So I've been experimenting with cartoon styles. This one is more realistic than what we used for Wendell the World's Worst Wizard. Here's an initial sketch of Alex, the protagonist in an upcoming series.
By Alex (a fictional character that might end up being in a book)
My parents are weird. I know, I know, every kid says that about their parents. Maybe you're thinking the same thing about your own parents because they say things like "you're the man" or they refer to a stereo as a "boom box." However, there's a good chance your parents don't have spare limbs that they pop on and off like Legos. They probably don't add canned synthetic brains to their omelets. Don't worry, I don't eat those things. I'm brain-intolerant.
See, my parents are zombies and as bizarre as they might be, they aren't dangerous or creepy or anything like that. Just about everything you've learned about zombies is dead wrong . . . err . . . undead wrong, I guess. If you’re a human, chances are your perspective on zombies has been heavily influenced by things like television, video games, and movies. You’ve seen these bloodthirsty creatures rising up from the graves and attacking villages.
This post seeks to clarify some of that rotten misinformation you’ve received from authors determined to scapegoat actual zombies. So, here are some of the myths about zombies that simply aren't true.
Myth #1:Zombies are the living dead (or the walking dead).
Zombies can regenerate parts, which means they constantly retain a sense of youthful vigor. This also means they live significantly longer than humans. The average lifespan of a zombie is one hundred and fifty seven years. It is no wonder, then, that humans see this and assume that they must be the walking dead. I suppose a fly, with a measly one month lifespan must think you are a zombie as well. It’s an issue of perspective and proportional reasoning.
Myth #2: Zombies can’t die.
Maybe you’ve seen a zombie lose a leg in a movie and continue walking. That’s because zombies can pop their body parts on and off like a set of Legos. It’s pretty cool, actually. But, alas, zombies are still mortal.
Myth #3: Zombies eat brains.
This one is only partially correct. Zombies used to eat brains. However, they were cow brains (don’t knock it ’till you try it). I know, that sounds gross, but what do you think a hotdog is made of? Most modern day zombies eat synthetic brain replacement meals. It’s a nasty gelatinous blob that looks a bit like Jell-O and smells like SPAM.
Myth #4: Zombies are bloody.
Zombies shed parts in a way that’s closer to that of a snake. Yes, you might notice zombies with what seem like blood-stained clothes, but that’s simply because they love cherry cobbler. When they’re not eating fake brains, they’re eating loads and loads of cherry cobbler.
Myth #5: Zombies are technologically backward.
On the contrary, they have developed a smartphone that is thinner than a sheet of paper. They work diligently in trying to find cures for human diseases. In fact, zombies invented the first lightbulb in 1787, but had to keep it underground, because humans considered it "dark magic."
Myth #6: Zombies have bad posture.
It is true that zombies hunch over and bend their arms in unusual ways. However, that posture suits them perfectly. Using human standards to judge zombie posture is like saying a dog has a “bad leg” because it's curved.
Myth #7: Zombies are slow.
You may have seen zombie footage where they’re raising their arms out and stumbling around grunting. This isn’t how zombies typically walk. This is because many zombies enjoy yoga. The famous zombie pose is simply one of the positions popular in zombie yoga.
Myth #8: Zombies grunt all the time.
Actually, that’s the typical zombie language. Those weird guttural sounds and grunting are kind-of like German. Claiming that zombies are always grunting is like saying the French talk through their noses. It’s simply how zombies communicate.
Myth #9: Zombies are always angry.
You may have heard legends of zombies chasing people around the cemetery and assumed it was an urban legend. However, chances are the legends are real. Unfortunately, they were grossly misinterpreted. The zombies were yelling at one another, tackling each other, and perhaps even ripping off limbs (remember Lego-like, not bloody) in a wild game of zimpledompher. Unsuspecting humans assumed they were attacking people and freaked out as a result. If this seems unlikely, imagine yourself watching a football game with no knowledge of football. You might see the pushing, shoving and matching colors and come to the wrong conclusion that it’s a giant gang fight.
Myth #10: Zombies live in graves.
This is actually somewhat correct, but bare with me here before you jump to conclusions. When things became too dangerous for zombies, they went underground . . . literally. They built entire cities with tunnels connecting. Given the high price of real estate, they chose graveyards as their main locations. So the decision had less to do with being bloodthirsty villains and more based upon forward-thinking, value-based investors in real estate. However, they don’t actually live in graves. They leave deep under the graves. So, technically, it’s still a myth.
If you're doing a read aloud of Wendell the World's Worst Wizard or if you are interested in connecting your students with an author (or, in this case, co-authors), we are available to do free classroom interviews through Google Hangout or Skype. Simply fill out the following form and we will get back to you as soon as possible.
Anyone who has read Wendell the World's Worst Wizard realizes that Wendell was bullied by Bruno the Ballistic Bully Boy. We chose this for a reason. We wanted kids to know that people who are bullied can actually be heroic and powerful.
On a more personal level, I wanted kids to know that they are not alone. See, I was bullied pretty badly my freshman year of high school. A football player through me into lockers. I felt scared. I felt alone.
So, with that in mind, I would like to share some advice for students:
1. Stand up for those being bullied. In Wendell the World's Worst Wizard, nobody helps Wendell. Nobody steps in and stands up for him. If you see someone who is being bullied, say something. Speak up.
2. Report it. Wendell doesn't report Bruno to anyone. In my own experience, I didn't say anything for nearly a year. Bullies thrive on silence. It's part of what allows them to keep the power.
3. Don't blame the victim. If the first question to a kid being bullied is, "What are you doing to cause it?" you missed the point. It doesn't matter if a kid is different, odd, quirky, whatever. Being different should never be a reason to bully another child.
4. Sometimes it just doesn't make sense. In the story, Wendell doesn't know why he is being bullied and I've found that to be true in my own life and among many students. The motives are often confusing to kids.
5. Never tell someone being bullied to "just stand up for yourself." That misses the point. Bullying is about a balance of power. If it was as simple as just stepping up and stopping it, then bullying wouldn't be an issue.
6. Bullying isn't always physical. Sometimes it's emotional or social. Sometimes it's an issue of spreading rumors, lobbing insults or manipulating friends to avoid and exclude another person.
7. Sometimes it's hard to tell when someone is being bullied. There's this stereotype about victims, that they are weak or antisocial or timid. That's not always the case.
Final thought: Often, it gets better. This is the hardest thing to realize sometimes when you're in the midst of being bullied. The pain is real and sometimes it feels like things will never improve. However, over time, after the fact, things often get better. If I had known that there would be an end, I would have felt different about it.
We're honored to be included in the #LiteracyOlanterns. Brad Gustafson sketched and painted Wendell flying on the robotic dragon. It's so cool to see such a creative project in schools and to be included with other respected work.
I'm currently working on a book for our three kids. It is perhaps the most earnest thing that I've ever written. There's not a touch of irony. There's not a wink to the audience. Nothing is campy or self-deprecating. I pepper it with humor, but nothing like Wendell the World's Worst Wizard.
I've been thinking about why I'm drawn toward fantasy - not just fantasy in general, but deep, personal, almost realistic fantasy. The kind that taps into something deeply human. It's that lingering sense that sticks with me after I read The Ocean at the End of the Lane.
I love the idea that the fantastical exists here in the midst of the ordinary. (This is why I've never connected well with high fantasy) I love the idea that there is something more, something primitive, something lurking underneath. It's the idea that the awe and terror and wonder I felt as a child is something I was never meant to outgrow.
