All of what follows is true. Some of it even actually happened.
She saw me first on a stage. It might have been the boots that did it - big leather things that creased me because they were the wrong size, but made me look suitably Shakespearean. She decided then that she was going to have me, and let's face it, I wasn't going to resist. I was fifteen, she was seventeen, she was confident, beautiful, with long, black hair and dark eyes. OK, so she was engaged to some guy who was away at university, but since it didn't seem to bother her, it didn't bother me. We spent a lot of time together, at school and after, and having an older girlfriend - one with a car - was of course big kudos. I kept a lock of her hair in my wallet because I liked the way it smelled. Then a little while before Christmas, I was off school - "sick". Parents out at work, I'm home alone watching daytime TV, so she came round to visit. We did it on the floor in front of the fireplace, and it was perfect. I didn't need to fumble, or worry, or think about anything apart from what a good time I was having. In conversations since, as first times go, I think I was very, very lucky.
And so, of course, it ended. And some time later, her fiance visited, during school hours. This pasty-faced guy with a moustache was walking round with her, and she was loving that I was hating it. So that morning, passing them in the corridor, I looked her in her smug face and made a comment about her late father which was calculated to cause maximum pain in minimum syllables. It worked.
Couple of hours later, I'm standing outside during lunchtime on the football pitch, doing my usual desultory job of pretending to play left back. This consisted of standing at the corner of the six yard box with my hands in my pockets chatting to the goalkeeper, and occasionally taking the ball off people and hoofing it back upfield. Pasty-faced fiance strides onto the pitch, with a face like thunder. I'm two inches taller than him and about a stone heavier. He's a middle class ponce in the first year of a law degree, whose worst experience of violence is probably a jolly old game of rugger. I'm working class scum who got the s**t kicked out of me every day in primary school and was attacked and cut by another kid with a Stanley knife at the age of eight. With a look of mild bemusement, I don't bother taking my hands out of my pockets.
They remain there as he puts his left hand round my throat and pins me to the goalpost. He starts talking, and I'm looking him straight in the eye, but I'm concentrating on my peripheral vision, where the football game has stopped and he and I are now surrounded by a silent crowd of about forty grim faced boys, forming a semicircle round the goalpost where I'm pinned.
FREEZE FRAME: What do I do at this point? I'm a reasonably popular, yet academically successful pupil at this school. One option is to simply do nothing, and take whatever beating pasty-face decides to dish out. The problem with this is that I *know*, from the atmosphere of incipient violence and the occasional feral grin from some of my more psychotic classmates surrounding us, that the minute he tries to throw a punch, my attacker will go down under a crowd of lads who are just dying for an excuse to kick someone half to death. Another option is to take my hand out of my left trouser pocket and use the flick knife I'm carrying to open up pasty-face from groin to sternum and hand him his intestines. This option looks, for a moment, the most attractive - think, fame, notoriety, and a free ride in a police car! Or I can just wait and see what happens. Which, continuing to finger the switch on the flickknife, is what I do. END FREEZE FRAME.
So he eventually stops talking, and with the words "You're not worth it", walks away, never knowing how close he had come to bleeding to death where he'd stood.
I never saw him again, in person - only in the papers and the Readers Digest. But that comes later.
I was at the time interested in the occult. I'd started off reading H.P. Lovecraft and all his ilk around the age of ten, then started to get more and more interested in people who didn't just write about magic, but seemed to seriously believe it. For some reason, they always seemed to spell it with a "k", possibly to distinguish it from mere trickery and conjuring, and possibly because they were a bunch of prats.
In the days before online bookshops, one could not simply walk into a branch of your local bookshop and ask for a copy of Crowley's "Theory and Practise of Magick". Obscure books required obscure bookshops, and I had searched the backstreets of local cities and found dusty corners of dustier shops where the works I wanted hid. I spent most of 1985 looking for a particular book on voodoo, one I had read of many times but which none of the booksellers I knew would admit to having, or even to having seen. One mentioned a bookshop in Leeds which had a lot of "the really weird stuff", so I resolved to go there. This was not a trivial journey - I didn't have much money, and the train fare was almost all I could scrape together. I didn't know how I was going to pay for the book, especially as I had no idea how much it was likely to cost. The last one I'd bought had been over thirty pounds - a hell of a lot for a penniless teenager.
