The Wrong Side of Magic@Janette Rallison

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SOMETIMES MAGIC SNEAKS up on a person like a sudden rainstorm, or bad news, or a mugger wearing really quiet shoes. That’s what happened to Hudson Brown. He was an average eighth grader, with average brown hair that usually needed to be cut and average brown eyes that didn’t always pay attention to his teachers. He lived in an average bedroom that needed to be cleaned and had average friends—many of whom also needed to be cleaned.

In short, Hudson was the type who hadn’t believed in magic for years. Truth be told, magic hadn’t believed in Hudson for even longer, but boys are often getting tangled in trouble, and Hudson was no exception. Except his trouble involved trolls, wizards, and several other things that wanted to kill him.

It started with a cat. Many problems do, which is why dogs, mice, and grumpy old men don’t like them.

Hudson’s little sister, Bonnie, however, adored them. Cats, that is, not grumpy old men. When she found a stray kitten cowering in the bushes near their house, it was love at first drag-a-furry-black-creature-out-of-the-junipers-so-she-could-tell-what-it-was sight. Bonnie brought the kitten inside, fed her tuna casserole, and named her Sunshine.

She begged their mother to let Sunshine be their official pet. (Bonnie occasionally captured bugs and made them unofficial pets.)

Perhaps their mother didn’t turn the cat away because she was tired of Bonnie bringing crickets and spiders inside, some of which later escaped into unknown parts of the house. Or perhaps their mother relented because Sunshine actually liked her tuna casserole, whereas Bonnie and Hudson only poked at it whenever it was put on their plates.

The important thing was, Sunshine stayed.

The cat spent the next week pouncing, purring, and attempting to change everyone’s hearts into soft, kitten-shaped objects. Then just as abruptly, Sunshine got sick and hardly ate for two days. She lay among the unmade covers of Bonnie’s bed in a limp, pathetic heap.

On the third morning, Hudson woke to the sound of Bonnie in the kitchen pleading with their mother. “Can we take her to the vet? I’ll pay for it. I’ve got eighteen dollars.”

Dishes clanked about in the sink noisily. Mrs. Brown made a daily heroic attempt to keep the kitchen clean. “A vet wouldn’t pet your cat for eighteen dollars. Maybe we should bring her to a shelter and let them take care of her.”

“But I love Sunshine. I’ll earn more money and pay you back.”

Mrs. Brown let out a grunt. “Honey, vet bills can be thousands of dollars. Besides, I hardly have the time to take you to the doctor when you’re sick. I can just imagine what my manager would say if I asked for time off for a stray cat.”

“Pleeeeease?” Bonnie insisted. No one could drag out a word like Bonnie could.

The dishwasher snapped shut. “I’ve got to get ready for work. Wake up Hudson and tell him to get a move on, or you’ll both be late for school.”

Hudson pulled himself out of bed and staggered into the shower. By the time he walked into the kitchen, his mother was picking up her jacket and purse, about to go out the door.

Mrs. Brown was tall, with curly brown hair that she pinned up when she went to work. She was pretty in a motherly way, no-nonsense in every other way. She never wore the sorts of clothes you saw on department-store mannequins. No frills or bling. And her philosophy on shoes was: If a woman couldn’t comfortably run after a bus in them, there was no point in buying them.

Bonnie stood by the table, the kitten in her arms and a worried frown on her face.

Mrs. Brown walked over to Hudson and gave him a kiss on the cheek. “You have a good day at school.” Next, she went to Bonnie, kissed her on the head, and smoothed down Bonnie’s hair. “The cat will probably get better on her own.”

Bonnie didn’t answer, just petted Sunshine’s ears.

Their mother sighed and gave Bonnie an extra kiss. “You have a good day at school, too.”

As their mother slipped on her jacket, she asked her usual morning question. “And why do you need a good education?”

Bonnie gave the standard answer. “So we can have jobs where we don’t have to listen to people complain all day.”

“That’s right, baby.” Mrs. Brown gave them one last wave before she headed out the door. Ever since Mr. Brown’s Marine unit had deployed overseas, she’d worked in customer service at a department store.

Bonnie opened a can of wet cat