From the Diary of Megan Penn. This is the section immediately following the first, in which she describes her experience immediately following the one at the end of this entry.
This is the story of my life.
I was born in 1984, which was probably about the worst time to believe in and love Magic since the Dark Ages. I had ex-hippie parents, which helped, but the Psychedelic Sixties were over and Ronald Reagan, Destroyer of Dreams, was in the White House. We lived in rural Oregon, which was better than rural Appalachia, which was where my folks had fled from. But still, past a certain age, most kids didn’t take too kindly too you if you called yourself a witch or said you could cast spells (even though I couldn’t really, at least not then). The illusion-magic show my parents took me too at five years old only encouraged me to expand my interest. To make matters worse, when I was about seven I found a copy of the Monsters & Magic “Red Box”, and immediately began building whole worlds in which I had adventures as a powerful sorceress. But only in my mind, because I didn’t have any friends to play the game with. School was a nightmare, as it is for almost everyone. The classes were mostly mind-numbingly dull and the teachers were mostly fascistic overlords of their petty little kingdoms, but at least it was a respite from the torments of the petty overlords among we little ones. I spent most of my after-school childhood reading and wandering the many acres surrounding our family home. I would pack a sandwich and a book and a thermos of tea, put on my adventuring coat, and wrap Liz (my stuffed dragon) around my neck, then strike out past the garden into the Enchanted Woods.
In Middle School I managed to make a few friends but the venom of my tormentors grew too, probably in proportion to the increase in intensity of the hormone hurricane we were all weathering. We would all gather in the basement of one of our homes, stock up on snacks and drinks, break out the M&M books, and explore imaginary worlds and fight Monsters until sunrise, only occasionally stopping to watch movies and cartoons or play video games or read comic books or go to the bathroom. I still remember the dice I used: they had alternating red and blue faces with alternating black and white numbers. I always played as a Mage or a Magic user of some sort, though I went through many different characters, but my favorite thing was to be the Magical Monster Master (the “M”). This was the player who got to describe and control the whole world. We weren’t great at making this stubborn world do as we willed, but when we were playing M&M, we touched the face of the limitless Beyond.
Anyway, that got me through most of Middle School. The first book in the “Mary the Magician” series was published when I was in fifth grade, and they helped me through the rest of it, though I was terribly disappointed when I didn’t get my letter inviting me to attend the Academy of Magical Arts. It both helped and hurt that I was good at the actual school aspect of school. It helped in that the teachers didn’t bother me, but hurt in that it made me a target to pretty much everyone else, so I stopped talking and asking questions in class and just shut up and did my work, and that helped a little.
When it was over, there I was: a nerdy, bookish girl obsessed with magic and Monsters & Magic, about to about to enter High School. It was right at that point that I got acne, and also when all those late-night snacks during our M&M sessions (we ate a lot of M&Ms) started to take their toll. So, as you can imagine, High School plumbed new depths of horribleness. I was good enough at school to get by, though that was hardly the issue.
But I did what any self-respecting teenager at the time would have done. I went goth-punk. It helped that I was genuinely wracked with angst, both of the existential variety and otherwise. My few good friends did it too, so there was that as well. I dyed my hair black, and then bright red. I wore my top hat to school along with a black leather trench-coat that had been my grandfather’s when he fought in World War II. I wore weird, scary T-shirts and listened to weird, scary music. I pierced my ears, not just the lobes, but also eleven other cartilage piercings. My parents wouldn’t let me get it done at first, so I got one of my friends to do a few, and they decided they’d rather I get the piercings professionally. I also got a ring in the right corner of my bottom lip, another in my left eyebrow, a stud on my right nostril, and another between my brows, marking my Third Eye. I wore lots of black eyeliner, black (or blood red) lipstick and nail polish. I wore baggy black jeans much more often than skirts (though every once in a while I’d rock a dress and some spiderweb stockings), and big steel-toed combat boots. We all took up Wicca, and Satanism, and Stochasticism, and called ourselves “K-Oz”, the Chaos Sorcerers. We joined the Church of “Bob” and the Cult of Kthulhu and Thuh Tempall uv Sighkick Youfe. “Monsters & Magic: Modern” also came out in our first year, so on weekends we kept ourselves busy between actually trying to cast spells and act out weird rituals by pretending to be heroic but tragically flawed Magicians fighting a losing battle against banality. Which was of course just happened to be exactly the way we imagined ourselves in real life. But the others didn’t know about our shared but secret inner world. It was invisible to them, in a blind spot, past a gap they could not close. They saw only our appearance, our demeanor, and that kept the bullies at bay, especially since there were a few of us freaks to watch each other’s backs now. It also scared away most everyone else, including, for the most part, teachers and parents, but we didn’t care. That was half the reason we did it.
