For my entire life, Mom and Dad insisted they did not believe in the Piercy family curse. But when I got home from school today, the dining table was laid out with my favorites: pot roast and gravy potatoes, honey-glazed carrots, cranberry sauce, and that cold grape and broccoli salad Mom only ever makes in the summer.
I dropped my backpack onto the floor. It hit with a sharp thunk on the hardwood, drawing Mom’s head up. Dad glanced in from the den, where he sat next to my little brother Ellis at the computer.
“The last supper,” I said, calm as I could manage. I was tense already from my fight with Jonas after practice.
Dad scowled and turned Ellis’s head back to the monitor, dismissing me as melodramatic, and Mom said, “Jack,” like she used to when I was about to be sent to the stairs for time-out. “Go wash your face, and be back in a jiff.”
Giving her a stiff shrug, I turned to take the stairs three at a time, but she called, “Jack. Happy birthday.”
I paused where she couldn’t see me, one hand on the wall for balance. They could pretend my birthday the reason for the me-based meal if they liked. The curse wasn’t their fault. It wasn’t like you could skip the first born son if you wanted to have a second.
Grandma had told me about it when I was just a little kid. Seven or eight, I think, and she waddled with her cane into our old TV room to find me sprawled on the floor watching some cartoon. “Get outside, Jack!” she yelled, loud as I’d ever heard her. “Get outside and live while you can!”
I pushed harder into the beanbag propping up my back half, forcibly kept my eyes on the cartoon. “In a few, Gramma. It’s almost over.”
She towered over me, bright as an angel from her silver helmet hair to the pink and yellow old lady dress to the buckles on her sandals. “You don’t understand, boy.” Grandma lifted her cane and tapped the rubber end of it into my shoulder. “That TV is a waste of your eighteen years.”
It was such a weird thing for her to say, I felt cold. “Huh?”
Her cane pressed harder into my arm. “Your daddy hasn’t said anything? Hasn’t told you why you’ve got to enjoy the time you have?”
I sat, to get away from her cane. “No.”
With more strength than I expected, Grandma hauled me up and used me like a second cane, half dragging, half leaning on me. She set me down at the kitchen bar and told me this:More than a hundred years ago, your great-great-great grandpa went out onto a hill where the Good Folk were known to dance, and begged them for favors. He was drunk, and desperate, and out of work, and you know when a door opened up in that earth he nearly dropped dead right there. But a thin little woman came out, beautiful as a saint, and took his hand and drew him inside where a splendid party was going. Food poured off of tables and wine flowed, a hundred perfect couples danced to flutes and fiddles, and in the center of it all was a King and a Queen. Your great-great-great grandpa got on his knees by the throne and said, “Oh, lordy, great King and grand Queen, give me a favor so I can save my family from starvation!” The shining Queen touched her King’s hand, and the King smiled. “Good man, I will grant your request. Our favor you will have, and your wife will have two sons. The first will be mine, the second yours. That second son will have two sons of his own, and the first will be mine, the second his. That second son will have two sons of his own. The first will be mine, the second his. And so long as there are two sons, one come to the hills and one for the sun, your family shall have our favors.”
And then Grandma shut her eyes and two thin tears pushed out through all the wrinkles.
Dinner was quick. Mostly because every time I opened my mouth other than to put food in, I said shitty things like, “Do you remember the last time you ate with your older brother, Dad?” Which only incited him to reply, “If you’d like the rest of your meal at all, cut it out.”
“Sure, Mom went to a lot of trouble to create this special memory. For you.”
“For us,” Mom said, her mouth tight.( I tried to reign it in.Collapse )
Popularity is like a disease. You catch it at someone’s birthday party, or come back from Christmas vacation with it, and for awhile it’s even okay. It’s what you wanted, kind of like a new jacket or a tan. But then, it starts to get old. You try to comb it out of your hair or scrape if off your shoe, but it doesn’t budge.
In the mirror over the sinks, I can see most of the locker room. Behind me, Kendry is braiding Palmer's hair. They're talking about calories.
“But protein,” Palmer says. “Maybe not beef. But, like soy? How many calories does tofu have if it's baked?”
“I don't know, but it's supposed to be good for your boobs—I heard it makes them huge. Waverly knows, right?” Kendry says it over her shoulder, giving me an ironic look.
I laugh because that's how the script goes, the little joke, the little giggle. I have no breasts to speak of. I open my locker and get out my cross-trainers and my running shorts.
Autumn Pickerel is sitting alone on one of the low benches, staring down at a battered notebook with paper flowers decoupaged all over the front. The laces of her sneakers have been wrestled into sloppy bows, grimy from being stepped on. She looks floppy and defeated.
Autumn is slow. Not in the sense of being stupid or special
—I have no idea about her mental capacity—but her cross-country times are terrible.
I’ve changed into my warm-up clothes and I’m just lacing up my shoes when, behind me, Palmer says, “Wow, that’s really interesting.”
The words are innocuous, but the tone promises misery to the recipient.( . . .Collapse )
Eli Ever sat in the back of the history seminar, tracing the wood grain of the desk and watching a girl with blue hair named Beth. It wasn’t such a strange thing, the hair, not in this part of the country, but Eli happened to know that Beth dyed it that color after it had all gone white. The white was the product of trauma, a trauma that had almost nearly killed her. Technically had, in fact, for four and a half minutes.
Yet here Beth was, alive and taking notes while the blue strands around her face fell across her paper.
