Contemporary Fantasy Speculative

Magic lived in the stars.

Grandma taught me that when I was little. Settled on the back porch swing on hot summer nights we’d looked up at the stars together. She taught me their names, how to hear them, and how to summon the magic down. Just as her mother taught her and her mother before that back until a time that no one remembers.

The only thing she hadn’t taught me was what to do when the magic stopped working.

“What do you mean it’s not working?” Gareth, my work partner and friend, gave me and incredulous look. He looked at the pond reflecting the night sky. “Are you sure you’re doing it right?”

I gave him a look. Did he seriously ask that? “I’m doing it the exact same way that it has been done for generations.”

“Sorry,” he said with contrition, his hands going up in surrender. “It’s just this magic thing…”

I knew what he meant. Gareth’s experience with magic was limited; less than a full year and it often stressed him out especially when I was trying something new.

But this wasn’t new. Listening to the stars, asking for their aid, collecting the magic to cast my spells, I knew all of that like I knew the back of my hand. Cliché, but true.

I looked up into the night sky locating the Seven Sisters and the Triangle. The Sisters had watched over my family for millennial and the Triangle of Stars called Deva, Yava, and Balin had become dear friends to me over the years.

One of them had always answered my call. Until now.

What was going on? The voices had felt quieter the last few weeks though I hadn’t thought anything of it. They didn’t always speak loudly. Now, though? Now, my stomach was twisting with nerves. Why hadn’t I asked them if they were okay? What if something bad had been happening to them and I had been too caught up with the craziness of my life to notice?

My chest tightened and a weight settled on my heart. A hand rested on my shoulder, “Breathe, Tess.”

I took a dep breath. Calm down, I told myself. I wouldn’t be able to figure out anything if I was panicking.

“We’ll figure it out,” Gareth said, giving my shoulder a light squeeze.

I nodded. There had to be an explanation. Maybe I had said a word wrong in my casting, or maybe…my mind blanked. What else could there be? I had literally done everything exactly as I had been doing it for the last twenty and some years.

If only Grandma were alive. She would surely know what to do. But she wasn’t. So where did that leave us? Leave me? There wasn’t exactly an app for magic users.  Grandma had once told me that there had been a time when more than just our family could summon the magic down from the stars. But that was a long time ago and we were the only ones left now.

There was no one I could ask for help…

I grimaced. That wasn’t exactly true. There was one person. I looked at Gareth, feeling the reluctance down to my bones. “We’re going to have to see my mother.”


Gareth turned onto Turtle Street. Nearly identical ranch houses lined both sides of the streets. Which meant it looked like my teenage home. My foot tapped harder.

“It’s going to be fine.” Gareth said.

“You’ve never met my mother.”

“She’s your Mom and if she’s a good mom, then she’ll help you.”

“She hates magic.”

“My Mom hates banana pudding and yet she makes it for me every time I come home.”

“I get what you’re saying, but this is like if your Mom disapproved of you being a private investigator despite the fact that you come from a long line of private investigators and she had been a private investigator a little while herself before giving it up and saying you should never be a private investigator.” The words spewed out my mouth like a waterfall. I wasn’t even sure if I was making sense at this point or if I had descended into babbling.

“So what I’m getting is you’re the family disappointment?”

“More or less,” I agreed. “She doesn’t think I should be making a career out of magic.”

“Did you tell her that you helped me with my investigations?”

“I tried mentioning that at Christmas but the disapproval was immediate so I dropped it.”

“Have you mentioned that you saved my life twice this year with magic?”

“Three times,” I corrected, “And no. We don’t exactly talk.”

“I’ve seen you text her.”

“Yeah, we text like once every couple of months to let the other one know we’re still alive but that’s it.”

Gareth parked on the street in front of Number 22.  “Well, there you go. Your Mom cares that you’re alive and that you stay that way. She’ll help you.”

“You don’t know that.”

“Neither do you.” He unbuckled. “Ready?”

“No.” But I unbuckled my seatbelt anyways and followed him up the driveway.

Gareth rang the doorbell while I bounced on the balls of my feet. The seconds which felt like minutes ticked by. “Maybe no one’s home,” I said just as the door opened to reveal my step-dad, Steve.

His eyes widened. “Tess?”

“Hey, Steve.”

He opened the screen door. “This is a surprise.” He glanced at Gareth and then back at me. “Um, come on in.”

“Thanks.” Gareth and I followed him in.

We all stood awkwardly in the small entryway. “Um, is Mom here? I need to talk to her.”

