Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday to you
Happy Birthday dear
Gertrude glared through her one remaining eye at her birthday party guests, arranged around her birthday party table, singing her birthday song, friends and family, the people who had systematically deceived her for sixteen years, nine months, twenty seven days, five hours and thirty four minutes.
Happy birthday to you!
Just over a couple of months previously Gertrude had discovered under highly dramatic circumstances that she, Gertrude Mateson, three times winner of the North America Young Scientist of the Year award and Penn State University’s youngest ever PhD graduate, was a witch. Her mother, who she still missed so terribly, had been a witch. Her two Aunts who tried so hard to compensate for her loss were witches. Her father was a werewolf, Kevin her boyfriend (potentially) was a werewolf, and the other guests present were variously ghouls, witches or ‘wolves. (Apparently no one bothered with the ‘were’ bit anymore.)
For she’s a jolly good fellow
What made things even worse was that her witch powers could at best only be described as vestigial and weeks of probing, prodding, testing, measuring, training and practising at the DARPA funded research institute next to the local Marine Corp base, Camp Wideawake, had had no discernible impact on her puny powers. The best spell she had been able to manage was a pathetic blast of air barely able to move a single eyelash a few millimetres.
For she’s a jolly good fellow
And now it was time for the final humiliation. Four days previously Kevin (who had deliciously stepped up his campaign of wooing her since the revelation of his deception) had let slip that it was traditional for witches to blow out their birthday party cake candles with a thaumaturgic process, a spell. And Gertrude was barely able to magically make an eyelash flutter.
For she’s a jolly good f e-l-l - -o - - w
Gertrude had been thrown into a paroxysm of research and experimentation. Locking herself away in her lab at the back of the garage she had tried everything she could think of to enhance the effectiveness of her spell-casting and there had been some success. She had increased the effectiveness of her atmospheric dynamics spell by fully fifteen percent and was now able move the eyelash (which after careful trimming weighed precisely 0.20 milligrams) just over an entire centimetre – nearly half an inch.
And so say all of us!
But it was not enough. Then just yesterday she had an idea; why couldn't she cast two or more spells simultaneously? Configuring them in parallel or series, creating thaumaturgic constructs, spell complexes, spell modules, the implications were stunning. She had mentioned her idea to Aunt Mildred who had initially laughed, explaining that would only be possible if you could think about more than one thing simultaneously. Then, remembering who she was talking too, had fervently advised her niece to seek the advice of Commander Davidson USN, the neurosurgeon and witch who had saved her life after the failed kidnapping attempt that had cost Gertrude her left eye and a chunk of tongue. The commander had taken on the role of Gertrude’s mentor and the two had become firm friends. But there had been no time for a consultation and Gertrude had simply doubled down on her efforts in the lab, working through the night.
The Birthday party cake, the work of months by her two aunts and as usual the quintessence of culinary virtuosity, appeared magically in front of her, first floating above the dining table as the guests to either side of her cleared a space, then gracefully descending onto the dazzling white linen table cloth that had been one of her mother’s pride and joys. Leaning forward her father and Kevin lit the dread candles. What was it with marines and brass, petrol filled lighters anyway? Gertrude wrinkled her nose in distaste at the fumes.
By 02.00 hours she had established proof of concept and was able to run ten spells as a single module. The spells were linked in series, the output from one feeding into the next, incrementally accelerating the air passing through the thaumaturgic construct. Now Gertrude was able blow the eyelash clean off her lab bench. By 02.30 hours Gertrude had found the errant eyelash and securing it in its specimen jar had been able to move on to the test candle.
The birthday party guests happily continued the countdown to her humiliation, but she would show them! By 03.14 hours she had been achieving an extinguished candle success rate of better than 90% and by 03.35 hours she had been achieving that with five candles and by 04.06 hours with the required seventeen. Finally at nine minutes to five in the morning the seventeen test candles burnt themselves out, the final testing never completed as Gertrude slept soundly on the floor of her lab.
Gertrude focused her mind and assembled her thaumaturgic constructs, each consisting of ten spells arranged in series, forming a single module for a total of seventeen modules, one pointing at each candle. In a sudden instant of doubt Gertrude decided to play safe and added an extra module to each candle. Then deciding to go for broke Gertrude doubled up again so that every candle now had four modules arranged in series pointing at its flame. Still plagued by a lack of confidence Gertrude doubled and re-doubled again and again until each candle had one thousand and twenty four modules, arranged in series and comprising a total of ten thousand two hundred and forty individual spells pointing at it. Surely that would be enough to guarantee a 100% candle extinguished rate?
Aunt Mildred and ‘aunt’ Sophie exchanged worried glances with the other witches present as they sensed the sudden and spectacular rise in the level of thaumaturgic energy in the dining room. But Gertrude did not notice, she’d been struck by a sudden horrid thought: what if the increase in acceleration of air due to her spell systems was exponential rather than linear? Gertrude regretted not completing her testing program but she was out of time. The moment of truth had arrived. Gertrude unleashed her Magic.
There was a sound like a herd of cats all having their tales trod on simultaneously, a blinding flash and a loud almost deafening detonation as seventeen streams of air were all accelerated to transonic velocities, blasting the top of each candle out of existence and converging at a point several centimetres above cake top dead centre. For an instant that region attained an air pressure normally found in the depths of Jupiter’s atmosphere and the frictional forces of compression instantly heated the gas to a brilliant incandescence. The effects of the ensuing explosive decompression were spectacular.
Gertrude wiped cake from her single eye and stared in horror at the desolation of the birthday party table she had wrought. The cake was gone, in its place a cake crater, the rest of the cake seemingly uniformly distributed across the table, the party guests, Gertrude herself and the dining room walls, ceiling and carpet. Horrified, Gertrude realised that in amongst the cake debris were the shattered remains of her mom’s best crockery and the table cloth was irrevocably stained with multiple food spills, cake fillings, and drinks.
“Oh! Aunt Mildred, ‘aunt’ Zally, your beautiful cake! Momz best crockery! Duh tableclodf, Daddy I’m zo zorry!
Gertrude’s mutilated tongue was still causing slight problems with her diction.
“Don’t worry about the table cloth dear, I’ve got a spell for that”
“Yeah, and I’ve got a spell for the crockery!” Gertrude looked her thanks at her two aunts.
“But what about your wonderful cake?”
“I’ve got solution to that!” And so saying, Kevin reached out, scooped up a huge mound of cake, and crammed it into his mouth inevitably adding to the cake covering his face. Seeing this Gertrude stood, walked round to Kevin, then leant down and licked a particularly large cake splodgeon of his nose, Kevin responding in kind. Everybody laughed. Then everyone was scooping up cake and eating as fragments of crockery floated off the table and danced in the air as they jigsawed back together and reformed, before settling back down onto the table. The stains on the table cloth faded and shrank into non existence. In no time at all the dining room was restored.
Mr Mateson seeing his daughter and Kevin still licking each other despite a complete lack of cake on either decided to bring proceedings to a conclusion, tapping on his teacup with a spoon he announced:
“Well everybody that was a birthday party dinner to remember; now if you could all go through to the lounge we can continue the party there, and Gertrude, Kevin, stop that right now!”
Finally it was the part of the evening Gertrude had been really looking forward to: Birthday Presents!
To Be Continued.