fiction

Excerpt: The Unruly Curse (Alyssa McCarthy’s Magical Missions Book 2)

Lilac-colored smoke poured in through the slight opening under Alyssa’s bedroom window. Alyssa leaped back. She swore the window had been closed when she’d come in here a few minutes ago.

            The gas clouded into her room, blocking her sight. It washed onto her, causing her to squint and lean back. She coughed, rubbed her eyes, and opened them. The smoke faded. Someone must’ve pulled a prank, and not just any kind—one that involved…wizardry.

            Alyssa’s breathing sped up. She shut the window and gazed at the huge yard and long driveway. No one was outside—not even Alex, her godfather and legal guardian.

            Perhaps the trespasser had escaped or had hidden somewhere—maybe behind the tree on the lawn or somewhere else on the property.

            Alyssa hurried out, brushing ash from her muted purple shirt. She entered the ground floor and opened the front door. “Hello?!”

            There was no answer.

            “Whoever set that smoke off, it wasn’t funny!”

            The silence continued.

            Despite the freezing air this autumn evening, Alyssa stepped onto the front porch. A piece of paper appeared out of nowhere, making her jump. She picked it up, anyway.

            Welcome back to magic.

            Her chest tightened. She hadn’t encountered a single instance of wizardry in six months! Plus, she had two objects that were supposed to protect her from such encounters.

            She dashed back up to her room and opened the closet door. Tape hung from a shoebox, and the items that she had left in there…were missing.

            Heart jackhammering, Alyssa moved shoes and other boxes around. The two things might’ve fallen when she and Alex had moved here from Ohio in the spring after Alex had lost his job there. No one could have stolen them while Alex had taken her to Chicago this afternoon, right?

            As Alyssa picked up the same shoebox, her palms warmed up, and light beams shot out of both hands. She screamed as the rays smashed into each other, and then faded, revealing a tiny, rainbow-colored, bouncy ball.

            Alyssa’s body stiffened, as if paralyzed. Her jaw hung as she gaped at the bouncing ball.

            How could I have done magic? Alyssa asked herself. I’m not a wizard.

            As the object jumped onto her knee, she yelped and fell back. It had left a multi-colored stain on her leggings.

            She sat up. The toy sprung onto her narrow shoulders and then to the top of her head, where it cracked like an egg.

            “Ow!” Alyssa covered that area and then ran her fingers down her straight, pale-blonde hair, checking for any unusual, hard textures. She lifted the ends up from the area a few inches past her hips, where the length fell to. There were tiny plastic ball-bits stuck in her tresses, so she pulled them out.

            Alex knocked on the door. “Alyssa, are you ready for the party?”

            “Not yet.”

            “It’s almost six o’clock, sweetie. The tent in the backyard is already set up.”

            “Something’s wrong with me!”

            Alex opened the door, already wearing his suit. “What’s the matter?”

            “I…I…”

            Alex had tied his shoulder-length light-brown hair into a ponytail. “What’s going on?”

            Alyssa whimpered. “Ma…ma…”

            “Are you all right?”

            She shook her head.

            Alex looked away and covered his goatee. “Your closet’s a mess.”
            “I did magic!” Alyssa’s breathing quickened.

            Alex opened his mouth. “No way. That doesn’t make sense.”

            “I did!” Alyssa sucked in inhalations. “I’m not making this up!”

            Alex tilted his head.

            “I told you about magic back in March! I was kidnapped and taken to Fiji by an evil wizard! And then one of the mentors gave me a couple of little things to keep me safe!”

            “Wait, what?”

            “The objects are gone! Somebody must’ve stolen them!”

            Alex clapped both hands over his mouth.

            “I looked everywhere in my closet! I can’t find them!”

            Alex removed his hands from his mouth.

            “How could you forget these things?!”

            He remained mute.

            “What the heck?!” She sat on her bed, and her breathing still hurried.

            “I’m sorry.” Alex closed the door and left.

            He’d wanted to hold this party over the summer. But his agricultural-engineering and country-singing jobs had kept him from setting a date.

            Alyssa considered the ways in which she might remove these powers. Maybe one of her previous mentors would know a way. Like technology, magic became more advanced over time.

            Alyssa picked up her phone, went onto her email, and searched for Mathias, the wizard who’d provided her with the magical objects. Nothing. The same happened when she searched for Isabelle and Simon.

            Her device rang and she answered.

“Hey, Alyssa, I hope you’re all right,” Simon said in his English accent.

            “Something’s wrong with me. I…I did magic, even though—”

            “I was calling about that.”

