Chapter 5: Sandy Sunday
The next morning, the devout Catholics in the family went off to church together. The local Sunday service was a big affair, taking three hours total, with special meetings before and after Mass.
As soon as the house got quiet after they left, I told Kaitlyn, “You’ve got a golden opportunity here. Go visit with your brother before we lose contact with him. We’ll both be in Salt Lake, but it’s a big city. We’ll be slamming classes double-time, and he’ll be a floundering freshman. Don’t worry about me, I’ve got a project in mind. I expect it to take several hours. Leave me to it, all right? Santa Rule.”
Kaitlyn got a small smile on her face. She had a thing about me keeping secrets from her, but we’d come up with some rules about when and whether it was okay, one of which was the Santa Rule: secrets are acceptable when revealing them later increases the amount of joy in the world as compared to revealing them immediately. She knew not to pry and went off as I’d suggested, no questions asked.
At breakfast, Vin confirmed his plan to leave for Salt Lake next Saturday, so he’d have a few days to settle in before classes began. I didn’t know if there was any unfinished business between them, but it seemed to me like a good time for them to get things square between themselves.
That left me alone. I had less than three hours, and I had to get down to it.
I took an insulated quarter-gallon container of ice water out to the Gutierrez family’s unfinished retreat area, closed the gate behind me, and stripped off in one corner.
Then I knelt down a few meters from my clothes pile and slipped into a trance, delving the sub-surface. I wanted to know everything that was below the fenced area. I was immediately gratified to learn that there were no pipes, conduit, or other obstructions down there, mainly just various types and grades of sand, rock, and clay. Good.
My first task was to shape the proposed pond. We’d all agreed on roughly how big it was to be, which in turn dictated how much space was left over for chairs, sunning areas, and such. Using the power of Gaia, I pulled several large slabs of sandstone from underground, slowly and carefully to avoid breaking them and causing earth disruptions near the house’s foundations, sliding material from above the slabs down below them and re-compacting it as I went.
These slabs saw sun for the first time since they’d originally formed at the bottom of an ancient ocean, lifted up as the present day landforms by tectonic forces in Earth’s geologic past.
As I rolled my neck to relieve the tension from this working, I noticed that the sun had jumped since the last time I’d looked up. It had felt like only minutes of hard work, but it must have been an hour or so. I returned my attention downward.
I sunk most of this sandstone into the pool area around its edge as seating, fully ringing it. A few more pieces I arranged farther out and higher up to act as overlooking seats out of the water. The rest of the sandstone I arranged into stairs leading from the gate walkway down into the pool.
I found a deposit of shale while magically prospecting earlier, and I pulled this up in thick sheets to use as paving stones, distributing the pieces around the pond area, between the pond and the gate, and between the pond and the future outdoor shower. We’d planned the location of this retreat so that it abutted the second bathroom in the house, giving us easy access to the household’s potable water pipes. I then slightly dished the slate going from the shower area to the pool, so the water would drain into the pool rather than be wasted. I was relying on the constant flow of water through the pond to keep it reasonably clean.
I stood up and looked at the layout I’d created, then slid the pieces around on the surface, directing my power into moving the sand underneath the slabs, which in turn caused the slabs to move. When I got everything looking close to correct, I began directing fissures in the slabs to let them fit closer and closer together, so that in the end, it looked like a competent mason had painstakingly fitted everything together. Well, maybe one had: the mason’s name was Gaia, directed by your humble narrator.
Once I was satisfied with the overall layout, I now had a sunken pit in the center where I’d purposefully extracted all of the slabs. I needed this to be deeper, though, so I called up a whirlwind that deposited a lot of the dirt and excess rock outside the fence, away from the patio. This left me a pit about waist deep compared to the surrounding ground which I lined with more sandstone slabs in a two-tiered arrangement, creating seating around the edge, complete with natural sandstone backs embedded into the surrounding dirt as if Gaia herself had sculpted this bowl in the Gutierrez backyard.