Eli couldn’t stand history. It couldn’t have changed that much in the fifteen years since he’d taken it. He stared at the ceiling, then at the dark chalk spaces between the professor’s notes, then back at the blue hair, then at the clock. Class was nearly over. His pulse quickened in a delicious way. He pulled out the the slim dossier from his satchel, the one Serene had put together him, laying out with painstaking clarity the girl’s history, her accident, her miraculous recovery.
It was good to be informed. He brushed his fingertips over the photo of Beth, wondering where Serena had swiped it from. He rather liked that hair.
The clock ticked on, and Eli slid the dossier back into his bag, and pushed a pair of thick-framed glasses up his nose—they were plain glass, not prescription, but he’d noticed the trend around campus and followed suit. Looking the part age-wise was never a problem, of course, but styles changed. Beth could choose to stand out if she wanted, but Eli did everything in his power to blend.
The professor finished his lecture early--Eli bit back a smile--wiped his chalk-covered hands against a cloth, and wished them a good weekend. Chairs scraped, bags were hoisted. Eli rose and followed the blue hair out of the auditorium and down the hall, carried on a wave of students. When they reached the outer doors, he held it open for her. She thanked him, tucked a blue strand behind her ear, and headed across the campus.
As he walked he felt for the place in his jacket where his gun would be, a product of habit, but the pocket was empty. The dossier had told him enough to make him wary of anything that might succumb to magnetism. He’d have to do this the old-fashioned way. A smile flitted across his face. He liked the old-fashioned way.
Eli crossed the campus at a safe distance, basking in the crisp fall air, the beauty of the late afternoon sky and the leaves. One tumbled down from a tree and clung to the girl’s blue hair.
He slipped his gloves on.
When they were almost to the parking lot, he began to pick up his pace, closing the gap between them.
“Hey!” he called, catching up, “It’s Beth, right?”
The girl slowed, and turned to look at him, but kept walking. Soon he was beside her.
“Yeah,” she said. “You’re in Phillips’ history section with me.”
“Sure am,” said Eli, flashing his best college-kid grin. “I’m Nicholas.” Eli had always liked the name. Nicholas and Frederick and Peter, those were the ones he found himself repeating.
They passed through the lot, row after row of cars, the school falling away behind them.
“Sorry, can I ask you a favor?” asked Eli.
“What’s up?” Beth tucked a stray lock of hair behind her ear. “I don’t know where my head was during class,” he said, “but I missed the assignment. Did you write it down?”
“Sure,” she said, reaching her car.
“Thanks,” he said, biting his lip, “better things to look at than the board, I guess.”
She giggled shyly and set the bag on the hood and unzipped it, digging around inside.
“Anything’s better than the board,” she said, pulling out her notebook.
She had just turned back to face him when his hand closed around her throat, slamming her into the side of the car. She gasped, and he felt his metal ring hum—he should have taken it off—beneath his gloves. He tightened his grip. She clawed at his face, raking the black-rimmed glasses, carving out scratches on his skin. He felt blood trickle over his cheek. The car behind her began to shake, the metal trying to bend. Eli waited patiently until the struggle slowed, and weakened, and stopped.
He peeled his gloved fingers away from her throat, and watched the girl’s body slide down the warped metal of the car door and onto the concrete, blue hair falling across her face. The angry red scratches on Eli’s cheek knitted and healed, leaving only smooth, clear skin.
He tugged the gloves off. The ring had dented in, like a crushed coke can, and cut into his skin. He forced it free, pocketing the bloodied silver. A couple drops of blood ran over his knuckles before the skin stitched itself back together. Eli pocketed the gloves and knelt to retrieve his prop glasses from the ground beside the body.
His cell rang as he straightened them on his nose.
“The Hero Line,” he answered, “How can I assist you?”
Note from Tessa: Thanks, Victoria, for joining us!
You can visit Victoria on her website
. Her debut novel, THE NEAR WITCH
comes out in August. Should be a hit with Merry Fates fans!
Every night before we retire, he gently takes my hand, leans in, and stops a breath away from me. “Will you kiss me with your eyes open, Beauty?” he asks.
And I do, though it is like kissing a mask. A mask with smooth skin and wide, bright eyes. A nose of near perfect proportions and lips just thin enough he’ll never be called feminine.
Behind this mask is my Beast, I know, and I remind myself again and again as he kisses me, as I give him my mouth and stroke my thumb along his wrist.
But I don’t see him. I don’t know where my love has gone.
It is three weeks since our wedding, since we came to the city with a wagon of gold to sell. Now we have a tall townhouse with library enough for me and garden enough for him. We have invitations every week to the theater and elegant dinners. No one cares who my husband is, but that he is rich and foreign. They remember my father’s name, though, and the pearl combs in my hair and the cut of my husband’s suit are all they need to welcome us.
To the city, I am a lucky young bride. They know nothing of curses and magical roses, of terror and loneliness. But what would I say to the women that come to tea? Would I tell them of racing through empty corridors or of tables of fine food set down by invisible servants? Of the bone-breaking fear in those moments when my Beast had no breath at all? Or of crawling away from him when the magic shredded his face and stripped off his fine mane, his tusks and claws and rough fur?
No. When they titter and swoon and compliment the turn of his foot or the edge of his smile, I only lower my eyes to my cup and remember, in the dark swirl of tea, the rough gash that used to be his mouth.
The first weeks were easier, because of his delight in all the human things he could now do. Hold a fork or a handful of seeds in his hand. Unbutton his own coat. Lift a quill to write a letter. All things he could barely manage – or not at all – with his monster’s grip.
