Another Kip Andrews story! Enjoy. It’ll be up here for everyone to read for free until July 2, and then I’ll be moving it to Kindle.
I was in the middle of a book when the big Glass in the living room chimed.
“Kip, can you get that?” My mother was in the kitchen, making dinner.
I sighed, put my book down and got it.
“Kip Andrews.” The glass cleared, responding to my voice, and revealed a very pretty lady with a huge smile.
“Hi!” she said, all bright and chirpy, “This is Dana from the Pertwee Magical Supplies Assessment Office. Is a parent home?”
“Sure. Please wait a moment.”
I went into the kitchen, “It’s a lady from some Pertwee place.”
Mom put down the apple she was slicing. “Oh good!” She hastily wiped her hands on her apron, and bustled out of the room, calling “Keep your fingers out of that salad!” over her shoulder.
Fair enough. I opened the drawer, and got out an eating knife. No fingers, as ordered.
A squeal from the living room stopped me cold, with my knife poised over the bowl. My mother is not the squealing type.
“Mom? Are you okay?” No answer. I dropped the knife, and rushed into the living room.
“Oh Kip!” my mom grabbed my hands, and twirled me around. My mom does not do things like that! I pulled my hands free.
“Mom, what happened?”
She clasped her hands under her chin, beaming at me, with tears in her eyes.
“Kip, we had the wood from the tree assessed. It’s all pure Lighting Struck Oak, grade 4, worth 3 ells a decidun. A decidun Kip! And we have a whole tree of it!”
We had a whole tree, because a couple of weeks ago, lightning struck the tree in front of our house, almost killing my brother, Jasper. Usually, lightning struck oak gets burned, or some of the tree isn’t energized. But this had been a big bolt, followed by enough rain to quench any fire. Grade 4 meant it was super charged, and the wood was sound, in pieces big enough to carve things out of.
“Now, we won’t get that much, of course. That’s retail, and we’ll be selling to them wholesale, but still, it’s going to come to several million!” My mom gave a little hop. I could see why. I couldn’t help grinning myself.
We were rich.
This was going to change everything.
By the time I got to school the next day, everyone knew. I have no idea how. I sure hadn’t told anyone. But somehow, the news had spread, and everyone was staring at me.
This was not going to make my life easier.
“Hey, Rich Kid!” I froze. I knew that voice. Lem Carter. He was the biggest kid in school by a fair piece, and he was an equal-opportunity bully. He picked on everyone. But there are degrees of being picked on.
Until two weeks ago, I’d been low on his list.
Yeah, I was hopeless in magic class, but I was a whiz in math. It evened out, at least in Lem’s tiny mind. Until I saved my brother’s life by using magic to get that tree off his throat. Some kids flat didn’t believe I’d done it, and Lem was their leader.
“I hear you got a pile from that tree. What say you give me a thousand or so?” He poked me in the shoulder. A tiny hint of what would happen if I didn’t.
I closed my locker, swiping the crystal to make sure he could see it was locked. Then I turned, swallowed the lump in my throat, and looked at him.
“Are you crazy? It’s not my money. It’s my parent’s!”
“Is that so? Hummmm… “ he rubbed his chin, pretending to consider, but his eyes were narrowed and gleeful. “Well, I guess I’ll just have to be content with whatever you have on you, then.” He grinned.
I scanned the hall. No teachers. Of course. Just his backup squad, cutting me off from everyone else.
I gave him a friendly smile. I hoped.
“Why do you think I have cash, Lem?” I could hardly hear myself over the pounding of my pulse in my ears.
His smile turned meaner than ever. “That’s a point. And I can’t ask you to glass it, you’d only stop the payment.” He paused. “I know! You can bring me cash tomorrow.” He stopped smiling. “At least 100.”
“Why do you think my folks would hand me 100 in cash?”
“You better pray that they do, Stunto. Just pray that they do.”