Still, I think there's something else to it. I love fantasy because of language. I love the notion of a world held together by words. It's the idea of a spell conjured up in poetry and a charm made with nothing more than the thin, vulnerable words of a song.
I love the idea that words matter, that language matters, that there is something deeply profound about the way we choose to speak, that we have the power to reshape reality with the words we use.
PHOTO ATTRIBUTION : RUANYUANYUAN12345
I've been working on the final chapters of a story. When I first began, I viewed it as whimsical and fun. However, as the story unfolded, it grew darker. I wouldn't call it a truly dark story, per se. However, it has far more of an emotional core than I thought it would have. I've had moments when I put the character through an experience that I hadn't imagined when I first planned out the plot.
It has me thinking that there is this strange aspect of storytelling where the characters become real enough that the story is reshaped against my original wishes. Other times, the situation demands something that turns the plot in a direction that I simply hadn't considered. I realize that the entire world of the story is in my head. However, there it has this strange effect of surprising me.
In these moments, I get to decide if I will push the story back into my previous plans or if I'll let it go and watch where the plot, characters and setting take it.
Epic adventures are not supposed to happen in a classroom. However, that is precisely where my story begins. Right there at an empty desk in an empty classroom. Not just a little bit empty. Even when it is full of kids, it feels like everyone has left town. Even the quirky Ms. Farthingsworth seems absent right now. I can’t help wondering if maybe she has been replaced by an android.
“I need to stress to you just how important this is,” she says in a robotic voice.
Not that I need the reminder. This is my chance. If I pass the reading portion this year, I get to have P.E. as a sixth-grader next year.
I stare at my trembling hands and turn to my left. Alma isn’t shaking. She loves testing. Okay, that’s not entirely true. She hates testing, not because it is hard, but because it is boring. What she loves is the hour and a half of reading that she gets after she finishes.
I brought a book just in case. I’m not sure that it counts. It has chapters, but it might have too many pictures to be considered a novel.
“I’m confident that you will all do well,” Ms. Farthingsworth lies. We will not all do well. Nobody in the room believes her, but nobody in the room argues with her, either.
My whole body is shaking my the time we are done writing our names and our teacher’s name (and she spells it up there on the board, even though we all know how to spell Ms. Farthingsworth).
Her words float above the classroom. “Fill in the bubbles completely, being certain to make your mark heavy and dark.”
Heavy and dark.
The room grows heavy and dark. My leg is jiggling. The keys are clanking. Ms. Farthingsworth gives me the “please don’t let your leg move” stare. I turn back to the test booklet. I’m underlining words. Visualize it. Picture what is happening. Edison is inventing a light bulb. Alma says Edison didn’t invent anything. She says he was a great big fraud who used to electrocute stray animals. She says that they used to do the same thing at the factory of Fourth Street, but now they use it to train robot ninjas.
“Which of the following . . .” I’m following witches, wondering if witches wear helmets when they ride brooms. Or is it fly brooms? If I ever meet a witch, I’m going to ask if their brooms have seat belts or if they use helmets or if they call it riding or flying. My mom says that my grandma is a witch. Not a mean witch either, but just a run-of-the-mill witch who lives in a nursing home with other witches where the workers have to keep all the brooms locked up so that no one escapes.
I once asked my grandma if she was a witch and she said, “If I lived at the beach, I’d be a sandwich.” I could use a sandwich right now.
“Please focus,” Ms. Farthingsworth whispers.
I look back at the words. Light bulbs. Just focus. Put the events in order. I number the events just like Ms. Farthingsworth told us to do last week when we took the practice tests.
Then it happens. I scribble in the bubble and it moves. I turn back to the booklet and stare at the bubble. It isn’t staying in line. It is falling from the number one all the way to the bottom of the answer sheet. I pick up the sheet and shake it. The bubble falls off the sheet and lands on my desk. I stare at my answer document. The letter “D” for problem one is gone. I run my finger along the desk and touch the outer edge of the bubble. Nothing happens. I rub it with my thumb, but the scribble scrabble circle won’t smudge.
Ms. Farthingsworth walks back toward me and points to the answer document. “Please, Phil. I know this isn’t easy, but I need you to focus.” The bubble catches her eye. She wipes away at it, but it won’t smudge for her, either. She shakes her head and wrinkles her nose.
“Just ignore it,” she whispers. “Relax and try to focus.”
Relax? My heart is hammering. My pulse is pounding. It’s kind-of hard to relax when a bubble just fell from the answer document and landed permanently on the desk.
Note: This is an early concept of what might eventually become a highly illustrated short novel or our first attempt at a graphic novel.
During testing week, I am writing a short story series called "Phil in the Bubble." It might eventually become a short chapter book. Here is part one.
My grandma hates bubbles. Okay, that’s not entirely true. She has what she calls a “healthy respect” for bubbles, which is a nice way of saying that she’s terrified of them.
She picks up a half empty pink bottle from our cramped apartment and shakes her fist at my dad. “You shouldn’t have this lying around in front of Phil.”
“Not now, mom,” my dad says as he pokes holes in the hot dogs before sticking them in the microwave.
“Bubbles are far too powerful for a child.” She turns to me and points her crooked finger.
“How are they powerful?” I ask. “They pop each time you poke them.”
“You have a point,” she concedes. “And it is probably a good thing that you pop them before they get too big. Nevertheless, certain bubbles have been known to expand ever so slowly until they tower above the wand wielder.”
“The wand wielder?”
She unscrews the lid and pulls out the bubble stick. “The proper term is a wand.”
“But it’s not magical,” I point out.
“It would appear so, wouldn’t it?” She shrugs. “Not unless the user is enchanted. In these cases . . .”
“Mom, he’s too old for these stories,” my dad points out. He’s right. At ten years old, I am a solid six years past the age of believing any of this. Still, I play along. That’s what you’re supposed to do with old people, right?
My grandma turns to me. “Are you finding this childish? Have you outgrown this?”
“Not at all,” I lie.
My grandma turns back to my dad and sticks out her tongue.
“Go on, then,” my dad says, rolling his eyes as my grandma turns back to me.
“So, what happens then? The bubble just keeps getting bigger?”
“Precisely. It grows so large that the wand wielder is consumed by it – a whole world made up entirely of one’s breath. Then, ever so carefully, the wielder will let out a final breath and the bubble will hover.”
“That doesn’t sound all that dangerous to me,” I point out.
“Precisely. It doesn’t seem dangerous to the wand wielder, either. Not until the wand wielder realizes that this bubble won’t pop.”
“Can’t the wand wielder just pop it himself?”
“Or herself. Why do you assume the wand wielder is a boy?”
“I just . . .”
She raises her eyebrow before continuing. “The wand wielder typically does exactly what you describe. That’s when it becomes dangerous.”
“That’s when the wand wielder gets carried away in the bubble. Children have been known to fly halfway across the globe in these bubbles never to be seen again. They get lost in these bubbles,” she warns.
“That sounds fun,” I point out.
“It sounds that way only because you are thinking of it like a cartoon. The truth is that it’s terrifying.”
“Do the bubbles ever pop?” I ask.
She shrugs her shoulders. “I’ve never been in one myself.”
“What happens to the kids?”
“Some say that they remain children forever, stuck inside the bubble. Others think they outgrow the bubble and it just kind-of hovers close to the ground before it pops.”
“What about . . .”
“Oxygen? Food? Water? The need to use the restroom?”
