Chapter 11: Keeping the Lights On

A few moments after the power went out, we all got anxious. There wasn’t enough light in the room for anyone to read, making it difficult for Elias or his friends to get any studying done.

“Aw, man! Now, what are we going to do?” Elias complained.

“Maybe we could move our books over by one of the windows,” Shaniya suggested. “That way we could at least see what we’re doing.”

“All four of us?” Stefan asked. “The only way we’d all fit over there is if we moved this table.”

“No way! We can barely see each other as it is,” Elias said.

Stefan laughed off Elias’ observation. “Relax, Elias… I know that. I wasn’t seriously suggesting that we try to move furniture around in the dark.”

They all looked over at Antoine, who appeared to be typing something on his cell phone.

“Who are you trying to call?” I asked.

“Nobody,” he said. “I’m trying to find the flashlight function on my phone.”

“Won’t it be difficult to hold your phone and do your review questions at the same time?”

“Maybe, but I don’t want to sit around in the dark doing nothing for who-knows-how-long.”

After a bit of fiddling around, the back of Antoine’s cell phone emitted a bright white light. He rested his left elbow on the table to try to get a good enough angle to highlight everyone’s books. It worked for a little while, but I still thought it looked awkward for him to have his left arm raised while he tried to write answers and turn the pages with his right hand without anything holding his books in place. Even his friends weren’t keen on having to hold his books down for him. Eventually, Shaniya gave up and fell face-first into her algebra book. Antoine couldn’t resist the temptation to shine his phone light on her curly black hair, which looked like it took up half the table.

“This isn’t working,” she said. “We need, like, a real flashlight or a desk lamp or something. Something with batteries, at least.”

“Sorry,” a voice from behind us called out. It didn’t sound like Mom, but I couldn’t see who it was very well. “The desk lights are all hooked up to the electrical system, so we can’t turn them on until the power is restored.”

Following a collective groan from everyone at the table, I looked around and saw that the kids’ section was also mostly in the darkness. The library’s layout only offered enough room for two windows – one along the western wall, and one along the southern corner near the checkout desk. The rest of the walls were lined with bookshelves. Any light that would try to get into the library through any windows along those walls would have to get past years-old wood grain first.

Another flash of lightning lit up the room for a fraction of a second. The thunder that came after it was just as intense as the last one. Fortunately, it sounded like the storm was starting to move away from town. It didn’t guarantee that we’d have the power back on any time soon, but at least it would relieve us of one headache.

I got up to look outside the closest window. With so much rain coming down, I felt like I was standing behind a waterfall. In those rare moments when I could see anything through the raindrops, I saw cars struggling to decide when to cross at the intersection with the traffic lights out. The few people that were still outside scrambled to find shelter, ducking between store awnings and building overhangs. If not for the lightning, I worried that they would have a hard time seeing where they were going, too.

Suddenly, an idea came to me. I’d have to go outside in the pouring rain to do it, but I thought it might be worth a shot.

“Where’s she going?” I heard Elias mumble as I put on my jacket and took my bag to the front door.

“Deanna? Deanna!” Mom called.  “What are you doing? Sit back down! It’s dangerous out there!”

“I-I just need a few minutes to check something out,” I stammered. “I’ll b-be right back. Promise!”

As soon as I pulled the front door open, it felt like a thousand raindrops fell to my feet at once. “Close the door!” one of the boys cried.

I put up my umbrella as I let the door shut behind me. There was no awning or overhang to protect me from the rain, so this was my only line of defense.

I wasn’t counting on needing to use my wand, but I was glad I brought it with me. It wasn’t that I was afraid of anyone knowing I was a witch. I just needed to get outside where I could actually see the spell I was going to cast.

So far, I had only practiced casting spells under normal weather conditions, or indoors where I didn’t have to worry about bad weather or bad lighting. In a way, magic was like driving. You never knew how good you really were until you had to cast spells with rain falling down around you, or thunder and lightning breaking your concentration every few seconds, or gusty winds throwing your aim off. One wrong stroke or thrust would put me in danger of causing serious damage to myself, the library, and everyone else inside.

