Part Eleven: You Can't Always Get What You Want
Reggie sat up in bed and looked to his left to see Jessica laying beside him. The first thought in his mind was, "Hmm... did I get lucky last night?" and then he noticed that she was fully clothed and laying on top of the bedcovers. "Oh, well." She was beautiful when she slept. There's something strangely charming, almost innocent about a pretty girl when she slept.
He angled around and got up out of bed, then turned to take another look at Jessica sleeping. "Umm... hmm...," he thought, "there's another guy in bed with her. If not for the clothes I'd suspect a threesome..." and then he noticed it was him.
He looked down at himself, then at his body laying in the bed next to Jessica. He looked at his hands. "I can't believe it!" he thought, "I'm in the astral! I really did get lucky, but in a different way! Conscious projection!"
He walked out of the room and down the hallway, into the living room to see Belamy's dog sitting on the couch. "I keep telling that dog not to lay on the couch."
He walked into the kitchen and up to the back door. For a moment he hesitated, then reached out a hand as if to push the back door, then put his hand up against it cautiously... and then through. Effortlessly his hand passed right through it. "Wow."
He strode forward through the door, and looked out into the yard. Noiselessly he traversed the grass over to the stairway that jutted up into the air, and once again he peered at the symbols. They glowed and shimmered in the moonlight. The energy apparently imbued in them pulsed.
"What is that?" he thought to himself.
He reached out to stroke the symbol, and it resisted, unlike the door. "The symbols aren't only in one plane! They exist in astral and physical!"
Then he felt a presence behind him. He turned to see Jessica looking straight at him.
"So you're out of body too!" he thought at her, but she didn't answer, and walked right through him.
"Oh, no, you're not."
She stared down at the lower stairs with her hands on her hips, then looked back at the house, through Reggie. Then she leaned over to pick up the hammer, and began prying the structure apart carefully, so as not to damage the steps or wake anyone.
"What are you doing?" he thought.
Piece by piece she took it apart, and placed the stairs carefully into the back of her car.
"You're... you're stealing it!" he thought, "No!"
The silvery cord that stretched from his body to where his astral form stood jerked him back to his body with an emotional jolt. In his bed he turned to the side and moaned, "no..." in his sleep as Jessica's car, every precious stair in the back of it, pulled out of his driveway.
The mailman walked up to the front door and dropped the usual assortment of bills and advertisements into the box, then continued on his route. For a moment he felt the strange urge to turn and look back, and over the fence he saw a robed figure standing on some kind of wooden structure. He blinked.
"Frats," he growled.
Reggie stood on the top stair. The structure wobbled a bit under his weight. He was thin, but not so slight that the stairway could take him comfortably. A good gust of wind could have easily toppled it. Arms outstretched, he breathed in slowly, as before, but this time with a look of peace coming over his face. Then he called out, "IA. IA. WahGh NaGhL BKahL... RahFSHTAh..."
And he waited, eyes closed...
Jessica looked up at him.
He peeked with one eye open. The sun was going down, and hues of purple and orange were beginning to form under the clouds along the skyline. It was beautiful.
He opened his eyes.
"No," he answered flatly, and turned to descend the stairs. Belamy's dog looked up at him from the stair just below him. "Get down," Reggie commanded. The dog paused, then turned and walked down the stairs.
Reggie followed him down "clop clop clop" as the structure creaked under his weight.
Looking sympathetic, Jessica put her hand on his shoulder and asked, "Disappointed?"
Reggie looked disappointed, but responded, "No. I think I must have done something wrong. I'm not sure." He bent down and picked up the book.
"Well, we're only human, Reggie."
"Yes," he agreed, "and Everything Human is Wrong."
They walked back inside the house with Belamy's dog following behind them. "Maybe my breathing was wrong."
The same mailman, now off work, looked over the fence to see the staircase.
As he walked away, Belamy's dog somehow appeared to have gotten out and began following him. Looking back worriedly, the mailman began to walk faster.
The dog started running. The mailman ran. The dog hit a gallup. The mailman ran faster, looking back to see if the dog was still behind him.
And then it wasn't.
He stopped and bent down to catch his breath.
"I feel ridiculous." Jessica looked like a displaced member of a manger scene, way out of season. She was in ceremonial black robes with red lining, standing in the back yard.
"Don't worry about it," Reggie said as he stood on the bottom step, book in hand, also wrapped up in the same ceremonial garb. "No one is going to see us back here. Besides, we went to the trouble of reassmbling it outside so we'd have enough room to stand on the top step. We should at least try doing a ritual."
Jessica felt acutely aware of the possibility that at any minute a fat housewife hanging a massive sheet on a line could look over the fence and see the looming stairway, but she knew almost no one dried their laundry that way any more.
