The Poison Pie Publishing House presents:
2017: The Year of the Every-Day Magician
(link to main page of novel)
David J. Keffer
March 1, 2017
The Catholic School celebrated Ash Wednesday with the students in dress uniforms. Although Oscar was not Roman Catholic he stood in line with the other students during the morning mass and allowed the priest to inscribe with a dirty thumb a smudged cross of ashes on his forehead. Each time he did so, the priest intoned from Genesis 3:19, "You were born of dust and to dust you shall return."
The ceremony reminded Oscar of two spells that he had recently come across in his studies. Both were drawn from the school of Transmutation. The first was feast of ashes in which the target was cursed with an insatiable hunger. No amount of eating, even unto nausea, could assuage the sensation. With the other spell, disintegrate, from the caster's pointed finger a thin, green ray emerged which reduced to dust any creature so unfortunate as to be struck.
To be informed by a man of God that he would inevitably succumb to disintegration comforted Oscar because it accorded with much of the ill-defined anxiety that was already circulating inside his head.
written while listening to: Steve Lacy & Evan Parker - Chirps (Free Music Productions, FMP CD 29, 1991 (originally recorded 1985 and released 1986), Germany, cd, discogs.com)
March 2, 2017
Although he did not have any assignment that required internet access, Oscar returned to the downtown library after school on Thursday. Instead of taking a seat at the spot on the table near the outlet, he proceeded directly to the second floor. He had several call numbers for works of non-fiction. His pace was neither brisk nor languid; he enjoyed spending time in the library but had to arrive home before his mother.
With his gaze fixed at the top row, scanning the spines of books, he turned a corner and inadvertently bumped into the same woman who had nearly run him over with a book cart two days earlier. It appeared that she had been quietly crouched in the aisle for some time, absorbed in a book.
"Watch where you're going!" she snapped at him. Her unnatural, blue hair gave an unworldly aspect to the command. Her eyes he noticed were a soft brown and seemed to convey a contrasting message.
Oscar apologized. She had no nametag. He thought of her as the 'gothic librarian'.
She rose to her feet and glared at him. Nodding at the sheet with call numbers in Oscar's hand, she asked in a slightly less harsh voice, "What are you looking for?"
Oscar reluctantly handed over the note. The book at the top of the list was located precisely adjacent to the empty slot, which had held the book that the gothic librarian had been reading moments before. She pulled it out and looked at the title. "This?" she asked skeptically, sure that a mistake had been made.
Oscar glanced at the title. It was a concordance to Liber AL vel Legis, or The Book of the Law, written by the occultist Aleister Crowley in 1904. "Yes, that's the one," Oscar replied, taking the book from the librarian's hand before retreating to a quiet corner to read it.
written while listening to: André Goudbeek, Peter Jacquemyn & Lê Quan Ninh - Uwaga (Not Two Records, MW 859-2, 2011, Poland, cd, discogs.com)
March 3, 2017
The Roman Catholic Church defined Fridays during the season of Lent as days of abstinence, in which meat was avoided altogether and the total amount of food consumed was reduced. At school, the first Friday of Lent was observed in the cafeteria with the serving of fish sticks. Oscar, whose mother prepared him a lunch each morning containing a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, was not impacted by this change in menu.
However, Oscar had been giving considerable thought to the issue of fasting. At mass, the priest had provided a homily, in which he made it clear that, during the season of Lent, one followed in Christ's footsteps in memory of his period of forty days of fasting in the desert. As a student in the school of Abjuration, Oscar was inclined to think of fasting in a positive light, for in the rejection of food one repudiated a world governed by the machinery of metabolism, biology, need and physics. It had been Christ's intention to improve the lot of humanity. In fasting, Oscar saw a juxtaposition consistent with the oath he had taken on the first day of the year--namely to invoke fantasy in making the world a better place.
He resolved not to eat his lunch, any of it. Because his mother had taught him never to throw food away, he announced to his classmates at the table that his lunch was up for grabs. Without a single question, each item was snatched up with a few moments. Later in the day, the rumbling of his stomach seemed, curiously, to communicate no pain whatsoever.
written while listening to: Barre Phillips - Journal Violone (Opus One, number 2, United States, 1968, lp, discogs.com)
March 4, 2017
Oscar had continued his fast through dinner on Friday night. His mother had asked whether he was not feeling well. He neither wanted to lie to her nor did he desire to admit the truth. He chose to simultaneously nod and shake his head in an intentionally ambiguous manner, as he retreated to his room. He was guided in this matter, by the Gospel according to Matthew,
16And when you fast, be not as the hypocrites, sad. For they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Amen I say to you, they have received their reward. 17But thou, when thou fastest anoint thy head, and wash thy face; 18That thou appear not to men to fast, but to thy Father who is in secret: and thy Father who seeth in secret, will repay thee.*
On Saturday morning, Oscar saw no reason not to continue his fast. The hunger pangs were only a necessary manifestation of a path toward utter abjuration. He entertained the idea that he was not working hard enough. Perhaps, there were other activities from which he could refrain. Speaking came next to mind. Some monks took vows of silence to remove themselves from the errors of the world. Oscar clearly accepted that extending his fast to include a vow of silence was untenable; he had the needs of his mother to consider.
If he could not give up speaking in an act of Lenten penitence, perhaps there was something else. The thought of giving up breathing altogether crossed his mind, if only momentarily, a passing whim in the idle daydreams of a child waylaid by nothing more serious than chance circumstance.