I looked to the sky and saw that I must have spent a good hour and a half on this. That was more than I wanted to spend, but then I realized what it would have taken a mundane work crew to pull off this much, and I smiled. Then I got back to work.
My next step was to build up a water feature on one edge of the retreat area. First, I called up a bunch of clay from deep underground and formed it into a large pipe, perhaps four inches in diameter, pointing upward at the edge of this area, then going down about a meter underground and out towards the barn. By running it under the fence, between the concrete-based fence posts, I was able to push it several meters outward before the technological nature of the fence started to interfere with my control, so I let it go there.
With the rest of the clay, I sent another line outward from the side of the pool nearest the other side’s fence, going straight outward, then up at the outer fence edge with a shorter vertical pipe section, intending that the family place the outlet pump there, outside the fence.
I baked that clay to a ceramic perfection along its length using power pulled from Gaia. Between the hard work, the hot late summer day, and the fired clay dissipating its heat into the nearby air, I was soaked with sweat from scalp to toes, so I called a nice breeze through the area and basked in it until I dried off. I guzzled replacement water from the container, then went back to work.
I lifted more rock up from the subsurface to form a cascade around the inlet pipe, intending that it bubble upward into a small pool at the top, then trickle down pleasingly into the main pool.
I sat at all of the seats around the pool, checking that it was at most shoulders deep on me, so that Mary — the shortest of the bunch — could sit anywhere without having to tilt her head back to keep her nose above water. Through this process, I readjusted the height of several sections of seating.
As I was fiddling with all of this, I heard a car pull up in the driveway. By Turing’s testicles, I was out of time!
I stood up, climbed out of the empty pool, looked around, saw that it was good, and threw my clothes on quickly.
I walked into the back door as the church-goers were getting settled in, home again.
“So, what were you up to, Davie?” Mary said to me teasingly. “Lazing around all day on a Sunday?”
Rather than confess to working on a Sunday to those who would view it as a sin, I said instead, “I wonder if you’d come look at something with me,” I asked, trying to keep a smug smile off my face. “All of you,” I invited, when I saw Vin and Kaitlyn walking down the hall from the bedrooms.
Everyone looked curious, but no one commented further as I led them outside.
Ramón was first to speak when he saw the upright clay ceramic pipe near the fence. “What’s that?”
I didn’t reply, just opened the gate to the retreat area, stepping back away from it to the outside, to let the rest of them file in ahead of me. After they were all in, I walked in with them and closed the gate behind me again.
There wasn’t a horizontal jaw in the area. I could’ve played carnival ball-tossing games into their mouths.
“Yeah, I’ve been lazy all right,” I said, now utterly failing to keep the smug smile off my phiz.
Mary was the first to turn to me. “How did you do all this‽ You had to have brought in a whole crew!”
“Would you believe ‘magic’?” I asked.
“Try again, me boyo,” Mary replied sternly, not buying that at all.
“Well, I did have a fair bit of help,” I admitted, resolving not to tell her about Gaia & Bhat Construction Co., Inc. She wasn’t buying what I was selling.
“Is…is this kind of like…sand showers?” asked Carmen quietly.
‘Well, so much for that resolution,’ I said to myself. “Yeah, kind of like,” I agreed aloud.
“Sand showers?” asked Ramón and Mary together.
Most of those present here at this demonstration were on the work crew for my wedding to Kaitlyn. We’d gotten really hot and sweaty there in the desert sun, so after we’d finished but before we got into our formal clothing, I’d had the crew strip off, and then I’d raised a careful mixture of sand and air with my power, which I called a sand shower. The sand scrubbed the dirt from our skin and dried the sweat, and the air carried it away. It was every bit as effective as a water shower.
Kaitlyn knew I’d done this. In fact, we’d agreed on it in advance, choosing to let most of the family in on our secret in that way, but Kaitlyn’s parents hadn’t been present, being occupied with getting Kaitlyn ready for the wedding back at the farm. The topic hadn’t come up again, and since I’d sworn the work crew to secrecy, her parents still didn’t know we were mages. Even those on the work crew knew very little about what we could do, since I’d shown them only that one cute trick.
