Monday, March 22, 2010

Saul Amon, Itinerant Mage

Once upon a time, there was a poor magician who had spent many years of his life pursuing the occult arts. He studied diligently, and put into practice the techniques he learned. He had seen many wondrous things and learned many secrets of the universe, and yet he was poor and could barely provide for his family. Long gone were the days of Kings hiring and caring for the magicians, diviners, and priests of the spiritual arts. As a result, he was forced to support his family as a scribe.

One day, after writing a letter for a particularly mean-spirited illiterate woman, he went to the local market and spent some of his meager pay on a small cup of coffee. A man sat down beside him and began making conversation to pass the day.

The magician noticed that this man was well-dressed. He wore fine shoes and an expensive watch. He had a sleek cell phone that had internet access and played music. He was fit, but well-fed, and while there were many lines of care on his face, there were more lines of laughter and smiles than of worry and suffering.

The magician looked at his own attire. He wore stained khaki pants from Walmart. The cuffs had started to fray where he walked on them, yet he couldn’t have bought the next shorter size because they would have been too short. He wore cheap generic shoes from Target that hurt his feet, and his shirt had cost him seven dollars on the clearance rack. He had no watch, and his cell phone was the free one he got with the plan. He was ashamed of himself, and tried to keep silent, but the man expressed genuine interest in his life.

The magician, weary with the world and the state of his life, soon found himself complaining that he had spent years studying and learning arcane arts, and yet still had to play the sycophant to the ignorant elite whom fortune favored more than himself. “What is the point,” he asked, “of spending years in the presence of the angels, of developing a close and intimate relationship with God, of experiencing the awe-inspiring heights of the heavenly realms when the next morning I must endure the abuse of a menstruating woman if I want to keep my wage-slave job?”

The man listened with great compassion, and asked his name. “My name is Saul,” the magician-scribe replied.

“What a coincidence!” the other man said. “My name is Saul too! Saul Amon, at your service. I’ll tell you what, mage-scribe, you come back to this coffee shop tomorrow, and I will tell you the tale of how I, through Fortune and Fate, managed to amass the fortune that keeps me living comfortably today. Perhaps it will help you through this momentary crisis of faith.”

With that, the man left, and the magician Saul was alone. He sighed, and returned to his scribe’s cubicle, the small, grey-upholstered cell he had been sentenced to for twenty years, and though he tried to get lost in the menial writing tasks he had, he couldn’t get the man’s comments out of his mind. He was annoyed, irritated that the man had the audacity to classify his outpouring of frustration as merely a “momentary crisis of faith.”

"He doesn’t know me," Saul thought to himself. "He got lucky, probably inherited a fortune, finished his education, and made something of himself. He wasn’t born with a fascination for the occult and a spirit for God that leaves you poor and frustrated, no matter how many awesome sights you may see."

Saul decided he wouldn’t go to the coffee shop at the market, the man was one of those know-it-alls who just wanted to give empty advice he’d heard a thousand times, or worse, a sheister trying to sell something.

Yet the next afternoon, Saul went to the market anyway. He had spent the night dreaming of his life, and woke to find himself in tears, weeping in his sleep. “This is disgusting. It can’t get any worse, I suppose,” he thought, and decided to meet the man after all.

When he arrived, the man was already seated in a booth with two cups of coffee, one for himself, and one for his guest.

“Saul! Good to see you, mage-scribe. I didn’t know if you’d come or not, but I’m glad you did.”

They sat, and soon the wealthy man began to speak of his own life and experiences.

* * *

Long ago, the wealthy Saul had been born to an upper middle class family. He too had been drawn to the occult, and though he had been given everything he needed in life, he had let his pursuit of the illusions of the occult distract him, and he squandered away the few blessings he had received early in his youth. He had dropped out of college without getting a degree, and had spent many years chasing after the latest in pop-occultism. Soon he found himself in a similar position to the mage-scribe, and wondered what he would do with his life.