*Matthew 6:16-18, Douay-Rheims Bible, full text: biblehub.com.
written while listening to: Ikue Mori, Robert Quine & Marc Ribot - Painted Desert (Avant Records, Avan 030, 1995, Japan, cd, discogs.com)
March 5, 2017
Although it is not frequently cited as the pivotal episode in the life of Christ, Oscar imagined that Christ had gone out into the desert to fast in pursuit of goals not all that dissimilar to those of the abjurer. Having lived as a man for thirty years, Christ had ample time to see what the world had to offer and to form an opinion of it. If one judged the ways of the world to be unacceptable, one might, through such a retreat, remove oneself from them. Over a period of forty days, one might cleanse the body and the put oneself in the appropriate frame of mind to figure out what to do next. After fasting, the devil had tempted Christ, but he had already renounced the world, during if not before his isolation; there was nothing in what Satan offered that could appeal to him, or so Oscar reasoned. Following this period of introspection, Christ resolved to begin the ministry that, in three years, would result in his death. In this light, one could better understand the conscious choice to walk down a path toward self-destruction because it was a natural extension to the rejection of the amoral premise of the world.
In Oscar's case, he could not duplicate this decision. With the loss of her second job, his mother was no longer working on Sunday. When he refused, as discreetly as possible, breakfast and then lunch, she was sure that something was wrong with his health. Faced with her insistence that she take him immediately to the emergency room, Oscar relented and ended his fast. He marched obediently to the kitchen table, where he ate his lunch in full, under his mother's careful supervision.
written while listening to: Masada - Gimel (DIW Records, DIW-890, 1994, Japan, cd, discogs.com)
March 6, 2017
Monday almost passed without fanfare. Oscar distributed his lunch to his classmates as before. After school, despite a prevailing drizzle, he bicycled to the downtown library. Arriving damp but in high spirits, he made his way to the second floor and headed directly for the occult section. There he found, almost as if she was waiting to ambush him, the gothic librarian. Garbed in black tights and a tight, black skirt, her shoulders were crossed by numerous straps supporting various garments covering her chest and torso, not all of which Oscar knew the purpose for. She bore all the accoutrements, jewelry and make-up, of the role.
In her hand, the librarian held open a book containing, among other writings, the brief text of Liber AL vel Legis, a book which provided several touchstones of modern-day occultism. She quoted, "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law."* She raised her eyes and, with a piercing gaze asked, "Is this the anarchy you are seeking?" Her voice, which had possessed a solemnity as she recited from the book, had, with the question, adopted a more critical tone.
Oscar made no reply, neither by gesture nor by word.
The gothic librarian interpreted this as an invitation to continue. A second time she quoted, "Compassion is the vice of kings: stamp down the wretched and the weak: this is the law of the strong: this is our law and the joy of the world."** She asked again, "Is this the brutality you are seeking?"
The boy's response perplexed the woman. She had expected a hasty denunciation. Instead, she discovered an inscrutable, infuriating smile fixed upon his face, for he found in her the most interesting librarian whom he was ever to meet. Before they could speak further, she was paged over the intercom. She folded the book closed and disappeared down the steps.
*Crowley, Aleister, Liber AL vel Legis, (The Book of the Law), Chapter I, verse 40, written April 8-10, 1904 in Cairo, Egypt,
full text: sacred-texts.com.
**Ibid, Chapter II, verse 21.
written while listening to: Naked City - Leng Tch'e (Toy's Factory, TFCK-88604, 1992, Japan, cd, discogs.com)
March 7, 2017
In her junior year of college, when she was pursuing a dual degree program in Library Sciences and Religious Studies, the gothic librarian had, after careful reflection, legally changed her name to Amanita Virosa. For those readers who are not mycologists, Amanita virosa is the scientific name of a toxic mushroom commonly known as the destroying angel. In appearance, it is a small, unassuming white mushroom. The destroying angel is responsible for a majority of deaths due to the ingestion of toxic mushrooms. The active agent is a member of a family of biological compounds, known to science as amatoxins, which contain eight amino-acid residues arranged in a macrobicyclic motif. Amatoxins inhibit the activity of the enzymes, RNA polymerase II and III, resulting in irreversible damage to the liver and kidneys.
One struggles to find similarities between our gothic librarian and her namesake. In appearance, she is not unassuming, having pierced her face and body in unconventional places and having adopted a mode of dress modestly outside the mainstream. In terms of toxicity, there is little one could describe as poisonous about her; she is quiet and thoughtful. She takes pride in carefully performing the duties of the librarian. However, the greatest discrepancy between Amanita the gothic librarian and Amanita the toxic mushroom is that the Destroying Angel who seeks to rid the world of the great pestilence of humanity found a secure cache to store its venom in otherwise innocuous fungi but found no safe harbor from which to express its destructive will in a mild bibliophile. Amanita can be considered, as a consequence, a conflicted individual.
written while listening to: Nicole Mitchell, Tomeka Reid & Mike Reed - Artifacts (482 Music, 482-1093, 2015, United States, cd, discogs.com)
March 8, 2017
Amanita's schedule at the library was relatively fixed, though it varied from time to time, especially during the summer when the library manager juggled hours to cover vacations. On Wednesdays, Amanita usually worked from noon until the closing of the library at nine o'clock p.m. Instead of heading home, she drove to her boyfriend's apartment.
Amanita's boyfriend also adorned himself in the trappings of a gothic rocker. He had attended the same university as Amanita and worked there now as an IT specialist, tending to servers out of sight of students and faculty. When Amanita legally changed her name, he had briefly considered doing the same, but ultimately chose to retain the name that his mother had bestowed upon him at birth, Rufus, which means red-haired. In truth, the name fit him well, though, like Amanita, he often dyed his hair, hiding its appealing, natural color.
