After eating a quick lunch, I took a second look at the application Lillian sent to me and decided to fill it out for real. I started to wonder why the school charged a fifteen-dollar application fee considering how it was probably the only school of its kind in the area, but by the time I completed the application, it was too late. At least the person running the website was smart enough to encrypt my submission so that my money and personal information didn’t disappear into some kind of black hole.
I went outside into the backyard to recharge my magic wand, stopping to wonder if there was a more efficient and less destructive way to do it. The patches of dead grass looked like they were still growing back, but I worried about what would happen once they stopped. I still hadn’t figured out a way to do the recharge dance that wasn’t both exhausting and embarrassing. Every time I’d done it so far, I had privacy on my side, but I knew I’d eventually have to improve my dancing skills if I had to do it with other people watching.
I knew I had a long night ahead of me, so I tried to get a quick nap in before my next shift started. When the timer on my cell phone went off, I didn’t feel any more energized than when I first fell asleep. I had a half-hour before I had to be at work, and Mom and Dad weren’t going to be home in time to drive me to the store. I had to use all of my strength to get off the couch, out the door, and down the street to get into Ada’s without falling asleep again.
Once I made it inside, I jumped right into the express lane and bought an orange-flavored can of Quick-Burst energy drink. The liquid inside the translucent can looked like a combination of pure orange juice and caffeinated orange soda. It seemed really popular among teens and young adults. Another woman at the next register, a few years younger than me from the look of it, had a six-pack of cherry and orange Quick-Bursts in her basket. Anyone planning on buying that many energy drinks in one trip was either preparing for a big game the next day, or one hell of an all-nighter.
I just wanted one can to help me get through this shift. I hope I’d still be able to get a good night’s sleep afterward.
After paying for my drink, I went back to the employee’s lounge and took a sip from the can before placing it inside the door of the mini-fridge. My eyes popped open and I started to feel a little bit tingly inside, and I felt like I could take on anything. If one sip could do this much, then I wondered how much energy I would get from taking the can all at once.
I was assigned floor duty again, which now included cleaning up spills. Sybil gave me a large bucket and one of those fancy hands-free mops and pointed me toward the soda and juice aisles.
I liked this mop because I could just push the handle to wring out all the excess liquid without touching it. The only problem was that it still left little droplets on the floor that were easy to slip on, requiring us to put down signs to guide people away from the spill area. I started thinking about what I could do if I were allowed to bring my magic wand to work. If I knew how to do so, I could try to scoop up each puddle of liquid I found and shape it so that it fit as neatly in the bucket as possible without splashing all over the place. Couple that with a drying or a wind spell, and barely anyone would notice that anything ever spilled there. Why hadn’t I thought of anything like this before?
After buying some fried chicken wings from the hot food section, I went back to the break room feeling groggy. The effect of the Quick-Burst was starting to wear off. I finished off the can and started feeling like myself again, but it didn’t exactly go well with the wings. Maybe I should have just bought a regular bottle of juice instead.
Back on the floor, I ran into Randy in the dairy aisle. He was leaning against a shopping cart with a few boxes of cereal and some cleaning supplies in it, and a black windbreaker jacket stuffed in the baby seat. His orange Sharonia Zoom T-shirt showed off a set of toned muscles, and his bushy red beard was almost impossible to miss. I saw him grimace a couple of times when he stepped forward with his right leg. It looked like he still had a ways to go with his injury recovery.
“Hey, Randy,” I said. “It’s been a while. How are you feeling?”
“I’m getting there,” he said, trying to keep his crutches from falling off the side of his cart. I hurried to pick them up when it was clear he couldn’t bend down to catch them. “I just came to pick up a few things for the house. What have you been up to lately, Deanna?”
“It’s, uh…it’s been a pretty wild week for me, to say the least.”
I pulled my right glove off just enough to reveal my enchanter’s sign to Randy and keep it hidden from everyone else. His pained reaction was about what I expected.
“Ooh…wow! You should probably get that checked out,” he said.
“I already did,” I replied.
He leaned in to look a little closer. “What are those pink lines doing there?”
I looked down at my hand to see what Randy was talking about. My sign had turned pink again, just like it did at the Blank Scroll. I still didn’t know what was happening, so I couldn’t give him a straight answer.
“The short version of the story is–” I leaned in and whispered in his ear “–I can use magic now.”
It sounded like he expected me to say something like that. I didn’t expect him to be so readily accepting of it – or tolerating, at least – right away.
“So, anyway,” he said, not even stopping to offer his opinion on the subject, “I talked to Clark about my upcoming schedule, and it looks like I’ll be back at work on Friday.”