I shrugged at Kaitlyn, letting her decide how much further to open the vault door.
“Wow, Davie, you do like to throw people into the deep end, don’t you?” she said, amazed at my boldness, and not in an especially good way.
“Deep end?” I retorted. “It’s only waist deep there in the center!”
“Smartass,” she replied, without much heat. Then she took a deep breath, looked around at the group and then said, “Davie and I…we’re kind of…mages. Nature mages.”
Wow, she was going all the way. Well, I’d back her play.
“What does that mean?” demanded Mary.
“It means that all of this,” I said, gesturing at the roughed-in retreat area, “was underground when I began work this morning. I pulled it up here to the surface and positioned it all as you see it now.” When no one interjected anything, I asked the group, “With your indulgence…?” then addressed my wife, “Kaitlyn, will you please join me?”
We two quickly stripped off, and we raised several more slabs of slate from underground through the dirt floor of the pool. In rapport, Kaitlyn and I silently planned how to distribute them over its bottom to pave it to reduce the amount of mud that would build up in the pool, then began working the plan. We settled this quickly, since I’d thought this plan through most of the way already, intending to do this part myself before being interrupted by the arrival of the church-goers. As the pattern came together, we broke pieces off the corners and edges with our power, sliding the stones around until they clicked down into a neat but irregular pattern on the pool’s bottom.
With a flourish of my hands toward the now-completed pool, I announced, “Nature magic,” letting the result speak for itself.
Kaitlyn and I then called up a sand shower, which I needed desperately by that point from sweating in the late summer sun for three hours and knocked all the stink off me. I guessed Kaitlyn joined me in it to help my demonstration, since she hadn’t really gotten sweaty yet. “Sand shower,” I added, looking at Kaitlyn’s parents.
Carmen lobbed me a softball. “You told us that this wasn’t voodoo or witchcraft when you showed us the sand shower. Not devilry, either, right?”
Kaitlyn answered that. “No, it’s directly harnessing nature. Moving these rocks around here is no more mystical than what that pump over there is doing, moving water out into our field. We’re just channeling a different sort of energy.”
“Well, I guess that’s good, then,” said Mary, looking relieved. “How can we repay you?”
“Let us use it when it’s finished!” Kaitlyn replied, hands on hips.
“Well, of course you can!” Mary replied.
I put in, “We’re leaving you all with plenty to do before we get back in the spring. As you saw out there by the gate, Ramón, you’ll have to rig the outlet pump and plumb that into the yard water system. Then going out that way,” I said, pointing towards the barn, “you’ll find the horizontal part of this pipe here,” I patted the top of the water feature, “which extends something like eight meters out toward the irrigation pump there by the barn, about a meter underground, well below the frost line. I’ll mark its path for you before we leave. Tap into it wherever you like and cap the rest. I had to guess how far you’d want it to go.”
“As for the rest of you,” I continued, “the pool should probably have some kind of caulking or masonry to prevent water loss through leaks. Kaitlyn and I would prefer that you used something natural. Oakum, maybe? That’s not really my skill set, so I’ll leave the details to you, too. Then there’s all the chaise longues, the plumbing for the outdoor shower… I’m leaving you with a huge job, actually. This is just our piece, ’kay?”
“Cheater,” said Miguel, with a wry smile on his face.
Kaitlyn and I laughed at that.
Sobering, I said, “Seriously, I sliced off the only piece I really could do this way. One of the key limits to the power of a nature mage is that we can’t work with technological artifacts. I can’t magic you up a set of chairs or magic the plumbing into working. It was borderline making the inlet and outlet pipes, and it worked only because I started with raw clay.”
“You made these pipes yourself‽” Ramón exclaimed, impressed. Now I was speaking his language: he knew irrigation piping.
“They were clay deposits underground a few hours ago,” I replied.
Ramón just shook his head at that.
“Magic?” asked Mary, apparently feeling that was a sufficiently clear question.
