A short story of a boy who wants to become an accountant

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This is a science fiction story, which is quite interesting as well. the story deals with witches and witchcraft. But, under the facade of all the magic potions and magic spells, lies a message. Can you figure it out?

Mr. Dee was seated in the big armchair, his belt loosened, the evening papers strewn around his knees. Today he had sold two amulets and a philter; his wife was bustling around the kitchen, preparing a delicious meal; and his pipe was drawing well. With a sigh of contentment, Mr. Dee yawned and stretched.

Morton, his nine-year-old son, hurried across the living room, laden down with books.

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“How’d school go today?” Mr. Dee called.

“O.K.” the boy said, slowing down, but still moving toward his room.

“What have you got there?” Mr. Dee asked, gesturing at his son’s tall pile of books.

“Just some more accounting stuff,” Morton said, not looking at his father. He hurried into his room.

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Mr. Dee shook his head. The lad had picked up the notion that he wanted to be an accountant. An accountant! True, Morton was quick with figures; but he would have to forget this nonsense. Bigger things were in store for him.

The doorbell rang.

Mr. Dee tightened his belt, hastily stuffed in his shirt and opened the front door. These stood Miss Greeb, his son’s fourth-grade teacher.

“Come in, Miss Greeb,” said Dee. Can I offer you somethings?

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“I have no time,” said Miss Greeb. She stood in the doorway, her arms akimbo. With her grey, tangled hair, her thin, long-nosed face and red runny eyes, she looked exactly like a witch. And this was as it should be, for Miss Greeb was a witch.

“I’ve come to speak to you about your son,” she said.

At this moment, Mrs. Dee hurried out of the kitchen, wiping her hands on her apron.

“I hope he hasn’t been naughty,” Mrs. Dee said anxiously.

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Miss Greeb sniffed ominously, “Today I gave the yearly tests. Your son failed miserably.”

“Oh dear,” Mrs. Dee said. “It’s spring. Perhaps-”

“Spring has nothing to do with it,” said Miss Greeb. “Last week I assigned the Greater Spells of Cordus, section one. You know how easy they are. He didn’t learn a single one.”

“Hm,” said Mr. Dee succinctly.

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“In Biology, he doesn’t have the slightest notion of which are the basic conjuring herbs. Not the slightest.”

“This is unthinkable,” said Mr. Dee.

Miss Greeb laughed sourly. “Moreover, he has forgotten all the Secret Alphabet which he learned in third grade. He has forgotten the Protective Formula, forgotten the names of the 99 lesser imps of the Third Circle, forgotten what little he knew of the geography of Greater Hell. And what’s more, he doesn’t want to learn.”

Mr. and Mrs. Dee looked at each other silently. This was very serious indeed. A certain amount of boyish inattentiveness was allowable; encouraged even, for it showed spirit. But a child had to learn the basics, if he ever hoped to become a full-fledged wizard.

“I can tell you right here and now,” said Miss Greeb, “if this were the old days, I’d flunk him without another thought. But there are so few of us left.

Mr. Dee nodded sadly. Witchcraft had been steadily declining over the centuries. The old families died out, or were snatched by demonic forces, or became scientists. And the fickle public showed no interest whatsoever in the charms and enchantments of ancient days.

Mr. Dee felt his cheeks grow hot.

“But I do know this. As long as Morton has that on his mind, he can’t give his attention to Thaumaturgy.”

Mr. Dee looked away from the witch’s red eyes. It was his fault. He should never have brought home that toy-adding machine. And when he first saw Morton playing at double entry book-keeping, he should have burned the ledger.

But how could he know it would grow into an obsession?

Mrs. Dee smoothed out her apron, and said, “Miss Greeb, you know you have our complete confidence. What would you suggest?”

“All I can do I have done,” said Miss Greeb, “The only remaining thing is to call up Boarbas, the Demon of Children. And that, naturally, is up to you.”

“Oh, I don’t think it’s that serious yet,” Mr. Dee said quickly. “Calling up Boarbas is a serious measure.”

“As I said, that’s up to you,” Miss Greeb said. “Call Boarbas or not, as you see fit. As things stand now, your son will never be a wizard.” She turned and started to leave.

They stood beside the door in silence. Mr. Dee was just beginning to feel the shock. It was hard to believe that his son, his own flesh and blood, did not want to carry on the family tradition. It could not be true!

“After dinner,” Mr. Dee said, finally, “I’ll have a man-to-man talk with him. I’m sure we won’t need any demoniac intervention.”

“Good.” Mrs. Dee said. “I’m sure you can make the boy understand.” She smiled, and Mr. Dee caught a glimpse of the old witch-light flickering behind her eyes.

Dinner was a quite meal. Morton knew that Miss Greeb had been there, and he eat in guilty silence,

Glancing occasionally at his father. Mr. Dee sliced and served the roast, frowning deeply. Mrs. Dee did not even attempt any small talk.

After bolting his desert, the boy hurried to his room.

