It was in a dream world not much unlike ours. I discovered myself wandering with a duffelbag, one containing clothing and other gear after some time away camping.
Arrived at an car dealership, selling what appeared at first to be cars from multiple generations, but also, as I gradually noticed, vehicles of a more extraordinary nature. Vehicles with wings, vehicles with organic parts, vehicles with legs, vehicles that moved on their own. Looking for sustenance (presumably) I arranged a temporary position to help at the dealership. I found myself asking questions, re-arranging price tags.
The dealership did not have the usual look. It was not hyper-modern and minimal where the cars were the only focus of attention. Instead it was more organized like a visually busy antique store, with crates, old furniture, hay bales, old tapestries strewn across various objects, and even included hanging vines.
The day at work at the car dealership saw me, out of curiosity, collecting the fact sheets and price tags of all the cars on a single table so that I could understand which car was most expensive and compare the cars side-by-side. I was, naturally, yelled at for taking the documents away from the cars, so I had to bring them back and re-position them. It was some effort to recognize which tag belonged to which car, given that I really was not able to recognize brands nor models. I went by the little picture of the vehicle on each tag. I got confused by a tag which didn’t have a car yet. I got confused by another tag for a car that had been out of the market for more than a hundred years. Had an argument—eventually resolved—with the head salesperson about whether to display (or not) a certain sign on each car that indicates some metric, which I presume was detrimental to sales.
Eventually though it was determined I had been performing adequately and so was rewarded for the day at work, and offered room and board for a few days.
In fact, the car dealership was a storefront for a high school for magic!
The layout of the school was oddly alike that of a university I used to work at in wake-world. I had been offered to stay at their dormitories (which was, in contrast, not at all like wake-world), as there was some school holiday—meaning only very few students were remaining and there was excess hosting space.
I brought my duffelbag to the room that I would be occupying, and dumped it on the top of a bunk bed. I’d be sharing the room with a half dozen other people. Opening the zipper I noticed an insect crawling out of the bag, and apologized to another student sitting at their desk: “I was camping. There may be more coming out of there.” She replied: “I wouldn’t worry about it. Bugs crawl out of every bag here. We don’t know where they come from.”
There was a concert at the school that night. I distinctly remembered, in dream-world, that a friend in wake-world was also performing at a concert of his own that night. This thought placed me in a happy mood.
The band was good. There were few audience members, on account of the school holiday. Nonetheless I found myself dancing with a few students. There was magic in the air, probably of some kind that was also psychoactive, as everyone was recognizably excessively euphoric.
I was dancing and feeling exuberant. I also happened to hold a magic wand, which either had been given to me on arrival, or that I had picked up from another student. While dancing, I started to spin, holding the wand in the air above me.
The thought formed: “wouldn’t it be nice to create an ambiance for this music.” I wasn’t sure whether magic was allowed by a stranger, especially off teaching hours, but at that point I didn’t really care. I started mumbling under my breath, while dancing and waving the wand frantically:
“Sparkles! sparkles! sparkles!”
And the magic happened!
Glitter was now in the air, sparkling with reflections from the colorful lightning set up by the band. It was slowly floating down on us dancers and covering us. As I had continued to speak “sparkles” for a long while there was really a lot of glitter in the air and a thick layer eventually accumulated in my open hands. I let it gracefully fall, and noticed that a large quantity of glitter behaved a bit like sand.
Nobody seemed to care about this decorative use of magic, and there was even some appreciation for the creativity, so I felt emboldened. As the music went, I made an effort to visualize sparkling glitter, able to emit sparks and other specks of light on its own, as I was speaking more “sparkles” and spinning the wand.
It worked! The glitter continued to appear, and there were now little stars appearing briefly as it fell. The sight was now truly magical, and by now there was a little group of students chosing to dance specifically under my little rain of light. I felt very proud.
I then decided to diversify the sight and changed the words:
The magic happened once again. There were now fireflies flying around in the cloud of sparkling glitter. They were pulsating in yellow and green, like fireflies do. Some students were opening their hands to let the glowing insects land on them. But I also noticed there were other insects flying around more quickly, and those arose a nagging feeling something was out of place: they were not fireflies, and they were followed by a trail of smoke. I had also noticed small flames as I had been incanting the first utterances of “fireflies”. The feeling of something odd somewhat subsided, and I continued to enjoy the sight of our colored fireflies, when suddenly…
Someone shouted: “fire!”
There was, indeed a small flame coming out of te wallpaper on the background wall. Quickly, another flame appeared nearby, and then again another. I did not think twice; I pointed the wand to the flame and waved, shouting:
Magically, it worked. (Obviously!) Each shout of “cold” doused one flame. I played whack-a-mole with fire for a few seconds, but quickly I became more effective and turned the entire wall into a cold surface where water was condensing. It was now fire-proof. Only then did I notice many insects dead on the wall’s surface.
