Chapter 4:


The Wizard's Virginity

The first day back at school had been a lot more eventful than I had anticipated, or had wanted. Now that I was left alone with some unexpected peace, I decided to review my dad’s notebooks. It had been a while since I had last properly looked at them, as I had already gone through them all in detail many times before. Still, I liked to check them occasionally. There was a chance that I might understand something that I had previously missed, but aside from that, seeing my dad’s writing just gave me a sense of comfort.

As I had done that morning, I unlocked the bottom drawer of my desk, and shifted aside the porn mags. I removed the false bottom and, after rummaging around a little, retrieved the tattered red notebook that had started all this.

Dad died when I was 10. It hadn’t been very dramatic. He travelled all the time for work, and one day, just didn’t come back.

He had worked for a charity, or at least that’s what I believed back then. On that particular trip he had been going to South America. It was so routine to me that I didn’t remember anything special about the last time I saw him. Just like normal, he came into my room to say goodbye, rubbed my hair, and said, “Daddy’s off to save the world!” I thought he was awesome. I didn't know what exactly he meant by ‘saving the world’, but it always sounded super cool.

Whenever he returned from a trip, after he’d unpacked his bag full of unusual souvenirs for me and Hayley, he would show me photos and videos of the places he had been, and the people he had helped. Smiling faces from all around the world. He would point out particular people, and tell me how they were a senior government official in such-and-such country, or how they were the inventor of some amazing thing. I didn’t understand any of the details, but still, it was clear my dad was important. And despite his importance, despite all the people he had to help, he always came back to Mum, Hayley and me in the end.

Except for that time, he didn’t.

We never saw Mum cry. Even when she told us that Dad wouldn’t be coming home, and took us to stay with Grandma for a while so she could ‘sort things out’, she had a smile frozen on her lips. I understand now that she was putting on a brave face, but at the time, it disturbed me.

“Dad’s dead. That means he’s gone forever. Why isn’t Mum sad?”

Grandma told me that Mum was sad, but she was staying strong for us children.

“Why can’t you be sad and strong?”

Grandma didn’t have an answer to that one.

When Hayley and I returned home, Mum had already cleared all traces of Dad from the house. The photos were all gone, and the only ones left were those that didn’t have him in them. His study, previously packed wall-to-wall with books, was now a spare bedroom. There were more subtle changes, too. All the house plants had been replaced. We had a fish tank in the living room, which was still there, but all the fish had gone.

Even in my bedroom there were changes. Dad had painted animals on my walls, and at night, when I was about to sleep, they seemed to dance around the room. They were all gone, painted over in Aquarium Blue. Souvenirs that Dad had brought back for me from around the world, including my favourite, a shrunken head toy that spoke when you shook it - all gone.

I didn’t speak to Mum for weeks. She tried to explain to me that she just wanted a fresh start for us, and that Dad would have wanted us to move on. Looking back, I know it must have been incredibly hard for her, but still, I couldn’t forgive her. Dad’s death had been an accident; removing every trace that he ever existed had been deliberate.

A few days after getting home, I did something that changed the course of the rest of my life. I was a determined kid, and wasn’t just going to accept that Dad was gone with nothing left behind to remember him by.

Mum had taken Hayley out to buy her some new toys. To bribe her into not being sad anymore, as I saw it. Replacing the memories of Dad with new teddy bears. It made me sick. I refused to go, and waited until they had left. Then I searched the house. I felt sure that there must be something left, some memory of Dad, some proof of his existence, that I could hold on to.

I searched Mum and Dad’s room first, thinking that Mum would have at least selfishly kept some photos for herself, but there was nothing. My search of the rest of the house was also fruitless. I checked everywhere: in the back of kitchen cabinets, on top of wardrobes, and I even felt around the floorboards in Dad’s old office in case there was something beneath them. Nothing.

I was close to giving up, when I had a thought. Hayley and I had been away from the house for less than a week. That meant that maybe, just maybe, the bins hadn’t been collected yet. I rushed outside and opened the wheelie bins. The household waste was empty, but at the bottom of the recycling bin was a shoebox with ‘Alex’ written on the lid. My dad’s name. I was too small to reach down and get it, so I had to pull the bin forward onto its front, and slide the shoebox out. I did it quickly, as I didn’t want to risk nosy neighbours seeing and telling Mum. As soon as the box was in my hands, I righted the bin, went back in the house, and took it to my room.

I expected maybe some family photos, or some of Dad’s books. It didn’t matter what it was, so long as it gave me that proof that he existed, and could make me feel closer to him. What I found was a stack of notebooks. My dad’s handwriting was instantly recognisable, but also incredibly difficult to decipher, particularly as a child. Over the months, whenever I was home alone, I would take out the notebooks and try to make sense of them. I felt like Indiana Jones or Nathan Drake, some treasure-hunter trying to uncover ancient secrets, only without the travelling around the world, or the treasure.

