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The world I live in is full of humans and warlocks. We also have all the animals your world has: frogs, dogs, cats, wolves, you name it. And we all get along with each other. We are all divided into two groups: The Magical species, or Magicals, and humans. The Magical species all know not to do anything bad to humans like cursing them or making any magical traps for them and other things along those lines. But once every few years, one Magical person will break the rules. I’d never really understood how bad some people can be, but all that changed the day I got cursed.
I HEARD A SOFT KNOCK on my door.
“Cari? Andrew wants to know if you’ll come over to his house when you’re done with homework,” Mom said.
“Tell him I’ll be over in a few minutes,” I told her.
She nodded and gently closed the door. I focused on my homework sheet again and finished the last six questions. I stretched my sore fingers and went downstairs to get my coat on.
Since humans can’t just cast a spell to keep warm, we need to take our own evasive actions. My neighbor Andrew is Magical, and we both go to the same school, where humans and Magical species get along together.
“Be back by seven-thirty,” Mom called as I closed the door.
For March, it was fairly warm outside. I took my time walking to Andrew’s house. I rang their doorbell, and their ghostguard, which they created themselves, came to make sure I wasn’t a thief (or something like that). It floated, just barely an inch, off the ground. Its transparent body resembled a human, but without the details, like the eyes. Its blue eyes scanned me, and then it said in no more than a whisper “You may enter.”
It held the door open for me, and I walked in. I hung up my coat, took my shoes off, and asked the ghost to take me to Andrew. We went upstairs, and three doors down the hallway was Andrew’s room. I thanked the ghost, and it went through the floor to go back downstairs. I knocked on Andrew’s door, and it silently drifted open. I walked in, and I saw him putting a book into his desk.
“Hey, Andrew,” I said.
“Hi, Cari,” he greeted me, grinning. “I didn’t call you to come over at a bad time, did I?”
I laughed. “No, the real question is did you decide to call me when you needed to do something else?” Andrew sometimes calls me when he really shouldn’t, like the time he invited me over when he was supposed to be busy trying to create a spell that could make rubber animals come to life.
“Nope. I finished all my work before I did anything else. I just wanted to know if you wanted to join me in a game of Strategy.”
Strategy is a game we made up when their ghost guard was created. Basically, I come up with a plan, or strategy, to confuse the ghost, and Andrew conjures the spell to see if my plan works. Like when we made an illusion of an army of snakes entering the house, and the ghost tried to get rid of them. It was funny until the ghost started spraying the house with toxic chemicals.
I thought for a moment. “And if I say no, what’s your backup idea?”
He thought for half a second. “You could help me with some of my spells, if you want.”
“Okay, then, I’m voting for the backup idea,” I said, wondering if he would object. To my surprise, he smiled, ruffled my light brown, shoulder-length hair, and said, “All right then. I’m practicing sleeping spells. Are you still up for it?”
I grinned widely. “Of course.”
He told me to sit on the bed as a precaution, and I waited for him to say the words the would, supposedly, make me extremely tired.
He positioned his hands as if he were pushing a wall, looked at me, then murmured a few words in a strange tongue.
Even though I was expecting it, it was still a shock when the spell hit. I felt a slow wave of exhaustion spread through my limbs, and the only thing I wanted in the world was to close my eyes, which was already happening. And the weird thing was that I knew it was the spell Andrew was casting, but I didn’t really care; I was too tired. I was starting to drift when the tired feeling vanished. I opened my eyes, and I saw Andrew looking at me, obviously concerned. Then I realized I was on the floor next to the bed. I sat up and asked him, “What just happened? Why am I on the floor?”
He hesitated, and I could swear I saw him turn a light shade of red.
“I think the spell was a little too strong for you, Cari. You fell asleep and tumbled off the bed. I’m sorry.”
I frowned. “Hmmm, I don’t remember going to sleep. . . um. . . was I asleep long?” I asked, starting to become concerned.
Andrew shook his head. “No. When I saw you were asleep, I stopped the spell at once. It’s been only a minute, actually.”
