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CHAPTER 3 - Old As Dirt

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Asking someone’s age is just outright rude.

You’re forcing the person to tell a lie.

 

 

The wizard got up from the table without a sound.

Wendell watched him scoop up his plate and glass, then wander slowly across the kitchen floor to the sink. Wendell frowned, What’s wrong with him?

“Did I say something wrong?”

The ceramic objects thunked as they settled into the metal basin. “That’s not a very polite question to ask,” he replied.

Wendell scratched his head. Not a polite… “If I was asking my aunt Glenna, or some old lady, yeah, sure—but I didn’t know that applied to guys.” He paused, “Does it?”

It seemed a bit odd that such a simple question would be such a big deal. After all, this was Wendell’s first official day on the job. He didn’t know Chuck and Dax…yet here he was, staying in a virtual strangers home, eating food together…

Chuck swayed softly in front of the sink for a few moments, then snatched the rubber plug resting on the corner. He leaned over and inserted it into the hole of the basin. With a light flick of his finger, he turned on the hot water. “No.”

Wendell squinted. “No?”

“Sorry,” the wizard sighed, “I meant no, it doesn’t—or rather it shouldn’t apply to us.” Like shaking a bad dream, he looked up and forced a smile to his lips. “Just haven’t had anyone ask me that question in a long time, that’s all.”

“About how old you are?”

“Yeah.”

Grabbing his own plates, Wendell took them to the sink and added to the pile. “I’m not trying to offend you. If you…”

“I know that,” Chuck cut him off. Then shrugging, “I know. Don’t worry about it. We need to get to know one another. It’s important.” Then chuckling, “We’ll probably be together for a very long time, the three of us. Better start working out the kinks sooner rather than later, right?”

“Wonderful,” Wendell replied between gritted teeth. The thought of spending more time with the green grouch didn’t sound appealing at all. Then again, I could be jumping to conclusions here. It’s only right to give both guys a chance, right? “So let me change my question a bit, then. Why would it NOT be polite to ask you, a…” he thought carefully before choosing the right word, “mature wizard…”

“Ooo, nice one,” Chuck smirked. “Good save.”

Nodding, “Thank you…how old you are—especially when others seem so forward in making reference to your age?”

Bushy white eyebrows flopped forward over his eyes as his mustache and beard quivered in a frown. “Others? S-someone’s been talking about my age? Behind my back?”

It was an odd change in his demeanor and Wendell wasn’t sure if he should back away…or laugh. “Well yeah,” he started, “pretty much everyone. You were asleep when the…” but he immediately corrected himself, “I mean, everyone I’ve met. Obviously I don’t know everyone…not like you.” Not like you? What is wrong with you, Wendell? You’re stammering like an idiot.

The wizard laughed out loud. “I think this took a sharp nose dive neither of us wanted to experience.”

Wendell nodded vigorously and sighed. “Definitely.”

Patting him on the shoulder, “Tell you what,” Chuck grinned, “you ask your questions and I’ll do my best to lower my personal defenses and answer them. Deal?”

“Deal.”

“Alright,” he clapped his hands together. “Let’s take this into the other room…and I need to…,” he snapped his fingers.

Before Wendell could blink, everything on the kitchen table came to life. Utensils and place settings stood at attention, while the pancakes shifted over, creating a perfect, uniform stack. To the left of where they stood, cupboard doors swung open wildly and clear containers leapt through the air towards thew table.

“Best not to let the food spoil. Don’t want to be wasteful, now, do we?”

Wendell was in such shock, all he could do was slowly shake his head in agreement as the animated ballet continued. The container tops popped off and the food promptly jumped in, adjusting to make sure everything fit just right. Eggs slid over, sausages rolled into place, orange juice arched high into the air like a fountain, diving into the awaiting pitcher. Not a drop on the table, not a crumb onto the floor. Within moments, everything was packaged nice and tight.

Coooooooool.

“Ok, help me,” Chuck stammered, dashing across the floor. He hastily grabbed the egg container and orange juice pitcher, turned, and shoved them into Wendell’s hands. “Here!”

Dax rounded the corner, strutting back into the kitchen and immediately skidded to a halt. “Hey! I thought it was MY turn to put all the food away?”

The wizard shook his head firmly, “Nope. You have dishes.”

“I did them last time.”

“Don’t think so,” Chuck replied. He stopped, placing a finger on his lower lip and staring at the ceiling, “Uhhhhhhh, nope. You have dishes. Besides, Wendell and I just put all the food away.”

