On Halloween night, far into the forest primeval, past crumbling limestone tombs and gurgling black pools, greasy goblins and ghastly ghouls prepared excitedly for Spellsy!®—the largest (probably) annual spellcasting contest for nocturnal creatures who like to flex their creative enchanting muscles.
As was their wont, three hideous witches gathered, muttering and murmuring their various and sundry complaints.
“Fair is foul and foul is fair, but these Spellsy!® prompts are far too narrow for either,” griped Hurly Burly. “How do the Spellsy!® judges expect any originality in spellcasting this year with such a shite topic? Maiden’s Envy is going to generate the same spell from every amateur thaumaturges who enters.”
“Agreed, sister. Yet the countdown clock never stops—by the pricking of my thumbs, creativity this way will not come,” Graymalkin replied. “What clever spells were ever cast under such time constraints?”
“Oh, my dearies, I do have a plan,” hissed Janice. “The witches and warlocks who aren’t of age are officially disqualified. I say we gather their work, since they are always begging someone to spell-check it and pilfer the best parts for our own.”
As an experienced Spelling teacher in the Lands of the Frozen North, this idea made a lot of sense to Janice. Her students were always copying spellcasting essays from each other, or even worse, taking ideas directly from Spellipedia. Lifting ideas from their efforts would give them a taste of their own potion.
“Hush, sister,” said Graymalkin, the moral compass of the group. “We are talented enough by ourselves. We do not need to take the thoughts of younglings.” Graymalkin considered for a moment. “Their life-force, yes, but not their original ideas. Let us do something even better!”
The rules of the Spellsy!® contest were very straightforward. Witches and wizards from all over the world could enter by submitting their best written spells. The only requirement was that the spells had to be unduly short—between 1,000-3,000 chants— and in line with the yearly topic. Hurly Burly was excited to read some of the other entries. Her magical knowledge and classical occult training meant that she was a feared critic.
Fortunately for her, the initial stages of the contest allowed for participants to comment on each other’s efforts. Hurly Burly was particularly looking forward to sharing her lofty views with her fellow, spellcasting scribes. She enjoyed correcting the syntax of others, as the ordering of ingredients such as an eye of newt and toe of frog yielded vastly different results than the toe of newt and eye of frog. And of course, proper comma usage made all the difference.
The downside of commenting was that others could do the same. And most irksome? They did so anonymously, as they didn’t even have to enter under their real names. Albert Grumblemore was an obvious pseudonym, the trio agreed, and was most likely some average, middle-aged wizard from the Indian subcontinent.
Then there was Cinamange Stalwort, a know-it-all busybody whose spell-writing talent was mitigated somewhat by her constant need to stick her nose in other people’s business. She single handedly demoralized more future spellcasters than anyone in the Spellsy!® world.
Janice, Hurly Burly, and Graymalkin had a secret plan to take the grand prize of fifty gold pieces. Initial ideas centered around bribing the chief judge, a mysterious witch known only as Gemm, but that fell through when the trio concluded that they didn’t have the funds and the suggestion was high on risk and low on reward.
So, they came up with something different. Something unique. Something nobody else would see coming…
They planned to collaborate—the rules didn’t strictly prohibit it—and use their collective talents to outshine the rest of the witchy riff-raff. All of them had been at least dwarflisted in previous competitions, so they knew they had potential. They had agreed on the anonymous nom de plume Cerberus.
“Three heads are better than one!” pronounced Hurly Burly, who had, in fact, collected far more than three juicy noggins to decorate her garden over the years. She could find no ornament more effective in chasing off pitchfork-wielding villagers than the rotting skulls of their loved ones, artfully displayed between gnomes and statues of urinating children.
They’d been working for months on ideas, flying owls back and forth until the poor things were feather-bare. The prompt this year was Maiden’s Envy and they had been cackling about the possibilities for months.
