The Chaos Witch Darkovkar hurled six thousand magical lightning bolts and two fire orbs at the Magical Wizard Army that was trying their very best to stop her. Countless lives were obliterated in an instant. The Elder Dragons wept, powerless to tip the scales in the favor of mankind, for that horrible witch had in her possession the Big Cup. To face her now at the peak of her power would surely be dragon suicide.
“You will not defeat me, probably!!!” the Chaos Witch Darkovkar cackled, tossing a wizard grenade at an unlucky band of Magical Wizard Soldiers. “You see this Big Cup that I have? It’s mine and now I will never be defeated!”
“We’ll stop you!” cried the bravest little soldier, pointing a big knife in her direction.
“ARACHNO TURNINTOBULO” she replied, casting a spell that turned the soldier into spiders. Several of his fellow troops threw down their weapons and fled in terror as a handful of spiders crawled all over.
“This ends now, Darkovkar!” cried a young beauty with silky white hair and a BIG eyepatch, wand pointed threateningly at the Chaos Witch. It was General Krishmiss Snowbell, the most powerful wizard of her generation. “We will never surrender!”
“Don’t be foolish!” cried some of Snowbell’s most loyal and dedicated followers, who were crying SO MUCH.
“Don’t worry…” Snowbell smiled, giving them a reassuring thumbs up. “As long as we hold onto hope, we won’t be frightened by the most evil witch of all time!” She resumed her gaze on Darkovkar. “You hear me, Chaos Witch!? We’ll never surrender!”
Darkovkar shot a rock with magic and it exploded.
“Aaaahh!! We surrender!” Snowbell cried. “You’re definitely too powerful, I didn’t know you could do that!” She turned back to her troops. “I didn’t know she could do that!”
“AND NOW!” said the Chaos Witch, waving the Big Cup around threateningly and shooting more magical explosions into the sky. “MY MOST DEVIOUS TRICK OF ALL!”
“No!” repeated Snowbell. “Stop, and don’t do that! You win!”
“THIS WILL STOP YOU!!!”
“We already stopped!”
“I’M GOING TO DRINK FROM THE BIG CUP NOW!”
“HERE I GO TO DRINK FROM THE BIG CUP!”
“Don’t drink from the Big Cup, Chaos Witch!”
The Chaos Witch Darkovkar took a long swig from the Big Cup. The Big Cup did not hold any liquid but the way you activate it is that you drink from it like you would from a cup that has a drink in it. So that’s why she did that.
“BOOOOO BOO BOO!!!” cried the Elder Dragons as the world was surely about to end.
But the world did not end. On the contrary, the moments that immediately followed that fateful sip had been the most peaceful the Wizard World had seen in the eighty thousand years since the Chaos Witch Darkovkar first came to power. General Snowbell stared wide-eyed as the sizeable drinking vessel of unknowable magical potential landed harmlessly on the ground with a sharp clank. The self-proclaimed Queen of Nocturne Shadows (nobody else called her that) had vanished entirely. The storm clouds parted and the sun shone bright and everything was okay now.
“Oh,” said Snowbell, stepping forward to pick up the Big Cup. She looked inside and underneath and inside again but the Chaos Witch wasn’t there. She turned to face the shambles of her army that remained standing and shrugged her shoulders. “What a mystery!”
Her troops agreed that it was a very good and interesting mystery.
“We’ll have to keep this Big Cup locked away somewhere safe,” she said. “Somewhere no little magic boy will ever find it or be able to solve the big mystery, which would honestly just be the worst case scenario.”
“I know of a wizarding school!” chimed an elderly dwarf of a man supported by his magical cane with a bleeding skull as the handle. His nose was hooked like a beak and his eyes were perpetually bloodshot. With his free hand, he tenderly shook what must have been twenty or thirty dice. “It houses a great many dangerous and mysterious secrets, many of which have never been discovered by the children who inhabit it!”
“Who are you?” Snowbell asked, confused. She looked to her fellow soldiers. “Who is that?”
“Montgomery Murderdeath,” he grinned, offering a polite curtsy. “You can always trust me!”
“Okay that’s fine,” said Snowbell, delicately passing the Big Cup to her new friend, Montgomery Murderdeath.
“Yessss… Goooood…” Murderdeath hissed, carressing the cup and licking his lips lustfully. “You’ve made the right choice, indeed!”
“I’m just happy to know that the cup will be safe and protected and will never be used for evil again,” Snowbell nodded. “Just where is this magical school, anyway? What do people call it?”
