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Glimmerglass



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Free Short Story-Remedial Magic

Hi, my name is Ethan’s Little Sister. Actually, no, it isn’t. My name is Kimber, but no one really seems to care. I’m the brains in the family--the only fifteen-year-old ever to be admitted to Avalon U.--but is anyone impressed by my mad academic skilz? Uh, no. I’m two years younger than Ethan, and I’m in college while he’s still in high school, but he’s the magical wiz-kind, and I’m the family embarrassment.

No, I’m not at all bitter about it. Why do you ask?

I walked home from class on a Friday afternoon, a bundle of nerves and excitement, despite the voice of doom--or, some might say, the voice of reason--in the back of my head telling me not to get my hopes up. Tonight, I was going to stop feeling like a miserable failure for my lack of magic skills, and I was going to do something about it. Never mind that according to conventional wisdom magic can’t be taught. Dee Dee Bishop said she could teach me, and I was prepared to believe her.

I let myself in to my house, hoping and praying that everyone kept to their usual schedules. Dad was a total workaholic, and I swear if he didn’t think it would make him an irresponsible parent, he’d have just camped out at his office each night. My mom had been out of the picture since I was ten, when she decided she preferred living in Faerie to living in Avalon. And this being a Friday, Ethan was sure to be out on the town with his latest girl-du-jour.

The house was quiet as I closed the door behind myself, and I let out a breath of relief. The one sure way for my magic tutoring plan to fail was for Dee Dee to run into Ethan. Living with Ethan was like having a rock star and a pro athlete all rolled into one in the house. Girls might not shriek out loud and faint when they see him, but it’s pretty close. When I was in high school, my friends were too young for him to notice, but Dee Dee was eighteen and fair game. If she got caught in Ethan’s orbit, he’d eventually break her heart and she’d end up hating me for it.

When the doorbell rang--right on time--I had to take a deep breath to calm down. Please, please let Dee Dee be able to help me, I prayed. Just once, I wanted to see my father be really and truly proud of me, to see me standing there, no longer hidden by Ethan’s shadow. And hell, if I could take Ethan’s ego down a notch or three while I was at it, that would be even better. My hands were sweating as I opened the door, but I told myself to smile, and my lips obeyed.

Like me, Dee Dee is Fae, though unlike me she was actually born in Faerie and didn’t move to Avalon--the only place where Faerie and the mortal world intersect--until she was twelve. Maybe that’s why she was so good at magic, though objectively it shouldn’t matter. Magic is an almost sentient force, and though it’s native to Faerie, technically Avalon is part of Faerie, even though it’s part of the mortal world, too. But seeing as magic is almost sentient, it’s possible it “likes” people who were born in Faerie proper better than it “likes” people who were born in Avalon. Then again, it’s positively in love with Ethan, and he was born in Avalon.

I led Dee Dee upstairs to my bedroom, chewing my lip the whole way. I’m not usually this nervous, but it was one thing to admit to a powerful Fae that I wasn’t very good at magic, and it was another to show her just how good I wasn’t. I’m not a big fan of humiliation, though I was prepared to endure it if that was what it took to fix me.

I got my first dose the moment Dee Dee stepped into my bedroom, because her eyes went immediately to the collection of teddy bears arranged on a shelving unit across from my bed. The three-year age difference between us was already enough to make a friendship feel just a little awkward, but the stupid bears were something you’d find in the room of a twelve-year-old. My face heated, and I hoped I wasn’t blushing as hard as I thought I was.

“My mom gave me the one on the bottom left when I was ten, right before she left for Faerie,” I explained, gesturing at the rather ordinary-looking brown bear with its button eyes and plaid bowtie. There was nothing particularly special about it, but it was the last tie I had to my mother, and that made it precious.  Afraid to look at Dee Dee, I plucked the bear off the shelf and fidgeted with his bowtie. “It has sentimental value, but my dad somehow decided that because I liked this one, I must love teddy bears.”  I grimaced at this further evidence of how little my dad actually saw me. “Now he gets me a teddy bear for my birthday and Christmas every year.” Worse, Ethan had picked up the habit, too, so my closet was full of the bears that wouldn’t fit on the shelves.