On his hands and knees in the garden, he planted bulbs and plucked diseased leaves away. I stood on the terrace and watched as my lovely husband brushed his fingers over the earth. As he smiled, and then grinned, and then laughed at the sparrow bobbing its head. For a moment the laughter was a roar.
I listened and remembered the first time the Beast touched me: I’d stumbled over cobblestones in one of the dozen inner courtyards, because I had my face raised to stare up at the crenellations. He caught me with a great paw under my elbow and in surprise I jerked away. The sleeve of my gown caught on one sharp claw, and it sliced through layers of silk damask and soft cotton to my skin. Blood blossomed before I even felt the sting, and stained the material purple. I could not look away from my blood, at the pattern it soaked into the weave.
My Beast’s breath rattled harsh as a storm and he choked his apology, holding his great paws behind his back. I never told him that his claw left a mark, which did not fade completely for five weeks. By the time it did, I loved everything about him, including his frightening claws.
When he laughs, now, at the silly sparrow, it is the nearest he comes to sounding like his old self. That deep-chested chuckle, that full roar of laughter, it wraps my heart up tight and makes me love again. Just for those brief moments.
At dinner we speak of books and flowers, or the gossip one of us heard during the day. Our small complement of servants are quiet, but to we who are used to invisible maids and wind that pours wine, they intrude. So our conversation is stilted around the comings and goings of the housekeeper and the footman, to the point where I smile at my husband and shrug. He raises his wine and we salute each other in a single moment of camaraderie and understanding. Just as happened in the castle. Those were the moments that first made me love him. Made me see the giant, monstrous form hulking over the far end of the table, made me smile with him, made me understand the person inside.
Or, that is what I believed. That I fell in love with the person behind the Beast. The man he had been, the man he’d held on to through all the years of his curse.
But it was a Beast I loved. Not a man. And I have married a stranger, who reminds me of my love, who with every gesture and word makes me think perhaps I know him.
My eyes don’t believe it.
*( He brings me home a rose, though it is cold and barely spring.Collapse )
I hate Baz Crandall.*****
This is awkward, because he's lived across the street from me my whole life. When we were in elementary school, we’d always play detectives and have sleepovers and once, the summer before fourth grade, we made a secret club. I drew us a really kickass Keep Out
sign. Baz pricked our fingers with a safety-pin and held them together to make us blood-brother-and-sister.
He thought I was the coolest girl he’d ever met.
I was young and stupid and didn’t know yet that you could hate a person.*****
“You’re so nice, Rosie,” my ninth grade art teacher, Mrs. Waterfield, said once.
I was sitting next to her at the drafting table after school, helping her organize the supplies for the stencil assignment. We were counting the utility knives to make sure the last class had turned everything in.
“You’re so nice,” she said, and it was true, even though my whole day had been one big fantastic suck-fest and by then, I was already well on my way to hating Baz.
Not that he’d done anything terrible, exactly. Just lined up and pegged me with the dodgeball when everyone else did.
I’d volunteered to stay after art because some of the drill-team girls had been bugging me in history and I didn’t want to walk home yet.
When Mrs. Waterfield went over to the paint closet, I took one of the knives out of the box and put it in my pocket.
It was a stupid thing to do. The blade was nicked and crusty with rubber cement. All the knives were so dull you couldn’t even cut a page out of a magazine without tearing the paper, and anyway, it was so completely pointless. I didn’t really need a utility knife.
I went home wondering why I’d done it. If stealing a knife from school proved I wasn’t nice. Later, I threw it away.( . . .Collapse )
You know this story.
Once long ago, there was a seal who loved the sea. On bright days she swam through the warm water, while waves crested with foam and salt scented the air. Yet she also loved the land, so on dark nights she shed her skin, took on human form, and danced, not through waves, but on cool, wet sand.
One night a young man caught sight of her, and when he crouched behind the rocks to watch her dance, he also caught sight of her gray skin shining in the moonlight. The young man couldn't believe his good fortune. He stole the skin, and he hid it like the treasure it was.
The seal woman had no choice. She could not turn back to a seal; she could not return to the ocean. Instead she made her way to the young man's home, and if the road that led there cut her bare feet, this story does not tell of it. It tells only that the man and the seal woman were soon married, and that they lived together in his house near the sea. Whether she grew to love him or hated him all her days--the story does not tell that, either.
What it does tell is this: in time, the seal woman had children. Her love for them was as deep as the sea, the joy she found in them as true as the stones beneath it.
The young man's house faced the ocean, and through its windows the seal woman could see the changing tides. Walking its halls, she could hear the crashing waves. Restlessly she paced those halls, long after her children slept, until one night she found the skin the man had hidden. In the attic, in the cellar, beneath a stone--again the story is silent. It says only that the sea grew loud, so loud, as she held her skin once more.
She could not ignore that call. She kissed her children as they slept, and she crept quietly down to the sea. But her eldest daughter woke, and heard, and ran after her mother.
The girl wasn't fast enough. As she reached the sand a flash of gray disappeared beneath the water, and then she saw only waves.
This girl was human-born; she could not follow her mother. She returned to her father's home, and the stones did not cut her
feet. But even as she walked, she knew she would never forget that while her mother loved her as deeply as the sea, the depths of the sea were nothing, beside her mother's love for being a seal. She would never forget, and she would never forgive.
