Below is chapter one of my new contemporary fantasy novel, A Lasting Cure for Magic.
These books make up the Contagious Magic series of novels; the first three form a standalone trilogy.
So, without any more needless banter, I’m taking you back to the ongoing adventure:
A Lasting Cure for Magic
It was gone.
She could feel its absence in the coldness of her phone, and in the silence of the big room where Mom and Dad used to hold meetings. It left a kind of emptiness in her head. But most of all she felt it in her chest.
Kelley Strickland had lost magic, and the thought tore at her heart. She couldn’t stop losing things that mattered to her.
And if the dumb look on her twin brother’s face on the other side of the conference table was any indication, Jeroan had lost it, too. He couldn’t even speak, for once. Usually he had a comment or an excuse for everything.
Instead—with Jimbo, Polly, Mags, and Azure’s hulking operative Mexico gathered around the table, all watching him with one last glimmer of hope—Jeroan gave his audience a nervous smile as he tapped his dead smart phone on the shiny wood of the table. As if that would make magic start flowing again.
When a few seconds passed and nothing happened, Mags slid off the top of the table where she’d been perched. She let out a snort when she landed.
“Good one, dude,” she said. “Way to save the day.”
Alexander, the tiny white dragon perched on the girl’s shoulder, puffed out two small clouds of gray smoke in agreement.
Rubbing her face with a shaky hand, Kelley looked away from her brother and gazed at the long, rectangular room lined with lawyerly books and night-blackened windows overlooking the Mississippi. Jeroan and the others were all that was left of the crowd of people that had filled this room earlier.
And then Moammar had flipped out and used his weird black device to send away her parents and all the older Sorcerers as well: Archie, Maria, and Gran. It was like Moammar had been trying to erase everything good in the world with just a wave of his crooked hand. Kelley shuddered, thinking of how Jeroan had made the traitorous Sorcerer pay for his misdeeds a few minutes later.
And now the others were all moving away from Jeroan as if he had the plague or some serious b.o., or both.
After dropping into a leather chair next to Kelley, Polly shook her head, making her thin blonde hair whip around her narrow face. Kelley saw the disappointment in the girl’s eyes as it became obvious that Jeroan wasn’t going to take command of the situation.
Sorry, Polly, she thought. I know it’s not the first time he’s let you down, but you get used to it after a while. If you stick around.
On the other side of Kelley, Jimbo got ready to say something, but as he stepped back from the table he tripped over his own feet. He fell backwards and landed in one of the other cushy leather chairs surrounding the table. His shiny new cell phone popped up and out of his grasp a few times like a slick bar of black soap before he finally caught it with both bony hands.
He gave Kelley a tired, sheepish smile, and she felt an unexpected wave of heat that instantly reminded her of the puff of warmth that used to accompany her lost magic. She returned the older boy’s smile, just for a second. She saw that the two roaches—bugs that the others had claimed were actually operatives York and Orleans, somehow—were now clinging tightly to the brim of his brown cap from Harvey’s restaurant.
Hanging out under the table again, just a few feet from where Jeroan sat with his head down, ornery little Mags was softly cursing up a storm once more as Alexander the dragon scratched at the office carpeting like a cat sharpening its claws.
Better watch yourself with those two, big brother, Kelley thought. You don’t wanna mess with them.
Tapping her fingers on the table in front of her, Kelley tried hard not to think about the parentals, and where they might be now. She also tried not to think about how they’d pretty much lied to her for years about their real jobs, not working as lawyers but working for Azure and living in the amazing world of magic. If she thought about that last bit too much, she could probably convince herself not to go find them. Wherever it was they’d ended up, thanks to Moammar.
He sent them all away, Kelley thought. And I didn’t do anything to prevent it. Just dropped to the floor and saved myself.
Without a sound, Operative Mexico slipped away from the head of the table where he’d been perched obediently at Dr. Azure’s side earlier. The huge man with the big afro and dark suit walked over to the wall of blackened windows, alternately looking at the dampener in his hand and then gazing out through the glass at the night sky, as if searching for clues.
