The first thing I did after getting home and setting my umbrella aside to dry was sit down and send a text message to Mom and Dad to tell them I was okay. It was the fastest way to get in touch with them without interrupting their normal business flow. They probably wouldn’t have been mad if I called the bakery or the library directly, but their bosses definitely wouldn’t have appreciated it.
Next, I called Randy and Sol to see how they were holding up. Randy was still nursing his ankle injury, so he didn’t have to move around much once the storms hit. He hoped to be back at work in a couple of days once the doctors got a good look at his ankle again and saw that he could walk without hurting himself.
Sol was a bit grumpy when I called her. She was in the middle of a dance workout routine when the power went out, and spent the next few hours after that with almost nothing to do.
“Don’t you have games on your phone that you could play?” I asked.
“That’s not really my thing,” she said. “Besides, I don’t have one of those cool smartphones like almost everybody else.”
“Why don’t you ask your mom to buy you one?”
“I already did. She said she won’t do it. She wants me to find a job first.”
I paused for a moment to consider what Sol was saying. On the surface, it didn’t sound like a bad idea. All I knew about Sol’s schedule was that she took dance classes on Wednesdays and Fridays. I didn’t know if she also went to a traditional school or community college like Elias did when he wasn’t working. If she didn’t, then she probably had lots of free time to fill in the mornings.
“I have an idea!” I said. “I could put in a good word for you at Ada’s. We could use a few more helping hands around the store.”
“I’ll think about it,” Sol replied, unconvinced.
“Okay, how about Lynx Donuts?”
“Hmm… I haven’t really done any baking since home ec class last year, but how hard can it be?”
Sol’s response was more encouraging this time around. She sounded genuinely interested in working at the bakery with Dad. I didn’t really know if there were any openings. I just threw out a suggestion that happened to stick.
I was about to ask Sol a few more questions when I heard a loud knock at the door.
“Hold on, Sol… I’ll call you back later,” I said before hanging up and getting off the sofa.
I approached the door slowly, unsure of who to expect. Mom and Dad weren’t due home for at least another hour, and they both had their house keys, so they didn’t need to knock to let me know they were coming in. Whoever it was, I wasn’t going to let them in unless Mom or Dad was present. Maybe not even then.
“Hello?” I called, pressing my back against the door to buy myself some time in case whoever was outside tried to force their way in.
“Hi! May I speak with Deanna Richardson, please?” a male voice on the other side asked. His soothing, deep baritone voice sounded benign, but I wasn’t going to let that catch me off-guard.
“Rodney Speller. I’m a reporter for the McCarthy Metro Times.”
“May I see some ID?”
I hadn’t looked directly at this “Rodney” guy since he showed up, so I didn’t know if he was telling the truth about his identity. I should have asked him how he even found my house in the first place.
Looking through the peephole, I saw a tall, broad-shouldered man in a loose-fitting white polo shirt. He was holding up a badge of some kind, but I couldn’t see what was on it because the peephole made everything on the other side look smaller. I told him to bring the badge closer so I could tell if it was real. Once I saw the McCarthy Metro logo, I unlocked the door.
“Does this mean I can come inside?” he asked.
“No,” I told him flatly. Even if he was really from a newspaper of some prestige, I was always told not to let any strangers in the house. Rodney’s furrowed brow indicated that he wasn’t happy with what I said, but I had a duty to protect myself and my property.
“Well, I can’t exactly conduct this interview through the door, Miss Richardson,” he said. “You’ll either have to let me inside or come outside yourself. It’s your choice.”
I opened the front door and stepped outside, clinging to it as tightly as possible to prevent him from sneaking inside. If I was the only one he was interviewing, he didn’t need to see what was in my house. He didn’t seem very interested anyway; as soon as I stepped outside, he looked down and scanned me before taking out a notepad from his pants pocket and scribbling on it.
“Let’s get started,” Rodney said, suddenly adopting a formal tone of voice. “Could you tell me where you were and what you were doing when the power first went out?”
“I was at the library,” I said.
“I see… Did you notice anything strange coming out of the library?”
“There were reports of an odd golden light coming from that area around noon. I figured that since you were there, you might have seen where it was coming from.”
I could have continued to try to play it off and pretend I didn’t know, but if I lied to this reporter, then the police would find out, and they’d probably come after me for real. They’d never pass up an opportunity to try to catch someone in a lie, even if they weren’t around to hear it.
“Yeah, I remember seeing it,” I said, trying my hardest to stay cool. Being interviewed – or interrogated, in the case of Officers Yates and Greer – twice in the same day wasn’t helping one bit.
“Really? From where?” Rodney asked, looking up from his notepad only after I admitted to seeing the weird light.
“A magic wand.”
“Whose wand was it?”
What surprised me most about Rodney’s reaction was his lack of surprise. I basically told him I was a witch and he didn’t flinch or recoil in disgust or anything. Maybe he was trying to maintain an air of professionalism by not freaking out. Maybe he had seen or heard of so many wizards and witches that seeing one more didn’t faze him. I didn’t know which of those was true…or more impressive.
