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Fantasy Kids Urban Fantasy

Failing his final year at Harlington’s Magical Academy was the worst thing that had ever happened to Jon. His entire family, from his parents to his eighth cousin twice removed, were magicians. At this point, it wasn’t a hope he would qualify; it was a base expectation. The moment his father found out that he would not be graduating was a moment that would be forever burned into the corners of his mind.


He was, however, uniquely privileged in that his father was a High Sorcerer and a golf buddy of the headmaster. Where hard work and determination failed, nepotism and bribes usually succeeded. 


Unfortunately, this time his father had only been half successful. The biggest stumbling block to him passing the year was his lack of familiar. He had failed in many areas - transmogrification, alchemy, necromancy - but not by much and not in an obvious way. These were all things that could be learned through a private tutor or blustered through in interviews. But every magician had a soul-bonded animal and, without one, it would be obvious that he was not up to snuff. The headmaster had agreed to give him his certificate on two conditions: firstly, that the library should receive an anonymous donation large enough to refurbish and secondly, that Jon linked with a familiar so obviously magical that nobody could mistake it for a normal, mortal pet. 


He had tried, he had explained defensively to his father, who was caught between deep disappointment and incandescent rage. He had spent the expected level of time communing with nature and summoning forth the soul bond that would forever connect you to your familiar. He’d even gotten pretty close. But there were some things beyond his control and the ridiculously unpredictable temperament of animals was one such thing.


His father’s familiar, a hauntingly beautiful albino peacock, had taken offence at this and pecked his foot so hard that it had bled. Jon used this as proof of what he was saying, in between hops and yelps. He asked if perhaps they could just buy a very affectionate cat for him. People didn’t interact with other magician’s familiars unless they were family so it would fool most. They’d need to make sure the cat was a common breed with common markings, of course, so that they could switch for a new one when the old one died. Familiars had the same lifespan as their humans and that would be the one main giveaway. 


There would be no compromise on this, his father had replied, utterly appalled at the lack of moral fibre shown (his dad didn’t see the irony of lecturing him about this mere hours after returning from bribing a school official). He would not embarrass the family by taking a regular pet and pretending. The shame, should that get out, would be crushing. No, he must go and find a familiar the way that every magician in the history of magicians had. 


Jon had grumbled but not for too long - there was a deadline. He had until the day before graduation to find and link with an animal and that prestigious ceremony was a mere four days away. 


He packed a picnic hamper and a warm jacket and set off. Most magicians did this on school grounds, where the extensive gardens housed a wide variety of creatures. Jon, naturally, didn’t have to worry about travelling there though; his family’s estate was nearly as large and definitely more biodiverse. His great-grandfather had built quite the menagerie, having not believed that exotic animal trafficking was an actual crime.


It took longer than expected to find a nice spot and get settled as he’d taken a circuitous route through the strawberry patch. Once seated, fully warded and with a full belly, he began the process of relaxing the mental barriers he kept up at all times. 


The summoning wasn’t a formal spell as such - more of a laying down an invitation and seeing what accepted. The wards, therefore, were extremely important. Neglectful magicians had found themselves permanently bonded to imps and demons and Jon thought that the shame of that might outweigh coming back without a familiar at all. 


Jon sat for nearly an hour before he felt its presence. He kept his eyes closed, sensing the animal nosing around the circle. Once it breached the barrier, they would be bonded but it knew that and stayed on the outside. 


“I know you know I’m here,” it said. Jon opened his eyes slowly. The squirrel sat on its hind legs, beady black eyes boring a hole into him. “You came,” Jon said. 

“I did.” 

“I didn’t think you would.” 

The squirrel tilted it’s head. “Me either.” 


The two regarded each other for a moment. Jon looked away first, bowing his head, the picture of sincerity.

“I wanted to say sorry.” The words tasted bitter in his mouth but he was on a schedule and this was the fastest way.


There was a long silence. The squirrel continued to look at him and Jon struggled to not fill the silence. He failed at that, too. 


