Sigh. I have to deal with Aunt Megan. Again. It's not that I dislike her. But she's...well, she doesn't like my father and doesn't get along with my mother. What was it Mother was just saying? Oh, yeah...they're entertaining the Crown Princess of...somewhere. Corona, was it? What, do they think I can't behave in front of a Princess? Do they think I'll throw another green and slimy tantrum? But those are so much fun! I even promised I wouldn't try to turn her hair green or anything, but I guess they didn't believe me.
“Morgan,” says Aunt Megan, “what would you like to do today?”
What would I like to do? I have no idea...other than go back home. I like the Princess. She's pretty. And she has power. Not magical power, but some other kind. I don't know what, but I can feel it. And she has a lot of it!
I'm a little hungry, though. I know I only ate a couple of hours ago, but I'm a growing boy. What can I say? “Biscuit,” I say.
“Please ask in a complete sentence, Morgan.”
I peer at Aunt Megan. “Thullerin mithrehan miflik.” I would like a biscuit, please, I say.
“Say it in English, please.”
English? Is she kidding? I'm still learning my own language! Besides, she knows I'm half Ingarian. She knows that means I'm going to have trouble with other people's languages. And I'm not a...what was that...an All-Speaker. Mother and Father both say so.
“Biscuit,” I say again.
“Morgan...” Aunt Megan's being firm now. “...you won't get a biscuit until you ask for it properly.”
Oh, really? I look past her and spot the biscuit jar on the counter. Hmmm...I wonder... I reach toward it and focus. I don't think Aunt Megan knows what I'm trying to do. She also doesn't realize that I really don't know how to do what I'm trying to do.
Suddenly, the lid flies off the jar, bounces off the underside of the cabinet, then off the rim of the jar and shatters on the floor. Aunt Megan jumps and whirls around. She sighs, then turns back to me.
“Morgan, did you do that?”
Of course I did that. Are there any other magi in the house? No. I just look at her like she's nuts.
“You know how your parents feel about you using magic without their supervision.”
Of course I know. I also know how Aunt Megan feels about it. She doesn't trust it. But I don't care. I just want a biscuit. After that, I'm really not sure. I'm only five, for goodness sake! I haven't learned how to think about the future very well.
I reach toward the biscuit jar again.
“No, Morgan.” She reaches out toward my hand.
Suddenly, a biscuit flies out of the jar and hits Aunt Megan on the back of the head. She jumps again. It occurs to me that it's kind of funny watching her do that. So I do it again. She doesn't jump, though. She's starting to grow angry instead. Why? She raised two children. Weren't Cousin Neil and Cousin Mari five once? Doesn't she know how to deal with five-year-olds?
“Morgan, you know you're not supposed to have those biscuits. They're not the gluten-free ones. You remember what happened the last time you ate something with gluten in it?”
I'm having trouble keeping all that straight. It's science stuff. I guess I'll learn it when I get older. But, no, I don't remember about gluten. I just know that there are some things full humans eat that I'm not supposed to eat. And, no, I don't know why. So I just stare at her again.
Aunt Megan sighs. “You got sick, remember? Like when you ate that French bread?”
Oh...that. I nod. That was hard to forget. In fact, it was the worst thing that's ever happened to me. I never want to go through that again!
“That's what will happen if you eat those biscuits.”
I consider this for a few moments. Is that true, or is she just saying that so I'll give up on wanting a biscuit? I decide she just doesn't want me to have a biscuit. She may be bigger and stronger than I am, but I'm more powerful. I reach for the biscuit jar again. This time, the jar tips over and all the biscuits fly out. They scatter all over the kitchen floor in a swath. Some of them land at my feet and I pick one up. Before Aunt Megan can react, I take a self-satisfied bite. There! Victory is mine!
I don't think Aunt Megan knows what to do first. It looks like she wants to pick up all the biscuits. But it also looks like she wants to take away the one I have. Before I can react, she reaches out and snatches the biscuit out of my hand.
“Morgan!” she scolds. She's clearly angry.
She reaches for my mouth like she's going to fish out the bite I've just taken. So I swallow it.
“You're going to regret that,” she says.
Really? But it's not French bread. I hope she knows I'm not going near that stuff ever again. But that biscuit tastes good! How can it be bad for me? At least that French bread tasted a little like glue. This means war!
“Biscuit!” I say, reaching for it.
Aunt Megan's strong and she holds onto the biscuit, even while I'm trying to magically pull it away from her.
