The first thing that 10-year-old Charlie Bone noticed was the fire. The fire was pouring out the window of a huge red building just a few feet away from where he was standing.
He was walking home from school one cold November day when he pulled what appeared to be a card out of his pocket. But it wasn’t a regular playing card; in fact, it was a magical card. The card had a fiery F on it. F for fire.
Charlie had carried a huge deck of magical cards with him for as long as he could remember, or when he was two years old. The cards once belonged to his father, Lyell, who inherited them from his great-grandmother, Grace Bloor. The cards told Charlie what was happening and what to do about the situation. Charlie also pulled out an old book of spells, a gift from his Uncle Paton one Christmas. Only he didn’t know how to use the book because all the spells were written in Welsh and he couldn’t read, write, or speak Welsh. Not yet.
F for fire, Charlie stared at the card that was in his hand. How did the card know that there was going to be a fire at the very spot that he was standing at? What was the possibility that there would be a fire to begin with? Charlie knew that the cards were magical, but even he couldn’t help but wonder how the cards just magically appeared in his hand at any given time. It just didn’t seem right.
Charlie looked up and saw that there was a huge red building covered in flames. The fire. He shook his head, trying to determine what had caused the fire in the red building. Was it an accident? Did someone set the fire on purpose? Was it an unattended candle that caused the fire? Charlie frowned as his friend Benjamin Brown pulled him away from the building and they continued down the path towards their homes.
“Charlie,” he said, “you’ve got to stop trying to get yourself involved in every weird thing that goes on around here.”
“I know I should,” said Charlie, “but there’s no way that I can’t avoid this one. And besides, you know how my family is.”
“Indeed I do,” said Benjamin. “They don’t like normal. Only weird. I’m telling you, nothing good is going to come from that at all.”
“Try telling them that,” Charlie laughed at him. “Nevermind; if you do that, I’m sure that they’ll haul you off to some mental hospital someplace.”
“My parents will come after them,” said Benjamin. “You know how they are about crazy people and such.”
“You’re funny,” said Charlie. “Let’s go home.”
Charlie lived on #9 Filbert Street and Benjamin lived in the house that was across the street from him. Benjamin’s parents, Darren and Patricia Brown, were private detectives, which meant that they often worked days and nights investigating cases that could stump even the famed Scotland Yard. More often than not, Benjamin spent most of his time at Charlie’s house.
Today, however, was no different.
Charlie pulled out another card, one that was labeled G. G for grandmother. He knew that his grandmother would be at home, as his mother was at work today.
Only Charlie had two grandmothers, and they lived with him, his mother, and Uncle Paton at #9 Filbert Street. Grandmother Jones was a cheerful woman who loved to cook and liked to be called Maisie. In contrast, Grandmother Bone was a harsh and cold woman, and there was no way that Charlie would dare address her as Grizelda. Plus, Grizelda liked to rudely remind everyone that before she married a pilot named Montague Bone, she was the eldest scion in the Yewbeam family, a family whose roots were shrouded in mystery and magic.
To be honest, Charlie wasn’t even interested in magic at all; not when he preferred science and science fiction to begin with. No matter how much Grizelda had tried to teach him magic, he soon grew bored with the lessons. To him, magic was completely and totally pointless, something that should only be used in fairy tales instead of real life.
Grizelda did not move from her usual spot in her rocking chair by the fireplace; she was knitting yet another jacket for Charlie. She shook her head, remembering the last winter that had happened. The days were very short and the nights were bitter and cold. More than once, Charlie was forced to sleep in his school parka just to keep warm.
Maisie was standing in front of the stove, preparing the meal for tonight. Charlie pulled out another card, S for soup. “Not soup again!” he thought to himself.
Grizelda looked up from her knitting and said, “Is that you coming in, Charlie?”
“Hello, grandmas,” Charlie said in response. Benjamin shook his head. As much as he had known Charlie Bone, he couldn’t understand for the life of him why BOTH Charlie’s grandmothers were living with him. To him, it just didn’t seem right at all.
“It is,” said Maisie. “The good news is that your mother is bringing home some fresh vegetables for tonight’s dinner.”
“Good,” said Charlie. “Anything to wake up the soup.”
“Did anything interesting happen today, Charles?” Grizelda had gotten up from her seat and was now glaring at him.
“I saw a fire today,” said Charlie.
“Indeed,” said Grizelda. “Where was this fire taking place?”
