by Robbie Fischer
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It was beautiful because of the staggering expanse of cloudless blue sky that stood over it like the cover on a gargantuan pie-plate, and because of the sunshine that sparkled on the still, turquoise-blue waters of the lagoon separating its shore from the coral reef that surrounded it, and because of its broad smooth beach of sparkling pewter-colored sand, and because of the almost painfully bright green of the grass that waved around the middle part of the island between stands of graceful palms and thickets of colorful fragrant flowers.
It was quiet because nobody lived there. No human foot had ever disturbed its soft sandy soil. No human hand had ever plucked its sweet succulent fruit. No human nose had ever sneezed upon its highly pollinated flowers. No human eye had ever watered with agony after the previously mentioned foot was stung by the spines of its venomous burrowing crustaceans. No human ear had ever heard the squawk of its cheerfully colored (but not very talkative) local species of parrot, nor the buzz of its viciously biting swarms of insects, nor the croaking battle-cry of the indigenous iguana relative whose vermin-infested bite guaranteed a slow, hideous death to anyone whose foot disturbed the island’s soft sandy soil, or whose hand pl-… You get the picture.
It was small because… Well, it had always been small. But these days the island was even smaller than it ought to have been, at least if one counted as part of the island the smaller teardrop-shaped hump of sand connected to the main part of it by a slender shoal that was only above water at low tide. For the past little while–long enough for the iguanas to forget, but little enough for the parrots to remember–this stretch of land had been under water. Under water in a most unusual way. A way that threatened the parrots with extinction, because they could not resist their old insect-hunting grounds, even though visiting them meant diving horizontally through a vertical surface of water behind which swam the first sharks in the south seas to have developed a taste for parrot.
Today the parrots, iguanas, and stinging crustaceans of the littler-than-ever island were nonplussed by the arrival of three creatures the likes of which they had never seen. The trio arrived with a pop like a cork exiting a champagne bottle. One was a tall, broad-shouldered wizard whose flowing dark robes brushed the sand, and the hood of whose cloak overshadowed his face. The second was a pale, shapely witch who wore her pointed hat and broomstick-trimmed robes with an indescribable blend of demure domesticity and lively flamboyance, as though she wanted to make up for not being visible for a rather long time. The third was a seven-foot-tall, scruffy dump of a djinn who, although he was already weaving on his feet, risked leaning backward to finish the dregs of an enormous bottle of wine. With a loud hic the djinn sat down hard, crushing an iguana that had been sneaking up in the hope of biting him.
“What the devil is this?” the hooded wizard demanded, gesturing toward the wall of water that surrounded the smaller portion of the island.
“It’th an ishfthsmush,” said the djinn, patting his pockets in search of another bottle. “An ithsthmuth. Itshthsmus. Isthmuff. Just a mo, I’ve got it: iffsmus.”
“Not this,” the wizard bellowed, kicking at the narrow shoal of damp sand that, at that moment, just cleared the surface of the lagoon. He gesticulated hugely toward the water wall: “This!”
“Dunno,” said the djinn, squinting blearily at a paper umbrella he had discovered about his person. “Pimple on face of t’ocean? I say, yer couldn’t poss’bly fetch a feller drop ter drink, could yer?”
The wizard turned toward the djinn, but was forced to retreat backwards by a long, rich belch whose odor providentially killed a swarm of bloodthirsty insects that had gathered around the three.
“Awk,” the witch gagged, gathering several folds of her robes in front of her face.
“Parrot, I should think,” said the djinn, though his pointing arm was just a bit too slow to follow the flight path of a gaily colored bird that, a moment later, perished in the jaws of a shark that jumped the isthmus and returned to the lagoon, all without leaving the water.
The wizard dipped his fingers in the sideways lagoon, pulled them out, and gave a low whistle. “Must be some kind of water-weave charm,” he mused aloud.
“Powered by a waterspout spell,” the witch added.
“Oi!” the djinn shouted. “Dyin’ o’ thirst, here!”
The wizard sighed, flicked his wand toward the top of a nearby palm, and caught a coconut as it sailed down into his hands. Then he drew a long, silver knife; hesitated, with a shake of his head perceptible in spite of the hood; and drove it through the shell of the coconut with an ease that made the djinn’s eyes go wide. Another wave of the wand and the smell of piña colada brought moisture back to the djinn’s dry mouth. Sober as he suddenly was, the djinn’s hand shook slightly as he accepted the fruit from the wizard’s hand. The umbrella went in, and for a while the only sound that came from behind it was a slow, steady slurp.
