The story below is a winner from our Fiction Fantastic Young Writers Contest, open to all youth in Lane County. For more information on this contest, including how to enter, visit here. Support this program with a donation.
You can purchase this story in the 2021 Winners Anthology, A New Story Rises here.
“Alice and the Academy of Magic” by Eli Bishko, Ridgeline Montessori Public Charter School
First Place, Elementary Category, 2021
Alice and the Academy of Magic
By Eli Bishko
Snap! A branch snapped between a young girl’s feet. Twelve-year-old Alice and her older brother, Samuel, were playing hide-and-seek in the forest of Landmere with other kids from the village. The forest stretched on for many miles. The twig that she stepped on made a loud noise, and sure enough, the seeker, her younger neighbor Rose, found her hiding behind some thorn bushes. Rose almost always dressed in crimson red, and was pretty, but could also be thorny like a rose.
“Found you!” Rose wasn’t very good at hide-and-seek, so she was very excited whenever she found somebody. “You’re it!”
Alice started to count to 100.
When Alice opened her eyes, there was no one to be seen. Alice wandered around. Everyone was hidden very well, and Alice had no luck. Eventually, she came to a clearing and something caught her eye. It looked like an old structure, crumbling, with ivy growing over the walls. There was a hole in the front of it that could have been a doorway. Although the body of it was made of stone, the top of it was wood that was clearly rotten.
“Well, I guess a quick look wouldn’t hurt.” As she got closer, the wall had some sort of engraving. The roof was so overgrown, someone would think it was made of ivy if they didn’t look close enough. Alice was very intrigued.
The night sky was beginning to darken, and the first stars could barely be seen. She called out to her friends, but they all had left and gone back to the village. At this time of night, the forest was dangerous. It was no wonder all the other kids had left. Beasts roamed. Sorcerers and sorceresses whose souls have turned as dark as night lurked. She could hear all the different animal sounds echoing through the trees. Nevertheless, she kept moving forward. She wasn’t scared of the creatures. She wanted to explore that old structure. Something seemed to be pulling her toward it.
Suddenly, Alice heard lots of leaves rustling and twigs snapping directly behind her, and a ginormous boar came trampling through the underbrush. Alice screamed and covered her face with her hands.
“Get back!” she gasped. The boar paid no attention and started to charge directly at Alice. She closed her eyes and braced herself. Then, out of nowhere, her hands start to burn up. It felt like she was holding hot, burning charcoal.
An explosion knocked her back. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the boar get launched against a rock. Alice slowly got up from the ground and brushed dirt off. It took a few moments for what happened to sink in. She gasped and realized the unbelievable.
“I have magic!” she whispered to herself.
She rushed over to the boar and put her hand over its heart, but could hardly feel anything. She heard a giant blast come from the old building. She rushed out of the woods, fearing dark magic might be close. She got home just in time for dinner. She acted as if nothing was wrong when her mother asked why she was back so late.
She got very little sleep, and woke to a scream. Her family was standing outside in front of their garden beds.
“What? What happened?” Alice asked.
Samuel answered. “Mom came out to get food for breakfast, and . . .”
The garden beds that were once bursting with fruits and vegetables were barren and dry. Somehow, overnight, there was some sort of a drought. All the other people in the village were just discovering what had happened.
“It must be black magic,” Alice’s mom muttered.
Alice could see that everyone else was starting to realize that, too. As they looked around, it became clear that it wasn’t only the gardens that were affected by the sudden famine. All sources of food were depleted and gone.
The day was a blur. Villagers scrounged for any food source. A court meeting was scheduled the next day to decide if the magic community, called “Darkbloods,” was to blame for the famine. Alice’s mother would go. That was the second night Alice hardly got any sleep.
Early the next morning, Alice’s mom left for the court hearing. The whole family was very nervous, but for different reasons. Her family actually wanted magic people to be banned. She knew she had to hide that she had magic.
Alice’s mom came home with a smile on her face. “It’s official. All Darkbloods are being banished into the woods tonight. The King’s Guard is going door to door.”
“How do they know who has magic?” Alice asked.
“I’m sure they have their ways,” her mom answered, and sure enough, that night, the soldiers came to her house.
Alice’s mother said, “We don’t affiliate with Darkbloods.”
“Oh, we know. We just want to check,” a soldier responded.
“How can you tell who has magic?” Alice asked.
The soldier threw a big rock at Alice’s face. Alice screamed and covered her face with her hands. Unfortunately, she accidentally blasted the rock with fire. Her mom screamed so hard and fell down.
“That’s how we know,” a soldier said. He didn’t seem to have a bit of sadness that a girl was being taken away.
The soldiers grabbed Alice by the arms and dragged her out of her house. She looked back at her family. Samuel and her dad were glaring at her as if she had just murdered someone, and her mother had fallen into hysterics.
Her neighbors were staring and whispering about her. “Alice? Really?” “Now there’s no one we can trust!” “Tsk, Tsk.”
