Gertie and Bridget go to graduation
It was graduation day at Flories Boarding School. Usually, Gertie and Bridget Mallon had nothing to do with such an event, but this year they’d made a group of friends, and one of them was graduating.
“I hope Ernest is excited,” Gertie said, smoothing out the dress slacks she wore.
“Of course he is,” Bridget said. She grabbed a pen and signed the bottom of the card Vivien had made. There was a drawing of the four friends across the top, and Bridget smiled sadly. It wouldn’t be the same without Ernest. She passed the card off to Gertie to sign.
“Card, check,” Vivien said, slipping it into an envelope and sealing it.
“Present, check.” Gertie had a wrapped box sitting on her desk with a good microphone for recording music in it.
“Jackets?” Bridget suggested, looking out Gertie’s window at the overcast sky.
“Don’t need one!” Gertie said, placing a pageboy hat on her head that would make her and her clothing waterproof.
Vivien, meanwhile, held up her umbrella.
Bridget sighed and grabbed her Fairweather jacket. The gray complimented the pastel pink of her dress nicely and the hood would be useful in the event of rain.
On their way to the football field where the graduation ceremony was being held, Bridget, Gertie and Vivien came across Faye and Peter Nessing, talking between themselves and looking quite concerned. Peter, as a soon-to-be graduate, was wearing his graduation gown and holding the tasseled flat cap in his hands.
“We need your help,” Faye said, stopping right in front of Bridget, her hands on her hips.
The other three girls stopped abruptly.
“What? Why?” Bridget asked.
“Our parents couldn’t make it to my graduation,” Peter explained. “Charlie’s...pissed.”
“To put it lightly,” Faye added wryly.
“It’s not his graduation though,” Vivien said, furrowing her brow.
“It’s just another in a long line of disappointments from them. Of them putting the mayoral race ahead of us.” Peter shook his head. “It’s the last straw for Charlie. He’s going to do something to punish them.”
“Okay, so why do you need our help?” Gertie asked.
“He put an enchantment on our dorm door,” Peter said. “I can’t get in even with my key.”
Gertie glanced to the ground guiltily, already guessing where this was heading.
“We know you sneak off of campus, even with the magical protections.” Faye crossed her arms accusingly.
“Ernest told us,” Peter said. “Lockpicking, disabling the charm on the gate…”
“You have to help us get in so we can convince Charlie not to do anything,” Faye finished. “We’re not going to let him ruin his life over our parents neglecting us like they always do.”
Gertie and Bridget looked at each other, hesitant to get involved.
“Besides,” Peter said, his expression getting darker. “You owe us. We saved your lives.”
Bridget was the first to nod. “Which dorm are you in?”
“How are you so well-prepared as to have enchanted lockpicks in your purse?” Vivien asked, her accent coming through even in a whisper.
Bridget shrugged. “You never know what you’re going to need.”
Gertie, kneeling in front of the door, turned the tension wrench and the lock clicked. The enchantment on the Nessing brothers’ door came down with it.
Peter rushed into the room.
Gertie saw his shoulders fall and knew Charlie wasn’t there.
“He knew we’d get in,” Faye said, patting Peter’s arm. “We’ll find him and convince him to stop.”
Bridget glanced over the room, her eyes drawn to the bottom of Charlie’s desk drawers. Her left eye had been damaged in an accident many years ago, and now let her see things others couldn’t see. Including the leftover effect of a drawer having been transformed into a solid pane of wood.
“Shouldn’t there be a bottom drawer there?” Bridget asked, directing the rest of the group to Charlie’s desk.
Peter knelt next to the desk and ran his hand over the wood. There were a few raised edges where Charlie’s magic hadn’t been perfect. Peter knocked against the space; a hollow sound came back.
He took a deep breath and drew his fist back. Muttering a spell for strength, he punched the wood. He left a dent, in both the wood and his hand. He ignored the apparent injury, and drew back for another punch. It broke through, revealing the inside of the desk drawer.
Still using his bare, fractured hand, Peter broke away the rest of the transformed compartment, the wood cutting into his palm, and pulled out a notebook.