“Well, my friend Mildred once told me about a bubble floating near the factory on Fourth Street. She said it was nothing but bones.”
“Do you believe her?” I ask.
My grandma shakes her head. “I think she was mistaken. I have my own theory. My thought is that the wand wielder cannot pop the bubble, but that others can. In fact, the world is more than happy to pop bubbles. And once a wand wielder has had that happen once or twice, that child quits blowing bubbles entirely. After a few close calls, a wand wielder will decide on an early retirement. It is, after all, a dangerous endeavor.”
I don’t believe her, but I wish I could. I wish I could blow a bubble big enough to carry me away. Not forever. Just once. I know that it’s supposed to sound scary, but I want climb inside of a bubble and float above the world.
We made it to the final round of the Global Read Aloud! We are humbled to be included with the list of books. It was encouraging to see the votes that we got and the opportunities that this has created. Thank you so much if you participated in this process.
The Glendale Star, our local newspaper ran an article about it. Pretty cool. Here's the excerpt:
“Wendell The World’s Worst Wizard” is now being considered for a spotlight in the 2014 Global Read Aloud, an event in which approximately 30,000 classrooms around the world read, network, and collaborate together over a span of several weeks. Inspired by a storyline from their first-grader, local author J.C. Spencer recently published “Wendell The World’s Worst Wizard.” The story is about a boy who lives in a magical world, but doesn’t have any magic of his own. “Wendell The World’s Worst Wizard” has done well on Amazon in print and on Kindle, maintaining a spot in the top 100 books in Children’s Fantasy Fiction for several weeks after its fall release and through the holidays.
As an author, there is nothing better than to hear that a group of kids loved a book. So, when Michelle Baldwin's students at Anastasis Academy tweeted this to Wendell, it was the highlight of my week. They asked if we were going to write a sequel. The answer is . . . maybe. We have a first draft written.
Olivia slid her wand out and pointed at the planks. “As we stand on this rickety boat, make it a ship that can actually float.”
The platform rumbled. Branches crackled. Artie slid his leg down the ramp.
“No way,” Olivia said, yanking him back by his robe. “We’re pirates, remember?”
The planks shifted, crisscrossing and weaving until, all at once, they clicked into shape. Artie crouched down and held onto a rail with a white-knuckle grip.
Olivia jumped to the mast. The ship swayed, see-sawing up until they were hovering a few feet off the ground. Turquoise leaves swirled around her face, until, with a sudden gust, the sail opened up.
“It really works,” Artie said.
“Arr, of course it be working,” Olivia said, flipping down her eye patch.
“But I can’t . . . it . . . I mean, it really works,” he said as the ship see-sawed upward.
“Where be the loot?” Olivia asked. She paced the deck, hopping over the gaping holes. Artie stood still, eyes closed, bracing himself against the up-and-down motion of the ship.
“Steer the ship, me matey,” she said.
“You want me to take the wheel?” he asked, suddenly realizing that they were hovering above the blue trees.
“Captain’s orders,” she said.
Artie tiptoed along the edge, gripping the side of the ship. With a booming burst, a tidal wave crashed in, littering leaves along the deck. Suddenly, it was impossible to find the holes at the bottom of the ship.
With a deep breath, he inhaled the salty air and tiptoed along the deck, kicking away the crunchy leaves. Then it happened. A burst of air flattened Artie and propelled the ship further into the forest. Trees zipped by, branches cracking, leaving behind a trail of bare limbs and blue leaves.
“Take the helm. I need to adjust the mast!” Olivia screamed.
“Just grab the wheel and steer it,” she yelled.
Artie crawled forward and pulled himself up to the wheel. It hardly budged.
“Put all your strength into it,” she said. “There’s a prairie starboard.”
“North,” she said. “There’s a prairie to the north. Steer it north and we’ll drop anchor. Or, we could take it west, all the way west until we reach the sea.”
Artie shook his head. “The prairie is fine.”
The ship flew forward, zipping through the trees, banging the vessel back and forth like a game of ping pong. Artie couldn’t steer. The truth is that he could hardly stand up with the wind blowing through his face.
That’s when Olivia saw it. A chasm opened up in front of her, followed by an enormous mountain. She jumped from the mast and lunged forward. Her whole body cranked the wheel. The ship shot left, throwing Olivia across the deck.
Artie cowered in the corner as the ship fishtailed over the chasm. Olivia jumped toward the wheel. The deck snapped below. Olivia plummeted down, seizing a single plank. It crackled, while she hung down like a loose tooth.
She swung her legs up, pushing her feet against the gap in the deck. At the corner of her eye, she saw the base of the helm. If she timed it right, it might work. It was crazy, but it might . . .
The ship shot left. Olivia pushed up, through the hole and up toward the deck. She grasped at the helm, hugging the wheel and sending the ship in a tailspin. The back of the ship shattered behind them. Still, it didn’t slow down. The wind burst behind the sail, pushing it forward, propelling them above the chasm.
Artie continued cowering in the corner.
“I’ll steer. You drop the anchor,” Olivia said. It was too late. The ship flew faster, heading straight toward Restaurant Row (an odd name, given the fact that it was less of a row and more of a squiggly line).
Artie approached the anchor. He crouched down and wrapped his lanky arms around it, but as he jumped up to lift it, the anchor wouldn’t budge. Not even the fear flowing through his veins could lighten the load. It was too heavy.
“I can’t lift it,” he said.
“Just do it!” she yelled.
Again, he crouched down and reached for the anchor. It wouldn’t budge.
“Do I have to do everything myself?” Olivia jumped forward and stood by the anchor. She bent down, red-faced. Her arms shook. Her hands gave out. Nothing happened.
“Okay, count of three,” she said.
“One.” Artie grabbed the left side.
“Two.” They both gripped the anchor.
“Three.” It barely shifted.
“Keep trying,” she said, her face scrunched up and red.
Artie stood up and pointed. Olivia looked up to see the slapdash structure of the Bank on the Bank. The last thing she heard was the ear-splitting crash.
That evening she woke up at the apothecary. A nurse sat by her bed, tapping his quill and watching a sketch float off of his parchment. There it was, hovering above her face: three broken bones.
Artie sat up in a bed on the opposite end, surrounded by the vile vials of medicine. His dad wiped away tears.
“I’m sorry,” Artie mumbled.
His held the boy’s hand. “Nobody else was injured,” he said.
“I’m sorry,” Artie repeated.
“I know,” his dad said.
Olivia sat up. Every muscle ached. Her head pounded. Still, there was something else more. It was the familiar feeling that other kids had something that she would never experience.
“I’m going get you some more water,” Mr. Drackenberger said. “You just rest.”
“I won’t lie. I’m angry. However, these things happen. It’s a part of growing up enchanted. I’m glad that you’re safe.” He got up, shoulders hunched, and trudged his way out the door.
“You okay?” Olivia asked.
“Yeah, and you?”
She nodded her head and winced. “It’s a hazard of being a pirate. First time out and we get shipwrecked. But we’ll be back. Someday we’ll have a real ocean.”
Her dad stormed in, arms flailing.
“Look what you did!” His voice made the bottles shake.
“It’s my fault,” Artie said. “I wanted to play pirates and we got carried away and . . .”
“This isn’t your business,” he snarled.
“I’m sorry,” Olivia said.
“Why can’t you be normal? Why can’t you play without destroying half the forest and the bank? The bank, Olivia. We don’t have money to fix that.”