Except for Mag’s soft cursing, nobody else in the warm, stuffy conference room said a word.
Not even Jeroan, who used to never shut up. It was a little unnerving. Maybe his two months at Azure’s training center had cured him of some of his cockiness. Doubtful, but Kelley could hope.
Unable to stop herself, she stood up and peeked over the table at the chair next to Jeroan, just a few feet in front of the conference room door. The pile of black dust was still there.
That dust was all that was left of Moammar after Jeroan got done with him. Black specks of it still fluttered through the air as a lazy winter fly circled the Sorcerer’s remains, as if looking for something well-done to eat.
Kelley’s stomach did a lurch at that thought. Tired of sitting still, she moved from the corner of the room to the head of the table, where Azure had been standing in front of the wall of law books just ten minutes ago. She needed some time to pull herself together, away from everyone else. She walked past the windows and glanced out at a black sky above a Mississippi rimmed with ice on either bank. Who knew what Mexico was looking at out there.
Under the table, close to the chair where Mom had been sitting, Kelley saw a floppy hat on the floor. This must have belonged to Dr. Azure—a bald dude like him would need it to keep from getting a serious scalp sunburn, even in the winter here.
She fought the urge to stomp it flat as she slid out a chair at the head of the table. This was where Azure had been standing and talking about the Druid and the end of magic, like a lawyer trying to present an impossible argument to a hostile jury. Kelley hadn’t believed him, right up until the moment where she felt magic leave her.
Forever? She wondered as she spun in a slow circle in the chair. Has magic really left me for good?
Though she didn’t remember pulling it out of the inner pocket of her jacket, Kelley had her eGadget in her hand. She usually fiddled with it when she was stressed or distracted. Right now she felt both, big time. Letting her mind go blank, she flipped through all the various apps with her thumb, rearranging icons here and launching and closing apps there.
She wished, for the first time ever, that her smart phone could do more.
She’d seen what Mexico’s dampener could do, how it could track outbreaks of magic as well as cancel out a magical attack in no time flat. It could even work like a projector to show other parts of the world, like the black spot in the ocean that Azure had shown everyone during his speech, pinpointing the exact location where the Druid had reportedly made his return.
“When you are part of the world of magic,” Azure had said, “you can see things that happen around us that nobody else in the world can.”
Kelley saw that her phone’s battery was in the red, so she pulled out an instacharger and snapped it on her eGadget.
Maybe, she thought as the charger gave off a loud buzz, we could find them without magic in us. We need to start with that black spot off the coast of Australia. Maybe there’s still enough residual magic in our gadgets to get us there—
Kelley jumped when two small objects clattered onto the smooth wood of the conference table. Jimbo had peeled the two roaches from his cap and tossed them like a pair of dice onto the table.
“This is nuts,” Jimbo said from the other end of the conference room, looking at Kelley and then Jeroan. “They took Gran and your guys’ parents, and we’re just sitting here? Mexico, can’t you use your doohickey there to track your boss, at least? We’ve gotta find the others while there’s still time.”
With a sudden movement, Mexico turned away from the window at last, and Jimbo sucked in a loud, nervous breath. He nearly dropped his phone again as Mexico crowded in next to him.
“This is the Druid,” Mexico said, his eyes narrowing in anger and frustration. He rubbed his high forehead with one hand and set his beat-up, hand-held dampener on the table with the other. The roaches eagerly climbed onto the dampener, working it with their tiny roachy feet, but the gadget remained dark and dead.
“This is a man who can raise Dragons from the core of the Earth. The man who created magic, can you comprehend? You want to try and cross him, kid?”
“Come on, dude,” Polly said in a squeaky voice. She held her delicate blue camera with the cracked screen in her hands again, nervously tapping the buttons as she spoke. “How do we even know it’s the Druid causing all this?”
Mexico let out a short, barking laugh, and then his eyes went cold again.
“Trust me,” he said. “It was the Druid behind this. With Moammar helping him. The traitor.”
Polly held up her phone and accidentally hit a button. The phone flashed and gave off a clicking sound. Polly glanced at Kelley and made an “oops” face at her before turning back to Mexico.
