Read Now: First few chapters of “A Magical School for Magical Fools”

Here’s the first chapter of “A Magical School for Magical Fools”

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A MAGICAL SCHOOL FOR MAGICAL FOOLS

Copyright © Eric Stever 2022 , All Rights Reserved

Chapter -1: The Underground Lighthouse

In the walls, something watched.

The boy was in trouble.

A large bearded man stood over the boy, threatening him with a dagger. “You’re a wizard, Perry, and probably a bad one. So I’m here to take you away.”

The large man’s name was Skullduggan, and he had just smashed through the rock entrance of the underground lighthouse as if it were cobwebs. The cold night air drifted in through the broken door. Smoke from the feeble fire filled the room. Skullduggan menaced the boy with his bejeweled dagger.

A bejeweled dagger? Sweet Sunshine! That was a wizard’s weapon.

The thing in the walls wriggled anxiously. The boy-Perry Potsherds-was in big trouble. Skullduggan was thrice Perry’s size.

Perry Potsherds raised his fist. “I told you, beardo: I’m not a wizard! I am not an orphan! And I am not the boy you’re looking for!”

Perry’s other hand scraped along the damp earthen wall of the underground lighthouse, searching for something. His breath was visible, like faint puffs of smoke from a sleeping dragon.

Skullduggan sneered and looked around the sparse room. He wore a cape of matted fur, and on his head sat an animal skull with a sharp peak, and even sharper teeth. A creature scurried under that skull. Its mandibles and glowing red eyes were visible in the skull’s eye sockets.

“Then I’m not a wizard, either,” Skullduggan muttered. He pointed his bejeweled dagger at the fireplace. With a flash, the sputtering fire went out, and the fireplace grew wet and black and squishy. The air filled with the stench of rotted meat. “Nor was I an orphan-at first. But it’s school for us that are chosen, just the same.” He pointed his dagger at Perry’s heart. “Lest you turn evil, Perry. We can’t have evil wizards runnin’ around uninstructed.”

Skullduggan jumped forward, slamming the dagger into the earthen wall a few hairs away from Perry’s head.

Perry did not cower. He jabbed an open hand at Skullduggan’s throat but cried out in pain and pulled his hand back.

“Nice try, Potsherds!” Skullduggan laughed, “but this time I’m wearing protection.”

Perry massaged his hand. “Who wears armor on their throat? ‘Tis metal?”

“More like a stiff leather,” Skullduggan said. He lifted his beard, showing the leather gorget he wore around his neck.

Skullduggan stood up tall, pulled the dagger from the wall. “So whaddya say, Perry? Wanna come to a magical school? Be a wizard?” He held the dagger near Perry’s throat.

Perry slapped his hand down, clamping Skullduggan’s wrist. He twisted Skullduggan’s hand sharply to the left. The larger man cried out but kept hold of the dagger.

Perry jumped to his right and picked up the metal fire poker. “I can’t even do magic, ya nimbikins,” he said, swinging the poker at Skullduggan’s head. “I am not the boy you’re looking for!”

Skullduggan blocked the poker with a lazy right arm. “Sure ya can, Perry. Haven’t you ever done anything impossible? Seen a cloud that looked like an animal? Turned a loaf of bread into a slightly smaller loaf of bread? Had a bag of popcorn disappear somewhat more quickly than you’d expected? That’s magic.”

“‘Tis?” Perry asked. He feinted with the poker, then snap-kicked Skullduggan in the stomach. The man bent over slightly with an oomph.

Skullduggan tore the fire poker from Perry’s hands and threw it against the far wall.

“Oh sure,” Skullduggan said, rubbing his stomach. “Beginner’s magic. Evil magic-by the sound of it. And you gotta be punished if you’re gonna be evil.”

Skullduggan adjusted the animal skull on his head. A furry leg was visible for just an instant before it retreated inside the skull. “But if you come with me, I can teach you stronger magic, Perry. I can teach you how to make all the popcorn you want. I can teach you how to turn the whole world into popcorn, just for you to eat.”

