LOVE'S PHILOSOPHY (POEM):
ON A DATE WITH JANE AUSTEN:
Yvonne Jocks is an award-winning author under all of her names—Evelyn Vaughn, Von Jocks, and Yvonne Jocks. She lives in Texas with a healthy herd of distinguished pets and she writes and blogs every time she gets near a keyboard. This is her first appearance in Heart's Kiss.
A SOLITARY PATH
by Yvonne Jocks
“I am so sorry it didn’t work out with you and Joe,” said Judy. Which might have been sweet if this weren’t the fifth time she’d said so.
Tobi looked up from half-heartedly tracing a maze on a fast-food placemat. “Ya’ know, Jude, I think you’re sorrier than I am.”
Judy nodded, blonde and solemn. “You’re probably right.”
“Really! It’s just…I hate to see you so alone.”
Now Tobi groaned loudly. They were in a mall food court; she couldn’t spread her arms out for fear of hitting another person.
Judy just raised her voice. “You know what I mean. I’m so happy with Bill—what’s wrong with wanting the same thing for you? Couldn’t you do a love spell or something? You’re a witch, for heaven’s sake!”
Then she said, “Oops,” because an elderly couple to their right started clearing their trays. Of course, they might have simply finished eating.
“One,” clarified Tobi, pointing her ball-point like a tiny wand, “some witches might disagree with you there—rumor has it techno-pagans don’t take the Craft seriously enough. Two, if I were still in the broom closet, I wouldn’t be wearing all this pentacle jewelry, so no, you didn’t just ‘out’ me. And three, the best part about dating Joe was it did make you happy. And Mom. And some folks from work, several of whom apparently thought I was a lesbian.”
They added in unison, “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.”
“Which, by the way, doesn’t make sense,” added Tobi, snitching one of Judy’s fries. “If I were a lesbian I wouldn’t be dating nobody—I’d be dating women. Still, though I love you all, I need a better reason than that to keep dating. A better reason than making you happy, I mean. Not dating women.”
Judy shook her head. “Better reason? How long were you dateless before you went out with Joe?”
“Six years,” Tobi admitted easily; it wasn’t like she hadn’t had offers. A gaggle of teenage girls, one table back, blatantly stared. They hadn’t been surprised by a witch at the mall, but they were shocked by celibacy? And yet from the leftover buns on their trays—and the look of their bony arms—they were all on that no-carbs diet. To each her own. “And I was perfectly happy,” Tobi added. “I’m still happy—more than when I was dating the wrong guy.”
“Maybe it just takes practice,” insisted Judy. As if dating, like sushi, were an acquired taste.
“Or maybe we both deserve something more clearly special.”
“But how will you find special if you aren’t even trying?”
Simply shaking her head wasn’t enough—Tobi buried her beringed fingers and her pen in her curly brown hair to keep her head from exploding. “What I meant was, if I end up with anybody, it should feel special. Special enough that we’ll find each other without stressing about it. I’d rather not bother with anything less in the meantime. It’s not like there’s a hurry. If we don’t catch each other this time around, there’ll be other lifetimes.”
Judy stared. “That kind of reasoning may be why the Church ditched the idea of reincarnation in the 6th century.” Judy said “Church” with a capital “C” because she was Catholic. But a liberal Catholic. Clearly.
“I’m not wasting this life! I have my work, and my writing. I have Habitat for Humanity once a month—and my religion.”
“Which you practice alone.”
“I attend some open circles.” But she’d observed Beltane, aka May Day, alone. And Spring Equinox. And Imbolc. She’d had fun, too. Punxatawny Phil had featured significantly in her February celebrations.
She’d attended an open circle for Yule, anyway.
Unable to comment on open rituals, Judy took another bite of her burger. Tobi returned to the place-mat puzzle. Mazes were always most difficult when you tried working from the outside in. “The right guy has plenty of opportunities to come along,” she insisted. “Until then, why dwell on his absence—why empower it—by giving up what I do enjoy?”
“Like television?” Judy knew her too well.
“My favorite magic,” agreed Tobi, trying a different entrance on the paper maze. “Why ignore that, just to seek something that may be premature anyway?”
“TV’s not real.”
“Tell that to the advertisers.”
Judy widened her eyes in pseudo-patience. “What if this perfect guy isn’t real, either?”
“What if he is?” Some things she just knew—the same way she knew that words and stories had power and that worlds existed beyond their own. But Tobi knew she could never wholly explain it to Judy.
She wasn’t sure she could even convince another witch!
Tobi’s brand of techno-Wicca was eclectic, urban, and so firmly anchored to pop-culture that some of the more traditional pagans she knew, locally and online, dismissed her as a fair-weather witch…even after eight years. Personally, though she understood the pagans’ concern about image, Tobi didn’t get how a magic user could laud the power of the moment—the Now, Oprah viewers would say—and yet scoff at fads. How could someone worship at the altar of ancient myths—literally, even!—while dismissing a mass-media that wove new mythology every day?
Very few people, pagan or mundane, could hear Tobi’s theories about TV and Dreamtime without questioning her sanity. Lacking substantiality, the astral world was too often mistaken as lacking substance as well. Most magic didn’t work merely by natural means. Sometimes it hid behind them, easily dismissed against more obvious “realities.”
Busy with everyday life, Tobi rarely thought about him—whoever he was—Mr. Special. But when she focused into herself, she felt their connection as powerfully as she felt the pull of Mother Earth right here in the splashing fountains and ficus trees of the food court. She knew him as surely as she knew the presence of Father Sky through the airy skylights, tinted against the worst of the mid-western sun. Her Someone might not exist in this world…but worlds overlapped. She didn’t need to find a wooded grove to commune with nature, and she didn’t need a Friday-night date to feel loved.
By Whoever He Was.
“I sense him,” she said finally. “What if I settle for someone else, and I’m not available when he shows up?”
“And if you end up alone?” There Judy went with her one-path-to-happiness paradigm.
“One, there are worse fates than staying single. Two, I’m not alone. I have friends, family…my cat. I’m not altering my life for anything less than magic. And yes—” Tobi raised a flat hand to fend off more concerned protests. “I realize that a relationship isn’t all magic. But doesn’t the magic have to be there at some point, at least early on? Just a little toe curling, just a little ‘Yay, I’m going to see him tonight’ shivers?” Just a little swelling background music as their eyes met? “If not, why bother?”
