I wrote a short story last night. I started at about 9, finished at about 2, and edited today. According to the challenge rules, I have until about 9 PM to post it, but I’m not going to wait that long.
So! Here’s my story. Feel free to critique and please enjoy Housesitting.
Evan had no memory of Aunt Madge. He had last seen her when he was three years old and that had been 14 years ago. So it came as a bit of a surprise when Evan’s mom told him that Aunt Madge wanted him to housesit for her.
Persuaded by his mother (and the eventual monetary reward for a job well done), Evan was dropped off at Aunt Madge’s house after school by his friend.
When they got there, Evan stared at the house for a minute. The house was tall with several tower-like things, black, and it just looked… creaky.
“I wouldn’t go in there, dude,” Jack said, sitting in the driver’s seat. “Looks freaking haunted.”
Evan shook his head, though he did agree. The place did look creepy. Too bad Mom had already called Aunt Madge and said that Evan would indeed be housesitting.
“Is your aunt a witch?” Jack asked.
“No!” Evan cried. “Of course not.”
“How do you know? You haven’t seen her since you were little. I bet she has a big bubbling cauldron,” Jack said.
Evan sighed and opened the passenger door. “See you at school tomorrow.”
“Unless you get turned into a frog…” Jack said.
Evan shot his friend a glare and rolled his eyes. Then he slammed the car door and began to walk up the long driveway to the house. Yeah, the house looked a little weird, but… it was just old, right? No way that it was really haunted or anything ridiculous like that.
When Evan was close to the house, but still in the driveway, two people came running out of the house. One was a man who was wearing what looked like Gandalf’s grey robe and grey hat. Evan had to do a double take before he realized that this guy was no Gandalf—too young and no beard.
The other person to come flying out the door was short woman wearing spectacles perched on the end of her nose and judging by the amount of wrinkles on her face, the woman was no spring chicken. She wore a black dress and a black pointy hat.
The woman’s face lit up when she saw Evan. “There you are! And I was beginning to think that you might not get here in time!” She shoved a folded piece of paper into his hands. “I wish I had time to explain the instructions to you, but Claudius and I really have to go and get to our convention, so I made you a list and it’s very clear but you must read all the instructions and read them very carefully or very bad things will happen and…”
A car honked. Not-Gandalf sat in the driver’s seat of a blue pickup truck that looked like it was going to fall apart any second. He looked impatient.
The woman sighed and turned back to Evan. “Well, I’d best be off. Do be careful. Best of luck, young man.” With that, the woman grabbed a broom that was sitting up against the house, and tossed the broom into the truck and shut the tailgate. Then she went to the passenger’s side and climbed into the vehicle. Evan watched as the truck left the driveway and went down the road.
He turned toward the house. So, the house looked creepy, Aunt Madge wore a black pointy hat and had just thrown a broom into her truck. All of which struck Evan as very witch-like. But Evan shook that off and unfolded the piece of paper he had been given.
It was quite a list.
Best to get started right away. He looked at the first item.
- Collect eggs from the phoenix. Her name is Ashlyn.
Evan blinked. Phoenix? Like a firebird? Like those flaming birds that were supposed to be mythical?
Why—or rather, how—would Aunt Madge have a phoenix?
Evan took a breath. Oh well. It didn’t matter. If Aunt Madge had a phoenix and she wanted him to get eggs from it, then he would locate the phoenix and gather eggs.
There. There was a… chicken coop kind of thing. Kind of back behind and beside the house. Evan walked to it. It was a big chicken coop and he went inside.
That phoenix needed a big chicken coup. She was as big as an ostrich and golden like the sun. Her feathers gave off a glow and she preened a bit as she sat on her giant nest. Evan swallowed and hoped that she was a vegetarian.
“Hi,” he said quietly as he came closer. The phoenix cocked her head and made a squawking sound. “I’m just here to get some eggs,” Evan said. The phoenix cocked her head the other way.
Evan reached out his hand and moved it closer so he could grab the eggs out from under the phoenix. The phoenix pecked him.
“Ow!” It didn’t really hurt but Evan had said ow, anyway. He glared at the bird and tried again.
He got pecked again.
This happened three more times before Evan decided to try a different method. He reached into the feeder and grabbed a handful of feed. He tossed it away from the nest.
The phoenix got off the nest and went after the corn. Evan rushed to the nest and scooped up the two eggs that were there.
The eggs were only about the temperature of the sun.
Evan almost dropped them. He shook his hands. How to get scalding eggs into the house… he saw an egg basket in the corner. Perfect.
Using the edge of his shirt as a makeshift potholder, Evan grabbed the eggs and put them in the basket. Then he left the chicken coop.
Well, that was done. He smiled and walked back to the house. When he got to the door, he looked at the second item on the list.
- You will have to sing to Ashlyn. She likes songs by Adele.
Oops. Oh well. Evan had gotten the eggs. There was no point in going back and singing now. He looked at the next item.
- Knock on the door three times and speak the password (which is “pickled herring”). Gerald should let you in but you have to give him two phoenix eggs.
Who was Gerald and why wasn’t he doing the housesitting? Evan knocked on the door three times.
“What’s the password?” a voice questioned in a way that could only be described as barking.
“Pickled herring!” Evan called, feeling silly.
The door opened. A cocker-spaniel dog sat on the other side of the door and panted at Evan. Aunt Madge hadn’t mentioned a dog.
The dog looked quite friendly and seemed to be smiling at Evan. Evan reached out his hand for the dog to sniff. The dog licked his hand and continued to pant and smile and look like it was waiting for something.
Evan didn’t have time to play with the dog. “Gerald!” Evan called. “Gerald! It’s Evan! I’m house sitting for Madge.”
