WHEN THIS WORLD CATCHES FIRE
BOOK THREE: SAVAGE NOXTOWN
CHAPTER EIGHT: PART THIRTY-TWO: THE FALL
We wandered the back streets of Noxtown, Ketman and me, looking for people who were in need of a medicine man but who couldn’t afford the fees of a regular doctor. In one day alone, I saw “Doc” cure a bad burn, a toothache, and a case of glanders in a young horse.
Doctor Ketman also had many thimble-sized tattoos all along the front of his chest, many of which also had mystic significance, though he wouldn’t explain them to me for fear they would lose their power. These were in red ink, to match his hair, and included a cross, an anchor, a star, a heart with an arrow through it, a fish, a gun, a moon and stars, a snake, a pair of dice, a pyramid, and a dove.
Ketman thought he had in me a small disciple, and he told me in so many words that his was not the path to follow. Said he came over the boat in ’48, and was but a wee lad, but already had the talent for woodcraft. He was apprenticed to a German farmer off in the hinterlands, and apparently so impressed the man with his root work that he was exempted from many of the usual chores around the farm. On one occasion, he managed to cure the man’s eldest son of a bite from a rabid dog, though some jealous folks said the dog warn’t rabid at all and the bite would of healed of its own accord. Whatever the true version, at age eighteen, Ketman was released from his obligations on the farm to wander where he would. He first fell into the life of a carny worker, which is where, he said, he met a wonderful swami who could not only tell fortunes but actually change them. With an air of great and almost feverish confidentiality, Ketman told me that the world was truly a world of chaos, and that most people are fools who try not to think of this and keep their heads down, and others, the real fools, recognize that the world is in turmoil and try to master it. He told me that the Swami told him that the supreme secret was that control was an illusion, and that the illusion of control is therefore as potent as actual control. “If this be not so,” said the Swami, then all beliefs are lies. The Swami also told him that the man of iron will is the man who will prevail through the iron season, while he who does not have iron in him shall bend to the winds of prevailing fashion and won’t amount to shucks. As he was telling me these things, he began to get more and more excited, as though he were being unloosed for the first time of a great burden.
It was at this point that I thought I would ask him about some of his charms.
“How do I keep an enemy at bay?”
“That part is simple, child. You write the name of the twelve apostles on a sheet of vellum and you carry it in your shoe, and your enemy will be powerless to harm you.”
“How do I strike down an enemy?”
“That is bad magic, and I won’t tell you how it is done, because once you meddle with the dark forces, the sinister side, the dark forces will suck you in, and you will be a servant of the sinister side. Even for one such as I, it is highly dangerous and I work black spells as little as possible. The best way to get back at an enemy is to conduct yourself in such a way that he cannot do you harm. Often it is the very thought he has that he is hounding you that gives him the most satisfaction. Of course, you could use the same incantation I use to chasten bad dogs: Me he made, thee he suffers. Be careful about cursing someone by using his name. It can backfire and cause you to be the party who is subject to the curse. If there’s some boy who bothers you, my advice is just to stay far away from him.”
Ketman then grew melancholy, and sat down next to his wagon. “If I’d of had my way,” said Ketman, “I’d of stayed in school and learned some real knowledge, instead of following the carny and the medicine show and stuffing my head full of sham and swindles. I’d have become a penman and maybe whomped up a book full of my secret spells and bought me a house with a little garden where I could perform my experiments instead of charging off to graveyards and railroad crossings to find my herbs and roots and simples. I’m telling you all this, yellof, so you don’t go off making the same mistakes as I done. It’s the least I can do for Red Mary, who has taken quite a shine to you. She’d scratch off my dial plate if she thought I was giving you a bum steer. If I had my way, then shucks, maybe I would of become a real Doctor. It pains me to admit as much, because most Docs think of me as their sworn enemy and I don’t have much use for none of them either. But theirs is a higher-grade racket. Pay is more regular. The heyday of the root worker is past. Can’t hardly find any but the old folks and the colored folks who put much stock in it. Oh, a few young ‘uns, here and there is interested, but mostly they’re too busy with their baseball and their liquor and their wanting to go to trade school and like that. No, there ain’t hardly any future in being a root worker, or going on the bum in particular. Time was when a tramp could find an honest job and settle down. Not no more. Nowadays, he’s hounded from town to town—times is tight—nobody needs him—nobody wants to see him—he’s a menace—and folks like me just naturally get lumped in with the Hobo, even though I’m far from that. I am a skilled practitioner of folk medicine, I am. Off in the back-country is the only place where what I know is truly appreciated, but the frost in beginning to settle on my cheeks and the wide ramble ain’t quite so appealing to me no more-a-days.”
I told him that he still had a place in the world. I flattered him mercilessly, just so I could get at some of the secret knowledge which I, in my great foolish naivete, thought that he and only he was in possession of.
I own more than one car. That’s me–affluent.PRESERVE YOUR RIGHT TO BEAR ARMS
I prefer shooting guns and making a fetish of weaponry to sexual intercourse.I ❤ …
I have uniquely individualistic interests which i feel impelled to boast about.
INTERNATIONAL LICENSE PLATE CODE
Yes, my car and I have been to exotic destinations you have probably never heard of.
____ IS FOR LOVERS
I am eager to announce to the world the name of the American State in which I and my spouse spent our honeymoon and/or sexual getaway weekend.
VISUALIZE WHIRLED PEAS
My uniquely whimsical wit is best expressed by a mass-produced slogan ironically affixed to my car.
IN GOD WE TRUST, ALL OTHERS PAY CASH
A clever play on words indicates that I have an appealing sense of humor.
I have been to a popular tourist attraction in a faraway state, which shows that I have enough money to take a vacation and am, therefore, an individual of no inconsiderable wealth and status.
SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL POLICE
I am a law-abiding citizen and am therefore also a good person, so please don’t arrest me.
GOD IS THE WAY
I am an alcoholic who has found Jesus.
SHUT UP AND DRIVE
I resent the fact that you have friends who care about you and that you talk with them on the phone. Also, you’re not keeping your speed steady.
I believe strongly that I must obey the God that people like me also worship.
I believe strongly that I must obey the non-God that people like me also worship.
EDUCATORS AGAINST WAR
I think we should spend far less money on weapons and far more money enriching teacher’s unions.
DON’T LAUGH, IT’S PAID FOR
My risible vehicle may be decrepit, but at least it represents a genuine source of equity in these troubled times.
I HAVE ALWAYS BEEN CRAZY, BUT IT KEPT ME FROM GOING INSANE
An outrageously inflammatory statement points to my intrinsically rebellious nature.