The most I saw him do was slow down and nod, perhaps to give me a chance to better explain myself.
“I wasn’t really trying to shine any light on the road,” I said. “I was trying to prepare my wand to use as a torch for everyone inside the library. There was a group of little kids in there… They were all reading stories and got scared when the power went out. I couldn’t just leave them in the dark.”
Rodney nodded again and continued writing. “Go on…”
“And I had friends in there, too. A couple of college kids studying for spring exams. They wanted to get their work done quickly and needed a light. We didn’t have flashlights, and our cell phone lights weren’t good enough, so I went outside and turned my wand on. Those were some of the most exhausting hours of my life.”
Rodney gave me a wry smile as I told him more about what happened at the library. He also asked me the names of everybody else I knew there at the time, presumably to interview them later to corroborate my story. I could only give him Elias’ full name because I had only just met his friends. When it looked like he had enough material for his story, he shoved his notepad back into his pocket and did a little twirl with his pen, which looked cool until he almost dropped it on the welcome mat.
“That was a very intriguing story, Miss Richardson,” he said. “If you’re lucky, you might see your name in tomorrow’s paper!”
He was still smiling, but it felt like he was more excited about seeing his name on the byline than he was about putting my name in the paper. I didn’t really think about it much, either. The only other time I’d been mentioned in the news was on a list of Sharonia High graduates from several years ago. Looking back on it now, it didn’t seem like much, but the day I received my diploma was one of my proudest moments, both for myself and my family. I wondered what my old high school friends would think about me now that I was about to be “small-time” famous for engaging in witchcraft.
After Rodney thanked me for agreeing to the interview, he took off in an SUV bearing his newspaper’s logo. I went back into the living room and crashed out on the couch, turning the television on to a random program and letting it lull me to sleep.
Dad arrived a little over an hour later, waking me up by shaking the bag of donuts he promised to bring home.
“Everything okay, sweetie?” he asked.
“It was rough,” I said, “but I think I’m fine now.”
Dad sat down and changed the channel in search of a talk show or game show to watch, but most of the basic networks were airing reports on the aftermath of the storm. The cameras panned over images of fallen trees and crushed cars in parts of the county I hadn’t been to or seen before. At least two people died during the storm, unable to escape after being trapped under fallen debris. I started to get exhausted by the whole thing and hoped in vain that there would be something more uplifting to watch.
“Your mother told me that you helped keep the lights on at the library today,” Dad said after taking a bite out of a glazed donut.
“Did she tell you how I did it?” I asked.
“No. I kinda got the idea after your ‘wink-and-nod’ text message earlier.” He reached into his bag and pulled out two donuts, one powdered and one plain, holding each one up and asking me to choose. I didn’t really care which one I was going to eat, so I closed my eyes and picked the powdered donut out at random.
“I mean, yeah. You were quick to sneak that bag into the car, and I knew you hadn’t taken anything out from the library recently. You didn’t bring anything to eat with you, either, so the only other thing I could think of for you to put in there was that magic wand of yours.”
Once again, Dad had figured me out. It wasn’t like I was trying to keep it a big secret from them, though. I just wanted to be prepared in case something bad happened. Regrettably, a power outage in a storm like that was the best-case scenario. If the wind had knocked one of the nearby trees down, I wouldn’t have been able to react fast enough to stop it, or strong enough to lift it by myself after it had fallen.
“I didn’t think you’d actually try to go outside with all that rain and thunder,” he said.
“Hey, at least I tried to stay close to the building so I wouldn’t get struck by lightning. That’s gotta count for something, right?”
Dad didn’t even try to hold back his laughter. It was a good thing he wasn’t eating anything at the time, or things could have gotten messy. “Seriously, though… I’m still not sure why you decided to do that, but using your wand to light up the library was pretty smart thinking. We’re both proud of you, and I’m sure everyone else in the library appreciated your help.”
After I finished my donut, I gave Dad a big hug and sat down to watch television with him once the news networks finally got off the subject of the big storm.
A little while after Mom got home, we ordered out for pizza because none of us were really in the mood to cook fresh. We were running low on food supplies anyway, so we stopped over at Ada’s after we ate to load up on meats, milk, rice, and vegetables. Everyone there seemed to carry on as if the power outage never happened. It was late enough in the day for everyone to have moved on to other things, and that was just fine by me.
When we got back home, I took one last look at the weather report before going to bed. It was still scheduled to rain early in the morning, but fortunately not as bad as the storm that just passed through. I planned on trying my luck and going to Cherry’s to show off my “Emerson Park at night” painting. Elias probably wouldn’t be around to see it right away, but I figured his father might get a kick out of it, as well.
I woke up the next morning with a stiff neck. I was so anxious to get to sleep that I forgot to fluff my pillows. Rubbing it down only helped so much, so I took a pain medicine pill to help make the pain go away. I also checked my right hand for signs of damage. I had been holding onto that wand for a pretty long time, after all. Luckily, there didn’t appear to be any lingering redness or changes to my enchanter’s sign. That annoying hole was still there, so I had to keep my gloves on when I wasn’t using the wand.
