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.

If you enjoyed this excerpt, be sure to order the story here.

fiction

The “Haunted” Dude Ranch: A Short Story

Image from Pixabay

Cassandra and her ten-year-old sister, Michaela, settled into their assigned cabin of The Kullen Ranch. The parents took their room across the hall. Cassandra and Michaela shared a room with two different beds.

Cassandra picked up the guide on the nightstand. She opened it—only to spot handwriting that said, “Beware of the cowboy ghost and the vampire weasel.”

Cassandra ignored that. She still remembered being told that Santa Claus didn’t exist four years ago, at age eight. She was twelve and would begin seventh grade next month. That writing had to have been a prank or some fool messing around.

Michaela had a guidebook on her nightstand too. She picked it up and read it. She looked up at Cassandra. “Cassandra, there’s this weird message about a cowboy ghost and a vampire weasel.”

“Ignore it.” Cassandra flicked her long, braided locks behind her shoulders.

But there was a whish coming from outside. The wind blew the yellow grass. The sound increased to the inside of this room.

“Cassandra, what’s going on?” Michaela looked around.

“I… I have no idea,” she said.

“Beware of the vampire weasel,” said a man’s voice. “It’s real, all right. And it’s on this property.”

“Who was that?” Michaela bolted up from her bed.

“I don’t know,” said Cassandra.

There was a knock on the door. Their mom opened it. “Girls, is everything all right?”

“Mom, we heard a voice,” said Michaela.

“And we both got a message about a cowboy ghost and a vampire weasel,” Cassandra added.

But the mother tilted her head. “You’re ten and twelve years old and you believe in that stuff?”

“Didn’t you hear it?” asked Michaela.

“Grow up, both of you.” The mom closed the door.

Cassandra hung her jaw down and turned to Michaela.

“What’s wrong with mom?” asked Michaela.

“You don’t think we’re the only ones, do you?” Cassandra asked.

There was another knock on the door. The mother opened it. “Girls, it’s time to have dinner.”

Cassandra and Michaela left. They followed their mom and dad downstairs and outside.

Michaela adjusted her bun and caught up to the father. “Dad, did you hear a voice about a vampire cowboy and—”

“Let’s not discuss that,” he said.

Cassandra said nothing and followed everyone to the patio.

A waiter sat them down. He directed them to the barbecue buffet. They went up and helped themselves to their food.

Cassandra stirred her baked beans. But air swished again—yet without any wind.

“Once again, beware of the weasel,” the same mysterious voice as before said.

“Cassandra, aren’t you going to eat?” asked the mom.

“Yeah, but I heard that voice again,” Cassandra said.

The mom sighed.

“What did I tell your sister about that?” the father asked.

“Since when was I dragged into this?” asked Michaela.

“You girls are to stop making up stories this instant,” said the dad.

“It’s not a story, though,” said Cassandra.

“Enough,” said the dad. “Now there is to be no more talking until your plates are cleaned.”

Cassandra sighed and ate. She considered if anyone else on this ranch had heard the voice? Had it been set that only kids could hear it? Just her and Michaela?

Of course, it wasn’t like she and Michaela had been jinxed with this. But how would they prove to their parents that they did hear the voice and didn’t make up stories?

A few hours had passed. Cassandra had changed and did her evening routine. Michaela had already fallen asleep.

Cassandra crawled under her bed covers and turned off the lights. But as she lay her head on her pillow, the swishing sound occurred again. Cassandra lifted herself up.

Rays of light shined from the ceiling. Cassandra covered her eyes. Michaela woke up. “Cassandra, what’s going on?”

A gaseous boot showed itself, followed by jeans, a torso, and a man’s head. Cassandra and Michaela screamed.

“Relax, girls,” said the translucent figure. “You don’t want to wake your parents up.”

“W-who are you?” asked Cassandra.

“The cowboy ghost.”

“Oh my God.” Michaela hopped out of her bed. “I’m telling my parents.”

“No, you’re not.” The cowboy ghost flew and blocked Michaela’s path. “I’m only visible to you guys.”

“What?” asked Cassandra. “Why won’t you make yourself visible to our parents? Or anyone else here?”

“I don’t know,” the cowboy ghost said. “But I tried to make myself visible to everyone. For some reason, I only got you guys.”

“So what are you doing here?” asked Cassandra.

“I’m here to tell you that at nine a.m. tomorrow, the vampire weasel will come here,” said the cowboy ghost.

“In the day?” asked Cassandra.

“Well, it’s supposed to rain tomorrow,” said the cowboy ghost. “So you need to find some garlic and throw it at the weasel.”

“But where are we going to find some garlic?” asked Michaela.

“You’ll need to figure that out yourselves.” The cowboy ghost flew back up into the ceiling.

“Wait.” Cassandra held her hand out.

But the ghost had left.

Cassandra thought about where to find garlic. There was no garden. Guests would not be allowed in the kitchens. Did people put garlic in their eggs?

