Cast of Wonders 159: There Are No Marshmallows in Camelot
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There Are No Marshmallows in Camelot
by Christian McKay Heidicker
Leticia Andrews saw the wizard hat on a Monday morning at 7:06 a.m. She was eating Lucky Charms in the kitchen nook. The hat was gray and tattered and sat in the window of her plastic princess house, which was in the backyard.
“MOM!” she screamed down the hallway. “DO I HAVE A WIZARD HAT?”
“Don’t think so! Unless Uncle Lewis . . .”
“Honey, I don’t know! I’m working?”
Jake, Teece’s baby brother, did not have a wizard hat. She was 96.2% sure. At least not one so pointy and floppy and not covered in glitter like the ones from Toys ‘R’ Us. Even though Teece had never seen one before, she knew the hat that currently sat in her princess house was a real wizard hat. And that meant things.
Teece took two more bites of Lucky Charms and thought things through. Then, leaving her first-ever unfinished bowl of cereal, she went to her room. She rustled through her toy chest and found her doll that was only a head because Ruxin had buried the rest of its body in bits around the yard. The doll head wasn’t totally dead though. When Teece turned it upside down and then right side up again, it still said “Ma-ma.”
Teece returned to the kitchen and grabbed a small stool she used for getting plates and cups from the cupboard. Stool in hands and doll head in pocket, she went into the backyard to her princess house. She tilted the stool, jamming the top beneath the door handle so the door couldn’t open. Then she slinked around to the side window where she found a frog, a centipede, and a ladybug sitting perfectly still, side-by-side, on a stone. It appeared as if they were staring up through the window at the hat. Teece looked above the princess house’s roof and discovered four chickadees perched on a tree branch, twitching their tiny heads, also toward the hat.
She stuck the doll’s head on her index finger, and held it up to the window. She knew perfectly well the doll couldn’t speak, but she held onto a faint bit of hope that if there was danger, the doll would squeak out a warning, or at least wiggle her finger a bit.
The doll stared into the window. It said nothing.
Teece hopped up on her knees and one two three peeked through the window herself. The princess house was filled with smoke. She could smell it coming through the cracks, like sighing pines. It was hard to see at first . . . but then a figure formed out of the smoke. Teece collapsed to the grass, heart pounding.
It was as she suspected. There was a wizard connected to that wizard’s hat.
She peeked again. Yep. Wizard alright. Beneath his tattered hat, he wore lint-colored robes and a long beard the color of the basement with the lights off. He puffed at a gnarled pipe with his eyes closed. A pale staff leaned against the door.
Of course, anyone can dress like a wizard. Teece decided to test him.
She leapt up, slammed both palms against the window, and shouted, “Boo!”
The wizard opened his eyes and looked on her with amused eyebrows. That proved it. You can rarely surprise a wizard.
“Tell me how to be a wizard or I won’t let you out,” was the first thing Teece said.
The wizard addressed her with the patience of mushrooms. “Aren’t you going to ask why I am in your . . .” He looked around the interior. “. . . oversized doll’s house?”
“I don’t care,” Teece said. Her fists rested against the pane. “I just wanna know how.”
The wizard leaned forward and tried the door handle. The door strained, but the stool held it shut. He picked up his staff and pointed it at the handle. Teece covered her ears but kept her eyes wide. She’d never seen magic before.
Nothing came out of the staff. No pops. No sparks. No flames. The wizard looked concerned.
“What year is this?” he demanded. “What country?”
“2015,” Teece said. “America.”
“You do not have much belief in two thousand fifteen in America. Your magic has dried up. Would you kindly stand back, please?”
Teece took two giant steps away from the princess house. The wizard tried to ram the butt of his staff through the window. The pane bent and wobbled, but did not break.
“My dad put in shatterproof glass so Jakey won’t cut his fingers.”
“Teecey!” her mom called from the house. “You gotta be at the stop in ten minutes!”
“CO-MING!” Teece answered.