“That’s him sorted,” the witch said, the Romanian lilt in her voice contrasting with her British turn of phrase. She held out her right hand palm-up, balanced her wand on it, and chanted: “Annulus invenio.” The wand began to spin like the needle of a compass, only it didn’t stop until the witch muttered, “Finite.”
“It has to be through here,” the wizard said, gesturing with his head toward the wall of water. “I would hate to waste a wish on a broom only to find out that it forms a dome over the entire peninsula.”
The djinn snickered behind its paper umbrella.
“What?” the wizard demanded. “What’s funny?”
“You said penim- …er. Penum… Pessinoola…” Slurp. “Wicked ‘ot, it is. Wot wuz I sayin’?”
“Your drink is evaporating,” the witch warned, and that silenced the djinn for another while.
“Bubble-head might get us through,” the wizard mumbled, thinking aloud again. “That’s if we can move fast enough to get to the other side before the sharks get us. And I can’t tell how thick this water-weave is…”
“This would be a great place to bring the kids,” the witch said, gazing in the opposite direction to where a lithe, beautiful skink lay sunning itself on the silvery beach. No sooner were the words out of her mouth than a huge pair of jaws rose up from beneath the sand and closed around the unsuspecting reptile. “Maybe when they’re a bit bigger, though,” she added, shaken.
“An animagus transformation would help about now,” the wizard said, continuing his previous train of thought and oblivious to what the witch was saying. “Only it would have to be to some type of aquatic creature. But those spells take ages to learn. And the sharks could still be a problem.”
“Maybe a divination spell can get through their defenses,” the witch speculated, squatting down before a tiny, reflective puddle of water. As she held the tip of her wand above the surface, a long black tongue darted out of the water, wrapped itself around the wand, and pulled hard. The witch barely managed to hold on as she engaged the creature in the pool in a fierce tug-of-war. Meanwhile, she couldn’t spare the effort of calling for help, so the wizard had no idea this was happening. The djinn watched from under his paper umbrella, but did nothing to cheer her on except to continue slurping on his piña colada.
“Maybe a freezing hex?” the wizard thought aloud. “In this climate, it might not last long enough to kill anything, but it might give us time to break through to the other side… Only, it could be a meter thick. How would we get through it then?”
The witch finally wrestled her wand free of the grip of the submerged creature’s prehensile tongue. She sat back on the sand, panting, until something stung her hand and she leapt up with a cry.
“Be quiet, will you?” the wizard snapped without looking over. He had begun to pace up and down before the wall of water. “One of us is trying to think here.”
The witchground her teeth in frustration, cradling her stung hand as it swelled and turned red.
“Give us a butcher’s,” the djinn said, considerately setting his coconut aside and offering the witch a helpful hand.
Dubiously, the witch let the djinn check out her wounds.
“Hmm,” he said, after holding the swollen limb close to his bleary eyes, sniffing the wound, and giving the swelling a gentle squeeze. “Ah,” he said knowledgeably. “Nuffink a wee wish wouldn’t sort” was his diagnosis.
The witch yanked her hand away from the djinn’s inebriated caress. “I can wait for it to mend on its own,” she sniffed.
“Meanwhile,” the djinn said, shaking his empty coconut sadly, “P’raps yer’d make me five or six more o’ these while yer ‘ave time. Would hate ter get thirsty watchin’ yer writhe in t’agathas… er, agronomies… angernees…”
“Don’t you wish you had this fellow’s way with words?” the witch called to the wizard behind her.
“Yes, dear,” the wizard said absentmindedly.
Suddenly there was another “pop” as of a champagne cork going. The djinn hiccoughed and fell backward onto the sand, groaning, “Coo, but me ‘ead ‘urts!”
At the same moment, the wizard exclaimed: “I think I’ve got it, now!”
The witch, meanwhile, had realized her mistake and tried to stop her partner before he did something they would all regret. “Spanky! Wait!”
