Journal entry #1
It's been years since I slept after the sun goes down. Nobody knows where they came from but they feed on sleepers at night. You sleep during the day. You work at night. Farmers have the worst of it, but a lot can be done by the headlights of a tractor. I'm Karl. Karl Green. I've always been good with mechanical things and I capitalized on it. I'm a machinist, and I've a fair hand at MIG welding too.
I live in Sidney, Iowa. It's in the far south west corner of the state. It's a small town among small towns, but Omaha is less than an hour away due north. It's been hard to keep the fabrication plant running the last few years. The electricity keeps guttering out or surging like hell. We've transitioned from using 440-Volt 3-phase power to high-pressure air lines and turbines to drive our equipment. With one huge LP gas-fed motor and a pair of high-pressure compressors we stay in business, but the big twenty-ton stamping presses are nothing but scrap metal because the power irregularities destroyed their bearings.
I've mostly gone back to torch welding, too. I had to go to the hospital to have pieces of my welder pried out of my back the last time a big voltage surge hit. If I can't do it with batteries and a voltage divider I'm not gonna do any arc welding ever again.
The churches all have capacity crowds. I have no idea why people go. All the cross-waving, icons and holy water in the world means nothing to the little invisible flying bastards that kill people in their sleep. The only thing that seems to do any good is U. V. light. They can't stand the stuff. It blisters their skin and they fall. Easy prey. The trouble is there's no reliable method of generating U. V. light anymore.
A guy at the coffee shop said that he had it figured out.
Magic had come back to the world.
Is he right? The facts seem to fit. Hell, I've had dreams of flying for the past few months. It's not really like flying, though--I'm being carried along by things that live in the air.
I've been preparing to find out if Magic is truly out there. I feel that I have to do something. Our small town is dying of attrition. Nobody is forcing me and nobody elected me. I just feel that there are answers out there. I'm not prepared to rest until I learn them.
I prepared in accordance with the old legends.
I hand made a coin silver dagger that was quenched in my own blood. I learned to spin and weave flax into linen. I wove enough material to make a long hooded robe. I sewed it together with brass needles and my waxed linen thread.
Making Scottish ghillies to cover my feet wasn't hard once I found a pattern.
It's the summer solstice tonight. The moon's going to be full, too. I'm going out into the woods to see what's out there. Wish me luck.
I have a feeling that I'm gonna need it.
Journal entry #2
It all happened. I still can't believe it, but nothing else can explain away the swirling blue and green tattoos that are gradually covering my arms, chest and back.
I'd prepared a few things to take with me in an oilskin haversack--a long braided leather cord that I'd worked with beeswax, a home-made piece of oilskin with loops sewn into the edges, a bronze hatchet I'd fashioned and a strong bronze knife. I carried a canteen made from a thick-necked gourd wrapped in jute twine with a woven carry strap over the same shoulder. I had a block of fat wood with me along with all the parts for a fire-bow. I'd practiced with it until I knew what I was doing.
I wore no synthetics. I carried no iron. I had made by hand all that I took with me except for four Morgan silver dollars and a little ten dollar gold piece.
I walked deep into the woods. Soon I saw trees thicker than I was tall, and they weren't redwoods either. I found a ring of stones in a clearing. The moonlight made them shine like opals. They were perfect. I carefully stepped over the stones to sit in the middle. After a time I heard a voice out of the dark. Nothing human could make a sound like that.
"Man, this is no longer a place for your kind."
I bowed my head. "I must."
I carefully marshaled my arguments "The world has changed. We don't know what brought it all about, but we have been carried along with everything else to a place that terrifies us. Nobody can sleep at night without dying. The things we have long depended on have become undependable. We are at the mercy of whatever is out there, and it HAS no mercy. I come seeking understanding. I come seeking wisdom."
The silence was a living thing. Then the voice spoke once again. "Man, you know not what you ask for."
I took a deep breath and slowly let it out. It was crunch time. "Do or die."
"What you ask for requires repayment. What do you offer?"
I had to think a moment. Then I hit on it. "What is the most valuable to you? Silver, gold or blood?"
Again, silence ruled the night. "Though blood has its appeal, and gold holds value among us for trade, silver is most avidly sought."
I slowly reached into my haversack and brought out the four Morgans that I'd packed along.
I raised them before me on my palm. "I offer these. Ninety percent silver coins."
A scaly figure with backward knees came out of the dark. It delicately picked the Morgans off of my palm with long clawed fingers--six fingers and two thumbs's worth of hand. It tasted each coin, then nodded.
"Start a fire within the circle, man."
