The Warlock (Robert Feeney)

Posted on April 28, 2017 by in Lies To Live By

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1

It is 8:14 again. The alarm claws its way out of the chalkboard box in your head. You make a mental note to change the settings to a softer tone later. For now, your energies are devoted towards restarting your senses. The light tapping on the windowpane turns out to be rain, so an unpleasant walk to work lies in store for you. Flatulence propels you out of bed and into the bathroom. Do you brush your teeth first (turn the page to paragraph 45), or take a shower (turn the page to paragraph 33)?

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2

You have seen this episode before. It is the one where the man finds himself in an unusual situation, and has to do humorous things in order to escape. Will you change the channel and watch something else (turn to 2), change the channel and watch a film instead (turn to 34) or decide to shave your genitals (turn to 10)?

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3

You text out a nonsensical message – gekquraqqef – giving it your utmost attention. The sound of tiny wheels recedes behind you. You breathe out a sigh containing equal particles of relief and shame, and absent-mindedly wipe the droplets off your mobile phone screen. Turn to 22.

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4

You have left something at home, your wallet. This day is a write-off. Without money, even lunch is beyond you. Why not return home and construct a system for never forgetting it again. Perhaps if you keep a lot of change in it, you will notice the absence of its weight. But change is meant to be kept in a jar, and later sorted neatly into small plastic bags provided by the bank. The sky starts to darken again. Turn to 28.

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5

The doorbell rings a few more times, and each one sends a sliver of panic into your heart. You start humming. A good excuse will be needed to explain this to the boss. Luckily, you have the rest of the day to think of one. Turn to 42.

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6

You listen to a sports podcast while working out on the floor of your bedroom. One of the hosts makes a joke about a rival sports team, and the energy consumed by your laugh makes you wobble on the nineteenth press-up. You wonder for a moment if it is worth going for twenty one. No-one will know you quit early. But you push through the laughter barrier and hit your target. Will you reward yourself with a glass of orange juice (turn to 23) or a slice of processed cheese (turn to 12)?

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7

The pharmacy has an array of creams, oils, washes, lotions, spreads, salivas, but you are reluctant to ask for help due to the delicate area of your problem. After thirty minutes of reading unreadable ingredients, you settle on a tube with a picture of a coconut. The shop assistant tells you the price is €14.35. In your wallet you have 2 €10 notes, a 50c, 3 10c and 3 2c pieces. If you know how much you want to give the assistant, turn to the paragraph with the same number as the cent value in that amount. If that paragraph makes no sense, or if you just want to hand over €20, turn to 19.

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8

You reach out a trembling hand and take the occult book from the shelf. Inside, the mystery of your predicament is revealed. Turn to 30.

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9

He does not ask you if you want a bag, and it is too late now to ask him for one without losing face. You put the cardboard box under your jacket to keep it protected from the rain and onlookers. However, the bulge now makes you look like a bomb disposal expert. Indulging the fantasy, you imagine a friend’s funeral that you have been asked to speak at, and how the church crowd murmurs as you step up to the pulpit. Oh look, they say, there is the famous bomb disposal expert and true knower of the deceased. He will know what to say, they say. If you say an Our Father and three Hail Marys, turn to 21. If you say oh fuck, turn to 38.

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10

They say you should do one thing everyday that scares you. Perhaps this mantra can become part of your daily routine. You make a note in your electronic calendar, undress, and shower with hot water to soften the hairs. The shaving cream dispenser is rusted and empty, so you make do with seaweed oil shampoo instead. However, after finishing your inner thighs, you recall reading somewhere that re-emerging hairs can cause irritation. You decide to do some more research before continuing with this project. It is getting late. Turn to 50.

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11

It is still raining when you leave the house, and your eighth umbrella of the year is bent and will not open properly. The walk uphill to the office is character-building. On the way there, you see a woman pushing a pram towards you. Even at this distance, you recognise her as a half friend from university, an economics student with a fake bindi who was named after a tree by her progressive parents. Do you avoid this awkward meeting by crossing the road immediately (turn to 25), pretending to look at your mobile phone (turn to 3) or pretending not to know her (turn to 47)?

