By the time I’d finished surfing the internet, Dad nudged me on the shoulder to let me know we made it back home. I didn’t have any ideas for a new painting, so the two of us sat downstairs and played along with a game show called Questions from Mark. He kept a score pad to gauge how well we did against the audience. Dad had 1,200 points, I had 1,050, and the contestant with the highest score had 1,500 going into the final round.
“Hey, Deanna,” he said during the commercial break. “Have you ever thought of going on one of these shows? I’d bet we could make a real killing!”
“Not really,” I replied. “I mean, you’re probably right, but we’d have to fly out to the west coast to even get into the audience, and we’d probably have to pay for our own airfare, room, and board.”
“Yeah, but if you made it all the way to the finals and won the grand prize, you’d make all that money back and then some.”
I thought for a moment about what I could do if I won the grand prize on Questions from Mark. Compared to other game shows like it, $5,000 was nothing, but even a small amount like that would probably equal what I would make from a year of selling paintings on the side. I could buy a nice used car with that kind of money – nothing super-fancy, just something to have so I wouldn’t need to rely on Dad driving me everywhere. I decided I would consider going if the opportunity ever came up, but I still thought it was unlikely that we would ever actually go.
After I ate some lunch, I went back upstairs to search for something to use to cover my hand. I saw a nice-looking pair of black fingerless gloves online, but it would take a couple of days for them to be delivered to the house. The gray gloves I kept in my dresser were good for keeping my hands warm but too heavy and conspicuous to wear for mild spring weather. The disposable vinyl gloves in the bathroom medicine cabinet were little better – they were too tight and sticky, and it was hard to look cool when you had to dangle a sweaty glove around after taking it off.
I went back to the first-aid kit for another bandage even though Dad told me not to mess with them. It was the least messy of my remaining options, for it was easier to replace a missing bandage than it was to replace a used roll of gauze tape. The wound didn’t really hurt that much anymore. The bandage was only there to conceal my sign from Sol until she asked about it.
I kicked my shoes off and took a nap on my bed for about an hour, relying on my phone’s alarm clock to wake me up. When I went back downstairs, I saw Dad crashed out on the couch with his feet up and his sneakers still on, something he and Mom used to frequently tell me not to do. He looked so comfortable resting there, though. It was probably the first nap he’d been allowed to take during the week in a long time.
“Dad? Dad, wake up,” I whispered. When that didn’t work, I tapped him on the shoulder a couple of times, and that got him to move. It took him about a minute to sit upright, but once he did, he sprang up from the couch as if he’d never fallen asleep.
“I’m ready when you are,” he said. “Just stick with me and you’ll be fine. Be prepared for anything.”
“Dad, I think you might be over-selling this just a little bit.”
Dad insisted on walking in front of me as we walked out the door and toward Cherry’s Consignments. I didn’t know what he expected to protect me from. Everyone around us appeared to be minding their own business, and no one struck me as particularly suspicious. Even so, I was in no mood to get involved in any fights. I just wanted to talk to Sol and figure out what was going on.
The store was a bit livelier than it was yesterday. About five other people were on the sales floor looking at the trinkets on the shelves, and Elias was at full attention, answering questions for a customer about a model castle he wanted to buy. I didn’t see Sol anywhere, so I looked around the store with Dad to kill time until she arrived.
“Is this where you sell your paintings, Deanna?” he asked.
“Yup,” I replied. “There’s mine right there.”
I pointed toward the shelf by the front window where my first painting was stored. There were two new paintings on the shelf directly below it – one was of a black-hooded man with half of his face framed in shadow, and the other was of a swarm of honey bees flying over an empty field of grass. Both looked scary, but I was more comfortable having the shadowy man’s portrait hanging over my bed than the painting with the bees on it.
I looked down at the clock on my phone. It was two minutes before two o’clock and Sol still hadn’t arrived yet. Was she in trouble? Or was she just waiting for it to hit exactly two o’clock before walking in so she could say she followed our agreement to the letter?
Dad stopped looking at the paintings for a moment and turned back to me. “I don’t think this store’s for me,” he said. “Everything in here costs more than I’m willing to spend. Are you sure your painting’s going to sell at the price you’re asking for it?”
“You always told me to aim high, Dad,” I said. “Whoever made these two paintings probably had the same idea.”
“Couldn’t you try talking those artists into bringing the price down a couple of bucks?”
