The Wizard’s Cat
Part Two of Three
by Rose Guildenstern
How can Papa be missing? I saw him just four days ago eating cheese on toast at breakfast. Besides, Nana would have known if he’d gone missing, for sure.
“He’s not missing, he’s here. I’ll take you to him.” I motion for them to follow, and trudge up the stairs to find Nana in the kitchen.
Nana’s kitchen has so many odors in it that the nose goes numb and runs in mortal terror. This morning she seems to be boiling another pot of what she calls “med’cine,” but which Papa contends is simply a highly-spiced version of chicken noodle soup. Nana believes that “erbs” are the secret to longevity and touching your toes at ninety, so it seems that everything she cooks has a least a hundred of them in it. Papa told me that one of those religious guru-types who prided himself on being able to taste three hundred distinct flavors in a cup of tea, once sampled a bowl of Nana’s med’cine and quit in disgust after 3,007. Mind you, it wouldn’t be so bad if it was like sipping a glass of wine or hot coffee, with all those hoity-toity berry, chocolate, and oak flavors and all, but Nana’s med’cine generally has nasty aftertastes like eye of newt and pellet of squirrel.
The only thing missing from Nana’s kitchen today is Nana herself.
That’s odd. Nana would never leave a pot boiling unattended without ordering someone to watch it. It’s her own peculiar brand of torture, if you ask me, since the more you watch her pot, the less it boils.
I turn off the stovetop so Nana’s med’cine doesn’t boil over.
Ferocious, at least, lies dozing in a patch of sunlight on the kitchen floor. “Where’s Nana?” I ask Ferocious, leaning down to scratch her behind the ears.
The cat opens one amber eye in disdain, ready to chastise me for disturbing her majesty’s nap time, when she spies the gnome and cockroach just behind me.
She jumps up with the most terrific caterwaul, and pounces, only to claw at empty air.
Mud and Dog have vanished.
Ferocious seems beside herself. Her head darts in every direction until, when she realizes I have been observing her feline failure the entire time, she relaxes into a definitively disinterested stance and casually mews at me as though to say, “Oh, so you’re here, are you?”
Since I have no idea where Mud and Dog—or Nana for that matter—have gone, I decide to climb the winding staircase to Papa’s study in the attic, then knock on the door.
Even though I’ve been instructed never to do so, I turn the knob and walk in, fully expecting a spell of freezing to stop me in my tracks.
Papa’s study is empty.
And I mean totally empty. It’s not just Papa who’s missing, but his entire library, all his magical tools, and even his desk. Only his second-best wand lies discarded in the middle of the hardwood floor.
Ferocious strolls in and sniffs the abandoned wand.
Now, you may well wonder why I’m not freaking out. I mean, if your parents were suddenly gone, you’d probably get help from another adult or at least break down and have a good cry. But you see, Nana and I are used to not being able to find Papa, who often forgets to tell us he’s going to be busy for a few days saving the world again.
It’s actually Nana’s absence that has me the most concerned. She sometimes travels to local towns for witchy gatherings or to deliver babies and such, but she and Papa have never left me alone at the same time before.
Well, I am thirteen. Maybe they’ve decided I’m finally old enough to take care of myself.
“Do you know where Papa is, Ferocious?”
Ferocious growls and brings me the wand in her mouth. Okay, maybe I’m not entirely alone. I mean, they’ve left Ferocious to make sure I don’t get into too much trouble.
As I take the wand from Ferocious, I hear Mud’s bass voice say, “This must be the White Wizard’s laboratory.”
I look down to see Mud and Dog gazing up at me, eager expressions on their little faces.
“How did you know he was gone?”
“He was speaking to my mother via crystal ball when he instructed her to send me to find you if he disappeared, and then he disappeared.”
Sounds a bit fishy, if you ask me. Something Papa might do for one of those unorthodox lessons he’s always trying to teach me. “So, your mother, the queen of the gnomes, sent you to find me?”
“Yes, Queen Water.”
I couldn’t stop myself. “So…Dirt and Water made Mud?”
He didn’t smile. If anything, Mud’s eyes went a bit shale. He must have heard that one before.
He cleared this throat and counted to ten. Literally, out loud. Then he answered, “I will forgive your insult. You obviously have no knowledge of my people and our ways.”
Come to think of it, I don’t know anything about gnomes. Which is surprising, since I thought I’d received the best education in the world from Papa.
“If you don’t mind me asking, can all gnomes disappear and reappear at will, or is that your own particular gift?”
“The kingdom of the gnomes is everywhere. Earth belongs to every species, despite humanity’s bigheaded belief that land should be divvied up into small plots and ‘owned.’ Over time, big people convinced themselves that gnomes don’t exist, rather than admit gnomes share equal right to what they consider their land. Therefore, my people pass among the big people all the time unnoticed.”
“O-o-o-ka-a-ay, I acknowledge your world view. But Ferocious and I saw you, and then we didn’t. How do you explain that?”
“I manipulated the facts using your own biases.”
My mind reeled. “What? How can you manipulate a cat’s biases?”
“Cat’s are perhaps the easiest to manipulate, because of their predatory nature.”
“But I knew you were there.”
Mud rolled his eyes as though speaking to a rather slow toddler. “I used your false belief that your ‘Nana’ was not in the kitchen to hide myself.”
“You hid behind my false belief?”
Mud thrusts out his chest as he raises his chin high. “The more lies a person believes, the easier it is to conceal oneself from that person.”
Wrinkling my snub nose, I ask, “Is this some fancy kind of magic I’ve never heard of before?”
“If you define ‘magic’ as something that someone else can do that you can’t explain or reproduce yourself—then yes.”
“So, by your definition, we only call what The White Wizard does ‘magic’ because we all don’t know how he does it and cannot do it ourselves?”
That’s when I realize that Mud called my belief that Nana was not in the kitchen “false.”
“Are you saying that Nana is still in the kitchen?”
With a gleam in his eye, Mud answers, “You’re actually quite smart—for a big person.”
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