Although Cassandra and Michaela came from New York, they couldn’t imagine that having garlic at breakfast happened a lot here in Wyoming.

After last night Cassandra had not told her parents about the ghost. Neither had Michaela. The mom and dad had not even asked who they’d talked to.

The family walked to breakfast. They held it out on the patio, despite what the cowboy ghost had said.

The clouds had darkened. But no rain fell from the sky. People served themselves breakfast. No signs of the vampire weasel came up.

Cassandra and Michaela stood in line for the buffet. Cassandra eyed the food for any signs of garlic.

But a paw climbed the patio. Cassandra and Michaela gasped. The creature showed its face. It looked like a weasel. It hissed, revealing its sharp fangs. It spread its wings and flew into the area.

The people screamed and ran. Cassandra and Michaela stayed, though, still searching for garlic.

“What are you girls doing?” the father ran to them. “Get away from here!” He grabbed both girls and ran with them off the patio.

“We were looking for garlic,” said Michaela.

“Now’s not the time!” exclaimed the dad.

But the clouds cleared, letting the sunlight in. The weasel shrieked and flew away.

The crowd watched it. It soared far away.

“Guys, you can come back now,” said a waitress.

The crowd returned to the patio.

“I think the sunlight was enough,” Cassandra told Michaela.

Michaela giggled.

movie

“Paranorman” (2012): Must be the Time of the Critique

Warning: Contains spoilers***

 

I first discovered this film when my family watched it in the living room of our house. I didn’t see the whole thing until the second time on my own. However, I saw enough that it caught my interest.

“Paranorman” portrays a young boy, named Norman Babcock, who can talk to the dead. He is the only one who can see ghosts. However, others don’t understand him and they think he is crazy… except for a heavy kid named Neil, who gets excited by Norman’s special powers.

But Norman is given a task to stop a witch’s curse from raising the dead. He fails and the zombies go to town. The community tries to hurt the zombies until Norman understands them and discovers that they are not trying to hurt anybody.

I enjoyed the movie enough that I watched it over and over again on my own. In fact, “Paranorman” is one of the few movies I can watch a lot in a short period of time.

And now, what I admired about the film:

 

1: The humor

 

Despite the dark tone, the humor added was done well. I loved the scene of the guy waiting for his snack at the vending machine while the zombies come closer to him. The dialogue also expresses humor effectively. It’s especially funny in the second half of the film.

 

2: The plot twist revealing the “witch”

 

I appreciated the twist on how the “witch” was just a miserable little girl that nobody had understood and had been executed for “witchcraft”. That plays well into what people should be expected to know today. Obviously, there were never wicked witches who flew on broomsticks and cackled in real life. However, the accusation of people being witches throughout history and getting punished for it actually happened in history.

Of course, people have changed then and try to support those that others constantly miscomprehend. I adored how Norman tried to talk to the girl, called Agatha, to get her to stop the jinx. After the fight scene, the next one calmed down and showed Agatha’s true innocence.

 

3: The historical facts about Puritans

 

Although this is frowned upon in storytelling if overdone, just the right amount that the plot needs will make it work. In “Paranorman”, the facts about the Pilgrims and their culture engaged my interest in the film even more. I was reminded facts that I had almost forgotten myself, like when people found guilty of witchcraft were no longer considered humans.

 

Now onto the parts I believe could have been portrayed better:

 

1: Believability

 

Despite the humor in the plot and characterization, I found certain elements to be unbelievable. While that didn’t bother me much, I was surprised when I discovered that “Paranorman” was based off a book. Book rules are another story, but characters do have to behave like real people. Unless the movie changed pretty much everything from the book, I feel that the story and characters could have been more believable.

For example, Norman walks to school for minutes by himself, at age 11. If the story took place in the 70’s or earlier, then that would have been believable. However, it takes place around the time it was released. If you let your eleven-year-old child walk to school in a city alone, you could get in trouble with CPS.

Another example was when Salma barely reacted to Norman thinking that the zombies were about to eat him. She just sighed and answered his question about finding out where the witch was buried. Even if you didn’t care about your classmate, wouldn’t you be scared if he or she called you and told you about a zombie currently attacking him or her? I certainly would.

 

2: The character stereotypes

 

Norman’s mother is more gentle and shows more effort in understanding him than his father, who is rougher and refuses to comprehend what he goes through. His older sister, Courtney, gets annoyed with his actions, talks on the phone a lot, and talks with the stereotypical teenage girl language. Doesn’t anyone find these clichéd at this point?

 

3: The mildly mature content

 

I used to think “Paranorman” was rated PG-13 due to the language, mildly sexual terms, and dark tone. It is actually PG, like almost every children’s movie is these days. The others may have crude humor or mild language (not cursing, but words like “idiot”), but they are not usually like “Paranorman”. I don’t know if a child under 12 should watch “Paranorman” unless they are considered very mature for his or her age.

 

Overall, though, I would rate “Paranorman” 5 out of 5 stars. I still enjoyed it very much and hope to watch it again soon.