Last week, I started writing a Middle School Magic novella in serial form. You can read the first chapter here. The second is below. I haven't got a title quite yet, although I have a few ideas. So, for now, it's called "Chapter Two."
No. They might get mad.
I put the key down on my desk. Again.
And yet, what did I have to lose?
And then I picked it up. Again.
I’d been doing this for the last ten minutes.
I closed my fingers around the ornate metal, enjoying the little pulse of warmth the key sent out.
This key had a lot of history and had triggered a small avalanche of thoughts. It had belonged to Uncle Morgan. He’d given it to me so we could escape from Lady Nightwing. The price of our escape, of course, had been his captivity. He’d sacrificed himself so we could go free. Us and Timothy. My cousin. His son.
His dead son.
It had been a rough year for Uncle Morgan. And now, on top of everything, his powers were gone. Another sacrifice he'd made. This time for Lexa.
I decided to use the key. I needed advice. I needed to figure out how to help him, and I could only think of one person who could really tell me what to do.
I took the key out of my clenched fist and started to slide it forward into the air.
A high-pitched whistling sound interrupted me. I looked over my shoulder as a bright yellow comet blasted into my room. It did a loop-de-loop and then faded into my friend, Lexa Dell.
“Hi, Mel!” she grinned at me. Streaming—the ability of Magi to turn into comets—had given us a lot more freedom than most eighth graders had.
I heard another high-pitched whistle and a second comet—brilliant, blazing beautiful red—shot in as well. This time, my heart, and not the comet, did the loop-de-loop. Conner Dell. Lexa’s twin. The third member of our prospective Magi Trio.
And the boy I had been crushing on since before Kindergarten.
His smile lit my world up.
As Conner finished resolving from pure Light to a physical form, he croaked, “Okay, Pilaf, I can’t breathe.”
A short, skinny kid with enormous glasses blinked, and then let go of Conner’s neck, hitting the floor.
Conner reached down to help him up. “I didn’t mean you had to just let go.”
Pilaf stood up and squinted, pulling the yellow rubber dishwashing gloves off of his hands. “Hi, Melanie.”
Pilaf had an unusual power. His touch could neutralize either Light or Dark—thus the gloves. When he wore them, it insulated his abilities, and allowed Conner to carry him.
“Hi, Pilaf,” I said. I was happy to see everyone—but a little curious about why everyone had blasted into my bedroom on Christmas night.
Conner noticed the key in my hand. “Is that Dr. Timberi’s key?”
“Like, his key to the Otherwhere?” Lexa asked.
I nodded again.
“Oh. My. Gosh.” Lexa said, her voice crescendoing. “Are you going to open the Otherwhere up?”
I shrugged and looked at the key. “Yes. Maybe. I don’t know. I was thinking about it. I’m not sure.”
“Okay, Mel, you are way smarter than me,” Conner said. “So maybe that made sense somehow, but if it did, I think I missed it.”
I shook my head. “Let me try again. I was thinking about it. But I’m not sure. It just feels like kind of a big thing to do.”
“Are you hoping to talk to Mrs. Timberi?” Pilaf said. His eyes started blinking rapidly. That meant he was thinking.
“Yes,” I said. “Last time I opened the Otherwhere Aunt Nicole came to talk to me.” True, I hadn’t realized it was her at the time, but I figured it out earlier this afternoon. “Guys, today, when Uncle Morgan gave his powers up to Lexa, do you remember that there were some cherubim there?”
“Yeah,” Lexa said. “Sort of hard to forget big fiery spirits."
“Well, I’m ninety-nine percent sure it was Aunt Nicole,” I said. “And Timothy.”
“Seriously?” Conner asked.
“Positive,” I said. “And that got me thinking. When we left the Abyss, I felt Aunt Nicole’s presence. She told me to take care of Uncle Morgan—and that his path would not be easy. At the time, I thought she meant because of Timothy’s death. Now, I wonder if she sort of foresaw what would happen today with giving up his powers.”
“Can cherubim see the future?” Lexa asked. I could tell from the look in her eyes, she was thinking, and I guessed that she was wondering if there was a way to persuade them to give her some inside information on her life.
“I guess they can do whatever they want,” Conner said.
Pilaf raised his hand. “Actually,” he said, “Almost nothing is known about the cherubim. They guard their secrets very carefully and don’t reveal either the nature or the limit of their powers. However, some scholars have made some educated guesses based on what the cherubim have been known to do in the past.”
“And what are those guesses?” I asked.
“Well, one scholar thinks that the cherubim are basically a mixture of pure Light and high consciousness.”
“What?” Lexa asked.
“Light with a brain,” Pilaf said. “If that’s true, then theoretically, there is no limit to what they can do.If we accept the premise that Light governs and controls the universe, and there are beings made of Light who have intelligence—then they can do whatever they want.”
“So, cherubim can do anything.” Conner said. “Makes sense.”
“Well,” Pilaf said, eyes blinking faster, “some other scholars think they are more limited in their powers. They are powerful, but not all-powerful. Just like Magi in this world are more powerful than regular humans, but they aren’t omniscient. This school of thought says that cherubim are like that.”
