overhead, moving from the direction of the preserve to some point downstream. While Omar was suitably impressed by the sighting of the bird, Cybil remarked that a pair had nested along this stretch of the river for the past five or six years. Not a week went by for her without a chance sighting. Such were the privileges of having one's house located beside the river.

Along the way Cybil made a startling revelation to Omar. "I asked my mother if I could join the Renegades of the American Muslim Registry."

Omar's eyes widened in disbelief, all thoughts of the eagle forgotten. "You did what?!"

"Don't worry," Cybil said, genuinely surprised that her words made such a dramatic impact on Omar. "She said it was fine." Observing that he was not placated, Cybil fixed Omar with a stern glare then stated somewhat pointedly, "My mother approves of civic-mindedness in young people."

Omar silently resolved to keep his parents as far away from Cybil's mother as possible; his parents would not be so understanding. His anxiety would have greatly increased had he fully understood the role of Cybil's mother as a central hub in the network of neighborhood gossip.

written while listening to:  Evan Parker - Time Lapse (Tzadik, TZ 8026, 2006, United States, cd, discogs.com)

February 12, 2017

Cybil's family occupied most of their Sundays in a regular routine, which involved rising as late as ten o'clock, spending a leisurely hour with coffee, pastries and the newspaper, before dressing for church, which began at twelve-thirty. After the celebration, Cybil's parents mingled in the hall for nearly another hour, during which time her mother socialized with other mothers. Her father business-socialized; no one in the sizable congregation had any construction done, residential or commercial, that wasn't handled by his firm. Of course, Cybil also knew many of the other children in attendance. Though sorely tempted, she held to her belated promise to Omar and discussed the Renegades of the American Muslim Registry with none of them.

Afterward, Cybil and her parents ate a slow, Sunday brunch at a local restaurant, specializing in just such things. At least another half an hour was spent in the line at the door, unless it was Mother's Day or another holiday, in which case the wait time doubled. By the time, Cybil returned home, it was usually four-thirty or so. She changed out of her church dress and tights into a sweater and jeans.

She walked to Omar's house where he plainly expressed his skepticism that she could have spent the entirety of the day (for it was already within an hour of sunset) engaged in "going to church". She found it necessary to explain to him how the Bible dictated that all of Sunday be reserved for exactly this routine.

She quickly turned to another matter that had been on her mind during the day: her title within the society. (She preferred not to think of it as a gang.) "However it turns out," she declared to Omar, "I don't want to be Secretary!" She flashed a charming smile and added, "Or Treasurer!"

When pressed, Omar admitted his own title of "Transmuter", which elicited from Cybil a gasp and a curious comment, "This is going to be more interesting than I anticipated."

written while listening to:  Muhal Richard Abrams, George Lewis & Roscoe Mitchell - Streaming (Pi Recordings, PI22, 2006, United States, cd, discogs.com)

February 13, 2017

Omar took to meeting Cybil after violin practice, just as he had with Oscar. He chose to come to her house in order to avoid an awkward encounter with Oscar, who sporadically worked on his front porch. Omar did not particularly enjoy the attention of Jellybean, but found him preferable to Oscar.

Cybil took a seat on a sofa placed at a right angle to the one upon which he had situated himself. She appeared to Omar to possess a charm he had heretofore not perceived in a girl. He listened carelessly as she spoke about her day at school until she turned to the subject of her title. At this point, Omar straightened up.

"Do you know what Cybil means?" she asked him. When he conceded that he did not, she explained that it came from Sibyl, a female oracle. She had consulted a thesaurus and discovered the many synonyms of Sibyl. "It was hard picking between them. So I picked, not one title, but seven--one for each day of the week." At this point, she withdrew a sheet of paper, unfolded it and read, "On Sunday, my title is Diviner; on Monday, Prophetess; Tuesday, Soothsayer; Wednesday, Prognosticator; Thursday, Oracle; Friday, Augur; and on Saturday, Sibyl--S I B Y L." She spelled it out lest there be any confusion with her name. She handed Omar a similarly folded sheet with a hand-written table matching days to titles. "I made a copy for you. Is that okay?"