“I didn’t pass in the end,” he said to the unblinking stare. “Hazel - I told you about Hazel - was a bit of a distraction. I know you told me to focus on my studies but if a sexy squirrel shimmied in front of you, you’d find it difficult to concentrate too.” The squirrel made no comment but gave every impression that if it could raise an eyebrow, it would. I told you so vibes rolled off of it in waves. 


“By the time Hazel dumped me, it was too late to do the catch-up study. And then, of course, I also didn’t have a familiar. You really need one if you want to be taken seriously, it seems.” He looked pointedly at the squirrel.


The squirrel narrowed its eyes. “You suggested getting a cat, didn’t you?” 

“No! How could you think that?”

“I can’t believe you’d get a cat.” 

“I didn’t suggest a cat!” 

“Your left eye twitches when you’re lying.” 


Jon hesitated. “Really? Did it do it just then?” 


The squirrel looked as triumphant as one can be with the facial range of a squirrel. “No but I knew you were lying!”  


Jon made a sound of disgust. He knew he didn’t have a tell that obvious. Lying under pressure was somewhat of a family speciality and he would’ve been told by now if he was letting them down on that front as well.


“This is why you don't have a familiar yet. You need to be honest with them. You’re just afraid to be open with another creature.” The squirrel looked at him, eyes shining with fervour and, Jon thought, a hint of self-righteousness as well. This did not make him feel particularly good, especially as this was the squirrel’s fault and it was just spouting rubbish psychobabble to cover itself. He glared.


“I am not! The reason I don’t have a familiar yet is because you’re so damned sensitive! If you weren’t such a big baby, we would’ve been bonded three months ago! If anyone is to blame, it’s you!”


The squirrel sniffed sharply and snapped its front legs apart, revealing a thin membrane that connected limbs to body. It scurried up a tree and flung itself out, using the air currents to fly away. A soft “Screw you!” floated back on the breeze. 


Jon sighed. This is what he’d tried to tell his dad about animal temperaments. Completely out of his control. 


The next day, Jon trudged back to the same spot. He had stayed until well past dark but no other animals had come close. Maybe they were as crazy as the squirrel. But his dad had been cross at the lack of results and had personally turfed him out of bed that morning. Jon was used to breakfast in bed delivered by the butler so a hasty bowl of Cheerios in the kitchen as he pulled on his socks had put him in somewhat of a bad mood. 


By midday though, he was fuming. He’d been sitting, sending out mental invites all morning and he was sure that animals were giving him a wide berth on purpose. Even insects seemed to have vacated his little circle. At this point, luck normally would have snagged a companion - a bird would’ve flown through the circle or a carelessly curious bunny would’ve ventured too close. When he felt the squirrel’s approach in the early afternoon, he knew the cause. 


“This is your doing, isn’t it?” he snapped. The squirrel did an excellent impression of a shrug. 

“Hey, I just put the word out that you were moody and mean. No animal in their right mind is going to go near you. But that’s on you, amigo.” 


If Jon left the circle, he’d have to spend the time starting from scratch. But, my goodness, he wanted to strangle the little tree rat. It knew, too, and he could swear that it’s tiny face was wearing a smirk. 


“I’m so glad we didn’t bond already,” he snarled. “I can’t imagine being stuck with your vindictive arse for the rest of my life. God, how do the other animals stand you?” 


The squirrel twitched. It looked like it was going to say something back but then it seemed to deflate. A twinge of regret spiked through Jon but before he could say anything, it had darted up a tree and was soaring away. 


Jon shifted uncomfortably. Maybe he had been a bit harsh. The squirrel might not have deserved that. He‘d had a while to mull over what it had said about being vulnerable and he was starting to think that perhaps it had a point. It wasn’t like he‘d had much practice; his family weren’t big on hugs or introspection.


It took a long time to bond with a familiar. Sure, some magicians had animals that wandered into their circles and they had to figure it out as they went but, if it was done properly, it was a lot like a courtship. You met, figured each other out and then decided if you wanted to stay together for the long run. 