He laughed, and he and his so-called friends turned and sauntered away. I leaned back against the lockers, trying not to be sick. There was no way I could get that much money. No way.
After that, things just went from bad to worse. Of course. It was Tuesday, and that meant Magic Lab.
I’ve hated magic since I can remember. Two weeks ago, the very day that lightning struck, I realized it’s because I hate change. Magic makes things change into things they have no business being. I mean, I guess I don’t hate the magical tech, or anything. I’m not a Fudder. But tech is different. It’s not something I have to do, myself.
I had hoped that when I understood what my problem was, it would go away, at least enough to get through Magic Lab. But no such luck. It seems that just knowing why isn’t enough. I still had a hard time making myself do it.
So there I was as usual, making a mess of Larkin’s Smooth Surface. It has an easy sigil, which I’d already drawn, but it takes more power to activate than anything we’d done.
Mr. Wilfred had given us all little petri dishes full of dirt. Mine was mixed mud, gravel, and what looked like a crumpled candy wrapper. The spell was supposed to turn the whole thing into a polished slab.
Most of the other kids weren’t having any problems. Their dirt melted and flowed into what looked like marble.
But mine just sat there, stubbornly remaining a handful of dirt. Probably from the playground.
Jamie, who was next to me, leaned over. “Having trouble, Stunto?” she whispered. Then she looked quickly to the table past hers, where Lem was leering as he watched.
I didn’t blame Jamie. She didn’t want to be on Lem’s bad side. No one does. Of course, all his sides are bad, but you know what I mean.
I ignored her.
“Someone who can work half a tree of Lighting Struck Oak shouldn’t have any problems with a measly little smoothing spell.”
I sighed. “What are you trying to say?” I looked past her, at Lem. I knew who was the puppet, and who the puppeteer. And I wasn’t going to waste words talking with the puppet.
“Admit it, Stunto.” He left Jamie out, too. “That tree missed your brother. He broke his arm falling, and you stepped in and took all the credit. You just wanted to look a little less like the Magical Stunto that everyone knows you are.”
“Believe what you want.”
“Oh, no. I’ll believe the truth. And the truth is that you are just a pathetic Stunto. You’re not fooling anyone. If you could do magic, you would. But you can’t, can you, Stunto?”
Around me, I could hear the whispers starting. “Stunto, stunto… “
Mr. Wilfred looked up, from where he was helping Sherri Therein, in the front of the room.
“Lem, do you need something?”
We all turned back to our dishes. I hate Magic Lab.
I tossed my stuff onto my desk, and looked over at Jasper. That’s my brother. He’s Perfect, you know. But right now, he has yellow bruises all over, especially on his throat, and his arm is in a cast.
He was reading, with his face all kind of screwed up.
I’ve been trying to be gentle with him, since the accident. I don’t really mean gentle; that’s not the right word. It’s more like he’s taken care of me, ever since I can remember. So I’ve been trying to take care of him. Like the power running the other way, or something. Anyway, I’ve been trying not to bug him.
But this was too much for me, and he was still my big brother, so…
“Jasper, I have a problem.”
He looked up, his eyes clouded. “Oh, for… What now?” He sounded disgusted. He never sounds disgusted.
“There’s this kid at school, Lem Carter.. “
He rubbed his hand over his eyes. “Let me guess. He’s being a bully.”
“How did you know?”
“He has a brother in the year below mine. Bad news.”
I sighed with relief. I didn’t have to explain.
“Yeah, and he’s telling me that I have to bring 100 ell in cash to school tomorrow, and give it to him.”
Jasper frowned. “Where did he get the idea that you have that kind of money?”
I shrugged. “I dunno. It seems like everyone knows about the tree, and that we’re rich now.”
“We’re not rich now. We’ll be rich in a couple of months, when the sale of the tree goes through, and all the taxes are paid. That kind of money takes a while to set up and transfer.”
“Yeah, I know. I tried to tell him.”
