a/n: I'm posting chapter one of my second draft in two parts to get some reviews and revise it before I submit it for a scholarship! Any feedback - big-picture or line-by-line - is appreciated, since this particular chapter needs to be as good as it can be. I'm going for a third-person omniscient viewpoint, so let me know if you think the viewpoint is effective!
Centius the Wise had the flu.
People uneducated in magic assume wizards can’t get the flu or that, having caught it, they can banish it with the right word or a tap of their staff. Which is nonsense, of course. There is no cure for the flu, magical or otherwise.
If there were—if Centius had been in Washington that day, to name the Chosen One as he was supposed to—things would have been different. No doubt Edna Fisher would have gone on living at Golden Years Senior Home until she died of old age, or possibly boredom.
But Centius the Wise had the flu.
It was her son's birthday, but Edna was stuck at the nursing home, playing bingo. Or rather not playing bingo. Or rather trying not to play bingo. Jeanine, the activities director, was making it difficult.
“Are you sure you won't join the game?” she wheedled as she passed by the television on her third circuit around the room.
Edna looked up from the scarf she was knitting and smiled as sweetly as she could, which was not very sweetly since she'd already had to stave off so many of Jeanine's advances this morning. “Completely sure, thank you.”
Jeanine smiled back, less sweet. “Now, now, Mrs. Fisher, you really should consider participating. At your time of life, it's important to...”
Edna tuned out as Jeanine droned on. She liked to wax poetical about the importance of making an effort to have a Social Life at Golden Years. Which was all good and well, but Bingo Day wasn't exactly the epitome of a social life. The old folks slumped at the cafeteria tables in the generously-named lounge, which was stark and white and not conducive to lounging. Half of them had fallen asleep. The other half played with the air of people getting something necessary but unpleasant out of the way—except for the crowd at the front table, closest to the orderly calling out numbers, who were generally far more enthusiastic about Jeanine's activities than Edna felt was warranted. If Golden Years had been a magical or even a hybrid home, with classes on spellwork and enchanted board games, Edna would have been more interested.
At last Jeanine finished her lecture and moved on to see how the nearest table of bingo players was getting on. Edna let out a long and rather rude breath. She shouldn't have been there anyway; she should have been in Benjamin's van, on her way to the cemetery. But Jeanine had roped him into helping out with bingo, so Edna was stuck here until the game was over. At least she could sit in an armchair in front of the television and knit and watch television instead of playing what was quite possibly the most boring card game known to man.
Benjamin, sitting at the nearest cafeteria table to help another resident with their bingo card, leaned over and said, “It wouldn't kill you to get in on the action.”
Edna snorted and lost count of her stitches. “Bingo isn't action, young man. Tell me when they get a blackjack table in here.”
Benjamin adjusted his glasses and showed the resident beside him which box to mark off on her bingo card. He was in his early thirties and had broad shoulders and brown skin and big doe eyes that made Edna want to take care of him, although of course it usually went the other way around because she was a resident and he was an orderly.
Not for much longer, she reminded herself gloomily. He had given his two weeks' notice and now had only another week left until it took effect. She tried to be proud of him. She'd never gone to college, but he'd gotten into a doctorate program at a university out in California. The program didn’t start until the end of August, but he wanted to take some time off to make arrangements and enjoy the summer before he went back to school. He’d certainly earned it.
But he was just about the only thing she liked about the nursing home.
“I could be wrong,” he said, “but I don't think people would like it if we let their parents gamble.”
“Bingo is gambling. In a manner of speaking.”
“I'm just saying, we can't go until this is done anyway.”
“As if I didn't have better things to do than play bingo,” Edna said, and she turned up the volume on the television.
A jingle for a magical weight-loss system crackled out of the speakers. Edna winced and adjusted her hearing aid and turned the volume off before Jeanine could return to berate her for the noise. She wished she could afford a hybrid nursing home, where they treated their patients with magic as well as medicine, but Golden Years was the best she could do.
Then again, it was only ten minutes from the cemetery.
Edna hummed tunelessly to herself, knitted the scarf to keep her hands busy, and kept half an eye on the television. It had switched over from a game show to the news. The closed captions said something about another dragon attack. There had been a lot of dragon attacks lately. Not anywhere remotely nearby, which should have relieved Edna. Instead she thought a dragon attack might liven things up.
She regretted thinking it immediately and focused back on the news report. You'd think magical assistance at media companies would make captions better than they'd been in her youth, but they were as spotty and questionable as ever.
A spokesperson for the Knights reported earlier today that the latest attack was on the town of San Ignacio but claims it is unlikely this attack...
...is related to the recent spate of attacks by the sorcerer known as Redway.
