First excerpt from my upcoming book... "WIZARD"
Apparently, I'm a Magus.
I didn't truly meet the old man at the end of the lane until I was thirty-four. By then, through rumour, hearsay, occasional visual sightings and creative thinking, my imaginative mind had already been convinced about who he was. There were several ideas floating around amongst the kids in town and, as I would ultimately learn, none of them was remotely true. He was labelled a crank, the Devil, a ghost, evil incarnate and more often than not he was tagged an eater of children.
I grew out of that last one as I grew older... mostly.
Holed up in the old weathered clapboard house slowly being consumed by the edge of the forest at the end of Putter's Lane, the old man kept to himself. Except for the odd Hollow's Eve prank or a tedium induced summertime bravery test to impress a girl, we pretty much left him alone. Occasionally we would spy him shuffling along the street with his big walking stick as he made his way into downtown. At the small cabin, there would be flickering lights in the windows, odd shadows on the stained shear curtains and peculiar sounds coming from the direction of the his shack. It was enough to give any kid brown underwear who got close enough to see and hear and smell emanations from the dilapidated shanty.
Like the old man, I wasn't much for company in my youth. A bit of a loner, I spent more time worming my way out of trouble than I did getting into it in the first place. And, I found trouble more often than not. In my mind, I was being adventurous, rebellious, independent, inventive or any other on-the-spot excuse one might contrive to escape and be left alone. In others minds, I was mean, idiotic, a waste of life, criminal or any number of other denigrating phrases the town's folk might come up with. The more I listened to, and believed, the opinions of those around me, the further I sank into myself and away from what some may consider the generally accepted behaviour of a population.
I couldn't seem to fit nor had I the inclination to put any effort into trying.
I wondered what all the fuss was about anyway. If I needed a bike, lacking one of my own, I borrowed one. That I didn't return it to where I found it meant I was done with it. No harm, no foul, right? I was six at the time and new to the neighbourhood. Or when I was eight and the neighbours were away. I broke into their house and helped myself to the yummy candies my surrogate parents refused to buy for me. They were concerned about my teeth, I suppose. Or the dental bills. I didn't give a shit. It was the neighbours fault in the first place as far as I was concerned. They shouldn't have tempted me with the candy at the outset. Of course I would come back for a refill. Did they not understand kids?
I likely would have gotten away with it if it weren't for stupidly writing my name on the wall in dark grey paint. What a dork.
As I grew older, childhood pranks turned to robbery. I didn't much care that the grocer had worked most of his life building his business and reputation. He had apples out front. I was hungry. I took one or two every now and then... and ran like the spotted hound dogs of Hades were after me.
At seventeen, I hopped a bus and escaped the constrictive small town of Golden Oak for the life and promise of the nearest metropolis where I knew I could hide more easily. It wasn't long before the grocery stores in Golden Oaks became convenience stores in the city and what I was taking wasn't an apple but a wad of cash at knife point stuffed into filthy jeans. I lived in the street with no fixed address. I slept in doorways and alleys and under bridges when the weather turned distasteful. I scavenged clothing from dumpsters. I begged for money or food on street corners and learned quickly how to lift a wallet from Armani and Hugo Boss suited passers-by.
I likely would have been wealthy if I hadn't blown it all on a mind-numbing load of alcohol. Any alcohol. Food was an ignored rumbling I didn't imbibe in much. I would spend my last penny for a bottle to numb my mind from the illiterate meandering of a wasted life. Mouthwash would do in a pinch and was easy to steal. I was a drunk and I knew it. I was slothful and I knew it. I was a blight and I knew it. I was a rank fucking mess and I knew it. I didn't give a fuck. Life had pushed me down and stood on my chest with a menacing grimace and I had given up trying to get my backside up from the choking dust.
While on the street, I didn't spend enough time with any one person to really get to know them. About the closest I came to other street people was Morgan, a hipster from Jamaica with a rainbow knitted head cover and a fashionable goatee who could put on a decent side show for the folks roaming the streets. When I first arrived in the metropolis, he saw me wandering around like a wide-eyed antelope desperately looking for a place to hide from a ravenous, hunting lion. I never knew him well, nor did I try very hard despite his friendly demeanour. Still, for some inexplicable reason, he saved my sorry ass on more than one occasion.
I should have been dead.
More often than not, I wished I were.
It was a drunken incident that introduced me to the old man.
I was thirty-four, a lost soul and wandering through a life of hell wondering when it would end and not having the courage to pull the plug myself. I remember drinking in the the streets of the metropolis, committing suicide the slow way and deciding I needed a change of scenery and luck. The last I remember was boarding a bus to somewhere. Unbelievability, I landed back in Golden Oak outside the house of the foster monsters, staring at the off white faux brick facade with curiosity and disgust.
For reasons I would never understand, they had managed to ride the growing tidal wave of my indiscretions from the time they took me in at six and kept me around anyway. Perhaps they saw something in me I refused to acknowledge... like I was human. Of course, it wasn't until many years later I realised they were actually being paid to babysit a wayward nipper. They never did adopt me for fear of the responsibility they might incur by being legally tied to a felon. Good play on their part.
But the old man was not being paid.
It was summer when I landed back in Golden Oak. It was August hot in September. I was still drunk after the three hour trip from the city and decided some form of sustenance was a good idea. Raspberries were out in full force and ready to be plucked. The old man once had a large berry garden in the back of his house; raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, blackberries. I guessed it was still there even if he wasn't. Surely his expiration date had come and gone by now. All I needed was scale the fence, drop low to the ground on the other side and eat as many raspberries as I could stuff in my orifice. I considered all of the rhetorical rumour mongering and decided I was too old to be a meal and too street smart to believe in magicians. I figured I could handle myself against a pretzel shaped old man anyway. After all, if he was still alive the guy was ancient by now, right? With inebriated false bravado I staggered for the clapboard hovel through the woods in the back. No point in taking chances, I thought. Just in case the old fucker was still around. I was ready for almost anything.
