Tobias Makes a Choice
I'm back on track and working on Fallen Angels of New Orleans: the Oracle Deck.
The further down the path I travel, the more I realize how much of this story hinges on the wild cards: Lilith and Lucifer. Both existed beyond the grimoires of the medieval magician. Their stories are older, more complex, and far more developed. Truth and morality do not exist in a multiverse of black and white. Good and evil are far more complex and nuanced than our earliest teachers would have us believe.
"Maybe I am the snake in your garden, but is it really so very wrong to give people what they want? Is it so wrong to make the unlikely possible? Or, at least, to show someone how they can make their unlikeliest dreams bear fruit?
I loved once: deeply, truly, for always, but I couldn't save her. Even eating the apple didn't open her eyes to how patronizing, how controlling, how manipulative he was.
She chose him, and the Father over my honesty and my respect. I would have given her the space to forge her own path and be her own person. Instead, she chose him and the Father, even knowing how devious and calculating the Father could be.
She loved him first and chose him over me.
She broke my heart, but she didn't break me any more than Adam or their Father did. I'm stronger than that; stronger than them.
I chose love and I chose truth and I continue to do so.
I don't think it's wrong to guide people toward their darkest secret wishes. Eat of your apple. Just remember, with every apple, there often comes a worm. Will you be able to swallow the truth no matter how it wiggles, no matter how it scares you?
Walk with me now in the shadows of your darkest truth." - Lilith
Tobias Jacobs Makes a Choice
Tobias Jacobs felt apprehensive, not about the ritual, but about his neighbors.
New Orleans was a strange town with a high tolerance for the bizarre, but standing outside a mansion on Esplanade Avenue in the middle of the night, drawing strange markings on the entrance to his home, might be too strange even for the Crescent City.
A couple stumbling down the neutral ground paused for a moment to watch what he was doing. Purposefully, he ignored them and their conversation with one another.
“What is he doing?” the woman slurred a little too loudly to her companion. The man with her laughed and mumbled out something that Tobias didn't catch or understand.
People like that didn't bother him. People like that didn't matter.
Until a few weeks ago, Tobias knew he was just like them. He was just another nobody, doing nothing constructive or important with his life.
Compulsively, he glanced around at the homes of his neighbors. The last thing he needed was one of them calling his parents and telling them what strangeness their son was up to.
Tobias knew that they'd written him off long ago when he failed out of yet another university; his father had told him that they would not be financing another tuition to a private college. If he wanted to get his degree, his parents informed him, he would need to go to a state school.
Tobias shuddered at the memory. It's not that he didn't like poor people, but Tobias knew that he could never belong with them. Students at a state school had earned their way there through hard work. Those students had goals and plans. They'd worked hard to earn their place at the table. They believed that intelligence and dedication would get them where they needed to go in life.
Tobias Jacobs knew better. Real affluence came from being born to the right parents and being born with the right gifts.
The Jacobs of New Orleans were the right parents. They moved in the right circles. They possessed the right pedigree. They knew how the world worked.
Unfortunately, though, Tobias knew that he wasn't born with the right gifts.
He didn't have the good looks and easy smile of his older brother, Nathaniel, who charmed effortlessly. He didn't have the brilliant mind of his older sister, Clarissa, who seemed to know exactly what the stock market would do at any given moment.
Tobias had failed at everything that he had ever tried. He didn't think he was unattractive. He looked a lot like Nathaniel. Their features were almost identical, but somehow, on Tobias, they didn't add up to an attractive whole.
On aptitude tests, Tobias scored well, but he couldn't seem to complete his school work in a timely fashion. The numbers in his math books just laid there, unwilling to organize themselves into the right columns. Literature books remained unopened. History remained unexamined. Tobias really just didn't want to be bothered.
His parents had him tested for every learning disorder under the sun. They'd taken him to therapists and counselors, motivational speakers, and even dragged him to spiritual retreats. Nothing had motivated Tobias. Nothing seemed to click for him. He didn't possess the natural gifts that others did.
After a semester of incompletes from LSU, his parents finally stopped trying. They moved him into the family home on Esplanade Avenue and offered him a pittance of an allowance unless he would try to get his life together.