I carefully inspected the circle for a previously charred spot. I nodded when I found one. Using my bronze blade I split out five thin sheets of fatwoods. Two I laid down as a floor. One I broke into toothpicks. One I broke in half long the long way and then the short way. One I delicately slivered into bits. This was my kindling. I lay it on the platform, then brought out my fire bow pieces. I assembled the bow with the last sheet of fat wood under the hearth piece, then began spinning the axle with my bow, whispering "come, need-fire" with each stroke. Soon I had a glowing coal which I delicately tapped from the hearth block onto the sheet of wood below it. This I carefully transferred to my kindling and gently blew it into life. Once I had flames I quickly split the rest of my block of fat wood into finger-thick pieces, establishing the fire. I whispered, "My thanks, need-fire." as I sat back on my heels.
I looked over to my host. He had squatted down to observe me. His eyes were narrowed and his head was cocked. "Why did you call the need-fire?"
"It seemed appropriate."
He slowly nodded. "You have the beginnings already, man. You surprise me." After a bit he instructed me to cast a measure of my blood into the fire. I made a small incision across the base of my thumb with my silver dagger. When my palm was full I let it pour out into the flame. The roar and blue-white flame that followed caused me to throw myself back across the ring.
"No, man. This fire will not harm you. Bathe the hand you cut into the fire and say your full birth name. Quickly now, before the fire gutters."
I'd gone this far and lived through it. I threw caution to the winds and thrust my open hand into the ravening column of fire. It felt cool and pleasant! I spoke out my name, "I am Karl Gregoriy Green and I greet you."
The fire rose from its bed, followed my arm back and covered me in flames from head to toe before flashing out. Not a hair remained, not even on my head, in my ears or up my nose!
I looked down at my fire lay. It was empty--as if I'd never made a fire there.
"You have been evaluated and found worthy, man. Slowly, over a month's time, you will be given knowledge as water poured from a thimble slowly fills a bucket. At the same time you will also gain the marks of a cunning man--a sorcerer. Touch no iron until the next full moon or the process will stop, and nothing will restart it." He gazed at me for a long time, as if he were evaluating whether to kill me now to remove the chance of my causing harm. He suddenly retreated into the forest, out of my sight.
I sighed, in part out of relief, in part out of regret over his leaving. Shoulders bent, I collected my possessions and once more carefully stepped over the perfect ring of stones. I looked up. The moon had moved further across the sky than I thought it should. Perhaps three hours had passed. I made my way out of the woods, deep in thought. I couldn't touch my truck, so I walked.
Now what? If I couldn't touch iron, I couldn't work as a machinist. I would have to wear gloves just to move about my house! The goddamned door knob was steel! So was the toilet's flushing lever, as were all of the water taps. I'd have to wear gloves, and find some pants with no steel rivets or zippers to keep from brushing my legs against anything ferrous.
I realized that my best chance of not screwing up was to set up a tent in the back yard. I did have a two-car garage. Maybe I could go half-way and move into that. The weather was warm, it being July, I walked the thirteen miles home, making plans of how to bootstrap myself into a new lifestyle. Maybe into a new life.
I used the hem of my robe to protect my hand as I opened the door. The kitchen provided rubber gloves, a couple of copper bowls, a plastic drinking cup, an old pottery coffee cup and some titanium flatware that came from my old camping kit. I took a corelle plate and a couple corelle bowls as well. It all went into a dishpan.
Working with canned goods was going to be chancy. I'd have to transfer the food into plastic or glass containers while in the house, then take it outside to prepare anything. That reminded me--I needed a pot. I looked through my collection until I spotted a Calphalon anodized aluminum 1 and 1/2 quart pot, with a matching lid. Wonderful! It too went into the dishpan. The living room garnered me a brass bucket holding a bunch of old magazines and catalogs. I snatched it. Hanging from the wall was a decorative brass candle lamp. That came along, too.
The basement yielded up six old 10'x20' canvas painter's tarps that had been folded up and set on a shelf. I also scored four boxes of plumber's candles and a box of brass wood screws. The load was getting too big to carry so I took it all out to the garage. The sturdy utility bench that I'd hammered together was made of wood, but the nails were steel. I'd have to cover it with a tarp, then tape the edges down. I could still use duct tape, by damn! Everything on the table I stowed on the shelf below. Then a doubled-over tarp was secured over the whole thing. I had a place to get organized, thank God.
