Fantasy Fiction posted December 24, 2018


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A Magical Apprenticeship Application

by Y. M. Roger


This is such a bad idea, Tony,” I warned as he paid for the fourth strand of Christmas lights this week.
 
“Told you, I don’t have bad ideas.”
 
Says the guy who can’t even read. But I bit my tongue on that retort – Tony was my best friend in the world. No, scratch that. My best friend in the whole universe, but he really was kinda slow sometimes. Like, now, when he had us buying lights to put on a house in the middle of the night so the owner wouldn’t know. Sigh. Yet another Crazy-tonio idea.
 
“And they’re the right kind, yeah? The kind that have a boy-part on one end and a girl-part on the other? Nothing else, right?”
 
I removed the package from the bag as we walked out of the store. I pointed to the words that I knew Tony couldn’t read, but I always tried, hoping that one day some recognition would happen.
 
“See, O Crazy-tonio of the Christmas Lights? It says ‘Series’ right here.”
 
Tony smiled contentedly and nodded. I knew he hadn’t even tried to read the words; he just trusted me. Completely.
 
“And they’re twinkly, right?” Tony used fingers curling rapidly so they all danced independently as illustration, squinting his eyes as he spoke, “Not the blinky, annoying kind, yeah?” This time, he opened and closed his hands rapidly next to his face with his eyes wide. God, I loved this guy!
 
“Of course, Crazy-tonio - twinkly not blinky.”
 
A smile engulfed his entire face, and he hummed to himself as we headed home.
 
“Great! Then we’ll add this strand tonight after Dragonsland is over.”
 
Ahhh, yes, Tony and his fantasy worlds. Tony knew more about creatures that didn’t exist than he knew about the English language. Oh, and the ‘add this strand’ meant that we would be sneaking out of our respective homes tonight and making our way down the block to Old Man Murphy’s house (Old Murph, for short), the most deserted-looking place in our neighborhood. There, we would climb up in the dark and connect this strand to the three already in place.
 
It was crazy, but Tony insisted it had to be done. And, as the nerdiest nerd of pretty much the entire town, I just went along with any kind of excitement Tony could dream up. Believe me, I was never without adventure. Ever.
 
So, why were we putting Christmas lights on a man’s house that did not ask us to and, for all we knew, might not want us to? Well, the answer was the NCLC.
 
Now, neither we nor any of our neighbors had a lot of money, but Old Murph’s house looked like nobody lived in it. The bushes were over-growing the front porch, and the large trees on either side of the house had grown so that it looked like a pair of hands trying to hide the lonely structure from sight. Everyone was pretty sure that the green stuff all over the roof was moss, not paint. Funny thing, though, the moss was a nice complement to the flowering vines that had begun growing out of the clogged gutters. As I said: like nobody lived there.
 
In general, we knew it was Old Murph’s property, and he could do whatever he wanted with it; I mean, it’s a free country, right? The catch was that our City Council (with a few car dealerships to get their name in lights) sponsored the Neighborhood Christmas Lights Contest or NCLC. But, in order for your neighborhood to be considered, every house had to participate. That meant that our neighborhood was never considered because of Old Murph’s place – he would rarely come out of his house much less take the time to decorate it for the holidays. In fact, none of us could recall ever having seen a Christmas Tree in his front window.
 
But Tony had noticed something this year that none of the rest of us had: Old Murph never cut his grass, yet it was lush and green and just the right height all year ‘round. Naturally, Tony said the grass thing made Old Murph special, and, because he was special, he just needed some help finding his magic again…whatever that meant. Since it was Christmas time, Tony had decided it was his and, by default, my personal mission to help Old Murph do just that.
 
According to Tony, the best way to help him find his magic was to have our neighborhood win the NCLC. I, personally, was still not convinced that our adding three or four strands of lights each week between Thanksgiving and the day before Christmas Eve (the day of the judging) was going to amount to much, but what else was I gonna do? Work on a research paper that wasn’t due until after the holidays? Not me. Not when I could be sneaking onto Old Murph’s roof or climbing the trees next to his house or skulking around the bushes right outside his front door…all just to add additional strands of lights according to my partner-in-crime’s master plan.
 
I chuckled to myself.
 
“What are you laughing about?” Tony asked, eyeing me suspiciously as we arrived at our houses – we lived across the street from each other.
 
“Don’t worry, Crazy-tonio,” his eyes always looked almost childlike when I called him that, “it’s just that I’m looking forward to later.”
 
“You mean, finding out if Nathan is really a warlock?” Tony was completely serious as he asked about one of the main characters on Dragonsland, and it took me a moment to catch up.
 
Then I chuckled again, only this time for a different reason as I grinned from ear to ear.
 
“Well, yee-aah,” I said it as if I could not have meant anything else. You had to love the guy – goodness knows, I did! But then I added, “and, of course, adding on the new lights!”
 
Tony’s face relaxed, melting into that big, goofy smile of his as we high-fived each other good-bye for now.
 