Skullduggan picked a beetle out of his cape and flicked it into the cold, wet fireplace. “We’ll just get that punishment over with first.”

Perry brushed his hair away from his forehead, showing the thundercloud-shaped scar. “Punishment? Punishment for what?”

“For doing it wrong!” Skullduggan bellowed. He shoved Perry to the ground, then waved his dagger at the fireplace.

Something in the fireplace oozed out onto the floor. Nearly four feet long, it looked like a cross between a massive caterpillar and a black slug. The creature made a slurping sound as it crept toward Perry. The boy’s eyes widened. He stood up and edged toward the door.

In the walls, the thing that watched pulled inward. The boy was its friend. But that thing on the floor . . . it was an Eater if ever there was one.

And it was important not to be eaten.

“Only the magic we say is right, can be right!” Skullduggan continued. He gestured at the slurping pile of goo making its way to Perry. It had dozens of bright, coin-shaped eyes, all of them focused on Perry. “All other magic is outlawed! Now I ask you again to confess: can you do magic? Are you an orphan?”

“I wasn’t an orphan,” Perry said defiantly, “until you turned my family into statues.”

“That’s because they was cruel to you,” Skullduggan said patiently. “We’ve already covered this. Your family was planning on selling you to the salt mines.”

“Last time you said it was a carnival,” Perry replied, suddenly suspicious.

Skullduggan adjusted the skull on his head. “You misremember . . .”

“And my brave uncles who took me in?”

“Horrible to you,” Skullduggan said. “They was going to trade you for a seashell that could predict the price of corn. I’ve seen it a thousand times. Sad. Very sad.”

“And that kind old couple who hid me? After you attacked my family and uncles? After you turned them all into statues?”

“Dreadful. They was feeding you goat’s milk, and that’s bad for yer teeths.” Skullduggan grinned. “You just didn’t know how cruel they were, Perry. I will help you to remember.”

He stepped out of the path of the creature. It had slurped its way across the floor and was only a few feet from Perry. The slime trail behind it was smoking and black.

“But before school, I need to hear you confess,” Skullduggan said quietly. He tapped the slurping creature with his dagger and it stopped moving. “Or would you rather I leave you two alone?”

“Well, I can talk to toads,” Perry said quickly. “Is that magic?”

“Oh, that’s a sign!” Skullduggan clapped his hands together. “Talking to pets is a HUGE sign that you have powerful-“

“-But they don’t talk back.”

“Doesn’t matter; it’s still magic. You know they understand you.”

“Not really. They just sit there,” Perry said. “They’re not even pets. They’re more like . . . toads.”

Skullduggan pointed his dagger at the slurping creature. It quivered, as if ready to leap at Perry.

“Wait!” Perry said, his voice rising three octaves. “There are the gnomes. I almost forgot. The gnomes are my friends, and they’re magic. They built this underground lighthouse.”

“Underground lighthouse?” Skullduggan scoffed. “And to think I was looking in all the lighthouses above the ground. Berry ticky, boy. Berry ticky. But why would anyone need an underground lighthouse?”

“The Gnomes of Minor Importance thought it wasn’t fair, all the lighthouses being above ground,” Perry stammered. “What if the gnomes ran into something underground that they didn’t want to run into? They built this lighthouse to keep them safe.”

Skullduggan furrowed his brow. “Under the ground? Wouldn’t you never stop hitting things under the ground? Isn’t the ground made of a thing that you hit?”

“The gnomes are . . . different,” Perry said. “They don’t care what anybody thinks.” He stuck out his chin. “I like them.”

The something in the wall felt a flush of pride. It liked the boy, too. It wanted to help.

But it was important not to be eaten.

“Gnomes? You deserve better than gnomes,” Skullduggan said. “How would you like to come with me to school on Saaremaa Island? We’ll teach you magic, after a short, yet necessary, punishment.”

“I wouldn’t like it at all,” Perry said. “I wouldn’t like it one bit.”

“Not even one? Not even one-half of one bit?” Skullduggan kicked the slime creature with his boot. The boot leather cracked and blackened on contact.