Belamy's dog sat in the yard staring at them. The behavior of humans is often a mystery to a dog, but this would be cause for curiosity and confusion for almost anyone who saw it: two people in ceremonial robes in the summer heat standing in the back yard around a stairway with no treehouse or any other structure at the top.
"And she's bu-uying a sta-airway to heaven," Belamy sang from the back door.
They shot an annoyed glare in his direction as he took a swig of beer with a smile.
"Ignore him," Reggie grumbled, "He doesn't know anything."
They turned back to the structure and Reggie nosed down into the book again.
"Okay, I think we do this with arms outstretched." He cast the book onto the grass.
"Breathe in through your nose, hold to the count of one... two... three... four... then exhale through your mouth."
"Sounds pretty standard."
"On the inhale visualize white light particles entering through the nose, and on the exhale the air is empty," Reggie instructed, "It's an energizing phase."
"It's like Lamaze," Belamy muttered to himself.
"Okay," she agreed, "How many times do we do this?"
"Once for each step." Reggie looked down to make sure he was positioned correctly on the symbols.
Jessica hesitated, but had to ask, "Shouldn't there be, you know, an invocation? something verbal?"
Reggie stopped and thought for a moment, squinting in the sun. He wrinkled his nose, then admitted, "Yes, you're probably right." He stepped down and picked up the book again and flipped through to the page he wanted.
Jessica rolled her eyes. Belamy's dog yawned. Belamy took another swig of beer.
"Okay... okay... this should be it..." Reggie threw down the book again and shook the sleeves of his robe loose and stretched out his arms.
He closed his eyes and inhaled through his nose s l o w l y and held it, then opened his mouth and s l o w l y exhaled. Then he cocked his head back and opened his mouth and shouted out, "EEEAH! EEEAH! WAGH NAGHAL BAKAHL--!"
He paused and looked down at the step, parting his feet for a peek, then recovered. "LAGAHJ!"
Jessica cast an embarrassed glance in Belamy's direction.
"WOOOOO! YEAH!" Belamy cheered, and clapped loudly.
Jessica covered her eyes with her hand. Belamy took another swig of beer. Reggie took a step up the stairway and closed his eyes and inhaled deeply again. Jessica looked up at him.
The dog looked at Belamy.
Belamy looked back at him. "Don't worry, Buddy. I won't let them sacrifice you."
"Steps," Reggie muttered, "It has to be the steps."'
He flipped through his copy of the Principia Magica and read the passage again to be sure.
"It's a clue! It has to be!" Reggie began to look a little wild-eyed, and Jessica noticed.
"Here," she said, "have some more beer."
Reggie nudged the offered bottle away with the back of his hand, irritated.
"This has to be the steps to see beyond the veil. Don't you see? He wouldn't have put something like this together without a reason."
Jessica really was starting to think Reggie was a little odd. Giving him a wary look she had to mention, "It could just be some kind of blessing for the house, like the way the freemasons do."
Undaunted, Reggie continued to pore over the volume in search of additional clues. "See, here are some of the symbols. Every sorcerer needs to be able to write and read multiple alphabets, runes, occult symbols... and to create his own."
"Or her own," Jessica added.
"Yes, right," he responded, "or her own, er, sorceress. Right." Reggie felt that conversations about the sexual distinctions made by the terms of western cultural would be a waste of time, especially in light of their discovery.
Jessica wore a skeptical look. "Okay, Reggie. So what do you think it's for?"
"I think it's a spellcasting component... for a spell to enter another reality."
He was still looking at the book and the stairs to nowhere, but she was looking at him with a stultifying stare. She pictured him in a straightjacket in the middle of a padded cell trying to flip the pages of the Principia Magica with his mouth.
"That's great, Reg." She rolled her eyes and took another swig.
"Hey, man." Reggie's roommate, Belamy, had entered the room wearing big shorts, flip-flops, and a long t-shirt from a bicycling event. "What's with the stairs? You know if you're building a treehouse it's better to build it outside. I don't think you'll be able to get this out the door."
Reggie looked up from the book and gave his roommate a disconnected glare.
"Yes, Belamy. You're absolutely right."
Belamy nodded loosely, then noticed the blonde on the couch.
"Hey. I'm Belamy." He stuck out his lanky arm and Jessica delicately took his hand.
"Jessica." Reggie hardly noticed.
"I think I've got this figured out. I bet he did the ritual on the stairs with them upside down so guests wouldn't see the inscriptions, but I'm sure they were in this order. It should work either way." He wasn't really talking to anyone in particular at this point, just thinking out loud.
"Well, hey, dude, I've got to get ready for the party I'm going to later. You guys are welcome to come, too, if you want." Belamy gestured in the air towards the preoccupied pair.