“What’s it say?” he asked, handing it up to Gertie, his hand hurting too much to read it. In the meantime, the charm on his necklace went to work healing up the damage to knuckles and palm. Bones clicked back into place and the skin stitched itself back together.
Gertie glanced at the most recent notes with Vivien reading over her shoulder. There was a drawing of a person, with notes about composition.
“They’re unveiling the statue of Julia Flories at the graduation today, right?” Vivien asked, recognizing the various metals and welding notes Charlie had written.
“According to the email they sent out,” Faye said, looking up from checking that Peter’s hand had healed correctly. “Why?”
“It looks like Charlie’s going to use it for...something.” Gertie flipped through the notebook.
There were notes on spells and transformations.
“Oh!” Vivien said, grabbing the notebook from Gertie. “He’s going to make a miniature!”
“Of the statue?” Gertie clarified.
Vivien nodded. “If he gets stuff that the statue’s made of, he’ll be able to make a doll version of it and use a Fantosh spell to control the real thing.”
Bridget already had her phone out and was looking at the email on graduation. “They said they wanted the statue to have the ‘spirit of the founder of the school.’” Bridget stopped reading aloud to roll her eyes. “So they included materials from buildings that were on campus when Flories founded it.”
“Which buildings are they?” Gertie asked.
“It doesn’t matter,” Peter said, rubbing his healed hand. “We just have to get to Charlie before he’s able to do any of this.”
Faye pulled out her phone and dialed a number.
They heard a ringing. Peter reached back into the hole in the desk and pulled out Charlie’s phone.
“Alright, I’m using the tracing spell app then,” Faye said. The app pulled a map up, revealing where Charlie was on campus. He could have been heading to any number of buildings.
As they watched, Charlie’s dot moved along the paths through the school and his destination became clear.
“The library,” Bridget realized.
“Great,” Gertie said, clapping her hands together. “Let’s go stop him.”
The sound of the school band at graduation floated over from the field, just beyond Charlie’s goal, the tallest and oldest building in the school.
The group burst through the doors of the library, all eyes searching for the errant Nessing among the bookshelves and what they could see of the multitude of balconies.
Gertie sighed in frustration. “Charlie Nessing!” she shouted, trying out a gambit. “We can see you!”
There was a crash of a book cart being overturned from the third floor, and the group saw Charlie’s mop of unruly brown hair dashing along one of the balconies.
Peter, Gertie and Bridget started after him.
“Guard the door!” Bridget shouted back at Vivien and Faye.
Peter scaled the bookshelves and jumped when he reached the top to grab the bottom of the next floor’s balcony and pull himself up. Bridget and Gertie headed for one of the magical platforms that would raise and lower at their command.
“Third floor!” Gertie shouted. The platform flew them upwards, and Charlie, heading for the very platform they were on, came to a halt when he saw who stood there.
He turned on a dime and started running through the maze of bookshelves, hotly pursued by the Mallon sisters. They were going to make him sit and listen to reason before he could do anything to ruin the school’s special day.
“Leave me alone!” Charlie shouted, knocking a table into the aisle.
Bridget jumped on its top and leapt off, losing no time. Gertie edged around it, slowing considerably.
“Charlie, stop this!” Gertie shouted, nearly out of breath as she picked up her pace again. “You don’t want to get expelled, do you?”
“I don’t care!” Charlie pulled a thick dictionary off a table and threw it straight at Bridget.
Bridget stopped and put her arms up in an X. The book hit the sleeves of her Fairweather jacket, and, thanks to the magic stitched into the fabric, ricocheted off and hit the floor without injuring her.
“Good idea wearing that jacket!” Gertie shouted as she caught up. The Mallon sisters were closing in on Charlie, following him as he changed aisles, trying to lose them.
Charlie turned and shouted a spell. Magic burst from his fingers and hit some chairs. They shifted under his transformation charm until they were gates, blocking the girls’ path. Bridget jumped over, while Gertie took a hard right to find a different path to Charlie.
He swore and kept running until he reached the railing that blocked the edge of the balcony, and looked out over the first floor. Vivien and Faye were standing guard at the front doors.
“Charlie.” Peter stood a ways down the balcony. “Come on. Graduation is starting. Let’s just go together.”
