Ordinarily what I do when I feel inspired to write is that I imagine a scene starring the characters and situations of my novel, play it out in my head and speak the dialogue aloud, and then never write anything down, because it wouldn’t be as simple as writing down a scene, it would be writing a scene for MY NOVEL, which is a tremendous task, and would mean that I was beginning work on my novel again, and that I had now accepted all the responsibilities involved.
What I’ve been doing for the last couple of days, it seems, is writing whatever I want whenever I get the urge. This is an idea for a story that I just came up with today, and as is often the case when I write in scenes, I started right in the middle. I am writing because I want to write, with no ulterior motive. I really like the way that feels.
It wasn’t until my fingers wrapped around the handle of my wand, tucked into my inner jacket pocket, that I remembered it was there at all. I experienced a jolt of shock at discovering it was there, but also shock that my body remembered before my mind did. Sometimes things don’t happen in the right order, like your body grabbing your wand before your mind remembers it’s there.
I whipped the wand out from beneath my jacket and held it in my clenched fist, and instantly the smiles vanished from the faces of the three boys who until this moment had been advancing on us. Shaun’s two cronies both expressed the shock on their faces and open mouths, but Shaun recovered before they did and his triumphant smile had changed to a shocked expression and then to a challenging grin with narrowed eyes all in a moment, as he pulled from his back pocket a crooked hook, exactly the kind you would find on the tip of a staff, except with a small handle attached to the hook so it could be used on its own as a weapon.
It was not until this moment that I actually panicked. When I pulled out my wand and registered the shock on the faces of the three boys, I had assumed I had won by default; pulling out a weapon has a way of swinging tense situations in your favor. A wand was not exactly a gun but it was also not exactly NOT a gun, and I assumed that pulling the equivalent of a gun would be enough to scare them off and leave us here safely. What I had no expected was that Shaun would pull a hook from somewhere in his back pocket, and now there was the possibility of an actual duel.
For one thing, I’d never been in a fight before, much less one involving magic. For another, it was not only against school rules to use offensive spells outside of classes, it was also ILLEGAL to do so, and illegal to be carrying a wand in your jacket outside of school hours, even if it was only there because you had completely forgotten about slipping it into your jacket pocket. Sure, it was illegal for Shaun to be carrying a weapon too, but beyond the possibility of either of us getting in trouble with the cops was the reality that I was now going to have to duel Shaun, who was two years older than me and therefore more experienced, and I was suddenly realizing that I had very little idea of how to actually go about a duel.
I was a sophomore, and Shaun was a senior, and Sophomore’s didn’t do any actual combat magic. That was reserved for military classes for underclassmen and electives for senior’s only. So anything I’d learned about dueling came from television and movies, and we all knew that real life duels were very different from the kind in movies.
All this flashed through my mind in the few seconds it took for Wolf to stand up behind me and pull me up from behind. I did not actually realize he was doing this until I was standing up, and now I saw that Shaun was advancing toward me.
I glanced behind me at Wolf, to see an expression of terror on his face. We had just gone from being two kids being bullied at an empty shopping mall to a group of teenagers engaging in unlicensed dueling, and more than likely the team on my side of the red line was going to walk away seriously injured, or worse.
When I returned my attention to Shaun it was already too late, because he had swung his hook forward and in a flash, wisps of fire had materialized around it’s crooked end and shot toward me.
I responded without thinking, because there was no time to think, and the thing that makes dueling a skill is being able to think on your feet. I whipped my wand forward in a diagonal line from lower left to upper right, and in a streaming arc there appeared a white-blue wave of cold water that I had used thirty minutes ago to fill up Wolf’s canteen before urging him not to drink magically-generated food or drink. And the water caught the fireball that was racing toward me and it fizzled out instantly, before I realized that I had not just conjured a single arc of water but a wave that had grown bigger when it absorbed the fire, and now the wave blasted across the sidewalk toward Shaun, whose expression of shock registered just before he was slapped with the weight of it, and the wave pounded down on all three boys who were thrown backward by a foot and landed on their asses.
I didn’t move, just stood there with my wand still in my hand, my hand still hanging in the air, and as Shaun pulled himself up onto his elbows I saw a bright red slash across his face like a handprint where he’d been slapped, because that was exactly what happened, and saw that he had genuine fear on his face.