With some frightful outburst that was something between a cough and cackle, Montgomery abruptly flung his dice into the air. They glimmered in the sunlight for a breathless moment as they rained back onto the ground in perfect synchronization. Like a machine, Montgomery Murderdeath’s eyes darted rapidly between each cube, and within three hours he had finished counting. Fifty nine. With a gleeful laugh, he clasped his hands together delightfully and, with a surprisingly booming voice, named the cup’s new home:
“The Douglas P. Wilson Memorial Wizard Educational Institution (Shelbyville Campus)!”
As the tale came to its conclusion, tiny little Joshua Milton frowned. He liked this story even less every time it was told to him.
“Uncle, why do you keep telling me this awful story? This is the fifth time today, and I feel perhaps one time would suffice.”
Uncle Horbert glared at Joshua from the top of the cellar stairs. “Because I know you HATE it. I want to remind you of how your father died.”
“But my father isn’t mentioned in your story at all,” Joshua said.
“Yes he is!” Horbert spat. “He was the bravest soldier with the big knife!”
“He was?” Joshua scratched his head. “Oh. Geez. You should’ve mentioned him by name then.”
“He was turned into hundreds of spiders!!”
Joshua groaned. “Yes, I know! You told that part already. I wish you would stop. It has become very annoying.”
“Listen here, you little shit! I don’t need your sass! You’ve been nothing but a burden for me ever since both of your parents died in gruesome and mysterious ways! I have done my best to raise you, and have received no compensation for it besides all of your enormous inheritance!”
“Sorry uncle,” Joshua said, feeling bad about how hard it must be for Horbert. “I didn’t mean to upset you. If I behave, may I go outside today to play?”
“No!!” Horbert said, shattering his glass of expensive wine on the floor. “Get back to work! You must dig up more diamonds for me! Lots more! Bring me enough that I may bathe in them, or else no more food for the week!”
“Okay uncle Horbert,” Joshua said. “I love you.”
Uncle Horbert slammed the door and set multiple deadbolts, and reset the retinal and handprint scanners. Joshua felt good knowing that his uncle was upstairs to protect him. He strapped on his mining helmet and toddled off dragging his pickaxe into the sprawling diamond mine located beneath his uncle’s solid gold mansion. Every day Joshua tried his best to dig up as many diamonds as he could for his uncle, but it was very difficult because Joshua was so tiny. His little arms could barely lift his pick axe, and his legs were so short he couldn’t reach the gas pedal for the fusion powered drill tank. Still, Joshua did his best because if his uncle Horbert did not receive a steady supply of fresh diamonds, he would not be able to afford to keep Joshua.
Joshua hoped that one day, if he worked hard, his muscles would get strong enough that he could become the bravest soldier like his father, or like his mother, who was the world’s most muscular lawyer. Thinking about this, Joshua wondered if drinking from the Big Cup from his uncle’s dumbass story would make him strong like his mother and father. It was Joshua’s dearest wish to be just like his parents. Although he hoped he would never get turned into hundreds of spiders like his father, or be sealed inside the Orb of Screams like his mother.
Wanting to make his dead parents proud, Joshua summoned all his strength to lift his pickaxe into the air, and slam it against the wall. With a crack, the wall burst open and flawless rubies poured out all over the floor.
“No!” Joshua yelled. His uncle needed diamonds, not useless rubies. Frustrated by how useless and weak he was, he curled up on the floor to weep.
“I’m free!!” said an unfamiliar voice. Joshua wiped away his tears, and saw a demon crawl out of the hole he’d made in the wall. He had scaly purple skin, long pointed teeth, and a cool dragon tattoo on his chest. “Tiny, miniature Joshua Milton! I am Bothersnatch, the demon! I have been sealed inside that prison of rubies for thousands of years for committing terrible hell crimes! Because you have released me from my torment, I will grant you any wish you desire!”
“I wish to drink from the Big Cup!” Joshua said. “That way I can have big muscles and make my parents proud!”
“Oh.” Bothersnatch said. “You… Wow. You didn’t even hesitate. Didn’t even pause to think if that was the optimal way to get big muscles. Okay.”
Joshua felt embarrassed. “Was that a bad wish?”
“No, no!” The demon held his hands up. “It’s just… I could’ve just given you big muscles right now by snapping my fingers. But I guess we’re both committed to this whole Big Cup thing with hell magic because you didn’t even want to discuss it first. Whatever. Hold on, let me figure out how we’re gonna do this.”
Bothersnatch whipped out his phone, and paced around the mine trying to get a cellular signal.
“What’s the wifi password here?” he asked.
“Diamonds,” Joshua said. “All caps.”
After a couple minutes, Bothersnatch had a plan. “Okay, so, the Big Cup is at some dumb school for wizards. We’re going to have to murder your uncle to escape and get there.”