She took two giant steps back to the princess house’s window so her breath fogged the glass. She’d done it. She’d really done it. She’d caught a wizard, easy as a firefly in a bottle. And she hadn’t even meant to.
“Now tell me how,” she said.
The wizard, bemused, sat on the tea table. “Not getting yourself caught in a little girl’s house is a good start.”
Teece rolled her eyes. “No, something for reals.”
The wizard opened his palms to her like he was serious.
Teece crossed her arms. “Fine, how’d you get inside there?”
“I was in a duel with the dark witch Morgana. She distracted me with a glamour and I let my guard down, giving her an opportunity to banish me here.”
“My mom reads Glamour,” Teece said. It didn’t seem like something wizards would read, let alone get distracted by. A little bell rang inside her. “Morgana? I heard that name before. What’s your name?”
“My name is Merlin Ambrosius.”
“RRNT!” Teese made the wrong sound from game shows. “Merlin is an old man with white hair and a staff that’s gnarly like this.” She held up her fingers and crooked them. “My dad read me his stories. It has pictures.”
“It is a comfort to know that I survive this battle with Morgana and live into my elderly years where my life’s work will be renowned . . . But you have me at a disadvantage. Whom do I have the pleasure of being captured by?”
“Leticia Andrews.” She pressed her nose against the pane so it squished. “Teece.”
“Miss Andrews, when I return to my time, I shall be sure to tell thy name to Morgana so she may tremble at the maiden who finally bested me. Now, if you would be so kind.” With his staff, he rapped twice on the door.
“Merlin Ambrosius . . .” Teece thought aloud. “Did you get to make up your own name when you got your wizard’s . . . ” She tried to think of what someone would get once they became a wizard. A staff? A hat? A beard? She hoped not.
“Please,” Merlin said. “I am currently losing a battle being fought many millennia ago.”
“How many times do I gotta ask?” Teece said, and then banged her forehead against the window for every word. “How. Do. I. Be. A. Wizard?”
Merlin crossed his arms over each other so his staff vanished in the folds of his robes. “A fair request, considering the circumstances. I am trespassing on your kingdom, after all.” He gazed through the window at the sun coming up over the roofline of Teece’s house. He looked very striking. Teece tried to take on her own wizardly posture while she listened.
“I suppose it is as simple as this,” Merlin said. “Find a place where magic flows as easily as water down a hill. Plant yourself there. And let your mind be silent until the magic courses through you.”
He ended with a nod.
“Le-tic-i-a!” Her mother shouted. “The bus is going to be here in seven minutes! Come clean your bowl!”
“CO-MING!” Teece shouted back at the house, then turned back to Merlin. “Why aren’t more people wizards then?”
“People are afraid to believe something so powerful could be so simple . . . Or so boring.” The wizard stood, bent so his hat didn’t scrunch on the ceiling, and gestured toward the door.
Teece frowned. “Teach me some magic, too.”
Merlin slumped back onto the tea table. “I thought we had an arrangement.”
“We did. But then I thought about it some more.”
“A good wizard always keeps her word.”
Teece shrugged. “I’m not a wizard yet. Can you make it so my backpack will float so I don’t have to carry it? Or make broomsticks stand up alive and clean by dancing? Or! Can you make my homework do itself?”
“I hate to be the bearer of bad news, Leticia Andrews, but wizards do their homework. More than most people, in fact.”
“Oh.” Teece looked into the wizard’s gray swirl eyes and then at his little winged, slimy, crawly visitors. “I still wanna be one.”
The wizard Merlin grumbled. “I suppose I could teach you one harmless spell. One that doesn’t require too much belief . . .” He looked around the princess house. “What if I were to show you how to make green things appear pink and pink things appear the color of cockroaches?”
Teece let her head rock shoulder to shoulder in a maybe sort of way.
Merlin thought a moment and then reached into his robes and brought out a jar that was filled with what looked like black ink in water. The darkness didn’t slosh so much as slither like an eel searching for an exit. “I could give you a jar of shadows that will make your enemies see the dark side of the moon.”