You do not want this story. You are a child; you are unkind. The seal woman's happiness means less, to you, than the girl's.
Once long ago there lived a seal who loved the sea. When she sought to return to it, her daughter ran after her.
The girl was fast enough. She cried out, before the seal woman disappeared beneath the waves, "Do not leave me!"
The seal woman heard, and her daughter's voice pulled on her, as strong as the tides. She could not ignore that call. She shed her skin once more, and she carried it back to the young man's house, her daughter clutching her hand all the way.
She found joy in her children for many years more.
In the end her children grew up and moved away, even the daughter who'd begged her to stay. The young man grew old and died. The seal woman also grew old, too old to return to the ocean. She lived, bitter and alone, in the house near the sea.
She did not forget, and she did not forgive--not the young man who stole her from the water, and not the daughter who stopped her when she sought to return.
You don't want this story either. You want the seal woman to be happy, and her daughter as well. You are trying to be kind.
Try this, then: The girl ran to the edge of the sea, and her mother heard her cries and knew she could not go.
Not that night, and not for many nights after. But one night, when her daughter was nearly grown, the seal woman returned to the waves after all. She did not kiss her children goodbye this time. She did not want anyone calling her back.
Her daughter mourned, but in time she did forgive. She knew her mother had stayed as long as she could. Besides, the girl lived in another town by then, or perhaps even in the city. She had a young man of her own, and she did not wish to return to the house by the sea, for her mother or anyone else. Instead she married, and in time bore children who pulled on her, strong as the tides.
The story does not say whether the daughter ever longed to escape her own young man, or even her own children. It says only that she knew she could not leave, not when her mother had left her.
You are still not satisfied. You will have a happy ending, or else none at all.
I cannot give it to you. I can only give you this: The girl was fast enough, and the seal woman heard her cries, even before she pulled her seal skin over her human one.
So she did not go, but neither did she promise to stay. She drew her human daughter close. "I was a seal before you were born," she said. "I will be a seal after you leave. I am a seal now, and I am also your mother. I will not be only one thing or the other."
The girl did not understand. She only cried louder, because she thought her mother was leaving her after all.
"Trust me," the seal woman whispered. She pulled on her seal skin then, and she slid into the sea.
I do not know this story.
Perhaps the girl goes home to mourn her loss, only to have her mother return to her, hours past dark. Perhaps she waits by the water's edge until the seal woman reappears, dripping and human, to take her daughter once more in her arms.
What I do know is this: as her children grow, the seal woman spends time on land and time at sea. Perhaps the girl rages at this, and perhaps she weeps, because she misses the seal woman, when she is away. Because she wants her mother to be one thing, for her and no one else. I do not know whether the girl will come to understand, in time. Perhaps she'll forever fear the day the seal woman will leave her for good.
And the seal woman will leave in the end, though not for the sea. You are a child, but surely you know this.
Still, when that day comes there will be nothing to forgive and nothing to forget. By then the girl might have children of her own, in this town or another. I like to think one day she'll turn to them and say, "Your grandmother, she lived on land, but she also lived in the water."
I hope there'll be more joy than sorrow in her voice when she says it, and when she takes her human children into her arms. "Once long ago," she'll whisper to them, "there was a seal who loved the sea."
Then she'll smile, because she knows this story.
Our thanks to Janni Lee Simner
for her story! Check out her novels: Bones of Faerie
and Thief Eyes
from Random House!
picture by jsimner. :D
The god of thunder used to come stay overnight in our house on his way to and from winter campaigns. Every autumn and every spring he’d arrive with nothing but his armor, his shield, and his hammer on his belt. With a great roaring laugh, he’d open his arms and call to my mother. Wherever she was, she dropped everything to greet him. My earliest memory is of her hitching me onto her back and running up to this gold and red giant of a man.
His eyes were as gray as storm-clouds, and lightning cracked inside them. Thick red braids hung down the sides of his neck, and he said, “Come here, boy, and if you can hang on, I will teach you to fight.”
That first time I fell, my little fists slipping around his hair. His braids were too rough and bright for me to grip. I hit the icy ground hard enough it jarred my teeth and I cried.
Thor Thunderer laughed, slapping his wide, flat hand into his thigh, and said, “What lungs you have!”
But he ignored me the rest of the evening and night, and in the morning as he jogged off into the sunrise, he only kissed Mother’s palm as if I did not exist.
The second year I held on for two breaths before plunging down. This time I did not cry, and Thor said, “Soon.”
He came in the spring of my sixth year, and I waited in a tree as he passed under. His lightning-bright hair was a bull’s-eye, impossible to miss. I leapt onto his back and when the thunder god whirled, I held tight to his braids. I did not let go.
“You have vanquished me!” Thor Thunderer cried, half-laughing, and fell to his knees hard enough to shake the mountain. He reached up and pulled me over his shoulder. With his hands under my arms he carried me into the house to my mother. “What a son you have, Ranka. What a man he shall be!” Then he set my dangling feet onto the kitchen table, so I was nearly as tall as him.
“Teach me to fight!” I said.
And the god of thunder agreed.
For three years he taught me how to move and fall, how to stretch, how to make myself strong. Two days in the autumn and two days in the spring Thor Thunderer chased me as I carried rocks, taught me to place my feet in intricate dances, and gave me long poems to learn as we chopped wood and repaired the roof and ate the food my mother made. I said, “What have poems to do with fighting?”
The god dragged me onto his lap and said into my ear, “Courage, Ottar, they have everything to do with courage. Learn the songs for your heart’s sake.”
