by BD Mitchell
A new apprentice's trial by fur.
(From my WIP novel, "The Lorelei Chronicles: A Wilder God"))
"And you?" I prompted.
"Me...? Oh! I'll be twenty-three in July."
"That's all? You're practically a newborn."
"Yeah," Cat said with an awkward smile. "It's kinda lame, compared to two-hundred."
"And you probably don't know anything about magicking yet."
She bristled. "Whoa now, Methuselah! I know lots," she insisted. "You wouldn't believe the stuff I know!"
"Is that right?" This time I didn't bother to hide my grin. "In that case, I'll let you take point today."
"I hope you don't mind if I take us in, though. Only, I've had my heart set on it all day."
"Sure. Sure, that's fine. That's great."
"Keen. And look! Here we are now."
We stopped outside of a featureless ranch-style house in the direct center of the block. I started up the flagstone walkway, but paused when I didn't hear a second set of footsteps in my wake.
"What's up?" I asked.
Cat was eyeing the stucco building with apprehension.
"It's... safe, right?"
"Of course!" I said cheerfully. "Besides, what stands a chance against two experienced wizards? Chin up!"
I beckoned her to follow as I approached the door and prodded the doorbell. I decided to rock idly on my feet, fully aware of the nervous wreck that was Caitlyn Kellas quivering at my side.
It's not that I wanted her to suffer -- what would that say about me as a person and an educator? Especially so soon after landing on speaking terms again.
But on the other hand, a little showmanship can do wonders for your street cred.
The door flew open and a rather disheveled man peered out. He scowled at us as if we were some kind of wandering circus act. I had to give him credit -- it's not easy to scowl like that with only one shoe, one sleeve, and half a necktie dangling from each ear.
"What?" he demanded in a frazzled voice.
"Lorelei Animal Control," I volunteered. "Mr. Holt, is it? You called about a wild animal on the premises?"
He continued to glower as if I had just uttered a distasteful joke. Then, as if noticing us for the first time, the sun broke free from his gloomy expression.
"Oh, thank God!" he yelped. "Sorry, it's been a bad day!"
He stood to one side and I stepped over the threshold. The inside of the Holt home was a touch more relaxed than the flavorless exterior, but only a light touch. There was some trendy furniture, a few plants -- plastic, I wagered -- and some hanging pictures of autumn leaves and assorted waterbirds. It was a home that tried to have class and character, but really just felt pretentious and sterile.
"This way," Holt said as he scrambled past. "It's trapped in the garage!"
While the living room was virtually pristine, the kitchen looked as though a pack of tornadoes had stopped by for an impromptu rave. Cabinets were blown open, and spilled over with organic cereal and low-sodium crackers. Marble counters were scratched and coated with wrappers. The shiny wood floor was covered to the last inch with crumbs and shredded Tupperware.
"Just the one animal?" I asked.
"I... I think so," said Holt, whose panicked eyes seemed to scream at the very idea of multiple creatures.
A heavy something slammed off the only other door in the room. Mr. Holt leapt back, knocking a bewildered Cat into the refrigerator. The deadbolt quivered for a moment before settling back into place.
"Feisty little runt, isn't he?" I observed.
Both the poor man and my new apprentice clearly thought I was off my rocker.
"Okay, Mr. Holt, please leave the room and we'll have the rascal out in no time. For your own safety, please. That's right, off you go!"
When I was certain that the shell-shocked Mr. Holt had safely retreated to the living room, I turned back to Cat.
"So much for the hard part," I said. "Good to go?"
Cat's voice missed her mouth by a full octave. "Hard part? But the... the...." She finished her thought by jabbing a finger at the garage door, which was growling slightly.
"What, that? I wouldn't worry about that. Just show him you mean business and you'll be fine."
I flicked the deadbolt lock open and settled a hand on the doorknob.
"Ready... set... go!"