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The first time I tried my hand at magic, I grew roses out of my nose. This was not my intention. I meant to grow flowers out of the ground, like any normal person would. But I’ve never been normal, and magic is unpredictable, finicky, and dangerous, especially in the wrong hands.
Granny had taught me magic from the cradle. Some grandmothers shower their grandbabies with cuddles and kisses and gumdrops. I got enchantments and spells and potions. Granny knew spells to conjure rain and wind, charms to make things grow or shrink, and enchantments of disguise and trickery. She could brew a potion to clear your mind or clear your stuffy nose. She had elixirs for toothaches, bellyaches, and heartaches, and a special balm for bottom itch. There was no end to the wonders of magic.
There was also no end to the troubles.
When I was five years old, I wanted to grow red roses for Granny’s birthday. Roses, because her name is Rose, and red, because my name is Red. They would be the per- fect gift. I knew I could do it. I had seen Granny grow fat orange pumpkins and juicy red berries straight out of the ground with just a wave of her hands and a few words.
I chose my own words with care.
Red Rose Charm
Sprout and blossom, red, red rose Let your fragrance fill my nose
I felt the tingle of the magic in my fingertips. I gave a flourish of the arm, a flick of the hand, just as Granny did, but nothing happened. I tried again. I spoke louder, flourished grander, and…
A red rose exploded out of my right nostril.
I tried to rub the rose off, but that only made me sneeze, and another rose shot out of my left nostril.
Granny could not stop laughing. You might even say she cackled.
“Granny! Do some-ding!” I sobbed through the roses. I expected her to wave her hands and make the roses disappear. Instead, she ripped them right out of my nose.
“Aaaaouch!” I screamed.
“Thank you for the roses,” said Granny, placing them in a vase on her table. “We can call them booger blossoms.”
“Achoo!” I replied.
Granny laughed for a full five minutes. I sneezed for five hours.
I’ll admit, it was sort of funny, even if it did hurt worse than pixie bites. But I worried that this might be an omen—that the magic was somehow wrong inside me. After the booger blossoms, I decided to stick to practical magic, such as a drying spell. I’d seen Granny do this countless times: just a snap of her fingers and she’d have dripping laundry dry in minutes.
But when I snapped my fingers, no wind came. Just fire. Yes, fire, as in flames. Flaming skirts and blouses and undergarments. In less than a minute, they were cinders and ash.
“Well, they’re certainly dry,” said Granny.
When I was six, I had a friend named Gertie. We were only allowed to play at her house with constant supervision from her mother, Helga. Helga was always worried. She worried Gertie would fall in a well or off a cliff. She worried Gertie would choke on her morning mush. She worried trolls would come in the night and carry Gertie away for their supper. This worrying became problematic when I wanted to take Gertie into The Woods to play.
“Mother says I’ll be eaten by wolves,” Gertie said.
“You won’t,” I said. “I’ve never been eaten by wolves, and I play in The Woods all the time.”
“Don’t you ever get lost? Mother is always afraid I’ll lose my way.”
“I’m never lost. I have a magic path.” Gertie’s eyes got as big as apples. Magic was rare, and my path was something special. It only appeared when I wanted it to, and it led me wherever I wanted to go in The Woods. Surely this would entice Gertie to come with me, but it didn’t. She stepped away from me. Her eyes grew wary.
“Mother says magic is dangerous.”
“My path isn’t dangerous,” I said with indignation. “Granny made it to keep me safe. She made it grow right out of the ground after a bear attacked me and I almost died.” I thought this would impress her. The possibility of death was always exciting, and being able to defy it with magic was even better.
“Mother says your granny is a witch,” said Gertie.
Of course Granny was a witch. I knew that, but Gertie said it like it was a bad thing. Desperation took hold of me. I really wanted to play with Gertie in The Woods. So I did the only sensible thing I could think of. I cast the Worrywart Spell on Gertie’s mother.
Worry’s a wart upon your chin
It spreads and grows from deep within
Make the wart shrink day by day
Send your worries far away
Unfortunately, the spell did nothing to cure Helga’s worries. Instead, she grew a wart on her chin. The wart grew steadily bigger, day by day, until Granny was summoned to remedy my mistake. Needless to say, I wasn’t allowed to play with Gertie anymore—or anyone else—for, in addition to being a worrywart, Helga was also the village gossip. The news spread all over The Mountain.
“She’s a witch,” Helga told the villagers, “just like her grandmother.” She seemed to forget it was Granny who had cured her.
Gertie stopped talking to me, and no one else would even look at me. The magic in me grew hot and sticky. It coated my throat. It stung my eyes. I wished I could swallow it down and make it disappear.
“Don’t worry, Red,” Granny told me. “We all make mistakes. When I was your age, I tried to summon a rabbit to be my pet, and instead I called a bear to the door!”
“No!” I cried. “How did you survive?”
“The bear was actually quite nice. My sister married him.”
“She married a bear?”
“Oh, don’t be ridiculous. He wasn’t really a bear. He was a prince under a spell.”
This did nothing to alleviate my concerns. I didn’t want to marry a bear or a prince.
“All the magic I do is bad,” I said.
“Nonsense, child,” said Granny. “They’re only mistakes. It takes a hundred miles of mistakes before you arrive at your own true magic.”
“But what if my mistakes are too big?”
“No such thing, dear,” said Granny.
But she was wrong. I went on trying spells and charms and potions, and I went on making mistakes. Big ones. Small ones. Deadly ones.
My last mistake was worse than warts, fire, or roses out the nose.