After eating a bowl of corn flakes for breakfast and waiting for Mom and Dad to go to work, I tried to come up with a new idea for a painting, but I wasn’t motivated to actually start working on it. All I really wanted to do was get on down to Cherry’s to sell my Emerson Park painting and get it over with.
Holding onto my bagged painting and my umbrella at the same time was awkward. It was too big to carry under my arm and uncomfortable to sling over my shoulder. Holding it like a normal bag was the best way to go, even if it meant lifting it an inch or two whenever it got close to touching a puddle.
The store was a bit quieter than last time, thanks in part to the rain. Mr. Cherry was at the front counter, sighing to himself and reading a copy of the McCarthy Metro Times. I had to ring the bell to get his attention, just as I did with Elias when I first saw him.
“Unbelievable! Simply unbelievable!” he grumbled. Behind the paper, I could hear the sound of a fist slamming against wood.
“Uh, what’s unbelievable, sir?” I asked cautiously.
Without looking up from his paper, he said, “They caught a couple of idiots playing around with ‘strange objects’ near the police station during yesterday’s power outage. Now you tell me: why in the hell would you go anywhere near a police station with anything that might look like a weapon, especially on a bad weather day?”
“Why”, indeed, I thought. A sudden power outage would be the perfect cover to cause mischief to try to get the press to dismiss such incidents as “accidents”. I started to worry about what kind of “strange objects” Mr. Cherry was talking about. Guns? Knives? Bombs? Whatever they were, I wasn’t even remotely qualified to offer my opinion on the subject, for I’d only heard about it as an off-handed aside on the morning news before leaving.
Mr. Cherry slowly composed himself and sat the paper down to his left. “Never mind that,” he said. “It looks like you have something for me.”
I removed the Emerson Park painting from the table and placed it on the counter.
“Amazing!” he said, his eyes dancing around as he examined the painting. “Did you do this yourself?”
“If I didn’t have to watch this shop every day, I’d buy it myself. How much do you want for it, Deanna?”
I had a price in mind, but I was distracted by the doorbell ringing behind me. I turned around and saw a middle-aged man in a dark blue poncho carrying what looked like a finely-polished brass lantern. The moment he saw me, he walked back outside without saying a word. I didn’t think I was that scary-looking. Was I?
I turned back to Mr. Cherry and said to him, “Let’s go with forty.”
“That’s it? Just forty? Why not go a bit higher?”
“How much would you pay for this, Mr. Cherry?”
“Fifty, maybe,” he said. “Sixty on a good day.”
I didn’t want to do fifty dollars again, and sixty felt too high for a painting I just made up as I went along. Another customer came in with a plastic bag of his own, giving me little time to debate a suitable price. “I guess I’ll go with fifty again,” I told Mr. Cherry after a bit of nudging from him and the customer behind me.
“You got it,” he said as he filled out the necessary paperwork.
I stepped aside to let the next customer go, but Mr. Cherry stopped me before I could leave the store. “Oh, Deanna, before you go… I wanted to say ‘thank you’.”
“Oh? What for?” I asked.
“For helping my son out yesterday. He told me you were there to provide some light for him and his friends when they couldn’t find a working flashlight in the library.”
“It was nothing.”
The next customer dropped his bag on the counter, causing it to make a muffled rattling noise. He then turned to me and asked, “Did you say your name was Deanna?”
All at once, I wondered who this guy was, how he knew my name, and what he was carrying in that bag. “I didn’t say it, but yes, I’m Deanna,” I said as politely as possible.
“Aha! So you’re the girl I read about in the paper this morning.” The guy fiercely pointed at me, and I still didn’t know what he was going on about. At least he didn’t turn around and make a break for the door, unlike the guy with the lantern.
I asked Mr. Cherry if I could borrow his newspaper for a moment. I skimmed through almost every page in the paper and didn’t find any articles that mentioned me by name. Eventually, the curious gentleman pointed out a headline buried on page 15, just a few pages before the reader mail section: “Small-Time Sorceress Lights Up Library.”
The headline wasn’t exactly wrong – I’d only been dabbling in magic for a little over a week – but the use of the word “small-time” made me sound like a two-bit criminal. The actual body of the story was more complimentary, even mentioning how I (foolishly) braved the pouring rain to ensure nobody got hurt.
When the other customer completed his transaction, he looked at me again with a skeptical eye. “Wait a minute…you don’t really look that much like a witch,” he said. “Can you show me how you did that light thing? Just for a minute?”
I quickly declined his request. Even if I remembered to bring my magic wand, I didn’t think Mr. Cherry would have appreciated me showing off my powers in a room full of fragile merchandise. The curious man left the store with his empty bag stuffed in his pocket, disappointed that I didn’t give him the brief magic show he wanted.
I figured it was time for me to return home, as well. As I walked home and looked around me, I started to wonder what my newfound name recognition would mean for me going forward. Would people be more or less inclined to buy my paintings if they knew I was a witch? Would they turn and run away if they saw me, or stop me on the street and ask me to do tricks for them? I knew I needed to prepare myself for all of these possibilities and then some, but all I wanted to do for the moment was relax.