Lesson Learned

April 2020’s short story of the month

It was different, writing on a typewriter; the clatter and noise, the resistance of the old keys forcing her to really put effort into each letter. She imagined she was writing the next best-selling novel. This momentarily distracted her from the reality of what she was really doing – writing a history paper that was all ready past due.

Meredith, who preferred to be called Mary, stopped for a moment and looked at the neat rows of black letters on the new white paper. She smiled to herself, but it quickly faded. She didn’t want her mother to know that she was actually enjoying this.

Her mother was making her write the paper the “old-fashioned” way to teach her a lesson. Mary was forbidden to use magic in any way to help. Not to mince words, but she was being punished, and rightly so.

Mary had put off the assignment until the last minute and then tried to conjure a finished project. Her spellcraft needed work though. Much like her normal school work, Mary had a bad habit of not practicing her spells like she was told to.

Making her type the paper on an old typewriter without magic to aid her was her mother’s idea of teaching her that just because you could use magic didn’t mean you should. Mary tried to point out that if her mother had let her turn in the original magicked paper, at least she might have gotten a passing grade, but because she failed to turn in anything, she received a zero. And to top it off, she would now be taking history during summer school. Her mother was still making her write the paper even though her teacher said at this point it wouldn’t matter one way or another.

Mary spent the rest of the afternoon flipping through her history textbook and various old books she’d pulled from the family library. She worked diligently at the kitchen table until her mother told her to take a break so they could set the table for dinner.

Promptly following dinner, Mary pulled out the heavy typewriter again and got back to work. She was still typing away after her mother tucked both her sisters into bed.

Mary heard her mother enter the kitchen but didn’t look up. She was in the zone and didn’t want to lose her train of thought. Her mother sat down across the table from her but didn’t speak.

Finally, Mary got to the end of a paragraph about a particularly gruesome battle. Mary was discovering that writing about history could be entertaining. She wondered how so many humans could go about their lives not realizing that magic was real, especially after they read about wars and famines and other horrific catastrophic events.

“You can’t turn this in to your history teacher,” her mother said while skimming through the pages stacked neatly on the table.

“Why not?” Mary asked.

Her mother had to suppress a smile. “Mary, be serious. You cannot write a paper about how magic was used during the civil war and then hand it in to your normal school teacher.”

“Why not?” Mary countered with all the smugness of a rebellious teen who didn’t care what the world thought. “It might do Mr. Hunt some good to read some real history for a change.”

Her mother just shook her head. “Dear, remember something I’ve told you over and over again. Humans believe their own version of the truth.” She paused and smirked as she read about how witches placed curses on cannonballs and muskets. “This is the world we live in. We keep our secrets for our safety and for theirs.”

Mary was sitting back now with her arms crossed firmly over her chest. This was not the first time the battle line was drawn between mother and daughter, and it wouldn’t be the last.

“Maybe it’s time we stop keeping secrets.” Mary didn’t want to say something else, but she couldn’t help herself. “Maybe it’s time we stop being scared.”

Her mother just shook her head. “We’ve been over this. If humans knew we had magic, bad things would happen to our kind. Very bad things.”

“You say that, but the world is changing, it’s 1990. This isn’t the middle ages. We have power, and we basically can’t use it. Think of the good we could do for this world if we stopped hiding.”

“Enough.” Her mother stood and slammed both hands on the table at the same time. “If you want to know why we live the way we do, you are looking in the wrong history books.” Her mother worked a spell and the table was covered with books open to horrific drawings and paintings.

Each one depicted a scene from various times in history when witches were persecuted. There were women being burned alive and others being held under water by men laughing. The truth was that most of the women who died during witch hunts weren’t even true witches. Real witches were better at hiding their powers, but they had stood by and saw what would happen to them if people knew the truth.

The books open before Mary were handmade books that had been passed down in her family. One of her ancestors had been at each of these terrible events. They had witnessed the cruelty of living with no secrets.

Her mother picked up the history paper Mary had spent all day on and with a deliberate snap, the papers turned to ash.

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