Chapter 22

Cate Fox and the Case of the Fading Magic by Emily


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“Well, if you’ll excuse me,” Jackie announced, grabbing a backpack from under a desk, “I need to get changed. I can’t stand one more minute in this old man fuddy-duddy crap. George, keep an eye on them.”


She walked into an adjacent office, taking the glowing Sophia ball and the controller device with her and shut the door.


I looked at Sam and Brandon. Both were shocked and stunned.


“I’m so sorry,” Brandon apologized. “I didn't know it would go down like this. He promised me that we’d only be helping people.”


“Jackie has a plan,” George said to Brandon. “We have to trust her.”


“The hell you do, George,” I replied. “Do you not see the writing on the walls? She’s going to ditch you the moment she walks out that door. She doesn’t care about you. Me. Brandon. Anyone but herself.”


“That’s not true,” he protested, gazing at the office door. “She promised-”


Sam looked angry and like she was ready to speak, but I cut her off. “Brandon, how do those devices work?”


“All of the nodes are connected to the controller, which is also connected to the glass ball. The controller singles out each point-to-point transfer. Each node has a serial number on it.” He held one up and I could easily see a number on the back of it.


“So Jackie has to have one on her, right?”


“Right.”


“What if she takes it off?”


“She won't.”


“Why not?”


“It’s a flaw in the process. Because she took the same magic from me and Lulu. Our magic was dependent on wearing some kind of talisman. I had a ring. Lulu had a bracelet. Jackie has to wear that node on her somewhere. The only magic that would stick is Ashley’s, Sophia’s, and Julia’s.” They looked at George. “Sorry, I mean George.”


“But removing my magic doesn’t stick,” George argued. “Mr. Sanders promised me he’d figure out how to make it stick.”


“I don’t know,” Brandon shrugged. “Mr. Sanders was the expert.”


“Alright, so,” I said. “We need to get that node from her.”


That’s when Jackie came out of the office, with her hair tied up in a ponytail, and sporting a low-cut white crop top and skinny jeans. She put her arms through a gray cardigan. She did a twirl and smiled as if we weren’t watching her.


When she grabbed her chest and felt her skinny waist is when I cleared my throat.


She looked at me. “Right. I best get going. How do I look, Jack?”


“Like you’re missing a pumpkin spice latte,” I replied. “If your goal is to keep me awake during class - mission accomplished, but I’m pretty sure that top goes against the faculty dress code. I doubt Hathaway will approve.”


“I don’t plan on going back to teaching. Pray they’ll give you all a decent substitute.”


“Jackie,” I said standing in front of her. “We can’t let you go.”


She held up the glowing lacrosse ball. “Then you’re not going to get this.”


“You leave Sophia out of this,” I half pleaded, half demanded. “She is just an innocent bystander.”


“So was I, Jack, when that goddamn Hopper took my body and left me an old man. I’d rather die than go back to that miserable life.”


“That’s not true and you know it.”


“You said I didn’t know the real you, Jack. Well, don’t pretend you know the real me, either. You don’t know what I sacrificed to be the perfect daughter. The perfect student. To get that scholarship. Then have that taken away in an instant. You’ve only been a Displaced for a month. Try four years! Try looking in the mirror and seeing that horrible old face, day after day.” 


“We all have dysphoria,” Sam interjected. “But you don’t see us going psycho.”


“Says the girl who can literally change her face.”


Now it was my turn to calm Sam down. “Sam, don’t agitate her.” I turned back to Jackie. “Sam does have a point. What makes you different from the other TGs here?”


“All of the other TGs are enjoying a second chance at adolescence. They’re all gorgeous. I’m the complete opposite of that. I had my youth stolen. I’m hideous and old, with none of the life experiences to go with it. Try wondering every day if this is the day you’re going to die of old age when you’re only 21. Or have a stroke. Or develop dementia. Why don’t you get Emma’s opinion? How does she feel going from 14 to 42? From high school freshman to middle-age man?”


“Look, Jackie,” I said, trying to reason with her. “Whether you’re here or out on your own you have to adapt to the way the world sees you. Isn’t that the point of this school?”


