“‘If magic exists, I’ll eat my underwear’ Ash scoffed at me as he shoved me away. He spit out the gum he had in his mouth and started on a new stick of gum as he and his cronies walked away. ‘I know what I saw. That guy just disappeared into that portal thingy!’ I told Reggie, my best friend.”
“If magic exists, I’ll eat my underwear,” Ash scoffed at me as he shoved me away.
He spit out the gum he had in his mouth and started on a new stick of gum as he and his cronies walked away.
“I know what I saw. That guy just disappeared into that portal thingy!” I told Reggie, my best friend.
Reggie shrugged. “Ash is just a jerk. I mean, I don’t exactly believe you either, but I don’t not, if that makes any sense.”
“It makes no sense. But, I don’t blame you,” I replied.
“I just don’t understand what the heck you even thought you saw.”
“I was walking to school, and I see this guy. He looks around to see if anyone is there. Then he does some weird thing with his hands and says some word I couldn’t understand. Then this big, swirly, purple thing opens in front of him. He steps through it, and then he’s gone. The purple thing goes away after that too.”
“No, I understood that. I just don’t understand that.”
I shook my head at him and walked to art. All I could think of during art was what in the world it could have been. So while the teacher was talking about whatever we were supposed to be drawing, I just kept sketching drafts of the purple thing, and the guy walking through it. From what I could remember he was bald and short, wearing a sweatshirt rolled up to his elbows. He was wearing jeans and cheap sneakers.
“Let’s see what some of you have drawn,” said Mrs. Relcke. “Aiden?” She walked up to me.
I turned around my sketchpad to show the class the sketch of the man walking into the purple thing.
“Very good, Aiden. But we were supposed to be drawing sugar skulls.”
She slapped the sketch pad out of my hand and stomped on it. She pointed to my seat.
I went to math next and got stuck on problem eight, and when I asked the teacher for help, he told me to shut up and sit down.
The rest of the day went the same, with the teachers being jerks. Even the lunch lady gave me less slop than usual.
“I feel like all the teachers are being jerks to me today,” I told Reggie.
“C’mon, Aiden. Maybe they all are having cruddy days?”
Mr. Costin walked into the lunchroom.
“Let’s see if it’s just all the teachers having a bad day,” I said.
Mr. Costin is the nicest teacher in school. If he’s having a cruddy day, he’ll just try harder to make sure no one else does.
“Mr. Costin! Hi,” I said as I walked up to him.
“Shut up and eat your lunch,” he snapped at me.
“Yeah, no, something’s going on,” Reggie said.
I nodded in agreement. By the end of the day, I made a list of all the teachers that I talked too, and because of that, all the teachers that had been jerks. I put Ash on the list too, but only after a few other kids. Nancy and Julia were mean too, but they’re usually nice, so you can see why I put them on the list as well.
“Okay, so now the nicest kids in school are being jerks… you don’t think it could have something to do with the purple thing you saw?” Reggie asked.
“I don’t really think that, but maybe — wait!” I grinned. “You acknowledged it! You believe me!”
“That’s not important right now. Back to the topic on hand. I don’t know what it could’ve done, but I don’t know, maybe you weren’t supposed to see it, and it, like, cursed you?”
“Once you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be true. Sherlock Holmes.”
“So, some messed up magic thing cursed you. What do we do to fix it?”
“I don’t know,” I sighed.
As the day ended, I went home, and after about an hour or so, Reggie came over.
We started a couple rounds of Splatoon 2, when Reggie put down his control and yelled, “I’ve got it!”
“Might as well yell ‘Eureka,’” I laughed.
“If you do whatever that guy did to allow him to see the portal without being cursed, maybe you can reverse your curse!”
My older sister, Hannah, poked her head out of the kitchen. “What are you talking about?” she asked us.
“Nothing,” Reggie and I said in unison.
She shrugged and walked back into the kitchen.
“Okay… that’s a good plan. If we can find that guy again, at least. We could follow him and see if he goes to some magic place or something.”
