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Fiction Speculative Teens & Young Adult

Libra Jones copied the list of times from email and pasted them into another. She flicked back and forth between the Outlook calendar, her inbox, and the Excel spreadsheet of product updates. Her eyes burned from staring at the small screen of the MacBook Air that her company provided to all assistants. She craned her neck to check the boss’s office to make sure Flannery was occupied with a call, then leaned back in her chair, pinched the air in front of her, and pulled a freshly, unlit Marlboro Light out of the ether and into her fingers.

Outside on her break, Libra leaned against a wall next to the parking lot. She snapped her fingers under the cover of her hand and covertly drew a flame. She lit the cigarette and took a long, slow drag, letting the calming effects of the nicotine course through her—the only real pleasure she would feel all day. Libra made sure to check her phone, including her email inbox, to make sure that no one needed her. They didn’t. Not yet anyway, but the day was young.

She scrolled through the messages out of a habitual desire for distraction more than anything else. Her heart skipped a beat when she saw that she had received a response from the hiring manager at the local coven that she had recently applied to, but that excitement quickly evaporated when she opened it. A form letter rejection--not enough experience.

Libra felt like throwing her phone across the pavement, but she couldn’t afford a replacement and was cheap to subscribe to the insurance plan, so she settled for shoving it back into her pocket. Libra knew that she didn’t belong in this life. She wasn’t just any old witch.

She had been marked from birth on the inside of her left wrist with a sign that very clearly looked like the symbol of the Libra scales—this is where she got her name, given to her by a mother she never knew. 

It felt only fitting that Libra would be recruited to attend the Academy of Magical Arts. During her first few days at school, Libra had learned of a prophecy—one that referred to a student that would start that very year, who had been born on the equinox under the new moon. Who had been orphaned at an early age and marked on her left wrist.

This child, said the prophecy from hundreds of years ago, would lead her generation into the light. She was destined to be the only person who could stand between the fate of the world and The Darkness (whatever that meant). When Libra first heard this, every sense of her being had thrummed with purpose. Everything clicked into place for her. Of course. She had always known that she had been destined for more, and now it was confirmed.

Libra Jones was The Chosen One that the world had been waiting for.

Except The Darkness (whatever that meant) never came. Libra stayed sharp. She learned all that she could. From the beginning of her enrollment at age eleven until completing her studies ten years later, she got into mischief, competed on the lacrosse team, developed and concluded a tumultuous Love Triangle plot. She had done everything that a Chosen One was supposed to do.

But no evil force ever emerged to antagonize her. No world-ending threat ever loomed. No irresistible mystery ever presented itself to be solved.

Libra simply took her classes and found herself graduating one day.

She never became famous. Was never celebrated for her victories nor mocked for her defeats. She found herself leaving school, moving into an apartment with her boyfriend, and getting a job to help pay the rent.

And she had six figures of student loan debt. Apparently, ten years of magical schooling did not come cheap.

No one in the real world was in a rush to pay witches for their services—especially not young, amateur witches who hadn’t had a single world-saving experience.

Instead, Libra did the next best thing and got a job as close to the action as she could get: working as an assistant to the non-magical co-founder and CEO of the world’s biggest, most well-respected astrology app, Star Gazer by Flannery Bennett-Carlson.

Libra hated being an assistant. Her dream was to become a famous sorceress like Morgan le Fay or Marie Leveau. She wanted to go down in history as a great witch. But everyone knew that the only way to learn how to become a sorcerer was to work as an apprentice for one, and those apprenticeships were infamously difficult to find and even harder to attain. Sorcerers were masters of the magical arts, and most would keep an apprentice for years, even decades, until that person was deemed ready to ascend or quit the practice altogether. And it’s not like this job was posted on LinkedIn—no, you had to hear about it through your connections and then somehow get yourself in front of them and impress them enough to want to take you on.

Libra was about to be reminded that as insufferable as Flannery could be, at least she provided access to those valuable connections.

Libra flung the butt of her cigarette onto the ground and stubbed it out, then headed back up to the office.

