The Royal Mail Delivers


Portrait of a well-dressed boy

An Amateur Sorcerer

Caleb Knox was not a happy sorcerer. In fact, he wasn’t even a particularly successful sorcerer. Just now he was a very worried sorcerer. This was because he was an amateur; he was a self-taught sorcerer. He had managed to get himself into the middle of a spell, and now he had to figure out how to finish it up. He had often wished that letters from Hogwarts had arrived in his real mail box in his real world.

He had always been fascinated by magic and the potential for magic. As a young boy he had clipped cereal box tops, advertisements in the back pages of comic books, and had sent for kits or books teaching him the basics of card tricks and other feats to amaze and astonish ‘your friends’. That was part of the fascination. He had hoped to be able to ‘amaze’ some of the boys in the neighborhood in the hope that they might become friends. Perhaps—most secret and treasured thought of all—more than just friends.

Caleb wasn’t the most popular of kids. His shirt was always neatly tucked-in, every hair was meticulously in place; he was never scuffed or rumpled; he always seemed to exude an air of self-satisfaction which infuriated the other boys he hoped to befriend; no one would call his glasses fashionable. So the other boys strove diligently to un-tuck Caleb, to scuff and rumple him, to impress upon him the fact that he had no reason to be satisfied about anything. It was, in fact, on just such an occasion that Caleb began to suspect that there was far more to magic than card tricks and sleight of hand.

He was running from several of the boys he knew and wished to know better. There was no reason for their anger. He had smiled benignly and told them that their hair was mussed. He would be pleased to lend them his comb, if they would like; if they would like, he would let them come into his house where they could freshen up in his bathroom and use some of his hair tonic, if they would like.

And now he was being hotly pursued by what seemed like half the neighborhood for reasons unknown to him. He wasn’t really much of a runner, if the truth were known, and there were actually only three boys in pursuit, and they were chasing him because his overture of friendship had been that of a pompous ass. His pursuers thought he was just a nerd; they had no violent intents. But as he ran, he looked a block ahead, saw a mail box, wished he was there and, to his amazement he ran past that mail box. He did it twice more before he realized that there was no longer any pursuit. He collapsed against a fence, gasping for breath. He tried to do it again later, but nothing happened.

Caleb now set out to attempt to learn real magic. He didn’t really know quite how to do this, but thought that he should learn Latin; he had read a story on the internet where a young wizard cast spells in Latin and those spells had the effect of serving dinner.1 So he browbeat his parents into sending him to the local Catholic high school. His parents were cradle Catholics and Caleb had been baptized; but their attendance at Catholic services was now essentially limited to marriages and funerals. There were no great theological issues at play. Over time they had come to believe that the church was ponderous and ineffective. The reaction of the hierarchy to the complaints of sexual abuse had tended to confirm them in this belief. They were not, however, atheists.

When Caleb first broached the subject of attending the local Catholic high school to his parents, their reaction was to suspect that he had been the victim, or the point of interest, for an errant priest.

Having satisfied themselves that this was not the case, Caleb’s parents were worried that perhaps Caleb was thinking of a vocation in the priesthood, the very apparatus that had caused them to lose confidence in their Church.

Of course Caleb couldn’t just tell his parents that his real desire was to learn Latin in order to learn magic. So he skirted the subject of Latin by talking about superior academic performance, larger curriculum and a more orderly campus. He hinted broadly that he hoped to make “friends” there and might want to “play baseball” there. These, probably, were his two most potent arguments and they carried the day. Caleb began not only to learn Latin, but to excel in it. His other arguments in support of Catholic high school also proved to be correct, and his academic performance improved dramatically. He even rumpled his shirt and started playing baseball. Being rumpled in the school uniform, by the standards of his peers, was no big deal; but it was a complete transformation for Caleb.

Bust of a Roman man

Publius Cornelius Tacitus

It was in Latin class that he learned of the Roman Senator and author Tacitus. So, when he saw this name on a well-used book in a pile on the fifty cent table outside one of his favorite bookstores, he was immediately attracted. Opening the book, he discovered that it was in English on the left with the Latin text to the right. Deciding this was worth every bit of fifty cents, he purchased the book. He had been reading this book with interest and diligence; it had already scored him several points with Brother James, the Latin teacher.

One day, he turned a page and the subject was no longer Nero and his times, it was the recipe for a spell to summon a familiar. There was a warning to the effect that the spell would not work in English, but had to be in Latin or Babylonian. Caleb was thankful he was studying Latin as he could neither read, nor pronounce the Babylonian text. He started leafing forward: there was a spell to animate a tool with a warning to be exact in the instructions as the tool would take its orders very literally; here, was a spell to move small items from place to place; and there, a spell to ask for small animals to cooperate with you or give you information; here, was a spell to transport yourself from place to place; there, instruction on the use of a crystal ball. He put the book down and took several breaths to recover his senses. He was elated and terrified in equal measure. He put the book under his pillow. He’d only looked at a few pages: he went to the kitchen for an ice cold grape soda.

1 Jay Gordon, A Light in the Darkness, Book I, chapter 15.