Roads Less Understood
I sit at the base of the tree and gently scratch the head of the cat sprawled in my lap. No one is paying much attention to us: the Random Street park isn’t random, but it is our of the way and I have a hood up. But for all I know, Mr. Pickles is making sure no one bothers us as all.
“They were throwing rocks at you.” It’s easier to talk to Mr. Pickles than to people. Mr. Pickles is a cat, despite everything else. Or in spite of it.
“They were.” The cat’s voice was soft, a whispering half-shadow and mostly thought in my head. “You did get them to go away.”
“Because I was older. Then they saw me, laughed, made jokes –.” I trail off.
“You could have caught the stones. Thrown them back. Thrown the children back,” Mr. Pickles says. “There were solutions at hand other than waiting for them to leave. Ones that would have let to my receiving more attention.”
“But that’s just – I don’t want to hurt them. I don’t want anyone to be scared of me just because I have a talent that they don’t. Or at all. You’re the magician of Rivercomb. You could have stopped them too.”
“Heh.” The laugh of a cat. Soft. Amused. “You arrived and scared them off, Noah. Who is not to say I didn’t stop them?”
I blink. Almost stop petting. Switch to my left hand. It’s easier, without the scarring and pain in my right hand and arm, but I can’t shake the feelings that Mr. Pickles prefers it when I use my right hand. “Oh.”
“Few magicians are subtle. A cat, I admit, is perhaps too much so. But your desire – to hide your power from those who might fear you for having such a talent.” Me Pickles turns his head and looks up at me. Tabby, yes, but under the right light his fur seems more green than orange. I think it’s why he’s called Mr. Pickles but I haven’t worked up the nerve to ask. “That is a road that is far less travelled than you know.”
“I don’t want anyone to be afraid of me.”
“What a most peculiar thing to want.”
“I know what I can do with my talent. To move things is – only part of it. A small part, maybe. To push, to pull to do all of that. I held my own against a magician, Mr. Pickles, in their city. And I know I’m not at the limits of my talent at all.”
“You’re strong, yes. But most people are stronger than they know.” The cat lets out a soft, tired meow maybe intended to comfort. “The lucky never have to discover how strong they truly are.”
“Not many people would call my lucky,” I admit softly. “You heard the jokes those kids made.”
“There are many kinds of luck. And few people are willing to grasp that the terrible things that happen to them might, in part, help prevent an even worse fate from befalling them. Your appearance is, of course, far more like a dog than a cat,” Mr. Pickles continues. “Which only helps disguise you from those who do not wish to see deeply.”
I stare down at the cat in my lap. “What does looking like a cat disguise, then?” I ask.
“Oh, many things.” Mr. Pickles stretches. “There is a reason cats lose many of their nine lives to the jealousy of others.”
I am pretty sure the magician is trolling me. But only pretty sure of that. I wait until Mr. Pickles gets off of me and stand, stretching slowly. “Can you help me?”
“To hide your power, you must first master it entirely. That means finding an entity far stronger than I to test yourself against.”
The cat pauses. This pause feels different, somehow almost uncertain. “Seek out Jay. You might learn enough that way.”
Sometimes, some nights, I still dream about Aram turning toward me. About the gun my foster – my father – held to my head. About the risk he took to summon an entity called Jay. I don’t know what Greg Ruk turned into in the end, but I do know that Jay unmade Greg in moments.
“You will find your limits against his power, and then ways to hide as well. I wish I had another solution, but sometimes even being a cat must bow before being a magician.”
And Mr. Pickles walks away after that. I don’t follow. I don’t know if i can. I just stand in the park, stare out into space, and try to tell myself I’m not utterly terrified.