“Magic, Eric! I’m telling you, the magic will be worth it!”
 
“I’m sure it will be, O Crazy-tonio!”
 
Clutching his bag, Tony ran across the street and into his house.
 
***************
 
Over the next few weeks, Tony and I managed to add eleven more strands of lights and one, completely-covered-in-fake-green-garland star – the green being necessary to blend in with the mossy chimney where we hung it. Oh, and the star was, of necessity, twinkly not blinky.
 
On the evening of December twenty-third, as everyone else’s Christmas displays began turning on throughout our neighborhood, Tony and I stealthily made our way into Old Murph’s side yard with the heavy-duty extension cord from my dad’s hedge trimmer. We carefully plugged them into the exterior plug on the side of the house. We then very nonchalantly walked to the middle of the lawn right near the front sidewalk to admire our handiwork.
 
It wasn’t the most elaborate display by any stretch, but it certainly was adequate. The roof was outlined with ‘icicles’ hanging throughout those vines growing out of the gutters. There were some throughout the bushes along the front and some wrapped around those big tree trunks on each side. It was pretty evident where the extent of our climbing abilities had been reached, but, still, it was pretty darn cool. And the best part? Now our neighborhood had a chance at winning!
 
I heard a snuffle next to me and turned to look at Tony.  There were tears running down his cheeks! I reached out and touched his shoulder.
 
“Come on, Crazy-tonio, I know it’s not the bes-”
 
“It’s perfect, man,” he swiped his jacket-covered forearm across his runny nose and sniffed as he nodded and more tears fell, rolling off his shirt and onto that always-green lawn, “Ol’ Murph’s gonna love it, I just know it.”
 
God, he’s such a beautiful, simple soul! I put my arm around his shoulder, “Of course he will.” Inside, I swore that the old man better not say anything to hurt Tony’s feelings, or he’d answer to me.
 
We stood there a little longer until Tony got a handle on himself. We ran home to dinner so that no one would miss us. The plan was to meet later to unplug the lights.
 
***************
 
When Tony and I met back outside, there was nothing that could have prepared me for what I saw. The lights with which we had decorated the house had become insignificant compared to what had to be thousands and thousands of very tiny, twinkly lights that covered the house and all of the shrubs and trees surrounding it. The whole property practically breathed with an effulgence I’d never seen before – seriously, it looked alive!
 
But the most spectacular thing was the lawn. The entire thing glowed a warm spring green, and there were small veins of golden light flowing like liquid through them. All of the veins seemed to emanate from one irregular spot near the sidewalk.
 
I stopped and gawked at the place, but Tony continued walking until he realized I wasn’t keeping up with him. He stopped and turned.
 
“What’s the matter, Eric?”
 
I’m pretty sure I looked at him like he’d grown another head. What was the matter? Was he kidding? I finally found my voice and motioned to the house.
 
“Where did all these lights come from, Tony?”
 
Hands on hips with a frown of incredulousness covering his face, Tony walked back to me and stood right in my line of sight. He waved his hand in front of my face.
 
“Hello? We put them there, remember?!”
 
I felt my mouth fall open as I considered my friend’s sanity. I must have taken too long to respond.
 
“It looks exactly like it did five hours ago, Eric. Exactly.” He turned and faced the house, pausing for a moment. He nodded before walking toward it again, mumbling to himself, “Although the lawn’s new.”
 
It was then that I realized the spot near the sidewalk was where we had stood earlier – specifically, it was where Tony had stood. And the shape was made by the splashing of Tony’s tears on the grass. My head reeled with that realization.
 
“Tony, I th-”
 
At the moment Tony’s feet reached the lawn, the over-sized front door to the house opened.  Out walked Old Murph in some robe-like garment that actually had a slight glow of its own that flowed along with his steps toward Tony. His smiling face looked years younger than any other time I’d seen him. His signature long white beard looked almost tame, but his salt-and-pepper hair hung just as wildly as ever to his shoulders.
 
I was just a few steps from Tony when Murph reached him and promptly engulfed him in a big bear hug.
 
“I see you finally answered my ad for an apprenticeship, Antonio,” he turned, his arm remaining around Tony’s shoulder as they stood together staring up at the glowing house and landscape. “And a fine job application it is, my boy!” He patted Tony’s shoulder as I reached Tony’s other side.
 
“You really like it, sir?” Tony was all choked up again.
 
I looked down to see those golden veins in the grass now flowing around the two of them; it was as if I was not there at all.
 
“Antonio,” Old Murph leaned in toward Tony, “it is only the beginning.”
 
And that’s when I realized that things would never be the same for our friendship. I always knew he was special. Tony had found his calling, even though I really didn’t understand what exactly that calling was at the time.
 
Our neighborhood won the NCLC that year and every year afterwards. Oh, other neighborhoods tried, but they just couldn’t compete with the Christmas Magic that resided in ours.

 



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