Now it was Judy who groaned. “I reserve the right to worry. Especially with you coming and going at night all the time, and that mugger running around loose.”
“Two attacks in four weeks hardly constitutes a crime wave.”
“If you were still dating Joe, you could call him if you heard someone breaking in.”
Tobi doubted anybody would break into her third-floor home, especially considering how many wards she’d placed around it. She also had good, solid, mundane locks. “Or here’s a thought. If I hear someone breaking in at night, I could call the police.”
“I just worry, is all,” insisted Judy. Again. “Promise me you’ll be extra careful until this guy is caught, okay?”
Tobi felt so relieved that the issue had moved off her love life, she was happy to comply. “I promise.”
And as their conversation turned to Judy’s new position at work, Tobi smoothly completed the paper maze—by starting at the center and tracing her way out.
Not every path had to be fumbled down by trial and error, did it?
She should have had better sense than to watch the news the next night. But it came on after her favorite show. Tobi hadn’t wanted to disturb the almost sensual satisfaction of a good story—or the purring cat in her lap—by getting right up. Next thing she knew, she was watching a report on a third mugging in the area.
Her area. The TV station’s map-graphic showed that all three had taken place within a four mile radius of her.
A rune-pull didn’t prophesize full-out danger, but it recommended action be taken. So did her Magic 8-Ball. So Tobi did what any smart witch would do—she called her boss to ask about a shift change. Yes, it was a little late at night, but they were friends.
“Don’t tell me you’re worried about the mugger,” teased Steve. “Our little Witchipoo?”
Some witches kept a low profile to avoid very real bigotry and persecution. With Steve, Tobi instead endured a weird kind of enthusiastic teasing. She guessed it was better than him tricking her into attending a church revival, like the head of finances had done.
“Natural means, Steve,” she reminded him patiently. “You’ve got to act in accord. Any witch who does magic and then ignores it to wander around at midnight wearing a T-shirt that says Mug Me isn’t grasping that particular concept.”
Actually, midnight—the big Between-Time—might prove safe. But not three-thirty in the morning, which was when she generally got home from her part-time job answering auto-club distress calls for a White Knight service.
“Oh yeah,” said Steve, remembering. “Like the big-screen TV.” Though no witch, he’d once played with a spell to afford a big-screen TV, and ended up with three straight weeks of overtime. Well, it had paid for the television…but it also explained why a TV-addict like Tobi got by with a clunky analog television, made watchable with basic cable, magic or not.
He said, “Look, I can ask around, but it’ll be tricky. Not everyone loves the graveyard shift the way you do.” He’d made plenty of jokes about that, too.
“Just see what you can do on your end,” said Tobi. “I’ll see what I can do on mine.” She’d promised Judy…and to break her promise would be to weaken the power of her word.
“You got it. Hey, Tobi?”
“You do be careful, okay? I know Stanley doesn’t like the idea of work-at-home, but this is the 21st century; we can rig something. You don’t need to be driving in every night if you don’t feel safe.”
And Judy thought Tobi needed a boyfriend to feel loved? “You got it, Steve-o. Thanks.”
Now she’d promised her safety twice. After hanging up, the idea of working protective magic lingered. She felt completely safe in her apartment. She’d warded the place with a bubble of protective blue light—blue on the astral plane, anyway—powered by a centrally located crystal. She had hidden black onyx, also protective, near each doorway. She’d charged a household guardian to safeguard her home—it was her childhood teddy bear, whom she felt certain had a big bear spirit. And hello? Third floor. Nobody had ever broken in. She doubted anybody would. But what about when she was walking in from her car—the time when, according to the news, women were most vulnerable? The Magic-8 Ball had warned her: Outlook Not So Good.
And Tobi had no reason to believe that the Powers That Be couldn’t use kitchy plastic to communicate.
Always glad for a reason to explore her collection of magic books—most of them paperbacks—Tobi settled on the carpeted floor of her dining alcove between her bookshelves, her altar, and her microwave, and she started skimming. A protective talisman? Couldn’t hurt. Perhaps a binding spell on the mugger?
She considered that one before rejecting it. The temptation was to go Warrior Witch and try protecting the whole damn city, but she knew better. One, she didn’t have enough information; too many variables existed for proper control. Two, she doubted she could handle it; even a Warrior couldn’t protect the whole city single-wandedly. And three, nobody had asked her. Unlike, say, the sisters on Charmed, Tobi had never been given the responsibility of protecting humankind in general…and a lucky thing for humankind that probably was. Nope, pretending that magic made her omnipotent would be condescending and dangerous.
Better to do something she could fully control. As if to confirm her decision, her book fell open to the perfect spell. “A thought form,” she told Sophie, her cat. “Of course!”
Like archetypes with jobs, thought-forms were creations who took on a level of reality through the focused belief of humans. For magical purposes, they were generally envisioned, charged with a specific job, then dismissed with thanks once that task had been accomplished. It was the closest Tobi could come to the faithful, imaginary friends of her childhood. The more she studied Wicca, the more she came to believe that “imaginary” was just another way of saying, From Other Realms…
…and that magic was a way of accessing them.
“Thought form, huh?” asked Oz, as in The Great and Powerful. It wasn’t his real name. He ran the Shop-a-Spell store in a local strip mall. Tobi wasn’t sure what magic shops were like in New York or California, but here in the urban Midwest, the Shop-a-Spell had two full walls of windows and enough stained glass and prism-refracted sunlight to satisfy Ra and Apollo put together—not to mention Iris, goddess of rainbows. “I like it. Very you. Have you decided on specifics, yet?”
The more clearly one envisioned a thought-form, after all, the more likely it was to succeed in its task.
“At first I thought I’d hitchhike my spell onto an existing character,” admitted Tobi. “The more people who believe in him, after all, the stronger he’ll be…and you’ve got to admit, the idea of having, say, Jayne from Firefly or Ares from that old Xena show patrolling my parking lot is pretty cool.”
Oz widened his eyes.
“I know,” she said with a laugh. “Neither a mercenary or the God of War is the best poster-child for Harm None. Besides, a thought form empowered by hundreds of thousands of people should probably be used for magic meant to help more than one witch, so I’ve decided to work from scratch.”
“I think that’s wise,” agreed Oz. “So you want something to time out about a month’s worth of rent-a-guardian, huh? I’ve got just the thing.” And he led her toward the back of the store.
