A Sudden Outbreak of Magic: Prologue

So here’s the story…

(photo by Andy Castro)Kelley and her twin brother Jeroan just moved to Dubuque, Iowa. Their parents uprooted them from their home in Chicago after learning that Jeroan had gotten mixed up with a gang. As the only black girl in her grade, Kelley is not pleased about the move.

One cold morning in November, after trying (unsuccessfully) to keep Jeroan out of trouble again, she gets “infected” by magic after reading aloud from a small leatherbound book she finds.

She also blows up the family home at the same time.

Soon Kelley and Jeroan must face up to a power-hungry, centuries-old Sorcerer who wants to rid the world of what he calls “renegade” magic-users. Only Kelley’s new way of using magic will save their new city and their magically infected friends, though she may lose her brother in the process.

A novel for all ages about magic, growing up, and finding your place within those two very different realms.

(And hey, the sequel, A Wild Epidemic of Magic, is now available!)

A Sudden Outbreak of Magic


Excerpted from Words of Magic, page 1533:

On that fateful day in October of 1871, the daylight in downtown Chicago was waning, the wind off the lake was at my back, and I, Jonathan Archibald Masterson Brightwell, was on the run again.

From inside my dirty wool vest, I felt the flutter of tiny gears in the pocket watch against my chest as I hurried through the city. The time between each tick of my prized watch felt a tiny bit longer than the last.

Time. I’d spent more time running in my life than I had not running. For over three centuries—though I looked no older than fifteen years of age to most people. I tried to look older, and thicker, by wearing dark suits two sizes too large for me, like the blue suit I wore on this warm fall evening. But I was fooling no one. I was just a skinny, ignorant boy, in over my head once more.

I hurried past dusty wooden storefronts and around gaslight poles, inhaling the nose-tickling smells of horses, perfume, and manure. The other walkers around me wore their Sunday best, and many of them gave me a smile or a tip of the hat.

If only you knew my history, I thought. You’d keep your distance and not smile.

Still hurrying down the street, I dipped my right hand into my satchel and pulled a hooded, dark blue robe that seemed far too big to fit in the small satchel.

“Finally,” I whispered as I pulled on the robe. I kept the hood down, for now. After touching the round disk of my watch—still ticking!—under my robe, safe inside my vest, I felt a reassuring wave of confidence. I hadn’t worn this robe in a long time.

And tonight I would need it.

Though I’d slept most of the day in a barn in my wet clothes, buried under two feet of hay, I still hadn’t had time to recover from my misadventures last night. That was when the five burly men in long black coats had cornered me by the lake shore. Somehow the followers of the Druid had found me, again.

I’d only been in the city a few months, working in the city’s south side, helping the always-coughing people turned away from the hospitals. I’d tried to be careful, saving those I could, comforting those I couldn’t, using my Words sparingly.

At least I got in a good shot at O’Shea, I thought. Before I dove deep into the waters of Lake Michigan, I’d blasted a hole clean through O’Shea’s brown bowler.

When I crossed over quiet LaSalle Street, three blocks from the bridge and the horse and wagon I’d rented with the last of my money, I pulled up short. I could smell smoke drifting up from the south.

“Wind’s picked up,” I muttered, and then bit down hard on my bottom lip. I’d been talking to myself too much lately, like a doddering old fool.

I passed the water pumping station and saw the metal arches of a bridge rising above the low warehouses and stockyards around it. The clank of the pumping station’s massive machinery filled the air as it drew water for the people of the city in an unending battle against time and need.

I know the feeling, I wanted to tell the water pumping equipment. The constant, thankless struggle is tiring, isn’t it?

When a harsh voice answered me, I realized I’d spoken out loud again.

“If ye are so tired, Johnny-cakes,” the voice drawled with a thick Irish accent, “p’rhaps I could innarest ye in a wee nap?”

Blocking my way onto the Randolph Street Bridge stood a red-haired man, stout and imposing at nearly six feet tall. His black overcoat dragged on the ground, picking up dust with each step he took. The other walkers scattered at the sight of the big man and the crackling tool in his hand.