“I want to learn to fight!” I yelled.
Thor stood up with me under one arm and out we went into the yard. He pulled Crusher, his iron hammer, off his belt and set it firmly onto its head. The short handle pointed up at the noontime sun. “When you can lift my hammer over your head, then I will give you a weapon of your own.”
I stood before it with my feet planted, and touched the cold handle. It burned my skin, and I remembered that even Thor himself carried gloves for wielding it. But I wrapped my fingers around it and pulled.
The hammer-head lifted a finger-span off the frozen earth, then thunked back down, dragging me with it. ( Thor laughed, clapped me on the shoulder, and wandered back inside to my mother.Collapse )
Thanks for all the rad entries to our contest last week!
We love the lovin! Aw, yeah!
(Can you tell I'm sleep deprived?)
The winner of our BLOOD MAGIC arc is......
Email me at tessa dot gratton at gmail dot com with your mailing address and we will send that arc to you!
For everyone else, thank you so much for participating. I promise there WILL be other opportunities to get your hands on my book in the next few weeks, over on my blog. >:D
My father only ever committed two cardinal sins that I know of. The first is that he held a shotgun to my mother’s chin in the bathroom one night and pulled the trigger. The second is that then he went and did it to himself.
Afterward, I could see more clearly. In the dark, I would open my eyes and watch the vines that crept up the walls of my room, curling on the paint. I saw birds that circled above my bed, wheeling like the gulls down at the landfill, and great black snakes like water moccasins gliding on the floor.
For a long time after, I was given to break things—anything small enough to get my hand around. My fingers went clutching after jelly-glasses and teacups, and once I smashed a china bird up against the wall into pieces so little they were like dust when my grandma swept them up. She said the breaking was a sign of the Devil, which seemed a plausible fact, because once I turned my gaze toward the promise of redemption, it stopped.
When Derek Royce moved into the unit next door to us, I did not at first recognize the opportunity for doing good works, and maybe this is because the Morningside apartment complex was not the most likely place for ministry, rickety as it was and backed up against the switching yard. The yard wasn’t noisy like it could have been if the town was booming instead of broken down, but the whistle shrieked late at night and there was always the black, acrid smell of oil burning.
I knew Derek from school, but had always made it a point to keep out of his way. He was what the teachers called boisterous
when they felt charitable, and unruly
the rest of the time. He wrote obscene sentiments in the bathrooms and was pinched girls in the halls. I think these things were to make himself look bigger, but he also had a strange habit of hunching his shoulders up, like he was trying to disappear.
It was on a Monday that I looked out to see him standing by the curb, kicking loose gravel with the toe of his boot and clearly in a dark mood. I went outside anyway.( . . .Collapse )
Hey everybody! Since this is the 5th Monday of the month, we're having a contest!
AN ARC OF BLOOD MAGIC, BY YOURS TRULY.
This is the very first ARC I'm giving away, and we're so excited to offer it here on Merry Fates first!
All you have to do to win is tell the world which of our stories is your favorite. On your blog, on Facebook, on Twitter - wherever people will see it!
Link us to your entry here in the comments, and you'll get your name dropped in the hat. We'll randomly draw and announce the winners next week when the three of us are together at a retreat. Assuming we aren't buried in two feet of snow.
To get you started, you can use any of the tags over on the left side of the screen, or check out this post were we tell you which of our recent stories are OUR favorites: clicky, clicky!
Go! Spread the love! Win awesome prizes!
There are plenty of reasons to sleep through a year of your life.
Health, sanity, and personal loss make regular appearances on the brochures. Testimonials from men and women who climbed into the rip chambers alone or scared, dying or depressed, and climbed out with smiles, ready to face the world again.
My grams slept for 19 months while nanotechs rebuilt sixty percent of her heart.
But I was just bored.
The hum of machinery woke me, my skin tingling from the thousands of tiny magnos readjusting the energy fields that held me a few centimeters off the pillows. Cool air hissed as I was lowered down. I blinked open my eyes.
I saw through the plastic lid of my rip chamber, through the panes of duraglass that were the ceiling of the hospital: blue sky devoid of clouds. Nothing of interest.
Then there was Mom’s face, her narrow eyes pinched. She put her hand on the lid of my chamber, her body-heat leaving a ghostly print. Hey, baby, she said, but I couldn’t hear her voice.
“How much longer?” Mom asked after the third tech ran my brainwaves through a hand-held decoder. We’d been in the resting room for two hours, and I was sick of the creamy paint and anipics of waving wheat and peaceful lakewater.
The tech pointed to the readout screen with a chewed-on fingernail. Shouldn’t the techs here have been as fake-relaxed as the décor? She said something insensible to Mom about serotonin before scurrying out.
Mom threw up her hands. “Leave it to my daughter to wake up cranky from the brain spa.”
She zipped open the carry-on bag she’d brought and threw my bra at me hard enough it stung my palm when I caught it.
*( We flew home on a jump-jet, right over the Catskills.Collapse )
The summer of the drought, we made a bowling alley in the wash. Just one lane, narrow and uneven, with the witchgrass and the mesquite rising up around us and the ground hard-packed and dusty, sloping down toward the city.
It was a bad idea, but Tyson Burke thought of it, so at the time, it mostly seemed like something to do. He was the king of bad ideas, and sometimes we went along with them for no other reason except that it was better than sitting at home watching reruns of Cops
with the air-conditioner sweating fat, glossy beads of toxic water.
