WHEN THIS WORLD CATCHES FIRE
BOOK THREE: SAVAGE NOXTOWN
CHAPTER EIGHT: PART THIRTY-ONE: THE FALL
As I roamed with Doctor Peter Ketman on his travels—what he liked to call his “rambles” or “house calls”–in what I was given to understand was a great favor, he explained the significance of some of his tattoos to me. “The mermaid means I will never drown in any sea or flood. The globe means that I will travel the world round and word of my doings will always precede me. The green dragon is especially potent. One time I had but to touch it, and I cured a toothless baby of the yellow jaundice. That, alongside of some tea made from pouring boiling water over a powerful magnet. Now, don’t get me wrong–there are a great many Docs who go in for the homeopathic. I don’t mean to horn in on their racket, but let me tell you that I’m not one who goes in for that variety of fol-de-rol. My form of spell casting is more basic still. Like attracts to like, I always say. The circling ravens on my shoulders mean that I will never be caught by a jealous husband or a hidden enemy, for the ravens will warn me–as one of their brothers. There’s no great secret in communicating with the animals—you just have to listen to them. Listen with every fiber of your being. The crucifix means I draw down the power of Jesus, and the all-seeing eye means I draw down the Power of God. I only use that for serious work—like when a ghost is haunting the farmstead—usually it’s the ghost of a dead boy—killed in a harvesting accident—cut down in the prime of life—wants to lay a bad curse on the man who married his sweetheart—the all-seeing eye of God tells him to make tracks—leave the earth behind and take his reward in heaven—God is a God of love but that don’t mean there’s no place for hatred in the cosmos, for there most definitely is—does the hawk hate the mouse? No, ner does the mouse hate the hawk—they are acting out their roles, and that is all. The dagger is for to cure men who are heart sick, and the heart is to cure womenfolk and their troubles–farm girls who marry too young and often die young too—you’re old enough to know—childbirth—I’ve saved more than a one with herbs and potions where even a midwife was set up to fail–say naught of a regular doctor.”
“What these tattooes of mine really mean, Yellof, is that you is got to make your way in the world,” said Ketman, “Any way you can. There is never any profit,” Ketman would grandly say, “setting up stakes beneath the coward’s tree. The warrior goes into battle with both eyes open.”
I’m not denying that Ketman had got some power from somewhere. He would go from house to house waving a little doll and the folk as believed in him would set out for him the finest food and drink they could afford.
He would even, on fair days during early thaws, range further afield, from farm to farm, mounted on a fine steed he got from who knows where, drawing a three-wheeled wagon, and the farm folk would ask him to bless their fields and cattle; to deliver invocations and perform divinations–like, for instance dowsing for water in the vicinity of dry wells–all of which he would perform with root work and incantations. He preferred to be paid in gold coin–he told the farmers, rather self-servingly, that the spells he cast were more effective if paid for in that fashion. But he would take silver, or paper money, or even work his spells in trade for produce and preserves and the occasional pretty bauble which would go a long way, he might have thought, in earning the good will of Red Mary, though, as of late, he had set his sights lower and instead was whoring after a new girl name of Carol O’Day, and had even settled his gimlet eye on Little Jane, who I considered my sweetheart, though I was too young as of yet to know what to do with her.
Likely the source of his appeal and his power was in his background, which he kept as mysterious as he could, but which I learned bits and pieces of by keeping my ears open whenever the topic of the Root man came up among the loafers at the Seven Stars.
“Tell the Rev-rund,” said one of the loafers, “the REAL Witchy-Man is back in town.”
“Tell him NOTHin’.”
“The Rev-rund is a big chunk of lard.”
“The both of ’em has the mash for Red Mary, says I.”
“Heard tell the Witchy-Man got run out of Geechy Lake.”
“Heerd the Witchy-Man is got a yen for Red Mary.”
“Don’t let the Witchy-man hear you making fun!”
“Don’t let Red Mary hear you!”
“Heard he make-a the mash with Red Mary.”
“Wonder what the Fool Killer would think of that.”
“The Fool Killer” was the name the bar-room loafers had bestowed upon Smash Conklin. They thought that when I was in the room, they would somehow deceive me into thinking they weren’t talking about him, but I was too sly for them. I could always tell when they were talking about something they didn’t want me to hear, because one of them would say “Little pitchers” or “small jug-handles,” and then look off, and then peer sidelong but meaningfully in my general direction, and then look off again.
I reported all this talk back to Peter Ketman. I figured I had nothing to lose by taking his side.
Here was the equation: Ketman had charms wherewith to sooth the savage beast, and if there ever was a savage, then Conklin was one. Doping out whether to do him in was the easy part. Putting all the puzzle pieces and figuring out how would be the stumper. How could I use Ketman to get back at Conklin? I was to discover the answer sooner, rather than later.
Don’t write: Console yourself with soothing guff
(As if the lies you’ve lived by weren’t enough)?
Misfortunes come from too much reading
When you’ve got no fortune and you’ve got no breeding.
The word is too much with us, soon and late
We come to be the person people love to hate.
This sad truth is confess’d and it isn’t funny;
Not even fools take up the pen expecting money.
Anyone can publish; this is what it breeds;
A world where everybody writes and no one reads.
With faint praise critics come to your defense;
His writing’s like an angel’s but he has no sense.
But fail to please the public with insipid yarns
And your work will be remaindered to be sold in barns.
The greatest insight that I’ve ever had
Is this: That writing makes you truly mad.
Atlas holding up the world is quite absurd;
It’s difficult enough to hold up the word.
I hate to sound a cynic or resort to labels:
Uncertain the career misspent in crafting fables.
I am fat and reek of stale hops.
LEAD, FOLLOW OR GET OUT OF THE WAY
Even though I drive a flashy car, I hate myself and I want to die.
ANY COLLEGE STICKER
Ha Ha! I went to college or can afford to send my children to college, and I’ll tell the world!
ANY IVY LEAGUE COLLEGE STICKER
Status is all I care about.
ANY TEAM MASCOT
I reagrd an athletic team mascot as my totem animal.
ANY SPORTS LOGO
Hooray for wealthy athletes who represent my city!
VOTE NO ON GUN CONTROL
Weapons make me feel powerful.
Subconciously, at least, I realize that this is a bitter joke, but I shall nonetheless publically affirm that our empire is foremost.
____ IS FOR LOVERS
Romantic love is an illusion which I cling to.
CAN’T DRIVE 55
My self-destructive impulse to break speed laws affirms my fading masculinity.
BABY ON BOARD
I fear your erratic driving, for I have successfully fostered infantine progenny who may or may not be currently occupying this vehicle.
I care deeply about liberal causes.
I despise our current chief executive.
LET GO…LET GOD
I fearlessly broadcast my conventional religious beliefs.
I believe that marijuana, the use of which I heartily endorse, is not a mere stupificant but actually an ancient and miraculous medicinal herb.
YOU TOUCHA MY CAR, I BREAKA YOU FACE
Stay away from me, and from my car, which is an extension of me! Or else!
I openly declare with jingoistic fervor my quaint belief that purchasing only American-made products is de rigueur.