I wandered the streets of Leeds for hours, keeping away from the main shopping areas, poking around in alleys and railway arches, looking for a shop which didn't want to be found. Eventually, tired and hungry, I gave up and asked a homeless guy. If you want to know where something is, ask a homeless guy - they've nothing much better to do than wander the streets, so if they're sober they'll know where everything is. Sure enough, he told me. The shop wasn't in the city, it was on one of the main roads out, about five miles from where we were. I gave him some cigarettes in thanks (I don't smoke, but I kept a pack about me to be sociable), and started walking.
I was sorely disappointed. The shop was there all right, but it might as well have been a branch of Dillons. It didn't look in the least occulty or weird with its bright yellow signage. A bit down, I stepped inside. There was a youngish woman in a black t shirt behind the counter who offered a smile as I entered. I tried to smile in a serious way, to show I was not here just as a tourist, but you try smiling seriously. I probably just looked retarded. She looked back down at the book she was reading, forgetting me.
I had a dilatory look through their books, but they were all the ones I'd either already got, dismissed as flimflam, or new stuff by latterday bandwagon jumpers who couldn't draw a pentagram if their immortal souls depended on it. At last I asked the girl behind the counter about the title I sought. She opened her mouth to speak, but before she could reply, she was interrupted by an older man who had emerged from the door behind the counter. He had a short, greying ponytail and the worst skin I'd ever seen, pockmarked like the surface of the moon. But he seemed friendly, and he startled me a bit when he said "Eighty miles for one book is a long way to come". "How did you...?" I began, thinking, blimey, here's a wizard, he can read my mind!
"The accent. You sound just like my nephew Jason. And if you're after *that* book, you've already got all the others. Come through."
I looked round, thinking that I was about to be admitted to some secret cabalistic den, but through the door was just a light, but dusty office with a dining table, a word processor (the cutting edge of technology!), a microwave and a kettle. And of course, books - hundreds, maybe thousands of them on every wall. He sat in one of the chairs, and indicated I should sit opposite. I sat down, near the door, ready to make a sharp exit if he tried anything funny. But what he did was many things, and none of them was funny...
He talked to me. We talked for about an hour, about what I'd read, what I'd learned, and what I'd thought of it all. Despite my keenness, I was still a skeptic. I had experimented with incantation, conjuration, transportation and other effects, and been disappointed every time. Nothing worked - it was all just wacky mumbo-jumbo. I was beginning to lose interest, felt let down by what I was beginning to feel was a bunch of people I'd personally proven to my own satisfaction were charlatans.
He was sympathetic. He told me he had gone on the same journey, set the same tests and had them fail. He said he sold the books he sold for a living, because there is always a fresh batch of those who want to believe, and don't mind what they believe. And in amongst them there are a few who do not believe, but must KNOW. And in me he saw one of these. I agreed. I asked him if he had the book - I'm not the patient type. He said he did, but that he would not sell it to me. Disappointment and disillusionment are powerful forces, he said, and if I approached what was contained in there with an attitude of downhearted low expectation, those expectations would be confirmed. I needed to see, he said, before I could look.
"Tell you what," he said, "Let me show you something, then you go away. Come back next weekend if you still want the book. If you come back, I'll give you the book. OK?".
I thought about it. Another big train fare would completely blow me out, but then he'd offered me the book for nothing... So what did he want to show me? Was he just an old pervert? But the door was right there, it was broad daylight... I agreed.
He smiled. "Good choice." He stood up, turned to the shelf behind him and took down a little leather bag. He opened the top and tipped the contents onto the table between us, then from a drawer took a plastic object in a bag and handed it to me. On the table were a bone, a stone, a feather and something black that looked like a lump of tar. The bone looked like it came from a chicken or something, and looked pretty fresh. The stone had a kind of pattern under the surface, like the mineral called tiger's eye, but translucent grey on grey. The feather must have been a crow feather, black as night from top to bottom. The tar thing was, well, I had no idea. It was black, no particular shape, and I didn't really like to think about what it might actually be.
I looked at the thing in my hand. He explained it was a medical device, used to get blood smears. Sealed in a sterile blister, it had a springloaded pin. You hold it against your thumb, press the catch, and a pin goes in and draws a few drops of blood, enough to put on a microscope slide. Much more hygienic than a knife...
Indicating the four odd objects on the table, he told me to put a drop of blood on each. I asked him why. "Don't worry. Just a drop, one on each. Then put this plaster on your thumb, and it'll be right in a few minutes." I shrugged, pressed the catch, and winced as the pin went in. Blood welled on my thumb tip, and I carefully squeezed out a drop on the bone, the stone, the feather and the tar-thing. He blew on them, drying the blood quickly, then said, "Good.", and briskly swept them off the table and back into the little leather bag.
