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Hilary Hauck

The Wrong Kind of Magic eBook

The Wrong Kind of Magic eBook

A thrilling and inspiring tale of a big sister who leads the charge against mayhem and magic on Christmas night.

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The house is shaking, colors are sparkling, things are starting to break... and did that toy start moving? Thirteen-year-old Marley is convinced that Christmas is just for little kids and that magic doesn’t exist, but when she and her siblings tiptoe downstairs in the middle of the night to take a sneak peek at their stockings, she’s about to discover that magic is more real than she ever imagined...

When the children’s toys start coming to life, Marley will need to think fast if she’s to protect her siblings from rampaging dinosaurs and wild monkeys. The fate of them all depends on whether she can find the right kind of magic.

This thrilling and heartwarming adventure is a beautiful tale of a big sister who has forgotten the joys of Christmas.

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Chapter 1

How It All Began


The rush to finish school projects. The cold. The stress of having to buy her friends cool Christmas presents then having to say goodbye. Really long car journeys with her brother and sister.

What was there to like about Christmas?

Christmas was for little children. Even grownups only kept up the farce for the little ones, but that shouldn’t mean you still had to pretend it was the most magical time of the year when you turned thirteen.

How could it even feel like Christmas anyway when Rowan sat with fingers in his ears, elbows accidentally getting right into Marley’s face after every curve, and let’s face it, there wasn’t a single straight road in Pennsylvania.

If that wasn’t bad enough, Izabelle decided she was the only one allowed to sing and nobody else could copy her, so they had to keep quiet and listen to the lyrics and melodies she patched together from totally unrelated songs.

What was the point? Marley slouched against the inside of the car door, which jammed into her left ear. It hurt, but she couldn’t be bothered to move. At least it felt like something.

She looked at her phone. Not a great idea. All that did was remind her of the Christmas party she was missing.

Great.

Sam and Helen were friends again. At least Marley hadn’t been totally invisible while they’d not been speaking to each other.

They’d all have the best time ever. Nobody would even notice that Marley wasn’t there, that she was stuck spending the holiday with her little brother and sister. A nine and a three-and-a-half-year-old.

Oh, and two old people. Not that Nana and Popa were old and cranky like some of her friends’ grandparents, but they were still ancient and she wasn’t in the mood to think nice thoughts about anyone right now.

***

Marley barely noticed that Izabelle had stopped singing. Finally.

“How about a game of I spy?” Nana asked. What did she have against silence?

“I spy with my little eye, something beginning with ‘o’.” Rowan sprang forward in his seat with such enthusiasm he locked the seatbelt. Served him right. He needed to calm down.

“Orange light,” Marley said, coldly. She didn’t want to play ‘I spy’, but if he was going to pick something so easy, she was going to answer.

“No fair,” Rowan said. No fair had been his favorite saying since he’d been the last batter in the last game of the baseball season. No fair that his turn had come up last. No fair that he hadn’t had his lucky bat. No fair that the sun had poked out of a cloud right at that moment and shone in his eyes.

“No fair that you can’t hit the ball,” Marley had teased him.

No fair that he still said everything was no fair when the baseball season had been over for months.

“Okay, my turn.” Marley might as well play. It was better than looking at pictures of Sam and Helen. “I spy with my little eye, something beginning with—”

“Hold on,” Rowan interrupted. “Which orange light did I mean?”

“It doesn’t matter. An orange light is an orange light,” Marley said.

“You have to guess the right one or it doesn’t count.”

“Fine, Rowan. That one behind the steering wheel.”

“Oh great,” Popa said, apparently only noticing the light now. “We need to fuel up.”

“I’ll look for a gas station.” Nana opened the GPS on her phone. “The kids probably need a bathroom break, anyway.”

“Marley, your turn,” Popa said.

“Actually, I’ll pass. It’s a kids’ game.”

“I spy something blue,” Izabelle said, deciding that she would go in Marley’s place.

“It’s supposed to be I spy with my little eye, something beginning with—and then you say a letter,” Marley explained.