I risked a glance at Dee Dee and was relieved she wasn’t giving me a pitying or condescending look.

“Why don’t you just tell him the truth?” she asked, quite reasonably.

I shrugged and put my mother’s bear back on the shelf. “I don’t know. I guess I’ve just let it go on too long already.” But actually, I did know, and it was a whole lot more pathetic than that. I didn’t want to tell Dad I didn’t like the bears because I was too grateful for the scraps of affection he threw my way. So I displayed the bears proudly on my bedroom wall, even though they embarrassed me. How messed up is that?

Dee Dee let the subject drop, for which I was grateful, then moved to sit cross-legged on my bed, beckoning me to follow. I sat facing her, my nerves flaring again at the thought of demonstrating my incompetence.

“Where would you say your main problem lies?” she asked me. “Is it with gathering the magic or with commanding it?”

There are two steps to casting a successful spell. The first is to pull magic to you. The more magic you can pull, the more powerful a spell you can cast. Once you’ve pulled in the magic, you have to communicate to it what you want it to do. Traditionally, that’s the hard part. You’re trying to communicate with a force that isn’t quite sentient and doesn’t speak any language known to mankind. In fact, the words you speak to cast a spell are irrelevant, kind of like the commands you use when you’re training a dog. You can train a dog to sit when you say “hippopotamus” if you want to, and it’s the same with magic.

“I suck at both of them,” I admitted reluctantly. I can manage the basic spells any Fae child can do, but anything above that is out of my league.

Dee Dee frowned. “Well, I suppose if you have trouble gathering a lot of magic, you haven’t had a chance to try more complex commands. Maybe if we give you enough magic to work with, you’ll have an easier time commanding it.”

“I guess,” I conceded, though I wasn’t completely convinced. It seemed I had more trouble than most commanding even the scant amount of magic I could pull, and it was hard to imagine adding more magic to the mix was going to help. Still, if Dee Dee thought it might work, I was willing to try.

“Is there a particular spell you’d like to work on? One you don’t have enough oomph to carry off?”

There were a lot of them, but one in particular leapt to mind. “Telekinesis.” It was one of those spells that Ethan was ridiculously good at. The jerk could lift a freaking car with just a couple of muttered words, and it was easy for him. I, on the other hand, couldn’t even pick up a pencil reliably.

Dee Dee brightened. “Oh, that one’s kind of easy,” she said.

I winced, because, of course, I knew it was easy. Or at least should be.

Dee Dee laughed and waved her hand at me. “I didn’t mean it like that. I mean it’s easy for me to help with.”

“Oh.”

“Why don’t you go ahead and pull as much magic as you can. Then I’ll pull some more and feed it to you so you can cast the spell. Maybe try to bring your mother’s teddy bear over--it’s light and it has sentimental value, so that might help.”

I worried that even with Dee Dee’s help, I wasn’t going to be able to pull it off. After all, even if I had enough magic to work the spell, I still had to actually, you know, work the spell.

“All right,” I told her, and tried to quell the doubts so they wouldn’t get in my way.

I took a deep, calming breath, then reached out to the magic that permeated the air of Avalon. It came sluggishly to my call, as if I was dragging it kicking and screaming toward me instead of coaxing it. The magic made my skin prickle, like there were hundreds of tiny electric shocks pinging against me. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Dee Dee frowning, no doubt underwhelmed by the miniscule amount of magic I was able to call. When I could pull no more, I gave her an embarrassed smile, and she nodded in acknowledgment. I held on to the magic I had pulled as she cast out her own net.