Rufus and Amanita were, in the parlance of national polls, college-educated whites, living in an overwhelmingly conservative state. Their mode of dress was intended to visually convey a rejection of conformity, in itself a liberal declaration. Where Amanita tended to keep her political views to herself, Rufus enjoyed exaggerating his position to annoy conservatives as much as possible. For instance, regardless of the company in which he found himself, Rufus exclusively referred to the president as Douchebag J. Troglodyte. For those who are not aficionados of fantastic creatures, troglodytes are backward, subterranean cave-dwellers, renowned for their repulsive stench. For those unfamiliar with feminine hygiene, a douchebag is a small syringe used for cleaning the vagina. If someone had asked Rufus what the J. stood for, which no one yet had, he was prepared to state that it stood for Joseph, as in Joseph Stalin, appropriate for both the collusion of the president's campaign with the Russian government and for the president's own personal affection for authoritarianism.
written while listening to: Jack DeJohnette - Made In Chicago (ECM Records, ECM 2392, 2015, Germany, cd, discogs.com)
March 9, 2017
On Thursday, Amanita and Rufus went out late with another couple to a restaurant, which remained open well past midnight. The woman seemed agitated. As soon as she sat down across the table from Amanita, she began to recount how a recently hired co-worker kept staring at her in an indecent way. Even in the relative security to be found among friends, she grew upset as she recalled the episodes. The woman concluded, "I don't know if I can say anything to my boss, because it hasn't exactly risen to the level of harassment."
During the account, Amanita had mentally prepared a response, both scathing in its condemnation of the ogler and sympathetic to her friend. Before she could speak, she was interrupted by Rufus, who had been listening.
"Well," said Rufus, "you know what our commander-in-chief would advise." He ignored Amanita's attempts to silence him. "President Troglodyte says, and I quote, (here Rufus adjusted the pitch and speed of his delivery to sound presidential) 'And when you're a star, they let you do it. You can do anything...Grab 'em by the p--'"*
"Rufus!" shouted Amanita, "That's not helping!"
"But it's absolutely true," Rufus said, defending himself. He glanced over at Amanita's friend, who had lowered her eyes, unhappy at having had her story upstaged by the misogyny of the president.
One understands from this exchange, that the merits of truth, while great and certainly more expansive than the merits of untruth, have limits. These limits result from a sense of discretion or decorum. Amanita found in Rufus' words, just as in those of Aleister Crowley, a conundrum. In her life, she had adopted a position in which she willingly rejected conventions that seemed superficial and false in favor of directly confronting the facts, yet, when taken to an extreme, it seemed this approach was at least as unpalatable as the problem it sought to remedy.
*from the unedited transcript of the 2005 conversation between Donald J. Trump and Billy Bush of Access Hollywood; New York Times, posted October 8, 2016.
written while listening to: Globe Unity Orchestra + Guests - Baden-Baden '75 (Free Music Production, FMP CD 137, 2011 (originally recorded 1975), Germany, cd, discogs.com)
March 10, 2017
Amanita had Friday night off but she did not stop by Rufus' apartment after he got off work, as she was still irritated with him for his behavior of the night before. He called her and invited her to come over. Before Amanita accepted his invitation, he began railing in a rather lackadaisical manner, free of emotion or invective, regarding the president's unsubstantiated claims of having his phones wire-tapped by the previous president, new state challenges to the president's second immigration order, which Rufus described as Muslim Ban 2.0, and the newly revealed Republican health care bill, Trumpcare-Less. Amanita remained silent during the meandering diatribe, until Rufus decided she wasn't listening to him. "What are you thinking about?" he asked.
Amanita had let her mind wander. It had settled on the boy in the occult section to whom she had read two passages from Crowley; she did not know his name. She described the scene to Rufus, who was surprised that she had not done so earlier. He found her stories of discovering men hidden in the aisles of the second floor of the library entertaining; they were usually perverts of one kind or another. He was disappointed that the boy seemed only a boy and that her story lacked a satisfying gotcha! ending.
"Boring," he intoned.
Amanita laughed. This was the frankness she enjoyed from Rufus. He persuaded her to come over. Rufus made a baked tilapia for dinner, though he gave no thought to the fact that it was a Lenten Friday and thus fish should rightly have been substituted for meat. They watched a mediocre movie on his television. After the movie he played a love song for her on an old acoustic guitar, something he did only infrequently and then poorly, and she spent the night.
written while listening to: The Ornette Coleman Double Quartet - Free Jazz (Atlantic Records, SD 1364, 1961, United States, lp, discogs.com)
March 11, 2017
Amanita kept an eye out for the boy as she worked on Saturday in order that she might finish that duty which she had already begun. When she observed him enter the library, she picked up the same book she had read from days earlier and moved briskly upstairs to the occult section. She waited only a few minutes, until he arrived in the narrow aisle. He too seemed to have been seeking her out.
"I have one more passage for you to hear," said the librarian.
"I've already read the whole thing," replied the boy. He leaned back and looked nervously to either side of the aisle.
The librarian opened the book to her bookmark and read, as if the boy had not spoken at all. "Let Mary inviolate be torn upon wheels: for her sake let all chaste women be utterly despised among you!"* She raised her eyes from the page to the boy's expressionless face. "Is this the sacrilege you are seeking?"
At that moment, the boy's mother turned the corner and, spotting Oscar, took a step into the aisle. "There you are," she said. "It took me forever to find a parking space."
Her gaze rose from her son to the gothic librarian standing with an open book conspicuously close to him. A question formed on her lips. Before she had the chance to ask it, the boy said, "No, thank you. I don't think that is what I am looking for." He turned and abruptly left the aisle. With a confused look on her face, no more suspicious than apologetic, the mother trailed after the boy.
Amanita sighed; she felt better knowing that someone was looking after the boy's interests. He need not rely entirely on the generosity of the Destroying Angel for his education.