Steve blinked. “Of course. Of course. I’ll go get her. Why don’t you and your friend go on into the living room and make yourselves comfortable?”

“Thanks,” I said again. I slipped off my shoes- Mom hated when we wore our shoes in the house, and entered the living room. I took a seat on the couch but Gareth wandered around, studying everything.

“So this is the place where the mysterious Tess Pritchard grew up.” Gareth picked up a picture frame. It was a picture of me, Mom, and Steve at their wedding.

“It’s one of them,” I said. “First ten years or so we lived with my grandparents.”

He nodded even as he leaned forward to study a wall of photographs. “This them?” He pointed to a frame in the corner.

I smiled knowing the picture. It was of Grandma and Grandpa on their own wedding day. “Yeah.”

“They look happy.”

“They were.” I said. “Though Grandpa didn’t particularly care for magic. Said it made a person lazy.”

“Did your Mom get her attitude from him?”

I shrugged. It was more complicated than that. At least I thought it was. I remembered my Mom speaking with the Stars when I was kid, though the memories were vague,

“Tessa, what a surprise.” Mom stood behind the chair, a look of disapproval on her face. Had she heard us talking about magic?

“Hi, Mom.”

She came around the chair, giving me a meaningful look as she then looked to Gareth. Right. Introductions. “Mom this is Gareth Key. Gareth this is my mother, Miranda Sharp.”

Gareth stepped forward, extending his hand. “It’s a pleasure to meet you Mrs. Sharp.”

She smiled softly, taking his hand. “Miranda, please.” They shook hands. “Have you and Tessa known each other long?”

“Nearly a year. She and I occasionally work together.”

I lifted an eyebrow. Occasionally?

Mom frowned. “Work together?”

“I’m a private investigator. Tess has been a great help on several cases.” He smiled and took a seat next to me while Mom sat down in the chair. “Her particular skill set has proven invaluable.”

I wanted to give that man a hug.

“I see.” Her lips pressed together. “My daughter hasn’t mentioned you.”

I nearly rolled my eyes. I had tried to. No one had listened. “And you haven’t mentioned the twins,” I said instead. “How are Charlie and Ashley?” My half-siblings were nearly fifteen years younger than I was.

Mom frowned at the change of subject but accepted it. “They’re doing great. Ashely’s soccer team just advanced to the semi-finals and Charlie is hard at work practicing for his tap-dancing recital in a few weeks.”

“That’s great.”

“If you stick around, they’ll be happy to see you when they get home from school.” Mom’s tone was pointed and I felt a stab of guilt. I liked spending time with my brother and sister though it didn’t happen often. A side-effect of me avoiding my mother. “You’re both welcome to stay for dinner.”

I glanced at Gareth. I had sort of hoped to have this wrapped up before then but… “We would love to,” Gareth answered for the both of us. I quickly nodded my agreement.

“Well, now that that’s out of the way.” And I knew what she was going to ask before she did it and I was both dreading and desiring it. “What actually brings you here?”

Gareth gave me a reassuring squeeze on my forearm. I smiled briefly at him before focusing back on my Mom. “It’s about work. My work.”

Mom’s eyes closed and her jaw tightened. “And why do you think I could help you with that?”

“Because Grandma taught you the same way she taught me. And something’s happened and I don’t know what to do and since Grandma’s dead, you’re the only help I’ve got.”

She released a sharp breath. “What happened?”

My heart clenched as I spoke, “The Stars stopped talking.”

Her eyes widened and met mine, a dozen emotions flitting across her face. “Tell me everything.”


The moon was reaching its zenith as Gareth and I followed Mom outside. Was this actually happening?

Mom stopped in front of a bird bath- the night sky reflected in its shallow depths. “It’s not a pond, but it will have to do.” Moving her hands in circular motions over the water, she closed her eyes and began to silently chant.

I hadn’t seen her do this in years.

“We’re being watched,” Gareth said in a barely there whisper.

I followed his gaze back to the house. The curtains twitched as they were hurriedly pulled back into place. But I knew who had been watching. The twins. Their curiosity was boundless and my evading their questions at dinner hadn’t helped a bit. Mom had been clear that she didn’t want them knowing about magic and I would respect her decision even if I disagreed with it.

At least I wouldn’t be the one who would have to field the millions of questions I was sure they’d have about what exactly we were doing at this time of night.

Mom’s eyes opened, her hands stilled as she pursed her lips. My heart sank. “Nothing?”

“Nothing.” She tilted her head up to the night sky. “I don’t understand.”