Oz looked more like a grizzled old biker than a witch—complete with a long gray braid and tattoos. A biker wearing two pentagrams, a triskel, and a Thor’s Hammer pendant. But he kept good stock, and he knew his magic.
As Tobi passed a cluster of twenty-somethings by the “Ceremonial Magic” shelves, one of them sniggered, “Nice shirt.” Two more laughed and hushed him.
She was wearing her Bewitched shirt, showing a curvy, blonde cartoon witch on a broomstick.
“I was gonna say the same thing,” agreed Oz, raising his voice. But he meant it. “Where’d you find it?”
“I’ll send you the link,” she offered. “I also put together a desktop theme. It plays the Bewitched song when I boot up, and whenever I execute a file, it makes that tinkling, nose-wiggle noise.”
“Does it call for Dr. Bombay when you get an error message?”
She laughed. “No, but I like that idea.”
“My coveners and I noticed something you can maybe explain.” He kneeled beside some shelves and started opening the drawers underneath, where he kept some of his overstock. “The men in those old shows never want the women—like Samantha or Jeannie—to use their magic. What’s with that?”
“Oh, there’s a definite patriarchal subtext there! But have you noticed they aren’t doing it anymore?” When he glanced up at her, quirking a shaggy eyebrow, she added, “Well, yes, Darren Stevens and the Master are; they’re stuck in the celluloid past. But even on Charmed, none of the men seemed to ask the witches to give up their powers. Sometimes they were even the cheering section. It makes me proud to be a couch potato.”
“The times, they are a’changing.” He’d gone back to digging, and whooped in triumph, handing her a large, colorful square of silk. She lifted it up by two corners, admiring a stylized picture of a medieval night, painted over an odd design that looked both geometric and ancient.
“Niiice,” she admitted, though unsure what he meant her to do with it. “The dragon on his coat of arms is a cool touch.” In old stories, dragons often symbolized paganism. Thus when St. George slew England’s dragon…well.
But this knight was obviously pro-dragon.
“That whole batch had the cheapest dye job I’ve ever seen,” admitted Oz, standing with creaking knees. “If you tie it outside, like a knight’s standard, by time the month’s through it’ll be sun-bleached to obscurity. That’s when you’ll know to release your guardian.”
“Perfect!” Odd…she’d been using that word a lot in regards to this project. When the bell rang from the counter, Oz headed toward the front to wait on his other customers and she admired the scarf a little more. A knight—that certainly fit the role she was asking her thought-form to play. Silk was a natural fabric, and woven! The idea magic as spell-weaving had always appealed to her. Her instincts said, Go for it.
Up front, Oz was ringing up the purchases for the twenty-somethings. One of them was critiquing a flyer for an open Midsummer Ritual, out by the lake. “They didn’t know what they were doing,” he said. “At Beltane, the guy who dismissed the South blew out the quarter candle.”
“No!” exclaimed the girl beside him.
He nodded and rolled his eyes. Tobi noticed another customer, a young businesswoman, watching from near the selection of tarot cards. Once the witchier-than-thou group had left, the younger woman asked Oz, “What’s wrong with blowing out candles?”
“Some traditions consider it an insult to the element of fire.” Oz took the scarf from Tobi and tapped the cost onto his adding machine, then calculated tax. “Or the element of air. I forget which. Maybe both.”
“Elements can get insulted?”
“Some practitioners think so,” said Tobi. “Maybe they’re right. But those guys are probably newbies, still looking for that One True Path. When you’re just starting out, you take everything so seriously.”
“Luckily for me, fire isn’t all that picky,” Oz said with a grin, accepting the money she handed him. “Now, water….”
“Talk about your moody elements!” Tobi and Oz nodded wisely together.
The girl looked from one of them to the other. “You’re goofing me.”
“Yeah,” admitted Oz. “We are. But I think it’s a sign from the Universe that Tobi should celebrate Midsummer by the lake.” He even tucked a yellow flyer into her package before handing it over. “At least she knows those guys won’t be there. And we’ll have labyrinths.”
That caught Tobi’s attention. “Like in the David Bowie movie?”
“Actually, that one was more of a maze…most labyrinths are simply drawn on the ground and walked for meditative purposes, not solved. But they’re really something.”
“I’ll think about it,” she hedged, accepting her change.
She’d decided to be a lot more careful with her promises.
Tobi’s thought form would be a man, envisioned and then asked to patrol the parking lot from one full moon to the next. She tried considering a woman instead—she knew plenty of warrior goddesses who set a good example—but for some reason, her imagination kept latching onto a man.
Maybe Judy’s concerns about her not having enough male energy in her life were having an effect.
He wouldn’t actually materialize in front of her, of course. That was not how magic worked. But if she envisioned him clearly enough, and charged him powerfully enough, his very existence—even in a separate if interpenetrating realm—might dissuade predators.
She took several nights to plan him, jotting thoughts in the note app on her Smart phone between calls at work, deleting as many qualities as she kept. The last time she’d tried listing the traits of the perfect man, even before she’d become a magic-user, she’d nevertheless drawn to herself a guy who possessed every ingredient. He’d been handsome, charming, attentive, creative….
Unfortunately, since she’d been doing it blind, she hadn’t remembered to add such qualities as “responsible,” “loyal,” or even “honest.” Be careful what you wish for….
“Responsible,” she decided firmly, copying the list into her leather-bound Journal of Shadows. She sat on the floor again, Sophie the cat stretched comfortably beside her, Enya music surrounding her. Sometimes she remembered to turn off the TV. “Honest. Alert.”
Wouldn’t do to have a guardian who didn’t actually notice the mugger.
“Even-tempered.” She didn’t want the police scraping the remains of the mugger off the asphalt, either. Just in case.
Oh, and—duh. She added something fairly important, pleased with how the milk-colored gel-ink looked against the black pages of the journal. “Protective.”
The next step was to decide what he looked like. The more clearly she pictured him, the more surely he would exist on the astral plane. She knew he would have dark hair, clichéd or not. He would be tall, with wide shoulders and a broad chest and….
She laughed. Unless he was patrolling the parking lot topless, not to mention corporeal, it wouldn’t matter what his abs looked like. Although if she put him in a tight shirt and well-worn jeans, it couldn’t hurt, either.
White T-shirt, she decided. So that the mugger’s subconscious can better see him.
