Anna & Amber's Secret Powers
By Kevin Salveson
THE TALENTED TWINS SEEK THE SECRETS OF THEIR CHINESE ANCESTORS, BUT WILL IT LEAD THEM INTO MORE TROUBLE THAN THEY BARGAINED FOR?
This story is for readers between the ages of 7 - 14. Started as a story written for my twins for fun, it is therefore just the basics. A new longer stronger re-written print or Ebook edition (with illustrations) of the story will soon be available to purchase on the Amazon site as well as from the Extablisment store. Chapter One has been redone for the new edition and so is not included here. We start en media res...
Painting by Lin Xu
CHAPTER 2: THE BOOK OF SPELLS
A Fall sun was settling down on the San Bernadino foothills. It was washing them with shades of purple and fuchsia in the late afternoon. From her window Anna could see the distant canyons dotted with golden scrub fold themselves up into their shadows. She knew that soon the mountain air would turn as delicious and cold as grape juice. Wild animals that prowled for food in the day would settle back into their burrows for the night and the stillness of the Mt. Baldy dark would shroud the mountain like a black blanket until the moon finally rose and the stars came out later that evening. She considered not going on the journey but quickly made up her mind.
Anna nudged Amber (who was napping fitfully below her on the bunk bed) with a hiking stick they had brought home from their recent trip to the High Sierras and Mt. Whitney.
Amber groaned and rolled over.
“Amber!” Anna hissed.
“Amber, its time!” Anna tried again, this time with some urgency. She rocked the bunk with all her weight for emphasis.
“Already?” Amber managed to mumble. “I was," she yawned, “I was just dreaming…”
“Well, wake up. Its time we get going. Its almost 4:30!”
“I dreamed we found the book.”
The Book of Spells. Yes, that was the whole point of their plan that evening: find the book. Since over a month ago when Anna and Amber had made the startling discovery that they seemed to have secret magic powers, they of course wanted to know two things: how they got their powers and how to control them. They asked their mother first.
“Magic powers?” Mother repeated, not sure if they were joking. “I never heard of that.” She was busy in the kitchen making pancakes before school. “My mom’s sister said she could make it rain when she wanted. By magic, she said. Crazy lady in Chang Chun. It rained all the time anyway.” Their Mom was Chinese, their dad American. Chang Chun was their mom's hometown in the northeast of the country.
“You girls have the power to get your mom to take you to the library,” joked Dad. “You have the power to do well on your science test.” He smiled.
“Daaaad,” they groaned. “That’s not what we mean.” They were at that age where they were testing their ability to be taken seriously, but their demands were still in the form of mock aggravation over perceived slights, so it came out a churlish sigh.
“Remember that time the bed turned into a chocolate chip cookie! That was magic!” Amber said excitedly.
“Was that?” said Dad, stroking his chin stubble. “I thought that in the end we figured out the bed manufacturer was using cookie dough he stole from the factory next door to his.”
“Because we had magic powers and wished it!” Anna insisted.
“Hmmm, I’m not so sure that stands up to science,” said Dad. “I don’t want to be one of those dads that squashes your dreams, but…its not that easy. Just wishing for something doesn’t make it so. If that were true, I'd already have the golden Grammy award for best songwriter of all space and time.”
“Some things are just impossible,” smirked Mom.
“That’s why I’m going Country,” said Dad. “I could be a Country music star!” He pretended to don a cowboy hat and swing an invisible lasso above his head. “I’d rope them doggies!” he proclaimed.
“Daaad,” they both whined in unison. “We don’t live in the 1800's anymore!”
“The point is, Dad, we can wish something, and it comes true.” Said Amber. “That’s the point.”
“It’s true!” affirmed Anna.
“You think so,” said Dad. “Ok. The power of positive thinking is a great way to keep working towards your goals. That’s the best way to make your wishes come true.”
“Well, its not so easy,” admitted Amber.