Jon had been almost at the end of the process with the squirrel three months prior. Thinking back on it, he might have said something similarly unkind back then when the squirrel’s advice on Hazel and his studies had hit a little too close to home. The furry bugger had been right, too, which was annoying. 


The thing was, they actually got on very well. Not all familiars talked, though they could all communicate in a way. Jon had felt very lucky when the talking squirrel had first approached; it was quite a prestigious breed of familiar and it would impress his dad. The squirrel was pretty clever too. It had even helped with some of his homework when it had involved more instinctual magic. He’d even missed being able to talk to his little companion when Hazel had called it off.


Jon sighed. He only had one day left and, truth be told, he liked the fuzzy critter. Other animals seemed like they’d be boring; at least the squirrel would challenge him. If he was being perfectly honest with himself, he didn’t want a different familiar. He made his decision, stood up and broke the circle. 


He spent the next hour preparing his apology before setting up the circle again. This time it was a while before the squirrel approached and, when it did, it stayed at the edges of Jon’s consciousness. 


“I know you’re there,” Jon said quietly. “I really am sorry. You were right.” The squirrel came closer, still watching him carefully. “I was moody and mean. I could say that my dad is putting me under a lot of pressure but that’s no reason to take it out on you.” It came closer. “You said some things - today and before - that hit a bit close to home but I think that just means you know me really well.”


Jon had laid out a collection of nuts, mushrooms and strawberries. “I didn’t know which you preferred so I just found some of everything,” he said. “I also have some of the things that you could have if you were to forgive me and become my familiar.” 


The squirrel picked up a nut and tucked it in its cheek. Next to the pile of food was what looked like a bit of sheepskin and a bowl of water. “That’s what you’d be sleeping on,” Jon explained and the squirrel poked it curiously. “And that’s triple filtered mineral water. You don’t have to drink it out of a bowl though - I just didn’t know how else to show you.” The squirrel took a cautious sip and then a longer, more appreciative one. “You would also travel the world, or, at least, England, with me. You would meet other familiars and make friends with them. You’d help me work my way through life and I promise I’ll listen to your advice. I’m really sorry for the things I said and I promise to never react so badly to what you say again.” 


The squirrel sat back on its haunches and sized him up. It seemed like an eternity before it said anything else. 


“Don’t make promises you can’t keep,” it said and took a deliberate step over the circle’s boundary. 



August 12, 2020 08:51

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59 comments

Doubra Akika
14:04 Aug 19, 2020

This was such a unique story! I loved it a lot. I honestly think your writing was brilliant! I’ve never any talking squirrels but I think yours did just fine 😂! Magic has always been an interesting concept for me and I think you did it justice. You’re an amazing author!

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Elle Clark
14:10 Aug 19, 2020

Oh thank you so much! That’s so kind!

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Doubra Akika
16:05 Aug 19, 2020

It was my pleasure! I loved every moment reading it. Whenever you're free, would you mind checking out my recent story?

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Elle Clark
18:49 Aug 19, 2020

Yes of course!

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Doubra Akika
19:58 Aug 19, 2020

Thanks so much!

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Dunya Zatde
16:26 Aug 22, 2020

Okay, downright I LOVE this! The story and concept were wonderful! And my favourite part of it was the dialogue and the details you put in it. It didn’t feel draggy, the story moved along with it! Also, I love the way you write, your style is so different from most contemporary authors I’ve read lately! I can’t wait to read more of your works now!

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Elle Clark
17:03 Aug 22, 2020

Haha, thank you! If you like this one (and want to read more of mine) you might like The Order of The Blood Moon. It’s about useless vampires eating ice creams.

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Dunya Zatde
18:19 Aug 22, 2020

Omg! I’m SO reading now! I love the whole fantasy with a pinch of real life to it theme! Can’t wait to read it!

