Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Blogsclusive: "The Master's Call"

“The Master's Call”
by C. N. Nevets, (c) 2010

It's never easy working for God. It's even less easy when the God you work for is a Pre-Columbian deity from Peru, whose name you don't know, and whose face you wouldn't recognize. Eat too many of the right (wrong?) sort of mushroom, though, and that's what ends up happening. At first, you're just tripping with your friends. The next thing you know, you're a damn shaman in the middle of Indianapolis.

The vision had been clear: now that the spiritual forces had touched me, it was my vocation (obligation?) to represent my new God by mediating between the physically or socially sick and the word of spiritual power into which I had been granted special admittance. When a God swirling in power holds a decapitation knife in one hand and points at you with the other while giving orders, there isn't much room for negotiation. On July 13th, I cashed out my 401(k) and began spending all my spare time on eBay, hunting up the accouterments I would need for my new life of service.

I was very careful in pursuing my vocation. I was quite intentional about declaring my allegiance to my new God. On my church's questionnaire about why I was canceling my membership, I check-marked, “Other,” and filled in the blank, “Am becoming a shaman for another God. Wish I knew his name. Sorry.” I was equally upfront with work. I told my manager, “Look, I'm sorry for all the hits on the web filter, but on my breaks I'm looking for some of the illegal drugs I need to be a Pre-Columbian shaman.”

My plan started out pretty straight-forward. I would convert my spare bedroom in my shaman's chambers. I would exchange the futon for a mesa – a blanket on which I would lay out the tools of my trade. I would trade the lava lamp for a human skull with a red candle on top of it. I would swap out the small TV for a mini-fridge in which I could store animal intestines, San Pedro cactus pieces, and anything else that needed to be kept fresh. And then, when I met someone who was ill or in a weird place with their family, I would bring them to my chamber, and intercede on their behalf.

It was September 3rd when I finally had all the pieces in place and brought my first client to the chambers. My friend Jeffry and his wife Sara hadn't been able to have a baby. They hoped that I might be able to help.

“Have you had sex?” I asked, figuring it was a good idea to start with the basics.

They looked at each other, and I realized they were not consulting on their answer. They were questioning my competence. I spoke up to put them at ease. “Sorry, of course, you've had sex, but I mean without the pill or a condom or anything.”

Sara's face drained of all color. “Jeffry, are you sure this a good idea?”

“Of course,” her husband reassured her with a shaky smile. He elbowed me and gave me a look that said, “Assume the basics and make with the spirits, buddy.”

I swallowed down my nerves and hoped that I knew what I was doing. I'd never actually been to a shaman, and the vision I'd had had been less practical, more, “Do this, and figure out the details on your own.” I had been drunk lots and taken a ton of drugs, though, and after the vision I'd done some reading in National Geographic and watched some stuff on YouTube. Plus, if I was serving God, I had trust Him to get me through.

So I began with the service. After offering several libations, ingesting a few cactus pieces, and dancing a little with a serpent-shaped staff, I began to get the hang of things. How to move from right to left, to draw power from one side of the mesa to the other. To take the status quo and interrupt or flip it do draw a sudden eruption of spiritual force.

“Your grandparents,” I said to Sara suddenly, though I scarcely felt in control of the words. “Take me to them.”

“But they're --”

“To their grave,” I explained. “We must finish there. I must implore them on your behalf. They are upset with you.”

I gathered up a few things in a cloth bag, and Jeffry drove us all to the cemetery. Sara led me to their graves, and I lay out a smaller cloth and some food and drink offerings. I fed her grandparents' spirits and talked with them.

After a while, I turned to Sara, and said, “Your grandparents are blocking your fertility.”

“Why?” she asked.

For a moment, I was astonished that she had just accepted my word for it, but that seemed like an unprofessional sentiment, so I shook it off. “You are not getting along with your mother.”

“No, I'm not.”

“If you don't get along with your mother, then she will not be connected to your children. If she is not connected, her parents will not be connected. Therefore, they are keeping your womb empty. If you want to have a child, patch things up with your mom.”