When we remember those afternoons, our recollection is a fractured one. The individual stories diverge. Lily talks about hot sandstone and the way the dust felt under her toes. Joe Healy says he's forgotten nearly everything, that it only comes rushing back when he smells mesquite and desert lavender.
Alex Bell, who was always more somber than the rest of us, recalls something darker. When he closes his eyes at night, he says that he can still see the stark, graceful shape of Celia Webber, standing at the top of the embankment with a palm cupped to her ear, listening for thunder. Her hair looks pin-straight and brittle, so pale in the sun that it is almost white.
All our lives, our parents had warned us to be careful of the wash, to listen for the sound of storms. The ground was baked solid, so dry that if you hit it with a rock it cracked like tile and if the rain came, we knew it wouldn't soak in, but only spill down through the narrow canyon and onto the road. Storms meant danger, but what is that to a bunch of kids? We didn't believe in danger yet, and the sharp report of a thunder clap was too close to the sound the pins make when the ball hit them and they went crashing over, rolling idly in the dirt.
On nights when the temperature hangs in the triple digits and the winds blow down from the hills, we can still hear the sound of pins falling, like a dream we had once and keep having.( . . .Collapse )
The Merry Fates are taking the rest of 2010 off to recoup and party for the holidays, but we wanted to leave you with our awesome 2011 plans and also our favorite stories of the past few months to tide you over.
First of all, starting in January 2011 we'll be offering FOUR stories instead of just three. The cool part though, is that story number four will always be written by a guest YA writer. It'll go:
Week one: Brenna
Week two: Tessa
Week three: Maggie
Week four: incredi-guest!
(if there's a week five in any given month, we'll run a contest!)
Here's the exciting line-up:
January - Beth Revis
February - Janni Lee Simner
March - Victoria Schwab
April - Carrie Ryan
May - Leah Cypess
June - Myra McEntire
July - Lucy Christopher
August - Elizabeth Scott
September - Jackson Pearce
October - Lauren DeStefano
November - Swati Avasthi
So that's what we all have to look forward to! More stories, more authors, more fun!
And to get you through to January, here are six of our favorite recent stories:JUDGEMENT
by Brenna. "The first thing that happened wasn’t even that strange. It started to rain."THE BONE TENDER
by Brenna. "When Brandon Rowe was eight years old, he hit a squirrel with a rock and broke its back."THE VAMPIRE BOX
by Tessa. "We have a vampire living in our basement."DATE WITH A DRAGON SLAYER
by Tessa. "Sean Hardy was a dragon slayer. It was a small dragon, only about the size of a barn, but still. He killed it."THE ABSENCE OF LIGHT
by Maggie. "Yesterday, Mr. Colquitt knocked on our door and told my parents they were blowing up the moon."NON QUIS, SED QUID
by Maggie. "She’d been dating the demon for about a year."
Enjoy, and thanks as ever for reading!
There was a door in the giant cottonwood tree in Eva’s neighbors’ backyard.
Not a door with a peephole or bell or even a knob, but a twisting dark slit that began in the roots and pulled the bark wide up to about four feet high. It’s rotted
, her dad always said, and her mom brought it up with the neighbors every barbeque: That old thing will lose a limb in the next big storm, and crash right down into Eva’s room
. But the cottonwood towered three times higher than their house, sprawling its great gray limbs across three backyards, and showering them with bags-full of fluffy white seeds every spring. It weathered two hundred years at least of prairie thunderstorms. It wouldn’t ever die.
Nobody else believed it was a door, and when Eva told her mom that she saw a boy crawl out of it just at dusk on her fifteenth birthday, her mom didn’t even laugh. She just kept stripping ribbons into curls with a pair of scissors. The sound was like hard wind rattling the branches of the cottonwood, but cleaner and sharper because Mom did it so quick and smooth it wasn’t violent. It was art.
Eva hadn’t meant to tell her mom then, but the boy’s yellow hair had been tied up with red ribbons just like the birthday presents. He’d dug his fingers into the thick channels of bark and dragged himself out of the shadows inside the tree as if they were sticky. Bare feet, ragged green pants, and a tee-shirt inside out and backwards so that the tag flopped up to tickle his chin. Streaks of mud and something darker spread across his chest and the moment he was free of the tree, he saw Eva. She pressed a hand flat against the glass of her window and opened her mouth to say something. But he put his dirty hand up to his mouth and placed one finger across his lips.
And then he ran.
“Don’t be ridiculous, Eva” Mom said. Strip
. A long pink ribbon bounced back against the wrapped box in a spiral of curls. “You’re fifteen and that’s plenty old to stop trying to get my attention with stories like this. As soon as these are wrapped, we’ll go to your party.”
Eva half didn’t believe herself, so she only sat there while Mom transformed plain boxes and bags into a garden of pink and red curls.
She hopped the chain-link fence into the neighbors’ yard two days after her birthday, with a flashlight even though it was three in the afternoon. Frost hardened the layer of dead leaves, making the crunch of her boots loud as thunder as she walked. The cold kept the smell down, too, but even then the dark mouth reminded her of the ocean. Salty death was the tree’s perfume, despite being half a continent away from any sea.
The inside curved in a crescent toward the center, and as far as Eva could see it was only soft, rotten wood, dried out and cold from the winter. She stepped three feet in, until it narrowed too much for even one of her shoulders. ( The beam of light she sent farther showed her more of the same.Collapse )
I wasn't always like this—not ghost-white and broken. Once, I was alive. I rode horses and played the violin. I was going to be a doctor like my father. Once, I used to like leaving the house.