*Crowley, Aleister, Liber AL vel Legis, (The Book of the Law), Chapter III, verse 55, written April 8-10, 1904 in Cairo, Egypt,
full text: sacred-texts.com.
written while listening to: PainKiller - Guts of a Virgin (Toy's Factory, TFCK-88561, 1991, Japan, cd, discogs.com)
March 12, 2017
Necromancy, like many subjects sacred and profane, can be separated into two disciplines, one tending to corporal matters and the other to the spiritual domain. The most widely known act of necromancers of the body is that for which they are most reviled, namely the desecration of a corpse such that it is reanimated in a state of undeath. Hundreds of forms of undeath exist, scattered across cultures, a few popularized as skeletons, zombies, ghosts, mummies and vampires. The objection to the work of corporal necromancers is not only that they pervert the natural order but also that the creatures arising from such ceremonies are almost exclusively engaged in acts of evil. An exception to the rule occasionally occurs in a lachrymose ghost, keen only to share its suffering, though this too is often perceived as inimical intervention of the supernatural.
Spiritual necromancers, on the other hand, gain power through communication with the dead. Mediums who speak with the dead do well to eschew the label of necromancer, owing to the nefarious reputation of their corporal colleagues.
Of a necessity, necromancers who require access to physical bodies frequent crypts, cemeteries and morgues. Necromancers of the mind also seek vaults, but only those in which the words of the dead are stored. Great repositories of such knowledge attract necromancers of this kind, where they can pore over tomes of men and women who died as many as two millennia or more in the past. Surprising to some, libraries serve this purpose very well, for the authors of many books in a common library are dead. Amanita, our gothic librarian, explicitly recognized that, when she read works--regardless of the content--penned by one no longer living, the dead spoke to her, an inviolate act of spiritual necromancy.
written while listening to: Sunn O))) - Live White (aRCHIVE, archive 7+7.5, 2004, United States, cdr+mini-cdr, discogs.com)
March 13, 2017
It so happened that this year the spring break of the Catholic and public schools coincided, so all children had the week off from school. Oscar's mother, however, did not have any time off. She apologetically encouraged Oscar to enjoy his free days. He nodded dutifully when she suggested that he see what Omar was up to. He waited until the library opened at nine o'clock to bicycle downtown.
There the tutelage of the abjurer under the necromancer began in earnest. "Are you willing to read anything?" she asked the boy, as they sat across from each other at a wooden table on the second floor.
Oscar considered his promise to the priest that he would refrain from apocrypha until he had finished the Bible, a task which remained incomplete. (He had not considered Crowley's heretical text to fall under the narrow definition of apocrypha: biblical writings not included as accepted canon of Scripture.) When he mentioned this reservation to the necromancer, she waved the objection away, as if it were nothing. "Then we'll start with the Bible," she said. "In what aspect of it are you interested?"
While the boy's answer was not what the librarian had expected, she replied only, "A happy coincidence, the Bible has something to say on that subject."
8All things are hard: man cannot explain them by word. The eye is not filled with seeing, neither is the ear filled with hearing. 9What is it that hath been? the same thing that shall be. What is it that hath been done? the same that shall be done. 10Nothing under the sun is new, neither is any man able to say: Behold this is new: for it hath already gone before in the ages that were before us. 11There is no remembrance of former things: nor indeed of those things which hereafter are to come, shall there be any remembrance with them that shall be in the latter end.*
*Ecclesiastes 1:8-11, Douay-Rheims Bible, full text: biblehub.com.
written while listening to: MASS - Mass (Paratactile, PLE 1102-2, 1998, United Kingdom, cd, discogs.com)
March 14, 2017
Oscar returned to the downtown library on Tuesday to continue his studies. Amanita worked during this time. She spent only a few minutes now and then, delivering a book or checking up on him. Still, her influence could not be understated. They did at least, at this late stage, exchange names.
She did not understand what drove Oscar. She consciously did not assume that what had driven her at that age could automatically be transferred to her pupil. She chose to allow the boy to describe to her his motivations on his own terms and according to his own time frame. Amanita accepted that she might never know what induced him to seek this knowledge, but she was easily reconciled to that possibility. In many cases, not knowing was preferable to knowing.
The boy read voraciously. When it was time for lunch, she asked him if he had brought anything to eat. Oscar indicated that his mother had made him a lunch and it was in his backpack. Of course, food was prohibited in all areas of the library save the commons room. She offered to lead Oscar there but he claimed that he knew the way.
A minute or two later, she discreetly peered into the commons, only to observe the boy curiously offering his lunch to a homeless man, seated on a sofa and reading a newspaper. The man readily accepted the bagged lunch. Amanita mistakenly interpreted this as an act of charity rather than one of abjuration, as it had been intended.
written while listening to: Wadada Leo Smith & TUMO - Occupy The World (TUM Records, TUM CD 037-2, 2013, Finland, cdx2, discogs.com)
March 15, 2017
On Wednesday, Odin the One-Eyed Wanderer smiled upon Oscar in an hour of need. Oscar waited to travel to the library until noon, when he thought that Amanita began work. However, upon arrival he discovered she was not there. He dared not ask the other librarians if she was scheduled to work that day; he wanted to draw no attention to the fact that he was an unaccompanied minor. He found his spot next to the power outlet, where he pulled his laptop from his backpack and set to work, reading texts that had been assigned him but were not available as physical books (which he greatly preferred) in the library.
On the way home, as he crossed the bridge, a group of high-school-aged boys swerved to buzz him as they passed, shouting words made unintelligible by their high speed. It startled Oscar greatly and he ran into the concrete side-rail, crashing to a halt. He rolled to absorb the blow, but still blood flowed freely from his left knee. If the passengers in the offending vehicle were aware of the accident they had caused, they did not stop to investigate. At this point, Odin intervened and granted Oscar the strength to push himself up, examine the bicycle and, judging it still functional, pedal home. He could conceive of no other alternative.