Strangely, despite how certain she felt about his hair-color and size, she couldn’t envision the thought-form’s face. And normally she had such a good imagination! She knew he would be handsome, at least to her own eyes…one of the many advantages of an imaginary man. Still, she felt as if she were squinting her third-eye to get a good look at someone, and he was ducking his face away from her. Frustrated, she went through clippings from her “cute guy” file—where she kept favorite pictures from magazines and catalogs—and found an image that was, well…
The picture fit so well that she wondered if she’d been subconsciously remembering it the whole time…a possibility that in no way invalidated the effort she’d put into him so far.
The magazine picture, an ad for some kind of investment company, showed a dark-haired man from behind, standing in heavy mist. He wore tight jeans and a tighter shirt, just a little of his hard jaw visible over one broad shoulder, a curl of dark hair hiding the rest of his face. The tagline read, What do YOU Think is Out There?
He had a cute butt, and she hadn’t even ordered that.
“It’s you,” she whispered, holding the page, and her breath felt shallow even as her iPod’s music swelled. She felt as if she knew this man, wholly and instinctively…and as if everything she knew about him pleased her.
Maybe it was a sign that this working was meant to be.
One of the many benefits to having her own place—along with keeping her own hours and watching whatever she chose—was that Tobi didn’t have to hide her tools from roommates or parents or even disapproving spouses. She did, however, keep her most sacred items in a carved oak cabinet, away from dust and sunlight. On her night off, which she’d made sure was the full-moon, she opened the cabinet’s doors to release a delicious cloud of scent, from incense and herbs and candles and oils, and retrieved four well-used jar candles. They were in the standard quarter colors—green, yellow, red, and blue—and she set them to four sides of her living room to mark the directions of north, east, south, and west, respectively.
Her coffee table became her working altar. She lay a blue cloth with a pattern of gold and silver stars over it, then set out her athame, her bell, and her spirit-candle. Two artistically faceless figurines in white ceramic, male and female, represented the divine forces of God and Goddess. It had taken her well over the standard year-and-a-day after she’d discovered Wicca to move past the “collecting cool props” phase of her individual study…by then, she’d collected quite a few. She made sure now that the photograph model for her thought-form lay on the altar, as well as the new scarf, washed in salt-water to cleanse any clinging, left-over energies.
She turned off the telephone ringer, turned her answering machine’s volume all the way down, and lowered her halogen lamp to the barest of glows. A quick search of her iPod brought up the familiar, instrumental soundtrack to Conan the Barbarian, some of her favorite working music. She’d already showered and now wore a sleeveless silk robe, which had come off a peignoir set but which she reserved for magic. Usually a kitchen-witch, Tobi did not always go through all this ritual to do magic, but tonight’s working felt far bigger than her usual day-to-day charms.
Tonight felt momentous.
Standing straight in front of her altar, she stretched her arms out wide, her athame—a distressed replica of an antique dagger—in one hand, reaching up and up until it pointed to the ceiling. “It’s show time, folks,” she murmured softly, to whoever and whatever might be listening.
The athame seemed to quiver in her hand as she walked the perimeter of her circle. Even as she set it back on the altar, before she’d lit quarter candles, Tobi felt the air inside her sacred place—between and of all space and time—falling heavy and still. It wasn’t just because she’d cut off the air-conditioner so it wouldn’t startle her or blow out the candles.
“Element of earth, power from the North, I call on you,” she stated clearly into the shadowed room. “Be with me in my sacred circle.” Then she lit the green candle, near the one houseplant that had ever survived her, and envisioned the fertile energies of earth power gathering around her to that side of the room. When it felt proper, she stepped to her right, under the wind-chimes that hung from her living-room ceiling, by the yellow candle.
“Element of air, power from the East, I call on you….”
And so on. After the calling of the quarters, she requested her Lord and Lady attend her circle as well. From the feel of the energies that began to thrum around her and the delicious shiver up her spine, she could not doubt they’d assented.
Tobi had done group rituals before. When they went well, the power was incredible…but one fidgety or cynical group member could easily destroy the night’s magic. A benefit to being a solitary practitioner was not having to worry about anybody’s missteps but her own. This private circle in her living room felt safe as few places could. The candlelight, the scent of copal, the gurgle of her table-fountain to the West side of the room, the music—all combined with her breathing exercises to ease her into a gentle alpha state…or, as she better liked to envision it, to move into the world beyond worlds. It was a place she went, after all…the same way somebody got on the phone or went online.
Kneeling on the carpet before the altar, she let the world outside her circle fade as she focused on the picture, then on the empty space beyond it. If her guardian were just over six feet, that would put him…yes. Tobi could see exactly where he would come to, standing against the opposite wall.
First she envisioned his shape, slightly warping the reality around him like a particularly good invisible-man effect in the movies. We can rebuild him. Stronger. Faster….
She repeated her breathing exercises, to better concentrate.
Visualization was Tobi’s forte. After tweaking the shape of her creation—widening his shoulders, remembering that men tended to taper down into their hips instead of flaring out again—she needed only a few more breaths to lend him color and substance. Dark hair. White shirt. Tanned arms. Tight jeans….
She could picture the tight jeans very nicely. If only he were real….
“But he’s not,” she reminded herself sternly, as if Judy were watching over her shoulder—and knew her stupidity even as her image of him vanished to reveal only her wall, framed photographs, doorjamb.
Catching herself before she sent out any more negativity by cursing, she calmly and firmly started over. One, steady breathing. Two, alpha state. Three, hulking male form in her living room. Despite the negation—out loud, yet!—she recalled him with surprising ease. Kneeling, she would have to look up to take him all in—so she did. That made him seem even taller and more protective in her mind’s eye.
It also gave her an intriguing vantage on those imaginary jeans.
He is real, she kept telling herself to the beat of barbarian drums, slowly perceiving the highlights of his hair, the plane of his cheeks, five-o’clock shadow, eyelashes. He is real. He may not be of my world, but here and now he is real….
Soon, his shade stood before her as surely as if she were watching him on TV. Oh, she could also see the doorway beyond him, the display of photographs through him. He hadn’t materialized anywhere but in the astral realm and in her own perception of it. But by focusing on his presence, not his absence, she could “see” him clearly indeed. The way his dark eyes stared silently back at her, she even felt his presence with her, in this sacred circle. She imagined the scent of him, a faint mix of soap and musky aftershave. For a moment, it seemed almost as if she could reach out across the altar and….
But no, she had a spell to cast.