But I give up after another minute and sit down on floor. I can feel a full-blown tantrum coming. I could probably stop it, but I'd rather not. They're just too much fun. I cross my arms across my chest and glare. After a moment, I uncross them and shove some magic toward Aunt Megan. She doesn't notice.
But I notice. Her hair turns pink. I smile and from her expression, I can tell she doesn't know what I did. But she's suspicious. That was funny, so I do it again. Now half her hair's pink and the other's green.
“What are you doing?” she asks. I just start laughing. I go to do it again, but she grabs my hands. “Whatever you're doing, stop it this instant.”
I start to struggle. Then I start to make a noise that's somewhere between crying, yelling, and screaming. She doesn't let go. Maybe she does know how to deal with people my age...but not magical people my age!
I push out with magic. Megan yelps. I'm making too much noise to notice what kind of a yelp it is, so I just keep going. She lets go and I fall on my back, kicking my arms and legs and screaming. My tantrum is in full swing and it's just going to have to blow itself out.
Suddenly, I start to feel really weird. It's suspiciously like that time I ate the French bread. Oh, you have to be kidding me. There really was...er...gluten in that biscuit? I feel a wave of magic go out from me and Aunt Megan screams. Then I start to feel really stiff and I quickly fall into a haze. It feels just like when I ate that French bread. This is the last time I disbelieve someone about gluten.
Megan rushed across the room, cradling her left arm, and grabbed the small mirror sitting next to the phone. She tapped on it and waited impatiently. Her nephew Morgan was in a full-blown magical tantrum and she had absolutely no idea how to deal with it. She'd seen it happen before, of course. One didn't spend the past three years living across the street from a family of powerful magi, especially when they were one's own relatives, and not witness a lot of really weird stuff. But it didn't mean she understood or trusted any of it.
Also, he hadn't injured her before, nor had he deformed the living room. Her left arm burned like nothing she'd felt before. It was reddish, and slowly swelling. The living room walls were corrugated like cardboard and bore a sickly yellow-orange-avocado color that looked like it had leaped straight out of the 1960's. She was pretty sure Sophie could fix her arm, but she had no idea what might progress in the meantime. Forcing her brother to fix her house might have to wait.
After what seemed like forever, but was probably only twenty seconds, her brother's face appeared in the glass.
“Howell!” she barked. “Your son is throwing a tantrum!”
“And it's a magical tantrum!” Megan waited for her brother to say something. There being apparently nothing forthcoming, she continued. “And he ate a bite of biscuit...a gluten biscuit. And he did something to my arm.”
Megan saw a flush of something run across her brother's face. “We'll be right over,” said Howell. Megan briefly saw, in the background, her son Neil excitedly chatting with the young woman Howell had brought from the year 1603...the same woman who, just a few years before, had destroyed the Perrys' hot tub, incinerated the tree above it, and scorched a perfectly good fence. Megan wasn't sure what the two of them had in mind, but she had other concerns at the moment. The mirror went blank and Megan turned her attention back to her nephew.
He was writhing slowly on the floor, green slime oozing from his body. She didn't know if it was coming out of some glands or what. After all, the boy was only half human, though Sophie had told her that Howell had once done the same thing, so it was probably magical and thus had nothing at all to do with Morgan being half Ingarian.
It wasn't the first time Morgan had oozed green slime. His tantrums often involved it. There was one difference.
Megan's thoughts were interrupted by some motion behind her. She turned to see her brother and sister-in-law shuffling into the living room. She noticed Sophie hadn't grabbed the long shawl she usually wore out-of-doors to hide the bony protuberances on her elbows.
“Don't you ever knock?” said Megan. She knew the moment she said it that it was rude. “I..I'm sorry,” she said...and she meant it.
“What's that smell?” said Howell.
“It's your son, of course!” said Megan. “What did you think it was?”
“It smells like...”
“Like decomp, yes,” said Megan, still holding her arm. It didn't seem to be visibly worsening, but it was starting to itch. “And he smelled like that when he ate that French bread last year, too, remember?”
“I've been trying to forget,” said Howell.
Sophie, however, didn't seem to be particularly bothered by the smell. Maybe it had something to do with how Ingarians sensed things. It was probably related to their peculiar culinary tastes. The silver-haired woman rushed over and knelt down next to her son and laid both hands on him, despite the slime. She immediately began to mutter something in Ingarian. After a minute, she stood up and nodded to Howell.
“I'm not...” began Howell.
“Oh, yes, you are,” said Sophie in English while jabbing a pair of slimy fingers at her husband. “He is your son also. And until you do a better job teaching him to not throw...tantrums...you will continue to clean up his messes! That includes this one. Now pick him up, take him outside, and wash him off before he suffocates! Then clean up your sister's carpet...the hard way.”
