Gertie and Bridget stop for gas

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash
The minivan was beeping again.
“Time for a refill,” Vivien said, looking at the fuel gauge on her car.
“I’m really starting to doubt that Dr. Farwell’s payment would have covered both renting a car and the gas it would take,” Bridget said, looking at her record of the fees they had already incurred on their road trip to deliver a magical egg without renting.
“Well, he probably didn’t expect that there’d be six people,” Gertie said. “And an ostrich. That has to impact how much we’re eating.”
Charlie, a fellow student who had accidentally turned himself into an ostrich, honked in agreement from the trunk of the minivan, where he was sitting on a bunch of pillows, blankets, and the suitcases everyone else had brought.
Vivien directed the magical auto-driver of her minivan to take them to the nearest gas station to refuel.
“Okay everyone, let’s meet back here in fifteen minutes and get back on the road,” Bridget said, stretching after climbing out from the backseat.
Charlie made a strange squawking sound after being let out from the car and started running around in circles, attempting to get exercise.
“I’m going to the bathroom,” Faye Nessing, Charlie’s younger sister, announced. “Does anyone else need to go?”
Charlie honked and Faye wrinkled her nose. She had many pieces of jewelry that allowed her to understand different types of animals, and ostriches were no exception. “Why do I have to know that? You can’t even use a bathroom anyway!”
Peter, the eldest Nessing sibling, held back a laugh. “I have to go too. Come on.”
While Bridget filled up the car, Gertie, Ernest and Vivien loaded up on sugary and salty snacks from the gas station convenience store.
They returned to the car and waited. And waited.
Finally, Peter Nessing approached them. “Can one of you go into the girls’ restroom and see if Faye needs anything?” he asked hesitantly. “She hasn’t come out yet.”
Gertie and Bridget looked at each other.
“I’ll stay with the car,” Vivien volunteered.
Peter led Gertie and Bridget around the convenience store to the bathrooms. They ducked inside the girls’ room, and were surprised to see the lights automatically turn on for them, as if they had been off from lack of movement.
“Faye?” Bridget called. Her voice echoed back off the tiles that covered the room.
“Bridget,” Gertie whispered, pointing. One of the sinks was still running.
Bridget went to turn it off, and in doing so came face to face with the mirror above it.
There were several things she noticed immediately. The ugly, black, spray-painted graffiti across the bottom of the mirror, the magical energy radiating off of the glass, and Faye’s face staring back at her.
Faye mouthed something, a muted sound that Bridget could barely hear.
“Oh no,” Bridget breathed.
“What-? Oh shit,” Gertie said as she came up behind her sister. She sucked in a sharp breath. “Who paints Bendelese on a freaking mirror?”
“What?”
“The graffiti,” Gertie gestured to it. “It’s a magical language.”
“Can you figure out what it did?” Bridget asked.
In the mirror, Faye rolled her eyes and gestured to herself. So she could hear them, but they couldn’t hear her.
“I meant, how it did what it did. To you,” Bridget clarified.
Faye nodded. She pounded against the glass on her side, which they could hear clearer than her voice, but the mirror didn’t move.
“We’ll get you out,” Bridget assured her.
“I don’t know Bendelese that well,” Gertie said. “Oh!” She pulled out her smartphone and selected an app.
“What’s that?” Bridget asked.
“It’s an app that Darryl’s trying out,” Gertie said. Her potions mentee had become much more adept at spellcasting than he was at brewing, and was enjoying working magic into his passion for programming. “It’s part of why I know a bit of Bendelese. He’s working on translating spells to build up a library for his other apps to use and he asked me to help.”
Gertie held her phone up so the camera could see the graffiti and snapped a picture. The app froze and crashed, spitting out an error message about ill-formed strings.
“Hm…” Gertie pulled out a small notebook from her back pocket and drew some symbols that looked similar to what was spray painted on the mirror, as Bridget looked over her shoulder. Gertie opened the app again, held the phone to the notebook, took a picture, and it disappeared to reveal “medium strength wall,” in the app.
“Okay, so it’s not entirely accurate, since I wrote a spell to put up a shield, but the app does work.” Gertie looked up at the mirror. “So that’s just gibberish. It wasn’t supposed to do anything. It doesn’t even have a power source.”
Faye knocked on the mirror again to get their attention. She held up one of her long necklaces. This one had a pendant that was a stone. At least, that’s what it appeared to be. On further inspection, the girls could see its colors swirled and sparkled.
“I didn’t know you carried a Emelith stone with you,” Gertie said. “Is it how you power your translating spells without actively focusing on them?”
Faye nodded.
“Did it swing out and hit the mirror?” Bridget guessed.
Faye nodded again.
“And the gibberish activated and did...this.” Gertie gestured to the mirror. “Ok. So. I haven’t actually taken spellcasting yet, and this isn’t a real spell, so I’m going to call Mrs. Ragward and-”
They couldn’t hear, but from her shoulders and rolling eyes it was obvious Faye groaned.
The bathroom door opened a crack.
“Is...Is everything okay in there?” Peter asked.
Faye, very demonstratively, mouthed ‘No’ on the other side of the mirror.
“Not really,” Gertie said.
“But we’re taking care of it,” Bridget insisted.
There was a pause. “Can I come in?”
Bridget sighed. “Sure.”
Peter’s eyes nearly bugged out of his head when he saw his sister in the mirror. The girls didn’t know what he was expecting, but it surely wasn’t this.
They explained what they thought had happened, and Peter groaned and pulled out his phone.
“Are you calling Mrs. Ragward?” Gertie asked.
“The spellcasting teacher? No.” Peter shook his head. “I’m calling the only frequent Bendelese spellcasters I know.”
Bridget had a hunch about who he was dialing.
“My parents,” Peter said, putting the phone to his ear.

