Following Sol’s advice, I set aside the two books I borrowed from the library so I could focus on spending the next couple of days refining and testing the limits of every spell I knew. Learning how to properly control objects in mid-air and set them down without being too noisy or making a mess, figuring out which surfaces and objects produced the best sound with “Echo”, and finding the right light levels to use “Glow” without blinding myself felt as thorough a workout as a trip to the gym.
On Tuesday morning after Dad went to work, Mom asked me to help her vacuum the carpets on both floors. It took us half as much time to clean up since we had two vacuum cleaners, and that gave us time to stop and watch the Freedom Day parade on TV. Rows of soldiers marched in unison around the city carrying rifles and twirling batons as a two-dozen-strong brass band marched behind them, playing uplifting and patriotic tunes for the crowd. The whole thing was an impressive sight to behold. I wanted to go to one of those parades one day, perhaps bringing a set of earplugs to dampen the band noise if I got a front-row seat. Those trumpets and horns could get really loud sometimes.
That afternoon, Mom and I ate some canned cream of mushroom soup for lunch. My bowl still felt a bit cold after following the preparation instructions on the can. Mom thought so too, and she beat me to the microwave to reheat her soup. She turned around a minute after putting her bowl in, wagging a finger at me. “Don’t even think about it, Deanna,” she said.
“Huh? But I wasn’t going any–“
Mom looked down and saw my feet pointed toward the sink and not the microwave. “Hm…I could have sworn I heard your sneakers squeaking. If you’re thinking of trying to use your magic wand to reheat your soup…just use the microwave. It may not be as fast, but it’s a lot safer. Trust me.”
Using “Warm” to heat up my soup hadn’t crossed my mind. I didn’t want to try that spell out without knowing how hot my food would get. There had to be a more practical use for “Warm” and its colder counterpart, “Chill”, but that experiment would have to wait for another day. My hunger could not.
My mushroom soup turned out fine after a minute in the microwave, but it still felt like it was missing something. Maybe it was the cheap Dollar Shack can or the barely-there mushrooms that were throwing off the taste. Mom believed she could do better, so we went to Ada’s to buy some fresh ingredients to make our own from scratch. I agreed to help her cook it so that we could both have a dinner we could be proud of. We saved some for Dad when he came home, but he only seemed to like the mushrooms. He thought the cream was gross, no matter who cooked it.
Wednesday was the day when I did the most practicing. Apparently, it rained overnight, leaving a lot of puddles on the sidewalk. Thinking back to my day of cleanup duty at Ada’s, I tried “lifting” one of the puddles on the sidewalk outside my house, only to wind up splashing it on a nearby parked car. I scrambled inside in a vain attempt to deny responsibility, but it was pointless since at least two people saw me do it. Next time, I planned on carrying an old washcloth with me to clean up after such experiments.
It looked like it was possible to use magic on solids and liquids, but until I learned how to shape those liquids, I would just end up splashing water everywhere. It was too bad there wasn’t anything in my Simple Spells book that would help me learn how to do that. It looked like another trip to the Blank Scroll was in order.
While I’d refrained from casting magic on anyone else since I got my wand, I wondered what kind of effect some of these weird spells would have on other people. I wasn’t about to ask Mom or Dad to be my guinea pigs for this experiment, so I had no choice but to try casting a spell on myself and assume that the results would apply to cases just like mine.
I held out my left arm and zapped it with a “Lift” spell, and it hurt almost as much as being jabbed with that magic crystal. I didn’t know if I would actually be able to move my arm around with the wand since I had to jerk it away so quickly, but I certainly did not want to try that again.
After spending some time icing down my arm, I tried “Lifting” myself again, but aiming for a less exposed part of my body this time. The beam caught the sleeve of my T-shirt, suspending it in mid-air as if I was being pulled along by an invisible fishing hook. Waving my wand arm around caused my shirt to move accordingly. It was probably a good thing that I couldn’t use that force to pick myself up off the ground. That would have been a very awkward and painful way for me to learn how to float. I wanted so badly to learn how Deuce Clover did it. Sol made it sound easy, even without going into the finer details…
When I relaxed my grip on the wand, my shirt fell back down along with it. I needed to take a break, anyway. My right hand was cramping up, so I double-checked it to confirm that nothing had been damaged. No matter how many times I looked at the enchanter’s sign on my palm, I couldn’t help wincing. I hoped that Dr. Keller could find a way to get rid of that hole, even if it meant closing it surgically. The last thing I wanted was for the hole to expand to the point where I couldn’t use my hand anymore.
