Witch and wizard, p.5

Witch & Wizard, page 5

 part  #1 of  Witch & Wizard Series


Witch & Wizard

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  The sting was icy cold, then burning, and I gasped and clutched my hand to my chest.

  “No, you don’t, witch,” the Death figure commanded. “Your days of controlling people and objects with your evil powers are over. I am here now. I am your Visitor.”

  Chapter 26


  WHEN THAT BULLYING, cowardly freak smacked Wisty’s hand with his snake whip, I almost lunged for him. I was ready to fight to the death, whatever it took. Nobody hits my sister.

  Wisty bravely cradled her hand and watched him, her jaw set.

  I glared at this Visitor creep, trying to distract him. “Let me guess. No one loved you as a child. Or as an adult. Well, tough noogies!”

  Then, smack! I gasped as the riding crop whipped across my face, opening up my skin with a white-hot sting. Blood started running down my cheek.

  “This is your first full day at the Hospital, wizard,” said the Visitor. “So I’m going to be especially gentle with you. But you won’t ever speak to the Matron or me that way again. We’re the only things standing between you and a fate far worse than death.”

  “So there’s something worse than being kidnapped in the middle of the night, kept in prison, sentenced to death in a laughable trial, and then locked up in a condemned hospital with two sadists? It’s going to get worse?!”

  “Are you done?” he asked calmly.

  I shrugged and was just deciding what to say next when the crop zapped out of nowhere and hit me on the left ear, then the right ear, then the tip of my chin.

  “Yessss. Much worse,” said the Visitor. “Your file indicated you weren’t the brightest bulb in the chandelier. At any rate, you would do well to learn this much: this”—he sighed and gestured around our dank and disgusting cell—“is your new home.

  “We have armed guards, security cameras, electronic perimeters, and multiple lethal safeguards that I’m not at liberty to discuss. Also, you’ll have no luck circumventing any of these systems with your trickery. This entire building has been altered to dampen your energies, and you will find you have no powers here. In short, once you walked in the door, you effectively became normal.”

  Wisty and I exchanged a glance meaning “except for glowing.” I swear we could read each other’s mind sometimes, especially lately.

  “As to this room’s amenities, please note that your one external window has a western exposure, through which you can see the blackness of a ten-story-deep ventilation shaft, the bottom of which is fitted with a turbine that could grind a blue whale into mush in less than ten seconds. Feel free to throw yourselves down it at any time.”

  He continued like a hotel bellman describing an executive suite. “You also have your own semiprivate bathroom, complete with our special-issue toilet paper that feels so airy, you’ll swear it’s not even there.”

  I looked into our doorless bathroom nook, which contained a seatless toilet surrounded by dust and chunks of fallen plaster, and I confirmed that, yes, in fact, there was no toilet paper.

  The Visitor looked down his long, hooked nose at us. “I will be back periodically to check on you,” he said in his deep zombielike voice. “If you misbehave in any way, well”—he paused and gave a smile that would have made a crocodile look cheerful—“I will mete out punishment.”

  Sssst! The riding crop slashed through the air, missing my eye by a whisker. “I’ll see you soon…. Promise.”

  Then he was gone, and the lock turned behind him.

  “I don’t much care for him,” said Wisty. “You?”

  Chapter 27


  WISTY THEN SUMMED UP our situation with typical offhanded precision.

  “This totally sucks,” she said.

  I considered that. Between our various bruises, bumps, cuts, welts, and torn clothes, it looked like we’d been in a cage match with a wolverine.

  I also had less than a month to live.

  “Much too optimistic,” I said. “You always see the bright side, don’t you?”

  I wandered around the room, trying to distract myself from the burning pain of my injuries. But I was having trouble forming thoughts… other than self-torturing ones about juicy burgers and black-and-white milk shakes… and cheese fries. I’d never been so hungry in all my life.

  Then I noticed Wisty sitting on the mattress, moving her lips silently.

  “Talking to yourself already?” I asked.