Most notebooks were completely beyond my understanding, written in foreign languages that I couldn’t even recognise, or sometimes in cryptic sequences of numbers and letters that appeared to be code. I started trying to ‘translate’ the notebooks. I typed out passages on the computer as I interpreted their meaning, coming back time and again to edit them as I came to new understandings, and stored all my findings on memory sticks. I’ve never cared much about schoolwork, but my analysis of the notebooks naturally built up my knowledge about the world, improved my vocabulary, and even prompted me to learn some maths as I tried to figure out what seemingly random sequences of numbers meant. If I found anything online that seemed even slightly useful, like ebooks on ancient languages and cipher tutorials, I would download them and keep them with my translations.

The first thing that I did manage to successfully understand was a particularly tattered notebook, clearly older than all the others. It had a red cover with no distinctive markings, and was the only thing with sections written in plain English. With Dad’s handwriting, this still wasn’t easy to understand, but the more I submerged myself in his notebooks, the more I was able to figure out. This process made me feel closer to Dad, as did the fact that this tattered notebook turned out to be my dad’s diary, starting from when he was a teenager, and updated irregularly through the following years.

As he had gotten older, the entries grew more cryptic, and contained more of the apparent code that was also in the other notebooks. The earlier entries, however, were written in his younger years, and I could read them easily enough. He wrote about his upbringing in a rural priory, and his resentment for his carers, who were seemingly all women. There were lots of references to a High Priestess, who I gathered was the leader of the priory, and a particularly strict woman. I laughed as I read about his escapades, sneaking out and causing trouble in the nearby village. This was the silly, playful and adventurous Dad I remembered.

The one thing I couldn't work out was exactly where this priory had been. He wrote about it at length, and about the village, and even about the locals he managed to secretly befriend there. Despite all this, there was no detail on location, no place names, and no mention of landmarks that could even start to give me clues. I went through it many times, but no matter how I tried, I couldn’t even confirm that he grew up in the UK. It would have been so much easier if I could have asked Mum, and corroborated parts of the diary with what she knew about Dad, but I decided against it. Given how she had removed every trace of Dad when he died, there was too much risk of her realising that I had saved something, and taking it from me.

A big part of Dad’s life at the priory, and a part he seemed especially resentful of, was his education. He made many references to his studies, but most of it was clearly nothing like the subjects I studied at school. It was here that I first came across the word ‘magic’. Dad hadn’t written in any detail about what he learned, at least not in words I could understand, but there were snippets that set my imagination on fire. A diary entry about how he conjured a beast 10 times bigger than expected, and then had to chase it around the priory. Another incident where he accidentally turned the entirety of the nearby village blind, and the High Priestess had to cure them all. He spoke of massive, ancient tomes that the women of the priory brought back from pilgrimages, and forced him to study.

He also wrote a lot about his responsibility as a man. Not just any man, but a man with special genes. Most importantly, he wrote about his vow of chastity: he could not have sex until he was 30 years old. I thought at first this was just a religious thing, but as I dug deeper, I realised it was more than that. He already knew powerful magic, but 30 is the age that a man becomes a wizard. That was when his magic potential would truly be unlocked. Conversely, if a man with the potential to be a wizard had sex before the age of 30, then all of their powers would be lost.

Why did I so readily believe all of this? I mean, even the most gullible kids would struggle to believe that their father had been living a secret double life as a wizard. I guess that part of me had always known that Dad was special. Although I had been young, there were memories of wonderful things happening. Stuff my dad could do that nobody else could. The animals painted on my walls weren’t a trick of the light; I was sure that they had really been moving. The shrunken head spoke when I shook it, but not pre-programmed phrases like my other battery-powered toys. It told me to put it down, and to stop being a little shit. As a kid, I found it hilarious. It was only in a post-Dad world that I realised these weren’t just fun things that any child had. My life had been incredible, thanks to Dad.

That’s why it was even more disturbing to me that Mum was trying to block it out. She must have her reasons, and I didn’t want to resent her for that. She was being strong in the way that she thought was best. And I would be strong in the way that I thought was best. I would follow the path that Dad had set out for me.

I promised myself that I would go beyond. I would protect my virginity until I was 30 years old, and I would gain magic powers. If it was Dad’s genes that made him special, then those same genes would be in me, and the same potential. I would become a great man, a Wizard, like my Dad. I would understand him.

At the back of Dad’s diary, I started to count down the days until my 30th birthday. It felt right that I should track my own path to being a Wizard in the same place that Dad wrote about his.

Naturally, I hid everything that I found. Mum had never been a great respecter of privacy, and I knew that if she found my trove of notebooks and memory sticks, she would immediately get rid of them. Hence the locked drawer with the false bottom, and the diversionary porn mags.

Hayley’s arrival home from school brought me back to the present, and I returned the notebook to its hiding place. I had reminded myself that I had good reasons for my beliefs, and that I had to be firm in upholding my vow of chastity, just as Dad had done until he was 30.

Still, I reflected back on what Dan had said to me.

“Maybe if you were nicer to girls - not necessarily friendly, but just civil - you would actually make life easier for yourself?”

I could be nice to people and still stay a virgin. I mean, hey, isn’t that what most men complain about anyway? ‘Nice guys finish last’, and all that. I had been burnt before, but that didn’t mean I should take it out on the cute Japanese girl who just wanted to learn more about my culture.

I resolved that the next day, when I saw Reiko, I would be nice to her.