The prompt for this one was found somewhere in the mists of time, and it was:
“The skeleton is on fire.”
“Why is the skeleton on fire?”
“Mama, I am so happy you let me come with you to work!”
Lohne sighed. “I’m glad you came with me, too, chickpea.”
And she was, really she was. It was Bring Your Kid to Work Day after all and she kept promising to Fiann that he could come next year for the past three years. Now he was nine (standard age, ten local age) and she couldn’t avoid it any longer. It was just frustrating, she was in the middle of a huge project and her boss was giving her grief…
Her boss. If harpies were to descend on that idiot’s chest area and rip out every single hair thereabout she would polish their tweezers. Prick. It was his bloody idea to bring the children to work. “Show them what’s what, eh. Eh? Mebbe inspire them to follow in their parents’ footsteps, what! Little tykes running around, pitter-patter of small feet, who doesn’t love kids?”
Me, thought Lohne, resigned to her fate, I don’t love kids. Kids suck. Not my kid, obviously, she mentally corrected herself. My kid is fine. But I go to work to NOT be a mama for eight hours. And she usually dealt with tiny, finicky details. Not exactly an environment for small children. Especially small children that are clumsier than a mastodon in a vial factory. Children like her beloved Fiann.
They rounded a corner and Lohne stopped in front of the door. “Now, Fiann,” she said in her best strict mum voice. “You do not touch anything. You look and you may ask questions, but only at appropriate times. Under no circumstances do you leave the prep area and under no circumstances, no not even if there is a fire, Fiann, pay attention, under no circumstances do you approach the sigil-pentagram.”
Fiann fidgeted. “But Mama, Mr Rhee said I could help. Mr Rhee said it was standard summoning, like peeling an apple or making pancakes.
Lohne growled under her breath and felt a tell-tale wisp of smoke curling from her left nostril, a sure sign of tetchiness. “Mr Rhee can go ki…”
“Lohne, m’dear! You are here! Splendid, excellent!” A small, frail looking man skidded to a halt in front of them, his midnight-blue robe flapping around his ankles. His mouth was spread in a grin, his eyes glittered with part joy and part panic. “I was talking to young Fiann here when you were getting the morning bagels, we thought it would be a jolly good idea if he helped with the Light Demon Summoning! Under your supervision and help of course.”
Lohne tried to stay calm, she really did. “You said what to my kid?”
Mr Rhee shook a jolly finger. “Now, now Lohne, I am your boss. It’s just a Light Sumonning, one skeleton and that’s it. To give the kid a sense of achievement! He’ll just pass you the powdered fireflies and death rattle beetles, what could happen? Been talking to the tyke, a naturally curious young man!”
“A naturally nine year old kid.”
Lohne didn’t add, You stupid bastard, and he’s as accident-prone as a mouse in a cat factory.
Fiann looked up to her with those yellow-green eyes. She tutted and pushed open the door. “Fine. You can help with the summoning. But you stay here too, Mr Rhee. Please,” she added when the man looked slightly less jolly and slightly more panicky. “After all, someone should tell Fiann what’s happening during preparation time.”
Fiann paused at the entrance to the lab in wonder. There was a safety glass separating the prep area from the summoning area. He gazed at the rows upon rows of colourful powders in glass vials and at the standard tools of the trade arranged in a neat row on the sacrificial table. He basked in the sight of various interesting bits of animals and wondered if he’d be allowed to touch any of them. The unicorn horn looked especially inviting, he thought, discharging glitter in small bursts, which meant it was still very fresh. He breathed in the sweet sickly smell of incense they burned to help with the stench of the decomposing bodies.
“Ah, well.” Mr Rhee coughed to mask his growing unease at having to communicate with an actual child. “Our basic lab. See, young Fiann, your distinguished mother is our Head Necro-technician. She has a very responsible job indeed! You know how Necro-engineers train the legion of the undead?” Finn nodded, his eyes wide. “Yes, they need a steady supply of raw material and that is what your talented mother and her staff do! The legion of the undead are then assigned to an individual Necromancer and well,” Mr Rhee chuckled. “The society wouldn’t be what it was without our dear friends the Necromancers! I mean, who would build the roads we take to work? Or grow the food?” Fiann beamed with pride. “And my mama helps!”
