Exzy took the bag with the sandwiches, and when they argued over who was trustworthy enough to tote the wine, he put all the bottles in his bubble.
They all stared at him when he tucked the rod back into the inner pocket of his wizard coat.
“Well, where are these houses?” Exzy looked around at them. “Trust me, you don’t want to drink this stuff out in public.”
Except . . . Stodie, Ferris and Larry must have been kidding me about the instant orgy stuff. I mean, they were just playing another stupid trick.
When I get home, I’m going to live in the Fast Room. I already caught up a year, last year. I can get older than they are and, and . . . Drat. They’re so much older than I am, and I don’t want to spend a whole five years inside the Fast Room, just to wind up in the same class with them.
But maybe I’ll sleep there, just so I get old enough to grasp power a little bit faster.
The winos all complained and whined, and wanted the wine now, and no they didn’t want a sandwich first . . . and they turned down a street between a laundromat and a boarded-up restaurant and suddenly they were walking past old houses, small, packed pretty close together. Lots of trash and beat up cars.
“That one’s boarded up, we could . . .”
“No!” Exzy hustled past, cold chills up and down his spine. “Not that one! Trust me!”
But I haven’t grasped power. I shouldn’t . . . feel things.
Three houses later another boarded up wreck just looked tired.
They all looked at him.
He nodded. “This one’s good.”
Ruby manhandled her cart up the cracked driveway and frowned at the boarded up door.
Baldy and Black Coat walked around the side and found a gate to the back yard and jimmied open a door. Once they were all inside—including Ruby’s cart—Exzy brought out the wine, and a corkscrew. While the winos opened bottles, sampling them, Exzy dug though his magpie collection of “things that will be handy someday” and found the little flask. The Wine of the Gods and the Elixir of Long Life. Plus a few other things the Rip Crossers had thought up and added. No telling, really, what this particular batch had in it.
Ruby snatched the first bottle he anointed. “Is that all? Maybe you should put more in.”
“Nope it’s magic, it spreads and takes over the whole bottle.” Exzy finished up the last bottle, as the other held theirs out. He capped the flask and dropped it back in his bubble. “Right. There’s the first wish. It’ll take a bit of time to make you look younger, but it will work.”
Ruby took a gulp from hers. “Heh. This tastes like fancy wine, not cheap plonk. How much did I pay . . . for . . .” She broke into a sweat, and turned to look at Black Coat who was looking poleaxed . . . and met her gaze. And then they started kissing.
And the other ones were too!
“Holy One! It does! . . . I’m outta here before it gets nasty!” Exzy grabbed the bag of sandwiches and hustled out the back door. “I don’t believe that! Ick!”
The back yard was pretty dark, a full moon was just rising, but the big tree, even though it was winter bare, made the yard look darker. But it was a nice tree. Exzy picked his way across the messy yard, dragged something he thought belonged on a car over to the tree and leaned it so he could climb it and reach the lowest branch. He swarmed up higher and found a comfortable perch.
He munched on a sandwich and watched the full moon rise. “I wish I was like Arno. He got Dad’s X chromosome, so he can use gravity. I got Mom’s Oner X so I may not ever be able to gather enough power to do dimensional stuff.”
It was getting noisy, inside the house. Lots of laughing, an occasional crash and shriek.
Exzy ignored them. “Ryol can do it too, even though she’s a girl . . . Well, all right, I know witches are supposed to use gravity. Not very many boys can. But my dad, and grandad and brother, and three half-brothers can. So I ought to be able to do it, just like Arno does. He just reaches out,” Exzy reached out into the streaming moonlight, “and pinches a bit of power and uses it.” He pinched.
“Owwww!” Hot white spots on his thumb and first finger. “Yip . . .” he lost his balance and fell off the branch. Crashed past three more branches on the way down. Grabbed the last one long enough to swing around and hit the ground feet first, even if he did sprawl flat on his back on the ground afterwards.
He laid there staring at the two bright spots. They weren’t really hot.
He rolled over and as he put his hands down to shove back to his feet, the spots soaked into the dirt.
“No, no, no, no, no! Come back!” But they were gone. But . . .
“I grasped power! I grasped power!” He leaped up and danced around, tripping over things in the unmown grass, and laughing so loud he couldn’t hear the party going on inside.
He finally calmed down and plunked down on the ground beside the bag of sandwiches he’d dropped, probably while he was falling out of the tree. He shoved them into his bag to keep them fresh, took a deep breath to finish calming down and got up. Walked out from under the tree to where he had a clear view of the moon. The light poured down on him, and hidden in it, a deep pull. He reached and took a tiny little pinch. A bright speck glowed between his thumb and finger.
It wasn’t a fluke. I am now a magician.
He wandered back to the tree and curled up between the big roots that broke the surface and stared at the little spark until he fell asleep.
He woke up in the bright morning light to the sound of someone barfing.
He peered around the tree. Black Coat . . . not wearing anything at all, let alone a long black coat.
Eww! I’m staying out here until they all get dressed.