            Alyssa raised her eyebrows. Then, she recalled how marble figures, which resembled statues, could gather information from others at the speed of sound, even if they were unconscious.

            “Why didn’t you call earlier?”

            “I wanted to get more information about your new powers.”

            “How can I get rid of them?”

            “I’m not sure.”

            Alyssa exhaled. “There’s got to be something.”

            “I’ll look into it. In the meantime, try some gloves.”

            “You sure that’ll work?”

            “I believe so. That’s one of the things I found out.”

            “On the wizarding internet?”

            “No. From someone who’s friends with the guy who jinxed you.”

            Alyssa gritted her teeth. “Someone jinxed me? Who is he and why did he give me magic powers?”

            “I’m going to have to find out more about that.”

            Alex knocked again.

            “Alyssa, you better get going,” said Simon.

            “Wait.”

            But he’d hung up.

            “Ugh!”

            “Alyssa, who are you talking to?”

            “One of my wizard mentors.”

            Alex opened the door and stepped in. “I can’t cancel the party tonight. The staff won’t let me.”

            “Well, my mentor, Simon, told me to wear gloves.”

            “You think that’s going to work?”

            “He said it should and to give it a try.”

            Alex pressed his lips together.

            “He helped me defeat that sorcerer in Fiji.”

            “When’s the last time you talked to him?”

            Alyssa hesitated. “Not since April. But he was the one who told me about the wizard hunting me down when I was living with Uncle Bruce.”

            “Can I talk to him?”

            “Sure.” Alyssa gave him the phone. “He was the last one who called.”

            Alex pressed on the screen and held the phone to his ear.

            When Alyssa had lived with her uncle, Bruce, in March, she’d informed Alex about wizardry. She’d even told him around the time he’d been granted legal custody over her.

            I guess I forgot to tell him about who my mentors were, she thought.

            Alex hung up. “He’s not answering.”
            “He must be finding out more information about these new…powers.”

            “I’ll let you wear the gloves, but I really don’t feel ready to trust Simon.”

            “Well, I trust him. If it weren’t for him, I might not have made it.”

            Alex sharpened his eyes.

            “Everyone back in New Jersey trusted him, too.” That was where Alyssa had lived until the day after her thirteenth birthday in April.

            “Even Uncle Bruce?”

            “At first, no. Then Simon sent him a note and he trusted him… until that warlock wiped his memories with a storm.” Alyssa looked down, thinking about Uncle Bruce, who resided in an assisted living home. The memory-wiping spell had been blocked years ago, but some powerful magicians could use other ways to get past it. Alyssa still didn’t understand how the storm’s power had erased Uncle Bruce’s memories.

            “After you’re done getting ready, I’ll call Simon from your phone again,” said Alex.

            “How about I just write down his number?”

            “Do what you need to do.” Alex walked out.

            Alyssa sighed as she peeled her clothes off. While Uncle Bruce had treated her and her cousin, Hailey, with little respect and had placed unfair rules on them, Alex cared for her like his own daughter.

            Alyssa’s parents had named him not only her godfather, but also guardian in the event that something might happen to them. The loss of her mom and dad in that car crash when she was seven had changed her life. Despite what the will had stated, Alyssa’s then-babysitter had convinced the cops to let her stay at her aunt and uncle’s house nearby. The state of New Jersey had made Aunt Laura and Uncle Bruce her new guardians.

            However, when Alyssa was nine, Aunt Laura had died from an allergic reaction to a chocolate filled with raspberry cream that she had barely touched. She’d had a fatal allergy to berries. Then, Uncle Bruce had toughened up his attitude, although he’d always had a stern way of parenting, and had rarely smiled. It just hadn’t involved as much yelling and restrictions before Aunt Laura’s death.

            Because a sorcerer called Master Beau had wanted to enslave Alyssa, he’d erased Uncle Bruce’s memories so that he couldn’t protect her. Master Beau wanted her to find items and ways to help strengthen him for ruling France after the French government had banished him for committing a serious crime. Alyssa had never discovered what the offense had been, though. She still deemed her life to overwhelming for a thirteen-year-old.

            She wore her wide-strapped blue-and-black dress. Her fingers sweated as she tied a blue ribbon in her hair and secured it back halfway. Her hands also shook as she put on her jewelry and makeup.

            She opened her closet and put on her dress shoes, a pair of leather gloves, and then went downstairs. Scooter, the yellow lab, barked by the door.

            Alyssa opened it. No one was outside.

            “Who’s there?!” called Alyssa.