“We’ve played it this way before,” Popa stood up for Izabelle. Of course he would because she was three.

“Nana, tell him!” Marley said.

“Sky?” Nana guessed, obviously trying to head off yet another fight, like when they’d spent the whole of Connecticut arguing about what pizza toppings they were going to get, as though pineapple was ever supposed to go on a pizza.

Izabelle shook her head to ‘sky’.

“At least say my little eye,” Marley insisted, which earned her a snarky look from Rowan.

He guessed rain, which was hardly blue. And which should hardly be falling at Christmas, but whatever.

“Your cardigan?”

“There are no gas stations on the highway for miles. We’ll never make it. We have to turn off,” Nana said.

“Nana’s screen?” Rowan guessed.

“Tyrannosaurus!” Izabelle announced as though it was the greatest answer on earth.

“You really see dinosaurs?” Popa asked.

“And they’re really blue?” Rowan waved his hands in the air in desperation.

“Tyrannosaurus!” Izabelle repeated.

“I’ve found a station. Get off at the next exit,” Nana said.

“I spy with my little eye, something beginning with ‘m’ that is all around us,” Popa said in his overly dramatic voice, the one he used when he’d thought of something we’d all be sure to think was brilliant.

“S-mell?” Marley asked.

“No!” Rowan laughed. “But that was me!”

“You’re gross.” Marley wound down the window to let the smell of Rowan’s fart out but she quickly wound it back up again as rain splattered her face.

“Music, miles, mines, multiples, mountains,” Rowan spewed a list of guesses, each word earning a curt no from Popa.

“Moles, mums, men, math, manipulation, maples.” Maples earned Marley an approving look from Nana.

“Apatosaurus, triceratops, raptor, stegosaurus, megalo¬saurus.” Izabelle came up with her own version of a list.

“Only one of those begins with an ‘m’,” Rowan protested.

The car slowed down and switched lanes to take the exit. Other cars whooshed past, spraying them with rainwater.

Any enthusiasm they’d had for the game dimmed as quickly as the light on the rural road that had no streetlights and no other cars with headlights.

“Give us another clue,” Rowan asked after a while.

“It’s everywhere,” Popa reiterated. No help at all.

“Car, noise, air, hills, universe, I can’t think of anything beginning with ‘m’.” Rowan was the only one still playing.
Even Popa turned up the radio, though he could have been looking for other signs of life.

“Can you turn that down? It’s annoying,” Rowan said.

To annoy him even more, Marley started to hum along. It was a good song by that band they always had on while decorating the Christmas tree—TSO, short for some really long name.

Pretty good, not boring like most Christmas music. They had an orchestra and rock guitars. Not that Marley was going to be duped into enjoying Christmas, but at least it was something she could bear. Certainly more festive than the gray drizzle and an ‘m’ word that was impossible to guess.

“We give up,” Marley said.

“You can’t give up. You have to guess.”

“We’ve guessed everything we can think of.”

“How much further?” Popa asked.

Nana fiddled with her phone. “Odd, it looks like I’ve lost the signal.”

Nana and Popa leaned forward as though that would help them find the gas station.

“How about lame? As in Marley’s lame.”

“How about mind blowing, as in Rowan’s IQ?” Marley swiped her phone. “Hey, my battery’s at 15%. It was fine a minute ago.”

“Minutes?”

But there was no response from the front seat to Rowan’s guess nor to Marley’s battery dilemma. Nana and Popa were paying attention to the road, which she had to admit, was really dark.

For a while, the only sounds came from the slush of tires on the wet road and the swish of the windshield wipers.

“There!” Nana pointed at a painted sign with a dim yellow light shining on it.

Marley couldn’t really see the picture because the sign was swinging back and forth, but it didn’t look like any brands she’d ever seen. Probably some kind of Pennsylvania back-road gas station.

The car’s indicator went tick tick tick as Popa turned. He really didn’t need to use it. They hadn’t seen a single car since the highway.

Popa pulled up slowly to the single gas pump, then sat looking at the store. “Let’s hope it’s even open.”

