// THE MAGICADEMY //
By the age of twelve, there were a few things I’d learned about myself.
The first was that I was a monster. I had mismatched teeth set askew in my skull. They stuck out this way and that and they did not look like my mother’s teeth nor did they look like my father’s teeth.
My mother was a stern woman, as beautiful as she was terrible. She delighted in games of control and punishment. Perhaps that is why she became Headmistress to the Orphans.
I did not see my father much growing up. But I did not ask questions. I followed the myriad of rules set forth for me by my mother. She was, in every way, another convincing portion of my monster theory. She contained me, kept me within the four walls of the house.
THEY WILL FEAR YOU, SON.
YOU MAY NEVER WALK AMONG THEM.
But I was all-fearing like the weakest of children, and I took her word for it. I did not fight her, I did not insist that I needed to see the sunlight or play in mud puddles. She said that I could not go and so I did not go and that was the end of that.
THE SUNLIGHT WILL BURN YOU, SEAR YOUR FLESH IRREVOCABLY.
YOU’LL BEAR A TERRIBLE SCAR.
And I believed her.
Elsewise I was afforded ultimate freedom – so long as it was within the written word bound between leather. I wandered wherever my heart wanted and I knew no schedule. I let the sun rise and set without contest, taking only the students’ din to mark the hours. I was shielded from much but it allowed me to focus myself entirely upon my studies.
And study, I did.
It is entirely normal for spellcasters to possess magical bookshelves, in which hundreds even thousands of tomes may be stored away safely without worry of physical space or dust accumulation. My mother had one such collection. Never did my mother let me place my hand into that portal but she did on my behalf. Should there be anything I wanted, I need only ask.
IT’LL BENEFIT YOU, TO BE WELL-READ, WHEN YOU NEED TO HELP YOUR FATHER.
HE KNOWS THESE BOOKS INSIDE AND OUT.
She was implicitly saying that she did not.
Of course, she spent her days with the other children. How had she spent her childhood years? Perhaps she’d read when she’d been a little girl. The other children had their quiet time, too, in front of the books and moving pictures.
But they were not like me. The other children believed that I was a monster.
They had no love for me.
But it was acceptable to me as I had other friends.
I wondered, at times, whether it was truly acceptable to have invisible friends. I imagined my heroes helped me by involving themselves in whatever trouble I’d found myself in today. At the time, however, I suppose I had few worries that weren’t existential. My friends stood beside me reading my texts aloud and illuminating my curiosities with interesting asides and cultural notes.
They did not know what work still lay ahead.
ARE GHOSTS REAL, MOTHER?
‘ARE GHOSTS REAL’, WHAT A STRANGE QUESTION.
AS REAL AS SANTA CLAUS.
PEOPLE FROM THE DEAD.
JUST THINK OF IT!
WHO WOULD YOU LIKE TO SPEAK TO?
I HOPE I NEVER HAVE TO TALK TO YOU AS A GHOST, MOTHER.
IF ALL GOES RIGHT WITH THE WORLD, THEN YOU WILL NEVER SEE THAT DAY.
OH, I HOPE NOT.
But one day, I disobeyed.
My mother had taken the Orphans out of the house for the day. Ordinarily this would not have been a problem but I was experiencing a phase of wanderlust. I left my room to explore.
I had seen these places a few scant times before, such that their general outline was not a complete mystery to me. Particularly, on a few occasions, my mother had dragged me from my room by my ear to demonstrate a switching. I had, on these outings, gleaned my mother’s glamorous bookshelves, glowing crystals, and enchanted brooms.
Outside her explicit supervision, I was not to leave my room. Every need was brought to me. I ate dinner from a tray and sent dirty dishes back to a kitchen I was unsure existed.
I was growing older and my curiosity was beginning to overwhelm my better judgment.
I was sorting through a pile of sparkling baubles when the doorbell rang.
The sound was insistent, shocking to me. I’d heard the doorbell before but from the safe confines of my four-walled bedroom. And never when I was the only person who could answer it.
I sat, stunned, listening to the echoes of the doorbell. And I wondered what they could want with me anyway. It was not as if my mother were at home.
If they were door-to-door salesmen, I could truly do nothing. If they were door-to-door religious folk, I was next to useless.