He nodded and took the sheet eagerly. As she continued speaking, he discreetly held the paper near to his face, on the pretense of examining it closely. He detected the scent of the perfume she applied at her wrists. When Cybil noticed his absent-minded expression and asked him if he was paying attention, he astutely replied, "Yes, Prophetess."

written while listening to:  Vijay Iyer Trio - Accelerando (ACT, ACT 9524-2, 2012, Germany, cd, discogs.com)

February 14, 2017

On Saint Valentine's Day, Omar debated whether he should give Cybil a card. He had decided that he would not, owing to the great opportunity for his intentions to be misunderstood, until his mother caught him on the way out the door and asked him what he would do if Cybil had a card ready for him. Omar ran back upstairs and grabbed the card he had prepared the day before, only to be abandoned on the dresser. Stuffing it in his coat, he intended to hold it in reserve, unless the appropriate situation arose.

His heart beat in his chest as he walked the short distance between the two houses in the brisk, winter air. "Happy Valentine's Day, Soothsayer," he said, using Tuesday's title, when she greeted him at the door.

"Happy Valentine's Day, Transmuter." Cybil wore her hair in a ponytail bound with a pink ribbon.

It turned out that she had made a card of construction paper on which she had glued a flower of folded crepe paper. Inside the card, he read, "Happy Valentine's day, Omar. Welcome to the neighborhood!"

Omar silently thanked his mother's prescience, as he handed Cybil her card, which while not as ornate, was certainly better than showing up empty-handed. "I predicted," said the soothsayer, as she read the card with pleasure, "that you would bring me a valentine."

Later, Cybil invited Omar to a day on the river on the following Saturday. Her father was taking the boat out and had asked her if she wanted to bring a friend. Omar readily agreed. The two sat on the sofas and talked business. The president's national security advisor, after only a few weeks on the job, had resigned for lying about information he had exchanged with the Russian ambassador. They wondered how this turn of events would affect the Renegades of the American Muslim Registry.

written while listening to:  Frédéric Blondy & Lê Quan Ninh - Exaltatio Utriesque Mundi (Potlatch, P203, 2003, France, cd, discogs.com)

February 15, 2017

Rain fell Wednesday morning and the sky remained overcast through-out the day. The forecast indicated that the temperature would again fall below freezing sometimes during the night. Omar and Cybil ran into each other halfway between their houses. Each had been headed to see the other, so their meeting was not entirely coincidental.

"Good afternoon, Prognosticator," said Omar.

Cybil did not respond in kind; perhaps she was already tiring of the game. She suggested, despite the cold, that they take a walk through the neighborhood. Omar, bundled in his coat, agreed.

As they walked, Omar thought further on the seven titles of office, which Cybil possessed. "You know who would like all your titles?" he asked.

"Who?" she asked, with a carefree shrug.

"Oscar."

Cybil seemed surprised by the mention of the boy that had become almost a taboo subject. "Oscar? He who abandoned you to mean, old Jellybean?" She said the last bit in a teasing voice.

Omar nodded, though doubt had now entered his mind. Perhaps, he should not have pursued this direction of conversation. Uncertain, he remained silent as they walked. The next words out of Cybil's mouth utterly surprised him. He realized, for the first time but not for the last, that he did not faintly understand how Cybil's mind worked, for she said to him in a tone of unmistakable remonstration, "I wondered how long it would take you to think of your friend."

written while listening to:  Spontaneous Music Ensemble - Withdrawal (Emanem, 4020, 1997 (originally recorded and released 1966-7), United Kingdom, cd, discogs.com)

February 16, 2017

A question occurred to Cybil, only after she and Omar had parted. She had to wait a day until they talked again, as Omar did not have his own cellphone. When they did meet at her house on the following day, Cybil asked Omar almost immediately, "Why would Oscar like my titles?"

Omar accepted the question casually. He had not explained to Cybil that the title, Transmuter, represented one of the eight schools of magic. Cybil hadn't asked, apparently interpreting it simply as a synonym for the change that the Renegades of the American Muslim Registry intended to bring about. She was therefore nonplussed when Omar explicitly explained to her the origin not only of his title but that of Oscar as well. She was further taken aback, when she learned that her Sunday title, Diviner, which she had innocently selected, represented the school of Divination.

"So, this is all part of his stupid fantasy game?" she asked in an alarmingly icy voice.

Omar spent considerable time explaining such was not the case. The dual role of her title was merely coincidence. The Renegades of the American Muslim Registry was not a childish game of make-believe. Despite his efforts, when they parted ways he felt sick to his stomach, uncertain of what his efforts at calming Cybil had achieved.

written while listening to:  Thomas Buckner, Joëlle Léandre & Nicole Mitchell - Flowing Stream (Leo Records, CD LR 701, 2014, United Kingdom, cd, discogs.com)

February 17, 2017

After school, Omar's mother had errands to run. As a result, he arrived home later than usual. He asked to go visit Cybil briefly before practicing violin. Although she knew that her husband disliked the sound of a violinist-in-training, she made an exception and felt a surge of motherly affection as she watched Omar skip away down the street.

