The WIZARD TAILOR by Robert Soul
Each goes down with a kick and a snarl from Billy Fortune.
Why can’t anyone else see this? It has to be stopped!
The whole town crams into this sweaty gym to cheer him on, saying he’s the best they’ve ever seen. It’s the last karate competition before the championships and nobody cares that this fat high-schooler with a karate outfit eight sizes too small is annihilating all his opponents in the seven-year-old division?
It’s not that I’m jealous. I’m mad!
He’s in my school, for God’s sake, a HIGH SCHOOL SOPHOMORE!
It’s bad enough I have to witness it, but what’s worse, I’m responsible. I delivered the costume. Now Billy Fortune has some kind of superpower.
I set my Orange Fanta on the bleachers (Orange Fanta is my favorite, bar none. I keep a good supply of them in my bedroom in a mini-fridge) and march right down to the center of the basketball court. Everyone gasps and then it’s so quiet you can hear the dogs barking outside.
I squeal at the top of my lungs, “Doesn’t anyone else see this?”
No one says anything, just crazy looks, like they can’t believe it, including Dad. Coach Love, our school’s football coach and college advisor, is there immediately.
“Noble,” Coach says to me, with his hands up like he wants me to put down a gun or something. “Noble, come on, son.”
“He’s killing these kids, Coach. Doesn’t anybody else see it’s wrong?”
I trust Coach Love. That’s why I say I’ll go outside to talk. Dad stays in the bleachers with Wendell, my pasty little six-year-old brother.
After Coach talks to me (gave me a pretty good talk, I guess, reminded me of some things I already knew but forgot), Dad drives me by police escort to the new psychiatrist over in Little Elm. They all think I’m crazy and everyone believes Doctor Burton is better than the one before.
“Are you trying to get attention?” Doctor Burton asks, talking through his nose, with this weird, pretend kind of voice.
“No. I want people to listen,” I answer. “Billy’s my age, for goodness sakes.”
“Billy Fortune’s the best talent Denton County’s ever seen. You’re just jealous. Fanta?”
“No thanks,” I say.
If this quack, in his fake lab coat and plastic monocle, the one I’m pretty sure I delivered to his house, just before he got the job, by the way, thinks I’m jealous and crazy, I’m going to act jealous and crazy. He shows me some blotchy art and asks me what it looks like.
“Fat kid in a karate suit.”
He clears his throat.
“Okay, Noble. This?”
“Pig in a karate uniform,” I say.
“Overweight high school puke, kicking a seven year old’s ass.”
His jaw tightens and it kind of looks like he’s clinching his butt.
“A smelly asshole, wearing his sister’s kimono in a karate contest.”
He keeps sighing.
“Noble, we’re not making progress here,” he says.
The drive home is quiet until my little brother, Wendell speaks up.
“What the hell’s wrong with you, Noble?”
“Wendell, we don’t say hell,” Dad says in the rear-view mirror.
“What the hell’s wrong with saying it? Pastor Scratch says it. Mom says it after we go to bed. She says, ‘Oliver Danseur, what the hell is wrong with-”
Dad’s using the tone and Wendell knows it.
Wendell knows Dad can’t reach him in the backseat. That’s why he’s talking that way, but when he hears the tone, he knows Dad’s saying that he can be reached when the driving is done.
“But what is wrong with you, Noble?” Wendell asks me.
“It’s everyone else, Wendell.”
“Oh. But can I have some of your Fanta?” Wendell asks me.
“No. Not now.”
Weeks later, I don’t know how long, in the halls, between classes, everyone sneers and jeers as I walk past, saying things like, ‘crazy’, ‘jealous’, ‘dirty creep’. Between fifth and sixth period, I see that punk Billy Fortune going into the bathroom and I follow him.
“Take that suit off, Billy!”
He hadn’t stopped wearing it since the day I delivered it to his house.
“You can’t make me,” he says. But I can see he’s scared, because he knows I know.
I don’t care if I get expelled for fighting. I’m going to rip this freakin’ karate suit off this smelly punk!
“Take your hands off him, Mr. Danseur!”
It’s Coach Tender, him and his smelly cigarettes and pastrami sandwich breath, wearing the sweat suit he’s always wearing. He’s an old, and I mean old, grey-skinned, skeleton of a basketball coach. He retires from the meat plant at something like seventy-five years old, and shows up one day at the gymnasium, in a sweat suit with a whistle and all, and next thing you know, Coach Naismith is out as coach and Coach Tender is in. He isn’t even a good coach. Yes, he drinks Fanta (Passionfruit, I think), which I like, but that doesn’t make him a good coach. He does have a loud voice though.