“Whatever it is you have to offer me, Seamus O’Shea, must be either stolen or bad for my health. Thank you, but no thank you.”

“Call me Amsterdam,” O’Shea spat, his face turning as crimson as his hair. “‘At’s me code name, boy. You shouldn’a found out me real name! Th’ boss’ll kill me!”

I had a Word prepared, but I hated wasting it on one such as O’Shea. Because if O’Shea was here, that meant Michael would be here as well. I’d need every last bit of energy I could muster.

“Say,” I called out. “Where’s your hat, Seamus?”

The Irishman answered by lifting the long black object in his hand. The two tips of the hinged metal tool ended in wicked metal prongs. When he clicked the triggers next to the rubber handles, the prongs sparked with a sickly green light.

I pulled the hood of my robe over my head and—hoping that Yishi’s charms still retained their powers—I began walking directly toward O’Shea. As I drew within five feet of the bigger man, my pocket watch clattered louder and faster, and its metal grew hot against my chest.

I could no longer see my hands. Instead, I saw the well-known lines of power swirl and dance through the air around me. My heart fluttering and then pounding, I let the energy swirl through the clockwork gears of my watch with a rush of heat and a clattering of metal.

At last, I exhaled with a Word from deep inside my chest: “Gholt.”

A burst of blue light flashed from the watch hidden inside my robe and under my vest. The light covered O’Shea like a shot of lightning.

O’Shea froze, his big hands still squeezing the triggers to his crackling tool.

“You come at me with Pincers?” I gasped at O’Shea, lowering my hood. My hands and the rest of my body became visible again. The Irishman stared at me with eyes filled with surprise, shock, and a growing flicker of fear. The rest of his body remained motionless.

I wanted to crack O’Shea between the eyes with his own Pincers, but I reminded myself that he was just a follower. I could have ended up just like him.

So I turned and fled from him onto the bridge, smoke filling my lungs. Most nights the bridge was filled with coaches and walkers, and the air would echo with the ring of hooves, wheels, boots, and shoes on the battered wood. But not tonight.

I looked to the south and got my first glimpse of the fire. Flames licked at wooden structures of the Gas Works and Bateham’s Mills, and the fire was spreading to either side of the river.

“The wind,” I said. “The wind will make this worse.”

My nightmare memories of the battlefields from the brutal War Between the States less than a decade ago forced their way into my mind. I’d worn both the blue and the gray during those dark times, slipping behind either army’s lines so I could heal the wounded and try to save the dying. When I was caught—as I always was—I simply escaped with a Word or two, switched sides, and started all over again.

I could hear the fire wagon sirens now, mixed with a growing chorus of screams. Each tick of my watch was a hammer blow against my chest, strong enough to take away my breath.

As I paused in the lane reserved for stagecoaches and horses, I realized that Michael and his henchmen had started the fires. He knew that I would want to help fight the fires. Once again, I was trapped in the middle, with no good option to take.

Meanwhile, in front of me, a slender man in a dark suit and top hat stepped onto the bridge.

“Michael,” I said, barely a whisper. But I knew he’d hear me. “It’s been a long time.”

I hid my shaking hands with the sleeves of my robe and approached the man.

Johnny,” he said, doffing his hat sarcastically at me. His receding hair was thinner than it had been the last time I’d seen him, before the war. Thick blond sideburns framed his face down to his chin. “Hello again, my good friend.”

I glanced behind me. On the other end of the bridge, O’Shea and two other henchmen brandished black Pincers crackling with green energy, keeping people from using the bridge.

Meanwhile, the dry city was going up like kindling.

“All for me?” I said. “You’d burn Chicago just to find me? Not very subtle.”

Michael chuckled as he walked closer. “We will simply make up some excuse, as we always do—some old fool dropped his cigarette, or a cow kicked over a lantern. And my people—our people—will remain as invisible as ever.”