He pulled a sandwich out of his bubble, and munched while he looked around the yard. Not that there was much to see. The big tree, a lot of trash and a fence that was missing a lot of boards. He stuck his head through a gap in the side fence on the garage side. A narrow side yard to the wall of what he guessed was the garage of the next house, a couple of smelly garbage cans, and a faucet on the wall with a coiled hose attached.
Exzy pulled his head out of the hole and looked back at the wall of “his” garage. Yep, a faucet. He trotted over to it and strained to turn the handle. It gave suddenly . . . and nothing came out of the faucet.
Nobody lives here. The water must be turned off at the main or something.
He trotted to the back door and peeked in. No one in sight. Scattered clothes and two empty wine bottles. He snatched the bottles and bolted back outdoors at the sounds of movement further back in the house. He slipped through the fence and filled the bottles with water, and drank his fill from the hose. He turned it off and coiled it neatly.
There was lots of moaning from down a hallway, Exzy unwrapped a sandwich and cut it up into little slices and left it on the counter on the wrapping paper, with the two bottles of water.
Really, the back yard was the best place to be, until all the old people recovered.
He poked his head through a hole in the back fence, and was surprised to see a big drainage ditch instead of another back yard. Ten feet deep . . . Meters! Use meters, like in school! Three meters deep and wider than that. He swung a loose board out of the way and stepped through. There was just a bit of mud and a couple of puddles down in the bottom. Across the ditch, a chain link fence and a parking lot for some apartments. Along the ditch, more fences on this side, down to a street crossing over the ditch to his right, and to his left it curved out of sight.
“Genie! Genie! Where are you?”
“Back here!” He yelled, then climbed back through the hole. He trotted over to where a greenish looking Ruby was squinting around. “Umm, my name is Exzy Wolfson, by the way. And you’re Ruby?”
Exzy shrugged. “I just got out of the way.” He looked around as the rest of them gathered.
“I’m Queenie White.” The dark one tucked a strand of purple hair behind an ear. “That’s Cherry Blossom Huang.”
“George Grissom.” Black Coat grunted.
Baldy burped. “I’m Paul Wood.”
“James Todd. Jimmy.” The other guy squinted through thick glasses, pulled them off and looked around. “Huh, that’s weird.”
“I think you’re supposed to drink lots of water, for a hangover. Maybe eat a little.” Exzy pointed to the counter, then ducked back into the bedrooms—one small, two tiny—and picked up the other wine bottles. Two of them had a bit of wine left in the bottoms. He poured one into the other, and found a cork to seal it with.
“So how come I’m just hungover like usual, instead of young and pretty?” Ruby frowned at him as he disappeared the bottle.
“That takes a little while. You’ll start feeling a whole lot better in just a couple of days.” Exzy looked around. “Then we’ll start working on the rich part of your wish. If you guys are feeling well enough, I think we should go shopping. You need new clothes. And a bath. And wasn’t there a laundromat on the corner?”
“Shopping?” Ruby sounded like it wasn’t something she did much of. Actually, she looked like it too. “I s’ppose we could step aroun’ to the Goodwill.”
They straggled gradually out the back door and through the gate to the front yard.
Brakes squealed as a car pulled up to the curb and rocked to a halt. A big fat man leaped out, huffing and angry. “What are you doing here? Three different neighbors called to complain. You can’t . . . this isn’t a vagrants’ crash pad! I’m not letting anyone squat here, you got that? I’m trying to sell this house!” He stomped over into the weeds and picked up a sign on a stake and tried to get it to stand up on the hard dry ground.
Exzy looked from the derelict house to the derelict people. They need homes. Or at least “Crash Pads.” They could start here. “How much do you want for it? It’s kind of a mess. Actually it’s a big mess.”
“Sixty thousand dollars.” The man crossed his arms . . . then frowned down at him. “You’re just a kid.”
Exzy ignored that last. “Sixty! For that! I mean, if you repaired it and painted it. Hauled away all the trash and landscaped it, maybe you could get thirty.”
“Hey! It just needs a little sprucing up! It’s a do-it-yourselfer’s dream home.”
“Oh.” What was that term Mom used about her Paris house when she bought it? “If you’re selling it as is, six thousand. Maybe.”
“Six! That’s robbery.”
Ruby hissed, “What are you doin’?”
“Negotiating. Might go eight thousand. Cause of all the money we’d have to put into it.” What else does Mom complain about . . . oh yeah. “Are you up to date on the taxes?”
The guys shuffled a bit. “Well . . . I could go as low as twenty thou.”
“Listen Genie . . .”
“Exzy. Don’t worry, Grandmother.” Exzy grinned at her. “You just got that ten thousand dollars, from the insurance.” He gave her a big wink.
“Well . . .” She looked back at the house. “It’s a wreck.”
The fat man was looking excited, suddenly.
Ha! Yeah, now that he thinks Ruby has actually got cash, he’s ready to deal.
“I looked at the bank statement yesterday, Grandmother. You can go twelve thousand, and not a penny more.” Exzy looked back at the fat guy. “If you want to sell it for twelve thousand, get the paperwork together, and we’ll meet you back here in three days.”
He took Ruby’s elbow and led her away. “C’mon, Grandmother, shopping, remember.”