Gertie and Bridget join a club

Photo by Charlie Solorzano on Unsplash
“COME JOIN THE MAGIC CLUB,” read big, bold letters on a flyer pinned to the dorm bulletin board, impossible for Gertie to miss even before her morning tea.
Meeting in faculty sponsor Mr. Jerson’s room, Haste 209, Fridays from 4-5. Don’t have to bring anything but yourselves! Sincerely, Club President Charlie Nessing.


***


Gertie managed to drag Bridget and Ernest along with her to the meeting, while Vivien came willingly.
“It’s those guys who beat up Jodie and Nick and their group,” Ernest said. “Do we really need more bullies in our lives?”
“Maybe there will be others who are interested in magic,” Gertie argued. “Wouldn’t it be nice to have more friends?”
Gertie wore a black, wide-brimmed hat that she wore to functions where entertainment was key. The flyer didn’t state to bring any magical demonstrations, but she figured it wouldn’t hurt.
As they walked, she practiced releasing colorful sparks from her hands, using the powers granted to her by the hat. She even managed to shape them into a heart before they fizzled away.
Some other students were in Mr. Jerson’s room already - a few that Gertie recognized, but most she had never seen. Gertie ignored the urge to sit in her assigned seat, and sat in the front row with her friends.
“Nice to see you here,” Mr. Jerson, her Potion’s teacher, said to her, his smile wrinkling the corners of his eyes.
Gertie nodded, nervous energy coming out in drumbeats from her fingertips.
More students filtered in as the clock ticked on. Marissa Hanler, a straight A student, came and sat in front, begging to be noticed by Mr. Jerson. Darryl Fudin, another classmate, came in and sat behind Gertie.
“I thought you’d be here too,” he said with a grin.
“I didn’t know you would!” she said, pleased that her potions tutoring had seemed to actually plant a seed of interest in magic.
“I mean, I have plenty of time in my schedule,” he said sarcastically. “What’s one more after-school activity? I can sneak pizza into the computer lab so I don’t have to eat while running to football practice.”
All together, the club consisted of about twenty-five members. Gertie beamed. There were so many people interested in magic! Who knew?
Then came two of the new students Ernest had worried about: Peter and Faye Nessing. Faye quickly chose a desk off to the side. She placed her backpack underneath, pulled out a book, opened to a bookmark and started reading. Bridget frowned. An animal anatomy textbook? What high school freshman needed to know that?
“Peter, good to see you,” Mr. Jerson said. “Where’s your brother?”
The tall senior slicked back his hair - still wet from swim practice - and shrugged. “I’m sure he’s coming, sir. We can probably start introductions without him?”
Mr. Jerson nodded his approval.
Peter stood at the front of the class.
“Hi, everyone. Thank you for coming. My name is Peter Nessing, and I’m the Vice President of the Magic Club.” He fidgeted with a charm on a leather necklace. “Let’s see. I’m a senior. My siblings and I just started school here last week. Fun fact about me is that I’ve been accepted to Wespire University on a swimming scholarship - I’m on the swim team here too - and I’m going to study Business. How about we-”
The classroom’s phone pealed, loud and irritating, until Mr. Jerson answered it.
“Yes?”
He listened for a moment, his hand gripping the receiver harder and harder as the person on the other side spoke to him.
“I’ll be right there,” he said. He stood and addressed the club. “There’s a little...problem in the healer’s office. They need some help brewing a proper potion.”
Mr. Jerson hesitated, trying to decide if he should tell the students to leave.
“I can handle it, sir,” Peter said. “We’ll just do introductions and take down some suggestions for club activities.”
Mr. Jerson nodded. “I’ll be back as soon as I can.”
As soon as he left, there was murmuring about what could be going wrong in the healer’s office.
“Jodie Migaran threw up in fifth period,” someone whispered. “I wonder if it could have anything to do with that?”
“What? Nick did too. He seriously looked green!”
“Ok, everyone.” Peter held up his hands. “There’s no reason to speculate. As I was saying-”
Suddenly Charlie, the middle Nessing sibling, burst into the room.
“I need help!” he shouted.
“What?” Peter frowned. He looked over his brother as he came to the front of the class, searching for injury. “What’s wrong?”