“I would if I could, but I don’t think they’re here. Also, once the item is given to the store, it’s out of the seller’s hands. You’d have to ask… him?”
I looked toward the front counter expecting to see Elias, but a taller, fatter man had taken his place behind the register. I scratched my head for a second before walking up to the counter.
“Welcome to Cherry’s Consignments, where if you can spell it, we can sell it,” the man said, reciting the store’s motto in one breath as if he’d practiced it thousands of times before. “What can I do for you, young lady?”
“Good afternoon, sir,” I said. “Um… where did Elias go?”
“You’re looking for my son, huh?” The man let out a hearty laugh that could be heard halfway across the sales floor. “I’m afraid you just missed him.”
I didn’t see much of a family resemblance between the two men. Aside from a difference in age and weight, Elias’ face had thin lips and full cheekbones, while the man claiming to be his father had the opposite. Without Elias present to confirm the man’s assertion, I had no choice but to take him at his word for the moment.
“When is he coming back?”
“His shift’s over for the day,” the man said. “You a friend of his?”
“No, just a customer.”
“I see. Well, if there’s anything you can ask him, you can ask me. You can call me Mr. Cherry.”
“To tell the truth, Mr. Cherry,” I said, quickly straightening up once I realized I was talking to the owner of the store, “I just stopped by because I was supposed to meet someone else here around two o’clock. I’m still waiting for them to show up.”
“As long as you and this other person aren’t up to no good, I’ll let you stay.” Mr. Cherry leaned over the counter and lowered his voice almost to a stage whisper. “I’ve overheard a lot in my years working at this store and I try to stay out of people’s business unless they’re dealing directly with buying or selling. I’d prefer not to get the police involved if I can help it.”
“I promise you won’t have anything to worry about with me, sir.”
“Good, because I’d hate to have to discontinue a budding artist’s work for knowingly getting swept up in criminal activity.” He subtly jerked his head toward the window shelf where Dad was standing. Dad wasn’t looking at the paintings anymore, but it sounded like Mr. Cherry had figured out I was one of the painters. He probably overheard Dad say my name while we were looking at them. I didn’t really mind, but I was curious about what other interesting stories he’d heard from behind the counter. Before I could ask him about it, the front door opened and a familiar voice called out to me.
I spun around and saw Sol standing by the front door, hunched over and panting heavily. She managed to muster enough energy to lift her right hand and beckon to me. I walked over to Sol, taking long strides to get over to her as quickly as I could without bumping into anything.
“Is everything all right?” I asked.
“Shh! Keep it…down,” she huffed.
Suddenly, every eye in the room turned to us. I hadn’t said or done anything yet, but Mr. Cherry and the others looked at Sol and I like we were trying to steal something. Dad was the only one still looking at me after everyone else had returned to their business.
“I guess this must be your new friend,” he quipped.
“Yeah,” I said, leaving Sol alone for a moment to calm down and catch her breath.
Sol stood up and brushed some clumps of dirt from her jeans, and then looked up at Dad. “Who’s this?” she asked.
“Oh…that’s my father. He wanted to take a walk with me, so I brought him here to show him my painting.” I waited for Dad to give me a disapproving look for telling such a poor lie, but it never came. The part about the painting was true, but I only came up with that on the spot.
“Pleased to meet you,” Sol said to him. “I’m Marisol. Marisol Sheeran.”
“Hi, Marisol,” Dad said. “I’m sorry I can’t stick around to chat longer. I’ve never actually been in here before, so I just came here to browse.”
“Uh, okay. Deanna and I are just gonna hang out here for a bit. I mean, if that’s okay with you, that is.”
Sol stepped backward toward the front door, looking uncomfortable as Dad examined her to see if she was carrying her magic wand. He stopped when he caught a glimmer of golden light from her pocket.
“Sure,” Dad said hesitantly. “Try not to hurt yourselves, okay?”
Sol and I looked at each other and then nodded at Dad. “Yes, sir,” we said in unison.
“All right, then. Didi, I’m going to head back now. Call me if you need anything, okay?”
Without saying another word, Dad left the store and went home. Sol looked a lot more relaxed when she saw that no one else was watching her.
“Can we talk outside for a few moments, Deanna?” she asked.
“Don’t you want to look around first?”
Sol lowered her head and glared at me.
“Okay, okay, we’ll go outside,” I said, throwing up my hands and walking out the door.