The soldiers led Alice to the edge of the forest and threw her in, their crossbows pointed at her neck. The soldiers must not have thought she was going fast enough, because Alice felt an arrow zip by her head. Alice rushed into the forest, where she met a dozen or so other kids.
“Hey, where are all the adults?” she asked.
“Don’t you know?” the boy next to her said. “They were all led away and executed. Only kids survived. The King thought we were less of a threat.”
Alice couldn’t believe what she was hearing. She thought that banishing everyone was bad enough. She thought of something. “Wait. If they’re banishing us into the forest, how can they prevent us from coming back to the village?”
“They kept a very old sorcerer, and they’re making him build a magic wall that only humans can walk through, but not us,” the boy said. “I’m Juan, by the way.”
“What should we do? We can’t just stay here, waiting for predators to come and get us,” Juan said.
Alice thought of the old building she found the other day. “I know where we can go. Follow me.”
“Where?” a girl said, stepping forward. Alice almost fainted when she saw who it was.
“ROSE?” she yelled. “You have magic?!?”
“Yeah. I first discovered it a few years ago when I accidentally ripped a tree out of the ground when I was trying to climb it,” Rose said.
Alice explained about the building, and they all headed in the direction, but when they got there, it was gone, not a single trace of it.
“I guess we should just look for other places we can stay,” Juan said. “No point in staying around here.” He glanced at Alice as he said this. Juan didn’t seem like the kid that got really angry at stuff like this. Instead of staying mad at the problem, he would go off searching for a solution.
For a week, the group of kids wandered around the forest looking for places to stay. They survived on water from the kids who could harness the elements, and berries from small shrubs.
They couldn’t get much sleep, because the forest was a dangerous place. They had to sleep in shifts, some sleeping and others keeping guard.
One day, they were walking along a stream of water when a jaguar jumped out of the bushes and pounced on a kid in the back. The others tried to blast it, but it jumped out of the way, and carried the kid with it. They tried to follow, but it was too far gone. That night, they held a funeral for their deceased friend. One kid was fighting back tears.
The next day, that kid, Benny, ran away into the underbrush. He came back a few hours later with the carcass of the jaguar. That night, they ate the whole jaguar. All that was left was the bones, which they made into spears and bow and arrows. They learned how to hunt and find food.
Eventually, they came to a new clearing. Here was the building Alice found all that time ago. But it was ginormous now, and looked like a school. It was no longer made of crumbling brick. It was painted bright green. Alice wondered if that blast she heard was what transformed the crumbling structure to this.
A woman walked out of the doors. She had hair as red as a raging fire. Her eyes, on the other hand, were bluer than the oceans. She carried a staff and on the top was a brilliant purple diamond.
“Hello, children. This is the Academy of Magic.”
Of course, the children weren’t just going to walk into a stranger’s “Academy of Magic,” especially not in the forest.
“Who are you?” Juan asked.
“I am Mistress Minque. I escaped the executions, and I came here and built this for all of you. I knew you would be banished.”
“Then how did you make this in such a short time?” Benny asked.
She didn’t. It was already built, Alice thought. She could see Rose also realized that.
“I’ve practiced building structures for a very long time. Under my teaching, you may also become capable of doing that,” she responded.
Many of the kids were intrigued by this. Mistress Minque didn’t seem too scary, and the kids really didn’t want to spend any more time out in the forest. Mistress Minque led them all to bedrooms, for it was the middle of the night. Each room was themed like nature. Alice’s room was covered in moss, the bed made out of moss, too.
For the first time in a while, Alice actually got a good night’s sleep. She dreamt she was wandering alone in the forest, when she saw a building. It said The School of Magic on it. But when she walked up, her body was trapped inside a statue of herself. Then, the school fell into a sinkhole, only to rise again as an enormous statue of Mistress Minque. Alice jolted awake with sweat pouring down her face. She tried to go back to sleep.
In the morning, all the kids walked around their new home. There was one classroom in the center of the building. Around the center, dorm rooms where the students slept, and other places, like the Headmistress’s personal study.
In the morning, Alice told Juan, Rose, and Benny about the dream she had the night before. Juan and Benny didn’t pay much attention.
“It’s probably just your imagination,” Benny said.
“Yeah,” Juan agreed.
The only one who paid attention was Rose.
“I believe you, Alice,” Rose said. “I really don’t trust Mistress Minque.”
Just then, a voice rang through the halls. “Attention students,” Mistress Minque announced. “Please go to Magic Skills right now. It is in the center classroom.”
The students made their way to the classroom. Mistress Minque was there waiting.
“Today we will explore what a Magic Skill is,” she said.
Benny raised his hand. “Isn’t a magic skill a magician’s, like, signature thing?”
“Exactly!” Mistress Minque said. “Some magicians are great at sneaking around, some can read minds, and some can harness the elements. Today we will be finding out what your skill is.”