Around this time, by the way, computers had started being introduced to classrooms en masse. I never liked them, perhaps because I had never liked televisions or screens of any kind. Occasionally, I had to use one for an assignment, and I would swallow my fear, but they always struck me as somehow sinister. Creepy. Cold. I never had a personal computer, let alone a laptop. I didn’t even own a cell-phone until after college. Even then, I just had a simple phone and have never wanted a “smart” one. Back then I had an antique land-line rotary phone that worked perfectly well. Being reachable all the time is a double-edged sword, anyway. Now, Dawn has my old cell-phone (which still works just fine, by the way) and I’m back to using a rotary. I know, I know, Diary, call me a Luddite, but I’m not against all technology. I’m just fascinated by the ancient and archaic. I prefer the term “Old Soul”.
I never got on board with the digital trend in music, either. Digital copies of music are always incomplete, imperfect. They work by taking a series of “snapshots” of the waveform and building up a reproduction of it. But there’s always something missing, something lost in translation. There’s always a gap between what you hear and the original sound. Give me good vinyl and a record player any day, or better yet, a live show, or better yet, my own instrument! Let’s see… what else? I write with a fountain pen and send actual letters and take down numbers and notes in a little leather-bound book. I use a pocket watch (inherited from my great-grandfather) instead of a wristwatch (or a phone). I also still wear my maternal great-grandfather’s top hat, which I found in our attic when I was five. (It inspired the trip to see a magic show when I tried to wear it at the dinner that night, and my mother asked if I was playing make-believe Magician as I was pulling the brim back up over my eyes). I roll my own cigarettes, and light them with my father’s brass Zip. I read printed paper books almost exclusively. Even those supposedly paper-like e-readers are nowhere close to the real thing.
You might assume that all of these preferences are due to my current condition, but nothing could be further from the truth. I was this way my whole life, and it’s not like I’m hundreds of years old or anything. Though I know a few people who are, and I do feel like it sometimes. High School alone felt like a few centuries. Endless days of drudgery broken up by the taunts and torments of my classmates. The weekends were refuges, each a heavenly oasis of freedom without which I don’t think I could have made it through. The same group of friends met pretty much every day except Sunday (which was when my parents made me my homework) to play M&M. Though about halfway through High School, we discovered drugs. We would start sneaking in beer and liquor and pot and cigarettes into our sessions, which would eventually dissolve into meandering conversations punctuated by laughing fits.
The group broke up when High School ended, however. I went to college out of state: to Lacuna University. But things were better. In fact, though I know it sounds terribly trite, those really were the best years of my life. I loved Lacuna, and still do. My acne cleared up, I lost a lot of weight, I had so much more freedom and my classes were (mostly) fascinating. I started making friends, and they thought it was cool (as opposed to a sign of scary-psychoness or weird-loser-freakdom) that I wore an old top hat and listened to vinyl and rolled my own cigarettes and didn’t have a cell-phone or a computer (OK, I got a lot of weird looks for that, but I was used to it by then). By this time, I had also been practicing magic (as well as Magic) and playing music for over a decade. I had always been too shy to perform any in front of anyone. But I finally did a few tricks at a party, and played my fiddle at another. It started conversations, and I found I could actually talk to people I didn’t know without crippling anxiety. Suddenly, I was being invited to more parties than I could attend.
At one of those parties, a beautiful boy who would later become my husband and the father of my daughter, shared some strong, clean LSD with me. We left the party early and spent the rest of the night wandering the grounds and gardens and the park by the lake, basking in the beauty and wonder of existence. We were children again, innocents frolicking in Eden, full of curiosity and delight, wandering a world awash with breathtaking splendor, every surface alive with colorful fractal patterns. I lived the hippy cliche and stared at my hands (and his, and his eyes, and the whole wide world) in astonished wonder for a solid hour. At one point, he found me a rose, and its heavenly hue and its sublime scent and vivid suchness described and encompassed the whole Mysterium Tremendum that is life, the Universe, and Everything. I had been practicing Magic and Witchcraft since I was a child, but that night, I finally felt, deep down in the depths of my soul and the marrow of my bones, that Magic is real, that it is reality, inside and out.