Charlie pulled his backpack off his shoulder. He unzipped it and turned it over, dumping notebooks, pencils, and a strange golden box onto the demonstration table in the front of the classroom.
The box was tied with twine that glimmered with an enchantment. It was clearly the only thing keeping the box closed, as the flip lid struggled to open, rattling ominously.
“What is it?” someone asked.
“I don’t know!” Charlie’s eyes were wide and panicked. He gestured to the box wildly. “It was just...in my suitcase! I was unpacking and it just started shaking!”
“What’s the string?” Darryl asked.
“Just some store-bought trap twine.” Charlie pushed his thick rimmed glasses up his nose. “It’s all I had. The enchantment’s not going to hold very long.”
The box jumped into the air, the lid struggling against the twine.
“What’s in there?” Peter got closer to the box, staring at it.
“I have no idea!”
“Have you tried a Sparkness circle?” Vivien asked. “It’s a good generic containment spell.”
“Of course I tried that already.” Charlie rolled his eyes. “My parents invented it.”
“Your parents what?” Gertie repeated.
“They work at Sparkslab,” Peter supplied. “Well, they did until recently. Our dad quit to run for Mayor. They’ve invented tons of stuff.”
A student reached to peek into the box, curious about what was inside. The box opened as far as it could given the twine, and orange goop sprayed all over the place, covering the student and those behind him.
“Uck! What is this?” the student sniffed at his shirt and made a face.
“I know, it’s gross!” Charlie wrinkled his nose. “I was able to get it off with some nail polish remover I borrowed from one of my floor-mates.”
Those hit with the sludge left, struggling to wipe off the stickiness with towels from the potions lab, smelling like overripe fruit.
“You know…” Marissa stood, grabbing her backpack. “This isn’t what I signed up for. Not when Mr. Jerson didn’t even mention anything about extra credit. I have homework to do. Good luck with the box.”
She hurried out of the classroom, following the other students.
Vivien traced over one of the symbols etched into the gold side of the box. “Wait, I know this!” she said. She pulled her laptop from her bag and started searching. “It’s a newer magical dialect. I researched it when looking into homunculi.”
“Homunculi?” Charlie repeated.
Vivien nodded, oblivious to his approval.
Gertie looked over her shoulder, kneeling next to her desk. “We can translate it. Maybe it’s a spell that will help?”
Charlie nodded. “Please, anything.”
The box rattled in place, as if it was worried it was being forgotten.
“I wonder what’s even in there,” Bridget mused. “If it could cause us danger, I would think I’d see a vision of it.”
“Did you say ‘vision’?” Peter asked.
Bridget flushed, annoyed she had let it slip. The other students, debating what to do with the box, didn’t seem to notice. “Yeah. I sometimes get visions,” she said.
“That’s amazing!” Peter said.
To his surprise, Bridget shrugged and pulled out her phone, seemingly disinterested in coming up with a way to make the box safe.
“If there’s something alive in there, maybe I can calm it down,” Ernest said. He started to whistle a tune, and the box started rattling harder.
It wasn’t the only thing. Faye’s backpack starting jumping into the air.
“What’s that?” Darryl asked. “A magic backpack?”
The flap fell open revealing a rabbit with his ears pointed toward Ernest. It stumbled forward, its back leg in a cast.
“No!” Faye said. Her voice sounded odd, like it was laced with magic. Bridget watched with her enchanted eye as one of her bracelets sparked. She had recognized one of the girl’s necklaces as having a charm to talk to dogs. Could she also talk to bunnies?
“You get back here!” Faye ordered the rabbit, as it hopped to Ernest. It stopped and turned back toward her ruefully, but it didn’t budge.
“Faye,” Peter said, a warning in his voice. “I thought you weren’t supposed to bring him to class anymore.”
“I’m almost finished healing him,” Faye grumbled.
Ernest stopped his whistling, and the rabbit turned back to glare up at him, wanting him to finish.
“Then I’ll put him back in the forest.” She picked up the rabbit and put him on her desk. “Stay here.”
It pouted, but laid down on its front paws, its ears and nose twitching in annoyance.
The box continued to clatter ominously.
Ernest frowned, and started whistling a different tune. There was a click as the box’s two clips flipped down. The box shook, but the lid wasn’t cracking open anymore.
“Nice job!” Charlie said. “You’re the Yilnog right? I saw you in the yearbook.”