A gentle breeze greeted me as I stepped outside, making me wish I’d remembered to wear a light jacket. Sol didn’t look the least bit cold despite also wearing a short-sleeved shirt. Once she got outside, she looked all around her to make sure no one else was listening in. I had to call her name and snap my fingers a couple of times to get her to stop and pay attention to me.
“Are you okay, Sol?” I asked. “You’re looking a bit rattled today.”
“I’m fine!” she said defensively. She was standing close enough to me that I could hear her breathing faster than normal.
“Did you…run all the way over here just for our little meeting?”
“Not all the way. I had to go to the store with my mom, and we didn’t get back until a little before two o’clock. I told her I had to ‘meet a friend uptown’, but she wouldn’t let me leave until I helped unload the groceries. That’s when I realized I was running late. I made it about three-quarters of the way here before tiring out.”
Considering the foot traffic and the distance between Cherry’s Consignments and Sol’s apartment, I was impressed that she was able to make it that far at top speed.
“Do you want to sit down somewhere?” I asked.
There were no benches nearby, so Sol propped herself up against an oak tree several feet away from the side of the store. Slowly, she slid onto the ground, her back grinding against the bark. The impact when she hit the grass nearly dislodged her wand from her pocket, forcing her to scramble to keep it from popping out.
“By the way,” Sol said, changing her mind and taking her wand out anyway, “this wand stopped working again. I don’t know what you did to it, but I can’t get it to cast any spells.”
“You can’t be serious!” I cried. “How could that thing still be broken? You saw me do that dance in the park yesterday. I know your wand works. It has to work!”
I didn’t know that for certain. We didn’t take the time to test the wand out after I charged it. The only evidence I had that it worked at all was the energy meter on the side, which was still half full.
“Did you try casting anything after you left the park?” I asked.
“I tried shooting a magic missile at a pillow,” Sol replied.
“Did you try casting anything that won’t potentially get you arrested?”
“What’s wrong with that? Magic missiles are one of the basic spells every good witch should know.”
“Yeah, but I think we should start out with something a lot less dangerous.”
I looked around for something Sol could test her wand on but found nothing but loose pebbles, discarded candy wrappers, and cigarette butts. As tempting as it was to watch Sol try to lift or burn a bundle of trash, even a simple feat like that felt like something best left to the local garbage collectors. On the other side of the street, I found a target that looked far more suitable for a test of a witch’s abilities.
“See that cone over there?” I asked, pointing to a tipped-over traffic cone nestled along the curb across the street. “Try standing it upright.”
“You mean with a levitation spell? Sounds simple enough.”
Sol got up from her resting spot behind the tree and pulled two items out of her right pocket – her magic wand, and a plain slip of paper.
“Is that a cheat sheet?” I asked, astonished that Sol would need such a thing in the first place. “How did you manage to get that information, anyway?”
“I didn’t have time to go back to the magic shop for a spellbook, so I looked up a couple of spells that looked easy to cast.”
Sol turned away from me and briefly looked at her paper before directing her attention toward the cone. The cone wasn’t very far away from us, but I could see her squint as she tried to focus on her target and her target alone. She shooed me away when I tried to get a better look at the motions she was making with her wand. A stroke here, a twist there, and a few forward thrusts for good measure. It looked simple enough for anyone to do, but the result was the same as before – nothing happened.
“That one didn’t count!” she shouted, pointing an accusatory finger at me. “I was distracted, that’s all.”
Sol took a step back from the cone and repeated the motions she made earlier. I kept quiet and stayed away from her to make absolutely sure there was nothing to distract her.
Sol ended her second attempt with a flourish by lifting her wand up in one swift, smooth motion. The traffic cone remained in its spot, unswayed by Sol’s attempt to lift it up.
“What’s going on?” she groaned. “I did it exactly like the paper said that time. Come on! Lift! Lift!”
Sol tried raising her wand higher and higher, but the cone stayed put. Saying the spell’s name out loud didn’t seem to improve her success rate. After another minute of waving and flailing and shouting, she finally gave up.
“Here… you try it,” she said, hanging her head low and passing her wand and cheat sheet to me like two unwanted birthday presents. “I bet you won’t get it to work, either.”
When I took Sol’s wand into my hand again, I felt the tingling sensation return to me, mostly concentrated in my right hand. Sol’s notes consisted of a bunch of arrows and single-word names, divided into their own sections by thicker lines. There were several different spells crammed into such a small space that there was no room for details on how they were supposed to work. The drawings looked like the sorts of things I used to scribble in my notebooks in high school, except these were slightly more legible.