My old camping gear was sitting on a shelf in there, all stowed away in laundry baskets. As a teen and later my second home was the state forests all around the area. I had to take care as the shelving was made of painted steel. I gingerly took down the first basket and searched through it. I'd forgotten all about this stuff. All the rope was still good. I found a mosquito net and had a minor celebration. I found a hammock. Great! I wouldn't have to sleep on the ground! I still needed blankets, though. Clothing, too. I started listing things to take. I started out with salt, pepper, sugar, coffee, towels and soap. I needed more shelves. Plastic shelves.
I called my boss at work. Scott and I went way back together. First I dropped the bomb on him that I couldn't work for a month. Admittedly, he was pretty incensed. I asked him to drop on by so that I could give him the whole story. I could tell that he swallowed my story along with a grain of salt, but he was such a friend that he agreed to get some things done for me. My being stone cold bald kind of convinced him. I called my bank to prepare an envelope full of cash for him to pick up, then asked him to get me some brass door hardware for the garage and the house, some thin leather gloves and four sets of plastic blow-molded shelves. He dug a small slit-trench for me so that I could start a fire and get some supper going, then he left.
I looked around, wondering what the hell I was going to sit on. There was some lumber up above the rafters of the garage. I could haul that down and screw together a decent table. But seating? Fuck.
I got a bright idea. I called a couple of firewood delivery places that advertised in the local paper. One guy had a log sitting around that he was willing to cut a couple two-foot sections out of, then deliver them to me along with two face cords of dry firewood and a couple bags of fat wood. I made sure that he'd accept a credit card as payment before we hung up. Great! Firewood and chairs within a few hours.
While still wearing those rubber gloves I dug through a couple of boxes until I came up with a drill bit that would leave a hole big enough for a half-inch steel tent peg. I had a few and needed wall anchors for my hammock. I got the holes made about five feet up with a brace and bit, then put in a screw eye a few feet above each hole for the mosquito net's ridge line. The holes were positioned to use one corner of the garage.
A ladder served me well to get down a few 2x4s and a couple planks. I cut the legs to make the table about kitchen-table high. I put it all together with Elmer's glue and my brass screws. A little work with a block plane rounded off the edges and I was good to go. I saturated the top with linseed oil. I promised myself that the next day I'd cover it again and set it in the sun to polymerize and seal. Then I could polish it up a bit. It came out to be about three feet by seven with angled braces between the legs. It was sturdy enough to dance on.
I took a broom to the garage floor, then brought out the big braided living room rug. I used a hammer and nails to cover the bare stud walls with my canvas tarps. I washed the garage windows which brightened up the inside tremendously.
Scott returned with the goods and even changed out the locksets for me. He said, "You need a ceiling in here. I'll be by after work tomorrow with some panels." He left me with the bank envelope and went back to work. He had to call someone in to cover for me, and needed to get busy.
I was glad to get out of those rubber gloves. I put on the leathers.
I tight-strung the hammock then set up one layer of the shelving to act as a foot stool to get into it. It didn't drop me on my ass, so I was good to go. The next step was to run a ridge-line and set up the netting.
It was an hour or two past dawn and I was hungry! I fried up a couple toasted cheese sandwiches inside the house, then sat on the back steps to have 'supper'. They went down nicely with what remained of a quart of orange juice. That reminded me to set up a shopping list. I managed to dig up a pad of paper with no spiral steel binding and a couple pencils. I started in on a Pea Pod grocery list and a hardware store list. The day soon caught up with me and I dozed off in the sun.
I was jolted awake by the sound of a truck horn. My firewood and seating had arrived. I flipped open the latch on the far garage door and opened it. We stacked the wood against the unused wall, furthest from the garage door. He dumped off the two big rounds of hardwood that he'd sawn free, handed me the bags of fat wood and I handed him my credit card. He made an impression, filled in the price and had me sign it. Painless. I liked that. He said, "Nice tats!" as he drove away. The sleeves of my robe had shifted up as I worked with the firewood. My forearms were covered with blue and green tattoos to the wrists. Well, he or it did say that I'd be marked...
With that, I peed on the back of the garage and went to bed.
Journal entry #3
I woke up as the sun was going down, as usual. I needed to use the toilet, but I couldn't chance it. There was too much metal in there to chance touching while my ass was literally hanging out. I put on my gloves and scrambled through that camping gear until I found it. A plastic toilet seat and a bucket. It was a "luggable loo". I lined it with a plastic trash bag and sat down to do my business. A paper towel served nicely to wipe with. I twisted the bag shut, knotted it and set it outside in the trash can. I added trash can liners and a dozen rolls of paper towels to my shopping list.
Breakfast consisted of a can of peaches. I figured that if I wasn't working I wouldn't need to eat as much as usual. I took some burger out of the freezer for supper.