He found Cybil in her front yard, photographing a few daffodils that had appeared at the edges of the house in mid-February. She held a proper camera, not merely a cell phone. Omar trailed behind her as she took close-up pictures of each pale yellow bloom. While she worked, she asked him, "What are the eight schools of magic?" The question emerged without any irritation. Omar wondered briefly (and futilely) what switch had been flipped that allowed her today to discuss with aplomb a topic that had so flummoxed her the day before.

Omar knew of Transmutation, Abjuration and Divination. Thinking of Oscar's salt-covered coat brought to mind Illusion. The others he couldn't remember by name.

"Maybe I should go ask Oscar," mused Cybil as she carefully focused the camera in macro mode. A slight breeze caused the flower to jiggle, resulting in blurred images on the camera display.

"I'll go with you," Omar volunteered. Suddenly, he felt uncomfortable with the idea of Cybil and Oscar meeting alone. He fidgeted nervously then invented an excuse, "I haven't practiced violin yet. My mother said I could just stop by for a moment and say hi." He turned and, as Cybil waved good-bye to him, he felt a surge of relief that she had not rescinded the invitation to go boating on the river tomorrow.

written while listening to:  Schlippenbach Quartet - Hunting The Snake (Atavistic, UMS/ALP213CD, 2000 (originally recorded 1975), United States, cd, discogs.com)

February 18, 2017

While Omar and Cybil enjoyed a pleasant but chilly afternoon aboard her father's motorboat, by coincidence, Oscar too contemplated water. His mother wasn't feeling well (perhaps she was simply exhausted) and had retreated to her bedroom to take a nap. Although Oscar did not ordinarily venture into his brother's room while his mother was home, he felt sufficiently familiar with the nature and duration of these naps that on this day he proceeded to do so.

There were numerous spells concerned with the manipulation of water. Many but not all of them hailed from the school of Transmutation. The simplest such spells were create water (Conjuration), which pulled from thin air two gallons of clean water, bless water (Transmutation) and curse water (Necromancy), which endowed the water with additional properties beyond the ability to quench thirst. There were Transmutation spells to allow individuals to better interact with water, such as water breathing or water walk or to interact more poorly, such as heavy water, which impeded the ability of a swimmer and invited nothing short of drowning. There were spells to harness the destructive force of water on land, geyser (Conjuration), and at sea, vortex (Evocation). There was also a variety of spells, which drew upon any one of the four elements, but when applied to water, deserved, in Oscar's opinion, to be considered in this study. These spells included summon elemental (Conjuration), which brought an inorganic being from the elemental plane of water to briefly serve the conjurer, elemental speech (Divination), which allowed one to communicate with such creatures, and a series of elemental body (Transmutation) spells, which allowed one to incorporate increasingly powerful aspects of such creatures into one's own physical body, at least on a temporary basis.

written while listening to:  Radu Malfatti & Stephan Wittwer - Und? ...Plus (Free Music Productions, FMP CD 142, 2011 (originally recorded and released 1977), Germany, cd, discogs.com)

February 19, 2017

Saint Jerome sat beside Oscar on the edge of the bed. Their legs hung over the side, like four parallel pipes bent around a corner. On Oscar's lap a grimoire lay closed. The house was otherwise empty. Saint Jerome said in a consoling but firm tone, "You really can't blame them."

Oscar did not want to listen to the words that would inevitably be said. At the very least, he refused to respond to them.

"After all," asked the venerable saint, "Who does a globe of invulnerability really help?" He thought for a moment, then followed with two practical questions. "How many people can fit inside such a globe? Is there a limit to its radial dimension?"

Again, Oscar did not want to admit that a globe of invulnerability accommodated only one person, the caster.

Saint Jerome read the answer on his face. "How can that make the world a better place?"

Oscar frowned but did not protest. He accepted that he did not have all the answers yet. As unpleasant as they were, he needed these hard questions put to him so that he might derive methods to overcome the obstacles they pointed out.

