Modern Magic: a short story

Do be sure to take the poll at the end of this story!

I know what you must be thinking – super-powered abilities really aren’t run of the mill. So why am I using mine to fix such a… mundane issue? Well, what you must understand is that at this point in my life, I was sure I’d perfected the art of the waking. Roll out of bed, brush your teeth, wash your face. Bundle up warm for the frighteningly cold day, and the rest is an graceful dance in the pursuit of getting out the door at around the speed of light. 

Then rush out the building, not taking the time to savour the redolent bakery. I should’ve known I would still be late – it’s just that it’s far too easy to become so reliant on your abilities, that you forget how life was before them. I made it only about halfway to campus before realising I was set on an inevitable crash course for lateness and one of my professor’s world-renowned lectures. A quick pause and a glance at my inner city surroundings showed the perfect solution.

A second later, I’d ducked into a nearby narrow alley – truly the kind of place where a movie character would get ambushed and assaulted. After a brief check around me to confirm that wasn’t not the case, I yanked my gloves off and splayed my fingers. My fingers warmed as they moved in a circular motion, and I was once again treated to the sight of the people walking backwards on the streets. Cars seemed to reverse in a perfectly orderly fashion, and any passengers must’ve been talking backwards. I pulled out my phone with my other hand and watched the time tick back 8 minutes, 9, 10… I dropped my hands abruptly and pulled back on my gloves.

Being a superhero is rather fun – if you use your powers right; why strain yourself fighting crime when you could ensure you had a little extra time to finish your homework? After all, the snooze button has nothing on the ability to grant yourself some well-deserved rest, out of time’s linear path. I meandered far more cheerfully to school with those thoughts swirling, confident in the knowledge that I would arrive with time to spare. I shoved my jittery hands into my pockets – surely, every power must come at a price – and people-watch as I strolled along.

How peculiar, I thought, that those people were at my mercy, with no knowledge of it. The woman across the street with her grocery list a foot long had probably already bought her items, and was altogether none the wiser. It would have been, enough to give most people a god complex! Lucky my ego wasn’t any bigger – My thought was impolitely interrupted when a petite girl rounded a corner, directly into me.

“Yo, watch where you’re going!” She neatly ignored me, and continued on her path – backwards? She back-pedalled across the sidewalk, seemingly oblivious to her surroundings. I reached out to grab her shoulder, and not a second too late: her unconventional path was ready to take her directly onto the busy road. “What the hell are you doing?” She pulled out her earphones huffily, and looked at me with keen eyes.

My heart skipped a nervous beat; it felt far too coincidental for me to have met a crazy girl walking backwards just moments after I had used my power. Whatever she found in her scan of my face was clearly unsatisfactory, as she demurred, “Nothing, you wouldn’t understand. Thanks, I guess.” She nodded her chin nonchalantly at the road that I saved her from. 

Her easy dismissal lit a flicker of indignation in my chest. “Try me, Miss Condescending.”

Fumbling to untangle her earphones from her jet-black mane of hair (and looking decidedly comical), she turned and glared. “Really? You wanna hear it from the crazy girl? Some idiot is messing with this timeline, and they just reset this day. Not by much, I assume, only by a couple-” I clamped a hand over her mouth quickly, and her wide eyes were the only notice I got before she starts yelling to “Get this crazy boy off!”

A woman stopped and stared disapprovingly, apparently judging it a petty lover’s quarrel. With my thoughts slowly leaving ‘fight-or-flight’, I dropped my hand, only to catch the piercing look the crazy girl speared me with. I was entirely unsurprised and only a little resistant when she started dragging me somewhere. When I noticed she was taking me to the same shady alley, a sneaking ironic feeling of déjà vu crawled up my spine. Definitely not a coincidence.

“I can walk by myself,” I grumbled, shucking her vice-like grip. Nonetheless, she waited for me to go ahead, and I had the jarring realisation that I was about to be interrogated.

True to form, she didn’t beat around the bush, forcing me into the alley away from prying eyes, only to whisper-scream, “It’s you, isn’t it? The time-traveller? What the hell are you thinking?”

An idle part of me wondered if she was part of an undercover operation to root out secret superheroes, and what the benefits might have been of employing a young, cute, female agent for that. “Yes, yes, and I doubt I was thinking. Why should I? It’s my power, to use however I want.” Her mouth fell open, eyes clearly showing her scathing judgement. Instinctively, my arms crossed and I continued, “What’s it to you, anyway? What are you, a-” I lost his train of thought in accusing her of being a cop – or more accurately, I jumped off my train of thought and collided head-first with another. “Are you like me? A superhero?” 

