Note: I’m a columnist for the Reader Weekly, an alt-weekly newspaper in Duluth, MN. Every Monday I post a new column.
Harry Potter didn’t open his eyes at first. It was his nose that initially awakened, taking in the harrowing mixture of gasoline, motor oil, and vomit found in the back alleys near Tower Avenue. The moment the foul odor registered, Potter’s eyes fluttered open in horror.
It had been a long battle with Voldemort, and Potter scarcely remembered the conclusion. Like a fuzzy dream, there was a point when everything simply faded to black. Little did Potter realize that in the final moments, Voldemort had cast the magic world’s most forbidden spell upon him, the one that banishes people to Superior, Wisconsin.
Potter rose and stumbled gingerly to the back door of a place called Mama’s Bar. The smoky den was filled with withering elderly men, the sort of doomed misfits who regularly drank at 11am on a Tuesday.
“Excuse me,” said Potter. “I’m wondering if any of you can help me.”
“Look at them round smarty glasses,” said one drunk. “You think you smarter than us, college boy?”
“Please, no need for intimidation,” said Potter. “I’ve always been a friend to muggles like yourselves.”
“What’d you call me, boy?” said the drunk.
The mood in the bar turned sour.
“Them ain’t smarty glasses,” said another man. “Them’s those round glasses the faggots all wear.”
“He a queer!” screamed another man. “Smear ’em!”
The men chased Potter out the back door, cornering him against a dumpster. He quickly produced his wand and shouted “Expelliarmus” at one of the men, knocking the beer bottle from his hand. It crashed to the ground, spilling delicious alcohol into the dry dirt.
“Expelliwhat?” asked one old man.
“He’s speakin’ French, like our terrorist enemies!” shouted another. “Let’s show him what we do to Frenchy beer spillers.”
* * *
Potter awoke many hours later, his head pounding. Blood trickled down his brow, dripping into his eye. The men had beaten him badly, but they were old and their fragile arms, lacking in basic nutrients, had not dealt any major damage.
A familiar cry echoed from the now darkened sky: Potter’s Snowy Owl, Hedwig. Potter quickly wrote a note to his friends at Hogwart’s and gave it to Hedwig. The beautiful owl rose majestically into the sky. Suddenly, a loud blast sounded and the bird collapsed to the ground. A dog raced to the scene and put the dead owl in its mouth.
“Puddles! Bad dog!” said a hunter, suddenly appearing. “You’re a good boy, but you still haven’t learned not to chew on the game.”
“That was my owl, not a game bird!” screeched Potter. “How the hell are you allowed to hunt in the city?”
“It’s illegal, but the wifey says I’m too drunk to drive to the cabin today. You don’t have a police radio, do you? Tell me if you hear any sirens.”
Devastated, Potter continued wandering. In the distance, he spotted a beautiful brown-haired teenage girl standing outside Stargate Nightclub. “Hermione Granger!” shouted Potter, running to her with great excitement. But as he drew closer, he realized the teen girl wasn’t very pretty at all, and certainly wasn’t Hermione. Though young, her skin was thick and leathery from years of tanning salons and chain smoking.
“This one’s kinda cute,” said the girl, pointing to Potter.
“Ugh,” said her friend. “No muscles and he looks like an accountant.”
“Shut up!,” she said. “He might be rich! (to Potter) I’m Maggie. Do you go to UMD?”
“Me?” asked Potter. “No, I’m a student at Hogwart’s.”
“What is that, like a community college or something? Gross.”
An obese middle-aged woman lumbered up to the group. Maggie noticed Potter’s bewildered look.
“Oh, this is my mom,” said Maggie. “She comes out to the clubs with us sometimes.”
Potter grimaced and continued traveling, finding a group of hicks outside Viking Lounge.
“Excuse me, is there anywhere in town where wise people gather?” asked Potter.
“The Ghetto Spur! At the foot of the high bridge,” said one man.
“That ain’t the Ghetto Spur, stupid! That’s the Chicken Spur! ‘Cause they got chicken! Hammond one’s the Ghetto Spur,” said a second man.
“I thought Ghetto Spur was in Duluth,” said a third. “Man, I’ve lived here 50 years and I still can’t remember nothin’. Damn alcohol.”
“Look, is there anything unusual or treacherous afoot in this town?” asked Potter.
“Whole damn city’s treacherous,” said the first man. “Everything from the chicks to the Styx on the jukebox.”
“Has Voldemort taken residence here?”
“Voldemort? Do they make vinyl doors and windows? ‘Cause we already got FenTech. They been here a long time. Ain’t nobody gonna outdo FenTech. Voldemort’s wasting their time.”
“Oh God, this place is horrid,” said Potter. “I need to get back to London!”
“London? You’ll need to be rich to afford that flight.”
“I only have 20 quid.”
“You can get mashed potato balls at the Chicken Spur!” said the second man.
“Look, we got ugly chicks with bad teeth here too,” said the first man. “Go get yourself a job at the Spur. You’ll have the money to leave in five, maybe six years tops.”
The scar on Harry’s forehead began to singe, and he let out a blood-curdling scream. It was rumored that Voldemort loved to torture his victims mentally, but until now, Potter hadn’t realized the horror of that fate.