Young Sophie Learns the Game
He Ain’t Heavy, He’s my Psychopomp
Sophie couldn't keep her mind off the book under her parents’ bed. She felt as though a tiny voice was speaking to her in the back of her mind, compelling her to seek it out once more. She resolved, that at the next opportunity, she would retrieve it. What she did with it at that point, she wasn't sure, she just knew she needed it, or it needed her. The only thing standing in the way at that point was finding her opening. There always seemed to be someone around. She entertained the notion of skipping school, but even the siren call of the book under the bed wasn't enough to for her to make that transgression. Weekends were not ideal as her parents tended to stay home, her father watching sports on the television and passing out around 8 pm and her mother spent her Saturdays painting her strange abstract works. Sophie found her paintings a bit unsettling.
“Where do you get your ideas for these?” she’d ask her mother.
“They paint themselves,” she’d reply.
This Saturday night was different. Sophie knew her parents were getting ready to go out for the evening. There was a particular buzz in the air as they accused one another of hiding the precise articles of clothing they were looking for, from each other. The dog could tell as well, as he spun around in circles, yapping in a vain attempt to get their attention.
“Sophie,” her Clare said, slipping her arms into her coat sleeves, as Charles held it for her, “Your father and I are going out.”
“Figured it out by the way you kept bumping into each other on the way to the bathroom,” Sophie said behind a book.
“Don’t get fresh.”
“She sounds like her sister,” Charles laughed.
“Where is she anyway?” Sophie asked.
“Oh, you know Cher,” Clare replied, “Always up to something.”
Sophie waited for her parents’ car to cross the intersection at the corner of her house and ran upstairs with Barney bounding behind her. Under the bed, she pushed aside the magazines hiding her mother’s old book. She slid it out and sat it beside her. She moved the magazines back in place, looking as they still had a secret to hide. She held the book close to her chest as she darted to her room closing and locking the door behind her. Barney hopped up on her bed and curled up on the pillow.
“Sure,” she said to her dog, “Make yourself comfortable.”
She sat on the floor leaning against the bed. She sat the book on her lap and opened to page one. In between the strange arcane instructions and diagrams, were tales of an archangel crashing to Earth from the heavens, and a young witch and her grandfather.
“What kind of name is Ray for an angel?” Sophie asked her sleeping dog.
She placed the book on the floor and held her hands in the prescribed positions. The moonlight streamed through the windows and fell on her hands. As she followed the instruction in the book she noticed that it looked as though her hands started to glow. It was as if they were collecting the light. The golden glow from her nightstand lamp began to dim. Spikes of light reflecting off her multitude of marksman and archery trophies raced toward her and looped around them. She pulled them back and the light followed. She panicked and shook her hands like she had a spider on them. The light shot off in a bolt and singed the throw rug in the floor.
“Oh god,” she gasped and stared between her hands and the burn mark on the floor.
The sound of the front door opened shattered her trance.
“Oh god, oh god, oh god, they're home.”
She got down on her hands and knees and look at the carpet wondering what to do about it. She heard footsteps coming up the stairs. She rolled the carpet up in a panic. She heard someone grab the knob and crash into the door.
“Jesus,” Cheryl yelped, “You locked it? Something good must be going on in there.”
“Hang on,” Sophie called.
Cheryl ran her fingers over the doorframe and found the key. She unlocked the door and walking in. Sophie held up her hands and a bolt of light sailed past Cheryl’s head and struck the wall behind her, leaving a black burn.
“What the hell was that?” Cheryl yelled.
Sophie was on the floor stuffing the rug under the bed.
“I was hoping to catch you doing something more exciting than stuffing your rug under your bed. And less exciting than trying to kill me.”
“Not now, Cher,” Sophie made a pleading gesture with her hands and more light sprayed out, this time fizzling out before it made contact with anything, “Oh god, it won't stop.”
“Why are your hands going off like the Fourth of July?”
Sophie picked up the book off the floor and showed it to Cheryl.
“Don't tell mom and dad,” she looked at the damage she had done to the wall, “How am I going to explain that?”
“Don't worry about it. I'll think of something.”
“I can't let you take the blame.”
“Please, mom and dad wrote me off the day you got here.”
Sophie gave Cheryl a mournful look. She laughed.
“It's not your problem. It's theirs. What is this book?”
“It belonged to my mother. She wanted me to have it, but mom and dad hid it under their bed.”
“That's mom and dad for you.”
“It's also why I just almost shot a hole in the wall.”
Cheryl leafed through the book, stopping from time to time to puzzle out what she was looking at.
“If you didn’t almost shoot my head off, I’d dismiss this as another one of your airy fairy fixations,” she handed the book back to Sophie, “Remember your Wicca phase?”
“That was last year,” she tucked the book under her arm, “You’re not going to bust on me for it?”
“Your hands are dripping light,” Cheryl lifted her foot and removed her flip-flop, “It’s on my shoe.”
“You're not going to tell mom and dad?”
