The Magic Quill #72: The Yesterday Pill

by Robbie Fischer

Once the Hand of Glory illuminated the inside of the vault, Rigel stopped holding his breath and gave a slight giggle. Up close, the Time Vault looked a great deal like the store-room in the back of an apothecary’s shop. Tall, narrow, wooden shelves stood in long rows, lined with various bottles of pills and corked jugs. Everything was meticulously labeled in small, crabbed handwriting. In the light of the Hand of Glory, the gleam in Rigel’s eye began to look greedy.

“This is more like what I came here for,” he said. “Look at these things! Potions, salves, and powders to make the years melt away. A strawberry-flavored syrup to make children grow up faster. A liniment to make grown-ups act their age. A scent to make a woman smell younger, a lotion to make her look younger, a tonic to make her feel younger…look! There are even furniture polishes! This one adds an antique look, that one takes it away…”

“Rigel,” Merlin said, with a warning note in his voice.

Rigel turned on him defensively. In so doing, he dropped Merlin’s hand and plunged everyone but himself into darkness. He didn’t notice, of course, and the others heard his answer without difficulty: “If we can get some of these things out into the world, we could make our fortunes!”

“Then why aren’t they on the market already?” Merlin challenged.

Rigel sniffed. “Do I care?”

“You should. They could be very dangerous! Time is not something to be trifled with…”

“Anselm’s chin!” Rigel cried. “Will you look at this?”

“I wish I could,” Slavik muttered. The other Durmstrang lads were muttering among themselves and bumping into things in their blindness, but Rigel took no notice.

“The Yesterday Pill!” said Rigel, hoarse with excitement. “I’ve heard of this. Do you know what it does?”

Merlin snorted, groping in vain for his unreliable friend. “I don’t suppose it’s a hangover cure? Like, fix the morning after by rubbing out the night before?”

“You’re quite close,” Rigel said with awe in his voice. The humor had passed him by entirely. “The Yesterday Pill is supposed to give you a second chance. A chance to do yesterday over, if you take my meaning. A chance to correct your mistakes…”

“…or to make different mistakes,” Merlin cautioned.

Then he heard an alarming sound…the sound of an airtight seal being broken, and of pills being shaken out of a jar.

“What are you doing?” Merlin growled. “Stop that at once! You don’t know what could happen…”

“I do know,” said Rigel, evading Merlin’s groping hands. “It’s only a question of how many days to back up. Let’s say, twenty days in the wand tree preserve…”

As Rigel rattled off the litany of the weeks and months they had spent in various parts of Gringotts Wizarding Bank, the continual sound of pills being shaken out of their bottle drove Merlin to the brink of fury.

“Stop!” he repeated.

“It’s too bad you haven’t got water coming out of your wand anymore,” said Rigel. “I could use the water to chase these pills down. Well, then: down the hatch!”

“No!” screamed Merlin, and at last he caught a handful of Rigel’s robes. For a moment his eyes were dazzled by the sudden brightness from the Hand of Glory. Then, as soon as he could see again, he had to catch the Hand of Glory out of Rigel’s slackening grip. The pill bottle clattered out of the wizard’s other hand.

Slavik, holding Merlin’s robes with one hand, picked up the bottle with his right. “This is not right,” he said, with a cluck of his tongue. “Apothecaries these days, you can’t trust them.”

“What do you mean?” Merlin asked, alarmed, as Rigel sagged against his chest.

“Dosage is too strong,” said Slavik. “Each pill takes you backward a year, instead of a day.”

Merlin’s mind tripped into racing speed as the weight of these words hit him. He also noticed that Rigel’s body was shrinking. Instead of traveling through time, the poor fool was aging backward…and fast!

“How many pills did he take?” Merlin yelled.

Slavik shook his head frantically. “About half of bottle,” he said, fingering the pile of spilled pills. “He probably has more pills than years in him.”

Merlin wasted a moment swearing, then grabbed Karl (who was just within reach) with the hand that he didn’t need to support the Hand of Glory. “Hurry,” he said. “Look for a bottle or jar that says Tomorrow on it.”

It didn’t take long. Next to a whole shelf filled with bottles of the Yesterday Pill stood a single, slender flask etched with the words “Tomorrow Tonic.”

“Uncork it, quick!” Merlin cried.

The bottle was stopped with some kind of glass knob. Karl struggled with it for a while, then Jaan tried to help him. By now, Merlin was cradling a small child in his arms, a child who looked all but lost in adult-sized robes.

“We only have a minute before he disappears entirely,” Merlin said urgently, fighting back a note of hysteria that was trying to come out of his mouth. “Hurry!”

The struggle between Karl and Jaan ended with Jaan flying backwards and landing on top of Anatoly, who yelped with pain. With the bottle suddenly uncorked and released from Jaan’s opposing grip, Karl managed to splash most of its contents on himself and the others. Finally, he reached it toward Merlin, who snatched it up and poured a few drops between Rigel’s lips.

“Effect is slowing,” Slavik observed, as Rigel’s body slowly achieved the proportions of an infant a few months old. He continued to look younger and younger, but at a barely noticeable rate. “Give him more,” said Slavik.

Merlin did so, several times. At one point Slavik added, “Effect has stopped.” A moment later Karl was saying, “He iss gettink elder again. Vee haff safed him.”

But at that exact moment, Merlin groaned. He shook the little bottle of Tomorrow Tonic.

It was empty. And instead of a full-grown wizard, he held in his arms a child of about a year old, perhaps a few months more.

“Is there nothing else?” Merlin whispered.

Karl borrowed the Hand of Glory for a while and looked at all the shelves, searching for something even remotely like the Tomorrow Tonic. The problem was, most things like that would never sell. Most people wish to grow younger, at times; no one needs any help growing older.

“What about that stuff Rigel said would make children grow up faster?” Merlin demanded.

Karl sat down regretfully with the other wizards, and shook his head. “I tink zat vas it,” he murmured, and gestured toward the empty bottle on the floor.

Rigel—a little more than a baby, a little less than a toddler—chose that moment to wake up. He looked up at Merlin, smiled, and said something like, “Bubba.”

“I don’t know,” Merlin sighed. “I almost like him better this way.”

A moment later he changed his mind, when little Rigel filled his lungs and began to scream “BUBBA!” at a deafening volume.

“Now what we do?” Slavik shouted over the din.

“I know!” yelled Merlin. “He’ll have every goblin in this place upon us in five…”

“Is not what I mean,” Slavik bellowed. “This I see before. I have many younger brothers and sisters. Child is hungry!”

Only then did the full gravity of the situation dawn on Merlin. On the blotter in his mind he drew a line through the word “ESCAPE.” He paused, the tip of his mental quill resting next to the word “SURVIVAL,” then drew an inky line through it as well.

“Does anyone have a suggestion?” he said numbly, as Slavik took the child from his arms.

The five men stared dumbly at each other, and Slavik winced while baby teeth gnawed on his fingertip. The brief silence was a relief. But a moment later another sound entered the Time Vault from outside…the sound of a Gringotts cart rolling along the tracks. Before anyone could suggest a course of action, the decision was taken out of their hands.

“So we meet again,” said a familiar voice, and they looked up to see a dozen goblins carrying silvery lanterns and evil-looking weapons. Standing at the very front was one of their least favorite goblins in the world.

“Why, hello, Nailspike,” said Merlin, in a weary attempt to sound happy to see him.

What happens next? Send us your idea in 150 words or less, and tune in next week for another installment of the Magic Quill.