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The front door slammed shut behind Erin and she immediately froze in place at the noise, tensely holding her backpack and straining her ears to listen to the silence of the house for any disturbance. Only after a full minute of stillness did she move again. When the teenager reached her bedroom, she stopped in the doorway, peering out both ways to pause and briefly listen to the house again. Satisfied, she gently closed the door behind her.

Erin’s bedroom was mostly bare; she didn’t have a lot and what little she did have she preferred to keep with her in her backpack, or have stashed somewhere secret where she knew it’d always be there when she wanted it.

Erin fumbled with the sheet and single blanket on her bed, then grinned as she lifted the mattress corner up and withdrew a small, blue paperback book that had been hidden underneath. She jumped into bed, leaned against the wall, and cracked it open.

It was her favorite fantasy series: The Legend of Lestaria. It was an old book her mom used to read her stories from when she was a kid, that she’d grown up reading dozens of times over. There were adventures, dragons, elves, treasure, and most importantly, magic. In the world of Lestaria, everything just made sense. Good things happened to good people, bad things happened to bad people, and you always knew things would turn out alright for those who deserved it, and only those who deserved it.

But of course, Erin’s favorite aspect of Lestaria was the magic that permeated the entire world, available to anyone and everyone to bend their will into a reality with. When a character faced a problem, they wracked their resources to find a novel solution borne of creativity and willpower; if a character struggled, oftentimes it was simply because they were struggling with something much larger than the trial they faced. When a character was finally ready to move on, it just happened to be the perfect timing to move on.

The plot was simple, but Erin didn’t care. Three young wizards were confronting an ancient dragon who was hoarding a mountain of treasure, and after several direct attempts to subdue the dragon and secure the prize, the wizards concocted a portal spell that would let them pass into another world to get help from. She read the chapter excitedly, muttering each spell’s incantation as if she, too, could harness the power of the wizards’ magic.

The chapter culminated in a detailed explanation of a difficult series of hand gestures the wizards needed to use to amplify the portal spell, and Erin too followed along with her own fingers, finding she got just a little bit better at cool-looking gestures that fit the verbiage with each new read through.

A crash from the other side of the house interrupted the spell and Erin’s hands spread out instinctively in fear. Her eyes darted to her bedroom door, then back to the book in her hands. As several more crashes, loud footsteps, and bursts of noise resonated through the house, Erin shimmied down further into the bed and pulled her blanket atop her head, hiding in her homemade cocoon.

She knew a blanket offered no protection, but she’d at least have time to hide the book before emerging.

Erin continued reading, whispering each spell with every ounce of willpower she had and twisting her hands into every gesture the author described in the book. She knew magic wasn’t real, but neither was the rest of the book; believing was a part of the escape, an immersive fantasy that let her forget about the blanket shelter she was secretly reading it in.

And even if magic were real, she wouldn’t have been able to see through her blanket to the cracks starting to form on her wall as she finally got her hand gestures right and repeated the portal spell correctly. She wouldn’t have known that the spell required nothing more than willpower, the incantation, and a pure spirit. She wouldn’t have known there was an escape into another world just feet away, and she wouldn’t have known whether that world actually made sense, with bad things reserved only for bad people, and good things reserved for good people. With that blanket over her head, she wouldn’t have known if she actually had magic and could cast a spell that would change her life forever.

The one thing the blanket was good for, however, was hiding the depressing, undeniable proof that magic isn’t real.