The day broke with a hint of orange sunrise nudging the darkened horizon. Mischief stood in his kitchen and emitted several cautionary puffs of air to cool down his boiling hot cup of apple tea. With the agility of an experienced consumer of hot drinks, Mischief avoided any burned skin damage with deft skill as the flavored hot water siphoned down his gullet, leaving only the delicious scent of the previously-dried herbs and essences of cinnamon, cloves, and of course, apple.
Instead of planning pranks, hijinks, and whatnot of levity and mirth at the expense of all humans across the planet, all he lined up for the day was the tea in his favorite mug with “Cat Dad” written in pink letters. He had maybe one good one left in him, and no strong impulse to use it.
Mischief never conceived it possible that the desire to uproot, upend, unseat, unsettle, and manipulate the lives and environments of others would lose its charm, but there he was: exhausted from all the everything.
He felt peace, and finally, a bizarre relief from the burden of it all. It was like he submitted his final assignment with nothing left to do.
Mischief zipped up his thick, dark blue sweatshirt, cleared his throat, and headed toward the front of his home. The twelve-foot walk provided him enough distance to focus on the repeated slide and slap of the rubber bottoms of his slippers against the hardwood floor like a jazz drummer whipping their brushes into a meditative groove. With an appreciative smile at the sound of his rhythmic shuffling feet, he reached the door and opened it. Mayhem stood on the porch, dressed in her usual black cloak, slacks and boots, maroon blouse, and holding two cups of gas station coffee, decorated with colorful heat wrappers and plastic lids.
“What are you doing? It’s time to go,” she said, looking somewhat befuddled at her casually-dressed colleague.
“I’m taking the day off,” Mischief said, stepping outside into the cool air and sipping his tea.
Mayhem scrunched her nose as she leaned forward to examine the contents of Mischief’s cup.
“Is that tea? When did you start drinking that trash?”
“When I’m home, I drink tea.”
“I never knew that,” Mayhem said.
“You never asked,” Mischief said. “You’ve been supplying me with that industrial sludge in your hand for eons out of habit, never bothering to ask my preferences. It’s apple tea, by the way.”
“You mean cider?”
“No,” Mischief said, sitting down on a brown rattan chair that squeaked with pleasure beneath his weight. “Cider is cider. This is tea.”
“I never knew you had a cat either,” Mayhem said.
“Fine,” Mayhem said after a pause. One of the cups vanished from her hand, which she slid into her jacket pocket. “And what’s this ‘day off’ bull? Who did you ask to grant you a day off?”
“Silly Mayhem, we don’t need to ask. I declared it, and now I’m experiencing—nay, enjoying it.”
“But the world is waiting,” Mayhem said, turning with her arms outstretched. “Every day a blank canvas for us to destroy with concoction-fused colors… and you’re in sweats sipping tea?”
Mischief generated a large thumbs-pinch of bread and tossed it toward the bird. As the sparrow hopped forward to inspect the bread, Mayhem pointed her finger and turned the morsel into a rock.
“That’s mean,” Mischief said, turning the rock back into bread. It now doubled in size, providing the innocent bird an inconvenience gratuity.
Mayhem pointed again and turned the bird into the same type of rock before sneering a smile at Mischief. Mischief vanished the pair of rocks, then took another sip.
“I don’t get it,” Mayhem said, walking down the wooden steps to the concrete path from the road. “We’ve been doing this forever. You love it. I’ve never seen you take a day off in your life.”
“Consider this, Mayhem,” Mischief said. “I’m ready for something different. The winds of change are blowing.”
“Winds of change?” Mayhem screamed. “What the hell are you talking about?”
“Come now, is ‘change’ an impossibility? We’ve seen a myriad of it through the years. Philosophical belief systems, units of measurement, forms of government, Bob Dylan at Newport in ‘65.”
“First off, Dylan was completely unsanctioned. Neither of us knew he was going electric.”
“That’s for damn sure,” Mischief said with a frown.
“If you opt for change,” Mayhem said, “what’s stopping the rest of them from changing?”
“I’m not standing in anyone’s way,” Mischief said. “I’d love to see Flummox figure things out or watch Discernment make a random choice. Can you imagine it if Euphoria became sullen and Sullen became ecstatic? It would be like starting over, but without the mess.”
Mayhem slammed her coffee cup to the ground. A brown liquified explosion splattered everything in its reach, including the front of Mischief’s gray slipper. Mischief shook his head, then looked back at his angered colleague. Mayhem waved her hand with blithe annoyance, and the mess disappeared.
“I’m sorry, Mayhem,” Mischief said, crossing a leg over the other. “I’m moving forward. Trying something new. You can cover my zone for me, or do I need to call your ex, Chicanery, for her support instead?”
“Now you’re taking me seriously.”
“Don’t you get it?” Mayhem whined from a pouting frown, shaking her shoulders in frustration. “I don’t want a new partner or to cover your zone. Come with me. Let’s be mischievous and mayhematic.”
“That’s not even a thing,” Mischief whispered as he refilled his cup with the point of his finger. “Go out there, and make me proud, Mayhem. The world is your oyster. Be… mayhemirific!”
“That’s not even a thing,” Mayhem sneered through her nasal passage.
Mischief pointed a finger at the porch where the bird and the bread once stood. They both returned to existence as if nothing had happened.
Mayhem lifted her hand toward the snacking sparrow as Mischief said, “Don’t!”
Mayhem turned her finger from the bird to Mischief, who remained calm, and sang:
Keepin’ out of mischief now.
I really am in love and how.
I’m through playin’ with fire.
It’s you whom I desire.
Mayhem rolled her eyes, pointed her dangerous finger up in the air, and snapped it, vanishing from the porch.
As the young sparrow pecked away at the hunk of bread, Mischief took a deep breath down to his toes and exhaled. The moment of calm, the quiet morning, the cotton comfort around his being.
His final mischievous act was away.
Mayhem carried the burden of all the world’s pranks and treachery, while Mischief sat on the porch in sweatpants, sipping tea.
Apple tea. Not cider.