2013 Totem Head Story Contest Finalist.
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2013 Contest Finalist

Written By:   Hanna Schwinn, 17 years old, Greenwood Village, Colorado.

So there I was, and there you’ll be, confused and scared in front of the cold, grey Merlin Street Asylum gates, with only the clothes on your back and a cardboard suitcase to your name.

Most of us are found at school, so were you. That was the day that you, clad in a new dress or a nice shirt and pants, with dinner pail and books in hand, scampered off to your first day of school. Your teacher greeted you like all the others, with a cheery "Good morning!" She was so smart and pretty, and she didn’t know what you were either.

Your class started the morning with Spellry. Miss Edwards felt the excitement of the younger children who’d never used magic before. Miss Edwards invited all of you up to her desk to give you a School Wand, especially made for a classroom setting, so you couldn’t do any spell not mentioned in your copy of First Grade Spellry.

You held it in your hands, then, running your fingers along every ridge, perhaps fiddling at the base of the handle where the twigs were peeling, imagining you could feel the power of the wand flowing through your fingertips. Although you knew that was just a School Wand, and not a True Wand of your very own, you knew how powerful it was.

But then Miss Edwards suddenly realized something you hadn’t. She looked at you with a strange light in her eyes, blue like the sky above. They’re so pretty even though she looks almost frightened.

"Wave the wand, sweetheart," she said. "Wave it for me."

You did, of course. You waved it up and down and side to side. Pointed it up at the ceiling. Down at the floor. You twirled it between your fingers like the choirmaster in church does. You realized you’d never had so much fun in your life.

Until you noticed what Miss Edwards already had: There were no flying sparks.

That’s the normal reaction of a wand. The wandmaker clips the tip of the wand, so when you wave it, the core becomes "irritated" and releases sparks. It simply means that the power from you is flowing correctly through the wand.

Your wand didn’t release sparks. Not green sparks if the core was bronze. Not red sparks if the core was silver. Not purple sparks if the core was gold.

The rest of the class was back in their seats. They watched you. You stared back at them. The younger boys, seated up front, were laughing. Your older sister’s friends in the back row were whispering. Your sister covered her eyes. Suddenly, you were ashamed.

Miss Edwards didn’t notice them. She covered her mouth with her hand and whispered behind it, "I’ve never seen such a thing." And because your town was so small, it was no wonder nobody had seen in trueblood wizard or witch unable to create sparks with a School Wand.

"Give that back, please," she said, and you gave it back, scared and confused.

"Can I try with a different wand, Miss Edwards?" you asked. "Maybe it’s broken."

"How about you go take a seat?" she replied.

You sat back in your place in the front row. Miss Edwards began to instruct the class in the proper technique of holding a wand. You paid attention, perhaps using your quill as a pretend wand, but you were also be planning ways to get Miss Edwards to let you try another wand. You were wondering why she didn’t let you; she had an entire drawer full of School Wands.

After Spellry you moved on to arithmetic. You could do this – your older sister taught you. Miss Edwards wrote sums on the board, and you answered every one of her questions correctly. You slowly forgot about the strange wand that didn’t make sparks.

You were about to sit outside with the other children for dinner, but Miss Edwards handed you a note.

"Can you take this to your mother?" she asked. "Right now."

"Yes ma’am," you said.

You couldn’t read, so as you walked home you didn’t try to make out Miss Edwards’s words. If you looked, you admired her pretty penmanship, rather than shied from her cruel words.

Home was a half-mile from school, but you’d walk it any day for Miss Edwards, even though it was August and by the time you arrived at your family’s farm you only thought was to have a drink of water. Your Ma sat in the parlor with the baby. You gave her the note from Miss Edwards, and then you went to the well.

With a full bucket of fresh water, you sat on the ground and ate your dinner. You enjoyed those gingerbread cookies as you watched the sun make its way across the sky. Pa taught you how to read the sky like a clock, so you used that skill to determine when to head back to school. Your Ma caught you as you walked past the kitchen garden. "Hon," she said, "come back and sit with me for a while."

You didn’t suspect that the reason you skipped you first afternoon of school was because of the note Miss Edwards wrote. You were happy to spend the afternoon sitting on a rocking chair while she read the cartoons from the morning paper to you.

Your sister came home. She didn’t say anything to you, but she looked at Ma. Ma didn’t say anything. But your sister got the answer she needed from Ma’s expression, and she looked at you the same way Miss Edwards did.

"Bake bread for dinner," Ma said, and your sister disappeared. You didn’t see her again until she came back as the sun was setting to announce that supper was served. She set the table and everything.

Pa came in from the fields with a grimy face and the smell of dirt and trees about him. He washed up before he joined you at the supper table to say grace.

As he passed the bread bowl to Ma, he asked you, "How was your first day of school?"

"Miss Edwards sent me home at dinnertime," you say.

He was about to ask, but he caught Ma’s eye, and she gave him a tiny shake of her head. He didn’t ask about school anymore. He talked about the songs he sang in the fields today, and you asked him to sing your favorite, "Oh Susanna" and he did, in his nice baritone.

Your sister washed the dishes, and she gave you the leftovers to feed to the pigs, but she held them a second too long.

"Freak," she whispered, and then she turned away from you so fast you decided it was just your imagination.

The pigs treated you no differently from yesterday, and were simply grateful for the slops. You went back inside and watched your sister in front of the parlor fire trying to get some studying done. Your Ma and Pa were in their bedroom with the door closed, talking quietly. When the baby cried and they didn’t come, you sister went to soothe him.

Then you followed her upstairs to the bedroom you both shared, and got ready for bed. She rolled out your trundle bed. You fell gratefully onto it, unafraid of tomorrow.

Before dawn, Ma told you to help Pa in town, so you won’t go to school today.

Pa drove you to the town hall on Ingalls Street. He hitched the horses to the hitching post, and then took you inside. You sat on a chair near the entrance while he spoke with someone. He was pointed to a door, and then he disappeared.

The clock tick-tocked for an hour, until Pa came out with another man. He shook your hand. Charles Wilder of the Merlin Street Asylum for Children was glad to meet you.

Pa was gone by then. When you asked Mr. Wilder when he was coming back, he told you, "You’re staying with me for a while." He touched your shoulder as you both walked out of the town hall. If you’d had any sense, you’d have run. He wouldn’t have chased you- no one cares about a Spark.

Too late, you learned that you, born of trueblood witch and wizard, are neither witch nor wizard. No sparks or spells will come out of any wand you wave. As a cruel joke, your magical superiors call you "Sparks".

There are many others who’ve stood where you’re standing right now. We’re all behind those big black gates. Cross that threshold and you’ll be in good hands with us. For magic is not always what flows through a wand. I’ve discovered that the delights and sorrows of life lead to the greatest magic of all.

Link to Free Writing Contest for Kids

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