Testing 1 – 2 -3
“Wait here, Opi,” I said when we were standing on my doorstep. He nodded, standing beside our massive rhubarb bush. I checked him versus the door. Maybe I could sneak him into my bedroom, if my dad was in the living room. It was only 5 PM, we should have plenty of time before he needed to leave.
I opened up the front door carefully and heard my dad cry out as the doorknob hit him. I winced a little, and poked my head inside to see him rubbing his side, a screwdriver in the other hand. “Sorry Dad,” I said around the door.
“I knew I was tempting fate trying to fix this stupid lightswitch,” he said, looking at the wall beside the door. The outdoor light had been burned out for 6 months and no replacement seemed to fix it. My dad’s hazel eyes met my matching ones with a smile. Then his eyes slid off me and onto Opi where he stood behind me.
“Oh ho, and who is this?” he said, his smile getting wider. “Are you trying to sneak a boy into your room?”
“What? No!” I said, my cheeks burning. “He’s a… a study partner.”
“Study partner, eh?” My dad was still grinning at me, giving me a nudge with his elbow.
“Dad!” I said urgently, “Shut up!”
My dad’s grin didn’t lessen but he did offer a hand to Opi. “Nice to meet you. I’m Mr Regenbogen.”
“Opus Scriven,” he said, shaking my dad’s hand.
“Opus?” my dad said. “Interesting name there.”
“My parents like music,” Opi said sheepishly.
“And are your intentions with my daughter honourable?” my dad asked. I wished someone would shoot me.
Opi gave him a blank stare and I grabbed his hand, pulling Opi up the stairs. I rambled the whole way to my bedroom. “Thanks Dad, we’re going to my room now to study, we’ll be fine, don’t come up.”
I slammed the bedroom door shut behind me and Opi with a sigh of relief. And then I looked at the mess I’d left in my bedroom this morning and briefly considered turning and running all the way back to Sam’s house.
I squeezed my eyes shut for a moment, hoping this was all a bad dream. Opi cleared his throat. “So, this is your room?”
“Yes,” I muttered. “Sorry it’s such a mess.”
Opi snorted. “You should see mine. This is nothing.”
I had to admit, that made me feel just a little better. “So you were going to show me that book?”
“Yeah,” Opi said, pulling out the orange leather-bound book and looking for someone to put it. I cleared away my desk, dumping a stack of books onto my unmade bed and tossing the covers over them. Opi flipped through the book to the right page.
“So, this is what I was reading yesterday,” Opi said, point to the diagram. I leaned over the book to see a picture of what looked like a house cat. Only this cat was made of twisted metal, with highlighted diagrams of tangled gears and wires. The ink of the blueprint glimmered under my bedroom light in shades of copper and bronze, and there was runes covering the shape like the ones we’d drawn on the floor in chalk.
“Okay, that looks awesome,” I said.
“Right?” Opi said. “I was trying to figure out how it works. And well… How to make it.”
“I don’t know how you’d make it,” I said. “It’s not like you can just walk into Walmart and by a metal shell for a cat.”
“See, that’s what I thought,” Opi replied. “But then I was reading this part here…”
He pointed out a short caption and I read it out loud. “To fabricate the exterior, see pages 18-19, Fabrication and Transmutation…”
“Yeah,” Opi smiled. “I got to that point around midnight. Then my mom started yelling at me to go to bed.”
“So you could just like, make the parts?” I asked, flipping through the pages while keeping my hand on the cat page. “That feels like a cheat.”
“Maybe if it worked,” Opi said. “I tried that spell and barely anything happened.”
I read pages 17 and 18. Sort of. “This is like the stupid initiation ritual,” I said frustrated.
“What do you mean?” Opi asked, leaning over.
“I mean it may as well be written in greek or something,” I said, frowning. “I feel like I’m reading someone’s first attempt at English. Like, I get that it’s words, but they don’t even make sense.”
“It seemed straightforward to me,” Opi said. “The explanation, at least.”
“Not so easy in practice?” I asked.
“It suggested forming models out of wood, but the wood didn’t seem to want to move.”
I stared at the pages in front of me but I didn’t see how he’d possibly gotten that out of the page. “I feel like you guys are pranking me when you say this book makes sense.”
Opi sighed, sitting on the corner of my bed. “It does say that. It talks about constructing and manipulating a material by concentrating your will.”
“Ugh,” I said. “If it was as simple as ‘concentrate and focus to do magic’, everyone would have done this shit.”
“Well, not everyone has a book telling you the steps and words to focus on,” Opi retaliated. “Or has done a ritual to see magic.”
“Yeah, but the words didn’t help me there.”
Opi shrugged. “It helped me. And you can see things now!”
“But not your copper lines.”
Opi frowned. “No. But the earth quadrant reacted for you, and the wood of the treehouse went crazy. I wonder if maybe you could form the pieces.”
“Maybe…” I looked around my bedroom for a piece of wood. The cat didn’t look too big, so hopefully the pieces weren’t too big either. I grabbed a stick that I’d whittled to look like a woodpecker head on the end of a pencil off of my bedside lamp. “You’re going to have to explain this all to me,” I said, sitting beside him on the bed.
“Okay,” Opi moved to the desk, beside the book. “so, technically this is two spells. The first one forms the model of what we want to make, the next one turns it into metal. So first up, we’re just going to try to change the wood into something.”
