The Books of Magic: Fever of Death, Chapter 1: Spores of Madness

by CSyphrett and Martin Maenza

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Continued from Swamp Thing: What Friends are For

The morning sun rose over Grimoire Island in the South Pacific, home to a very special school, the Grimoire Academy of Applied Knowledge. The students struggled to get ready for another day of learning, as did the teachers and staff. Two people, however, were already well in the midst of their morning routines as the others were just wiping the sleep from their eyes.

One was Adam Frankenstein, the jaundiced, scarred groundskeeper. The gentle giant, whose appearance in any ordinary setting could easily incite whole villages to riot, lumbered happily along the path. He tossed large handfuls of grain and other foods to the animals of the bestiary.

“Here you go, little ones,” he said. Small furry creatures and brightly feathered birds scurried around the grass, vying for their breakfast. “Don’t push, now. There is plenty for all.” He tossed some more grain out.

The other was Gareth Gallowglass, headmaster of the school. He was starting his morning tour in the Memorial Park as he always did, come rain or shine. From this solemn point, marked by the seven statues of forgotten heroes, he would tour the island to make sure things were secure and in place for the coming day.

Most knew not to bother the man this early in the day. He preferred to do this duty in silence, though inevitably he was forced to discipline some wayward child as they broke one of the many school rules.

Rose Psychic saw from her bedroom window that the headmaster was passing by the bungalows inhabited by the faculty. She held her breath silently as she watched him come toward her building and then continue onward. Only then did she let the air out of her lungs in a sigh of relief. I hate to deal with him this early, she thought to herself. A woman deserves to have her morning coffee first.

Leaving her room, Rose called out, “Abby, I’m taking the shower now, if that’s all right with you.” She waited for a moment but got no reply. Odd. Maybe she went out for another early jog?

Poking her head around the corner, Rose noticed that the door to Abby’s bedroom was ajar. The room was well-lit from sunlight coming through the opened curtains, so she doubted Abby was still asleep. “Abby!” she called out, knocking on the doorframe. But there was no response.

Cracking open the door, she looked in, and a frown crossed her face. Abby’s bed was perfectly made up. That’s not like her, she thought. Then something else caught her eye. The closet door in the corner was open, but nothing was inside when she examined it. Gone! All of her stuff is gone!

Rose thought the whole thing was curious, especially in light of Abby’s outburst in the headmaster’s office the other day. Rose had meant to talk with her friend about it, but she had thought the young woman needed some time to put things into perspective. Still, she realized that she had noticed how Abby had gone from being hopeful about her time here, to feeling dissatisfied, and finally to making crazy, unfounded accusations about the school. Rose knew she should have done something about it then, but she’d let it slide. After all, every woman was entitled to a little bit of crazy once a month, and thanks to her eternal youth, Rose Psychic had some seventy years of experience with that time of the month; it had been difficult for her in her twenties and thirties. She had merely thought Abby was going through something similar, but now that she knew she was missing, she realized it was more serious than she’d guessed.

She made it a point to talk to the others after her shower. Perhaps Johnny or Emma might know what was going on. If not, she would have to check with the crusty and disagreeable Belmont or the stern and volatile Gallowglass. She didn’t look forward to either of those prospects.

***

Abby Cable lay in a bed in Houma, Louisiana, the covers discarded to the side as if kicked off violently in the night. She was sound asleep, dressed only a silky short white nightgown.

This had been her first night at home, sleeping in her own bed again. Yesterday had been an exhausting one for her, what with her quick departure from the island and the visit by Adam Strange. She and her friends Chester and Liz had stayed up late into the evening talking, until slumber finally called her.

Now she tossed and turned in her sleep. The fitted sheet on the mattress had come undone at the bottom corner and was wrapped about one ankle. Abby found that her dreams were troubled and incoherent. In them, she felt that she should have been back teaching. After all, her kids depended on her. But she hated that strange place and all of its bizarre, unexplained incidents.

A one-eyed man stepped into her mind, grinning widely. She hated him most of all.

Abby turned over on her side and lapsed further into her dreaming, deep sleep. She had no way of knowing that, when she awoke, she would be an unstoppable force that would rip Houma apart.

***

Headmaster Gallowglass paused at the wooded area he had created for Abby Cable when Liberty had placed her on the payroll. This was where Mrs. Cable was to instruct her botanical studies classes. He glanced about the various species of flora until a strange-looking plant growing among the long grass and trees caught his eye. What’s this? he wondered. He didn’t recognize the species, which was unusual. He thought he had learned of all the natural plants that had ever grown on Earth since the dinosaurs. But this was unlike any that he recalled.