“A huge red building just across the street from the church,” Benjamin snapped by way of speaking.
Grizelda let out a huge huff. Benjamin realized that he was wrong to interrupt and to be snappish and was about to move to apologize to Grizelda, as much as it revolted him to do so, when he and Charlie saw her shaking her head. “I knew it was a bad idea, I just knew it, but that dratted man doesn’t listen to me,” she snapped. “Why, I practically helped raise him!”
“You think he’d know better,” said Maisie.
“Such a shame he’s in charge of the school,” said Grizelda. “Why, if I was in charge, I’d show them all who’s boss. None of this nonsense about stealing those endowed children from their families and such. I should have claimed her when I had the chance!”
“Yet you may get that chance, Grizelda,” said Paton Yewbeam as he walked down the stairs. Charlie pulled out a card, which had a picture of an exploding light bulb. He immediately knew what was up.
“Maisie,” he cried out, knowing that Maisie had the light on in the kitchen. “Light!”
“Indeed,” Maisie frowned as she switched off the light and proceeded to cook the rest of the dinner by lantern. “I do wish that your uncle had a different talent.” Charlie nodded as Paton said, “So do I.”
Paton Yewbeam was endowed with the ability to break any light bulbs. Charlie needed seven pairs of hands to count the number of times that a light bulb in the house had burst because someone wasn’t fast enough to get to the lights before Paton showed up. Paton was twenty years younger than his sister Grizelda and so far, neither of them had gotten along. Not after that incident, that was.
At the same time, Charlie pulled out another card, one that had a picture of a mother on it. His mother would be home soon. “Well, I’m out,” said Benjamin as he headed out the door. “You’re still coming to my party, right?”
“Wouldn’t miss it,” said Charlie. But to be perfectly honest, he knew that he would be the only person at Benjamin’s birthday party, as there were very few people who hung out with him at all. To most of the kids at St. Benedict Primary, Benjamin Brown was a weirdo, someone who wasn’t worth being friends with. Charlie could tell you the number of times that some kid tried to lure him away from Benjamin with false promises of friendship.
Benjamin nodded as he left the house. At the same time, Amy Bone walked into the house. Charlie pulled out another card, which read P for picture. He thought about the picture that he had taken of Benjamin’s dog, Runner Bean. He was planning to use the picture as a birthday card.
But he didn’t get the picture of a dog; instead, he got a picture of a man holding a baby. He had never seen the baby pictures of himself and he wasn’t about to recall that time of his life.
“Charles,” Grizelda said to him, “do you know what this is?”
Charlie ignored her and began staring at the picture. Before he could stop himself, he could hear the following sounds:
“Mostyn, this is a bad idea.”
“Well, what do you want me to do about it, Julia? Emma’s mother is dead and I’m no good at raising children. Why? Were you considering keeping her? Please tell me that you are and I’ll tell Harold. He would want our Emma to stay with her family.”
“Sorry, Mostyn, but you know I can’t.”
“Now look at her; you made her cry. Just take the picture, would you?”
“Very well. But I warn you, it’ll be the only thing you’ll have to remember her by.”
“And you’ll find yourself regretting not taking Emma when you had the chance.”
“Charlie Bone, what are you doing?” Amy’s voice cut into Charlie’s thoughts. “Your food is getting cold.”
“Oh, Amy, you know Charlie,” said Maisie. “Whenever he reads his books, he always tunes out reality.”
“But not pictures,” said Grizelda. “He doesn’t like to look at pictures. Not unless…”
“Not unless what?” Paton snapped.
Everyone stared at him, but Charlie pulled out a card from his pile and shuddered. The card read E for endowment.
Paton said, “You don’t think…”
“Well, at least he’s normal,” said Grizelda. “I’ll have to inform Eustacia immediately. She knew that it was because of those cards that Grandmother Grace bequeathed to Lyell before her death.”
“Indeed,” said Paton. “I guess I’ll have to draft a letter to Dr. Bloor immediately. But I don’t like this task.”
“If there was another way, we’d take it in a heartbeat,” said Grizelda. “I personally don’t want to set a single toe in that school if at all possible. But I can’t see another way around this. Charlie will have to be tested and if he succeeds, he’ll be sent off to Bloor’s Academy in a heartbeat. There’s nothing for it.”Charlie pulled out a card which read D for depression. He should have known that this was going to happen. But would he be willing to face what was going to happen after the assessment?
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