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Random Acts of Magic

Amy Clare Fontaine is a wandering wildlife biologist and a wildly imaginative writer. She is the author of Fox Spirit: A Two-Tailed Adventure, an interactive fantasy novel from Choice of Games which won the Leo Literary Award for Novels. Her short fiction has been published in Cosmic Roots and Eldritch Shores, Zooscape, and other magazines and anthologies. She hopes to instill in her readers a sense of wonder and a new awareness of the wildness within themselves. You can find more of her work at amyclarefontaine.com.

Sadie is playing in the sandbox at the park the day she casts her first spell.
"Mommy, look!" she cries, her chubby five-year-old fingers sticky with crumbs of clumped sand. "I did magic!"
Mommy looks at Sadie's castle: the moat, the ramparts, the pennants snapping in the wind. She squeals with delight, lifting Sadie up and hugging her tightly.
"Oh, sweetheart! It's beautiful!"
Sadie giggles as Mommy twirls her through the air.
"My magician!" Mommy sings, covering her cheeks with kisses. "My little magician!"
Sadie beams from ear to ear, laughing and waving her arms like a fledgling taking flight.
After that morning in the park, Sadie finds magic everywhere. In kindergarten, she brings galaxies to life with her crayons. In first grade, she turns popsicle sticks into trees. In second grade, she converts her classroom into a tiny ocean using a paper cup filled with tap water. After Mrs. Macintosh's hair gets wet and sharks nibble the teacher's toes, she tells Sadie to please practice her magic only at recess.
From then on, Sadie's school days are mostly spent waiting, fidgeting in her seat. When the bell rings for recess, she bursts out the door like a river bursting its dam, running to the field.
She delights the other children, summoning trumpeting elephants from lumps of soil and soaring swans from blades of grass. With a few special words, she turns kids playing on the swings into swallows as they go up and back into people when they come down.
One day, a snake Sadie makes from a jump-rope rears up and bites her best friend Marcy on the knee. Marcy only returns to school after three days in the hospital. Sadie is scared and heartbroken. The principal forbids her from using magic at school ever again.
Recess grows quiet and solemn, a funeral march for what used to be.
Eventually, Sadie goes to high school. It's much bigger than her elementary school. Her mother moved the two of them to this larger town hoping Sadie would feel more welcome here and find friends like herself.
Sadie does not find friends. Sadie is no longer special. Almost everyone does magic here, even some of the teachers. Sadie's magic is not as good as theirs. When she creates ponies, they craft unicorns. While she builds a nest, they birth an entire murmuration of starlings.
In fact, Sadie finds out that she has been doing many spells all wrong. She works hard to correct them, all the while secretly hoping to rekindle that feeling she had in the sandbox when she was five.
She never does.
Later, Sadie attends college. She earns a degree in Magical Theory and Practices, then gets a job in the Big City and moves there. She learns that magic is meant to be difficult, that the only respectable kind comes from hard work and suffering. She decides that she is terrible and her magic is, too. The only way she can get ahead is by clawing her way to the top.
Sadie starts cutting herself at night, saving the blood in jars so she can pour it into her work in the morning. After all, magic is no good unless you bleed.
Her mother's funeral happens on a full moon night. Afterwards, Sadie comes home and changes clothes. She cuts up the lacy black dress she was wearing earlier into triangles, then folds those triangles into bats. They flutter upwards and hang from the ceiling, blinking down at her as she writes a letter to her landlord. She stuffs it in an envelope with her monthly rent and leaves it on the kitchen table.
Sadie exits the apartment, turning and waving to the bats. They follow her down the street like a dark cloud.
Barefoot, she walks through the city, over concrete and cigarette butts and broken glass. At last, she reaches the freeway overpass.
She lifts her arms, as she used to lift them to ask her mother to pick her up. Lifts her arms and asks the bats to carry her down into the traffic below, to kill her without harming anyone else. She is disciplined now, so very disciplined and precise. What happened to Marcy has never happened since.
Obediently, the bats lift Sadie up. But they don't carry her down into traffic. Instead, they rise hundreds of feet into the air. Only then do they pull her northward, following the path of the freeway far below. She struggles against them, but to no avail. They are out of her control now, like everything else.
The bats carrying Sadie chase the freeway through the suburbs and out into the countryside. Even from a thousand feet above, the landscape starts to look familiar. The bats remembered the route much better than she did.
Gently, the flock descends, setting her down on her feet in a playground sandbox. Then they dissipate like a puff of smoke.
Sadie looks around at the empty park through a veil of tears. She sinks to her knees in the sand, clutching at it as it slips through her fingers.
And then, quite suddenly, she laughs.
She springs to her feet and dances wildly in the sand. Then she moves to the grass, leaping and prancing, laughing all the while. Flowers spring from her footprints. Rainbow light shimmers across the park in rippling waves. She conjures creatures from dirt and rocks and grass and twigs, and they dance together in a twirling ballet.
At last, out of breath but deeply satisfied, she flops onto her back in the dewy grass, panting with laughter, gazing up at the moon and stars. She blows a kiss to the sky, beaming from ear to ear.
"Thank you, Mommy."
Nowadays, Sadie loves magic again. She is not the best magician in the world--she doesn't need to be. Nor is she a child in a sandbox anymore, yet that child's tender heart still beats in her chest.
She becomes a magic teacher at her old elementary school, helping children unearth their natural gifts. She shares with them the rich joys of a magic without bloodshed.
"Your magic doesn't have to be perfect," she tells her students. "It just has to be yours. That's what makes it special. That's what makes it real."
Their spells get out of hand from time to time, but Sadie doesn't mind.
The End
This story was first published on Friday, March 18th, 2022

Author Comments

This story is a product of my own challenges in defining and navigating my relationship with writing. For me, writing came as naturally and inevitably as breathing; as a child, I was already scribbling stories on the backs of forms my mom brought home from work and stapling them together to make books. This endeavor gave me great joy, as it allowed me to explore my imagination, express myself, and attempt to make sense of the world around me.

As I got older, I started getting my stories published and read by strangers. These developments motivated me to hone my craft, but they also complicated one of the simplest, purest pleasures I have found in life. I am still trying to figure out how to build my professional writing career without losing the childlike sense of fun and excitement that drew me to storytelling in the first place. I hope "Random Acts of Magic" inspires others to hold onto their childhood playfulness and spirit of adventure as they grow, and not to compromise these precious gifts for anything.

- Amy Clare Fontaine
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