A/N: I only wish this was a work of fiction. However, names have been changed, places obscured, and memories made fuzzy over a decade and a half of recovery.
Here’s a small piece of my own cult experience:
I knew I was screwed. I had lost my keys, and several fruitless and furtive attempts to locate them while appearing to be casual had failed. Sequoia’s quick brown eyes had locked on me, and he could smell my anxiety.
“You know what to do, Sophia,” he snarled. “Manifest them.”
Dreading the inevitable, I closed my eyes and assumed a posture that I hoped would look capable, strong, self-reliant. Inside my eyelids, every nerve burned with tight panic. Please, Mother, I begged. Please. Please let me be able to do it this time.
Slowly, with all the caution of a movie hero faced with a tangle of almost identical wires plugged into a clock face rapidly ticking toward zero, I turned around and opened my eyes. Remember, I reminded myself. The hardest part of magick is realizing you can do it.
With sudden decision, I zoomed in on my trench coat, hanging on the hook by the door. Still hands lifted fabric, and calm fingers slipped into the nearest pocket.
They grasped nothing but fuzz and, by the feel of it, a dime.
A burning cold spike of fear sliced me from the tip of my tonsils to the base of my spine. Carefully keeping my face an expressionless mask, I turned to face Sequoia. His eyes searched mine. I matched his look and tried not to think. I can’t do it. Why can’t I do it? What’s wrong with me?
His eyes narrowed. “I said Manifest them,” he pronounced in clipped tones, “and yet, you chose to let your Ego keep you from working even the simplest of magick.”
“She’s been malfunctioning all day,” my husband volunteered, hardly bothering to look up from his drawing. I felt my expression flicker before I could prevent it. Sequoia surveyed my face critically.
“You’re right,” he murmured. “She’s having an Ego-fit again.”
Oh no, please no, not again. I’ve failed again.
“Yes, Sequoia,” I heard myself agree in a dead voice. “The Ego is back again.”
“Damn it, I thought we got rid of that thing for sure,” Hermes chimed in. “You know, Sequoia, I almost think that Ego’s the only thing in that body.”
“Brothers,” I said, “you know that this body is not a construct. We all knew there would be difficulty with the re-wiring.” Keep calm. I did not move my eyes from Sequoia’s gaze. I can talk this out.
“Yes,” Sequoia agreed. “And we know that you are worth it for us to redeem, Sophia. But it’s almost as if you wish to resist our efforts.”
“And if you’re not with us, you’re against us,” Nightmare chorused. This time, I didn’t even pretend to hide my anger at my husband.
Might as well be hung for a sheep as for a lamb. “Perhaps,” I said aloud, careful to keep my voice still, “there would be less trouble with malfunctions if you didn’t break our wedding vows.”
“That has nothing to do with anything, Sophia.” I struggled to ignore the smug swell of satisfaction I felt at hearing his voice filled with anger that he supposedly didn’t have.
“You broke the vows again?” Sequoia asked Nightmare sharply, keeping his eyes locked on mine.
“I pushed her again,” Nightmare admitted, “but it was her Ego, jumping into my body.” Oh you fucking rat. I did not let my eyes waver from Sequoia’s.
“Yes,” Sequoia said softly. He turned to face Nightmare. I allowed my gaze to drop to the floor. “yes, this Ego has been causing a lot of trouble lately. We will have to deal with it.”
“Thank you,” I said hollowly.
“However,” Sequoia continued, “I am concerned that you might have a slight breach in your defenses, Brother Nightmare.”
“Her Ego has been attacking them night and day,”
You bastard, the Voice howled. Why can’t you leave off for just one day?
“Still, we will have to check you out as well, Nightmare.”
“Thank you, Sequoia.” Nightmare sounded triumphant, as if he’d won.
“Perhaps we might scan for outside interference again,” Hermes suggested, “maybe someone’s possessed her.”
“That is possible, and would explain her attitude problems,” Sequoia conceded. “and I can see now why the keys didn’t Manifest themselves. You’re to stay home,” he told me. “We have to do surgery again. This afternoon.”
“But I’ll get fired if I keep skipping work,” I protested.
Sequoia snapped. In an instant, the cool, collected guru vanished. Instead, a snake in human skin hovered over me, hissing menacingly, his spitting mouth two inches under my nose. “YOUR EMPLOYERS DO NOT EXIST!!!” He bellowed, “They are constructs! Only the family of this temple and those like us are real! Do not be intimidated by those monkeys! If you continue to Manifest your job, you will not lose it! Stop thinking like a Mundane!”
“Master?” a voice spoke out.
“Yes, Hoshi?” Sequoia slipped back into placidity.
“Perhaps, if Sister Sophia is having trouble Manifesting, it would not be to the temple’s advantage to rely on her ability to keep Manifesting. I suggest that we adjourn for now and conduct the surgery this evening, upon her return home. After all, we must obey the laws of the universe we find ourselves in.”
Sequoia smiled coolly. “Your insight is unparalleled, Hoshi.” I felt a shiver of relief spread across my back and shoulders.
“And in any case,” Hoshi continued, “I see Sister Sophia’s keys. They’re right over there, hidden behind Brother Nightmare’s notebook.”
I slipped on my trenchcoat and nodded to my husband as I picked up my keys. He flashed me a “this isn’t over” look, but I kept my face poker-still.
“We will be waiting for you upon your return, Sophia,” Sequoia warned, “I recommend shutting down your emotion protocols in the meantime.”
“Yes, Sequoia.” I bowed slightly. “Brothers.” As I descended the apartment stairs, my hand slipped automatically into the right front pocket, feeling once again the fuzz and the dime. Some Mage you are. Can’t even manifest a stupid bunch of car keys.
Did you really just think that? People can’t just make pieces of metal appear in their pockets. And if Sequoia and Nightmare are such great Mages, why can’t Nightmare Manifest a job of his own? Have you ever seen Sequoia Manifest so much as cigarette?
He Manifested Nightmare’s glasses. And he called up the rainstorm that night.
It had been thundering all afternoon! And you only have his word on it about the glasses, remember. You weren’t there.
He is the Magnus of the Aeon.
Bullshit. Would someone with so much cosmic love be such a bully?
If he’s a bully, then what am I, for following him for so long?
Once out in the half-hearted daylight of a cloudy November afternoon, I removed the coin from and stared at it, turning it over and over, focusing on the glint of the metal, the heft of it in my hand, anything to quiet the ongoing battle raging in my head. My lips moved as I read the legend:
United States. Ten Cents.
At least you could tell it was a dime.
“Shut up,” I replied, and swung myself into the driver’s seat.
So here’s tonight’s picture — it was November in an interfaith calendar I once made: