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This is Week Four of Chuck Wendig’s latest flash fiction challenge. It began with an assignment to write a 200-word opening to a story. The next week, another writer took over for the next 200 words; the next week, a third writer; and now we’re on the next-to-last week. It’s been a lot of fun, choosing a story in progress and working to follow what’s been laid down by the previous writers while still keeping my own voice.

This is a piece that was started by J.D. Fitch, then continued by Doreen Queen and Paul Baughman.  The different sections are marked by ^^^^^.  With luck, someone will pick this up for the final week and it will become a complete story.  Here are parts 1-4 of —

 Unpredictable Magic

God, how she hated dance music. Tony blared that crap every day at work, and after four years, she couldn’t take it anymore. Most had their I-phones or mp3’s and earbuds to stuff in their heads. The rest of them had to suffer. Her fist smashed the bread dough with a vengeance. One fist beat the soft, yeasty mass over and over.

“Screw this.” Gloria reached and ‘touched’ the electric plug that asshole’s antique radio was plugged into. Sparks crackled from the outlet, the acrid smell of burnt plastic ripped across the room.

“Judas Priest!” The shift super rushed over and yanked the cord from the wall. “Tony, this piece of crap is gone. You understand me? Three times in one week? Burn it, burn your own house down, but keep it out of my bakery.” Allen rammed the offending device into Tony’s chest before stalking off.

Gloria could not help the smile that crossed her lips. Then common sense took over. Shit. Why did magic have to be so unpredictable? Two years, and she still could not predict the outcomes, not like her teacher. Who would no doubt taste the magic in the air around her.

Life sucked chunks.

^^^^^

She had to be more careful or else be caught by the Authorities. They might taste the magic she leaked after tweaking the radio.

Most kids were screened by preschool to see whether they had talent – somehow Gloria had been missed.

Good thing Claudia had seen her magician’s performance at a child’s birthday party. Everything had gone wrong that day – instead of a rabbit, she pulled a python out of the hat. Of course, the party had been for boys, so that went over well. But it didn’t go over with the parents when her bra and panties had pulled out of her sleeve along with the handkerchiefs. Not sure how that happened.

Claudia had tasted the taint and offered to tutor her if she promised to stop playing magician.

Gloria needed to control herself first if she wanted to control the magic. Otherwise, some Telemage would catch a whiff and she would be slammed into a Control Chair. Then some Docmage would fry out her brain section that created magic – and they weren’t too careful about what else was around, like body functions or reasoning. She didn’t want to spend the rest of her life drooling in the corner of a closed ward, finger-painting.

^^^^^

It hadn’t always been this way. Once magicians had been an accepted, if not welcome, part of society. The Magic War was hundreds of years in the past, but the results had echoed down the years into the present. The old saw about bad apples still applied.

Time to try out some of Claudia’s tutoring before a passing patrol sensed what she had done. Gloria let her hands continue working the bread dough on autopilot. She let her mind drift until she could sense the magic crackling in her skin, vibrating in her bones, and even curling off the end of each hair. When she had the feeling solidly nailed down, she sucked it all into her hands and grounded it to the earth.

The sense of magic vanished. It worked! She smiled happily. It was the first time she had successfully used one of Claudia’s techniques on her own. Maybe now she wouldn’t have to worry so much about getting caught.

The happy, proud feeling faded as she realized the bread dough she was working felt odd.

She opened her eyes and looked down to find her hands buried to the wrist in the finest cake she had ever seen.

^^^^^

Every other baker and apprentice in the shop saw it too, a multihued, multi-tiered swirl of impossibly delicate buttercream butterflies and roses. Gloria licked a finger and found the rich filling studded with blackberries and pears. She smiled in spite of herself. She knew she was screwed, but at least she was going down in style.

Gloria looked up; her coworkers were staring at her with terror in their eyes. She wondered how many seconds it would take before someone would start to scream, how many minutes after that until a patrol arrived with their magic-damping nets and their wands set to stun. She wondered whether finger-painting would turn out to be fun.

A deafening blast of dance music rent the air. Gloria grimaced along with everybody else, involuntarily shutting her eyes against the pain. When she opened them again, the cake was just an ordinary lump of bread dough again, and everyone else had gone back to work as if nothing had changed.

“Babe, that was one crazy spell you threw there,” she heard someone say. “Don’t ever do that in here again.”

She turned and found Tony standing next to her.

“And stop frying my radio, hear?”

^^^^^^

(cake & photo by Carrie Gunther, Wooster, Ohio)

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