Updated: Sep 27
The quest started off with my wife’s floating head. Her jet black hair hung loose about her shoulders instead of in her traditional braid. I think she’d been going outdoors more now that she’s working from home. The reddish tint to her bronze skin looked stronger. The head levitated over the black glass surface of my desk. It sat in the office of my wizard’s tower, surrounded by bookshelves holding mystic knickknacks and books. The tower used to be an insurance agent’s office, made to look like a lighthouse with an attached building. I do all my wizarding here.
Meanwhile, the floating head flickered as Rain tossed the silky strands of her hair back and continued talking. “Alex, I need you to swing by the store on the way home and pick up some things.”
“Can’t you just order it?”
“Um, no. It can’t wait that long. I kinda need it sooner.” She gave me the look that implied she was saying more than she said. The one where she doesn’t want to say what she needs.
“Uh. Oh.” Now I got it.
“Get the ones in the green package. And wear a mask.”
“Like a bank robber?”
She rolled her eyes at me. “You have all the world’s knowledge at your fingertips and still don’t keep up with the news. They’ve added wearing face masks to the stay at home order for Harris County.”
“Skit. I guess I’ll whip one up.” Technically, everybody should stay home. Rain ran her business from the house since it started.. But all my stuff is at the tower and I don’t see anybody. I like it that way. The Covid-19 event didn’t change my life much. I spent today fighting a covert spell battle with the Federal Government’s computers as they kept swiping orders for medical equipment from local hospitals. That’s beans compared to Cadeusa’s work. She’s one of the few wizards who kept her day job. Hers was working with the CDC, cooking up some kind of vaccine. Important work that could save billions but will take at least a year. Everybody’s trying to help at the scale they can work at.
“Thanks, Alex. I gotta go. We’re about to bring up more servers for the gene folding project.”
Her face turned a brighter red and combusted into flames, turning into ash that tumbled to the surface of my desk and dissipated. She’d been playing with her projection models again.
The work hours of a wizard aren’t set in stone, but I’m told regularity of schedule is good for my condition. I’d rather not check-in to see what condition my condition is in, so I work nine to five at my tower. There’s a few hours before quitting time, and I won’t find out if relabeling the shipping manifest worked until tomorrow. Time to hit the lab.
The lab is where the magic happens. Where I make it anyway. The back quarter of the building holds a room equipped with scanners, parts and 3D printers. I sketch out a design on the second holo-table and have my daemon Mimir scan my face and tighten up the layout. Printing takes a while and smells like melting plastic. I returned to my office so I reviewed reports from the other wizards. Everybody is making ventilators or researching cures. My little hackery with the Feds is chump change next to their work. I could mull over how inadequate that made me feel, but I’m old enough to know that’s not where my strength lies.
My titanium platelet hoodie was on and staff in hand to go when my third eye alerted me that the print job finished. I almost forgot. After I walked back to the lab, I grabbed the triangular shaped pieces and stuffed a folded blue shop cloth into it for a filter before strapping it onto my face. It fits without squishing into my eyepatch. Breathing took some effort, the filter worked, albeit noisily.
Over the short drive to Kroger, I got the hang of breathing through it. By the time I made it to the entrance I had my stride with my gimpy knee and staff going step-thunk aligned with Whooo-shhhhhh. That’s when the store manager stood in the doorway, arm held out in classic stop action while still out of whacking distance of my staff. The lanky man wore the familiar blue store apron over his vertical striped shirt. His name tag read “Burt.” and his cloth mask featured bananas in various states of undress.
The pyrite tone of his face pinkened as he stood his ground. “You’re not allowed in here. Not since the last incident.”
Whooo-shhhhhh. Whooo-shhhhhh. Whooo-shhhhhh.
Burt continued. “There were shots fired.”
“I-I hear you stopped a kidnapping.”
Whooo-shhhhhh. Whooo-shhhhhh. Whooo-shhhhhh.
