Short Story Ego Boost: This Story Is Your Fault (#3)

So, as usual, my short story is decidedly odd.  I don’t quite know what its purpose is, but I am very proud of how many of the words I sneaked into it from everyone’s suggestions.  See which ones you can spot!

Short Story Ego Boost Story 3
Practical Theory and Peking Ducks

We probably should have known that it was time to find the professor when we turned Preston into a duck.  The thunder outside rumbled sullenly as rain smattered against the windows along the far wall of the small, cozy classroom which hosted six students and a duck.

I hastily turned the pages in the book on the sleek mahogany desk in front of me.  Molly squeezed the squawking duck against her chest, looking confused.  I didn’t blame her. Most girls would be a little uncertain about how to deal with a boyfriend who suddenly became a somewhat large Peking.

Professor Fladdigan had received a text message about an hour ago that sent him scurrying from the room with only a “Study Lesson Four until I return!” as he shut the door behind him. So, being such model students, we immediately abandonned our lesson and converged upon The Ancient, Forbidden, Do Not Touch Under ANY Circumstances Book of Spells he kept as a collector’s item on his bookshelf.

Preston quacked dismally...

Preston quacked dismally.

“Is there an antidote spell, Finn?” Aaron asked me urgently, casting nervous and ever so slightly guilt ridden glances at his best friend-turned-duck. Aaron was the one who had found the spell, even though Preston did volunteer.

“I don’t see one,” I said grimly.  And then, “oh, but check this one out!”

Kasey, Melinda, Ryan, and Jeff crowded around the book and peered over my shoulders at the gleaming page. All books of spells sparkle. It’s their right and privilege.

“A shrinking potion!” Melinda squeaked with delight, her black curls bouncing with glee. “Why don’t they let us practice these spells anymore? I don’t get it. They’re so much fun!”

The other five students in our small History of Magic and Potions Class cast significant glances at the quacking former classmate. Magic was only practiced by a few rare individuals with high security clearance. The closest we history grad students were supposed to get to it was a class or two on the history of spellcasting.

Now I sort of might know why.

“Let’s shrink Preston!” Melinda suggested. Her eyes gleamed.

“Melinda!” Kasey expostulated. She looked nervously at Molly and Preston and her voice dropped. “I mean, he’s a duck.”

“Exactly!” Melinda responded with the blithe disregard for human life characteristic of many a psychopathic magician back in the Elder Years. “He’s already a duck, so what’s a little more magic going to matter?”

“Or how about Professor Fladdigan’s hamster?” Jeff interjected diplomatically.

Aaron snorted. “Yeah, he could do with a little shrinking.”

Everyone looked at the cage wherein resided the magnificently large hamster named Merlin whose girth was currently squelched up between the bars and his unused wheel. Melinda shook her head.

“Still too small. We need something bigger. Finn, would you-”

“No, Melinda, I most certainly would not!” I exclaimed, aghast. While I was not generally considered a very large young man, I was not willing to sacrifice the little I had been blessed with. I fought the urge to hug myself protectively.

Melinda looked confused and then seemed to understand. She laughed, her dark eyes crinkling with merriment. “No, no, no. Not that, you goose!”

Preston quacked, looking offended.

“I just remembered that lovely potted tree in the hallway. I’ve always wanted a bonsai tree! Go get it, would you?”

“And check to make sure that Professor Fladdigan isn’t coming back while you’re at it,” Aaron suggested. We were all struck with the realization that he could indeed return at any moment. A collective shrug seemed to pass throughout the group. It was too late now, anyway. Preston was already a duck.

I was relieved to escape the room even for just a moment. The hallway was empty. Our classroom was down at the end of a long, remote hall that few ventured down willingly. That was working to our advantage at present.  I grabbed the wide trunk of the unfortunate potted plant that Melinda had chosen as our next victim.  The fuzzy leaves tickled my nose as I hauled it back into the room.  Jeff held the door for me, looking furtive and a little wild eyed.

“Is the coast clear?” he demanded.

“All clear,” I answered. “What does the potion call for, Melinda?”

We had been rather lucky with Preston’s potion. The ingredients were all easy to come by if you had access to cleaning supplies and a few odds and ends commonly found in any classroom: pencil erasers, purple ink, extract of firefly, paper clips, honeysuckle ice cream, etc.  We had unanimously decided that potion making was elementary magic and we were swiftly becoming masters.

Melinda and Ryan scrutinized the shining page.  Ryan frowned.

“This one looks harder than the last one,” he concluded.

Molly leaned closer to have a look, curious despite herself.  Preston quacked inquiringly.