“You’re like seven feet tall,” Polly said, lowering her phone, “and you’re afraid? Look at us! We’re just a bunch of kids.”
“Kids with magic,” Mexico said, brushing off the lapels of his jacket. “Go to it, then. Go find your people. I’m out of this game, though. I’m through.”
“That’s the truth,” Mags said from somewhere under the table. “Too bad the rest of what he’s saying is a lie.”
The squirrelly little girl popped out next to Jeroan, elbowing him on her way up.
Balancing the tiny dragon on her shoulder, Mags stood up and promptly bumped into the chair holding the pile of black dust that used to be Moammar.
“Ah crap!” Mags shouted, swatting at the stubborn fly still buzzing around the room. “Dead guy dust on me! Freakin’ great!”
The elbow he’d gotten from Mags seemed to wake Jeroan up a bit. He blinked and looked around the table, his expression changing from sheepish to a slow burn. Kelley exchanged a look with Polly, who had one eyebrow raised.
“Kelley,” Jimbo said, his voice sharp as he tried to keep Jeroan from taking over the situation. Jimbo grabbed a seat next to Kelley and pulled his Harvey’s cap down lower, almost hiding his eyes.
“We can find them,” he said. “I know we can. But the longer we wait, the harder it’ll be. We’ve got to get to them while the trail’s still warm.”
All eyes turned toward her, including the frustrated and angry brown eyes of her brother. His silence was really starting to bother her. He looked too much like that zombified guy they’d met earlier today in the college dorm. The guy who had taken forever to let go of magic, despite the bad stuff magic had done to him.
“Bad reaction to magic,” Maria had said. Kelley shuddered at the memory.
Druid or no Druid, she thought, we’ve got to find the others, before it’s too late. If I lose the parentals forever, right after learning they were actually pretty cool people with more interesting jobs than being lawyers after all… She didn’t want to follow that train of thought, especially not now, with everyone staring at her.
So Kelley took a deep breath and started talking.
“Despite what Mexico says about us having magic, we’re most likely going to have to do this without it,” she began, and then winced. “That was painful to say, much less think about.”
She closed her eyes out of frustration and let out a breath that turned into a frustrated sigh.
“So we’ll have to do this the old-fashioned way—and I hate the old-fashioned way. No magic. Are you guys up for that?”
Holding her breath, Kelley opened her eyes.
“Fine with me,” Mags said, touching her nose and checking her grubby fingers. She was joining the group again after leaving Jeroan all by himself at the other end of the table. “I’m tired of magic and the stinkin’ nosebleeds it gives me.”
“Come on, sis,” Polly said, “don’t start that again.”
“But all that doesn’t mean,” Kelley continued, “that we have to be completely old-school. We still have our tech. So let’s start with what we’ve got.”
Kelley slid her parentals’ two abandoned Blueberry phones closer, along with Mexico’s taped-together dampener. The roaches slid off his dampener for a second, tickling her bare hand with their nasty little feet, and she let out a noisy hiss of air.
“Relax, miss,” Mexico said. “They’re just my former partners.”
“Right,” she said, feeling irritated at Mexico’s condescending tone. She tapped the big man’s gadget. “What else can this thing do, anyway, besides work as a movie projector and a magic dampener? It looks a lot like the gadget Moammar used to send everyone away. So can it do the same for us, and get us to where we need to go to find the others?”
“You don’t want that,” Mexico said, lowering his big frame with a groan into a leather chair. Up close, Kelley could see—for the first time—streaks of gray in his ‘fro, along with the fine lines of wrinkles around his brown eyes. It was like Mexico had aged twenty years, all in the past few minutes.
“Why not?” Mags said. “What do you know about any of this, mister Men in Black?”
“I know where they all went,” Mexico said.
Everyone else stopped what they were doing and moved closer to Kelley’s end of the table.
“Do tell,” Jimbo said, fidgeting with nervousness in his chair.
“Yeah,” whispered Polly.
Mexico had opened his mouth to speak when Kelley beat him to it.
