One of the things Patton loved about riding a motorcycle was the way it connected him to the world he was passing through, more than when he drove in a car. He felt the chill and humidity of the morning air, the heat of the sunshine whenever he stopped, and could smell the fields, farms and factories he passed. On his motorcycle he knew, often in advance, when someone had just mowed their yard, or an animal had died along the road.
Or in this case, when the swamp in his backyard had grown during the night.
He pulled into his driveway right behind the truck of the contractor he was supposed to be meeting. While the truck negotiated its way around the loop Patton gunned his bike over to the end of the walk, arriving there ahead of the truck. He was taking off his helmet as the contractor climbed out of the truck.
“You Mr. Patton? I’m John Conrad.”
“Nice to meet you.” They shook hands.
“How long has it been this way?” Conrad waved in the general direction of the swamp.
“I discovered it yesterday around noon. It was much smaller then.” The two men walked up some steps around the back of the house to the brick patio that overlooked the back yard. From this vantage point they could see that sewage was seeping up from the ground to form a smelly pond that was now at least twenty feet across. Every now and then a bubble would rise and burst at the surface.
“I guess the rain didn’t help.”
“I guess not.”
“Do you have any idea where the septic tank is?”
“You’re standing on it.” Patton pointed down to an irregularity in the pattern of the bricks under their feet. “That pattern marks where the cover is, about six feet down.”
“Hmm.” He looked at the house. “Two bathrooms, or three?”
“Well, at this point I’m guessin’ that your leech field has gotten plugged. I think your distribution box is right about there,” he pointed to the edge of the swamp closest to the patio, “and you field takes up this whole section of the back yard.” He waved his arms. “I’ll get some measurements to be sure, but you’re lookin’ at some sizeable bucks.”
“Oh? How much?”
“I’ll have to do some figurin’ to be sure, but I’m guessin’ around six.”
“Six hundred?” That didn’t seem too bad to Patton. He could swing that!
“No, six thousand.” Patton’s hope flowed out of him and into the cesspool at their feet. “Course I’ll have to take measurements to be sure.”
“Go ahead and do that. I’ll be inside.” Patton left Mr. Conrad to take his measurements while he went inside to get ready for another job networking meeting.
Patton had changed clothes and was packing his messenger bag when Conrad knocked at the kitchen door. “Here’s your estimate.” Patton looked at the paper. It was even more that the earlier guess.
“Does this include replacing the tank?”
“Nope. The tank will be pumped, sure, but I’m figuring you’re tank is still good since your patio is nice and level.”
“Thanks. I’ve got someone else looking at it this afternoon, but I expect to give you a call before the end of the day today. When could you start?”
“Oh, you don’t want to let something like this sit, the neighbors will start to complain. We can get going first thing in the morning.”
“Thank you. You’ll hear from me one way or the other.” They shook hands again, and Conrad took off.
Patton was just climbing on his motorcycle when he heard the distinctive sound of gravel popping under tires. He looked up to see a sheriff’s car making its way slowly up the driveway.
“You the property owner?”
“We got a complaint of a suspicious odor.” The deputy wrinkled his nose. “I think they were referring to the sewer smell. Are you aware of it?”
“Yes, sir.” Patton was always polite to The Law. “You just missed a guy giving me an estimate for getting it fixed. I’ve got another one coming this afternoon, and either way I expect they’ll start working on it in the morning.”
“Good to hear that. I’ll let the complainant know.”
“Thank you.” The sheriff made his way the rest of the way around the loop, paused briefly when he got back to the street, then sent gravel flying as he tore off to his next call. Patton followed him out.
Patton looked into the meeting room before entering. He knew several of the people who were already there, waiting for things to begin, and in one respect that was good. He didn’t like events where he didn’t know anyone. On the other hand, this was a meeting of unemployed people, a joblessness support group. Not a group where you wanted to be a longstanding member. He put on his bravado and went in to take a seat among the other falsely smiling faces.
He chose a seat away from the others. He didn’t want to talk to anybody. The dreaded conversation had already played out a thousand times in his head:
“Hey Patton! Whatcha been up to?”
“Oh, not much. I came down with a Magic infection, and have been seeing some witches to get it treated.”
“So, Patton, what’s your question about resumes?”
“I’m wondering if I should list Magic under skills, or should I just have ‘Self-employed Wizard’ as the latest entry in my job history?”
“Do you think I can get funding for Magic Training as part of job retraining credits?”
Patton was pretty sure the last one wouldn’t fly. Retraining credits only applied to education in your current career path, not when you’re completely changing careers, and he couldn’t see becoming a Wizard as being anything other than a completely different career path, especially when compared to engineering.
