I sat in on one of Inez’s creative writing classes this afternoon. The class began with a ten-minute free-writing exercise, and Inez gave everyone in the class except me the choice of two writing prompts based on story titles of mine (“Moonlight on the Carpet” and “Teaching the Pig to Sing”). Most of the students chose “Moonlight on the Carpet” and most of those who chose to read them out loud produced creepy stories very much like my own of that title. Most of those who chose “Teaching the Pig to Sing” had a story that involved a literal pig, unlike my own.
I also participated, but rather than give me my own titles Inez gave me a choice of two of hers: “Easy A” or “Hecate on Toast.” Here’s what I wrote:
Hecate on Toast
Hecate was on my toast again.
“Why does a Greek god keep appearing on my toast?” I asked her.
The face imprinted on the bread turned to me, dark and light swirls moving impossibly across the warm and crumbly surface. “It is a message from the Fates,” she said. Her voice was warm and buttery, as you’d expect.
“Yes, but what message?”
“I don’t know.” She shrugged, one perfectly-turned shoulder coming briefly into view above the lower crust. “I’m just the messenger. You know how the Fates are.”
“Sadly, yes.” I looked out over the quad, at the smoking hole from last week’s dragon strike. The Fates had decreed that one too, and the administration was still trying to get bids on the repairs. “I wish they’d be a little less capricious, is all I’m saying.”
“It’s in their nature.”
“Yeah, like the scorpion who stung the frog while crossing the river. But the scorpion died! Sometimes obeying your nature is not the best thing to do.”
“He could have waited until he got to the other shore before stinging the frog. Then he would have obeyed his nature and still gotten across the river alive.”
Was this snarky comment a message from the Fates as well? Could it apply to my life in some way? I popped open the calendar on my phone and checked the coming week. I had two exorcisms to perform, a protective spell to cast, and I’d booked out all of Wednesday to freshen up the wards on the girls’ dorm. None of these seemed amenable to obeying, or not obeying, my nature.
Just then a whang echoed across the room. Startled, I looked up to see an albatross — a mighty seabird bigger than a turkey with a ten-foot wingspan, staggering on the windowsill and shaking its beaky head in stunned confusion. “Who put that there?” it said.
A talking albatross was surely another sign from the Fates. I opened the window and let the stunned albatross flop onto the carpet below. “The window? It’s been there for years. Surely there’s some reason — some deep, significant reason closely connected to your ineffable, most secret nature — that you happened to run into it just now?”
“Well… it could have something to do with the fact that I’m an ensorceled sailor.”
I stared, as stunned as any window-smacked albatross. “Leon?”
The albatross stared back. “Oswald?”
“What are the odds!” I cried, and embraced my long-lost brother. His feathers were greasy and he smelled of fish. “Where have you been these past seven years?”
“Oh, you know… hanging out on the waves, snatching fish, ogling the lady albatrosses… the usual. You?”
“I’m in maintenance now.” I gestured out the window. “Every spell on this campus needs constant upkeep, and I’m the guy.”
“Shouldn’t there be a spell to keep low-flying birds from smacking into your classroom windows?”
“Yeah,” said Hecate from the toast. Her voice, still buttery, had gone cold. “Shouldn’t there be?”
Suddenly I realized what had been nagging me for weeks — ever since Hecate had appeared on my toast for the first time. I’d neglected an entire class of protective spell. It was, perhaps, in my nature to do so. What else might be happening because of that?
Just then the skies split open and one of the Fates descended into the quad, its four pairs of wings raising a tremendous wind. “Package for Oswald,” it said, and handed me a lightning-girt parcel.
This wasn’t going to be good.