At home, Oscar bandaged himself as best he could with supplies from the first-aid kit. With some trepidation, he opened his backpack. It turned out that his anxiety was well-warranted. Having landed on his back, the screen of the monitor had taken the worst of the impact and shattered. When Oscar tried to power up the machine, only one sad red light above the keyboard shown, neither blinking nor mercifully receding with time.
written while listening to: Xper. Xr. & the Orphic Orchestra - Voluptuous MUSICK (Sound Factory, SFCD : 001, 1992, Hong Kong, cd, discogs.com)
March 16, 2017
The pain in his leg and the fear of another collision proved insufficient to prevent Oscar from returning to the library. It was as if he was a man possessed.
He could not hide his limp from Amanita, who inquired as to how he had hurt himself. He replied only that he had crashed on his bike, providing no additional details of the harrowing event. When the gothic librarian handed him the reading list that she had prepared, containing numerous entries available only electronically, Oscar was forced to confess that he had also irreparably damaged his laptop in the crash. A flash of sympathy may have crossed the necromancer's face though she said no words to betray it. Instead she asked a question at best peripherally related, "Do you have any friends?"
Oddly, Oscar replied, "I am a member of the Renegades of the American Muslim Registry." As he explained that the group was formed to resist the president's campaign promise to create such a list, he neglected to mention his own probationary status within the group.
"Are you a Muslim?"
"Of course not," Oscar replied. "The whole point is to fill the registry with people of all kinds. Would you like to join?" The offer emerged from his mouth without thinking.
Although Amanita was by disposition not a joiner, this particular invitation and the boy who extended it appealed to her. "Yes," she replied, "I would be honored to count myself among the noble men and women in the ranks of the Renegades of the American Muslim Registry."
written while listening to: Julius Hemphill & Peter Kowald - Live At Kassiopeia (NoBusiness Records, NBCD 35/36, 2011 (originally recorded 1987), Lithuania, cdx2, discogs.com)
March 17, 2017
Amanita and Oscar approached St. Patrick's Day with very different attitudes. The night before, Amanita dyed her hair a shockingly bright and unnatural shade of green. When she arrived at the library on the following morning, her co-workers, who had donned green sweaters or bows, laughed with delight. Oscar, on the other hand, ruminated over the bishop's proclamation, published in the newspaper, that the traditional abstention from meat required on Lenten Fridays could be overlooked, owing to the fact that a holiday, in which corned beef was the traditional fare, fell on Friday. Oscar chose to abjure corned beef (though none was offered him). His disdain for the bishop, who must have harbored a low opinion of the commitment of the members of his diocese, grew.
The abjurer and the necromancer met again in the library. Oscar wore no green and received a good-natured pinch on the arm, which elicited not the slightest of grins. The necromancer turned immediately business-like and handed him a convoluted tome, titled Destiny and Control in Human Systems, by a twentieth-century philosopher.
Immersed in the words of a dead man for much of the day, Oscar emerged with but one lingering message.
In fact, our greatest contribution to others, and to our self-development as well, lies in the direction of developing precisely along the lines where our greatest uniqueness lies.*
This message, obviously important to the gothic librarian, was able to find only the most tenuous of holds in the young boy's mind. He perceived the words to be poorly aligned with the principles of abjuration and suspected the necromancer of trying to mislead him.
*Musès, Charles, Destiny and Control in Human Systems, Kluwer-Nijhoff Publishing, Boston, 1985, p. 171.
written while listening to: Julien Omeyer - COMPROVISE(d) II: wander, waver, water and wind (Earn Your Ears Records, EYE-06CD0101, 2006, France, cd, discogs.com)
March 18, 2017
On Saturday, no further learning could take place, for Oscar was utterly disoriented by the early arrival of a stranger to their home. His mother welcomed her through their front door, as if she was expected. She was a realtor. She said things like, "Spring is here! It's the season to sell! We'll wait until the dogwoods are in bloom for the showing! It'll be lovely! This is such a desirable neighborhood! If we list it for a reasonable price, it'll sell on day one! Of course, we won't do that. We'll price it high and see what we can get, don't you think?" Her gaze clouded over as she lost herself in dreams of a bidding war.
Oscar listened in horror to each exclamatory phrase. It was stupid of him not to have thought that they would have to move, after his mother lost her second job--a job she had taken for the explicit purpose of keeping the house. Oscar retreated to his room and closed the door. He felt as if a dagger had been plunged into his heart and at the same time as if his stomach was going to violently rebel.
He couldn't leave this house. If he moved, he would lose his ties to the Renegades of the American Muslim Registry. Without proximity to Omar, the likelihood that some chance encounter would repair their relationship diminished greatly. The Registry was the mechanism by which he was to invoke fantasy to make the world a better place and prove his father's judgment wrong. None of this could come to pass, conjectured Oscar, if they moved. What spell could he cast on the realtor to thwart her vile plot?
written while listening to: Greg Kelley, Tatsuya Nakatani & Curt Newton - Field Recordings, Volume One: The Birthday (Intransitive Recordings, INT011, 1999, United States, cd, discogs.com)
March 19, 2017
On Sunday, a new fear crept into Oscar's mind. What would happen to his brother's grimoires when they moved? He had to protect them. It was the closest thing he could imagine to a sacred duty.
To the mother, the son said, "It is time for me to take charge of my brother's books." These words stunned the mother, for they hit her without forewarning. In her confusion, the mother imagined that the son sought to intentionally make more difficult the transition associated with selling the old home and moving to a new by intermingling it with residual grief.
"Is now the time for this?" asked the mother of the son. Receiving no reply, she began to describe to him the emotional conflict that she too experienced in the selling of this home in which her elder son had lived and died. She insisted that the elder brother's spirit no longer dwelt in this house. To her way of thinking, the mother and surviving son were not abandoning him or his memory.