Observing that his work was done, Saint Jerome stayed a while longer, just to allow his incorporeal presence to comfort the lonesome boy. Later, he sailed back to Heaven, where he exhorted the Powers That Be not to feel too great a disappointment with his apparent lack of progress.

written while listening to:  Pharoah Sanders - Karma (Impulse!/ABC Records, A-9181, 1969, United States, lp, discogs.com)

February 20, 2017

From the front window, Oscar noticed that a cherry laurel lining the street was in full bloom, its vibrant pink blossoms a vivid contrast to all the other trees that had not so much as proffered a leaf bud. It seemed impossible that the tree could have completed this transformation in a single night, but Oscar also felt sure that he could not have remained oblivious to such an explosion of color if there had been any intimation of it on the day before. He remembered from previous years that this was the first tree of the season to bloom, but, even then, it seemed to him that February was too early for such an outburst. Drawn to examine it more closely, he left the house. From the porch, the tree trunk seemed to disappear in a fragmented cloud, composed of petals that filled the spectrum from pale rose to deep pinkish violet. From his vantage point, this cloud was poorly framed by the bare branches of its peers and the gray background of the houses across the street. Because he was moved to view the flowers against the clear blue sky, Oscar walked beneath the tree and looked up. Only after he had stood there for a few seconds did his ears detect a constant, buzzing drone. Soon, he discovered the tree was filled with honey bees, which had been undetectable by sight or sound from a distance. He smelled no scent and wondered by what mechanism the bees had been attracted to the tree. In any case, he remained still for a while, beneath the tree, allowing the high-frequency reverberation to resonate through his skin and be dampened and absorbed by the substance of his body. It seemed unlikely to him that such a phenomenon as this combination of color and sound heralded nothing more than the coming of another spring but, for the life him, Oscar could not fathom what it might be.

written while listening to:  Mamoru Fujieda - Patterns of Plants (Tzadik, TZ 7025, 1997, United States, cd, discogs.com)

February 21, 2017

The keepers of The Grimoire of White Tyto have managed, for the time being, to prevent its contents from appearing on the internet. Less than ten copies have been known to exist through-out history and, today, only one is accounted for with any certainty. As a result, the spells held within its covers are not well circulated. One such spell, apophenia, causes the target to perceive meaning in random data. Of course, not all instances of apophenia draw on arcane energies. Mundane examples include seeing the face of a man or the outline of a rabbit in the contours of the moon's surface, or hearing subliminal messages when a vinyl record is played backward, or, dare we say, seeing the handiwork of a deity in the wreckage of tornadoes and other natural disasters.

As a spell, apophenia can be easily mis-categorized. One might mistakenly assume that such a spell belongs to the school of Illusion, for one sees what is not there, or, perhaps, to the school of Enchantment, for one might be susceptible to an argument in favor of some non-existent meaning. Other more cynical scholars have posited that apophenia is better housed in the school of Transmutation, because it is perception, rather than reality, that is more likely to transform the world. A minority suggest that apophenia is a spell of Conjuration, since it conjures meaning out of nothing. Others hold to an intrinsic association between apophenia and Necromancy, since death is the source of much speculative meaning.

As for Oscar, when he cast apophenia upon himself, he did so ignorant of its taxonomy; he desired only to hold to a noble purpose, even if it proved, under duress, to be a construct of his own imagination.

written while listening to:  Peter Brötzmann - Nothing to Say: A Suite of Breathless Motion (Free Music Production, FMP CD 73, 1996, Germany, cd, discogs.com)

February 22, 2017

For someone born in the middle of the fourth century A.D., an extraordinarily detailed account of Saint Jerome's life exists. It was a relatively simple matter for Oscar to learn of the subjects that Jerome studied in his youth (rhetoric and philosophy), the name of the Pope who baptized him (Liberius), and the many destinations of his travels (Antioch, Constantinople, Rome, Alexandria, Bethlehem to name but a few). Beginning in 375, Saint Jerome spent two years as a hermit in the desert of Chalcis on the Greek island of Euboea. It is recorded that his search for inner peace proved unsuccessful, as his knowledge of Latin served him poorly and because "he found desert food a penance". He relied on prayer and fasting to carry him through the experience. He did study Hebrew and Greek during this time. His earliest work, De septies percussa (Concerning Seven Beatings), contains the description of an execution in which the following remark of a witness is provided, "Behold, " the woman said, "a jewel has fallen from his shoulders." ("En tibi" ait mulier, "ex umero aurum ruit.") A near-fatal illness in the middle of the Lenten season in 375 prompted Jerome's celebrated dream, in which he was accused of following the philosophy of Cicero rather than Christ, and was flogged for it. As a result he swore never again to read pagan literature.