My mother died in the fall. It wasn't the bright, gorgeous fall—all flickering gold and flame-orange—but the dead kind, when the trees are bare and the leaves have all turned brown and dried up.
After she was gone, the world seemed much too big. It was so much simpler to keep to myself. I have no pets, no friends or houseplants, just a one-bedroom apartment and a few thousand books. I didn't become a doctor, but I work for one—a clinical psychologist who was looking for a receptionist to double as a research assistant. When you have no friends, you don't mind collating data on a Friday night.
My employer is a noted specialist in the field of pain, though in the daylight, he might be confused with any other doctor, warm and ingratiating in his tweed coat. During office hours, I take dictation and keep track of appointments. I make coffee. I usher patients in to the office. Sometimes, I listen at the door. They talk about abandonment, about being left behind. They lie on the couch and talk about mothers who ignored them, fathers who were drinkers. I listen with interest, trying to decide if any of the doctor's advice applies to me.
The parade of after-hours girls is more troublesome. They gather blithely in his waiting room, hoping to be selected for one of the research trials, thinking scrapes and pinpricks are a small price to pay in exchange for eighty dollars and a lollipop in cellophane. Thinking the tests will only be an inconvenience, a momentary discomfort. But I know better. The doctor by day may be tweedy and reassuring, but it's only his disguise. At night, he becomes a different man, fork-tongued and lab-coated, all sterile scalpels and stainless steel needles. You should never take candy from strangers.
The psychology of suffering is a delicate field and pain is an elusive thing—made of nerves, neurons, panic. It must be measured, studied like cancerous cells or weather patterns. In the pain trials, I am the trusty assistant. I wear a white smock. I take notes and count incisions. Sometimes, I clean up blood—but only sometimes. The doctor has a remarkably steady hand.
While he works, he talks about art and literature. He tells me about the lives of famous shut-ins and I think he is trying to make a point. His favorite is Emily Dickinson, how she put on a white dress and closed the door on the world. The doctor worships her. He told me once that her self-imprisonment shows fortitude. It shows dignity. He said this while testing the response of the median nerve in female subjects aged nineteen to twenty-seven.
In the deadly quiet of the night lab, I double check his work. I catalogue the results and send the girls home blank-faced and weeping. My notations are precise, but perfunctory. In my own mind, I have already tallied the results.
The doctor wouldn't understand. He doesn't have the humility to believe that I know something he doesn't. I'm only the assistant, after all. I'm only the one who counts the wounds, who gives the girls their money and then sees them out. He doesn't know what I know, that pain is not and will never be the point. That all his schemes and trials and his sadistic games are useless.
He's looking for the great discovery, the miracle of suffering, but all it boils down to this: a person can go home dead, even when their heart's still beating.Photo by quapan
I’ve inherited the family ghost.MAX:
You learn after about five days to leave Leyla Hempstead well and good alone. It’s tough, because she’s gorgeous. She takes her lunch outside and sits under the linden tree at the corner of the quad, pulls everything out and spreads it on an embroidered napkin.
No kidding. The same pattern every day: cream cheese sandwich, thin sliced apple, crumb cake. Only most of the cake ends up tossed among the roots so that during sixth period calculus a swarm of crows lands and makes this huge ruckus so that Mr. Boswell has to close the blinds. We all know it’s because the crows like her ghost.
Supposedly, he was her great-great-grandmother Henrietta’s fiancé. And that handkerchief has a drop of blood on one corner from when a second frustrated boyfriend decided to interrupt Henri’s secret liaison with a pistol. Ever since, the oldest girl in the family has carried that napkin and they only washed it by hand so that blood stain will always be there to remind them it isn’t wise to fool around with two boys at once.
Not that I heard the story from Leyla – she only talks to her ghost. We just tell stories about her while pretending to ignore her from afar.
There’s a big state university on the other side of town, and we get a handful of new kids every semester as their parents move in or out. This year, my senior year, a guy from Arizona moved in about a month and a half late. So here we are near Halloween and he’s just now learning about Leyla.
Usually this is what happens:
Day one. New Guy notices her walk across the quad while the sun shines down so you can see the shadow of her legs through the thin layers of her skirt. He watches her kneel down and begin opening the tin lunchbox. She leans over to spread her embroidered napkin, just enough that he sees the top of her breasts, and he just knows that she isn’t doing it on purpose. As she sits back, her long chocolate hair falls in this sweep back over her collar and she breathes deeply. A little smile flips her lips as she starts in on the apple.
I swear to God that’s all it takes.
Day two. New Guy fiddles with his own lunch, knowing he should go join the crowd of football dudes or the nerd squad – whichever are his people – but all he’s thinking about is sitting next to Leyla. Fortunately, one of the linebackers yells at New Guy, and he gives in to peer pressure.
Day three. Oh shit. ( New Guy has a plan.Collapse )
Last Friday, Maggie, Brenna and I got up hours before the sun in order to spend an entire 24 hours together. The purpose was to appear at our Very! First! Merry Fates panel and to meet Andrew Karre of Carolrhoda Lab, who made the potentially insane decision to wrangle the three of us into producing something book-like and amazing. We had a lot of fun at the panel and met some really keen people. It was like doing one of our online Round Tables... only in person!
And here is proof! BEING ROCK STARS:HANGING WITH OUR EDITORIAL OVERLORD:
MORE BEING ROCK STARS:
(It's the cover of our next album.)