“Oh, well, I’m not hurt, so no need to worry. It was an interesting experience—really,” I assured him.
He seemed to relax a little. “So. . . um. . . do you want to play a small game of Strategy before my parents come home?”
“Sure,” I agreed. I could tell he wasn’t going to do anymore spells with me now.
I was able to finish my totally brilliant strategy when the doorbell rang. We both ran to the stairs in time to see Andrew’s mom, a blond, slender young woman, walk through the door. And right behind her was Andrew’s father. He and Andrew shared the same short, black tousled hair, only Andrew’s was a little longer than his father’s.
We went to the door to greet them, and Andrew’s mother gave us both a hug. The ghostguard came over, and Andrew’s father—Andrew’s parents were Magical, too—de-conjured the ghost, or whatever it is the Magical people do with their magic helpers.
“Hello, Cari! How are you?” Andrew’s mother asked me, just like she did every time I come over.
“I’m fine, Ms. Sherryl, but I really should be getting home soon.” I looked at my watch and added, “Actually, I should be getting home now.”
Andrew nodded, then said, “See you soon, Cari.”
“Bye, Andrew,” I said as I got my coat on.
When I walked through the door, I could smell dinner before I saw it.
“I’m back, Mom, smells good!” I said cheerfully.
“Hi, honey. Dinner will be ready in a few minutes. It’s your favorite: spaghetti!”
I hung up my coat in our little closet by the door, and went up to my room. I looked at my des and realized that I never put my homework back in my backpack. On my way to my desk, something caught my eye outside my window. There was someone walking in front of our house, and I could swear he was staring at me. I blinked and then went downstairs, away from the gaze of the stranger. I figured I could put my homework in my backpack when I went to bed.
Mom and I were just beginning to eat when dad came in.
“Hi, honey! How was work?” Mom asked.
Dad sighed, “Long.”
Dad works for Magisk, a company that tries to advance human technology so we can be a little more “durable,” as the Magicals call it. “Magisk” is Swedish for Magical, by the way.
I decided to try and cheer Dad up by telling our motto joke.
“When is it ever a short day?” I asked wholeheartedly.
Dad smiled. “When it’s a day off.”
Later, when we were all done eating, it was my turn to take the trash out. I hoped that one of the first things that Magisk invented was a way for us humans to get rid of trash without having to go outside―especially when it was cold out. But tonight, it was pretty warm, so I didn’t bother to put my coat on. Sure, it was a little chilly, but not teeth-chattering cold. When I was walking back to the door, I got the feeling I was being watched. I looked at the street, and the same stranger from before was watching me again. It was wearing a cloak so long that it dragged along the ground, and it had a huge hood over its head. And something about his gaze, it was more powerful this time. So strong, in fact, that I froze, and stared with wide eyes at the stranger. My whole body seemed to go numb. The feeling of shock almost immediately turned into fear. I was so scared that I could have screamed, but my lips wouldn’t move so much as a millimeter. We could have stayed like this for ages, but my mom called for me.
“Cari! Come inside, honey. It’s cold out there!”
As soon as my mother spoke, the stranger broke eye contact with me, and jerked its head toward my house. I stood frozen not even for a second. I ran inside, closed the door, and locked it. Outside, I heard a high-pitched screech. Even though I was inside, the hair on the back of my neck stood on end, and I fell on the floor, my hands pressed over my ears. The terrible screech didn’t last long, but it still echoed in my ears. I was too scared to move. Questions buzzed around and around in my head. Who was that stranger? What did he want with me?
“Cari? Cari, where are you?” Dad shouted.
I forced my numb lips to move, and I had to really work to find my voice. “Here, Dad,” I said weakly.
Mom and Dad came running over to me. They pulled my hands away from my ears. I clung onto mom with all my strength. Breathing in her sweet smell relaxed me a little. While I tried to pull myself together, Dad pummeled me with questions. I told them about the stranger, and seeing him before and after dinner. I tried to explain what his gaze did to me, but I shuddered every three seconds or so.