“What?!” Joshua said. “But I love my uncle!”
“Well, too bad.” Bothersnatch looked super annoyed. “The only way to destroy the force field around this mansion is to kill him! It’s tied to his life force. And we got to get this wish granted in a few weeks or else both of our souls will be swallowed by hell magic!”
“This sucks,” Joshua said because he didn’t want his soul to be consumed by the powers of hell.
“Yeah! Well, if SOMEONE had put two seconds of thought into their wish, it wouldn’t be a problem.” The demon was scrolling through his social media feed. “Oh! One more thing. You’re the one that has to kill him. I’m still too weak.” He gestured at the gemstones on the floor. “Because of the rubies.”
Today was shaping up to be a really weird day for Joshua.
“And then she cast a spell that turned him into spiders!!” Uncle Horbert cackled between heaping mouthfuls of foie gras. He paused for a moment in deep thought, and continued with a coy smile. “Also, an addendum regarding that soldier; he was Henrick Milton!!” He laughed mightily and signaled to the creaky wooden bench where Joshua was seated. “The boy’s father!!”
“Our brother-in-law!!!” joined Uncle Plart, waving filet mignons in the air with great fervor. He was a short man who, with the exception of monstrous caterpillar eyebrows, possessed not a single hair on his entire head. He wore a gaudy mustard-colored suit encrusted with diamonds.
“HA! What a jerk!” screamed Aunt Crickery, stabbing a knife into one of her sixteen lobster tails. “Ooh, I’m a big hero! Oh no, now I’m spiders!!” Aunt Crickery was as thin as a skeleton and wore a literal taxidermied peacock draped over her shoulders.
The three cackled merrily as the tale was revisited for the twelfth time that evening. Spilling aged rum all over his meal in his uproarious laughter, Uncle Horbert shot a glance towards his tiny, tiny nephew.
But Joshua hadn’t seemed to have heard Horbert’s new contribution to the story, as he was lost in thought, picking at his paper plate of uncooked rice.
“Hmph, yes!” Horbert cleared his throat, thoroughly disappointed. “Perhaps we shall resume the tale after dinner.”
“Horby, my dear brother,” Aunt Crickery said with a smile, revealing an entire top row of diamond teeth. “How is the diamond mine faring these days?”
Horbert stood at the table, proud to make his big announcement. “My dearest siblings, I realize we’ve been just barely scraping by for the past several years…” He wiped a bit of caviar from his moustache with a napkin made of fine China silk. “But our worries shall soon be over! Tomorrow, a representative from Good Diamonds Incorporated will be coming by to inspect our diamonds!” He grinned and bowed as the other two applauded. “If all goes well, he’ll be purchasing every last diamond in the vault!”
“Whoopie!” Uncle Plart cheered, throwing diamonds into the air like confetti. Everyone winced as the sharp gemstones rained back on top of them.
Joshua continued poking at his meal, trying to come up with a plan. He felt a sudden tug at the hem of his trousers, and Bothersnatch poked his head from underneath the tablecloth. He was nudging an ornate crossbow excitedly towards Josh.
“Get out of here!” hissed Joshua, kicking the demon back. When he looked up, he saw that this little stir had drawn the attention of his uncles and aunt. “Uh, sorry. I’ve just got… diarrhea.”
Uncle Horbert stared him down, red in the face. “Most importantly,” he said through gritted teeth. “We shan’t have any meddlesome little boys ruining it for us!”
“I won’t interfere,” Joshua assured him. “I can see this is very important to you and I really hope it goes well!”
“I shall make SURE of it!” Uncle Horbert decreed, slamming his fist onto the table and sending several pieces of fancy china crashing to the floor. “I’m keeping you locked in the mines until we have this deal signed in ink! Not a peep out of you until then, you hear me!?”
“Sounds perfectly reasonable,” Joshua agreed, ignoring the bottle of cyanide an anxious demon was fervently shaking at his feet.
“Good!” Uncle Horbert said, pointing a stern finger at Josh. “In fact, your very presence is spoiling this monumental occasion! Take your dinner and get back to the cellar this instant!”
“And dig us some more of those diamonds!” Aunt Crickery giggled.
“I enjoy diamonds a lot!” said Uncle Plart.
As the final locks securely fastened behind him, Joshua entered the cellar to find an impatient Bothersnatch tapping his phone with enormous concentration. He heaved a heavy sigh as soon as the tiny child approached.
“I don’t think you understand the gravity of our situation,” Bothersnatch growled.
“Listen, I can’t just–”
“Hang on, kid,” the demon interrupted. “I’m going for a Full Combo here, hang on.”