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12

Too late you realise that the cheese will give you weird dreams. There was that one time you ate a quattro formaggi pizza, dozed off, and dreamt about clanking sounds. You somehow knew it was the sound of your childhood bicycle being repaired. You walked down a flight of stairs, and saw your mother fixing it, even though she had no idea about how to do so. And you never had a childhood bicycle. You feel very tired. Turn to 50.

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13

How will you justify this laziness to your brain? You did some exercise yesterday (turn to 29), your leg hurts (turn to 24), there’s a good film on TV (turn to 34), or exercise could potentially make you sick after eating that pasta (turn to 41)?

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14

You are probably right. Turn to 32.

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15

Yes, it could be a parable about the economic crisis. Successful businesswoman buys flat in uptown development, but finds herself trapped in a sort of alternate reality. You resolve to buy a notepad tomorrow so you can begin to flesh out the characters. The TV screen has dimmed from lack of input. You turn it off and go to bed. Turn to 50.

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16

You notice that the inside of your thighs is blotchy and red raw. Perhaps it is the result of chafing, or something more serious. A few internet searches sets your mind to unease, as the diagnoses are varied. Exposure to air, you feel, is the cure to all life’s ills, and an empty office is an opportune time to test that theory. Are you content to spend the rest of the work day pants-less (turn to 40), or will you buy some cream instead (turn to 7)?

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17

You lift the mobile to your ear, and utter a rising hello to complete the illusion. Outside the rain has stopped, and the air is fresh and clean. You are shocked when your phone starts vibrating. An incoming call from your mother, ironic punishment for the previous lie. How will you justify not answering it? You are very busy at work (turn to 49) or you left your phone at home (turn to 4).

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18

The friend is all smiles, and once she has the laptop, she leaves in an uncomplicated manner. When you close the door, a gust of air informs you that your zip is undone. You cannot be sure if she noticed. Turn to 42.

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19

The assistant mumbles an apology as he hands you a load of change. You doubt that he is truly sorry. On the way back to the office, the wallet feels like an extra limb. Turn to 42.

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20

The queasiness subsides as the day continues. You have probably just been eating too much mayonnaise recently. You make a note in your phone to switch to a low fat alternative, watch an internet documentary about the perils of dairy, and consume the office milk supply glass by glass, in an experiment to determine if you are lactose intolerant. The results are inconclusive. Turn to 42.

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21

You walk past a church and overgrown graveyard on your right. If you wanted, you could go in and say a real prayer. You could go to confession. You could light a candle, or turn one on, as they are probably electric these days. You could look at the rafters, where you used to imagine the pagan monsters were kept. You could splash your face with holy water. You could reach into your pocket, take out the office door key, and open the office door in front of you (turn to 42) or you could go home (turn to 32).

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22

The office, a converted house, is quiet. The rest of the staff are out on the road, and you have been left behind to man the phones and ensure that the fax machine is fed regularly. After the seventeenth game of solitaire, you realise the freedom available to you in this situation. An out-of-office message can be recorded for the phones, and the fax sated for at least a few hours with a thick wad of A4. The scroll containing life’s possibilities is unfurled before your eyes. Will you watch some pornography (turn to 16), walk down to the corner shop to purchase an out-of-season ice cream (turn to 39), or just go home altogether (turn to 28)?

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23

Too late you realise that the remnants of the juice’s acidity will prevent you from brushing your teeth for a hour or so, and it is already midnight. To pass the time, you try to listen to some music. However, the shuffle feature on the MP3 player has randomly sorted the first three songs in perfect alphabetical order, and the pattern disturbs you. You stand on one foot, lightly brush your teeth, and go to bed. Turn to 50.

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24

Your leg does hurt. You should see a doctor. Or, maybe, wait a week and see if it gets better. If it is still hurting then, will you go to the hospital (turn to 35) or wait another week (turn to 37)?