“Why would I do that? When was the last time I did that?”
“Not since your Jupiter return.”
“There’s the Sophie space cadet talk.”
“What are you going to tell them about that?” Sophie pointed to the burnt wall.
“I don’t know, my soldering iron exploded or something. Mom will give a fake laugh and sigh and call a guy to fix it…” she flopped her arms, “Usual Cheryl nonsense.”
Sophie hugged her, “I’m sorry. It makes me feel so guilty sometimes.”
“Their behavior isn’t your fault. And it’s not like we were the Cosbys before you got here. They always seemed to like the idea they had a kid, but not the one they actually got. But it’s not all bad, I haven’t been grounded once since you got here, it’s almost like I don’t have a curfew and they never make me talk about school. Besides, that...” she pointed to the blast mark in the wall, “...is awesome.”
“My aim could use some work.”
“Think of it like archery.”
The next day Sophie was practicing in her little backyard archery range. She nocked an arrow, raised her bow and drew her hand to her cheek.
“Think of it like archery,” she repeated in her head.
She stood still examining her form. She closed her eyes and took several long, slow breaths. She emptied her mind and opened her eyes. She felt the tension in every muscle, she watched every thought and process in her mind pass by as she concentrated on the target. She let the arrow fly and it drove itself into the bullseye. She nodded and put the bow down. She held her hands in front of her much like she had done the previous night. Light gathered to her hands. As they began to glow bright, she let it go and it scattered in every direction. Some landed on the dead leaves at her feet and they began to catch fire. She danced around the yard stomping out the tiny, would be infernos. She looked around for witnesses.
She moved her experiments to a more secluded area, deep in the woods behind her house. She repeated the experiment several times with similar results. She flopped down on a log and sat, deep in thought. She fished into her bookbag and removed the Principia, leafing through it, as if she would find a section dedicated to her current quandary.
“I can help with that,” said a strange voice that sounded like a couple voices speaking out of phase with one another.
Sophie snapped her head up and saw a strange creature. It was tall and thin, with large, black, oval eyes. It’s head tapered to a narrow, smiling mouth. Its shoulder length black hair was slicked back and it was dressed like an alien dignitary visiting the Enterprise. His hands looked like the talons of a hawk, narrowing into claws.
“A gray alien,” Sophie gasped.
“I’m gray...ish,” he looked at his hands, “And you could get away with calling me an alien.”
“Who are you?”
“What difference does it make what my name is? What could you possibly do with that information?”
“You sound like my sister.”
Iam winced and looked at with a baleful glower. Iam stepped forward. Sophie stood up and stepped back.
“Relax, honey,” Iam said, “I would very much like to wrap my hands around your fragile little neck, but that’s not my role here. Let’s rewind to the sinister monologue I had prepared. I was waiting for you, Sophia, really? Sophia? Fischer. A little later than I was expecting. Not like I don’t have other cosmic errands to run on behalf of the universe, but sure, get here whenever. Eleven years after your mother dies, but hey I’m not here to complain, I’m here to bargain.”
Sophie stumbled backward, “How do you know about my mother?”
“Made her the same bargain. And her mother and her mom and her mam et cetera.”
“The one that will eventually kill you. Shit, I got to the dark stuff too quickly. Cat’s out of the bag. Yup, killed your mother and her mother and her mommy etcetera back to that darling, little Rosenkreuz girl. That’s the little bit of joy I get from having to perform this duty. You see, one day your gonna get me pretty good. In a fairly humiliating way with these powers your diddling around with. And I’m condemned to hand them out to you little harpies. Condemned to be your psychopomp, see that you’re bestowed with the very power that does me in. But on the bright side, it’s the very power that will eat you alive. Gotta find the silver linings wherever you can.”
“What power are you talking about?”
Iam pointed at the Principia.
“Isn’t it in there?”
“That’s just a book. It’s the instruction manual. You gotta go out and buy the home game first.”
“What will it cost?”
“Everything...I know that was hacky, but literally, everything. The price is everything that allows you to be a functioning member of your society. Like being lonely? Broke? Addicted to something?” Iam held up a finger, “But, it comes with more power than you’ll ever figure out how to use.”
“What was all that with the light then?”
“Anybody with even slightly flexible fingers can do sorcerer shit. I’m talking about the primo blend wizard shit. Do you want it?”
“For as long as I can remember.”
“Take it from me, getting what you always wanted...sucks,” he pointed to his right, “It’s that way, princess.”
“I just realized what you remind me of,” Sophie said.
“The drawings in the book labeled ‘Ray.’"
Iam stood erect, “Go fuck yourself, Sophie Fischer. It’s right that way.”
He walked off. Sophie looked in the direction he had pointed, then back and he was gone. She packed up her book in her bag and slung it over her shoulder with her quiver and her bow. She started toward home and paused. She looked in the direction Iam had pointed.
“Okay, let’s see what’s over here,” she said and began her hike into the woods.