Music played in the backyard.

“I’m not stupid!” Alyssa shouted.

            “Alyssa, what are you doing?” asked Alex.

            “I’m yelling at the man who cursed me!”

            “Wait…someone—”

            “Yes! Simon told me!”

            Alex gasped, covered his mouth, and shook his head.

            “I wish I didn’t have to go to the party anymore.”

            Alex took his phone out of his pants pocket and stared into it. “I got a text from your mentor, Simon. He says he’s not a hundred percent sure if the gloves will help. But he’s almost certain.”

            “Did he find out how I can get rid of these powers?”

            “He’s still working on it.”

            Alyssa inhaled and exhaled.

            “Sweetheart, just give the party a try. If you feel uncomfortable, you can go back inside.”

            “What about that speech we’re supposed to give?”

            “It won’t be long.”

            “But I don’t like speaking in front of crowds.”

            “You only have to say a few sentences. I promise.”

            Alyssa sighed.

            “We should head outside.”

            Alyssa followed him.

            I hope the gloves actually work, she thought.

            She continued to look around for the warlock who’d hexed her. He could be wearing an invisibility poncho, or he could have disappeared in a snap.

Alyssa passed the swimming pool and continued down the small hill into the tent. Orange, yellow, and brown balloons covered each pole. A DJ played music near the entrance. A white cloth covered each table, including the round ones for sitting at and the rectangular ones for serving.

As Alyssa shoved her way through the crowd, she saw her friend, Sydney Watson, gaping at her phone, her elbow-length chestnut curls covering her freckled face.

Stomach tightening, Alyssa sat next to Sydney.

“What’s up?” asked Sydney.

“I don’t want to be here.”

“What’s the problem?”

“I…I…it’s too weird.”

“Tell me, anyway.”

“It’s…it’s…m-magic.”

Sydney tilted her head.

“You forgot? I told you about it when we first met.”

Sydney inhaled. Her eyebrows lifted.

“What’s wrong with you?!”

“You didn’t tell me a lot about it.”

“Well, yeah, because I’m technically not supposed to.”

“You said in April that you defeated a magician. I thought it was the kind at magic shows.”

Alyssa shook her head.

“Wait—so what was it really?”

“Nothing.”

“If this is something serious, you need to tell me.”

“Okay, it’s…it’s…”

Sydney nodded.

“It’s something from a stranger.”

“What?”

“A…an issue with my hands.”

Sydney pressed her lips together.

“I’ll stop there.”

“Alyssa, you’re hiding something.”

“I think it would be better if you stayed out of it.”

“Look, I’m your friend. I don’t want anything to happen to you.”

Alyssa remained mute.

“If you want us to help you, then you shouldn’t hide things like this.”

“Who said anything about help?”

“Hello, guys,” said Lily Browne, another friend of Alyssa’s. Lily trotted to them, smiling. Her dark brown hair bounced against her waist. She joined Alyssa and Sydney. “This is going to be so awesome.” She giggled.

“I hope so.” Alyssa looked down.

“What’s the matter?” Lily asked. “Had a bad day?”

“Not until right before the party,” she said.

“Aw.” Lily patted her shoulder. “It’ll be okay.”

“Why don’t you tell Lily about what happened to you?” Sydney asked.

“No,” Alyssa answered.

“You can tell me,” said Lily. “I won’t judge you.”

“Maybe later,” muttered Alyssa.

“Alyssa, you really should tell us what happened to you,” said Sydney.

“We won’t tell anyone else,” Lily said. “We promise.”

Alyssa stayed quiet.

A short, tanned-skinned girl entered the tent. It was Krystal Gordillo, Alyssa’s third-closest friend. Krystal ran her fingers through her dark brown hair. “Stupid wind messed up my hair.” She tied her locks, which fell to the middle of her back, into a ponytail. She sat with Alyssa and the other two. “Does anyone else hate when the weather messes up your look?”

That’s what you want to talk about?” Sydney asked. “Krystal, grow up.”

“Yeah, parties are all about fun.” Lily beamed. “You should enjoy yourself.” She sipped her Sprite. “I’m hoping to get my science-of-happiness badge for Girl Scouts. We get an extra treat if we help others become more confident.”

“But I’m a mess,” said Krystal.

“Better than what Alyssa’s dealing with,” Sydney said.

“What happened?” Krystal asked her.

“For the last time, I don’t want to talk about it!”

“Alyssa, not cool,” said Sydney.

“Yeah, I just got here,” Krystal said.

“Can we just change the subject?” asked Alyssa.