We watched the clouds dance with the stars and saw and the sunrise from the tallest tower of the Castle, wrapped up in a big blanket. I was snuggled up against him, resting my head on his chest, but he didn’t try to kiss me, he just stroked my hair and whispered sweet somethings in my ear, while I listened to his heart beat. I kissed him, actually, when I left later that morning. But before that, there was a moment, just as the sun had begun to rise, when he drew in this deep breath through his nose, and I could tell he was smelling my hair, and he let it out in this long contented sigh. Then he tucked a lock of my hair behind my ear. That was when I fell in love with him, and when I knew he loved me. It was as though something inside me had been struggling to get out my whole life, and with that one, simple, gentle gesture, it had finally been released. It was as though something within me had finally clicked into place, had come home. It was like the key had finally turned in the lock of a door, and it had opened, somewhere deep, deep down. It was like I had been dying of thirst, throat parched and burning, and someone had given me a glass of cool, clear water. It felt like my whole soul was being tucked behind the ear of Goddess.
We got married right after college. I moved away with him, to New York City, and we started our life together. I got pregnant with Dawn two years later, when I was twenty-four, and she was born in the Spring, when I was twenty-five. Then, when she was a year old…
[The ink on this page is blurred, apparently from teardrops]
…my beautiful boy was murdered, and my beautiful baby was stolen. I tried to find them both, of course. But they had been erased. Their birth certificates, their social security accounts, even their taxes, every scrap of paper that proved they existed disappeared overnight, just as they did. The only reason I knew my husband was dead was the blood on his bed. I tracked down his boss, who denied ever having employed him, though I could see the fear in his eyes. I tried to find his parents, but it seems they’ve disappeared as well. The hospital had no record of Dawn’s birth and the doctor denied knowing me. The lease on our apartment had been in my husband’s name, but it too vanished and so was rendered void. I was evicted within the week and became homeless.
I traveled around the city for months, working part-time jobs to keep my head above water, staying in shelters or sleeping on the streets when it was warm. I looked for clues with ever-increasing desperation. I even hired a private detective to find them, which did nothing except further drain my savings. I tried every spell and divination I could think of, learning nothing except that some sort of powerful techno-sorcery had been used by a large group of very powerful people to make them disappear, though I still had no idea why. It seems, though, that I had Them worried even then. I was getting too close to the truth, so they had be committed to an asylum. Believe me, psychiatrists react to claims that you can do Magic about as well as schoolyard bullies, though the tricks did help me make friends once again. Still, the year I spent in there almost made me miss Middle School. But I eventually escaped. Magic (of both varieties) helped with that, too.
I lived on the lam for another six months before They caught up with me. Six identical suits surrounded my trailer with their identical haircuts and sunglasses (which they wore even though it was pitch dark). I was parked on the side of a lonely road just south of the Canadian border. I remember waking up in the night and knowing They were there. I couldn’t see them or hear them, but I knew it deep down in my gut. I knew that this was when I would die. I looked out my window at the moon for a moment, then at the stars. I found the Pole Star, which was Our star, and I smiled to it, and blew it a kiss. Then I got up, brushed my hair, and put on my wedding dress. I left the bedroom in bare feet, then the trailer, and there they were, standing in a perfect semicircle around the door. My breath made clouds in the cold air, but theirs did not. I nodded to them, and they all nodded back, in perfect unison. Two of them moved behind me and pressed down on my shoulders until I knelt on the asphalt. Then the one in the center of the circle, who was wearing a red tie (all the others were black) produced a pistol from a chest-holster. As he screwed a silencer onto the barrel, I asked “You know what the worst thing is? After all this, I still can’t remember His name. You even took that from me. But I remember Hers.” The man with the red tie placed the barrel of the gun against my forehead. It was even colder than the air. There was a moment of perfect silence. No, deeper than silence. Peace. Like the world was holding its breath. Then, the man laughed. Behind him, way off in the distance, the sun was starting to rise. I smiled.
Then, the world ended.