Trouble, Trouble, Trouble

September 2020’s short story of the month

She kept pacing the living room, back and forth, back and forth, not saying a word. It would have been easier if she had just come out and told us how disappointed she was, announced our punishment, and sent us to our rooms. But she wanted us to apologize, or explain, or something.

Finally, I couldn’t stand the silence any longer and I slammed my fists on the table. “It’s not fair,” I said with all the righteous indignation a ten-year-old could muster. “It wasn’t my fault. It was her idea,” I added, pointing at my sister Angela.

“No way,” Angela said, shaking her head back and forth. “It was her fault,” she added, pointing down the couch to our youngest sister Tilly. (Her name was actually Matilda, but she hated that name).

Tilly stuck her hands in her armpits and also shook her head. “Nope. No way,” she said.

I knew what was going to happen. I was going to get blamed. I was the oldest; I always got blamed. Dad jokingly would call me a ring leader, but not this time, it wasn’t even my idea.

********

Earlier that day

It wasn’t looking good. It was raining, and our aunts were visiting, which means we were stuck inside with our boring cousin Malcom. Malcom was the biggest tattle tell in all of creation. We could never do anything fun with him around.

So far, we couldn’t get him to leave us alone. He followed us like a puppy, except he was a stinky whiney annoying puppy.

“Why don’t you stay here in the library with Malcom?” I whispered to Tilly. “You guys can read books and color and baby… I mean, maybe, you’ll have fun.” I was trying to convince Tilly to give up her day so at least Angela and I could have fun. She wasn’t falling for it.

“No way,” she said, shaking her head. “I want to go with you two.” She crossed her arms and planted her feet. There was no way I was changing her mind.

“What about you Angela?” I looked at her pleadingly.

“No.” Angela shook her head and had the same stubborn look that our mother always did when we weren’t going to change her mind. “Why don’t you hang out with him, and Tilly and I will go off to play in our room?”

“No way,” I said. “He’s a baby.”

“That’s why we don’t want to play with him either,” said Angela.

Malcom was younger than any of us. He wasn’t actually a baby, but he was a snitch. We could never use our magic when he was around. He always told our mother. And the day was wasting away. We rarely got a whole day without our mother supervising us, and spending our free day with Malcom was unbearable. And that’s when I got a wonderful idea.

“What if we make it so that he can’t leave this room?” I asked.

“What?” asked Tilly and Angela at the same time.

“We magic the room. We can lock the doors. Or freeze him. Or stick him to the floor. There are lots of ways we can do it.” I smiled from ear to ear. I was so proud that I’d thought of a way around our cousin problem.

My sisters, however, didn’t look happy. They both had furrowed brows and were looking at me like I was crazy.

“We can’t use magic on him,” said Tilly.

“We could get in trouble by the council,” added Angela. “It’s forbidden to use magic on other casters without being licensed.” She shook her head.

They were right. We would get in more trouble than we could handle if we magicked our cousin.

“Okay. Do you two have any better ideas then?” I asked them. I started tapping my foot impatiently. We really were wasting our whole day with this.

“What if we just tell him he has to stay here?” said Angela.

“He won’t listen to us,” I said.

“We can say his mother said he has to stay here,” added Angela.

It wasn’t a horrible plan, but it might not work. We had to do something though.

“Okay. Here’s what we’re going to do.” I leaned in and lowered my voice so they would move closer. We were in this together. “I’ll tell him, and then we leave quietly. No bolting. He’ll suspect. Once we are out of the room and down the hall, we’ll make our way to the foyer and then we’ll run to our room and lock the door.” I paused hoping they were taking it all in. “And, if he comes knocking, we don’t answer.”

They nodded in agreement.

Within five minutes, we were in our room with the door locked. We went straight to work building the best rainy-day fort out of every blanket and sheet we could find. We used magic to make them float exactly where we wanted them. We spent the rest of the afternoon in that fort casting light spells. We each would summon a tiny ball of light no bigger than a firefly and send it floating throughout the enclosed space. By the time our mother caught us several hours later, the blanket tent was filled with twinkling orbs bouncing off the fabric and our noses. We were lost in fits of giggles and happiness, and we didn’t notice when our door opened and our mother’s shoes clacked on the wood floor.

And that brings us back to the living room. Our mother and her sisters finished their luncheon and discovered Malcolm climbing a book shelf in the library with no one watching him, and incidentally, my mother had tasked me with his care earlier in the day.

Our mother stopped pacing. She turned slowly to face all three of us.

“You’re all in trouble. It doesn’t matter whose idea it was. It doesn’t matter who said what. It doesn’t matter who locked the door.” Her voice was getting louder and higher the longer she listed things.

She looked in my direction and said, “I expected better from all of you.”

She clearly meant me. I sunk further into the chair.

“Malcom is family. We treat our family better.” She resumed glaring at each of us in turn.

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