Janice, the most ribald of the group, had suggested the creation of a disproportionately large augmentation spell, but her sisters had winced and convinced her to shelve that one for a while.
Graymalkin, the kindest and sweetest of the trio, had suggested a spell that showed the true bonds of friendship. Janice and Hurly Burly had considered this for all of three seconds and then fallen about laughing. In the end, they settled on a spell to increase the verbosity of the maiden in question, for all knew that eloquent and intelligent women were the envy of all.
Having decided on their subject matter, they huddled around the cauldron and chanted together, editing each other’s verses and commenting on the stronger lines as they went. Together they polished the spell until it was free of their individual idiolects and had almost no grammatical errors, except for a few erroneous commas. Janice made sure that the dashes were of the em variety, Graymalkin ensured there was a gentle and almost conversational feel to the prose, and Hurly Burly guaranteed that at least three bigots needed to shed blood for it to work.
As the day of judging approached, Janice snuck in under cover of noon (the time when all self-respecting witches were asleep) to hammer the spell to the judging board. She titled it "To Make A Maiden Sing" by Cerberus and disappeared before the sun began to dip in the sky.
Sunset blazed triumphant and the soft evening light cast many a wart into sharp relief. The three witches split up to read the entries, writing comments on enchanted parchment that hid their identities.
All three paid special attention to the comments on Cerberus’ spell:
I give this spell 10/10! - Briar Rose
Change opening to Wilting lilies instead of The lilies wilt. Makes it more concise. At the moment, your start is uninspiring and won’t catch the reader. If you want to go pro, you’ll need better hooks for your start. Let me know if you want any help going pro though. It’s not rocket science, but it does take a bit of planning. - Cinamange Stalwort
Great work, Cerberus. Would have been even better with some more double entendres, but we get what we’re given. Love you and your writing. - Die Hatefrown
I've made a hocus pocus-themed video on YouTube. Please watch and subscribe - Keeran Isham
This writing had a little piece of your soul in it and it’s this that makes it brilliant and you pour so much emotion into a simple chant for the Maiden and it’s this that I loved about it. - Thanatas Kinbrood
Great writing! Can you spell-check mine? - Fishfingers
It’s been three years since I entered the competition, but I just wanted to come and congratulate you on your amazing writing. You really rewrote the rules on how to incorporate the spell ingredients. I guess that means there are no rules. Except when there are rules. But not when there aren’t. Or something like that. Anyway, I’m going to go watch some Quiddick in the sporting arena. Great writing! - Josiah Blue
The witches muttered about the comments. At least they seemed to be gaining a healthy amount of Magic Marks on the leaderboard. The nebulous scoring system was intended to reward contributions and critiques of the magicks invoked, but some of the warlocks and witches in training had realized that they could game the system with manic banter instead. Indeed, there was a unicorn picture in second place and the sisters watched as they were overtaken on the leaderboard by a warlock who still had some of his baby teeth, but was, nevertheless, able to comment ‘XD, go like mine!’ on fifty other spells.
As enticing as accumulating Magic Marks was, however, the winner of the contest would be judged solely on the merit of their written spell. Initial judging was done by a troop of diminutive creatures who selected the best spells and nominated them for the dwarflist. It was from this list that the winner was chosen.
The final decision maker was Gemm, the mysterious head of the event: organizer, chief judge, and retired professional hula-hooper.
Gemm stepped forward. “Greetings to you all,” she boomed out over the gathered crowd, “and welcome to the announcement of this year's contest winner.”
The Cerberus trio leaned in expectantly, sure that theirs was the name soon to be called out. The collected magical assembly held their breath. It was 43 minutes past the official announcement deadline so they were relieved to finally have an answer.
“The winning entry,” Gemm said, her voice enhanced magically, “is 'To Make A Maiden Sing' by Cerberus!”
The sisters turned to face each other and let out a joint cackle of glee.
“Will Cerberus step forward to claim their prize?” Gemm called and the three stepped forward at the same time.