“Sooooo,” Lexa said, tugging on her ponytail, “basically no one really knows.”
Pilaf looked at her and blinked for a few more seconds. “Yes, basically,” he said.
“Anyway,” I said, “I was hoping to see if I could talk to Aunt Nicole—or whatever her cherubim name is—and see if she had any hints for helping Uncle Morgan. He was pretty discouraged earlier.”
“Guys, we need to cheer him up,” Lexa said. “After all he’s done for all of us—we have to take care of him. We can’t just leave him alone.” Her voice got quiet. “After I lost my powers, I really wanted to die. I know that sounds like I’m being a drama queen, but it’s true. It was the most awful thing that ever happened to me. And I’ve only had my Magi powers since last year. Dr. Timberi’s had them for decades, so he must be feeling even worse than I did.”
Pilaf’s hand shot up. “I know what we can do!” he shouted.
“What?” I asked. Pilaf had read every Magi book he could find. Maybe there was a way to help him get more powers?
“Mini-golfing!” Pilaf looked around the room, grinning and nodding his head—it looked he was waiting for all of us to shout along with him.
“Mini-golfing?” Conner asked.
“Yeah—mini-golf, put-put golf,” Pilaf said. “You know—you go from hole to hole and hit a golf ball and the holes are different themes. Like maybe one is a pirate ship and another one is a castle and the next one might be a—”
“I know what miniature golf is,” Conner asked. “I, uh, I guess I’m just not sure what it has to do with helping Dr. Timberi.”
“Well, Lexa said we need to cheer him up.” Pilaf looked at Conner as if Conner had asked him to explain two plus two. “We can take him mini golfing. That always cheers me up.”
Conner looked at Pilaf for another second or two. “You mean just take Dr. Timberi mini golfing for fun.”
“Exactly!” Pilaf yelled triumphantly.
“Well,” Lexa spoke in a loud, encouraging voice, “that could be fun. I mean—maybe Dr. Timberi would like that.”
“It’s a start,” I said. I somehow didn’t see Uncle Morgan just snapping out of a major depression after hitting a neon golf ball through a windmill or something. I tried to imagine the conversation. “Hey, Uncle Morgan, I know you are really down because your long-lost son who you just found again died, and you were tortured for months in the Abyss and almost died, and you gave up your powers for Lexa and feel empty and dead inside—but we thought you might like to go mini-golfing. Will that make things better?”
“Maybe we could pull out all the stops and go bowling too,” Conner muttered. “Maybe bumper cars.”
“That would be amazing!” Pilaf shouted. Pilaf wasn’t much with irony and sarcasm.
“Tell you what,” I said. “Mini golf is a really good idea, Pilaf. Why don’t I just try to open the Otherwhere and see if Aunt Nicole can help us. I mean, she was married to him plus she’s a Cherubim, so she’d probably know.”
I pushed the key in front of me. Unlike in the past, it did not disappear into the air. I tried turning it anyway. Nothing happened. No flash of Light. No click—and no opening of a portal.
I tried it again. And again. Nothing.
Lexa and Conner each took a turn. Again—nothing.
“Why won’t it work?” Lexa asked. “You used it a few months ago, right, Mel?”
I nodded. “I’m not sure, but it probably has to do with the fact that this key was especially calibrated to Uncle Morgan. So, when he lost his powers, maybe it stopped working.”
“That makes sense,” Conner said.
“Okay,” Pilaf said, “so, when should we go mini golfing?” He looked at each of us, beaming like a Jack-o-Lantern. A Jack-o-Lantern carved to look like a really smart, really sweet, major nerd. “There’s a place in the mall and it’s really cool because you play in the dark and they have black lights and everything’s glow-in-the-dark neon, so it’s extra fun.”
Silence as we all looked at each other.
“Yeah, that sounds amazing, Pilaf!” Conner gave him a big smile and did a fist bump. He almost made it sound like he meant it. Basking in Conner’s approval, Pilaf’s smile grew dangerously large. I thought the corners of his mouth might meet in the back of his head. Conner had that effect on people.
Note: I've been missing the characters and world from the Kindling books. This is the first summer in three or four years I haven't been frantically trying to get a book written to meet a publication deadline--and it's felt a bit strange. So, I thought I'd revisit that world by doing a novella written in serial form. This takes place a few minutes after the ending of Luminescence.
So--spoiler alert. I'll try to update every week or so.
From the Diary of Morgan Timberi
With a single choice, I had became nothing—like a butterfly whose wings had been plucked off. Having tasted flight, I had been maimed. Cast back to the ground, I writhed and struggled, no longer adapted to function or even move well. And if that pain were not enough, my soul stewed in the knowledge that I had plucked my own wings.
Propelled by an intense and urgent need to be alone, I ran as fast as I could—my slippers plumping through the snow on the un-shovelled sidewalk. After running a few yards, I jumped into the air, ready for the Light to fill me. Ready for the pleasant stretch as my body became a comet. Ready to merge with Light, to swim in a tunnel of warmth and joy--
The snow felt soft as it met my face. Softer than the sidewalk beneath it—which met my face next.