No one showed up.
Huh. Well, maybe he’d run into Gerald later. Evan tried to step into the door. The dog barked at him.
Evan tried to step into the door again. The dog growled. What was wrong with that dog?
And if Gerald wasn’t around, who had asked for the password just now?
“Gerald?” he called again.
The dog barked.
Evan noticed the dog’s collar. The dog wasn’t still growling, so he bent down and looked at the collar.
The collar said ‘Gerald’. Who the heck named their dog Gerald? Well, Aunt Madge, obviously…
Then who had asked for the password?
Never mind. Maybe he’d imagined that. Evan gave the dog the two phoenix eggs. The dog started rolling the eggs away with its nose. Evan shut the door and walked into the house.
The next couple chores went without a single hitch. They were fairly simple things, though there was still a bit of a magical twist to them.
Evan had to water the plants, including musical dianthus flowers, Lillian-of-the-Valley (the flowers insisted on being called by the correct name), and rocks. He wasn’t sure why the rocks needed watering, but they seemed to like it because they started talking after they’d had a whole watering-can of water. They started gossiping about tulips.
Evan left the rocks to their chit-chat and got the mail from the mailbox that’d only open if he sang the second verse of “Blank Space” to it. He set the mail on the table and looked at the next item on the list.
- Make an omelet out of three more phoenix eggs and go feed it to Persephone (she’s the dragon in the basement).
Wait a minute. There had only been two eggs from the phoenix before. And Evan had already given them to Gerald.
Evan quickly glanced at the last thing on the list.
- Take Gerald and Alistair for a walk. Don’t let Alistair get out of his tank or he may decapitate you and/or practice his defenestration technique.
Okay, so… Evan could hypothetically take Gerald and whatever Alistair was on the walk while he went to get more eggs from the phoenix. There’d only been two eggs before, but maybe this was why Evan was supposed to be singing Adele songs to the firebird before.
So, he should be able to go back and sing to the phoenix and she’d lay more eggs and then he could make the dragon an omelet and then go home, right? Easy as pie.
Evan grabbed the two dog leashes he’d seen by the door. Now. Where was Alistair and what was he? And why would you walk something that lived in a tank?
Wasn’t “defenestration” the act of throwing someone out a window?
Evan spotted a fishbowl in the living room. He looked closely at it and didn’t see anything in it except a goldfish. How was a goldfish supposed to decapitate him? Or throw him out a window?
Maybe he was supposed to just carry the fishbowl on the walk. Or maybe he was just supposed to move the fish to a different part of the room. He’d done weirder today.
“Gerald!” Evan called. “Come here, Gerald!”
The dog came rushing into the living room, nearly flying. It stopped in front of Evan. “Time for a walk? Time for a walk, human?”
“Yes, it’s…” Evan stopped. He looked at the dog. “Did you just speak to me? Are you the one who asked for the password earlier?”
Gerald looked like he’d made a mistake, kind of shocked and ‘oops’. “Um… bark?”
Evan sighed. Okay, the dog could talk, but nothing had been weirder than singing Taylor Swift to the mailbox. Evan reached out to clip the leash on. Gerald took off running.
“Hey!” Evan shouted. He leapt up off the floor. In doing that, he knocked over the fishbowl.
The water and the fish spilled onto the floor. Evan grabbed the fishbowl and ran to the kitchen sink to refill it. When he came back, the goldfish was gone.
Suddenly, Evan felt something cold and slimy slip down the back of his t-shirt. He yelped and started twitching. Whatever it was started to bite him, too. He struggled to get it out of his shirt. It wasn’t until it was too late that he realized how close to the window he was. The window opened by itself and though he struggled to upright himself, Evan fell through it.
The window had been on the first story of the house, but the fall out of the window was still painful, since Evan landed in a rosebush. He glanced up at the window to see a goldfish lying on the sill and somehow managing to smirk at him.
As Evan pulled himself from the rosebush, he smelled something hot and smoky. Was something on fire?
The chicken coop was in flames.
Maybe that’s why he was supposed to sing to the phoenix.
Evan found the hose and turned it on then ran to the chicken coop, trying to remember all the words to “Rolling in the Deep”. He practically screamed the song as he sprayed the fire.
It took a while and maybe Evan should’ve called the fire department instead, but he got the fire out. The phoenix was okay. She had even laid more eggs in that fire.
Evan looked for a phone number or some other contact information on the instruction list. Nope. No way to get ahold of Aunt Madge if there were questions or an emergency.
“Hello!” someone called.
Evan looked up. A girl about his age was walking toward him. She was kind of pretty and he wished his clothes weren’t smoky and torn.
The girl smiled. “I’m Aubrey. I’m looking for Ms. Tikal. She lives here. Well you probably knew that.”
Evan’s mouth dropped open. “Wait. I think you have the wrong house. My Aunt Madge lives here. And her last name isn’t Tikal.”
“Uh, no,” Aubrey said. “Ms. Helen Tikal is an…um… eccentric lady. She has a phoenix and a dragon and a possessed goldfish and she cosplays as that one lady from Harry Potter a lot—the one Maggie Smith plays in the movies. Actually, I’m pretty sure she was heading to LeakyCon for the weekend. She hired me to housesit.”
Evan looked at the house number on the front door. Oh. Lovely. He was at the wrong house entirely.
Just then, Evan’s cell phone rang. He reached into his pocket and answered it. His mom was freaking out.
“Where are you? Aunt Madge has been waiting on you for two hours!”
Evan sighed and told his mom that he was on the way and that he’d explain when he got home. After he hung up, he turned to Aubrey and handed her the list he’d been given.
“Read all the instructions before you start,” he said. “Seriously.”