"Thanks," Jessica replied, "Maybe we'll have to do that."
"Yeah, thanks," Reggie said, still distracted.
Without tools for the observation of the mechanism of magic, we cannot presuppose the means by which such effects are achieved. In truth it is of no consequence. It is only for us to attempt through trial and error to obtain results.
The model offered by the curtain and the lightswitch is best illustrated by example. Have a friend stand behind a curtain with a light so that you cannot see the friend, but the light will be evident when switched on. Then designate some symbolic act as the lightswitch. Perhaps it is the removal of a shaker of salt from a table, or a hand gesture. Have your friend agree that whenever your symbolic act is performed, this gesture signals your friend to turn on the light.You cannot see your friend behind the curtain. You cannot see the action that turns on the light. You cannot see the inner workings of the light itself either. From your perspective it is the gesture that turns on the light, but obviously this is not the actual fact of the matter. However, when the gesture is made, the light comes on.
In like fashion the mechanisms and inner workings of magic are unseen to the sorcerer. Although there is great potential benefit from conjecture and experimentation, the true nature of magic is beyond our comprehension. Is it a spirit beyond the veil of death that does our bidding? Is it a god or goddess that hears our prayers? Is it the power of some unseen force unknown to mankind, the influence of some elder race outside of our realm of perception? Is it all in the power of the higher consciousness of the individual, or some superconscious shared influence over reality itself? These questions may all be of value to the seeker, but ultimately it is the result that we desire, and consistency in performance is our holy grail.
How many of us have had a thought shared by another? How many times have we known the mind of another without them speaking it?
Is this the observational ability of the superconscious mind, invisibly collecting information outside of the filtration of the conscious? Is it telepathy, a communication between minds on some level unseen? Is it mere coincidence? Is it good guesswork based on simple factors and the simplicity of human existence itself?
Again, these are interesting questions, but the work of a sorcerer is the work of a scientist. Try these theories, find consistencies and variances, and record everything. Find the light switches and keep them. Retain the knowledge. Eventually, after the proper steps are taken, the seeker may peer behind the curtain and obtain greater understanding. Perhaps there will be a friend standing there, light in hand, waiting for the seeker's signal.
--Samson Albright, "Principia Magica"
Reggie reclined on the ugly, old couch in his living room and sipped from a bottle of beer, looking over his handiwork. Jessica plopped down next to him, beer bottle in hand. "Whew! I can't believe it!"
Before them sat a staircase leading up to the ceiling, up to nowhere. Every step of Samson Albright's stairs had been painstakingly affixed to it upside-down so the symbols were visible. They had ordered the steps according to the sequence of the symbols from the first at the bottom to the thirteenth at the top.
"I don't believe it, either." He felt a surge of energy despite the weariness in his arms, and hefted himself up again to crouch beside the stair and look at the intricate inscriptions again.
"Can you imagine how much this stair would be worth at auction?" she asked. "It would have to be in the thousands."
"Don't be gross," he responded, a little put off.
"Oh, I mean-- of course I would never--" she responded shakily.
"Of course," he added coolly. How should he know what she was capable of? They had only met a few hours previously. Her motives could be entirely commercial for all he knew. She could be a simple antique dealer, not a seeker or believer. How should he know?
Her eyes widened in thought as she took a swig. Although he was intrigued by her, being that she shared a rare interest and knowledge with him, he couldn't bring himself to trust her. This was too important. Trust no one.
She got up from the couch and approached the odd structure. "So, what do we do with it?"
"That's what I'm trying to figure out. I'm guessing that the steps represent the steps to ascension... or maybe the steps of progress of the seeker,some kind of symbolic guide for initiates." Reggie stroked the inscriptions with a finger. "You know the curtain and the lightswitch, right?"
Jessica had to let out a chuckle. "Of course. It's one of the most basic principles of magic."
"Everything Human is Wrong" read the cover of the book, "by Samson P. Albright"
"I wondered which one that was," Reggie admitted. They picked through the crumbled pieces of the house together. It was almost like people looking through the debris of an earthquake hoping to find some survivor trapped beneath.
"What's your name?"
"Do you have a favorite?"
Sigh. She had to ask. "I-- I don't know. Maybe... Locks and Keys? or Qualitative Threshholds?" Reggie hadn't actually finished that one, but the parts he had read were clearly good, if a bit beyond his comprehension.
"Wow. I could never get through that one. It starts out great, so simple, then climbs in difficulty until I feel like I'm not reading so much as... you know, decoding something." Her clarity was remarkable.
Reggie pulled a piece of banister out of his way and flipped over what appeared to be a step from an old stairway. It was obvious from the curved edge of the plank and the stained surface which side was the top and which was the bottom. Something appeared to be burned into the bottom of the step, some kind of strange inscription, weird symbols.