I almost lost my grip on the magic I had gathered when the prickling on my skin intensified tenfold in approximately two seconds. Whereas I’d had to drag the magic to me by brute force, it was rushing toward her like a puppy expecting a treat. She wasn’t as powerful as Ethan--I always felt like I was going to die of electric shock when he was pulling magic--but she was definitely a heavyweight.

Calmly, she turned to me. “I’m going to send this magic your way,” she said. “It’s more than enough for telekinesis.”

Yeah, she had that right. If I wanted to, I could probably get the whole wall to come to me with that much magic. Well, no, if Dee Dee wanted to, she could get the wall to come. It was yet to be seen whether I could even get one stuffed bear to move.

Focusing my will, I stared at my mom’s teddy bear, visualizing what I wanted to happen, visualizing the bear sailing through the air that separated us. Even though I’d never had real success with this spell, I had tried it many times, and I already had established the words “hocus pocus” as my spell trigger. I’d have loved to have changed them--hell, even my choice of trigger words was embarrassing--but that would be a recipe for disaster.

Mumbling the words in hopes that Dee Dee wouldn’t hear them, I cast my spell, uncomfortably aware of just how much magic was hovering in the room, how much power was at my fingertips. Perhaps I shouldn’t have had Dee Dee feed me so much, but it was too late to back out now.

At first, I thought the spell had failed utterly, and my heart sank. The bear remained sitting on the shelf where I’d left him, though I could tell that the magic had moved away from me because the prickling sensation had faded to a more comfortable level. I opened my mouth to make some self-deprecating remark to Dee Dee when suddenly the bear stood up.

I gasped in surprise, staring at the teddy bear that now stood impossibly on its hind legs, button eyes scanning the room until they locked on me. The mouth, which was nothing but a length of yarn sewn into the faux-fur, opened, showing a set of very convincing-looking teeth.

“Oh, shit,” Dee Dee and I said together as the bear launched himself off of the shelf toward me.

I screamed and dove to the side. Yes, the bear was sort of following my magical command, but no, it didn’t look like it was coming for a cuddle. Not the way it was baring those impossible teeth.

The bear landed on the bed, right where I had been, and I heard the snap of its teeth coming together as I leapt to my feet. It turned to me and snarled.

“A little help!” I gasped at Dee Dee. I was trying to call the magic back, but it was a feeble effort. If it was more magic than I could hand, then it was probably more magic than I could un-handle.

“I’m trying!” Dee Dee said, her face white and her eyes wide. Then, “Look out!” Her gaze was fixed on something behind me.

Instinctively, I ducked. Something sailed over my head, and when I looked up, I saw that three more bears had joined my mother’s teddy bear on the bed, none of them looking even remotely cute or cuddly. They leapt at me again. I dodged wildly and slammed into the front of my dresser hard enough to rattle the collection of perfumes I kept on its top. I let out a startled shriek, because although none of the bears had hit me head on, one had managed to rake its claws over my arm, and it stung like hell.

Dee Dee had plastered herself against the wall, looking. Don’t ask me why--it wasn’t like the bears were attacking her. Maybe she was still trying the corral her magic, maybe not. Either way, she didn’t look like she was going to be any help.

One of the bears had landed on my desk, and with a snarl he knocked my laptop into the wall, the impact so hard the plaster cracked and the laptop ricocheted to the floor. Small or not, the creature was powerful, and I was in a shitload of trouble.

I looked frantically from side to side in search of something I could use to defend myself. The only thing that looked like it might be even vaguely helpful was a padded lap desk, which I snatched off the floor and held in front of me like a shield.

As soon as I grabbed the lap desk, my mother’s bear charged me again, leaping high, its claws and teeth aiming straight for my face. It was Dee Dee’s turn to scream. I didn’t have time for anything more than a gasp. I swung the lap desk hard, hitting the bear and swatting it away from me. It twisted in mid-air like a cat, so that when it hit the full-length mirror on the back of my door, it hit with extended claws.