Flames flickered onscreen, consuming shops and houses.
spokesperson: San Ignacio is the center of magical industry in southern Texas, so with that much magic in one place, we're going to see—what we're going to see is a lot of magical creatures, including dragons, they're going to be attracted to it...
A cheer went up from the front table. Edna leaned back toward Benjamin and said, “Mrs. Macready?”
It was always Mrs. Macready. There was hardly a point in anyone else playing. She'd won two rounds already this morning.
The front table went on for far longer than they needed to in congratulating the winner, who demurely claimed her prize of an inspirational poster with a kitten on it.
Then, with a small pop, the wizard appeared.
He was clearly a wizard, even if you'd never seen one before, which Edna had. He had purple robes like members of the Council of Wizards all wore, and a lengthy but well-groomed beard, and a staff, and flashing eyes. Edna's first thought was one of admiration. You'd never suggest to him that he ought to move into a nursing home.
Her next thought was to wonder if his staff was purely for magic, or if he really needed it to walk the way she needed her cane.
The front table hadn't yet noticed him, now cooing over Mrs. Macready's new poster, but around the room the other seniors were perking up. A nonagenarian asleep not far from Benjamin jerked awake and looked around blearily.
“It's a wizard,” her neighbor shouted into her ear. “No, dear, a wizard.”
The room filled with whispers and murmurs as the seniors speculated with each other about what a wizard might want with a nursing home, and a nonmagical one, at that. Benjamin leaned closer to Edna with his mouth open, about to comment on the wizard's appearance, but at that moment the wizard spoke in thunderous tones, as wizards were wont to do.
“Where is the one they call Edna Fisher?”
Well! You could have knocked her over with a feather. Before she could process the fact that it was her name that had come out of the wizard's mouth, Jeanine was on the move.
“Excuse me,” she called, “you can't just pop in here like that. All visitors must sign in at the front desk.”
The wizard deflated. Jeanine had that effect on people.
“But,” he said, “I'm a wizard.”
Jeanine put her hands on her hips, looking down her nose at him like a stern librarian. “Be that as it may, our rules don't say 'all visitors must sign in unless they're wizards.' You can go to the front desk and sign in like you're supposed to, or I can have you escorted out.”
The wizard reddened.
“I've come on a matter of great importance,” he tried, but Jeanine cut him off.
“So important you've forgotten your manners, I see. Which will it be?”
He stood there a moment longer, with his bushy eyebrows low over his eyes as if he'd never seen the likes of Jeanine before—which he hadn't. In more than nine hundred years, no one had ever greeted him with “go sign in at the front desk.”
Finally, with another small pop, he vanished.
Benjamin was still staring, open-mouthed, at the spot where he'd been. The resident beside him was happily employed with filling in random squares on her bingo card. Edna gazed down at her knitting needles, hoping they might perhaps come to life and confirm that she had indeed heard what she thought she'd heard.
Jeanine clapped her hands for attention, pulled another number, and read it out with a dramatic flourish.
The seniors turned, with a sigh, back to bingo.
To Jeanine's annoyance, however, the wizard hadn't given up. He popped into the lobby, signed in with the receptionist, and traipsed back into the lounge. A sticker reading hello my name is Methodius the Just was stuck to his robes.
He glanced at Jeanine and then looked around the room and said, “...Edna Fisher?”
Edna stuffed her knitting in her handbag and stood up before Jeanine could say anything else. “That would be me. Let's talk out here.”
Leaning on her cane, she stumped into the lobby with Methodius the Just, visitor, in tow, muttering all the while under his breath, “In all my centuries—never expected—the disrespect—I ask you—”
The receptionist, listening to a podcast on her computer, glared at the wizard as he entered and turned up the volume on her speakers. Edna sank with a slight groan into the faded loveseat by the desk, which was meant to make the sleek professionalism of the receptionist's domain feel homely but mostly looked like someone had been confused about where to dispose of their old sofa. Her hip ached, the result of a botched hip replacement. Her knees, too, although the reason for that was far less dramatic, just your standard old age.
“Sorry about that,” she said. “Jeanine's just mad about rules and regulations.”
Methodius stopped muttering and said stiffly, “So it would seem.”
He smoothed his beard and rearranged his robes and made a great fuss over the exact placement of his staff at his side. Edna pulled her knitting back out of her handbag and returned to her scarf. He stopped fidgeting.
“What are you doing?”
“Knitting,” Edna said.
He frowned. His face looked like it was most comfortable with that particular expression.
“I'm a wizard,” he said.
“Yes, so you mentioned. It's nothing personal. I like to keep my fingers busy.”
He didn't know what to say to that, so he merely stood there, tugging at his beard.
“What's this about?” Edna asked. “I'm not a witch. I don't have a first-born son to offer you. And if you need virgin's blood for some sort of spell, well, I'm afraid I haven't been able to provide that in a very, very long time. What could you possibly want with me?”