“And it was outside the store.”
I moved around Burt to find the no-man’s land of the store. Sure I got past the Gamorian guard but I missed getting to open the doors with a wave of my hand.
Few people wandered around the store, pushing carts around and giving me a wide berth. I’m not sure if it’s the eyepatch, hoodie, mask or staff, but nowadays, people have heard of me. I heard a crash and tensed. There’s always something when I come here. A minute later a call for clean-up in aisle seven came over the PA. Then the music returned with Don’t Stand So Close to Me by The Police.
After searching the wrong side of the store, I found the right section. The aisle was empty. She didn’t say how many to get. The shelf held plenty, but I heard the limit on essential items was two in most stores. So I grabbed two squishy packs in the green packaging and tucked them under my arm.
I heard shouting over by the checkout lanes. Trouble. The story of my life is heading toward that sound, and I needed to check out. When I got there, an unmasked red faced man with leathery skin and a wife-beater shirt gripping an overflowing cart of toilet paper towered over a mahogany skinned woman in hospital scrubs and a surgical mask with an empty cart.
“Please, can I just have one package. Everywhere is out when I can get off work to shop.”
He jabbed a finger at her as flecks of spittle erupted. “No bitch, there ain’t no limit here and I got here first.” All I could see was the sun worn drunken version of a five-toed Chinese dragon on his bare arm. In Chinese culture, the higher ranking you are, the more toes you get. Five toes for the emperor and this guy is no emperor.
The lights flickered as I stopped six feet away and slammed my staff down. It stayed put. “That ain’t no way to talk to a lady.”
“Who the fuck are you supposed to be. Dork Vader?”
Burt, the manager came running up right about then, also stopping six feet away. He mumbled, “that’s what the last guy said.” He stepped back farther and whipped out his smartphone to record.
“Please give the woman one package or suffer for your gluttony.”
He took a step toward me, dragging his cart and knocking the woman down. “Or what? You gonna hit me with your pussy pads?”
I focussed my eye on his cart, “Virkja kaupa auga miða” The lights darkened as I cast my curse, then returned to normal. Maybe my new spell would work here.
“So that’s it? You got nothing but mumblefuck.”
“Then go check out.” He cranked the cart around to shove it into the checkout lane. I left my staff and stepped over to help the woman up, giving her a wink and a smile.
“What do you mean it’s already sold?!”
The pale teenaged cashier kept her cool. “I’m sorry sir, but these are already sold. The receipt says “Alex Rune. Is that you?”
“Bullshit!” His face turned redder. “You! You did this. You’re that fake fucker on the news.”
He lurched toward me, dragging that stupid cart of full of toilet paper. The math said this guy outmuscled me, but I couldn’t hear that over the adrenaline boost that kicked in a new soundtrack.
The charge came and before I could think of what to do, a grey blur from my left blindsided me and caught the redneck in the mouth. He tumbled back, catching the cart handle in the back of the noggin. Kurt wailed “Stay Away!” over the PA.
“Burt, you shoulda called for a clean-up over here.”
A hulk stepped up beside me, nearly seven foot. Women’s flats, sensible slacks my wife would hate and a blouse with unflattering horizontal stripes. Their shaved head glistened like polished smoky quartz, and the homemade facemask featured the orange Astros mascot, while the nametag proclaimed Ernie had arrived. Ernie pressed the head of the mop into the jerk’s face to keep him down, while leaning on it for a well deserved break.
Panicked flailing and grasping at the mop head over his air hole ensued. “Mmph! Mmgr!”
“If you swear again in mah store, I wash your mouth out with this mop water.” Ernie lifted the mop head an inch, and then brought it to rest by their feet.
The potty mouthed mouth breather brushed his hands at his face to get rid of the wet. Then he used my cart of toilet paper to pull himself back to his feet. I glanced to my left, and confirmed my staff still stood, Ernie didn’t walk between it and myself. The jerk felt brave enough for one more show of strength and took a step forward with a sneer.