What I wasn't ready for was a dry rot fence unable to hold my weight.
I crashed unceremoniously into the back yard of the hermit on top of the raspberry bushes nearest the fence. The shock wore off quickly. I suspect my alcohol induced state relaxed me enough to not be hurt seriously; mostly my humility ached. That the fruit laden stem's pricklies were puncturing my skin through my grimy light grey t-shirt did not make my status more comfortable though I didn't notice much. I froze on the spot. Surely the old man had heard the clatter. How could he not? I hoped beyond hope he was hard of hearing, though the hearsay was he could hear like a cat.
I'm not sure how long I lay in the raspberry patch, my back certainly bleeding profusely, staring up at a blank canvas dusk sky before ancient constellations materialized and drew themselves across the achromatic sky. I held my breath trying to hear footsteps or a creaky door or rasping huffing or a fire breathing dragon or the hounds of hell. I heard nothing. A light breeze seeped through the dense forest and blew over me. No light shone from the house. No blaring alarms. No salivating dogs. After several minutes, it seemed safe enough to attempt an escape.
As I was about to move, I felt the presence... before I felt the stick push down on my chest.
“Why are you here?” a deep, slightly gravelly voice seemed to come from every direction.
I didn't move. Indeed, I couldn't move with the stick pressing against my clavicle. I made not a sound except to whimper lightly as panic riddled the cells of my body. Caught! In my mind, I tried to sink into the soft, dark earth at my back but to no avail. I was snared. Above me stood a white-bearded man with a worn adventurer's type hat, clean blue-jean shirt, unpressed but neat khaki trousers held by a worn brown belt with a green jewel in the buckle, well used hiking boots and an oiled duster that more fit the persona of a cowboy than a lonely old recluse with a berry garden. He looked to be a cross between Indiana Jones and Hop-a-Long Cassidy.
For such a self proclaimed street-savvy guy, I was certainly being a wimp. I could feel my bowels getting ready to dump a load.
“Why are you here?” The old man repeated. He hadn't moved and the stick held steady; steadier than an old man's hand aught to.
“I was here to get some raspberries” I slurred. Apparently my mouth hadn't become un-drunk. The stick in my chest didn't waver. Clearly it was the wrong answer. Clearly I was in deep ka-ka.
I could almost hear a sigh in the increasing darkness. “Shitty answer” He said. For the longest time, he stood over me as if working out a decision of whether to let me go my merry way or to impale me with his stick-thingy and put my lifeless soot-stained body on display as warning in front of his shack. For the longest time, I wondered which decision he would make.
Suddenly, the stick was pulled away.
Still, I didn't move. It was as if I were waiting for permission to launch myself from the ground and run off into the night like a panic-stricken four year old girl. In reality, a four year old girl would surely have been braver than I. But there was something about the old man that kept me there. I didn't have the motivation to run off into the forest. I had the urge to stay, as if there were something more to this ancient being and I wanted to know what it was.
Many questions slithered through the muck clouding my brain. I wanted to know how he had gotten from his house to where I lay in the dirt without me hearing a sound. I wanted to know why he lived the way he did, in complete contradiction to everyone else. I wanted to know why he hid in the forest away from an anxious world. I wanted to know how he was still alive after all these years. I wanted to know why he scared the shit out of all the kids. I wanted to know why he wasn't broiling me for dinner.
More than anything, I wanted to know what he meant by, why are you here?
“There's no magic in you, Jimmy MacLean.” He said in a deep voice. “It's gone... lost to the farthest reaches of everything. You've given it all away.” His deep voice rumbled.
I propped myself up on my elbows, “Give what away? I never had nothin' to give.”
The eyes stared down at me, almost glowing, “Why are you here!” He was more insistent.
I was slowly sobering up and growing uncomfortable with the question. My false bravado was slowly returning and I didn't much care for this old fucker grilling me. I thought hard for a moment, then, “To feel more alive.”
The old man sighed. “You've been dead most of your life, Jimmy MacLean. You have no idea what it is to be alive.” He turned away.
“Wait!” I said. Deep down something had changed. I didn't know what it was. For the first time I could remember, I wanted to know. I was curious. I just didn't understand what it was I wanted to know.
He stopped. He didn't turn back toward me. It was as if he had been hoping for me to ask him to wait. As if something in that one word statement indicated some form of desire. He said nothing, prompting me to embellish upon my wait.
“I don't know why I'm here.” I sputtered.
He turned slightly, “A better answer” he said over his shoulder. I could see his outline now, despite the pitch black, almost glowing in the darkness. A moment of fear passed over me, then a sort of peacefulness I have yet to explain even as I express this story. “Come back tomorrow with a better answer to my question. Same time as today. And this time, use the damned front door.” In an instant I could feel he was gone.
I was left alone in the dirt, brambles clawing my back, confused, copious uncontrolled thoughts spurting through my head. I scrambled up and for a moment I simply stood there, a light breeze caressing my skin. I considered gorging on the berries though I was unable to see well. Instead I escaped into the forest and made my way back to the unpaved road. A three quarter moon was high in the sky. When had that happened? I glanced at my cheap, stolen watch. It was four-thirty in the morning. More than eight hours had passed.
Time had disappeared... and so had I.