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Roshna Rusiniya
22:21 Aug 14, 2020

A very refreshing and unique take on the prompt. Loved it! The whole time I was imagining how their voices would sound like. I don’t think I’m good enough to give a critique feedback. But as a reader, really really enjoyed reading it! :)

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Elle Clark
22:38 Aug 14, 2020

Thank you! You absolutely are good enough for critique but you don’t need to if you don’t want to. But you absolutely can’t say that you’re not good enough!

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Roshna Rusiniya
03:35 Aug 15, 2020

You are very kind, Laura :). I meant the technical details because I’m yet to learn most of them myself.

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Jonathan Blaauw
12:04 Aug 12, 2020

You did it! You really did! Well done. I would’ve felt a bit bad if this had been a flop, seeing how I kind of gently nudged you towards talking squirrels, but I knew it wouldn’t be. Your stories are unfloppable, it would seem, and this one is brilliant. I loved, loved, loved all the small, inside jokes! They made it so enjoyable to me, but still allow the story to stand on its own for any that aren’t in the know. Great protagonist name, by the way. I was half expecting the squirrel to make fun of it, but even squirrels know a wonderful n...

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Elle Clark
19:55 Aug 12, 2020

Ha, thanks! Definitely going to need to tidy it up a bit but at least it’s up. I have indeed seen the Rick and Morty episode... I did think about it when I was writing it but I did not want that vibe for that poor little squirrel! Thank you, as always, for your tireless cheerleading!

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Jonathan Blaauw
03:58 Aug 14, 2020

I knew it! I’m so clever… Or maybe not, seeing as I’m about to parade my ignorance with a question. It needs some explanation first though, so… The build-up: When I first saw the word “wards” I thought it a typo; that you actually meant ‘words’. But upon reading more carefully, I see that you did indeed mean wards. The question: So, what exactly is a ward? Some kind of magical protection? I’m sure it’s common lingo for those familiar with magical/fantasy stuff and so doesn’t need clarifying in the story. But I’m just a muggle, you see, so ...

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Elle Clark
08:52 Aug 14, 2020

These are indeed additions. I tried to give my protagonist a stronger personality in the redraft - so that he was a kid from a particular kind of family who had been shaped by them but was, underneath that, a decent human. I went with the typical rich British aristocracy. ‘It’s not wrong if we do it; why you can see from all our money that we are doing things the right way.’ Wards are used for different things, depending on your flavour of magic and which fantasy world you’re in. They are essentially rings of magic (though sometimes thei...

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Jonathan Blaauw
06:29 Aug 15, 2020

Wow, that felt like it came straight out of a magical dictionary. Thank you, Professor McGonagall – 10 points to Grifflepuff! I mean Humbledore! Dumbledore? Right church, wrong pew, I think. I read lots of different stuff, I don’t genre-discriminate. Although, if I were to pick a favorite, it’d be historical fiction. Ken Follett and Karen Maitland (from your neck of the woods, I believe) are unbelievably incredible writers. When I walk into a book store, I generally head straight for the crime/thriller/mystery sections, now that I think a...

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Pragya Rathore
09:51 Aug 12, 2020

Hi Laura! This story was very unique, and gave me Harry Potter vibes. I really enjoyed how you described the squirrel; it was so funny! I really liked how you described how the boy was so frustrated with his father. The only critique: instead of '3', write 'three'. " The moment that the failure letter had hit the doormat would be forever burned into his mind." This seems a little strange: I'd suggest something like: "The thud of the failure letter brought by the angry owl on his doorstep would haunt him forever." Your story was very entert...

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Elle Clark
10:53 Aug 12, 2020

Hi Pragya! Thank you so much for your critique - it was really useful and I’ve made the changes that you’ve suggested so thank you for that! I will indeed have a look at yours. Happy to do in-depth critique but may only have the time for one story at the moment. Do you have a preference?