When she got back to her desk, Libra saw Flannery was done with her call. She grabbed her laptop and darted in for the opportunity to briefly run through her boss’s schedule for the day before losing her to another flurry of meetings and calls.

“I actually need you to clear my afternoon—” Flannery interrupted with a wave of her hand. Libra gritted her teeth at the thought of more tedious rescheduling. “My friend MacGregor Woodman is coming by for a visit.”

Everything stopped for Libra in that moment. She tried not to betray her emotions as she asked, “The sorcerer MacGregor Woodman?”

“Yeah,” said Flannery, losing interest in their conversation as she clicked through some emails on her desktop computer. “You’ve heard of him? Apparently his apprentice has finally graduated, so I’m sure he’s going to ask about a job. Maybe we can find him something in the Transits department doing copywriting.”

Libra highly doubted that. An enchanter would never come and work for someone non-magical like Flannery—especially not after studying for over a decade under a great sorcerer like MacGregor Woodman.

As far as Libra knew, Woodman had never had a female apprentice before, and he had had many apprentices. Sorcerers were by no means immortal, but they aged at a glacial pace. He was rumored to be over ninety years old, yet from the pictures Libra had seen, you would never be able to tell. He had a chiseled jawline, smooth skin, and bright, alert eyes that made his gray hair look more like a choice to be a silver fox than an acquiescence to the unavoidable ravages of time.

This was Libra’s shot. The only one she would get for years, perhaps even in her lifetime. She had to find a way to get Woodman alone when he was here, and she had to find a spell that would impress him.

“Make sure you get me an updated contact for Marcus O’Malley at the astronomy lab, and I will need my dry cleaning picked up at lunch. Oh, and Libra?”

“Yes?”

“Can I have a cigarette?”

“Oh, uhhh, I’m not sure if I have any more.”

Flannery sniffed the air pointedly.

“Don’t you just pull them out of thin air?”

Libra’s face muscles twitched as she tried to prevent them from betraying her disdain. She kept her voice as calm and patient as she could.

“I don’t just ‘pull them out of thin air.’ Everything has to come from somewhere.

This is why she hated working for non-magical people. They were always demeaning and undermining her craft by not fulling understanding it. Magic was still, unfortunately, beholden to the Laws of Physics, and since matter could not be created nor destroyed, pulling something out of thin air would require rearranging the atoms of the air molecules around them into the form of the thing she was conjuring. This resulted in the thinning of the air itself. Her audience might find themselves short of breath and dizzy if the oxygen was lowered that drastically. This was fine if she was conjuring a small object, like a button or a needle, but a larger object could suffocate a room or worse, create a vacuum that would initiate an unprecedented and horrifying weather sequence. Thousands could die.  

Libra had long ago learned that Flannery hated when she was pedantic about magic (it probably made her feel inferior), so she simply said, “I transport them through space—it’s less dangerous.”

“Well, I wouldn’t be asking if it wasn’t an emergency.”

Libra walked back to her desk so she could check how many she had left in the box. She flipped it open and sure enough, there was only one. She didn’t need to check her bank account app to know that she only had $1.57 in it. And it was only Tuesday. She didn’t get paid until Friday.

Libra’s body ached as if it could already anticipate the withdrawal symptoms. She plastered a fake smile on her face as she walked back into the office and handed her last cigarette to the boss who made ten times as much money as her.

Flannery tucked it behind her ear without saying thank you.

MacGregor Woodman parked his Maserati with the valet and strode confidently up to the Star Gaze office.

Libra was sitting at her desk, trying to look busy yet important when he came in.

She watched out of the corner of her eye as he sat across from Flannery in the glass-walled conference room. What could they possibly be talking about in there?

Then finally, after sixty agonizing minutes, Flannery stood up, shook his hand, and escorted Woodman out to the desk where Libra sat.

Woodman was tall and commanding in person. Libra inhaled his scent. He smelled like pine needles and a touch of—

“Libra, can you please validate Mr. Woodman’s parking?”

Libra looked up at her toothy boss’s smile. “Certainly,” she said.