“I’m sorry,” she said, wiping her tears with her robe.
“You’re not sorry about what you did.” He glared at her. “You’re only sorry that you’re in trouble. You selfish, insolent . . .”
“I didn’t know it would do that,” she interrupted.
“You said the spell. Do you think your words don’t have power?”
“I did it,” Artie lied. “Those were my words.”
“This isn’t your concern,” he growled.
That was it. Neither Artie nor Olivia ever spoke of the incident again. Three years past and the pirate summer faded into the back of their minds. However, Olivia promised herself that she would be back. She would find the sea again. After years of being under the spell of powerful words, she would make a life with her own two hands.
Arthur Drackenberger was a pirate before pirates were used as mascots for failing sports teams. However, things didn’t start out that way. Originally, he was simply “Artie.” Okay, that’s not entirely true. Sometimes he was “Farty Artie” and when he memorized the spells verbatim, it changed to “Smarty Artie.” Eventually, he became Arthur the Pirate, a story that most of Bezaudorf knows.
However, this isn’t Arthur’s story. This is the story of Olivia Oglesby, the swashbuckling steam punk pirate who somehow got left behind when the historians wrote the story.
Olivia's story starts out when she was ten, the summer that she found a treasure map and a book of pirate stories next to an abandoned campfire in the forest. Though Olivia wasn’t sure if pirates still existed (or if they had ever existed for that matter) she fell in love with the static map, where life stood still and the words never floated off the page.
She memorized every tale of Captain Green Beard the Unhygienic, who battled three other pirate crews, two dragons and the surprisingly shallow swamps (just to prove that the booty is only shin deep) in order to capture the Treasure of the Century. Now, which century it referred to, Captain Green Beard wasn’t sure. However, Olivia didn’t care. Someday she would work for him.
For an entire summer, Olivia and Artie built a pirate ship from fallen branches in the forest. On days where they were feeling more courageous, they snuck into an abandoned ghost town and snatched items left behind. Sometimes the ghosts would scream at them and Artie would run away, but Olivia would simply stare at them and say, “You have no flesh, so you have no business with a steel rod.”
Don’t get me wrong. She was terrified. However, ghosts were nothing compared to home.
After the first month of ship-making, Olivia made Artie an offer. “Want to be my First Mate?”
“Aye aye,” Artie answered.
“No, for real. When we’re older. We’ll join commandeer a ship without even lifting a wand. We’ll find treasure. Loads of treasure. I’ll be Olivia the Stealth and you’ll be Artie . . .”
“Arthur,” he corrected. “I’ll be Arthur the Great. I won’t be Smarty Artie or Artie Farty. I’ll be Arthur. And I’ll have a library named after me.”
“A library? Nobody names a library after a swashbuckler.”
“Ahoy there. Then I’ll be the first one.”
“So, you’ll join my crew?” she asked.
“Deal,” he answered with his arm outstretched for a handshake.
"No magic, though. We'll do it the right way, with our own two hands."
Olivia shook his hand and turned back to their boat.
By the time of the solstice, it resembled a boat and by the end of the summer, it was a ship, a real ship with real mast at the top. Okay, it was a dusty bed sheet nailed to a log. Still, it looked real to Artie, who would close his eyes and spin their makeshift wheel and for a moment it would feel like they were out at sea.
“When the wind blows, it sounds like the ocean,” Artie said.
“You’ve never been to the ocean,” Olivia answered as she adjusted her eye patch.
“But if I did, I bet it would sound like that.”
“What if it didn’t? What if it sounded like a fart? Would you still want to be a pirate?”
Artie nodded. He didn’t want to talk about farts. He didn’t want to talk at all. He wanted to be on a real ship in a real ocean.
He jumped off a plank and snatched a twig from the tree.
Olivia raised an eyebrow.
Artie flicked his wrist. A breeze twirled around him. The stick grew heavier, colder. Condensation formed on his fingers. The forest grew darker. No, that wasn’t quite it. Everything felt . . . bluer.
“With this wand, I’ll change each tree. Let the woods become the sea.”
Artie twirled around and laughed. The trees shook, their leaves falling like raindrops. The white bark turned steely gray and then sapphire. The forest grew colder. He could see his own breath.
A loud clap echoed across the forest. Artie dropped his wand hand.
“No way,” Olivia whispered, her nails digging into his shoulder.
Artie raised his wand again, studying the tree trunks turning to turquoise, their leaves dripping off and sliding down to puddles on the forest floor.
The air grew warmer and wetter. Each heavy, salty breath was like a bite of pretzel. Olivia promised herself that she would remember the taste until the day she found a real ocean.
Wendell the World's Worst Wizard is on sale for $1.09 in Canada right now. Here are some reasons that Canadians should consider buying the book.
You don't waste time. Your football players are always moving and only get three downs. Good news, my maple leaf friends: this book is a quick read.
One of the strangest aspects of writing a book is that the author doesn't get very much feedback. Unlike blogging and social media, very few people leave comments anywhere. It's not a bad thing. I rarely leave reviews on Amazon or Goodreads. I don't tweet or post often enough about the books that I love.
However, one of the most surprising areas of feedback has come from the students in a few of the classrooms. For example, in Zoe Bettess's class, students have been blogging about the book. It's been a blast to see what parts of the book they loved the most. They've also had a few scheduled Twitter chats with the main character, Wendell, and they've had random moments where they tweeted him. I've had the chance to do a class Skype with them and they shared "What Does the Firt Say," a song they wrote based upon the book.
Just yesterday, I saw this review on Amazon (in Canada). Any time someone calls the book "epic," it makes me smile.
These aren't isolated incidents. We've had great Twitter chats with Michelle Baldwin's class in Colorado. We tweeted and Skyped with Stephen Gagnon's class in New Hampshire. There, a student even drew a picture of Wendell's dragon. A few days ago, Philip Cummings sent a picture of students reading Wendell the World's Worst Wizard.
All of this is really affirming. We knew that our own kids (at home) loved the book. However, seeing students across the country (and in that great Maple Leaf nation north of us) reading it, enjoying it and engaging with us, has been really affirming.
We're still new at writing novels and the connections we've made have been a major part of why we continue writing and why we will release more books in the future.
by Wendell Drackenberger
Benny beams as he delivers the news. “The Council of Counsel has asked us to create a sculpture in the Town Tetrahedron.”
Spechwaulf, shakes his head. “That place is already swarming with kids. Do we really need to add another thing taking up space?”
“We’re makers,” I point out. “We don’t do art projects.”
“Well, I’m going to need your help,” Benny says.
“Trolls don’t do art,” Spechwaulf adds.
Benny shakes his head. “Listen, it’s a memorial. It was ten years ago when the Misfits attacked. You might want to talk to Sarah and ask her what she thinks it should include.”
Sarah’s my closest friend. Her parents died in an attack by the Misfits when she was four. Her uncle built a home in the graveyard and her parents, both ghosts, raised her in a shack.
“We need to unveil it Friday night.”
“Two days? Are you serious?”
“On most days, no. But today, yes,” Benny says with a grin.
For the next two hours, I sketch out various ideas using Benny’s smelly markers. The room is littered with crumpled paper. I have no idea how it should look. Do I show the town being attacked? Do I create some kind of a symbol? What do I use?
Spechwaulf walks in with a hunk of metal, “It smells like dead fish.”
“Not right now.”
He snags a piece of paper off the ground. “Is this supposed to be a person? It looks like a giant scarecrow. Are memorials supposed to be scary?”
