Read Witch Doctor - Wiz in Rhyme-3 Online

Authors: Christopher Stasheff

Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Science Fiction, #Fiction - Fantasy, #Fantasy, #Fantasy - General, #Fantastic Fiction, #Wizards, #Fantasy - Series

Witch Doctor - Wiz in Rhyme-3 (4 page)

He wore a glowing robe, and there was a shimmering behind him, a suggestion of huge folded wings-and his face was very severe. No. It couldn't be. An angel?

"I am even so," the being responded, "and the one who hath known thee even since the day of thy birth, Saul."

Well. That brought me back to my senses, a little. "If you've known me that long," I said, "how come I've never seen you before?"

"In that dull world to which thou wert born, naught of the spirit can be seen, save to those few souls that do glow with goodness. Here, though, the world of the spirit is open to men, if they do but seek. " "World?" I frowned. "You mean I'm in a totally different world from the one I've lived in all my life?" Somehow, that didn't seem like news.

"Even so," the angel agreed, but he was still frowning. Then the other part of his message registered. "But," I said,

"I'm not particularly interested in the world of the spirit."

"How little thou dost know thyself, Saul! And how greatly dost thou seek to hide thine own nature from thyself. Thou hast ever been preoccupied with the things of the spirit, and 'tis even thy aching search for truth that hath led thee away from the churches of men."

I just stood there for a second while that sank in. Then I said,

"I thought you boys were supposed to think the churches had a monopoly on truth."

"The religions they serve have truth within them, and therefore do the churches, also-yet the folk who constitute each church are but human, and as fallible as any among thee. How intolerant art thou, to excuse thine own failings and condemn them for theirs!" I lifted my head in indignation. "I haven't condemned anybody!"

"Hast thou not turned from them because thou hast judged them to be hypocrites? Yet surely thou must needs see that their fait is a striving after perfection."

I nodded, not following.

"Therefore, if they do strive for perfection, they cannot already have attained it."

"Now, wait a minute!" I held up a hand, seeing where he was going.

"Thou hast learned it," he said, nodding. "If they are thou canst not blame them for their imperfections." not perfect,

"But I haven't judged anybody!"

"Hast thou not but now judged even thy Creator? Hast thou not blamed Him for creating thee doomed to loneliness?"

"Oh," I said. "That's what brought you here."

"Even so," the angel confirmed. "In this world-nay, this universe-prayers are answered more obviously than in thine own, and verses are prayers, or petitions to the Adversary." Suddenly, I was very glad I hadn't sung "Sympathy for the Devil." Then the rest of what he'd said sank in. I frowned. "What do you mean, 'this universe'?"

"Hast thou not perceived it with thy vaunted reason?" he taunted.

"Thou art no longer in the universe of thy birth. Thou hast been transported to another, in which magic rules, and physics is superstition."

I stared.

"Yet the God of All is the One God here, as well as in thy home," the angel said inexorably, "and of all the universes that be; for 'tis He who made them, and doth maintain them by the force of His will. It is this mighty and majestic God whom thou dost blame for thine own failings! "

"But I wasn't talking about the judaeo-Christian Creator," I objected. "I was reciting a quotation from the Finnish national epic!

If you want to look for the 'creator' I was talking about, go look among the gods of the Finns! Besides, I didn't even make a statement!

I just asked a question!"

The angel waved the objection away with an impatient gesture.

"'Tis immaterial. Thou art in a universe in which the only true Creator is Jehovah, and thou must needs align thyself either with God, or with the Devil."

"Are you trying to say God didn't make me to be lonely?"

"Nay, nor to wander. If thou dost lack friends and home, that is the consequence of thine own deeds and choices. If thou dost not wish it so, thou canst choose otherwise."

I frowned. "Choose to go back to my own world?"

"Even that, though thou shalt have to seek the means, and labor long and hard to earn or learn the way. Yet I spoke more of thy grieving for friends and place."

"I've been looking for friends all my life!"

"They have been there," the angel said inexorably. "Thou hadst but to live as they did, to learn their ways and follow them."

