For Daniel Halverston, who is awesome.
The Cellar door shouted orders through the floorboards.
The door, who was called Claus (he changed his name every so often. His first name had been Sing Wu. His most recent name was Wattleby. He had been Claus for a dozen years)
“We need to get a move on! On the double!” Claus yelled to Hamilton (the kitchen sink), Danny (the bedroom dresser) and Crowley (the fireplace), his closest companions and the most lively components of the house. Everyone else just dozed for most of the time. While it was smart of them to conserve the magic like that, it was also very boring.
“Oh, hush. We have plenty of time,” Crowley said, blowing cinders out onto the carpet as he spoke. “The wizard isn’t due back for another hour, at least.”
“Yes, but he is apt to appear at any time. Zhenya doesn’t always let him know what the time is,” Clause said. Zhenya was the pocket-watch. She was decent and kind, but a little forgetful at times.
“And Vasilisa said his last letter said he’s bringing guests,” Danny reminded them. Vasilisa was the mailbox. “That always makes him anxious and prone to make mistakes.”
“We have to be ready,” Claus said firmly. “If everything isn’t spic-and-span, he might start cleaning and forget to…you know…or maybe he won’t have enough magic left for us!”
“He’s not going to forget. And he’s too powerful to run out even if he did his own cleaning,” Crowley said, but he started to sweep out the soot from his chimney anyway.
Claus roused the others and the house shook and shuddered as it prepared for the wizard to get home. The floors were vacuumed, the cushions shook themselves out, all the dust was wiped off the mantle and the sills. Doorknobs were polished, glassware cleaned until it shone, and fresh flowers were put on the parlor table. Then there was nothing left to do but wait.
They waited. And waited. Claus got restless. Crowley was humming something indistinct. Danny creaked and open and shut his drawers in random bursts.
“Where is he?” Hamilton said.
“It is today, right?” Danny said.
Claus began to second-guess himself. Was it today? He was sure it was today. It had been an age since the wizard was gone for such a long time. What if they had expended what little magic they had left, and it ran out before the wizard got back?
“Hey, Jordan,” he called up to the calender, who was sleeping on the fridge. “Jordan! Wake up. When is the wizard due?”
“August second,” the calender answered through a yawn. “Wednesday.”
“And what day is it?”
“August second. Wednesday.”
“So where is he?” Hamilton iterated.
“Patience,” Margaret said. The old hall cupboard hardly ever spoke, so when she did, everyone paid attention. “He will be here, and he will renew the magic. He has never forgotten. Do not fret.”
Claus did not let his relief show. It wouldn’t help the group morale if the others knew he had been worried. If Margaret said the wizard wouldn’t forget, he believed her. The others were more visibly reassured. Crowley started his humming again.
And still the wizard failed to appear. Worry crept up on Claus again, as much as tried to keep it at bay. If the wizard didn’t come in time…no, he mustn’t think that way. The wizard would come.
“Hey! What’s happening? Where is the wizard?” Vasilisa was almost in tears. The mailbox was at the outskirts of the wizard’s property, down the driveway, at the gate. She was always the fist to feel the magic fade and pull back. Her tone sent cold shivers through Claus.
“He’s coming,” the cellar door tried to sound optimistic.
“I don’t want to die,” Hamilton muttered.
“You can’t die,” Crowly said. “You’re a sink.”
“You know what I mean,” Hamilton said. “I don’t want to forget.”
“None of us do,” Claus said.
“He will come,” Margaret said. “I am still here, am I not?”
Margaret was the oldest of them. She had been with the wizards for over a hundred years, but this time her words did not calm as much as before. Claus wondered what it would be like to forget, to become no more than a lump of wood part of an inanimate collection of walls, floors and a roof. It was not a pleasant thought. Please, hurry, hurry, hur…
A scream made them all gasp.
“That sounded like Vasilisa,” Danny said.
“Don’t say that,” Hamilton snapped. “I don’t…”
He fell silent. The others waited.
“Hamilton?” Danny ventured.
Silence. The silence stretched out. Then Claus felt it. A tingle crawling through him, leaving little numb patches cold, dead…well, wood. The cellar door stifled a panicked scream.
“Guys?” Nothing. “Guys?! Hamilton? Cr–ow–le–y? Dannnnyyyy?…”
Claus was having difficulty speaking. He couldn’t think the words right. Everything was going black. Something creaked above him. Someone was muttering, but the sound was thick and foggy. More tingles came, spreading and growing more intense. Claus wanted to cry, but he didn’t have tear ducts. The pins and needles ate his entire self. Then they left in a glorious burst of light and sensation.
The cellar door let out a little electric cry of joy. The wizard was home! He’d recast the spell and saved them! Claus gave a loud whoop, so relieved he didn’t care who heard him.
“Claus?” That was Danny. “Claus? Is that you?”
“Yes!” Claus said. “Is everyone alright? Is everyone here?”
One by one they sounded off. Hamilton, Danny, Crowley, Margaret, Vasilisa and the others chimed in glad cries. A new voice joined them.
“Sorry we’re late guys,” Zhenya the pocket-watch said. “He stopped to get milk and biscuits for tea. I told him to hurry, but he wasn’t paying too much attention. He was a little preoccupied by the fact that he has to entertain today.”
“No harm done,” Margaret said serenely. “He came in time, as he always does.”
Claus was glad for it, but he determined the next time the wizard left for an extended trip, he was going to take a nice, long nap.