“That’s great, but… shouldn’t you wait until your ankle fully heals before you come back to work?”
“It’ll be fine, trust me. I’ll just sit on one of those stools like Corey does.”
He gave me one of those half-smiles that said “I’m glad to be back, but I really wish I could relax for a couple more days.” Still, it was nice to see that he wasn’t feeling down about injuring himself in a pick-up basketball game.
I had to excuse myself and get back on the sales floor before I fell behind on my cleaning.
“It was nice seeing you again,” Randy said. “Maybe next week they’ll put us in a unit together, and you can show me some of that ‘Deanna magic’.”
“Yeah…that’d be great,” I said, unsure whether he was talking about my bagging skills or actual “magic”.
When my shift ended and Dad came to pick me up, I was ready to crash for the night. The lines on my hand stopped glowing the moment I left the store, and I still wanted to figure out why.
The next morning, I woke up an hour later than normal, probably as a side effect of my Quick-Burst crash. I consulted my Simple Spells book to see if it could tell me anything about that weird pink glow, but I didn’t learn anything new. Perhaps it was a bit too much to expect a spellbook for beginners to touch on such a topic.
An extensive internet search gave me a little more information, linking me to an experimental security system called SCRB, which was short for “Spell Containment and Reduction Boundary” and pronounced just like the word “scrub”. According to the website’s product description, it was designed to protect against “surprise magical intrusions” by absorbing and nullifying up to 99% of all hostile magical energy in a given area. Allegedly, if someone tried to burst into a protected room and use a magic wand to set the room on fire, the system would cause the fire to fizzle out in a second. That sounded cool and all, but where would all that excess energy go after the spell was used?
After finishing my breakfast, I called Sol and asked her if she could come to Emerson Park before I went to work and before she had to take her dance classes.
“I’d love to!” she said. “It’s been a while since I was able to get out of the house and do anything fun, anyway.”
“Oh, and bring your wand, too, if you can.”
I looked out the living room window and saw that the weather was perfect for a walk, so I went back upstairs to change into a loose-fitting T-shirt and jeans and put my wand and spellbook in a bag.
When I went back downstairs, Dad noticed me and stopped short of exiting the front door. “Morning, Didi. Where are you headed off to this early in the day?”
“To the park,” I said, holding my wand case and spellbook together. “I’m going to hang out with Marisol for a couple of hours. Is that okay?”
“As long as you remember to lock up after you leave,” Mom said, “and you get back in time to get dressed for work.”
“Don’t worry, I won’t forget. Have a good day, you guys!”
I gave Mom and Dad a hug and waited for them to leave before heading out of the house myself.
When I got to the park, I found that the ground was still a bit muddy and squishy from the previous days’ rain. I took a seat on one of the benches and tapped the ground in front of me a couple of times to find a safe spot to rest my feet. If I were a few inches taller, I would have tried to see if I could stretch my legs from the bench to the crosswalk.
Sol arrived a few minutes after I sat down, carrying her wand and spellbook in her right hand and a half-full bottle of water in her left hand. She wasn’t sweating or panting heavily, so I guessed she only had it with her in case she got thirsty. I scooted over to my right to give her some room to sit down.
“Hey there,” she said. “What possessed you to want to come back to this park? Hmm?”
“Well, it’s a nice day out, and I haven’t had a chance to practice away from home,” I said. “Picking up and moving around stuff in my bedroom got old after a while.”
“No kidding. By the way, I saw your name in the paper yesterday.”
Sol smiled at me. It wasn’t a teasing, mischievous smile like the day she made me fix that wand. It looked like she was genuinely happy.
“That was pretty gutsy of you to go out into the storm like that. I don’t think I would have been able to do the same thing.”
“You never really know whether or not you can unless you’re left with no choice,” I said. I didn’t really know how true it was. It just sounded like the right thing to say.
Sol got up from the bench and stretched her arms upward as high as she possibly could. I thought she was preparing to do her magic recharge dance, but she took one look at her wand and sat back down, figuring she already had enough energy to cast spells.
“Hey, Sol… may I ask you something?”
She turned around to face me, lowering her wand to the side. “Yeah, sure. Go ahead.”
“How did you first get into magic?”
“Let’s see…” Sol stopped for a moment and pressed her left hand to her forehead, reminding me of a contestant trying to answer the final question on almost every quiz show I’d ever seen. “I think it was about two years ago after I’d come home from junior prom. Me, my mom, and my brother Caleb went to this big stage show to see Deuce Clover.”
