The Spell Thief

Another short story, this time more of a fantasy story than anything else. I hope you enjoy it.

The room seemed normal enough, apart from a bulky oak table which stood in a corner of the room. It looked extremely strong, but unlike the other horizontal surfaces which were crammed with knick-knack’s the only thing resting on the table was a well-thumbed book held closed by a metal clasp and secured with a padlock. Hazel, or Auntie as she was better known, took a small key that hung on a chain around her neck and unlocked it. Quickly she leafed through the pages searching for the one she wanted. Then she stopped, a look of puzzlement on her face.

“What’s wrong?” I inquired.Auntie didn’t answer. Instead she flipped a few pages back in the book.

“That’s not right either.” As she looked up, I could clearly see the distressed look on her face.

“Someone’s stealing them! It’s the only explanation.”

That comment only managed to confuse me further, and that confusion must have shown on my face.

“I first noticed last week that I couldn’t find one of the spells in my book. Well another one has gone missing!”

“How is that possible?” I asked. “I assume the book hasn’t left here.”

“Oh, it can’t. I always keep it locked when I’m not using it. Not only that, it’s too heavy. Last time it took five people to lift it! The thing is there is only one spellbook, and this is a copy of it.”

I nodded, not really understanding what Auntie was telling me. Surely each witch had to have their own book.

“Perhaps I didn’t explain myself properly. All genuine spellbooks are a copy of each other. Anything that is written in one book gets copied to all of them. Similarly, if something gets erased.”

“Why would anyone want to erase things?” I asked myself and was surprised when Auntie answered my unspoken question.

“There are lots of legitimate reasons for erasing things. We only bother to keep the best spells so if someone finds a better one they just update the book. We had to change a lot of them when dragon hunting was prohibited due to the rapidly declining population. We also had to get rid of several a few years ago when we found that they were causing a hole in the ozone layer.”

“Are you sure something similar hasn’t happened to the missing ones?” I asked.

“Pretty certain. So far none of the spells that I’ve noticed going missing are important, and none of them are less than a decade old. It’s very unlikely that there is a problem with the ingredients for them, or that any nasty side effects would be visible yet. No, I’m convinced that someone is stealing them.”

“What are you going to do about it? Come to that is there anything you can do about it? After all, you can hardly install an alarm system because the book that’s being changed isn’t here.”

“I’m not sure. The first thing I need to do is find out who is behind the disappearances. Once I know that, I’ll have a better idea how we should deal with it. I’m afraid this could be important. Is there any chance we could postpone things for a day or two?”

It was almost a week later before my next visit. I could hardly wait to hear if there was any news about the spell thief. Auntie didn’t disappoint me.

“I found out who was stealing the spells.” She confided.

“Really? How?” I asked.

“Absurdly simple really,” Auntie responded. “You gave me the idea yourself when you talked about an alarm system. I created a special trap spell that when copied would draw a picture of the person copying it. See for yourself.”

So saying, she handed me a sheet of paper. Drawn on it was a young girl, probably no more than eight years old, caught in the act of copying the spell.

“Who is she?” I asked. “I assume she can’t be doing it maliciously, otherwise you would be more concerned.”

“I don’t know yet. I haven’t had the chance to find out. There are only certain times when I will be able to.” Auntie paused, looking intently at the picture. “Wait a minute, we might be in luck!”

I realized that the picture in my hand looked more vibrant, more alive than it had a few moments earlier.

“She’s back!” Auntie breathed, her eyes sparkling with excitement. “Watch this!”

She muttered something I couldn’t hear. Suddenly it was as if we were standing on the picture, then somehow inside it.

Mary glanced around her. She felt strange, almost as if someone was watching her. Nobody was there, so it had to be her overactive imagination again. Sighing, she picked up her pen and opened her notebook. It was such a lovely day, and she didn’t want to spend even a moment of it inside. Still, she had told her Mom that she would practice her handwriting for half an hour each day. Thank goodness she had found that neat old book to copy. Some of it was easy enough, but other pages were full of words like “thou” and “posset”. Some of the handwriting was strange too. F’s looked like S’s and vice-versa. One page even seemed to be in a different language.

“This doesn’t look too bad.” Mary thought, and started copying. Time passed quickly and she was surprised to hear her mother’s voice calling.

“Mary! Lunch is ready. Come and eat it before it gets cold.”

As Mary closed the book, she again had the strange feeling that hidden eyes were watching her. Weird, she thought, then scampered from the room towards the tempting smell of Banana Bread, fresh from the oven.

Slowly the scene faded. I was in Auntie’s house, but I had a clear memory of having spent the last half hour practicing my handwriting… which was absurd because I couldn’t remember having written anything besides shopping lists or other notes for myself in years. Even more confusing, the clock now showed half past three, and I was sure that it had been at least thirty minutes earlier before the odd daydream I had just experienced.

