Stranger Than Strange
JAYDEN READ THE HEADLINE AGAIN. It was still the same. He felt his hands shake as he hesitantly picked up the newspaper in his hands and numbly scanned the front page, reading the article with caution.
By: Gossiper 101
Everyone knows the by now famous tradition at the Chez Mabel’s Diner: the magic show. The magician, Fred Malkin, who comes every Saturday night and performs a free show has become a loved member of the community over the years and we are all still wondering what caused him to disappear last Saturday.
The magician is known for finishing his performance with a disappearance act however this time around, there was no one to take the final bow come curtain call. The diner waited with bated breath for our beloved Malkin to return to us however we were left without an encore.
Mabel Kaycey, the owner of the diner, was just as confused as the rest of us when her dear friend didn’t return. The assistant shook her head when asked about the whereabouts of her boss and replied that she was unaware of where Malkin was.
Apparently, this was a trick not even the assistant was in on.
What has happened to Fred Malkin?
Read more on page A7
Jayden jumped and nearly fell off the bench chair he had been sitting on. He turned to see Jesse with his brow furrowed, his dark brown eyes staring at the newspaper in concentration, as though trying to discover itself deepest secrets. Slowly by slowly, Jesse’s eyes widened.
“No way,” he muttered.
“What are you two buffoons doing?”
Jesse and Jayden both jumped at the sound of Carmen’s voice and saw that she was towering over the two boys. She folded her arms across her chest and eyed the newspaper. “You don’t honestly believe a single thing those bobble heads say, do you?” she asked Jayden with a raised eyebrow. “Or are you really that gullible?”
Jesse shook his head. “I swear, I was there on Saturday but I didn’t really think about . . .” he shoved his hands into his pockets as he eyed the paper curiously. “Is this for real?”
“Of course it’s not you idiot,” Carmen said, rolling her eyes. “Those girls are just begging for attention, that’s all.” She sat down across from Jayden and Jesse before tucking her dark hair behind her ear and yanking the paper away from them. “All of this is complete shit,” she told them. She folded the paper and threw it aside. “Now, are you going to keep harassing Jackson or are you going to do something with what little life you have?”
“I resent that!” Jesse snapped. “I do too have a life!”
“Yeah, sure,” Carmen replied unbelievingly.
“Besides, I’m not harassing him and even if I was, you’re practically doing the same thing,” Jesse accused. He stared down at his food and cringed, pushing his tray away from himself. “I’ll eat just about anything but even I draw the line when my food looks like it’s staring at me.” He poked the food with his fork before shivering.
“There are starving kids in Africa,” Carmen told him.
“There are starving kids in this cafeteria since this is food poisoning! No one in their right minds would eat this kiwi!” Jayden had eventually wrapped his mind around the fact that Jesse censored his words by replacing them with fruits and vegetables so this phrase made sense to him. ‘God, I’ve been here long enough that this actually makes sense!’
Carmen gestured towards Matt Jenkins who was shoving a large quantity of goop into his mouth. “What do you call that?” Carmen challenged.
“Insane,” came Jesse’s immediate response.
Carmen rolled her eyes. “You’re a moron.”
“After hearing it a hundred times, it kinda loses its meaning,” Jesse replied with a shrug, unfazed by the insult. “So anyway Jackson, I still haven’t shown you the lake nearby town or the Town Hall so we’ve gotta get those done before Halloween-”
“I’m probably going to regret this, but why before Halloween?” Jayden asked curiously, raising an eyebrow. He braced himself for the answer, prepared for just about anything from werewolves attacking the town to ghosts possessing the mayor.
“Well, it’s only a rumour but I heard that there’s this huge test that comes up for the Magyck students,” Jesse said, choosing his words carefully. Jayden’s eyes widened in alarm. “It’s nothing dangerous, at least, I don’t think so. Seriously, just some people tend to get a few injures from what I’ve heard- nothing major! Okay, you know what? It’s not really something you can explain, but basically, showing you the town’s gonna be hard while everyone’s in Halloween mode. And after that, there’s Christmas and Hanukkah and once the snow falls . . . well, let’s just say Canada’s got long winters.”