“Magic!” Izabelle startled them all.

***

“Finally! It took a three-year-old to guess it!”

Marley watched as Popa raised his hands in triumph, breaking the quiet that even Nana had let happen.

“Bathroom break!” Nana unclicked her seatbelt.

“I’m good,” Rowan said.

“I’m not going in there!” Marley agreed.

“It’s that or the woods. We won’t be stopping again.”

So much for freedom of choice. There was no way Marley was going anywhere near the woods. Even nights with thick rain clouds and no moon didn’t get as dark as this back home.

They had to be a long way from any town. But if that was the case, who even stopped to get gas here?

Izabelle wriggled the way she always did when she was ready to get out of her car seat. The girl had no fear, and apparently neither did Nana, or perhaps she was just pretending to be all jolly as she unbuckled Izabelle.

As if they hadn’t pulled into the creepiest gas station in the history of creepy gas stations.

It was so cold outside and the rain blew sideways beneath the creaking roof.

Marley and Rowan followed Nana through the door reluctantly, not wanting to go inside, but too cold to protest.

This was no Sheetz. Inside the lights were on, but it was still kind of dark and it smelled funny. Not of coffee or candy like most places, but like an old person’s basement, all musky and damp.

“This place is scary,” Rowan said.

Marley looked at the cashier, worried Rowan’s comment was rude, but the attendant didn’t look at them, apparently preoccupied with something beneath the counter.

“You two go first.” Nana jogged Izabelle in her arms, as though this station was a perfectly pleasant place to be.

Even the bathrooms were ancient.

To flush, Marley had to pull a chain hung from a tank on the wall above her head.

At the sink, she swiped her hands three times before she thought to try the faucet. It didn’t even push—she had to turn it.

Rowan was out before Marley. He probably hadn’t even bothered to wash his hands.

Nana disappeared into the restroom with Izabelle.

“Look at this!” Rowan squeezed through a narrow opening between the end of the aisle and the wall.

“I don’t think we’re supposed to be behind there,” Marley said, but followed him anyway.

On the other side of the rack was another aisle. Strange it was so closed off from the rest of the store. Even stranger was the content of the shelves. Christmas decorations in a gas station. And not just any Christmas decorations, but the ugliest ones Marley had ever seen.

“Look at me!” She wrapped a piece of purple, green, and gold tinsel around her shoulders and flicked the end toward Rowan’s face.

He dodged the tinsel and picked up a mechanical Santa with a lopsided hat and a huge grin that looked more like a snarl.

“I gotta take a photo of that, it’s so creepy. Did you bring your phone in, Rowan?”

He shook his head and wound the key to see what the Santa did. It must have been really broken because instead of Ho Ho

Ho, it made an odd growling noise that sounded more like You You You, and its arm started to move but really slowly.

“Hey look, it’s supposed to be ringing its bell, but the bell doesn’t even have a dinger.” Rowan lifted it to show Marley. “That’s creepy,” he added.

“I have an idea,” Marley said. “Let’s pick the ugliest thing we can find and see if we can make Nana buy it for us.”

“These things will give Izabelle nightmares,” Rowan said.

“It’ll give you nightmares, more like.” As soon as she said it, Marley realized she’d been a bit harsh. “Oh come on, it’ll be fun!”

Rowan put the Santa back. It could have been the ugliest thing there, but it was still saying You You You and he didn’t want it.

“Why would they even make something like this?” Marley was looking at a pile of Christmas stockings.

They were red, but a dark shade, like from way back in the olden days. They must have been on the shelf so long, the fabric had matted.

She picked one up. It had an ugly patch stuck on it.

“Where are you?” Nana called from the bathroom door. “Take Izabelle a minute, will you?”

Marley and Rowan squeezed back through the gap.

“Where have you been? Are you allowed back there? Oh, and you left the faucet on, Marley.”

“Shouldn’t it turn itself off?”

Nana didn’t answer. Satisfied Marley had Izabelle’s hand, she went back inside the restroom and clicked the lock shut.