Josh waited anxiously. The cellar was silent except for the peppy J-Pop song playing from Bothersnatch’s mobile device. About thirty seconds passed.
“Damn, lost it,” Bothersnatch complained. “Okay, what were you saying?”
“Listen, I can’t just murder my uncle!” Joshua protested.
“Of course you can just murder your uncle!” Bothersnatch turned off his phone and hopped to his feet, pointing the crossbow at Joshua. “What are ya, some kind of pacifist? I thought you wanted to be a soldier or something?”
“My father was a soldier,” Joshua clarified. “And even if I follow in his footsteps, it’s not like I can just go around killing people! I think I can reason with him!”
Bothersnatch bit down into his own arm and let out a muffled scream. He shot Josh a frustrated and confused look. “What is wrong with you humans? Demons kill each other all the time! It’s GREAT!!”
“I can just tell him I want to go to wizard school,” Joshua suggested. “If he knows it’s important to me, he can let down the force field, and-”
“Okay, let me stop ya right there, kiddo,” the purple demon whipped out his phone and scrolled through some websites. “I did a little Googling, okay? So let me just clue you in so you know what we’re dealin’ with here. Registration for this particular magic school closes in TWO DAYS! We miss that window, we’re screwed! Tiny skeletons eating your eyeballs forever because YOU made the world’s stupidest wish!”
“You said it was a good little wish!”
“I was bein’ COURTEOUS!!” Bothersnatch caught himself projecting. He paused, put his hands out, and breathed a heavy sigh. “Tell ya what… Okay, yeah, fine, you can try to convince this uncle of yours to enroll you in this school before tomorrow’s up… But if you don’t!” He handed Joshua the butt of the crossbow. “We gotta bust out in a blaze of gory death!”
Oxwald Manderlie worked for Good Diamonds Incorporated and was the number two ranked diamond inspector in the greater Shelbyville city area. He took enormous pride in his skill as an inspector, but was haunted each and every day by the fact that he wasn’t ranked number one. That honor was reserved for his arch nemesis, Bernard Crowley, who was the renowned throughout the county for his sales acumen and garish taste in ties. Oxwald hated Bernard with every fiber of his being, but he took comfort knowing that things were about to change. If the purchase of the Milton family diamond vault went without issue, he would become the number one ranked inspector. Soon that asshole Reginald would be put in his place, and have to deal with the humiliation of being second best.
“Thank you for coming on such short notice,” said Plart, as he ushered
Oxwald deeper into the mansion. “We have so many diamonds, and we need you to buy all of them!”
“Yes, obviously.” Oxwald rolled his eyes. “But only after a fully certified inspection of quality.”
“Do not worry!” Horbert said, wringing his hands. “We would never take advantage of someone with so much money!”
Crickery ran ahead of them and threw open the vault. Hundreds of thousands of diamonds flooded out the door, burying Oxwald up to the waist. He fanned his fingers and selected a specimen from the top at random. He gave it a good sniff, a little lick, weighed it is hand, and then nodded approvingly.
“Yes,” he said. “This is definitely a diamond.”
Crickery, Horbert, and Plart all smiled, cackled, and huddled together licking their lips with excitement. This was all behavior Oxwald was accustomed to seeing in his diamond suppliers.
“So you’ll buy ALL of the diamonds??” Crickery said.
“I see no reason not to, barring any last minute crisis.”
A klaxon alarm went off. The entire mansion went to emergency backup power, with flashing lights. A panel reading DIAMOND EMERGENCY lit up on the wall.
“Is something wrong?” Oxwald asked, wondering what this might mean.
Horbert looked terrified. “It’s nothing!” He rushed over to a control console and slammed the intercom button.
“Joshua! You disgusting, awful child! I told you not to make a peep! What is going on?! Why did you sound the alarm??”
“Uncle!” The voice coming out of speaker must’ve belonged to an extremely tiny child. “There’s something wrong sir! With the diamonds!”
“What did he just say?” Oxwald stepped over. “There’s a problem with the diamonds? This could impact our deal.”
“Don’t listen to him!” Plart shrieked. “His parents are dead!!”
Oxwald considered this. “While that does throw his credibility into question, I cannot risk my reputation as a diamond inspector. I must insist that you show me your diamond mine so I can verify this is a false alarm.”
The three of them exchanged nervous glances. Hesitating, they hurried over to the entrance to the mine and disengaged the numerous locks. At the bottom of a long stair well, they found the tiniest little boy Oxwald had ever seen.
“Uncle Horbert! Aunt Crickery! Uncle Plart! It’s terrible! Oh! It’s dreadful! Please come quick!”