Jayden nodded, trying to understand and yet he still couldn’t quite get it. He sat there numbly as Jesse and Carmen fought with each other throughout lunch and was grateful when the bell rang to go to classes, even if his teacher was most likely to give him yet another pop quiz and a flaming baton in the face.
With his mind occupied with thoughts of the article, Jayden walked into the Ignis Room, feeling numb all over. He barely had enough time to remember that he ought to concentrate on the lesson when Martin came crashing into him, holding a Fire Ball in his unsteady hand.
"Watch where you're going," Jayden warned, steadying him. He stared at the impressive amount of fire energy in Martin's hand, only looking slightly uneasy and gave him a nervous smile. "We can't afford to burn the room down."
Martin let out a laugh. "Nice one." Jayden was completely serious. Being around fire as often as he was didn't make him any less cautious. "Something wrong?"
Martin frowned, a crease appearing in his forehead. "I dunno, you just seem . . . distracted, is all. Something happen?"
Jayden shrugged off his concern. "It's nothing, you read the newspaper recently?"
Martin shook his head. "I don't have to, the guys at my table will tell me if there's anything worth knowing."
Jayden nodded slowly. "Anyway, what do you think Richards has planned for us today?"
"Probably something psychotic," Martin reasoned. "How did that man get a teaching degree?"
"What makes you think he ever got one?"
The two of them watched the doorway expectantly, waiting for their teacher to walk in with his latest outrageous outfit and walk in he did. Professor Richards strutted into the classroom with a pair of flaming red pants, literally. The hem of the pants had small bells on them that lit up with flames whenever he walked. His button down shirt was frilly, like the kind of shirts Jayden imagined salsa dancers wore, he had a sequenced bow-tie, cowboy boots and his hair was slicked back like the head of a Italian mob of a certain movie Jayden had seen.
The students lined up against the back wall in silence, waiting for the teacher to speak. When he did, his voice boomed, echoing off the walls.
"Today, we are going to have a cross-lesson with the members of my friend, Ricardo's class. We will be inviting them into our room this time, as opposed to us conning to them, especially since the last incident with the piranha tank. Layton, I hope we do not have a repeat," he added pointedly. "You will team up in pairs of two to execute a task and they should be arriving shortly. Any questions?"
Hesitantly, a girl raised her hand.
"Um, what will we be doing?"
Jayden groaned. She should've learnt by now that asking questions like that would only lead to problems. Professor Richards however, gave her a demonic grin (at least, in Jayden's opinion) and walked up to her. The poor girl trembled under his gaze. "I have positively no idea," he admitted in a rather gleeful tone.
"Well, that makes me feel safe," grumbled Jayden to himself.
The doors open then, allowing in the Water Magyck class. Jayden searched the crowd for Jesse, at least one familiar face amongst the sea of unknown people. He spotted him, shuffling his feet behind Ricardo, a look of pure terror on his face.
"So, Ricardo," Richards said, prancing up to the Agua Dunamis teacher. "What is our lesson plan today?"
"Obstacle course," Ricardo replied with a grin. “Now if you could pair up with someone of the opposite class and find a small area where you can stand alone?” He turned to Richards and shook his head, laughing. “You need a bigger classroom.”
“Yours is the same size, just about,” Richards shot back, but it didn’t sound like they were arguing, more like siblings bickering over small, insignificant things.
Immediately, Jayden found himself racing towards Jesse, who merely stood there, frozen. He looked scared, as though the prospect of finding a partner was terrifying, as though it was impossible. Jayden fought his way through the crowd before finding a place to stand next to Jesse.
“So, will you be my partner?”
Jesse gave him a confused look, as though he didn’t understand what he was saying. “What?”
“I said, will you be my partner?”
Jesse still seemed in a daze, but he nodded slowly, as though trying to wrap his mind around the concept of doing a school activity with another person. Group projects seemed foreign to him, but Jayden was sure he had gone through at least one during elementary school. “Yeah, sure. Okay.”