Flannery shook Woodman’s hand one more time and gave him a flirty “I’ll see you soon,” then sauntered back to her office. Libra arched an eyebrow. Was that what this meeting was all about?

She pulled open her desk drawer where she kept the validation stickers, then realized that now was her chance.

“We’re all out,” she told him. “I’ll walk you down there myself and explain.”

Woodman’s eyes flickered in annoyance. Obviously he could tell that she was lying, Libra realized to herself, irritated at her own stupidity. Still, he seemed at least mildly intrigued about where she was going with this, so Woodman graciously allowed Libra to continue her charade.

Libra led Woodman to the elevator, and the doors closed behind them.

As they headed down to P1, she took a deep breath to gather her courage, but before she could speak—

“You’re a witch,” he said.

“Yes,” was all Libra could stammer out.

Woodman held up his palm as if to silence her. Libra’s blood ran cold with embarrassment, but she realized his intention when the elevator shuddered to a smooth halt before they had reached their destination at the bottom. He waved a hand at her beckoningly.

“Proceed.”

Libra took a deep breath, trying her best to steady her nerves. She hadn’t realized it would be this intimidating, and she hadn’t anticipated being in this tightly enclosed of a space.

She closed her eyes, imagining her dagger tucked tightly away in its safe drawer in her bedroom. She reached out a hand to grab it. SMACK.

“What the hell??”

Libra’s eyes flew open. Her face stung where Woodman had slapped her.

“Why did you close your eyes?”

Libra lost sight of her dagger. She felt it fall away from her into time and space. “I—” she was at a loss for words. “I was concentrating!”

“Do you think magicians survived hundreds of thousands of years of fear and persecution by performing spells with their eyes closed?”

“It’s how we were taught in school.”

“Children in school are allowed to be weak and stupid. My apprentices in the real world are not.”

Woodman raised his hand to start the elevator again.

“Wait—”

Woodman stopped, allowing Libra to continue, but he did not lower his hand.

“I’m not weak,” she said. “I can do this. I am The Chosen One.”

If sorcerers ever betrayed their emotions with gestures as banal as eye rolls, Woodman would have. But instead, all his said was, “Proceed.”

Libra drew her shoulders back proudly. She looked Woodman in the eye and summoned every ounce of resentment she could muster. She reached through time and space, letting her instinct guide her as she felt the pull of the drawer with the dagger in it. She plunged her hand in, then felt around, concern growing.

Libra’s eyebrows furrowed. Beads of sweat started to accumulate on her forehead.

“Wait,” Libra said. “I know it’s around here somewhere.”

Woodman no longer had any patience. He waved his hand, and the elevator began to descend.

Libra felt her hand pulling away from the drawer, and in her desperation to grab something, anything to show him, she pulled into the space in front of them…

“A pair of socks?” Woodman asked, his voice dripping with disdain.

“It was supposed to be a ceremonial dagger. I keep it in that drawer, and I was trying to use a basic transportation spell, but my boyfriend must have moved it, and—”

“This is why—” Woodman interrupted her. “I never take on female apprentices. You’re all too concerned with boys. That’s the only reason any of you care about being witches. It’s all about ‘love potion this, enchantment spell that,’ then the next thing you know, you’re getting married, planning an opulent wedding like it’s your part time job, and getting pregnant. Then before you know it, you’re nothing more than a common kitchen witch.”

His eyes broke from her gaze, signaling that their interaction was over.

“No,” Libra said. “That’s not me.”

“It is,” said Woodman. “You are all the same.”

DING. The elevator reached their floor, and the doors started to slide open. Libra shoved herself in front of him and reached out a hand to hold the Door Close button. She had one last shot.

“I am a great witch. I have potential. I want to learn from you.”

“We’re done here,” Woodman said, trying to push her aside.

“No, we’re not!”

Libra shoved him back against the opposite wall. Fire flared in Woodman’s eyes.

She knew she only had one last shot to impress him. It was time to attempt something she had never been allowed to do in school. Instead of the downward pull to draw an object from another space, Libra swooped her hand in a circle, gathering the atoms from the air molecules around them. With the doors of the elevator closed, she didn’t have much to work with.

