Call and Response
The test had begun. The professor had drawn a clock on the chalkboard which had an animation spell cast on it. The hands of the clock dutifully counted down the seconds with a noise that sounded like it was supposed to replicate authentic ticking, but more resembled the sound of dashes of nails on slate. The other students were busy applying ink to their feather quilled pens and making the appropriate gestures and incantations to have them write their thoughts for them onto the parchment.
Nigel gazed at the words forming on his test booklet. They looked like a swarm of bees materializing into letters, but still made no more sense to him. He hated wizarding school.
Magic was just not practical. The desks had all been widened last year after the freshmen had begun to put on extra pounds due to learning the skills necessary to avoid carrying out any physical action on their own. All around him, his class mates' chins warbled with worry over their exams. It was a well known fact that the more weight a wizard put on, the greater their spell power. Obesity was a thing of beauty and envy.
Not to Nigel.
He longed to go on long walks and buy groceries that had actually been hand grown. He wanted to carry them home in their plastic bags and then concoct them into various recipes – by hand. It wasn't like this sort of thing was outlawed where he was from. Such shops just didn't exist anymore now that people could materialize any food item that they wanted to with a wave of the hand. The only way he'd found out about the organic versions was from an old flier from some place called Walmart that had drifted under his bedroom door one evening. He wasn't sure if it was a relic of some time long past or if it was from an exotic land that still existed.
It advertised not only hand grown apples, oranges, and blueberries but also bologna and cheese and sweaters and puzzles and paper towel. He still wasn't sure what the paper towel was for. In History, he'd learned that towels had been used to dry the body after cleaning oneself in a shower. He didn't think that paper would quite do the job. But he longed to find out.
It delighted him to think that such a world might still exist.
In a moment, it became clear to him. He would go home and find the address to this place called “Walmart”. If it still existed, he would submit an application to begin an apprenticeship there. Surely they would be able to give him directions out of this horrid place and into real authentic society. Surely they would sympathize.
He hastily scribbled the answers on to his exam page – by hand – and handed it in on the Professor's desk. He didn't much care if he was right or wrong. There was only one objective on his mind now. He had to escape and work at Walmart.
He arrived home out of breath and flushed. The other students opted to ride their brooms from each place, but he knew that he needed to be in peak physical condition if the people of Walmart accepted him. If the journeymen there were used to doing everything on foot and by hand, they'd scoff at his inability to keep up. He'd have to start his training early if he was going to succeed.
The flier was still on top of his night shelf. However, try as he might to find an address to send a letter to, he quickly found that it didn't exist. It was infuriating. He briefly wondered if one of his class mates had made up the advertisement just to get his hopes up. Page after page he scanned until finally, he found a phone number to inquire about the deals of the week.
It would have to do.
He muttered some words under his breath and steepled his hands to recreate the figure of the cell phone he'd seen in his textbook. His professor had warned the entire class not to ever attempt fashioning such a device due to the chance of radiation damage to their brains. However, desperate times called for desperate measures. This was his only way out.
He punched in the numbers and held the phone up to his ear.
A funny ringing sound came through the 'hearing part' of the phone. Had he done it right?
Suddenly, his bedroom door bashed open. His room mate was home. “Nigel, you finished fast. You think you did okay?” Simon threw his broomstick into the corner of the bedroom and collapsed on the bed. “I'm terrified that I didn't get at least a 65. Veterinarian Wizardry jobs are few and far between. You really need to be top notch to – wait. What the hell are you doing? Are you trying to kill yourself? That's not a cell phone. Please tell me that is not a cell phone.”
A woman's voice sounded at the end of the line. “You've reached Walmart Downtown Eastside where satisfaction is guaranteed! How can I help you?”
Nigel was breathless. This was his chance of escape. “Hi. I'm calling to see if you're hiring.”
Simon stared at him, eyes bugging out of his multiple chinned face. He probably would get the veterinarian position. He was a very powerful wizard-in-the-making. But this life wasn't the one for Nigel. He wanted to work with his hands and live an honest life. He wanted something practical and real.
“I'm not sure if we're hiring right now. That's not really my department. We actually do all of our applications online on our website, walmart.ca. If you sign on to your computer, you can find the link at the bottom of the page.”
This was all gibberish. Nigel wasn't sure how to respond. “I don't have a computer.”
“Thank God,” Simon muttered. “We could be expelled if they found the cell phone, let alone one of those demons. Maybe they'd let us off easy if we claimed we were depressed and trying to fry our own brains.”
Nigel shushed him.
“Do you have an address that I could send my application to? Is there someone I could talk to maybe? Someone who might have an idea if there are any open positions?”
“Who are you even talking to?” Simon hissed. “If you get a vet wiz job before I do, I might strangle you in your sleep. Especially if you do it with one of those.” He glared at the offending cell phone in Nigel's hand. “Though it'll probably kill you before I'd get the chance.”
“That's not really the way we do things here,” the woman on the phone sighed. “I don't really know what to suggest other than coming in on Monday to Friday between 9:00 am – 5:00 pm. That's when Judy's around and she'd be able to give you much better advice. Oh wait! Have you tried the library? They have computers there that you could use.”
“Not the ones here,” mourned Nigel into the speaking-part of the phone.
“What are your skills? Maybe I could just write down your name and some basic information and pass it along,” the woman offered.
Nigel racked his brain trying to think of skills that might impress someone with so much practical knowledge. “I'm good on my feet. I don't use my broomstick at all. Hardly ever. I tried to grow some carrots last spring, but I don't think I made the seeds right. Nothing came up but termites. I haven't lost hope yet though. I think my pumpkins are going to do way better. Also, I'm really good with paper towels.” This last part was a downright lie, but he'd heard that it was expected that you embellish a few things on your resume. Judging from the center fold of the paper towel placed in the advertisement, he thought they probably placed a lot of importance on paper towel knowledge over at Walmart.
“Riight,” the woman said. “Okay. Well. Thank you so much for calling. I'll pass this along.”
“Wait. You need my name. It's Nigel. Nigel Flowers. And my phone number is.. “
She hung up before he realized that he didn't have a phone number to even be reached at.
Simon threw his hands up in the air in exasperation. “What the hell was that?”
Nigel was already packing his bag with clothes. “I need to get out of here. Do you ever think about how sad this is? After we graduate, we'll never have to put an ounce of work into a physical action ever again aside from waggling our fingertips. Does that not depress you?”
Simon stared at him with vacant eyes. He brushed a piece of lint off of his cordoroy jacket. “No, Nigel. It doesn't.”
“Well it depresses me. I want to end each day tired and exhausted and proud of my work. I want to live a more authentic life. I'm going to Walmart. I don't know where it is or if I'll ever get there. I guess I'll have to call back. But in case you never see me again, you should probably know that I went to a better place where I think I'll be happy.”