Spanky did not hear her. Flourishing his wand, he was already halfway through an elaborate incantation that began with Congelato! and was supposed to end withReducto! As a result of the djinn’s magic, it came out otherwise than as planned. He said “Congelato,” all right; and a shield of frozen water spread before him from a center point directly opposite the tip of his wand. But instead of “Reducto,” he said “Radix toe!” Then he stared dumbly at the ice shield before him, which was not blasted open by his second spell as expected. Instead, it continued spreading, though more slowly every moment; then stopped and began shrinking again, until all the ice was gone and the water-weave was back to normal.
When he tried to turn around to appeal to Ilona for help, he found himself stuck fast. Looking down, Spanky discovered a long tap-root growing out of his big toe. It had ripped a hole in his right boot and was busily burrowing into the sand when Spanky caught it. In wrestling it free of the sand, he fell over backward and had a good roll in the sand before he caught the waving root under control and, finally, singed it off with a silent blast of flame from his wand.
“Bovver,” he said as he rose to his feet, examining his wand with concern. “Wot could’ve gorn wrong? Oi! Why am I talkin’ like…”
Spanky finally paused and looked at the witch, who had stopped trying to get his attention and now seemed to wish she could become invisible.
“Ilona, luv,” he said, grimacing at the words he heard coming out of his mouth, “what’ve yer done?”
“Actually, you did it,” Ilona replied evasively.
“Did wot, luv?”
“Wished to talk like the djinn does.”
“Did I?” Spanky looked severely dubious.
“A technicality,” said the djinn, lifting one hand, index finger raised, from his otherwise supine repose.
“He tricked me,” Ilona added.
“You tricked him,” the djinn countered.
Ilona rolled her eyes and said, rather to Spanky than to the djinn, “Give him another drink and we can wish it all right back.”
Spanky covered his face with both hands.
“She knows ‘ow yer feel, mate,” said the djinn.
“I wish,” said Spanky.
“Aargh!” yowled the djinn, simultaneous to the popping of an invisible champagne cork. The magical creature clutched his head with one hand and his belly with another. “The mornin’ after is comin’ early, an’ no mistake…”
“Oh, Ilona,” the wizard groaned.
She turned away from him, her lips white. “Yer meant ter do that,” she accused, wincing at the sound of her own voice.
“Get the poor sick child a hair o’ the dog,” the djinn begged. “I can ‘ardly stand it.”
Spanky produced three more coconuts, swiftly and efficiently cutting them open for the djinn’s convenience.
“There’s the problem,” he said informatively, as he cleaned his silver knife. “Djinn need lurbi-… loobi… lurbrication ter work proper. Lee.”
“Lee who?” Ilona said, rubbing her forehead.
“Proper-like,” Spanky corrected himself. Sort of. “Look, there’s a way ter get through this weave fing. We just ‘ave to say the spell careful-like.”
The djinn scowled. “Do I soun’ like that fer real?”
“Shut yer gob,” the witch-wizard couple said in unison.
“Let’s try putting shark ter sleep,” Ilona suggested.
“Good idea,” said Spanky. They approached the water wall together.
While Ilona pointed her wand at the wall, Spanky stuck his arm into it and splashed it around. The shark jumped at him so quickly that he almost didn’t have time to pull his arm back. Luckily, Ilona hit it with what was meant to be a Morpheus spell. Somehow it came out “Morphequus.” Instead of falling asleep, the shark turned into a horse and leaped, neighing, out of the water weave.
As the sound of galloping hooves receded into the stand of palm trees, Ilona hung her head in humiliation. The djinn, however, laughed so hard that piña colada came out of his nose.
“This makes the aeons spent squeezed int’ a dusty bottle worthwhile,” he chortled as he wiped the moisture off his face. Then, after licking his fingers, he returned to his drinking.
“We’d best do this fast,” said Ilona, observing that the once-towering djinn would now stand shorter than herself. “If ‘e keeps drinkin’ at this rate, we won’ be able ter find him ter wish our way home.”
After several more attempts to put the waiting sharks to sleep had the same effect, the island was home to a large herd of wild horses, all noisily whinnying, cropping the tropical grass, and running along the shore while the sun baked the seawater out of their coats. At last, using his arm as bait, Spanky was unable to attract any more predators. So, bracing themselves with a long look into each other’s loving eyes, the witch and wizard held their breath and dove through the vertical lagoon.