But a thought came to me as the doorbell insisted I yield to its demands.
What if someone were in trouble?
And against discretion, I answered the door.
When I came to, I had been subdued. My hands and feet were bound with an exceptionally strong plastic and my eyes were burning. I wanted desperately to claw at my eyes, singed with chemical, but I could do no such thing.
I lamented having ever left my bedroom.
I struggled against my bonds but nothing productive came of it.
The sound of my protestation must have reached the woman in the front seat of the car, because she began to speak to me.
I recognized the voice as belonging to the young woman who’d answered the door. I remembered her hair the color of freshly fallen leaves and strange, pale pink lips.
I’M SORRY, KEVIN.
I was trying to stay calm but fear was beginning to overwhelm me.
WHAT DID YOU SPRAY ME WITH?
Words were insignificant for the pain that was surging through my body. I had never felt such pain in all my life.
IF YOU ARE ABLE TO TOUCH YOUR EYES, YOU’LL TRY TO TEAR THEM OUT.
WE CAN’T HAVE THAT.
THE PAIN WILL REDUCE SOON. THIS IS JUST THE WORST OF IT.
WHO THE HELL ARE YOU AND WHERE ARE YOU TAKING ME?
WE HAD TO GET YOU OUT OF THAT HOUSE, KEVIN.
THEY WERE KEEPING YOU HOSTAGE.
But I did not feel any safer, bound in plastics and thrown in the backseat of a car.
I WAS NOT HOSTAGE.
I WAS CHOOSING TO STAY THERE.
BECAUSE YOU’VE BEEN REDUCED TO THINKING IT WAS A CHOICE.
IT’S NOT YOUR FAULT.
LET ME GO! TAKE ME HOME!
But I knew my words were useless. I was completely at the will of my captors.
I never should have answered the door.
I’M SORRY, I CAN’T DO THAT.
MY BOSS AND I WANT TO SAVE YOU.
WE SAVED YOU FROM THAT CESSPOOL.
THAT WAS MY HOME.
AND I’M SURE EVERYONE LOVED YOU VERY MUCH.
The words are steely and well-enunciated but without any sort of genuine feeling. There was unlikely to be anyone capable of being convinced to return by a young boy with his hands and feet tied suffering the ill-effects of a chemical attack.
The voice comes from the passenger side of the vehicle; I’d been in a car enough to have known that. The driver was completely silent.
YOU HAVE A BIGGER PART TO PLAY IN THIS WORLD.
I DON’T WANT TO PLAY A PART.
I WANT TO GO HOME.
YOU WILL, ONCE YOU SEE THE GLORIOUS FUTURE IN STORE FOR ALL OF US.
YOU WILL WANT TO BE A PART OF IT.
NO, I WON’T!
TAKE ME HOME!
I consider continuing to fight against my bonds, but think better of it. After a weighty pause, the woman tuts her disapproval.
I CAN’T DO THAT.
NOW, IF YOU DON’T STOP WAILING, I’LL HAVE TO BE FORCED TO SUBDUE YOU FURTHER.
I DON’T THINK YOU’LL WANT THAT.
WHERE ARE YOU TAKING ME?
SOMEWHERE NOT TOO FAR AWAY.
WE’LL FIND SOMETHING COMFORTABLE FOR YOU.
I AM SURE YOU’LL MISS YOUR BEDSHEETS, BUT WE’LL MAKE DO.
The car ride is long and uncomfortable. But it pales against the dread of knowing that something worse lurks in the near future.
Regret looms high in my mind, and I keep iterating over the hour’s events. If only, if only, if only. But I try to put it out of mind; my waking sense knows it does me little good.
If I ever see my mother and father again, I’ll never leave home.
WE’RE HERE, KIDDO.
The car stops, uneven bricks underneath. I don’t want to leave the car.
But the driver gets out, walks around the car, and opens the right-hand backseat door, where my feet are secured.
The strongarm uses his strength to pull me from the bench and lifts me aloft. I don’t know whether to resist or consent.
I’m tired. I’m scared. I consent.
NOW, THERE’S A GOOD BOY.
WE’LL GET YOU INSIDE AND FIND A PLACE FOR YOU TO LAY DOWN YOUR HEAD.
YOU MUST BE TIRED.
My eyes were still burning.
I wanted to go home.