Around lunchtime, I figured I’d give Dustin a call at the Blank Scroll and ask him about some of the more advanced spellbooks. For a small store that seemed to go to great pains to make its store location as inconspicuous as possible, finding its phone number in the directory was trivial.
“Blank Scroll… if you found this number, you didn’t hear it from us,” Dustin answered, sounding like he was ready to hang up the phone before I could start talking. If that really was his store phone greeting, I didn’t know whether to tell him to be nicer or applaud him for staying in character.
“Yeah, hi…it’s Deanna from downtown,” I said.
I waited for a second to see if he remembered me and whether he was going to address me by name.
“What can I help you with?”
So much for that.
“Let’s see… Do you have any books for sale for someone who’s about to attend a magic school?”
“I might,” he said. “How much have you read from the other book you bought?”
“Most of it,” I told him.
“Read all of it,” he said immediately afterward. “Don’t try to move on to the more advanced subjects until you get a good grasp of the basics. Hold on to your money until then, okay?”
“Uh, okay… In fact, I was actually practicing from that spellbook before I called you.”
“Good, good. I’m sure Lillian will be interested in seeing what you have to show her.”
How did Dustin know which school I was going to? I’m sure he saw Lillian give me her business card, but I hadn’t told him that I’d committed to attending.
“I see a lot of things in my line of work, Ms. Richardson,” he continued, “and I hear a lot, too…mostly from Lillian.”
I decided to ask him straight out. “Did she tell you whether or not I was going to sign up at her school?”
“No. I figured that someone would have answered her call eventually.”
“I see. Thanks for the tip! I should probably get going, too.”
“Okay, then. Good luck.”
I was surprised that Dustin actually said something nice to me. I wasn’t going to let that brief gesture of goodwill go to waste. My right hand was feeling a little better, so I was going to get right back to practicing…as soon as I recharged my magic wand.
Midway through my magic dance, I overheard a group of teenagers screaming and cursing at each other not too far from my house. I didn’t like getting involved in other people’s squabbles, but it sounded like the mob was slowly approaching my house, so I scrambled inside from the backyard and rushed into the living room to see what was going on.
One group of teens was five strong, while their opponents were only a group of three. All of the teens in the larger group were wearing identical olive green jackets. I couldn’t find any lettering or symbols on them to determine whether they were from some other high school or part of a gang. Some more shouting ensued, and the two parties came to blows. This wasn’t anything like baseball brawls where both sides yelled at each other for a few moments and shoved each other around before being told to return to their benches. This quickly erupted into a full-on brawl, with punching, kicking, stomping, and headbutting in abundance.
I ducked behind the couch and called the police right away. Someone must have seen me in the window, for as soon as I finished my call, a rock crashed through one of the windows, leaving a large hole in it and scattering hundreds of shards on the floor. I would have cursed out the reckless idiot who broke my window if it wouldn’t risk me revealing my position. Accident or not, I wasn’t going to let them do it again.
Even if I wanted to dive in and try to break up the fight myself before the police arrived, I was too far away to “Lift” any of the fighters. My only option was to try to protect my property in case someone from that group tried to break into my house. It was time for me to find out just what a good “Shield” spell could do.
With my back pressed against the front door, I drew a large shield in the air in front of me, creating a large translucent barrier of hard light. It looked real enough to reach out and touch, but it didn’t have a handle for me to grip. It appeared to be controlled by my magic wand. When I lifted my right hand up, it rose, and when I lowered my hand, it fell down.
I lifted the shield over the couch and coffee table to avoid knocking anything over. Trying to aim it toward the window without being seen was harder than I thought. I had to lie down near the shards of glass to stay out of sight, and that made it harder for me to see if I was holding my shield properly. It didn’t take long for me to find out if it worked or not because a second rock flew through the window a minute later, slamming into my magical barrier with a sharp “ping” sound. Some of the shards of glass slid off the barrier and onto the floor, but the rock didn’t fall down with them. I figured it must have fallen onto the front lawn somewhere, but I was too scared to get up and check.