***

“That gas station is going to get an earful from me when this is all done,” Mrs. Nessing said with the phone on speaker. “Not cleaning up magical graffiti? That’s grounds for a lawsuit!”
“Mom, let’s focus,” Peter said.
“Right. That is absolute nonsense on that mirror, so we’re going to have to try a few things. Are you done cleaning it yet?”
“Almost,” Gertie grumbled, scratching away the last of the graffiti with paper towels.
“Honey, I want you to try a generic release spell in Bendelese. Do you remember it?”
“Yeah,” Peter grinned. “How can I forgot after Charlie got himself locked in one of your Sparkness circles?”
There was a chuckle from the other end of the line. “Focus the spell on Faye.”
Gertie pulled away from the mirror, and Peter placed his palms against the glass.
“Release,” he said in Bendelese.
There was a flash, but when Gertie blinked the light away, Faye was still in the mirror.
“It didn’t work,” Bridget said, holding up the phone for Peter.
Mrs. Nessing swore.
“Mom!” Peter admonished.
“Sorry,” she muttered. “Okay, I’m going to say a spell to you, it’s the logical, nonsense opposite of the graffiti, and...can someone write it down?”
“Yeah, I’m ready,” Gertie said, her notebook still out.
Mrs. Nessing read a spell and Gertie combined writing it phonetically with some of the Bendelese words she knew.
“Cast it the same way as you tried the release,” Mrs. Nessing instructed her son.
Peter took a deep breath, and parroted the spell with his hands against the glass.
Another flash. More nothing.
Faye sighed in the mirror.
The bathroom door opened.
“So I left an ostrich alone with my car while Ernest went to the bathroom because you guys are taking...what’s going on?” Vivien said, staring at the group that had assembled before the mirror. She glanced at Faye, Peter, and the phone. “What spell?” she asked, knowing instantly what had happened.
Gertie wordlessly handed over her phone with the picture of the graffiti that had been washed away on it.
Vivien stared at it with pursed lips.
“It’s a variation on a spirit containment spell, right?” she said. Peter and Gertie looked back at her blankly. “That’s taught in the case of failed necromancy?”
A soft “Oh” came from the phone.
“I mean, it’s not common,” Vivien said, putting her hand on her hip and staring at the phone. “And whoever wrote this switched some symbols around.”
“Yes, she’s right!” Mrs. Nessing said, after what sounded like clicking about on a computer. “All right. Try this.”
Mrs. Nessing transcribed another spell and Vivien approved it. Peter read from Gertie’s notebook one last time, his hands pressed against the mirror.
There was a flash, and this time Faye ended up standing right behind Peter, an exact reflection of where she had been in the mirror.
“Oh thank goodness!” Faye shouted and they winced.
“We can hear you now,” Bridget said.
Faye laughed. “Sorry.”
“Thanks Mom, everything’s good,” Peter said, taking the phone from Bridget.
“Wonderful! Keep sending me pictures of your trip, alright?” Mrs. Nessing said. “And the address and phone number of the gas station?”
“Mom…”
“At least write it down yourself and think about it!”
Peter just sighed in response.
“Fine,” their mother said. “Pass on my love to Charlie, please.”
“We love you too!” Peter and Faye chorused, and Peter ended the call.
“Okay, let’s get back on the road,” Bridget said. She checked her watch. “Ugh. I can’t believe how much time this cost us.”
“You’re right, such a huge time suck. You should have just left me,” Faye said sarcastically.
Bridget almost laughed. “Sorry, it’s fine. Just don’t get trapped in the toilet on our next break.”
Faye’s expression twisted in disgust.
They found Charlie standing next to the car, flapping his wings and making a strange booming noise in his throat.
“I’m fine,” Faye assured him.
“Where’s Ernest?” Bridget asked. “We need to get a move on.”
“He went to the bathroom…” Vivien said, staring back the way they came.
Even from outside the men’s room, they could hear the knocking.

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