Arcane Magicks: The KGB Protocol

Full_moon_in_the_cloudsWhen some friends in my apartment complex discovered two pots immovably stuck together, I ventured the only logical explanation:  Soviet KGB agents and a malevolent power more oppressive than the stench of your Uncle Larry’s socks.

A variety of solutions were posited on a Facebook thread, but as the night wore on and the pots remained unmoved, it was clear I had to do something. Borrowing every bad fantasy trope, I posted this comment as my reply to the debacle.  A couple details that will help this make sense: my apartment complex is very close to the BYU football stadium, things always seem to be breaking,  we have consistently spotty wifi and this all suspiciously took place on February 20-21, the fifty-first and fifty second days of the year. 

What none of the brave volunteers dared disclose that night—for fear of ridicule—was the true plan by which they intended to separate the maidens’ be-welded cauldrons.

For who would have suspected they’d each discovered the hidden passageway in the clubhouse, or followed it to the vast cavern lying in wait below the whole of the apartment complex above since time immemorial? Who could have felt their silent awe as they stepped gingerly down the same rough-hewn steps of limestone into the crumbling vault waiting at the chamber’s terminus, or found the dusty, aged tome of arcane arts upon the cracked pedestal of midnight obsidian? Though it had been months—years, even— since any of the men had seen it, who could have known they’d recall its yellowed contents as if they still held its worn, leathery pages between thumb and forefinger?

Had someone asked them, not a one would have replied ‘magic,” though that was precisely what it was. But this was not the magic of faeries and toadstools, nor the flimsy charms sold at apothecaries to restore hair or curry favor with a lad or lass at the nearby University. No, these were the magicks which had shaped nations, rent armies, and torn mountains asunder. Long ago the magic had done these things, now it clamored to do them again. At the boundaries of the mens’ slumber it prodded, at the edges of dreaming it begged, crying to claw free.

For powerful and vast though it may have been, it could no more shape itself than a silvery vial of mercury decide to freeze on a summer’s day. It needed someone to mold it, forge it, channel it, release its raw power from the formlessness which bound it in the dark cavern which was its prison. It needed human initiative to free it—a Spell of Unbinding, specifically. But who to do it? Knowledge of the arcane arts had faded to mere stories and tales told around the embers of dying fires, no more than watered-down fables. More troubling, the cave had been sealed by an enchanter’s earthquake for some time, and as humans had forgotten the art of Stonewalking the likelihood of a visitor entering through a wall was… slim. Having no other recourse, the power decided to wait.

It needed human initiative to free it—a Spell of Unbinding, specifically. But who to do it?


For untold eons the cavern sat undisturbed. The power occasionally felt above for information, but the land was utterly devoid of human habitation. Without tools, it waited. Again it felt above, and again it waited. The power fell dormant, silent beneath the stones.

Nearly two centuries later, a number of men entered the valley above. The year was 1979, and the Cold War was in full swing. Even as the USSR invaded Afghanistan, they kept their mission a secret to all but themselves and the Kremlin. These KGB agents sought to establish a Soviet presence in the unlikeliest of places—even Utah Valley. To speak openly of their ideologies would have been a mistake among the area’s leaders, but perhaps the young, poor and idealistic students—the proletariat—could be convinced to live in a communal way, learning the messages of Marx and Lenin through experience. An unassuming piece of farmland was acquired for practically free from a farmer who complained no crop would grow. “There’s nothing but bedrock underfoot,” the man complained, “so y’all are doin’ me a big favor. Perfect for construction, though.” The Soviet men smiled coldly and wrote him a check.

Construction proceeded without incident. Communal kitchens and bathrooms were to be the standard in the buildings (the better to help the residents understand that privacy was the enemy of unity), the squat blocky construction and low ceilings reminiscent of the Stalingrad aesthetic. Finally complete, the apartments gleamed and beckoned to be used. “We’ll call it Soviet Terrace,” said its architect proudly. “Subtlety, Vlad, subtlety,” chided their leader gently. “Stadium Terrace, then,” quipped Vlad, eyeing the gargantuan construction underway to the south. He winced as he watched their careless foreman prematurely trigger a massive set of explosive charges meant to deepen its foundation. The explosion was followed by another blast, then another.

The ground shook beneath them, and the darkness below began to stir.

The next years were full of misfortune for the new apartments. Pipes and appliances would inexplicably break, apartments spontaneously became infested with bedbugs. The Soviet gentlemen scratched their heads in puzzlement and simply got to work, determined to keep it afloat. Despite their heroic repair efforts and enticing plans for a new pool (for the betterment of the Party, of course), no tenant would remain longer than a semester or two, complaining of ‘an oppressive air about the place’. Still the men worked for a better future, but their hopes crumbled with the Berlin Wall. Heartbroken and penniless, the men sold the apartments for a pittance and left behind them the dried husks of convalescent dreams?

“Subtlety, Vlad, subtlety,” chided their leader gently.

Stadium Terrace changed hands numerous times over the coming years, bringing ill to all who owned it. The arrival of the internet did little good for the place, for the WiFi above was consistently warped and blocked by the darkness below. The attempted construction of a hot tub ended disastrously when the cavern was rediscovered. Hastily poured concrete concealed the entrance, but could not close it again. Humans could once again enter, and enter they did. Surely enough, they found the spellbook, and with it the Spell of Unbinding which—performed correctly—would set the power free. The only thing that remained was to pick an occasion—a day that was a multiple of thirteen, perhaps, or a full moon. Midnight of the fifty-second day of the year would have both.

The fifty-first day dawned much as any other. Unseasonably warm, the men took advantage of the sunshine and strolled about. Who could guess that their casual finds in the melting snow—the talon of a snowy owl, the antler of a stag, the fossil of a trilobite, a self-titled vintage Christian death metal vinyl album by Donald Trump—were the precise ingredients necessary for the Spell of Unbinding? How might [the owners of the pots] have suspected their pots’ sudden welding was anything out of the ordinary? When the men secretly decided a Spell of Unbinding was the only thing that would separate the be-deviled land dishes, who would have guessed they’d try it at the stroke of midnight on the fifty-second day beneath the full moon, when its strength was enough to release both the pots and the malevolent evil far underfoot? When the dispute appeared unresolved on the ward Facebook page in perpetuity, who could blame the man who would perform the spell for not updating it? Ambiguity would be the least of his worries now—the cavern below soon empty and the dark power gone elsewhere… for the time being. Who might have known eating a sixth consecutive plate of celebratory cookies would not in the best interest of this mystery man’s pancreas, Roberto? Who might have known? Who indeed…

Fortunately for all involved, the whole debacle was solved by an unsung hero on the fifty-third day through the Power of Science,  preventing the evil beneath the complex from escaping for the time being.


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