"Wait a minute! You're saying that if I wanted to be part of a group, I had to do as everybody in that group did? " "Thou hadst need to abide by their rules," the angel said. "There are many such that I have rejoiced to see thee turn away from-yet

there were others who

were good folk, whose customs thou didst dis

dam. " t

I remembered the kids in grade school, who thought fighting and sports were everything. "Damn right!"

The angel's face flared in wrath. I shrank back. "Uh, sorry, there.

Darn right."

He diminished to a slow burn.

I collected the pieces of my wits and said, "They were so phony!

And their standards were, too! Thinking that how well you could hit a ball really mattered!"

"It did," the angel said, "to them."

"Not to me! Reading books counted! Knowledge counted!"

"Thus thy books meant more to thee than friendship. Thou hadst made thy choice; thou hadst small room to rail 'gainst God."

"Oh, yes I did! I should've been able to have friends and booksother kids who liked to read, liked to learn! Then I would have been

part of a group! We might even have learned how to play baseball together! " "Dost thou not wish to be rare?"

"No!" I exploded, and was shocked to hear myself say it-but I'd worked up too much momentum to be able to stop. "I'd love to be normal! To have friends! To be a social animal! And I tried! I did learn their ways, at least a little bit-but it was too late! I couldn't acquire the instinct! And they knew I was faking!"

"Yet nonetheless would have given thee toleration, if thou hadst continued to strive."

"To try to be something I wasn't? To be a phony? I thought you guys were supposed to value truth!"

"As indeed we do," the angel returned, "and I rejoice that thou hast chosen the more truthful way. Yet 'twas thy choice, not God's doing."

"Sure, but look what He gave me to choose from!" I drew a deep breath and reined myself in. Harmony, balance; center yourself . . .

"I thought having more brains was supposed to give you a big boost toward Heaven."

"Nay," the angel returned. "Heaven is open to all, to the lame as well as the nimble-and to the moron as well as the genius. 'Tis the soul that is of concern to God, not the mind."

I stared, shocked.

Then I said, "But I thought people with better minds had a better chance of coming closer to the truth! And that's God, isn't it?" gel said, "or a description of it.

"That is an aspect of God," the an 'Tis no more the whole of Him than is His omnipotence. Oh, a man of greater intellect can come to a fuller and more complete knowledge of God, if he doth strive lifelong-yet his way is more torturous, for his mind can see more obstacles to faith in God than can the man of less nimble wits."

"But the smarter man can do more holy works!"

" Not 'more' " the angel corrected me, "only ones that others cannot see. Yet his temptations to error are greater, for if he does not apprehend the truth in an instant, he is like to say it doth not exist, and turn away."

"So," I said slowly, "that's why the student went to the rabbi and said, 'Teach me the whole of the law while I stand on one foot.' "

"That is an allegory," the angel agreed. "Yet if thy mind is the means of coming closer to God in the end, it hath also its own forms of obligation."

I turned wary. When someone says obligation, they're trying to get you to do something you don't want to do. "Such as?"

"To use thy mind to labor for the good of thy brethren," the angel said. "To never rest till thou hast come to see the Truth of God-and, till thou hast attained that clarity of vision to hold fast in the faith that 'tis there."

I turned very cold. "You're asking me to believe in something I don't know is there."

"I

f thou didst know it," the angel returned, "there would be no need for faith."

"Nice twist to the logic." I dismissed the argument with a wave.

"But if I can't prove it, I won't accept it."

"Yet thou must!" The angel stepped closer, face creased with anxiety. "For this world to which thou hast come is a domain in which spirit rules, and if thou art not dedicated to God and His goodness, thou wilt slip toward Satan and evil."

"Ridiculous!" I scoffed. "I've heard that before, too-'you've got to commit yourself. There's no middle ground.' " . i "There is not, here. With each deed thou dost to any other human being, thou dost commit thyself to good, or to evil! Thou canst not remain poised between! Thy smallest action will doom thee, if thou dost not choose God as thy goal. Thou canst not stand alone! " "Well, I blasted well intend to!" I snapped. "I'm not about to commit myself to anything!