“Can I have some space?” I ask.
“I’m here to help,” he says. “I’m giving constructive criticism.”
“Leave me alone,” I snap.
“Whatever,” he says, rolling his eyes.
For the rest of Wednesday and Thursday, I construct a butterfly. It’s supposed to be a symbol of the peace and beauty that happens after an attack.
“Why are you building an enormous moth?” Spechwaulf asks.
I shake my head. “It’s a butterfly.”
“Out of metal?”
“Aluminum,” I correct him.
“That’s right, because aluminum isn’t a type of metal. It must be classified as what, a noble gas?” he asks, his words deep-fried in cynicism and dipped in sarcasm.
“Are you here to help or are you just going to insult it?” I ask.
“Aren’t you going to add colors?”
“No. I want it to rust over time.”
“Aluminum doesn’t rust,” he says. “It corrodes.”
“Can’t I just have some space to work?”
“Fine. Whatever. I just thought you would want to help me with my memorial.”
I shake my head. “We’re not supposed to make separate ones. What are you . . . what you trying to do?”
“You didn’t want my help,” he says. “So, I’m making my own. It’s almost done.”
The next morning, I sneak into the room where Spechwaulf is working. I use the term loosely. I can’t see any actual work anywhere. It’s a mess of random, broken items. There’s no frame, no picture, no clay or sculpture.
Throughout the day, I continue to add features to the butterfly. Maybe if I add some dainty touches, it won’t look so much like a moth.
Right after lunch, Phil runs into our workshop. “Spechwaulf is dumping trash all over the Town Tetrahedron.”
I follow him out and watch Spechwaulf add to a giant mound of trash right next to a playground. Witches are staring at him.
“I hate abstract art,” a wizard grumbles.
It’s a mess. Spechwaulf is smiling – a rare feat for him – while everyone around is glaring. Is this what passes for art among trolls? I feel horrible for him. I want to jump in and stop it before it gets worse. However, he continues to maneuver the trash to get the pile just right.
At night, half the village gathers around for the memorial. The hovering lanterns are dim, charmed to match the village mood. In the background, a single self-playing violin plays a dirge.
Nobody says anything about the trash pile. People are clearly upset, but everyone is too polite to speak up.
At the end of the speeches, we unveil the butterfly.
“A moth?” a man asks.
Benny aims his wand and mutters a spell. Suddenly, the butterfly comes to life, changing colors and flapping its metallic wings.
The cloud gasps and claps. Then it happens. Spechwaulf runs up to the podium. “I have a statue, too.”
He points to statue and recites a poem. Except it doesn’t turn out to be a poem at all. It’s a spell. The pieces of garbage slowly assemble, with random items clanking around. All at once, it converges: the sounds become music. The trash clicks together into statues of wizards rebuilding, of parents holding their babies, of kids playing schnorbitz.
He’s done it. He’s proven in art, what we knew was true of our village: that out of the trash, the dump, the broken shards of destruction, we always come back with a song and spell and somehow we make something new. Somehow, beauty and hope burst through.
I realize that the disenchanted world has graffiti issues sometimes. Vandals use spray paint to cover a store with a message or a name. Though I find it odd that someone would deliberately write "south side" on the north side of a building. It just seems confusing.
In the wizarding world, we have something similar. Once young witches memorize text-changing charms, they often go through a phase where they will change the signs throughout Bezaudorf. Sometimes it's clearly a spell and the words fade back almost immediately. However, other times, it can look like an original mistake.
This week, as all fifth graders learned their letter-changing spells, the town was ablaze in word vandalism. Here are some examples I've seen this week:
I used to believe that people hid the worst sides of themselves. Masks were meant to put forward a "better self" and keep the messy, sinful, dark side quiet. It made sense that we would hide petty jealousies and twisted lies and embarrassing moments and failures.
But the hard truth is that we often hide the best parts of ourselves: the funny stories, the hidden hopes, the talents that we're not entirely sure are really talents, the tragedies and the strength we've gained from those experiences.
I didn't realize that until I was working on Wendell the World's Worst Wizard, I had a moment where I thought about what the characters had hidden from each other. There were parts of Wendell, Gregg, Phil, Wendell's grandma and Sarah that nobody knew. There were aspects of Benny (that will come out in a future book) that were a secret as well.
The part that's crushing about these characters is that their hidden backstories are what make them lovable. It's why they are characters that I want to write about again. But for reasons that they often cannot articulate, they hide the best parts. Wendell doesn't tell anyone that he's a maker. Sarah won't share her humble, compassionate side. It's like they're afraid of getting hurt.
And it's making me think that if this is true about fictional characters, maybe it's true about people in general.
by Wendell Drackenberger
The villagers of Bezaudorf don't typically think about the disenchanted world until it's too late. Such was the case in 1929. My great grandmother was a girl at the time and she heard rumors of a Great Depression. Like everyone else, she figured the disenchanted folk must have been in a really bad mood.
However, it turned out to mean so much more. Suddenly, Baldwin's Pure Bread Bakery didn't have enough supplies to stay open. The crops began fail. A drought settled in. The village of Bezaudorf couldn't magic their way out of it.
Buford Buchanan, the head of the Bank on the Bank started loaning out small sums of money with high interest rates. Everyone from Quick Quest Cartographers to Andy Waywego Travel Brooms had to borrow money just to stay in business. Even the ship at Swashbuckler's Confectionary had to take out a loan just to stay afloat. Literally. They couldn't pay the annual dues for the charming rights in order to keep their ship hovering ten feet off the ground.
Things got ugly. After a full year of a drought, half the village lost their castles, tree houses and modest mounds. Suddenly wizards were trying to charm fields of gold into literal fields of gold. Meanwhile, Buford kept loaning away his money, collecting twice the cost of the principal and then managing to end up with the deeds to half of the village.
That's when Ulysses Drackenberger stepped up. As the head of the Council of Counsel, he convinced the village to let Mr. Buchanan take over the entire village.
"Here's how it works," he said. "You get own anything that you find that currently belongs to the community. Wherever you go, you can put a charm on it and it'll be yours the next day."
"The forest can be yours. The courthouse. You can even own the Town Tetrahedron. But with one provision. When you die, everything you have bought up in the last year goes back to its original owner."
"What's the catch?" he asked.
"There is no catch."
So Buford woke up at sunset and headed out with his wand. He marched through the Town Tetrahedron, calling out spells and claiming his deeds. He ran toward the graveyard, circling the entire thing until it was officially his. He moved on to the walkways by Restaurant Rows and to Grand Stan's Grandstands.
As the day passed, witches offered him water. Wizards tossed him packets of food. However, he was too busy. Fueled by greed (and perhaps some adrenaline), he sprinted into the forest, pointing his wand on any identifiable space.
Later he returned, the sun setting on an anxious village. He fell down on the steps of the Bank on the Bank, collapsing in exhaustion. Some say it was a heart attack. Others say that he never had a heart in the first place. Either way, he was dead. No amount of magic could change that.
The village returned to normal. The drought stopped. The crops returned. It turned out that Buford had been using banned spells to keep the clouds away from the village.
His name was Andrew, but nobody ever called him anything other than "the boy." The words weren't always cruel, either. A patron might say, "that boy is a hard worker," or "he's such a kind young boy."
Nobody asked about his name. Nobody bothered with his birthday. Though they were never harsh toward him, he was a low-cost cleaning machine in a hotel where the guests weren't particularly tidy. When he wasn't cleaning a dish moving a table, he was sweeping the coal dust from one corner of the restaurant to the other.