Dax looked between them warily, “No magic?”

The wizard stood upright and placed a hand over his chest. “Me?” he huffed, “Why would I use magic when I have Wendell here to help me? Silly monkey.”

Grumbling, Dax yanked open a cabinet door and pulled out a stepping stool. “Good. If I have to do dishes manually, you better be doin’ the same.”

Oh, you sneaky old… Wendell was about to say something, but, Why should I help the grouchy one? He decided to just grin instead.

“Come on, son,” Chuck smirked, “I’ll show you where those go.”

 

****

 

With food put away and Dax dutifully working on the dishes, Wendell and Chuck wandered out into the living room.

As they walked about, the wizard pointing at pictures and sharing casual stories, it was difficult not to glance over at the small picture on the mantle…or stare at Kyliene’s face, framed and sitting near the piano.

“You sure know a lot of people,” he finally blurted out, cutting off the wizard in mid-story. It took a moment for Wendell to realize what he’d done. “Oh—I-I’m sorry. Didn’t mean to cut you off, I…”

“Quite alright,” Chuck smirked, “You’ve had a lot on your plate.” He nudged, “And I don’t mean just with food. You’re full?”

“Oh yeah,” he shrugged, “..and I have to admit, it’s hard to take all this in.”

“Then I’ll stop rambling.”

“Oh, no, you don’t…”

Chuck held up a hand and smiled, “Calm yourself. It’s alright. I am aware that I tend to ramble…occasionally.” He leaned closer and whispered, holding the back of his hand up to his mouth, “Genetics, I’m afraid. Get nervous and I start to ramble. Can’t help it most days.”

Wendell laughed, “I know the feeling.” It felt good to have someone to relate to, even if it was over something as silly as a bad habit or nervous reaction. I’m going to need as many friends here as I can get.

“Then start asking questions. Time is yours.”

“What about Dax and getting ready in half an hour to leave?”

The wizard laughed out loud then, “Him? On time? Might as well ask the moon to give you milk. Isn’t going to happen.” Nodding at the kitchen door, “I tricked him so we’d have a little time to talk, that’s all.”

So he’s clever. He pondered, “Any question?”

Chuck scratched his cheek, “Well, I am bound by certain agreements, so I can’t just spill my guts here—but if I can tell you, I will tell you. Fair enough?”

“Perfectly. Then…can I know how old you are?”

“Wow. Right to the punchline, eh?” He wandered over to the sofa and with a kick of his sandals, hopped into the large leather chair with a poof. “Alright, take a seat—there are some things you should know about me.”

Excellent, Wendell grinned, taking an opposite seat on the couch.

Chuck really was a funny looking man. For all his surroundings, it was curious that the wizard sat there, obviously comfortable in dingy, tattered grey robes, small patches on his sleeves and hem. Yet his skin was clean…and there was always a faint scent of cinnamon around him. Though with all the white, out-of-control facial hair that caught your immediate attention, he had a semi-deep, gentle rhythm of his voice that made all the difference. Chuck projected calmness, support, kindness and acceptance.

“You know the term as old as dirt?” he started off.

Wendell nodded, “Sure, that’s an old Earth…”

Shaking his head, “No such thing as an original idea, remember? But here, they mean me.”

“What?” Wendell laughed, “Now that’s rude, if it’s really what people say.”

“Ok, not many say it other than the monkey, but he is right. I’m pretty crusty if I say so myself. Been around longer than most.”

That caught Wendell’s attention. He sat forward, “Wait a minute. Are you saying there are people older? Like, what are we talking here…”

Chuck rolled his eyes, “Let’s stick to one question at a time or we’ll never get out of here.”

Wendell sat back and bit his lip.

“First off, I’ve been around longer than any human. At least that I know of.” He thought hard, his eyebrows doing a wavy dance across his forehead. “Yup. Pretty sure, but using magic like I have kinda fogs the brain at times. Which is what I wanted to mention.” he took a deep breath and as he did so, laced his fingers and rested them over his chest. “I’m not natural.”

Wendell laughed aloud. “You’re what?”

Dropping his forehead, the wizard sighed, “Mahan’s Pink…what I meant to say was that I’ve used most of my magical abilities to carefully maintain my life force. It’s no small feat to keep death at bay. He’s an irritating fellow with a determination to escort guests to his estate. I’ve extended my life much further than perhaps I should have.” Then, looking up, he gave Wendell an unusually sober glare, “I should be dead from old age, no question. I just…refuse to die.”