“Adapt? I was rejected by everyone. By my original family. By this body’s family. By the fucking Order. I was told to adapt to my new life.” She had a pained chuckle. “Did you hear that, Jack? New Life. There was nothing new about this body. I was fucking dying. My life was over. Resigned to spending what little time I have left teaching freshmen science to people who accidently stumbled upon what I want! What I should have. What I should be!”


“We’ll figure it out. I swear.”


“I already have, Jack. This is the only way. Fight magic with science.”


“I can’t let you do this to others,” I said, standing my ground. “You know I have to stop you.”


She clucked her tongue and sauntered over to me. “Poor Jack. You still think you’re a cop. I already have what I want. And you turned down a chance to be my partner. I don’t need you anymore. Have fun being the Order’s pawn.”


“I’m nobody’s pawn,” I growled defiantly.


“What about me?” George asked, his voice breaking. “I did everything you asked. You promised to fix me. And I believed you.”


Jackie shrugged. “It’s not my problem anymore. Let Jack ‘figure it out’.” 


Told ya so, George.


I looked down at the silver pendant around Jackie’s neck. If Brandon was right, this was the talisman for the magic. I could reach out and grab the pendant. Jackie would revert to Sanders then I could grab the magic lacrosse ball.


But that’s not what happened.


Jackie saw me eyeing the pendant. All of a sudden she yelled, “Catch!” and tossed the magic lacrosse ball high in the air. In the ensuing chaos, Jackie turned and ran out the door, unhindered.


I didn’t have a lacrosse stick in my posession, so I dove with outstretched hands, catching and cradling the precious magical ball. 


Sam saw Jackie run out the door and shouted, “She’s getting away!” 


I handed Sam the ball with Sophia’s magic. “Keep this safe. I’ll handle Jackie. Go find the others.” I then grabbed my socks and shoes and took off down the basement hall.


Jackie reached the top of the stairs and slammed the door behind her. She had gotten a decent head start. She was also pretty fast. I wonder if she ran track before becoming displaced. 


When I emerged from the basement, Jackie was nowhere in sight. Had she gone into a room, or another floor, or just ran back out another door? Sam, George, and Brandon came through the door shortly after I did.


“Split up!” I barked at George and Brandon. 


George went up, Brandon went down the hall, I went the other way towards Sanders’s classroom. I took this opportunity to put my socks and shoes back on.


The classroom was still dark from when I was last in there. The door was slightly ajar though. I quietly opened the door further and snuck in, making sure nobody was lurking behind the door. I reached down to my hip out of habit. I wished I had my Glock on me. For safety reasons, of course.


I tip-toed to the desk. The car keys weren’t there anymore. I doubt she was able to come in here, grab the keys and leave before I got here. Therefore, I can only assume she’s still here. Lurking in the dark.


There were only so many hiding places in this classroom, so I started looking under desks.


What I didn’t notice was a coat rack behind me until I heard the rustling of coats. I turned around just in time for the coat rack to come charging at me.


I was stunned and knocked to the floor, banging my head on a student desk in the process.


From underneath a pile of lab coats, I managed to look up to see her flee the classroom. I willed myself up, trying to ignore the ringing and throbbing pain in my head and stumbled after her.


I heard Brandon yell, “Mr. Sanders!”


When I got out of the classroom, Brandon was standing there. “Which way did she go?” I asked.


“Outside, toward the parking lot,” they replied. “Cate, are you OK? Should we call the police?”


“I am the police!” I growled, and followed Jackie outside.


I saw her running in a straight line towards her car. One of the few cars in the faculty parking lot on a Saturday. With her long legs, she was certainly fast. But I found I was faster. Just like when I chased down George yesterday, I caught up just in time for her to reach the car and open the door. 


I launched at her, knocking her into the car door and we both collapsed to the pavement. She dropped the keys, but I wasn’t here for those. 


While she was flailing to get me off of her, I reached up and ripped the pendant off her neck. The thin silver easily snapped and I had it in my hand.


“Give me that!” she yelled, as I rolled over and got off of her.