Claiming the scarf, she lay it on the opposite side of the altar from herself, at his feet—and saw that her thought-form wore brown cowboy boots. Who would have thought? Then, sitting back, Tobi spoke what she’d written:
“I ask thee, guardian, for a boon—
from now until the next full moon.
Protection, against anyone
Who means me harm. Yet harming none,
I bid thee, guardian, if you will
Patrol these grounds against all ill
As long as these, thy colors, fly—
Or if thou won’t, bid me goodbye.”
Then she waited. As her creation, he would probably do as she asked…but as soon as something became real, it got free will. He seemed so very real, she found herself holding her breath—then releasing it, relieved, when he shrugged one shoulder and took an easy step forward onto the scarf. He had accepted.
“Then I bid thee,” she said, “to fulfill thy duty with the following virtues: Responsibility. Honor. Protection….”
At one point during this recitation, angling her gaze upward and imagining his face, she thought she saw a hint of smile. She liked it, liked the lips she’d envisioned for him. If this weren’t the middle of a fairly hefty spell, she might even smile back….
Tobi suddenly felt glad that she’d limited his existence to a 28-day cycle…and anxious to bind the spell!
“If this working be correct,” she cautioned, “and allows others to be free, so I Will it, so I Shape it, and So Mote it Be.”
And in the blink of an eye—poof?—she was alone again. Well, alone except for the masculine and feminine faces of God and the elements of Earth, Air, Fire, Water, and Spirit. But no tall, broad-shouldered, fictitious hunk stood before her.
She couldn’t shake the idea that, just before vanishing into the standard, he’d winked at her.
She took extra time to ground herself before thanking and bidding farewell to the Lord and Lady, as well as the elements—“Go if you must, stay if you will.” As she walked the circle again, envisioning the bubble of protective light receding back into her athame, the air seemed to move again, to drop several degrees. It had been warm in-circle. She’d been there awhile.
“My circle is open yet ever it remains, within me and without.” Putting down the athame, she allowed herself to stretch a bit, then gathered the scarf from where she’d imagined her guardian stepping onto it. Into it.
It was such soft silk. The stylized knight painted on it was dashing, and the faint, geometric design behind him…was it a labyrinth? She almost hated to set it out where it could fade. But that, too, was part of the spell, and a small cost indeed. She’d asked the guardian to be with her one moon’s cycle, and that was that.
So she went out onto her apartment terrace, into the quiet, summer night, and tied the scarf to the wrought-iron railing, where it moved slightly in the warm breeze, in the cloud-shrouded moonlight. It was a romantic night, soft and heavy. “As long as this standard flies,” she whispered, trailing her fingers across it, “So may you walk.”
Good spell, she thought, then shivered—her magic shiver.
A motion from below her caught her attention.
For a moment, Tobi felt self-conscious…maybe nobody could have heard her, but they might wonder what she was doing on her balcony, well after midnight, in a peignoir! But then she looked closer, and felt a different self consciousness—
—at the glimpse of white T-shirt as a tall, dark-haired man rounded the corner of the apartments beyond hers!
“Ho-ly crap,” she whispered—and immediately regretted having said that out loud, in case she empowered it!
Magic isn’t supposed to work this way, she typed on her PC to Cybele, one of an e-mail listing of Wiccan friends across the country who liked to call themselves a cyber-circle. Cybele was the only one online to receive instant messages when Tobi, desperate to unburden to another magic user, logged on. That’s probably because Cybele lived in Hawaii. It was much earlier in the day, in Hawaii.
The few moments Tobi had to wait after typing a quick overview of her spell, before her friend’s response scrolled across her monitor’s screen, felt like torture. Then, accompanied by a harp-like strum of magical sound-effects from Bewitched:
CYBELE63: What way, exactly?
Tobi quickly typed, Creating real people! One thing to form/summon being from pure energy. Other thing when it leaves footprints!!!
As soon as the initial shock had allowed her to move—and she’d changed into something less likely to get her arrested or jumped—she’d hurried outside to check. Not with candles but with a really big flashlight. Nobody stopped by to see if she was the mugger, which seemed a mixed blessing.
So had the footprints.
Frankensteiny, she added. Then she hit “enter” and waited.
CYBELE63: Just because man you saw was real doesn’t mean he’s man you created. Maybe was mugger.
Also not a lot of comfort…. but, surprisingly, it was a little.
Tobi typed the word that was so intricately linked with magic—a word that almost defined “natural means.” Coincidence?
CYBELE63: Maybe connected, but not your doing.
Tobi considered that—and realized what was happening. One way to cope with magic was fearful self-doubt. With power came responsibility. Gods knew enough B-grade movies had pushed that little lesson—what if she had “meddled in powers beyond her understanding?”
Frankensteiny indeed, she thought.
A second knee-jerk reaction was to dismiss magic as coincidence. She of all people should remember the message of Between Times—that when magic was involved, things could be coincidence and more.
Her computer let out another harp-like chord.
CYBELE63: You cast a circle?
Tobi typed, Yes.
CYBELE63: You clarified good of all & free will & harm none.
Cybele didn’t even add a question mark, which soothed Tobi considerably. She wasn’t some teenager practicing out of her first book-o-spells. She knew her magic couldn’t create human beings, not unless other powers in the universe were involved—and she knew her own actions had been careful and correct. So she answered, Yes.
CYBELE63: Don’t give away power. Wait & see.
Tobi took a deep breath, and whispered thanks for friends and fellow practitioners…and for the technology that allowed her to contact one in real time, even if Cybele was far away and they’d never actually met.
Thank you, she typed. Merry meet.
CYBELE63: Merry meet. Tell me what happens.
And they signed off. When Tobi heard thunder in the distance—so much for her full moon—she shut down her computer. As it closed Windows to the tune of Bewitched, her outlook shifted from dismay to careful excitement.
What if magic sometimes did work like that?
Tobi felt tangibly aware of her thought-form when she woke the next day…though maybe she should blame that on the dream she woke from. She couldn’t remember anything concrete from it…uncaptured dreams faded even faster against “reality” than unrecorded instances of successful magic. But the feeling of it lingered like a full-body memory, a delicious sense of being safe, held…loved.
She stretched in bed, luxuriating in that feeling, and then she sat up and thought, He’s out there. And she smiled. She didn’t have to wonder. She just knew.
He was out there, doing what she’d asked of him, and it felt…nice. It added something pleasant to her day.
