My Exploding Cat

Just stories and drawings really, no actual fissile felines.

Chapter Five

The dormitories looked like any dormitories Zoë had seen in movies, except that hers might have been less cluttered, because the only other person there was a music-obsessed Water Anoki girl at the far end of the room. Zoë looked around the room where Wyrnen dropped her off. There was a teensy kitchen with one of those camper stoves and a refrigerator, and the obligatory black banana on the counter sitting by a Twinkie wrapper and a can of Cheese Whiz.

Zoë explored more. There were bunk beds, one covered in CD cases and the Anoki with a laptop and an iPod, listening to The White Stripes on the highest volume. Her wings were spread out across the sheets. She didn’t notice Zoë at all.

Zoë decided to postpone pointing out her existence to the Anoki, giving her more time to watch the girl, who had eyes only for a YouTube screen, and continued her search for the bathrooms, which were down the hall and unusually clean, with a distinct lack of magical creatures except for those who were duly enrolled.

Coming out from the bathroom, Zoë ran into a teacher.

“Are you new?” he asked. “I don’t think I’ve seen you before. Who’s your teacher?”

“Professor Wyrnen,” Zoë said. The teacher smiled, but his face had gone pale.

“Then you are new,” he said. “Do you… er, know any magic yet?”

“I think so,” she said, “but I don’t know how to use it right now.”

The teacher visibly relaxed. “Does your bed have any sheets or anything?”

“My mom packed a sleeping bag for me,” she said, unsure. She hadn’t checked her own bed yet.

“We have normal sheets, you know,” he said. “What’s your favorite color?”

“Blue,” she said. The teacher retrieved a rod from a sheath on his belt and laid one hand on it while muttering something, and a dimension opened. Zoë began to think that she wouldn’t find a normal broom closet anywhere in this school, which was bad if she ever had to hide from someone.

The teacher came back with a pile of crisp, white sheets and tapped them with the rod. The sheets rippled and turned blue, and he handed the pile to Zoë without another word, after which he closed the dimension quickly, muttered a farewell and hurried away.

For a magic school, these people seem a little wary about magic users—magic wielders, Zoë thought. Magic wielders. That was what Daniel had called them, at some point in their conversation. She made her way back to her dormitory, under the pile of sheets.

The teacher had given her three different sets of sheets, each a different shade of blue. One set was the very same blue as Professor Wyrnen’s eyes. Zoë hid it under the bed quickly. That was a face she didn’t care to remember at the moment.

Zoë would have taken the bunk above the Anoki, but it was covered in what beds were usually supposed to be covered in, with sheets and a blanket, and the bottom bunk had apparently become a school desk. Zoë climbed up the other bunk bed with a set of pale blue sheets, and began to set up the bed.

“Hey, do you want me to help you with that?” the Anoki girl asked. She’d taken an earbud out and paused her video, and was starting to get up. Zoë, standing on the frame of the bed, took in her ripped jeans, black shirt, and heavy silver jewelry. She didn’t look that much like a mythical creature, just a magic student who happened to have wings. Daniel’s description of a delicate, fairylike creature, trigger-happy or not, didn’t seem so accurate now.

The Anoki girl took a few quick steps and flew up to Zoë.

“Here, move onto the ladder for a few seconds,” she said, and made the bed from the air.

“Thanks,” Zoë said.

“I’m Jen,” the Anoki said.

“Zoë,” Zoë said.

“Zoë’s a cool name. You’re lucky,” Jen said. “My parents named me Jeanette, but I hate that. It sounds like I’m named after a pair of pants. At least they didn’t give me one of the traditional Anoki names, like Kaiena or Lisanti, because those are harder to shorten out.”

Zoë, deciding not to be fazed by this, said, “Mine weren’t thinking about how hard it is to get a computer to type an accent mark every five minutes.”

“I can program a computer to do the accent thing,” Jen said.

“How old are you?” Zoë asked.

“Seventeen. Et toi?”

“Nine.”

Jen landed neatly on the floor and looked for a way to get into the lower bunk. “I’m going to need to clean this stuff up soon,” she said. She turned to Zoë. “You’re gonna need a couple things to survive around here.”

“Like what?” Zoë asked.

“Well, first, you need to lose the pink jeans,” Jen said, looping her hair into a ponytail and reaching for another hairband. “I can do your hair,” she added, wadding her own hair up and securing it into a messy bun with the second hairband.

The prospect of Jen doing her hair made Zoë a little nervous, since Jen’s brown hair was streaked with orange and purple, even though it looked good on her and was a sign that she’d been through quite a lot of hairstyles and knew which worked.

