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An explosion rocked the house. Startled, 17-year-old Frank Pepper dropped his Halo controller and sprinted towards the source of the noise. Half sprinting, half sliding, he skated into the kitchen to investigate with the help of the hardwood floor and a pair of blue socks. Too late—Liza’s skinny little body beat him to it.
“Frank, what’s this?” she asked, peering into the splattered microwave. Pieces of spaghetti hung down from the inside like Amazonian vines, poking through heaps of thick red marinara sauce.
“My lunch,” Frank replied, calmly attempting to scrape the overheated pasta into a bowl. Liza glowered at him.
“You just think you’re so funny, don’t you?”
His sister slammed the microwave door shut and crossed her arms. “You need to clean this up.”
“Oh sorry, we’re out of microwave cleaner.”
“Then go to Kroger and buy some!” shrieked Liza, pushing Frank out the front door. “I’ve had it with you, Frank. You’re going to have to learn to deal with your own stupid mistakes.”
Shivering, Frank stood on the door step as the frigid December wind rushed straight through his thin T-shirt. He didn’t even have any money with him. Women, he thought. Hoping to magically come across a few dollars to buy microwave cleaner (whatever that was), he stepped off the snowy sidewalk and took a detour into the woods.
The sky remained a bleak shade of slate as Frank trudged along, and swirls of snow suddenly began to sweep down from above. He swiveled around as a pang of fear attacked him—where’d he come from again? White fluff covered every inch of the ground, making any familiar sign unrecognizable.
“Oh dearrr,” he chattered through his teeth, hopelessly lost. Well, this is the end, he thought. Good-bye, life. He was about to lay himself down on the ground when a deep voice cut through the air.
“Hello!” it called. “Hello, stranger o’ the woods!” Frank turned his head so fast that he cricked his neck. A figure slowly came into focus through the blurry air, so eccentric that Frank had to wipe the melted snow off his glasses several times to make sure he was seeing straight.
The man was probably around six foot four, with a burly figure and ruddy complexion to match. A mane of red hair hung down to his shoulders, complementing his pair of fuzzy sideburns that sprouted from his face like bristles on a hairbrush. Though his plaid kilt swayed in the wintry draft, his legs were kept warm by a pair of knee-high stockings—stockings so green that Frank had to squint his bespectacled eyes to look at them.
“What do ye call yerself?” he boomed, towering over Frank.
“I am Finnegan!” roared Finnegan. He reached into a pocket of his kilt and pulled out a tattered stick, brandishing it wildly above his head. Frank felt a flare of warmth as the tree behind him burst into green flame.
“Watch yer back, Skinny Malinky Longlegs!” said Finnegan. Too confused to speak, Frank just ogled at the wand-whipping Scot. After what seemed like a few years, he managed to find his voice.
“Um…where—how—why are you here?”
Finnegan stowed his wand back into his kilt pocket and gave it a friendly pat. “Quit yer haverin’, ye screwball. Ye looked like ye could use some help, ’n I just wanted to make sure ye were all right.”
“Well, uh, thanks,” said Frank awkwardly. “I think I’ll—” BOOM. He was stopped in mid-sentence as a bang from deep within the forest shook the clearing.
Finnegan grabbed his wand hurriedly. “Keep the heid!” he yelled to Frank, flourishing the magic stick towards the direction of the blast.
“English, please!” cried Frank exasperatedly.
“It means to stay calm,” said a chilling voice behind him. Frank slowly turned to face a tall and gangly man with a plaid kilt just like Finnegan. Scruffy black hair rested under a small red cap, gently brushing the tops of two dark brown eyes that glittered sinisterly.
“McGregor,” gasped Finnegan, almost dropping his wand.
“Aye,” said McGregor. “It be me. Didn’t think I’d come back, did ye?”
“I thought I’d had ye defeated in Scotland!” growled Finnegan with flashing blue eyes.
McGregor grinned. “Oh, shut yer mouth, ye dunderhead.” He raised his wand, swishing it about carelessly.
Finnegan narrowed his eyes and stood his ground. “Be ready to meet yer demise!” he bellowed, pointing his wand at McGregor’s heart. It was at this moment that Frank realized he’d reached his limit—he’d had enough craziness from these two strange men.
“Hey!” he shouted. The two wizards paused, staring at Frank with furrowed eyebrows. He cleared his throat a bit and continued on. “All I wanted to do today was eat some spaghetti and play Halo,” he growled. “And now, thanks to my sister, I’m caught in the middle of a fight between two Scottish wizards who came out of nowhere. I’m tired of always being the ‘whatever’ guy—I won’t stand for this any longer. I want to know what’s going on, and I want to know now!”