“But first, let’s finish this round. Our team is losing,” Reggie said as he picked his controller back up.
Later, I sketched the man and showed it to Reggie. “He looks almost like Joe from the Wooden Dime, maybe?”
“I don’t go in there much. Grab your bike.”
The Wooden Dime is the sandwich place in town.
Reggie and I put our bikes into the nearest bike lock to the Wooden Dime, which was down the street at the train station.
“Joe’s the owner, right?”
“Yeah. He’s pretty nice, but maybe you should stay outside because, well, you know.”
Someone threw a candy wrapper at my head. I sat down on a bench and waited for Reggie. I don’t exactly know what happened inside, but he came out and told me that once he held the drawing up to Joe, he noticed how thin Joe was compared to the plump, little guy I had drawn.
“But, he did say that guy came in one time, and when Joe asked for his name, he said it was Herbert,” Reggie noted.
“Okay, so now we know that he’s been to the Wooden Dime, and that his name is Herbert. Whether or not we know where he is, we still know more than we did before,” I added.
“And I know that you two are nerds,” Ash said from behind me.
Ash punched me in the back hard enough to send me stumbling, and then I tripped on a rock and fell on my face. Reggie helped me up, before Ash punched me in the face again and gave me a bloody nose. I wiped the blood away and tried to grab a napkin from Reggie’s pocket. Did I mention he bought a sandwich while he was in there? I stuck it up my nose (the napkin, not the sandwich) to stop the bleeding, and I started running towards my bike. Some invisible force stopped me from running up the street; it was almost like I was on a treadmill. Then, everything around me was encased in a big, purple bubble. Around the edges, gravity seemed to go away. A trash can floated up and released a volley of trash onto Ash.
“Karma!” Reggie yelled.
Then suddenly, in the middle of all of it, a purple vortex like the one Herbert stepped into appeared.
Herbert stepped out. “Oh crud,” he muttered.
“Ash, time to eat your underwear,” I said.
Herbert stepped back through it as he said, “Pitet elling lor eps,” and just like that, every thing fell back to the ground, and the portal collapsed.
Ash sighed. “I’m a man of my word.”
He walked into the Wooden Dime, and came back out a second later with a pair of boxer shorts sticking out of his mouth.
“Okay, but what in the world was that?” (I’ve taken the liberty of translating the noises he made because he could not speak with a pair of underwear in his mouth.)
“Magic,” said Reggie.
One of Ash’s cronies walked out of the Wooden Dime. He looked at Ash, then said, “Now that I think about it, I can’t remember any reason why I ever thought you were cool.”
He shoved Ash, and took a bite of a BLT.
“He was my best minion, why is he trying to trash talk me?”
“Because you saw that,” I told him.
“Yeah, we think it curses whoever sees it with bad luck,” Reggie chimed in.
“Well then, I don’t think my luck could get any worse.”
A girl with black hair, wearing a ratty old sweatshirt walked out of the alleyway.
“Who are you?” Ash asked.
“The name’s Violet.”
There was one thing I had noticed that was bothering me about the whole situation. No one outside the bubble seemed to have noticed the bubble. Everyone continued walking down the street or sitting on a bench.
“So we all saw that, but no one else did… I wonder, is my luck better?” I walked up to someone sitting at a bench. “Hello.”
The person frowned, before smiling, and saying, “Hello. You seem nice. Buy yourself something.” They handed me a folded five-dollar bill.
I walked back towards Reggie. “My luck’s better. Now what?”
Reggie turned to Violet and Ash. “Whether or not we like each other, we should probably stick together and try to work out a way to break our curses. After all, four heads are better than one.”
Ash scoffed, “Hang out with you dweebs? No way.” He started walking away, but the crossing guard stopped him.
“I’m not letting you pass.” He looked at me, and smiled. He looked back at Ash, and shoved him away.
Ash sighed. “I guess I am sticking with you dweebs.”
“Where are your cronies, loser?” Damon shoved Ash.