When he got right down to it Patton wasn’t really sure why he came today. Yes, he needed a job, but he needed to get control of his magic more.
His mind drifted back to earlier that morning. The contractor had been out measuring the swamp, and he’d been trying to get changed and everything so he could make this meeting on time. Racing out of his bedroom one of his feet snagged on an old pair of sweats laying on the floor, causing him to stumble into the wall in the hallway. In anger at his own stupidity for not picking up after himself he shook his fist at the offending pants and they burst into flame. Suddenly fearful, he snagged them off the floor and tossed them into the bathtub, putting out the fire with the shower. The pants were a total loss, but fortunately nothing else was damaged. That shouldn’t have happened, and until he’d been “infected” it wouldn’t have. He could just see himself shaking his fist at a coworker and having hair catch fire or something. Gees!
Patton sat there, trying to come up with some way to participate in the discussion without revealing his true situation. His natural inclination was to just sit back and listen, but he knew that if he did that he might as well not come at all. The guys who just sat and didn’t participate were the ones who were forgotten by the group. Participate and others will remember you and maybe, just maybe, they’ll send a lead your way or mention you to someone looking for an employee with your talents. Maybe.
The meeting broke up before Patton had come up with anything. Afterward the facilitator came up to him. “Hey, Patton, you were awfully quiet today. Is everything all right?”
“Nothing major, Lou. I just have some things on my mind. It’s tough to job hunt when you’re distracted.”
“I hear ya. Well, I hope things get better soon. You’ve been out of work too long for someone of your talents.”
“Thanks, I appreciate that.”
Even though he had plenty of time Patton raced home from the meeting so that he didn’t miss his one o’clock appointment with another septic contractor. While he waited he tried fixing himself some lunch, but his thoughts kept racing between how he was going to pay for the work and what could be done to stop him from accidentally setting things on fire. The route his mind took between those two thoughts evidently ran through his gut because his stomach was so churned up he simply couldn’t eat. He tried drinking a beer instead, but that went right through him, reminding him that there wasn’t a working toilet in the house. He finally went to the most secluded spot he could find in the back yard and peed in the bushes. It felt strange to be simultaneously relieved and embarrassed.
He finally gave in and called the Coven House. Elaine answered and he told her about setting the pants on fire that morning. “Come on over as soon as you can and we’ll see what we can do.”
“As soon as I’m done with the contractor I’ll be there.”
A truck pulled into the driveway just as he hung up. It was a septic pumping truck that said “Shirk Bros. Septic” on the side. It worked its way up the driveway and around the loop, snapping some of the lower branches off the walnut trees. Patton didn’t care, he was just glad to stop waiting and start doing something.
“You Mr. Patton? Art Shirk here.”
“Pleased to meet you.” Shirk didn’t offer to shake hands, to Patton’s relief. His coveralls looked like he’d been up to his elbows in something disgusting earlier today, and it hadn’t yet all dried and flaked away.
“I see your problem. Your leech field is dead. Gonna hafta tear it all up.” Shirk walked over to his truck and lifted a long metal rod off the rack. “You got any idea where your tank is?” he asked.
“Here, I’ll show you.” Patton led him up to the patio and showed him the pattern in the bricks. Shirk wiggled the rod in between some of the bricks and pushed down. A hollow thump could be heard.
“Good! Not too deep!” He walked away from the house, probing the ground with his rod every couple feet, and quickly mapped out the system. He was at the edge of the swamp when the probe made a funny thunk sound. “Here’s the distribution box!” he called.
“Is that good?” asked Patton.
“Great! Now I can find the field pipes.” He started probing either side of the box, and faster than Patton would have believed possible he’d located the lines. “No problem! We can get the whole thing taken care of for you for three thousand dollars.”
Patton couldn’t believe his ears! He could, just barely, afford that! He got suspicious.
“What’s included in that?”
“We start by draining your tank, then we dig up the distribution box and check to make sure the line between it and the tank is clear. Then we dig up the old lines and gravel, which are sure to be all silted up, and replace them with new. Should take us three, maybe four days.”
“You gonna need access to the house? I have to go out for job interviews and such.”
“No problem! We’ll bring a port-a-potty for the boys. You say you’re looking for a job?”
“Tell ya what — seein’ as you’re unemployed I’ll give you ten percent off! Twenty-seven hundred!”
“Can you start in the morning?”
“First thing!” This time they shook hands, and Patton gritted his teeth and the contact. “Give me a moment and I’ll write it up for ya.” Shirk put his pole away and climbed in the truck to write up the contract, while Patton tried to wash his hand off at the garden faucet without being noticed. Maybe, just maybe, there was hope of getting things back to normal.