My Exploding Cat

Just stories and drawings really, no actual fissile felines.

Chapter One

Zoë Maye Heraldson. Informal applicant for Pyrite University under special circumstances. Urgent situation.

Dr. Bern looked listlessly at the piece of sun-yellowed paper. In neat blue ink, it had the number 85 written in the corner, and things were writing themselves on it. Across the room, there was a second desk with a similar piece of paper (but with a different number), and a third down the hall. It was the wizard version of email, and was used not only because it looks cool and reminds those with jobs tedious enough to require it that, yes, they were still using magic, but also because the papers couldn’t be hacked. They also filtered out all untrue messages, as well as the spam that came with any communication device. Of course, numerous senders of exaggerated messages complained to the school that they never received a response, but the complaints were deleted, too.

“Respond,” he spoke aloud to the paper, “to Zoë.” The paper went blank, and, as he spoke, began to write a letter.

“To Miss Zoë Maye Heraldson,” he repeated. The paper wrote that in. Looking pleased that the paper was working without glitches, Dr. Bern continued:

“Thank you for your letter. You have been invited for magical testing at Pyrite University as an informal on the following date.” He rattled off a few numbers, then said, “We hope to see you there.”

Actually, he didn’t hope to see her there. Dr. Bern hated dealing with informals. That was the term the Agency had come up with for the stream of young students who came into Pyrite to learn magic so that nobody had to say the taboo phrase “magic student” around the formals, the normal students, who came for college. If this was like all the other cases, Zoë had no desire to learn anything but flashy hat tricks that would impress boys. The kids always came in, did the little routine with all those rocks and stuff, and then left with someone declaring that the child was just perfect to be a (insert something here). That (insert something here) was always something like “Enchantress!” or “Wizard!” or “Mage!” and always had an exclamation point attached. In Dr. Bern’s view, the children were too easily excitable on their own, and didn’t need to be helped like this.

Pyrite University, Dr. Bern thought, as he sifted through more messages. Whoever came up with that name was a genius. Nothing here is what it seems to be; it’s all fool’s gold… including the job descriptions.

Bern would have loved to be across the room, answering the emails from normal, non-magical students, and shooting down the complaints from parents that their child never deserved detention, no matter what he set off in the girls’ bathroom, and peering over his glasses haughtily at the paper, which usually tried to shriek at whoever was the current Formals Director but didn’t have the voice to do so.

When he’d applied, there were two positions open: the Formals Director and Informals Director. He’d thought that dealing with magic students would be more interesting, and had applied for the position that dealt with them. He was proven wrong. Informals Director was now his job: repeatedly speaking and sending the same email, seeing Non-Urgent and No Magical Experience, filtering them away, and thinking about death.

Then again, the Formals director had to deal with the crazy woman next to him, talking to her iPod and her computer, and singing Weird Al Yankovic songs the entire work day. She was the attendance manager for the entire school, but she’d set up an almost-glitch-free spell to do it for her. The only real thing she had to do, apart from sitting there, was reverse time a few seconds to mend the spell when her computer exploded occasionally. Dr. Bern had gotten used to that pretty quickly.

Inevitably, Zoë, accompanied by her pale parents, showed up for the testing three days later.

“Finally, it’s here,” her father said. “Well, are you ready? I wonder if they expect you to do anything.”

“Isn’t that the point?” the nine-year-old girl said.

“I guess so,” her father replied.

They sat in the normal-looking waiting room for nearly half an hour.

“It doesn’t look like a magic school to me,” Zoë’s mom said.

“That’s because it isn’t. Not all of it, anyway.” Someone had shown up in the door with two grocery bags. They looked heavy. Zoë’s father got up and helped the man in.

The two parents were eyed with disapproval. They both looked about twenty-six years old, and were being followed by a nine-year-old girl who was their daughter. This was a signal to the man that magical abilities might not be the only reason the pair wanted to hand their child over to a boarding school. But he was more optimistic than Dr. Bern, and he shook off that thought. Anyway, if they didn’t want or couldn’t afford Zoë, why had they kept her the nine years? It was also obvious that the pair were married like a respectable couple.