Deuce Clover – I’d heard his name on television a few times before, but I’d never seen one of his shows, either in person or on TV.
“So Deuce was on stage doing his usual magician stuff,” she continued, as if I was supposed to know what his ‘usual magician stuff’ was. “Then about halfway through the show, he started ramping things up steadily. Shuffling playing cards, tossing them back and forth in his hands, making them disappear, throwing them into the air and setting them on fire, disappearing from the stage and reappearing in the crowd, switching places with random audience members…”
Sol got more and more excited as she kept talking about how awesome Deuce was, describing each of his feats with dizzying speed. I had trouble keeping up with trying to imagine him performing so many tricks that fast. Then again, with everything I was just learning about magic and witchcraft, an expert magic user probably could do all that in a short time frame like it was nothing.
“And then, for his last trick, he waved his wand around a bit, tapped his shoes a couple of times, and then he started floating – no, hovering – several feet above the stage! It was one of the most awesome things I’d ever seen!”
“Wow! That does sound amazing,” I said.
“Unfortunately, that turned out to be his last show. He retired after that, saying there was no way he could top what he just did. Seeing him pull off those tricks and having the crowd eating out of his hands…that was when I knew I wanted to learn how to use magic. I wanted to amaze and entertain people by doing things that few humans could ever dream of doing.”
Most of the things Sol described sounded like standard magician tricks, but the floating bit at the end was definitely the mark of a wizard. From her account, Deuce was the kind of guy who liked to mix up regular stage magic with wizard magic to keep his audiences on their toes – and more importantly, to get his audiences to guess the difference between the two. An over-the-top stunt like flying off the stage was the perfect capper to a career predicated on flashy stunts and tricks. I would have liked to figure out how he pulled that last one off without extensive stage help.
“What about the dancing?” I asked. “Is that going to be part of your act?”
“I wasn’t planning on it,” she said, “but it could be. I just really like dancing.”
We decided to test one another on the spells we had learned since visiting the Blank Scroll. Sol had no trouble casting the spells from her original notes without looking at her spellbook. I had to check my book first to remind myself how they worked, but I was able to get it again when Sol randomly challenged me to pick up and then catch a cluster of pebbles without touching them.
Sol turned to me and held her wand over the pile of pebbles in my hand. “Want to see something cool?” she asked.
“That depends. Where are you going with this?”
“You’ll see. Just hold still for a moment.”
I tried not to move while she waved her wand and her free hand over the pebbles. After a few repetitions, she drew a pattern in the air that I didn’t recognize, and then shot a white energy bolt at my hands, causing the pebbles to vanish before our eyes. Even though they were invisible, I could still feel their weight.
“What do you think? Pretty cool, huh?” she asked, smiling at me like she’d just pulled off the most amazing prank. “With this spell, I can hide any number of small objects.”
“How do you make them reappear?” I asked back.
Sol took a few steps back toward one of the bushes and beckoned for me. “Go ahead and throw one of those at me.”
I looked around and saw a few young boys and girls watching us. I knew it wasn’t my place to stop them, but I thought they really should have been in school. The boys were pumping their arms up and down, expecting a fight. I wasn’t going to give them one.
“Come on, Sol…seriously?” I said. “There has to be an easier way.”
“What? I was going to see if I could catch it,” Sol responded. “You didn’t think I was going to actually let you hit me, did you?”
Against my better judgment, I grabbed one of the invisible rocks and tossed it at her outstretched hand. I must have misjudged its flight path, because a spark flashed around Sol’s right index and middle fingers, bringing the pebble back into view. “A little lower!” she called.
After giving Sol a moment to recover, I threw another pebble at her. “Got it!” she cheered as the second pebble sparked back into view after finding its target.
“Nice catch!” I said. “Let’s try something different now. Heads up!”
I stood in a spot where I could clearly see the sky, away from any trees or buildings. The kids who were watching us earlier had left, so we were now just throwing rocks around for our own amusement. I tossed another pebble upward as hard as I could, waiting to see when and where it would reappear. After staring into the air for a couple of seconds and nothing happening, I noticed the pebble I’d thrown standing just a few feet in front of me.
It seemed that all it took to reveal a magically hidden object was for it to hit something. To confirm this theory, I dropped a few more pebbles from my hand, and they all popped into view upon hitting the ground. I had to purposely throw one at my feet to get it to make that telltale “hit spark” that appeared when Sol caught the second one.
“What were you doing just now?” Sol asked.
“Research,” I said, discreetly slipping one of the remaining pebbles into my pocket.