For a complete photo-essay, head on over here!!!
We'll be back next Monday with more fiction!
I am two and occasionally four times more invisible than anyone else at school.
I don't mean that I'm ugly. If I were, I think that people would see me. And maybe their stares would feel cruel and impertinent, but at least I'd know that I was real.
I'm not ugly, though—just transparent. Forgettable. I blend in. I can disappear in a heartbeat.
My best friend, Embry Gleason, says that this is the principle of how objects that are Harper Prescott tend to remain unnoticed. Embry is better at physics than anyone else in the junior class. She can build a model glider out of balsa wood or cardboard or mashed potatoes. She could probably engineer a pretty sizable bridge. I can't even put up shelves.
But there is one trick that I can do. All I need is a pen and a piece of paper.
All my life, my mom has been telling me not to—not to be careless, not to be tempted. That just because you can
do something doesn't mean you should
. But what she doesn't know won't hurt me. Mostly, I use the trick for little things—to make sure the science test is only on the material I know, or that Mr. Lester doesn't assign us extra homework on weekends.
It goes like this—write it down, then tear it up:The lesson ends, the bell rings. Class is over and people start to file out. Lester has forgotten to announce the reading.
Later, the wish takes on a life of its own. It comes true.
Simple, right?( . . .Collapse )
Note from Tessa, the First: Some of you may know that Maggie is currently wandering about the wilds of Europe, leashed to publicists and forced to live off the blood of booksellers.
Valiantly, she began writing her Pied Piper story to post for you today, but seeing as she's in Germany, the home of said Piper, there was a snag.
Her laptop died. It seems her story is too close to the truth for the spirit of the Piper to allow her to finish it (though he apparently has nothing against straight irons"). Against the wishes of the dead and in the face of curses and painful consequences to our firstborn - we're posting the beginning of her story anyway!
This was what Maggie managed to throw my way before being sucked into some untold Hell dimension, where she's no doubt being forced to dance with personified preservatives. If we ever hear from her again, she'll make it up to you. Somehow. Some way.
The piper didn’t care much for children.
He had been in his current state for long enough that he couldn’t remember if it had merely been a very long time since he had been one or if he had never, in fact, ever been one at all. In any case, he found children to be a difficult breed. Like the Celts, they were never on time, like the Huns, they seemed to fixate on the smallest and most inconsequential of details, like the Romans, they were prone to fits of passion and temper just when it was time to sleep. There was nothing so uncomfortable for the piper as the idea of being trapped in a conversation with a child, struggling for something to say, some conversation topic that would fill that interminable time until the child was retrieved by whomever it belonged to.
To be fair, the piper did not have very much in common with children.
But the piper did have a lot in common with rats. And such commonality was both comforting and aggravating; one never likes to see so much of themselves in another. Like a rat, the piper had good hearing but bad sight, was a good swimmer but a poor climber, and had short brown hair that was impervious to the elements. The piper could withstand great heat and great cold, and carried a great many germs though none of them troubled him particularly. Like a rat, he could eat almost anything though he preferred cooked eggs if they were to be had. He did not have a tail, but he could not remember if he had lost it or had merely never had one.
It was the piper’s desire for cooked eggs that drove him toward civilization. Unlike roots and garbage or bulbs and grubs or berries and half-feathered baby birds, cooked eggs required a fire and a pan and a hand to combine the two. The piper was not a fan of fire, so cooked eggs required money.
Money was a tricky thing. Like water, it had a way of disappearing in the sun even if you were not using it. Money was always a problem for the piper; it was an element that he didn’t understand.
But cooked eggs!
Of the many skills he possessed, his ability to conjure rats from walls was the one most likely to earn him a wage. So he kept a look out as he journeyed. There were rats everywhere, and some towns had made their peace with that, but some towns could not come to an agreement. The piper sniffed and crawled and poked in the rubbish pits near the towns, looking for rats inexpertly killed or trash scrubbed fastidiously clean. Everyone knew that food drew rats in. But they never understood that a lack of food wouldn’t draw rats back out. Clean garbage, dead rats, too many cats: this was a recipe for cooked eggs.
Hamelin was one of these towns. As the piper strode in, walking from shadow to shadow until he felt sure, he saw the dead rats hanging from doorways, tied by their tails in threes and sevens. Such mystical methods were useless: rats didn’t believe in God or gods. The piper sneered and clucked his tongue at the gesture.
“What are you about?”
The man who addressed the piper was very clean. His face was scrubbed until his cheeks were red as a painted doll, and his lips, too, were bright and full as a woman’s. All of him was stuffed and full in soft curves and dimples that filled his clothing. He was an animal fed to contentedness, a creature pleased and coy. The piper flared his nostrils.
“Rats,” the piper said. “I am a rat catcher.”
“You are never one,” said the man. “Go on out. We don’t serve those with their hands out here.”
The piper said, “The rats speak for me.” And he ran his fingers along the bottom of his many-colored jacket. It was made of patches upon patches upon something that was once the skin of something that was once alive, and knotted in a tough fringe at the hem were scores of tails that swayed when he moved. Note from Tessa, the Second: I think it's safe to say Maggie was hungry when she wrote this. Mmmm cooked eggs. To distract yourself, check it out: All three Merry Fates will be at The Loft in Minneapolis, Minnesota on Friday the 22nd of October for our VERY FIRST panel! It's open to the public, but also part of KidLitCon.