The house was decorated in the sort of style that seemed intended to catch as much dust as possible. There wasn’t a single surface—and there were lots of them—unencumbered by a bowl of decorative baubles or a ring-around-the-rosy display of porcelain figurines. Mounds of fake flowers and ferns were heaped into ornate urns, artificial trees were shoved into corners, and top-heavy wall vases clung for dear life to the striped wall paper. It also seemed that no sculpture was complete unless it had a garland of musty roses draped about it. Sarah Walker, seated on the edge of an overstuffed plaid couch, dressed in the entirely black, decidedly unelaborate and non-patterned official Blake School of Magical Security coat and boots, felt rather out of place.
This was certainly a far cry from the empty marble and glowing crystal interior Sarah had admittedly expected. After all, Sarah felt the job posting had had that sort of wealthy recluse feel to it: Private, highly-exclusive employer seeks qualified individual to fill position of Magical Security Guard at remote, high-end estate. Position is security-sensitive and demands great discretion and good judgment on the part of the individual. Requirements: graduation from an accredited four-year university with a degree in Magical Security; at least three years experience at Level 3 Magical Security; ability to seamlessly carry out instructions exactly while adapting to unforeseen circumstances a must. To apply, please email your cover letter and current resume to ———–, along with proof of certification and at least three letters of recommendation. Should the candidate’s background be deemed an appropriate match, they will be sent a series of prescreening questions as part of a multistep interview process. Sarah felt that the term “high-end estate” should have at least protected the place from the faux-wood rabbit statuette perched on the end-table.
Sarah was currently attempting to distract herself from her slight case of pre-interview jitters by studying said rabbit, which was carved with such disregard for realism and such fondness for mass that great gaudy flowers bulged out from every inch the creature’s fur. Perhaps Sarah was imagining it, but there almost seemed to be a look panic in its flowery eyes. “Run!” the bunny seemed to scream. “You see what’s become of me! Run out the door and across the lawn and never come back, and be careful you don’t trip over the birdbath on your way out!” Sarah shut her eyes and looked away. She had worked too hard to land this interview to be thrown off by a misshapen bunny.
The man who had introduced himself as Mr. McHighmer reentered the room at this point. “Mrs. McHighmer will see you now,” he informed Sarah. “Thank you for waiting.”
“Not at all.” Sarah smiled. She rose and followed Mr. McHighmer through the kitchen, brushing off her coat and smoothing back her hair as she went, her advisor’s advice ringing through her head: “Don’t let the movies fool you. People like to see magicians on film with long, flowing hair, but in real life, put it back in a nice sensible braid. It’s much more practical, and gives people the sense that you’re ready to get down to business.”
Perhaps it was a bit too business-like, Sarah worried, as she followed Mr. McHighmer onto a sunny, gray-stone patio. A rather short, curly-haired old woman, who otherwise looked rather like her couch, was seated next to a pitcher of what was probably iced tea.
“This is Mrs. McHighmer,” introduced Mr. McHighmer. “She’ll be conducting the rest of the interview.” He looked back to Mrs. McHighmer. “Is there anything else you need, dear?”
“No, that will be all, thank you,” sniffed Mrs. McHighmer, looking Sarah over with an unexpectedly critical gaze. “Have a seat, please, Ms. Walker. How are you this afternoon?”
Sarah awkwardly pulled the patio chair out, trying not to wince as it grated against the stone. “Very well, thank you. And how are you?”
“Very well, for now,” replied Mrs. McHighmer. “Well, first, I’d like to talk about you and get to know you and your qualifications a bit more, before we go on to talk more about the job details, as I’m sure you have a few questions.”
“The application process was just a tad secretive,” ventured Sarah, scrutinizing Mrs. McHighmer to see how this attempt at humor would be taken.
“Yes, I always pride myself on being very private and selective,” agreed Mrs. McHighmer, without an ounce of drollness in her tone.
Sarah attempted to salvage herself. “Well, for the past three years I’ve worked on a site that was nothing if not extremely private and selective,” offered Sarah. “So I like to think of myself as capable of great discretion.” Sarah mentally fist-bumped herself for so smoothly fitting the original advertisement’s language into her conversation.
“Yes,” mused Mrs. McHighmer. “You are a very recent graduate of the Blake School of Magical Security, are you not?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Sarah confirmed. “I graduated number two out of a class of two hundred.”
Mrs. McHighmer did not seem impressed. “I was admittedly a bit concerned when I noted that while you were technically a staff member at a Level 3 magical security site for three years, you were only in the midst of the action, as it were, for the last year.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Sarah admitted. “However, even when I was not in the ‘midst of the action,’ as you put it, I still held positions of increasing criticalness to the success of the protection of that site.”