“Oh, thank God you’re here,” the father said. “Maybe we can figure out now what’s going on.”

The girl, Zoë, glanced at him, then started flicking her hair around, playing with it, and looking back at the school staff member, obviously at ease.

“Hello. I’m Mike. Are you having problems of some sort?” he said, putting down his bag. It fell onto its side, and the strange thing was that all that spilled out were rocks.

“Er, yes,” the mother said, glancing at the bag but deciding to turn back to the man, who was fumbling with the other bag and setting up a tripod and a camera to tape the room, as if it were all routine. Of course, it was, but Zoë’s parents didn’t know that.

What sort?” Mike asked, messing around with the camera’s position.

“What do you mean, what sort?”

“You said you were having problems of some sort. What sort?”

“Magical, I think. Like… um, that doughnut thing.”

“Oh, yeah,” Zoë said. She remembered it perfectly clearly. Her mother had left the window open, when Zoë was littler. She’d just been playing in bed, singing to her stuffed animals, and then she decided to go out and get some snacks at the gas station. So she did. The doughnuts were never noticed, but that wasn’t what worried Zoë’s parents. What worried her parents was that at the time, every door in that house that led outside had been locked.

Zoë’s mother recounted the events slowly, with the help of her husband, and Mike questioned them further for a while. But then the mother started crying, saying that her daughter was otherwise a perfectly normal kid; she fit in well, didn’t cause a lot of trouble, and had rarely done anything wrong on purpose.

Zoë herself wasn’t sure of what to make of this. She was starting to wonder if her mellowness was causing her mother to cry, if she should say something. She was a normal kid; that much was true. Zoë had brown eyes, brown hair, a specific liking to the color blue, and occasional outbursts of random events that for some reason, her mother called magic. Now she was here, early in the morning, with a weird man named Mike, a pair of sobbing parents, and a whole bag full of rocks. It was not set up to be a good day.

Mike was torn between saying, “Er, sorry, but we need to get on with this,” and comforting the emotional woman, who was an inch from sprawling out on her husband’s lap.

Zoë pointed to the bag of rocks, then to herself, giving Mike a questioning look. Mike nodded furtively, while the mother was rubbing her eyes. He motioned to her again, and she picked one up. It certainly felt like a rock. She bounced it between her palms, tossing it back and forth. It was gritty, and shed sand everywhere. The only unusual thing it was doing was disintegrating, so Zoë put it down quickly. Glancing back, she realized she’d gotten her mother’s attention.

Tentatively, she picked up another rock. It was cool to the touch, and smooth. It did nothing, so she put it down too and wondered if she was doing the right thing.

“Try this one,” Mike said. “A lot of people get that.” Zoë took it, but it didn’t do anything either, and she wondered if she was welcome and whether she was in the right place. The empty room suddenly felt a lot more unfriendly.

There were a lot of rocks to go through, so it took a while. Zoë had just gotten into the groove of it and was humming a little tune when one of the rocks suddenly started to float on her palm. She stopped humming to stare at it. It fell. Then she started the tune again, louder, and it rose higher. Then she hummed even more loudly, and the rock exploded into dozens of fragments, wedging itself into the cork bulletin boards across the room. Mike defended himself with a seat cushion, and shards barely missed Zoë. A pebble fell into her mother’s lap. Zoë scooted quickly away from all the stones.

Mark frowned. “I’ve never seen that before. Try this one again.” He handed her the second stone she’d picked up, the one that had felt cold.

She started humming a different tune, a Christmas carol this time, and it turned into water that slipped out of her hands and wet her jeans. She hummed the first song, and it rose into the air and out of her clothing. She moved away and let it fall onto the floor. It turned back into a rock immediately when she dropped it, gathering itself together in midair.

“Dang, this is weird,” Mike said.

You betcha, Zoë thought.

This entry was posted on Thursday, January 20th, 2011 at 3:41 pm and is filed under Zoe. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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