“We agreed that I would be the spokesperson,” hissed Hurly Burly.
“So you can steal the spotlight?” snarled Janice, using her elbows to propel herself forward through the crowd.
Graymalkin shoved them aside and wordlessly stepped into the winner’s clearing. She was immediately mobbed by the other two as they jostled for the recognition they all felt they deserved.
“What is this?” said Gemm, shocked. So, too, had the crowd fallen silent. “The winner was to be a singular witch — not a coven!”
“Well,” said Graymalkin, standing heavily on Janice’s foot and pushing Hurly Burly’s talons out of her ribs. “Technically the rules never stated that.”
Gemm stared, unblinking for several minutes, and then turned to the judging committee behind her. They conferred for several minutes before Gemm returned to the stage.
Immediately suggestions flew forth from the crowd.
“The Werewolf Thriving Foundation!”
“The Organization for the Management of Goblins!”
“Future Manticore Liberators!”
Gemm once again held up a hand and the crowd hushed. “As we all know, there has been an issue that has affected the whole Spellsy community of late. The evil necromancer, ‘The Downvoter’ has been stealing Magic Marks and a charity has been set up to combat this. Your winnings will be donated to the Incinerate the Downvoter Guy Action Fund. The IDGAF is just starting out so they will be thrilled with your generosity, I’m sure.”
With that, the fearless head of Spellsy turned heel and disappeared in a puff of smoke. Off, no doubt, to do whatever it is that retired hula-hooper dancers do in their twilight years.
The trio looked at each other in horror, speechless. Then Janice stirred herself and voiced what they were all thinking.
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Leviathan, you've done it again! All the commas and -em dashes are perfectly placed. Infused with good natured charm and rife with inside jokes, those in the know will appreciate this effort on numerous levels. Always glad to see you all post!
Agreed, Ms. Hatefrown. XD.
HILARIOUS. This better win, just so that everyone reads this. I love all the references to the more notorious authors and how they poked fun without being bitter.
RayBan :) Always a crowd favorite. Thanks for showing up on the stream.
A delightful denunciation of an imperfect but workable system. I hope the judges have as good a sense of humor as the ones in this story - if they do, I see this winning. I think I caught all the references except Thanatas Kinbrood. Who's that? Anyway, what a fun read. If I had been in charge of Spellsy the money would've gone to the Future Manticore Liberators. Keep it up!
The increased verbosity greatly impressed this greasy goblin. Rooting for this spell to win!
Leviathan always a fan of the founding fathers.
Now this is a good one. Well done, Leviathan. You made me laugh at every turn. Great teamwork.
Leviathan approves of this message.
I am cracking up. I was chuckling - out loud - the entire time I read. You have so perfectly highlighted the hypocritical irony of systems such as these, and their weakest flaws while still maintaining a modest respect for the participants and processes. Your writing, as usual, flows smoothly and kept me intrigued and motivated to keep reading throughout. I absolutely loved this piece. I wish I had something of more content to offer you in this content, but all I can say is that you've done it again. Thanks for making me giggle today!
Leviathan thanks you for your commentary. Which sounds pretentious talking about itself in the 3rd person, but there are five of us. So...
LOL can you please tell me why you (plural) are my favorite people (person? persons? aliens?) here? :D
Leviathan only is. You have to decide what will be. I literally have no idea what that means. It just sounded super mystical and shit.
This is amazing. This should defiantly win! Well done
Leviathan hopes so :)
"Incinerate the Downvoter Guy Action Fund". This was hilariously original, yet something we could all relate too. I did think a 1000 chant minimum was much too much :-)
Leviathan agrees with you.
Leviathan thanks you.
Hilarious. I loved the references. It made me laugh every time I saw Cinnamange Stalwort in there.
Leviathan has no idea to what or to whom you are referring.
Leo shall adapt this third person method of speech. Leo sees that you have no idea to whom or what he is referring to your referring.