Thunder and Herbs
The written words of Jenny Hackett
Practical Witchcraft for Outcast Teens
Chapter 7: Surrealpolitik
When Daniel gets home, they hurry upstairs to their room and flop down on the bed. The bedroom is a strange mix of elements both masculine and feminine, the masculine parts coming from two main sources. Firstly, there are those things provided by the presumption of male interests, such as: blue walls (painted shortly before birth), superhero bedsheets (about five years old), piles of books about spies and soldiers (one or two received each birthday from relatives who think boys’re into that sort of thing) and the occasional mildly lewd novelty gift (ditto, but only recently). Secondly, there are those things that Daniel actually likes that are for some strange reason considered masculine, such as: vintage computers (collected over the years from car boot sales), a games console (not the latest model but serviceable enough) and boxes of collectible card games (a sink for far too much of their time and money, given how few people they have to play against).
The feminine aspects of the room are limited to those that are either subtle enough to get away with or easy enough to hide. Daniel’s made hiding their feminine interests something of an art over the years: stuffed animals, dolls and other girly toys are stashed in bottom drawers all over the place, and the posters of female role models on the walls are limited to those their parents will believe are just there for wank-material. There’s a stash of makeup and nail polish in a box under the bed — though they’ve not got the skill to use most of it — and an ill-fitting set of knickers hidden in the back of the wardrobe, stolen from a washing line in an uncharacteristic fit of bravery. However, most of the femininity in this room is safely stored in digital form, password protected in about five different ways on a computer running an operating system arcane enough to baffle even the most tenaciously intrusive parent.
Daniel sits themself up on the bed, examining the booklet they got from that weird boy, Rakesh. They’ve never given much thought to politics before — like so many aspects of society, they’ve always felt somewhat detached from it — and the politics of magic are no exception. Perhaps it’s a little naïve of them, but up until now they’ve assumed the Art was somehow politically neutral, separate from the law, the economy and whatever else politicians tend to concern themselves with. The fact remains, however, that the booklet they hold in their hands is quite clearly a political manifesto.
The booklet is entitled “Together, Into the Light — The Lucerist Association of Great Britain and Northern Ireland”.It’s a slick design, with a sky blue cover and clean sans serif font, a sort of elegant minimalism that exudes corporate sincerity. The top-right corner of the cover bears a logo, a white five-pointed star in a black circle, like a marketing executive’s idea of a pentacle. The pages of the volume are thick and glossy, and the binding consists of a pair of staples along the spine. It’s a careful balance of professionalism and mass-producibility.
The word “Lucerist” is totally alien to Daniel, though it’s presumably a reference to some sort of political ideology. They’re sure the booklet will explain it in detail.
Out of all the bizarre things Daniel’s seen lately, this booklet has to be up there in the top three at least. It begins like this:
The twentieth and twenty-first centuries have brought countless technological changes to the world we live in. The Information Age, as it is widely known, has irrevocably changed the nature of our society, invalidating all of our historical assumptions about how the world works. The rise of photography and cinema, the LP, CD and MP3, radio and television; countless technologies now permit us to record the world like never before.
As a result of these advances, the status quo of secrecy that our communities have relied on is now untenable. It is only a matter of time before some television channel, camera-phone or YouTube video produces incontrovertible proof of the practice that we refer to as the Art, and the entire world will be changed as a result. Such a revelation has the potential to be either miraculous or disastrous.
We, the Lucerists, believe that we must prepare for this inevitability. We must be ready, so that the chaos and terror of past contacts between our parallel cultures can be averted. Who can forget the horror of Salem, or of the Witchfinder General Matthew Hopkins? Even today, fundamentalist groups persecute those suspected of so-called “magic”, indiscriminate of whether they have any connection to the Art. Make no mistake: this is a threat to everyone, both within and outside our community.
To this end, we band together to build the structures of order and cooperation in our community. The past situation of anarchistic vigilantism is no longer acceptable. We need police, courts, government and registration in order to ensure a safe process of integration when the governments of non-Art users become aware of our existence, so that we are prepared to hand over control when the revelation comes.
Our chief opponents in this task call themselves “Factio Umbrata”. These so-called “Umbratists” are little more than terrorists, waging a guerrilla campaign to disrupt our efforts in a futile attempt to delay the revelation. It is clear to all right-thinking people that they cannot win, but it is our task to limit the damage they are able to do until they accept this fact.
We hope you will join our cause, so that after revelation we may stand as one unified force for good.
Together, Into the Light!
Daniel blinks away confusion, flipping ahead to somewhere in the middle.
The Need for Regulation
The free-market economic system known as “capitalism” forms the backbone of civilisations across the globe. However, in order for a free market to function there must be a limited supply of resources. Without limited access to food, shelter and entertainment there would be no incentive for people to work, creating a stagnant society.
Widespread access to the Art threatens this system. Those who use the Art can produce goods almost without limit, running the risk of crashing the economy and causing chaos and distress among the population. For this reason, we must develop systems to regulate the Art so that the free market, and the way of life enjoyed by almost all of humanity, may be preserved.
Our strategy for regulation…
The booklet continues in this vein for several pages. It’s all somewhat over Daniel’s head: they’ve never been that great at economics. They flop back on the bed, letting their arms limply fly up to the pillow; the booklet slips out of their hands and onto their chest, face-down. On the back of it, they spot something they really weren’t expecting to see.
