I spoke of my friend and his exodus from our fair city. As it happens, I didn't know his reasons for leaving our country and only recently found out about him moving to an anarchist coop in Barcelona—one of the few remnants of that city’s civil war legacy and its ability to dream even.
No, the real reason came to me in the form of a mutual friend who had worked with him on "x-project" and now needed to leave the country. He couldn’t leave by the normal routes, as one could imagine, being that he was wanted by government agencies. When his name was placed on the witch list—you know, that list that changes via wants of those in power rather than actual definitions—I knew it was serious, and I knew that we would have to sneak him out via a ratline.
I didn’t ask questions as I sat there with him in a dark basement apartment in the Upper East Side. We knew some illegals who had ratlines out of the city via boat and onto a sailboat which would take him to Barcelona. There he would hopefully find refuge in the arms of the underground community of anarchists.
Having never been in the presence of a witch before (apparently, it’s only witches and no warlocks, sex be damned), I remained unbelieving, silent, and apprehensive. When the van came by at midnight, we still hadn’t exchanged a word. And as I ate our halal food—with that perfectly roasted spring chicken—his smoke filling the air, the van idling outside, I wondered how it was that he, a middle-class faithful, could've even achieved such notoriety.
In the van, hoods over our heads, he started to pray in some foreign tongue, or rather, in an odd combination of English, math, and programming descriptions. My nerves frayed, I finally asked him what he had done to result in his running out of the country like this.
Witchcraft, he explained with a smile. I didn’t want to believe him because my main impetus for helping him was that the witch list was in fact a false list used for political purposes. But his face was dead serious and sucked the air out of my lungs; I was unable to reply. The rattling of the old van’s body panels filled the cumin and blood stench of the air. Soon we were at the boat house, somewhere in the Bronx. We had to wait for a gap in the boat patrols before we left.
I wanted to ask what kind of witchcraft but instead asked if the witchcraft was real, or if he was joking. His words were spoken like that of a man who knows there are only a few more moments left in his life: he explained that his craft was indeed witchcraft, but the kind that twisted a screen’s reality.
What he and my friend in Barcelona had done was to spread certain words, phrases, ideas into the wide web and allowed these words to infiltrate any and all texts: focusing on communications and news stories. The result had been mass hysteria. But the thing about this spell was that it had become a life unto itself and so nothing was going to stop it—hence the reason he had to leave and why the friend from before had to leave.
I watched him leave on the boat and never really heard from him again. The effects of the spell he created were soon a part of life: one could never really trust what one read anymore. Not on a screen, at least.
And I was left to fend for myself, a writer using the specific tools of literature to cast spells. I knew that I may very well be speaking a language that had weak spells while this new witches' language or new religion, was much more powerful, and that any spell I had at my disposal would succeed only with wings from the witches' language. And I at once felt weak and impotent, imagining that this was how Neanderthals felt, watching the hordes of Cro-Magnum come through to crush them and their past.
I’m ranting now. I’m more or less thinking what it means to write, and to write fiction at that. What does it mean if it can’t cast spells as strong as I may want?
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