Later, when she left for work, she cheerfully said, “Hello,” into the evening—and she would not have been wholly surprised had somebody answered. She stopped by the 24-hour supermarket on her way home, and when she lifted her packages out of the car, she half-expected her thought-form to step out of the shadows and help carry the bags. Welcome Home, the energy at the edge of the parking lot seemed to say.
“Thank you,” Tobi said softly, fully aware of how crazy she would look if anybody were in the parking lot at 4:00a.m. to hear her. She would look as crazy as people seemed when talking on a mobile phone hands-free, she supposed, before you noticed the ear-piece. As crazy as someone dancing and singing to music on a Walkman. People who heard things others didn’t always seemed crazy.
“I’m glad to be home.” And she blew a kiss toward the shadows, where he might be standing, as she passed.
Oh, she knew he wasn’t rea—NO! She knew that he was not of this realm. That was as much disservice as she would do her creation. But it didn’t hurt to enjoy the dream of him, did it?
It might even empower his protective abilities!
After changing into shorts and a tank-top, Tobi decided to read out on the terrace, by candlelight, sometimes fingering the soft scarf that occasionally moved or shifted against the railing where she’d tied it. It was a beautiful, gentle night, the moon only one day past full. That had to explain how incredibly…fulfilled she felt.
Two nights later, she saw him again—just for a moment as she rounded the corner of her car, and from the back. She still hadn’t seen his face except in her dreams—and then she couldn’t remember it. But she felt pleased, all the same. She felt safe.
She typed regular reports to her witch list, who tuned in for daily updates as if Tobi’s life had become Passions or The Guiding Light. She printed copies for her own journal, and at one point drove by Kinko’s to make a color copy of the picture of the man, from behind, in the mist. The tag-line made her laugh.
What do YOU Think is Out There?
“Have you got a new neighbor?” asked Judy when she came by, a week later, and Tobi took a deep, intrigued breath as she slipped her feet into sandals.
“Why do you ask?” she said, gathering her purse and a plastic sack of snacks. Judy’s husband was out of town, and the two friends would catch an early movie before Tobi left for work.
Inside, she was thinking: Did you see him? Huh? Did you? But asking that would probably color Judy’s objectivity.
“I thought I saw a guy standing near your car. Then when I looked again, he wasn’t there.”
Yes yes yes! He wasn’t even waiting until full dark anymore; it was only sunset! Then again, Between Times like dusk and dawn, midnight and noon, allowed the best magic because of the overlapping of worlds. Tobi asked, “What did he look like?”
But Judy knew her too well for that. She stopped in front of the door before Tobi could open it. “What’s going on?”
“I’ll tell you in the car,” promised Tobi—the movie would be starting with or without them, and she did have her priorities. “But you may not believe me.”
“Hasn’t stopped you before.” Suspicious, Judy nevertheless stepped aside so that Tobi, after a last kiss for her cat, could head out.
Every step down from her third-story apartment felt imbued with an extra awareness. The path out to the parking lot, past neatly cut grass and an empty beer bottle, seemed even more so. Tobi savored it as she’d been savoring it for two weeks. It felt like expectation—like opening the mailbox on her birthday, or heading out on a vacation, or picking up the phone when her Caller I.D. showed it was someone she’d been hoping would call.
Someone like a man?
Not just any man.
Judy unlocked her car by remote—it made a chirping sound and flashed its lights, as if happy to see them—and Tobi climbed into the passenger seat, trying not to search the surroundings for her guardian. She’d been seeing him on and off all week, but never by looking directly at him. Always with her peripheral vision.
“You would not believe the problems Bill had catching his plane,” Judy said as she started the car, and went on with something about paper tickets and credit cards, none of which Tobi wholly heard until, “You aren’t listening, are you?”
“Sort of,” assured Tobi, her gaze just over the mirror out her window…so that, in the mirror, she could almost see a dark-haired figure standing at the edge of the parking lot, where they’d just come from. Bye, she mouthed fondly. See you later.
Gods, but he was gorgeous. His white T-shirt looked orange in the sunset.
“This is starting to creep me out, Tobe,” said Judy. “What’s going on?”
Tobi told her. Enthusiastically. All the way to the theater.
“So he’s like a ghost?” demanded Judy, circling the cineplex lot in search of a parking space.
In the Patrick Swayze sense? “Only in that he’s overlapping from another realm. But he’s not the soul of a dead person, if that’s what you mean. I have a feeling he’s more than just my creation—that I tapped into something bigger. Better, even. But I’m not sure what that is, what he is.” Except mine. “I’m so excited you saw him too.”
“Maybe saw him,” Judy corrected. “I didn’t get a very good look.”
“My witch-list will freak, all the same. Not many of them have ever had magic turn out so…definitively. Well, except for Merlinna, but some of us have doubts about her; her stories tend to sound like scenes from The Craft. You know how the Internet is.”
“So you’ve been e-mailing about this guy a lot?”
“And dreaming about him—and I cast circles around my bed, to make sure nothing dangerous gets in.” Though if an incubus looked like this guy, or like she felt he did despite not remembering the dreams, would she mind? “I write down what I can remember, as soon as I wake up, and it’s pretty interesting reading. For me, anyway.” Things like he gets home tired but then we make out on the couch and laughing with him, hiking by the river, he gives me his extra water. “I wake up happy.”
“You sound happy.” Judy’s voice had tightened and not, Tobi thought, because they were still looking for a parking spot.
“You don’t,” she noted warily.
“Should I be? You’re more excited about this guy than you ever were about Joe.”
“All the more reason to be glad Joe and I broke up. Jude, we’re going to miss the coming attractions. Would you like me to…?” And Tobi rolled her fingers. Her Parking-Space Song didn’t always work, but sometimes it helped. And it always made them laugh.
“No. Last time we tried that here, the power went out in the entire theater.”
Which had really made them laugh. “I told you that wasn’t related. Probably.”
Giving up, Judy pulled into a space some distance from the building and cut the engine. “Still.”
Tobi felt frustrated. She wanted to gush about her hunky thought-form, and Judy was practically radiating negativity. “You know I’m a careful magic user. It’s never worried you before.”
“You’ve never fallen in love with a figment of your imagination before.”