These words were too painful for the younger son to bear. He clapped his hands over his ears and raced to the shrine of his brother's room. Once inside, he slammed the door and locked it behind him. He grabbed a grimoire from the shelves and cast the spell, aphasia (Enchantment), upon himself. For the duration of the spell, the target was utterly prevented from understanding language, rendering unintelligible the reasoning of the mother from behind the door.
written while listening to: Carpet Floor - Hovering Pillows (Forehead Eye Records, FE-2, 2007 (originally recorded 2003 and 2004), United States, cd, discogs.com)
March 20, 2017
For most students, Monday marked the first day of school after spring break. However, for Oscar, it marked the renewal of a pattern of reduced learning, for little that was introduced to him in class seemed to illuminate his mind as did the reading assigned by the gothic librarian. Therefore, after the closing bell, he bicycled directly from the school to the downtown library. Surprisingly, he found her empty-handed. Garbed in wooly black tights, much at odds with a spring-like floral sundress, she asked, "What shall we study this week, Oscar?"
He fixed the green-haired woman with a strange look then answered promptly, "Abjuration, of course." It was inconceivable that they could have plumbed the depths of what the dead had to say on the topic of abjuration in a matter of a week.
"Of course," agreed the necromancer.
"But..." said Oscar, reconsidering, "Perhaps, we could take a day for a minor digression."
"Of what sort?"
"I need to sabotage the efforts of a realtor."
Amanita took a moment to absorb the meaning of the unexpected statement. A slight smirk appeared to curve the edges of her painted lips. "I assume you are hoping for something more creative than arson?" A full smile followed, belying the seriousness of her words.
To her dismay, the abjurer seemed to take her words at face value. He grew silent as if weighing the advantages and disadvantages of the proposition put forward by an agent of the Destroying Angel.
written while listening to: Nicole Mitchell's Black Earth Ensemble - Xenogenesis Suite: A Tribute To Octavia Butler (Firehouse 12 Records, FH12-04-01-006, 2008, United States, cd, discogs.com)
March 21, 2017
Amanita was disappointed with herself. The vernal equinox had come and gone the day before and she had not celebrated it. Rather, she had become immersed in the ordinary routine of work and life, and had allowed her attention to lapse. She worked many days but the first day of spring came only once each year. She supposed that there should have been a bacchanal. Why had she not received an invitation to a springtime bacchanal? Why had she not organized one herself and sent out forty invitations? She did not like the answers that bubbled to the surface of her mind. She had fallen into a rut; she took the passage of time for granted.
Before heading to work, Amanita spent an hour at a park. Although it had crossed her mind, she did not bring wine. The sky was overcast; thunderstorms were predicted for much of the afternoon, so the park was empty. She noted that spring had not made tremendous progress since its harbingers, daffodils and cherry laurels, had first arrived over a month ago. The field was covered with a fragile layer of new clover, arranged in patches where the grass had been worn thin during the previous year. When the growing season for grass resumed, the clover would not withstand its advance.
Some readers may find a necromancer who seeks out joy in spring blossoms to be a contradiction. Necromancy, after all, is the study of interaction with the dead. But the flowers, had they yet bloomed, would then die in turn. The presentiment of death, inseparable from living processes, was always present for those intent on perceiving it. Our necromancer had learned much from the words of the dead. She knew better than to forget the schedule of gifts in the turning of the cosmic wheel.
written while listening to: Ingrid Laubrock, Liam Noble & Tom Rainey - Sleepthief (Intakt Records, Intakt CD 146, 2008, Switzerland, cd, discogs.com)
March 22, 2017
Not all works espousing, in whole or in part, Abjuration, to which Oscar was exposed, can be recounted here. What became clear to him, however, was that for thousands of years the school of Abjuration had maintained an attraction for people from all corners of the world. The Heart Sutra of the Perfection of Wisdom, for which the earliest texts date from the middle of the seventh century A.D., demonstrated that adherents of Buddhism were not immune to the lure.
In the first week of the year, we quoted from this text, demonstrating that this sutra identified itself as a spell. Here, Oscar focused on a different phrase, which employed language similar to that found in the verses from Ecclesiastes, for much the same purpose.
There is no eye, no ear, no nose, no tongue, no body, nor mind; no sight, no sound, no smell, no taste, no touch, nor object of mind. There is no realm of sight, no realm of sound, nor smell, nor taste, nor touch, nor realm of mind-consciousness.
There is no ignorance and no extinction of ignorance. There is no old age and death, nor cessation of old age and death. There is no suffering, no causes of suffering, and no cessation of suffering. There is no path, no wisdom, no attaining wisdom, and no not-attaining it.*
This was, of course, the inherent magic of Abjuration. Everything was reduced to nothing, including nothing. Although he read and reread the short sutra, Oscar lacked the intuition to move from this declaration to the ability to harness the magic. In his frustration, he imagined that a proper name for the spell might aid him in this endeavor.
*The Heart Sutra of the Perfection of Wisdom, full text: poisonpie.com, narrated: poisonpie.com.
written while listening to: Fennesz - Venice (Touch Records, TO:53, 2004, United Kingdom, cd, discogs.com)
March 23, 2017
On Thursday, when Oscar arrived at the library, Amanita handed him a thin, worn volume, the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, written in the latter half of the second century A.D. When the gothic librarian explained to Oscar that the author had been a Roman Emperor, Oscar immediately distrusted him. Many thoughts conspired to generate this misgiving, but foremost among them was the notion that emperors, like many of those in positions of authority (he thought of the president), were often immune to the influence of wisdom.
Amanita seemed to sense his reticence. "Just read it," she said sternly.
The litany of gratitude with which the book begins immediately set Oscar at ease. That Marcus Aurelius so openly recognized his debt to many others signaled some willingness to surrender his ego. After the expressions of thanks to parents and teachers, Oscar particularly enjoyed one passage of divine thanks.
Further, I owe it to the gods that I was not hurried into any offence against any of them, though I had a disposition which, if opportunity had offered, might have led me to do something of this kind; but, through their favour, there never was such a concurrence of circumstances as put me to the trial.