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Pragya Rathore
11:13 Aug 12, 2020

My pleasure! You can read any story of mine :)

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Yolanda Wu
06:48 Sep 18, 2020

Awww, I can already imagine Jon and the squirrel going on magical adventures. I love a good owner and pet relationship. This story made me smile so much because it felt so familiar. I will take the magical school trope with me to the grave. Especially since you did it so well, right from the first paragraph, I knew I was in for a treat. The language and descriptions were great in capturing the humour and quirkiness of Jon's character. I love a good old hopeless at what they do protagonist. I loved this line, "Where hard work and determinatio...

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Elle Clark
08:38 Sep 18, 2020

Thank you! I do love a good magical school and a corrupt head teacher makes total sense to me given everything I know about English private schools! I will go check out the new instalment of yours now 😊

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Rayhan Hidayat
04:47 Sep 02, 2020

Hey Laura! Old-ish story, I know, but I just had to leave my thoughts. This is such a unique take on the prompt and a great concept to begin with. A protagonist with lots of attitude? Awesome. A talking squirrel with even more attitude? Even better! My favorite thing is that even though this is a magical school story we don’t really see Jon interacting with any students; he is hardly in class for the duration of the story, being mostly in the garden instead. And that really creates this vibe of him being isolated from his peers, which is ...

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Elle Clark
06:01 Sep 02, 2020

Thank you so much! I will check your story out later but if there are no crumpets, I’m flipping a table.

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Bianka Nova
13:05 Aug 20, 2020

Great story and wonderful exploration of that complex relationship between a boy and a talking squirrel :)) I might be missing Harry Potter a bit, but not enough as to delve back into other magical novels, so your short tale was a refreshing read to quench my momentous nostalgia. Unpopular opinion: I can see how it works for your title, but I don't like the word "familiar" here. I don't know if it's some common magical term or not, but every time it appeared in the text I expected to see a noun following it. P.S. I would love to read a ...

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Elle Clark
17:45 Aug 20, 2020

Thank you! And yes, I’ll head over and check yours out tonight.

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Tariq Saeed
14:38 Aug 19, 2020

I agree with Jonathan.

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Elle Clark
14:45 Aug 19, 2020

Haha, thanks!

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Keerththan 😀
08:34 Aug 19, 2020

Wonderful story. Well written. It had a mix of fantasy and realism. Loved it. Keep writing. Would you mind reading my new story "Secrets don't remain buried?"

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Elle Clark
08:47 Aug 19, 2020

Of course - thank you for your comment!

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Pamela Saunders
13:15 Aug 17, 2020

Great storytelling :)

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Elle Clark
08:34 Aug 20, 2020

Thank you!

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Shreya S
18:28 Aug 16, 2020

I’ve only read two of your stories but I absolutely love them! This one especially caught my eye because, magic, and magic is always awesome, but I love the idea of familiars (I haven’t seen it used in any other story in reedsy until now) and the talking squirrel! I loved reading this! And I’ve spent the last 45 minutes reading Jonathan Blaauw’s stories and your comments on them and his replies to them and etc. until I came to a startling realisation that you would have written stories here too! Dunno how I missed that in the threads. But an...

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Elle Clark
20:26 Aug 16, 2020

Well aren’t you the sweetest! Spending 45 mins reading Jonathan’s stuff is time well spent - he’s an excellent writer. I don’t follow many people but if you’re looking for people worth reading, check out my follow list. I hope you read lots more of mine! If you like fantasy stuff, I’ve got some pirate stories (Splinters of Shame and the Phoenix of the Sea) and I’ve got some sci fi (The Cost of Honour). Got some vampire fiction (Order of the Blood Moon) and a superhero one (The Cobalt Crusader’s Turn). I’ll check yours out too when I get h...

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Shreya S
04:44 Aug 17, 2020

Okay sure! I love fantasy I’ll definitely read all of them! After my classes :*( but I will! Thank you!

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Elle Clark
06:24 Aug 17, 2020

What classes do you have? What ... I don’t know anything about schooling outside the UK ... grade are you in?

