Chapter 8: Nondescript

I spent a little bit of time after dinner practicing and refining the few spells that I’d learned so that I had something to talk about when I visited the Blank Scroll. Sol’s notes had a couple more interesting tricks written on them, such as how to throw one’s voice or create artificial light sources. I had a little fun with the first one, which the notes referred to as “Echo”. So far, it was the only one that required me to talk directly to the wand.

I tried whispering innocuous-sounding messages like “Good night, guys” or “I’m in here” and watching as Mom and Dad checked the closets and drawers in confusion. Neither of them found it as amusing as I did, but at least I had a good idea of its potential uses other than playing pranks on people. I thought the other spell, “Glow”, would be useful as a night light, but it only seemed to work for me while I had the wand in my hands. A bit of a waste, really.

Friday was payday, which got me all excited. It meant having to go through another round of lonely shelf duty at Ada’s, but at least I knew I’d have some money in my bank account when the day was over to make it all worthwhile.

My wand was starting to run low on energy, so I went outside into my backyard after dinner to try to charge it. There wasn’t a whole lot of room for me to dance around because our backyard was such a small, fenced-off area, so I had to resort to flailing my arms around again. Thankfully, I didn’t need to spin myself dizzy like I did last time.

I looked down at my feet and saw that the grass I was standing in had gone from a lush, deep green to a sickly shade of brown. Somehow, Mom’s hyacinth garden and the concrete steps leading back into the kitchen remained undamaged.

“Didi? What are you doing outside this late?” Mom asked. She opened one of the windows to her bedroom and looked down at me, surprised. “And what was with that weird light?”

“Uh…what light?” I asked back. “I was just testing out something with my wand. I didn’t see any light.”

“Oh. Well, why don’t you come inside now? I don’t want you to hurt yourself.”

I looked around and wondered if our neighbors had noticed what I just did, and then headed back inside to turn in for the night.

I put my wand away in its usual spot near my art supplies. Before I went to sleep, I wondered if I needed to take it with me to the Blank Scroll. It would have been nice to have some sort of protective case so that I didn’t need to carry it in my pocket all the time. Then again, doing that would add an extra step to the unveiling process, making it both annoying and inconvenient if I needed to cast a spell in an emergency.

Before I knew it, morning had dawned. I had to get up and stretch for a few minutes to get the soreness out of my back. After a quick shower and change into a beige ruffled blouse and khakis, I headed downstairs to prepare some pancakes for breakfast.

I turned the living room television on to the morning news, knowing it would be the first thing Mom or Dad would turn to once they got up. It was hard for me to keep my excitement up when I was listening to stories about shootings happening around central and southern Sharonia early in the morning. At least two police barricades appeared to be set up along one of the most direct paths to the Blank Scroll, including one on Lord Avenue, one of the town’s busiest streets. I almost wanted to call Sol and postpone the trip until things were a bit safer.

After the first set of pancakes were finished, I called Mom and Dad down to eat. We all gathered in the living room to watch the news and try not to make a mess on the couch. I gave them a brief rundown of what they missed while I was sleeping, only saying enough to let them know we would need to take the long way to Coral Street.

“So where do you want to go first, Didi?” Dad asked. “The store? The bank?”

“Let’s go to the bank first,” I said. “That way we can hit both stops in one trip.”

“Van, do you even know how to get up to Coral Street?” Mom asked.

“How hard could it be?” he replied, puffing his chest out a bit. “It’s up there around Route 113, isn’t it? Didi and I have already been up that way.”

I pulled out my cell phone and began to write a text message. “Let me get in touch with Marisol. She’s been up there before. She could help us get there.”

“Your friend’s coming, too?”

“I don’t know. I’ll find out in a few minutes, I guess.”

I finished writing my text to Sol, asking her to stop at my house before we left. She agreed, saying she’d need about half an hour to prepare before she made it here. I went back to my room to retrieve my wallet, my jacket, and my magic wand. In the unlikely event that one of the shooters was still on the loose and camping out around northwest Sharonia, I wanted to be prepared in case we got attacked.

I spent some time reviewing my new magic sketchbook while I waited for Sol to show up. It was still a bit disorganized since all I was doing was expanding on the notes Sol gave me. The next time I got some free time, I planned on adding some more notations to make things easier to understand.

A car horn sounded from outside my front window. I looked outside and saw Sol get out of the passenger side of a teal sedan a few cars ahead of ours. An older woman with short, curly hair and a leaf-green jacket stepped out of the driver’s side. She must have been Sol’s mother. I waved down toward them to get their attention, and then dashed downstairs before Mom or Dad could tell me the obvious.

