Wilhelmina Quigley: Magic School Dropout
by Liese Sherwood-Fabre
Genre: Teen Fantasy
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My spirits were soaring by the time I entered my science class. We had covered basic alchemy in the lower school, and I knew I would do as well in this class as I had in the others. The room was even set up like an alchemy lab with high tables and stools.
I handed my papers to the teacher, Mr. Watkins. He looked so much like a gremlin—short and skinny, with very messy hair and a pronounced overbite. I had to cover my mouth with my hand to keep from laughing.
“There’s an empty seat next to Tanner,” he said.
He pointed to a boy sitting alone at one table. The boy raised his head from the book opened in front of him and moved his hand to cover whatever he was reading. I stared back, unable to ignore how much his slim, wiry body made him look like a pixie. They always appeared slightly stretched, and his startled expression only accentuated the resemblance. His light-colored hair, while not silver, completed the image.
“Let’s go over the concepts you read about in your lesson last night.” Mr. Watkins moved to the side of the room and dimmed the lights.
A huge spider appeared out of nowhere in the front of the room, as bright as day and as big as me.
I didn’t realize I was the one who yelped until Tanner whispered to me, “What’s the matter with you?” I glanced about the room. The other students were writing down what the teacher was saying. No one seemed stunned at the giant mandibles aimed directly at us. “It’s only a photo.”
From a darkened corner, Mr. Watkins asked, “Is there a problem, Wilhelmina?”
“N-no, sir,” I said. “I just…I’ve never seen a…picture like that before.”
Mr. Watkins resumed his lecture, but my racing heart made so much noise, I couldn’t understand anything. When its beat was almost back to normal, another huge picture flashed onto the front wall. This time it was a giant snake. I clamped a hand over my mouth to keep back that scream.
Tanner chuckled under his breath. I could also see he was writing, but not what the teacher was saying.
“How come you’re not taking notes?” I whispered.
“I already know this stuff.”
“What are you writing then?”
“My application to the McIntyre Institute.”
“Wilhelmina?” Mr. Watkins asked. “Can you tell me what kind of snake this is?”
My thoughts raced. Other than “enormous,” I had no idea what to answer. I was glad it was dark enough that no one could see my face burning.
“A cobra,” whispered Tanner.
“A—uh—cobra?” I said out loud.
“Thank you,” Mr. Watkins said. “No more side talking, please.”
“Yes, sir,” I said, and then whispered to Tanner, “Thanks.”
He already had his head bent over the papers on his desk, but he did nod. I opened my notebook and tried to keep up with what the teacher said.
When he finally turned on the lights, I’d learned that the lesson was about predatory animals, but the teacher had left out a lot. Like fire-breathing salamanders and poison-fanged toads. Maybe the next lesson.
Liese Sherwood-Fabre knew she was destined to write when she got an A+ in the second grade for her story about Dick, Jane, and Sally’s ruined picnic. After obtaining her PhD, she joined the federal government and worked and lived internationally for more than fifteen years. Returning to the states, she seriously pursued her writing career, garnering such awards as a finalist in RWA’s Golden Heart contest and a Pushcart Prize nomination. A recognized Sherlockian scholar, her essays have appeared in scion newsletters, the Baker Street Journal, and Canadian Holmes. She has recently turned this passion into an origin story series on Sherlock Holmes. The first book, The Adventure of the Murdered Midwife, was the CIBA Mystery and Mayhem 2020 winner.
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