“So, we could just whittle it?” I asked, looking at my random camp souvenir. I wasn’t even a great whittler, I’d just been goofing off with a swiss army knife and managed to accidentally create a woodpecker while carving away at the stick. My dad had helped me burn two tiny dots for eyes into it. It was crude, more like a cartoon woodpecker than an image, but recognizable all the same.
“I don’t think we can get quite the precision we’d need,” Opi said. “But probably? Let’s keep that as a backup.”
I nodded, turning the wood over in my hand. It had been a few years since I’d carved it, but it felt familiar to me. Magical? Powerful? Maybe. I had a lot of memories with it.
“Maybe I can guide you through this,” Opi said, picking up the book and putting it in his lap. We were so close our knees were practically touching. “I’ll just tell you what to do, and you follow my lead. Close your eyes.”
“We should have tried this with the initiation,” I said under my breath. “I might not have panicked.”
“Sorry,” Opi said. “I didn’t know you were worried about it. How are you feeling now?”
“Nervous,” I admitted. My fingers were playing over the little stick, still stroking the smooth wood.
“Alright, we need to fix that,” he said softly. “So just follow my lead. Breathe in, nice and slowly.”
I did so, breathing in until I felt like I couldn’t anymore.
“Now breathe out,” Opi said, “still nice and slow.”
He repeated that a few more times, each time dragging it out to a half second past when I thought I could inhale or exhale.
“Calmer?” he asked.
“Okay. Now you need to keep that up, while focusing on the stick. Can you see it?”
“Not with my eyes closed,” I said.
“Don’t open them,” Opi said. “Just try to imagine the stick. Picture it in your mind’s eye, where it is in relationship to your hands, to your body. Picture it like it’s another part of your body until you knew exactly where it is.”
I twisted it in my fingers, tapping either end of the stick from the pointed tip to the jagged crest. I almost could see it, illuminated like the gardens I’d passed on my way home. “I can see it,” I whispered.
“Good,” he said. “Now you need to picture what you want it to be.”
The image of the clockwork cat sprung into mind, but I didn’t think I wanted to start that complicated. “What do I want to make?” I asked, struggling to maintain the breathing and the image of the stick.
“Start simple,” Opi said. “Maybe just a disk or a ring?”
A ring seemed simple enough. I could picture the stick bending around into a perfect circle, the pointed end merging with a point just below my woodpecker head. I didn’t want to lose my carving completely. Perhaps it could just curve up and out of the way. Like a small tiara made out of wood.
“What did you pick?” Opi asked calmly.
“A ring,” I said, twisting my hands around it.
“Can you see it?”
“Yes,” I said. I could too, nearly as well as I could see the stick itself.
“Next we need a leyline,” he said. “There’s a copper one running down your street. Can you feel it?”
“No,” I said, biting my lip.
“Damn. Any leyline will do. There’s a faint blue one out there too?”
I moved my head around slowly, keeping my eyes closed. I could see his blue one. I could also feel a bigger green one behind the house, where the farmer’s field lay.
“Got one,” I said. “It’s green.”
“Good,” Opi said. He sounded a little distracted, I wondered if he was looking for it.
“Now picture yourself tapping into it, like you’re forming a river that connects it to you. Can you feel the power flowing into you?”
I pictured myself reaching out to it, trying to grab at the power, but it seemed flow through my fingers.
“Is it working?” he asked.
“No,” I sighed heavily. “It feels… heavy.”
“Like I can feel the power, but it doesn’t want to come to me,” I said, trying to put it in words. “Like scooping up water from a river with your hands.”
“Don’t get discouraged,” he said. “It’s like in the ritual, where you reach out and touch the four corners.”
“I never did that,” I said. “I just winged it. On intuition.”
“Then try to wing this,” Opi suggested. “It says you need to direct the flow of the leyline into the spell you’re trying to cast, using yourself as a conduit.”
I nodded slightly, trying to throw out feelers to the leyline behind me. I threw them out to the blue line in the street too, and Opi’s invisible copper line, and a dozen more to any invisible leylines I’d missed. I cast out a net and dragged the energy back with it until it gathered at my fingertips. And then I released it into the wooden stick.
“Whoa,” Opi said. I opened my eyes.
The stick was twisting in my hands, little branches spouting off the long dead wood and twirling into the shape of a crescent. Tiny yellow flowers bloomed out of the crest of the woodpecker and his eyes deepened into tiny inset gems of a deep gold colour. The process took maybe a few seconds but when it was done I had an elaborate tiara of twisted vines and flowers, with an expertly carved woodpecker head sitting front and centre. Twin amber gems stared at us where tiny soot dots had been before, and small leaves and flowers filled in the spaces between the vines.
“I thought you said you pictured a ring,” Opi said when it finished. “Simple…”
“I did,” I said, “Just a solid ring with the woodpecker moved on top.”
“This isn’t even a complete ring,” Opi said, taking it out of my hands. He nearly dropped it when there was a knock on the door.
“Mary?” my mom called through the wall. “Shouldn’t your friend be getting home soon? It’s after 10 PM.”
“What?” I asked in disbelief. “Mom, we’ve only been up here like, thirty minutes.”
“Check your clock, dear,” came the reply.
I looked at my alarm clock beside my bed. It happily displayed the time for me. 10:12 PM.