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Jane Andrews
00:01 Aug 16, 2020

Loved this one (and the fact that we were both writing Potter-esque fantasy at the same time, albeit for different prompts). The way you spend the majority of the story focusing on the would-be wizard and reluctant familiar emphasises how integral this is to the magical community - but it’s a squirrel with attitude who deliberately sabotages any attempt at getting a different familiar (possibly a hint he’s playing hard to get as he doesn’t want Jon bonding with anyone else?). And that line about a sexy squirrel shimmying... Their conversatio...

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Elle Clark
07:19 Aug 16, 2020

Thanks! Yes, that was part of what made me click on yours - the similarity in response. I’ve blended about five different magical fantasy tropes here but, mainly, I just really liked writing a squirrel that says ‘screw you’.

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Jane Andrews
13:34 Aug 16, 2020

🤣

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Tanja Cilia
05:09 Aug 15, 2020

I love it! I grinned at "...taken a circuitous route through the strawberry patch..." so mundane, in the midst of all this sorcery.

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Elle Clark
09:13 Aug 19, 2020

Thanks!

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Thom Brodkin
23:54 Aug 14, 2020

Holy cow what a great read. I told you before I want my stories to be believable and on the surface this is anything but. However I found myself getting lost in the characters, especially the squirrel. I also appreciated how you brought a feel of expertise to the story. The length seemed right on point it felt like it ended right where it was supposed to. I really enjoyed it even though I didn’t think I would when I started the read. I posted a story called Scars. Please be brutally honest. I wrote it in a single setting and submitted wh...

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Elle Clark
09:14 Aug 19, 2020

I’m so sorry it took me so long to get round to it. I have finally commented on it.

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D.N Pendragon
23:19 Aug 14, 2020

I'm not even joking when I say my father is a professional magician. Travelled the world and had a show on the Vegas strip for years. As a kid, everyone uses to call me Merlin (hence my pen name of "Pendragon"). Lovely story, really enjoyed it! Keep up the good work!

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Elle Clark
09:14 Aug 19, 2020

Thanks!

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Deidra Lovegren
22:45 Aug 14, 2020

Charming! Witty! Hard to go wrong with talking squirrels. "But every magician had a soul-bonded animal" - reminds me of every boy I dated in high school.

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Elle Clark
22:51 Aug 14, 2020

Thank you! I am very curious to know how magicians with familiars reminded you of your high school BFs though. Were they heavily interested in their pets?

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Deidra Lovegren
23:03 Aug 14, 2020

I grew up in Virginia. Southern men and their pets have a unique relationship. Yeehaw.

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Alexi Delavigne
15:49 Aug 14, 2020

Love this! It was so creative but easy to follow and a fun read, great work!

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Elle Clark
22:21 Aug 14, 2020

Thanks!

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Aditya Pillai
12:34 Aug 14, 2020

That was a wonderful read! It's really great how you created such an engaging fantastical world within the confines of the word limit. I loved the characterization and the interaction. Awesome job:) One small thing: "I promise to never be react so badly to what you say again." Here, I think the 'be' was unintentional? Would love it if you could read through my latest, I wrote it on a whim and would like to hear your thoughts :)

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Elle Clark
22:23 Aug 14, 2020

Oh excellent catch - thank you so much! I’d edited that line and clearly not proofread it to make sure I’d cut all of the bit I wanted to cut! I will absolutely check yours out 😊

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Velma Darnell
15:01 Aug 13, 2020

What a creative way to write on that prompt, Laura! You are a true master of words because when I was reading the story, it felt like I was observing the events myself. The idea of including a talking squirrel into this story is totally amazing. I loved how smoothly it comes to the final scene, leaving readers with the feeling of having visited some "magical world" and becoming acquainted with Jon (this name is great, by the way!) and the squirrel. The concluding line is great and deep. I'm glad I read your story. Keep writing! p.s. I w...

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Elle Clark
08:35 Aug 20, 2020

Thanks so much! I will check yours out now - sorry for the delay!

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