“It’s a bit disorienting at first, but if you’ve done it as many times as I have you get used to it.” Auntie said.

“You mean I wasn’t daydreaming?” I asked, still feeling confused.

“No,” Auntie clarified. “You were looking through the eyes of our little trouble-maker while she made a few more spells disappear.”

“I don’t know how to explain it, but it didn’t feel as if she was doing anything bad.” I said.

“No, you’re quite right.” Auntie replied. “Somehow that’s a spellbook that she’s copying from and it is still active, but I don’t believe Mary has any idea what it is or how powerful its contents are. I also have no idea why when she copies the spells they disappear, because she’s not erasing them from hers.”

“So, what are you going to do about it?” I asked.

“Well, we need to deactivate the book.” Auntie replied. “The only problem is how. I’m going to need to think it over, then contact some of my sisters. I hate to do this to you again, but would you mind if we postponed our session until tomorrow?”

“No problem.” I replied. “Same time as today?”

“That would be good.” Auntie responded. “If you’re lucky, you might even be able to see how we handle our little problem.”

Mary turned the page to continue copying the passage she had stared working on the day before.”That’s odd.” She thought, as she saw an entry in a flowery hand beneath the one she was part way through copying. “I don’t remember seeing that there yesterday. I guess it must have been.”

Mary continued copying to the bottom of the sheet, but when she turned over the page it was blank. She flipped a few more pages, only to find that they were blank too. She was sure that there had been more, but as she leafed back through it the only things written in the old book were the ones she had already copied.

Back in Auntie’s house, we watched Mary, just as we had the day before. Unlike the previous day the return to normality was not gradual. Instead, as soon as Mary copied the last word of Auntie’s new spell we were snapped back into Auntie’s living room. In front of us something strange was happening to the spellbook. It looked almost as if it was being sucked off the table by a tornado, but only the book was affected. Nothing else in the room moved. As the pages fluttered wildly, I could see the writing on them slowly vanish. Then as suddenly as it started the disturbance was over. The book fell back onto its table with a surprisingly light thud. Auntie must have seen the look of surprise on my face. She picked up the book in one hand and gave it to me.

“What happened?” I asked. “You told me this book was so heavy nobody would be able to lift it.”

Auntie laughed. “It’s not the book that’s heavy, it’s the spells in it which weigh it down.”

“But this book is so light.”

“Exactly. There aren’t any spells in it any more.”

It sounded as if the spells were gone forever, but I could tell from the sparkle in Auntie’s eyes that there was something she wasn’t telling me.

“I think we’ve waited long enough.” Auntie said, taking the book from me and putting it back on its stand. Turning to the first page, she took a pen and wrote something quickly. Then she flipped to the back of the book and wrote one word at the top of the page. Index.

“What now?”

“Now we wait.”

For several seconds, nothing happened. Then a line of text appeared as if an unseen hand was writing it in the index. It was soon followed by another, then two more. Auntie opened the book to several pages at random, and we watched as the blank pages covered themselves with handwriting in many different hands.

“Well I’m glad that worked.” Said Auntie heaving a sigh of relief. “I was afraid that once all the spells were erased that the spellbooks would not remain linked.”

“But where are all the spells coming from?” I inquired.Auntie laughed. “That’s easy. I told you that I needed to contact my sisters. When I did so, I warned them what would happen, and asked everyone to memorize one spell.”

“But how did you make sure you didn’t lose any spells?” I asked.

“Simple. I made a numbered copy of the index and found out how many spells there were. I took the first spell, then divided the list into two. I selected two sisters I trust and gave them each one of the lists and asked them to do the same thing. Take the first spell in the list for themselves to learn and pass the rest on to other sisters they trusted. Do you know how quickly a chain like that grows?”

“Very quickly. You’d only need to repeat the process about ten times before you would have contacted over a thousand sisters.”

“Exactly! And because each sister only has to get in touch with two others it only took a few hours before all the spells were covered. There should be two thousand eight hundred and thirty nine.

Auntie turned back to the index. It already had over two thousand of the spells listed, and we watched mesmerized as the last few appeared. Eight hundred and Thirty seven… Thirty eight… Thirty nine. We exhaled together, having held our breath in anticipation as the last few entries arrived.

“Well, I guess that’s it.” I observed.

“For now.” Auntie replied.

“What do you mean?”

“You remember how I couldn’t understand why the spells were going missing. I eventually worked it out. Mary wouldn’t have been able to cause so much of a problem if she didn’t have the talent to join the sisterhood.”

“You mean she could become a witch?”

“Exactly. She’s not ready yet, she needs to be at least thirteen, but when she is… who knows?” Auntie paused, a wistful expression on her face. “I was only thirteen when they found me, and it was the start of a real adventure that I’m still enjoying today.” Auntie pulled herself together. “Still, that’s not the reason why you’re here. We’ve delayed long enough with my adventure. It’s time to start yours.”