A moment later they found themselves standing, drenched, on a flat, teardrop-shaped island under a dome clear water, lit by the sun beyond. Amid the rippling, dancing patterns of light and shadow, they spotted a long, low, barn-like building, half-buried in a dune at the far end of the island.
“It must be here,” breathed Ilona.
Spanky seemed preoccupied. His eyes closed, his nostrils flared…
“What is it?”
“Don’t you smell them?”
“I smell something,” Ilona whispered. “I thought it might be from having the sea all around us.”
“No,” he said.
If either of them noticed that they had their own accents back, neither remarked on it. Ilona strained her senses toward the building at the far end of the peninsula.
“Listen,” said Spanky in a voice so low that Ilona more felt than heard it. “Listen. Youmust hear them.”
For a moment he did not seem to hear her. Then, just as she separated a sound in the background from the muffled hum of the surf–just as she realized that it reminded her of the growling of a wild beast–a lonely voice, almost human, raised itself in a blood-chilling howl. Then another. Then several others… All of them coming from that slow, sand-swept shack.
The howling of wolves. No… The howling of werewolves.
“What is that djinn playing at?” Ilona trembled.
“Wishes are dangerous things,” Spanky replied, unsheathing his dagger for the third time that day.
“Put that up,” said a voice to their left. Ilona jumped. Spanky whirled, but not before two spells hit him, one blasting his knife out of his hand, the other taking his wand.
“Expelliarmus!” Ilona hissed, disarming the smaller of the two cloaked figures that had crept up on them from behind the dunes.
The larger of the two, however, took her wand. Doing the math, Spanky and Ilona held up their empty hands.
The wizard Ilona had disarmed picked up the weapons that had been dropped. The one who had overcome them wriggled the tip of his wand in Spanky’s direction. “Where’s the other barrel?”
The double-barreled wizard gently pulled out his second wand, grimacing in chagrin, and handed it over to his captor.
“Very good. Now I know the both of you, and you probably know me…” Harvey put back his hood.
“Did you like my wall? Family specialty, one of the premium items in our catalogue. No? Well, here you are. I regret that I can’t say, ‘Welcome to my home from home,’ but you didn’t choose the best time to pay a call.”
To punctuate this remark, the werewolves in the barn–the not-very-distant-at-all barn–renewed their chorus of mournful howling.
“A full moon is going to be rising soon,” said Harvey. “Your arrival at this of all times–most particularly, the scent of your blood–could have a most interesting effect on our breeding and training programme.”
“Ours?” Spanky asked. “Yours and who else’s?”
“Surely you recognize the man who took your knife,” said Harvey, gesturing toward his smaller, hooded partner. “Why, he’s the man who gave it you.”
Another hood fell back, and so sharp was Spanky’s shock that as he sucked air through his teeth, it made a whistling sound.
“Zophar,” Ilona croaked. “Zophar Good!”
“Alive and well,” said the twisted little man; and he gave a slight bow.
“How are you alive?” Spanky asked, his voice thick with emotion. Then, with sudden anger, he demanded: “What would possess you to breed an army of werewolves?”
“The usual motives,” said Zophar Goode. “Money, revenge, and…”
“Shush!” said Harvey, but a moment later the need to conceal his last secret was moot. A loud, rubbery snap echoed deafeningly within the water-weave dome. As the echoes died, all eyes looked up at the top of the nearby dune, behind which someone had begun to play a recorder. A furry hump emerged above the top of the dune, followed by the rest of a harnessed yak. Leading it were two servants, while a third played the recorder and, walking beside the animal with her hand on its snout, a witch with a sort of motor-veil wrapped around the brim of her hat came into view. She raised a hand to wave at the party on the beach, releasing the end of the veil so that the wind caught it and let it trail behind her like a flag.
“Yoo-hoo!” cried Madam Solfeggia as her party picked its way over the top of the dune. She beamed at everyone as she came closer, most especially Ilona and Spanky.
“If it isn’t the very people I was hoping to see before feeding-time,” said the wolf-woman as her entourage brought the yak to a halt. “I was starting to worry that my clues were too subtle. But here you are!” Ilona was too nonplussed to resist having her cheeks air-kissed. “Has Harvey been a gracious host and shown you the puppies? They’re just wolves at the moment, but wait until dusk and I daresay you’ll be impressed! Shall we refresh ourselves?”
Harvey and Zophar Goode exchanged a look of bewilderment that mirrored the way Spanky and Ilona were feeling.