Jesse nodded, still confused when Professor Ricardo clapped his hands loudly and called attention towards the front of the class.
“I hope you’re all in your groups now,” he called. “Now, the obstacle course is not exactly an obstacle course, per-say, it’s more of a challenge between two Program members whose objective is to catch the other off-balance through an attack and defend scenario. Basically, you’re all going to duel your partner.”
The entire room broke out into murmurs, but they all fell to deaf ears. Jayden was hyperventilating. He knew MapleWood was strange, it was abnormal. He had learnt as much with all the betting pools, horrible food, ringmaster teachers, but to duel? Duelling was . . . duelling was something he couldn’t even imagine!
“Did he just say d-duel?”
Jesse’s brow furrowed. “I believe he did, but we don’t have swords.”
“That’s not the only way to duel, you know,” Jayden pointed out. “Oh my God, is he going to make us use our Magyck against each other?”
Jesse’s eyes widened. “Wait a minute, I didn’t sign up for this! You’re telling me I need to go against a flame thrower?” Jesse ran a hand through his hair. “I’m barely passing classes, you expect me to battle against you and win? Can I forfeit?”
“Calm down!” boomed Professor Richards voice. “If you would all calm down, I’m sure my dear friend Ricardo will explain!”
Professor Ricardo nodded the affirmative. “Alright, now yes, there will be a duel between students. It’s nothing we haven’t done before, it’s just an exercise that’s certain to help your reaction time as well as how to deal with playing defensive rather than offensive all the time. When in class, you do not have someone to spar with, no one is challenging you to beat them, this duel creates a competitive environment where you’ll be able to play both offensive and defensive moves.”
Professor Ricardo went on to continue explaining that, unlike the usual duel, the duellers didn’t fight each other simultaneously. Instead, they took turns playing offensive and defensive. Flipping a coin to figure out who would go first on the offensive, they would then begin the match. The offensive would choose whichever attack they wished to set upon their opponent and then the defence would use their Magyck to counter it. They would then swap places and the defensive would become the offensive and vice versa until one couldn’t defend any more. The point system was based on the amount of successful attacks and defences. When one played offensive, if they succeeded in attacking their opponent, they received a point, if playing defensive and they succeeded in blocking the attack, they received a point.
This did not make Jesse any less stressed and though it was stifling hot in the Ignis Room, Jayden doubted the sweat dripping down Jesse’s forehead was due to the heat.
“So uh, do you have a coin?”
Jesse nodded and pulled out a nickel. “Heads or tails?” he asked, the coin rubbing against his sweaty palm as he nervously twirled it in his hand.
The coin flew into the air, spinning in what appeared to be slow motion. It began to fall back to the earth but as Jesse went to reach for it, time seemed to speed up and suddenly it, dropped to the floor and rolled away.
“Dammit,” Jesse muttered, going after it. Everyone around them had already started so when Jesse finally found the pesky five cents, he was nearly blown to pieces by a Fire Ball, directed at some freckled boy from his class whose name he didn’t remember.
Jayden pulled him back by the scruff of his neck, right before the flames could touch him. “Hey Martin, watch it,” he warned his friend. Martin apologized while Jesse picked up the coin. Jayden looked over Jesse’s shoulder, seeing the coin. “Tails. You’re up first.”
Fire versus water. What would the results be? Jesse wasn’t stupid, he knew that water put out fire, which was why he always considered himself more of a defensive person than an offensive person so how was he supposed to hurt someone who had flames, something that was so dangerous, even Jesse hadn’t dared to touch them? He still had a fading scar along his wrist from the Program test. Professor Richards had burnt him with that candle and Jesse had been very grateful that the man wouldn’t be his teacher. Fire hurt like hell, how was he supposed to attack that?
Jesse’s mind zoomed through all the things he knew about the Pyromancers. It wasn’t much, considering he didn’t really spend time thinking about them but he remembered his father told him a story about one of his friends who was a Pyromancer. They had been playing around in class during a cross-lesson when his father had struck his friend with a Water Orb by accident. Immediately, his friend had began to pale and was soon unconscious.
