by Walt Staples -
“Pomphee, one would begin to think you like me.” Doctor Professor Erschreckendmann—aka: “Doctor E”—smiled his special smile at the department head.
The other shuddered. “Perish the thought. I only associate with you when I must.”
The little man almost purred as he preened the huge mustache that hid most of his lower face. “Excellent. Good, honest hatred I can work with. Now, to what do I owe your rather dubious attentions?”
The department head placed the tips of his fingers together on the large desk he kept between himself and the alchemy instructor. “We have a small problem.”
“You mean you have a small problem,” Doctor E cut in.
“No, we. The matter in question is an embarrassment to the school—you, me, and especially the instructor involved.”
“And which instructor might this be?”
Doctor E furrowed his brow. “Hortel? That tall broom straw in Advanced Conjurment?”
The little man drew his abundant eyebrows down. A glint of green played in their shadows. “And what, pray tell, could anyone that innocent do that would embarrass so august a body as this?”
One eyebrow rose slightly. “So? You are afraid he will supplant you? I don’t buy it. You have your very own form of fecklessness. Pomphee, you’re irreplaceable.”
“Thank you for your vote of confidence,” the department head replied drily. “No, the problem is that young Hortel actually rises. He levitates. And at the wrong time.”
“And there is a ‘right’ time?”
Pomphee sighed. “Must you?” He continued, “If he could control it, fine and good. But he tends to cause a distraction. There we are at the interfaith breakfast this morning and he just lifts-off.”
Doctor E leaned back in his chair. “So what’s your real interest? He’s not in the Materials Department.”
The other was silent for a moment, looking down at his interlaced fingers. Continuing to look down, he spoke haltingly, “I like him. He has no ax to grind, he takes no sides, stabs no one in the back, and is interested only in training the students. I don’t want to see him destroyed.”
The little man across the table gazed off into space. “His nickname through the wards was ‘Little Friend of all the World…’”
“Hmm? Oh. Kipling. Before your time.” He leaned forward, the green lights glowing beneath his eyebrows. “What precisely has set the cat among your pigeons, Pomphee?”
“Bishop Guash is coming for the dedication of the chapel annex and I’m afraid Hortel will cause a scene.”
The alchemy instructor nodded. “A large and rather fat cat indeed—or perhaps tiger would be closer. All right, I’ll see to it.”
Pomphee looked at him suspiciously. “That’s all? No stalk to the door? No cutting remark? Why?”
Doctor E grunted as he rose to his feet. “Because cats protect their hunting territories.” The guard gnome opened the office door at his approach. “And I allow no one to abuse you but me,” he cast over his shoulder as he walked out the door.
Professor Hortel, all two meters and 30 kilos of him, perched upon a tall stool beside a caldron, a screwdriver hanging in his hand. He regarded the caldron sadly. “I’ve torn that heating element down three times so far, and I can’t find the glitch.” He blew out his cheeks. “I suppose I’ll have to call maintenance. Who knows, someone may show up before the end of the term.” He turned back to Doctor E. “I’m sorry; that’s not what you’re here for, is it?”
“No,“ he rumbled. “More the matter of your little fantasy of flights.”
Hortel blushed and looked sadder. “Yes, that has been a problem. Unfortunately, I have no control of them. I hear a piece of liturgical music and I’m aloft. The Archbishop found it very disconcerting back when I was at Whales’ View.”
The other nodded. “Yes, I’ve noticed that the higher the clergyman, the more likely the startlement at the manifestation of something whose existence he preaches on.” He fingered his mustache thoughtfully. “No other music sets you off then? Say, classical, for instance?”
The Conjurment instructor shook his head. “No, Doctor E, only when it was written with a religious purpose in mind.”
Doctor E abruptly began to whistle “A Mighty Fortress.” Hortel rose into the air. The whistler quickly switched to “Die Gedanken Sind Frei” and he settled back on the stool. “Hail Holy Queen” and into the air. Doctor E brought him is for a landing with “My Old Man’s a Dustman.”
“You see what I mean,” the stork-like man said.
His erstwhile flight controller smiled. “I think this might be a matter for the Athletics Department.”
Sunday, noon, all were present at the dedication, including Professor Hortel seated between two burly members of the mootsball team. Bishop Guash sprinkled holy water over the altar of the new side chapel, the choir broke into Mozart’s “Hallelujah” chorus, and the tall, thin Conjurment instructor appeared lifted into the air by the mootsball player on each side grasping an ankle. After a moment, they drew him back to earth.
After the ceremony, his Excellency took Axgrinnder, the Chancellor, aside. “Frederick, I really must compliment you on the turnout and spirit. Though some of the latter was a bit irregular. I mean the athletes picking up that one instructor and lifting him up. I don’t think I have ever seen the like.” He smiled. “But I do appreciate the spirit. Now, where is the luncheon to be served?”