Horbert was so angry he could hardly breathe. “I swear on your dead parents, if you’ve done anything to the diamonds, I will strangle you!”
Concerned, Oxwald bent down to meet the delightfully miniature child. “Tell me what’s happened. You can trust me. I’m the second highest ranked diamond inspector in the Shelbyville area.”
“Sir! There diamonds are being haunted! By ghosts!”
Something came out from around the corner. At first glance, it appeared to be a tall and skinny purple man with a sheet draped over him. Plart, Crickery and Horbert all recoiled in fear at the sight of it, and cowered behind Oxwald. His companions being paralyzed with fright, Oxwald had no choice but to summon his courage and take a bold step forward.
“Apparition!” He said. “What are you! What are you doing here.”
“This plan is stupid,” the ghost said.
“Come on,” the little boy said. “You promised to try.”
Groaning, the ghost shrugged its shoulders. “Yeah. I’m a ghost. I’m haunting the diamonds.”
It was all Oxwald could do to stop himself from fainting. “If the diamonds are haunted, that means I won’t be able to go through on the deal!”
“No!!” Crickery clawed at her face. “You must! We need the money!!”
“But wait!” Joshua said. “There’s a way we can fix this!” He waited, as if expecting someone to speak. Then he nudged the ghost with his elbow.
“Oh.” The ghost said, and cleared his throat. “If a young boy, like the one that happens to be before you, were to become a powerful wizard, then surely he would be able to banish back to the Chaos Realm forever.” The horrid specter pulled out a touch screen cell phone, and read something off it. “But he has to trained specifically at the Douglas P. Wilson Memorial Wizard Educational Intuition here in Shelbyville.”
“Fine!” Horbert said, and grabbed Oxwald by the lapels. “If we exorcise this ghost, will you buy our diamonds?”
“Yes,” Oxwald said. “I believe that would be reasonable.”
Horbert spat on the tiny boy. “Joshua, you horrible orphan! I have decided you will attend this wizarding school immediately! You must learn to vanquish this revenant to save us from financial ruin!”
“Yipee!” said the little boy.
“I can’t believe this is working,” said the ghost.
“An education,” Horbert grumped, straightening his bright magenta necktie that was covered in dollar signs. “The stupid orphan boy is getting an education!” He applied a full jar of wax to each half of his moustache, the unruly hairs submitting themselves into an elegant curl. “Never thought we’d stoop so low!”
“But Horby, think of the diamonds!” Crickery said shakily, adding another cigarette to the three already jutting out of her mouth.
Horbert mumbled some profanity under his breath, fastening his lime green trousers that he wears all the time. He straightened his top hat, affixed his monocle, dusted off his suit jacket, and filled his diamond fanny pack with some road snacks in case he got hungry on the way.
Oxwald knelt very, very, very low to meet Joshua’s gaze. “Not to worry, my boy! Dougie P. Wilkins is an excellent school, and they’ll take very good care of you! As a matter of fact, I have three wonderful daughters entering their first year as well! I’ll make sure they treat you with utmost kindness, because I really need this deal to work out!” Oxwald could already hear Bernard’s stupid condescending chuckle. He visibly shuddered at the thought.
“You’re very kind, Mr. Manderlie,” Joshua said gratefully.
“Oh, by all means, call me Oxwald!” the diamond-purchaser insisted with a smile. “I really hate being called Mr. Manderlie. I just… Man, I hate it so much. Don’t ever call me that again.” There was an awkward moment. “Oh, and, uh… Word of advice, Josh…” He leaned down close, a great challenge for an average-sized man like Oxwald. “Stay away from the Snakeothies.”
“Boy!” Horbert interrupted, striking the ground with his cane that, of COURSE, had a comically-oversized diamond as a handle. “Let’s get this over with!”
Joshua straightened up his backpack, pocketed the single penny his uncles and aunt had given him for supplies, and looked up at Uncle Horbert, beaming. “Ready when you are!”
Before Horbert could extend his bright magenta glove to reach for the doorknob, a horrific scream echoed from the kitchen.
“Uncle Plart!?” Joshua yelled, panicked.
The group ran to the kitchen to find Plart cowering on the floor, having dropped the giant wheel of fresh parmesan he’d hoped to enjoy privately.
“It’s… it’s the thing!” Plart muttered. “The g-g-g-g-ghost!!!” He pointed a shaking finger at the ghost, who was attempting to sneak a casserole dish of lasagna.
“This, uh…” Bothersnatch stammered, darting his eyes for a window to escape to. “This ain’t what it looks like.”
Crickery fainted on the spot, landing at the last second into Oxwald’s agile diamond-buyin’ arms.