Using the wealth magic he had learned, he conjured enough capital to purchase the raw materials to make some talismans. He made the talismans, and hooked up with some modern-day gypsies, a small group of New Agers and Fortune Tellers who traveled around the country visiting occult bookstores and psychic fairs, selling their wares and talents. He threw his box of talismans in the back of a minivan, and the group set off for a rock and gem show in New Mexico.

After they had traveled hundreds of miles, they stopped at a road side rest stop somewhere in Kentucky. Saul didn’t take nearly as long to relieve himself as his companions, so he walked among the picnic tables where families ate cold sandwiches and drank fruit-flavored sodas. Running low on cash, he approached a couple of the tables and asked if anyone would be interested in a tarot card reading for $15. No one was interested, and so he headed back towards the van to wait for his traveling companions.

Before he reached it, a state trooper pulled up and began asking him what he was doing, where he was going, and why he was harassing the other travelers at the rest stop. It seems a good-hearted Christian family had been frightened by the ungodly man and had called the police, who had happened to be pulling into the rest stop at just the right time to see the man who fit the description.  Before long, Saul found himself sitting in the back of the patrol car while the officer ran his driver’s license looking for outstanding warrants. If his history cleared and his story checked out, the officer said, he would be free to go with a warning.

Seeing Saul in the back of the patrol car, his traveling companions got in their van and drove off, leaving Saul unable to corroborate his story. The owner of the van was transporting more than occult paraphernalia, and didn’t want anything to do with the police. With this turn of events, Saul realized things weren’t going to turn out very well at all. He was somewhere in Kentucky with a pack of tarot cards, the clothes on his back, and a state trooper who looked at him and only saw “Vagrant.”

“Officer,” he said, “I know what this looks like, and I assure you things aren’t what they seem. I know it’s illegal to hitchhike from a rest stop, but I have no one to call, and only the $30 in my wallet. I invested the last of my fortune in the goods in the back of the van that I can’t prove was here, and there’s nothing I can do about it. But since I can’t get off this rest stop without breaking the law, can you please give me a ride to the nearest exit?”

The officer grudgingly agreed, and since Saul had no warrants, more than $10 in cash, and a story that could very well be true, he dropped him off at the next exit with the warning that he’d better never see him again.

Saul was more than happy to agree to that, and began walking away from the interstate. He hoped to catch a ride to New Mexico to catch up with his things, but for that he would need a truck stop, and there didn’t appear to be any between where he was and where he needed to be. He found a state highway that meandered roughly parallel to the interstate, and began the indefinite walk forward, hoping a Kentucky farmer would give him a lift to the nearest truck stop if he was lucky.

His luck didn’t exactly pan out.

As he was walking along, he heard a loud splashing sound coming from a pond in the field beside the road. He looked over, and saw a horse thrashing about in the middle of the pond. Without really thinking about it, he hopped the fence and ran over to the horse. Something had the beast by the leg and was dragging it under the water. Every time the beast scrambled to its feet, it slipped. Though he could see nothing apparent attacking the beast, Saul knew something was at work. He felt the presence of a spirit sucking, drawing, dragging the horse into the middle of the pond.

“By the Archangel Michael, and the power of St. George, I command you to release the horse immediately.”

The horse instantly regained its footing and scrambled up out of the pond, the whites of its eyes showing all around.

“Hey, thanks!” he heard, and turning, he saw a youth running up to him. “Two horses drowned in that pond last month, and we’ve locked the gate to this field. Penny’s Lover got out of his stall this morning and jumped the fence, came right here like he wanted to die or something. If he’d drowned, my boss would have killed me! This horse is worth a couple million dollars, easy. Jack’s going to be so happy you saved the horse, you’ve got to meet him.”

Apparently, Saul had wandered onto a thoroughbred horse racing farm, and had saved the life of their biggest investment. The youth was true to his word, and introduced the man to Jack Kensington, the owner of the horse and the farm.

