Friday, May 28, 2010

The Old Man's Voice

(in the corner of an old bookstore; rain)

Booth was never quite as skeptical as I imagined him to be, but as his eyes continually wandered during conversations, there were times when I accused him wrongfully of being bored and apathetic towards the subjects which concerned me most. “Are you listening, Booth?” I pleaded, almost in despair.

“Yeah, why do you think she’s going to win?” he inquired, with genuine interest in his voice.

“Because,” I explained. “God says He wants Priscilla to win. Priscilla will win.”

“Well, I think that’s kind of unfair to the other people,” said Booth. “I mean, why wouldn’t God want Corey to win? Why wouldn’t God want Holden to win? Is it because God likes Priscilla more than Corey? What do you think Corey would feel about that?”

“I don’t even want to think about what Corey would say,” I replied, with a nauseated shake of my head.

“No, Boze,” said Booth. “I think the truth is, someone else wants Priscilla to win the election. Really badly. Someone who doesn’t like Corey. You really need to consider the fact that… WHOA!” he shouted, with an abruptness that was startling. “Finnish Magick!”

All unawares, we had wandered into the “New Age” section of the bookstore. Booth pointed to a row near the topmost shelf to indicate the book he had spotted. He reached up to grab it.

At that moment, something very strange happened.

There was a shuffling from the darkness in the dusky regions underneath the stairwell. Then, as we looked on, confused, a man stepped out—a weathered, older man who wore a trench coat buttoned to the neck. He appeared to have been lurking in the stairwell since before we arrived, but the suddenness of his appearance, and its timing, raised in both of us the specter of alarm.

“You laugh,” he said gravely. “But as a matter of fact, ‘magick’ is still practiced in the primitive regions of Northern Finland, especially up in the Lapp area.”

So saying, he removed his fishing hat, bowed slightly (almost imperceptibly), and left the room.

“Who was that man?” I whispered.

“I don’t know,” said Booth. “But that was scary.”

We stared at the doorway for a long moment in silence.

“Do you think we should go try and talk to him?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” said Booth again. “How did that man know so much about Finland? He knows more about it than I do. And he looks like another Mr. Blankenship.”

“Let’s go,” I said. Booth handed me the book on magic and we hurried from the room.

We found him in the folklore section, browsing professorially through an encyclopedia of spells and incantations.

“I’m sorry,” Booth prefaced politely, “but we were wondering how you knew so much about Finland. Have you lived there?”

“I’m actually not Finnish,” said the man, “but I do teach anthropology at HISD. Unfortunately, Finland isn’t a course of study.”

“What were you saying earlier about Finnish magic?” asked Booth.

“Well, it’s interesting,” he said, in a variation on his previous remarks, “because primitive Shamanism is still practiced in certain parts of the world, particularly in the northern regions. In fact, you have a trend of Shamanism in different areas of Finland, but it’s different from the kind of Shamanism practiced, say, by the Japanese, Inuits, and Siberians.

“If you want to know more about Finnish magick,” he went on, with the fluidity of someone well-acquainted with the subject, “keep in mind that root Shamanism and witchcraft are completely different. Finnish magick has its roots in Shamanism, not witchcraft. In certain parts of Finland, particularly up north, as I mentioned, the natives practice herbalism, healing, shape-shifting… Finnish shamans have methods of attaining altered states of consciousness with the ultimate goal of gaining power over their environment. They claim the power to control winds. They believe knowing the ‘true’ name for something gives you power over it. They also communicate with the haltija, which is the spirit of something, what you would call its essence.”

“Wow,” said Booth, in a soft tone of wonder.

“It’s nature-based, but very practical,” the man said quietly. “A fascinating subject.”

Herbalism… shape-shifting… healing… all very tempting to a boy of little means. The old man’s voice was like the creaking of timbers on a ship in a high wind. Hearing it, you wished that you might stand and talk to him forever, so to hear him speak the more. I felt my resolution wavering. His intellect was so formidable, his tone so calming, and there in the semi-darkness fostered by the rain outside the windows all the lesser, insubstantial details of the morning—fractals, Amy’s eyes, French toast, this book of magic—rose to new and unexampled prominence. It was a curious feeling, but I felt like everything that I had seen that day had led me to this place. Had the man not stepped forth out of shadows, out of nothing? Did he not know more of Finns than Booth? Was this the road assigned to me, and did I run the risk of thwarting providence by turning round and going back the other way? And if, as seemed so obvious, my steps were truly being guided by another, why did I feel so frightened? Why was the muffle of my own heart beating all that sounded now within the hollow of my ears?

The old man took the book on Finnish Magick in his hands a moment and regarded it with a loving but sober expression. “If you want to know more on the subject,” he said, “you should read this. There’s also a book called Entering the Circle. You can find it at The Magick Cauldron bookstore on the corner of Westheimer and Montrose—the largest supplier for Wicca, magick, and alternative religions in the world.”

He handed me the book again and left. I regarded it for a long moment in silence.

Finally, a voice spoke. It was Booth’s. Far-off and faint it sounded, like a murmur on the wind.

“You hold it now in your hands,” he said. “The very fate of your future.”

“Am I supposed to buy it, Booth?” I asked. “Is this the next chapter of my story? Is this where it’s leading?”

“I have a feeling,” he said, “that we could have stood there and talked to that man for days. That was but a taste of everything he knows.”

“It’s really scary,” I agreed. “I don’t like what I’m feeling. It would be so easy just to put the book away and walk away. But if I buy it, which I’m tempted to do, then I’m trapped. There is no turning back.”

“Do you think he could have been a Satanic plant?” Booth asked.

“Nothing could be more likely,” I replied.

“Well, we’ll put it away,” he said gently. “We’ll never speak of it again.”

“Yes…” I said. “Yes.”

At that moment, something in the air around me shifted. It was as though a spell had been broken. All the noises of the bookstore and the sound of rain came flooding in again. A light came on inside my mind. I gave a final glance at the book in my hands and nearly dropped it with loathing.

Not more than a moment later, we heard the voice of Mrs. Pauley calling from the room next door. The bus was waiting for us outside. It was time to go home.

“Well, you passed the test,” said Booth, in a congratulatory voice, as we stood on the curb in the rain.

My face began to soften and a light shone in my eyes. I turned and looked at him and nodded, smiling.

“You’re right,” I said. “For now, at least, and maybe not for ever. But at least this once, I passed.”

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