Oscar had a hard time making sense of the compact and dense account in which popes, hermits, fasting, sickness, decapitation, dreams, and books were presented in quick succession. He wondered if it was during his hermitage in the desert that Saint Jerome had first encountered the owl named White Tito, for both seemed to know each other well, as if a lengthy acquaintanceship linked them. It certainly did not occur to Oscar that it might have been he who had only recently brought the two together.

written while listening to:  Ellery Eskelin, Susan Alcorn & Michael Formanek - Mirage (Clean Feed, CF271CD, 2013, Portugal, cd, discogs.com)

February 23, 2017

With each passing day, Oscar became less willing to venture onto Omar's porch. On a Thursday afternoon, he finally put an idea, which had been incubating in the back of his mind for several weeks, into action. With the oversized laptop stuffed in his backpack, he pedaled his bicycle three miles, across the river, to the downtown library. He accepted that he was violating his mother's trust, for she had explicitly forbidden him from doing just this very thing. (The roads were too dangerous. The downtown was full of homeless and vagabonds.) In order to protect himself from such dangers, he wore a bike helmet and he spoke to no one. He followed the most direct route and locked his bicycle, with a U-lock through the frame and front wheel, at the parking rack directly in front of the library. Oscar looked down at his watch; it had taken him less than half an hour to make the trip. He calculated when he would have to leave in order to arrive home safely before his mother, who, he decided, never needed to know of his new internet arrangement.

With a mixture of exhilaration, trepidation and guilt, Oscar entered the library. He did his homework at a table near a power outlet. Afterward, with his computer securely against his back, he wandered through the aisles, idly fingering books. Although he left in plenty of time to get home, he had forgotten when the sun set. Therefore, he was forced to bicycle home in the dark. Twice on the bridge, cars sped past him, not a foot from his left shoulder. The bike shuddered with their passage. Once, the driver of a car honked at him in indignation as he passed, causing Oscar to jump and nearly crash. That he survived this harrowing journey could be attributed as much to a globe of invulnerability as to the more traditional guardian angel.

written while listening to:  George Lewis - Homage to Charles Parker (Black Saint Records, BSR 0029, 1979, Italy, lp, discogs.com)

February 24, 2017

On Friday, Oscar's mother did not work in the evening, so Oscar had a much shorter window in which he might revisit the downtown library. Although he was intent on returning, the perilous ride home was fresh in his memory; he decided not to press his luck. Besides, he did not have homework assigned over the weekend that necessitated access to the internet. Instead, he stayed at home and pulled a grimoire from his brother's much smaller but more narrowly focused library.

He examined spells related to travel between the various (and likely infinite) planes of existence. A famous example of such a spell was gate (Conjuration). With this spell, the caster opened a direct portal to another realm, through which one could travel or from which one could summon an extraplanar entity. The denizens of some planes were well known; a gate to Hell would summon a devil, a gate to the Abyss, a demon and a gate to Heaven, one variety of angel or another, perhaps a Dominion or a Virtue. A gate to other, less studied planes would produce some manner of creature as of yet unknown to the imaginations of men.

Almost instinctively, Oscar understood that he had no use of such spells. He could not imagine the mechanism by which a creature, wholly foreign to this physics-based reality, would have any better sense at molding the world into a better form, than he, as a native, did.

written while listening to:  Colin Stetson & Sarah Neufeld - Never Were The Way She Was (Constellation Records, CST113-1, 2015, Canada, lp, discogs.com)

February 25, 2017

Perhaps inspired by the president's recently issued implementation memorandum to expand categories of immigrants subject to deportation, Oscar also studied the Abjuration spells, dismissal and its more powerful version, banishment. Extraplanar creatures existing in this reality, whether they ventured here of their own accord or were summoned by means of a gate or analogous spell, were immediately and forcibly returned to their plane of origin. While dismissal affected only a single creature of limited power, banishment applied to multiple or more formidable beings. Neither spell was fool-proof; the chance of failure depended upon both the skills of the caster and the will of the target.

Having declared himself an Abjurer, Oscar spent much of the day contemplating how such spells could make the world a better place. It was possible, he supposed, that unbeknownst to him the world was swimming with undetectable spirits and other outsiders, who employed whatever mechanisms at their disposal to influence the world of the living, for better or worse, as was their wont. Given this premise, it was therefore conceivable, that ridding the world of the presence of those creatures who worked for ill, who sabotaged the plans of men and who relished in their misfortune, would improve the quality of life for all who had labored under their multitudinous curses.