Uncle Horbert, on the other hand, was anything but afraid. He narrowed his eyes, stepped forward slowly, and clutched his cane tight. “Ghosts. Don’t. Like. Italian.” He growled, glowing red like a Christmas tree light. “Everyone knows that, don’t they?”
Bothersnatch dropped the lasagna, which shattered on the ground and made a huge mess. “Oh, I mean, yeah, gross! Didn’t want anything to do with that cheesy, garlicky goodness! Wait, shit, I mean… Boo!”
“AAAAHHHH!!!” said Uncle Plart.
Horbert did not slow down. “Ghosts. Don’t. LIKE. Italian!” He gripped his cane so hard that the diamond handle exploded into bits. “So if you’re no ghost… Then what the hell are you!?” He lunged towards Bothersnatch and ripped off his sheet. To Horbert’s surprise, there was no man underneath; only a purple mouse scurrying away into some hidey-hole.
“What the devil just happened?” Oxwald asked, mouth agape.
“A RUSE!!!” Horbert screamed, bearing down on poor, tiny, Joshua. Before the boy could react, he was hoisted over his uncle’s head like one of the turnips from Super Mario Bros. 2.
“No, wait!” Joshua pleaded. “Let me explain!”
“Really now!” Oxwald called out, following as Horbert carried Joshua into the cellar. “There’s no need to be so rough on the boy!”
Uncle Horbert rolled Joshua into the mine like a bowling ball. “What kind of idiots do you take us for!?” he roared, stomping steadily towards him. “Haunted diamonds!? Heavens, what were we THINKING!?”
As Joshua struggled to get up, the mouse scurried up to him, holding a large knife in his teeth, which he laid next to the boy. “Sorry, kinda shat the bed on that one,” it said. “Time for Plan B.”
“What, were you trying to ESCAPE?” Horbert yelled, almost laughing. “Did we not love you enough!? Did we not provide you exactly enough food for you to not starve to death!? Did we not go through trials and tribulation to make sure you had no boring free time!?”
“I’m… I’m sorry, uncle…” Joshua cried.
“Look here!” Horbert rushed back to Oxwald, grinning a demented grin and digging a fistful of diamonds out of his front pocket. “My diamonds aren’t haunted a bit! My diamonds are perfect!!!” He pressed the diamonds into Oxwald’s face, who recoiled in horror. “YOU SEE!? YOU SEE ANY BLOODY GHOSTS IN THERE!?!?! BECAUSE I SURE DON’T!! HA HA HA HA HA!!!”
“P-please, sir,” Oxwald said, crawling back from the madman. “Let’s all settle down and discuss this over tea, yes?”
Horbert didn’t seem to have heard him. He was still giggling like a small child, drunk with diamond mania. “SO HOW ABOUT IT!?” he yelled into the open air of the sprawling mines. “ANY OTHER GHOSTS HIDING IN HERE!? ANY SPOOKY SKELETONS OR GHASTLY GHOULS PEEPING AROUND THE CORNER!?” He was hyperventilating. “NOT A SINGLE ONE, EH!? THAT’S WHAT I THOUGHT!!” He turned to face the others again just as Plart and Crickery were fumbling their way downstairs to join them. Both froze on the spot, pale in the face, wide-eyed, and visibly shivering. “What’s wrong with you two!?” he yelled to them, waving his diamonds in the air. “We’re gonna be RICH!! MONEY MONEY MONEY!!!”
“What… the devil…” Plart whimpered.
“…is THAAAAT!?” Crickery pointed and shrieked.
Horbert turned around to find a gigantic skeletal abomination hovering over them. Inky black tendrils spread throughout the room and the temperature dropped to near-freezing. Its eyes sparkled brilliantly like diamonds and blood drooled steadily from its gaping maw.
It was the scariest fucking thing Joshua had ever seen.
Bothersnatch hated transforming into giant skeletons. It always wore him out and he had only just woken up from his ruby jail a couple hours ago. He almost wished the stupid kid hadn’t set him free.
“HEY,” he said, his voice modulated by the screams of the damned. “I’M A GHOST. ALL THIS STUFF? REALLY GHOST LIKE. THIS MINE IS HAUNTED. SO, YEAH.”
Oxwald stepped forward and adjusted his waistcoat. “Well, I think that settles the matter, Horbert. The mine appears to be haunted after all.”
“Are you joking?!” Horbert shrieked. “You can SMELL the garlic on that things breath! This is a trick!”
Bothersnatch cursed his personal weakness for a well baked lasagna. It was really throwing a wrench in their escape. He tried spraying them with gallons of ectoplasm through his nose holes, but the kid’s uncle still wasn’t buying it.
