A Little Less Feeling

Xalthus looked down perturbedly from the branch he perched on. He stared at the smoking crater, and tried to figure out if his situation could be worse. When this got too depressing he instead considered ways his life could be improved. Maybe if he were some other animal?

He had put some thought into this before and, on the whole he enjoyed being an owl. He had sometimes thought about what his existence might be like as some other creature Maybe a cat, they had the advantages of stealth and grace. Perhaps a bear, good hardy creatures, strong, intimidating. Bears, like owls were also seen as fonts of wisdom, in certain cultures anyway.

He often had reason to review a long list of other things he could have been. In the end he was usually grateful that he was not Guillaume.

Guillaume was the young man lying in the crater, looking slightly bewildered, heavily singed and smelling mostly of ozone. He was nice enough fellow, Xalthus supposed, hard working, friendly, eager. Just perhaps a bit too timid and nervous in ways that spoke to something in Xalthus’s owlishness and reminded of a mouse. At times Xalthus found himself fighting the urge to swoop down on the boy and snare him in his talons. All in all though, he was a decent sort, if you were into the whole consorting with mortals thing. He could take it or leave it himself, except having been forced to take it and forbidden to leave. Guillaume’s major fault was that he was a bit too uncertain of himself. Yes, that was it, under confidence. Also he lacked sufficient concentration for his given profession.

Given was the operative word, Xalthus conceded. Guillaume was not offered a real choice in the matter. Rupert needed an apprentice and Guillaume’s parents needed one less mouth to feed so a bargain had been struck. The boy was too honest to run away. Not Rupert that was cruel master, he was just easily frustrated. Rupert wasn’t a particularly patient teacher either. Eventually their combined shortcomings made the the boy’s training untenable.So, the old wizard summoned Xalthus, and bound him him to the form of an owl, which again was not overall an unpleasant experience, and essentially said, “You there. Show him the ropes and, make sure he doesn’t get in too much trouble.”

Xalthus sighed, he supposed neither one of them really wanted to be here. Still neither had much of a choice. He let himself ponder this for a bit longer, then stretched his wings.

“Alright lad, “ he tried with an encouraging tone, “let’s try it again. Once more, from the top. This time with, perhaps, a little less feeling.”

This story was written in response to a Flash Fiction Challenge issued by Chuck Wendig at his blog Terrible Minds. You can check out the other entries in the comments there.
The random photo I received as a prompt for the challenge can be viewed here, and I hope I did it some justice.
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