“Perhaps one-half,” Perry said, pressing his lips together. “You said there was food there?”

“Oh, so much food-all the food you’d ever want,” Skullduggan said, suddenly pleased. “Tell you what . . . you come with me, and I’ll teach you magic. I’ll teach you how to turn stone statues back into humans.”

“You mean I can-can-save them? I can save my family?”

“Only if you come with me,” Skullduggan said. “I am the solution to all of your problems.”

“You’re the cause of all my problems,” Perry retorted, clenching his jaw.

“Problems I caused for your own protection,” Skullduggan conceded. “Because I could see you needed the help.”

Perry thought for a moment, his eyes darting around the lighthouse. He pointed at the slurping creature. “Will that t’ing be there?”

Skullduggan laughed, then flicked his bejeweled dagger. The slurping creature exploded in a spray of gelatinous goop that splattered across the lighthouse walls.

“Shall we go?” Skullduggan asked.

The boy nodded.

The large man put his arm around the boy and escorted him out of the lighthouse.

After the noises stopped, the small something wriggled out of the wall of the underground lighthouse.

“What in the sweet sickly sunshine was that about?” the something gawped. It looked around with its tiny eyes, which were really just dots painted onto its tiny glasses.

The room was a mess, the walls of lighthouse had been partially caved in, and the floor was filled with oozy mud from the dead slime creature.

“I am goings to have to tellings the other gnomes about this,” the small something said. “Perry? Hello?”

But Perry was not there. Perry was gone.

The something thought for moment, which required wriggling. Its brain, to the extent that it had a brain, was in its guts, and its guts needed dirt to move thoughts around. “Ah, now I am seeing what is going on,” the something said. It took off its glasses, and its eyes disappeared. It couldn’t really see anything. But it could feel the way things looked.

“At last, I know where they’re taking the children! Saaremaa Island!”

Just then, a toad darted at it out of the shadows.

The something wriggled away, retreating into the safety of the wall.

The something was a Gnome of Minor Importance, and it didn’t want to end up as a gut feeling. It had to tell the other gnomes what it knew.

So it was important not to be eaten.

#

[Jumping Ahead to Chapter 7 . . .]

Chapter 7: Two Desperate Separates

Gulchima Brixby smelled magic.

As soon as she and Hubward had dragged themselves out of the sea and stumbled up to the briny shore, she’d noticed its stench.

Magic was wafting everywhere on Saaremaa Island, from the foul dab-crabs snapping at each other across the beach, to the putrid, oozing coconuts on the highest coconut tree. Further inland, the musty stench of some magical plant smelled like an old man’s armpits. And don’t get her started about the purple volcano spewing sulfuric specks of magic from the center of the island. This place was one giant magical stinkpot.

And they were stranded here.

Gulchima finished ringing out her rabbitskin leggings. “Why are magical creatures always trying to drown us, anyways? Can’t a girl take one trip across the sea without getting attacked?”

“That giant squid wasn’t necessarily magic,” Hubward replied. He touched his long, damp, blond hair, as if embarrassed. “It could have been just a regular giant squid that destroyed our boat and ate our fellow passengers. Regular squids get hungry sometimes.”

Gulchima dumped the water from her boot. “Just once, I’d like some magical sea creature to give me a towel or a warm bowl of stew, you know?” She slapped at a bug that had bitten her on the leg. It smeared, blue and red and leggy. “Instead, they’re always—”

“—Stew? Like you’d eat stew from a magical creature.” Hubward was pat-drying his tunic with a frond from a nearby coconut tree. “I thought you want nothing to do with magic.”

“Of course I want nothing to do with a thing that tries to crush my boat with its tentacles, and then pull me—struggling—down into the murky-murky-depths. I just don’t want to be dragged down to the depths, is all I’m saying. Murky-murky-depths are to be avoided, as a rule.” She dumped the water out of her other boot.

Hubward frowned. “I’m saying it could have been a regular giant squid. You don’t have to blame magic for all of life’s problems.”

