So it was on Sunday, January 1, 1984 that I became an employee of "Hey, Your Nose is on Fire" Industries.
See, Mr. Hyniof had hired me to be the Air Personality, but when I asked Ned that first evening what that meant, he just shrugged his wooden shoulders and said, "No idea."
"Well, now, wait a minute." I was still a little shaken from my first meeting with Mr. Hyniof--the way his pale flesh had seemed to burble, the way he had turned his waist a full one hundred and eighty degrees to look back at me, the way he'd eaten that eraser, things like that. "How am I supposed to do this job if I don't even know what it is?"
Again, Ned shrugged. "We could look it up, I s'pose." He moved between the tightly packed desks to one of the filing cabinets. "It might be in here somewhere...."
I had a little more trouble squeezing through: I'd been working all year as a janitor over at the library, and what I'd seen of work environments told me that, even with three-quarters of this furniture gone, this place would still be cramped. "Why do you have all this stuff?" I asked.
Ned had pulled one of the cabinet drawers open and was rifling through it, his twiggy fingers scritching and scratching. "Well," he said, gesturing without looking. "That's my desk there, that's the desk where the typewriter would be if it wasn't broken, that's El Brujo's desk, and this one here..." He tapped the desk that sat between us and the door. "I guess this one would be yours."
"El Brujo?" I'd picked up the odd Spanish phrase here and there going to school in southern California. "You have a wizard here?"
"That we do," a rough voice behind me said. I turned, and there was a cat sitting on one of the desks, a big, grayish-white cat that it hadn't been there three seconds ago when I had last looked at that desk, I was sure.
The cat licked a front paw, looked at me and said, plain as anything, "So, you're the lad Hyniof's shanghaied. Welcome aboard, mate, though you'd best to be having a strong stomach if you're shipping out with this brigantine."
I stared, Ned rustling through the files the only sound in the room. "A talking cat?" I asked after a moment.
The cat jumped across the narrow aisle from his desk to the one Ned had called mine. "El Brujo," he said, padding toward me, his tail straight up like a flagpole, "at your service."
Now, I'd been reading SF and fantasy for years at this point, my father having given me the Foundation Trilogy for Christmas when I was eight, my sister subscribing to Galaxy magazine throughout the mid-70s, Anne McCaffrey and Larry Niven holding places of honor in our living room bookshelves.
But even with all that, even after meeting a living scarecrow and whatever Mr. Hyniof was, I'm forced to report that the only thing I could think of to ask my first talking cat was: "Why do you sound like a pirate?"
"A pirate?" El Brujo sat down on the blotter pad of the desk, cocked his head, and gave the tip of his tail a flick. "Aye, lad. Perhaps I am a bit of a pirate."
I stared some more, then Ned called out, "Here we go...."
I looked over in time to see him dump an overstuffed folder from the file cabinet onto the desk next to El Brujo, papers oozing from it like jelly from a squeezed sandwich. Ned grinned and pointed to the label at the top of the folder. "Job descriptions," he said.
El Brujo was up on his paws again and sniffing at the folder. "What's all this, then, Ned, me lad?"
Ned patted me on the shoulder. "We're trying to find out what the Air Personality's supposed to do around here."
"Supposed to?" El Brujo gave the papers one last sniff, then turned to me and shook his head. "Ach, lad, that's no way to live a life, all full of 'supposed to's and the like." His tail flicked, and I could suddenly see the blotter pad through him, the gray of his fur just melting into the air like fog. "A life of 'supposed to's just leaves you withered inside, dry as dust for the wind to blow away...."
And as I watched, he faded out and disappeared.
I looked at Ned. He shrugged. "He does that all the time." He tapped the folder. "Let's see what's in here."
It took us half an hour to find the thing despite Ned's constant assurance that the papers were in alphabetical order: I mean, the Air Personality page turned up with the other 'A's near the bottom of the stack between the 'L's and the 'Z's.
"There you go," Ned said. "Just where it oughtta be."
I wanted to ask him what alphabet he was using, but then I saw the page and realized what an idiot I was. "A radio broadcaster! That's why Mr. Hyniof hired me: because I'm getting my radio license!"
Ned was reading over my shoulder. "Wow. He's never mentioned anything before about a radio program."