“Australia,” she said, snapping her fingers, amazed that nobody else knew it. She looked from Polly to Jimbo, shaking her head. “It was right there in Azure’s slide show, guys. Weren’t you paying attention?”
“Umm…” Jimbo said.
“Well…” Polly added.
Mags just made a raspberry sound: Pbbbbbt.
“She’s right,” Mexico said. “What she doesn’t know is where, exactly, in Australia. Nor does she knew what she will find in Australia. The Druid might be in a weakened state from ending his banishment and riding the recent wave of magical distortion back to the surface of the world. But even a weak Druid is no match for all of us. He’d incinerate us and leave nothing. We’d wish we were Moammar over there on the chair after the Druid gets finished with us.”
Kelley felt her enthusiasm break apart more with each new revelation from Mexico.
“Well,” Mags said. “That was totally unhelpful, dude.”
“Just being honest here, child.” Mexico tapped on his dampener, trying to get it to light up again, but it appeared too far gone. “If you thought Azure was a bit harsh in his methods, well, guess who trained him. The Druid. And he makes Azure look like a saint. From what my former boss has told me, the Druid does not have a shred of mercy in his body.”
Kelley slipped a hand into her coat pocket and pulled out an instacharger. With a quick movement, she snagged Mexico’s dampener and attached the charger to it. It gave a stubborn buzz, and then began charging.
Mexico just shook his head at that.
“You won’t need a dampener if there’s no more magic,” he said in a low voice. “Soon there won’t be any left in the world, except for the Druid’s. He takes what he needs, just like he did in the past. He tracks it, locates it, and gathers it for himself.”
Kelley sank back into her chair, watching the needle on the charger approach the plus sign to show the dampener was fully charged.
We can’t just give up like that, she thought. I don’t want to live in a world without Mom and Dad, much less a world without magic.
“Speaking of dampeners,” Mags said, digging for something inside the pocket of her faded purple sweatshirt. “What d’you guys think about this?”
She held up the shiny tablet-sized gadget—dotted with tiny bits of blackened Moammar here and there—that the traitorous Sorcerer had used to send everyone away. She set it on the table next to Mexico’s taped-up dampener.
“Hey,” Jeroan said from the far end of the table, his voice gravelly from not talking for so long. It was the first thing he’d said in almost fifteen minutes. Kelley noticed that he’d been fiddling with his phone up until that point. “What gives?”
“Finders keepers,” she said with a laugh.
Kelley also noticed that Mags didn’t have Alexander on her shoulder any longer, but she didn’t have time for dragon-hunting.
“Okay,” she said instead, rearranging Mexico’s crappy-looking dampener next to the sleek, electric-tape-free dampener that Moammar had used. Along with the parentals’ Blueberries, they now had four gadgets, plus her smart phone. “Get your phones out, everyone. Mags, you too. And Polly, get your camera.”
When the table was covered in gadgets and her friends were all gathered around, Kelley made sure everything was fully charged. Working with tech was an area where she had a good bit of experience.
We haven’t lost everything, she thought. This was a good start.
She felt an actual smile touch her lips as she said, “Let’s fire these things up.”
While each roach took possession of a dampener—one got its tiny legs up on Mexico’s banged-up 1.0 version, and the other hopped up on Moammar’s sleek version 2.0—Kelley grabbed her eGadget. The others picked up their gadget of choice.
The room felt warmer already.
Kelley felt a wild glimmer of hope. Was it possible? Was magic coming back, already?
She swallowed. That was assuming, she thought, that magic could come back at all. That the Druid or Azure—or both of them for that matter—hadn’t ruined magic for everyone, for good.
“Hey, what about Jeroan’s phone?” Jimbo said. Kelley could feel the skinny guy quivering with excitement at their emerging plan. “He’s got an eGadget too, right?”
“Yeah, you’re right, he does,” Kelley said. She’d pretty much forgotten about Jeroan, and that surprised her. He should’ve been right in the middle of this, adding his opinion and trying to convince everyone to follow his plan.
But when Kelley looked over toward the far end of the table where Jeroan had been sitting and moping, there was nobody there.
Just like magic, Jeroan had disappeared.
* * * * *
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Read Chapter Two