It was two weeks after Chris’s sixteenth birthday when his dad made an announcement.
“No more pocket money after today. You’re old enough to get a job, and I expect you to do so.”
Appeals to his mother hadn’t done any good, so he was slouching up to the local shop with his last allowance, kicking stones and muttering to himself.
“…could’ve at least given me some warning but nooo, just ‘no more money after today’ stingy…”
He stopped. There was a sign in the shop window that hadn’t been there the day before.
“PART-TIME ASSISTANT WANTED. APPLY WITHIN.”
For as long as he could remember, the only people Chris had ever seen serving in the shop were Mr Masters, the old man who ran it, and his wife. He figured they were getting on a bit, so it would make sense for them to have an assistant. And there were worse jobs. It beat shelf-stacking in the supermarket with that stupid orange uniform, or flipping burgers, and it was close to home. It was also much better than most shops- Mr Masters’ shop was pretty cool, it always seemed to have everything you wanted in stock.
He made up his mind as he picked up a magazine and a can of root beer. He pushed one hand through his hair, hoping he looked vaguely respectable (but perfectly aware that the shopkeeper had seen him at his scruffiest) and smiled at the old man as he approached the till.
“Morning Mr Masters, it says in the window you’re looking for an assistant?”
The old man smiled and nodded as he rang up Chris’s purchases.
“Yes indeed young Mr Nealson. Are you interested?”
Chris nodded as he paid. “Yes, sir. Do you want me to bring in a CV?”
Mr Masters laughed a little. “No, I don’t think that will be necessary. When can you start?”
Chris was a little surprised at this. He had kind of expected it to be hard to find his first job. “Uh, well I wasn’t doing anything today, so, I guess I’m available straight away. I can ring my mum and let her know, and stuff.”
“Excellent! Come on through to the back then. We can get you started on something small right away.” He opened a hatch beside the till and beckoned Chris through. “You can leave your drink and magazine over there, out of the way, until you’re done. First I’ll show you around.”
Chris followed the old man through to the back of the shop. He’d always expected it to be a big stockroom, full of boxes and crates, but there was hardly anything back there. It seemed strange, considering the shop was so well-stocked.
“Okay, Chris, you know the way around the front of the shop well enough, the till’s back there and I’ll get Deirdre to show you how to use that tomorrow, she’s better with it than I am. This is our stockroom. You’ll have noticed that there aren’t many boxes no doubt?”
He turned and looked at Chris, a surprisingly cheeky smile on his face.
“Um, yes sir, I was wondering about that,” Chris said.
“That’s because we don’t need to store things here. We get things in here, and then take them straight out to the shop. Look down at the floor.”
Chris looked down. There were chalk marks all over the floor. Strange symbols, all arranged in a big circle. He looked up at Mr Masters, confused.
Mr Masters laughed. “Stand over in the corner there, don’t move, and watch.”
He waited for Chris to take his position then stood in the centre of the circle. He started chanting. Chris stared as the chalk symbols glowed and the air seemed to become electric. Hairs were standing up on the back of his neck. What had he got himself into? The old man stopped chanting and pulled a piece of paper out of his pocket.
“One crate of root beer, one crate of traditional cola, one crate of traditional lemonade…”
The crates appeared in front of Mr Masters as he read off his list. Once done, he folded up the piece of paper and chanted a little more. The glowing receded and the air returned to normal.
“Right. I’m going to ask you to stack these things on the shelves, I’m sure you can find where they all go. Oh, and I’m also going to have to ask you not to tell anyone about this back-room business, I’m sure you can understand. It’ll take some training before you can make the orders yourself, a few weeks at least.”
Chris started stacking shelves, and it wasn’t until he was on the third box that it hit him. He was a magician’s apprentice.
© Kari Fay