Well, February of 1984 slowly turned into March. I wasn't in the office as much as I had been--the radio show was on the air now, and I was spending my time up at the station trying to learn what music was kept where--but every time I did stop by, well, grumpy is the best word for how everybody behaved.
El Brujo was still mad at Mr. Hyniof: it had taken her the rest of February and the first half of March to sniff out and dispose of all the paper scraps Mr. Hyniof had dumped all over her desk. And Ned, well, those scraps had at one time been his supply request: he was still mad at Mr. Hyniof for tearing it up.
As for me, on that particular Sunday afternoon in late March, I was probably pretty grumpy, too. See, I'd been doing the radio show for five or six weeks by then, and I wasn't used to the schedule yet: in bed before sundown on Saturday, up at 1AM Sunday, leave the house by 1:30, get to the office by 2, pick up Mr. Hyniof's playlist, walk up to the station, and be ready to go on the air at 3.
Then at 6, it'd be back downstairs to the office, drop off the air check tape for Mr. Hyniof to listen to when he came in, get home, eat breakfast, pack up my guitar, and try to get to church by 7:30 to rehearse for the 8AM mass.
I also sang with the choir at 10AM, so I'd get home about 11:15, eat my lunch, then I'd have to be back at the office by noon to review Mr. Hyniof's list of the errors I'd made in the broadcast that morning. It was usually quite a comprehensive list, I recall, and he wanted my reply, detailing how I was going to correct these mistakes for next week's show, on his desk by 5PM.
This particular Sunday, though, I came staggering up the Gateway Commons loading dock at ten minutes after noon. The folks across the alley had engaged in some sort of blowout birthday bash or other all Saturday night, so my eyes felt more like pickled onions than anything else. Up the stairs I pulled myself, jiggled the proper place along the bannister, and watched the steps ahead of me creak open to reveal the hallway outside the "Hey, Your Nose is on Fire" offices.
They also revealed Mr. Hyniof, hands on hips, his white Mars Plastic eraser chewed almost to nothing. He didn't say a word, just fixed his solid yellow eyes on me, pulled back the sleeve of his jacket, and tapped his wristwatch.
I cleared my throat. "Uh, yes, hello, Mr. Hyniof. I'm sorry I'm--"
He interrupted me with a wet snap of his fingers, then pointed down the hallway to his right.
I blew out a breath. "Yes, sir." I moved past him, around the corner, and through the office door, the surprised face of the "Hey, Your Nose is on Fire" logo looking more alarmed than usual somehow.
I squeezed into my desk and stared at the blue folder waiting there for me. It seemed to get thicker every week, and I reached for it with a sigh.
A laugh and the words, "Such a pitiful sound," drew my attention to El Brujo, sprawled among the shredded memos on her desk, her body twisted around upside down, one paw stretching straight into the air. "I wish I could help," she murmured, her dark amber eyes cracking open, "but I'm afraid I'm still on vacation."
"Vacation?" Mr. Hyniof's voice bubbled from the doorway. I looked over to see him taking another eraser from his jacket and wedging it into his mouth. "How so vacation?" he rumbled around it.
El Brujo rolled onto her stomach, a flicker of her ears the only sign that she might have heard him.
Mr. Hyniof's jaw started working, the eraser twitching in his teeth. He clumped forward till the bulge of his belly brushed the edge of El Brujo's desk. "How?" he burbled again.
Paper rattled as El Brujo's tail swished. "It's the holy month of Ramadan, Hynny. Check your calendar."
I blinked. "Ramadan? I didn't know you were Muslim, El Brujo."
She stood, stretched, and turned the tiniest of feline smiles toward me. "You mean Muslims celebrate Ramadan, too?" She licked a paw and ran it over her face. "Well, if that don't just prove what a big ol' goofy world we live in."
I laughed, but Mr. Hyniof didn't, his teeth grinding away at the eraser, his usually pasty face getting redder and redder, his body seeming to bloat against his three piece suit. This last really got my attention: Ned had been telling me how much pride gelatinoids took in their ability to hold a chosen shape no matter the circumstances.
I'd never seen Mr. Hyniof look like anything other than a balding, overweight business man, but now, his nose flattening out, his neck expanding, his fingers puffing up, his eyes quite literally bulging, I got the idea that something might be upsetting him. His next words confirmed this, the longest speech I ever heard from him, his voice so thick and gooey I could scarcely understand him: "Noxious gasser! Evil necessity of feline brujos boils me always, but you! Female at male's desk, slutty, half-bred, won't-work, pseudo-Persian, enough is too much I have taken from you!"