“What do you want from me, Kip? I can’t go to your school and beat him up for you. This is your problem. You handle it. You know what to do. Tell someone, ignore him, make a joke – Mom’s told you all of this.” He went back to his reading.
“Jasper? But.. “
He slammed the book down. “Just leave me alone for once in your life, and don’t keep asking me to do everything for you! Okay?” He got up, and left the room.
He’s changed. I mean, I know he’s in pain and all of that. Mom says he’s coming to grips with his own mortality, whatever that means. But still.
My old brother’s superior attitude could be really annoying. But right then, I wanted my old brother back.
Did you know that you can mold mashed potatoes like clay? They’re lots softer, but they can hold a form, for a while.
“Kip, that’s enough.”
I looked up at my Dad.
“Stop playing with your food, and eat it.”
I sliced the head off the tiny statue of Lem, lying defeated on my plate, and dutifully ate it.
“What’s wrong, Kip?”
“Lem Carter,” said Jasper. Traitor.
“Who is Lem Carter?” my dad was puzzled.
“This kid at Kip’s school. He’s decided to extort 100 ell from Kip, or the beatings will commence.”
I glowered at him, but he ignored me.
“Oh Kip!” said my mom, putting her knife down. “That’s serious! What did your principal say when you told her?”
I looked away. “I can’t tell her. It’ll just make him worse. I was hoping Jasper would have some useful trick, or I wouldn’t have told him, either.” I shot him an accusing glare.
“I’m glad Jasper told us,” said Dad. “And we will certainly let your principal know. This ends here.”
But it wouldn’t. I knew it wouldn’t. It would only give Lem a real reason to hate me.
“Kip,” said my mom, “I’ve taught you how to handle a bully, haven’t I?”
I nodded. Only about a thousand times.
“A bully targets you because they’re jealous, to feel powerful, or to look popular. Some are being bullied themselves, or in other kinds of intolerable situations. You need to understand, reframe the bullying, and treat them with empathy and .. .”
I tuned her out. Yeah, yeah. Poor unfortunate bully. Acting out because they’re so unhappy. Yada yada. There are other ways to handle unhappiness that don’t involve making everyone else miserable. I’m sorry, but I didn’t pity Lem a bit. I thought he probably deserved whatever bad stuff might be happening to him.
I snapped back, and quickly reran the conversation in my head. Oh no! They were seriously going to talk with my principal!
“Mom, Dad, really, I can take care of it. Okay?” He’d break my bones if I got him kicked out of school! Then I remembered my parents gushing over the idea of a new house. “Besides, we’re going to move soon, right? I can handle it a while longer. Please.”
They looked at each other doubtfully.
“Even if we had the money in hand, Kip, it will take at least six months before we can move. I really think we should have a meeting with your principal,” said Dad.
“But what if he was just kidding?”
“Do you really think that’s a possibility?”
“Maybe? Please.. Just don’t go to the school about it.”
“Okay. Unless he actually assaults you, we’ll let it ride. For now.”
Predictably, Lem was waiting for me in the hall by my locker.
“Hi, Stunto the Rich Kid,” he grinned, and held out his hand.
I don’t know what came over me, but I reached out and shook it.
His little cohort whooped with laughter, but he pulled his hand out of mine and scowled. “Yeah, good joke. I want 100 ell, punk.”
I smiled innocently at him. “I can understand that. I’d like 100 ell, too. But you know, neither of us actually has that kind of money.” In fact, I didn’t have cash at all. I’d made sure of that.
“Yeah? I gave you a whole day to come up with it.”
“I could explain how long it takes to actually get money when you’re selling magical supplies, but you’re not interested, are you?”
He grinned evilly. “No, I’m not. Tell ya what, since you don’t have cash, I’ll take that jacket.”
“This jacket? It would never fit you!” It just popped out.