So Tobias Jacobs created a fictitious interest in becoming a writer. He devoted hours and days to sitting in his room, pretending to be writing the next great American novel, while, in reality, he scrolled through social media and played video games.
His parents couldn't seem to understand that his situation was not his fault. While he appreciated the security and wealth that his parents could offer him, they hadn't bestowed on him any of the talents that they'd showered on Nathaniel and Clarissa. It wasn't fair and it absolutely was not his fault.
Tobias began to accept that he would live out his life in the back bedroom of his family home, unable to reach for dreams because he could not imagine what a dream for him would look like.
And then he met Evelyn at a local crystal shop. Sometimes he just needed to get out. He would wander the streets of the French Quarter, uninspired and unmoved by the peculiar locals and the drunken tourists.
On a humid and drizzly day in late July, Tobias Jacobs wandered toward the end of Decatur Street and stumbled into the crystal shop. He liked looking at the sparkling stones, imaging that one of them could heal his mind and his ambition. If he could just find the right spark, Tobias believed that he could change everything.
Evelyn was sitting in the back corner of the shop, shuffling Tarot cards and talking earnestly to a young couple. The couple seemed in awe of whatever she was telling them.
Evelyn seemed different from the average fortune teller or Tarot Reader. She looked so average, so normal. Her light brown hair was neatly braided and her face sported only the lightest of makeup. Instead of the usual accouterments of scarves and swirling skirts, Evelyn was wearing a crisp button-down white shirt and an ironed pair of khaki walking shorts. She looked the furthest thing from a fortune teller that Tobias could imagine.
The reading seemed to be wrapping up as the couple thanked Evelyn effusively. Evelyn met Tobias's eyes over the heads of the young couple. He smiled, trying for amused cynicism.
“What about you?” Evelyn's voice challenged him. “Are you brave enough to discover who you were in the past?”
Why not? thought Tobias. He was in a for a long, dreary afternoon. Maybe the reading would lift his spirits and give him an amusing anecdote for his friends at the bar tonight.
By the time Evelyn finished, Tobias Jacobs finally understood why his life was so lackluster, why nothing he tried to do ever worked out.
He was paying for the sins of a former life, and he wanted nothing more than to go back to that time and that place; to become who he'd been before. He'd possessed power and influence. The people had stood in awe of him. They'd feared him. He'd ruled over ancient Sumeria, as the High Priest Inkishush the Magnificient.
He'd ruled over the land with an iron fist, able to bestow the gift of a gentle rain or the curse of a devastating wind storm. None dared challenge him. All feared his abilities.
When Lilith found him a few weeks later, Tobias knew he was unraveling. He stopped even making a pretense of spending his days writing.
He woke up at noon and gorged himself on whatever fatty and unhealthy founds he could find grazing from the refrigerator: leftover fried chicken, a plateful of macaroons for his mother's book club, a bowlful of gravy-soaked potatoes, a hunk of old ham. Whatever it was, he didn't care. There seemed no way to fill the hole in his soul.
When his parents told him that they were going to Bermuda for the summer, their eyes seemed more contemptuous than disappointed. Tobias knew that if he wanted the gravy to keep coming, that he needed to keep up the pretense that he was doing something productive, but since that afternoon with Evelyn, he couldn't seem to bring himself to care. He knew that he was but a pale shadow of his former glory.
He agreed to maintain the house and supervise the work of the housekeeper and the landscaping service, but he and his parents all knew that the staff didn't require supervision. Tobias was the one who needed overseeing.
Falling deeper and deeper into the funk of his existential crisis, Tobias could barely summon the energy to shower and put on clean clothes before he headed out into the humid heat of the September morning. The Mississippi River, as it so often did, seemed to call to him. At least, there, there was motivation, there was energy. Something was happening. He could watch even if he would never be able to participate.
He barely glanced over as the woman sat beside him on the bench. Tobias knew with just that fleeting glance, that she was way out of his league. He had the impression of generous curves and thick flowing hair. Women like that were not interested in a man like Tobias even when he was at his best. Let alone when he was unshaven and wrinkled, belly straining against his t-shirt, his eyes bleary and crusted.
“You seem very unhappy, Tobias,” the woman said. Her voice was husky and soft.
Internally, Tobias sighed. Who was she? An old classmate? A friend to his mother or his sister? Tobias was not in the mood to be reminded even more forcefully of the failure that was his life.