Water puts out a fire.
Jesse didn’t think that fighting was a good way to use his powers, when would he ever need to fight someone with water? It sounded ridiculous and if Jayden- no, when Jayden had the same reaction as his father’s friend, it wouldn’t make Jesse think of himself as a better person, nor would he be suddenly powerful. In fact, to put the Pyromancers at risk like that . . . well, that was ridiculous.
“Jesse? You gonna do something?”
Jesse nodded. ‘Jackson’s got good reflexes, this should be an easy dodge, what with my aim,’ Jesse reasoned before closing his eyes.
Jayden had never seen Agua Dunamis being performed before him before. It was strange, it sent the blood coursing through his veins and he wondered if all Magyck did that. When Jesse closed his eyes, his hands began to move and unlike Jayden, who used Magyck by way of drawing a mental image, Jesse was drawing lines all across the air, leaving a spark of blue with each brushstroke. He wasn’t sure if Jesse was also picturing something mentally, but he knew that whenever someone performed Pyromancy, there was never a visual. There was air and then there was fire. And that was it.
Jayden could see, if he squinted, small sparks of something flying towards Jesse, small specks of blue that began to circle each other in a circle, hovering over his still left hand, his right hand drawing figures around him. Slowly the sparks became more visible and they became water, he could see it clearly now, a strand of water, clear and clean, being guided by Jesse’s slightly unsteady hand. The water was like a long ribbon and Jesse was weaving it into a giant ball, slowly by slowly until there was a clear, slightly wobbly Water Orb in his hand, emitting a light blue glow.
Jayden was breathless. Magyck truly was beautiful.
Jesse’s eyes opened, something different behind his eyes, something more powerful than what was there before. He pulled his arm back and threw the Water Orb.
It sailed through the air and struck Jayden, who still stood shocked and amazed, in the shoulder.
Jesse’s eyes widen and the light in his eyes evaporated.
Jayden could feel the water beginning to soak his clothes. What had been a beautiful Water Orb only moments before was now a splatter of water on Jayden’s right shoulder, sending shivers down his back. It was cold, very cold.
Jesse covered his mouth as it fell open and Jayden brushed his shoulder, feeling the dampness on his fingers. “Nice shot,” he congratulated him.
“B-but . . .”
“You didn’t . . . how?”
“How what? You’re not making any sense, Jesse,” Jayden said. Taking off his sweatshirt, he threw it to the side of the room. His shirt was a bit wet as well, it had really soaked through. “It’s my turn, right?”
A hand came down on his shoulder.
Jayden looked up to see Professor Richards staring down at him, grinning broadly. “Seems you’re even better than Jake,” he said. “Fascinating.”
“Huh?” Jayden looked between Jesse and Richards. “Will someone please explain this to me?”
“Pyromancers are weakened by Agua Dunamis,” Ricardo’s voice came out of nowhere. He approached Jayden, pushing his sunglasses down to the bridge of his nose. “You, however, are not.”
“What does that mean?” asked Jayden, unsure of what they meant.
“My dad had this friend,” Jesse said, “and when he was struck by my dad’s Water Magyck, he got weak. He got pale and sometimes, he even fainted. Water puts out a fire,” he added. “Kind of like a candle, right? But you’re fine.”
“Truly a prodigy,” Richards said with a proud grin on his face.
“You’re even better than Jake.”
Jayden hated the mere mention of his father and to be compared to him, well he didn’t like it one bit. Not at all. He gave Richards a glare only to have his hair ruffled by the redheaded man.
“It’s your turn on offensive,” Richards reminded him. “Give it your best shot, Jackson.”
Jayden shrugged off Richards’ hand and instead turned his gaze onto Jesse who still seemed to be shocked and in awe.
Ricardo gave him a pat on the back before leaving to watch over other students and Richards grinned at him once more before walking off as well. It was strange, all this attention for something that Jayden didn’t even understand.
Jesse cleared his throat. “Well then, I guess it’s your turn, huh?”