Jack was so thankful that he gave Saul a reward of a thousand dollars cash, and asked how he had saved the horse. “Sir,” began Saul slowly, “I don’t know if you believe in this stuff or not, but that pond out there… it’s cursed.”

Awkwardly at first, and then when Jack didn’t freak out too much, Saul explained what he had done and how it had worked. “There’s still something in the pond that hates your horses, or maybe even you personally. It draws the horses to it to punish you, I think. Did you piss off someone’s ghost, or maybe the spirit of the farm?”

Jack looked at Saul closely for a moment, and then sighed.

“Look, son, I don’t believe in all this psychic shit. I really don’t... Wait, how did you end up here again?”

Saul hadn’t told him his story, but taking a deep breath, he started at the top. “I was heading for New Mexico to sell some stuff at a rock and gem show, and I got abandoned at the rest stop down on the interstate. My traveling companions bailed when they saw me sitting in the back of a state trooper’s car. Seems they were carrying some stuff I didn’t know about that the cops wouldn’t have appreciated. The cop thought I was a vagrant because I was trying to make some spending cash by giving tarot readings, and when they left, I looked more like a vagrant than ever. The cop dropped me off at the closest exit, and I’m just trying to get to New Mexico to get my stuff back. It’s all I have, and it could make me a tidy profit.”

“You never heard of me, this farm, and you’re not from around here?”

“No, sir. I just ended up here by accident.”

“What was the cop’s name?”

“Anderson, his badge said.”

“Bob Anderson? He’s a friend of mine. Look, you’re welcome to stay for lunch, we feed all the farm hands in about twenty minutes. You can keep the reward for helping the horse, and if your story checks out, I might have some work for you if you’re interested. If it doesn’t, I'll run you off with rock salt, but you saved Penny’s Lover, and that’s worth at least a grand. You can stay and eat and maybe work, or if you’re full of shit, you can high tail it on out of here and never show your face again.”

Saul knew his story would check out, he was hungry, and figured he could at least get a ride to a greyhound station if nothing else, so he stayed. After eating with the workers, Jack called him into his office and offered him a drink and a cigar.

“I got ahold of Bob while you were eating. He thinks you’re likely a drifter with more stories than sense, but he said your story checks out. Your license has no warrants on it, and unless it’s a fake, you’re really from out of town. You wouldn’t have known anything about me or this farm.

“Like I said before, I don’t believe in all this psychic bullshit, curses, or haunting by evil spirits, or whatever it’s called. I think it’s probably a load of shit and I’ve just had some bad luck… shit happens, you know? But look, here’s the deal. A year ago, I won a race down in New Orleans. I beat out the local favorite, and got a little drunk after the race. I may have run my mouth a bit to the loser, you know, bragging, rubbing it in, but I was really happy to have won, you know? I was the long-shot, a breeder no one had heard of, and no one thought I knew what I was doing.

“Anyway, I pissed this guy off, and he said I’d be cursed. I laughed in his face and said bring it on, and a week later, sober and back here at my farm, I get this envelope from New Orleans. No return address, but the postal stamp said it came from there. Inside, there’s this white powder and this piece of paper.”

Jack took a small square of parchment out of his desk. On it was scrawled a seal of a spirit that looked like a cross on a checkered hill. It looked like it had been written in ordinary pencil. There was a slight smell of incense about the paper too. When he touched it, Saul felt a chill.

“Ever since then, I’ve had nothing but bad luck. I had two horses drown in that pond, fortunately one was just a work horse, but the second was Penny Lover’s sire. He was past his prime, but I had stud plans for him. I had some of his semen frozen, but the compressor on that unit failed and it was ruined. And that’s not the only bad luck I’ve had. I haven’t won a race since, the farm hands are all talking about hearing things at night, and the Mexicans among them have all started lighting St. Martha candles. My wife is scared, and... Well, maybe you can do something about it.”

As it turned out, Saul actually could do something to help. He had recognized the seal right away, it was the seal of Gamigin of the Lemegeton’s Goetia. The Goetia tended to attract dabblers and dilettantes, but in the hands of a skilled magician, it could be really effective, especially for doing magic with people with no magical background.