“Well, it’s not so bad,” Melinda said. “We have most everything. It’s just the dragon scale steeped in cabbage juice that might cause a problem. I have an old dragon scale on my key chain.”

She pointed at her purse and Jeff pulled out her car keys.  A smooth, round, scarlet scale with the initials M.L.P carved into it dangled at the end.  Jeff worked it off the key chain.

“Now for the cabbage juice…”

We all stared at each other in speculation.  We were too close to doing more real magic to be deterred now by a mere lack of cabbage juice.  My eyes lighted on Molly, who still clutched helplessly at Peking Preston.

Molly was from a culture with a very distinctive dish that included…

“I say, Mols,” I began coaxingly, “what did you bring for lunch today?”

Molly patted Preston’s head distractedly.  “Oh, the usual. Carrot sticks, a cheese sandwich and kimchi.”

Melinda and I shared a look of triumph. God bless Molly’s multicultural heritage!  We extracted the kimchi.  It wasn’t pure cabbage juice, strictly speaking, but there was certainly cabbage in the mixture and there was juice, so logically speaking there had to be at least some cabbage juice in there.

“Do you think that’s a good idea?” Kasey asked. Her eyes darted nervously to where Preston rested in Molly’s arms. “I mean, we fudged one ingredient in Pres’s Potion of Indestructability and… well… maybe we shouldn’t change things like this.”

“Oh, live a little, Kasey,” Melinda advised. “Why don’t you go be a lookout at the door if you’re feeling squeamish.”

Kasey retreated to the door.  I would have normally agreed with her, but the allure of making magical potions and experiencing real history (I mean, these were the same types of potions that caused the great Wizard War of ’86!) just couldn’t be passed up.  And really, what was the worst that could happen?

We saturated the dragon scale in the Tupperware container of kimchi for the prescribed five minutes while we collected the other ingredients, including three cat whiskers, two cups of lukewarm tap water, and another tricky one: yesterday’s sports statistics cut into triangles.  Fortunately for us, Preston liked to hold onto the sports pages when his favorite teams played and after a series of excited quacks, we finally figured out what he was trying to tell us. Let it never be said that Preston was not a team player.

"Melinda's face looked demonic as she leaned over the brew and stirred..."

We added all the ingredients into one large bowl and stirred it for a time.  It let off curls of bluish smoke that smelled vaguely of gingerbread and raw fish.  I gagged.  Melinda’s face looked demonic as she leaned over the brew and stirred, cackling as it began to bubble and spew out globules of color.  That was a good sign, she informed us.

I glanced at Preston.  The Peking was hunkered down in his girlfriend’s arms looking very morose.  I felt another twinge of guilt.  We really should try a little harder to change him back, I decided.  We owed it to Preston.  No one should have to spend his life as a duck.

The potion suddenly gave a golloping noise and erupted with a big bluish bubble, nearly splashing Ryan, who yelped and fell back, checking himself over to make sure he wasn’t shrinking.  It was ready.

“Bring forth our next victim!”  Melinda pronounced.

I saw Preston wince out of the corner of my eye.  Kasey and Jeff positioned the tree and stepped back.

The blue liquid cascaded over the tree.  Melinda tipped it carefully into the base, watering the tree first.  She then lifted it and poured it over the leaves.  Some of it dripped on the floor. I wondered if that would be a problem.  If we shrank the university, would we shrink with it, or just be crushed by the sudden onslaught of rapidly diminishing stone, wood, and tile?   I dismissed the idea as too horrible to be possible.

The tree gave a shudder and seemed to curl inward.  Melinda laughed exultantly.  If anyone was going to become an evil magician, she was.  I sort of admired her for it.    The tree was clearly getting smaller.  I couldn’t believe that we’d actually done it – and on our second try!  That was something, wasn’t it?  All the theory and history in the world could not match this moment.

“What is going on here?”

The thunderous utterance was echoed by a loud clap and flash of lightning outside and we all jumped and yelped in surprise.  Professor Fladdigan had a gift for entrances.  Kasey stood behind him looking helpless and apologetic.

“Quick! Give him the rest of Preston’s potion!” Melinda hissed in my ear.

I stepped on her foot to shut her up.  I was not  going to turn my History of Magic and Potions professor into a duck, even if he was about to have me expelled from the school and possibly sent to prison for violating the Code of Ethics Involving the Use of Magic.

Preston quacked in a way that I assume was meant to be an explanation.  It only served to draw Professor Fladdigan’s attention to him.

“Why is Mr. Crawley a duck?” he asked in a cold, level voice.