I waited a few seconds for the thunder to subside before briefly closing my eyes and picturing the “Glow” symbol in my mind. It formed a small circle, split in half by a long vertical line. I stuck my arm out and drew the lines to match the symbol, pointing my wand toward the ground so that I wouldn’t hit any cars or pedestrians if my spell misfired. When I pulled my rain-soaked arm back under my umbrella, I heard a clicking sound, and the gemstone on my wand brightened up in a flash! It was so bright that I could still see the afterimage after turning away for a few seconds.

I waved my new magical flashlight around a few times to see if it could hold its charge in the rain. Holding the wand out in front of me seemed to project a spotlight outward that shined a golden light up to twenty-five feet away. A few cars passed through the strange circle of light, one of which was a police cruiser. The car stopped a little further up the road, and two officers filed out of the car and started walking toward the library, waving around flashlights. I wasn’t sure who else noticed the light from my wand, or what the officers were going to do or say to me once they found the source, so I went back inside as quickly as I could before they spotted me.

I re-entered the library holding my wand upright to avoid shining it in anyone’s faces. Everyone looked at me with astonishment as they saw the room light up as if the power had never gone out. Most of them covered their eyes or tried to look away from the glowing crystal. Elias and his friends took pictures of me with their camera phones, and I tried my best not to look embarrassed.

“Where’d you get that from?” one of the boys asked.

“Cool!” said another.

“I want to hold it!” a third one said, reaching up to grab the light before the babysitter restrained him.

“Sit back down!” she said. “Don’t touch it! You’ll hurt yourself.”

As I walked closer to the front desk, I saw another curly, black-haired woman talking on the phone. “Okay, I’ll let them know,” she said, and hung up. She turned to the rest of us and added, “That was the electric company. They said that lightning struck a tree somewhere on 15th Street and it brought down some power lines. It’ll probably be another three hours until emergency crews can clean up the debris and restore power.”

“Three hours?! How bad is it out there?” Antoine asked.

“It’s pretty messed up. Most of Sharonia is out, and parts of St. Gabriel and Jademore are out, too.”

“Seriously?!” I moaned. Having to use my magic wand to keep the library lit was one thing, but I didn’t know if I had it in me to do it for three straight hours. The wand still looked like it had plenty of energy left, so I hoped it wouldn’t run out before the power came back on.

As long as I kept my grip on the wand, the Glow spell would stay active, but it also consumed energy. Watching the wand’s energy meter slowly drain was like watching a candle melt. It was a good thing I didn’t have to worry about being burned by hot wax.

Before I had a chance to sit back down, I felt a soft vibration in my back pocket. At least the cell phone towers still work, I thought happily.

The two officers entered the room and turned their flashlights off when they saw me holding my wand aloft. One was a fresh-faced and fair-skinned young woman about the same height as me, and her partner was a wiry young man just a few inches taller than her. He appeared to be fiddling with some keys in his pocket.

“We’re with the Sharonia Town Police department. Is everything all right here?” the female officer asked.

The male officer leaned toward her with a nervous look on his face. “Careful, Yates. This one’s got a wand,” he mumbled.

“Duh! I can see that,” Officer Yates said.

Everyone looked over at the two officers, and then at me, worried that something scary was about to go down. I tried not to make any sudden movements as the officers approached. They looked almost as scared as I did.

“Is there a problem, officers?” Mom asked.

“No, ma’am,” the male officer said. As he got closer, I caught a glimpse of the name on his badge: “Greer”. Yates and Greer…those two names just screamed “buddy cop show main characters”.

“We saw a weird light on the road and traced it to this library,” he continued. “Then we saw this young woman standing outside and it looked like she was holding something glowing, so we came to investigate.”

“And it looks like our hunch was right,” Officer Yates said. “Do you mind if we ask a couple of questions?”

“To me?” I asked.

Both officers nodded, and I took a deep breath and walked with them toward the front door with my wand arm still raised, as it was the only thing keeping the room from falling back into near-total darkness. Almost everyone else in the room went back to what they were doing before the power outage, only occasionally looking back in my direction to see what was happening.