Mrs. McHighmer nodded. “Yes, you detailed that in your resume. At any rate, your supervisors assured me that you were one of the foremost team members they employed, and certainly up to the task of embarking on a career in private security, which is what this position is all about. If you don’t mind, I’d now like to elaborate on what exactly this position entails.” She paused, and took a sip of her tea.
“Of course.” Sarah nodded.
Mrs. McHighmer gestured about her. “Well, first off, you should know that this is only a Level 1 security site, thank heavens. My husband and I purchased this estate about thirty years ago, and we have greatly improved it and we dearly love it. However, one thing that we simply cannot deal with ourselves is the positive infestation we have emanating from that forest over there.” She pointed across the rather extensive lawn and over a small stream to a clump of somewhat benign-looking woods.
“Oh?” Sarah responded, not sure of what reaction was in order.
“Yes,” insisted Mrs. McHighmer. “It may not look like much, but from it come all sorts of nasty creatures. Pixies. Gnomes. A hobgoblin or two. We even had a baby dragon here once, although that was many years ago.”
“I’ve dealt with a dragon before,” interrupted Sarah.
“Then you know exactly what trouble they are,” replied Mrs. McHighmer. “This patch of forest is the only one for miles and miles, and so all the creatures congregate there. I would have it chopped down, but that simply can’t be done. Something about environmental laws requiring at least one wooded section of terrain of some size every so many miles. Ridiculous, when it’s right in someone’s back yard, I say. Anyway, I’ve always tolerated it, but lately, Mr. McHighmer and I have taken to adopting cats as companions and comforts in our old age, and we would like to even adopt a small dog, one that wouldn’t be too much of a bother. But that simply isn’t possible while we’ve got the creatures from the wood coming down to catch and cook our cats every chance they get. We’ve already lost one or two of our poor felines.”
Sarah wasn’t sure what to make of this. “So, Mrs. McHighmer, if you don’t mind me clarifying, the position I would be filling is related to this…how?”
Mrs. McHighmer looked at her in surprise. “Oh, did I not make this clear? You would provide protection for our house pets. We do like to allow our pets outside upon occasion, but we simply don’t feel safe doing so knowing there’s a clan of hobgoblins waiting in the bushes. You would provided security by making sure that our pets can roam about as they like, unmolested. The gnomes also like to come in and steal the spoons, and I expect you would be able to take care of that issue too.” She stopped and looked at Sarah expectantly.
Sarah was not quite sure what to say. “Um, Mrs. McHighmer…” Several versions of what she knew she would have to tell Mrs. McHighmer flashed through Sarah’s head, some variations polite, others less so. Mrs. McHighmer, you mean to tell me that I completed a six step interview process to provide security for CATS and some spoiled TOY DOG? Mrs. McHighmer, I’m afraid this position is not exactly what I had in mind. Mrs. McHighmer, are you aware that at that Level 3 security site that you were so finicky about, I personally defeated a ghoul that was powerful enough to turn the site and everyone in it into dust with a wave of its hand? Mrs. McHighmer, I’m not sure I’m the best candidate for this position, especially as I’m afraid that I’m seeking a more active posting, a more, if you’ll forgive me, a more exciting position. Mrs. McHighmer, you are talking to a member of the team that defeated the dragon Petra, whom I’m sure you’ve heard of, and, yes, I was certainly very low on the totem pole for that operation, but I am still not a glorified cat-sitter!
Mrs. McHighmer, unaware of Sarah’s consternation, continued: “The hours, I am afraid, will be a bit odd, but I assure you, you will be well compensated.”
Despite herself, Sarah was curious what Mrs. McHighmer’s definition of “well compensated” entailed. “If you don’t mind me asking, Mrs. McHighmer, about how much were you thinking of paying?”
“Not at all, it is a fair question,” Mrs. McHighmer conceded. “This is an hourly position at around forty hours per week, possibly more as the case may be, at $250/hr.”
Sarah fairly stared. “Pardon me, $250?”
“Yes,” confirmed Mrs. McHighmer. “Good help is hard to find these days. Quality individuals are worth paying for, and, Ms. Walker, I believe that you are one such quality individual.”
Perhaps a nice quiet position like this wouldn’t be too terrible, thought Sarah. It’d make my mother happy. And even with my renown, I’m not likely to get a much higher-paying position straight out of college.
Though Sarah would never have admitted it to herself, much like the dragon she had once helped defeat, Sarah was rather fond of coins.
“Mrs. McHighmer, this position certainly does sound like an opportunity I don’t want to pass up.” A very glorified cat-sitter indeed.