Welcome to the club, I thought.

“Maybe we need to approach this from a different way,” Gareth said. He tapped his chin. “Can stars lose their magic?”

We both stared at him.

“They can burn out, right?”

“But all the stars losing their magic at once?” I said.

“Their magic being stolen by another summoner?”

“Not possible,” Mom said and I nodded my agreement. “The Stars gift us a portion of their magic. We can’t force them to give us any.”

“Invasions in their galaxies?”

Mom lifted an eyebrow and looked at me. “Is he serious?”

“What?” He demanded. “Magic is real. I’m sure there is other life out there.”

“Maybe,” I said. “But stars would be their suns, not their planets.”

“True.” He said as his eyes narrowed and his mouth tilted down in one corner which I called the deep think face. He tilted his head to the side, studying both me and my Mom and then he looked up at the stars. “You said you listen to the stars and they listen to you.”

“Yes,” I answered, wondering where he was going with this.

“And this gift has been taught from one generation to the next.”

“Also yes.”

“And many of the stars have been watching over your family since the beginning.”

“Uh-huh.” Seriously, where was he going with this?

He suddenly smiled and slipped his hands into his pockets. “I think I’ll leave you two alone.” He started back towards the house.

“What? Why?” What had he figured out that he was not cluing us in on?

Gareth spun on his heel so he was walking backwards. “Family legacies can be difficult things. But I think if I was some ancient being who’d been watching over a single family for generations and that family wasn’t close like they once were, I might be tempted to do something.”

I blinked. Was he saying what I thought he was saying? “You think the Stars are staging an intervention?”

He shrugged and turned back towards the house. “I think that’s for you to figure out.”

I gaped after him as he entered the house before looking at my mom. “Can you believe him?”

Mom looked down at the ground. “Maybe he’s right.”

“You seriously think the Stars went silent just so we would talk.”

Mom shrugged. “You only come around at Christmas.”

“We text throughout the year.”

“But we don’t talk.”

“Because every time we do, you criticize my life choices.”

“I do not.”

“Yes, you do. You know why you didn’t know about Gareth?” I said, crossing my arms. “Because when I tried to tell you about working with him at Christmas, you shut me down. Anytime, I’ve wanted to talk about something new I’ve tried with the Stars’ help, you change the subject. I get that you don’t like magic, but I do and it’s my life.”

“It’s not that I don’t like magic.”

“Really? Because that has seemed pretty clear.”

“I just don’t want you relying on it.” She sighed.

“No, you’d just rather I ignore it completely.” I retorted, and then softened my tone. “Maybe you can do that, but I can’t. It’s too important to me.”

“And look where you are now. You made a career out of it but now the Stars have stopped talking to us. And regardless of your friend’s theory, they may never speak again. What are you going to do? You don’t have a back-up plan.”

“That’s what you’re worried about? Mom, I’ll be fine. Can’t you just trust that I’ll figure it out? That I may in fact know what I am doing?”

Mom’s face softened. “Sweetheart, of course I trust you.” Her eyes fell. “I’ve just…” She stopped for a moment and took a breath before she continued. “I’ve seen what happens when people think magic is this invincible force that can protect you. I just don’t want you to get hurt because you believe that.”

“Mom, I know magic doesn’t make me invincible.” I had the bullet scar to prove it. “It’s a tool, a resource.” I stepped closer to her. “And you know a guidance counselor. The Stars do dispense pretty good advice.”

She laughed. “I remember when I started dating your Dad. Oh, the ideas they had.” She shook her head.

I smiled. It wasn’t often she spoke about my Dad who had died shortly after I was born. “You should hear what they say about Gareth. It gets a little out there sometimes.”

“Only sometimes?”

We both laughed.

“I love you Mom. You know that right?”

“I do. Just as I love you.”

I nodded and she smiled softly. “And I will try not to be so hard on you about the magic thing.”

“And I promise to show up a little more. I mean, I’d hate to miss Ashley’s soccer semi-finals or Charlie’s dance recital.”

“They would love for you to be there.”

Mom and I grinned at one another. Impulsively I put my arms around her. She hugged me back tightly. Our relationship wasn’t perfect. And we definitely wouldn’t fix things just because of one night. But it was a start.

And sometimes a start was all you could hope for.

Faintly, I heard a voice. “Finally.”

I looked up into the night sky. The Stars twinkled brightly back at me. Gareth was going to be insufferable when I told him he was right. The Stars were watching over us.

January 27, 2022 19:51

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