He yells at me with his horrible breath to let Billy Fortune go and then sends me home.
I don’t go home, though. I go to the post office, where I work. I hadn’t thought about it until then but when I get there, I decide to find out where Billy’s package came from. I guess that’s how this whole thing started.
I deliver packages on my bike for the Postmaster. I don’t deliver letters and that kind of mail. The other workers do that. I just do packages, and all over Denton County. Hot, cold, sunny, rainy, snowy, any type of weather. I remember, the sky is grayish green that day, the day I deliver Billy Fortune’s package. It had been hot, the day before, but it’s chilly on that day and it’s thundering and lightening and clouds are doing crazy, swirly things above me as I ride up to his house.
The Fortunes live in Mill’s Mansion on the edge of town, right on the lake, and when I get to the front door of that big old house, the sun is just about gone. I ring the doorbell and lightning strikes in the sky, right behind me. The door opens and it’s Billy and he’s smiling the way he always used to.
“Hey, Billy,” I say.
“Well, hello, Noble,” he says, taking the package after signing my clipboard.
I have no idea at the time anything’s weird but I know when I see in the gym, kicking ass in that competition. When I give him the package, he looks so excited to open it up. I never see what’s inside of his box, because when I get signatures, I just say, “Have a nice day!” and go. I have to get going to the next place. But now I know. I delivered that crazy undersized karate suit to Billy Fortune’s house and he’s been walking around as the Kung Fu King ever since.
So, here I am at the post office, looking at the postmaster’s list.
JAKOB CLOTHIERS, that’s what it says.
I remember, it had a strange, old-looking logo on Billy Fortune’s package. I’m going to find out who this ‘Jakob Clothiers’ is.
I write the address on my hand and pedal to the first of my three deliveries. Jakob Clothiers is my last stop, and I know it might be dark by that time, but I need answers.
Biking is natural for me. My legs are strong and nimble, Mamma says. Dad said one time that I should be a running back. When I told him that would never be me, I saw disappointment on his face. I hate seeing him disappointed but I’m not going to play football. There are other things I want to do. So, I guess that’s partly why I deliver for the postmaster. I deliver packages to almost everybody in Denton County and they’ve kind of gotten to know me.
My first stop is Mrs. Peace. When I deliver the package, she says ‘thanks’ and then says, “Hey, Noble. Have you heard anything yet?”
“Nope. Still waiting,” I say. She’s impatient, I guess. I know I’m that way.
The second place I go is Brenda Kind.
“Letter come?” she asks, when I hand her the box.
“Supposed to be today,” I say. “We’ll see.”
My third stop is Coach Love. He always asks me for updates. You know, how it’s going.
When I give him his package of footballs, or whatever it is, he tells me to remember what he told me, that day in the gym.
Three out of three deliveries down. Now it’s time to meet Jakob Clothiers, whoever this guy is.
It’s dark when I see the house and coast off the highway. I pass a shadowy sign with that strange, ancient-looking logo, and turn onto the property.
JAKOB CLOTHIERS. Creepy, weird-looking logo, from Old England or something.
I pedal faster toward the house and the trees on both sides of the drive get thicker, even seem to grow, the closer I get to the house. The few lights on show me it’s a much bigger house than I thought when I get up to it. It’s huge, with ten or twelve old windows on each floor that I could probably stand up in, and it looks like nobody has been to the front part of the tall house in years. No porch, just one, gigantic front door with a doorbell that’s lit next to it. When I ring the doorbell, I notice how it leans forward, sort of hanging down on me.
I ring the doorbell a couple times and wait. No one comes to the door, so I step way back from the house and look at it. I can see it better as my eyes get used to how dark it is.
It’s three stories tall, with statues of ugly babies with wings along the edge of it between the second and third stories. The longer I stand there, the more I hear a humming, whirling sound from behind the house. I take my bike and stand back further. Far in the woods behind, I see a light glowing. This must be where Mr. Clothiers is, I think. That may be his workshop.
I jump on my bike, and from the light of the moon I can see a little road, so I follow it.
The hum is louder and more mechanical sounding as I stop in front of a cracked open bay door of an enormous barn. It’s wheezing and pulsing like, making my heart and my veins beat faster. When I look inside, I lose my breath. It’s amazing.
