“Job Hunting” (an excerpt from SWAN KNIGHT’S SON)

An excerpt from SWAN KNIGHT’S SON, the first novel in the new YA fantasy series by John C. Wright.

At dawn, Gil waited next to the newspaper box at the bus stop corner and politely asked the first man who bought a newspaper if he could have the want ads. Then, he walked to the north side of the town of Blowing Rock and began working his way, street by street, past every shop and each address listing anything he thought he could do.

Now, many hours later, he sat on the curb with the paper at the south side of town. All the buildings were behind him. The lonely highway wound down the slope into the forest before him. There was not a car in sight.

Ruff came trotting up, with a dead squirrel in his mouth. The dog laid the squirrel carefully in the gutter at Gil’s feet and sat back, bright-eyed and wagging his tail, and he barked. “Look! Look! I brought a squirrel! A squirrel!”

Gil folded the newspaper and threw it down into the gutter.

Ruff said, “Hi! Hi! You can eat it. I brought a squirrel you can eat!”

“Thanks, Ruff. You are a pal. Good dog. You are a good dog!” And he scratched the dog behind the ears.

Ruff sniffed the newspaper, and his ears drooped. The tail stopped wagging. Ruff looked up with a mournful expression into Gil’s face. “Oh, no! Oh, no! It is a day of failure. You failed. Didn’t find what you were hunting, did you?”

“How did you know?”

“I can smell failure.”

Gil looked up. “Really?”

“Yup! Yup! Well, and there is also the fact that you are sitting in the gutter looking glum rather than flipping burgers or changing tires.”

“There was one guy who wanted to hire me for carpentry. I showed him I knew how to pound a nail and hang a door. Another guy at the shooting range needed someone to clean the guns, mind the customers, and lock up at night. Even the car wash needed someone. But not me. I am not in the union, not old enough, don’t have a birth certificate. Cannot prove I am allowed to work. The old lady who runs the flower shop wanted someone just to sweep up the place, pick up dead petals and leaves, and take out the trash, but she said she could not pay me ten bucks an hour. I said I would work for half of that. She said she was not allowed to pay me so little. Not allowed! In her own store! Who has the right to tell her she can’t hire me?”

Ruff jumped up, his ears high, “Oh! Oh! I think you should sneak into her shop at night and do all the work she wants without telling anyone! Then, if she likes the work, she will leave a bowl of cream out on her back doorstep for you. And on All Hallows, she has to sew you a new suit of clothing. And then you vanish and never come again.”

Gil said, “What?”

Ruff’s ears drooped again. “Oh, no! I thought that is how things like this were done.”

“Maybe in Dog Land. The way they are done in Burke County is less exciting. If you stand on the corner at the library, sometimes landscapers will come by to pick you up for a day’s work with a shovel or a rake. But Mom said honest labor. Does honest labor mean I have to obey laws about carrying paperwork and being old and whatever else? Because that I am not allowed. Or does it just mean your full effort for a full day with no slacking and no backtalk? That I can do.”

Ruff said, “Hey! I have an idea! Why not go to Dog Land?”

Gil looked at the mutt in surprise. “Is there really such a place?”

Ruff cocked his head to one side, so one ear was up and the other down. “Um! Um! You just said. You said how they do things in Dog Land. I thought it sounded like a swell place. Swell! Because of the dogs.”

Gil scowled at the road. “I asked some of the birds to tell me what my mother was up to, but they would not tell me.”

Ruff cocked one ear.

Gil said, “Don’t you think it strange that she wants me out of our place, not even to sleep there?”

Ruff said, “I saw her walking around the place counterclockwise, three times. Maybe she is trying to summon the Greater Tree.”

Gil said, “What is that?”

“Well, you know the World Tree?”

“Nope.”

“This is greater. Greater than the world.”

“What is it? What does it do?”

“Beats me. But if she is doing something that might draw attention to herself, she wants you out of the way.”

Gil said, “So the whole getting a job thing is a trick? We should go back and protect her.”

Ruff shook his head. “Maybe. Or maybe you should listen to your mother. I always listened to mine. Except when I didn’t. Then, it did not go so good. Besides, you need to work to eat, right?”