Everyone was very excited for this. None of them knew how to channel their magic.
“Excuse me,” Alice said. “How do we figure our skill out?”
“See this orb?” Mistress Manque pointed to a crystal ball on her desk. “This is a skillstone. You put your hand on it, and it shows what your skill is. Why don’t you go first, Alice?”
Alice stepped up to the strange orb. She rested her hands on it and closed her eyes. Suddenly, the classroom became covered in moss and green leaves. Mushrooms sprouted from the tables, and a little mouse ran around the floor. The second she took her hands off the orb, all of that disappeared.
“Ah,” Mistress Minque said. “Your skill is your connection with nature. You may sit.”
Different people found their skills. Rose could heal people, Jose could control the elements, and Benny could camouflage himself and be practically invisible.
Right before the end of class, Alice asked Mistress Minque what her magic skill was. She said quickly, “Oh, look, it’s the end of class, you are dismissed.” This made Alice suspicious, and she decided to investigate. She ran down the halls to the Headmistress’s personal study. The door creaked open as Alice tip-toed in. Whenever she heard someone coming, she would duck behind a table.
A strange-looking book caught her eye. It had a leather cover with a title the color of emerald: Enslaving Magicians: The Painful Way, Vol. 3. Alice gasped and stepped back. “Mistress Minque is going to enslave us?!” Alice grabbed the book and rushed back to her dorm.
She burst through the doors and showed the book to her friends, who were just as shocked as she was.
“I knew it!” Rose exclaimed.
“We have to stop her!” Juan said.
“But how?” Benny said. “We’re just kids, and she’s a full-on evil sorceress!”
“We outnumber her,” Alice said. “If we get everyone in the Academy to join in, we might be able to defeat her!”
Benny got the word out, and everyone came to their dorm room.
“Hey, where is everyone else?” Juan asked.
“Uh, yeah, about that . . .” an older kid said. “Some kids didn’t believe us. They said ‘How dare you talk about our master that way!’”
Alice showed everyone the book she nabbed.
The older kid said, “She already enslaved those kids!”
“I guess we will do,” Rose sighed, a pang of uncertainty in her voice.
That night, eleven young magicians walked up to Mistress Minque’s private study. The plan was to knock on the door politely, and when she answered, they would hit her with everything they had. However, the kids she already brainwashed were there. So when they knocked on the door, it opened showing an evil sorceress and five children ready to blast them. HARD.
“Get down!!” Alice screamed.
The first blast ripped through the air.
“Oh, and just for the record, I cause the famine,” Mistress Minque said before she set one unfortunate child on fire.
Alice and the others saw an opening and dashed inside. Rose stayed back trying to heal the burnt child.
Juan, Benny, and Alice fended off the brainwashed children. Everyone else was fighting Mistress Minque. Alice shot thorns out of her hands, and they wrapped around one of the evil children. But before she could deliver the fatal blow, she wondered if they could be turned back.
Mistress Minque must have seen that she was wondering that and shouted: “Don’t even try. Once they are brainwashed, they can’t go back.”
She grabbed Rose by the throat and threw her against the wall.
“Rose!” Alice yelled. “I’m sorry,” she muttered under her breath before crushing the evil child under a mountain of thorns. She ran to Rose.
“C’mon,” Alice said.
Mistress Minque tried to burn Alice, but she jumped out of the way. Suddenly, she saw a lightning bolt launched from a kid in the corner. She blocked her face and made a layer of moss so thick the lightning couldn’t get to her. She passed a frozen spear of ice right through the kid.
Right after he died, he was suddenly brought back to life. Alice gasped and saw Mistress Minque bringing all of the fallen brainwashed kids back. She realized why Mistress Minque didn’t say what her Magic Skill was. It was bringing the dead back to life, a clear sign of evil.
And just like that, the tides were starting to turn. Alice could see that the brainwashed kids were slowly overpowering them. The only hope of winning was killing Mistress Minque.
Alice ran toward the headmistress and shot fire at her, which she easily dodged. Alice blocked all of Mistress Minque’s blasts with the moss shield. But then, one blast of fire went through. Alice fell backward and Mistress Minque stood over her.
“It’s over,” she said. “Soon you will all die, and I will be all powerful.” Alice didn’t want to believe it, but she could see it was true.
Just as Mistress Minque was about to say something else, a shard of ice went through her head. She fell, and revealed Juan standing behind her, ice in hand. Just as their evil master died, the brainwashed children crumpled to the floor. Juan helped Alice up.
“What next?” he asked.
Alice didn’t know what to say to this question. “Well,” she said. “I think Landmere should hear the whole story.”
They walked out of the building with the other surviving kids. They went out into the forest, and walked all the way back to the village. At first, the soldiers blocked them, but one of the kids had the magic skill of a holographic memory, and he illuminated the trees with an image of Mistress Minque admitting to creating the famine. The magicians were welcomed back into the village, where they dedicated themselves to clearing magic’s name.