I looked at the “Lift” spell, which was just a two-sided arrow pointing left and right, followed by an arrow pointing up. I pointed the wand at the cone across the street and visualized it rising upward as I raised my arm up. A vision was all it turned out to be, as the cone still refused to lift off the ground. Sol, who had been talking on her cell phone while I was doing this, chimed in on my failure.
“Told you so.”
I took a closer look at the cone’s position. Before, it was standing a few inches in front of a fire hydrant. After I cast my spell on it, the cone had moved a few inches behind the hydrant. It was hardly the awe-inspiring display either of us had hoped for, but I saw it as proof that there was something useful about the wand.
“Did you see that? It moved!” I cheered.
“So what?” Sol said. “I’ll bet the wind probably knocked it over. Besides, you told me you wanted to lift that traffic cone and stand it upright. I didn’t see it come off the ground, so either you messed up somewhere, or that wand is messed up.”
“It’s not messed up! I’ll prove it by lifting that cone for real. Just give me a minute.”
The tingling sensation in my hand got even stronger when I tried to use the wand. I had to let go of it for a moment to calm down so I didn’t mess up my next attempt. It looked like my palm was glowing, so I took off my bandage so I could get a better look at it.
It was my enchanter’s sign, and it appeared to be reacting to Sol’s magic wand. When I pulled the wand away, it went dark, but when I brought it closer, both the sign and the crystal shined brighter and brighter.
“Deanna, what are you doing?” Sol asked, looking at me as if I’d gone crazy.
“Nothing,” I said sheepishly.
When I grabbed the wand after taking my bandage off, I felt compelled to hold onto it as tightly as possible. I had to prove to Sol – and more importantly, to myself – that what I’d just done wasn’t a fluke.
After taking a moment to get a hold of myself, I squeezed the wand with all my might. I was going to make that traffic cone move, no matter what.
The name of the spell entered my head, but I didn’t know if saying it out loud was necessary to make it work. Even if it did, there was no guarantee that the wand would specifically respond to my voice after I’d only used it twice. Not only that, but Sol and I were already drawing stares from confused onlookers. There was no need to make things weirder by shouting at inanimate objects.
I drew the pattern in the air with the wand while reciting the spell in my head over and over.
Lift. Lift. Lift! Lift!
After I finished the final upward motion, the gem on the end of the staff blinked a few times, and a small cluster of electricity started sparking around it. Sol and I gasped in awe at what we were seeing. I smiled and giggled for a few seconds, reveling in the fact that I was about to cast my first real magic spell. Sol’s own smile faded as the magical cluster around the wand started to grow unstable. She frantically pointed toward the cone, begging for me to do something before I lost control of my magic. To save both of us from getting zapped, I aimed the wand at my target and thrust it forward, and the energy around the crystal focused itself into a laser beam, striking the cone and covering it in a thin golden aura. I heard someone behind me shout “Whoa!”, but it didn’t sound like Sol’s voice. I wanted to see who it was, but I needed to stay focused on the cone and figure out how the Lift spell worked.
When I raised my hand to eye level, the cone lifted off the ground and stayed afloat, twisting and turning in midair.
“Oh my goodness… that was awesome!” Sol said. “I can’t believe that actually worked!”
“Me neither!” I replied.
“How high do you think you can lift it?”
“I don’t know. Let’s find out.”
I raised my hand above my head, lifting the cone up to the level of the telephone wires nearby. A small group of kids saw the floating cone and took pictures of it with their cell phones. One of the younger kids in the group looked up and hid behind one of the older ones.
“I think that’s high enough for now,” I said, lowering my arm and setting the traffic cone down gently onto the ground near the fire hydrant where it started. I relaxed my grip on the wand, causing the beam of light and the aura around the cone to fade away.
Suddenly, Sol grabbed me by the shoulders and spun me around, looking me in the eyes with the same excitement a kid would have after seeing their first fireworks display. “You have to tell me how you just did that! I need to know!”
“All I did was think of the spell in my head,” I told her, “go through the motions you drew on the paper, and that’s when the crystal lit up.”
“That’s what I was doing, but it didn’t work for me. What else did you do?”
“No, really. That was it.”
“What about your hand? I saw you doing something–uh, could you hold on a sec?”
Sol’s question was interrupted by a faint buzzing sound. She stepped away from me and turned around to answer her phone.