Head ducked, she snorted softly, sending another indignant stab rushing through me. “I mean, superhero is one word for it, but…” She pulled off her gloves and I watched as her fingers flutter over the ground. Where once there was only frost shards, she brought up a plant stem, as if in hyper-speed.

It was my turn to be unimpressed. “Your power is growing weeds. In a city. You do realise you have the least useful superpower in the history of anyone, right?” Her gaze snapped up and I barely had time to register her movement before the shoot moved to wrap itself around my foot. “Hey! Stop that!” I stumbled backwards and put my hands up in as conciliatory a gesture as I can manage, considering she just tried to entrap me. 

“Oh, relax. It wouldn’t affect you.” Her statement was punctuated with a small smirk that seems to ask, ‘not so useless, huh?’ “Have you stopped any crime? Solved any felonies? What was your reason for using your ‘superpower’ this time?” Her words were dripping so heavily with sarcasm that the air-quotes are implied – her arms were obviously too busy, in actuality, with her passionate arm gestures. I moved back slightly to avoid a hit.

For a moment, I contemplated telling this know-it-all girl that I had prevented a mugging, saved a gunshot victim, stopped a suicide attempt before it even happened. But her eyes bored into me with unwavering principle, and I simply couldn’t speak the words. “I used it because I needed to get to college on time, sue me,” I mumbled instead.

I awaited her verdict, but she was already turning away. “So what’s so heroic about you?” Somehow, her dispassionate response struck harder than a yell. 

I moved to follow her out the alley, though my intentions past that felt suddenly unclear. She’d only just stepped out when a older girl grabbed her by the wrist. “I’ve been looking all over for you, mija!” The new girl held up her hand, showing a tracker app, and for some reason, that sent shivers down my spine. 

The girls looked similar enough that I was unsure on whether to question the new arrival’s presence, but she pulled her ostensible-sister along with long pointy nails digging into her skin. “Hey, wait up!” I ran up to the impatiently waiting girls, and here my planned actions ran out. “I-I’ve never met someone – someone like me before, and since I don’t know-” The elder sister only rolled her doe eyes and continued storming away. Miss Condescending, previously so animated, seemed to have lost her fire.

“Why do you always have to act like this?

My feet paused at the mouth of the alley, apprehensive about what might have been my first real decision of the morning – or perhaps, even longer. It was more instinctive that time to pull off my gloves and whip out my powers. I didn’t even need my phone this time: I continue until she’s back in the alley, looking self-righteous as she should be, and her seedling had shrunken again. Her eyes stayed wide-open the whole time, and I realised that I had forgotten to ask her of the crucial question of how she knew she had time-travelled.

When her movements were her own again (she flexed her fingers to check this), her breathing slowed and she straightened up. “That was risky.”

“What was?” I said, peering out onto the street. 

“You didn’t know if I would remember you what happened after the rewind. You didn’t know if I wanted to rewind.”

“Didn’t you?”

She took my out-stretched hand and we hurtled down the street in the opposite direction from where her sister had come, and would come again. “Yes.”

“Then it wasn’t a risk at all.”

Her delighted laugh was punctuated with little gasps as she tried to catch her breath. We stopped two blocks from there, leaning against a solid brick wall. She fiddled with her phone for a moment before gazing up at me. “The name’s Mia. You know, in case you were wondering.”

“Jamie.” I continued with as much bravado as I can muster, as if her response didn’t matter, “So, how do you feel about teaching me how to be an honest-to-god superhero?” 

She laughed, and started walking away. For a split second, I was certain she’ll keep walking, but she turned back with a grin. “First lesson, keep up…”

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What I Learned In Writing for a Newspaper

I received the best news I could imagine last year – my school was entering me (little old me!) in a competition to write a piece for a national newspaper. Naturally, I got straight to work brainstorming. By the next day, I had come up with no fewer than five fleshed-out ideas, and was buzzing with energy; that is, until I found out what it was that we would be writing. In a twist that would have shocked no one else but me, the newspaper was government-affiliated – and there was no way I was writing any of my ideas.

Rather than give us free rein of the articles, allowing us to eloquently convey what we, the people, felt to be most important, a topic list had been given to us. Every word on it spoke of patriotism, of national strength and how my country was doing its utmost in practically every field. I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was. Living in a monarchy had always felt pleasant enough – in large part due to the luck of having a benevolent ruler – but that wasn’t always the case, and I knew it might not be in the future. I had a jarring realisation that of course, the biggest newspaper in the country would be censored. Of course we wouldn’t have true freedom of speech.

In a world with the internet and where information feels so easily available, it’s fighteningly easy to forget the truth. Blocking critical websites, using public media as propaganda, and outright lies online are still issues we face today. And maybe we’re not doing enough to solve them.