Teece shuddered away a chill. “What else?”
“What if I taught you a word that summons a bit of warmth?” Merlin opened his mouth and made a small noise like a crackling log.
“What would I use that for?”
“It has its uses. To toast a mushroom perhaps.”
“Or a marshmallow?” Teece was always burning her marshmallows.
“I don’t know what that is,” Merlin said.
Teece’s mouth fell open and she slapped her forehead. “What?”
“Please. Miss Andrews. I must return to my time.”
“You never ate a marshmallow before? It’s like eating a cloud made out of sugar magic! You have to try one!”
“I’m quite content, thank you. The fruits of foreign lands can wait in times of great distress.”
“It’s not a fruit. I’m gonna go get one.”
Merlin thudded his staff on the floor. “My ward is in terrible danger without my protection!”
Ward. That one took Teece a moment.
“He’ll be okay. I heard how the stories end.”
“Stories can change, Miss Andrews.”
“Nope, they’re shut up in a book,” she said, shuffling backwards. “He’s fine. He’s gonna be king.”
“Please—” Merlin tried to stop her.
“Be right back!”
Teece ran into her house. The stool was still outside, blocking the door to the princess house, keeping her wizard trapped, so she turned a garbage can upside down to reach the cupboard. She had the bag of fluffy marshmallows in hand when her mom walked in. Her mom looked at the upside down can and the puddle of brown seeping out.
“Teecey,” her mom said in that voice that made Teece feel like she was falling. “Did you empty that trash before you turned it upside down?”
“Off,” her mom said.
Teece jumped down with the bag of marshmallows. She was about to offer help when her mom said, “I got it. Go get your backpack. You need to be outside in two minutes.”
Teece almost went back out the sliding door, but then remembered something. She ran to her room and grabbed her copy of The Legend of King Arthur. When she picked it up, she let out a little eek! There were ants crawling on the shelf beneath.
Not ants . . . Words! They spilled out of the book like black pepper. Teece cupped her hand underneath and tried to scoop the words back onto the blank pages, but they wouldn’t stick. She closed the book and watched as the title dissolved into cloudy weather patterns on the cover. A small wind whistled through her room.
A strange feeling came over her then. It felt as if all her bravery and heroics were scrambling out of her brain as quickly as the words off the page. Like the legends of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table were turning to shadows that leaked out of her ears . . .
She got the feeling she got when she was four and her parents told her there wasn’t enough oxygen in the jar where she kept the lizard she’d caught.
“Oh crap,” Teece said.
She dropped the book and sprinted out of the room. She ran down the hallway, past her hunched mother, and outside. Kicking the stool away, she flung open the door to the princess house.
“Hello,” Merlin said, annoyed, leaning against his staff.
“Hi,” Teece said.
She decided not to tell him that his story was turning into ants.
“Koff koff!” She waved away pipe smoke and undid the rubber band on the marshmallow bag. Then she held up a marshmallow. “Do that thing,” she said, and tried to mimic the crackling sound he had made earlier. “Hhhiiikkk!” She coughed up a little phlegm onto the marshmallow. “Oops ew sorry.” She took out a fresh one for Merlin.
Merlin took the marshmallow. He squished it between his long fingers. His eyebrows looked irritated and then helpless and then a little curious. He opened his mouth, and again his throat crackled like fire. The marshmallow toasted and the princess house filled with a golden brown smell.
“Try it!” Teece whispered.
Merlin ate the marshmallow. His eyebrows made a sort of deflated teepee shape as if the marshmallow had melted all the mad right out of them.
Then he made a mistake most people who eat marshmallows make.
“Thiff iff di—”
“Thaff’s nah wha ah waff—”
Teece giggled. “Don’t talk! You don’t sound like a wizard when you talk like that.”
“Leticia Andrews!” Her mom’s voice was so sudden and so close, it made Teece feel like she’d fallen off a cliff. She barely had time to turn around before her mom was pulling her by the arm back toward the house.