Surely, that can’t be a URL?
Pushing themself off of the bed, Daniel moves over to their desk, moving piles of junk off the chair so as to make room to sit in it. They jab their finger in the vague direction of their computer’s power button — it takes a few attempts to find it — and pull the keyboard toward them. The computer whirrs into life. This is Daniel’s main computer, a dual-booting Windows/FreeBSD machine with encrypted drives. It’s getting on in years and it was second-hand when it was new; it probably needs a total overhaul going by the wheezing and clicking of the fans. It’s old enough that the monitor’s CRT rather than LCD, anyway.
Daniel types in two long, seemingly-random passwords — one to make it boot at all, one to decrypt the boot partition — and selects the Windows option in the boot menu. Windows is usually where they do “low security” stuff like homework, but in this case they’re choosing it because they need a working web browser and their most recent attempt at updating FreeBSD broke Firefox. It’ll probably take a day or so to unfuck, and they haven’t the time right now.
After a short age, the computer finishes loading Windows Whatever and they type in a third and final password. They double-click on Chrome’s icon on the desktop with the dusty ball-mouse and enable a range of anti-snooping plugins on top of the browser’s usual “incognito mode”. This way they’ll be able to browse without having to worry about parental over-curiosity; it’s not that they expect mum or dad to get this far, but paranoia’s something they’ve been practising almost as long as breathing. Finally, they copy the URL from the back of the booklet into the address bar and hit enter.
Result: “This site can’t be reached”. Huh. They check the URL again, comparing what they’ve typed to what’s displayed on screen, but they can’t see any mistakes, unless— Surely not? They stare at the computer screen until their eyes hurt. They can just about make it out, though it’s extremely well hidden: the tiniest irregularity in the reality-fibres of the screen. It can’t be, can it?
The entire website is under a glamour. They didn’t even know you could do that.
Daniel takes the coin from their pocket and tosses it into the air, letting it sail through the air in front of them and dispersing the glamour as a result. It disappears easily — clearly it’s meant to be hard to find, not hard to circumvent — revealing the website for the Lucerist Association of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in a sky-blue colour scheme. It’s the same shade of blue that the booklet was in: clearly part of the branding. By this point Daniel’s too weirded out by the concepts at play here to read the website — it’ll probably be more of the same anyway — so they close the browser window and select the option to shut down the computer, lying back down on the bed. They stare at the ceiling for a while.
It’s all a bit much: weird mentors, alien worlds, strange monsters and secret societies. It’s hard enough just being a teenager with a fucked up sense of gender. Tears well up in their eyes unbidden, and they cry a little. It’s not for any particular reason; it just seems appropriate.
After a moment, they remember: weren’t they going to do something before they got derailed by all this? They can’t remember what, though: they’re kind of overwhelmed. Taking a moment to breathe deeply, they rack their brain trying to recreate the line of thought from scratch:
Daniel got into magic in order to become a girl; perhaps not the most normal thing to do, but they’re not sure that wanting to be a girl is that normal to begin with. So far, Yarn’s taught them about illusions, but not actual physical transformations. All he’s had to say on the subject of transformation so far is “it’s possible, but difficult”, which is not particularly helpful. On top of that, Yarn’s reactions to Daniel expressing femininity have been… less than ideal. Even if Yarn can help them become a girl, it might not be the most pleasant experience.
Daniel wonders: Can they trust Yarn to teach them what they need to know? They’re not sure. On the other hand, is there anyone else that could teach Daniel what they need to know? Someone, or perhaps something? Perhaps something that’s expecting a visit anyway?
Standing up from the chair, Daniel starts to think. They start to roll their penny around in their hand, feeling the weight of the metal as it moves from finger to finger, imbuing the world around them with esoteric energies. They try to fix their mind on another place, concentrating on that place and trying to picture it in their mind’s eye. Closing their eyes, they flip the coin into the air, catching it in their other hand, opening their eyes again at the exact moment of impact.
They’re still in the room. That’s… not where they wanted to be, is it?
Daniel returns the coin to their pocket, sitting on the bed and staring at the ceiling. They breathe slowly, feeling the air run through their lips and into their lungs, the pressure pushing against their airways. Feeling a little dizzy, they try to imagine themself out of their body, pulling at the edges of the mind-body barrier as intensely as they dare. They can see something of their goal, but it’s distant and obscure, like navigating through fog. If only they had a lighthouse.
A familiar scent enters Daniel’s nose, and something clicks in their brain. Maybe they can have a lighthouse; or at least, some kind of navigation aid, something familiar to help them find their way. They stand up and head out of the bedroom, taking the stairs down two at a time. They get downstairs and head towards the back of the house, peeking into cupboards and drawers until they find it: a box of Earl Grey tea. They hold the box to their face and inhale with eyes closed.
Hrm. It’s close, but not quite there yet. What could be missing?
Daniel inhales again, deeply, detecting something different about the scent, something vaguely floral. Almost on autopilot, they rummage through the various boxes of tea available until they find another box, grabbing it and breathing the scent in without even looking. The smell of roses fills their world, an intense veil covering their usual senses far more thoroughly than such a small box of dried tea leaves should be able to.
Something goes clunk in reality, and the kitchen is gone.