Kaitlyn jumped back in to the conversation. “That’s just what we’re calling it, lacking a better term. We’re on the path to putting it on a scientific foundation, but progress on that front is slow. If you call it magic, that’s a good enough name for now. Oh, and please keep this within the family, all right? We really don’t want to be shipped off to some research hospital or government holding facility to be poked and prodded as lab rats.”
We got murmurs of agreement all around.
“So out in the field yesterday… Magic hands?” Carmen replied, coming to grips with it.
“Yup!” Kaitlyn and I replied in unison.
“Double cheaters,” Miguel growled with a mock scowl.
“You loved it, bro,” Kaitlyn pointed out.
Carmen sighed, “We did at that.”
“Can you teach anyone this?” asked Ramón.
“Um, kind of. You’re right to guess that I was Kaitlyn’s teacher as she learned to be a mage, but not everyone has the raw ability. Our best guess is that certain people are somehow born with it, but we have no idea how to predict who has it without testing them for the ability. It might be a genetic mutation, for all we know. I discovered my magic by accident years ago, and I discovered Kaitlyn’s the day we met. It’s a huge part of the reason we got together and stayed together, in fact.” I then put my arm around her, looking at her lovingly.
Mary made an impressive intuitive leap: “All of this nudity… It’s connected, isn’t it?”
Kaitlyn took that one. “Davie told you about working with technological artifacts. Plumbing and chairs were his examples, but it applies to everything manufactured, including virtually all clothing. Fancy stuff like the rest of you are wearing,” referring to the church-goers’ fine clothing, “is especially difficult to do magic in. All but impossible in fact.”
“It’s why I stripped off for this demo,” I put in.
“So clothes are your Kryptonite,” asked Vin, making his first contribution to the conversation.
“Actually, I prefer to say that smart phones are our Kryptonite,” I replied with a smirk. “The higher up the tech scale a manufactured object is, the less able we are to do magic with that object nearby. Proximity also affects it. Being fully clothed will indeed stop us from doing magic, but only if you almost completely cover us with it. A smartphone is much worse for us, as you can shut us down with one from about a meter away, even while we’re utterly nude.”
“Which is why the best wisdom is that magic is fictional,” added Kaitlyn. “Almost everyone gets naked only in a bedroom, shower, or changing room, none of which are conducive to magic use. Then of those that do it outside, they’re probably in their unnaturally-landscaped back yard laying on a stainless steel deck chair with a woven nylon support atop a wholly-synthetic cushion, next to which sits a plastic patio table supporting their smartphone. Then of those few people who get nude out in real nature, away from all technological artifacts, almost no one can do magic in the first place, and the tiny slice left over usually don’t spend enough time completely out there in a way to find out that they can. Davie and I got extremely lucky not only to learn of our magic, but to then find each other.”
“Can we find out whether we’re mages, then?” asked Vin.
Kaitlyn and I just looked at each other. “Sure,” we said in unison. Kaitlyn gestured to me to carry the discussion.
“All aboard the Mage Discovery Express, get naked now!” I announced in a faux train conductor voice. That brought some smiles, and then everyone started stripping. Apparently everyone wants to be able to do magic. Who knew?
As when testing Kristen Nemo a few weeks back, the key was to get them all into a trance out in nature. When one mage does this in the presence of another, it feels different than when one mage is simply passively feeling the life presence of a mundane human. It was the best test for magical talent that we had, such as it was.
I’d introduced my wife’s family to the elements of meditation months back, so I got them into a receptive state readily enough, but neither Kaitlyn nor I felt any of her family members join us in magical rapport out there in the Gutierrez retreat area. They were all just passive life presences to us, none projecting the active awareness of another mage.
Kaitlyn shook her head sadly at me, and I returned the sentiment back through our mage bond.
Normal genetic inheritance clearly wasn’t the mechanism for expression of mage talent in the population. Maybe our guess was right, and it was some kind of mutation like Huntingtons’, only not terrible. Surely humanity gets a few wins in the genetic mutation column?