Next to me were her car keys. I’ll be taking those too, after all. I grabbed them and stood over her. I was half-expecting her to change back instantly, but she had mentioned it took hours for the effect to wear off, so I was disappointed. “Jackie, this is stupid. Let’s go back to the lab and undo all of this. We can pretend none of this happened. I’ll take you up on that drink offer.”


“I worked too hard to have my life taken away a second time,” she retorted, and lunged at me. I sidestepped her.


“I don’t want to fight you, Jackie. Look, together we can find a way to fix you and the others without hurting anyone else.”


“Too late for that, Jack,” she countered. “Just give me my pendant and I’m out of here. For good.”


When I didn’t comply, Jackie rushed me once more, grabbing me around the waist and then pulling my hair. God, that hurt. But for once, my diminished stature worked to my advantage. I ducked under her arm and hit her square in the stomach. That knocked the wind out of her and she slumped to the ground trying to catch her breath. I knew when she got up, she would be coming after the pendant, so I needed a place to hide it. 


God, I wish these leggings had pockets.


I took off running. In no particular direction. Had I been thinking about it, I would've ran towards the quad. A higher likelihood of running into Kayla, Brett or some other ally. But instead I found myself bolting past the campus exit and down the street. Downtown Weatherford. A place I had no allies. Actually, I kinda had one. I wonder if Kristy was working today. I needed a place to stash this pendant until we could convince Jackie to turn back. She might be able to help.


When I got into town, I pushed through people on the sidewalk. Normies gave me the side-eye. I looked behind me and Jackie was right on my tail. As I made a mad dash for the diner I could hear Jackie in close pursuit yelling at me to stop. Great, more attention in the town where our kind - especially me - isn't welcome.


I ducked into the diner and ran up to the hostess. “Is Kristy working today?”


“No,” she said in a mixture of surprise and confusion.


Customers looked up at me, but since I wasn’t wearing a PAA uniform, they quickly resumed what they were doing before I ran in.


Plan B. I ran through the kitchen, disrupting the cook. I wish I had time to order a pastrami sandwich, but I’ve waited this long, a little longer wouldn’t kill me. Jackie, however, might, so I better get a move on. I saw the bigoted manager standing between me and the back door. I ran towards him, making sure to shoulder check him on the way out. After knocking him flat on his ass I pulled over a cart full of cookware to slow down Jackie.


“I’m calling the police!” the angry manager said.


“Add it to my tab, asshole,” I replied, hustling out the back door of the diner and down an alley.


The alley ended in a cul-de-sac adjacent to the cornfield. I looked behind me to see Jackie emerge from the diner. I then sprinted off toward the cornfield.


As soon as I got through the first few rows of corn I took a hard right. Then I began zig-zagging through the rows, hoping to lose her. I finally stopped and knelt down, catching my breath. If Kayla was here, certainly she’d yell at me to get up and hustle.


It was already late afternoon and the low October sun just above the corn stalks cast eerie shadows across the ground. As I knelt there I listened for Jackie. A cool breeze rustled the stalks, making it harder to track my pursuer. A few seconds later I heard more rustling of stalks behind me. Whether that was the wind or her, I knew she was close. 


A corn stalk rustled up ahead. I hesitated and knelt down to see if I could see any feet. I did see a twig falling to the ground. Clever.


Suddenly I heard a grunt and was flattened as Jackie landed on top of me. She started punching me as she felt around for the pendant. No way was I going to let her succeed. With all my strength I managed to push her off of me and roll to the side.


“Give me my pendant, Jack!” she shouted, getting back to her feet.


I got back to mine and resumed a defensive posture. “We can still work this out. We can still work together. We just have to do this the right way.”


“I tried.”


“Let's try again. We can find our original bodies and-”


“My body is dead!” she cried.


Shit. I shook my head. “I’m sorry. How?”


“Overdose. Two months ago. You don’t know what it’s like to stand over your dead body and know you can never go back.”


“I’m sorry that happened, Jackie. But this isn’t the way.”


“I’m done discussing this, Jack. Give me my pendant!”


“No,” I replied. But suddenly, the pendant in my hand started to get hot. Really hot. Melt-your-skin hot. “Fuck!” I dropped it to the ground. 