“Maybe you’re hungry,” Krystal told her.

“Yeah. Let’s go get some snacks.” Lily stood up.

The four gathered appetizers and beverages. Alyssa nibbled her veggie sticks and chips, and got up.

“Where are you going, Alyssa?” Krystal asked.

“Bathroom.” She put her coat on and ran back inside the house. But she didn’t need the bathroom—she just wanted a break.

She returned to her room, where ink spelled out “Errol was here” on the floor. Her mouth opened and she panted.

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fiction

Excerpt: The Frights of Fiji (Alyssa McCarthy’s Magical Missions Book 1)

The raindrops darkened into black, looking as if ink fell from the sky. Alyssa leaned closer to them. She squinted to determine the shapes they formed on the kitchen window… letters.

            No! That couldn’t happen. Yet, a message spelled out as more pigments plopped onto the glass. Alyssa gasped at what it said.

            Your life will never be the same again, Alyssa McCarthy, as magic will interfere.

            What? Magic didn’t exist—at least that’d been what others had told her when she was little. No one on Orion Street could possess enchanted abilities.

            Alyssa had lived here since she’d lost her parents in that car crash five years ago. She’d only been seven then. How would she tell her uncle, Bruce, about this? He’d consider her crazy. He’d already toughened up his attitude and rules. So he might consider it an excuse to escape this house.

            Although Alyssa’s parents had designated her godfather as the first priority guardian, Uncle Bruce forbade her to try and contact him. He’d hidden the phone number and other information about him.

            Since Alyssa’s aunt, Laura, had died three years ago, Uncle Bruce had required fun to be earned. And that took more effort than Alyssa could often accomplish.

            Turning around, she spotted her babysitter, Mrs. Hutchinson, examining the kitchen floor. Alyssa’s eleven-year-old cousin, Hailey, watched the progress. Hailey had mopped the floor. Would she earn a break now? Ever since her uncle, Bruce, had hired Mrs. Hutchinson, Mrs. Hutchinson had admired the way Hailey had done her chores more than Alyssa.

            “Hailey, you can take a break until your next chore,” said Mrs. Hutchinson. “Alyssa, get back to work. You’ve been staring at the rain for too long.”

            “Okay.” Alyssa turned back—only to see the message gone and the rain back to its normal transparency.

            “What did I say?” asked Mrs. Hutchinson.

            Alyssa sighed. “Fine, I’ll finish washing the dishes.”

She scrubbed her dish and glass with soap under warm running water. Her eyes focused on just those. No way would she want Mrs. Hutchinson to catch her looking out the window again. Mrs. Hutchinson was only in her sixties, but she’d sometimes seem to forget that was 2010 and not 1960 with her guidelines. Yet, it had taken Alyssa a while to realize that she wouldn’t even tolerate the mildest kind of nonsense, such as getting distracted by a windowpane when having to perform chores.

            Now that she finished washing her dishes, Alyssa put them to the side and grabbed some paper towels to dry them.

            “What do you think you’re doing?” Mrs. Hutchinson asked.

Alyssa stopped. “I’m just—”

            “The last few times I was here, you left little bits of food on your dishes.”

            “But they were stuck.”

            “Let me inspect them. Also, if something is rubbery, you have to wash it again.”

            “Why?”

            “Because clean dishes aren’t supposed to be rubbery. And boy, did you do such a sloppy job. Look at that stain on your sweater.”

            Alyssa looked down.

            “That looks like chocolate.”

            Alyssa blushed and arched her eyebrows.  “Hey—it’s just water.” She covered the stain at the bottom of her sweater’s V-neck.

            But Mrs. Hutchinson waved her index finger. “Don’t you ‘hey’ me, Alyssa. That’s rude. In my days, kids respected their elders. We never would dare talk to them that way unless we didn’t mind them smacking our bottoms.”

            “Things change.”

            “Not when I’m here, they don’t. Now let me do my inspection.”

            Great—an inspection! How long would Mrs. Hutchinson take? She might spend a couple minutes or maybe twenty. Alyssa crossed her arms and tapped her foot. She wanted her break now. She wished to read, rest, do a small craft, like lanyards—anything but wait for Mrs. Hutchinson to finish her task.

            “Mrs. Hutchinson?” Alyssa asked.

            “Whatever you need to say, wait till I’m done,” she said.

            Alyssa sighed. She continued to watch Mrs. Hutchinson run her finger down the middle of the front of the dish. She then rubbed it back and forth. When she put it down and nodded, Alyssa figured out that the dish had nothing on it.