I don't know if it was the authoritative tone in my voice – which, admittedly, intimidated even myself – or the trappings of my office, or that fact that she too had shared in a drink or two as part of the ceremony, but Sara nodded easily. The two drove me back to my apartment and as they were leaving, Jeffry thanked me.

“Great stuff,” he said. “You could charge for this.”

His words planted a seed in my mind, and suddenly my simple plan no longer seemed sufficient. He was right: I could definitely charge for this. I wrestled with this idea for a couple of weeks. I didn't want to take my divine calling and twist into something for selfish gain. At the same time, what I finally realized is that if I charged for my services, I could quit my job and focus full-time on following God's call.

As soon as I realized that, my mind was made up. I worked another couple of months to save up a reserve for the inevitable start of business slump. On November 5th, I set out to spread God's love the only way I knew how. I set up a mesa on a corner in down-town Indianapolis, pulled on a poncho, and offered small services for whatever people could put in a hat, with a promise of greater things for a greater charge.

The people of Indianapolis were surprisingly unreceptive to me. You might think that a group of metropolitan Hoosiers would be very open-minded and excited to try new approaches for improving their lives. Oddly, this was not the case.

“What's the name of your God?” – “I don't know.” – “Then why should I believe in him?” – “I don't know.” – “Then why do you believe in him?” – “Because I think he was going to cut my head off if I didn't.” – “Are you going to cut my head off if I don't?” – “No.” – “Then I'll pass.”

“Are you a doctor?” – “No.” – “Are you a pharmacist?” – “No.” – “Are you a drug dealer?” – “No.” – “Then what are you?” – “A shaman.” – “Well, do you at least take insurance?” – “No.” – “Are you approved by the FDA?” – “Do I have to be?” – “Never mind.”

Several days went by with no one availing themselves of my service. If they stopped to talk at all it was confrontational. No one seemed interested in my ability to heal them or to restore healthy relationships with their loved ones. Jeffry suggested I try making a website, but I said that would just make me look like a kook.

I was about ready to call it a bust. Sitting in my kitchen, eating a turkey sandwich, I was feeling depressed and useless. That's when I heard a rustling in the living room. I padded trepidatiously out to the other room, and saw Him sitting on my couch. It was God. Just as He'd appeared in my vision, although I could make out more of his face now. He had fangs. Not an addition that I liked. He still had the decapitation knife in his left hand.

“I hear you're thinking about turning your back on your vocation,” God said.

I looked at his knife. “No, not at all.”

“Good,” he said. For the first time, he held up his right hand, in which he clutched the hair of a decapitated head. “That's what this guy did.”

“You punished him?” I gulped.

“Not exactly,” God clarified. “When you have a vocation from God, it is because you had a gift from Him. When you have a gift, you have two choices: service or sacrifice. He chose sacrifice. You, I assume, continue to chose service?”

“All the way!”

“Good.” God got up from the couch and (I think) looked into my eyes. “Oh, and just as a heads-up, if another god comes around, keep your eyes on him. He wants to kill you.”


“Because you're serving me, of course. See you around.” And, just as he come, there was a rustling sound, and then God was no longer in my living room.

I sat down on the floor with a heavy heart and a busy mind. I wasn't sure if I were more affected by the grizzly display God had put on or by His off-hand reference to another god who wanted to kill me. In the end, it didn't matter which bothered me more; I was bothered by the fact that I was surrounded by death. If I kept up this shaman gig, I was going to die from starvation because I wasn't making any money at it. If I stopped, God would require my sacrifice. And, again, if I kept it up, this other god would kill me.

I called my old work and asked if I could get my old job back, part time, to help pay bills. They weren't too receptive. “Screw you, Shaman.” Then I called my old church to see if they could offer me any spiritual protection. “Didn't you read the questionnaire? No backsies, pal.” It looked like I was on my own, so I spun up some Inkuyo records, poured myself a glass of homemade chicha corn beer, and started trying to come up with another new plan.

My reverie was interrupted by the ringing of my phone. I was pretty focused on my crisis still when I answered it. “God?”

“No, it's Sara, Jeffry's wife.”

“Oh, hi, Sara.”