“I’m going grocery shopping today,” she continued, walking into the kitchen and sweeping the banana and Twinkie wrapper into a trash can. Zoë followed her. Jen tied up the bag and walked over to the door to set it down. “You can come with me if you don’t have classes yet. That reminds me: if you get to choose your class times, let me come with you so I can manipulate your schedule so that I can score you a free day, preferably the same one I have. Who’s your teacher?”

“Professor Wyrnen,” Zoë said. Jen dropped the trash bag and bit her lip.

“I don’t know his schedule,” she said, “but I’ve heard he’s a real piece of work, thought he’s flexible. I bet most of the class is based off of controlling the magic, not using it. Are you really a Star magician?” she asked, her eyes sparkling.

“I don’t know,” Zoë admitted. “I might be.” She told Jen about the rock test. Jen swore, biting her lip again and frowning.

“That doesn’t sound like Star magic to me,” she said. “Did you know what the spell was going to do before you did it?”

“No,” Zoë said.

“That’s dangerous,” Jen said. “Really dangerous. No wonder they put you with Wyrnen. I advise that you don’t do magic very much when he’s not around, at least until you can control it. If you don’t know what you’re doing, you could kill yourself or someone else.”

“Gotcha,” Zoë said. She noted that Jen hadn’t told her to be careful, just to make sure that Wyrnen was around.

Jen walked back into her area, rummaging around until she found a toy safe. She punched in four numbers on the plastic top and pressed a button, and the safe popped open to reveal a money jar. Jen counted out some money and put it in her back pocket before closing the safe again and coming back into the entry room to slip on her purple flip-flops.

Zoë searched through her backpack in search of the same thing, and found a hundred dollars, in fives, stuck in the side pocket.

Zoë wasn’t sure how, but she’d made friends with a girl almost twice her age. She didn’t think that being roommates usually made people automatically friends, but she was starting to like Jen more and more.

The pair found their way down the elevator and out the front doors. Some of the formal students asked about Zoë—they didn’t normally see younger kids around the university—but Jen just claimed that Zoë was her niece, who just happened to move into the area recently, and who she’d agreed to babysit on Tuesdays. Zoë thought that this was a really clever lie, since it disarmed any future questions.

“Which car is yours?” Zoë asked, when they were out in the parking lot.

“The black Prius,” Jen said, pointing vaguely to the back of the lot. Jen pulled Zoë toward the tree-lined gardens surrounding the parking lot.

“But your car’s in the other direction,” protested Zoë.

Jen responded only by grabbing her around the waist and getting a running start to a takeoff, covering the ground in about sixty seconds where it might have taken them several minutes while walking.

“Oh, how I hate this car,” Jen muttered, as she opened the door into a hot mess. There were blankets over all the seats, and the back seat was a jumble of music cases, Cracker Jack packages, and the occasional random computer part or piece of clothing. She opened the passenger door for Zoë.

“It has air bags,” Zoë pointed out.

Jen pointed at the car’s dashboard and said, “Hide.” If Zoë had known more about the rules of magic, she might have asked why Jen wasn’t carrying a wand. If she’d known a lot more about the rules of magic, she wouldn’t have had to, because she’d know that an Anoki conducts magical power through a yarn ring that doesn’t come off the Anoki’s hand unless they’re about to die. When it does come off, they have no magic, and they do die—immediately.

“What?” Zoë said.

“It’s fine,” Jen said. “The air bag is in my locker now. That’s how you hide a cell phone around here in the middle of class, but you can’t do that with Wyrnen because a Star magician will know when someone’s doing magic.”

“I can’t do that,” Zoë said. “I mean, knowing when magic’s being done.”

“It’s a knack, I’ve heard,” Jen said. “But if you are a Star magician… Anoki have the highest respect for them. Wyrnen has only one student, and nobody knows him very well. His name’s Arthur. I’ve only seen him once or twice. Je pense qu’il est assez beau…” Jen stopped there. She hadn’t meant to say that.

“What did you say?” Zoë asked, confused.

“Oh—huh?” Jen asked, looking up. “Was I speaking French again?”

“Yeah. What’s that about?”

“I tried to cheat my way through a French class by memorizing the textbook with magic,” she explained, looking sheepish but relieved that Zoë couldn’t understand her. “But now, if I don’t think my words through thoroughly, they come out in French instead of English. I’m equally fluent in both languages, so I don’t notice when I switch. It’s been a real drawback, but the plus side is that the French teacher is fluent and doesn’t notice, either.”

Zoë didn’t ask any more questions as Jen grudgingly started up the hated Prius and the car waddled its way out of the parking lot of Pyrite University.

This entry was posted on Saturday, April 9th, 2011 at 7:08 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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