Another student noticed too, and remarked: “man, it would have blowed if they had burned that fuse, there.” I ignored the pun and considered the arrangement of cables glued to the wall, forming what appeared, indeed, to form a fuse. I intuitively understood that the cable was related to the school’s main power supply, so that a blown fuse would have attracted much more attention.
Nevertheless, the fire had been quenched, and the concert was going on, and there were still people dancing. I felt pretty satisfied with myself, now only concerned about how to clean up the mess of dead insects on the wall, getting it to dry, and fixing the burned—and now wet—wallpaper.
But then the lights turned on, folk became silent, and everyone started to look towards a corridor on the right, which, from, my position, I could not see yet.
Someone had noticed the fire.
A person small in size but big in status eventually appeared. It looked like someone Important, with a suit and a monocle hanging on a chain. This was, presumably, a headmaster of magic? He looked both annoyed (presumably, for having to perform school duties at an advanced hour of the night) and irritated (presumably, because I had nearly set his school on fire). He also had a Serious look on his face, one that was meant to tell he was angry and looking to deliver severe punishment. However, somehow, my intuition told me this was an act, and he was merely there to assess and deliver a ruling of discipline.
The made a beeline and came to stand in front of me, looking at me accusingly.
He pointed his finger and started a diatribe. “This is what you get for offering hospitality to unknown strangers. Uncontrolled use of magic! Was this a nefarious act? Did you seek to harness ambient magic and wreck havoc on our fine institution?” More words of generality were spoken before he started to try and identify on his own what happened: “did you summon a fire demon?”
I answered a precautious factual: “no.”
“did you channel nephitic vapours and condense them into uncontrolled heat?”
“were you trying to quicken a hot air golem?”
He was speaking his accusations very fast and even though I was able to deny each of them truthfully, the deluge of words went through me and I was unable to memorize it all. It was clear however that he was checking off a list of magic acts that were, I presumed, entirely forbidden at the school. He then went on to check off a list of magic acts that were, I presumed, forbidden without supervision. (“did you invoke visual candles to dance around your group and materialized them by accident?”)
There was a long list. I went with “no” for each proposal. He eventually gave up, there was a pause, and then he asked: “what was it, then?!”
I simply replied: “fireflies.”
There was a snirk from the audience of onlookers. The headmaster remained silent, looking very Serious and Concerned, yet I noticed his face shift slightly, barely noticeably, towards relief. At that point I knew: there would still be punishment, but it would be just token punishment.
He was still silent for half a minute, then said coldly: “Bravo. You shouldn’t be proud of yourself.” He then turned around and started to walk away, but still speaking for me. “Great. This was not great.” He did not say more, but still everyone else was silent.
I said loudly, in his general direction as he was walking away: “I’m sorry! And I mean it! And I fixed it already!”
A student nearby whispered to me though: “dude! that’s one week of detention for you! keep it down!”
The tension subsided, the concert finished, the crowd eventually dissipated. I had remained calmly where I was, noticing proudly there was still glitter in the air.
A thin but energetic lady came up to me and stated: “you need to report for detention now.”
I understood that I was to stay in a separate part of the institution for the duration of my punishment. I followed her. We walked through the canteen, then through a library, then through a storage area. Eventually we entered premises which very much looked like an old farm. There was a barn, primitive washing and bathing facilities, rustic decoration, a wooden table with checkerboard napkins. I saw hammocks in a corner. This was quite different from the dormitories, and probably somewhat less comfortable. It was warm enough though. It smelled homely and old-fashioned.
The lady went on with her own business. I was left on my own, and there were no other students in detention at that time. There was a lull, and I eventually asked her: “can I go and take some of my clothes from the dormitories?”
“what for?” she replied, amused.
“I don’t know, so I can wear fresh clothes tomorrow. And then the day after too.”
She looked at me and initially said nothing. I think she was slowly puzzling out that I was not a student and therefore did not know their detention rules. Then, finally:
“yes, of course you can go and get your stuff.”
I do not remember whether I did or when. At this point, I only vaguely remember her explaining that there would be communal dining, and that I would be invited for a week to reflect with the group on the errors of my way. I think I was wondering what “communal” would mean if it was just me and her. I was also informed that I would sleep in special clothes, that reminded me of the special night garment that mormons wear.
This went in a blur and at that time I was waking up already, so the dream was slowly fading away.
I do remember two thoughts however.
One was that I was still pretty happy to stay in a school of magic, even though I was in detention and I was bummed it looked and felt more like an average—and boring—high school with simple and overworked staff than a fancy medieval castle with elegant and idle personnel.
Another was a realization: I had misspoken “fireflies.”
“fireflies” and “fire, flies.”
I should have been more careful. This magic works very literally.