“You missed the bus! Now I have to drive you . . .”
Teece, jostled, stared back over her shoulder. The door was open. The princess house was empty. The bugs were just bugs and the chickadees looked as confused as always.
“Mo-om! You made me lose Merlin!”
“You are going to make me lose my job! Now wipe that grump off your face.”
Teece couldn’t, try as she might.
Years later, Leticia had almost entirely forgotten about catching Merlin in her princess house. It was like a pleasant dream she’d forgotten to write down.
At first, she had spent some time in places that felt magicky, like Chuck E. Cheese’s, sitting in the ball pit, waiting and waiting for wizardiness to trickle into her. But no matter how long she sat, bugs and birds never gave her the time of day, and eventually she got bored and gave up and played Skee-Ball.
Teece kept on forgetting and forgetting that it ever happened at all . . . until her class read the Legend of King Arthur.
“And what did Merlin use to distract Morgana?” Mr. Henderson asked the class. “Tim?”
Teece’s head shot up from her desk. She threw her hand into the air. “Me! Me! I did that! I did it!”
“Teece,” her teacher said. “What have we said about screaming out in the middle of class?”
“This is important,” Teece said. “A long time ago, I caught Merlin in my princess house and I introduced him to marshmallows even though he didn’t teach me any magic, and then he took the marshmallows back to King Arthur’s time to distract Morgana like an issue of Glamour, which means I kind of saved the day even though it was already saved another way, and if you don’t believe me then how come marshmallows have never existed in Camelot before now?”
Mr. Henderson stared at her a moment. “O . . . kay.” He went back to writing on the whiteboard.
Teece looked around the room, hoping someone in her class would believe her. Summer Wilson was looking at her in that way she did not like.
Teece leaned toward her. “You’re just lucky Merlin didn’t teach me any magic or else I’d turn your pink notebook into cockroach legs, Summer Wilson.”
“Teece!” Mr. Henderson said. “Corner. Now.”
Teece rolled her eyes and got out of her chair and went and sat in the corner, arms crossed, bottom lip out. She had changed the course of history. She had made the ant words scrabble back onto the page in a different order . . . plus marshmallows.
She stared out the window and wondered if having a story be kind of about her was better than being a wizard . . .
No, it definitely was not.
She imagined her bag of marshmallows whipping a thousand years back in time to a place that didn’t even exist and helping defeat an evil witch before Merlin brought them to King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.
“They gave me bravery, and I gave them marshmallows,” she said, and smiled.
Teece just hoped the marshmallows hadn’t gone stale by the time they got to King Arthur’s court.
About the Author
Christian McKay Heidicker
Christian McKay Heidicker reads and writes and drinks tea. Between his demon-hunting cat and his fiddling, red-headed girlfriend, he feels completely protected from evil spirits. Christian is the author of Scary Stories for Young Foxes, Cure for the Common Universe and Attack of the 50 Foot Wallflower. He lives in Salt Lake City, Utah.
About the Narrator
Marguerite Kenner (she/her) is a California transplant living in the UK city named after her favorite pastime.
She runs Escape Artists with her partner Alasdair Stuart, and practices as a technology lawyer in London. She loves to voice minor characters in podcasts and play video games, often where people can watch.
Her contributions to genre fiction include being a 2021 Hugo Award Finalist, editing Cast of Wonders from 2013 to 2019, project groups for too many industry orgs to count anymore, community organising, mentoring, and teaching business skills to creatives.
You can follow her adventures across various social media platforms.
About the Artist
Barry J. Northern
Barry is a game developer based in Bournemouth, England making freemium games for clients such LEGO and the BBC. His latest game is breaking all records on iOS, not surprising with a title like L”. It’s for younger kids, but if you fancy blasting alien brains check out LEGO Hero Factory Brain Attack.
All this game developing has meant that Barry hasn’t been as active in the podcasting and fiction world as he used to be. He still does the occasional narration for other shows, such as The Drabblecast, and appears on Cast of Wonders from time to time.