Thanks to Shelly for this idea!
Susanne had never really given much thought to where the mice and gerbils and other small rodents and reptiles in the pet shop came from. Or, for that matter, where the little turtles and snakes came from. All she knew was that every Thursday Bob, her boss, would ask her to come to the back room to pick up the newly arrived rodents and reptiles and deliver them to their respective tanks.
When she first started she did find it slightly odd that the animals arrived in a cardboard box instead of... well, whatever you would ship rodents and reptiles in. And also odd that the exact number they needed to refill the tanks would arrive- three gerbils, two teddy bear hamsters, a turtle, the rare chinchilla. Never a bulk supply. She had once asked him if it wouldn't be safer to buy a shipment of, say, ten. All he'd said was "It's taken care of, no worries."
She also found it odd that all they sold in the store was small animals instead of dogs and cats which seemed to be more common in other pet stores. But Bob had explained that it was a bit of a specialty shop in that respect. "I figure the dogs and cats are covered," he'd said. The logic was reasonable enough that she didn't question it. Besides, it was just an after school job, anyway. The unanswered questions weren't enough to keep her interest when her line of questioning got her nowhere.
One perfectly ordinary Thursday afternoon at precisely four forty-nine she was minding the front register and wondering how much neater the counter top could be until she conceded defeat to her efforts of procrastination and gave in to her calculus homework. It did not bode well for her future work in the subject that she found herself considering cleaning the tanks sooner than get started.
"Suzanne, could you come back her for a minute?" Bob called from the back room. She glanced up at the clock. Precisely five pm. 'Saved by the bell', she though to herself. Bob was nothing if not a creature of habit. It was time for the weekly delivery.
She went back expecting to be greeted with the usual assortment of cardboard boxes containing the usual assortment of small animals but was instead greeted by Bob, sitting contently at the desk, with a teapot in his hands. She'd seen it before, sitting up on the shelf above his desk. She'd assumed it was a gift from his mother or something like that because she'd never actually seen him drinking tea around the shop. She had lots of gifts from her mother taking up space on the shelves in her bedroom because she didn't know what to do with them. But as he sat there he seemed like he intended to use it.
"I didn't know you drank tea," she said.
"I don't," he replied as if it was obvious.
"Well, then- what's with the teapot?"
"I was hoping I might talk to you about your... well not career, I know you're going to school in the not too distant future and I'm glad that you'll be studying something more useful than how to run a pet shop. But you've been pretty reliable here over the past year and I was thinking that you might be ready for some more responsibilities."
"Um, ok? What exactly do you mean?"
"Well, I know we don't have many other employees here but I was thinking of offering for you to be manager."
"Really, I didn't know places like this had managers. I mean, not that I don't want to be manager- I totally do. I mean, as long as it's not going to interfere with school."
"No, no- your hours won't change, you'll just be in charge of some more things around the store."
"Well, first and foremost, this," he said as he placed the pot on the table in front of her.
"...ok? You want me to guard it or something?"
"No. Well, sort-of. It's a very important teapot. It is, and this may sound a little crazy but just bear with me, a magic teapot."
"Uh-huh..." She couldn't hide the doubt in her voice even though she knew it was probably bad etiquette to let your boss know that you think they're crazy.
"Well, maybe you're not ready for it," he said, picking it up and turning back to the shelf.
"No, wait- I can handle it, I just... I've never seen any real magic. I'm sorry, I really want to know. I just... you know," she said, trying desperately to make up for her obvious faux pas.
He paused, turned back to her and put the teapot back on the table.
"Do you believe in magic?" he asked, completely serious.
"Um... I don't know. I guess I sort-of thought that it wasn't real in real-life. I mean, the movies and books and stuff, yeah. But everyone tells you it isn't real, you know?"
"They're just trying to keep you from asking questions. That's one of the things you don't learn growing up- that some people will try to keep you from growing. But it's true, unfortunately." He seemed sad as he said that last part. And the look in his eyes made her think that he'd come across a lot of people who hadn't wanted him to grow. She'd never thought of him in that way before and now that she did she felt closer to him, somehow. She thought she'd never regretted anything more than making fun of him for trying to tell her something obviously important to him. Well, no. Burping in front of Bobby Benson on their first date was her biggest regret. But this was up there.
"I'm sorry, really. I promise i'll believe you."
"I'll tell you what. You can know the secret of the pot, and you can be in charge of its safe keeping and even use it if- and only if- you can answer one very important question for me."
"Never say that until you know what 'anything' is."
"I'm sorry, I mean, I'll try."
"Ok, here's the question. Are you- and you have to answer this with complete honesty so consider it carefully before you answer- a good kid?" He put a lot of emphasis on the 'good' as if it meant something really important.
She did what he asked, she thought about it very seriously. She didn't really know how to answer. What makes someone "a good kid"? There were a lot of things she did wrong, she knew. She had just as much self doubt as the next teenager which was quite a lot so her appraisal was probably a bit off. But she listened to her parents, most of the time. She'd never gotten in any real trouble. And she did, in general, consider herself to be very loyal. So... maybe?
"I... I think so."
He considered her for a moment. His gaze seemed to be studying her character, judging whether or not she was worthy. Her heart went up into her throat as she waited for his verdict.
"I think you are, too," he said with a suddenly large and genuine smile on his face. She let out a big breath and smiled back.
"Ok, here's how it works," he said placing the teapot back on the table. "Now, the first rule for now, is that you must always do this with me present- never on your own. Or at least not until you've gotten the hang of it. Understand?"
"Yeah, don't do it unless you're around. Wait- do what?"
"This," he said placing the top on the teapot. She waited expectantly. Nothing happened. She was about to ask what they were waiting for when steam started coming out of the spout. She couldn't really believe her eyes. Here it was, that thing that everyone'd told her wasn't real: magic! But what magic?
"Is it making tea?"
"Nope, I don't drink tea, remember?"
"Well, then what's it doing?"
After a minute the steam died down and was replaced by... squeaking?
"Is that pot... squeaking?"
"No, not the pot," he said removing the top and reaching inside. "It's this little guy," he said as he removed a small, gray mouse.
She stared in shock for a full minute trying to grasp what she'd just seen. A perfectly ordinary china teapot with little purple flowers painted on the side had, of it's own devices, made a mouse. She'd seen the inside before he put the top on. It'd been empty. And yet there Bob sat with a smug look on his face, holding a little, squeaking gray mouse.
"Oh my gosh! How did you do that?"
"I didn't do anything, it was the pot. I told you it was magic."
"Well, yeah but- how? How do you do make it do that.?"
"I'm not entirely sure," he said, his smug look replaced with one of confusion. "All I know is, I think of a gray mouse, and there's a gray mouse. If I thought of a gold teddy bear hamster, there'd be a gold teddy bear hamster. Whatever I think of, there it is. And that's where all the animals in our store come from."
"Well, what else can you make? Can you make money?"
"Nope, just animals. I haven't any clue why. But magic doesn't come around that often, so you try not to question it too much when it does."
She considered the teapot, and the mouse that had come out of it. And all the other animals she'd brought in from the back over the past year which had apparently been brought about by the same method. And then she thought of something. Something terrible. Something absolutely horrible that she wished she hadn't thought of.
"What happens when you think of a cat?"
Bob got a pained look on his face and looked down.
"There's a reason we only sell small animals," he said, very quietly.