“Zach, let’s not open that can of worms right now. You showed me some pretty impressive tricks but all of it’s conventionally explicable. Do you still use that shit to pick up girls?” The two laughed, joked and reminisced as I quietly stood there, rigid as a board. Eventually Leslie noticed and she got to the point of it all.
Zach didn’t seem nearly as phased by the video as either of us. He rewatched it once, scratched his chin, then led us to a library in the basement. We passed all manner of weird old machines on the way that he ignored my questions about. Suits me, I guess. Didn’t really want to be there longer than necessary.
The book he picked out was bound in dusty, tattered leather with a tangled insignia of some sort on the front. Taking care to blow the dust away from the two of us, he cracked it open and began searching for a particular page. Before I could ask what he was looking for, he jammed his index finger down on an illustration and grinned at me.
“I knew it. Of all the phenomena it might’ve been! The moment I saw the video, I knew. It was a long shot but now I’m as certain of it as I’ve ever been of anything.”
I cast a sidelong glance at Leslie. She explained that it was in his nature to be theatrical like this and that he’d eventually give us the bottom line if we indulged him. And he did.
The illustration very closely matched the one I’d seen on the website. When I mentioned it to him he said something baffling about how the Institute tracks down such information and has it removed under the pretense of intellectual property rights. Leslie wasn’t kidding about this guy. This book had something the website lacked, though. A step by step illustration of the dance steps.
To my disappointment it looked nothing like what I’d seen the pigeon do. Then and there I strongly considered the possibility that all of this had been a fool’s errand. But watching the video again, something occurred to me. “Leslie, do you have something to write with and some paper?”
She has this tiny little purse that somehow fits the whole universe inside of it. I’ve seen her pull stuff out of there I still can’t believe. Fuckin’ lady mysteries. But indeed, she had a notepad and bic pen.
I broke down the pigeon’s movements into categories: hops, twirls, head bobs, and scratching the ground. Then I assigned each a number from one to four, and used that to sequence the movements seen in the video.
1231412. I did the same with the movements shown in the dance instructions. A perfect match! Zach stepped in, beckoned for the notepad, and added to it. Instead of one through four, he used A through D. I didn’t understand why until he wrote out those letters in an order corresponding to the dance. ABCADAB. I slapped my forehead.
“Abra Cadabra? Alright, surely someone’s having some fun with us” I said. But he looked dead serious. “Not quite. As you’ve pointed out it’s missing some letters and therefore some dance steps. Some part of the ritual had been lost to the passage of time, even when this book was written. But it would seem that what remains is still enough to effect passage, I’d just anticipate irregularities.”
Irregularities? Passage? And here I’d been worried that Leslie would laugh at me if she thought I took any of it seriously. She’d really dated this guy? “Look, I don’t know what your game is, but I know bullshit when I smell it.”
Leslie elbowed me in the ribs. “Zach” only shrugged. “You’re the one that came to me. Ask a question, get an answer. What you do with the information is your business.”
I didn’t want him to think he’d won. Even so, I took a photo of the dance instructions with my phone before we left. My grumblings about how full of shit he was turned out to be preaching to the choir.
Yet I could tell it still irritated her on some level, so I gave it a rest. The idea of it nagged at me the whole ride home. Some aspects resonated with all that quantum probability stuff I remembered discussing with Leslie over dim sum.
Supposing you did something completely unlike almost every other instance of yourself. Something with no practical purpose, such that very few others were ever likely to do it. Something highly specific and elaborate to narrow things down, as it were. Like how adding words to a search string increases the accuracy of the results.
Until there were only two, or a few of you doing that exact thing at that exact time. Pulling those points in space and time together in perfect, synchronous unity for the duration of the ritual. The more I tried to flush it out of my brain, the more the puzzle pieces fell into place. But then, Richard Feynman once said “Take care not to fool yourself. You are the easiest one for you to fool.”
Letting go of that fear was really when the first domino fell. I might’ve still thrown it all out the window and gone on with my affairs as if none of it ever happened, if not for that.
More than the video, more than the website, more than the book, it was the simple act of committing to an experiment that really fucked me. That’s when I threw my hat over the wall, and the subsequent chain of events became inevitable.
Normally I would’ve scolded myself for buying the charcoal. How silly. A grown ass man buying ingredients for a magical ritual. And the little red candles! But I powered through my shopping list one item at a time with clarity of purpose, not yet believing but certainly determined to call Zach’s bluff at the very least.
The canvas was my white livingroom rug turned over. I figured I could mark that side of it without concern as nobody was ever likely to see it afterwards.
I held the phone in one hand, carefully studying the details of the symbol and candle placement as I went about my task. But then, I’d done everything. The cushion of time between myself and the moment of truth had finally shrunk to nothing.
I collected myself, scanned the sequence of steps on my phone, then set it down. Performing the movements in rapid succession was nerve wracking. Like when you’re ten years old and recite Bloody Mary three times before the mirror in your darkened bathroom. I doubted anything would happen but there was still this visceral feeling that something big was getting near.
Nothing happened. No transport to the spirit world. No demon appearing in my livingroom. Not a single God damned thing. I stood there mildly dumbfounded, then had a good long laugh at myself.
Why had I done all this? Over a Youtube video of pigeons, no less. The silver lining was that I could now definitively say Leslie’s ex was full of shit. This, too, might’ve been the end of it.
Months rolled by, Halloween approached and I had to move the rug in preparation to decorate the living room. I had this wicked coffee table type thing in the shape of a coffin, with a rack for booze inside when you open the top.
But when I peeled back the carpet, the markings were still there. It all came flooding back. The dancing pigeons. The book. The ritual. And now, finally, I remembered. Samhain! The most crucial part, performing the dance when the worlds are closest.
I’d long since determined it was all a wild goose chase I’d sent myself on, yet this realization restored that relentless nagging voice in the back of my mind.
The one insisting that I hadn’t really disproven it. That I had to get every detail right or there would always be lingering doubts. That agonizing splinter in my mind that absolutely wouldn’t shut up until I obeyed.
So, out came the charcoal and the candles for round two. I’d returned to my senses somewhat by this time, so unlike the prior attempt, I felt quite embarrassed by all of it. I just wanted the ordeal to be over so as to permanently silence that damned voice.
That photo turned out to still be there, buried under loads of pics I’d taken on a recent skiing trip. I went over the faded lines to darken them, ensured everything was absolutely right, then took several deep breaths. I was ready for nothing to happen. To again have a good, cleansing laugh at myself and put all of this shit away.
Instead I abruptly found myself in an altogether different apartment. I stood there quietly looking at my surroundings. I blinked. Then rubbed my eyes. Then shut them, opened them, and so forth.
Trying to wake up from it, I guess. Beneath me was a white overturned rug with the familiar symbol drawn in charcoal and the little red candles. But everything else was different.
I opened my mouth as if to scream but nothing would come out. Felt like my brain was coming apart. What happened? How did I get here? The human brain really isn’t durable enough for an immediate reversal of expectations this severe.
Stay Tuned for Part 4!