Last night I dreamt I was part of a stream of people riding horses and mules across difficult terrain towards the hope of a promised land. We were all strangers to each other, but because we were all chasing a common ideal, we banded together for comfort and safety.
Our path led us to a washed out bridge. What was supposed to be a gently dying creek under the low bridge had become a raging torrent that remade its banks and tore apart neighboring land to claim as its new floodplains. All of our maps, regardless if stolen, dream-inspired, dictated, marked from memory, or copied from ancient tomes, showed this bridge and this creek. None of our maps showed a way around this obstacle.
My mount, a mule twice as stubborn as I am and three times as sluggish, dances under me as if bored with just standing around. I allow him to move away from the rest of the stalled journeyers. He comes to a stop near the side of the intact portion of the bridge. There is a wood post that is part of the bridge supports, but looks different from the others.
I dismount and inspect the post further. There are handhelds chopped into the thick post. At the base of the post, which is now a few feet away from the growling river, is a faded footpath. I allow my sight to walk the path along the river to a large outcrop of bedrock. I note that portion of bedrock can be climbed by hand and foot with care. At the top of the bedrock, there is an aged path marker.
“There’s another way!” I point to the distant path marker. “But it means abandoning the horses.”
“It means abandoning what we know. We will wait for the river to calm, and then cross below following the path laid out for us.” The person spoke for the rest of the others. Their reactions ranged from politely dismissive, to outright mocking me.
“And how long will we wait here? We knew there would be trials. We knew the map would not be the territory. Look! There is another way! If we go together, we will be each other’s safety and comfort!”
“And how do we know that you have not laid a trap for us? Perhaps there is a dam upstream that your fellows have broken to cause this and now you seek to tighten the net? No. This is the way our forefathers went, and this is the way we go now. If you want to go, go. But none of us will go with you.”
I took the layers of cloths that served as the saddle off the the mule. I removed the reins and harness. I gave him all the remaining large carrot I had been holding for when we arrived. “Take care.” He headbutted me gently in answer to my whisper. I repacked my gear so that I could carry it, and began to descend the notched post.
“Wait! I’ll go with you!” A young boy, dressed in colors of yellow and brown, quickly let loose his own horse and repacked his gear to carry alone. I waited for him to place a hand on the notched post before I continued my descent.
They watched us from what was left of the shattered bridge. Some with envy, some with curiosity, some with disdain, some with judgement. They continued watching until the youth and I reached the bedrock outcropping. Now that I was close to the rocks, I could see where certain features of the rock was used as handholds, and where handholds had been carved into the rock.
“Well, kid. I have no idea what happens next or what’s at the top of this rock. We might not see them again. We might meet our doom. We might come home. Nothing left to do but try, right?”
I turned to face the youth but he was gone. I was standing alone. I heard something shift far above me. A man in layers of flowing cloths and robes stood at the summit of the ascent. Even as far away as I was, I could see his large rings covering every finger glinting in the suddenly setting sun.
He raised his hand in encouragement. He spoke only two words, but the force of the first word shattered the dream and drove me into waking. I heard the second word, wide awake and fully aware, in my right ear which was completely muffled by the pillow.
Only after I woke did I realize it was [Patient Caller] standing at the summit of the path, and that it was his voice I heard in my ear.
As I reached for the phone to note the time, the alarm announced it was time for today’s ritual.
After summoning [Patient Caller], I asked him about his appearance. After all, the conjuration most necessary does command him to appear “quasi puer tres annos natie” [as if a child of three years of age], and yet he has appeared as a middle-aged man with some balding and some paunch every time he has appeared at this table.
[Patient Caller] asked me if I would like to see him as requested by the invocation. Why the hell did I say yes?
After I sat back down in the chair and recovered my properly magic aloofness, I began my critique of his appearance with, “So we moderns have this label called the Uncanny Valley…”
The appearance was like a naked three-year-old boy, as instructed. But for all the ways that it was right, it was also wrong as fuck. Each and every one of my instincts was calling for the application of fire to the book, the table, and the ground upon which the fresh apparition stood. The “boy” looked up at me and smiled. It was everything I could do to keep myself from reaching for the knife and stabbing the unnatural little fuck leering up at me like a god damn predator about ready to leap for my throat.
I coughed to keep my composure. “Yes. Well. Thank you. Your demonstration has not gone unnoticed. Now, if you would please, and by please, I mean I’m not giving you a choice, return to the appearance you have used with me from the beginning.”
He did. Laughing as he did so.
I was so unnerved by the apparition, I completely forgot to ask him about the dream. I gave the Apophenia Invitation and License to Depart. I closed with Psalm 54 and the command, “Go all now in peace.”
Total ritual time: 38 minutes.
Strength of post-ritual coffee: Fucking extra.