“Now that you mention it…” Oxwald wiped his face with a handkerchief. “This spectral slime does have a distinct ricotta cheese flavor to it.”
“Hold on!” Joshua said. “I know this looks weird, I’m sure if we all calm down, we can talk this out and come to an agreement that the giant ethereal skeleton monster is definitely the result of ghost haunting.”
“Like hell!” Horbert said, and punted Joshua across the mine. He pulled out a gold plated magnum and cocked it. “I don’t know what this thing is, but I’m not letting it affect our stock performance! Hands where I can see them!”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa!” Bothersnatch held up his huge, skeletal palms. “Let’s not get crazy here! I didn’t mean to upset you!”
“Shut up!” Horbert fired off a diamond bullet and grazed Bothersnatch’s enormous skull. “Get out of my mine or I’ll kill you with my extremely expensive gun!”
Bothersnatch had never been more scared in his entire life. Being this close to death made him wish he had made different choices. He should’ve told Kate he loved her. He should’ve gone to vocational school like his mom said. Maybe if he’d just stuck with his dream to be a professional wedding photographer, he never would’ve been jailed for hell crimes.
A minecart barreled down the mineshaft and collided with Horbert. With a gargling shriek, the corpulent old human tumbled across the mine onto his back.
“Oh no!” Joshua said, sprinting from the minecart control panel. “Uncle Horbert has been struck by a mine cart possessed by ghosts!”
Crickery, Plart, and the Oxwald all gathered around the body of Horbert.
“Is he dead?” Crickery said, horrified.
Oxwald bent down, and prodded Horbert’s leg with a finger. “Hello?” he said, and received no response. “HELLO?” Again, nothing. He stood up. “I’m sorry. It appears Horbert is dead and is beyond the point of being saved by all medical science. Furthermore, it appears the mine is definitely haunted, for real this time.”
Plart and Crickery gasped, covering their faces and wailed in grief. Oxwald ambled over to Joshua, who seemed visibly upset.
“If I’m going to be buying any diamonds from this mine, I will need you to exorcise this giant spectral skeleton nonsense like we previously discussed. Otherwise I’ll never show up that fuckhead Bernard.”
Joshua sniffled. “Is my uncle going to be okay?”
“What?” Oxwald said. “No! He’s extremely dead, and nothing will ever change that. Now run along and gather some things. I’ll drive you to the school myself. There’s no time to lose!”
Bothersnatch shrank away into the shadows, and met Joshua in his bedroom, which was just a corner of the mine with a blow up pool floaty for a bed and a box with some clothes in it. Joshua was cramming what he had into a grocery bag.
“Hey! Good job killing that guy!” Bothersnatch said. “Really showed that jerk who’s dead.”
The kid was in tears. “I didn’t want to kill my uncle! I just wanted him to stop threatening you! You’re my only friend in the whole world, and I was scared he might shoot you.”
Bothersnatch looked at Joshua with surprise. “Your only friend?” He put a hand on his shoulder. “Wow. That’s so pathetic.”
Oxwald came ambling over, and Bothersnatch threw his sheet back over his head before he was discovered.
“Are we ready to go now?” Oxwald said.
“Yes…” Joshua said, hanging his head.
“Hey, uh.” Bothersnatch leaned in. “Can I catch a ride too?”
“I don’t see any reason why not,” Oxwald said.
Together they left the Milton family estate, and piled into Oxwald’s beat up old minivan. Without further ado, they drove off toward the Douglas P. Wilson Memorial Wizard Educational Institution.
Now is the part where we get to talk about Wizard Traffic. It is, in a word… zooky. Confident in their magical abilities, magic people eschewed rules and regulations and encouraged creativity when it came to reaching one’s destination in a timely manner. While unaugmented automobiles were still used on rare occasion, most preferred to ride fantastical magical creatures, enchant objects into sprouting legs and jogging, pilot magnificent dirigibles and flying machines at street level, fly around on broomsticks creating horrible magical obstacles for fellow commuters to overcome, and so, so much more.
Oxwald was old-fashioned. He would not budge an inch until every seatbelt was fastened, he frequently used his turn signal even though nobody was looking at it, and was perhaps the last wizard in existence to regard road signs as more than weaponry in impromptu “Road Wars Like in Mad Max”, to which they were commonly referred. Commuting to work was a daily gamble with his own life, but he took great pride in how inconceivably lucky he’d thus far been in driving a motor vehicle at exactly the speed limit amid the chaos.
