"I think we should visit Amanda," Josie announced a few weeks later.
"Don't move your mouth so much," I told her. "It isn't easy painting a stunningly brilliant portrait of someone when they keep fidgeting."
"She is sick," Josie said out of the side of her mouth. "And we are her friends and everything."
"I never thought of the two of you as particularly friendly," I told her, noticing for the first time that I hadn't made her eyebrows devilish-looking enough.
Josie scratched her nose. She seemed to have at least one itch someplace on her body at any given moment. "Well not friends, exactly. But we're her classmates. I think we should bring her some flowers, or something."
"Tell you what," I said, "Why don't you get in a good scratch, for as long as you like, and then sit still for five minutes?"
Josie shook herself like a wet dog and really went to work scratching her nose, her sides, the back of her head, her arms, her legs, and then her nose again.
"Are you sure you just want to bring her flowers?" I asked.
"Sure I'm sure."
"Because it wouldn't be very nice to do a magic trick on someone who's sick."
"Not unless the magic helped them get better," Josie said, giving her nose one last good scratch.
I stopped painting to squint at Josie.
"What are you talking about?"
"I was reading ahead in the book...," Josie started to get up to grab her magic book off the table behind me.
"Fsst!" I fsst'd.
Josie shot back into her seat.
"Even though I've still got five more chapters to go," Josie continued, "I skipped ahead to the last chapter, about real magic. And I was wondering..."
"Less fidgeting," I said.
"I was wondering," Josie continued out of the corner of her mouth, "How would I know real magic if I saw it? I mean, stage magic looks the same as real magic, unless you've done it yourself. What if Garbanzo The Splendiferous does stage magic, and I can't tell the difference?"
"I guess you'll just have to take his word for it," I told her.
"Yeah, I guess so," Josie agreed. She was silent for a moment, and I thought I was going to be able to get some really serious painting in.
"Or," Josie said, "I could do some real magic myself, just to learn how it works. That way when Garbanzo The Splendiferous does his thing, I'll know the real stuff when I see it."
"You haven't even finished the chapter on sawing people in half," I told her. "Anyway, you're only supposed to do real magic in emergencies."
"Right, and our good friend Amanda has cancer. What could be a bigger emergency than that?"
Unable to wait a moment longer, Josie walked up next to me and looked at the painting.
"Not bad," she said. "But why am I holding a pitchfork?"
Ms. Droober didn't seem to happy to see us. "Josie Taylor?" she asked. "Josie Earhart Taylor?"
I had no idea anyone knew Josie's middle name, or that she even had a middle name.
"That's me," Josie smiled. "We brought Amanda some flowers." She proudly held out a bunch of daises she had picked from the Droober's garden five minutes before.
"How thoughtful," Ms. Droober said coldly.
"We also brought her the latest Saccharine Valley High Babysitter Sorority," I said, stepping in front of Josie and holding up the book. "It's Amanda's favorite series. This is the one where Mitizi finds out Heather liked Cody ever since Brooke told Jody that Jordan was grody, even though Mitch had..."
"Yes, yes, yes -- you might as well come in," Ms. Droober said. "I'm sure Amanda will be thrilled to see you." She showed us in and brought us to Amanda's room.
"Sweetie?" she asked gently, knocking at the door. "Some of your friends from school are here. Josie Taylor and Darla Whipp."
"Oh, that's a good one," Amanda said as Ms. Droober pushed the door open. "Like Josie Taylor would ever dare show her face in my own..."
Josie stood at the foot of Amanda's bed and smiled.
"Hiya, kiddo," she said.
Amanda looked terrible. She was buried in what seemed like hundreds of Saccharine Valley High books. Her cheeks were sunken and her wrists were bony and she wore a turban-thing around her head, from which a few straggly blond hairs poked.
"Please don't call me kiddo," Amanda croaked.
"Bobby said you didn't have the new SVH book yet," I told her, holding it up. "So we brought you a copy."
Amanda's eyes became wide and the tiniest bit of color returned to her cheeks.
"The one where Mitzi finds out about Heather and Cody?"
"That's the one."
"And where Jody finally gives Jordan her answer?"
"Welcome to Grodysville," I read off the back cover. "Population: you."
Amanda clapped like Mitizi did when she made the cheerleading squad in SVH #425: Mitzi Makes The Cheerleading Squad, And Tiffany is Totally Jealous.
"Well, I can see you all share the same mysterious taste in literature," Ms. Droober said, pulling the door shut behind her. "I'll just slip away and get back to my Brontë novel."
"We also brought you some flowers," Josie told her, holding them up.
"How remarkable," Amanda said, "that you just happened to buy the exact same kind of flowers that I planted in the front garden."
"Yeah, so anyway," Josie said, casually sticking the flowers in the glass of drinking water on Amanda's bedside table. "We thought you might want us to come by and clear up this cancer thing for you."
