After months of delusional fits and starts, sketching and re-sketching mental blueprints with the aid of his Kermit the Frog finger, and summoning the requisite courage to embark on a path towards greater salvation and independence, Josiah, at one point a model home school student, began building a shelter out of branches and trash on the wooded slope of a public park that sat across the street from his group home. When questioned by passersby who were drawn quizzically to the curious, haphazard, clamorous nature of his work, he responded in a stoic but contrived way by saying, “Uh, no man…nothing’s wrong. I’m just building a structure to see what it would be like to live off the grid for a while, and, um, because I have to write a book report for college.”
While none of these temporary onlookers persisted with follow-up questions about which college or anything else for that matter, frightened by an unsettling, dissonant glare in his eye, accompanied by the presence of an omnipresent residue, they would move on wondering whether a call to the authorities was warranted while Josiah was left to further contemplate and concentrate on the real reason for his work: an undying, determined belief in and never ending search for magic sticks.
Like many of his formative experiences, Josiah’s first magic stick was discovered rather by accident after dropping his then-girlfriend Esther off at the wedding rehearsal for their cousin and being instructed to wait outside until she was done. Feeling unusually discombobulated, unable to sleep, remotely dependent on forbidden alcohol, and battling an episode of debilitating erectile dysfunction that left him listless and unable to perform, he had hoped to find restitution on the inside of a church as opposed to mindlessly wandering the lawn outside where he came upon the thick, gnarled length sitting beneath its vibrating parent tree, almost glowing in radiance as it spoke to Josiah as if sacrificially birthed to anoint him back to glorious equilibrium.
Cradling the magic stick in reverence and feeling emboldened as he gripped the bark-covered end, Josiah was compelled to hold the rustically-striped point to the back of his neck where even the slightest hint of pressure brought on an unmistakable feeling of power and wholesome enrapture. Suddenly with a newfound energy and very welcome erection poking firmly at the smudged crotch of his pleated khakis, he burst into the church beaming with his magic stick firmly in hand, ready to enlighten his Pentecostal family as to its therapeutic properties. But instead of admiration and amazement at his discovery, Josiah was chastised and sternly reprimanded by Pastor Mordecai at the Highway Holiness Church of God not only for disrupting the ceremony, but for expressing faith in an inanimate object that might have looked like a serpent, but was not a serpent, and as such should not be handled like one. When Josiah asked his mortified girlfriend whether she believed his story on the ride back to her parent’s trailer, Esther said they’d have to wait until they got home, at which point he could try his magic stick on her, out of earshot and away from the prying eyes of the fire and brimstone congregation.
Not heeding the forked-tongue lashing he’d received at the hands of Pastor Mordecai and due to an enduring compulsion to touch people with his magic stick and let them decide from themselves, Josiah was eventually shunned by the church, and summarily his girlfriend, for selfishly cherry picking elements of the Jewish mystical tradition of practical Kabbalah and its heavy reliance on relic worship, in particular medicinal amulets that were alleged to hold miraculous healing power. When Pastor Mordecai died several weeks later from a rattlesnake bite to his bottom lip and refusal of the simple anti-venom treatment offered by paramedics, his flock was left devoutly distraught while Josiah wondered silently but without grudge whether he could have been saved by grasping the magic stick and putting it in his mouth.
Unshaven, unemployed, and with a jittery disposition and rotting teeth brought on by grave overconsumption of Mountain Dew and relative alienation, Josiah, who at that point was considering becoming a faith healer, continued to exercise discernment in his unwavering pursuit of magic sticks. Having been vehemently warned against the inherent danger of false idols his entire life and despite the fact that temptation was forever at hand, he had developed out of necessity a certain savvy in separating the good candidates from the bad, including an abandoned, waterlogged divining rod which caused immediate confusion as he threw it to the ground in disgust, and a shorter stick that looked exactly like the index finger on his right hand that was not a stick at all, but instead an eroded stone from a river basin in Tajikistan that Josiah had selected from a gem and rock show bin at the local Holiday Inn and briefly entertained before tossing it back on top of the ordinary pile, causing it to splinter.
Based on astute shrewdness, the second magic stick took several years to find, finally revealing itself as Josiah sat under an overpass during a windstorm drinking Vodka out of a plastic bottle. Resembling a stereotypical magic wand and without an apparent source of origin, it suddenly appeared upright between the legs of his soiled Carhartts, causing uncontrollable spasms and an overwhelming spell of narcolepsy as he rhythmically massaged it. Upon groggily returning to consciousness, Josiah had an overwhelming urge to leave the cover and familiarity of the bridge to touch people with his new stick, especially those who complained of or were aesthetically stricken with aliments of various sorts. Lurching forward each time he sensed or observed an enfeebling anomaly as if initiating a restorative knighting ceremony, Josiah’s attempts were rebuffed with both simple aversion and threats of violent backlash, meaning that a majority of the time spent with his new magic stick involved either personal touching in darkened corners or having maniacal women grab for it in desperation at the homeless shelter as they waited in line for free loaves of bread.
Through a prolonged, painstaking process of gradual introspection, Josiah began to unearth a ruddy path to perceived normalcy through free counseling sessions, communal living, and the aid of his magic sticks as they sat fastened to his hips in a plastic gun holster procured from the clearance section of a Family Dollar. In more practical terms, finding a third such stick would complete the totemistic trinity he yearned for, and lead to a sense of holy completeness while also serving as the sole motivating factor in constructing the shelter, an alternative church of sorts, and penning the resulting book report, its curative, liturgical text.
As he continued to break fallen sticks for the structure, inspecting each one for magical prowess before randomly leaning them against a central support beam that spanned two trees, fruitlessly plugging the sizeable gaps with wads of fiberglass insulation, plastic wrap, and empty Hot Pocket boxes with the metallic microwave insert still in place, Josiah heard a rustling of leaves and lifted his head to see an angelic figure coming towards him holding a snarl of reflective copper wire that at once fixated his attention, causing a temporary sensation of spiritual blindness.
Reaching down as if suddenly confronted by the potential for a scrap material duel, he squinted his still blurry eyes to notice Esther descending the slope, dressed in a long wool skirt, dirty brown t-shirt, safety glasses, and fluorescent yellow construction vest with orange stripes. Her coarse, wavy hair now graying, Josiah extended his magic sticks in a gesture of silent greeting, and Esther, who now self identified as a transient relationship welder obliged, grabbing onto them and pulling Josiah closer which much to his surprise caused the elusive third magic stick to rise heroically, unexpectedly from an otherwise flaccid landscape that had not flourished since the day of their cousin’s wedding rehearsal so many years ago. Summoning it to fully-engorged glory with incantations spoken in tongues and the gentle caress of her copper-wrapped hand, Esther looked at Josiah hypnotically and said in a seductive but forthright tone that now that they’d found his third magic stick together, she was eager for him to try it on her again, this time in the privacy and comfort of a temple he’d designed and built for the three of them.