Alison R Reed (also writing as Marianna Bell and Michael N Allison)

A Spell of Difficulty

'Aldwych Academy comma A Magic College' was a middling size thatched school catering for pupils of all ages and all abilities.  Craig was in the lower percentile of this range.  Studying for only five GCSMs (General Certificate for Spells and Magic) he was struggling.

Archaic Language - OK; he could just about figure out the difference between Newt and Bat, very similar when spelled in Magic but essential when playing Puff Ball - the Newt, even when spelled correctly, collapsed into a heap whereas a Bat remain totally rigid and gave a most satisfying thwack to the Puff Ball.

Magical Beasts - this was compulsory but he knew lots about Dragons and he would sometimes watch the Dragon Racing on the Crystal Screen; their hind legs got heavier and heavier as they raced up the track until they stopped.  It was well wicked.

Basic Wand Use was his favourite.  The class would troop up into the lab and switch on their wands; it was amazing what great games you could get the wands to play: Levitation and Gravitation were good but Transformation was the best and he was good at it.  When the teacher wasn't looking, he would have a quick game and turn everyone's work into bugs and then Sir would have to restart all the wands.

Broomstick Maintenance was useful so he tried hard at this subject.  He wanted to be able to fly as soon as he could get his licence but that wouldn't be for another two years.  He really fancied having a Sports' Broom, a sleek two-seater with racing stripes and rotating alloy bristles.  Naturally his parents had the bulky Tote-all model, one which would magically carry everyone and everything: totally functional but absolutely no style!

All of these subjects would have written and/or practical exams at the end of the year except for Spellcraft which was coursework based and his worst subject.  His assignment read:

"Aim: to design and produce a Working Spell suitable for a young child.

You must also:

A)   describe what your spell will do;

B)   list the ingredients and where and how you obtained them;

C)   describe in detail your testing methods;

D)   produce a sample, complete with invocation."

He groaned and sank his head into his hands, the worn sleeves of his robe finally giving way as his elbows slid apart and his chin banged onto the desk.

"What's the matter?" asked Cliff.

"I can't do it, it's too difficult!" he muttered into the wood.

"Yeah, you can.  Just think about it a bit and you'll be fine," said his ever cheerful and optimistic mate.

"Well, it's OK for you, you always get straight Aces, I never get above a Dunce!"

"You would if you tried harder and stopped watching so much Star Trick!"

"But Jean Luke Pick-a-Card is just so good!  He does tricks all over the Universe boldly tricking where no-one has tricked before.  And he meets some great aliens - I really liked the blue ones with the wobbly antenna especially as one of them wasn't a proper alien and his antenna fell off and gave the trick away!"

"Craig!" his teacher yelled and hurled the pointed end of his Wizard's hat at him.  "Sit up straight.  What spell are you going to be doing for your coursework?"

"I don't know, Sir," he said as he pushed a bubble of air around his mouth just because it made very satisfactory popping, swishing and squaking noises.

"Detention next Tuesday after we've notified your parents!"

"Oh, Sir!" he wailed.  "But I'll miss Witchenders!"

"Don't 'Oh Sir' me or I'll make it two detentions, now get on with your coursework!" the teacher snapped and the stars on his purple coat hissed and spat malevolently.  One spark narrowly missed Craig's hand and burnt a small black hole in his exercise book.  He wafted away the smell of burning paper with his hand, sighed heavily and picked up his pen.

At the end of the lesson, he was no further on except that he had crossed out lots of ideas, all of them pathetic.  He also had a rather good doodle of a blue alien with one antenna missing.

He dawdled home, bought a few tricks from the corner shop, tripped over his un-done shoe laces and landed in a puddle of water and then he tried to stuff wet leaves down Cliff's neck because there was nothing better to do.

His mother greeted him with a kiss and received an,

"Aw, gerroff!" in return.

"What's the matter, dear?" she asked.  "Had a bad day?"

"Uuh," he grunted in reply and watched Mum shake her head and mutter, "Teenagers!" under her breath.

As parents went, she wasn't bad really.  She could have been far worse, at least she let him watch the Crystal when he got back and when he tweaked the cat's whiskers too roughly to turn up the sound and the ancient cat mewed pitifully, she would pat the animal and say, "Be gentle with him, he's getting old you know."

"Yeah I know, and when he's worn out can we get a coloured one?  Black and white is so boring!"

"We'll see," she would reply.  "Now come and sit at the table and eat up.  Dad's going to be late tonight and I don't want to eat by myself."

Continued on the next page