“I can help you,” she offered.
Tobias sighed out loud this time. He shifted toward her, momentarily taken aback by just how gorgeous she was. Flawless dark skin. Symmetrical oval face. Dark brown eyes. Full lips curved in amusement.
“You'll have to forgive me,” he said mechanically. “I don't remember you, but I doubt that you can help me. I just need to be alone.”
“I'm Lilith,” she answered. “We've never met but I can definitely help you.”
He sighed again, not wanting to spend any more time next to someone that made him feel even more repulsive than he felt already.
“You feel inadequate and ineffective,” she continued. “Like you've been stripped of your rightful inheritance like you haven't been given the power that you deserve.”
“And you can help me how?” Tobias asked with an edge. He didn't like being called out. How obvious was his feeling of helplessness and ennui to this woman?
Out of seemingly nowhere, Lilith spun a rolled-up parchment between her fingers. She placed it carefully into his hand. “This will give you all the answers that you need. This will make you who were before. Claim your rightful place in this world, Tobias. Become who you were.”
Tobias stared down dumbly at the antique-looking paper in his hands. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Lilith rise effortlessly to her feet and begin to walk sinuously away.
He broke the seal on the paper and began to unroll it, puzzled as it all seemed to be in a strange language. Was that Greek? Or maybe Latin? He'd taken a semester of Latin at some point but hadn't really learned it properly.
He looked up to call out a question but Lilith was gone, disappeared off the Moon Walk as if she'd never been there at all.
And, now, he found himself standing in front of his home at three am, drawing sigils and symbols on the ground and the entrance way into his family home. He'd shaved. He'd fasted. He'd soaked in a bath of weird-smelling herbs and dressed in a long linen robe.
He thought he saw a flicker of light from a house next door. He supposed he could claim he was thinking Halloween decorations. House floats had been big for a while.
Nothing further stirred and Tobias knew he was out of reasons to not start.
[In Latin]O potens et terribilis Carmas, fidelis et devotus iammas magni regis spirituum Martis servus, o Carmas, bellator magnificus, hostium eversor, tempestatum et tempestatum gubernator, audi me et huc nunc veni.
Oh, Magne Carmas, potentissime ac tremendum Magistrum tempestatis inspirante, audi me obsecro et vocationi meae responde. O magne et potens Carmas qui fulmen dirigit et ventum vocat quasi ludibria suo modo, huc veni huc ad tempus et locum et me adiuva quaerendo.
[In English] “Oh, powerful and terrifying Carmas, faithful and devoted servant of the Great King Iammas of the Spirits of Mars, oh, Carmas, magnificent warrior, destroyer of enemies, controller of weather and storms, hear me and come to this place now.
Oh, Great Carmas, most Powerful and Awe Inspiring Master of the Storm, please hear me and answer my call. Oh, great and might Carmas who directs the lightning and calls the wind as playthings to his mood, please come here to this time and place and help me with my quest.”
Even as Tobias began the chant a third time, the doorway to the house seemed to darken, lightning sparks began to fly. (How was there lightning happening in the doorway to his house?)
Tobias felt an oppressive weight began to build in the atmosphere. Was he hearing thunder?
He glanced up at the sky nervously, but it was clear except for the bright light of the full moon. The storm seemed to be centered in the doorway leading to his home.
The clouds thickened and the lightning intensified with a boom of thunder. With a final bright flash, a figure began to form within the doorway until a young man in a well-tailored red suit materialized in the portal.
Tobias found himself staring at the empty pools where the demon's eyes should be. Vaguely, he knew something was wrong with the man's hands. Were those antlers growing out of his head?
“Who summoned me here?” the young man's voice boomed out like thunder.
“I did,” Tobias announced, his voice coming out high and shrill. “I summoned you.”
The young man laughed, sounding both amused and sinister. “Are you ready to die this night? Are you prepared to battle with me?”
“What?” Tobias squeaked out. He shook his head vehemently. “No. No. No. Lilith said that you would help me?”
The young man brought his empty eyes up as if he could see into Tobias's very soul. “Is that crusty old demon still trying to make trouble? Lilith will eat you as soon as look at you, I hope you realize.”
“She said you could help me,” Tobias insisted desperately. “I need you to make me into who I was before.”