“Yeah, that’s a point. Tell you what, give it to me, and I’ll sell it.” He smirked. “It would be nicer if you just handed it over now. I’ll get it, one way or another, and I’d prefer it without bloodstains. They’re such a nuisance to remove.”
He advanced, and I retreated, looking quickly over my shoulder. No teachers. How did he do that? If I tried to do anything bad, a teacher always popped up! Maybe I should do something against the rules now, and conjure one.
He took another step forward, and I took another back. Thinking about rule-breaking had given me an idea.
Most people need to physically draw sigils before activating them. But there are people who can do magic in their heads. They don’t need to draw anything. They just visualize the sigil on the thing they want to change, activate it, and wham.
I’d never been able to do that. I’d barely managed to do any spells, no matter how carefully I drew the sigils, except in an emergency.
Judging from the racing of my heart, this was one. And Larkin’s Smooth Surface has a really simple sigil.
I pictured it on the floor, as clearly as I could, and activated it as strongly as I was able. I couldn’t tell if the floor was any slicker than it had been. It was pretty polished anyway.
I took another step back.
Lem and his friends took another step forward. And it was perfect! Their feet went right out from under them, landing them smack on their rumps! They tried to get up, but they couldn’t; the floor was too slippery. They just kept sliding around, while the ones who hadn’t fallen laughed like loons.
And yep, there was a teacher, right on cue.
I reversed the spell as quickly as I could, and was relieved to see that worked too. As they climbed to their feet, I murmured, “You wanted to see me do magic.”
Lem glared. His face was brick red. “Just you wait, Kip Andrews” he whispered.
Oh no. I’d only postponed the beating. I was dead meat.
I couldn’t concentrate on any of my classes after that. Well, who could have?
Everything I knew about bullies and how to deal with them kept going round and round in my head. I knew that nothing worked with every bully, but there had to be something that would work with this one. Negotiation didn’t work. Joking didn’t work. Placating didn’t work. Nothing worked! It was horrible! There was nothing I could do!
But then I looked at Lem’s broad back in the seat in front of me, and remembered what Jasper had said, about Lem’s brother. For my whole life, Jasper had always been kind and patient; someone I could depend on. Right then, he was in a bunch of pain, and snappish from it, but even so, I knew he would never beat me up.
What would it be like to have an older brother like Lem had, instead. To be afraid of someone in your own family? Someone you could not escape?
His parents must be just as bad, or they would have stopped it.
That would be awful!
He didn’t even have any friends. All he had were followers, who followed from fear. I mean, I don’t have a ton of friends. But I do have a couple, and we’re friends because we like each other. He had no one.
It’s strange, but I really did feel sorry for him. I wished he could have a friend. A real friend, who wasn’t afraid of him.
How would I act around him, if we were friends?
I was musing it over, kind of lost in that alternate reality, when my pencil broke. Without thinking, I leaned forward, and tapped him on the shoulder. He turned around, with his mouth open, and one eyebrow raised.
“Got a spare pencil I can borrow, please?” I whispered.
He glanced at the teacher, then back at me, and wordlessly handed me a pencil.
“Thanks!” I smiled at him.
“No problem.” He looked kind of pole-axed, and turned back to his work.
After school, sure enough, there he was by my locker. But his hands were shoved deeply into his pockets.
“Why did you do that?” he blurted out, as soon as I was in hearing distance.
I shrugged. “I broke my pencil, and didn’t have a spare.”
He shook his head.
“I really don’t have the money, you know.”
He shrugged. “It’s not important.” He looked at me quizzically. “I can’t figure you out, you know?”
“What’s to figure?”
Lem shrugged, looking puzzled.
I pulled the pencil out of my case. “Here. Thanks for the loan!”
He took it from me, and carefully put it in his own case.
Then he looked up. “You’re all right. You know that?” He turned, and walked off.
I thought about that all the way home. We’ll probably never be real friends. But at least he was off my back. And really, he’s not completely evil.