Holy cats! This is our 26th installment! And if math is not a convenient fiction, that means that we’re halfway through our first year as a newsletter!
If you had told me when we set out on this newsletter project that we would reach the half year mark, I’d probably have said: “Hey, that’s great! Now I know for sure that I’m not going to meet an untimely end in the next six months! My constant, low-level death anxiety will be at perhaps its lowest ebb since before, as a child, I realized what death really means.”
And speaking of children and death, this week we’ll be revisiting our poorly managed school for wizards! Light a candle, grab your magic wand (after making sure it has fresh batteries), and let’s get ready for adventure!
the beulah candlewick school for young magicks
At the front of the classroom, Professor Pank glared out at the students from the other side of an ornate mirror, 7 feet high, ringed in gold and mounted on wheels. An experiment years back in using mirrors to travel had been interrupted, leaving Pank trapped in the reflected world behind mirrors. In order to allow him to continue his tutelage, the school had invested in a set of mirrors, easily moved, that would be placed throughout the campus for his use.
A young student, her robes on fire, crawled painfully towards the mirror.
“Well, now we’re learning,” said Pank. He twirled a magic wand and extinguished the reflected student at his feet with a jet of cool vapor. At the same time, the student in the real world was similarly affected, suddenly sodden, but safe. “Who can tell me what Elleve here did wrong?”
“She enrolled in this school,” muttered Jaymes under his breath. He sat in the back row, slouched in his seat, his asymmetrical hair dyed blue. On his shoulder, a pixie he had crafted from cafeteria carrots he didn’t want to eat muttered agreement.
“Yes yes yes yes,” it said. This was its standard response to most anything Jaymes had to say, as per Jaymes’s design.
“Shut up,” said Jaymes.
Doctor Willowblight applied a cooling salve to Elleve’s neck and back.
“My parents are going to… going to sue…” hissed Elleve. The salve did its work, guided by magic to match the tone and consistency of the surrounding skin, forming a replacement as good as the original skin. Well, except for its texture or sensitivity. It would always feel a bit damp to the touch. And would slowly soak through shirts. Also, to Elleve, it would feel like a dull area, thanks to damaged nerves. But other than that, pretty good stuff.
Willowblight arched an eyebrow at the threat of legal action. If she’d heard it once, she’d heard it a thousand times. But the school’s grounds had been buttressed by enough magical rituals in overlapping layers that any attempt by the law to penetrate it would be sure to end in disaster.
The bottom of the dark fountain near the entrance gates was lined with the bones of lawyers, mixed with briefcases, fancy pens, and the sodden remains of embossed business cards.
That said, it was still poor form to tell a student that on school grounds, they were well beyond the reach of any outsider who might want to help them.
“These scars,” said Willowblight, falling into character. “Most peculiar.”
In the handbook provided to faculty and staff at The Beulah Candlewick School for Young Magicks, an entire chapter is devoted to student injuries. In the sub-section related to scarring, disfigurement or transfiguration, the standard operating procedure was to mitigate hard feelings by inventing and sharing a “prophecy” wherein a young user of magic, thus marked, was destined for greatness.
“What’s that?” asked Elleve.
“They remind me of something,” said Willowblight. “A prophecy. But prophecies probably don’t interest you,” continued Willowblight.
“No, let’s hear it. What’s this prophecy?”
“It’s just that when they laid the keystone for this very building, the Professor of Scrying at the time had a vision of a young student who would one day surpass all of us. They would be known by a particular wound on their back. He sketched the wound from his vision, but I only sorta remember the shape. I mean, that was years ago, and I read about it in the faculty newsletter, which we used to have to print by hand with a drumroll and ink, so…”
Elleve sat up eagerly. “But you think my burn scars might match the pattern?”
“I’m fairly certain… it’s an almost perfect match. But the only way we can know for sure would be for you to continue with your studies through graduation… and if your parents are going to sue, as you say, well… they’re not going to keep paying tuition, so… you’ll probably have to drop out. Get a job somewhere. A water park maybe? That would be safe for you. No more burns.”
“Surpass everyone, it said?”
It was so easy.
“You dropped your SCROLL, nerd!” The giant, yellow-skinned creature smirked, then continued strolling down the hallway, an enormous letter jacket on its back.
Jaymes picked up the scroll that the creature, Nnghbert, had just slapped out of his hands. “I really, really hate that guy. He’s not even human! If he wasn’t so good at sports, there’s no way they’d let him keep studying here.”
The carrot pixie on his shoulder nodded enthusiastically. “Yeah, yes, yes, yeah,” it murmured.
Jaymes’s classmate Akaya cast a glance at the pixie. “That’s really gross, dude. You really ought to eat your veggies.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” said the pixie.
“Whatever,” said Jaymes.
Akaya patted Jaymes’s back. “I know you don’t like Nnghbert. Nobody does. But you have to understand that Nnghbert’s bad attitude isn’t his fault.”
“How do you figure?”
“Well, you know the nnghs, right? Gross little yellow creatures? Pretty much infest the whole school?”
“Sure,” said Jaymes. “Guys in my dorms hunt them and pin them to the common room wall.”
Akaya looked disgusted. “No… please tell me that’s not true.”
“Do you guys not know what nnghs are? Where they come from? Do none of you pay attention in Applied Magic and Sexuality? Those health courses are for your benefit, you know.” Akaya ducked briefly as a laughing pack of young witches came flying down the hallway, dressed for athletics. “They’re formed from…. hmm. Well, when young boys going through puberty have some ‘alone time’… and their ’emissions’ and magic and tissues all mix in the plumbing, then…”
“No,” said Jaymes. On his face: the expression of someone who was torn between wanting to clean every inch of his body and brain, or go back in time 5 minutes and choose any other corridor to walk down instead of this one, which lead to this conversation.
“That’s where the name came from,” said Akaya. “From the sound boys make.”
“Like you don’t know. Nnnnnngh,” said Akaya, fluttering her eyes back and letting her mouth fall open.
“Gross,” said Jaymes.
Akaya laughed, then continued. “So the thing with Nnghbert is that he was originally just one of the biggest of the nnghs ever made. He was so much trouble, the faculty had to get him under control. From what I heard, they used the Cauldron of Itches, some puppydog tails, a magic book from Professor Whistler’s library, and a set of brass knuckles to transform him into what he is today: an enormous jock. All of his natural mischief-causing instincts are sublimated into socially acceptable sports-related violence. He’s completely under our control now.”
Jaymes frowned. “So they used magic to make Nnghbert into.. an enormous dude? A fellow student? To control him?”
“Masculinity is a prison, Jaymes,” said Akaya. “And he’s got a sentence to serve out.”
The hardest part of pirate life is not procuring treasure, or burying it… it’s marking the X. The pirates will be so happy to avoid the most strenuous part of the process that this plan is sure to work.
ending theme song
When I started this newsletter, my goals were pretty simple. I wanted to get back in the habit of writing, first and foremost. The days, weeks, and months just keep passing and if I can look back and see some creative pursuits in there instead of just consuming media, it’s better for my mental health.
Secondly, I was also hoping to stumble across an idea I could expand on for a new e-book project.
So far, I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how much fun it is to come up with ideas about the awful world of the Candlewick School and its struggling students. They’re super easy to write about and as a lazy person, I’m going to keep mining any seam of ideas that seems easy. Could this be the writing project I was looking for?
I hope you stick around and find out with me if we’re on to something!
And thanks to my wife Amanda for contributing an original illustration of Nnghbert in his varsity jacket.
See you in a week,
–Michael Van Vleet