Even Oscar, as he imagined himself in this role, had trouble not thinking of this endeavor as the calling of a lunatic. It gave him pause since he suspected the ability to be a force for good was limited if one was universally perceived as crazy.

written while listening to:  Joëlle Léandre - Solo (Kadima Collective, Triptych #3, 2011, Israel, cd+dvd+book, discogs.com)

February 26, 2017

After Oscar's mother had gone to work, he again entertained the idea of bicycling to the downtown library. He knew that the library didn't open until noon on Sundays, so he delayed his departure. As it turned out, his mother returned home early, fortunately before he had left. His mother's second job had come about as a result of a manager's optimistic view that business was picking up and would continue to do so. She had spent her first month learning to use a new database software, filling out the various forms and adapting to the particular filing procedures of the company. At the end of the first month of her employment, business had not picked up as much as had been anticipated. In fact they had lost a key contract they had considered secure. The manager found what Oscar's mother thought to be a relatively minor error in some of her paperwork but took advantage of it to correct for what had perhaps been a premature human resources decision. He had greeted her that morning with a dour expression on his face. Although the experience was new to her, she knew instinctively that she was being let go.

She came home to find Oscar lying on the couch, still in his pajamas, reading a book.

"Why are you home so early?" he asked. He sensed her tension as she searched for the right words. Without her answering, the son rose, set down his book, and executed perfectly the spell known colloquially as reminding someone of what's important in life, the somatic component of which is a hug.

written while listening to:  Aube - Cardiac Strain (Alien8 Recordings, ALIENCD2, 1997, Canada, cd, discogs.com)

February 27, 2017

On Monday, the day of the moon, White Tito took it upon himself to teach Oscar a new spell. That such direct intervention was called for seemed indisputable given Oscar's innate hardheadedness. White Tito had never met a boy for whom wisdom came so unnaturally. At times it seemed to the owl that his charge was intentionally obtuse, as if he thought that refusing to accept the world on its own terms, distasteful though they may be, was an act of honorable defiance.

The spell, which White Tito taught to Oscar, hailed from a long forgotten school of magic, one no longer counted among the eight, contemporary schools. Ancient adherents to the school of Apotheosis had held that magic should be used to gird and enhance phenomena already at work in the physical world, accentuating features and making life more life-like than life. White Tito did not share this belief. Instead, he chose a spell from its equally archaic house of opposition, Antithetical Apotheosis, in which the function of magic was to hold the subversive and demeaning invitation of reality in check, often via inscrutable pathways. From this rarefied school, on a Monday afternoon, while lying on his side on the damp earth of the backyard, Oscar learned the spell, globe of vulnerability, the purpose of which needs no explanation.

written while listening to:  Hans Reichel - The Death of the Rare Bird Ymir (Free Music Productions, FMP 0640, 1979, Germany, lp, discogs.com)

February 28, 2017

Despite the fact that his mother was only working one job, Oscar remained determined to visit the library again. That she would be home much earlier just tightened the schedule and ensured that he would make the return trip during daylight hours. He hurried out of school and left on his bicycle immediately, arriving just before 4:00 PM. He had at most an hour. He resumed the spot at the table next to the outlet and first tended to his homework. In the half hour that remained, Oscar again wandered through the aisles. He felt somewhat conspicuous. Several times he looked over his shoulder, suspecting that one or another librarian was paying undue attention to him. In the young adult section, the middle-aged woman sitting behind a desk, seemed to have an inviting look on her face, as if she were hoping Oscar would come to her with a request for help that she might be able to both pass the time and demonstrate her usefulness. Oscar did not oblige her. He did possess a library card but had no intention of checking out a book, since its presence at home would be difficult to explain to his mother.

On the second floor, Oscar sat for a while in the psychology section. It must have been an unusual place to find a youth, for a librarian, pushing a book cart, eyed him suspiciously when she almost ran into him. This librarian, in her early twenties, was attired in a "gothic" manner. All of her clothes were black; a thick silver band adorned with a skull served as a bracelet on one arm. Her eyes were lined in black and a dozen studs pierced her ears, nose and brow. Her hair was dyed an outrageous shade of blue, except for the roots which had grown in light brown. Oscar did his best to act nonchalantly and moved to another section, out of her sight.

written while listening to:  Muhal Richard Abrams & Amina Claudine Myers - Duet (Black Saint Records, BSR 0051, 1981, Italy, lp, discogs.com)

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