Gulchima snorted. Obviously, it had been magical. So had the Sea Donkeys that rescued them. And Saaremaa Island with the bizarre, bright purple volcano at its center? That was magical, too.

For that matter, so was the school where they were headed. Gulchima’s life was filthy with magic. But where else would magic-removal experts end up?

Gulchima adjusted her dragonscale under-armor, then put her hands on her hips. “Sure, just an ordinary giant midnight squid that crushed our boat at the worst possible time, and then sprayed a cloud of midnight all over so we were lost. I’m really going to believe that happened.”

Hubward grunted.

“And Uncle Rattbone said—”

Gulchima bit off what she was going to say next. Because, of course, Hubward already knew it. When you travel with someone for a long time, you can understand their pauses.

And what Gulchima didn’t want to say out loud was this: Uncle Rattbone had been on the boat with them. But there was no sign of him. 

Now that she and Hubward were safe, the worry cascaded over her, tightening like a belt around her chest. Was Uncle Rattbone okay? Was he alive? She’d heard him plop into the water just after the squid attack . . . hadn’t she?

What was she going to do? Should she head to the school and hope he turned up? Should she wait? Gulchima had a contract to clean up the magical school here on Saaremaa Island, but her uncle was supposed to be the lead. Uncle Rattbone knew where to go and what to do, and whom to talk to. Was he even alive?

Gulchima took in a long, shaky breath.

“—Uncle Rattbone said we should go to the school gates and wait for him. And that’s exactly what we’re going to do.”

Gulchima grabbed more fronds to help Hubward. Hubward’s wimple, the starched blue cloth he usually tied around his head, was missing.

His hair was . . . blond? When had his hair turned blond?

For that matter, when had Hubward had hair? A dragon had burned it off months ago. And why was it growing at such an alarming rate?

#

Chapter 8: Hike Fast and Speak Seldom

They spelled out a message for Uncle Rattbone on the beach, using driftwood and rocks. Gulchima put the last shell in place, the tip of her arrow pointing which way they would head.

Without another word, Gulchima turned and started to hike toward the center of the island. The school was inland, and that was her goal. If she dawdled too long, her tiredness might overtake her. Or her worry.

“Are we going to talk about it?” Hubward asked, hurrying to catch up to her.

“Talk about what? Your hair? Since when are you a blond?”

Hubward squeezed his hair, which was damp, blond, and tangly. Seashells sprouted from it at odd angles. “I call it Mermaid Unbraided . . . it’stoday’s hairstyle.”

“Today’s hairstyle? Do you mean it’s been changing?” Gulchima asked. “Hubward, do you have a malady? Is that why you’ve been wearing a wimple?”

Hubward took out his knife and cut the longest bit out of his eyes, so he could glare at her. But even as he sawed it off, the hair grew back.

“Yes, I have magical hair,” Hubward said through gritted teeth. “That’s what happens when dragon fire burns off your hair you know; it grows back magical. Big deal. You have too many freckles; I have magical hair. That’s just how we are. Big hairy deal. Tomorrow, it will be something different. It’s not always this weird-looking.”

Gulchima pointed at his eyebrows, which were just glued-on strips of cloth.

“But not all your hair grew back.”

Hubward cocked his head to one side and then shook it. “Magical eyebrows are not a thing. And besides, what I meant was: are we going to talk about Uncle Rattbone? Shouldn’t we wait for him here?”

Gulchima frowned. Was she going to talk about losing Uncle Rattbone, the last adult family member she had? Negative. Was she going to mope about her parents being in prison, or the magical accident that flung her forward in time, so she was still eleven, but technically sixteen years old? Nopers.

Was she going to bemoan the shipwreck, and the fact they had no food or water and were exhausted, and had to get through untold dangers to reach the magical school, where they would take on a dangerous contract as a special favor for the Queen? Not-even-gonna.

Gulchima had a job to do. And if she did her job, maybe she could see her parents again. Having a note from the Queen would open a lot of doors for her. She just hoped one would lead to her parents’ jail cell.