“I just wanted to call and let you know that it worked. I had a long talk with my mom, and things aren't necessarily perfect between us, but we reached a point of understanding. The same night, I dreamed about my grandparents, and the next day I got pregnant!”

“Is Jeffry the father?”

Sara paused. “Well, yes, of course.”

“That's great news, Sara.”

“You're a miracle worker!” she exclaimed before hanging up.

She was right; I was a miracle worker. If I could help her, surely I should help myself? I wasn't sure how I would pull it off, but I was suddenly convinced of my ability to survive. I had at least another couple weeks' worth of living expenses. That should give me enough time to flip this thing around on its head.

My confidence seemed to be contagious. I picked up a little more business on the streets. I battled a demon in Monument Circle to clear a guy's sinus congestion. I implored the spirits to take the edge of a teen girl's menstrual cramps. I flipped a coin under God's watchful eye and helped a couple decide whether they wanted Indian or Mexican for lunch. I even got a more serious case, and was able to do a full ceremony in my chamber for a boy who had been having nightmares every night for a year. After seeing me spit alcohol through a candle at a skull dripping in guinea pig blood, the boy said his nightmares weren't really that scary any more.

It wasn't long after that that I got a friend request on Facebook from someone who identified himself as a shaman in St. Louis. I accepted and over the next few days we exchanged a lot of messages and had several lengthy online chats. When I finally confessed to him about my crisis he gave me the first solid advice I'd received about being a shaman:

“Make them spirits your bitches.” – “What?” – “Look, that's the whole deal. You control them. You invite them into your body and shit. Don't give up at that point. Turn it into your thing. Don't be a girl. Be a man.” – “Oh, I see.”

I had never really thought about it like that. I had some power in the situation. I wasn't just a conduit for the spirits like some pansy medium. I was a shaman. I could do the battle and win. When I said jump, the spirits had to jump.

“Oh!” I said out loud to myself the next day. “I do see!”

I had just realized what my friend in St. Louis had been trying to tell me. When I say jump, the spirits jump. When I say jump, the gods jump. It was all me. I was the man.

The timing of this new wisdom couldn't have been better. It was that same day, as I was going home in the evening from a fairly successful day of making the spirits jump for my clients, that I turned a corner and was staring into the eyes of a lizard-like god, swirling with power. I could hardly see his face, but I could feel his hatred.

“Are you here to kill me?” I asked him.

“What do you think?”

Emboldened by my friend's advice, I puffed out my chest and said, “I think you need to jump.”

The lizard-like god lashed out at me with his spiky tail and a wind of demonic force that blew me into the wall. The pain filled my body more completely than any physical sensation ever had before. I felt a burning inside my mind unlike anything I had experienced, and I wept with a spiritual ache I could never have imagined.

Once the pain subsided, I felt a strange greyness all about me, and then felt some midden power, tugging me in a certain direction. I fought against the tug. I wasn't trying to go anywhere else, just to stand my ground. The tug was stronger. It pulled me to the left, and then from left to right.

Suddenly, the grey went away, and I was looking into the face of my Facebook friend from St. Louis. I tried to look down at my broken body, but I could not see it. I could not feel it.

“What happened?” I asked.

My friend looked sheepish. “So when you take advice from someone, you might want to make sure they're not serving the god that wants to kill you. I'm just saying.”

“Oh,” I said, as I slowly realized what had happened. “I see.”

“The good news is, I'm going to pull your spirit into this staff,” my friend told me. “You'll still be in the same business, you'll just be working for me.”

“Working for you?”

Then he said to jump, and, despite myself, I jumped. And when I landed, I was drawn into the tight, black confines of his staff. From there, he could call on me anytime he needed my power for one of his ceremonies.

It wasn't all bad. It was better than being dead probably could have been, really. I got plenty of rest but still had a chance to work from time to time.

That lasted for a couple of months until my God killed him. I was sold by his daughter on eBay to someone who didn't know what I was. He uses me as a walking stick when he goes hiking. I spend most of my time hanging out in his entryway. He's a Sikh missionary so I like to think I'm just working for my fourth God.
"The Master's Call," about 2800 words, (c) 2010, C. N. Nevets

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