Mom reached the door first and greeted Sol and her mother with handshakes.

“Hello! I don’t believe we’ve met yet. Marisol, was it?”

Sol scanned the room for a fraction of a second, and then looked up at Mom. “Yes, ma’am.”

“It’s nice to meet you both. I hope you didn’t have too much trouble getting here.”

Sol’s mother stepped forward, lowering her purse to avoid hitting Sol in the face with it. “No, it was no trouble at all. I’m Lydia, by the way.”

“And I’m Pam. Would you and Marisol like something to eat before we go? Deanna made some pancakes.”

“We’re fine, thanks.”

Mom called Dad out to the living room to talk with Lydia, giving Sol an opportunity to slip away.

“Can I use your bathroom for a few minutes?” she asked me.

“Sure,” I said, directing her upstairs.

Lydia turned her attention to me and approached slowly. I couldn’t help feeling a little bit intimidated. Maybe it was because I’d only heard of her from a one-sided phone conversation. I hoped she wouldn’t go as hard on me as it sounded like she did with Sol that day. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Miss—”

“You can just call me Lydia,” she said, pressing her hands softly against mine. “We’re all adults here, right?”

“Yes, of course… I mean…”

Lydia cracked a half-smile. I had a sinking feeling she was getting a kick out of me making a fool of myself in front of everyone. Mom and Dad had taken the other seats in the living room, so I had no choice but to stand up and face them all.

“Tell me a little bit about yourself, Deanna,” Lydia said.

I told her about my part-time job at Ada’s, as well as some of the paintings I worked on in my spare time. I didn’t tell her about my painting of Sol because I wanted to keep it a surprise until Sol saw it first.

Sol certainly seemed to be taking her sweet time in the bathroom, so I excused myself to go upstairs to check on her. “Is everything okay?” I asked.

Sol slowly opened the bathroom door with one of the hand towels. Her hands and face were dripping wet, so she quickly picked up another hand towel to dry them off. “Yeah. What’s up?”

“I want to show you something really quick. Come take a look at this!”

I led Sol toward my bedroom and directed her attention to the painting on the easel.

“Was this what you said you were working on earlier?” she asked, her eyes fluttering up and down as she tried to take everything in. “Is that supposed to be me?”

“Yeah,” I admitted. “I wasn’t sure what you’d think about it if I hadn’t, uh…asked for your permission to paint a picture of you. I actually thought of scrapping it and starting over after you got a real, working magic wand.”

“Scrap it? Why? It looks great!” Sol moved closer to the painting and reached out to lightly brush her fingers against it. “Okay, so maybe I’m a little bit biased because it’s a picture of me, but I really like it! The colors, the pose, the way the light radiates off the wand… The only thing I’d change about it—”

Sol’s suggestion was cut off by her mother calling us from the living room.

“Girls! We’re getting ready to go!”

“We’re on our way!” we both shouted.

I checked my wallet one more time to make sure I still had my commission check, and then took my jacket and raced back downstairs to meet everyone.

Dad told Sol and her mother to follow us while we stopped at Pond’s Bank, after which he agreed to let them take the lead on the way to the Blank Scroll. The line inside the bank was unbelievably long, even for a weekend, so I decided to deposit my check in the ATM just outside so I could get it over with and move on. Having to wait an extra day for my funds to be added was a small price to pay.

After that, it was on to the magic shop. Dad honked twice to signal for Lydia to leave the parking lot first and guide us to our destination.

We had little trouble keeping pace with Lydia’s car. She seemed to know the streets of Sharonia pretty well, as we were able to avoid most of the traffic along the way. Things got a bit tense as she drove up close to the first police blockade on Third Street and paused for about a minute to gawk.

“What’s she doing?” Dad wondered. He honked his horn again to try to get Lydia’s attention. I turned around and saw about seven cars line up behind us, with their drivers honking their horns and shouting for us to move. Lydia eventually got the hint, and we were on our way again.

Our path led us past the site of the old Matrix arcade, which had slowly converted to a pool hall over the last year. It was close enough to the town center to still get a lot of traffic, even though there were a lot of kids still sore about no longer being able to go there without an adult present.

The second barricade was another mile north along Lord Avenue. This time, Lydia didn’t loiter around for long, choosing instead to weave her way through the residential district to try to hit as few traffic lights as possible. I thought I saw someone wave in our direction along the way, but I couldn’t tell which one of us they were waving at.