Again, Wendell laughed, “That must be nice.”

“I’m serious!” Chuck snapped, though there was an unmistakable smirk on his lips. “Food can’t nourish me anymore…air is a convenience so I’m not gasping all the time, but I can hold my breath like no other.” His mouth twitched then, “I could bleed out I guess, but…what I’m trying to say is, magic is the only thing keeping me here. Well, that and sheer will.”

Wow. Wendell sat there, stunned.

The wizard held his gaze without blinking.

That has to be one of the wildest… “But…why?” No, wait. That sounded stupid. Wendell corrected himself, “I mean, why are you trying to stay alive when…” but he stopped again. He felt almost compelled to look over the wizards shoulder. He glanced at the small photo over the mantle.

A grin crept across Chucks face. The corners of his mustache rose slowly until the hairs brushed both sides of his nostrils. “When I’ve lost my family?”

Wendell’s heart sank—his stomach tightening into knots. He’d been caught.

“I’m…uh…”

“It’s alright, son,” Chuck replied softly, but he hesitated. “Hope you don’t mind me calling you that. I lost my family a long time ago, back before Mahan was defeated and captured by the last Hero.” He shifted slightly in his seat—enough to glance over his own shoulder. “That’s all I have remaining from my little family. My past life. Lost both my wife and only child that day—all my possessions burned to ash.” His eyes turned moist, hands shaking, “That photo was the only thing saved from the flames.” When he turned back around, he stared at Wendell without blinking. “The only link I have…a reminder of why I’m still here.” His sad expression shifted, again a hint of a smile resurfacing, “I always wonder what my boy would have looked like. It haunts me. When you showed up and I knew you had the Ithari, I…”

“It’s alright,” Wendell smiled, “I don’t mind. Really.” It’s kind of comforting, but he didn’t say it out loud.

Chuck grinned wide then. He wiped his eyes with a grey sleeve and cleared his throat. “Good.” Nodding at the kitchen door, “I raised that one in there. Not the easiest thing, being a single dad.” Snorting, “Would have been easier if he’d been a cute kid…to rope the women in, if you know what I mean?”

Laughing, “I don’t have a clue what you mean, Chuck.”

Frowning, “Oh. Right,” then, “So when I lost my family, I worked closely with the leaders of the time and with the last Hero. Even helped to defeat Mahan.” For long moments he fell silent—his eyes dropping down to stare at the coffee table between them. His eyes grew wide, as if reliving something shocking…or painful.

“But they couldn’t kill him,” he breathed. “Evil incarnate, and the Hero didn’t have the ability, or heart, to kill him. All that effort—so many deaths…and we couldn’t wipe his sorry carcass from the face of this planet!”

Alright then, Wendell gulped. He shifted uncomfortably in his seat.

“I knew this time would come,” Chuck said, though it was just above a whisper. “I always knew it. So I prepared. Studied the ancient texts and even got permission to work within the Great Library for a time. Then I found it. A way to extend my own life, so I could be here to help the next Hero. The one destined to destroy Mahan from the face of the land.” Clear blue eyes rolled up to meet Wendell’s visual nervousness. “So I could be here for you.”

Wendell gulped again. “But…I wasn’t meant to be the Hero.”

Like a waterfall, the sober expression of doom and gloom dropped from the wizards countenance and he sighed loudly, “So what. One out of two isn’t perfect, eh, but we work with what we have, right?!”

The sheer conviction in Chucks words, in his every expression was…encouraging. Right. He’s endured all this—waiting all these years, so he could help? So what if it’s me…he’s still here, right here, right now, helping…me! What do you say to something like that?

As if on cue, the wizard smiled wide and winked at him.

“So you’re hundreds of years old then?” Wendell fished.

“Older.”

“A thousand?”

“Older.”

Wendell scoffed, “No way.”

“Way.”

Two thousand?”

Chuck sat forward and shook his head, “That’s as far as I’m going. My past and my future are not completely decided yet and frankly, son, I don’t want it to interfere with what you have to learn to do. You have a whole world of, I’m sorry to say it—weird—in front of you. So, let me put it this way:

“I’m older than you. I know more than you and have some insight that may give you an advantage. No guarantees here, but I will help you. That’s why I’m still around.”

Wendell wasn’t altogether sure what to say. “Thank you.”

There was a loud crash from the kitchen. It was followed by what Wendell guessed was swearing in another language.

Nodding, Chuck stood up. “You’re welcome. Now go get showered while I rescue the elf with eight fingers.”

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