“Leave him alone,” I told him.
“Okay.” He smiled and walked back to his table. He did an “I’m watching you” gesture to Ash and went back to his burrito.
“I guess we should keep tracking down Herbert,” Reggie said.
“Who?” Violet asked as she sat down.
“The guy who stepped out of the portal,” Reggie told her.
“Okay, what do we have so far?” she asked.
“Well, we know his name is Herbert, and he was at the Wooden Dime once.”
“That’s all you guys have? You really don’t know how to track someone down,” Violet sighed.
“What are we even gonna do when we find him?” Ash asked. “Blackmail?” he asked hopefully.
“No,” said Reggie. “We’ll just ask him.”
“You mean I’ll ask him. If you guys ask, he’ll probably just punch you or something,” I said.
“He has a point,” Violet said through a mouthful of pizza.
“I wish I didn’t have to have that point…” I stared down at my taco.
After lunch, I had gym with Ash and Reggie. There was a point where I had to actually tell the teacher to bug off when he was threatening Ash with a frisbee to the head.
“You know, at this point, I wouldn’t really call it bad luck, just, like, a jerk magnet.” I paused. “Your luck hasn’t changed, only the amount of people being jerks to you,” I said as I threw the dive ball into the other team’s goal.
“You’re right,” panted Reggie as he ran across the field.
A quick reminder, dive ball is a simple game: each team has four goals, the smallest being the most points, the largest the least, and they are allowed to spread them out on the field. Everyone is required to wear gloves because the ball is very rough, so it will stick to the rim of the goals, and sometimes your gloves. After seven minutes and eighteen seconds, whoever has more points wins.
“Thirty seconds!” yelled Coach Hafinburg.
Ash smacked the ball out of Damon’s hands and sprinted to the other end of the field. He passed it to Reggie, who passed it to me. I threw it back to Ash who scored us four points at the last second, winning us the game.
Ash sighed as he took a sip from his water bottle. “I may hate you, but you played well,” he told me and Reggie.
“And I may have just gotten us a lead,” Violet walked towards us on the bench. “I saw Herbert drop this.”
She held up a small bit of some odd material.
“It fell out of his pocket. I tricked Lionel into analysing the material, and it is thinking putty.”
“And the only place in town that sells thinking putty must have sold it to him!” Reggie grabbed his baseball cap off the bench.
“Exactly,” said Violet.
“Well, I have tryouts for the town dive ball team after school, so I can’t do it, and if any of you do it, well you know,” I told them.
“I don’t think it matters anyway. POP is closed on Wednesdays.”
“I didn’t think you had it in you to score one goal, nonetheless four.”
Damon slapped Ash with his glove.
“And I don’t like losing.”
He slapped him again, harder this time, and Ash hit him in the stomach, crouching him over on his knees. Ash slapped him across the face, grabbed his bag, and left.
“I’m gonna get you back, Musro!” he yelled to Ash.
“What was that? All I heard was FAILURE,” Ash scoffed and went back into the building.
Every year at tryouts, they split us up into three-person teams, and have a Dive Ball tournament, the top four teams make the team.
I was going up against Jake, Andrew, and Declan, three kids that I knew, but barely. I was with Reggie and Blake, and it was our third match. If we won, we went on to go up against Drake, Charlie, and Phil, and the winner of that was the winner of the tournament. So, at the moment, we had a spot confirmed, but we all wanted to be team captain, so we wanted to win.
Jake’s team was up three, and there was one minute left on the clock. It was our ball, and Blake was running down the field. He threw it to Reggie, who dodged a grab from Andrew. Declan stole the ball, but I got it from him quick enough. I start running down the field, and I looked into the stands. I saw Herbert, and I dropped the ball in surprise. Jake swept the ball up, and scored on our large goal from mid field.
With ten seconds left, Jake was playing keep away, and just stalling until the end, when they won.
“What happened?” Reggie and Blake asked.
“He did,” I pointed to Herbert.
“Who’s he?” Blake asked.
