RTFM — Especially Aunt Bessie’s
by João Ventura
The abbreviation RTFM — “Read The [Fabulous] Manual” is one of the earliest known in the field of computer science. It is a close relative of “Read the Fine Print,” and it applies to Sorcery as well as to everything else.
At the end of the workshop session on creative writing, Steve closed his Moleskine notebook, put his pen into his pocket and left the room.
"Time travel!" he thought. "These bloody tutors lack imagination! With all the work that I have to do, how am I supposed to find the time to write a short story on time travel? Everything has already been written on time travel!"
Walking towards the underground station, Steve was mentally reviewing all the tasks waiting for him at his Department: two lectures to prepare, a master's thesis, two year-end reports to read, and exam papers to mark... It was going to be a hell of a week!
By the end of the day, extremely tired and still with a lot of unfinished stuff to deal with, he left his office. Remembering that his fridge was almost empty, he entered the small restaurant at his street corner where he ate a burger, pushing it down with a beer.
Finally at home, he literally fell onto the sofa, not bothering to switch on the TV. And then his eyes met the book he had brought from Aunt Bessie's place.
* * *
Aunt Bessie had always been the freakiest member of the family. Permanently in love with everything esoteric, she had traveled through India and Tibet, and she bought any old book on magic, sorcery and similar stuff she could find. When he was a kid, Steve loved to go to her place, because she dressed in funny clothes and there were strange objects and burning candles and incense sticks. A cool place!
Two weeks ago, she had disappeared. She stopped calling her elder brother, who started feeling worried. He called Steve, who went with his uncle to her apartment. Except for a layer of dust on the furniture, everything looked normal till they arrived at the kitchen. There, on the brick floor, they found a circle formed with little stones. Outside the circle, in the direction of the four cardinal points, there were four small candlesticks where the candles had burned almost completely. And on the bench top there was an old book with a black cover.
Uncle Leonard grumbled, “This Bessie, always involved in this magic and sorcery stuff! Where could she have gone?”
“Don't worry, Uncle. Aunt Bessie most likely went traveling, and she didn't bother to tell you. You know your sister... Tomorrow or the day after, you'll receive a postcard from Katmandu or Patagonia or some place like that.” Steve was trying to calm down the old man.
He opened the book and saw that the pages were handwritten in a pretty cursive, definitely his aunt's. The first page had a title in beautifully drawn Gothic characters: “Compilation of Spells.” He closed the book and took it home.
* * *
Steve picked up a glass from the small cupboard and poured a generous amount of brandy. He placed Mozart's Clarinet Concerto in the CD player and went back to the sofa. He sipped the brandy and grabbed Aunt Bessie's book.
It started with a Table of Contents, duly listing the spells in the book. Slightly amused, Steve perused a long list of spells: to turn a rainy day into sunshine, to find lost objects, to eliminate effects of spells caused by envy, to influence someone in a business meeting... And when he was starting to find the list a bit monotonous, Steve read a line that made him stop:”A spell to go back in time knowing what I know today.”
That would be the solution to his problems, Steve thought. Going back a few days, one week would be enough, he would be able to finish all the stuff that accumulated with short deadlines, including writing the bloody short story on time travel.
It was easy to find the spell. Aunt Bessie had numbered every page using Roman numerals at the top. And Steve started to read:
On the stone floor, the time circle
five palms across
you will draw with charcoal.
North and South you'll put salt;
East and West you'll put ash.
At the center you will stand
without any metal upon you.
You will then summon the temporal forces
reading this invocation:
Time that was before the beginning
Time that will be after the end
Everything that is felt goes through You.
Take me back ____ Sun circles,
But only my body, do not touch my mind.
It seemed to Steve that it was a very simple procedure. And he decided to try it. From the fireplace which had worked the last time at New Year's Eve, he took a bit of ash and stored it in an envelope. In the kitchen he grabbed the saltshaker from the spice cupboard. He went back to the fireplace and took a couple of pieces of charcoal.
He took everything to the hall, which was the only division with a stone floor. All the others had wooden floors, and the kitchen and bathroom had tiles. He also brought a piece of rope that he had bought some months ago to repair the clothes dryer — one of his many permanently postponed projects.
He carefully measured and cut off five palms of rope. He bent it in two halves and used that double rope as a primitive pair of dividers, which allowed him, using a piece of charcoal, to draw a circle with the required diameter.
He went to fetch a compass to locate the cardinal points and placed the salt and the ash as directed in the spell.
He took the keys and some coins out of his pockets, his watch off the wrist, and he took his shoes off, just in case. He checked everything, picked up the book, and placed himself in the center of the circle. His last thought before starting to read the invocation was that in order to write a story on time travel he himself was going to travel in time!
And he read the Invocation to the Temporal Forces, finishing with “Take me back seven Sun circles / But only my body, do not touch my mind.”
Steve didn't feel anything. In some way he was expecting lights, noise... He really didn't know what.
He got out of the circle, put on his shoes with some difficulty — a bit of pain on his knees — and when he stood up he felt a bit dizzy. Besides, his tongue was detecting some spaces among his teeth.
He went to the bathroom, and when he looked at the mirror, he was shocked: that image was not him! His face was wrinkled, his hair sparse and totally white, and when he opened his mouth he saw a few teeth were missing. He had become older!
Steve went back to the lounge and tried to calm down. He picked up the book and read the spell carefully, to check if he had made any mistake. But no, he had followed precisely all instructions! Then, at the page bottom right corner, he noticed a small arrow. He turned the page and right at the top he could read:
Very important warning!
Going back in time affects the delicate balance of the world. Before going back in time, the performer must cast a spell to protect his body from the evil consequences of that unbalance and make these consequences be discharged on the souls in Hell, to whom this will cause no significant further harm.
The warning was followed by the text of the spell, but Steve didn't bother to read it; obviously it wouldn't work after his time regress!
Therefore, and summing up, the “evil consequences” from that unbalance had caused him to grow several years older. Bloody “delicate balance”!
Steve took several deep breaths and picked up the book again, continuing to read its Table of Contents. Aunt Bessie was totally nuts! She had copied spells as other people copy cooking recipes. Spells to make a sparrow sing like a nightingale, to become invisible (this one had a warning that said the effect was limited in time), to make white hair disappear (Why not go to the hairdresser? Steve thought) and suddenly he found a “Spell to travel to the time that is yet to be.”
It must be a way to travel to the future, he thought. Maybe I can advance the seven days I went back and neutralize the effects, reverting this crazy situation. That was on page LXIII, and Steve started leafing the book in frenzy until he arrived at page LXV; and the one before that was LXII; and he felt his spine shivering while slowly accepting the fact that pages LXIII and LXIV were missing.
And suddenly, like rewinding a movie, he saw Aunt Bessie's kitchen, the circle of stones on the floor, the burned candles, and the conclusion imposed itself: his aunt had travelled to the future. And she had torn the leaf from the book so that nobody else could do it!
Steve sighed, and he decided to go to bed. The following day he would have to phone a clinic to make an appointment for a checkup; he didn't know how many years he had aged, but the state of his teeth was ominous. And he would have to cook up some kind of explanation for his new look.
Damn Aunt Bessie!
Copyright © 2013 by João Ventura