Gallowglass lowered his head to inspect the strange reddish flowers more closely. Suddenly, a cloud of dust encircled his head as if it were expelled by his close proximity to the plant. He staggered back, coughing, as the strange spores invaded his body through his nasal and throat cavities. His one right eye closed with a sharp pain as he tried to regain his footing from the unexpected attack.

Staggering back, he bumped into one of the sturdy tree trunks. He clutched at the bark to get some support before he fell over. No. No. Nooo!

Gallowglass’ eye opened, white hot with fury.

The spores, inside him and out, burned up at his unspoken command. He felt a bit stronger, his breath able to return without a stinging sensation.

Spinning around, he turned his attention to the plant itself. You are the cause! You do not belong here! A small flame marked the plant’s passing as it combusted at Gallowglass’ thought.

The headmaster let his mind wander, to reach out across the island. There are others! the one-eyed man realized, and little fires sprang into existence all over the island. Then, as suddenly as they burned, they vanished. Small puffs of smoke drifted in the air and then slowly vanished in the morning light. Make that were.

Gallowglass did not take kindly to unwanted guests on the island, be they man, animal, or plant.

***

Patricia Ambrose, a first-year girl from Zatara Hall who was commonly called Patsy by her teachers and friends, felt suddenly ill as she changed into her gym clothes. She put her head between her knees for a moment, her blonde hair dangling down to the floor.

“Are you OK?” one of the other girls stopped to ask.

“I’ll be OK in a minute,” said Patsy, still bent over in hopes that it would clear the feeling. “Go on.” The other girl left. Instead, sweat dripped from Patsy’s brow and splattered to the floor.

A wave came over her.

Everyone hates me! she felt. Everyone is jealous of my looks, even that crone, Mrs. Peel!

Patsy stood up suddenly. I’ll show them! I’ll show them what Patsy can do!

Without saying a word, she stormed from the girl’s locker room. Sweat rolled from her body as she walked unsteadily to where the rest of the girls were lining up to do their exercises.

***

In the boy’s locker room, Joshua Cantrell, one of the third-years, was having much the same problem as Patsy. His face was flushed, and his clothes were ringing with sweat, even though the class had yet to begin.

Gray Murphy stood at his side, feeling his forehead. “You’re burning up, Josh,” Murphy said. “You need to go to the infirmary and see the nurse.”

“I’m OK,” said Josh. “Nothing to worry about.”

“I think you should listen to Murphy,” said Alfred Twitchell, who joined the others. “You’re visibly producing more heat than your body can compensate for.”

“I’m OK, I said!” Josh shouted at his concerned friends. He shoved Twitch back against the wall. The heavier-set boy had the wind knocked out of his lungs for a second.

“Twitch!” Murphy said. “Are you OK?”

“He’s fine! I’m fine!” Josh was showing severe agitation as he spoke.

“I don’t think so!” said Kirk Pike. “Do we have to carry you to the infirmary?”

Timothy Hunter, a first-year, stared at the scene through his wireframe glasses, eyes faraway to something else. He stepped back from the small group instinctively. This isn’t right. A bell had started to sound in his head as he regarded his friend. Josh Cantrell was a relatively new friend of his, one he had gotten to know a lot better recently after following him out to the administration building that night in January. (*) Josh always seems so cool and calm. This isn’t like him at all. And he was denying how he felt. Josh was always the calmest one of the group, too. Now he looked ready to explode.

[(*) Editor’s note: See The Books of Magic: Curiosity Kills.]

The twelve-year-old student’s instincts told him this was trouble on the hoof, and he trusted the feeling now more than he ever had at home.

***

Patsy Ambrose fell in line beside the other fourteen girls in the class. Sweat dropped from her brow as she tried to stand straight. Her eyes were blurring as she strained to stay focused.

Mrs. Peel, a well-toned woman, went to the front of the class and blew her whistle. “Stretches and calisthenics, ladies!” she called out with a crisp English accent. “And begin…”

All of the group followed the teacher’s lead as she bobbed up and down on toe touches. Emma Peel glanced up at the class and noticed Patsy with a frown. “One-two, one-two…” she continued to count off as she walked to the girl, concern on her face.

“Miss Ambrose, why are you not staying up with the class?” Mrs. Peel asked, one hand feeling the student’s forehead as she knelt. “Are you feeling all right?”