“Now we’ll see,” Mr. Dee said to his wife. He finished the last of his coffee, wiped his mouth and stood up. “I am going to reason with him now. Where is my Amulet of Persuasion?”

Mrs. Dee thought deeply for a moment. Then she walked across the room to the bookcase. “Here it is,” she said, lifting it from the pages of a brightly jacketed novel. “I was using it as a marker.”

Mr. Dee slipped the amulet into his pocket, took a deep breath, and entered his son’s room.

Morton was seated at his desk. In front of him was a notebook, scribbled with figures and tiny, precise notations. On his desk were six carefully sharpened pencils, a soap eraser, an abacus and a toy-adding machine. His books hung precariously over the edge of the desk; there was Money, by Rimraamer, Bank Accounting Practice, by Johnson and Calhoun, Ellman’s Studies for the CPA, and a dozen others.

Mr. Dee pushed aside a mound of clothes and made room for himself in the bed. “How’s it going, son?” he asked, in his kindest voice.

“Fine, Dad,” Morton answered eagerly. “I’m up to chapter four in Basic Accounting, and I answered all the questions-”

“Son,” Mr. Dee broke in, speaking very softly, “how about your regular homework? You know, not many boys have a chance to become wizards in this day and age.”

“Yes sir, I know.” Morton looked away abruptly. In a high, nervous voice he said, “But, Dad, I want to be an accountant. I really do. Dad?”

Mr. Dee shook his head. “Morton, there’s always been a wizard in our family. For eighteen hundreds years, the Dees have been famous in supernatural circles.”

Morton continued to look out of the window and scuff his feet.

“You wouldn’t want to disappoint me, would you, son?” Mr. Dee smiled sadly. “You know, anyone can be an accountant. But only a chosen few can master the Black Arts.”

Morton turned away from the window. He picked up a pencil, inspected the point, and began to turn it slowly in his fingers.

“How about it, boy? Won’t you work harder for Miss Greeb?”

Morton shook his head. “I want to be an accountant.”

Mr. Dee contained his sudden rush of anger with difficulty. What was wrong with the Amulet of Persuasion? Could the spell have run down? He should have recharged it. Nevertheless, he went on.

“How about it, son? You won’t have to work in a store. You can be a Direct Agent! What do you say, boy?”

For a moment, Mr. Dee thought his son was moved. Morton’s lips were parted, and there was a suspicious brightness in his eyes. But then the boy glanced at his accounting books, his little abacus, his toy-adding machine.

“I’m going to be an accountant,” he said.

“We’ll see!” Mr. Dee shouted, all his patience gone.

“You will not be an accountant, young man. You will be a wizard. It was good enough for the rest of your family, and by all that’s damnable, It’ll be good enough for you. You haven’t heard the last of this, young man.” And he stormed out of the room.

Immediately, Morton returned to his accounting books.

Mr. And Mrs. Dee sat together on the couch, not talking. Finally, Mr. Dee said, “I’ve spoiled him. Boarbas is the only solution.”

“Oh, no,” Mrs. Dee said hastily. “He’s so young.”

“Do you want your son to be an accountant?”

Mr. Dee asked bitterly. “Do you want him to grow up scribbling with figures instead of doing The Black One’s important work?”

“Of course not,” said, Mrs. Dee. “But Boarbas-”

“I know. I feel like a murderer already.”

They thought for a few moments. Then Mrs. Dee said, “Perhaps his grandfather can do something. He was always fond of the boy.”

“Perhaps he can,” Mr. Dee said thoughtfully. “But I don’t know if we should disturb him. After all, the old gentleman has been dead for three years.”

“I know,” Mrs. Dee said, undoing an incorrect knot in the wind-cord. “But it’s either that or Boarbas.”

Mr. Dee agreed. Unsettling as it would be to Morton’s grandfather, Boarbas was infinitely worse. Immediately, Dee made preparations for calling up his dead father.

He gathered together the henbane, the ground unicorn’s horn, the hemlock, together with a morsel of dragon’s tooth. These he placed on the rug.

Mr. Dee got his wand and waved it over the ingredients. He muttered the three words of The Unbinding, and called out his father’s name.

Immediately a wisp of smoke arose from the rug.

“Hello, Grandpa Dee,” Mrs. Dee said.

“Dad, I’m sorry to disturb you,” Mr. Dee said. “But my son-your grandson-refuses to become a wizard. He wants be an-accountant.”

The wisp of smoke trembled, then straightened out and described a character of the Old Language.

“Yes,” Mr. Dee said. “We tried persuasion. The boy is adamant.”

Again the smoke trembled, and formed another character.

“I suppose that’s best,” Mr. Dee said. “If you frighten him out of his wits once and for all, he’ll forget this accounting nonsense. It’s cruel-but it’s better than Boarbas.”

The wisp of smoke nodded, and streamed toward the boy’s room. Mr. And Mrs. Dee sat down on the couch.

The door of Morton’s room was slammed open, through by a gigantic wind. Morton looked up, frowned, and returned to his books.