“How’d you know it was Pres?” Ryan demanded, awed in spite of himself.

The tree was busily shrinking behind me and Jeff.

“And what is that?” the professor continued, leaving us no secrets whatsoever.  His eyes seemed to go right through me as he stared at the tree.

“It’s a…” Jeff began, turning to gesture toward the tree and probably make up something completely mundane and acceptable.

Except, there was no more tree.  There was a small green animal spitting leaves out of its mouth.  I recognized it from a book I’d had as a child.

“It’s an aardvark,” I said, unaccountably pleased with myself.

Even Melinda was stunned.  The aardvark trundled forward, shivered slightly, and then huddled on the floor looking terrified.  Its eyes were very human.

Professor Fladdigan stalked forward.  “That book… that book is not for your amusement.  I ought to have you suspended… expelled… arrested!

“P-please s-stay calm!” the aardvark piped up from the floor.  “I feel another at-t-tack c-coming on! Oh! Oh, m-mercy! I’m green! G-green! That can’t b-be right.  N-no, no.  S-stay c-calm!”

"The aardvark twitched and stared at us, looking trapped and every so slightly deranged..."

The professor jerked back and stared.  We all did.  The aardvark twitched and stared at us, looking trapped and  every so slightly deranged.

“I beg your pardon?” Professor asked.

“D-deep breaths,” the aardvark said, sounding, I thought, a bit like Winnie the Pooh’s friend Piglet.  “D-d-deep, c-c-calming breaths.  Can’t panic.  M-musn’t panic.  N-nothing w-w-r-r-r-ong here. Just a little g-green.”

“You were a tree and now you are a green mutant pig,” Aaron pointed out.  “You don’t see anything wrong with that?”

The aardvark’s eyes went wider still and it began to shake uncontrollably.  “No, m-must n-not panic!

“I do believe the litle fellow’s agoraphobic,” Melinda realized, grinning wickedly.  She poked it and it spasmed and twitched and trundled away, muttering to itself about panic attacks.

“What did you do?” Professor Fladdigan asked in a stunned voice.  “What did you do?”

“We made an agoraphobic aardvark!” Melinda exclaimed, still evidently quite pleased with herself.  “Heh, try saying that three times fast.”  She proceeded to do so with alacrity.

“Well,” the professor harumphed, “Well, first we must undo the damage done to Mr. Crawley here.”

Preston quacked hopefully.

Two potions and a spell later, Preston stood more or less in the condition he’d been in before the unfortunate experimental potion.  His hair was red (it had been brown before) and one of his eyes had a strange purplish tint to it, but overall he was the same old Preston.

“Say something, Pres!” I urged him.  Molly squeezed his hand encouragingly.

Preston hesitated.  He was probably afraid a quack would emerge.  He opened his mouth:

“Antidisestablishmentarianism,” he pronounced.

We stared.

“That will do,” Professor Fladdigan said at last.  “Now, as for the rest of you…”

“D-d-don’t p-p-panic!” moaned the agoraphobic aardvark.  He quivered in the corner.

Professor Fladdigan’s cheek twitched.

“Please turn to Lesson Four in your book.  We will begin with the history of traditional potions for transmogrification of plant life into mammalian using spicy cabbage-based dishes…”


I have enjoyed my story challenges most thoroughly and I hope you have at least moderately enjoyed the results, as spastic and random as they have been.

I am done with these for now.  My only challenge for the following week is this:  say “agoraphobic aardvark” three times fast.  It’s buckets of fun!


About Melissa

generally in love with things Celtic, mythological, fantastic, sharp and pointy, cute and fuzzy, intellectual, snarky, cheerful, or some combination thereof. Such things as sarcastic bunnies wielding claymores might come to mind...

Posted on July 5, 2011, in Fantasy, Humor, Inspiration, Lantern Hollow Press Authors, Melissa Rogers, Story, Writing Hints and Helps and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Yay, a story involving kimchi! “Kimchi, kimchi, it is good for you and me . . . .”

    I enjoyed this very much.

  2. Antidisestablishmentarianism! YES!

    Now, try pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis! What? You’re not doing another one?! NOOOOOO!

  3. Two comments:

    1. Excellent first line! And the story lives up to it.

    2. Somebody finally found a practical use for kimchi–which clearly missed its calling in trying to masquerade as food.

  4. Great tale but must say that as the story went on we were not going to get Preston back!

  5. “And really, what was the worst that could happen?” Has there ever been an instance where someone in a story said that and everything ended up perfectly? It’s the jinx-question of doom. That and “At least it’s not raining.” Great story; I liked the first line as well!

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