Mr Rhee nodded and pushed up his spectacles. “Your very intelligent mother is the best we’ve had in decades. Her skill and attention to detail is legendary. Today, she is just prepping a model-skeleton to show to the new trainees. It’s standard procedure, really, any one of the Necro-techs could do it in three minutes, but your fine mother likes to do it herself.”
“Doesn’t do to lose touch.” Lohne chopped up death rattle beetle’s legs a little faster than necessary, the bits flying around. “Fiann, you can help now. Just don’t touch anything other than what I tell you. Take that vial with the blue powder and pour it into that wooden bowl. The lighter one.”
She dumped the leggy mess into a Tupperware box and moved around to the unsecured summoning area. “You may come and pass me the bowl,” she said, still annoyed at the notion of dealing not only with Fiann’s presence at work, but that her boss seemed to want to make her involve her own kid in every step of the day. She began chanting and poured together the ingredients of various pre-prepared vials with practiced grace. Fiann approached with the bowl and she added it to the mix. The chant completed, she motioned to Fiann to join her back in the prep area.
“The summoning should take hold in three, two…”
Fiann watched from the safe haven behind the glass as a shape of a skeleton began to take form.
Mr Rhee chuckled and tried to hide the note of relief in his voice. “See, Lohne, nothing to it. I don’t know why you were so worried!” He held up his hands, palms outward in the universal sign of peace. “No, no, I won’t interfere in your job anymore! Young Fiann will just watch you from now on.” Mr Rhee turned to walk out, but stopped dead when he heard Lohne’s intake of breath.
Lohne stared at the skeleton, her brow furrowed in thought. Finally, she expressed her concern.
“Fiann, the skeleton is on fire.”
“Why is the skeleton on fire?”
“It’s not supposed to be?”
“Fiann, in all your years, how many fiery skeletons have you seen?”
“Because they are not supposed to exist. Fiann, did you pour the blue powder in the light wooden bowl?”
Lohne cursed herself for not paying attention to her son.
“It was midnight blue powder in a light bowl.”
Lohne followed the pointing finger and rolled her eyes. “Fiann, that powder is black. Blue, there,” she pointed to the light blue powder sitting on the shelf. “Black, there,” she pointed to a half-empty vial and cursed herself, her boss and that no-good husband of hers for not wanting a dog instead. “Fiann, show me the bowl.” Fiann held up a brass bowl. “I thought it was prettier and it was closer and…”
Mr Rhee launched into a stern yet kind reprimand on the importance of following instructions. Nobody paid any attention to him.
Lohne rolled her eyes yet again as the drone of Mr Rhee’s voice rose and fell. I’m a bad mother, she thought to herself. What I should have said, if I weren’t a bad person who gets distracted by changes in routine, would have been Fiann, pour the powder into the wooden bowl, because wood doesn’t react with the Theta powder, which is the blue thing you were supposed to pour. What I should have said, she fumed at herself, is that the colour of the powder is there to distinguish the innocent Theta powder from the more malicious powders we use in higher-grade summonings. Like the Gherne powder which you just poured into the brass bowl, reserved for demon summoning.
Lohne glared at the skeleton smoking in the corner. This day could not get any worse. “Better get the Repairman on this one. I will have to suffer through a lot of fire jokes.” She turned away from the skeleton and began to walk towards the intercom. Mr Rhee opened the door and half-stepped out to shout down the corridor for a member of the repair squad.
“Mama, you might want to have a look at this.”
Lohne turned around to watch as a shrieking, now blazing, skeleton broke through the far wall into the corridor behind. She felt the colour drain from her face as she went through all the options that might have lead to this spectacle. “Fiann?”
“Did you at any point touch the unicorn horn?”
Fiann glanced about in panic. “I…I might have just touched the glitter.”
“And you did that when?”
“When I brought you the midnight blue powder.”
Lohne felt an urge to scream and break things rising. “And is it possible that a fragment of the glitter came in contact with the bowl?”
She covered her eyes. She was never going to live this down. A flaming, destructive skeleton loose in her department. Fuelled by unicorn glitter.
Fiann glanced at her. “Mama?”
“This is the coolest thing that’s ever happened to me.”
“Not exactly the expression I would have used. Come, let’s get the Repairman.”