“I can help,” he said. “It’s a spirit sent against you, apparently with the direction to curse you and destroy your horses. I can get rid of it, maybe even send it back against the person who sent it, but I’ll need to time it right.”

“Nah,” said Jack, “I don’t want you to send it back at ‘em. I suppose I deserved it, but I sure can’t afford to have any more horses die. How long will it take to get rid of that thing?”

“Let me check,” Saul replied. “I haven’t done any Goetia stuff in a while, but if I can get on a computer, I’ll be able to get what I need.”

As things turned out, Saul was able to get rid of the spirit that night. The moon was appropriate, and the timing was right, so he conjured up Gamigin and released it from its orders, thanked it for its work, and sent it on its way. He knew that even though the spirit had been tasked with evil, it wasn’t responsible for its actions any more than a wind bears responsibility for knocking an oak branch into a house. It did its job well, and a magician’s praise was generally welcomed by the spirits.

Jack asked Saul to stay a couple of days to make sure the spirit didn’t return, but Saul was eager to get back on the road. His travelling companions would be at the rock and gem show in a day or two, and the show itself would only last through the weekend. If he wanted to recover his stuff and make a profit, he needed to get on a bus and be in New Mexico with haste.

“Now, son, just hold your horses,” Jack said. “I’ll pay you whatever you wanted to make off that shit if you’ll just stick around a couple of weeks. I’ll put you up, you can have fine whiskey and cigars the whole time. I’m pretty sure whatever you did worked, because my wife had the best night’s sleep she’s had in months, but I just want to be sure.”

Saul was astounded. If he had sold all the talismans he’d made, he would have made about six thousand dollars, enough to live on for a month and get the stuff for more talismans. He didn’t expect to sell them all, of course. This was a good deal, something he wasn’t going to pass up.

“You’ve got a deal, sir!” he said, grinning. Jack gave him the six thousand dollars, and put him up in a guest bedroom in the main house. He was true to his word, and a week and a half later, Saul was getting ready to leave. There had been no further spiritual activity, and they had tested the pond by putting some older horses out to pasture in the field. When none were killed, they put Penny’s Lover back out in the field, with Saul on hand to do the voodoo he did so well, should it become necessary. After three days of  no harm nor foul, Jack was treating him like a king.

A day before he was to leave, Jack took him aside and said he had a surprise for him. It was after lunch, and they sat on the porch drinking iced tea and talking about the fine art of horse breeding.

Horse breeding was an expensive hobby, but when you got the right sperm with the right egg, you stood to make a killing. Saul didn’t have much to contribute to the conversation, but Jack made up for it with his enthusiasm. Soon Saul knew more about horse semen than he wanted, but he enjoyed Jack’s company, and the fine cigar and single malt waiting inside made up for a lot.

“Say, Saul,” Jack said after a comfortable lull in the conversation, “why is it you can conjure up demons and they do what you want, but you’re nearly broke and you get abandoned on the highway while you’re sitting in the back of a cop car?” Saul sighed. It was the essence of the very question that he struggled with all the time.

“I have no fucking clue, man,” he said, and Jack laughed. Saul continued, “I can get a pittance here, a few grand there, but for long-term wealth, I get nothing. I can make talismans that get other people rich, improve their business, hell, if you had the talismans I was going to sell at the rock and gem fair, you’d be winning no less than three out of every five races you run for a year. But as soon as I do that and bet on your horse, I guaran-damn-ty you that it will be one of the two races you lose. Business wealth talismans are just weaker for the person that makes them, for some reason, probably in accordance with some fucking cosmic law, or whim of God. Drives me nuts.”

Jack laughed. “Well son, maybe your luck’s about to change.”

Saul looked up, and saw Jack wasn’t looking at him. Driving up to the house was a state trooper, and sure enough, Bob Anderson hopped out when it came to a stop.