I watched it lay there in the dirt smoldering.


Jackie dove to scoop it up but cursed and dropped it just as quickly as I did. She tucked her hand inside the sleeves of her cardigan and went to try again. “Too hot to handle, Jack,” she chuckled as she looked up at me.


That’s when I kicked dirt in her face. “My name is Cate!”


She cursed as she was blinded momentarily by the dirt, but didn’t drop the pendant.


We both froze when a gunshot rang out nearby. Startled birds fled the scene. We looked up to see Sam and Sophia standing at the edge of the cornfield. Sam was holding my Glock. With good form, I might add. After only one lesson.


It was then that George launched at Sam, knocking her down. I used the chaos to jump on Jackie, causing her to drop the pendant again. After spinning around, my fist to her nose caused both of us to fall back into the next row of corn.


When I looked up, George was standing there pointing my gun at us all. Sam and Sophia sat there with their hands up. And this is why I didn’t want to bring the gun.


But George was more interested in Jackie. “You!” George whined. “You promised. You promised to fix me permanently.”


“George, wait,” Jackie pleaded, looking from me to him. “I can fix this. I can fix you. But first you have to help me. I need that pendant back. It’s over there. Shoot Cate. It’s the only way.”


Shoot me? I can think of some other ways.


George winced in pain. “Make her voice stop!” he screamed.


By now I was standing, trying to assess George’s threat level. He was pointing the gun at Jackie and shaking like a leaf. All of a sudden I saw George close his eyes and pull the trigger. The bullet grazed Jackie’s side. OK, threat level - high.


Jackie grabbed at her side and fell to her knees, sobbing.


“George,” I tried to say calmly. “Look at me. Put the gun down. If you kill Jackie we can never fix your curse. And you’ll have to live with killing another human being. Trust me, it’s not worth it.”


Instead George started to move the gun up to his own head.


Whoa, George, don’t do that either. That fixes even less.”


“She won’t shut up!” George cried.


I looked at George, confused. “Who?” I asked. Me? Jackie?


“Julia.”


I saw Sophia stand up. “George.” She slowly walked over to him. 


George watched Sophia, surprised she was being so bold. The pain in his eyes was evident. I turned to look at Jackie, who was kneeling there, putting pressure on where the bullet grazed her. She looked pissed. I was standing between her and the smoking pendant.


“Please don’t take my friend away,” Sophia whispered.


“But she’s not real,” he cried.


“I’m not talking about her. I’m talking about you.”


“Me?”


“Yes, George. We’re your friends. We’re your friends regardless of your gender.


“But she’ll come back and everyone will forget about me. Everyone.”


“We won’t forget you George,” Sophia promised. “We’re your friends.”


“After what I did? After who I hurt?”


“You were in pain.” She looked at Jackie. “Both of you... Let your friends help you.”


“It hurt so bad,” George admitted. “I was gone, replaced by her. I did things…felt things…that bastard used me for his twisted fantasies. And part of me…enjoyed what he did. I felt so violated. And out of control.”


“But you escaped from him. Even if it meant being Julia, you were at least free.”


“No. I was never truly free. The magic was always trying to pull me back to him. Even here. At night I could hear his voice calling to me. Awake, asleep, it didn’t matter. Whenever I was alone I heard him.”


“What about when you were with me?” Sophia asked. “You always seemed happy when Julia was with me.”


“No.” He was shaking his head. “She’s not real. Even if…”


“If?” Sophia asked.


George seemed on the precipice of a revelation. “Even if…I was happier as…as her.” George broke down crying.


“It’s OK, George,” Sophia assured him, as she rubbed his back. “No matter what happens, I will always be your friend.”


I saw George’s skin start to ripple. He started to shrink. His black hair, turning blond and lengthening.


Julia looked around with tear-streaked cheeks and slowly lowered the gun. “I’m sor-”


Like a cheetah, Jackie sprang on Julia, knocking her down and sending my gun skidding through the dirt. They both tried to grab for it, while fighting each other off. Sophia and Sam had just joined the scrum when we heard another shot ring out, this one from near the road.