After what felt like another half hour of driving, we eventually reached Coral Street. Bridge Pizza was only the first in a long line of stores on the block, which included a grocery store, a barbershop, a cell phone store, an auto repair shop, a dentist’s office, and an arts and crafts store. I looked around on both sides of the street but couldn’t find the entrance to the Blank Scroll anywhere, let alone anything even hinting at its existence.

We parked our cars in front of the dentist’s office and fed some change to the nearby parking meter. Sol jumped out of her car and ran toward Bridge Pizza, pointing to something next to one of the pizza place’s windows. “Deanna! This way!” she shouted.

“Marisol, slow down!” her mother said. The rest of us casually walked up to where Sol was pointing, not ready or willing to spend extra energy just to look at a wall.

Sol was actually directing our attention to a single door wedged between Bridge Pizza and Scarecrow Grocery. The door had a stock parchment scroll painted on the window, with no text written on, above, or below it. The only indication that it was part of the shopping center was a sign detailing its hours of operation.

“‘Can’t miss it’, huh?” I said, holding back the urge to scoff.

Sol looked back at me with her eyes darting back and forth. “Okay, so maybe I exaggerated the ‘can’t miss it’ part just a little bit.”

Dad peered around the scroll painting, hoping to see some sign of activity inside. The lights appeared to be on, so the store was definitely open, but that was all I could see from where I was standing. “How did you guys find this place, anyway?” he asked.

“Well, me and my mom went to visit my brother and decided to do some shopping while we were out,” Sol replied. “On our way back to the car, I spotted this door and asked Mom if we could go inside to see what they had.”

When Dad opened the door, we followed him to a narrow corridor with a staircase to our right and a door to the left on the far side. The candle-shaped wall sconces and the marble wallpaper gave the impression of walking through the hallways of my old high school. Mom, Dad and I all started walking toward the door on the far end, but Sol pointed up the stairs and told us to follow her that way.

“Yeah, I got confused by that the first time, too,” Sol continued. “I’m not sure what’s behind that door down there, but we should probably leave that alone for now. Come on, guys!”

There was another door at the top of the stairs, and a uniformed officer standing off to the right of it. His belt was loaded with tools that he looked ready to use at a moment’s notice – a gun and handcuffs on his right hip, a baton and walkie-talkie on his left hip, and a device that looked like my magic wand somewhere in the middle. With so much weighing him down, I found it a minor miracle that he was able to stand upright.

“Welcome to the Blank Scroll,” the guard said. “Hold still for a moment, please.”

Everyone jumped when he reached for the wand on his belt and started scribbling a series of symbols in the air. Was he really going to attack us before we even set foot in the store?

A few seconds later, his wand glowed light blue, like the lights on the pens some cashiers used to detect counterfeit bank notes. He waved it over each of us and allowed us to pass when he was confident that we weren’t carrying anything dangerous. Mom went in first, with Dad following closely behind her.

When it was my turn to be scanned, the guard’s wand changed color from light blue to rose pink when it detected the wand in my jacket pocket. When I asked why he also needed to scan my hands, he just pointed to a sign on the other side of the door that read “No Unsigned Magical Items Allowed. No Other Weapons Allowed.” I showed the guard the mark on my right hand, and after he asked me to grab the wand to prove I really owned it, he let me join everyone else inside. I shuddered when I thought about what would have happened if I had tried to take the wand into the store without having this sign.

The inside of the Blank Scroll proper was almost as sparsely decorated as the hallway and stairway outside. The walls were painted off-white and the floor was lined with a thin beige carpet. There were no paintings or self-portraits hanging from the walls like the ones I’d occasionally see at Cherry’s. What the Blank Scroll lacked in atmosphere, it made up for with its wide variety of products. I saw stands lined with jars of herbs, powders, and liquids of many different colors, labeled with names I’d never seen or heard before. The bookshelves on the left side of the room were filled with books regarding potion recipes, spell components, magic wand maintenance, and creating charm necklaces using jewels and other household objects. Rows of magic wands were stored behind the front counter, kept in a protective case so no one would try to steal them.

Seeing so many unusual artifacts in one place was enough to make me giggle with excitement. One of the other customers gave me a funny look, but I continued to browse the merchandise to see what else I might consider buying if I ever came back.

Something about this place made me feel uneasy, though. Maybe it was the armed guard outside. Maybe it was something in the air that made me sneeze every few seconds. Or maybe it was the curly-haired man in a robe standing only a few inches behind me while I was browsing the book selection.

“May I help you find something?”

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