The people lined up at the dock kept looking at their watches and phones. The ferry should have been there by now. Where was it? Impatient people looked up and down the horizon trying to catch a glimpse of their ride.
“Where is it?” a little girl asked her mother.
“This is very bad service!” an older gentleman in a suit said.
“I’m leaving a negative yelp review, right now!” another young lady complained.
After hearing that, several people pulled out their cell phones and started writing reviews, only to find they had no cell service at the docks. Dozens on grumbles and moans rose from the growing crowd as the reality of their no-cell sunk in.
“Finally!” a middle-aged actor said with all the dramatic flair of an oscar winner.
The ferry arrived and a man in a black uniform opened the gates at the walkways.
“Hey, sorry folks!” Charon said, looking at the crowd waiting for him.
“It’s about time! If I had cell service I’d let everyone know what lousy service you provide!” the young lady said as she walked past the ferryman.
“It’s the 21st century! You’re dead! I’m dead! What would a bad review do?
Annie had spent the last nine years of her life preparing for this moment. Her first expedition into the Lesser Mouse Timberline Forest that once belonged to the indigenous people of the region until last year when the government took it over. She should have taken the Shaman’s curse seriously.
The Skullbroom family has lived in these parts for neigh on two thousand years. We survived, plagues and droughts, wars and floods, but no one knows if we’ll survive this younger generation. They just don’t seem to care as much as us old folks do. We, that is the heads of the Skullbroom family and Flowerdream family, spend most of our time worrying about the future of our little valley. If these kids don’t shape up and learn the family trade, then where would the world be then?
We’ve had conversations like this before. I remember one particularly bad period about six hundred years ago when things were lousy for so long that we didn’t think we’d survive, but we did. People eventually started remembering we were here and what we did for them. All that book learning and fancy artwork didn’t do for them what we could. Eventually the younger generation came around and joined the family business. But I tell you, I just don’t know anymore.
Why just last week, Cacklescreech, came to me and said, “Elder Skullbroom, I’d prefer to be called John Broom now.” Imagine that! Giving up your family name. Well, I put a stop to that! Once a Skullbroom, always a Skullbroom! It’s not just us that’s having problems. Lily Flowerdream was telling me last week that three children from her family ran away to that city down the road. Said they wanted a ‘normal’ life. Hah! Normal! What makes them think our life isn’t normal? We’re here, they’re there, and that’s normal. No, we may not survive if we rely on our younger generation. Which is why Lily and I have decided to take a lesson from the old ways and bring in apprentices.
Two months ago, Lily and I put an advertisement in the local newspaper in the city and had a surprising number of interested people. It’s odd that our children want to move to the city, but the city children want to move here. Not just young people though. No, we had quite a few adults interested too. Although we both decided that training an older person would be far too difficult, so we narrowed it down to five young people each. Last week, we interviewed all ten finalists and picked two of them. One for Lily and one for me. Hopefully, this will show our young people that they are very much wanted by their family, but the family will continue on without them, just as we have for centuries.
Our two families are so entwined, that we decided to kill two birds with one stone and train the apprentices together. The Flowerdream’s work is vital to our success, and normally, I wouldn’t be out there with Lily and her family, but desperate times call for desperate measures and so all four of us were out in the back field where our magic keeps things hidden from the public.
“We grow all the flowers, plants, herbs, and trees for the Skullbrooms,” Lily told the group. “No offense, Blooddancer, but without us they wouldn’t know what to do.”
I snorted so loud I thought my lung had popped out my nose again. Everyone just glared at me with a mixture of disgust, fright, and impatience. I couldn’t help but laugh and shrug my shoulders.
“These are my personal favorites,” Lily said, pointing to a fifteen-row section of purple iron weeds. The two apprentices jotted the name, description, and little picture in their notebook.
“And I,” I said, clearing my throat, “despise those flowers, but they are a key ingredient in the fortuna venereum potion we sell to young men, well young ladies buy it too now and then, but they don’t seem to have problems in that area.
Lily chuckled and blushed.
“What else goes in that potion?” my apprentice asked.
Very smart of him to think about asking. “Well, after crushing up three of the flowers—not the stem, just the flower—I add five toad’s eyes, tongue of a bat—ladies love the tongue if you know how to use it right, spit of a large male grizzly bear, and fresh, warm, yak sperm.”
Lily went bright red and laughed as the two apprentices’ faces contorted with disgust as I read off the list of ingredients. Guess they should be happy one didn’t ask how we make the potion or collect the yak sperm. It can get quite messy.
“Moving on?” Lily asked as soon as she stopped laughing.