I spent some time splitting firewood into small sticks, then searched the kitchen for covered plastic jugs to hold water. I filled two gallon sized and four quart jugs with tap water, then added a teaspoon or so of bleach to each one before carrying them outside.
I found some chinos with brass zippers in my closet. I had two pair to work with, and several shirts. I took underwear and socks as well as the clothing downstairs. Then I searched through my shoes for a pair with no metal. I found a pair of old black Nike runners with Velcro patches. They'd do. I dressed myself and started checking around for a fan and a lamp to take outside.
Most of my lamps had steel sticking out somewhere that I could touch by accident. I managed to find an old plastic covered picnic table lantern powered by a 6-Volt dry cell battery. It was dead as Kelsey's nuts, but the batteries were available. I called down to Lowe's and yes, they did have LED replacement units for 6-Volt lanterns. I was in business. It wouldn't do much for me that night, but I ordered a bulb and a case of batteries to be delivered the next day I asked if they had any box fans with plastic cases and they did. I added one to the order. My credit card number assured me a prompt delivery. I wanted the LED bulb replacement for battery longevity. LEDs gave out light, not waste heat.
I found myself staring at a candle flame, thinking about cantrips. They were little one, two or three word spells that could light a fire, clean a piece of laundry, purify water, heat or chill water, drive away insects and many other things. They could even sharpen a bronze blade but never, never steel or iron blades.
I learned that I could work stone, wood or bone with cantrips. I took a piece of dry hickory and with a few phrases and gestures fashioned two tablespoons and a drinking can. I smiled. This was actually working. I realized that I'd never struggle to light a fire again.
I ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch. That afternoon I wore out all my sandpaper polishing the tops of my log seats. Then I got smart. I called up a cantrip to polish the top surfaces of my log seats and my table until they glistened.
I grilled my hamburgers over an oak coal bed for supper. The taste was amazing. I used up my last onion and the rest of my bread.
Before I went to bed, I called in a Pea Pod order to have my groceries delivered. I made sure to order several roasts that I could carve into steaks, plenty of burger and enough baking supplies to make over twenty loaves of bread.
I had the time to delve further into my camping supplies. I was pleasantly surprised to find an old nasty-looking Svea 123 camp stove. It was made of solid brass except for the three pot rests and the key that controlled the flame height.
I called Lowe's to add to my order. They were happy to take my money! I wanted a sheet of 1/4 inch thick brass stock, a gallon of lemon oil, a gallon of boiled linseed oil and a case of white gas, all transferred into plastic containers.
My tattoos had covered my arms and crept up my neck to just below my chin. I remained hairless. I was bald as an egg.
I spent some time polishing my stove. A little cantrip and my wandering thumbs made it look brand new.
Scott drove up beeping his horn with a grin a mile wide. The bed of his truck was filled with sheets of Thermax insulating board. His passenger seat held four Thermax bonding kits, a case of industrial adhesive cylinders for a grease gun and--where the hell did he find a cast aluminum hibachi???
I would have hugged him, but a quick cantrip showed him to be covered in tiny steel castoffs from a metal lathe. "No more cooking over a pit for you! We'll have you cooking in style after we lay up these panels." First we tore down all the canvas tarps and moved that big steel shelving unit outside so that he could get rid of it for me. It took us about seven minutes to glue up a panel and hold it there until the fast-setting adhesive set up enough. It took about ten for each ceiling panel. Then the bonding kits that connected all the seams took maybe two minutes per seam. We didn't have to cut anything except around the door, the windows and the outlets as the insulated panels were sized properly to fit the eight foot height of my garage wall's interior height.
It looked like a million bucks. "What do I owe you?"
"Not a damned thing. I thought about it all day long. I've never known you to ever lie to me."
I peeled off my shirt to show off my tats. "I haven't started lying to you, either."
He walked around me, looking at the images decorating my skin. "Jesus, bud. They're amazing."
"I get more every time I sleep. I wake up knowing things, too." I picked up the spoons and drinking cup I'd fashioned and handed them over. "I made these from a dry chunk of firewood oak today." I had to admit, they were beautiful. By habit I'd polished them until they glowed. They looked as if they belonged in a museum somewhere. He turned them over and over in his big, capable hands, following the grain and testing the finish.
"You do good work. These are amazing."
"Wait until you get a load of what I can do with anything non-ferrous. I leaned over and looked into his eyes. "I know that I can sculpt tungsten carbide as easily as I sculpted that wood. Buy stock, Scott. Buy stock and bring it by. Feed me prints and stock. I'll feed you parts."