The packs of maxi-pads tumbled to the ground and with a twitch of my hand, the staff leapt into it. I swiped my finger over the right plate and the tri-prong head ratched open with a menacing kachunk. “Back up little dragon, or I will burn you.”
“This ain’t over!” He turned and shoved the cart so hard it crashed into the ice machine opposite the registers as he stomped out the exit.
I topped off the local asshole’s tank with another curse. “Virkja fjölmiðla stormur.” Another flick of my hand and the tri-prongs reset back to their closed position. Crisis averted.
“I’m gonna post this on facebook.”
I turned to look at Burt, “You already did. And so did he. He also changed his passwords. Gonna be a bad month for that guy.”
The nurse looked back and forth at us. “Can I buy one of those toilet papers?”
“They’re yours. Share what you don’t need.”
The woman moved to the cart, but then ran back up to me, almost to hug. I held up a hand.
“Thank you. You’re him, aren’t you?”
“Except on Wednesdays.”
A puzzled look crossed her face. Nobody in Texas gets Norse humor. I smiled and she turned and took her cartful of TP. I imagine a lot of her coworkers have been stuck doing long hours and couldn’t get out to shop.
Ernie reached down and picked up Rain’s product. “Here you go Mr. Rune.”
“Oh thanks! You didn’t have to trouble yourself, I could get those.”
They paused while the bundle rested between our hands. “Honey, we all gotta pick up for each other. Now you go check out before Burt worries you gonna set somethin’ on fire.”
I nodded, and got through the checkout. The teenager stood behind a plexiglass shield and a dingy N95 mask. Nothing phased her in this job. “Find everything okay?”
A few more pleasantries and I skipped the bagging and I walked out with my purchase tucked under my arm again. I noticed the nurse waiting in the breezeway. My third eye blinked a few times, probably to remind me where I parked Sleipnir. A breeze picked up as the sun went lower when I stepped out. The distant sound of a freight train should have connected the dots for me.
A shiny raised pickup truck favored by Texans with shortcomings waited for me on the other end of the lot. The engine revved and I turned right to glare at it as it raced the hundred feet to splatter me. I’m not saying I saw this coming, but once my adrenaline spiked ten minutes ago, my daemon Mimir woke up my ravens. Huginn set up surveillance after hopping out of the trunk. The larger one, Muninn, had to fly the quarter mile from my tower. Hence the breeze and the disturbing engine whine as I never balanced one of his propeller's right. He’s the size of a VW Bug, and today is not this asshole’s day.
At fifty feet, the single shot from Huginn’s underslung rail gun left a crater in the hood of the F-150. A hypersonic round pieced the engine block, freezing up the crankshaft and stopping the transmission, locking the wheels. Tires screeching, the truck came to a stop six feet from me. The driver’s door opened and the jerk of the day stumbled out, his nose flattened and bloody where it hit the steering wheel. Darn shame his computer controlled airbag didn’t activate.
The wind picked up around me and a roar like the start of Appetite for Destruction rose behind me. Keeping a firm grip on my feminine supplies, I raised my staff with my right hand and pointed it at him. “You can stay there and wait for the police. Or I’ll burn those extra toes off your crappy tattoo and maybe cauterize your bleeding nose because I’m helpful.”
His eyes stayed focussed on something behind and over my left shoulder. I imagine with the sun behind it, he saw a black diamond silhouette hovering, suspended by a distortion of quad propellers, perhaps a hint of laser light as targeting lasers held steady aim over his heart. Death on the mechanical wing. He sat down. Best decision this guy has made all day.
See, I can’t do massive problem solving like my friends can. Wish I could, but I can’t even save lives like that nurse does. I’m more like a roll of industrial toilet paper. Cleaning up one asshole at a time. And it always hurts.
I’m the Wizard of Houston and I live in Texas.
Stay home and don’t mess with either.