Charlie gripped the railing until his knuckles turned white.
“Please?” Peter begged.
Charlie shook his head. “Mom and dad are going to be here. I’m going to make sure of it.”
Peter started towards Charlie. The younger brother grabbed a hardcover off of a nearby shelf and backed away, opening the book and tearing pages out of it.
Bridget and Gertie made it out of the bookshelves behind Charlie, and ran to grab him.
Charlie shredded the pages into confetti and threw them into the air, shouting a spell as he did so.
The scraps of paper turned inside out and became a swarm of bees.
“Oh f-!” Bridget shouted, pulling the hood of her jacket up in an attempt to deflect the bees’ stings. “Gertie! Do something!”
“Smoke!” Peter suggested. “It’ll put them to sleep.”
“I don’t know a spell for smoke!” Gertie said, and yelped as she was stung in the arm.
Charlie used the distraction to run past the girls to a platform. He hopped on and, too quiet for anyone to hear, said his desired floor. The platform rose, and he disappeared over the wood of the next balcony.
“I see a lot of things to burn!” Bridget suggested.
“Right!” Gertie snapped her fingers, saying, “Flame,” in a magical language as she did so. The spell she used to make s’mores lit a flame above her thumb. She looked around wildly and hesitated. “Wait, I can’t burn a book!”
“Are you kidding me?” Bridget shouted, receiving a sting above her knee.
Bridget dug through her bag and pulled out a wad of napkins. She shoved them over Gertie’s flame, dropping them onto the ground when they burned down to her fingertips.
An alarm started blaring and lights on the walls flashed.
“What’s happening?” Peter shouted.
The front doors slammed shut and locked, the bookshelves shifted menacingly until they surrounded the group on all four sides, blocking their escape.
“It’s some sort of security system,” Gertie realized.
Magical clouds formed above the three students. With a rumble of enchanted thunder, rain began to spill down on them and the swarm, dousing Gertie’s flame and the burning napkins.
Luckily, the bees still had some aspects of the paper they had originally been. They grew wet and soggy, and fell to the ground. Soon, there was nothing but what looked like spitballs under the group’s feet.
The rain subsided as it had put the flame out, but the bookshelves still locked them in, waiting for someone bearing a punishment.
“Ugh.” Peter’s gown and the dress shirt he wore underneath were soaked.
Bridget’s jacket had deflected most of the rain, but her open toed shoes had left her feet cold and clammy.
“Told you I didn’t need a jacket,” Gertie said, the hat on her head keeping her bone dry.
“What’s going on up there?”
Gertie jumped at the voice of the librarian from the first floor.
“We’ve got to get out of here and stop Charlie,” Peter said. “I can’t believe he wouldn’t listen to me.”
One of the many ghost librarians of the Flories school library passed through one of the bookshelves keeping them captive, a deep scowl on his face.
“How dare you?” he shouted. Only Bridget, as a consequence of her enchanted eye, could see and hear him. “Our poor library! You will be severely punished!” he wagged his finger at the students. “The police are already on their way!”
“It’s not us,” Bridget quickly said.
“Vivien!” Gertie shouted, oblivious to Bridget’s conversation. “Some help?”
“On our way!” was the faint reply.
“Not you?” the librarian repeated after Bridget. “Then who did this?”
There was a shake in the ground that pitched all the mortals off balance. The ghost, hovering above the floor, looked around, his anger shifting to concern. “What was that?”
“The one who’s really responsible,” Bridget said. “Let us go. We’ll stop him.”
The statement was punctuated by the sound of screams coming from the sports field. Charlie’s plan was already underway.
“I can’t move the bookshelves!” Vivien’s voice came from outside their confinement.
The ghost librarian reached out and pushed one of the shelves. It responded to his touch, swinging open like a door to reveal a shocked Vivien and Faye on the other side.
“That boy you were chasing, with the glasses, he’s doing this?” the librarian clarified.
The librarian hesitated, then said, “He went to the twelfth floor.”
“Thank you.” Bridget gestured that everyone should follow, and they loaded onto a platform.
“Twelfth floor,” Bridget said. The platform raced skyward.