"What now?", I asked.
"Now, lad, you go home. You don't ask any questions, and you come back here next week if you still want the book. Goodbye." And he stood and went over to the kettle and started to make himself a drink.
Rather confused, and more than a bit annoyed, I nevertheless got up and left the shop. My smile at the girl on the desk probably looked even worse than the first one, composed as it was of equal parts hormonal teenage flirtatiousness, seriousness, confusion and exhaustion. In return I got one of those smiles where people just purse their lower lip.
Next day, nothing happened.
Until about four thirty, when my thumb started to bleed. Not just drops, it started to pour, like a nosebleed. I spoiled a teatowel with it. I hadn't cut it, pricked it, or done anything to it, and I couldn't see where it was bleeding from, but the blood was there all right, and it seemed like bucket loads, pumping out into the sink. And then it stopped. It had bled for maybe a minute, two at most. It didn't hurt, there was no visible puncture or laceration to the skin - there was just blood, and a lot of it.
It did the same again, about the same time, the next day, and the next. Every day that week, about the same time as I'd dropped blood on those things in the bag, my thumb painlessly bled like a tap for a minute or two, then stopped dead.
I borrowed money off friends to get the train fare. I appeared again at the bookshop. When I went in, the same girl was on the desk, looking at me through her eyelashes. "Th' old man's norrin, but he said if you come back a were to give you these." She handed me a sheaf of papers - photocopies, it looked like, of the book I wanted - and the leather bag. "'E said to burn't bag." I thanked her and left.
I dared not read the papers on the train, and I dared not open the bag. I kept fingering the leather and the cord which held it closed, but couldn't bring myself to look inside. When I returned home, the house was empty, so I quickly made a small fire on the flags in the back yard and burned the bag to ashes. The bone and the stone I buried, the feather made a horrible smell as it burned, and of the tar-thing there was not a trace. My thumb never bled again.
I read the photocopied papers. It was straightforward, practical stuff. No beating about the bush, here was how to get stuff done. It all depended, however, on your own power and influence, and I had next to none. And the less power you had, the longer you had to wait. Sure, you could work for riches, and they would come to you - but so slowly you might just as well flip burgers. Sure, you could work for sex - but by the time you got it, you'd probably have gone off your object of desire. And you could work for death and revenge, which is relatively easy, but from where I sat even a simple death and revenge would take six years to work out, and who can hold a grudge that long?
But then again... what harm in trying? With a self-indulgent sense of theatre, I chose Halloween for an experiment. I still had a lock of hair in my wallet, which meant I could do direct work on her and indirect work on those around her. I gathered other materials according to instructions. I slipped it all in a bag, and told a story about there being a Halloween disco somewhere that I was going to with my mates, and went out. I took what I needed to a place in a local wood, to be near trees and running water. I took what I would need - a gris-gris, a knife, and a life to take. Mice are cheap.
I said the words I was supposed to say, did the things I was supposed to do, and cursed a woman unto death and a man unto a life of misery without her.
And nothing, nothing at all, happened. I don't know what I'd expected - lightning, thunder, the Grim Reaper stepping up and promising to do my bidding and warning me of the cost. I really didn't know. But surely something? No. It just started to rain a bit.
That was the last time. I chucked the photocopied papers in the bin, sold my second hand books for about 20p each, forgot about my bleeding thumb, and embraced atheism. "Magick?", I'd say. "Oh please. Don't be stupid. Pick a card."
Pasty-face graduated law, and married my dark-eyed girl. She became a nurse, he a prosecutor for the CPS.
And six years to the day later, on Halloween 1991, he and a neighbour found her body in their garage, drenched in blood. She'd been hit, quite carefully, at least sixteen times in the head with a hammer. The torn corner of a banknote by her body suggested that she'd been stealing drugs from the hospital and that this had been a drug deal gone wrong. He went on TV to make a tearful plea for information about her killer.
Eighteen months after her death, he began a life sentence for her murder. He'd planted the note as a red herring - she'd never dealt drugs. It was all over the papers for the two and a half weeks of the trial, and Readers Digest later summarised the case. Now, it's mostly forgotten. A woman cursed unto death, and a man in misery without her.
All of the above is true. Some of it even actually happened.