  “Why not? We’re in an insane asylum.” She smiled, then looked a little bit sheepish. “Actually, if you need to know, I’m trying to come up with a spell. You know, to get us out of here. If I’m a witch, I ought to be able to go ‘shazam’ and blast the door open.”

  “They said we had no power here. You weren’t paying attention to The One With The Bullwhip.”

  “Really? Then tell me that my little radioactive moment was just a weird dream,” she said.

  “Okay, you win, glowgirl,” I said. “So, you think ‘shazam’ will do it? Go for it.”

  She waved her hands at the door. “Shazam!” she yelled.

  Snick! It popped right open.

  Chapter 28


  “HERE. BOTH OF YOU!” The Matron’s bigfoot-size body filled our doorway. “Come with me, vermin. I suppose it’s time you learned how to get food and water.”

  In the woman’s massive hands were two beat-up plastic pails, which she flung out to us. Call it a hunch, but this already didn’t look good. I’d have done anything to get a drink of water, though. The sink in our bathroom didn’t work… and what was in the toilet wasn’t exactly, um, potable.

  We each took a pail and followed the Matron as she noisily clomped down the dark hall, her keys jangling with each lurching step and her preternaturally huge feet sausaged into chunky white shoes.

  I started to make out noises ahead, and they were vaguely… animalish. Snarls, growls, and high-pitched whines filled my ears.

  “What is this?” Wisty croaked. “Now what?”

  The Matron gestured toward the end of the hall. “There’s food way, way, way down there. And water. Use your pails.” She looked down at her enormous steel-banded watch. “You have four minutes. If you’re not back by then”—her black eyes shone and her mouth stretched in a horrible approximation of a smile—“then I’ll know you’ve passed to the other side. Violently.”

  Turning, she clomped her way back to the nurses’ station fifty yards behind us. “Take care,” she called.

  My palm was already sweaty where I held on to the thin metal handle of my pail. The hallway in front of us was lined on either side by… canine animals of some sort. Mad dogs? Wolves? Black-furred hyenas? Hungry, angry, hostile animals, chained to the walls up and down the hallway.

  Somehow we had to get past them—and back—in four minutes… but only if we wanted food and water.

  Only if we wanted to live.

  Chapter 29


  ANYONE WHO’S EVER BEEN on the verge of a major disaster, possibly even death, will tell you that the most mundane things can go through your mind. Just before I was about to sacrifice my life to the animals, I thought about a really mean dog that used to live on our block. When I was little, my friends and I always rode our bikes on the other side of the street, because the dog looked wild and we were scared it would break free and bite our butts.

  Her name was Princess. She was a shih tzu. And she now seemed like a fuzzy teddy bear that I could have dressed up in doll clothes for a tea party.

  “Are those dogs?” Whit asked hoarsely as we started down the hallway. “Or wolves?”

  I shook my head. “I’m going with hellhounds.”

  “Do you think maybe you could burst into flames again?” Whit whispered.

  “I can’t do it on purpose,” I croaked, frustrated. “I’m trying. Not happening.”

  “Okay. Well, I’ll go,” Whit rasped back, then blew out a thin gust of air.

  “No,” I wheezed. “I’m small and fast.”

/>   Before Whit and I had a chance to finish the argument, we saw a small, indistinct figure appear at the end of the hall. Holding a pail.

  “Who’s that?” I muttered.

  Whoever it was suddenly darted forward, leaping and dodging and almost crashing against the wall, hurtling toward us at a furious pace. “It” was about thirty feet away when it suddenly tripped and fell.

  Instantly several hounds fell on it, snarling and snapping. Just watching the awful scene took my breath away.

  “I have to help,” Whit said, making a move toward the hapless soul.

  But then the little figure bounced up, pail in hand, and hustled straight toward us again. I couldn’t tell if it was a boy or a girl, but it was definitely a little kid, maybe five or six years younger than me. Blood streaked the poor tyke’s hair and ragged T-shirt. We stood to one side as he or she dashed past, then collapsed on the dirty floor, huddling against the wall, head and shoulders shaking.