Tobi considered that as they unbuckled, made sure their cola bottles and candy bars were hidden deeply enough in her purse to smuggle in, got out of the car, and started the long hike toward the theater. The day’s heat hovered over the asphalt, despite that the sun had set. “One, the only people I’ve ever fallen in love with have been imaginary. Think about it.” Even once when she’d thought she was in real, corporeal love, it had been with someone she’d imagined the man to be. If she added her favorite movie and TV heroes into the mix…well, some of her sexiest moments had been wide-screen.
Judy didn’t argue it.
“Two,” Tobi said, “I am not falling in love with my thought-form.”
“You’re not the only one with instincts.” Judy shook her head. “I think I’d rather you don’t date at all than that you date someone make-believe.”
“I’m not dating him,” insisted Tobi. “I can’t even see him except from the corner of my eye.” Or asleep.
“Mm-hm.” Judy bought the tickets, so that Tobi wouldn’t have to open her purse and risk revealing their contraband. They got to the screen just in time for the coming attractions, which ended the conversation for the moment. But the movie—a love story—helped clarify things, all the same.
Tobi had several theories about the magic of movies. One was that occupying one part of the mind with fiction allowed a deeper part to work things through unimpeded. Another was that a good romance connected viewers to Universal Love Energy. It reminded people who were involved of their loved one, and soothed those who weren’t involved, offering quiet assurance that romance really did exist. Usually, Tobi fell into the latter category.
That evening, she found herself in the former.
She wanted to be with him. She felt like calling home and talking to him. Too bad he had no voice. No phone number, even. No face! That she could see.
But she would know it if she saw it.
When she saw it.
“I think you’re half-right,” she admitted to Judy afterward, still wrapping the softness of the movie’s happy ending gently around herself. “I’m not falling in love with my thought-form.”
“Good,” said Judy. “But…?”
Tobi tested the idea with words. “I think my thought-form is the one I’ve been in love with all along.”
CYBELE63: Interesting theory. Why?
Tobi typed, Explains why details seemed so set. Also explains familiarity. Even dreams—having his energy close opens portals.
On top of all that, it felt right. All she had to do was say, “It’s him,” and she got her “magic shiver,” a delicious shudder down the spine, ending with a tingle in her hands and feet. It meant potent powers were a’foot.
With a chiming noise, a different name scrawled across their chat.
MERLINNAGURL: Yu didnt do luv spell? I once did & wuz STOCKED!!!
Tobi assumed she meant “stalked.” That happened with badly done love spells—not just in the movies. She decided not to put energy into wondering whether it had ever really happened to Merlinna. So she simply typed, No love spells. No names.
In fact, it was standard to give a thought-form a name, but she hadn’t felt…qualified. As if he already had a name, and it just wasn’t time for her to know it. Yet.
CYBELEL63: M, that’s why love spells are dangerous. T, Maybe he saw a chance for a visit.
Unless I’m going crazy, admitted Tobi, and hit Enter.
CYBELEL63: Why crazy?
B/C I’m in love with someone, talking, caring, and he’s not even…. No. She wouldn’t doubt his reality again. It would be like refusing to clap one’s belief in fairies to save Tinkerbell. She deleted that, and settled on: He’s not really here w/me.
CYBELEL63: Neither am I.
She had a point. An argument could be made that Cybele didn’t even exist at the same time as Tobi; it was still yesterday in Hawaii. But she was real, and Tobi was real to her. Now Merlinna….
The computer chimed.
MERLINNAGURL: Why not use names?
Luckily, Cybele began to patiently explain the ethics against naming anybody but oneself in any magic for which one did not have explicit permission. Normally, Tobi would have joined her—it was for opportunities like this that they endured Merlinna’s usual hubris. But if her thought-form was really, well…him…he only had two weeks left of his visit.
Merry meet, she typed, and signed off before Cybele had to bother responding.
She wanted to go sit on the balcony, in the warmth of his presence, and wrap her hand in the rapidly fading scarf.
Tobi made extra effort to stay involved with the outside world, during the next two weeks. It was partly precaution against dissociative behavior—magic or not, she balked at crossing the line into mental illness—and partly preparation. When the full moon came again, she had to take down and bury the scarf and release the thought-form. She’d promised.
Better not to have isolated herself when it happened.
So she built houses with other Habitat for Humanity volunteers one weekend…but amused herself with the image of the man she loved in a work-belt, shingling the roof beside her.
She resisted the temptation to take extra time off work, and was surprised when a colleague asked if she was dating. “You’re wearing makeup,” he explained. “And those are new clothes, right?”
She was, and they were. She’d also bought herself flowers.
She went to dinner with her family and enjoyed reminiscing about her late grandparents. Not long before leaving, she turned down her big sister’s invitation to a party on the 21st. “That’s Summer Solstice,” Tobi explained, thinking quickly. “There’s a big festival going on at the lake.”
“Oh well,” said Teresa, and shrugged. “Maybe some other time. It’d be nice for you to get out and meet people.”
Other than the people from work, from Habitat for Humanity, and all her friends? Not to mention…. “It’s a big festival because people will be there.”
“I meant normal people,” said Teresa, which led to their semi-annual, no-such-thing-as-normalcy fight. Driving home, Tobi found herself justifying her side of the argument to the empty passenger seat. She could almost hear a man say, She worries because she loves you. Then, Who can blame her?
But the parking lot was empty when she got home.
Her phone was ringing as she reached her apartment—Judy. “Turn on Channel five. Fast!”
The reporter was interviewing a young woman who’d had a close call with the mugger, only half a mile from where Tobi lived. “But then he looked at the parking lot, nervous, like someone was coming,” she gushed into the anchor’s microphone. “And he ran off!”
They now had a police artist’s drawing of the man’s face which, Tobi felt relieved, was nothing like her guardian’s face at all. She might not be able to picture it outside of dreams, but she knew she would recognize it.
She went out onto the balcony and fingered the scarf. It had faded to a pale blur of pastel-faint color, and its edges had started to unravel. Not even a week left. “You’re supposed to stay in this apartment complex,” she chided softly into the night air. “We weren’t going to save the whole city.”
No answer, of course. But she thought about the girl on the news, with her college t-shirt and glasses, and she understood him all the same. She suspected that she usually did.
“Good job,” she added. She’d always known he was a hero.
When esbat—the night of full moon—arrived, she received at least four e-mails and a telephone call reminding her that she was loved, that her friends cared. All because the visit of someone she may yet have imagined was ending. She knew she was supposed to be depressed, but she felt…lucky.