Oscar set down the book. He pulled a sheet of paper from the backpack and wrote down the following words of his own thanksgiving.
I thank White Tito for instructing me in the ways of magic, St. Jerome for guiding me to a love of books, and the Destroying Angel for her curse that shall allow me to keep my home.
*Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book I, written 161-180 AD, translated by George Long, full text: The Internet Classics Archive.
written while listening to: Taylor Ho Bynum, John Hébert & Gerald Cleaver - Book of Three (Rogueart, ROG-0029, 2010, France, cd, discogs.com)
March 24, 2017
While brief, the message of the Meditations could not be absorbed in a day. On Friday, Oscar visited the school library and found a neglected copy among the classics. He checked it out so that he could read it at his leisure at home.
After school, seated on his brother's bed, Oscar searched for Abjuration in the words of Marcus Aurelius. It proved a simple task, for scattered through-out the text were numerous examples. Many such passages caught Oscar's eye and he copied them into a spiral notebook. He stood in his brother's room and recited aloud.
Soon, very soon, thou wilt be ashes, or a skeleton, and either a name or not even a name; but name is sound and echo. And the things which are much valued in life are empty and rotten and trifling, and like little dogs biting one another, and little children quarrelling, laughing, and then straightway weeping.*
At first Oscar read the sentences in a whisper, for there was no one else present, save the incorporeal form of St. Jerome, who already knew the words by heart and who covered his ears lest they be defiled by the words of a heathen emanating from a child's mouth. With each recitation, Oscar's voice grew in strength, until finally he shouted the words in a terrible fury at the top of his lungs. Eventually, he exhausted himself and fell silent on the bed.
*Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book V, written 161-180 AD, translated by George Long, full text: The Internet Classics Archive.
written while listening to: Roscoe Mitchell & The Note Factory - Song For My Sister (Pi Recordings, PI03, 2002, United States, cd, discogs.com)
March 25, 2017
The university where Rufus worked assigned inventory numbers to any piece of equipment or furniture, which cost more than one thousand dollars at the time of purchase. When the item had served its purpose, often a matter of a few years for computers and other electronics, the mandated method for disposal was to move them to a university-owned warehouse and to hold a public auction on a quarterly basis.
As the first quarter of the year drew to a close, Amanita dragged Rufus to the warehouse on Saturday morning. When asked why, she explained that she was looking for a cheap, used laptop for a boy who came by the library.
"It's true that a four-year old laptop can be yours at this auction for ten dollars," Rufus observed, "but a four-year old laptop is no good for anything but a doorstop."
They walked arm-in-arm through the dusty, aisles of the warehouse, passing much that would remain unclaimed. A few local small business owners shopped for office supplies on the cheap. They avoided eye contact with the black-clad gothic couple. Ignoring Rufus' protests, Amanita placed a bid on a laptop, half the size of the one that had barely fit in Oscar's backpack.
"It will take a tech a couple hours to get that thing working with a modern operating system," observed Rufus in a complaining voice, knowing that he was pronouncing his own fate.
Still he did it. It is the way of relationships that one member of a couple will perform favors for the other, not with the expectation for recompense, but rather for the simple purposes of maintaining harmony, pleasing the loved one, and making the world, locally, a better place. That such an act has an effect for just a short time can be optimistically interpreted as a sign that the opportunity for the exercise of kindness toward the subject of one's affection will arise again in the not too distant future.
written while listening to: Manfred Schulze Bläser Quintett - Choral-Konzert (Free Music Production, FMP CD 145, 2011 (originally recorded 1998), Germany, cd, discogs.com)
March 26, 2017
On Sunday, Oscar ate lunch with his mother; he had resolved to keep his Lenten fast a secret from her. She asked him about the book he could barely set down. Oscar told her that it was a collection of meditations written by a Roman Emperor. When his mother inquired as to the nature of the meditations, Oscar retrieved the book from his room and selected a short, representative passage to read to her.
Do not act as if thou wert going to live ten thousand years. Death hangs over thee. While thou livest, while it is in thy power, be good.*
His mother felt that it was natural for her to feel a sense of alarm. It seemed unhealthy that a young boy should be reminded that death hung over him. The admonition to be good at the end of the passage was the only thing that kept her from confiscating the book--that and the fact that she sought to avoid another fight with her son. His tempestuous reaction to learning on the previous weekend that she had set in motion plans to sell the house remained fresh in her mind.
"You have a long life ahead of you," she reassured Oscar. To her dismay, it seemed that her son gazed across the table at her with something akin to contempt, for truly he had been assured repeatedly from a dead man revered by philosophers, ancient and contemporary, that man's life is only a moment, and after a short time we are all laid out dead.** Who did his mother think she could fool?
*Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book IV, written 161-180 AD, translated by George Long, full text: The Internet Classics Archive.
**Ibid, Book XI.
written while listening to: Henry Threadgill's Zooid - In for a Penny, In for a Pound (Pi Recordings, PI58, 2015, United States, cdx2, discogs.com)
March 27, 2017
So great was Oscar's newfound ardor for the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius that, as he waited for his mother to make his lunch before driving him to school, he opened the book to a random page in a section that he had already read once before. There he discovered exactly the spell for which he had long searched. How he could have missed it the first time was inconceivable to him. It seemed as if the spell had been surreptitiously inserted after the fact, a secret only the meticulous, redundant reader would find.
Reason and the reasoning art are powers which are sufficient for themselves and for their own works. They move then from a first principle which is their own, and they make their way to the end which is proposed to them; and this is the reason why such acts are named catorthoseis or right acts, which word signifies that they proceed by the right road.*
"Catorthoseis," Oscar repeated to himself. Here we share the great joy of Oscar's calamitous error, in which he equated two elements dear to Marcus Aurelius--abjuration and amelioration--and distilled them into a magical spell intended to do nothing less than make the world a better place through its utter renunciation.
*Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book V, written 161-180 AD, translated by George Long, full text: The Internet Classics Archive.
written while listening to: Alan Licht - The Evan Dando Of Noise? (Corpus Hermeticum, Hermes022, 1997, New Zealand, cd, discogs.com)
March 28, 2017
The cave was located far underground. Accessible via a winding, descending passage, it could be reached only by a spelunker willing to squeeze sideways through narrow crevices and to crawl on one's belly beneath low hanging stone. The light of the sun had never penetrated to this depth. This damp, primordial cavern was home only to a species of blind salamanders, as of yet unknown to science, and the mold and insects, which comprised their isolated ecosystem.
In the dank and utter darkness, four stones had been arranged around a central pit, where those fond of light and warmth might have chosen to place a fire, but such was not the case here. In the proximity of each stone dwelt a spirit.
"He found the spell," said White Tito, the owl, in his raspy voice.
"Catorthoseis," said St. Jerome, reveling in the sound of the syllables as they rolled off his tongue. As spells went, he found it admirable. "The right way."
"I thought you said you had hidden it," accused the Destroying Angel. Though she knew that the owl would remain silent, she nevertheless paused allowing time for a reply, if only to make it irrefutably clear that the owl had no answer for his error. With the point made, the Destroying Angel continued, "It makes no difference. The child doesn't know what to do with it."
The fourth spirit, who emanated a noxious stench, had been listening to the others. He piped up in an irritating, nasal voice, "Is this all that goes on down here? Let me go talk to him." He added, "This spirit business isn't so complicated," words which were, of course, if not a lie then a gross mischaracterization. This spirit had recently adopted the sobriquet, Douchebag J. Troglodyte.
written while listening to: The World Saxophone Quartet - Steppin' with the World Saxophone Quartet (Black Saint, BSR 0027, 1979, Italy, lp, discogs.com)
March 29, 2017
Oscar returned to the downtown library after school on Wednesday. As he entered, he caught Amanita's eye, haloed in thick, black liner. He took his usual place at the reading table on the second floor and reread parts of the Meditations, while he waited for the librarian to give him a new assignment. Marcus Aurelius kept him company for over half an hour. As Oscar's mother still remained unaware of his solitary excursions downtown, his time was limited. He prepared to go, empty-handed.
Just as he was about to leave, Amanita appeared ascending the stairs. She carried a bundle, which she set down at the table across from him. She explained briefly the process by which the university disposed of unwanted inventory. Without stating the cost, she made it clear that the laptop was old and inexpensive, but functional. She did mention that a friend of hers had re-formatted the hard-drive, re-installed an operating system, and made sure everything was working as it should. To her credit, Amanita tried to navigate this delicate situation as if it were a common occurrence between friends and not an act of charity.
Oscar observed Amanita coolly. He debated whether it was wise to accept this gift and to put himself in debt to a necromancer. "Catorthoseis," he whispered to himself, hoping the mere mention of the word would guide him. In the end, he accepted the computer with a polite expression of gratitude. Amanita had hoped for nothing more.
When Oscar got home, he had to the hide the contraband under his bed. He had not formulated an explanation to give his mother as to how he had acquired this new laptop.
written while listening to: Toop + Scanner + I/O3 - A Picturesque View, Ignored (Room40, EDRM401, 2002, Australia, cd, discogs.com)
March 30, 2017
Oscar stood at the front window, staring at the hateful 'For Sale' sign the realtor had planted in their yard. His mind was filled with daydreams of vandalism. He imagined smashing the sign to splinters with a sledgehammer then a chainsaw, then a chainsaw attached to the end of a sledgehammer. Then he burned the remains. "Catorthoseis," he whispered to himself, as if it were abracadbra, which means, 'It came to pass as it was spoken.'
Although his party possessed a majority in both houses of the congress, the president's attempt to impose a draconian healthcare reform bill had recently been defeated without a vote, so poorly did it serve the public interest. "Catorthoseis," Oscar whispered, voicing a prayer of gratitude shared by many.
Across the street, Omar the Transmuter and Cybil the Diviner approached each other from opposite directions along the straight path of the sidewalk. When they met, a nonchalance ruled their interaction, as if they were old friends, expecting only comfort in the presence of the other. The sight of their amity kindled in Oscar a remorseful envy. "Catorthoseis," he repeated a third time. "Let the ending of the world pass by me unnoticed."
written while listening to: Haunted House - Up in Flames (Erstwhile Records, erstwhile 002, 1999, United States, cd, discogs.com)
March 31, 2017
Oscar waited for Omar to get home from school on Friday afternoon. The familiar SUV pulled up along the curve. Oscar ran outside and from across the street called out, "Omar!"
Omar's mother exchanged a curious glance with her son before she entered the house on her own, leaving the two boys to resolve their differences on their own terms. Oscar crossed the street and they stood facing each other, separated by no more than a foot.
"I've made a discovery," said the older boy to the younger. Omar did not reply, so Oscar continued, "Catorthoseis."
Several moments of undisturbed silence passed between them. "Is that your new motto?" Omar asked in a mocking tone, which caused Oscar's hopes to sink; he instantly understood this exchange would turn out poorly. Omar recalled being abandoned to Cybil's dog while Oscar raced off. "I thought your motto was, 'Every man for himself.'"
Oscar frowned. The spell wasn't working. He tried again, "Catorthoseis!"
Omar shrugged. "I know that Cybil told you that you couldn't return to the Renegades of the American Muslim Registry until you cast a great spell, so you had better go see if she is impressed with your new trick." He took several steps toward the house, passing Oscar. Over his shoulder, he said, "I voted to make the ban permanent."
written while listening to: Chris Corsano, Sylvie Courvoisier & Nate Wooley - Salt Task (Relative Pitch Records, RPR1044, 2016, United States, cd, discogs.com)
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