How Not to Acquire a Familiar (ebook)

Friday Fictionette for January 25, 2019. Download via attached links as pdf, epub, and/or mobi. Also available as an audiobook.

Now the Fictionette Freebie for January 2019!

"Anyway, I explicitly told you not to try to raise the dead."


Imagine if every cartoon trope were reenacted in live action, with all the implications thereof. Moody teenagers being followed around by personal storm clouds and being told off by their parents for raining on the carpet. Blissed out dogs actually floating in pursuit of good smells and bumping against obstacles on their way toward the kitchen. The eyes of the dying turning into creepy cross-stitched Xs at the moment of death.

You know what? Maybe let’s not explore that last one. Or at least not in this particular story.

How Not to Acquire a Familiar
by Nicole J. LeBoeuf

Jib was the magician’s apprentice, the first that Old Griffin had taken on in more than twenty years. She’d seen unusual promise in him, and the mark of destiny’s finger. It was therefore essential that Jib begin his training right away. More, he must be installed in the magician’s tower without delay. His potential was so great, his control of his powers so tenuous, that constant supervision would be required to prevent further... incident.

So it was perhaps understandable that Jib was confused, and also bitterly disappointed, when after a year of training Old Griffin sent him to work at the butcher’s.

“It’s important for every magician, despite their airy work, to remember they walk on solid ground and deal with things of the flesh. I can think of no fleshier an occupation for you to learn than butchery. Besides, I owe Mam Turnpek a favor, and she needs an assistant right now.”

“But isn’t that dangerous? I mean, what happened to constant supervision in case of accidents?”

Old Griffin allowed herself a small smirk. She wasn’t fooled by Jib’s performance of humility. Those accidents caused by his untrained magical talent had left him both frightened and ashamed, not to mention spooking his parents. Old Griffin wasn’t sure how many incidents they’d endured. The last straw, the crisis that finally moved them to appeal to her for help, was when Jib put on a play for his youngest sister using her collection of dolls and accidentally brought them to life. Electricity sparked from head to plastic head, making their sheep’s-wool hair straighten and stand up in dandelion clocks around their staring faces. “She’s going to have nightmares for weeks about what those dolls said to her,” Mrs. Rexxors had said. “You have to do something.” The relief that emanated from their frames as she walked away from the house with Jib in tow was almost as obvious as the living doll’s lightning crowns; in much the same way, it changed the taste of the air. Old Griffin hoped fervently that her new apprentice hadn’t noticed.

In any case, she knew Jib wouldn’t bring up those accidents deliberately except with ulterior motive. He was looking for an argument more persuasive than “But learning magic is so much more exciting than dressing pig carcasses” and less arrogant than “Wouldn’t our time be better spent honing my not-inconsiderable abilities and preparing me for my heroic destiny?”

Nevertheless, Old Griffin took him at his word, or at least pretended to. “You worry too much. Trust your teacher a little, will you? After the training you’ve had so far, I don’t think we need to worry too much about accidents. I’m more concerned about your on-purposes. So watch it.” That sudden edge in her voice erased Jib’s too-earnest expression and replaced it with one Old Griffin could only describe, with smug satisfaction, as Busted. In a more reassuring tone, she continued, “But if you do what Mam Turnpek says, you’ll be fine. And you’ll learn a trade. That always comes in handy.”

Jib scowled. “And what trade did you learn during your apprenticeship?”

“You mean trades, hon. Plural. Let’s see...” She held up a hand and began ticking off each listed trade on her fingers. “Spinning, weaving, horse training and breeding, web design, data analysis, large-scale commercial landscaping, and, oh, yes, auto repair. All skills I’ve put to good use over the years, never you doubt it.”

“All that?” The boy’s eyes had gone wide during her recitation. “When did you find the time?”

Old Griffin held up both her hands, the better to remind Jib how bird-claw thin her fingers were, how the veins stood out along them like circuitry. “I’m old, kid. I’ve had plenty of time. Now scoot. Mam Turnpek’s waiting.”

