The spellhammer exploded with light and power, throwing me back against the wall. I tried to raise a hand to cover my eyes, but I couldn’t move a muscle. I heard Ethan scream, but the blinding light kept me from seeing what was happening.
The magic that Ethan had unleashed slammed into me like a rhino on roller skates. For a second I thought that I was going to be crushed between it and the wall, but then the magic began to wrap around me like an electrified cocoon. I squirmed against it, but couldn’t break free.
Suddenly I was jerked forward, flying across the room until I hit…something. I grunted in pain, and it and I fell to the floor together, with me landing on top. Almost immediately, the light vanished. Was I alive? It felt like I had a few bumps and scrapes, but no broken bones. Definitely not dead.
I opened my eyes. Conrad’s room looked strangely undisturbed. All his stuff — his collection of skulls, classic horror movie posters, and ambient scary music on vinyl — were exactly where they’d been before. But then I gasped.
Where was Ethan?
“Ethan?” I called, trying and failing to stand up. “Where are you?”
“Down here, stupid,” I heard him groan, and I realized I was laying right on top of him. “Would you get off already?”
I sighed in relief. “Don’t you scare me like that! What the cheesy garlic bread did you think you were doing? Do you have any idea how many ways you could have died just now?”
I tried to pick myself up again, but my arms gave out and I fell back on top of him.
He grunted, then said, “I’ll be sure to let you know if it ever becomes your business.”
I stopped, glaring down at him. “Excuse me? As long as you’re in my house, your suicidal stupidity is my business!”
“Just get off!”
I tried again, but the explosion must have hit me harder than I’d thought because I still couldn’t raise myself more than a few inches before collapsing onto Ethan again. Ignoring his protests, I laid my head down on his chest for a minute to catch my breath. The spellhammer lay a few feet away, no longer glowing.
“Where did you even get that?” I asked, kicking it under his bed where he couldn’t reach it.
He looked away. “I asked McGus if I could borrow it.”
“Uh huh.” I craned my neck to see the old, thick book sitting on his bed. “And that’s what you traded Aesop the bowling ball for? A spellbook? Holy hamburger casserole, Ethan!”
“I was fine until you came in,” he snapped,
“You’re lucky you didn’t blow up the whole neighborhood, you idiot!”
I put my palms flat against the floor and pushed myself up a third time. Ethan rose up with me. His arms were wrapped around my torso, holding me against him.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“I’m not doing anything! Just get off already. Seriously, when was the last time you showered?”
I curled my lip. “You’re going to have to stop hugging me first, loverboy.”
He froze. “What are you talking about?”
“Your arms, doofus! What else would I be talking about?”
He looked over my shoulder, and jumped in surprise when he saw what he was doing.
“Wh- What the crap?” he sputtered. “That’s not me!”
“Let go already!”
He started to thrash underneath me, and then rolled over so that I was lying underneath him. The look of panic on his face grew with every passing second.
“Ethan!” I snapped.
“I can’t,” he finally whispered, eyes filling with horror.
“I- I can’t let go!”
Rolling him over again, I glared straight into his eyes. “Don’t screw with me like this,” I growled. “If you’re still touching me in five seconds…”
I grabbed one of his arms to pry it loose, and then froze when it wouldn’t budge.
“I mean it, Henry,” Ethan said frantically. “I think we’re stuck together!”
My eyes opened wide with horror as those words echoed inside my head. STUCK. TOGETHER. STUCK TOGETHER. STUCK TOGETHER STUCK TOGETHER STUCKTOGETHERSTUCKTOGETHERSTUCKTOGETHER—
I had to clamp my mouth shut to keep from screaming.
I took a deep breath, forcing myself to calm down. Together, with some difficulty, we were able to stand up. Our bodies remained pressed together — intimately close. My arms were free, and his were too from the elbows down. Above that, though, they were practically glued to the sides of my ribs in the world’s most unbreakable hug.
“Henry, what’s going on?” Ethan asked, desperately trying to tear himself away from me.
“Ow! Ethan, stop- ow! Stop that! It’s not going to work!” I groaned and tried to sit down on his bed to think. Our legs were stuck together, though, and his knees wouldn’t bend that way, so we ended up falling down onto the bed together. I growled, kicking out at nothing in frustration, which twisted Ethan’s leg and make him yelp in pain.
“Answer me already!” he said. “What is this? Why are we stuck together?”
“Oh, come on! Isn’t it obvious?” I yelled into his ear. “You were screwing around with magic you didn’t understand, and you put a curse on us!”
“A curse?” he echoed, suddenly sounding meek. “I- But I don’t know any curses!”
“Well, congratulations. You must be a natural.”
He was quiet for a minute and, pressed against him like I was, I could feel the racing of his heart and the frantic way his chest moved as he gasped for breath. I tried not to imagine what my parents would think if they came in and saw us together on the bed like this.
“But how?” he finally asked. “I was doing exactly what the book said. And I’ve seen you use magic all the time, so it can’t be that hard!”