Or anybody! All my life, people have been telling me, 'You've got to sign up! You have to join! You can't just stand by yourself!' But I didn't believe them-I learned early that being part of a group always results in having to do things you don't believe are right. I refused to do those things before, and I'll refuse again! " "And therefore wilt choose to be alone," the angel warned.

"Yeah, I've been ostracized! Sometimes directly and openly, sometimes subtly and covertly-but always cut off, snubbed. if that's the price I have to pay for being my own honest self, I'll pay it-and I have! I've been doing just that for twenty-four years now, thank you, and doing just fine!"

"Thou hast not," the angel contradicted. "Thou dost endure in loneliness and instability."

"Well, if that's the price of freedom, I'll pay it! And if you think

you're going to do anything to punish me for it, you'd better just stop talking and get to the thunder and lightning!" I braced myself, ready for annihilation, and found myself hoping that I'd been right about God, and that He was on my side after all.

The angel looked unutterably sad as he studied me, then seemed to rally a little. "Nay. My power may not be spent 'gainst the living, and most especially not 'gainst the mortal who was placed in my care. I shall repel devils who seek to torment thee with all of my power, as I have in the past-but thy choices are thine own to make, by God's decree. And thou hast made them."

I stood still, waiting for the adrenaline rush to wear off. The angel turned stern again. "Yet henceforth do not rail 'gainst Heaven for thy loneliness-for 'tis thou who hast chosen it." Suddenly the light exploded outward, enveloping him. It dwindled, rising and soaring upward, but faded out before it had gone very far. I just stood staring after it, feeling the stiffness ebb from my limbs, feeling the weakness begin, and letting myself realize that I had just seen my guardian angel.

But I intended to go on griping all I wanted. I might have to accept loneliness as the price of freedom and integrity, but I didn't have to be happy about it.

On the other hand, I wasn't accepting it, either. "You can have friends and still be yourself," I muttered to myself. "It's just that friends who like you the way you are, are few and far between." Which reminded me of Matt.

I turned and started trudging uphill again. If I'd been transported into a different universe, maybe he had, too. Same different universe?

I hauled up my sinking stomach. There was a good chance of it, wasn't there? After all, I'd been looking for him when that damned spider had bitten me and sent me into this world.

How could a spider bite transport you between worlds?

Death?

Or hallucination. Which reminded me of the angel. Had to be a hallucination. Couldn't possibly have been anything else. The berries, I realized-they may have looked like ordinary raspberries, but they had probably contained a hallucinogen of some sort. They'd just opened up a channel for my subconscious to speak to me, in the form of my guardian angel.

Which meant my subconscious was religious.

I definitely didn't like that notion.

I could almost hear it speaking. Sub to conscious. Come in, conscious.

No. I refuse. I'll stay outside.

And I would, too. Chapter Three

As I walked, I tried to reason it out-after all, forty credits'

worth of philosophy ought to be good for something, and if it wasn't any good in this situation, it never would be, anywhere. I resisted the personal, supernatural view of the local phonemena-angels weren't real, and neither was magic. Well, okay, something that sure looked a lot like magic was going on here-but magic wasn't a person, with emotions and a personality; magic could much more believably be just a force, a kind of energy, impersonal and ...

My train of thought derailed as a flicker at the corner of my eye caught my attention. I glanced that way, but it had disappeared, of course. No, there it was again, like a glitch in my field of view. A wild stab of panic hit; this would be a very, very bad time to lose my vision! But it passed, with a little shove from my common senseand just in time, too, because the glitch widened, and I felt the impulse to reach out and adjust tracking. Silly, of course-because it not only widened, but swelled, turning into a zigzag tearing that reached downward to the ground and churned up a cloud of dust.

Then the membranes in my nose stood on end, and wrung themselves dry as the stench hit them with a rotten egg. "Guardian angel," I muttered, "if you're anything more than an hallucination, now would be a great time to show yourself!"

It didn't, of course-hallucinations don't usually come on demand. But I did feel a surprising surge of confidence, almost reassurance.

Shouldn't have surprised me, I suppose-the mind plays funny tricks

on itself, and this was just my subconscious' way of getting itself to believe it could cope with whatever was coming. I suppose. But I happened to notice a tickling in my thumbs.

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