“Yeah.” Ernest shrugged. He didn’t get along with the rest of his family, despite its fame as one of the oldest magical clans. It rivaled even Gertie and Bridget’s, the Mallons.
“It’s good to meet you!” Charlie smiled. “Music magic is a wonderful specialty. Good choice! You know your stuff.”
Ernest didn’t know if he’d ever heard someone compliment his skills like that before. He smiled hesitantly and nodded at Charlie.
At the first success with the box, the other students seemed to relax. They started chatting amongst each other, trading their histories with magic and their skills.
“Done!” Gertie announced, holding up the notebook that she and Vivien had been translating the box spells into. A couple club members glanced over it, admiring their work.
“Should we try it?” Vivien asked.
The box shook, daring her to.
Charlie nodded. “Maybe it’ll shut it up.”
Vivien gestured that Gertie should cast the spell.
Gertie waved her hands over the box, reading from the notebook, summoning the magical energy she had stored in her various keychain accessories.
At the last word, the clips flipped back up and the box lid opened, breaking the twine that had somewhat contained it.
“Uh oh,” Gertie said.
It released a puff of smoke, filling the room with the noxious smell of burnt sugar. Peter tackled the box, slamming the lid shut, but the damage was done.
The other students started coughing, all clamoring to escape the room.
Including Darryl. “Sorry guys,” he coughed, fleeing.
“I can fix this!” Gertie shouted, pulling her t-shirt over her nose and mouth to filter out the smoke.
She searched through the cabinets over Mr. Jerson’s desk until she found a glass cup. It had a symbol etched into the side for “clean,” in a magical language. It was used to clear a room of any airborne potions - and this was close enough.
She held her hand in front of the symbol and said, “Begin” in its magical language.
The smoke cleared from the room, swirling away and disappearing into the cup.
“I really should get myself one of these,” Gertie said, coughing up the last of the smoke.
“Where did you get this box?” Vivien asked, wiping away tears from the smell.
Charlie just shrugged, looking mystified. “It was just...there. In my luggage.”
“It’s a joke,” Bridget suddenly said, standing up. She held out her phone.
Magical A-Musings presents the Caper Carton! Confound your friends! Trick your enemies! It rattles, it shakes, it slimes and it smokes! While perfectly harmless, it is the most irritating riddle your victims will come across. Want to end the madness for them? Just press the hidden button in the back to reveal it was empty the whole time!
Bridget walked up to the box and scratched her nails against its back until she found the hidden compartment diagramed on the website. She flipped it open and pressed the bright red button.
The rattling stopped. Bridget opened the lid of the box, and nothing happened. Just as the advertisement said, it was empty.
“So who tricked you?” Bridget asked, looking up at Charlie.
“No one,” Charlie mumbled. “I just...I found it. But thanks.” He nodded. “Really, thank you. I wouldn’t have thought to look it up. It seemed like an artifact.”
The silence stretched on until Peter clapped his hands together. “Well, I think that wraps up our first club meeting,” he said. “I’ll send out an email and hope that anybody comes back.”
“Will you?” Charlie asked Bridget, Gertie, Vivien and Ernest.
Bridget was hesitant, but Ernest broke into a wide grin. “Yeah! This was fun!”
Gertie nodded along. “We’ll definitely be back.”


***


After everyone left, Charlie gathered up the box and the discarded twine.
“That’s the first time anyone’s figured out it was a cheap gag,” Charlie mumbled.
Peter nodded. “But, come on, it wasn’t that bad,” he said. “We found some talented classmates. I think we could have a lot of fun while we’re here. And two Mallons and a Yilnog? We hit the jackpot.”
“There’s something great about this pit of a school after all,” Charlie agreed. “If they can be persuaded to bend the rules.”
Faye picked up the rabbit, holding him in one hand and her textbook in the other. “You guys need to be more careful. The Potions teacher probably knows that someone magicked those bullies to be sick. He’ll be on the lookout for who.”
“They deserved it,” Charlie muttered. “Magicaless oafs.”
“If you get in trouble again and it gets back to dad, we’ll never hear the end of it,” Faye warned.
Peter scoffed. “We don’t make trouble, it finds us.”
Charlie smirked. “For now.”

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