Andrew had dreams of building the first ever steam-powered flying machine. Sometimes, when he was finished with his duties, he sketched out the plans using leftover coal. The design changed from a glider to a propeller and then back to a glider. But one thing always remained: he was going to fly out of the city and make a name for himself along the way.
One evening as he was sketching out his plan, he saw a tiny light floating above him. It felt early for Chicago fireflies, but he knew exactly what to do. He snagged a jar and a scrap of wood and scooped it up.
Looking in, he noticed the creature. It was a color of purple he had never seen. Some kind of lightning bug and butterfly hybrid? Maybe an undiscovered insect? Looking closer, he realized it. She was a fairy or maybe a pixie. He wasn't sure what the difference was. Either way, she was out cold.
"I killed her," he mumbled to himself.
For the next two hours, he fed her drops of water and cleaned the soot off of her wings. Finally, she moved. He wasn't sure at first. It could have been the wind. But then she spoke.
"Thank you," she coughed out in low voice.
"You're a boy fairy?"
He coughed again. "A man, actually. I need to get back Bezaudorf."
"I don't know where that is," Andrew said. "But I wish I could help. I'll tell you what. If I ever invent a flying machine, I'll take you back to Bezaudorf. You'll be my first customer."
The fairy reached into a tiny satchel and handed him a sprinkling of pixie powder. "It'll make things light and moveable. You won't be able to fly with it. You have to be a wizard for that. But you'll float and that's the closest you'll get to flying."
"It works on any object?" he asked.
For the next week, Andrew spent every spare minute carving out a handle. When this was finished, he attached stray pieces of straw in order to make the ultimate flying broom. He might not be a wizard, but he might as well look the part. Meanwhile, the fairy zipped around the city, pollinating flowers and gathering additional pixie powder.
On the night of the waning crescent, when there was just enough light to see his own hands, Andrew placed the fairy in his pocket and sprinkled the pixie dust on his broom. To his surprise, the broom didn't hover. It shot straight up in the air. He watched as the city pulled away from him. It was going too high and too fast.
"Too much pixie powder?" he asked.
The fairy said nothing.
Andrew steered it away from the city. The stars blurred above him. The ground moved so quickly that he couldn't orient himself. Still, he was flying, soaring toward the clouds, suspended above the air in a way that had never been humanly possible. The fairy climbed out of the pocket and whispered instructions on where to fly.
They stopped somewhere out west. Andrew rested while the fairy scouted the area for food and water. After telling stories and eating berries, they hopped back on the broom and continued toward Bezaudorf.
Okay, actually, it wasn't that easy. They ran into a long series of mishaps and it took nearly a week before they got to Bezaudorf. However, eventually they made it. One evening, he descended on the forest. As the sun set, he noticed the floating lanterns hovering without a string. They turned brighter than ever before.
"They're charmed to reflect the village mood," the fairy explained.
"I see you've found a stray wizard," a man said, walking him toward a massive pirate ship that sold crackling candy corn and lollipops that changed his hair color to match the current flavor. There was a tree that grew kitchen utensils and a cartographer with maps that drifted off the page.
He spent his days playing in the forest, meeting new witches, wizards, gnomes and elves. He even had it out with a few trolls. When he turned sixteen, he took up a trade of making travel brooms and by the time he was twenty, he had founded Andrew's Travel Brooms. Because he didn't know his last name and he liked the nickname Andy, he changed the shop name to Andy Waywego Travel Brooms. It still stands in Bezaudorf.
We started out with some leftover boxes from Christmas, along with a few wrapping paper rolls. Our goal was to create a roller coaster and test it with a bouncy ball.
However, after playing around for awhile, our son had the idea of making a pinball machine. We hollowed out a box and taped it onto two other boxes at a slant. We quickly learned that it worked best to weight the two anchor boxes with books.
Afterward, we cut holes in the side and used paper towel rolls to hit the bouncy balls. Once we were happy with the slope, we added ramps, circles, half-circles, holes and boxes that would all be worth points.
That worked out okay. However, the paper towel rolls weren't good enough. So, we used rulers instead. We also switched from a bouncy ball to a marble. Finally, we added a plastic "trap" to catch the ball if it fell (using the plastic from a toy container). As a finishing touch, we added a few drawings to give it the theme of "monster chasers."
Here's another view of it. We might add more pictures, a new point system and a boomerang-styled launcher on the side. This could also work really well with wood instead of cardboard. However, for now, it's working just fine. They've spent hours playing with their creation.
If you're interested in a story about a non-magical wizard who finds magic in making stuff, check out Wendell the World's Worst Wizard.
The Mostly True Story of Ratkovic's Relics (Or The Girl Who Made a Backscratcher That Nobody Wanted)
“What’s that?” Ruth’s mom asked, pointing to a rusted antenna.
“It’s a surprise,” she said, trying to hide her creation.
“Where did you find it?”
Ruth shrugged her shoulders. She wasn’t about to give away the gift. It was the ultimate backscratcher. The antenna was so tall that it could reach from head to toe. The bolt fit perfectly to the knob, so that it swiveled without too much force. Now, if she could only find something hot enough to melt the bobby pins to the knob, she would have the perfect end. Maybe she would add a grip, though it seemed odd that people would be having an issue with dropping backscratchers.
It took two hours for her to sneak into the office and find the hot glue gun and it took another twenty minutes for the thing to get hot enough to work.
“Sweetheart,” her mom said, knocking on the door. She hated that term. At eight years old, she was a solid two years past the name.
“Don’t come in,” she said, hiding the glue gun under her desk.
Her mom had a black plastic bag. “We need to take care of this. I’ve talked to you before about keeping your room clean.”
Without warning, she tossed the broken radio into the bag.
“I need that.”
“I don’t know where you found it, but it’s broken. All of this stuff is broken,” she said, tossing in a cracked mug, a giant magnet and the metal part from a torn apart clipboard.
“I need those,” she protested. It was too late. Everything was tossed away.
Two weeks later, Ruth completed the backscratcher (having to rebuild it from scratch) and wrapped it in newspaper. She set it on top of the birthday presents and waited for her mom’s reaction. The birthday party was packed.
“Well, this is interesting,” she said. “It doesn’t have a tag.” With her dainty hands, she picked apart the masking tape (not the best choice for a present) and pulled out the backscratcher.
“It’s um . . . it’s interesting. I don’t know what it is, really.”
“Someone must’ve put it in there as a joke,” her dad said.
“You can toss it,” someone else said.
“I wonder who would think to wrap up trash and put it on your birthday presents,” her dad said.
Ruth gulped and fought hard against the tears. Catching a glimpse of the girl, Ruth’s aunt sauntered over. “Ya’ll have no idea just what you’ve found. It’s the world’s greatest backscratcher.”
To Ruth’s surprise, the backscratcher extended on it’s own, bending ever so slightly. The bobby pins stretched out like tiny fingers. The adults in the room laughed at the display, unable to see what was happening.
However, Ruth continued making things in secret, finding items strewn throughout the neighborhood and transforming them. Her mom called it “unladylike.” Her dad just called it “weird.” And often she wondered if there was something wrong with her.
Her aunt, however, saw something in her that others didn't. And so, at the age of eleven, on the summer of her parent's twenty year anniversary, she found herself on a quest to find the lost relics. While they relaxed on a cruise, she maneuvered her way through abandoned spaces, searching for something lost. She would eventually become the founder of Ratkovic's Relics, just outside of the Town Tetrahedron in Bezaudorf.