“Your aunt was impressively quick to sign the necessary paperwork for your enrollment,” Oxwald said, turning a slight left to avoid crossfire as an ice dragon and fire dragon dueled for highway superiority. “Said that selling the diamonds is what your uncle… er, the dead one, that is… would have wanted.” He paused for a moment. “Terribly unfortunate, him dying, and all.” He pondered for another moment. “Rip.”
Joshua had been uncomfortably silent during the ride, as he was reminiscing over a photograph of his lost uncle signing a deal that ultimately cheated several small businesses into bankruptcy for his personal gain. He was a pretty okay caretaker at least, Joshua reasoned.
Bothersnatch watched silently out the window, plugged into his Bluetooth earbuds. Like Joshua, he was failing to provide stimulating conversation.
After a few daring leaps over demolished bridges and Tokyo-drift style swerves to avoid wanton lightning bolts, Oxwald finally paralleled his minivan neatly between a snoozing manticore and a bona fide rocket ship. They had arrived at an unassuming warehouse in a shady part of town where an enormous crowd of paparazzi were gathered, with some fans holding up posters with drawings of diamonds.
“Now Joshua, this, er… Isn’t the school, but you will be taken there via fantastical and mind-boggling means,” he explained. “It’s really incredible and whimsical and amazing,” he promised. “An unforgettable experience for any child!”
“What’s with these losers?” Bothersnatch asked of the crowd, finally removing himself from an enrapturing podcast detailing the accomplishments of each of the Wizard Presidents throughout history.
Oxwald blushed and adjusted himself in the rearview mirror. “Ah, well, I’m something of a local celebrity, you know?” He pointed to a silver badge he wore on his jacket, a diamond engraved with the number two. “For my inspection skills!”
The three exited the vehicle and Oxwald approached the fans tenderly. “Settle down, now! Oxwald Manderlie has arrived, one at a time! One at a time!”
“Oxwhat Manlywho?” said a man with a big camera.
“You know!” Oxwald said, taken aback. “The diamond guy!”
“Sorry, bub,” the camera man gruffed. “We ain’t here for you.”
“What!?” Oxwald said, glancing nervously at Bothersnatch and the tiny, tiny child. Neither were impressed. “Who the devil could be more famous than the second-best diamond inspector in the Greater Shelbyville Area!?”
“Well good afternoon there, Mr. Manderlie,” came a wretchedly familiar voice that induced a physical cringe on Oxwald’s face. “Busy day carrying on a sub-par performance inspecting diamonds, yes?”
Oxwald wretched as the crowd parted and a beautiful blonde gentleman adorning an enormous golden diamond badge on his chest stepped forward to greet the three of them. Though he and Oxwald were of the same age, this stranger looked to be at least twenty or thirty years younger.
“I’ve just purchased one billion diamonds on behalf of the company,” the beautiful man bragged with a subtle smirk. “Have you purchased one billion diamonds as well, Mr. Manderlie?”
“Hello, Bernard,” Oxwald grumbled, not making direct eye contact.
“And then,” Bernard Crowley continued, lavishing in the disgust of his counterpart. “I became acquainted with several beautiful women, in the biblical sense. How many women this entire year have you been acquainted with, Mr. Manderlie?” He chuckled to himself. “In the biblical sense.”
“Thought that spoiled brat of yours was already moved in,” Oxwald said, crossing his arms. “Have you been waiting here to make fun of me?”
“No, no, my dear second-rate friend,” Bernard smiled, shaking his head so subtly. “It’s actually a wonderful twist of fate that we’ve met like this. I’ve now the opportunity to congratulate you personally.”
“Congratulate me?” Oxwald narrowed his eyes. “What for?”
With a heavy sigh, Bernard removed the golden diamond and tucked it delicately into Oxwald’s front pocket. “For being the number one diamond-inspector. Well done, old friend!”
Oxwald took the badge out and threw it on the ground. “What sort of prank is this?” he said, making a big show out of stomping the badge. “What happened to selling one billion diamonds?”
“My dear Mr. Manderlie, you’ve earned this title by default,” Bernard explained, watching Oxwald’s childish outburst with great amusement. “As of this day I’m retiring as a diamond inspector, you see. I’ve sort of…” He looked up to the sky, searching for the words. “…completed that job.”
“No!” Oxwald yelled, falling to his knees and pulling at his face. “I can’t become number one and never get the satisfaction of defeating you! Arrrgh!”
Joshua finally chimed in. “And what will you be doing now, Mr… Bernard?”
Bernard knelt down and smiled sinisterly at the child. “Now, let’s use proper manners, you very small, impressionable young mind.” He extended a hand to Joshua. “From henceforth you shall refer to me as Professor Crowley.”