“I think there’s been a misunderstanding,” said Ilona. “We’re not here about the yak killing. We’ve come to ask Harvey to turn over an heirloom of my family which he has been, er, minding for me…”
“Don’t be silly,” said Madam Solfeggia, preening her robes while the recorder-player tootled on. “We both know Harvey isn’t to be trusted with such an object. There are simply too many of him. No, dear, I’ve been holding the ring for you. But first, I have a teensy favor to ask of you. I would ordinarily be ashamed of the imposition, but since you can hardly resist my written request, I think the two of you could be of great service to me.”
“To do what?” Spanky growled. “To set yourself up as the next dark lord?”
“Oh, no!” Madam Solfeggia laughed musically. She took Ilona’s hand and handed it to Harvey, then put her hand on Spanky’s elbow. “Nothing remotely like that. I only wish to lift the stigma that my kind must live under.” She kept talking as she, Harvey, and the ever-present recorder-player led the Spankisons back over the dune from which she had come, while Zophar Goode and the other two servants led the yak away toward the barn. “The ostracism, the shunning. The persecution, even to the point of hunting and killing. It all has to be stopped. The time has long since come, but now at last the means has come as well.”
“And how do you propose to do that?” said Spanky, as a roof of a smaller building–a house, perhaps–came into view behind the next dune but one. “I mean, if it were as simple as writing a letter, sealed with the Ring of Count Matthias, telling everyone who reads the Daily Prophet to accept werewolves as equal members of society…”
“I would already have done it?” Madam Solfeggia agreed. “But surely you see that it can’t be that simple. I mean to say, what would happen after I returned the Ring to you? You would have it in your power to reverse everything I had accomplished. No, our solution must be more permanent. I only took the ring because I needed you, the two most trusted agents in the Rogue Magic Bureau.”
Their musically-enhanced walk came to an end below the front porch of a modestly-proportioned but strongly-built house. “Do have a seat,” Madam Solfeggia said, gesturing toward a row of driftwood chairs on the porch. “Dinty will be here presently with refreshments.”
“I won’t make myself comfortable,” said Spanky, pulling his arm out of the wolf-lady’s grip, “until you tell me how you mean to use me.”
“Use you?” The lady’s eyes softened. “I should think you would assist me willingly. Surely you can sense the injustice of the way my people are treated!”
“I simply can’t see what all this”–Spanky gestured toward the barn, now hidden behind a dune, but easy enough to locate by the renewed howling that must have been triggered by the yak’s arrival–“what all this is going to accomplish, in terms of gaining the sympathy of the wizarding world.”
“The answer is simple, Mr. Spankison: We propose to have more people bitten. Many, many more.”
“Merlin’s beard,” Spanky gasped. Ilona squeezed his hand, looking sick.
Madam Solfeggia, meanwhile, kept talking, gazing out upon the beach below and the base of the water-weave dome that enclosed it, oblivious to their horror. “Soon nearly every magical family will understand the trial that all too few of us now bear. People hate what they fear, and they fear what they do not understand. So doesn’t it stand to reason that if they come to understand–really understand…”
+++ A NOTE FROM ROBBIE +++
Thanks for your patience, as this chapter took a record 3 months to pull together. My prognostication, back in September, that it was going to come out in record time, goes to show that I probably have Trelawney blood! I am fairly confident that the time-management crisis that curtailed my creative writing for a few months is now behind me (more or less), so I hope you can expect a few more Quills in 2011!
+++ DOUBLE CHALLENGE FOR TMQ #179 +++
You can help decide what happens next in The Magic Quill! Simply leave a brief comment (up to 150 words) answering the following Survey and Contest. The survey answer with the most votes, and the contest answer that Robbie likes best, will turn up in the chapter after next.
SURVEY: Which Magic Quill hero holds the ultimate key to putting the pieces of Harvey back together? A) Spanky with his djinn. B) Joe Albuquerque with his hag. C) Sadie with her waveform collapser. D) Endora with the potion described below. E) Your write-in candidate–the more radical the suggestion, the better!
CONTEST: Our Endora hasn’t had much to do for a while. What exciting potion has she been working on? Feel free not only to name the potion, but to describe how it’s made, what it’s supposed to do, and what happens if it isn’t made quite right. The winning entry will be the most entertaining idea.