The twelfth floor didn’t even look much like a library anymore. There were some shelves nailed into the walls, with a few sparse books, decorations, and spider webs.
As the platform became level with the floor, Charlie came into view. He stood at a large window that he had opened, letting the cool air into the musty space.
Standing in the palm of his hand was what looked like a little metal doll. His other hand was casting a constant spell on it, causing it to move around his palm. It ran in place, ducked, and slammed into objects that weren’t present for the miniature, but that the real statue was dealing with.
Within view of the window was the sports field where graduation was being held. The music had stopped. The only noise was the chaos, the shouting, the sirens.
Bridget could see from her vantage point that the statue of Julia Flories had destroyed the temporary stage that had been set up, knocked over the folding chairs the graduates had been on, and was now making a valiant effort fighting off whatever magical skills the teachers were using to try to stop it, matching the miniature move for move.
“It’s over,” Charlie said, not even turning his head to acknowledge his siblings. “I can hear the sirens.”
“It’s not too late,” Peter insisted. “You can stop this now. Everything can go back to normal.”
“What normal? The normal where we’re not allowed to live our lives?”
“Charlie, no one got hurt, right?” Faye said.
Charlie scowled, not taking his eyes off of the large statue he was controlling. He had it break through the net of the soccer goal as it ran from a powerful hex cast by the spellcasting teacher.
“Of course not,” Charlie spat. “This isn’t about hurting anyone else.”
“Then it’ll be okay. We can work it out,” Faye pleaded.
“I don’t want it to work out,” he said, glowering down at the ceremony. “I want them to pay. I want them to be so scandalized by me that dad will have to drop out of the race for mayor. He’ll come home, and everything will go back to how it was. When it was okay for us to use magic.”
“Charlie-” Peter tried.
“No!” Charlie looked over, his eyes wild. “You don’t understand. It’s all I’m good at!”
“What, using magic to get the drop on non-practitioners?” Vivien asked. “Cheating, and sneaking around, and hurting people to get what you want?”
“Shut up!” Charlie shouted.
“No! It’s not okay! You shouldn’t be allowed to do that!” Vivien started forward, only to be held back by Peter’s firm grip. She flung her words across the room instead. “You don’t even know how bad it is! Don’t you see that what you’re doing is why people hate magic in this city? Why they see all of you -- all of us as cheaters at the best, and monsters at the worst!”
“I said stop!” Charlie clenched his teeth and bunched his hand, nearly cutting off the spell he was using to control the statue.
Tears started to run down Vivien’s face. “It’s people like you! You’re why I can’t even tell my parents what I want to do with my life! You’re the reason-”
“Shut up!” Charlie turned, throwing a spell towards Vivien.
Bridget moved quickly, stepping in front of Vivien and turning to put her enchanted jacket in between them and the spell.
The magic bolt hit the Fairweather jacket and bounced back, shifting from the hit and landing square on Charlie’s chest.
There was a bright light that hid most of the bone-shrinking and feather-growing of the transformation. And when it faded, in Charlie’s place stood an ostrich.
The police were waiting outside the large doors to the library by the time the Nessings came out with Gertie, Bridget and Vivien trailing behind.
“What have we got here?” one of the officers asked, looking down at Faye, Peter, and the large bird that was Charlie Nessing.
“Our brother was the one that disturbed the library and graduation,” Faye said. “He tried to turn her,” she pointed to Vivien, “into a blue bird, and the spell reflected and he accidentally turned himself into an ostrich.”
The large bird shook out its feathers and make a strange squawking noise.
“He says if you’re going to arrest him you have to call our parents,” Faye added, playing with a ring on her finger that she had just enchanted to allow her to understand Charlie as an ostrich. It now sat alongside her other bracelets and pendants that let her communicate with animals.
“Let me get this straight,” the officer said. “You’re claiming that your brother did all this, and then conveniently, and illegally, changed himself into an animal that couldn’t use magic?”
“It sounds crazy, but it’s true,” Peter said.
The officer stroked his beard. “Just to be safe, I think you’re all going to have to-”
“Wait!” the living librarian ran out of the library. Bridget, but no one else, could see that the ghost librarian that had let them out of their confinement floated quickly behind her. “There’s someone who can verify their story!”