Officer Greer was the first one to speak. “What’s your name, young lady?”

“Uh, Deanna Richardson, sir,” I said.

Officer Yates pulled out a notepad and started taking notes. I was surprised she was even able to write anything in it, considering how soggy it looked.

“Do you live in this area, Ms. Richardson?” Officer Greer asked.

“Yes.”

“Would you mind telling us why you were standing outside this library in the middle of a heavy thunderstorm?”

He certainly didn’t waste any time getting to that question.

“Well, um…I was inside, and I wanted to go outside so I could get something to light the place up.”

Officer Greer raised an eyebrow. “‘Light the place up’, you say?”

“Yeah. I mean–” Officer Yates glared at me and started writing faster on her notepad. I had to quickly think of something to say to climb out of the hole I was about to dig for myself. “No! No, no, not that kind of light! I meant like a flashlight.”

“Why couldn’t you have done that inside?” she asked. “Aren’t there any flashlights or lanterns or candles in here?”

“Not that I know of,” I said. “I have a couple of friends here who tried to use their cell phones as flashlights, but those can only put out so much light, and there are also little kids here, and I didn’t want–“

Both officers were staring at me now, and Greer twirled his finger around, signaling for me to stop rambling and get to the point. “Okay, uh…the reason I was standing out there was because I needed to come outside so I could see well enough to cast a light spell without hurting anyone.”

“I guess that makes sense…in its own weird way,” Officer Yates said, masking an exasperated sigh from her partner.

“Are you sure you’ll be able to keep this room lit all by yourself, Ms. Richardson?” Officer Greer asked.

“I hope I won’t have to,” I said as I briefly looked behind me. The way everyone was huddled around their respective tables made it look more like they were ready to tell ghost stories than doing any actual reading. I wouldn’t have been surprised if any of them suddenly did start telling ghost stories. The outdoor atmosphere – such as it was – was just right, and the indoor lighting was the right color. The only things missing were the graham crackers, chocolate bars, and roasted marshmallows.

The two officers went over to talk to Mom and her boss, leaving me alone to hold my glowing magic wand up until well after they had left. I walked around the room once to see how everyone else was doing, and then I took one of the chairs from Elias’ table and put it as close to the center of the floor as I could. The less I had to move around, the better it would be for everyone.

Every half hour or so, I switched the hand I held my wand in to keep them both from getting tired. It looked like the crystal’s light dimmed when I held it in my left hand, but it didn’t affect the brightness of the Glow spell. Sitting so close to such a bright light for so long was making me sweat. If I had known I was going to be here for a few hours, I would have packed a lunch. Elias and his friends looked like they were getting hungry or thirsty, as well.

“Deanna? Do you guys want something to drink?” Mom asked. “We’ve got some water bottles in the mini-fridge in the office. They’re still cold.”

“Yes, please!” I said as enthusiastically as possible. Sure, it wasn’t food, but I would have taken anything to help me cool down a few degrees.

Mom fetched a few bottles of water from the staff room and handed one to me, while Elias and Antoine accepted two more bottles for themselves. Sipping on that water was probably the best feeling I’d had all day, which wasn’t much considering we still didn’t have power. I would have given anything to go to a corner store and buy a yogurt parfait or a bag of chips. At least the rain was starting to slow down. I hadn’t heard any thunder in a while, either.

After I went through my bottle of water, I used my free hand to check my cell phone. I got a couple of text messages from Dad asking how Mom and I were doing.

“I think everything will be alright,” I responded, trying my best to type with one hand. “What about you?”

“It’s been slow because of the weather, but we’re doing the best we can. You guys have any light over there?”

I looked at my wand for a moment, smiled, and then said, “Yeah.”

“Good! Want me to bring a few donuts home for you guys?”

“I’d like that.”

It was good to know that Dad was still in good spirits in spite of everything.

I turned to check on everyone at the big table. “How are you guys doing over there?” I asked.

“We finally got everything done,” Antoine said. “We’re just double-checking now to make sure all of our study notes are up to date.”

“Awesome!” I said. There was really no other way to put it, really. I would have given them a round of applause if I didn’t have to keep holding onto my wand. “So, what are you guys going to do now?”