A chorus of police and ambulance sirens drowned out the shouting. I lowered my shield and looked out the window to see most of the fighters being dragged into police cars. One of the teens from each side of the brawl were taken in separate ambulances to get their injuries treated. I wondered what happened to get them all riled up in the first place, and then I looked down at the shattered glass on the floor and wondered which one of them would pay for breaking my window.
One of the police officers approached the front door after speaking with some of her colleagues and the medical team. It looked like Officer Yates from afar, but I couldn’t tell for sure until she got close enough that I could see her through the peephole. “Sharonia P.D.! Is everything okay in there?” she asked.
“I think so,” I said.
“May I come in and look around?”
I opened the door to let Officer Yates in, guiding her over the broken glass. “Hey, wait a minute! You’re the woman from the library, aren’t you?” she asked. “Richardson, was it?”
“Yeah, that’s me,” I said, not even bothering to put on a happy face. It wasn’t easy to stay calm or look heroic in her presence after everything that happened.
“So, uh…” the officer said, her mouth agape as she looked down at the wreckage. “Were you the one who made the initial phone call? Can you give me an account of what you witnessed?”
I nodded, and then sat down on the sofa before telling her everything I saw – the fight, the first rock, and my attempt to shield myself from the second rock. After she finished my interview, Officer Yates held up the camera hanging around her neck and took pictures of the shattered glass, and then stopped to jot down even more notes about the incident. I thought it would have been easier for her to use her cell phone for all of that, but I figured she had her reasons for not doing so.
After the officer put her camera down, she quickly examined me for any cuts and bruises. “You don’t look to be seriously hurt or anything. That’s good,” she said. “Ms. Richardson, did you see who threw the rocks at your window, or where they came from?”
“So you don’t think anyone – out of the suspects who were fighting, that is – specifically targeted you?”
“I-I don’t know! I don’t recognize any of them.”
Officer Yates and I looked at the damage done to the window. Two of the bottom panes had holes in them, with the one on the right larger than the one on the left. Neither appeared to be in danger of immediate collapse, but it looked like it would take a lot of work to patch them up – work that I couldn’t afford on my salary.
I followed her outside as we both took pictures of the window and the surrounding debris. Mom and Dad were going to flip out when I showed them what happened.
“We’re going to continue our investigation so that we can find out who started the fight, and why,” Officer Yates said.
“What about my window?” I fretted. “Who’s going to help me pay to fix it?”
The officer shook her head. “Unfortunately, Ms. Richardson, until we identify the culprit and bring them to trial, there isn’t much else we can do. I would suggest getting in touch with your insurance company and find out if they can help you foot the bill for some of it. Window repair can be really expensive out here, you know.”
Once I got permission from Officer Yates, I cautiously stepped around the glass and retrieved the broom and dustpan from the kitchen, realizing that the rest of my afternoon was going to be spent cleaning up the living room. I clutched the broom tighter and tighter as I swept, briefly entertaining the pipe dream of seeking out the vandal and dealing with them personally. I heard Officer Yates laughing at me as I brushed the shards of glass wide to the left of the dustpan, so I had to stop for a minute and breathe deeply before continuing so that I didn’t make a bigger mess.
“Sorry that we had to meet again like this,” I said.
“Don’t worry about it,” she told me. “The fact that you made it through this without a scratch is impressive in its own way. I’m surprised that you guys don’t have some kind of security system in this house. We’d be able to contact you more quickly if something like this happens again or, God forbid, someone tries to break in and steal your stuff.”
I hoped that it wouldn’t have to come to that, but I also wanted to know if the company behind SCRB also handled conventional, non-magical alarm systems, as well. Either way, it was one more expense Mom and Dad would have to add to a growing list that already included utilities, gas, food, and now a broken window. Sooner or later, I was going to have to leave Ada’s behind and find a better job to help them pay for everything.
“Thank you for your cooperation, Ms. Richardson,” Officer Yates said. “We’ll let you know if we obtain any new information on this case. Take care, now!”I waved to the officer as she stepped out of the living room, offering a final tip of her hat before closing the front door. After she left, I stopped cleaning for a few minutes to put my wand away. I felt like I had studied enough to impress the scouts at the Silverthorne School, and I didn’t feel like doing any more after witnessing that brawl. All that was left for me to do was tell Mom and Dad and hope that they wouldn’t be too mad about what happened.