Once I was done telling them what happened, they stared at each other for a few moments, the they carried me over to the couch, because I was still scared stiff. They set me down, and then they huddled on either side of me. The three of us stayed there, until I relaxed enough to take a deep breath. Mom and Dad didn’t say anything, but I could tell what they were thinking: they weren’t going to let go of me anytime soon.
We stayed on the couch until, finally, I fell into an uneasy sleep.
MOM AND DAD DIDN’T LET me leave the house for three days, and they stayed home with me. Fortunately, it was a three-day weekend, so I didn’t miss school at all. But, let me tell you, if you’d been scared to death for no reason whatsoever, you’d never want to step foot outside ever again.
To bypass the time, I called Andrew—I had told him everything, and he was looking up Magical criminals for me—and a few other of my friends. Ariel, for example; we’ve been best friends since first grade. I didn’t tell her about the attack (she was a human, too) because I didn’t want to freak her out. I felt guilty for lying to her, but I was worried that if I told her something, then the stranger would come after her, too. And there was no way that I wanted anyone else in danger. Andrew was an exception; he was Magical. He could take care of himself if he was in danger, not that I liked the idea, though. But I had confidence in him. And, I have to admit, he knows a few really good defensive spells. Like the sleeping spell he tried on me that night. He didn’t say it at the time, but it’s really used for making your enemies drowsy, and lose their focus.
On Monday, mom and Dad considered keeping me home, but what would we say to the school if they called? “Hi, yes, Cari is unable to come to school because a screeching maniac scared her to death.” I doubt it.
“Mom, really, if anything at all goes wrong, I’ll call you, get help, whatever. Just let me go to school!” I pleaded.
“Absolutely not, Cari! What if that maniac thing attacks again while you’re at school?” Mom said.
I looked at Dad pleadingly. He bit his lip, considering. After a minute, he took a deep breath.
“Honey, let’s think this over. How do we know it was after Cari? Maybe we should give it a day or so—”
“No, no and no! I won’t take any chances whatsoever!” Mom said sternly to us both. Normally, I wouldn’t complain about Mom’s overprotective habits, but she was really starting to bother me. I was about to complain some more, but Dad put a hand on my shoulder. So instead, I stared at a pen that was on the floor, letting my anger out by trying to stare a hole through it.
Before we got any further on our impasse, the doorbell rang. I knew Mom and Dad wouldn’t let me answer the door, so I stayed put. Dad grabbed his baseball bat—I was a little worried that whoever was at the door would end up running away, screaming—and walked slowly toward the door. Mom inched me back a few feet, and then planted herself in front of me. Dad opened the door a crack, and then sighed in relief. “Oh, Andrew! Come on in,” he said, holding the door.
A white-faced Andrew inched in, watching the bat wearily. For his sake, I said “Dad, you can put the bat away for now.”
Was he expecting that screeching thing to knock on the door, or what? Andrew thought to me. Andrew was able to think what he wanted to say to me; a little something he learned last year. I, on the other hand, couldn’t respond to him—I didn’t bother trying, since I wasn’t Magical—so I just shrugged in his direction. I think the screeching maniac would bust the door down next time it came, not knock like a pizza delivery person.
Andrew paused for a second, and then said “I just came to let you know that I am willing to go to school with Cari, to make sure she’s safe throughout school. Because I know that you’re probably a little edgy about letting her out of your sight.”
“Oh. Well, that’s very thoughtful of you. Um, thank you for the offer, but—” Mom started.
“Mom! I’ll be perfectly safe with Andrew. He knows lots of spells that will come in handy, and, like I said, I’ll call you if anything happens,” I said, positive that she would say yes.
Mom took a deep breath, and then said slowly “If anything at all happens, or if that maniac thing appears, I don’t care where you are or what you’re doing. Get help, something. Just keep away from it!”
I shrank back from her. She only used that tone when she was dead serious. And I was also half-embarrassed. She never swears in front of guests. So I knew she was extremely worried something would happen while I was at school today.