Closing his eyes he tried to push away the comment made by Richards about his father. He didn’t need this to think about, he had school and that damn article was still bugging him. He could see it, the fire and the flames as they danced. Unconsciously, he struck his left arm with two of his fingers, a flame appearing at the tips. He opened his eyes to see the flame and as he watched it, it steadily grew larger until it was so big, it allowed Jayden to cast a large shadow across the room. The flames began to twist and wined until it looked like a large rope. He drew his arm back and lashed it out.
Jesse’s arms shot up to defend himself instinctively and instead of a mediocre defence, he was encircled by an orb of water. The rope struck the orb and the walls rippled, like a thrown being stone into a lake, but it didn't shatter. Jesse was lifted off the ground, the orb hovering slightly above the floor and Jayden stopped in his attack, staring in amazement. It was amazing what Jesse could do.
When Jesse opened his eyes and realized he was in what was essentially, a hamster ball, he freaked out.
His arms went flailing and he started banging on the walls, his eyes wide with panic. He attempted to punch his way out, to break the forcefield but mid-punch, it gave way and he tumbled to the ground.
Jayden helped him up, holding out a hand for him to grab.
Jesse picked himself back up and dusted himself off. “Nice. A little extreme, but nice. So what’s the score?”
“Tied. One each.”
Jesse smiled. “Won’t be for long.”
“No, it won’t.” Jayden smiled back. Maybe this wasn’t the worst thing in the world, in fact, it was actually kind of fun. “Now, you ready to hit me again?”
The redheaded owner of MapleWood’s local diner jumped and ran out from the back room to see Chase Adams, the boy who she had come to think of as her son, standing in front of the bar, his fists clenched at his sides. She raced towards the boy and dropped to her knees in front of him, gently patting his body down in worry, her blue eyes frantically scanning the preteen in fear he had been injured.
He was absolutely fine.
“Chase, what is it?” Mabel Kaycey asked, worry in her voice.
“Great, you’re here,” Chase said, smirking.
Mabel let out a breath she hadn’t known she had been holding. She gripped Chase’s arms and stared up at the boy who towered over her when she was on her knees. “You can’t do that!” she snapped.
“Call for you?” Chase asked, cocking his head to the side whilst giving her an innocent look that she may have believed if she hadn’t known the blond. “I thought you were a family friend. Mom says in cases of emergency to come to you.”
“No, you can’t come in here screaming bloody murder just because you felt like it!” Mabel scolded him. She hated it whenever she had to be harsh on the boy but she felt as though his father hadn’t been stern enough on him. “I nearly had a heart attack!”
“You’re in your late forties, you have at least another couple of years before you should be having heart attacks,” Chase noted, tilting his head sideways as though to examine her like a machine. Mabel had grown used to the strange habits of the preteen but she couldn’t help but find this one to always be the most unnerving.
“Exactly why you shouldn’t do that,” Mabel snapped.
Chase stared at the ground as though ashamed but Mabel could see the slight up turn of his lips, knowing he was smirking. Mabel found it sad. The boy hadn’t truly smiled in two years. “Yes m’am,” he said in a fake Southern accent, saluting like a soldier.
Mabel couldn’t help the smile that broke out on her face. Chase was a very serious boy, she had learnt that very quickly, but whenever he came to the diner, he seemed to turn into a seven year old. She cherished the moments he decided to act like a goofball since these were rare and she could probably count them all on a single hand. “Alright, now why are you here?” she asked him.
“I don’t want to bother my mom right now,” Chase replied with a shrug. “Figured I’d hang around here.”
“How’s her friend doing?” Mabel asked, placing her apron aside to talk to the boy. It was about time she took a break today. She opened the freezer and handed Chase a can of Red Bull, which he took with a grateful nod. “She went to visit Laura recently, didn’t she?”
“Yup,” Chase replied, watching as the Red Bull fizzed down the side of the can before taking a sip. “They got some new equipment and Mom wanted to see if she could fix the bug in her computer.” He frowned. “She still won’t let me touch it.”