I lay without moving for longer than I should have--my mind turning over and over with all the effect of a dead battery. Something was wrong, but in my benumbed state, the answer didn’t come easily.
I sat up and brushed the snow from my robe and pajamas. A nice formality—but too late to prevent the snow from melting into cold, wet blotches.
The reality of my situation did not become clear until that moment.
What had I been thinking? I could no longer Stream. I would never again turn into a comet.
I held my hands in front of me, staring at them until my eyes hurt and my finger trembled. But no warm light appeared. No golden glow filled the air.
The finality of what I’d done pushed past the numb fogginess inside, bringing the clarity of a sharp icicle.
I stood wet and cold, as powerless as any other human. Perhaps moreso, since being powerless was utterly new to me.
In my haste to arrive at the school and prevent a disaster, I had Streamed over, not even bothering to change. I had not planned on giving my powers, so I had not anticipated needing a way home. I had not even thought to bring a phone.
I looked back toward the windows of my classroom. In the deepening purple of the afternoon, the light inside filled the windows with a soft, warm glow. It looked so inviting. I could go back and use the phone to call--
No. No, I could not.
I had come out when the exuberant joy and excitement bouncing off the walls became too much for me. I could not bear another warm hug, wide smile, or heartfelt expression of gratitude. At the moment, that happiness and joy stung and burned my soul like nettles.
I turned away from the classroom. Feathery snow flakes fluttered to the ground outside, covering the world in a cold sameness that smothered and froze all life. Freezing, blank silence all around—inside and out. Bleak, empty, smothering numbness.
Inside of me, something tried to whisper comfort. Deep down, something fluttered, and I felt a flash of warmth and love. A satisfaction that came from my sacrifice. An awareness of the love and appreciation I had earned.
That name unlocked wellsprings of emotion beneath the frigid surface of my heart, which now seemed to be completely frozen while also flooded with tumultuous feelings.
Composing myself and wrenching my face into what I hoped looked like an expression of peace and tranquility I turned around.
Silhouetted in the exterior door of the classroom, a small form stood at the boundary between light and dark, warmth and cold.
As she stepped toward me, moving into the shadows, her features became clear. Red hair. Deep brown eyes filled with concern and worry. My niece, Melanie. She looked so much like her aunt—my late wife—Nicole. Their resemblance had sometimes brought me comfort in the past. Proximity to Melanie somehow made Nicole feel closer, as if Melanie was a mirror that reflected Nicole’s essence.
But now, it felt like a reminder of all I had lost. My wife. My son. And now, my powers as a Magus.
Everything that had defined my life—gone.
“Uncle Morgan?” Melanie tugged on my sleeve. “Uncle Morgan, are you okay?”
I looked at her. No, I was not okay. But she did not need to know that. The worry in her eyes made me feel selfish. So, I smiled. It was a lie, but it seemed justified. I gestured to my wet pajamas and chuckled. “I forgot that can no longer Stream, so I took a little swim in the snow.” I chuckled louder, hoping the action might bring the feeling. “I just realized I have no way home.” I looked away from her. Melanie was far too smart to be taken in by my pretense. But I still chattered in a bright voice. “Rather silly of me—but I came so quickly—”
“Uncle Morgan,” Melanie took my hand. “You don’t have to pretend. I can’t imagine how it feels. It must be awful.” She squeezed my hand as I opened my mouth to protest. “No. Don’t say anything. I know you’d probably do it again and everything. But it still has to hurt.”
For the second time that day, my brilliant niece had made a mistake. I am not at all sure I truly would have done the same thing again. But I did not have time to ruminate on that since she continued speaking.
“Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that I think this is going to be really hard on you. Transferring your powers to Lexa was one of most generous things I’ve ever seen. But it must be so hard. And it’s probably going to stay that way for a while. At least you shouldn’t have to pretend everything is okay when it isn’t.”
“Thank you, Melanie. You are extremely wise for a fourteen year old.”
She smiled. “Runs in the family.”
Headlights came around the corner of the school drive, and a brand new silver SUV pulled alongside the curb. The window rolled down, revealing a familiar smiling face. My fellow teacher, fellow Magi, and dear friend Mona Cumberland. “Morgan?” the warmth of her voice and smile reminded me of homemade pie, fresh from the oven. “Do you need a ride?”
“I figured you’d need a way home,” Melanie said. “I sent her a sigil.”
I nodded. At that moment I could not speak. A complex wave of emotion bound my tongue. Melanie’s sensitivity, kindness, and thoughtfulness provided a powerful balm. Her very presence reminded me that I was not truly alone, no matter how I felt.
At the same time, the fact that I no longer could communicate by sending sigils burned and boiled inside, renewing my despair and the sense of being broken beyond repair.
How wonderful that I had a kind, compassionate niece on whom I could rely. How fortunate I was to have friends that could ride to my rescue.
But how utterly awful that my situation required this. How abysmally bleak was the fact that I had no choice.
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