Then Sheriff Dearing’s voice over a bullhorn. “Allright, I want all you freaks to come out of that cornfield slowly and with your hands up. If you’re not all out here by the time I count to ten, I will start shooting at anything that moves. One!”


Jackie managed to throw Sam and Julia off her and grab the gun.


“Two!”


She grabbed Sophia and pulled her close and held the gun up to her head.


“Mr. Sanders, please don’t,” Sophia cried.


Time seemed to stand still for me at that moment. Seeing Jackie and Sophia brought me back to that moment with Emma and the Slider. I froze. I could hear Emma's voice echoing in my head. Pleading to save her.


“OK, Jack. Your little revolt is over,” Jackie announced. “Now, pick up my pendant and hand it to me. Nice and slow.”


Sophia looked at me and pleaded, “Cate. Don’t give it to her!”


“Three!” Dearing continued to bark.


“Jackie,” I said with my hands up. “I can’t do that. Besides, something is wrong with it.”


“Bullshit. Don’t take this away from me.”


“Four!”


I looked at Sam and Julia who were behind me watching all of this. “Sam, you and Julia get the hell out of here!” I yelled, and they both ran towards the street. “Jackie, it’s over. We need to leave before that trigger-happy fuck out there shoots us.”


“Five!” This time it sounded closer.


I raised my hands up. “Look, Jackie, this is not going to end well for any of us. Just put the gun down-”


Jackie threw Sophia to the ground and dove after the smoking pendant between us. When she grasped it she screamed in pain and clutched her hand.


The pendant dropped back to the dirt, glowing and smoking.


She then looked behind me then dashed into the corn. She still had my gun.


It was then I felt a familiar hand grab my shoulder and turn me around.


“I told you if I saw you again, boy, your ass is mine,” Dearing said to my face. He wasn’t pointing his gun at me, but he certainly looked pissed.


“Dearing, you’re letting her get away!” I yelled.


He didn’t get a chance to reply to that because a gunshot rang out and it struck some corn near us.


We both dropped to the ground. The snapping of corn stalks could be heard in the distance as Jackie fled.


Dearing stood up and charged after her like a bull.


I got up and tended to Sophia. “Are you OK?”


“Yeah,” she said in a daze.


“You should get to safety.” I looked down at the white-hot pendant. I couldn’t just leave it there, and giving it to Sophia to take with her would put her back in harm's way. So I needed to take it with me. “Hey can I borrow one of your arm warmers?”


She took one of them off and handed it to me. I looked at her scarred forearm and reminded myself why I’m out here.


I took the arm warmer, balled it up and picked up the pendant. I could smell the fabric burning. “What’s wrong with this?”


“Magic is unstable and dangerous,” Sophia said. “You’d think Mr. Sanders would know that.”


“She’s too busy denying that magic is real. She thinks she has it all figured out. I’m going after her.”


I carefully walked through the rows of corn. I could hear the rustling coming from both directions. A gunshot rang out and I could hear it tear through corn. Then another from a different direction.


“Jackie!” I yelled. “Surrender now before you get hurt!”


Then I heard a shot and a bullet rip through the corn beside me. 


“Dearing, you piece of shit, stand down!”


No answer from either of them.


I crept into another row, trying to be quiet.


Suddenly Jackie came into my row. She looked at me, and saw that I held the pendant’s chain sticking out of the bundled up fabric. She pointed my gun at me. “Give it to me.”


“Something’s wrong with it.”


“I can fix it.”


“It’s unstable. It doesn’t work right. I thought science requires constant testing.”


“I don’t have the time for that.”


“How about we both get out of this corn field and away from that crazy asshole with a badge. Then we can talk about fixing this. We can find the time.”


“I’m out of time.” she cried.


All of sudden Sheriff Dearing burst through the corn stalks. A startled Jackie whirled with the gun to face the commotion. She fired off a shot and missed. The sheriff didn’t miss, however, firing two rounds into Jackie’s chest. She had a shocked expression before she crumpled to the ground.


“No!” I yelled, dropping the pendant bundle and running over to Jackie. I examined her wound which was rapidly becoming a pool of blood. “Dearing, call an ambulance!” I shouted at him.