  The pail, which had fallen over when the child had tripped, was now completely empty. The hellhounds had eaten or drunk everything the kid had risked life and limb for.

  Crying silently, the huddled figure grabbed the empty pail, skittered away on hands and knees to a couple of doors down the hall, and disappeared inside.

  Whit and I looked on in shocked silence.

  The Matron merely peered at her watch. “Seventy seconds,” she told us. “Ticktock.”

  Chapter 30


  HAVE YOU EVER TRIED to think loudly? It seems like a contradiction in terms. But you do what you gotta do when you have to pretend you can’t hear the sounds of vicious snarling and snapping jaws and teeth all around you.

  I had to shout in my head over and over as I bolted down the hall with both our pails, Make like you’re doing the hundred-yard dash—at the regional championship. Run, run, run!

  Argh! I felt my feet stumble but caught myself and kept sprinting. Not the regional championship, I thought. The world championship.

  “Victory, victory, victory!” I yelled senselessly, hoping I never had to explain to Wisty that this was what I occasionally chanted to myself when I was in competition, to psych myself up, to help me pretend to be the all-American boy I thought everybody wanted me to be.

  It sounded pretty lame in the middle of an obstacle course of mad dogs, but it was working. Somehow I made it to the end of the hall with only a nip or two. I turned, gave Wisty a psychotic thumbs-up, then plowed through a doorway.

  And stopped dead in my tracks.

  It was pretty dark. And the room seemed empty. Was this the Matron’s idea of a trap? Good one, if it was. Way to go, Matron.

  For a second I felt more vulnerable than ever before. I half expected a mad dog or wolf to shoot out of the dark and tear into my face.

  It seemed like an eternity before my eyes adjusted, but I finally detected two troughlike shapes against a wall. The Matron hadn’t lied after all—amazing! I dashed over to them, sloppily filling my pails with sludgelike gruel and tepid water.

  I was feeling so good, I dunked my face in the brackish liquid for a hearty slurp. The sensation of my head underwater gave me a rush of energy.

  Clutching the pails to my chest, I sprinted out of the room, then down the hall toward my sister, who was jumping up and down like a manic cheerleader.

  “Good hellhounds!” I heard her yell through the din of the barking devil dogs. “Sweet little hellhounds, let him through. Go, Whit, go!”

  At that very moment, I felt the clamp of an animal’s jaws on my pants.

  I crashed against a wall, but I kept my focus—Victory, victory, victory!—and surged forward through the growls and snarls.

  Seeing Wisty’s face ahead supercharged me for the last few paces. I practically flew into her arms, and she hugged me hard.

  “You’re awesome!” she gushed. “You did great, Whit.”

  The Matron was striding toward us, holding her stun gun at eye level. “Foul!” she called out. Foul? Without warning, she hit me with a jolt.

  I barely knew what had happened as I collapsed and the pails tumbled and rolled.

  “Four minutes, six seconds!” the Matron shrieked. “No food. No water!”

  She snatched the pails away as I drooled on the floor.

  Chapter 31


  AS THE DAYS PASSED, my sister and I managed to stave off death by dehydration by locating a drip of what we hoped was rainwater or condensation just outside our ventilation-shaft window. By snaking a piece of wire for it to run along and then planting at the other end a crumpled paper cup we’d found, we got a few mouthfuls every three or four hours. It tasted like drywall dust, but it was a total lifesaver.

  The whole thing was so backward. Last week a bad day was getting busted for exercising my right not to do trigonometry homework and having to face two hours after school with some of my best friends in detention.

  This week, if only from the sheer boredom and depression of this place, I would have faced my trig textbook like it was The Ultimate Book of Hot Cars.

  Then one afternoon, I was lying on our mattress and thinking about Celia, hoping she would come back, even in another dream, when my sister exclaimed, “Whit! Whit! WHIT! Will you look at me, please? WHITFORD!”