He wisp smoke turned into a winged lion with the tail of a shark. It roared hideously, crouched, snarled, and gathered itself for a spring.

Morton raised both eyebrows, and proceeded to jot down a column of figures.

The lion changed into a three-headed lizard, its flanks reeking horribly of blood. Breathing gusts of fire, the lizard advanced on the boy.

Morton finished adding the column of figures, checked the result on his abacus, and looked at the lizard.

With a screech, the lizard changed into a giant gibbering bat. It fluttered around the boy’s head, moaning and gibbering.

Morton grinned, and turned back to his books.

Mr. Dee was unable to stand it any longer. “Damn it,” he shouted, “aren’t you scared?”

“Why should I be?” Morton asked. “It’s only Grandpa.”

Upon the word, the bat dissolved into a plume of smoke. It nodded sadly to Mr. Dee, bowed to Mrs. Dee, and vanished.

“Goodbye, Grandpa,” Morton called. He got up and closed his door.

“That dose it,” Mr. Dee said. “The boy is too cocksure of himself. We must call up Boarbas.”

“No!” his wife said.

“What, then?”

“He’s so young!” Mrs. Dee wailed. “It-it will be traumatic!”

“If so, we will use all the resources of modern psychology to heal him,” Mr. Dee said soothingly. “He will have the best psychoanalysts money can buy. But the boy must be a wizard!”

“Go ahead then,” Mrs. Dee said, crying openly. “But please don’t ask me to assist you.”

How like a woman, Mr. Dee thought. Always turning into jelly at the moment when firmness was indicated. With a heavy heart, he made the preparations for calling up Boarbas, Demon of Children.

The intricate sketching of the pentagon, the twelve-pointed star within it, the endless spiral within that the herbs and essences; the inscribing of the Protective Spell, so that Boarbas might not break loose and destroy them all. Then came the three drops of hippogriff blood-

“Where is my hippogriff blood?” Mr. Dee asked, rummaging through the living-room cabinet.

“In the kitchen, in the aspirin bottle,” Mrs. Dee said, wiping her eyes.

Mr. Dee found it, and then all was in readiness. He lighted the black candles and chanted the Unlocking Spell.

The room was suddenly very warm, and there remained only the Naming of the Name.

“Morton,” Mr. Dee called. “Come here.”

Morton opened the door and stepped out, holding one of his accounting books tightly, looking very young and defenseless.

“Morton, I am about to call up the Demon of Children. Don’t make me do it, Morton.”

The boy turned pale and shrank back against the door. But stubbornly he shook his head.

“Very well,” Mr. Dee said. “BOARBAS!”

There was an ear-splitting clap of thunder and a wave of heat, and Boarbas appeared, as tall as the ceiling, chuckling evilly.

“Ah!” cried Boarbas, in a voice that shook the room.

“A little boy.”

Morton gaped, his jaw open and eyes bulging.

“A naughty little boy,” Boarbas said, and laughed. The demon marched forward, shaking the house with every stride.

“Send him away!” Mrs. Dee cried.

“I can’t,” Mr. Dee said, his voice breaking. “I can’t do anything until he’s finished.”

The demon’s great horned hands reached for Morton; but quickly the boy open the accounting book. “Save me!” he screamed.

In that instant, a tall, terribly thin old man appeared, covered with worn pen points and ledge sheets, his eyes two empty zeroes.

“Zico Pico Reel!” chanted Boarbas, turning to grapple with the newcomer. But the thin old man laughed, and said, “A contract of a corporation which is ultra vires is not voidable only, but utterly void.”

At these words, Boarbas was flung back, his skin glowing red-hot rage, intoned the Demoniac Master-Spell: “VRAT,HAT, HO!”

But the thin old man shielded Morton with his body, and cried the words of Dissolution. “Expiration, Repeal, Occurrence, Surrender, Abandonment and Death!”

Boarbas squeaked in agony. Hastily he backed away, fumbling in the air until he found The Opening. He jumped through this, and was gone.

The tall, thin old man turned to Mr. and Mrs. Dee cowering in a corner of the living room, and said, “Know that I am The Accountant. And now, moreover, that this child has signed a contract with me, to enter my apprenticeship and be my servant. And in return for services rendered, I, The Accountant, am teaching him the Damnation of Souls, by means of ensnaring them in a cursed web of Figures, Forms, Torts and Reprisals. And behold, this is My Mark upon him!”

The Accountant held up Morton’s right hand, and showed the ink smudge on the third finger.

He turned to Morton, and in a softer voice said, “Tomorrow, lad, we will consider some aspects of Income Tax Evasion as a Path to Damnation.”

“Yes sir,” Morton said eagerly.

And with another sharp look at the Dees, The Accountant vanished.

For long seconds there was silence. Then Mr. Dee turned to his wife.

“Well,” Mr. Dee said, “If the boy wants to be an accountant that badly, I’m sure I’m not going to stand in his way.”

By Robert Sheckley

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