"This isn't some big joke, Josie," Amanda sounded sad. "They won't admit it, but I'm going to die from this."
"No," Josie took Amanda's hands -- which seemed to surprise her -- and sat beside her on the bed. "No, you're not, Amanda. Not if you don't want to."
"It would take a miracle...," Amanda said softly.
"You can do those," Josie told her. "Or maybe you forgot that 'You're an extremely capable person by nature, which sometimes makes you slow to let others help you.'"
"You can really make me better?" Amanda squeezed Josie's hand hard.
"No, you can," Josie told her. "But maybe we can help."
Five minutes later, we had drawn the blinds, extinguished the lamp, and filled the room with candles from Josie's backpack.
"Now I'll be totally honest with you, Amanda," Josie said. I don't think she saw me roll my eyes. "I've never done deep magic like this before."
"You can do it, though, right?"
Josie started lighting the candles, using a kind of long matchstick I had only seen before in movies. It certainly created a sense of occasion.
"The book says that for magic this deep to work, I can only help a little. You have to do the real magic."
"What do I do?" Amanda asked.
"Have you heard of the placebo effect?" Josie asked importantly.
Amanda shook her head.
"Sometimes doctors will give patients a sugar pill, and tell them, for instance, that the pill is medicine to cure their headache. The pill isn't really medicine, so in theory it shouldn't make the headache go away. But it often does."
"Magic?" Amanda asked.
"I think so, sort of," Josie said. "Doctors say that the reason this works is because the brain has a lot of control over the body. If the mind thinks the body is healthy, the body will become healthier. What we're going to try to do is help convince your brain that your body is getting healthier."
Josie pulled something else from her backpack. "For deep magic we need all the help we can get. In many cultures the healer invokes a sacred animal to help guide the patient through the spirit world, often the patient's favorite animal."
Josie looked at the stuffed unicorns all over Amanda's bed and chairs. The unicorn paintings on her walls. The unicorn bank and unicorn phone on her dresser.
"Something tells me you like unicorns?" she said flatly.
Amanda nodded. "Wow, that's amazing."
"I'm into polar bears, myself," Josie said as she lit some incense.
They both looked at me expectantly.
"Chimeras," I said automatically.
Amanda smiled politely. "Oh, they're almost as adorable as basilisks."
I looked at Josie and rolled my eyes.
The incense was making the room musky, like standing in the middle of a patch of honeysuckle during the peak of summer.
Josie handed me a painting set from her backpack.
"Would you mind letting Darla paint your Power Animal on your stomach?" Josie asked Amanda. "It's only watercolor -- it'll come right off."
Amanda nodded again. I had never seen her go so long without talking, and I had never seen her agree to anything without arguing first.
She lifted her nightgown up a little, exposing her pasty tummy. I had never drawn a unicorn before, so instead I painted a night-mare and added a narwhale horn. I don't think they knew the difference.
"Hey, you're pretty good," Amanda said, staring down at the red Power Animal on her stomach. By this time the incense was so thick the room looked smoky.
Josie cleared some of the books away and knelt down on the bed beside Amanda. "Now I want you to chant a mantra for me," she said.
"That means say it over and over," I explained.
"Yes, thank you, Darla -- I'll take it from here," Josie shot me a look. "I want you to chant 'Flesym leah naci.'"
Darla just stared.
"It means 'I can heal myself.'"
"In magic language?" Amanda asked.
"Well, backwards," Josie admitted.
"Flesym leah naci," Amanda began softly, "Flesym leah naci..."
Josie closed her eyes, rolling up her sleeves and swaying as though listening to music.
"Flesym leah naci," I joined in. "Flesym leah naci..."
"Hold her down," Josie whispered.
I didn't want to, but Amanda held her hands out over her head and nodded that it was okay.
"Flesym leah naci," she repeated, louder and louder.
"Brace yourself," Josie warned. "This will sting." Her hand shot out, and for a second it looked like she was punching Amanda in the stomach, right where I had painted the unicorn. But Josie's hand went right into Amanda's stomach. A pool of blood formed around her hand, which was submerged in Amanda up to her knuckles.
"FLESYM LEAH NACI, FLESYM LEAH NACI," Amanda whimpered. It took all my strength to keep her from flailing.
"Help me, Amanda...," Josie whispered. She pulled her hand out, slowly, and something came with it. Something soft and meaty and gross.
Amanda started screaming.
"Done!" Josie announced, throwing the meaty thing into Amanda's wastebasket with a loud "splat!"
I grabbed some tissue from the bedside table and began mopping the blood off Amanda's stomach. There seemed to be an awful lot of it.
"You might have warned us," I told her.
"Sorry, the surprise is part of the magic," she said. She did look sorry, but with Josie you never knew.
Suddenly the door burst open. "What's going on in here?" Ms. Droober demanded.
"Mom!" Amanda was crying. "Mom, I feel better!"
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