But the air thinned around them. The metal walls started to collapse in on the vacuum. Libra and Woodman both gasped for air. Darkness closed in around the edges of her vision.

The last thing Libra felt before she collapsed into oblivion was the cool metal of the hilt of the wholly original dagger that she had created out of the very air that she had been breathing.

It clattered out of her hands and fell to the floor. The elevator doors opened. Shouts of alarm greeted their bodies and rose to a crescendo of emergency response, but neither she nor the sorcerer were around to hear them.  

September 29, 2023 14:29

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12 comments

Hazel Ide
14:18 Sep 30, 2023

Great story! It felt like the start of a full-length novel that I now want to read, amazing to fit so much in such a short space. Small note, you may want to know of a possible typo- 'by not fulling understand it' instead of fully (I'd want to know). Really fun read though thank you so much for sharing!

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Audrey Knox
15:12 Sep 30, 2023

Oh thank you!! Yes I appreciate the typo correction. And I actually have been mulling over this character and premise for a novel, so I love that you’re saying that. I wanted to explore it in short story form first to see how it felt, and I enjoyed spending time with her.

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Hazel Ide
15:37 Sep 30, 2023

Well, I love reading speculative and fantasy, and I would absolutely read it, the premise is really interesting. If you need a beta reader let me know. Good luck!

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Sue Schroeder
02:52 Oct 05, 2023

I love love love this story. This might sound like a cheat, but ... I have nothing to help you with! PLEASE PUBLISH IT!

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Audrey Knox
18:51 Oct 05, 2023

haha thank you so much I love you! When I write the book, you will be the first person I send it too :) I also like how we both had very similar stories in terms of subject matter: A magician being asked to tutor a younger magician. But we both took completely different angles and characters through which to approach it. That's the fun of this communal style of prompt writing.

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Michał Przywara
20:47 Oct 02, 2023

Ha, this is fantastic! The cynical, realistic take on Harry Potter. There's something sadly deep there, about the world of children being full of magic and wonder, and then the world of adults being nothing but struggling for rent and juggling appointments. The illusionist, disillusioned. "I don’t just ‘pull them out of thin air.’ Everything has to come from somewhere." I like this detail, and the whole following paragraph. Not just a nice bit of world building, but it sets up the ending without having to explain anything there. It's...

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Audrey Knox
21:26 Oct 02, 2023

haha thank you for recognizing that this story came from my disillusioned Millennial perspective of feeling like I was lied to as a child by Harry Potter specifically (and the YA Chosen One trope in general). I actually do want to expand this! I originally conceived of Libra Jones as a novel, but I am having trouble knowing what the bigger overarching plot would be. I figured I'd start by writing a short story with her and see if we enjoyed spending time together. My instinct is to make the Chosen One prophecy total BS (akin to the America...

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Michał Przywara
04:41 Oct 03, 2023

Well, I think the experiment worked - at least, I would read a Libra Jones novel :) I also have no idea what an overarching plot might be, but there's a great seed here, with her being disillusioned and discontent - but instead of falling into misery, she decides she wants better and is willing to take risks for it. And there's some chemistry with the would-be mentor. Is he actually a sexist arsehole, or is he riling her up as a test? The short story idea isn't a bad one. I've had some luck myself developing characters, and bigger plots, b...

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Audrey Knox
13:16 Oct 03, 2023

Thank you! Yes, the overarching plot is what's giving me the most trouble, but maybe if I keep brainstorming fun parts of the world I want to explore, one will come to me.

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AnneMarie Miles
15:18 Sep 30, 2023

This was a cool story - a nice mix of the magical world and the contemporary world. The ending left open enough for us to draw conclusions, and it definitely made me want to know more! I liked the literary references to Morgan le Fay and other sorcerers. Seemed like a fun piece to write!

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Audrey Knox
15:56 Oct 01, 2023

Thank you! I wanted to leave room in case I expand this story into something bigger later.

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AnneMarie Miles
16:05 Oct 01, 2023

You definitely should!

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