            Mrs. Hutchinson spent a few minutes of running her finger down the glass. She put it down and turned to Alyssa. “You’re good. Now what did you want to tell me?”

            “Um . . . if I tell you, can you not give me a hard time?”

            “Okay.”

            “There was writing on the window.”

            Mrs. Hutchinson pursed her lips and tilted her head. “Really?”

            “Yeah.”

            “Nonsense.”

            “No, really, it was there.”

            “There was nothing there when I came, and there’s nothing there right now. So don’t tell me stories.”

            “But it’s not a story.”

            “I don’t want to hear any more. Now it’s time for your next chore.”

            “Aw, but I wanted my break.”

            “Too bad. You have to go vacuum the living room.”

            Alyssa dragged her feet toward the living room and took the vacuum from the corner. She cleaned and thought about that writing as well as how Mrs. Hutchinson wouldn’t believe her. Would a nicer babysitter have believed her? Mrs. Hutchinson had watched her and Hailey for three years, and not once had she smiled or assisted with anything.

            After vacuuming the carpet for about five minutes, Alyssa decided that she had tidied the floor enough. So she stopped and put the vacuum away.

            “Hailey, you and Alyssa need to go get the mail now!” Mrs. Hutchinson called, facing the staircase.            

“Coming!” cried Hailey.

Another rule Uncle Bruce had placed on Alyssa and Hailey was they could only go outside together. He worried about people taking them or something, even though Alyssa would turn thirteen next month. But that rule had been placed because a few months ago, Uncle Bruce had heard about a seventeen-year-old boy who had been shot while skateboarding in his neighborhood. Violence could even happen here in Bursnell, New Jersey.

            Hailey and Alyssa headed to the closet and put their raincoats on until Mrs. Hutchinson said, “It stopped raining outside.”

            “Already?” asked Alyssa.

            “Yes.” Mrs. Hutchinson went to the bathroom.

            The girls walked outside toward the mailbox. Alyssa pulled the mail and headed back toward the door. But mud bubbled from the ground near the house. It piled up, looking like horse manure, and grew as more soil emerged. Alyssa dropped her jaw and stared at it.

            “Alyssa, what’s going on?” Hailey asked.

            “No idea,” said Alyssa.

            The dirt stopped piling up, but it continued to bubble, and the effects spread throughout the whole pile. The bubbles stopped popping up and down. Alyssa and Hailey gasped as they expanded. They kept their mouths open as the bubbles merged together, each one attached to another, forming a single bigger shape. Alyssa and Hailey stepped back as the now giant bubble swelled. And it . . . popped! Particles of exploding mud landed on the girls. They shrieked.

The front door opened to reveal a glowering Mrs. Hutchinson. “What the heck have you two been doing?”

            “T-the mud . . . it e-exploded,” said Hailey.

            “Nonsense!” growled Mrs. Hutchinson. “Get inside!”

            The girls returned inside, pulling and wiping the mud out of their hair. Alyssa could spot the mud in her straight pale-blonde tresses, unlike Hailey, who likely needed more patience to search for globs in her elbow-length red locks. But Alyssa’s hair fell a few inches past her hips, so cleaning out the mud would take longer, even with the shorter layers in the front.

            “How could dirt explode?” Mrs. Hutchinson stomped.

            “I-I think it was magic!” exclaimed Alyssa.

            “There’s no such thing as magic!” screamed Mrs. Hutchinson. “Alyssa, you’re twelve years old. You’re too old to say things like that!”

            “But nothing else can make mud explode!” Alyssa said.

            “Mrs. Hutchinson, we swear it did!” whined Hailey.

            “Enough!” snapped Mrs. Hutchinson. “You and Hailey—go upstairs and take showers!”

            Alyssa followed Hailey up the stairs and heaved a sigh. How else would the mud have splattered all over them? Mrs. Hutchinson couldn’t have thought they’d play in the mud like small children.

            “Alyssa, can I shower first?” asked Hailey.

            “Sure,” said Alyssa.

            As Hailey strode into the bathroom, Alyssa walked into her room. She scratched more mud off her skinny jeans (the only jeans she’d worn ever since they’d come into style) and the back of her hand. She stood by her bed since she wanted to keep it clean.

She considered the writing on the window and the exploding mud. Someone wanted magic to interfere with her life, but who, and how come?

            Also, why hadn’t she ever seen wizardry before? Why would her parents and others tell her that it hadn’t existed? Did sorcery just start on earth? Had it hidden somewhere? There had to be some reason why no one had ever believed in it.

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