"Oh, my God," Jessica gasped, "a sigil."
They looked at each other with wide-eyed excitement, then began grasping at bits of staircase and gathering anything that appeared to be inscribed. This was the stuff of dreams, the fabric of legends, the seat of mystery.
"We have to get them all," she exclaimed, "before someone else does!"
"God damn it!"
What more could he say? What do you say when an important, historic structure of personal significance to you gets demolished by a bunch of stupid, hairy orcs with massive construction vehicles right in front of you. "God... damn."
Reggie dropped his paper and stared at it, the old house that once was home to his personal mentor. He had never met the man in person, but he had read everything ever written by him. Samson Albright, one of the greatest original thinkers of his time, a man whose work largely consisted of a trail of breadcrumbs left for seekers like Reggie to follow, had lived here.
Countless clues were surely left in every nook and cranny of Albright's home. There had to be trap doors, hidden rooms, false walls, secret chambers, and unknown treasures of secret knowledge throughout the structure now laid bare before Reggie's eyes.
His heart pounded in his chest. Whether it was from the running or the emotional impact of the situation, his blood rushed through his veins and his face turned reddish. "Why? God dammit. Why?"
With clarity of intent, Reggie made his way into the scene. If there was anything worth salvaging, he would find it before anyone else. That much at least was certain. No one was going to jump his claim of--
A young woman with golden locks appeared from behind one of the piles of rubble. She had a single book in hand, and old, clothbound hardcover. Reggie stared down at it and licked his lips.
It was rude not to respond. Reggie had to say something. "Oh, uh... hello."
"You're not a construction worker, obviously... unless you're very late to work." He looked down at his attire.
"No. I'm not a-- no."
She looked a little mischievous when she said, "I suppose you're here for the same reason as me then." She smiled.
"Reason?" Reggie asked with feigned ignorance.
The woman cocked her head. "You know... Albright? The trail? Secret treasures?"
For a moment Reggie thought he might lie his way through this. "No? Albright?"
She paused to assess the situation. "I think you know."
Reggie was determined not to give away too much. "No. Tell me about it."
The woman still seemed to see right through Reggie. She walked over the least hazardous path to Reggie and looked him straight in the eyes, and said, "If you're not a seeker--" His expression shifted nerviously.
"This house belonged to Samson Albright," she began. "He was many things to many people. He was a gifted writer, a poet, a musician, a philosopher, a theorist, historian..."
"...sorcerer." Reggie finished her sentence.
Reggie Arnold descended the stairs the same way he did seemingly every other day before. The same wooden steps led him down from the small, upper level to the spacious ground level of the big house and he groggily picked up the paper left on the table by one of his roommates. That was about the most normal part of the day. He picked up the paper with the intention of reading it, opened it to the front page, and he was floored. There are times when the news is less than kind. This was one of those times.
Running down the street in a bathrobe and slippers, paper in hand, Reggie felt like he was melting in the summer sun. The last thing in the world that he wanted to be doing today was running in the heat, but nothing was going to prevent that. Black and white and read all over, the paper had shouted him awake and there was no other recourse.
Stupid mailboxes, stupid lawns, stupid trees, stupid houses, stupid everything around him slowly drifting past as his feet beat the ground, and he knew he wouldn't make it in time. He knew it was hopeless and still he ran.
Why is the sunshine always so painful in the morning? That's why Reggie hated mowing the lawn, or any other daytime activity, really. He hated the heat and the blinging brightness. Reggie's ideal nest is shadowy and cool, air conditioned and fanned, soft and comfortable. Ask him to go to the beach and you might as well be asking him to scrub your dirty feet or some other unpleasant chore.
Exercise! This was beginning to resemble exercise! Why the hell is life so stupid? Running in the morning because a stupid paper smacked Reggie's brain, dashing down the block like there's a fire or something. What in the world could be worth so much displeasure for the lazy man?
He had forgotten. This was the day, and he had forgotten, and nothing but human speed was going to solve it when Reggie didn't have a car or even a bicycle. Run run run.
Reggie's slippers went smack smack smack smack smack on the pavement and he felt ridiculous and still he ran. No one knew why. No one cared. Only Reggie cared. Fuck them all. Reggie cares. Reggie runs. Desperate, but hopelessly, Reggie ran like mad all the way to the capital building. He ran over bridges, under trees, through parks, across walkways, down streets, and on and on and on.
They were going to destroy it, and Reggie had to stop them.
Here's the submission. It's set in D&D's Forgotten Realms universe. No, I don't read the books. No, I don't usually write in their world. After these first 10 pages, I'm sure I'll stray horribly from the Forgotten Realms lore. I intend to, actually.
It's quite long . . . ( Read more...Collapse )