The mirror shattered with the impact. The bear on my desk was still busily knocking things off, concentrating on those things that would most easily break. Another of the bears was on the duvet, raking his claws over the fabric, then grabbing out big mouthfuls of stuffing, interrupting its work only long enough to growl at Dee Dee when she dared to move.

My mother’s bear sat on the floor in the midst of the mirror shards, eyeing me with predatory calculation. It grabbed a shard as large and sharp as a kitchen knife, giving me a teeth-baring grin as it pulled back its arm to throw. Meanwhile, the fourth bear, who wasn’t occupied with destroying my room, readied itself to pounce. I knew that both attacks were going to come at the same time, and that I could only deflect one.

Whimpering from somewhere deep in my throat, I kept my eye on the mirror shard, figuring if I didn’t deflect that, it could be a fatal error.

My mother’s bear was just about to let loose with its weapon when my bedroom door burst open, knocking the bear to the side.

“What the hell is going on in here?” Ethan yelled as he stepped in the door.

I was too busy deflecting the other bear’s charge to answer his question. Not that I could have given him a good answer if I’d tried. Failing to execute the spell was bad enough, but this unmitigated disaster elevated me from miserable failure to a menace to society. To have Mr. Magical Perfection witness my massive screw-up was almost unbearable.

Ethan took in the scene with a sweeping glance as all four bears once again set their sights on me, perhaps sensing that they were running out of time. Ethan is an arrogant bastard who annoys the crap out of me, but one thing I’ll say for him: he’s a good ally to have in a fight. He must have been pretty damn startled by what he saw, but he reacted with lightning reflexes.

The bears all charged at once, their most coordinated attack yet. There was no way I could block them all, and even if they didn’t manage to kill me, they were certainly going to hurt me pretty badly.

Suddenly, the level of magic in the room intensified, the air thinning as if it was being crowded out by the magic. It was more power than I’d ever felt Ethan pull before, and if I hadn’t been so scared of the damn bears, the power itself probably would have terrified me.

“Undo!” Ethan bellowed, emphasizing the command with a sweeping arm gesture.

The bears simply . . . exploded in mid charge. Every seam in every bear split wide open, the stuffing falling out. Eyes dropped off, as well as plastic noses and yarn mouths. When the magic cleared, the bears were nothing but indistinct piles of fabric, plastic, thread, and stuffing. It was only then that I realized I was shaking like a leaf, my knees wobbly and knocking together. I lowered myself to the floor and sat before I fell.

What Ethan had just done should have been impossible. I was willing to bet my life that he hadn’t trained up a tear-apart-teddy-bears spell before he stepped into this room. To craft a spell like that should have taken hours of trial and error, but Ethan had done it in a matter of seconds. Across the room, I could see Dee Dee staring at him like he was the Second Coming. If he’d wanted to show off his amazing powers, I doubt he could have manufactured a better way to do it than what I had just given him.

“Everyone okay?” he asked, coming quickly to my side.

I was too humiliated to say anything--even thank you--as he peered at the slashes the bear’s claws had made in my arm. Magic tingled over my skin as Ethan whispered a spell and the wounds closed up, the stinging pain vanishing as if it had never existed.

“How did you do that?” Dee Dee asked, sliding off the bed and still looking at Ethan in total awe. Notice how she wasn’t asking if I was okay. It was like I’d ceased to exist once he’d walked into the room. This was what I call the Ethan Effect, when perfectly sensible girls’ brains turn to useless mush. Human girls swoon at his feet because he’s good-looking, but it takes more than good looks to catch a Fae girl’s eyes. After all, a touch of glamour can make a troll look like a prince, so beauty really is only skin deep. But even when he isn’t doing magic, there’s an aura of power and confidence around Ethan that draws Fae girls to him like ants to a picnic.

I should have been grateful to Ethan for coming in and saving the day. After all, if he hadn’t shown up, I would have been in bad, bad shape by now. And maybe later, when I’d calmed down a bit, I’d find the grace to thank him. But not only was I completely humiliated by how horribly wrong my spell had gone, having Ethan have to come in and save me added a huge dose of insult to the injury. I have never been the picture of grace under fire when Ethan’s around anyway, and with Dee Dee giving him goo-goo eyes like that, I just couldn’t contain myself.

“What are you doing home?” I asked my brother, more to remind Dee Dee that I still existed than because cared. I knew from experience that trying to warn girls off never worked, but that didn’t stop me from trying. “Shouldn’t you be off shagging the flavor of the week?”

That got Dee Dee’s attention, but not for the right reasons. She looked at me in horrified shock. Then her face set into a scowl, as if I’d just insulted the love of her life.

Ethan shook his head at me reproachfully. “It’s that time of the month again?” he asked in mock surprise.

Dee Dee giggled, as if he’d said something remarkably witty and clever. I rolled my eyes and wished I were an only child. Obviously, my magic lessons were over. Yeah, I know, they probably would have been--and certainly should have been--even if Dee Dee wasn’t already succumbing to the Ethan Effect. But I couldn’t help feeling that Ethan was about to steal my friend when he’d already long ago stolen my pride.

You see, the fact is, I’d never really expected my lessons with Dee Dee to suddenly make me into a competent spell caster. I’d had hopes, of course, but that hadn’t been the point of the lessons. The point had been to spend time with one of my classmates, to try to make a connection and have a real live friend. Believe me, that’s hard to do when you’re a fifteen-year-old college freshman.

Ethan gave Dee Dee his God’s-gift-to-women smile, and it made me want to puke. I swear, he’s never met a girl he didn’t immediately want to shag. She, of course, ate it up, blushing and batting her eyelashes at him.

“Do I even want to know what the two of you were up to?” Ethan asked Dee Dee while giving me a sidelong look that said he knew perfectly well that whatever had gone wrong was my fault.

Dee Dee smiled at him. “Probably not.”

I sighed, knowing a lost cause when I saw it. Ethan was going to make a play for Dee Dee, and by the time he was done with her--which with his track record would be in a couple of weeks--she was going to hate me by association. I tried to tell myself it was good riddance. After all, if she were really good friendship material, she probably wouldn’t start ignoring me the moment she caught sight of Ethan. Not to mention that she hadn’t even tried to help me when the bears attacked. If they’d attacked her, you can bet I’d have done something more useful than plaster myself to the wall and scream.

But I couldn’t help mourning the loss. I’d give anything to have a real friend. One who didn’t care about my magical shortcomings, one who liked me for who I am, not for what I can do. One who could be in the same room with both me and Ethan and still remember I existed.

Dee Dee departed on Ethan’s arm, leaving me alone in the shambles of my bedroom. The place was a freaking disaster area, and I needed to clean up the mess before my dad got home. Ethan wouldn’t tattle on me--I have to grudgingly admit he has some redeeming qualities--which meant if I could hide all the evidence, my dad never had to know what a complete fool I’d made of myself.

It wasn’t until I picked up the bowtie that had adorned my mother’s bear that I fully understood what I had lost that afternoon. Not just my dignity, or my hope, or my friend. But also the teddy bear that represented my last link to my mother. My eyes filled with tears, and no matter how glad I was that Ethan had saved me, I couldn’t help wishing he’d found some other way to do it.

Heartsick, I fastened the plaid bowtie on one of the surviving bears, knowing that although it was Ethan who’d cast the spell that destroyed the bear, I had only myself to blame. From now on, I vowed, I was going to be satisfied with what little magic I had. I was going to be proud of myself for my academic achievements, and I was going to stop feeling like a pathetic loser. I was even going to stop comparing myself to Ethan.

Too bad there wasn’t enough magic in all of Faerie to make a vow like that come true.