The librarian handed her glasses, enchanted to allow the wearer to see and hear ghosts, to the officer, who slipped them on.
He jolted at the sight of the floating librarian, but quickly recovered and took out his notepad.
It was an odd sight. An ostrich, some kids with bee stings, and a police officer listening to thin air, but by the time the ghost’s account of what happened was finished, the police were ready to believe the students.
“Peter! Faye!” The nicely dressed couple that Gertie and Bridget had seen with the Nessings when they had toured the school ran to the threshold of the library and threw their arms around their children. The Nessing parents had arrived.
Charlie honked, flapping his wings.
“Of course I texted them,” Faye said.
“What were you thinking?” Mr. Nessing demanded, turning to look at his ostrich son with a scowl. “Do you know what could have happened?”
Charlie bristled and made a booming noise in his throat.
“He says he knew exactly what would happen,” Faye said. “You’d be forced to drop out of the race and everything could go back to how it was.”
Mr. Nessing’s face softened at that.
“You’ve got to admit, dad, you both have been so much busier,” Peter said. “And missing my graduation kind of sucked.”
“He says he managed to get you here though,” Faye translated. “So you couldn’t have been that busy after all.”
“Charlie,” Mr. Nessing awkwardly reached for his son’s feathery shoulder. “I am so sorry that we made you feel this way. We had no idea.”
Charlie made a noise that sounded like a scoff in his ostrich throat.
“Shut up and just accept the apology,” Faye said.
Mr. Nessing frowned, obviously pained. “We have a lot of work to do, but your mother and I are willing to do it if you are.”
Charlie softened. He lowered his long neck and headbutted his father’s shoulder affectionately.
“Now.” Mrs. Nessing turned to the assembled officers. “I called our lawyer on the way over here. We will drive with our children in our car down to the police station, where we’ll be joined by our legal representation.” She turned to the ostrich. “I’m glad we brought the SUV, Charlie. You’ll have to sit in the back. And duck your head for the trip.” Charlie shook out his feathers, his version of a shrug. She turned back to the police. “Is that acceptable?”
“Gertie, Bridget, Vivien.” A crowd of students had assembled around the chaos unfolding at the library, and Ernest now stepped forward. “Where were you? And what’s going on?”
The girls looked over the Mallon family, now including an ostrich, the police, and the miniature of the statue that was being bagged as evidence.
“It’s a long story,” Bridget said with a sigh.
One week later, the temporary stage had been replaced, the folded chairs were put back into position, and the holes in the field had been patched up. Gertie, Bridget and Vivien sat in the bleachers with Ernest’s older brother, all cheering as Ernest accepted his diploma from Headmistress Clearwater.
As Ernest returned to his place, the Headmistress asked the entire senior class to stand.
The Nessing family sat together in the first row, with their ostrich son sitting on the grass in front of them, trying to keep his long neck out of the way as his parents snapped photos of their eldest son. Charlie had been bailed out, with the understanding that he would remain in his ostrich form until his proper trial so that he couldn’t perform any magic.
Not that it seemed to matter to the Nessings. Peter smiled as he caught sight of his entire family, looking like he had never been happier as he stood with his class.
“Congratulations students. You may now move your tassels from the right side to the left.”
The entire student body and assembled guests cheered, flat caps were thrown in the air, and the school band struck up the Flories Boarding School anthem. The statue of Julia Flories, sitting at the very back of the bleachers after being moved using Charlie’s miniature, looked over graduation. It had a serene smile on its face, as if the school founder was entirely pleased with how her school had turned out.
“You know,” Gertie said, looking at her sister. “I think I actually can’t wait to come back next year.”
Suddenly, Bridget could hear barking. It got louder, and soon their ghost dog Ziggy ran through the bleachers and their occupants, leaving a chill in his path, until he was floating in front of the Mallon sisters.
“Ziggy?” Bridget said. “What’s up boy? What’s wrong?”
Ziggy pawed the air, yipped urgently, and started nodding towards the dorms.
Bridget smiled at the irony. “Come on, Gertie. Looks like we’ve got one more thing to do before we leave.”