The Gramarye Files by M.A. Roberts

The Gramarye Files

 

Alice’s fingers itched to grab a pen. Officer Davis’s fidgeting timidity got on her last nerve. Somewhere, crammed in one of her filing cabinets, she had the man’s bio. With a few adjustments, a comma or an extra word in the right place, she could make him stand straighter, speak louder, show a bit of backbone. Of course, that broke all the rules, so she bit back her irritation and tried to sound calm and reassuring.

“You found the witch?” Alice asked.

“Ya-yes,” Davis stammered. “I followed her to her cottage then called for backup.”

“Let me guess, they couldn’t find you?”

“No, but I found them. I tried to lead them to the cottage, but…” He swallowed, his Adam’s apple bobbing behind his lowered chin.

“The house was gone?”

“I swear, I remember exactly where it was, but it’s just not there anymore.” Davis stiffened as he spoke, bracing for her response.

“Relax,” Alice said. “The wandering cottage trope is a classic witch defense mechanism. Give me your report, and we’ll see what we can do. This should be an easy case.”

He shuffled forward, fingers fumbling along the worn edge of a manilla folder. The file popped open, and the papers fell, scattering across her desk. He snatched one out of the air and hurriedly gathered the rest back together. Newbs, Alice groaned. She closed her eyes and steepled her fingertips against her forehead. Yes, the department needed more people, but why did they send her all the rejects, the magic school dropouts, and the norms who pissed themselves every time someone cast a spell?

She waited, silently counting of thirty, and when she opened her eyes, he stood halfway across her office. Sweat beaded on his forehead as his gaze fixed on the messy pile of papers by her elbow. She gave him a week and would be surprised if he lasted even that long. Alice pulled the stack closer and smoothed the top sheet with her hands.

On October twelfth we received an anonymous tip about a witch living in the woods near where five children have disappeared in the last three months. Upon arriving, I discovered a trail of gingerbread crumbs that lead to a small cottage…

This time, she didn’t suppress the sigh.

“What does this say?” she asked, pointing to the nameplate on her desk.

“Captain Alice Gramarye. Senior Grammar Mage.”

“Right, and did you read any of the new hire paperwork? We are very clear on how to write a report.”

 

“Yes, but Sergeant Ellis taught me to —”

“Our department has different rules. This is sympathetic magic, and it won’t work unless the words on the page match the picture in your head.”

His shoulders slumped forward. “Sorry, I’ll write it again.”

“No.” Alice swept the report into the wastebasket and pulled a pen and pad of paper from a desk drawer. “Describe what you saw and start with the forest.”

“It looked like a forest.”

She glanced up, nib pressed to the paper but not writing. “Oak trees, pine, redwood?”

Brows knit, he stared at her like she was the ignorant one in the room. “There are no oaks or redwoods around here.”

“A house disappeared, and you’re surprised I think a few trees might be out of place? A strong witch can change an entire forest, but even weak ones bring some of their local trees with them when they wander.

“It was all pine trees. Brown bark, green needles, lots of cones and squirrels.”

“Better,” she said, but she didn’t write it down. She needed more than a generic description of some trees. “What else? Was it cloudy, warm, cold, dark, sunny?”

“Hot and muggy but dark,” Davis said. “The trees blocked out most of the light.”

“What did it smell like?” Alice asked while scribbling a quick note.

Davis wrinkled his nose. “The forest? I guess it smelled like pine trees, but why put that in a police report?”

She glared at him and scrawled his name on a blank sheet of paper. She couldn’t do anything with just his name, but he didn’t know that. Davis shuffled his feet and mumbled a hasty, “sorry, Sir.”

“Do you think I’m wasting your time?” she asked. “I assure you, I’m not.”

“No, Sir. Of course not.”

He ducked his head and tucked his hands behind his back. Good, he must have heard the rumors. The whole precinct talked about her. Captain Gramarye was not afraid to take disciplinary actions, and no one wanted to be written up by a Grammar Mage. She asked again, and he answered, quickly and politely.  A dozen question later and she finished writing the report he should have given her in the first place. She dug through her drawer and pulled out a round wooden stamp. Alice pressed one end into a pad of illusory ink then stamped a spell onto the report.

“Here,” she held the paper out.”Read this.”

Davis took it and read, his lips moving soundlessly as his eyes scanned the document.

“Out loud,” Alice ordered.

He coughed, clearing his throat before speaking. “Pine needles crunch beneath my feet as I crouch to examine the breadcrumbs. I crush one between thumb and forefinger, and for a moment, ginger and molasses cut through the woods’s ever present scent of sap and mushrooms. A trail of gingerbread leads deeper into the forest. I stand, sucking in a breath of thick, sticky air and do my best to ignore the way my shirt, soaked with sweat, clings to my sides.

As he read, the words spun between them and an image unfolded in the air. She watched Officer Davis tromp through the woods, stoop to collect a candy bar wrapper covered with small chocolate fingerprints, and stumble into a clearing. He paused in front of a little cottage dotted with sugar glass windows and surrounded by a white picket fence. Alice squinted at the licorice flagpole and profiterole brick walls, but she had to admit the candied pecans did make nice roof tiles. Davis crept closer, and when he reached the gate, the witch’s cackle echoed through the office.

She gestured to the illusion. “Is this what happened?”

“Yes.” He inched closer, jaw slack and eyes widening as leaned forward, his nose almost touching the tiny transparent cottage. “You even got the pavers right. They look just like peppermint bark, but how? That’s not in the report.”

“Get the big things right and throw in a couple of good details, the rest tends to take care of itself.”

She dipped her fountain pen into the illusion, sucking up some of the ink. Davis handed the report back.

“What should I change?” she asked.

“You’re asking me?”

“Yes, you may never be a grammar mage, but you need to understand how it works.”

He took his time, thinking before he answered. “The part about the children. You can change ‘I find the freshly turned earth, the graves of five children’ to ‘I find the freshly turned earth, the graves, five children.‘ then I will have found the children alive, right?”

“Magic can’t bring them back from the dead. You would only find what is left of them, and I doubt you want to see that. You have the right idea though. Try again.”

“How about instead of ‘the cottage disappeared, leaving me lost and confused’ you can write ‘disappeared only to reappear the next day.‘ We can be there waiting for her.”

“That might work. Once you stamp the report and establish the link with reality, you can tweak the words or punctuation and change what actually happened, but any major rewrites will dissolve the link. The stronger your report, the more vivid the picture, the more things you can change. Let’s assume you can force her to come back. What would you do with her?”

“Arrest her for murder,” Davis said. “She’ll spend the rest of her life in prison.”

“No, she won’t. We can take away her broomstick, pointy hat, and wand, but magic finds a way. Witches always escape.”

“What do we do then? She has to be punished.”

“Does she? This report gives us a strong connection. I can make a dozen little changes that would make her miserable, but I won’t.”

“Why not? She deserves it.”

“Because our job is to protect the next kid, not to punish the witch. Though, sometimes we get to do both. This should do it.”

She scratched out the cottage disappeared, leaving me lost and confused, and carefully penned a new line. The witch and her cottage vanished never to be seen again.

 

M.A. lives in a small cowboy town just outside of San Francisco Bay Area. He studied philosophy in hopes of becoming a wizard. When that didn’t work, he decided to create new worlds and new magic.

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