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25

The traffic is heavy. For a horrible instant, you think you might be stuck on this side. The sound of the pram is getting closer. You avoid looking, in case you lock eyes. There is no option but to dash out and rely on the kindness of drivers. A brief ray of sun illuminates your passage. You reach the other side unscathed. There, for the purposes for motive, you pretend to be engrossed in a shop display. Turn to 22.

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26

Yes, it could be a parable about modern ennui. Woman gets new job in office, but a mysterious force prevents her from ever leaving. You resolve to buy a notepad tomorrow so you can begin to flesh out the characters. You get up to turn off the TV, but find it has automatically done so already. You go to bed. Turn to 50.

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27

You play a video game. As the commander of a large space armada, you are asked to determine the fate of a world infected by a new form of Black Death. Will you devote your resources towards finding a cure for the pandemic (turn to 46), or fire bomb the planet surface (turn to 46)?

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28

You manage to get your umbrella open for the trip home, but the direction and strength of the wind force you to hold it in front of your body, like a shield. Vision impaired, you collide with a lamp post, further bending the frame. The rain stops. You manage, with great effort, to close the umbrella. A BMW is parked next to you. With childish force, you jump into a puddle next to the passenger door, and send dirty streaks rolling down the metal. Turn to 32.

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29

Your brain is about to inform you that this is a lie, when it is distracted by a familiar piece of music coming from the TV. It is the theme for a seventies comedy show. You realise that this is the tune you hum when you are nervous. Will you consider the implications of this revelation (turn to 43) or watch the show (turn to 2)?

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30

If you are reading this paragraph, you have made a mistake, or cheated, you naughty person. Please return to 1.

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31

He nods and smiles, and places your cereal in an insufficiently sized paper bag. When you leave, he says he will see you tomorrow, which you find presumptive. Turn to 42.

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32

The apartment is cold. You throw your umbrella onto the carpet to dry out, and prepare a pan of boiling water. After adding the pasta, a search in the fridge reveals no conventional pasta sauce of any description, just a jar of white stuff and a bottle of soy sauce. It could be the next taste sensation, but it does not turn out so well, and you eat a disappointing meal in front of the TV. There is a film on where people are murdered in inventive ways. You scratch your leg. Tonight is exercise night, and you are due to move up to twenty one push-ups and seventeen pull-ups, but it is difficult to get enthusiastic about it. Will you do the exercise anyway (turn to 6), reschedule exercise night to tomorrow (turn to 44), reschedule exercise night to the day after tomorrow (turn to 13), or try to forget about it (turn to 27)?

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33

The water is very hot. Halfway through the shower, you realise you meant to shave beforehand. Now the steam will have fogged up the mirror, rendering a clean cut impossible. You tell yourself that stubble is fashionable these days, as you knead seaweed oil into your curls. Turn to 11.

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34

A man is transformed into a talking coconut. You have seen this one before, but you watch it again, in its entirety, to confirm your opinion that it is bad. You are sure you could write a film if you wanted to. You have lots of ideas. Would you write something about a haunted hotel (turn to 15) or a haunted office (turn to 26)?

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35

Listening to your body is a good idea. It is a very natural way to live. A pain means go to the doctor. A fart means go to the toilet. A yawn means go to bed. Turn to 50.

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36

You unburden yourself of the many coins in your possession. The assistant slides the tube over the counter, and thanks you by name, even though you are sure this is the first time you have met him. You leave feeling slightly light-headed. Turn to 42.

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37

Time, and exposure to air, heals all wounds. It will probably be fine tomorrow, no reason to worry. You yawn. You could watch another film on TV (turn to 34) or go to bed (turn to 50).

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38

A driver has just powered through a pool of water next to you, sending most of it spraying over your trousers. The cereal box is unharmed, but you feel disempowered by the experience. You resolve, some day, to jump in a large puddle next to a car, and restore balance to the world. In the meantime, you return to the office, and fold your damp clothes over the radiator. Turn to 40.