I jammed my thumb into one of his pressure points. While he squirmed in pain, I struggled to our feet again. “Okay, this is fine. I can fix this.”
“Then do it already!”
I paused. “Well, I can’t do it. But I know somebody who can.”
I tried to make for the door, but Ethan planted his feet firmly on the floor and refused to move.
“Are you insane?” he demanded. “You want to go to him for this after I sto…uh, borrowed his hammer?”
“That’s your problem, not mine.” The idea of McGus yelling at someone besides me for once was a refreshing thought. “Unless you want to stay stuck to me for the rest of your life.”
He hesitated, but then reluctantly let me lead him to my room. Both of us had to move our legs at the same time. It reminded me of a three legged race I’d done once in elementary school. Stuck facing opposite directions, Ethan was forced to walk backwards. He did his best to crane his neck around to see where we were going, but that made our cheeks brush together and I gave him a headbutt to warn him to keep his distance. We were already too close, and I was willing to kill for whatever personal space I had left.
“Henry?” my dad’s voice came from downstairs. “Ethan? Is everything okay up there?”
“Everything’s peachy, Dad.” I answered before Ethan could say anything.
“We heard a bang,” Mom said. “Are you sure you two are all right?”
“Yeah. Ethan just rolled out of bed. He’s a total klutz.” I eyed him dangerously. “Right, Ethan?”
He gulped, then nodded. “Yep. Rolled out of bed.”
I waddled us to my room before they could ask any more questions, and kicked the door closed. Once we were alone, I hurried over to my dresser where I’d left my phone.
“Okay, let me just…” I grunted, twisting Ethan around so that I could pick it up. I had to hold it up at a weird angle to see it, bringing my face alarmingly close to Ethan’s.
“What are you waiting for?” He turned his head, and I snapped my other hand up to grab him by the ear.
“I swear on the name of comedy itself,” I said in a low, dangerous voice, “that if you kiss me even by accident, I will end you.”
“Okay, okay! Let go!”
I dialed McGus’ number and held the phone awkwardly to my ear. It rang for so long I was worried he wouldn’t answer, but just before it went to voicemail…
“All right, what’d he do?” he asked.
“Master, you’re not going to believe this. Ethan just—”
I went rigid. What had he just said? My blood began to boil, and I almost crushed the phone in my grip.
“You knew?” I whispered.
“Of course I knew! You think someone can steal a weapon from my armory without me knowing it? So, what’d he do? Burns his eyebrows off? Electrocute himself?”
“Are you insane?” I demanded in complete disbelief. “You’re the one who told him he couldn’t use magic!”
“He can’t,” McGus said matter-of-factly. “Without a spellbook to teach him, he’ll never be able to do more than throw a few sparks.”
“Oh yeah?” I was clenching my teeth so hard I could barely speak. “Well guess what he got hold of?”
McGus went silent. After a minute, he asked, “He found a spellbook?”
“Oh. I, uh…” McGus cleared his throat. “Where’d he get it?”
“That’s not what’s important here!” I snapped. I wasn’t about to drag Aesop into this. If the authorities found out he’d pawned off a real book of spells to an unlicensed human, getting his shop shut down would be the best possible outcome.
“All right, all right! What’d he do?”
I looked down at us. “I’m not sure. A curse of some kind. We, uh…”
“Don’t make me say it out loud,” I muttered.
“Girl, I can’t very well help you if I don’t know what’s wrong.”
I sighed. “We’re stuck together.”
McGus didn’t reply. I looked at the phone to make sure we hadn’t been disconnected, but then I heard it. In the distance, like he’d set the phone down and walked off, he was laughing his asparagus off.
I clenched my fist. “I’m going to murder him.”
“Can he help us?” Ethan asked.
I jabbed him in the pressure point again. “Shut up!”
“That’s the best thing I’ve heard in years!” McGus said when he finally came back, still wheezing from all the laughter. He probably hadn’t laughed in months, and his lungs had forgotten how it felt.
“It’s not funny!” I yelled. “Neither of us know how to break the curse. What do we do?”
“Have you tried true love’s kiss?”
“Fine, all right, bring him down here and I’ll see what I can do.”
“Since this is your fault,” I said, “I think you should come here.”
“Don’t push your luck, girl. Hurry up and get on a train to Mauldibamm if you want this fixed tonight.”
He sounded so flippant. So unconcerned. Meanwhile, my closeness to Ethan was making my skin crawl. I hadn’t been this close to a boy since…
Actually, you know what? That’s none of your business.
“Screw you, McGus,” I said, and hung up before he could reply.
“What did he say?” Ethan demanded. “He can help us, right?”
“He says he can, but we have to go to him,” I said, turning to face the door.
“Seriously?” he whined. For once, I fully agreed.
“Yep. Let’s get going. The sooner this is over, the better.”
“All right, but…” He bit his lip and looked away.
“Spit it out! I’m not enjoying this any more than you are!”
Ethan hesitated, then looked at me from the corner of his eye.
“I kind of, uh…have to go to the bathroom.”