“Do come in.” Victor stepped aside to admit his visitor. “Excuse the um,” he gestured at his grubby lab coat. “Haven’t been able to put a wash on for a while.”
The visitor nodded, causing the feathers hanging around the brim of his hat to wave as though in greeting. He stepped over the threshold and wiped his feet on the mat.
“I don’t usually – um,” Victor closed the door. “I mean, I’m a scientist. I believe in the rational, the measurable, the observable. But I’m desperate, sir – What do I call you? Is ‘sir’ OK? Or do you have some title? I mean, I’ve never employed a shaman before but –” Victor’s shoulders slumped in defeat. “I’m desperate.”
The shaman looked around. A thump rattled the ceiling. The light fixture wobbled.
“Oh, that,” said Victor, with a dismissive gesture. “That’s nothing. If you’d come through to the kitchen…”
He ushered the shaman along the hall. The kitchen was tiny and dominated by huge coils of copper that let off lazy sparks. Slabs of batteries were stacked on the draining board. The low buzz of electricity filled the air. Victor’s hair stood on end and the shaman’s feathers stood to attention. From above, another thump and a growl.
“Ignore that,” Victor tried to smile. “That’s not why you’re here.”
The shaman peered at papers, heaped on the kitchen table. Weather forecasts, charts and projections. The outlook was fair. It was a mild winter.
“That’s it – what do you reckon?” Victor chewed his thumbnail. “I suppose some kind of explanation is in order.” He waved at the equipment. “You can appreciate the need to find other sources of fuel. Renewable, I mean. So, I’ve been harnessing electricity from lightning. Hence all the doodads and thingumabobs that have taken over the kitchen. Otherwise I’d offer you a cup of tea – Do you drink tea? I don’t have any peyote – or am I being racist there? Sorry. The thing is: I stored enough lightning power to get the washing machine up and running. I was between loads when the cat got in – he likes the warm, you see. He curls up in the drum. I always have to check – don’t want a drowned cat! Who does? Anyway, while I was pegging out one batch, Thomas got in. It began to rain so I had to get everything in again, sharpish, and then there was a bolt of lightning, straight to the conductor and I heard the washing machine start up and there was a yowl and a roar. I dropped all the clothes and dashed inside. Instead of Thomas, there was this – thing in the kitchen, with slavering jaws and claws as long as my forearm. Well, I managed to lure it upstairs and lock it in the bedroom – I shinned down the drainpipe, barely got away with my life.”
Victor turned to show the back of his lab coat, slashed to tatters and stained with his own blood.
“Oh, please, sir!” he seized the shaman’s hand. “Call up a storm. I’ve rigged the whole house. Call down as much lightning as you can. I don’t know how many bolts it will take but I want my Thomas back again.”
The shaman wrested free of the mad scientist’s grasp. His eyes darted around the room. On the floor, heaped among the washing, he spotted a dog collar, a mitre, a star of David and a prayer mat. Clearly, he was not the first non-scientist the madman had tried.
Upstairs, the thing that used to be Thomas growled hungrily.
Steeling himself, the shaman lifted his hands to the skies and began to chant. As though his life depended on it.