All-righty then, today we have Chapter Three of the serialization 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, Kelley takes another brief detour and gets the story from her brother, who’s just sort of… hanging around as the chapter begins…
A Sudden Outbreak of Magic
If her arms hadn’t been loaded down with a bag of books and her new dragon in a box, and if the wind hadn’t been so fierce, Kelley would have pulled the little book from inside her coat and got busy reading it on her way home.
Instead, she had to make do with walking as fast as she could on the snow-lined sidewalk without dropping any of her loot from Ms. Haze’s store.
She backtracked past the big court house with all its gray statues guarding its roof and headed down a side street. She hoped Jeroan and his sidekick hadn’t decided to come back this way while she was in the store talking about fake research papers and snitching books from Ms. Haze.
A half dozen steps later, Kelley heard a voice calling out. A mad one, but also a familiar one. She stopped and cocked an ear toward the sound. Once more she heard what had to be Jeroan’s voice, yelling for help.
And he wasn’t alone.
“Great,” she muttered, hustling toward the alley from earlier that morning. “I should’ve known they’d go back there.”
Both Jeroan and his punk buddy were now yelling, their voices all high-pitched and hoarse, which made Kelley almost break into a run to get there. A half block from the alley, though, she slowed, suddenly tentative. She wondered if that old guy had some other homeless old friends who’d come to his rescue.
She pulled out her eGadget, hit the Mute button, and saw the red light of the GPS locator blinking fast. That was Jeroan all right. Just great.
Tiptoeing closer, Kelley’s sense of discomfort grew as she listened to the shrill voice of Jeroan’s buddy. The guy’s voice must not have changed yet, because as much as she hated that expression, he really was screaming like a girl.
When she finally made it to the entrance to the alley, she peeked around the edge and looked inside the shadowy alley. Except for garbage bags and a dozen dumpsters lining the brick walls of the dead-end alley, the place was empty.
“Jeroan?” she called, and then looked up.
Her brother and his buddy were dangling halfway up the slimy bricks of the building next to the alley, their shoes easily twenty feet above a very full and very smelly dumpster.
“Kelley! Get us down! Now!”
“Yeah!” added Jeroan’s squeaky-voiced buddy.
“Um,” Kelley asked, immediately annoyed at being yelled at by her brother. But then the sight of Jeroan and his buddy kicking and struggling two stories up was so ridiculous, so unbelievable, that she couldn’t help herself. She burst out laughing. “No problem. Just give me a second. I don’t seem to have a ladder here in my coat pocket.”
“Kelley…” Jeroan began. “Quit mucking around.”
Kelley did her best to pull herself together. Not even an hour ago, she’d been hauling butt to get away from these two. She took another look at Jeroan’s squeaky-voiced friend with the long dishwater-blonde hair poking out from under the hood of his red windbreaker, and her brain made a sudden connection. Jeroan’s gangster wannabe friend was a she, not a he.
The realization made her start laughing all over again.
“Kelley!” Jeroan yelled. He kicked the wall behind him so hard, he lost one of his shoes. It plopped into the bags of garbage below him.
“So,” Kelley said at last, wiping tears from her eyes. “How did you guys—you two—get up there? And what’s holding you up there?”
“Nothing,” Jeroan snapped.
“That old dude,” his friend squeaked at the same time.
“Really?” Kelley said, glancing around the alley again. She felt a faint tinge of disappointment that the old man was gone. There was something about him, and the way he’d looked at her this morning. Like he was trying to tell her something. Weird blue light and all.
“Just get us down!” Jeroan yelled.
“I don’t know how I’m—” Kelley began, but she stopped when she saw Jeroan and his buddy start to slide down the alley wall. Before she could say another word, the two of them dropped into the dumpster feet-first, yelling every inch of the way.
* * * * * *
A minute later, Kelley felt like she was looking down at a pair of half-drowned rats that had flopped down on the cold ground in front of the alley dumpster. Smelly rats, covered in garbage and slime.
She didn’t want to think about the nastiness covering her own hands from helping to pull Jeroan and his lost shoe and his skinny white girlfriend out from the burst garbage bags and other mess inside the dumpster.
She also didn’t want to think about the look on Jeroan’s face as he fell—he’d been looking down, right at her, and his expression went from scared to betrayed, as if she’d let him down for not managing to get them down safely from the wall, or not protecting him from the helpless old man who was now gone from this alley.
“What the heck happened here?” Kelley asked before Jeroan could get up off the ground and storm out of the alley. She reminded herself to breathe through her mouth to avoid the stink of rotting food and the variety of other, indefinable smells.
Jeroan glanced over at his friend for a second, and then began talking, in his usual fast way.
“Look. It was the old guy’s own fault that he was still here, sitting on his butt, when we came back here. It was almost like he was asking to get jumped. The old fart should’ve had the sense to get out of here before we got back from chasing you.”
“Chasing me unsuccessfully,” Kelley added. “I so blew you away, Jeroan.”
“We just wanted to talk to him,” Jeroan’s friend chimed in.
“I’m not talking to you right now,” Kelley said to her, her voice strangely calm. “I’m having a discussion here with my little brother.” She gave Jeroan her best disgusted look. “Plus, we haven’t even been properly introduced.”
“Oh, my bad,” Jeroan said. “Kelley, this is Polly. Polly, this is Kelley. My sister.”
“Didn’t wear your running shoes this morning, did you, Polly?”
“You just got a good head start,” Polly countered.
Kelley gave a laugh, but a short one. She didn’t want to be all buddy-buddy with some white girl trying to get street cred with the new black kids from the big city.
“Go on,” Kelley said. “Finish your story already. Tell me why you just wanted to talk to some poor homeless guy.”