I felt a little tingle of excitement. "Well, I guess he wants one now...."
Of course, since I didn't have my license yet, for the first few weeks, I just came in for an hour or so each evening to help Ned with the filing. I rarely saw Mr. Hyniof--he would sometimes open the door to his office and peer out at us, his jaw always working the white plastic eraser clamped between his teeth--but Ned told me he was a creature from another planet or another dimension or something. "I don't really understand it," Ned told me. "He's a gelatinoid, though, and not of this earth."
There was a lot Ned didn't understand, I found out. Not that it was his fault. He'd been trained to be a scarecrow, and there were just some things he'd never been taught.
Like the alphabet. It turned out he was using the sentence "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog" because a book he'd picked up somewhere had said that it contained all the letters of the alphabet and he'd just assumed that they were in the proper order. I wrote out the real alphabet for him, and we started getting the files re- organized.
It was the end of January, I guess, before I was called upon to do anything more than that. I'd taken the desk in front of Ned's and was working on the files in the largest of the six cabinets, wedged against the wall to my right, when the office door sprang open, and El Brujo, well, sauntered in would be the only way to describe the way he walked.
I nodded to him. "Hey, El Brujo. What's up?"
"Up, lad?" With a skip I wouldn't have thought a tomcat his size could've managed, he leaped onto my desk, slinking through the papers to stand on the file I was reshuffling. "Only me heart, lad, up and sailing through the stars."
I heard Ned laugh from behind me. "Sounds painful."
"Sure and it is, Ned, sure and it is." El Brujo let out another sigh. "But a finer pain's yet to be invented."
I blinked. "You sound like you're in love or something."
El Brujo tapped his nose with a paw. "That I am, lad." His muscles bunched, and he leaped over my head: I turned in my chair to see him land in front of the door to Mr. Hyniof's office. "I've met the sweetest dainty of a coyote lass up in the hills this very evening, and we're running away together."
Ned and I both said, "Coyote?!" And Ned added: "I always thought coyotes saw cats more as foodstuff than as friends."
El Brujo gave Ned an ears-down look over his shoulder. "Cynicism in one so young is hardly becoming, Ned." A quick grin flashed at his whiskers. "But what's love without a bit of danger to it? Why, it's like getting creamed corn instead of cream, says I."
He turned back, tapped a paw against Mr. Hyniof's door, and the door crashed open. "So it is," El Brujo went on, stepping in and looking to his left, "that I come to tender you my resignation, Mr. T. Pimento Hyniof. Hire yourself another cat to do your conjuring, for I'm off on the road to true love and high adventure." He whirled around, flicked his tail, and strode out along the walkway between the desks.
I'd only known El Brujo for a few weeks, but I still had to smile. "Congrats, El Brujo. All the best and like that."
"Thank you, lad." He stopped at the front door and looked over his shoulder. "But to quote one of the great animal philosophers of our times: 'Don't think it hasn't been a little slice of heaven. Because it hasn't.'" He stepped out, gave his tail another flick, and the door slammed shut.
I turned in my chair to grin at Ned, but he wasn't looking at me. He was looking at Mr. Hyniof, standing in the doorway to his office, clenching the doorjamb so tightly, his fingers were loosing their shape, flattening and squishing out like rolls of dough being squeezed, his jaw working the white plastic eraser between his teeth faster than I'd yet seen.
He stood that way for a moment, glaring at the closed door, stumped into his office, and reappeared a moment later in the doorway with a file folder. He snapped his fingers, pointed at me, and held the file up.
I blinked, got up, squeezed between the desks, and took the folder from him. "Do this now," Mr. Hyniof grumbled, the first words he'd spoken to me in four weeks, then he stepped back into his office and closed the door.
Looking at the folder, I heard Ned ask, "So what is it?"
I tapped the label. "El Brujo Hiring Procedures," I said.
I still think about that El Brujo, the first talking cat I ever met, especially when the wind rustles the cypress trees outside and starts sounding like coyotes howling.
Anyway, more next time about talking cats, about what it takes to fill the position of El Brujo, and our current El Brujo makes her first appearance.
If you'd liketo go right on to Part Four, go ahead and click here.
If you want to reread Part Two for whatever reason, simply click here.
But if you want to return to the Darkling Eclectica Main Page, you'll have to click here.