“Not important,” I said as Reggie began jogging towards him. I stopped him. “No, the curse, remember?”
Reggie sighed. “I guess it’s all you man.”
I gathered my courage and walked to the stands. It was like Herbert disappeared. When I turned around, I came face to face with him. “You are dealing with powerful forces you cannot attempt to comprehend. I’ll cure your friend’s curse, but after that, you forget about me.”
“I have three friends that are cursed.”
“Choose which you like most and give him this.”
He handed me a small bracelet.
“And you could have gotten the ball from number 14 when he was playing. Keep away by simply getting the guy on your team with the cap to get it.”
He dissolved into the air.
“Get Violet and Ash,” I told Reggie as I walked down to the field. “Put this on.”
I tossed him the bracelet. I looked to Blake. “If anything interesting happens, tell us tomorrow.”
I walked to the edge of the field, and unlocked my bike.
I rode home and pulled a half-whiteboard, half-bulletin board from the garage and hung it up in my room. I put down everything I knew about Herbert on it.
When Reggie, Ash, and Violet walked into my room, they all said, “Whoa!” When they spotted the board.
In the center of the bulletin board was the best sketch I had of him.
“This is everything we know,” I paused. “And this is what he told me.”
I repeated what he had told me, although I didn’t tell them about the bracelet. Well, I told them that I didn’t know that it would dissolve when it touched Reggie, and I thought they could all use it.
“It’s not all we know,” Violet stuck a ziploc bag with the chunk of putty inside of it to the bulletin board.
“And a few minutes ago, I realized he was there at the seventy-fifth-year celebration of our school with the alumni,” Reggie added as he jotted it down on a sticky note and stuck it up there.
“And he’s my uncle who went missing twenty years ago.”
We all stared at Ash.
“It’s true. When I saw him, I thought maybe. When I heard his name was Herbert, I knew it.”
“Well then, we just need to find him again, and he’ll probably un-curse you because you’re his family,” Reggie said.
“Yeah, and you can ask him to un-curse me,” Violet noted.
“That’s the problem. There’s a reason he went missing. He hates my entire family.” Ash paused. “If anything, it’d be a reason that he’d curse us more. My crazy, old grandma always said he’d dabbled in the dark arts, but we all just thought she was weird.”
“Okay… that changes a lot,” I said.
“First of all, we actually know who he is,” Reggie noted.
“Aiden, I think I know where he is…” Violet looked at the board again. “Follow me, there’s no time to lose.”
She walked out of the room, with all of us following.
Violet stopped at a old warehouse down by the junkyard. “Ash, I think it might be best if you stay out here, and maybe even hide.”
We entered the warehouse. At the center of the first room was a half-destroyed reception desk, and chairs were all over the room, on their sides, even a few split in half.
We entered the second room slowly, and it was almost completely empty. In the corner was a bunch of soda cans, and some plastic take-out food shells. And, off to the side a bit, the thinking putty.
Stuck to the top of one of the take-out containers was a note that read: I warned you. Turn back now if you want a chance.
Then suddenly, we heard Herbert. “Heed my warning in three, two, on-”
Reggie shoved him aside as we sprinted out.
At the end of the hallway was a raging, purple fire, creeping towards us. At the other end was an insane man.
My mind was racing, thinking of any way we could get out alive.
“Pitet elling lor eps!” I yelled as the fire reached us.
We dropped a few feet into the front of the warehouse.
“Where’d you guys come from?” Ash asked.
“I don’t know how you did that kid, but you’re going down!” Herbert sprinted out of the building, holding a crowbar as a weapon.
I braced myself for impact. Just before the crowbar hit me, Herbert dropped to the ground, and I saw Ash standing where he had been.
“We need to get out of here,” he said as he ran to his bike.
“Well, we’re screwed.”
Ash looked at the crossing guard that had stopped him the other day.
“No we’re not… look! He’s beckoning us!” Reggie exclaimed.
“Our curses our gone!” Violet smiled ear to ear.
