Today I Read…Not On My Patch

Today I read Not On My Patch, a Young Wizards short story written by Diane Duane for UNICEF for Hallowe’en 2011. not on my patch

Nita, Kit, Dairine, and Ronan were just planning a fun night out trick-or-treating and checking out the town’s haunted house. After all, it was set up this year by Tom and Carl, their good friends and local Senior Advisory wizards, so it’s sure to be magical. The Nita’s jack-o-lantern tells her that something’s wrong in the field he was picked from. They wanted a night off–instead they got zombies. Sometimes a wizard just can’t catch a break.

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Diane Duane is one of my favourite authors, and this is a great addition to her Young Wizards universe. Even on a holiday, wizards can’t have a day off from fighting evil.All they can do is defeat it as quickly as they can and go back to their candy. Told with Duane’s characteristic quick wit, this story really emphasizes that saving the world is all in a night’s work for these young wizards, even though it is a job that they will never take lightly or for granted. And remember, pumpkins are people too. Well, they are if you’re a wizard with a specialty in talking to plants. You know what I mean.

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Nita snickered very softly, but then turned her attention back to the pumpkin. Better get on with this… she thought. She picked up the knife, and then hesitated yet again.

“What’s with you?” Ronan said as he emptied the trick-or-treat bag out on the table and began going through the contents. “You look like the reluctant axe murderer.”

Nita groaned under her breath and sat down in the chair at the end of the table. “I just don’t know if this is … strictly ethical.”

Kit pulled out a chair too and fiddled with his frock coat for a moment so that he could avoid sitting on it and messing it up. “You know,” he said, “you could always ask the pumpkin how it feels.”

She had in fact been avoiding this, nervous about what answer she might get. But there’s no avoiding it, I guess; pretty soon we’re going to have to get moving… Nita put out a hand and ran it once more over the scratchy veiny skin around the pumpkin’s stem. “Excuse me,” she said in the Speech, “but… exactly how are you about this?”

There was a brief pause while the pumpkin got its vegetable consciousness wrapped around the idea that someone was speaking to it, let alone someone who would be able to understand the response. This what? the pumpkin said.

Nita hesitated. “I’m about to stick a knife in you,” Nita she said after a moment, “cut off your top, and scoop out your insides with a spoon.”

There was another pause. Your point being? said the pumpkin.

Nita blinked, as she was generally used to more energetic responses from plant life. But then, those are mostly still growing in the ground… “Well, isn’t there some chance this might hurt you?”

Haven’t felt a thing since I got pulled off the vine, said the pumpkin. Just been taking it easy since then. It paused, for a bit longer this time. Besides, it said after a few moments more, it’s autumn, isn’t it? I’m supposed to die now. It’s all about the seeds, after all. I rot… but the seeds don’t. Some of them will come up. Then I’ll wake up in one of them, maybe more.

“So you really don’t mind if I cut off your top and pull your insides out and carve a face in you,” Nita said, still just slightly incredulous.

Well, what’s it all for?

“Celebrating the time of year,” Nita said. “The autumn. The year’s end … and the new beginning, I guess.”

Ronan nodded. “That’s what it meant when we invented it,” he said.

If a pumpkin could have shrugged, this one would have.Then do it. I don’t mind being part of a celebration, and maybe it’ll be fun to have a face.

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After a little while a tall shape came out the back door and made its way over to her through the shadows. “So tell me,” Carl said, “how’s it look?”

“Really great,” Nita said. “I didn’t know you two were so into this.”

“Well, why not?” Carl said. “If you spend all the rest of the year fighting the serious Powers of Eeeeevil, then sometimes you just want to spend a little time enjoying the harmless kind of spooky stuff. Keeping the old traditions alive…while making it plain that fewer and fewer of the old ploys the Lone Power used have so much fun scaring us with will work any more: not for anything serious. Sure, it comes up with new ones all the time…”

“But laughing at the old ones still gets under Its skin.”

“Way under,” Carl said, “since it really, really hates not being taken seriously…” He looked back at the house. “But who doesn’t like being safely scared, occasionally? Pleasantly scared, by something that can’t really hurt you?” He grinned as an eldritch howl came floating out one of the upstairs windows, accompanied by the shrieks and then the laughter of small children. “It starts getting you used to fear… so when you come up against something really scary, you can cope a little better.”

“Like being vaccinated,” Nita said. “The weakened bugs make you immune…”

“A useful metaphor,” Carl said, over more of the upstairs screaming. He grinned in the dark. “I should get back in there: some of those spells have to be reset after they fire a few times.” He patted Nita on the shoulder, vanished into the dark again.

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She turned her attention back to the tattered, rotted-looking shapes lurching toward them. “Willing followers of the Fallen,” she said, pulling up one of the shortest of the formal demon-management notifications, “be warned by me! We are on the business of the Powers that Be, and by Their power vested in us, unless you disperse forthwith to your own places, we will utterly undo and abolish you!”

The zombies paused—

And kept coming.

“Last warning, you guys!” Nita said, holding Jackie up. “I’ve got a pumpkin, and I’m not afraid to use it!”

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