That's another, longer story - one that nearly everyone in Bezaudorf knows. However, this one is about a girl and a backscratcher and the magic that everyone missed because they weren't paying attention.
Note: You might want to go read Chapter One first.
Juan shivered. In the chaos of the violet-haired girl, he had forgotten just how cold his uncle kept the thermostat in the winter. As he turned around, he noticed the words still hovering above the parchment. It might just work. Jumping forward, he tumbled over the mattress and crashed into the bookshelves.
Rubbing his head, he noticed the words evaporating. He jumped up again, this time keeping his balance, and snatched the parchment from the side table.
On the back, it read, “An elfin secret. Do no share with anyone or you will face a painful death. Okay, not really a painful death. In all likelihood, you’ll just get a cavity. However, it will be a painful one and you’ll be stuck with a root canal and your lips will get puffy and you’ll be lectured by a dental hygienist about your inability to stick to a rigid flossing regimen. You don’t want that, now, do you?”
Juan shook his head and flipped the parchment over. The recipe called for a cauldron. He wasn’t sure what a cauldron was, but he figured a sauce pan might do the trick. It also called for an open fire (though he wasn't sure what a "closed" fire was). A stove would have to do. Next, it called for newt livers. That might be trickier to find. In reading it closer, he saw the asterisk.
“I’m a vegan elf and so, I prefer using products that don’t require murdering creatures. So, I’ve found that a dash of cat hair works as a substitute. A word of warning: too much cat hair can lead to disastrous results, especially for any nearby felines.”
Well, that wouldn’t be too hard. His house was covered in cat fur, despite his mom’s efforts to vacuum every last inch of the place. Though no one was around, he felt foolish running his hands over the mattress and couch in the living room. However, after a few minutes, he had a nice solid handful.
The next few ingredients were easy. They had plenty of sugar, just enough corn starch, some flour, a stinky sock (though he wasn’t sure if it was stinky so much as just dirty), a can of store-brand diet cola, an egg (to get the cloud’s texture just right) and blue food coloring.
He was almost done when he saw the last ingredient. The recipe called for two golden brown maple leaves. You would think that maple leaves would canvas a neighborhood like Maple Grove Estates. However, the homes all had tiny front yards without a hint of a maple tree. Besides, how would he find a golden brown maple leaf in early January? Maybe it was designed for Canadians. Wasn’t it Canada that had all the maple leaves?
He trudged out into snow and braced against the icy wind. All the trees were empty, their bare limbs reaching up from the ground with the hopes that the sun would return. Maybe he could make due with a different kind of leaf. He scoured the neighborhood, but he couldn’t find a single golden leaf, much less a maple leaf.
After covering two blocks, he walked back, hands numb and face chapped. It was a dumb idea from the start. The whole thing felt like a practical joke, from the purple-haired girl to the spell on the parchment.
Then he saw it. A massive maple tree towered over the shack at the end of the cul-de-sac. It was mostly bare, but there were still a few leaves dangling on the branches. He could climb it, maybe. Or he could shake the tree.
Unfortunately, it was Mrs. Bundt’s house. Everyone knew the neighborhood legend. In the summertime, she snatched children from any open window and fed them to her dragon. In the wintertime, she hid inside of a snowman (she didn't feel the cold, because her heart was colder than ice) and snatched kids who came close.
Juan rounded the corner and studied the maple tree. Sure enough, a snowman sat inches away from the maple tree. Or maybe he was standing and not sitting. It was hard to tell with snowmen. Juan tiptoed toward the tree on the opposite side of the snowman. It’s just a legend. Let it go.
He clutched a low-hanging branch and yanked on the tree. The branches shook, but the leaves remained intact. He pulled harder, but nothing happened. Circling the tree, he found a branch a few feet above the snowman’s hat. It was high, but he might be able to reach it.
With a deep breath, he jumped up to the branch, swinging on it like a monkey. The whole tree shook and swayed. He stared at the leaves, wiggling around, clinging to the branch.
“Who is that?” a woman’s voice cried out from behind the snowman.
Juan jumped off and face-planted in the snow. Looking up, he noticed two maple leaves twirling down.
“Who is that?” the woman repeated. Juan jumped to his feet and glanced at the snowman. The woman stood behind the icy figure, eyes peering out between a scarf and a hat.
The leaves continued their slow descent while Mrs. Bundt stepped closer.
“What are you doing here?” she repeated.
“I’m just . . .”
“Haven’t you heard the stories?”
“Why are you here?”
Gulp. Backing up, he positioned himself behind the tree, jumped up and snagged the stem of the first leaf. The second fell on his shoulder.
“Why are you here?” the woman asked again. Juan turned around and bolted down the driveway, across the sidewalk and down the street to his tiny house.
He barged through his door, caught his breath and examined both leaves. They were still intact, both a crisp golden brown and both clearly maple leaves. Juan mixed the ingredients together and waited for the liquid to heat up. The kitchen reeked from the stench and Juan secretly wondered if this was still a joke. Right as it reached the boiling point, he closed his eyes and held out the maple leaves.
“Here goes nothing,” he said, dropping them into the pan. He was right. Nothing happened.
“Hey, Juan,” a voice called.
"Ahh!" he squealed. Turning around, he noticed the purple-haired girl standing on the cracked linoleum.
“It didn’t work,” Juan said.
“You didn’t say the incantation,” she pointed out.
What are you talking about?”
She held out the parchment and pointed to a poem. “You have to read this.”
“That’s not going to work. What you say makes no difference at all.” Juan said, “It’s not logical.”
“Suit yourself,” she said.
Juan shrugged his shoulders and recited the word, just to prove her wrong.
Let the steam ascend into a swirl
Forming its looping, tumbling twirl
Thickening up in texture and size
Expanding out it begins to rise
Transforming from a dull transparent
The cobalt color then apparent
A gradual alteration of form
Henceforth ending with the blue storm
The steam coiled around into a tight stream, gradually moving from white to gray to navy and finally a steely blue.
“No way,” Juan muttered, watching the stream unwind and twirl around, growing thicker, bluer and suddenly cold. Condensation appeared on the window. Frost formed on the peeling cabinets. The cloud billowed out from the stove and expanded throughout the kitchen.
“How do I make it stop?” he asked.
Nobody answered. The purple-haired girl had vanished.
“I could use some help here, pretend elf girl. Seriously, just tell me what to do,” he begged.
Nobody answered. Okay just let it go. Release it out into the air and you'll be fine.
Juan darted to the window, but the latch was stuck. The cobalt-colored cloud hovered inches from his face. Slipping below, he slid across the floor and yanked open the door.
With a sudden burst, the cloud blew out of the kitchen and into the living room.
Kitty Five (Juan’s uncle found it easier to assign his cats numbers instead of names) jumped from the dresser and hissed at the billowing cloud. The cloud inched closer. Kitty Five batted at the edge, confused when it failed to bounce back.
“Come here,” Juan implored. He knew better. The fat feline didn’t take orders from anyone. Instead, she batted at the cloud again, licked her paw and batted one more time. When the cloud refused to respond, Kitty Five backed up, crouched down and prepared to pounce.
“Don’t do it!” Juan yelled.
Kitty Five offered an arrogant glance and crouched down again. In a single bound, she dove forward, through the cloud, flipping upside down and landing on her feet. The cloud descended. Kitty Five hissed.