With that said, he threw his thick-rimmed glasses on the ground and angrily crushed them with his Converse shoe. Breathing heavily, he glared back up at the wizards and found that he’d never needed glasses in the first place. “That felt good,” he panted, kicking the remnants of his poor spectacles deeper into the snow.
McGregor gawked at him, wand down at his side. “Well, I’m fair puckled! What a gallus young’un!”
“Quiet, ye!” cried Finnegan. “This peely-wally boy deserves an explanation.”
Frank nodded, arms crossed. “Go on.”
“Well,” began Finnegan, “it all started in Glasgow. Back in the 1800’s, us wizards were a dyin’ breed. All the gents and lassies o’ the town were bloody scared o’ us ’n our magic, ’n we were forced to hide deep up in the rocky ben o’ Scotland. All until one day, when the Glaswegians found us ’n started a mighty rammy that lasted fer months.”
“Aye,” said McGregor. “That shoogle took quite a few o’ our fellows.”
Finnegan nodded. “We were as afraid o’ them as they were o’ us. So the few wizards left took off from good ol’ Scotland ’n headed to America. ’Twas very different from Glasgow—it took us mighty long to figure out that this McDonald fellow was not one o’ our Scottish folk. Anyhoo, here we are now, the hoppin’ town o’ Danville, Iowa, ’n we’re doin’ our best to stay unnoticed.”
“But that still doesn’t explain everything,” Frank pointed out. “What happened between you and McGregor?”
Finnegan paused. “Oh, I, uh…well to tell ye the truth, I don’t quite remember.” He gave a sideways glance at McGregor.
“Don’t ask me, I ain’t got nothin’ to tell ye,” he shrugged.
“So let me get this straight,” said Frank. “I almost died in the snow today, but was saved by a couple of random Scots who don’t even know why they’re fighting. All for some microwave cleaner that probably doesn’t even exist.” He strode over to the nearest tree and banged his head against it several times, causing a few piles of snow to fall off the branches and dive-bomb his hair like Kamikaze fighters.
“Microwave cleaner? All ye had to do was ask,” said Finnegan. “Cleania microwavus!” He pointed his wand at the ground and a white container appeared with a burst of green light. Frank picked it up hesitantly, reading the label. Microwave cleaner, it said. Used when you heat up your spaghetti too much and it annoys your sister. Can also be used to get rid of mosquito bites.
“Well, hot dog!” he said. “This works.” Finnegan beamed.
“What a bloody show-off,” muttered McGregor, slipping his wand into his kilt pocket.
Frank dusted off his snowy head and grinned halfheartedly. “Don’t worry, McGregor. I think you’re a perfectly capable wizard. But I really have to go; Liza will be wondering why I took so long. Thanks, guys!”
Finnegan saluted him, and McGregor even gave him a rare half-smile. Gripping the cleaner tightly, Frank followed his footsteps in the snow and arrived at the Pepper household in less than five minutes. He strutted in to the sound of Pauly D’s voice blaring from the TV. “Will you move?” snapped Liza, who was sprawled all over the sofa. “I can’t see Jersey Shore!”
“Don’t care!” said Frank. “I found your microwave cleaner. Here.” He tossed it on the couch and exited the room triumphantly. Seeing Liza speechless was a victory in itself. The stairs creaked like old mattress springs as Frank raced up to his room, eager to play the game of Halo that awaited him. His hand was a centimeter above the A button on his controller when a mournful wailing split the air—Finnegan was leaning against the navy wall of his room, playing a large plaid bagpipe.
“What are you doing here?” Frank hissed, praying Liza was too absorbed in the drama of Jersey Shore to hear the clamor of the bagpipe.
Finnegan took a break from his instrument and gazed at Frank with a pair of sincere blue eyes. “I want ye to have this bagpipe, Frankie. ’Tis a magic bagpipe, ’n it’ll aid you in whatever trouble comes yer way.”
Frank set down the controller, eyebrows sky-high on his forehead. “Well, um, thanks, Finnegan.” He apprehensively took the enormous bagpipe from the wizard’s hands. “Um…what was the occasion for this gift?”
“Ye renewed the friendship o’ me ’n ol’ McGregor, ’n I can never thank ye enough fer that,” answered Finnegan, eyes shining with genuine gratitude. “I’m goin’ to go play me some rugby now, but I want ye to know that ye mean a lot to me.” He patted Frank on the shoulder, snapped his fingers, and disappeared in a puff of green smoke.
Waving the smoke away with one hand, Frank gently placed the bagpipe in his closet and stared at it admiringly. He had never been one for plaid, but it was starting to grow on him.