Skoupaphobia: The Fear of Brooms


The Sorcerer was torn. On the one hand, he was rather impressed his young apprentice had wherewithal to animate the broom in the first place. The lad had only been with him for a few months and the fact he had been able to bring it life at all was a remarkable feat. It showed incredible skill on the young man’s part. Not to mention initiative in outsourcing his chores to an automated worker. The Sorcerer himself could see that sort of endeavour catching on some day.

But on the other hand, there was the little matter of his house to think about. More specifically, the damage to his house. Remember, these were the days before Insurance. Household or otherwise. And the water damage alone caused by the little stunt would take weeks to resolve (even with the Sorcerer’s considerable skills).

The Sorcerer walked down the stairs and ran his finger along the water line that reached half way up the staircase. He sighed as the smell of damp greeted him on entering his study.

This was the morning after the disastrous night and he had not yet taken in just how destructive the incident had been. As the morning light streamed through the arched window, he could see plainly that everything in his study was ruined.

His wing-backed chair now sat in an ever-growing puddle as the water oozed out of the stuffing and dribbled on to the floor. Every surface he looked at was slick and moist. Even the mist in his Crystal Ball had condensed and was running down the inside of the glass like rain.

As he made his way around the room, he pulled each of the candles out of their holders and tossed them aside. They would be no use to anyone in this state. The same could be said of most of the room’s contents.

Above all, it was the sorry state of his books that distressed him the most. A lifetime of learning and collecting drowned in one single evening. He opened the cover of a volume close by him on his desk, wincing as water leaked from the binding at his touch. The pages inside had already rippled into waves, and the ink ran like a river over the surface as it struggled to dry.

The Sorcerer held his hand over the damp pages, closed his eyes and concentrated hard. After a moment, warm air tingled at his fingertips and breezed through the pages. It took some time, but soon the book was dry. A small smile reached his lips.

“One down,” he said to himself wryly. “Only another four hundred and thirty seven to go.”

Michael (his apprentice) lurked sheepishly at the study door, his red robe still wet, and hanging off him with the extra weight that water brought with it. The Sorcerer made no attempt to comfort the boy in his bedraggled state. This was his doing, after all, and he had to learn the consequences of his actions. The Sorcerer maintained that this was the first lesson that any magician had to learn. Clearly, it was a concept that was still beyond Michael’s grasp.

In the corner, a splinter of wood twitched, still livened by a spark of magic within its grain. Michael jumped as it moved, like a severed hand groping for the rest of its arm.

The movement made the Sorcerer smile a little wider.

“I have devised your punishment, Michael,” he said clearly, though there was a hint of amusement in his tone.

Michael shuffled into the room; his head hung low, his eyes shifting to the one piece of broom in the corner still clinging to some semblance of life.

From the look of him, the Sorcerer wondered for a moment if the lad had learned already. But it was entirely possible that this new-found humility was born out of being caught getting the spell wrong, rather than being in the wrong entirely for trying the spell in the first place. The Sorcerer was not an unreasonable man. He was fond of the lad – not least for the potential he demonstrated – but that was not enough to excuse such a reckless use of magic.

As Michael cowered before him, waiting for whatever lightning bolt would strike him down, the Sorcerer lifted his hand into the air. Michael’s eyes followed the gesture, widening with trepidation at the thought of what could follow.

But there was no bolt of lightning for him today. The Sorcerer conjured a broom into his hand – one that was identical to that which Michael had enchanted the night before.

Michael recoiled at the sight of it. The Sorcerer had never seen anyone afraid of a broom before. Understandable though it was on this occasion, it was nonetheless amusing to witness. He held the broom out to the apprentice without a word.

Michael seemed to understand. This was his punishment, to clean the study. By hand. With no magic to help him.

There would be no snap of the fingers to set objects flying around the room. The broom would not sweep the floor on its own. It certainly would not be carrying any buckets of water for him. Ever. Again.

Into his other hand, the Sorcerer conjured a bucket and brush for scrubbing the walls clean.

Michael did not make any sound of a protest at the task before him. As he took the broom, he did not look directly at it. The Sorcerer wondered if he ever would again. It was the same for the bucket and brush. They were received in silence and Michael took himself to the opposite side of the room, away from the phantom splinter that was still twitching away. There, he set down the bucket and began sweeping up the debris.

The Sorcerer watched him work. He wondered if it was best to keep a close eye on him for a while, to make sure he didn’t try any other tricks.

After a while, he was satisfied that the boy was too busy feeling sorry for himself even to think about using magic at this point.

The Sorcerer turned instead to the rest of his books. He piled those worst affected by the flooding on to his desk and inspected each one in turn. There was a word here and there that had run, that would need to be rewritten. Thankfully, he knew these volumes by heart and would be able to copy them back in once the paper was dry enough to take the ink again.

In that spirit, he held out his hand again and began drying them one by one, page by page.

“Master,” Michael squeaked after a while. He had always had a timid voice, but today it was almost whisper-like.

The Sorcerer looked up from his books, his eyes answering for him without words.

“Am I ever do to magic again?” the boy asked.

The Sorcerer thought for a moment. He knew the answer: yes, of course he would. But he wondered if it was worth letting the boy worry for a while longer.

It was the expression of sheer miserable gloom on the boy’s face that persuaded him to speak at last.

“Yes,” the Sorcerer replied. “One day, when I am satisfied you are ready. But not until then.”

Michael nodded as he returned to sweeping the floor. A little hope returned to his eyes – eyes that would still look anywhere but at the broom in his hands.

“And remember this, my boy,” the Sorcerer continued. “I could have as easily turned you into a mouse as punishment for this. Consider yourself fortunate.”

And that was the last that either of them spoke on the matter.


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