It was that time of year again when the sun went down well after tea-time.
As he walked up the familiar cobblestone path, John's own shadow flitted between the shadows of the half-bloomed hollyhock stems. He flicked his cigarette onto the stones and ground it under his shoe. Looking up, he noticed a few people gathered outside the last house on the avenue.
"Shit." He sighed, recognizing the blue and gold emblem on their blazers, just like the one he had on his own breast-pocket. John crossed the street and took a long detour through the grove at the end of the street. Here the white picket fences gave way to thick shrubbery and even beyond that were clusters of trees, cradling the last batch of fruit before Fall. He heard the chatter of his peers at the front of the house and hopped over the low fence as quietly as possible, hurrying to the kitchen door. John's apartment was rather small, but it suited him just fine as long as it housed all his prized belongings. There were four distinct rooms to it; one for sleeping, one for cooking, a washroom and - the one place he spent most of his time - the study. He could see the silhouettes of Alan and Gerald outside the front door.
"Where on earth could he be?"
"Don't fool yourself, I bet he shut himself into his study the minute he got home."
"I don't hear any music."
It was true that John usually had a cassette of Bach or Mozart on loop while he sat at his desk. On some days the neighbours would hear the strains of a Karnivool record. This probably meant he wasn't having a smooth day, but all things came to an end at precisely 10 pm in the Faust apartment and even the ticking of a clock seemed like an avalanche. But today, the whole place was as silent as nightfall.
"Hey, man! Open up! We just want to congratulate you!" Gerald banged on the door.
John looked down at the little golden cup he had been clutching. Ignoring the plaintive sound, he walked over to a shelf in his study and placed it among several other. Almost seventeen times over, he saw the same name, gleaming back at him from golden plates: 'John Faustus'. It was usually followed by something like 'for brilliance in', or 'for outstanding achievements.'
A bittersweet feeling came over him as he surveyed his accomplishments. The university had acknowledged every single one since he had arrived here at Wittenberg, Ohio, nearly eight years ago.
"John, show a little respect." Alan sighed from outside. Much to his amazement, the front door swung open and his eyes met with his classmate's permanently sullen face. "Now that's better."
The pair walked in as John shut the door behind them, proceeding towards the couch.
"I gotta tell you, I wasn't surprised. I could've put all my money on it too." Gerald observed. "Would've made enough to get me my own ride by now."
"Don't be daft, no one would bet against Johnny here." Alan interjected.
"Beers in the fridge, make yourself at home." John said distractedly.
"What on earth are you looking for?" Alan asked as he watched the apartment resident suddenly bolt towards the shelf.
"What kinda experiment, Johnny?" Gerald asked, peering into the fridge. "Say you got any ice cream?"
"Fresh out." John replied, rummaging in a drawer. He finally pulled out a small red candle and a horseshoe.
Gerald glanced at the objects, but on principle he never questioned his classmate's quirks. Alan however was under no such obligation, having known this curious student for less than a year.
"What's that for?"
John glanced up at him. "Oh, nothing it's already served its purpose." Here his eyes flickered to the newest addition to his trophy collection. "Did I ever tell you two when I started on the paper that won me this award this evening?"
Both heads shook.
John returned to his couch with the objects still in his hands. "Last night. 7.43 pm to be precise."
"Don't mess with us, J." Gerarld sniggered. "We knew you'd have to be working on it since August or some shit."
"I'm not joking around here, Gerald." John said gravely. "I put in just about as much effort into this research as you do for mid-terms."
The grin on Gerald's face vanished and Alan chuckled. "Honestly, Faust, how'd you do it? Did you plagiarize?"
"To accuse me of stooping so low!" John snapped! "Hardly. It's interesting that the subject of my research happened to be folklore, not something I'm proud of, and that folklore itself was the cause of my success."
"You better start explaining yourself, Johnny boy." Gerald said bluntly.
"What you see in my hands are remnants of a non-elaborate spell I performed at 7.40 last night. It involved the simple assembly of these components and the quick and frankly uninteresting combustion of a flammable substance upon which my desire - that is to win this award - was scrawled. Needless to say it was a gamble, yet look where we are now."
"This is some sort of joke right? Your twisted sense of humour?" Alan said with a slight smile.
"I assure you it's quite a serious matter. Not only have I succeeded in completing my goals for my final year at Wittenberg, but I believe I may have stumbled upon a new art."
"So," Gerald said, after a gulp of beer, "what you saying is that a few minutes of bullshit witchcraft and you magically won an award for which your ass didn't even break a sweat?"
His outrage was understandable. Gerald had worked almost half the semester trying to complete his research and he hadn't even been given a badge for 'exceptional attempt', something that the administration would've surely invented just to please the young blonde boy before him.