I stuck with Andrew all day; on the bus, met up with him in the hallways after classes that we didn’t have together, and went home with him right next to me. Nothing out of the usual happened all day. Or the next, or the next. After two weeks, the incident had moved out to the back of my thoughts, and after a month, I almost completely forgot about it. The only times I would remember about it was when Mom and Dad asked me if anything had happened that was out of the ordinary. And I would always take a minute to go through the events that had happened that day. And, every time, I would say nothing had happened.
A month later, I got on the bus with a wary feeling. I just had a feeling that something was going to go wrong. But I hadn’t told Mom or Dad yet, but I told Andrew about it on the bus. He frowned, and said that he’d keep an eye out for anything.
During lunch, it was so nice outside that the teachers let us eat out by the playground for elementary kids.
“The sun feels so nice!” I said, leaning my head back in the warm sun rays.
“I wish every day were this nice,” Andrew agreed.
I sighed, and ignored all the chatter around us. I was in heaven. I was wrapped in a blanket of warm, relaxing sun rays. Nothing could ruin this moment.
Andrew grabbed my arm, and squeezed it.
I frowned. “What?”
Andrew didn’t reply. So I—unwillingly—opened my eyes to see what was bothering him. He was just staring across the road. Ice cold fear replaced the sun’s warm rays.
The hooded figure was across the road, staring at me. He was the same as before—black hooded cloak that went down to the ground. His sleeves pressed together, so I couldn’t see his hands. His gaze had the same effect as last time. My lips went numb, and I couldn’t move. My eyes widened in horror and fear.
Not now! Not here! All my friends are here! I thought, panicked. What happened if the hooded figure wanted to hurt them because of me? I remembered what Mom told me ever so long ago. “I don’t care where you are, or what you’re doing. Get help, something.” And what I was I doing staring at it with horror? I had to do something! So I gathered what little willpower I could, and did the only thing I could.
I screamed, and screamed as loud as I possibly could. I added all my fear into it, making it even louder.
The teachers and everyone came running over, demanding what was wrong. I just kept screaming, staring at the figure, until they looked at it, too. Everyone’s eyes widened when the figure’s gaze reached them. My scream faltered, and went out. The hooded figure parted his sleeves, revealing hands with long, crooked fingers, and raised its arms. Four more creatures appeared out of nowhere.
They charged at me, and everyone else.
I suddenly felt a hot glow inside me.
“No!” I shouted. A huge, golden wall appeared in front of us. It was at least three times as wide as the school, and twice as high as it was wide. But I could still see through it. And the hooded figures slammed into it, making a big BLOINK sound, and they staggered backwards. They hissed at us, and continued to stare at us, but the wall made it so their gaze didn’t make us freeze in fear. The hot feeling in me was still going on, and I had a feeling that it was connected to the wall—that I was connected to the wall. And I knew that once the feeling went out, the wall would disappear as well.
How did you do that? Andrew thought in my head.
I blinked, and shook my head. Then, the hot feeling got hotter, until it felt as though I was melting from inside myself. I cried out, and sank to my knees. The golden wall curved, until it was like a curved see-through golden paper around the school.
Everyone was staring at me, to the wall, and back at me again.
Finally, a kid named Josh said “I thought you weren’t Magical, Cari.”
I was totally dumbfounded. “I-I’m not! At least, I don’t think I am. I don’t know what happened.” I told him, and everyone else, trying to ignore the white-hot feeling inside me.
I was so confused. All my life, I’ve been a human. Just like Mom and Dad.
I was so lost in thought, that the hot feeling vanished, making me gasp.
“Oh no!” I said.
The golden wall disappeared so suddenly that no everyone’s head jerked up. Even the hooded figures seemed mind-boggled for a moment. Then they charged again—right at me. I closed my eyes. Before anyone could gasp, they rammed into me. My breath came out in a gust, but I didn’t open my eyes. I felt their claw-like hands grabbing me, and pulling me.
“Get off her! Leave her alone!” I recognized Andrew’s voice. I opened my eyes to glimpse him being thrown three meters before something hit my head. The last thing I heard was Andrew, calling my name.