In truth, after a month of experimenting with their newfound powers they had discovered that their wishes only worked sometimes. They weren’t sure why. They had tried all kinds of tests: one of them wishing, both of them wishing, one wishing first, the other wishing first, using magic words or gestures, and so on. Sometimes they seemed to work on minor things Sometimes they didn’t. They weren’t sure why.
“So...wish that we had some milk, we’re out of milk,” said Mom.
“I don’t drink milk,” said Anna. “I like juice.”
“Wish for juice,” said Mom.
“I wish for juice!” said Anna.
Dad went to the refrigerator and came back to the table with a glass of apple juice.
“Your wish came true!” exclaimed Dad in fake amazement.
“Its not like that,” said Amber.
“What is it like?” asked Dad.
“Well, we’re not sure… that’s why we asked you.”
“Hard work,” said Dad. “Persistence. A little luck. If you persist and work at it when the luck comes your way you’ll be ready to take advantage. That's how its done.”
Then he got up from the breakfast table and said, “Now I go off to work to take advantage of luck myself. Having a beautiful family with a love of education!” He smirked, grabbed his keys and headed out the door.
"I never know if he's joking or not," observed mom.
Still, Anna and Amber knew that it was more than luck or hard work. They had been born with something extra, too, and they wanted to understand what it was.
“Remember when mom said her mom’s sister was crazy?” Amber later whispered to Anna as Anna was gathering her backpack together to walk to school by 8:10, only a few blocks away.
“Yeah, maybe that’s a clue!”
Amber closed the front door and they started off while they talked.
“But what does it mean?”
“I don’t know. Mom said she was crazy, but what if it was real and no one believed her!”
Anna stopped and studied a yellow flower which was growing from the base of a weed on the neighbor’s lawn. As her sister spoke she snapped off its stalk and put the flower in her pocket. "Let's see if this still becomes a dandilion."
Just then, they heard the first bell ring at school. They both jumped up and started to run, knowing they might be late unless they hurried. But when they got to the cross-walk, valuable seconds ticked away while they waited for their light to turn green.
Amber glanced at her watch—“oh no, its already 8:08!” she exclaimed.
“I wish this light would change!” said Anna. She could see a green light in her mind.
“I wish we weren’t late for school!” agreed Amber. She pictured the both of them scooting into class on time just as the teacher was swinging the door shut.
Then, at the moment those words left her lips, the traffic light hurried from yellow to green for them, and the “Walk” sign lighted up like a smile. The cross-walk lady looked surprised, but she waved at them to start walking.
"Maybe we’ll make it,” they both said as they dashed across the intersection.
“How much time do we have?” asked Anna. (She had forgotten her own watch.)
“Well, its… its… now its Eight o two.”
“Huh?” Anna grunted, managing to get out a reply even as she was starting to pant heavy from the running. They made it across the street safely, and the cross-walk lady gave them a grin.
Amber then stopped by their school's electronic greeting sign on the grass near the parking lot of the school and stared at her watch.
“It was, uh…it was just…” She couldn’t find the words for a moment due to the shock. “I just looked at it a second ago. I know it said it was 8:08.” She scrunched up her face. “Now it says its 8:02.”
“Let me see,” said Amber, and she twisted her sister’s arm.
“Ow!” exclaimed Anna.
But it was true. The watch read 8:02, and they would not be late for school after all.
“Oh. My. God.” exclaimed Amber, stressing each word. “How did you do that?”
“It was a magic wish, I think,” admitted Anna. “We did it again!”
“That’s great, but how?”
And they both fell silent as they passed the gate by the office and entered the school campus, a little shocked and both wondering how and why they were able to do such things. Anna wanted to offer an answer, but her mouth opened and nothing came out. She simply didn’t have an answer.
That day after school they decided to raise the question of their Great Aunt with mom again.
“Who wants to do some online science tutoring?” mom sang cheerily to the girls after they had finished their after-school snack of carrot sticks and ranch dressing lemon chicken soup and crackers, most of which went uneaten.
“Mom, let’s make a deal,” said Anna in a savvy tone. “If we do a page of online science tutoring like you always want then will you tell us more about your crazy Aunt?”
“Why do you care about that?” Mom said.