He stood there with his gun pointed at me.


“What the fuck is wrong with you? It’s over. She’s bleeding out!”


“S-she’s just a girl?” he stuttered, going into shock. “She fired… I fired…” He staggered back, realizing the gravity of the situation. It wasn’t fun and games anymore. He’d just shot a person.


“Jackie,” I tried to sound reassuring, “just hang on. We’ll get you to a hospital.”


I tried to stop the bleeding with my hand. This was bad, and we both knew it.


Jackie smiled and let out a faint chuckle. 


“What?” I asked, confused why she was smiling in the face of death.


“At least… I’m going to die… as myself.”


“No, just hold on,” I sobbed. “Help is on the way.”


“Thank you, Cate,” she whispered, then went limp as the last drops of her life drained away into the soil.


“No.” I cried.


Under the darkening orange and yellow sky, I sat there cradling Jackie, just like I had done 16 years earlier with Angela.


Slowly a crowd of people trickled through the corn stalks around me and surveyed the tragic scene. Brandon, followed by Sam, Sophia, and Julia. Then Kayla and Brett showed up with Ms. Hathaway.


Dearing tried to control the situation. “Everyone stand back.” But nobody cared what the fuck he had to say.


“Sheriff Dearing,” Ms. Hathaway spoke up. “What happened?”


“I got a call from the diner,” he replied. “The manager reported that one of your delinquent fairies came in there, assaulted him, and ran out the back door towards this cornfield. Pretty sure I knew which brat it was.” He paused for a moment to steady himself. He looked pale. “When I got to the edge of the corn I heard shots fired.” His voice was more mechanical now. “I attempted to catch your boy there," he said pointing at me. "The girl… She… had a gun. She… fired. I… returned fire." Dearing then turned away from us and threw up into the corn.


They all just stood there, looking at Jackie lying dead in my arms, blood stains spreading across her clothing. 


Murmurs of the crowd started to grow. “Who is that?” someone asked. “What happened?” asked another.


“It’s Mr. Sanders,” I heard Sophia respond.


There was some surprise about Sanders being a TG.


The arm warmer beside me suddenly started to glow brightly and burst into flames. 


I turned to Ms. Hathaway. “Mr. Sanders created that… thing.”


“It’s unstable magic,” she explained. “Everyone here is in danger. We need to get out of here. Quickly.”


Then it glowed brightly and started to blind us. I put my arm up to shield my eyes. I could see unnatural tentacles of blue flames coming from the fire. Is that the magic energy?


“Wait!” Brandon shouted. “The magic needs to return to where it came from. It can’t stay in that small pendant. This happened a few times in the lab” 


“How do we send it back?” I asked. “We don’t have any of those devices.”


“It looks like it wants to come out without the devices.”


Sam came forward while shielding her eyes. “I have Lulu’s bracelet on me.”


“Sam, be careful,” I cautioned. “We don’t know if it works like that.”


Sam held her arm near the burning pendant. I could see tendrils of flame travel from the fire to the bracelet. The dull bracelet suddenly glowed brightly on Sam’s arm.


That didn’t stop the blazing pendant, though.


“I don’t think that was enough,” Sam speculated.


I could smell burning corn as some of the corn leaves on the ground started to smolder.

“Students, we must leave, now!” Ms. Hathaway reiterated.


“It’s me!” Brandon realized. “I need to take my curse back.”


“But then you’ll get dysphoria again,” Sophia warned.


“It’s my fault this all happened,” they replied, walking up to the fire.


Just as with Lulu’s bracelet, flames glowed and tendrils danced around Brandon’s hand and their ring started to glow. Everything got brighter and hotter until suddenly everything went dark.



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Emily

Hi, I'm Emily and I'm writing Gender Transformation Fiction! This site is a place for me to keep all of my stories in one place. I'm also a software developer in the daytime, so this site will also be a proving ground of cool new features that pop into my head. Feel free to message me on Twitter or at my Discord Server! You can also find me on TGStorytime.com and FictionMania.tv.

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marter

Aw this was sad
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