He jerked sideways, his belly slipping from her desk to mine, and slammed a fist onto my blotter, his hand splattering over it like sour cream hurled against a counter top. "This one you hired!" he shouted, his last words to me. "Fire this one now you will!"
The little drops rolled back to rejoin the rest of his hand, and as soon as he had fingers again, he snapped them, pointed one at me, and stomped down the aisle to the door of his office. The door slammed, El Brujo sitting still as a stone among the crumpled papers, her ears down, her eyes solid black and focused on the back wall.
After a moment, I cleared my throat. "I'll talk to him after he cools down. I mean, why should it matter that you're female? If you can do magic, you can do magic, right?"
She didn't say anything for a moment, then her eyes slitted slowly. "Language and attitude," she said. "It always comes down to language and attitude. And the way that guy uses both can't go unpunished."
That made me blink. "What?"
She shook her head and jumped to the floor. "Don't bother talking to Hynny: I'll take care of 'im my own way." And, tail held high, she strolled out, the office door banging shut behind her.
I stared at the backwards "Hey, Your Nose is on Fire" logo embossed on the frosted glass of the office door for a few moments until I realized I was nodding off. I shook myself and figured I'd better get this report done. I'd be more awake tomorrow, and I could deal with this whole labor relations problem then.
Somehow, I got the paperwork done, slipped it into the slot in Mr. Hyniof's door, and got myself home for a good twelve hours' sleep. The next day, I had classes all morning and my job sweeping up and moving furniture at the Main Library all afternoon, so I didn't get up to the office till after five PM.
Ned was at his desk, his triangular black cardboard hat pulled tight over the bundled broom straws of his head, but what really stopped me as I stepped into the office was El Brujo's desk.
Her nest of memos was gone, and a big glistening mound of clay covered her desk instead. El Brujo herself sat next to the stuff, her eyes closed and tiny lights whizzing through the air around her.
I looked from her to Ned. Ned shrugged, his wooden arms creaking, and El Brujo's ears fluttered. The lights vanished, her eyes came open, and she scowled at Ned. "Excuse me, but I'm trying to cast a spell here."
"A spell?" I pushed between our desks and into my chair. "I always thought, I mean, when you cast the office wards, you just close your eyes and wiggle your tail a little." I waved to the mess on her desk. "What're you going to do with all this?"
She gave a little growl. "Different spells, different methods. The Incandescent Paradox calls for specially enchanted adobe, so if you don't mind?" She closed her eyes again, and the lights were suddenly back, flashing and whirling like tiny fireflies.
I didn't know what to think, so I turned to my "In" basket. A big red folder sat on top, the same El Brujo Hiring manual that Ned and I had used less than two months before.
Which meant Mr. Hyniof was still mad. I blew out a breath and was about to stand, go back, and knock on Mr. Hyniof's door, when El Brujo gave a hiss and leaped up, her back arched, her fur all puffed out like a dog was coming at her. The lights scattered away from her with a whoosh and embedded themselves all over the mound of adobe.
"There," El Brujo said. She padded around the clay, sniffed at a few spots, then stopped and licked a front paw. "All I have to do is shape it now, and we won't have to worry about Hynny any more."
I didn't much like the sound of that. "Uhh, El Brujo, this spell, it, uhh, well, it isn't going to hurt Mr. Hyniof, is it?"
She was patting her paws over the adobe, her ears down. "Ugh! I hate the feel of this stuff!" She shook her paws, gray drops flying from them, and turned to me. "You got a spoon or something on you?"
"El Brujo..." I tried to look stern. "If you're planning to hex Mr. Hyniof, I'm afraid I'll have to--"
"Yeah, yeah, I'm sure you will." She jumped across the aisle onto my blotter, and the long drawer of my desk suddenly flew open, catching me in the middle and pinning me to the back of my chair. She squatted down then and started pawing through the broken pencils and out-of- shape paper clips. "What've you got in here?"
"Hey!" I struggled, but my chair was pushed tight against the front of Ned's desk, my arms pinned by the drawer.
She pulled her paw out, a tiny square of red flannel caught in her claws. "What's with all this trash? Jeez, don't you keep anything useful in here?"
"I don't know!" I kicked and squirmed, trying to dislodge myself. "All that stuff was in there when I was hired! Ned!" I craned my head to look over my shoulder. "Don't just sit there!"
"I'm not," I heard Ned's strangely deep voice say above the clatter of small objects being stirred. "But I don't seem to have any spoons in my desk either. I have, oh, let's see, a salt shaker shaped like a cow's head, two tickets to the curling finals at the Calgary Olympics, a 5-watt light bulb, a commemorative tube of formaldehyde from the embalm-a-thon at Morrie's Funeral Emporium, a spatula, a pack of--"
"Spatula?" El Brujo's head came up, her ears pricking. "Lemme see." She leaped past me.