“Just ride the storm out, I guess. They have to be close to finished working on the power lines by now, don’t they?”

“I don’t know. Has it been three hours? I kinda lost track of time.”

“You know how those estimates are,” Shaniya said. “They say three hours, but they could really mean four or five. I’m surprised that you were able to find a light so quickly. Where did you find that thing, anyway?”

“A friend gave it to me,” I told her.

“Wait…do you mean that weird girl who came running into my shop a few days ago?” Elias asked.

“Yeah.”

“I’m…kinda surprised, actually. I thought you were more into painting and stuff.”

“Oh, I still am. I just finished a new painting recently. Next time I come to the shop, I’ll show it to you.”

“That’d be great! I’m looking forward to seeing it.”

The energy indicator on my wand showed that I had less than half a meter to go. I was glad I didn’t have to keep casting my Glow spell to keep the light going, but I had a feeling it wasn’t meant to be used this long in one sitting.

A few minutes later, the lights suddenly came on, to the delight of everyone in the room. The ceiling lights had mostly drowned out the light coming from my wand, but it was still possible to see a faint golden glow along the walls if one looked hard enough. I relaxed my grip and let the crystal’s light fade before putting the wand back into its case.

The babysitter gathered all of the children around her and prepared to leave, confident that the rain and thunder had stopped long enough to get them home safely.

“Thank you!” they all said to me at once. Their caretaker hadn’t said anything to me the whole time, and I couldn’t figure out why. I hoped it was because she was focused on keeping the kids calm and not out of fear of me or my magic powers. She did wave back to me when I waved to everyone on the way out, though. I accepted the fact that it was the most I would get out of her.

Over at the big table, Elias and the others were also getting ready to leave. Shaniya and Elias exchanged flirty looks while their two other friends got up to stretch after sitting down in the same spot for so long.

“Man, am I glad that’s over,” Stefan said.

“Me too,” Antoine said. “You want to go to Rococo’s after this?”

“Nah. I gotta head back home. My dad’s probably still freaking out right now.”

“Want me to start up the car?” Shaniya asked.

Everyone else at the table nodded.

“Okay, then. Let’s go, guys!”

They all gathered their books and bags and got up from the table. Shaniya then turned to me and said, “I’m not sure how or why you did what you did, but you saved us a lot of time today.”

“Yeah…thanks a bunch, Deanna,” Elias added. “We wouldn’t have been able to pull this off without your help.”

“Well, we probably could have, but it would have taken a bit longer.”

“It was nothing,” I said. “I honestly hoped I wouldn’t have to use that…or at least not have to go outside to use it first.” I felt embarrassed being the only one to laugh at my own joke.

“That trick you just did was almost as good as that lady in the blue cloak,” Stefan said. “Almost.”

“Uh…thanks?”

Antoine snickered. “I’m not sure what he’s talking about. We’re all grateful for your help today. Really.”

As I waved to everyone as they walked out of the library, I tried to figure out which one of them was the leader of the study group. I thought it had to be Antoine since he seemed to be the most serious about getting everyone to get their work done. Then I considered Shaniya since she was the one who drove everyone over to the library in the first place. Compared to those two, Elias and Stefan just appeared to be along for the ride. Assuming they all passed their exams, I hoped we would meet again and be able to hang out more before the start of the summer season.

Now it was my turn to leave. I’d done what I needed to do at the library and was ready to go home.

“Deanna!” Mom called out to me before I reached the front door. “Are you sure you’ll be okay getting back home? Want an extra bottle of water?”

“No thanks, Mom,” I said. “I’ll be fine.”

“Make sure to call or text me when you get back in, okay?”

“I will.”

I gave Mom a hug and a kiss on the cheek and walked out to the bus stop across the street.

The rain and the wind from the storm left a lot of puddles and branches on the roads and sidewalks. When my bus eventually arrived, I was surprised when the driver simply decided to plow through everything rather than look for less hazardous detours. It felt like the driver was as determined to get home as quickly as possible just like everyone else. Then again, I couldn’t really blame them after a storm like that.

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