“Come on, quick!” They squeezed back through the gap, taking Izabelle with them.

“Choose something,” Rowan told her. “The ugliest thing you can find.”

Izabelle’s head disappeared beneath the lowest shelf. She popped back upright holding an angel.

“Not that,” Rowan said. “It’s supposed to be ugly.”

“It’s not exactly pretty.” Marley bent down to look at it. Another really old thing. The angel had bright blue eyes and intense red cheeks. She was wearing a white dress, and her gold hair matched her gold wings and halo. People just had no taste back then.

They heard the faucet running in the bathroom. “Quick!” Nana would be out any second.

“I want this one!” Izabelle clung tightly to the angel.

Rowan picked up a reindeer with fat cheeks who looked like he’d had too much cream on his pudding and needed to poop.

Marley grabbed two more Christmas stockings. The patch on one had musical notes on it, the other had a Santa face that, if Marley had paid attention, looked eerily like the mechanical Santa that was still saying You You You instead of Ho Ho Ho.

The Santa face patch was peeling away so badly, she pressed it to try and stick it back down.

DRIIIIINNNG!

The bell sounded like it was coming from right where they stood, but, she guessed, someone must be playing a slot machine somewhere at the front of the store.

“Come on!” Marley started to slide back through the gap but noticed Rowan going back to the shelf. He put the reindeer down and picked up the creepy Santa. He must have nudged the mechanism, because at the exact moment he picked it up, it stopped chanting You You You.

“What are you doing? You can’t possibly want that!”

Her brother was clearly tired because instead of some clever retort, he said in a voice almost as mechanical as the Santa,

“It’s what I’m getting.”

They squeezed back through the gap just in time for Nana to come out of the bathroom.

“Can you buy us these?”

“Pleeeeeassse!”

“They don’t exactly go with the decorations at our house. Are you sure these are the things you want?”

“We want them.”

“We want to decorate, too.”

“Pleeeeeassse!” Izabelle wailed.

An icy gust of wind hit them as Popa came in through the door. Nana and the kiddos joined him at the cash register.

“The kids want these,” Nana said, and her raised eyebrows didn’t go unnoticed by Marley.

“Oh, but Popa, we really want them,” Marley said, and grinned at Rowan who was looking less enthusiastic about the whole idea. “Look, this one can be for Izabelle.” Marley rubbed her finger over the patch with presents on it.

DRIIIIINNNG!

That bell again. Marley still couldn’t see a slot machine, but she wasn’t going to stop her pleading for the ugly decorations now.

She’d figured out long ago that Nana and Popa had a hard time saying no to the grandkids. It’d become a kind of game to see how far she could push them.

She watched them share a knowing grin as though the joke wasn’t on them, then they nodded.

***

Back in the car, Marley swiped open the camera on her phone. She had to send Lucy a picture of the ugly stockings, but the screen went blank. She tried again.

Battery low. Powering down.

This Christmas was going from bad to worse.

“Let me use your phone, Rowan.”
Rowan had got back in the car quietly and without his usual narrative on what he was doing and how he felt about it. He didn’t even use his catch phrase, no fair, though Marley couldn’t exactly imagine why he’d say that while getting away from this creepy place. It was perfectly fair leaving it far behind.

Rowan tried to wake up his phone. “It’s dead.”

Marley huffed and leaned her head back on the door rim. She closed her eyes but knew there was little chance of falling asleep.

Dead batteries. Rain, not snow. I spy with made-up rules and songs with made-up words. Creepiest of creepy gas stations.

Still nothing to like about Christmas.

Meet the author

An Italian speaking Brit living in the US, Hilary Hauck is a bestselling,
award-winning author of historical and fantasy fiction featuring characters struggling
to find their inner amazing. Raised in the UK, Hilary later lived in Italy,
where she mastered the language, learned how to cook food she can no longer
eat, and won a national karate championship. After meeting her husband, she
came to the US and drew inspiration from Pennsylvania coal history for her
debut novel.

Learn more about Hilary