Juan approached the cloud, arm outstretched. However, as he slid his hand toward the edge, the cloud floated away. He pushed with his other arm, but again, the cloud dodged his advances. He closed his eyes. Come on, it’s just a tiny patch of fog. Just push right through it. Pulling his arm back, he attempted an uppercut. The cloud split in half.
With an earsplitting crash and a flash of light, the cloud exploded. The walls shook. The floors rumbled. Juan hugged a chair as a rush of liquid fell to the floor, drenching Kitty Five.
He ran to the bathroom, snagged a towel and snatched up the clawing cat.
“You’re okay,” he said, relieved that the cloud was gone and the trick was over. However, as he continued to dry off the cat, he noticed a slight blue tint. The drier she got, the bluer she became.
Juan panicked. His mom would be home in twenty minutes and he had no way to turn his blue cat black again. He considered every other black object. His uncle’s shoe polish would be too sticky. The charcoal from their grill wouldn’t last. His mom had black hair dye, but he was pretty sure it wasn’t safe for cats. Besides, Kitty Five had a natural aversion to water.
Juan cleaned up the kitchen and wiped down the floor. The minutes crept slowly as he imagined every possible story. Maybe a neighbor did this as a prank? That story wouldn’t fly. Kitty Five rarely left the living room. Maybe she got into something blue and the dye leached and . . . yeah, that didn’t work either. He could tell the truth, but the truth sounded even more outlandish.
Right as he tossed the last rag in the laundry, the front door opened.
“How was your day, mom?”
“Kitty Four is blue.”
“Um, actually, she’s Kitty Five.”
“It doesn’t matter. She’s blue,” she said, veins popping out of her neck.
“I’m sorry about that. I was doing an experiment and she got in the way and the next thing I knew, she was blue.”
“Yeah, it was on the stove and . . .”
“You were using the stove for a science experiment?”
Juan winced. “I’m sorry.”
“I can’t talk to you right now. I can’t even . . . a science experiment? She’s blue. Do I need to take her to the vet? We don’t have money for that, Juan. I can’t believe I have to get a babysitter for a twelve year old. Twelve, Juan.”
She marched to the kitchen and called Juan’s dad. “Your son can’t be trusted to be alone in the afternoon. He turned the cat blue. No really. It’s not funny. That cat could have died. See, this is why . . .” She hung up the phone.
"Mom, I can handle being home by myself," Juan implored.
She shook her head. "Not after today."
"It was a mistake," he said.
"I need to know the truth. Did someone else come into our house?"
Juan shook his head.
"So, this is the whole story? A science experiment gone awry?"
For the next half hour, she worked through her entire address book. Maybe it was her tone of voice. Or maybe it had to do with the fact that she started each phone call with, “My son turned the cat blue and can’t be trusted to stay at home.” Whatever the reason, no one wanted Juan to hang around after school.
With a heavy sigh, she sat down by the typewriter and pounded away. When she finished, she opened the window. A gust of wind pulled the note away.
“Mom, your paper just . . .”
She waved her hand. At this point she looked more tired than angry. She waited by the window, eyes glazed over, saying nothing more than, "this is bad." Finally, she returned with a folded sheet of paper.
“From now on, you’ll be staying with Mrs. Bundt after school.”
"I want to write a musical," Miguel explained to his art professor at the Fancy Shmancy Magical Academy for Great and Awesome and Even Occasionally Terrible Wizards.
"You know we can't do that. With all those rhymes, people will think you're saying spells."
"That's the point. The set will literally come to life with the sound of music. The audience will never know if a random clock or a table might change the whole course of the play."
"We can't do that," his professor said.
"Sure we can. It'll be easy. I've got great rhymes and with the right actors, we could pull it off."
"It's not going to happen," the professor said.
Miguel walked away, not just from his professor nor even the academy, but from the entire enchanted world. That night, he packed his satchel and flew his broom to the nearest cluster of lights. It was a small town, but a big world to him.
The next day, he found a drive-in theater and begged for a job. They turned him down. The same happened at the diner, the grocery store and the gas station. Being 1954, he had no idea that wizardly beards and long hair was frowned upon. His skin color and last name didn't help matters, either. However, he eventually landed a job feeding horses.
It didn't pay much, but he had few expenses, conjuring charms to heat and cool a tiny shack he built from fallen pine trees. What little money he earned, he spent on movies, both at the drive-in (despite his lack of a car) and at the one-screen theater.
Motion pictures were better than musical, the pictures coming alive, calling the viewer to a world of gray. It was magical.
Over time, he discovered the mechanics of the motion picture. He sketched out plans of combining charmed and mechanical parts in the creation of an enchanted motion picture theater. However, film projectors proved to be too expensive. Besides, he had no particular way of recording and creating films.
He scavenged through the dump, finding belts, a box and a hub cap. Next, he pulled out the only sheets of mobile message parchment he had kept from the academy. It didn't work. The objects floated off the screen, but they failed to fit the spoken charms. Besides, the candle light proved to be too finicky for a steady stream of light. For the next three years, he found new items for his motion picture box. In the process, he fell in love with a disenchanted (non-magical) woman who loved the cinema as much as he did.
"I notice that you like movies," he said.
"I do. They're like magic." With those words, he became convinced that he could show her a real magical motion picture. He never asked for a date. There was an unspoken promise that he would take her to a movie in a charmed theater of his own making.
Still, they watched the movies together, always reserving an empty space between them and staying in the empty theater afterward, discussing the scenes and the characters and the themes of each show.
Miguel spent a year perfecting his art, adding small details to the sketches and changing out parts on the projector. There were minor setbacks. An aftershock of an earthquake crushed some of his parts. A group of teenagers wanted to see the "freak show with the long hair" and bashed half of the projector. But each time, he went back to work, reassembling parts under the candlelight.
On the afternoon that he perfected it, he arrived to the theater to invite his secret crush to a special date.
"I just wanted to, you know . . . I was just kind-of wondering if . . ."
She cocked her head. "Is there something I can help you with?"
"You know, if you're not too busy . . ." he coughed. "If you wanted to, um, I don't . . ."
A man jumped in front of her. "Is this man bothering you?"
She shook her head. "No, he's just a friend."
Those words hung in the air, suffocating him and choking away his dreams. He packed the projector into his satchel (it helps to have a hefty amount of charmed storage) and flew, in the late afternoon, back to his village.
The police apprehended him just outside of Bezaudorf. Seventeen people had reported seeing a man on a broom and though their descriptions weren't too specific (a man with a beard could have been any wizard), the heartbroken Miguel confessed to the crime.
After spending two months in prison, he set up a small cinema in a spare room at the Drackenberger castle. Though Mr. Drackenberger had objections to supporting a village rebel, he knew better than to get in the way of his wife (Wendell's great grandmother).
It took three months before he had a customer and even then it was a reporter from the Wizarding Word who wanted to observe the freak show. What was meant to be a mocking review accidentally led to increased publicity. Slowly the patrons trickled in. To his surprise, the village fell in love with the motion pictures.
With the help a few elves, he began production on additional films. They combined three-dimensional photography with charms and phonographs. The results were breathtaking. Miguel moved out of the castle and built a shop at the edge of the Town Tetrahedron.
The first customer at his new place was the woman he had fallen in love with in the disenchanted world.
"If you're not busy tonight, I'd like to take you out for a movie."
"You're a witch?"
Together they watched a motion picture in the cinema that would eventually bear their shared name.