MapleWood had a special law banning the residents to own objects like laptops and iPods. The high technology was used by the police force and those with medical training were allowed to own computers however the kids were cut off entirely. Mabel knew that there was another computer in the Adams’ household besides Miriam’s, but she also knew Chase would never touch it.
“Some things never change,” Mabel said with a smile. “So I’m surprised, you haven’t asked about that article.”
“You mean that jumble of lies those Gossipers wove up?” Chase snorted. “Yeah, right. Because I’m supposed to believe Malkin decided to jump ship randomly in the middle of a performance. If anything, that guy’s dedicated. There’s no way they’re telling the truth.”
“Actually Chase . . .”
Chase looked up at Mabel with a surprised look on his face. “Wait a minute, you’re telling me it’s true?”
Mabel bit her bottom lip before nodding. “He just . . . disappeared,” she said with a shrug. “It doesn’t make any sense-”
“We live in a town where the manipulation of nature is normal, taming beasts and having therapy sessions with a vampire is every day life and we can play a game of Nim with napkins that were magically transformed into coins. I’ve given up on sense. If what those Gossipers say is actually true, then they probably pulled some stupid prank to get more readers.”
“True . . .” Mabel muttered. “You going Trick or Treating this year?” she asked, changing the subject.
Chase shook his head. “C’mon Mabel, this is me we’re talking about.”
Mabel shook her head. “Would it kill you to be a normal kid for once?”
“Maybe,” Chase replied with a smirk, taking another sip of his drink. Mabel merely shook her head and smiled at him. Same old Chase. And yet at the same time, he was so different from the child she had known two years ago. He seemed . . . older somehow, not that Chase ever truly acted his age.
“How’s school?” Mabel decided. “You’re in high school now, feel any different?”
“Should I?” Chase asked.
“You got into the Program, didn’t you?” Mabel asked. Chase nodded, his jaw tensing. She knew he had developed a disliking for all things Magyck and she supposed she could understand it in a way though she couldn’t understand why he hadn’t let it go already. “So? Where’d you get in?”
“Conversus,” he said through tight lips as though each syllable hurt. His grip tightened on the can of Red Bull as he stared at the floor, his Nikes rubbing against the metal pole base of the stool. Mabel didn’t say what she was thinking. ‘Just like him.’ Chase bit his lip. “My teacher’s a git, by the way.”
Mabel’s eyes widened though she ought to be used to this attitude by now. “Chase! It’s not polite to call someone a git!”
Chase snickered. “At least I didn’t yell it out to the diner.”
Mabel rolled her eyes. “Do you have a problem with your teacher?”
“I don’t have a problem with him, besides the fact that he’s boring as hell and he looks like he keeps black holes in his pockets, but I think he’s got a problem with me,” Chase said with a shrug.
“Chase Wilbur Adams, what did you do?” Mabel asked, placing her hands on her hips as she sent the boy a scrutinizing gaze.
“Nothing!” Chase said.
Mabel gave him a pointed look.
“I swear, this time I actually did nothing!” Chase said. “Why do you always assume it’s my fault?”
“Because usually, it is your fault,” Mabel replied, rolling her eyes.
“I didn’t do anything,” Chase said. “At least, I don’t think I did. Unless showing up to class a little late cause I forgot my locker combo’s a crime, then I didn’t do anything!” Chase replied.
“Chase, you’ve nearly got a photographic memory, you didn’t forget your locker combination.” Mabel stared at the youth before her eyes grew wide. “You were trying to cut class!” she accused.
“You would too if you had a git for a teacher,” Chase said defensively. “And besides, I didn’t cut in the end!”
“Your teacher is not a git,” Mabel said, sighing. Chase was a wonderful kid, really he was, but he was also incredibly tiring. “Now who about you make yourself useful and help me with table four?”
Chase sighed. “Sure.”
He finished the rest of his Red Bull before throwing it into the trash and taking a notepad and pencil from behind the counter. Mabel watched his retreating back as he walked towards the small family who had chosen to eat at Mabel’s, a bittersweet smile on her face.
‘Just like his father . . .’