by Gregg Chamberlain
“What have we told you about using magic, young lady?”
Isaac Stern looked down over folded arms at the sullen-eyed face of his eight-year-old daughter, Tabitha. She dropped her gaze first and stared down at her feet, fists clenched at her sides, muttering to herself.
“What was that?” demanded Isaac. “I didn’t hear you.”
“I said, ‘not in public’,” came the reluctant response.
Isaac’s stern look softened just a bit. “Yes, that’s true, but you know very well, Tabitha, that is not what I meant.” He bent slightly at the waist. “Let’s try this again. What have I and your mother also told you about using your magic?”
Tabitha’s head lifted just enough to allow her to look up at her father. “I’m not s’posed to use it on Ezra,” she murmured in reluctant admission
“Uh huh, that’s right—and why?”
Tabitha’s face scrunched up in a show of thinking over the question. Then, at last—“it’s not fair.”
“Exactly.” Isaac straightened and then knelt down, uncrossing his arms and using one hand to lift his daughter’s head by her chin so he could look into her frowning face. “It’s not fair. Not when you both are arguing, and especially not when you two get into a fight with each other. You know very well that Ezra can’t do magic. Your little brother has no defence against your spells unless he remembers to wear his bracer.” Isaac held up an arm to show a small padded leather cuff, inscribed with mystic symbols, bound around his own wrist. “Just like I have to wear one because I have no magic and some of your mother’s relatives do not much like me.”
“But he made me!” protested Tabitha.
Isaac regarded the angry little face of his firstborn and sighed. “Nu? And how, pray tell, could he make you?”
“He dared me!” she retorted, with childish logic.
Isaac scoffed. “He dared you? Really? And I suppose he just whipped off his bracer, flung his arms wide like so–” Isaac held out his own arms in demonstration “—and said ‘Go ahead! Do your worst!’ That’s what happened, I suppose, yes?” He snorted loud his disbelief.
His daughter glared back. “Yes!” She hesitated. “Well, maybe he didn’t ‘zactly tell me to do my worst, but he did dare me, chert voz’mi!”
Isaac’s jaw dropped. He rocked back on his heels. “Tabitha Stern! Where did you learn that word?”
The little girl cowered back, realizing her mistake too late. “Uncle Bodog says it all the time!” she argued.
Isaac took a deep breath. “Your Uncle Bodog is a grownup,” he explained, “and he should still know better than to use that kind of language around children!”
The little girl responded with a slow nod, looking down at her feet. Seeing this sign of contrition, Isaac continued.
“Well, then, we’ll talk about your language later, after your mother gets home. But, young lady,” Isaac held up a warning finger, “don’t imagine for one second that this is forgotten. It’s a reprieve, not a remittance. Remember that!”
Tabitha nodded, still looking at her feet. Isaac nodded, satisfied his daughter understood.
“Your mother and I will also be having something to say to your Uncle Bodog, make no mistake about that! Now then,” he fixed a stern look on the little girl, “have you at least tried to undo what you did?”
A shrug of the shoulders was the only answer he got.
Isaac sighed. “Oy gevalt! And you can’t fix it then, I suppose?”
One little foot twisted back and forth as if trying to dig through the living room carpet. “I tried. I really did,” came a muttered frustrated reply.
Isaac shook his head and sighed again. “Okay, then, well, we’ll just have to wait until your mother returns home. I’m sure she’ll be able to fix everything. But she’s not going to be very happy with you, young la—”
Just then Isaac felt a strong tingling around his wrist, the one wrapped with his protective bracer. He stared, open-mouthed with surprise, at his daughter, now noticing her lips moving silently, and her right index finger pointing towards him.
“Tabitha Elizaveta Hannah Stern! Are you trying to cast a spell on me?”
His daughter’s shoulders hunched, and her index finger dropped, but she said not a word in response.
“You did,” her father accused. “You tried to make me forget about all this, didn’t you?”
Without waiting for an answer, Issac Stern whipped up his still-tingling bracer-bound hand, pointing to the stairway. “Go to your room, young lady! And I mean now! You are confined to your room until your mother gets home. And you’d better be there when she does, if you know what’s good for you!”
Tabitha glared up at her father. She seemed ready to spit but huffed again instead. Turning, she stomped her way to the stairs and kept on stomping all the way upstairs. She disappeared around the landing midway up, but Isaac heard the loud stomping continue up the staircase and along the hallway. Then he heard a door slam shut.
Isaac Stern shook his head and sighed once more. He took out his cellphone.
“Sarah? It’s me, Isaac. Call me back as soon as you can, please. We’ve got a problem. And Sarah, I think we need to rethink this whole ‘home schooling’ plan with you and Tabitha. Maybe we should contact your Aunt Agatha, or Agnes—you know, the one who lives in Manchester—and ask her to see if that exclusive school in England she’s always going on about has any openings for new students. See you soon.”
He tapped the phone off, then thought a moment and reactivated it.
“One other thing, Sarah. You and me need to have a real serious ‘talk’ with your half-brother Bodog about his language when he’s around the kids. I don’t care if the Sivananovitch branch of your family tree is a bit ‘rough around the edges’. I’m not going to have our daughter grow up talking like a Sudbury steelworker. See you soon. Love you. Bye.”
He tucked the cellphone away in a pocket. “It’ll be okay, champ,” he said, turning around. “Mom’ll be home soon and fix everything.”
A disgusted “woof” was the only reply he got. Big sad puppy eyes stared up at Isaac from Ezra’s flop-eared face as the little dog-boy’s snout wrinkled with the effort to hold back tears. His son Ezra nodded then and, with a soft snuffling sigh, shuffled off to go curl up on the chesterfield and wait for Mama to come home and make things all better.
Gregg Chamberlain lives in rural Ontario, Canada, with his missus, Anne, his favourite wisewoman, and their trio of cats, who let the humans think that they are in charge of the household. He looks forward to retirement soon from his community newspaper reporter career so he can focus more time on fiction writing which is his idea of fun. He has several dozen short fiction credits in various venues, including now Abyss & Apex, along with Daily Science Fiction, Apex, Ares, Mythic, and Weirdbook magazines, along with various original anthologies. One story, “This Sword for Hire”, will soon be available as an interactive fiction offering via mobile phone apps from Echoic Mobile Press.