A Sudden Outbreak of Magic: Chapter Two

Today we have Chapter Two of my contemporary fantasy novel A Sudden Outbreak of Magic.

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

And let’s not forget that a sequel, A Wild Epidemic of Magic, is now available.

In this chapter, our buddy Jeroan puts the J in Juvenile Delinquency…

A Sudden Outbreak of Magic

Chapter Two

She’s doing it to me all over again, Jeroan Strickland thought as he turned back into the alley and out of the cold wind. I can’t do anything here without the Beastly One sticking in her nose to muck it all up.

What made him so crazy was that Kelley really didn’t need to spy on him for Mom and Dad. The three of them—the parentals and him—had an agreement. They were cool with him “Finding his own way” (Dad’s term) and “Thinking asymmetrically” (Mom’s phrase). Plus they were too busy at their new law office to worry much about Jeroan. They probably figured moving to this crappy little town would be enough keep him out of trouble. This town, and Kelley the Beast.

But while his little sister could do no wrong and always did everything people asked of her, Jeroan had perfected a way of making life interesting that the Beast could never understand. You couldn’t sit still and follow the rules, he knew, and expect to do anything great.

And Jeroan had plans. Big plans. So big they changed on a pretty much daily basis.

Today’s plan was to make an impression on Polly’s buddy Marky and the other players in Dubuque, Iowa. He was determined to show them what he was made of. Polly, who had latched onto Jeroan on the first day of school, had volunteered to come along today and help him get in good with Marky. It had been her idea to go downtown this morning, after they cut class once again.

Then Kelley the Beast had butted in, and they’d had no choice but to chase her off. Jeroan thought about what they would’ve done to her if they’d caught her on the slick, snow-lined streets of this scrawny little city. Maybe threaten her with death or dismemberment. Maybe dangle her over the icy Mississippi from atop the railroad bridge a few blocks away. Or maybe twist her—

Jeroan inhaled the stink of garbage and came back to reality. He had to set his plans of getting revenge on Kelley on hold, yet again.

Doesn’t matter, he told himself. She got away, and we’ve got work to do here in this nasty alley.

With his Chicago Bears sweatshirt all pitted out with sweat under his coat from running, he stood once more over the old wino with the Santa Claus beard.

“Back off,” he muttered to Polly next to him. “Let me take care of this.”

Polly, her face still red from all their running, nodded and started digging in her coat pocket. As usual, she was dressed up like a guy, and unless you knew there was a skinny white girl underneath that baggy Bulls windbreaker, you could fall for it too.

Polly gave Jeroan a quick little grin as she pulled out her stolen camera, but he could see the excitement and fear in her eyes. He was scared too, but he knew how to cover it up with attitude. You didn’t let the guys in Chicago know you were afraid.

Shivering from the cold, Jeroan tried not to think about the weird light he thought he’d seen coming from this guy’s eyes right before Kelley mucked up their morning plans. He swore that light had been bright blue. Must’ve been the sun reflecting off a car’s hood or something. And the way the old man’s hair had turned into a pin-cushion while the Beast was yelling down the alley at them had been sort of… freaky.

But it was the old guy’s own fault that he was still here, sitting on his butt in the cold, stinky alley. It was almost like he was asking to get jumped. The old fart should’ve had the sense to get out of here before Jeroan and Polly came back from chasing his nosy sister.

And Kelley the Beast, Jeroan thought, was never gonna let me forget the fact that she outran us this morning.

“Jeroan,” Polly whispered. “Come on. I got the camera ready.”

Jeroan ignored her and focused his gaze on the old man.

“Here we are again,” he said to the smelly old guy sitting on the ground. “Looks like you didn’t get too far, ol’ man. That’s a good thing. For us, at least.”

“Yeah,” Polly added in her scratchy voice. Jerome winced. “You ain’t got no one to save you now. No nosy sisters with fancy cell phones here.”

Before Polly could say anything more, Jeroan grabbed the old man’s satchel from his side and started unzipping it. Not to be outdone, Polly jumped in and stuck a hand inside the old man’s raggedy brown coat. She pulled out an old pocket watch the size of her fist. Jeroan was digging through the satchel when the old man started screaming hoarsely, grabbing for the watch Polly had taken from him.

The guy was actually trying to get to his feet, he was so crazy for the watch, when Polly elbowed him in the stomach, hard. He dropped to the hard alley floor once more, the wind knocked out of him. Jeroan nearly dropped the satchel.

“Cut it out, Pol!” he spat. “You’ll kill the old fart.”

“Just setting up my photo, J,” she said, giving him a slightly crazed grin. “Now get down there next to him. I’m having to do all the hard work today, you slacker.”

Jeroan stopped digging through the meaningless, worthless items in the old man’s satchel—some change, about twenty mismatched socks, a couple beat-up paperback books, and a dozen sticky pop cans. Nothing valuable. He hunkered down next to the spluttering old man, breathing through his mouth from the mixed smells of body odor and garbage.

“Hurry up,” he muttered to Polly, who was balancing the old man’s watch in one hand and aiming the tiny blue camera in her other. “Take it already, then I’ll take one—”

Jeroan never got to finish his sentence. He heard a grunt, and then something solid smacked into his chest and sent him flying backwards.

The old fart hit me, he realized as he rolled back to his feet, five feet from the man still sitting on the ground. And he hit me hard.

It took everything in Jeroan’s willpower not to run from the alley right away. His chest was still tingling from where the old fart had caught him with an elbow.