“Uncle Rattbone is a Brixby; he’ll survive. I heard him plop into the water behind us.” She was almost sure she had heard that. Probably. “He said to meet him at the gates to the magical school, so that’s where we’re going.”

Gulchima walked faster, her longer legs outpacing Hubward’s shorter, chubbier legs. “Besides, he’s not your uncle—I told you that.”

Hubward jogged to catch up. He swept his blond mermaid hair, spraying her with salty water. She wondered what his hair would look like tomorrow. Magical Mohawk? Hex Hair? Black Magic Beehive?

“So, what’s the plan?” Hubward huffed. “Besides not talking about obvious things and hiking too fast?”

Gulchima squinted into the jungle. What was her plan, exactly? Step One was to survive the shipwreck. She could check that checkbox. But what was next?

Hubward pulled a piece of seaweed from behind his ear. “Did you hear Not-Uncle Rattbone’s signal? He said he’d set off an explosion if he was safe.”

Gulchima sighed. “If I heard it, I would have let you know. I think he is safe. I think he is coming to help.”

“But at the school . . . I mean, it’s a magical school . . . I mean, people have died there trying to fix all the magic run wild. How are you going to do all the work by yourself?”

“The same way I did it in the last town when we got rid of the dragon,” Gulchima replied.

“Yes, but that dragon was mostly dead. Also, you had help. Also, you burned down the town and got fired.”

“Well, that’s where you’re wrong. I only burned most of the town.” Gulchima smiled. “And in the end, I got paid pretty well.”

Hubward squeezed the end of his hair. “Right, but I am just thinking out loud here . . . just throwing out an idea . . . that maybe for some reason you would need me to go—”

“Stop,” Gulchima said. “Do not bring this up a—.”

“—Go undercover,” Hubward finished. He squinted his eyes and looked around surreptitiously. “I could be a magical orphan with a secret past. I could investigate the school and pretend to be a student. I could leak out bits of my backstory from time to time, and then have a final reveal which . . . Have you considered my juggling idea? It would dovetail with my undercover character arc.”

“Character arc? You mean the juggling idea you had for that play you’ve never written? The one where you come from a family of jugglers but you are afraid of round things? And in the end, you have to save the world by—”

“Juggling round things. Amulets or magic coins . . . or maybe a series of powerful jewels.” Hubward crossed his arms. “And I am writing that play; I’m just working out the details first. Creativity isn’t like laying bricks, Gulchima.”

“Yeah, brick-laying has value. And besides, you already are a magical orphan with a secret past. Except you’re not an orphan, exactly, because your family is undead.”

“Quasi-orphan with a secret past, then,” Hubward said briskly. He put his arm around Gulchima and his damp blond hair brushed against the nape of her neck. “Just picture it, Gulch: me, undercover as a student, making friends, winning school awards. Then there’s you: grumpy, dirty, working alone to clean up the magical school. But failing all the time—oh, so much failure. So much that the stink of failure permeates your clothes—and you’re probably disliked by all your peers and coworkers and any small woodland creatures who cross your path. You think you’re misunderstood, but no, it’s just that you’re a terrible failure at everything you do.” He snapped his fingers. “But then! Handsomeful Hubward comes along and befriends you, and helps you, and teaches you the true meaning of something, some word, some human concept that you’re missing. Why, you could become my difficult-yet-lovable sidekick, who is haunted by—”

Gulchima sighed. “Haunted by my demons, yes. ‘My demons’ who threaten to—”

“Destroy the very—”

Gulchima rolled her eyes. “Destroy the ‘very fabric of reality’. Yes, Hubward, how exciting. Though how exactly demons would do that is beyond me, because they don’t wear fabric. Besides, I already faced a demon once, and nothing was destroyed.”

“Except Bayadev. When you burned it down.”

“Yes, except that.”

Hubward stopped short. “Wait! Did you hear that whistling sound?” Hubward had this ridiculous way of acting as if everything that happened was the plot of some ludicrous play. His eyes darted from bush to bush, searching the shadows.