As Michael spoke, I exhaled and let my eyes cross slightly so I could again see the lines of power that were constantly twirling in the air around me. Once I saw them, I was able to pull them down and snare them in the inner workings of the watch held snug in my vest. The gears suddenly began moving wildly, like a caged beast, as power flowed through the cogs of the watch, gathering the familiar blue energy of my clockwork magic.

I pulled my glowing, sizzling pocket watch free of my vest, aimed it at Michael, and screamed three Words. A globe of blue fire as big as my head shot out of my gold-plated watch in my hand, headed right for Michael.

But my former teacher only laughed and created a wall of green-tinted energy in front of himself with one simple Word. My ball of blue fire bounced harmlessly off Michael’s green shield, though the force of the impact made him lose his top hat and stagger back three steps.

For the first time all night, I saw Michael’s face tighten. As far as I could tell, the man used no watch or other clockwork device to channel and manipulate the wild energies of magic. Instead, I watched him wave at O’Shea to come closer.

That explained it. To conserve his own energy, Michael wanted to use the Irishman’s blood—instead of his own—to channel the magic before using it on me. Once again I felt a twinge of pity for O’Shea. He was Michael’s tool, no more important to my former friend than a freshly wound watch.

“You know,” Michael said, “you really must give up your little windup toys, Johnny, and embrace the true magic taught to us by the Druid. The magic of the blood—” He gave a smile and a nod in O’Shea’s direction “—preferably someone else’s instead of your own—is much more powerful, much more efficient. And what happens if you lose your precious watch?”

I clamped my jaws shut, determined not to give Michael the pleasure of seeing my fatigue and fear. Not after what he’d done to Moammar and Yishi.

I gripped my golden watch tightly, its metal hot to the touch. Michael just shook his head and smiled.

“Jonathan. It will be quick, just like it was at Stonehenge. Come closer.”

You come closer, I thought, my hands beckoning the other man. You get into position, you traitor. Murderer.

“It has been entertaining, has it not, my good, good friend?” A handful of blond hairs now dusted the shoulders of Michael’s dark jacket. “All of the changes in this time, the new advances in science and engineering? Eighteen hundred and seventy-one—how can it be such a year, already? So much progress and so much violence, all in such a short period of time. The Gatling gun, now that was fun, eh?”

Before I could respond, a sudden explosion made the bridge under me sway.

“Ah.” Michael glanced at the orange glow of the fires to the south of us. “That would be the pumping station. Right on schedule.”

When Michael turned back to me, I was waiting for him. I held my pocket watch in both hands and aimed it at Michael. My watch was ticking so fast that all I could hear was one solid tick, blurred together like a bell that never stopped ringing.


Blue-white light erupted out of my watch and shot into Michael like a thousand tiny darts. He created a shield again, but half of the darts slipped through his barrier. Michael took a step back, almost stumbled.

“I’ve wanted to do that,” I spat, “for twenty years. Ever since Stonehenge.”

As Michael fought to stand, I looked at my hands. My watch had stopped ticking.

That did it. I panicked and started running for the edge of the bridge. My vision was so blurred by heat, smoke, and exhaustion that I could scarcely see. The Words always came at a price, and they may just have cost me my watch, if not my life.

Curling lines of power and magnetism rushed around me as Michael reached out to magic for one more attack. He didn’t even trying to force it through O’Shea. Instead, he took all the energy into himself, into his own blood this time.

I did not want to wait around to witness the results of his actions. Inhaling smoke and gagging from the stink of burning buildings, I leapt off the bridge. My eyes burned at my failure to stop this conflagration. But at the height of my leap, a burst of dazzling green light from my former teacher hit me in the chest.

My watch-making tools inside my vest caught the blast. Tiny screwdrivers, calipers, wrenches, and gears exploded into the night air like metallic rain. And my watch slipped from my hand.

My final vision on that day was of my old friend and mentor Michael, standing upside-down in my inverted vision, his arms raised triumphantly in front of the burning city. The image was etched onto my eyes as I hung for a helpless moment in the hot air.

And then I dropped like a stone into the river, and I knew nothing more, for many, many years to come.

And that ends the prologue! If you enjoyed what you read, feel free to make a donation via PayPal:

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