She untied the bleached remnant of the scarf from her railing, having to do deep breaths and envision the knot sliding loose in order to manage it. Then, inside, she readied for her ritual. She turned off the telephone ringers and turned down the answering machine. She chose the same CD as before, lit incense, and set out her quarter candles. She cast her circle, bid the presence of the four elements and her gods, and finally kneeled before her altar, alone in her circle and yet touched by so many people of her world and beyond. She felt a strange lack of depression about this…but she could think of only one person qualified to discuss it, and it was neither Judy nor Cybele.
“Perfect,” she whispered, yet again.
Lying back on her carpet, still in the safety of her circle, Tobi sank into guided relaxation, feet first, then calves, knees, thighs…. until she’d reached a deep and meditative state. She imagined herself surrounded by a brilliant silvery light, protective and powerful. Then she envisioned a well beside her, into which she tossed all the negativity of her week like a handful of dirty pennies. She felt her astral form turning away, even as her concerns plunked into the cleansing waters of this dream-world. Leaving her body was not Tobi’s forte….
But when she opened her eyes—her astral eyes—she found that the silvery light had become a thick, gentle mist, surrounding her.
And then she saw him.
The man’s back became visible to her first, through the fog—his T-shirt, his jeans. She knew that back, those shoulders. She knew that hair, as if her fingers had buried themselves in it for countless lifetimes.
“It’s you,” she whispered.
He turned to face her, dark eyes lighting with recognition, and Tobi felt full force his joy, acceptance—love. Probably because it was hers, too.
It was him, all right.
“You were expecting someone else?” he challenged, and she heard in his voice countless endearments, night-times, lifetimes together. No wonder she hadn’t given up on him.
“Never,” she promised, going to him. She raised her hands to his chest, her fingers curled slightly, afraid to really touch. Touch didn’t work the same way in the astral realms. Surely it would disappoint. “But you’re taking your time, this time around.”
“We agreed to it before we started,” he reminded her gently, brushing a callused hand over her hair. Clearly he didn’t follow the same no-touching-in-the-astral-realm rules. “You probably don’t remember. My physical self doesn’t, either. The point of incarnating is to forget and then re-learn, right? It’s part of the fun.”
“But I remembered you,” she insisted. “Part of me has always remembered you.”
“Some things are impossible to let go.” He drew his hand down her cheek now. “But it’s time to pretend to, isn’t it? I can feel the moon.”
It took a long moment, through the satisfaction of being with him again, to remember her spell. “I’ve got to dismiss you from the task. I promised.”
“And you keep your promises,” he agreed quietly. “Always. So spell away.”
Somehow, Tobi remembered her closing spell:
“Upon this moon, upon this time,
I release thee with this, my rhyme,
And with my thanks, and with my heart—
So merry we meet, and merry we part.”
He nodded. “You always were handy with the couplets. Now, one more thing….”
And he kissed her.
It was not a physical kiss because they were not, at the moment, physical beings. It was more. Deeper. It was a melding of their auras, their energies, their souls. She felt surrounded by him, imbued with him…and as sure of him as she was of her own heart. No wonder she wasn’t interested in looking elsewhere! This was worth waiting lifetimes for.
Soon, she heard—or felt—him promise. Now close it.
“If this be correct, and allows others to be free: So I Will it, so I Shape it, and So Mote it Be.”
She opened her eyes to see the ceiling fan above her, shadowy in candlelight. Alone again…but never completely.
Her body wasn’t relaxed anymore.
Her toes were curling.
By time Tobi made it to the big Solstice Festival, she’d buried the scarf with the original picture, been to another movie with Judy, and seen on the news that the mugger had turned himself in. He’d said he felt he was being stocked. Though he didn’t mention a dark-haired man in jeans and a white T-shirt, Tobi had her suspicions.
At the festival, she enjoyed spending the long, hot afternoon with other pagans—the heat wouldn’t last forever, after all. A live band played Celtic music, with anyone who’d brought a drum—and many had—joining in. Others clasped hands and danced in circles, like a magical ring-around-the-rosie, the brave ones weaving in and out under the arms of their companions. Almost everyone brought pot-luck for the feast, from store-packaged cookies to homemade, vegetarian dishes.
Oz was there, flirting with a white-haired earth mother and wearing a tank top which read, “Things haven’t been the same since that house fell on my sister.” He waved when he saw Tobi.
One woman, who Tobi thought was HP—high-priestess—of a local coven, did a spontaneous recitation of the Charge of the Goddess. It gave Tobi magic shivers, especially the part which went: “For if that which you seek, you find not within yourself, you will never find it without.”
Best of all were the labyrinths. As Oz had predicted, the event organizers had created a whole selection of them—a replica of the Chartres labyrinth, a Cretan “seven-circuit” maze, and a “Medicine Wheel Walk” for those pagans on Native American paths. The designs had been chalked into the grass like multi-faceted baseball diamonds.
Tobi chose the replica of the labyrinth from Crete. It struck her as Greek…Pygmaliony. Though resembling a maze, it only had one way in and one way out. She liked that the point wasn’t to struggle through dead-ends and false turns. The point was simply to choose one’s path and then trust it, to walk it deliberately…and at one’s own speed.
As she took steady steps between the chalk guidelines, she focused on letting go—of societal expectations, of fears, of self-doubt. She realized, as she reached the center, that she felt truly happy. Hot, but happy. Bug-bit, but happy. Alone….
But she wasn’t alone. As she’d told her sister, it was a big festival. Besides….
A breeze stirred the hair stuck to her neck, and she smiled as she sensed his presence. If that which you seek, you find not within yourself….
“Merry meet,” she greeted softly into the coming dusk. The standard pagan greeting was short for Merry Meet, Merry Part, and Merry Meet Again. Why waste energy mourn separations, when reunions would so surely follow?
Soon, he’d said. She remembered that much.
“I’ll be here,” she said. “I promise.”
Pygmalion’s story ended happily, didn’t it? Why couldn’t hers?
Tobi turned around and as she paced her way slowly across the grass, tracing the labyrinth back out, she drew to herself: one, confidence. Two, happiness. Three, hope. He was out there. She felt him, as surely as she felt the Goddess in the nearby lake, the God in the late-sinking sun.
In the meantime, she would enjoy the company, the sunshine, the day—then have her own, solitary ritual later tonight.
She decided to use Beach Boys music, and laughed. Whoever he was, he liked Beach Boys music too.
She said, “Perfect.”
Copyright © 2002 by Yvonne Jocks.
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