“We just, uh… we just want to know more about where our family came from,” offered Amber. “You said that the September Chinese Moon Festival happened recently and that its all about honoring your ancestors… so we’re asking about our ancestors.”
“Oh, well, that’s nice,” said Mom approvingly. “Eat another spoonful of soup. My mom was a doctor at a hospital in Chang Chun. I used to go do my homework there sometimes. The hospital had this white porcelain tile everywhere… that’s why I hate white tile,” she said, gesturing with a sour look at the white tile around them in the kitchen which covered all of the countertops.
“What about your Aunt?” asked Anna.
“First you have to do a chemistry unit online, ha ha!" Mom taunted.
“What was your aunt like?” pressed Amber. "We'll do it, we promise."
“Oh, I don’t know,” said mom doubtfully. “Finish your carrot. I mean, I was so young.” She took a sip of prune juice which she had put out but which no one else had touched. “I was only six when she died. Linda knew her better than me. I just remember, once, when we were all sitting down to our rice one dinnertime, and my dad had said that it hadn’t rained in so long that the country might run out of rice. She just said that she could make it rain when she wanted by magic, that’s all. Funny stuff. At that time the Communists were taking over China and they were sort of blacklisting anyone who was not Communist. We were not really in the Communist party. She, my dad and mom, plus my uncle, moved from Hai Nan, the lake city in the south where my father was born, to Chang Chun, in the north just to avoid people trying to make life hard for us.”
While she was telling them that Dad arrived home from work. He threw open the door, put his leather satchel on the table, and went to the kitchen.
"Hi Daddy," they all said.
"Hi," he said. He grabbed a milk carton out of the refrigerator and started drinking it straight from the jug.
"Then what happened, did you run out of rice? Did anyone die?” Anna pushed on.
“Well, no," admitted Mom, grimacing at Dad as he drank the milk. "Clear your plate now that you're finished, don't just leave it there mindlessly. Ok, well, it did start to rain soon after that in Heilongjiang Province, the state Chang Chun is in. More rain and snow than ever, actually. No one died that we knew. I didn’t die.”
“I kind of guessed that one,” said Anna
“What's a Communist? Why were they mean to your Aunt?” asked Amber. She wanted to stick to the point of the conversation.
Dad, overhearing the conversation, decided she was going to have to explain it all to them. “Well, ok. It starts with a guy named Karl Marx. He went to school in Paris. He wrote about economics. I mean, money. He said people should share, basically. Back in the 1800’s they were just inventing industrial factories and the bosses would make kids work 14 hour days! Bad conditions like foul air, no windows, no breaks. Marx said people want to work with a purpose in life so everyone should be a part owner of where they worked.”
“Booorring,” Anna said in a mock-monotone voice.
“You want to work 14 hours a day in the coal mines, then huh?” asked Dad.
“In a miiine!” sang Amber, like the dwarves in Snow White. “We dig dig dig dig!”
"Sounds like our life with homework," observed Anna.
“Well, its not that fun,” said Mom. “Most mines don’t have jewels everywhere. Its dirty. Dirt gets in your hair, your skin, your lungs. Then the mines can collapse and trap the miners in there.” She shrugged.
“Oh,” said Anna, a little crestfallen.
"Did I burst your coal mine bubble?" asked Dad.
“Anyway,” continued Mom, frowning at Dad. “Marx said if everyone shared work and profit it would give them some purpose and everyone would prosper. That was the idea anyway."
"But without freedom and competition all the power winds up in the hands of a few and gets abused..." finished Dad. "A violent revolution tends to be what you get. And they chased away your Mom's parents up to Chang Chun."
“Hmm,” said Amber, “That's not good.”
Mom took another sip of prune juice and decided that this conversation was going to get a little too boring quickly at the rate they were going. She decided to change the subject. “Do you want Mom to bake you some cornbread?”
“Cornbread!” cheered Anna.
“But what about China?” Said Amber impatiently.
“China has cornbread.” Said Mom.
“No, what happened next to your Aunt?” She pleaded.