A new short story in the "Young Wizards" universe.


“What are you looking for, roaches?” Ana sounded indignant. “We’re very careful here. We don’t have roaches!”

“On the contrary,” Ken said. “You are very careful, and as a result, you have very careful roaches. Guys?” he said in the Speech, and whistled.

Ana went ashen and stood absolutely still as about a hundred roaches came flowing out from under the baseboards, all together, gathered into a little group, and looked up at her and Ken...


“See,” Ken said, getting down on one knee and putting down a finger to one of them, which promptly climbed up on it and sat there waving its antennae, “they know you’re so careful about cleaning up and never leaving sweet things around because you really hate having to kill anything. So they’re careful to stay well out of sight inside the walls, and never show any sign that’ll make you have to call the exterminators. However – “ he cocked an ear at the roach sitting on his finger – “they do like to hide in your wall space when the Chinese place around the corner has gotten so filthy in the back that the Board of Health guys descend on them. Then when the coast is clear they go back. They hate the cooks over there, because most of the time they ignore the roaches completely, except when the City’s about to show up. You, however, are consistent. Roaches like consistency.”

Ana was standing there with her mouth open. Finally she found presence of mind enough to close it. “Horse whisperers I knew about,” she said. “Roach whisperers…? Only in New York.”

Ken resisted the urge to roll his eyes: he’d been called worse things. “I wouldn’t define my role that narrowly,” he said, and let the roach on his finger back down onto the floor. “Let’s just say I’m a student of the art of conversation. I listen to anything that has something to say to me. Mostly animals, though I do inorganics occasionally, just to keep my hand in.” He looked down at the roaches. “Okay, guys and gals,” he said, “back to business now. And leave those wires alone.”

Ana watched the roaches vanish under the baseboards again, and swallowed. “And here I thought you were in personnel,” she said.

“I am!” Ken said. “They’re personnel. Just not human personnel.”

“Oh yeah,” Ana said. “Who do they work for?”

“Life,” Ken said, and went over to the sink to wash his hands. “The same as you and me. They do it the way they were built to. We do it -- “ He pulled a paper towel, dried his hands, chucked it in a nearby trash container. “Differently. And some of us do it very differently. Which is what I’m getting to here.” He looked around the candymaking kitchen one last time. “Because, taking everything together – the nature of your business, your reputation, the way the place looks, and the history of your company -- something is definitely missing.”


“Your xocolotl...”


"Theobroma" appears in DD's new anthology Uptown Local and Other Interventions,
available from the Ebooks Direct store at