  Wisty’s voice brought me back to the totally screwed-up here and now. I kept my eyes closed, wanting to sink right back into my Celia thoughts.

  “Whit!” Her stupid drumstick whacked my leg. “Open your eyes right now!”

  “Ow! What is so important?” I griped, sitting up and snatching away the drumstick with irritation. “The pizza’s here?”

  My sister stood in front of me, holding out the journal. “Look at this!” she said, shaking the dusty book in my face.

  I took the tome and examined the cover. Seemed the same to me.

  “So what? It’s old, it’s musty, it’s useless.”

  “Flip through the pages. Do it, Whit. Humor me.”

  Then I saw the impossible. Suddenly the journal was filled with words, pictures, illustrations. And handwriting that looked like my father’s.

  “Holy—” I stood up. “It’s the next book in the Percival Johnson series. That’s not supposed to come out until next year,” I said. “That’s interesting. The Thunder Stealer was one of my all-time favorite books.”

  “What?” Wisty said. “Are you seeing the same thing I am?”

  I turned pages. “Holy crap.” I thumbed forward. “The Ultimate Book of Hot Cars!”

  “Hold on. I didn’t see that!” Wisty snatched the book back. “No, no, it’s got the History of World Art! And prints by my favorite artists, Pepe Pompano and Margie O’Greeffe. And it’s got all my favorite novels too!” She quickly riffled through the pages. “See?” She held the journal under my nose, its pages open. “Look, everything by my favorite writer, K. J. Meyers. And it’s got The Blueprints of Bruno Genet. And The Firegirl Saga. Right here!”

  I looked. This time I saw The Swimsuit Issue Deluxe Compendium.

  “Whit… I think I get it,” Wisty said with a hushed kind of awe. “The book shows each of us what we want to see.” Then her eyes got huge and she stared at me. “It’s magic. That’s why Dad gave it to you.”

  I took the journal back from Wisty. “Show me where Celia is,” I tried halfheartedly, but then actually held my breath like I was expecting something.

  Nothing. Unless The Ultimate Book of Hot Cars was supposed to somehow take me to Celia.

  “We have to figure out how all this works,” Wisty said tensely. “I know you think I’m crazy, but I’m starting to really believe in us. Our magic. We just have to practice, Whit. We have to work harder. Maybe you are a wizard. Maybe I am a witch.”

  Chapter 32


  I HAD A REALLY GREAT TEACHER ONCE, Mrs. Solie, who told us she had the one true secret to happiness. She said it was all about seeing life as half full instead of half empty, no matter what happened to you. Actually, I was pret
ty okay with that. But what about when it’s .000001 full?

  The days passed—and there were tests, tests, TESTS. Medical tests, physical-strength tests, intelligence tests, “normality” tests, patriotism tests, more medical tests.

  One particular night, when I was barely awake and suffering absolutely horrendous hunger pains, they grabbed Whit from our cell and took him away.

  “You can’t!” I screamed. “It’s not his time yet! I’ve been counting! It’s not time! He’s not eighteen!”

  But the next thing I knew, the Matron was dragging me out of the room too, then pushing me down a long hall to a lone window.

  She pointed outside, to a cement courtyard below. She was singsonging under her foul breath, “Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday, dear Whit… happy death day to you.”

  My blood froze and my heart nearly stopped beating. In the courtyard was an old-fashioned gallows.

  She continued into the second verse: “How dead are you now? How dead are you now?” and then broke into a hideous donkey bray.

  A few seconds later, a troop of guards pushed Whit ahead of them out into the courtyard. His hands and feet were in cuffs, which made him stumble-walk.

  I tried to swallow but couldn’t as I watched a guard put a black hood over Whit’s head.

  “No!” I shouted, pounding my fists against the glass. “No!” I pounded again, and blinked, and then suddenly…

  I was falling.

  Chapter 33


  THUNK! GASPING AND BLINKING, I looked around the claustrophobic jail cell, adrenaline already zapping my brain awake.

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