The hook he had held stood exactly equidistant between us.
This time I did think before using a spell, and pointed my wand at the hook, instantly calling the thing toward me, and it soared right up from the ground through the air and I caught it in front of me, but just barely, right before it hit me in the face.
“H-hey,” Shaun began, his voice shaking.
I pointed my wand at him and saw him wince. I suddenly realized I was furious. When I spoke I found that my words came through gritted teeth, “Get out of here.”
Shaun was getting to his knees and then standing with his hands outstretched before him in a show of surrender. “Look man, let’s calm down, okay?” he said, “Just give me my wand, man, and I’ll go.”
I gripped my left hand tightly around the handle of Shaun’s hook. It felt indecent to hold another man’s weapon, especially one I’d just won from him in a fight. If this were ancient Ireland I’d have bested him in combat and been entitled to whatever I wanted. But this wasn’t ancient Ireland, this was Maryland in the year 1997, and I had suddenly just found myself engaged in my first fight, my first duel, and my first time standing up to a bully, and had inexplicably won all three.
What I felt coursing through me, as my teeth gritted and my eyes narrowed, was power. Power because I had won, power because I had the upper hand, power because the boy who had been tormenting my friend a few moments before was now cowering in front of me, and power because holding his hook in my left hand, something so personal that even a teacher didn’t touch it when confiscating it, was like holding his penis, it was obscene and rude and disgusting, and I felt ownership over him.
I had not yet realized that what I was feeling was bloodlust. That my mind, which had been empty of any idea of how I might fight someone with magic only a few moments before, was now racing with all the spells I’d seen on television, not the fake ones they used in kid’s shows, but the real ones you saw in R-rated films, the ones that could actually damage people, the one’s where actors had to use fake prop wands made from magic-cancelling metal to prevent from casting spells that could kill a co-star. I realized with triumph that I did, in fact, know spells that could hurt someone else, that I could do a hundred things to Shaun, right now, and that he was powerless to stop me, and more, that I could use his own weapon to do it.
All of this happened so fast. The thoughts and the actions all tumbled over one another, and I had very little consciousness of any of it happening until it had happened.
I realized this at the same moment that the thought occurred to me that if I were to kill Shaun right now, I wouldn’t realize what I’d done until after it happened, and actually, I didn’t care.
Wolf’s hand touched mine.
The trance was broken.
I gasped a little, and my eye’s widened. Shaun was standing, slightly bent, with his hands in front of him, worry on his face. His two friends had just stood, and they turned and ran at the same time. Shaun didn’t pay them any attention, just began to back away slowly.
“Okay,” he said, “Okay, you can have my wand, okay? Just… just don’t hurt me, man. I’m sorry, okay?”
Wolf’s hand gently but firmly closed around my wrist and lowered my wand. I submitted and found that the back of my neck felt cold, my hair was standing on end, and my heart was thumping. Shaun reached over to my left hand and without any resistance from me, pulled Shaun’s hook from my hand, and then he walked over to Shaun, standing more than an arm’s length away, and held it out between the two of them. It was a peace offering.
Shaun took the hook, and for a moment I wondered if he was going to attack again. I knew that if he did attack, I was out of adrenaline, my trance was broken, and I wouldn’t be able to fight back this time. But Shaun kept his eyes locked on mine, and his expression was something broken, the face of a senior boy whose pride has just been deeply bruised, and he tucked the hook into his back pocket, then turned and walked at a fast pace, rounded the corner and was gone.
I didn’t say anything as Wolf took my wand out of my hand. He had never touched my wand before, and in any other moment I would have blushed with embarrassment at the awkwardness of the moment, but he just tucked it into his jacket pocket, and then he gently put a hand around my forearm and led me away. He didn’t let go as he led me through the empty mall, into the parking lot, where dusk was now falling, opened the passenger side door of his car, and gave me a gentle nudge to get in.
He sat down in the driver’s seat, pulled his keys from his jeans, and put them in the ignition. He reached past my lap to open his glove box, and pulled out a thin rectangle of tissues, pulled one out and wiped at the now dried blood under his nose. Then he closed the glove box, turned on the radio, and as Jewel’s twangy guitar started to come from the speakers on the dashboard, he drove.