The next few weeks passed swiftly and without event. Jib took to his new trade well enough; Mam Turnpek occasionally sent reports home with the choice steaks and cutlets that passed for payment. All positive reports, of course: Jib was an apt student and an able helper, and if his attitude were less than positive, well, you know what young boys are like. Old Griffin wasn’t sure about that; she was old enough to wonder, what with Jib sharing her tower and all, whether she’d ever truly been that young. In any case, Mam Turnpek wasn’t seeing what Old Griffin was seeing. She wasn’t watching Jib leave the tower in a sullen funk, resentful of yet another day stolen from his sorcerous tuition. She mistook his excitement at the close of business—finally! Time to ditch this busywork, go back to the tower, and learn more about magic!—for the jubilation common to every working body at having finished its toil for the day. She wasn’t on hand to hear Jib complain about how brief the evening lessons were, how little ground they covered.

So when the accident happened, Old Griffin didn’t share Mam Turnpek’s shock and horror. Jib was bored out of his skull with mundane labor; of course he’d begin sneaking some spell practice in at the butcher block. She was only surprised it hadn’t happened sooner.

She arrived to a scene of chaos, which took the form of dogs—big ones, small ones, black white and brown ones—all floating in midair, whimpering, tongues lolling, and eyes hopeful, and noses exceedingly a-quiver at the smell in the place.

It was not a good smell. It may have started out good, but between the smoker and Old Griffin’s nose it had definitely found something nasty to roll in, something dead and putrefying. But to hear the dogs howl, you’d think it was heaven done to a turn and about to come out the oven.

“I had Jib put the lamb in the smoker, like always,” said Mam Turnpek, “and maybe three hours later it started smelling rotten, and the first mongrel came howling at the door. I came out to shoo it away, and there it was, levitating. So I said to myself, ‘That’s magic, that is, and who’ve I got in the place but a magician’s apprentice?’”

As she spoke, yet another dog came drifting up to the door. This one was a cocker spaniel. “Jib,” called Old Griffin, “quit hiding in the freezer and tell me about it.”

Jib came out shivering and told her. He’d only been experimenting with practical applications of recent lessons. And Old Griffin had said he didn’t need supervision any more—

“I said you didn’t need constant supervision. Didn’t say you should cast any spells without supervision, did I? Anyway, I explicitly told you not to try to raise the dead.”

Mam Turnpek looked from magician to apprentice and back. “You taught him how to raise the dead?”

Old Griffin rolled her eyes. “I taught him how to animate inanimate objects. He’s the one who brought up resurrection.”

“But it shouldn’t have been a problem,” Jib protested. “I don’t get it. Dead body’s just another inanimate object.”

“I told you, animating an object causes it to age faster. Safe enough when it’s wooden dolls or cleaning tools. But a corpse?” Old Griffin shook her head. “Then you added unpredictable factors to the mix. Of course you got unpredictable results.” She waved around them to indicate the drooling, levitating dogs. “What did you want with a resurrected lamb, anyway?

“I wanted it to be my familiar.” Jib was genuinely shamefaced now. “I figured, if I raised it from the dead, it would be grateful, and loyal, and wouldn’t ever want to leave me.”

Old Griffin clapped a hand to her face and let it slide down her nose and chin. Again she tasted the electric relief of his parents as she relieved them of their disaster-prone son. “Your motivations are questionable, apprentice mine. Well, let’s see if we can fix this mess. Go turn off the smoker, take out what remains of the lamb, and cut it up for the dogs.” She saw Jib’s expression of distaste and chuckled. “Yes, I know. It stinks. It’ll stink worse when you’re actually handling it. But it’s the hand that made the mess that’s going to clean it up, so get cracking.”

Jib grumbled, but he did his duty. He hand-fed each floating canine a noisome morsel of ruined lamb; as each dog swallowed its questionable treat, it drifted down to settle on the floor or sidewalk and trotted away, pleased with its afternoon adventure. But the cocker spaniel stayed. It followed Jib around as he freed the other dogs from the spell, and it followed Jib around as he cleaned the cutting block and mopped the floor. No matter how many times Jib told it to shoo, it stayed by his heels, wagging its tail and watching him with adoring eyes.

“Well,” said Old Griffin, “looks like you got your familiar after all.”

Text © 2019 Nicole J. LeBoeuf – All Rights Reserved
Cover art incorporates and modifies “
floating dog” by Flickr user Jeremiah (CC BY 2.0)

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