"Yeah," Ned said. "It looks a little chewed up, but--"
"Excuse me," I interrupted, "but where I come from, it's considered impolite to make someone's desk attack him."
"Yeah, yeah." I felt El Brujo's tail brush the back of my neck, and the drawer sprang back into the desk. A few deep breaths, and I turned to see Ned holding a small white spatula in his bushy fingers, El Brujo sniffing at it. "Perfect," she said. "Ned, you're a life saver."
The slit of Ned's mouth drew back in a grin, and the spatula popped from his hand, sailed through the air, and clattered onto El Brujo's desk. El Brujo followed, picked up the spatula unsteadily in her front paws, and began poking at the heap of adobe with it.
I cleared my throat. "My question still remains, El Brujo. What's this spell of yours going to do to Mr. Hyniof?"
"Hard to say." She was drawing little swirls in the clay. "The Incandescent Paradox kicks its target higher up the planes of existence based on how unenlightened he is. The less enlightened you are, the higher you go." She grinned at me. "That's the paradox, y'see. And with Hynny, well, he's such a jerk, he'll prob'ly get booted halfway to the Seventh State of Feline Bliss."
"Gee," I heard Ned say. "That'd be the Third-And-A-Halfth State of Feline Bliss, wouldn't it?"
El Brujo rolled her eyes. "We can only hope." She turned back to the adobe, its shape changing even in places she hadn't touched.
I could only blink at her for a few moments. "But...but wait. I mean, sure, I'm all for enlightenment, but, well, isn't this sorta the wrong way to go about it?"
She waved a paw, the spatula by this time pretty much moving by itself. "Nah. It'll do 'im good. And it'll get 'im outta my fur, which is even better."
I still wasn't sure, but before I could say anything else, the spatula whirled up, did a little flip, and landed back on Ned's desk. "Okay," El Brujo said, rubbing her paws together. "Show time."
"El Brujo..." I began, but her sudden yowl cut me off:
"Yo, Hyniof!" she shouted. "Getcher gelatinoid butt out here! You wanna fire me, you come look me in the eye!"
I whirled in my seat, saw Ned do the same, but the door at the other end of the office stayed closed.
"Hyniof!" El Brujo shouted again. "You don't come out, I don't go!"
The knob turned, and the door pulled open, Mr. Hyniof standing there, his jaw working his eraser, his scowl turning red as I watched.
Something moved at the corner of my eye, and I glanced over to see the whole shaped mass of adobe rise into the air, El Brujo sitting beneath it, her tail wrapped gently around her legs, her eyes fixed on Mr. Hyniof. "Say 'Hi' to my ancestors for me," she said, and with a flick of her ears, the adobe leaped across the room.
It moved so fast, I could barely follow it, and Mr. Hyniof's yellow eyes going wide was the last thing I saw of him before the adobe hit. Light burst so brightly, I could feel it push my eyeballs back, had to raise a hand, the heat like a sudden ray of sunlight through an otherwise cloudy sky.
And then it was gone. I peered out from between my fingers, and everything looked the same, the gray paint of the back wall no more faded than before, the threadbare carpeting unsinged, everything the same...except, of course, the door to Mr. Hyniof's office was open.
I heard a sigh then, and turned to see El Brujo with a wistful sort of expression on her face, something I've never seen on a cat before or since. It was gone quickly, and she bent around to lick at the base of her tail. "That's that," she said, straightening up again and pointing her nose at me. "I guess you're Chaircreature now."
"Me?" I blinked, then waved a hand at Ned. "But Ned's been here longer than I have: shouldn't he--?"
"Oh, no." Ned rustled when he shook his head. "Scarecrows aren't allowed in management. You'll hafta do it till we can get Central Office to send someone else out."
I stared at him, then at El Brujo. She yawned, jumped down from the desk, and a lower drawer popped open, full of her shredded papers. "Just don't bother me, and I won't hafta send you on to nirvana, okay?" She stretched, climbed into the drawer, and it pulled closed over her.
Ned was rustling in his desk. "I've got the forms to request a new Chaircreature right here. Shall I put them in your office?"
"My what?" I shook myself, looked back at the open door, and felt a chill. "No, I don't think I'll, uhh, I mean, I'm only the temporary Charicreature, right?" I reached out. "I'll just...just stay right here, I think."
Ned shrugged and gave me the forms. And, y'know, I don't think I actually set foot in that back office till our new Chaircreature arrived.
Next time, we finally enter the Machine Age--kinda.
To read that next part, Part Eight, click here.
Or you can go back to Part Six by clicking here.
But to return to the Darkling Eclectica Main page, you should click here.