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39

Walking to the shop, you wonder if this is the influence of subliminal advertising. The film you watched last night had a character being stabbed through the heart with an ice cream cone. By the time you reach the shop, some of that influence has faded, and the rain has made you self-conscious about buying a cold dessert. But the shopkeeper has noticed you. Will you pretend to receive an urgent phone call which demands you take it outside (turn to 17), or buy something at random (turn to 48)?

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40

The afternoon passes in a wonderfully uninhibited fashion. Then the doorbell rings, and you remember that a friend of your boss was due to visit today in order to borrow a laptop. You know that if you delay too long in opening the door, she will suspect you of watching pornography. Will you pretend to be out (turn to 5) or dress as quickly as possible and answer the door (turn to 18)?

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41

The noise from your stomach means either that you should eat something, or that you should definitely not eat something. You decide to never listen to your body in future, as it is just a confusing mess of biological signals. To spite it, you go to bed early. Turn to 50.

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42

You spend the next few hours reading comments on the internet. Virtual persona Duffydack08 writes that the football team you support is akin to a terrorist organisation. You are about to type a witty reply when you notice the clock has reached 5pm. Leaving the office, you realise you might have wasted your life. Thinking further on it, do you come to the conclusion that comment boards are bastions of free speech (turn to 14), cesspools of humanity (turn to 14), or another thing you should probably not think about too much (turn to 14)?

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43

It probably just means you are emotionally stunted. Revelling in this newfound state of childhood, you consume an entire packet of biscuits with a pint of milk. Then you remember that the last time you did this, it gave you terrible gas. You go to bed, wary. Turn to 50.

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44

You will have to remember to change your shower routine, but the rescheduling should work. You sink further into the sofa. The film has finished, but a new, bigger and better one is starting. Watching two films might be overly decadent for a work night. Will you watch it anyway (turn to 34), watch a short, safe comedy instead (turn to 2) or look for alternative entertainment (turn to 27)?

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45

You brush standing on one foot. A magazine article you read recently said this was a good way to stay fit. But your leg starts to ache when going over the gums, so you cheat and balance yourself on the towel rack. Turn to 11.

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46

The screen freezes. The game has crashed, taking with it an hour or so of galactic unification work. You scratch your leg and temples in frustration. Some research on the internet informs you that this is a common bug in the game. Virtual persona Duffydack09 writes that the developers are akin to a corrupt religious institution. By the time you have finished reading his post, three hours have passed in the real world. You feel very tired. Turn to 50.

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47

As you get closer, you realise that you do not, in fact, know her. It is just a woman pushing a pram. You walk on, feeling a heaviness in your chest. She must have broken her umbrella too. Turn to 22.

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48

You scan the stationery for a moment, but then move on to the breakfast cereals. There are several factors to consider – vitamins, iron content, value, box size, colour, fear of cartoon animals, wholegrain, multigrain, ingrained eating habits, price as indicator of social status, the environment, starving children in Africa, font, that bee looks more like a wasp. You take your choice over to the counter, and the shop assistant asks how you are in a friendly tone. Will you maintain a customerly distance (turn to 9) or inform him of your physical and mental well-being (turn to 31)?

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49

Actually, there was something you needed to do at work. You eat a sandwich in a nearby pub while trying to recall what it was. There, the large amount of mayonnaise overpowers the taste of the fillings, and you start to feel queasy. The rain taps on the window logo. Will you take a sick day and return home (turn to 28), or tough it out in the office (turn to 20)?

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50

You sit beneath the covers with your knees drawn up, and think about what you are going to do tomorrow. Your plan to treat yourself to two bowls of cereal turns into a swarm of bees, and you know you are falling asleep. You are sure you have forgotten something. The bees are tapping at the window. Turn to 1.

 

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Robert Feeney taught English for six years in Japan before returning home to pursue a Masters in Creative Writing at University College Cork. He is the author of several short stories, articles, plays, and a sitcom script that was kindly rejected by the BBC. His favourite colour is either blue or grey.

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