“But Herbet isn’t, and there’s no jail that could hold him if he knows those magic teleporting words, so either we have to find a way to hold him, or we live the rest of our lives scared out of our minds that he’ll come and kill us,” Ash paused. “Unless we kill him?”
“No,” I told him. “We’re not killing him. But I think I know what we can do.”
Ever since I said those magic words, I’d felt a sort of energy flowing through me. And at that moment, I understood what it was. I could use magic! To an extent…
“The teleporting words were gibberish, so I’d bet ones to take powers away from somebody would be gibberish too, so we can’t find it that way. What else could we do?” Violet asked.
“I’d say try gibberish, but we’d probably just end up casting some other spell,” I said.
“Well, how’d he get the gibberish to teleport then?” asked Ash.
“What if we just write it down, and scramble the letters? I mean I know it won’t work, but it’s the best idea we’ve got,” Reggie shrugged.
I wrote down: ‘Power Removing Spell.’ The letters rearranged themselves into: ‘Wemp elrol ros piving.’
“I guess it worked,” said Violet as she peered over my shoulder.
“Wemp elrol ro-” I began as I felt a hand over my mouth.
“Do you really want to wipe out electricity on this whole block?” I heard Ash say as he pulled his hand away.
“He has a point,” Reggie said as he picked up a video camera.
We all looked at him.
“What? A magic battle will be awesome on YouTube.”
“Oh, you reminded me. I should probably make some sort of temporary paralysis spell in case this one doesn’t work for some reason,” I said.
Once I had a small arsenal of spells that could slow him down if need be, we hopped on our bikes to head to the warehouse.
Our plan was to have Reggie distract him, while I snuck up and cast the power removing spell. Ash and Violet would be backup in case of an emergency.
All of that, of course, was thinking he’d be conscious again. He wasn’t. He was still lying in the yard of the warehouse, with the crowbar lying next to him. I approached cautiously.
“Wemp elrol ros piving,” I read out.
A flash of light struck Herbert, and he disappeared. An arm wrapped around my neck, choking me. I fought and kicked whoever was holding me, until I hit them in the stomach, and they dropped me just as I was beginning to gasp for air.
I whirled around and saw Herbert.
He screamed as I dodged a bolt of white lightning.
“Death spell!” Reggie yelled at me. “He’s casting a death spell!”
“Ash!” I screamed as I grabbed a garbage can top as a shield.
I deflected another bolt into the ground.
I saw Ash round the corner.
“Haedtlelps!” Herbert yelled as Ash started running towards me.
“Get down!” I yelled as I fumbled around with the paper. “Wemp elrol ros piving!”
A bolt flashed towards Herbert, but narrowly missed. I tried again and again, all missing.
Ash snuck around to the crowbar. He hefted it up, and ran towards Herbert.
“Ash! Move!” I yelled as he swung at Herbert.
Herbert bent over, dodging the blow, and Ash took off like a track runner once Herbert saw him. He ran around the yard and hid behind a dumpster, still hefting the crowbar.
“Wemp elrol ros piving!”
The bolt struck Herbert down, crumpling him onto his knees. The magical powers flew out of him, a purple bolt flying into the sky.
“Where am I?” he asked me. “You. Where am I?” he pointed to me. “Who am I?”
“You’re my uncle. Let me take you home. You hit your head.” Ash dropped the crowbar and helped Herbert up. “Your name is Herbert.”
I walked out from behind my garbage can. I glared at Herbert. “Get out.” I growled as I pointed to the exit.
Violet ran out from behind her dumpster. “He doesn’t have any memory. Be nice to him. He has no grudge against you.”
I thought for a second and simply walked away towards Reggie.
Violet grabbed me. “Be nice to him. He might end up liking you.”
“I don’t want that monster to like me! He nearly killed me!” I snapped.
Herbert stood and walked to me. “I… I did what?”
He stared down at his feet.
“I’m sorry. I don’t know what else to say.” He paused. “I’m sorry,” he repeated.
“I accept your apology… I guess.”