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Genre: Humor / Fantasy
“Let’s start again. This is my friend, Maggie, owner of this wonderful bookstore.” The man in shorts spread out his arms. “I love the smell of books, don’t you? You’re right. My name is Zero, but how did you know?” He stroked the Big Ben watch face with a forefinger, one eye on his wrist and the other on her.
“What?” Lisa swung a searching look from Maggie to the man. “This is creepy. I mentioned before, I picked up a book—no idea where it came from—and began reading. Wait. The title said Crow Lake.” She set the cup and saucer on the side table, rubbed her temples, and cricked her neck. “Crow Lake— like this place. You can’t help me?”
“Sheer coincidence, I’m sure.” He stretched across the space between them and patted her knee. “Wouldn’t you agree, Maggie? Maggie? Where are you?”
“Settle down.” The woman in black bent over the table and deposited a tray of glasses and a bottle of brandy.
“None for me thanks. I have a monster headache squeezing my brain.”
“Sorry to hear that. Here. I brought you water.
“You have a cat? I hear it, but where is it?” Lisa searched the floor.
“I do, but—
“Ow. My head.” Arms raised to grab a lopsided weight spiked to her head, Lisa resisted the urge to scream. Maggie cackled a crone’s laugh, holding her sides, spiked hair weaving. Eyes glazed, Zero bounced out of his chair to lend a hand. The cat hissed. He stepped back, shoved hands into his pockets.
Blank-faced, Lisa’s eyes widened at the unexpected bundle dropped into her lap. “But— But— Mozart?” The white fur cloud stood on his hind legs, raised a paw and patted her cheek, then again with an unwavering stare, and again. His purr grew from a low whirr to a vibrating rumble. She hugged him. Front paws raised, she lifted his light frame like a baby. Head tucked over her shoulder he pushed his nose into her neck, purr steady and deep. “Have you come to take me home?” She drew a jagged breath, silver tears leaking though she blinked to stop them. “What am I saying? How did Mozart get here? How did I?
Zero cleared his throat. He thrust a box of tissues at her. “Handsome cat. I’ve never seen one this affectionate. Maggie’s cat toms around the neighbourhood coming home only when the pickings are distasteful.”
“Watch what you say about Viper. He never took to you either. Brandy?” Maggie poured before anyone answered. Gripping a snifter, she took a large swallow and coughed. Zero thumped her between the shoulder blades. “That’s enough.” She took a smaller sip.
“I don’t understand why I’m here, and my cat? And, how? This is too bizarre.” She stamped her feet, the Tom’s ears twitched; he gave her a sour look. “Sorry.”
Maggie passed her a snifter. “Do you believe in magic?” She searched the depths of her own glass before raising an elegant black brow.
“You’re serious? No. I do not. That’s make-believe for kids and fairy tales.” Mozart continued to purr. She stroked his long silky fur with utmost care. Raising his head again, he patted her cheek and sighed.
“What if I said magic is real? Would you believe me?” Eyes dark, voice humorless, she nodded swirling the glass, studying the gold liquid sway to her manipulation.
“Do you? Can you send us home?
Nervous, Zero sipped the liquor, ears flaming red. “Tell her about Nelda. Tell her.” He paced two steps forward and two steps back in the awkward space. Lips compressed, Maggie shook her head.
“Your sister?” Lisa’s voice croaked
“How do you know that?”
“I told you, from the book I started before I popped into this place. Where is Crow Lake exactly? Show me a map. Where’s your computer?”
Zero hooted. For a man with eyes a girl could drown in, he laughed like a donkey. Lisa’s jaw dropped. Mozart sat up blinking at him like an owl, one eye at a time.
“What’s so funny? I Google stuff all the time. What’s wrong with that?”
“What you call computers are extinct.” Maggie extended a wrist sporting a nautical-type watch similar to Zero’s. Observe. Poking dials and sketching shapes on the watch face with a forefinger, she pointed it towards the wall. A holographic map projected on the wall.
“Wow. How did you do that? No laptops either?
“What country are we in?”
Maggie snapped off the hologram.” You won’t find Crow Lake on this map.”
Zero glared at Maggie pointing his almost empty glass at her. “Why won’t you tell her?”
“You heard her. She doesn’t believe.”
Lisa and the cat regarded the sparing pair across the room from each other. Left. Right. Left. “What’s this about? Nelda? Magic? What?”
Zero dumped his snifter on the coffee table. I need air. Deal with it Maggie. Once and for all.” He hesitated, turned back, wearing a thoughtful expression. “Excuse me.” He directed an abrupt nod towards Lisa and fled.
A deafening, protracted silence bounced around the mint green walls. Not even the familiar ticking of a clock echoed in the hush. Mozart licked a paw, cocked his head and chose another.
Maggie spoke first. “This hasn’t been my best year. I’m in a bit of a pickle.” She glanced over her shoulder to the back door. Maybe it’s a good thing you don’t believe in magic. I’ve made a couple troubling mistakes of which I’m aware—because of magic…”
“Can you fix them?”
“As my father liked to say, ‘That would put a feather in my cap, if I wore one.’”
To be continued…