The Switch

"Rise n' shine." The old man leaned on his cane in front of Jason's makeshift bed, frowning as always. He was still wearing the pointy blue star-spangled hat, even though he'd changed his other clothes. Jason would've loved the opportunity to do likewise. He heaved himself up, yawning. What with all the excitement of the night before, he hadn't gotten much sleep.

They ate a brief breakfast and Jason returned to painting. After a few more hours of work, he was done. All the walls and ceilings shone with a pearly whiteness, and Jason could barely keep his eyes open.

"Excellent work." Once more, the old man smiled. "Why then, 'tis time to do it. Wait here." Grinning widely, he hobbled into his bedroom and rummaged around in a cupboard.

Jason glanced at the easy chair in front of the television. The wizard's cat was lying there on its back, meowing at Jason to get his attention. He walked over to it and scratched its belly. It began to purr.

When the old man returned, Jason was not at all surprised to see him carrying two necklaces just like the ones described in "Miraculous Wizardry". They were thin solid gold chains, each one threaded through the point of a pentagon that was embossed with arcane symbols made out of ruby. They must have cost a small fortune. Doubtlessly, the man had paid for them out of the royalties from his many careers as an athlete.

"You're going to help me cast a spell." said the man. "Put this on."

He and Jason put on the necklaces, and the old man began the ritual, reciting the words while making the gestures. Soon, the pentagons began to glow black, so much as that was possible. A second later, they turned brown, then red, then orange, then yellow, then green, then blue. There were but three colors left.

<Now!> thought Jason. As the necklaces turned violet, he dashed over to the armchair. The old man had no chance to react. Then came gray. In one smooth motion, Jason plucked the charm from his neck and slipped it around the cat's.

"No!" shrieked the old man. As the pentagons turned white, his hands flew to his necklace. But he wasn't fast enough.

"Yes." said Jason.

An arc of crimson energy like a bolt of lightning burst between the pentagons. The necklaces disintegrated. A moment later, the old man's body exploded in a shower of rainbow sparks, harming nothing, but leaving only his clothes behind.

"Ah-ha." said Jason. "That's the caveat."

He turned to the cat. Its mouth was hanging open in a most unfeline manner.

"So," said Jason, "I hope you enjoy being a housecat."

The cat raised itself on its hind feet and waved a front paw, meowing. It was trying to cast the same old headache spell. Nothing happened. It fell back on all fours. Hissing, it leapt at Jason, claws extended. Jason gave it a hearty kick in mid-air. It sailed over the chair and landed on the floor, but not on its feet.

"No," said Jason, "you're not going to be hurting anybody anymore. You've already killed at least two boys, and I think that's more than enough."

The wizard-turned-cat got back up. Realizing that it was completely powerless, and thus having nothing better to do, it began washing itself in that unconcerned-yet-audacious manner that only cats have managed to perfect.

"I still don't know why you picked me specifically." said Jason. "Not that it matters now. You're really quite the psycho, you know that? You sacrificed half your life so you could win fame and fortune as a sham sportsman, and then you murdered a few innocent people so you could do it all over again. Were you planning on continuing this insanity forever?" Jason paused. The cat did not respond. "Well, if you did, I'm sure you knew that sooner or later, something would go wrong, somewhere down the line. Especially if you let your captives read your spellbooks." He smiled to himself for a moment. "But enough yakking! I've gotta get outta here."

He searched the old man's clothes and the rest of the house until he found the key for the front door and a fair amount of cash. He walked to the door and turned to the cat, who was still pretending that nothing was bothering it in the slightest.

"I'll be back for you eventually, to bring you to justice. In the meantime, help yourself to tap water and cat food. Getting either will be rather difficult without opposable thumbs, but I'm sure you'll manage."

He unlocked the door and turned the doorknob. The lights in the house that were off popped on. Nothing else happened.

"Oh, and one last thing." said Jason. "Proud fellow that you are, I'm sure that you've always dreamed of going down in history. You'll be happy to hear that the world will remember you—not for being the only man to live forever, as you might've hoped, but as the only cat to be tried for murder." He paused to let that sink in. "Anyway, see ya!" He opened the door and stepped outside.

He wasn't sure where he'd expected the house to be. Nonetheless, he was surprised to see where it really was. He was standing in front of a particularly large rock formation in one of Gyeeds's less popular parks. Not a human being was in sight. Trees and other vegetation, their foliage ablaze with the autumnal hues of carotenoids, surrounded him on all sides, while the imposing skyscrapers of urban Gyeeds loomed over the horizon. The sun was setting, lending the sky shades of red, orange, and yellow that matched those of the leaves. It was really quite picturesque.

Quickly, though, Jason shut and locked the door behind him, before the wizard had a chance to escape. Once closed, the door was so effectively camouflaged that you never would've guessed it was there. It didn't have a doorknob on the outside, and the keyhole was buried in a crack. <Talk about an earth-sheltered home!> thought Jason. <I guess that explains the stone floors.>

And so, Jason went merrily on his way to nowhere in particular. Except that as he was about to leave, he spotted something out of the corner of his eye. He turned his head to look at it.

It was a small bird with blood-red plumage, perched on the branch of a tree. It looked perfectly normal, and Jason was sure it was possible that some type of red bird inhabited Gyeeds's parks in the fall. Yet he felt something strange—as if he was in the presence of a great sinister power. He felt as if the eye of a fell deity were gazing upon him, boring deep into his soul. And something within him was responding—some dark, dormant part of his mind heeded the call. He shivered with dread.

At that instant, the bird flew away, and the strange sensations likewise. Jason wondered what in the world had happened. It was all so odd—surely, magic was involved. And—oh, dear. The cat hadn't seemed to be the wizard's familiar (before the personality exchange, anyway), but what if this bird was? It was probably summoning up reinforcements to avenge its master at this very moment.

Jason ran towards the skyscrapers, hoping beyond hope that he was only being paranoid. He dashed out of the park and along the sidewalk, looking for a train station. Here there were people, going about their business as usual. Some stared at him, perplexed as to why anybody would be in such a hurry. <Were you in my position,> thought Jason, glancing at them, <you'd feel the same way.>

Looking at a map, Jason could see that he was far from home. Gyeeds was quite a large city. But thanks to the incredible speed of the vacuum maglev trains, he got to Roland's apartment in less than two hours.

Humming a merry tune, Jason walked up to the door and rang the bell. The politician answered it, and was happily surprised to see him.

"Jason! What happened to you?"

"Believe it or not, I got kidnapped. Again! And by a guy ten times worse than that dragon! But," he added quickly, before Roland could respond, "I can't talk about it now. I'm exhausted. Please, just let me go to bed. I'll tell you everything in the morning."