No, Jeroan thought. No running. Polly’s still here, and she still thinks the sun rises and sets on me. I can’t let her down. Not yet, at least.

Meanwhile, the old guy on the ground was starting to seriously freak out. Mumbling words that Jeroan could barely hear, much less understand, the old man with the stringy beard and wild white hair had his eyes clamped shut. He shook his head from side to side. His spindly arms were raised out to the sides, as if he were pulling himself to his feet on invisible strings. Once he was standing, slightly hunched over, the man pointed his hands—one at Polly, one at Jeroan—and opened his eyes.

The weird blue light was back in his eyes. Jeroan groaned.

For what felt like an hour, the old man looked from Polly to Jeroan, back and forth, and each time he turned back to Jeroan, the blue light had grown brighter, bathing the alley with an unnatural brightness that Jeroan could almost feel, tickling his skin.

Then the man’s gaze came to rest on Jeroan. His glowing blue eyes grew focused. His lips, almost hidden under his dirty white and gray beard, stopped moving. His nose wiggled, then his ears, and then the man’s long, wild hair lifted straight out from his head as if he’d been jolted with a huge blast of static electricity.

“Mo,” the man said in a thick, low voice, as if he were talking only to himself, and Jeroan and Polly just happened to be close enough to eavesdrop. He coughed and grimaced and tried again.

“Moammar and Yishi,” the old man said in the blue-lit alley. “Their names were Moammar and Yishi.”

Jeroan felt a sudden urge to stop harassing this man and help him instead. There was something about the look in the guy’s eyes, underneath all that weird light and staticky air. He thought he recognized the desperately determined look on the man’s face. It was a look Jeroan saw in the mirror most mornings, though lately he’d been feeling more desperate than determined.

But before Jeroan could shake his frozen limbs into action, the man inhaled a raspy breath and spoke three strange words:

Dohol Elem Kazqu.”

Crackling energy shot out from both of his bony index fingers and covered Polly and Jeroan. The man moved his hands up, with the flowing blue light still pouring out his fingers, and Jeroan felt his feet leave the ground. He was too shocked to scream. Polly was in the same predicament, her mouth a wide O of disbelief as she flew through the air, lifted by the line of blue energy toward Jeroan. As the old man below them put his hands together, they both hit the slimy bricks of the far alley wall with a dull thump and dangled there, fifteen feet above an overflowing dumpster.

Jeroan grabbed Polly’s hand as they dangled there, unable to even squeak out a single word. He could only watch as the flow of weird energy stopped from the man’s pointing fingers.

We’re dead, he thought. He skin felt hot and ticklish, as if hundreds of ants were crawling on him, and his heart was beating triple time.

But the man wasn’t looking at them anymore. It was as if he’d forgotten about them already. He tottered over to get his satchel up off the alley floor, and the effort nearly made the old guy fall over.

Jeroan hissed when the old guy stepped on Polly’s camera, then kicked it out of his way. She must’ve dropped it when he flung her into the air. Marky and the guys needed photographic evidence from this morning, or they’d never let Jeroan hang with them. And this old fart had messed it all up.

At the sound of Jeroan’s hissing, the old man stopped and looked up at them again. He cocked his head, as if he was remembering something, like when was the last time he’d washed his clothes or taken a bath, and then he made a cutting gesture with his left hand.

Jeroan felt his throat tighten up. We really are dead now, he thought.

Oskam,” the old man said, breaking the silence of the alleyway.

A parade of pocket change, dollar bills, wallets, keys, a shiny black eGadget, a battered hot-pink flip phone, and a knife marched out of their pockets and dropped obediently into his muddy satchel. The last item to float across the alley was a scratched, gold-plated pocket watch, its hands frozen at nine minutes to nine. The old man grabbed the watch with his free hand, as if feeling a need to protect the ancient timepiece from any further damage or misdoing.

“Hey!” Polly cried out in her false-tough voice. Jeroan was impressed that she even able to talk. “You can’t rob us, man! We gonna be gangsters, so—”

Jeroan grabbed her by the coat sleeve, finding his own voice at last.

“Quiet, Pol. He ain’t from here. Look at him.”

With his white hair and beard still standing straight out in a dirty halo, the old man gazed up at the two kids through the cloud of unnatural blue light that had gathered around his face. His coat hung off his shoulders and down almost to his knees, like a ragged wizard’s cloak. He smelled like burnt toast and body odor.

Polly shut her mouth tight.

Jeroan could only watch as the man picked up a surprisingly clean red hunting hat from behind a garbage can and plopped it onto his head, covering his static-filled hair. With his bulging, jingling satchel on his shoulder and his pocket watch tight in his hand, the old man turned and began strolling out of the alley.

Jeroan and Polly remained suspended above the alley floor. They looked at each other and both began yelling at the old man before he disappeared and left them hanging there forever.

At the exit from the alley, the old man—who was no longer hunched over—paused, looked back, and smiled. Looking at that smile, Jeroan felt all of his confidence drop away from him and splat into the dumpster below him like a big bag of garbage. He nearly let out a whimper of relief when the old guy started walking away from them again.

This, he decided as he dangled above the rotting mess in the dumpster below him, was not at all how I’d planned to spend my morning. And it’s all the Beast’s fault.

He couldn’t wait to find her again, somewhere in this godforsaken city, and have a little discussion with her.

Just as soon as they got down from up here.

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