Where's the Beef?
By Doug Linger
I took a long breath, then opened the store. Someplace in some mall somewhere a vacant stall was being replaced with the distinct storefront of Spells 'R' Us.
It's not usually more than a few minutes before someone who fits all my requirements comes by, and today was no different. Not ten minutes after I moved the store a young man walked in. He looked like a football linebacker: tall and broad, with brown hair and blue eyes and pretty good looks. If he was the quarterback he'd have more women than he could handle. As it is he wouldn't have to worry too much about getting a date. Probably took them for granted.
I watched on the security monitor (a mundane one -- why use magic for absolutely everything?) for a few minutes as he browsed. Sometimes I come out of the back nearly immediately, but I felt like playing with this one. What should I make of him, I wondered. A cheerleader in love with his current best friend? No, too cliche. A little girl too young for grade school, much less college? Hm, perhaps. Or what about an old woman? I haven't done that in a while.
In the end I decided to wait. Sometime things make what to do obvious, like two days ago when three seniors entered making nasty coments about Ricky Martin. The three freshman girls who left were much more appreciative. But nothing was really suggesting itself here. Time to go up front.
As I emerged from the doorway I twitch my fingers in the subtle movement that would activate the Knowledge spell. Everything I needed to know about the boy flooded into my brain in an instant. "Hello, Robert. What can I do for you today?" The spell had told me that already, but it's not good to show too much knowledge you're not supposed to have too soon. It scares the customers away, and that's no fun.
"How did you know...?" the young man -- he was indeed a linebacker -- asked in the usual puzzled tone.
"I'm a wizard, of course." You'd think more people would recognize my robe for what it is. "You don't think a place like this would be run by anything less, do you?"
He think's I'm crazy, or at least playing around. I decided it was time to blow his mind. A little earlier than usual, but what the heck. "So what do you need? A love potion to get that girl you want? Or, no, wait. You already have Alice." Robert's eyes went wide. "What about a present for her? Her birthday is coming up, I understand." His mouth opened in an O of surprise. "Or... wait, I have it. You need a costume!"
Robert's mouth dropped wide open. "But... but.. how did you know that?! I mean... how!"
I smiled, feeling a warm glow deep inside me. I live for that moment. But it was time to back off a little; the bait was hooked, but he hasn't quite bitten yet and I could still scare off the fish if I wasn't careful.
"The party's not a new thing. Surely you don't think I know about it from other customers?" He was the first customer for this party, of course, but he'd never know that.
"Oh. Right. Yeah, I need a costume for the frat party. But the other stores just have crap like pirates and Easter bunnies and stuff. I was hoping for something more interesting, like a lizardman or something."
"Well, if you want interesting, you've certainly come to the right place. Let me go in back and see what I have in your size. Wait here."
I stepped back through the door. My office had been replaced with the enormous storeroom -- the man who invented the Roaming Portal spell was a genius -- and the costume section was nearby. Everything was nearby, really, including the costume I had in mind for him.
"Here you go," I said as I re-entered the shop. "I'm afraid this is all I had in your size. It's a minotaur costume."
"A minotaur, huh? That's a bull mixed with a human, right?" Robert asked as he took the bundle from my arms and looked at the mask.
"Pretty much, although in this case it's a cow." I shrugged apologetically, feeling anything but.
Robert's shot his gaze around to me. "A cow?! I can't wear that!"
"Why not? Aren't there prizes for not being recognized? Heck, nobody would even suspect you in that thing! It molds to your body and your body to it; any misplaced bulk will be hidden perfectly. Not that I expect there to be much of that," I siad, making sure he noticed me eying his body. I'd picked the costume partly because he was so big. It was too appropriate to resist. "And like I said, it's the only one your size anyway."
That did it. "Okay, how much?"
"Thirty bucks per day."
"That's not cheap," he pointed out.
"It's a good costume. Besides, you only need it tonight."
"True enough." The linebacker pulled out his wallet and counted out thirty dollars. "Here you go. See you tomorrow."
"Just a moment," I called out as I put the money in the register -- another mundane item, although there's a few anti-burglary additions I put on it. "There's a few things you need to know."
"What's that?" Robert looked at the door, anxious to get going.
"There's a few rules you need to know. First--"
"Rules? For a costume?" He looked at me like I was insane. "That's stupid."
"That's how it is, my boy," I scolded. "Now, don't rip, break, or otherwise damage the costume in any way. At all." Harder than it sounds, since the club that comes with that minotauress is pretty fragile. "Don't wear it past ten PM tonight, and bring it in before nine AM tomorrow." That would force him to leave the party rediculously early, and I knew Robert was not a morning person. "You can't have any alcohol while in the costume or for the next four hours afterwards." I rather doubted he'd be able to resist, at a frat party. "Don't stain it..." I continued like that for at least two minutes before letting him leave, costume in hand.
I let out a sharp bark of laughter as I returned to the office. Those rules were tedious and complicated. They're hard to pay attention to, much less follow appropriately. He'll be waking up tomorrow as a nice docile dairy cow named Bertha.
The next day I opened in the same mall. I wanted to see my handiwork.
"Hey, wizard! Here you go! Where are you?"
It was Robert! He wasn't a cow at all! I rushed out from the back.
"Oh, hi. What's wrong?" I realized I was staring at him as he set the costume on the counter.
"I, uh..." I had to shake my head to clear my thoughts. This was impossible! "Surprised to see you here, is all."
"Why? I needed to get this back before nine, you said. So here you go." He pushed the bundle at me.
Of course! That has to be it. "Did you even wear it?"
"Oh, sure. Wow, that thing is great. Really made me look like a minotaur woman. Felt like it, too. I even had to piss sitting down!" Robert shook his head, grinning. "That was an experience, let me tell you."
He wore it? And he's still here? "You stayed away from cigars? No grass eating? No alcohol, milk, or beef? You didn't wear anything other than what came with the costume? You didn't dance?"
Robert shook his head at each question. "No, of course not. You told me not to. If there's one thing I know how to do, it's follow directions."
I looked at him, speechless. He followed the directions.
"I admit, it was hard," he continued when he realized I wasn't going to say anything. "I mean, it was a pretty boring party with all those restrictions."
I just stared. He followed the directions!
The young man fidgeted and averted his gaze from me. "I had to leave early, and went to sleep before midnight in order to get here on time."
I can't believe he followed the directions!
"Look, are you all right? Not having a heart attack or anything, are you?"
"No... it's just... Never mind. Go home. Have fun. You deserve it." I scooped up the costume and strode towards the back. By the time I got to the monitors he was gone.
I dropped by the storeroom and carefully put the costume back on the rack. Then I closed the shop, although not in the normal way. Instead I went to the front and exited the front door, locking it behind me.
There's a good bar in this mall, I knew. Time for a good stiff drink.