“It was like a dare, really, from the guys.”
“This was part of an initiation?” Kelley blurted out. She fought the urge to grab her brother by the front of his stained jacket and shake him. “For a gang? You haven’t learned a thing, have you?”
“They’re not really a gang,” the girl named Polly muttered.
“It’s not what you think,” Jeroan said, holding his hands up like he was surrendering. “This is nothing like Chicago. I mean, come on,” he said with a quick smile aimed at his little girlfriend, “there’s only one gang here in Dubuque, for crying out loud. And Pol’s right—they’re not really a gang. They’re more like, like… a club!”
“Some club,” Kelley said. She glared at her brother’s big brown eyes and his nervous smile and tried not to feel like she was looking into a mirror.
She purposely avoided looking at his girlfriend, though she was pretty sure she remembered the white girl from the halls at school. Polly was usually trailing the older kids, looking like the scraggly tail to the older kids’ kites.
“So you want to hang out with a bunch of kids,” Kelley began before Jeroan could get going again. She hated the way she was sounding like Mom, using her logic and all. “A bunch of kids who think it’s a good time to jump helpless old men?”
“Dude,” Polly said. “That is one old fart who ain’t helpless. How d’you think—”
Jeroan cut her off. “Can I just finish here? I’d really like to get home and change my clothes already. And it’s cold here in this nasty alley.”
“Go on, then,” Kelley said.
“We were supposed to go up to a stranger and get him to give us some money, and bring back some sort of evidence to show everyone else. That way they could see we had the guts to do it.”
“Nice,” Kelley said. This really was like Chicago all over again.
“So Polly was going to take a picture with her new camera, but before we could do anything,” Jeroan stopped and looked around the alley, as if watching out for the old bum coming back to finish him off. “Something crazy happened.”
“Tell her ’bout the words, J,” Polly said, eyes wide next to Jeroan. “And that freaky light in his eyes.”
Words? Kelley thought, keeping her own mouth closed tight. She touched the book in her coat pocket and thought about strange words filling her head from earlier, right after that old man had looked at her. Weird, foreign, almost nonsensical words.
“Oh yeah,” Jeroan said. “Before he, um, exploded, the old guy started to seriously freak out, mumbling this crazy stuff I could barely hear. This weird blue light was in his eyes. He just looked at us, back and forth, back and forth, and each time he turned to look at me, that blue light was brighter, until it hurt to look at.”
“It was frickin’ crazy,” Polly muttered.
Jeroan gave her a perturbed look at being interrupted and continued.
“Then he looked right at me with his hair standing straight up and his beard sticking out all over, and he said ‘Mo.'”
“‘Mo’?” Kelley felt another sudden urge to laugh out loud.
“Yep. Then he said more. ‘Moammar and Yishi. Their names were Moammar and Yishi.’ Then he said these words I’d never heard before. I can’t even repeat ’em.”
“Sounded like he was coughin’ up a hairball,” Polly said.
Kelley caught Jeroan as he shuddered.
“He says those words, in I-don’t-know-what language, and bam. Next thing I know, I’m hanging up above the dumpsters with Polly. Then he says a couple more weird words, cleans out our pockets, and picks up his red hat and his bag and just walks away. Like it was no biggie.”
“Walked away with all my money, my crappy phone, and my brother’s knife,” Polly said, wiping her nose angrily with a dirty hand. Her squinty little eyes were looking all around the alley, as if trying to spot some hint of her lost stuff. “He’s gonna kill me for that.”
While Polly talked, Jeroan had been watching Kelley closely. Kelley knew that look. She wasn’t getting the whole story here, and he wanted to see how much of it she was buying.
“And that’s how you found us, little sister,” he said when Polly was done complaining.
Kelly looked at the bag of books sitting on the cold, wet alley floor next to her, with the square brown box on top of the bag. She took a deep breath, wincing at the sour and rotten smells infiltrating her nose, and got ready to start picking holes in Jeroan’s story.
“Hold on,” Polly said. She scuttled of on her hands and knees across the wet alley floor and nearly dove headfirst into a pile of garbage. She let out a sharp chuckle. “I knew it!”
Kelley gave Jeroan a wide-eyed look of disapproval that he promptly ignored.
“What?” Jeroan called out. “You find something?”
Polly backed out of the little tunnel of garbage she’d created and jumped to her feet with a triumphant smile. Her red windbreaker was three sizes too big for her, probably a hand-me-down from the brother with the knife. She looked tiny inside it.
In her gloveless, blue-tinged hand, she held up what looked like a bent piece of metal not much bigger—or thicker—than a credit card.
“He didn’t get everything, dude,” Polly announced. “My camera!”
“That’s yours?” Kelley said, getting to her feet and stepping closer to the smaller girl to get a better look. “That’s a three-hundred-dollar camera. How did you happen to come into possession of that?”
Polly acted like she didn’t hear Kelley’s question. She was already fiddling with the camera, trying to get a picture to come up in its cracked display.
“I knew I saw this thing go flying when he zapped us that first time. And I never saw it go into that old fart’s bag.”
“It’s toast,” Jeroan said. “I heard it go crunch under the old guy’s crappy boots. Plus I don’t think Marky will want to see our pictures now, since we didn’t finish the job. We were supposed to roll him, not the other way around. Let’s just get outta here.”
He took a few steps toward the street, as if hoping Kelley and Polly would take the hint and follow him.
“Holy crap,” Polly muttered. Jeroan stopped, his back turned to them, and cocked his head in their direction.
“Oh man,” Kelley said before she even got a look at the camera’s tiny screen. “Do I really want to see this?”
“Oh yeah,” Polly said without looking up. “You really do.”
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