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How to Burn Down a Tree Fort

Joan Clare

You are not a pyromaniac.

You are merely an extremely unhappy 12-year-old girl who gets her hands on a real book of witchcraft and applies the principles therein. No real spell is needed, but you get the inspiration, the chant, the vibe, and that vibe is going through your fingers. You pass by that tree fort, it's in the vacant lot next to Danny's house, maybe two blocks from where you live. You just turned 12 in early May, so technically what those boys did to you in April makes you an 11-year-old victim (soon to be transformed into a Woman Warrior) and anger is churning inside you like a smokin’ hot witch cauldron.

You suddenly know what it feels like to feel dirty, dirty, foul, gross; you're never going to get that feel off your skin, and for the rest of your life, it will feel like you have a rolled-up towel soaked in rancid motor oil rotting inside of you. This is because you know what happened, but you kick it to the curb and leave it there to die, but it never dies. It never dies. And now in 7th grade, you're a nervous wreck, a terrible student at school, and you learn to hang tough in spite of the ickiness clinging to your soul, or what's left of your soul after spending an afternoon being passed around by three guys (sort of like Linda Lovelace) on Easter Sunday (and you’re a Catholic).

But all that changes when you purchase your first book on witchcraft, and you will sit down and study it carefully. Almost everything outlined is a mystery, but that hardly matters. This stuff, plus reading gypsy witch cards, reading tombstones in the graveyard, and having a pair of blazing blue eyes when mad, comes so naturally to you; the kids have been calling you witch since 5th grade because no one can explain the spookiness that follows you everywhere (plus you own eccentric personality).

It's an eyesore, this thing in the tree, especially since you know what goes on in there; it's built in three different sections, haphazardly spread out over the huge limbs of the tree, with choppy wood construction. It’s about 50 feet off the ground, with 2 x 4s nailed into the tree to climb up the tree. What a filthy use of a dead tree, especially since the fire you cursed the tree fort with will burn down half of the tree, and to think . . . those schoolboy architects spent hours building a 6th-grade whore house, (and you and your best friend Lexy are the guest whores).

You warm up in your front yard, wearing a full-length black dress and carrying a lit candle, like a warm-up to a real spell. And it is a real spell. You assemble your tools and your mind. And now, as you write this, you insert a comment from your college writing textbook on a make-sure point: "there has to be something . . . besides the [ingredients] . . . There has to be gestalt . . . [witchcraft] requires a lot of gestalt, but since nobody knows what it is, gestalt doesn't appear below. Do not proceed without it, however." * (* Writing From Start to Finish, by John Schultz)

You will need:

  • 1 mass market paperback on witchcraft you bought at a local drugstore for $2.00 (you'll want the book on grey magic, not the new age white magic) for this spell.

  • your ability to form the evil fingers of the devil's horn to place the curse.

  • righteous indignation of the pissed-off female

Make Sure Points:

  • wear a bitter, twisted smile on your face

  • reread your account of the tree fort in your diary of what happened that Easter Sunday

  • summon the spiritual talent you inherited from your 19th-century French Catholic Louisiana ancestors, do not forget that - these are the family members who know how to put the fire in your hands – they appear to be proper Victorians in photographs, but you know better . . . . you’re their little prodigy

  • wear a black t-shirt

You have no set date for your curse, it sits inside of you, trigger ready, waiting to pass through your fingers and explode. You consult your interior voice and ask when the deed will be done. Don’t worry, that voice tells you, you’ll be able to rock n’ roll when the time comes.

So, you bide your time. You blow on your right hand to activate it. You know, without knowing exactly why, the power you seek is in your heart, ready to move into your hands.

And then, one terribly hot August afternoon, you decide you crave a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup and have to go to the convenience store on Odgan Ave., only, instead of trotting along the safe route to the store, your legs walk you past the infamous tree fort. (you’re wearing your black tee-shirt, right?)

The sickness churns around in you; you stop and put the cursing devil hands pointed at that eyesore and chant:

I conjure thee, I conjure thee,

By mighty Hecate,

Evil spirits, genie, shades or demons lurking here,

I command you to curse this terrible thing,

By earth, and air, and fire, and sea,

I conjure thee, I conjure thee,

By Dis and Hecate,

To burn out this atrocity!

You turn back around and blow on your fingers to cool them down. You don’t even know who Hecate is (she’s the Queen of the Witches) but in time, you will know she’s your girl.

Your saunter off to get your candy bar. Your work is done.

Later, when the tree in the empty lot is only a burned-out stump, you walk Lexy over to the site, and point to your work, and say, “I did that.”

Lexy doesn’t doubt you for a minute. She brightens up and screams: “Way to go, Krow!”

You humbly take a little bow.


Joan Clare

Joan Clare is a graduate of Columbia College Chicago's Creative Writing Program. Her work about street rape, "I Want to Stay Alive" appears in the anthology Things We Haven't Said, edited by Erin Moulton. She is currently re-writing an early novel about incest, mental illness, sexual abuse, and living in the aftermath.


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