Megan resisted the urge to smile as her brother deflated. She might not get along well with Sophie, what with both of them being so strong-willed, but she'd had an undeniably positive influence on Howell. Megan had little doubt that much of the change she'd seen in her brother was directly attributable to Sophie.
Megan watched her brother kneel down and, without further protest, pick up Morgan, slime and all, and take him to the backyard. A minute later, she heard the water running.
Sophie turned to Megan and, with some odd flurry, the slime on her hands vanished. “Perhaps,” she said in her distinctly Ingarian accent, “you should consider baking everything without...gluten. It would make everyone's lives much easier.” Megan noticed Sophie still carefully enunciated every syllable of every word, as though the effort she made speaking English were physical as well as mental. “And you should learn to do magic.”
Megan raised an eyebrow. “Why?”
Sophie pointed at Megan's arm. “That is why.” She gestured to the room. “That also.”
“But I'm not a maga,” protested Megan.
“Yes, you are. Your power is not great, but you have it.”
Megan's eyebrow rose higher. “I beg your pardon?”
“You have magic.”
"You waited this long to tell me?”
“I hoped Howl would do it.”
“Are you sure you know him as well as you think you do?”
“I ask you the same question.”
Megan looked toward the back door. Morgan was standing on the porch. That was a good sign. She looked back to Sophie. “And what about Morgan? Is he going to be as bad as both of you put together?” Sophie frowned. “I'm sorry,” said Megan almost as soon as she'd made her remark, “I...I didn't mean it.”
Sophie considered Megan for a moment. “Yes, you did,” she said simply. “Now do you want help with that, or will you wait for it to...how you say...run its course?”
“What's it going to do?”
“I do not know.”
“Lovely,” said Megan sarcastically. Then she sighed. “Will you...teach me how to fix it myself?”
Sophie nodded. “Feel very carefully.” Megan wasn't quite sure what that meant. Sophie placed a hand on Megan's arm and began to mutter. Megan felt something odd. The discomfort was certainly fading rapidly. After another minute, her arm had returned to normal. “What did you feel?” said Sophie.
“I have no idea,” said Megan. It was the truth. She had no idea how to describe it, let alone how to reproduce it.
Sophie sighed. “Remember it.”
Just then, the back door opened and a rather despondent Morgan padded into the room. He was slime-free and his silver hair shone slightly. Howell must have used magic, for Morgan's hair usually only glowed in response to the use of magic. Morgan looked up at Megan with his large emerald eyes. “I...am sorry,” he said in English.
Megan melted. The boy was so adorable when he wasn't being an unholy terror. She knelt down so as to be eye-to-eye with him. “It's okay, Morgan. Just promise me two things. First, never, ever, eat anything with gluten in it. Second, when someone tells you 'no,' they have a good reason, so don't push it. Do you understand?”
“Do you agree?”
Morgan paused for a couple of moments, then nodded in a way that seemed reluctant.
Megan gave Morgan a hug.
“Nice hair, by the way,” said Howell.
Megan looked up sharply at her brother. “What?”
Howell just motioned to a non-magic mirror on the one un-distorted living room wall. Megan stood up and looked into it. She shrieked and whirled around. “Morgan!” Megan suddenly realized she wasn't really angry, so much as startled. But the boy looked like he was about to break down into tears. Megan softened. “No, no, Morgan. I'm not angry with you.” That seemed to calm him. “It'll grow out,” she added. She glanced at her brother as if to say, “it had better.” Maybe the boy had a future as a hair stylist. Given who his father was, it wouldn't surprise her.
Without another word, Sophie left with Morgan in tow. At the last minute, Morgan turned around and waved to Megan. She smiled and waved back. Yes, he really was quite cute. He was going to break a lot of hearts when he grew up.
Megan still wasn't sure why they'd asked her to watch him. She knew why they wanted him baby-sat. The Princess apparently liked children...very much...so much so, that Sophie thought she'd be too distracted to do whatever she was doing with Neil, which was, after all, the purpose of the visit. No matter. Howell started to walk past her.
“Aren't you forgetting something, brother?” she said.
“The floor?” said Megan. “And the walls.”
Howell sighed and started muttering.
“No, you are not going to use magic.” She noticed he no longer had slime on his clothes. “At least not to clean the floor. And I don't care what it smells like.”
Megan sighed as she watched her brother go for the cleaning supplies. There were some days she wished she'd never left her job. No, actually, on second thought, even with green slime and magically-altered hair and walls, she wouldn't go back for anything in the world.