Monday, June 2, 2014

Suburban Magic

October 16th was blustery but warm, with the heady wet feel of early autumn and the smell of leaves rotting in the gutters.  The overcast sky, mottled gray and white seemed to be making up its mind on the rain when it began to darken.  The shadows were long on Gareth Mountain, where Joshy's house backed up to what was then still the woods.  In the intervening years land developers flattened the top of the mountain, stripped the trees and bulldozed the rocks, as if giving a giant a buzz-cut.  But in the mid-90's it was still the woods.

It wasn't the real woods, not the "Big Scary" with primordial, ancient trees as big as skyscrapers, not the Great Northern Woods, not the Black Forest.  This was scrap woods, a line of scrub left too long uncut.  Less than a thousand yards from one end to the other.  But for kids that lived within spitting distance of Manhattan, that drove to school every morning with the New York skyline at their backs, it might as well have been the Redwood Forest.

The idea to wake dark spirits was Ellen's.  But it could just as easily have been Becca's or Joshy's.  The trio was very keen on the arcane and the forbidden.  The other kids at school called them Goth's, which they pretended to hate but secretly enjoyed.  To the other kids at school, they were as dark and mysterious as they imagined the forest to be. But this time they would pursue their interest too far and the result would haunt them forever.

The Coffee Table Book of Witchcraft and Demonology was the tome from which they drew upon.  It was originally given to Joshy's mom as a gift in the late 1970's and had graced the bookshelf of his parent's house ever since.  The dust cover, which showed a demonic shadow marching across a background of anonymous people, was still in tact and the spine had never been cracked until Joshy and his friends found it.  Inside the pages, the book was mostly a history of witchcraft from the middle ages through the colonial period.  However, at the back were several spells.

The spell to punish enemies.  That was the name of the particular ritual the trio chose to perform.  It required three items, a knife, a stone and a feather.  The stone was taken from the landscaping around the front entrance to the house, the knife from the kitchen and the feather was taken from an old Halloween, Robin Hood costume.  The target of the spell, Mr. Kowalski.

Kowalski was the type of teacher kids like Ellen and her friends hated, which is to say a teacher that didn't treat them better simply because they were his best students.  He was in his middle thirties with a paunch that hung over his khaki pants and a hairline that as it receded revealed more and more of the pink scalp beneath.  He wore gold rimed spectacles that were too small for his face and gave him the appearance of a beady-eyed rat.  His lips were overly large and liver colored, a fact which he emphasized by licking them repeatedly during class.  But worse than his looks was his demeanor toward the trio.  His was the only class the three shared and the only time they were all together during the school day.  But Kowalski cared no more about this fact then he did about their impeccable attendance records or their remarkable grades.  He yelled at them when they spoke in class, he refused to let them sit together and once read a note passed between Ellen and Joshy aloud to the whole class.

October 16th would be the night they had their revenge, and Paul Hudson's immortal classic would be their medium.  They gathered outside just after darkness set in, the temperature beginning to drop.  Lighting a fire in the fire pit behind Joshy's house, they formed a circle around the dancing flames.  Ellen held the book, Joshy the knife and Becca the feather and stone.  The incantation was in English, and as Ellen read the words she kept the book tilted toward the fire for light.  The first three stanza (for it was a rhyming spell as all good spells must be) called upon the spirits of the forest to assist them.  Joshy was the first to draw blood.  A single drop from his index finger (he would later think how silly it was to cut his most used finger) and dripped it into the fire.  After wiping the blade on his jeans he handed it to Becca.  She too cut her finger and watched as the drop of crimson disappeared in the flames.  Last was Ellen, who said the final lines, took the feather and stone, and after cutting her finger dropped the stone and feather into the flames with a drop of her blood to seal the pact.

It should be noted here, that the three never thought the spell would work.  Not really.  It was a coffee table book, not some leather bound tome inked in human blood.  There was no magic in the stainless steel paring knife.  The feather (if it was even a real feather) was dyed bright red and came from a costume hat made of cheap felt.  Even the stone was one of those gray smooth stones that was once purchased at a home and garden supply store in town.  Moreover, this was New Jersey. How could there be magic with these things?

The wind, which had been picking up in intensity, began to howl, making the flame flutter and spit sparks like a miniature fireworks display.  Snapping shut the book, Ellen looked at her friends and smiled shyly.  She opened her mouth to say something about how silly this had all been when something crashed through the line of trees at the edge of the woods.  It was a deer.  No, it was a buck.  A large male with gray around it's muzzle and more antler points than she could count.  It stood at the edge of the fire's glow and regarded the trio.  Walking slowly around them, it seemed to be contemplating the strange scene in front of it.  Unlike most deer, this buck was anything but timid. He stepped within a few feet of Joshy before walking, almost casually back into the woods.
Looking at one another Becca, Joshy and Ellen had no clue what to think or say.  Though later they would tell one another how cool it had been, how sure they were the spell must have worked, at that moment they were each afraid.  Perhaps they realized, however subconsciously, that they had tapped into some power they did not truly understand, some force beyond their knowledge and control.  The moment passed and they laughed about it.

The laughter died the next day at school however.  Mr. Kowalski wasn't in.  He didn't show up the following day either, but the reason for his absence did reach the students.  Mr. Kowalski had suffered a terrible accident the morning of October 17th on his way to school.  While leaving his house, the teacher had tripped on a loose stone on his driveway and taken a very serious fall onto his porch step.  The injury to his back rendered Mr. Kowalski restricted to a wheelchair for the rest of the school year.  It took many months of painful physical therapy before he could walk again, and he could do so only with a severe limp for years to come.  Ellen, Joshy and Becca never touched the Coffee Table Book of Witchcraft and Demonology again, nor did they ever attempt another ritual.