Pieces of cloth, from all directions, float perfectly in the air, meeting other pieces of cloth. And a large machine’s cutting and sewing them together, with enormous arms that move like a human arms, but look like robot, machine arms. It’s a magical factory! When I step all the way in, I have to duck to miss flying buttons that land in place, on a coat that another machine was making. That machine sounds like it’s humming a tune, while it sews a button on, bobbing up and down, happy, like a human. But it’s a machine, moving all by itself.
That’s when I see him. He floats backward, way up in the air, from behind a spinning machine that’s spitting out an endless supply of thread. He has his back to me, looking like a conductor waving his hands, like the one I see in the orchestra pit at the university, when they do the Nutcracker, or the other ballets I love. He’s the one making all this happen. I watch, totally wigged out. Then it all slows to a complete stop. All the machines lie down, just like they’re going to sleep.
He turns around and looks at me with little, scary eyes. I want to run but can’t.
“Who are you?” he asks.
He floats toward me.
“Your name is a good place to start,” he says smiling.
He’s very tall, and not just because he’s in the air. Maybe because of his pointy hat.
His hair sticks out at the bottom of his hat and his tiny eyes are very dark blue.
“Noble, sir. Noble Danseur,” I say, stuttering like crazy.
“Ah yes,” he says, relaxing, floating to the ground. “I heard about you.”
“You’ve been causing quite a stink. But that’s okay,” he says, turning his back to me, motioning with his hand as material begins folding itself and putting itself away in the back of the factory.
“Grape Fanta?” he asks, spinning around.
“Do you have orange?” I ask.
He nods his head and smiles really big, “I’ve got every flavor.”
A bottle of orange Fanta floats toward me and the cap pops off just as it reaches my hand.
“Thanks. Who are you?” I ask, still stuttering like there’s no tomorrow.
“Jakob Abbadon. And you’ve been delivering my clothes,” he says. “To Mr. Burton, and to Mr. Tender, and Billy Fortune, and so many others.”
“Doctor Burton and Coach Tender are just like Billy,” I say.
He laughs and moves between me and the door.
“I know what you’re thinking. But their clothes make them who they are, with a little magic.”
“You’re a wizard!” I say. “Why are you doing this?”
“You ask as if I’ve done something wrong.”
“But Billy isn’t a seven-year old, and Coach Tender and Doc Burton, they aren’t really who they are, either,” I say.
“And somehow you know,” he says, scratching his forehead. “And what to do?”
“Why do I know and nobody else does?” I ask.
“Because you possessed the clothing before they did and it wasn’t for you,” he says, sounding like he just thought of it.
“But I could have taken Billy’s suit and then I’d be karate king.”
“No,” he says. “It wouldn’t have worked. You don’t like sports.”
“The performing arts,” he says.
“How did you know?”
“I’m a wizard, Noble. You said it yourself. But we still have a problem. Either you leave here tonight and expose me, or you take what I have to offer.”
From the back of the factory, a little box floats toward us, like it had just now been called for duty, and lands softly at my feet.
“But is it real?” I ask.
“You can make anything real, Mr. Danseur, if you take the opportunities in front of you.”
I want to say more, ask more questions. But he turns around, all of the sudden, and disappears.
The ride home is really quick. I probably set a record or something.
When I get home, Wendell is on the front porch.
“A letter came,” he says. I snatch it and run upstairs with the package.
I can’t get upstairs quick enough.
I sit down on my bed and open it.
It’s wonderful! Exactly what I hoped for. To celebrate, I open an Orange Fanta from my mini-fridge.
Wendell’s standing at my bedroom door, staring at my big grin, and wanting my Fanta.
“What’s in the package?” he asks.
“Who cares? Look at this!” I show him the letter, and toss the wizard’s unopened box in the trash.
“Conservatory?” he says. “What’s a conservatory? And why do they say congratulations?”
“He was right,” I say to Wendell. Really I was just thinking out loud to myself.
Wendell rolls his eyes. He doesn’t understand. He’s too young, I guess.
“Okay, Noble. But can I have your Fanta?”
I nod my head and smile. “I’m finished with it.”
Then I’m thinking out loud again. “They were both right.”
“Who?” he asks.
“Coach Love and the wizard tailor. You really can make your own dreams real,” I say.
Wendell just shrugs and slurps down the rest of his Fanta.