Get away from me!” Patsy suddenly shouted, her small fist lashing out in blind anger.

Mrs. Peel jerked her head to one side, her reflexes fairly well-honed. Patsy’s punch went over her left shoulder. She looked in the child’s eyes and saw something that frightened her. That was no accident!

The instructor twisted, and the girl fell over her hip. Mrs. Peel straightened up and felt a pain on her palms. She looked at them with surprise, seeing redness and burns where she had grabbed Patsy by the arms. “What in the name of–?”

The grass on the field about her smoked as Patsy got her feet under her. She growled in the back of her throat like a cornered dog defending its food from hungry predators. Her hair lifted straight up, due to the heat from the exposed skin on her neck. “Kill you!” she shouted as she charged forward, coronas of light rippling along her hands. “I’ll kill you all!

“Everyone back!” Mrs. Peel waved the other girls away as she waited for Patsy to come closer. Not sure what’s happening here, but it doesn’t look good! She brought her injured hands close to her body to protect them from further harm.

***

“I’m fine! Sheesh!” Josh Cantrell pushed the other boys away away. He staggered into a locker, shaking his head.

“Get Mr. Peril, Twitch,” Kirk Pike ordered as he took Josh by the arm.

“No!” shouted Josh. “Kami Nomi Kai!

At that, the young teenager grew a foot taller and fifty pounds heavier. He shook Kirk’s hand off as he went for Alfred Twitchell with a shout. His hands closed on air as Kirk tripped him, and Twitch stepped out of the way as smoothly as if he had known what was going to happen.

Tim Hunter stepped to the door and took down the fire extinguisher hanging by the door as Josh got to his feet. His eyes were as blank as a thousand-yard stare as he pulled the pin on the canister.

***

Mrs. Peel and Patsy Ambrose faced off as the other girls looked on from a distance. The teacher pulled the sleeves of her long, jersey-like shirt down over her hands to act as makeshift gloves. This will have to do! Emma thought.

The berserk Patsy growled and began to swing at her with all of her might. The first two shots were wide, but as they continued, they were getting a bit more accurate. Heat from the girl’s hands tugged at the woman as she avoided the blows with ease.

This isn’t natural. This is supernatural! she thought. It has to be! It was the only explanation the instructor could reach. The question was, could she put a stop to it before anyone was seriously injured?

Mrs. Peel waited for an opening. The young girl took a swing and moved too far to her right on the recovery. That was the opening the instructor needed.

She then kicked Patsy to the ground with a sweeping blow that took the young girl’s legs out from under her. Sorry, honey, Emma thought. Not fair play, I know, but desperate times call for desperate measures!

Emma fell upon the girl, thankful she was wearing long sweatpants rather than shorts like she often did. Still, she could feel the heat coming through. Like a Mediterranean beach in August, she thought.

Smoke rose from Patsy’s exercise clothes as she squirmed on the ground.

If Mrs. Peel was amazed by Patsy’s new strength, it didn’t faze her as she was bucked off the girl’s back. The instructor slid back into a ready fighting stance, hands up in her sleeves. “I can keep this up all day, Patsy,” Emma lied. “How about you?”

The girl roared and charged her.

Mrs. Peel stepped aside and let the girl tumble to the ground. That’s right! Emma thought. Get good and cross, so you make a mistake!

The combatants did not notice the arrival of Adam Frankenstein on the scene. One of the young girls had run off before the fighting started to seek help. “There they are!” the girl cried to the impressive man. “Can you help?”

Adam noticed the smoke and smelled the singed grass. “I think so,” he said. Stepping between the two combatants, he scooped Patsy up in his scarred arms. Her touch burned at his flesh, but he seemed to be able to ignore the pain. I’ve experienced worse, he thought to himself.

He rushed the child, who kicked and screamed and bit in his arms, over to the side of the building that housed the lockers. He knew just what to do.

Despite his slow manner, Adam was capable of quick thinking and faster movement. He brought Patsy to a faucet that hung on the side of the building and pulled the chain. The faucet was usually reserved for cleaning off equipment or cleats after a messy sporting event. But it would serve the purpose he needed.

Adam ignored the cold water as it showered down, drenching his shirt, pants, and shoes. He was more concerned about getting Patsy Ambrose under the rushing flow. She screamed as the water hit her, followed by the hissing sound of some of the water being turned to steam. As the sound started to subside, Adam knew he had succeeded.

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