“Bob!” Jack called. “Good to see you. How’s Ann and the kids?”

“They’re good, Jack.” Turning to Saul, Bob said, “Didn’t I tell you I’d better not see you again?”

Saul paled, but when Bob started laughing, he relaxed, a bit; even laughing cops made him nervous.

“Just joshing you,” he said. “I don’t know if you’re full of shit or not, but we pulled over your friends on their way back through here last weekend. Turned out they were hauling back a couple pounds of pot. Your name was on a box in the back, and I told Jack about it. He asked if you could have it, says you helped him out a lot here at the ranch over the last couple of weeks. Looks like he’s treating you well enough, and I’ve never known Jack to get the wool pulled over his eyes sober. Everything else you’ve said has checked out, so you can’t be all bad.”

The cop weighed Saul in his eyes, and Saul felt the echo of Justice resonating out from him. “Ah, I guess you’re not a grifter. You don’t flinch like they do.”

Feeling like he’d passed a test, Saul relaxed the rest of the way. Bob dropped the last of his cop demeanor, and soon, despite the gun and hand cuffs, he was just a friend of Jack’s who didn’t mind Saul’s presence so much.

After some small talk, Bob went to the trunk and pulled out the box that had Saul’s full legal name on it. Inside were the talismans he made, and seeing that there were no drugs or pipes in the lot, whatever residual concerns Bob had seemed to dissipate.

After Bob left, Saul thanked Jack profusely. “I can’t believe you got this stuff back for me! This is great. With what you already paid me and this, I’m flush for a couple of months. I can’t thank you enough.”

“Hold on there, son,” said Jack. “You said something about these things helping me win three out of every five races I run. Those are pretty decent odds, all things considered. How much you want for all of them?”

Saul sold him the lot for $6,000, and took some time to fine tune each to a particular purpose. Hanging one in a stable, he said, “You keep your horses in this stable before they race, and they’ll do better than if you don’t.” Handing him another, he said, “Hang this talisman in the trailer when you’re transporting them, and they’ll rest easy and have less stress. It’ll keep away accidents too.” Taking a fertility talisman out, he said, “Hang this in a stall and breed your horses in it during a waxing moon, and the foals will come out strong and fast.” Taking yet another, he said, “If any of your horses get hurt, put this in their stall and it will help them race again.”

Jack was polite, but obviously skeptical, in spite of what he’d seen. “I don’t know, Saul, but if half of what you’ve said works, I’ll be in pretty good shape come next year this time, eh?”

Soon, Saul took his leave, giving Jack his number and address, and telling him to call any time. He went back to his home on the East Coast, and set about making more talismans. It would take a couple months to get the timing right for the more expensive stuff he wanted to make this time, but with the funds he’d gotten from Jack, he should be fine. He’d be running out of cash roughly the time the fall psychic faires started up in force, and Halloween was always a good time to make money at those things.

A month or so later, he got a letter from Jack. Inside was a letter explaining that since Saul had left, he’d followed his instructions about the talismans, and sure enough, they were working. He’d won a sizeable number of races, and had some investors approach him about some of the genetic lines he was developing. It seems profits had gone up, way up since he’d gotten the talismans, and he knew who to thank.

Enclosed with the letter was a check for three million dollars, with the note, “That’s less than 10% of what I made since you left, son. Take it and use it in good health.”



* * *

“And that,” said Saul, taking a sip of his coffee, “was the first time I made over a million dollars at once.”

The magician-scribe looked at the man across the table from him at the coffee shop.

“You’re full of shit,” he said. “That shit just doesn’t happen.”

Saul laughed and replied, “I had to have made some money somehow, right? Who says the story I just told you isn’t what paid for this Rolex and this Blackberry?”

“Did it?” the magician-scribe asked.

“Hell no, I lost that fortune a year or so later, half to an ex-wife, and the other half to single malts and fine cigars. Meet me here tomorrow, and I’ll tell you the rest of the story.”
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