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by Lynn Mann

He finished the letter, adding the last spell, keying it to the boy, and then meticulously sealing it to ensure that no one but the boy would be affected. He placed the letter in an envelope and addressed it with the boy’s name, humming tunelessly as he worked. No matter how many times he used letters to transmit spells, he was still careful each time, working with gloves, making sure everything was perfect.

Finished, he arose from his worktable and put on the glasses he wore for jobs like this. They were just plain glass but along with the wheelchair he used, they tended to disarm suspicions. The wheelchair also put him at eye level with the children, which made him appear harmless, further relaxing them.

He took the letter downstairs, got into the special van he used for trips like this and drove across town to the boy’s house. It was a nice single-family home in a nice suburban neighborhood. White siding, green trim, and a basketball hoop over the garage.

The boy had kind and loving parents, and when he asked for a basketball hoop they didn’t tell him he was too short to play. His father carefully set it to regulation height and told him he could practice as much as he wanted, so long as school work was finished first.

At first he couldn’t make a single throw. But he persevered, intent on mastering this skill, and now was making more shots than he missed. Even despite his shortness, he’d made the school’s basketball team. The coach had been doubtful but had to try out everyone who showed up, and the boy’s talent, skill and determination more than made up for his size. He wasn’t first off the bench but he almost always played.

The man waited in his van until the boy’s mother pulled out of the driveway and the boy, as usual, began practicing free-throws. The man got into his wheelchair, slid open the van’s door and used the ramp to lower himself to the ground, the envelope resting on his lap. He wheeled himself to the end of the boy’s driveway and called his name.

“Tommy? Are you Tommy Moore?”

At first the kid, concentrating on his free-throws, didn’t even notice him. So he sent out a tiny wisp of magic: Notice me! it told the boy. Tommy turned and saw a slight man, with dark hair and glasses, in a wheelchair, with a large envelope on his lap. The man saw a slender, wiry boy, tow-headed and very short for his age, holding a basketball and looking at him warily.

“Are you Tommy Moore?” he asked again. Tommy nodded, acknowledging his name.

“Hi,” the man said. “My name is Sam Blair.”

Tommy nodded again but stayed where he was. Smart boy, Sam thought. Careful, listens to his parents’ warnings about strangers and candy, however metaphoric.

“I have a letter for you,” Sam continued, “what we call a Certificate of Merit.”

“Why?” Tommy asked, keeping his distance still.

“Because of the basketball games.” Sam explained. “You’ve got a lot of talent. I’m sort of a scout; we look for kids like you. Maybe you saw me at some of your games? You did especially well in that game against Central last week.”

Tommy grinned, he’d sunk six baskets in that game, not the star shooter but still pretty good for the time he was on the court. Even though he was shorter than all the other players, they could almost never block him, he was so quick. He took a step closer, still holding the basketball.

“It’s just a letter,” Sam explained, offering the envelope again. “No money or anything, we just want to give you a little extra encouragement, to let you know that you’ve been noticed.”

“Why not give it to Jake? He’s the star.” Tommy couldn’t hide a note of bitterness. He had twice Jake’s talent and five times his drive, yet Jake was the star, just because he was so tall. And all the girls noticed him, too. At twelve, Tommy was just beginning to want girls to notice him. He sure noticed them.

“Because he is the star.” Sam explained. “He gets plenty of recognition already. It’s players like you who need the extra, right?”

Tommy nodded and took a step closer, lowering the basketball along with his guard. But he still didn’t take the envelope.

Come on, Sam thought fiercely, outwardly maintaining his calm demeanor. Take it, take it. But he didn’t use any magic this time, Tommy had to make his own choice.

“Maybe you should give it to my mom” he said, hesitantly. “She’ll be home soon.”

“Sure” Sam said, as if he couldn’t care less. “But I’ve got a few more of these to deliver. How about if I just leave it with you, and you can show it to her when she returns?” He tossed the envelope towards the boy, skillfully frisbeeing it across the gap between them. Instinctively the boy caught it. Sam sat very still, not wanting to spook the kid.

Go on, open it, he thought. Change your life forever.

Tommy balanced the basketball between his feet and, keeping one eye on the stranger, opened the envelope.

He took out the letter and read it, puzzled. Sam felt all the tension leave his body. Gotcha! Tommy looked up, a smile on his face.

“For real?” he asked.

“Got your name on it, right?” Tommy nodded. “Then I guess its for you. Enjoy it, kid, gotta go.” Sam turned his chair and wheeled away from the Moore’s house.

“Hey” Tommy called, his face glowing, “thanks!”

Sam sketched him a small salute, positioned his chair on the ramp and raised himself back into the van. He sat for a minute, watching Tommy read and reread the letter.

The more he handled the letter, the stronger the spell would be. Soon Tommy would put on a late growth spurt, eventually attaining the full six feet and three inches the spell granted him. The rest would be up to him: doctor, athlete, ditch digger, chef — he had the potential for all of them. At least now his decisions wouldn’t be based on stature.

Sam drove away, content, humming tunelessly beneath his breath.

Copyright © 2007 by Lynn Mann

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