“Nope. And I probably won’t hear that horrible screaming that comes next, either, so don’t ask. No rescuing strangers today, Hubward; we have a job to do.”

“But—”

“We have to meet the HeadMeister at the school and start that contract. We’ll see Uncle Rattbone there. Have party/eat cake. No side-questing today. Absolutely none. This is not a play. This is real life.”

Hubward stopped. “But it sounds—”

Ah-choo! Hubward sneezed. Bright blue flame flicked out of his nose, singeing the tips of his damp blond hair.

Hubward grinned. “That was magic flame! My magic is back! After all these months, my magic is back. I can be a magical orphan now. My backstory will make perfect sense when I go under . . . under . . . aaa-chhoooo!”

Hubward sneezed again.

This time, a stream of blue fire shot from his left nostril, blackening the trunk of the coconut tree behind Gulchima. A cloud of strange insects—they looked like bulgy butterflies—scattered into the air, flapping their laces behind them. A few bumped their beige boot-soles into the trunk of the tree, and one or two kicked Gulchima in the head as they passed.

“What are those?” Gulchima asked. “And what was that?”

“Sorry, I must be allergic to something here,” Hubward said, sniffling. His damp blond hair had already grown back. “Those insects are booterflies, cousins of the butterfly.”

Booterflies? Insects shaped like boots? Ridiculous.

And had Hubward just said that his magic had returned?

Hubward held a finger up to his nose.

“There, see? I’ll be all right,” he said. He sniffed a few times, but smiled as if the sneeze was long gone. “It’s probably these red flowers. I always was allergic to red.”

 “Allergic to red? How are you allergic to a color?” Gulchima started to say. Then she took a step back. Her eyes widened.

Hubward looked down at his nose. An egg-sized fireball grew in Hubward’s right nostril, swelling it to ten times its normal size.

“Hubward, I think you better—”

Ah-chooooosh!

Gulchima ducked just as Hubward sneezed. This time, the jet of flame burned all of the hair off his head and ignited the red flowers behind her.

Hubward stood dazedly, his eyes blinking. His false eyebrows were missing. His head was as smooth as a baby’s bottom.

After a few seconds, hair started to sprout from his head. This time, it was short on the sides, and on top, it was a bright, bristly orange square.

In a few moments, Hubward had a towering orange flattop, at least a foot high. His hair was dense and as hard as brick. His eyebrows were still missing.

“Actually, it’s an improvement,” Gulchima noted. She picked up one of his flaming eyebrows, but it was crisp and black and crumbly, so she dropped it.

Hubward sniffed, trying not to sneeze further.

In the distance, Gulchima thought she did hear something. The faint sound of a flute playing. Who plays a flute in the jungle?

“Do you mind if I walk ahead, in case I sneeze again?”

“Sure, brickhead, whatever floats your boat,” Gulchima said. She rapped her knuckles on his towering orange flattop. Clink-Clink.

They walked in unsneezy silence for half an hour, and Gulchima became conscious of the lack of sounds in the jungle around them. She could still hear the flute faintly. But she didn’t hear anything else.

At last, the silence was broken by a faint whistling, an off-key whiii-hwooo.

“I hear it now,” Gulchima said. She punched Hubward on the arm. “That’s a bird, you whiffle-waffle!”

Hubward shook his head. His cleared his throat. “That’s not what I heard earlier. That’s a new sound. I think . . . .”

Whii-hwooo. The whistling was louder, closer. Gulchima stared into the shadows, her eyes darting from spot to spot.

Then behind them came dozens of answering calls: whiii-hwooo, whiii-hwooo.

The individual whistlings rose into a concert, until Gulchima had to put her hands over her ears. The whistling creatures, whatever they were, surrounded them just out of view.

Gulchima and Hubward stepped closer together.

“I think we better run,” Hubward said in a small voice.

He took a step, but stopped.

From all directions, they heard the crunch of sticks, and the snap of branches, and the rattling of leaves. Whatever was whistling at them was not small.

And it was not afraid of them.

#

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