We both put our wands away, deciding that we’d done enough spellcasting for the time being.
“I’m getting hungry,” Sol said. “Want to grab a snack or something?”
“Yeah. I could really use one myself.”
I walked with Sol to Ada’s, checking my hand a couple of times along the way to see if her invisibility spell, helpfully called “Hide” by the Simple Spells book, was still working. I could still feel the pebble in my hand, even though neither of us could see it. When we passed through the sliding doors and into the general store area, I felt two quick jolts – one in my pocket, and another in the hand where I was carrying my pebbles.
“Are you okay, Deanna?” Sol asked.
“I’m fine. I really wasn’t expecting anything like that–“
When I looked down at my hand, I could see the pebbles again. The one in my pocket had also suddenly reappeared.
“Hey, Sol…these rocks were invisible a minute ago, weren’t they?”
Sol looked at me with disbelief. “Yeah. So?”
“But once we entered the store, they appeared again.”
“Maybe the spell wore off.”
“I don’t know about that. Let me see your hands for a minute.”
Just like my palm symbol the night before, Sol’s cloud thumbprints glowed pink around the edges. She wondered what this had to do with the pebbles magically reappearing, so I asked her to go outside and cast “Hide” on them again. When she stepped back inside, she felt the same jolt of pain in her hand that I did, followed by the pebbles popping back into view.
It looked like Ada’s was protected by a large anti-magic field. Assuming that this was the SCRB system I read about earlier, it also had the power to nullify outside enchantments as well as any attempts to use magic by anyone standing inside. I could understand a large chain like Ada’s wanting to take measures to protect its assets from all possible threats, but why would the Blank Scroll, a small store in a remote part of town whose very existence depended on the sale of magical goods, need something like that?
“That really hurt, you know,” Sol said, clutching and rubbing her hand.
“Sorry,” I said as I took the now-visible pebbles and put them back in my pocket. “As I was trying to say, I wasn’t expecting anything like that to happen. At least now we know that we’ll have to be careful where we take enchanted objects.”
“That much is obvious. Our wands are still safe, though, right?”
“They shouldn’t be. I mean, all those wands at the Scroll didn’t blow up, did they?”
Sol shook her head. She probably realized that the Blank Scroll was also using SCRB technology, but like me, wasn’t sure why.
We went straight for one of the express checkout lanes near the entrance. There was a sale on cranberry granola bars, so we each bought a pair for ourselves. I took a bite out of one of mine on the way out. It wasn’t the most filling of snacks, but it tasted delicious, and that was all that really mattered.
“Have you thought about signing up for Lillian’s summer class yet, Sol?” I asked.
“Yeah,” she said, turning away from me slightly, “but I don’t think I’d be able to afford to ride out there every week.”
I almost forgot about the hidden transportation costs. She’d have to pay for bus tokens on top of the weekly attendance fee. At $4.50 for a round trip for up to three days, that cost would add up quickly.
“It’s okay, though. I’ll just keep studying and practicing on my own between dance classes.”
“But wouldn’t you rather have a study partner to share your ideas with?”
“You’re the only other witch I know personally. I guess I could try asking around, but that’s going to be super awkward. ‘Hi, there! Want to study magic with me?’ ‘Uh, who the hell are you?'”
Sol had a point. Not being able to get into Lillian’s class would hurt her chances to expand her social circle, and going around asking strangers if they were also witches or wizards would invite no shortage of dirty looks, even if they really did know magic. Assuming I made it past Try-Out Thursday, I had to be careful not to embarrass myself in front of the other students if I wanted to make it through the summer.
It was almost time for lunch, so we decided to split up and go back to our homes.
“Want to meet up at my place next time?” Sol asked. “Mom and I should be free this weekend.”
“Yeah, I wouldn’t mind,” I said. “You sure your mom’s going to be okay with you inviting us over without her permission?”
“I told you, we should be free this weekend. I think Mom would want us to get it over with sooner rather than later.”
“You’re probably right. I’ll see you later! I had a lot of fun today…well, except for the rocks-exploding-in-my-hand part.”
Sol laughed. “Me too. Later, Deanna!”
On my way back to my house, I wondered what Sol’s apartment was like. It must not have been very big if Sol had to come to Emerson Park every time she wanted to do anything magical. It wouldn’t have surprised me if parts of it were also protected by SCRB, thus giving her an excuse to go outside every once in a while. I took the pebbles out of my pocket and scattered them among the grass near the sidewalk. I didn’t need them anymore, and I didn’t want to risk experiencing any side effects by holding onto them after they were robbed of their enchantment.