Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Fifth Book of Abramelin: A Novel

This is a bit of the first draft of the book I'm working on. What do you think?

June 12, 1443

Lamech could not sleep.  He slipped out of bed, tied his robe about him, and snuck outside into the courtyard.  The rush of air was cool on his face, a sweet caress after the oppressive heat of his bedroom.  He leaned his back against the ancient oak.  When they were young, his sister and he had played at being Sarah and Abraham under that tree, imagining it to be the Terebinth of Mamre.  They had played Moshe and Miriam at the banks of the sea, he pounding the ground with a magic staff, she singing and dancing around him and the tree both.  He felt its bark against his back, scratchy and familiar.  And then he remembered the other game, the one they learned from their mother, the game of being the tree.
He slowed his breath and felt the world fall away, imagining his roots sinking into the ground, winding around the rocks, deeper and deeper into the black earth.  He imagined he grew taller and taller, his branches spreading.  The moonlight felt strange and warm on his shivering leaves.  The feelings grew more and more real, until then he shook his head and laughed.  Imagine!  A grown man of 23 playing at being a tree!  
He opened his eyes, and looked up at the sky.  The moon hung low and full over the western horizon, but it was as red as blood.  The rabbis taught that lunar eclipses were poor omens, a time for prayer and atonement.  And yet...and yet... Lamech could not help but think the moon, however inauspicious, really was very beautiful this way.  He closed his eyes, and began, slowly and quietly, to chant the psalm which sanctifies the moon.  He gave praise to G-d and all his angels, to the sun and the moon, to the glittering stars high above and the roiling sea monsters deep below.  Just as he began to praise the fire and the hail, he caught most delicious smell on the air, and the words of the psalm evaporated from his mind, leaving only the smell.  
At first, it was sweet milk, thick with honey and spice, but the scent slipped and shifted in his mind, darting in wide circles like a glittering fish.  He smelled the rich green of the forest, he smelled mist rising and rain falling, he smelled lightning.  He smelled bitter beer and roasting nuts, sweet blackberry wine and the herbal smell that clung to his sister’s hair and clothes when she came home from the apothecary.  Beneath all those smells, however, was something else, pulsing and squirming, dancing and laughing, playing through his mind like a lover.  The smell pulled at Lamech, embracing and caressing him, and he forgot the beautiful bad-luck moon entirely.  
Slowly, the smell seemed to descend and solidify.  Lamech opened his eyes, expecting...what exactly?  He laughed at himself,  playing at trees, expecting to see smells? "What," he wondered, "could a smell possibly look like?"  And then he saw the way the moon illuminated the oak tree, and he caught his breath.  The leaves rustled, although the air was quite still.  The moonlight, still beautiful and eerie, fell in a perfect circle at the tree’s base, and Lamech imagined there must be a magical treasure buried there, and inheritance of angels.  The idea was absurd, a child’s story, and yet he couldn’t shake it.  He went inside, and found a spade.
An hour later, dawn cresting over the roof, sweaty and dirty from digging, Lamech held the box his hands.   He lifted the lid with some difficulty.  Its time in the earth had made the wood swell and warp a little.  And yet, the box had served its function, the book inside was clean and dry, wrapped in several layers of old linen.  The book had no title; the cover an unbroken expanse of deep red, the color of cherries and fresh blood.
Lamech was not a reader; he simply had no head for it.  Whenever he tried, the letters swam and danced, mocking him.  He knew he was not stupid, he was the quick enough to learn things when they were explained to him.  He was not illiterate, he could do well enough to pray and even learn a little Torah, but he knew that he would never be a scholar.  Still, though, that his magical treasure turned out to be a book seemed something of a perverse joke.
As he opened it, the pages crackled like crispy chicken skin.  Sarah was a good cook; her knowledge of herbs extended to the flavorful as well as the medicinal.  Her sabbath chicken were moist and delicious, but their skin was never crispy the way mother’s had been.  Lamech stared at the first page and slowly began to read.

The Book of the
Holy Magic
written by
Abraham, the son of Simon
for my infant son, Lamech

Lamech had never known his father.  His mother’s pregnancy had greatly scandalized the town.  Had she not been a midwife, she never would have been permitted to bear a child still unwed, but she refused to marry and had never revealed the identity of the twins’ father, not even to Lamech and Sarah, though they had begged and begged.  As a child, Sarah invented all sorts of fantastical tales about their father.  She imagined that he was rich and famous, a scholar, perhaps a great magician.  On one occasion, she had insisted that their father was none other than the Holy Rabbi, Yaakov Levi!  Their mother, who was never angry or abrupt, had slapped Sarah full across the face for that one.   
He turned the page and began, with great difficulty, to puzzle out the dense small script.  “This is the book of the true practice of Magical Wisdom.  It has been passed to me -- Abraham, the son of Simon, son of Judah, son of Simon -- by oral tradition.  Some parts of this book were given to me by my father and other wise, studied, practicing people.  The other parts of this book contain things that I have learned, discovered, and tested by making great events occur.  I have written this manuscript and placed it in a chest son that my youngest son, Lamech, will have a special treasure as his inheritance.  My firstborn son Joseph received from me the holy Kabbalah.  From this book, my natural son, Lamech, will be able to see, recognize, and use the wonders of God.

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