“Oh! Hi, Mom… I’m still out with Deanna… Yes, Mom… Yes… I did! Really… Okay, maybe I had some help… Deanna… What?! Mom, you can’t–“
I couldn’t hear what Sol’s mother was saying to her, but from the look on Sol’s face after she hung up the phone, I could tell that one of us was about to be in serious trouble.
“Well, it looks like I won’t be going home with this wand today,” she said.
“Huh? Why not?” I asked.
“My mom now knows that I can’t use this wand no matter how hard I try, so she told me to give it to you.”
“I couldn’t do that, Sol… You probably spent a lot of money on this. You should keep it.”
I tried to give the wand back to Sol, making sure not to point the crystal end toward her hand and accidentally brand her. She kept pushing it back toward me, and on the fifth or sixth push, she stopped and stared at my right hand.
“Wait a minute… Where’d that hole come from?”
I took a deep breath and braced myself. This was about to get really awkward.
“Remember when you first asked me to help charge this wand?” I asked.
“And you handed it to me gem-first?”
“Yeah… Oh… Ohhhhhh.”
I couldn’t help feeling uncomfortable watching Sol cringe when she put everything together. Just a few minutes ago, she was giddy about watching her magic wand cast actual magic. A combination of realizing she couldn’t use that magic herself, and that it was the result of an accident she had partially caused, appeared to have broken her. I felt even worse knowing that if I hadn’t been hasty in taking the wand from her at the park, she likely would have had a chance to claim that magic once she figured out how to do it. I didn’t know if she wanted to apologize for injuring me or punch me in the face for “stealing” something she believed to rightfully belong to her.
“Sol? Are you okay?” I asked, cautiously looking around to see if she would start crying.
“Should I be?” she asked back, only tilting her head up enough to look me in the eye.
“Listen… I know you were looking forward to using this magic wand. I didn’t mean to take that away from you. I just wanted to help you get it to work so that you could use it yourself.”
Sol took a closer look at my hand to see my enchanter’s sign and sighed after looking at her own hands and seeing that she didn’t have one.
“Tell you what… I’ll see if I can help you get a new wand,” I said, “and maybe help you find a way to get a sign that isn’t as painful.”
“You’d really do that for me?” Sol asked. “You’re not mad at me for zapping you or anything?”
“It was an accident. Neither of us knew that was going to happen. We’ll have to be a lot more careful with the next one, that’s all.”
I looked at my phone and saw that I’d missed a few text messages from Dad asking about my whereabouts. The sooner I responded to them, the less likely I was to get scolded when I got home.
Sol nudged me in the arm just as I sent a text to Dad telling him not to worry about me. “Sorry, Deanna, but I gotta run.”
“Me too,” I said. “I got so excited over the whole wand thing that I lost track of time. I have to work the next three days, so I won’t be able to come out for a while.”
“That’s okay. We can still keep in touch. What’s your number?”
After we exchanged phone numbers, I tried to stuff the magic wand into my left pants pocket. Trying to leave enough room to grab the wand without touching the crystal was tricky because it was so short, and keeping it from popping out as I walked was going to be trickier. I was going to need a lot of practice safely removing my new wand before I could think about learning any complex magic spells.
“One more question before I go,” I said. “Where did you get this thing, anyway?”
“A place called the Blank Scroll, on Coral Street,” Sol replied. “It’s right next to Bridge Pizza. You can’t miss it.”
“That’s a pretty odd place to put a magic shop, but I’ll keep it in mind. Thanks.”
The cone-peepers from across the street had long since stopped watching us. It was high time for me to follow their example and go home before anyone started asking questions. I felt lucky that Sol wasn’t mad at me for “stealing” her wand, but I worried about the lecture she was probably going to catch from her mother when she got home. Having that much on her mind over a long walk couldn’t be doing her any favors.
What were Mom and Dad going to say once they found Sol’s wand on me? I couldn’t sneak it past them; I didn’t have anything long enough to cover my pockets. The “brutally honest” approach wouldn’t completely get me out of trouble, but I figured I’d be even worse off if they discovered the wand and I tried to dance around the issue.
Now that I knew this magic wand worked, I was determined to figure out how it worked. How many different spells were there? What could they potentially be used for? Why didn’t Sol get a spellbook for this stupid thing? Maybe I would get some answers by visiting this Blank Scroll place…if I had time to fit it into my schedule for the week.