We moved on to the next section where the wild grasses grew that went into our famous Skullbroom Personal Safety Formula. No one will bother you after two drops behind the ear. The young ladies just love that one. Probably because all the men buying our luck potion. I don’t know why the two apprentices turned green when I said that potion included fresh turkey vulture vomit. Guess it is an acquired taste.
Section by section, our apprentices reacted the same. Happily jotting things down when Lily would tell them all about the flower and how her family prepares the dirt in that section, how they water it, and feed it, and blah, blah, blah. By the time we reached the fifth section, I remembered why I love Lily, but hate spending time in the field. I was very happy when Cacklescreech, or sorry, John, joined us for the last bit of the tour in the fields. I was anxious to get my apprentice in the lab and show him how to properly create the potions. Even non-magical folk can make them, but we don’t like that to get out. We’d be out of business if it did.
Apparently, the apprentices had had enough by the time we reached the last section. I had just started explaining how we combined blue bells, leprechaun hearts and … I didn’t get any further than that before both apprentices began vomiting everywhere.
“NOT ON THE FLOWERS!” Lily screamed.
“LET ME COLLECT IT!” I screamed, but they just ran off. Well, it was more like leap, leap, hurl, than running.
Lily and I sighed and shook out heads. What were we to do now?
“Looks like the city kids don’t want to help either, John. Maybe our time has come.”
John grinned. He hugged me, then Lily. “Call me Cacklescreech. Sorry, Dad.”
“What changed your mind?” Lily asked.
Cacklescreech laughed, shaking his head. “The city’s nuts, Dad. All they want is money, sex, video games, and no one there knows how to fix a good fried brain or bile soup.”
Lily and I stared at each other in disbelief. Could it really be that bad in the city? What ever happened to the good old days?
“Close your eyes,” Patsy and Elmo said as they came into the room with Sarah’s graduation cake.
Sarah laughed, thinking about all the surprise birthday parties that had taken place in this living room over the last twenty-one years. She covered her eyes with her hands.
Sarah screamed looking at the custom-made cake of two of her favorite wax figures made by Madam Tussauds. Tears flowed as Elmo picked up the knife and sliced the man’s arm off and served it on a paper plate. It was a delicious chocolate and vanilla marble cake and the family had devoured the male figure in no time.
“We’re so proud of you, darling,” Patsy said. “I just know you’re going to be famous one day.”
“Ok course, she will,” Elmo said, kissing Sarah on the head.
“Thanks, guys. I couldn’t have finished school without you.”
Elmo sighed and looked at Patsy.
“What’s wrong?” The look on their faces worried Sarah.
“It’s been a rough spring. What with your father being laid off and my knitting just hasn’t been selling as well as I would have liked,” Patsy began but wasn’t able to finish.
“Want your mother is trying to say, is that, well, we know how much you wanted to go to visit Madame Tussauds in France and…well, we just can’t afford that right now.”
Sarah was relieved that’s all that was wrong and chuckled. “I love both of you, and you have done so much for me. I understand. I do. It’s okay.”
“Well, we don’t think so. I asked around and found out about this other wax museum in Ohio that we could afford as a vacation, and well, we know that Ohio isn’t France, but we hope you like it all the same.”
Sarah wrapped her arms around both her parents and kissed them. They were more than she deserved. She certainly wasn’t the easiest of teenagers, and they sure had their moments, but moments like this, she wished she could bottle up and keep forever. “I love it!”
Elmo handed her an envelope with a Greyhound Bus ticket, a ticket to the wax museum, and a printout of the hotel reservation he made. She left the following week. It was a lovely bus ride she met amazing people. Some let her sketch them and others wanted pictures of her. One young man was going to the same town she was and, as chance would have it, was also an art major and was museum lover. Unlike Sarah, though, he had been offered a job at the museum. They chatted all through Ohio and said their goodbyes at the terminal.
The hotel was nothing fancy. No room service, no pool, and it was small, old, and a little run, but she loved it. It reminded her of Norman’s mother’s house in Psycho if that had been the motel. After checking in and calling her parents to thank them again and that she had made it safe and sound, she decided to go walk around town.
The area seemed safe enough, and she had taken plenty of self-defense classes during college to be able to take care of herself. Not much was happening around town, and she asked for directions to the museum from the local 7-11 clerk. He looked confused as to why anyone would want to go there, but whatever, kooks came in all the time asking silly questions, so he told her.
His directions took her through downtown and into a residential neighborhood. Sarah thought it was a strange place for a wax museum, but they really can be anywhere, can’t they? She found the location, and read the sign outside the large, old house, “House of Wax.” Sarah laughed thinking of the old Vincent Price movie. Anything to sell tickets now.
When Patsy and Elmo retraced Sarah’s steps a month later, they swore one of the wax figures looked just like their missing daughter.