“She's playing you,” Carmas advised him. “Lilith has always been the cat to the mice of this world. She would make anyone her plaything.”
“It isn't like that. Evelyn, she's a fortune teller, she told me all about my past. She showed me, she let me experience, what it was like to be me in the past,” Tobias struggled to explain. Those moments when he'd held the hand of Evelyn, he'd found himself in another body, in another world. He'd felt drunk with purpose and power, a sensation he'd never experienced before.
“I've met Evelyn,” Carmas said with a harsh laugh. “She likes making trouble almost as much as Lilith.”
“I need to be who I was,” Tobias plunged on, barely registering what the demon was saying. “I was different before. I was like you.”
Carmas's expression darkened. He lowered his antlered head in a threatening manner. His voice rose thunderous and overwhelming. “Like me, mouse? You dare to liken yourself to me?”
“No. No. I'm sorry,” Tobias sputtered. “I mean I was different before. In the past. In a past life. I was a different person. I was a person with gifts. I could control the weather. I possessed such power. I was a person that mattered. I want that back.”
Carmas considered him. “You want me to stuff your soul into your old body, far in the past?”
“I want my power. I want the gifts of weather wizardry that I possessed in the past.”
Carmas raised his clawed hands and directed them toward Tobias, who tried hard not to flinch. Lightning sparks began to appear, dimly at first, and then brighter and more intensely, emanating from Carmas's clawed hands.
Tobias suppressed a desire to flee as Carmas directed the lightning sparks at him. Tobias found himself surrounded by brilliant, sparking energy. He found his mind being drawn back down that dark tunnel toward his old self, toward the very distant past of many millennia, through the long endless road of past incarnations: shrunken, diminished incarnations, until he emerged into the brilliance of his old self: the self he'd visited and inhabited with Evelyn.
His former self, Inkishush the Magnificent, was alive with magic and energy, perhaps the strongest weather wizard that the world had ever known. He'd been able to summon rain clouds with a thought, direct lightning with a glance, and raise powerful waves with the twitch of a finger.
Somehow he existed inside in Inkishush and in Tobias. He could sense the laughter of Carmas through the long corridor of centuries.
Tobias could hear the mocking voice of Carmas inside his head. “You do realize that every miserable incarnation you've experienced since the days of Inkishush is because of what you were when you were Inkishush? You've paid for that hubris, for that abuse of power, for the cruelty of who you were when you lived as Inkishush? His magic and his manipulations are the reasons why you are the lowly worm that you are today.”
Tobias nodded. He didn't care. He wanted to know that intoxicating power once more.
Carmas continued in his head. “If I do this, you will be starting over. All the suffering that your incarnations have endured for millennia will be undone. You will be forced back onto the road of karmic retribution for a few years of power and glory.”
“I don't care,” Tobias screamed out. “I'm done with being no one and nothing. I need to be different. I want to be Inkishush.”
Never again would Nathaniel and Clarissa roll their eyes at him patronizingly. Never again would his parents sigh and close the door to his messy room. Never again would the eyes of others slide past him as if he were invisible. He, Tobias, would be a force to be reckoned with.
“Don't say I didn't warn you,” Carmas said, sounding both weary and amused. “Lilith wins again, little mouse. Enjoy your power while you can.”
Tobias felt himself forced out of Inkishush and traveling faster and faster down the corridor of the millennia until they were back, back in the present, back on Esplanade Avenue on a warm September night.
Tobias felt different. He could feel the sensation of being Inkishush. He could feel the reserves of untapped power and energy. The lightning sparks didn't just surround him. They were emanating from him.
Tobias laughed with unrestrained joy. Oh, the havoc he could wreck on the world. Climate destabilization would have nothing on him.
Dimly, he heard the voice of Carmas. “I'd start slowly, mouse. If you're not careful, you could burn your house down around you.”
Tobias laughed again, not fearing to meet the empty gaze of the demon. “I intend to burn it down. I intend to burn it all down.”
Carmas shrugged. “Not my problem,” he finally said. He shrugged off the weight of the sigils, letting the lightning encase him as he began to shimmer away. Lilith was clearly up to something, but at least, Tobias Jacobs was not his problem any longer although Tobias would undoubtedly be a problem for those he met for a long time to come.