Later that evening, Pamela occupied herself with a cup of Roganberry tea as Smoggit trekked in from his bedroom. He took a couple paces into the main living area and then stopped, set his hands behind his back, and stood straight and tall not far from her.
“Ms. Gausón!” he said.
She jumped slightly at the forcefulness of his tone.
Her hands trembled slightly as they clutch the teacup.
“I have made an important decision regarding your stay here.”
“And that would be,” she said, leaning in.
“I have decided that is no good for you to go on sleeping in the dirt, as you did last night. It is rude of me to offer my esteemed guest such poor hospitality. In light of this, I would like to trade places.”
“Pardon? I don’t quite understand.”
He gestured back to the bedroom.
“I would be honored if you would sleep in my quarters. I will take the floor, or perhaps I will go outside. I haven’t made my mind up in that regard.”
Her nose crinkled at the thought of it.
“Oh I couldn’t. How could I live with myself knowing that I am enjoying comfort while my teacher is left to the elements.”
He waves his hand dismissively.
“Posh! There’ll be no pulling of rank here, and trust me, you’ll live much better in general after you have gotten a good night’s sleep.”
She paused. The floor had not been the most comfortable of sleeping arrangements. But still…
“If you refuse out of false modesty, I will be most insulted. I hope to inspire a bond of honesty between us. If you want the bed, take it. If you prefer the ground, that is fine too.”
He closed his mouth and did not speak again until she made up her mind. Honestly, the experience was a bit unnerving. Back at the village, the people were very kind, but very afraid of silence. Smoggit seemed to revel in it.
“I-I will take the bed, if that is all right with you.”
He smiled warmly and clapped his hands together.
“Most. Let me show you around.”
She shuffled forward. Once she was within reach, his fingers gently graced her elbow as he lead her past a curtain of beads into Smoggit’s bedroom.
The bedroom, like Smoggit himself, lacked any semblance of pompous grandiosity. It had a bed, a shelf full of books, a dreamcatcher hanging from the ceiling, and clusters of candles and incense. There was a side chamber for the lavatory. No mirror.
The wizard stopped.
“Here it is! Have at it.”
“Have at it?” she said.
“Yes, you have correctly repeated what I said,” he said, and started pointing, “This is the bed, the bookshelves, the candles and incense, and the lavatory. You may explore them as you see fit.”
She scratched her head.
“You mean, you want me to go digging around your stuff?”
“Naturally. I’ve no secrets, and I expect the same from you. But trust is built over time, and it is incumbent upon me as your teacher to be the one to take the first step.”
“I guess that makes sense,” she said.
“Good. I’ll leave you to it, then.”
Before she could get another word in, he was gone, leaving nothing but a rustling of beads in his wake.
She gestured to go back after him, but thought better of it and resigned herself to the bedroom interior.
At first, she just casually glanced about. Admiring it. Taking it all in. But ultimately it was not about reverence, it was about fear and self-doubt. She was afraid to mess things up. She thought, “who am I to be touching the master’s things anyway?” But, still, she reminded herself that he had invited her to dig in. He had taken the initiative, and surely a student would be a fool to reject her master’s kind invitation. So, she slowly, cautiously approached the bookshelf and slid out a well-worn and musty-smelling book. With all the tender sweetness of opening a butterfly’s wings, she opened the book, cracked the binding and began to read.
The secrets of the ages indwelled every word. She could feel a fire in her liver burning bright. Oh, that she were a faster reader, capable of absorbing the entire contents of the book in a single moment!
Her eyes flitted about the page. Her dogmatic caution gave way to exuberant enthusiasm. Flip, flip, flllllll—i-i-i-i-i-p. Of course, haste inevitably gives way to waste. No sooner did she pick up her speed than she began to be too zealous in her page flipping. A lanky finger caught the edge of a page. A tear formed.
Her heart stopped. Her breathing ceased. She looked down in abject terror at the hideous mark she had made. Oh, how she wanted to cry then.
“Don’t worry about it,” said Smoggit.
She looked about. She saw no magician. Only his voice had made itself known. For a minute, she doubted that she was hearing him at all. Perhaps, this was her own self trying to supplant her conscience and assuage her guilt.
Just to be clear, the voice sounded again.
“Please, continue,” he pressed.
And that was all she needed. She had messed up, yes. But that is only natural. A child that makes no mistakes lives out an eternity with stunted growth. She would be no such child. She continued to read.
And read, until her eyes grew tired, until she fell asleep, right then and there, on Smoggit’s floor.
She woke in a graveyard.
A voice she did not know called out to her.
She looked about. All she saw were empty graves, and tombstones all with her name on them.
Her body shook. She stepped back, tripped on a root, and went tumbling down. Now, the tombstones were at eye level. She was a marked woman.
I’m coming for you.
She scooted back, right into a tombstone. It tipped over and fell into the dark and churning mists filling the empty graves. She looked down at the mist. It churned and bubbled in unnatural formations, like a cloud caught up in the the perfect storm.
She was entranced by it, hypnotized.
That is when she felt it: a hand brushing itself against her hair. Her head shot forward and there she saw it: a wingéd, faceless creature with matted fur dangling down from its fawnish body. A goat’s legs and snout, a bat’s eats and wings, crimson eyes full of luster.
You’re mine, it said, without speaking.
Then she woke, Smoggit was there, holding her until she calmed down. When finally she could breath easy, he let go.
“I-I had a dream,” she said.
“I know,” he said.