Story Time With Hank | Story Time With Coyote, Part 2
Good day, everyone. May it and every other day be one more pearl on a long chain of pearls that brings you a great deal of personal satisfaction—maybe you wear it around your neck, maybe you keep it in a drawer; it doesn’t matter. Last week, if you were here, you met a man named Coyote and read a little bit of his story. (If you missed it, that’s no problem, you can get caught up here.) Let’s jump right back in where we left off:
The general public, of course, didn’t know that it was the Kentucky Academy of Magic and Alchemy—they’d have been all up in our business for sure. The sign out front, in a bed of mulch that might have had flowers once, read “Gomez-White Correctional Preparatory Institute for Children” in severe Gothic print. People saw no no reason to doubt it.
Granddad had done a hell of job since the school’s founding a few decades back instilling a certain mystique around the Corr-Prep facility in the minds of the locals. With a few simple tools—the tastefully foreboding sign, an eight-foot, chain-link fence, some nice bars on the windows—and the occasional carefully suggestive remark made to a neighbor, he created an aura of unease about the place that kept prying minds and eyes at bay. Basically, the townies thought it was packed with budding young psychopaths—not actual murderers—not yet— but kids who’d maybe lost one too many pets under mysterious circumstances. It was a school for monsters with wealthy parents. When I became enrolled, that was pretty much the end of whatever friendships I’d managed to forge at my old school.
It was pretty much the end of friendships in general for me, for a while. The kids at Corr-Prep weren’t really monsters, but they were really fucking boring.
The thing you need to know about learning magic is that it sucks balls. It’s not like in Harry Potter where all you need is a wand and a list of magic words (That it took them seven years to graduate under those circumstances is a tad embarrassing). At Corr-Prep, we rose at five and worked ’til three, with twenty-minute showers staggered throughout the day (remember: twelve people, one hot water tank). Or anyway, they woke up at five; I still lived at Granddad’s house, so I got up at four, took whatever kind of shower I wanted, and rode my bike to school. Then I worked for ten hours like everyone else.
…I’m getting bogged down in minutiae, though. Sorry. I didn’t set out to do a tedious, day-in-the-life-of-a-wizarding-student kind of thing. Maybe I’ll delve more deeply into the specifics of the curriculum later, if it’s necessary, but I hope it isn’t. In a nutshell, it was all dead languages and dusty grimoires. Some hand exercises. It was quiet, intense work for quiet, intense people. When someone did speak, as happened sometimes, it was usually a pun, often in Sanskrit, that he or she just had to share. Everyone sighed appreciatively and went back to work.
It wasn’t the life for me.
When the Corvette was gone, I took the hatbox I’d been given inside and set it on the kitchen table amongst all of the junk mail that had piled up over the last month or so. I considered pouring myself some whiskey but that seemed a touch melodramatic, so I had a beer instead. Then I sat myself down at that same kitchen table, and the box and I had ourselves a good long look at one another.
It was done up in a nice, bright floral print—rhododendrons, maybe—with braided handles of silky yellow. Somehow I didn’t want to open it.
I felt a nudge against my legs, a brief, four-point impact in my lap, and then my cat was on the table right in front of me. He rammed his head into my chin, then turned away, rubbed against the box, and promptly curled up on top of it.
Well. Problem solved. I couldn’t pry the box open now if I wanted to, not without moving Tijuana, and that would be rude.
I sat back. I sipped my beer. I watched the cat sleep.
A few years into my time at Corr-Prep, when I was maybe sixteen, I reached a kind of breaking point in my mind. I’d tried my best, I really had, to do as the other kids did, to immerse myself in magic 24/7. But there came a time when I couldn’t do it anymore. I was exhausted. So I started to ease up on myself.
I cut the number of hours I spent on magic each day. When everyone else had their nose stuck in a twelfth-century tome of eldritch learning…well, sometimes I did, too. But other times it only looked that way. I used a transposition spell to switch the text of old spell-books with stuff by Tom Clancy or Stephen King.
And I picked up some new hobbies. I took to taking long walks in the woods west of my house when I should have been doing homework. Sometimes I brought along the rifle that had been my dad’s and did a little squirrel hunting.
About that time, figuring, I guess, that I was old enough to hold down the fort by myself for a few days, Granddad started traveling more: coaxing lost prophecies out of the Absent Augurs of not-Machu Picchu; repelling, alongside some colleagues, an incursion of ravenous, pan-dimensional … goblin-y things to whom the entirety of the earth might have been a so-so snack; sitting on nice beaches, etc. Corr-Prep he left in the capable hands of Becky, wo, at twenty years of age, was the oldest and best student on campus. I assume she did okay—the school was never transubstantiated into toothpaste or banished to the space between worlds while she was in charge—but I never saw much of her work firsthand. When Granddad was gone, I tended not to go to class so much. I took a tent and a sleeping bag, some snacks and my rifle and camped out in the woods. I did no magic at all. And say what you will about those magical nerds, but none of my classmates ever narced on me.
Eventually, I also learned I had sort of a knack for cars. Over the years, I’d gotten pretty handy doing all of the plumbing and such around school, but not until I was sixteen and hoping to get a ride of my own had I ever fooled around much with an automobile. Granddad had bought a van for the school way back before I was born and not realized until after that he had nowhere to go in it. Students of magic don’t really benefit from visits to the local history museum. He tried a few day-trips to significant ley lines but found them disappointing. So the van gathered dust in the garage until the garage became an extra reading room; then it was moved out onto a patch of gravel in the backyard where, once upon a time, my dad had been working on a basketball court. Didn’t happen, for obvious reasons, but it was a fine place for an unwanted car to decay.
I spent hours working on that van after school, painstakingly undoing all the damage caused by years of neglect, sometimes doing a little damage of my own until I got the hang of things. The first time I tried the key, I got nothing, not a sound; after a few weeks of clumsy labor, the engine sputtered and died; after a few months, it turned over every now and then; and after half-a-year, it started almost every time.
One evening I was fiddling around under the hood in the failing light when I heard the crunch-crunch-crunch of footsteps in the gravel behind me. I straightened, careful not to hit my head, and turned. Granddad was standing there, hands in his pockets, a polite distance away.
“I’d half-forgotten that thing was back here,” he said. “Does it work?”
“The van? Yeah, mostly. Still leaks a little oil, and I don’t know about the A/C, but it runs alright.”
He nodded. “You think it could stand up to a little journey?”
“Few hundred miles, perhaps. I’ve heard whispers … well, it might amount to nothing, but if it does, it could be interesting. Thought we might make a field trip out of it.”
I’d never driven the van more than a few miles into town and back. The gauges in the dash were all demented, their needles gyrating to music only they could hear, sometimes the steering wheel jerked left for no reason and every hill was an adventure. “Yeah, I think we could make it.”
Twelve hours later the entire student body and faculty of the Kentucky Academy of Magic and Alchemy were crammed inside that lovely, rusted-out nightmare vehicle. I was behind the wheel, and Granddad rode shotgun.
I turned the key in the ignition. The van woke with a roar and farted foul, black smoke that filled the yard. We rattled out onto the open road and headed east, into the rising sun and the books we’d read as children.
We were hunting unicorn.
TO BE CONTINUED AGAIN … NEXT WEEK
Hank Henry went to a normal school where they taught math and had lunch breaks. Send stories of the school you went to, or wanted to go to but weren’t good enough to get in to, to [email protected].