“I’ll never get them to trust me after this,” she sighed, tucking the unicorn into her pocket. Looking behind her, she glared at the dark wizard. Even encased in crystal, he frightened her – though she tried not to show it. That wouldn’t do.
So she faced him. “I’ve killed twice to stop you,” she said, tightly controlling the tremble in her voice. “I’ve taken two lives. And now I’ve an entire species to restore,” she gently patted her pocket, “and their trust to regain.”
She looked into his frozen eyes, and could not restrain the shiver that ran down her spine. “And, of course, you.”
She knew what to do. And she was the only one left who would.
The sky was obsessively blue, the kind of blue that comes from thousands of years of practice. Not a cloud visible. Most likely, they’d all run from the heat.
The heat. Good lord, the heat. It rolled in waves, rippling across the sands, creating a kind of fucked up water effect. It was beautiful in a brutal way – like the heat itself was trying to make up for how bad it was out there with the mirage of relief.
But it only made us all the crazier.
And that’s when she came. Right when we were considering drastic measures, there showed up a tiny kitten, blue as the sky. We all had to hold her, to make sure our eyes weren’t lying to us, but she was real as any of us. A tiny purring mystery.
She took to the youngest of our tribe; a tiny girl with eyes that matched the sky’s obsessive blue – and the kitten’s strange fur.
We none of us questioned it. Stranger things happen out here. And the kitten seemed a blessing.
Little did we know what would follow.
That song looks good on you.
She held her breath. Stepping up to the mic ripped her heart open. Her voice carried her emotions, playing out over the crowd in streaks of blues and reds. This is why they loved her so – she wore her songs like the finest of cloaks. She draped her music over their shoulders, pulling them into her, safe inside her heart.
She wasn’t ready.
She was never really ready.
Standing at the edge of the stage, at the edge of the world, the bright lights shining on the emptiness.
She held her breath.
The people in the audience, her people, held their breath.
Everything froze. Suddenly, she could feel the boundaries between them fade. The crowd blurred and she blurred, they opened, fuzing together.
She stepped onto the stage, eyes closed. She began to sing.
Magick is a verb.
The witch regarded the boy who so suddenly burst into her cottage, upsetting the cats and scaring the birds. His face flushed, eyes wide with fear, words tumbling out so fast she could make no sense of them.
“Slow down, boy,” she said, placing a hand on his shaking shoulder.
The boy gulped for air but found only tears.
The witch sighed, bothered by this interruption. She struggled with the desire to boot this kid and his woes out of her little house, but her heart wasn’t that cold.
She pushed the boy into a chair and handed him a mug of water. He sipped between sobs and gradually they subsided.
“It’s my mama,” he whispered. “She’s terrible sick and she’s gonna die. We need your help.”
The witch’s heart iced over a little more. Her eyes involuntarily flicked in the direction of her long abandoned bookshelf, barely visible now under the spiders’ webs and dust. Her cats, sensing the storm, made themselves scarce. The birds stop their singing.
The very earth appeared to hold its breath.
“No.” The witch watched the boy’s heart break.
“But you are our only hope!” The little boy cried.
“Then you are out of hope.” The witch walked to her door, holding it open for the boy.
But the boy didn’t move. “Why?”
The witch shook her head.
Still the boy didn’t move. “We need you.”
The witch crossed her arms. Her gaze flew around the small cottage. Her neglected cauldron, her abandoned books, the jars of herbs long unused, the dusty altar. She bit her lip to keep the tears back.
The little boy stood. He walked over to the witch. He put his tiny hand on her scratchy elbow. He looked up into her face.
“Magick is a verb,” he whispered.
The witch looked down into his bright eyes. Fear engulfed her like flames. She hadn’t had any magick work for her in so long, she’d grown sure she’d never make it happen again. It had become so much easier to give up than to fail.
But suddenly, she had to try.
this one is dedicated to Patti Digh, who taught me to sit down and write.
The Diamond Bracelet
The day I loaned Morgan $400 bucks was the most exciting day of my life. She was only 10 years old, but she had a smile that lit up the room like the sun in summer and the brightest blue eyes I ever did see. She found me sitting on the steps of my porch, bored out of my mind, and she got me all wrapped up in more trouble than you can shake a stick at.
See, she found a diamond bracelet in the back of the car. It was her dad’s car, but she had no mom, so we didn’t know who the bracelet belonged to. Morgan decided that we could sell it, but we didn’t know who would buy a bracelet a couple of kids found. She convinced me to loan her $400 so we could buy a couple of train tickets to somewhere more interesting than our sleepy little town, and I fell for it. It was my entire life savings, but I forked it over.
We made it to the train station, but that’s where she ditched me. She managed to make off with all that money and the diamond bracelet, to boot. That Morgan. She may be young, but she’s not stupid.
After all this time…
She stood in front of the mirror, fighting back tears.
“How long?” she asked.
The mirror’s soft, smokey voice patiently answered. “Two more hours, majesty.”
She began her slow pacing, back and forth across the tiny room. Time crawled by. The mirror waited for her to ask again, but she managed to restrain herself.
At last, she could hear him; his horse’s hooves echoed like heartbeats across the empty valley. She raced to the window to watch his approach, fear and hope and anticipation crowding her throat, making it difficult to breathe.
She watched him leap off his horse and fight his way into the castle, then lost sight of him. But she could feel him now; she knew the perils that lay in wait, and her mind traced them as he fought them.
And, at long last, he broke down her door.
He stood, framed in the doorway, the golden sunlight shining upon him.
Her breath caught. He was so…
He was sweaty, breathing hard, almost scrawny. His eyes, in her mind so gentle and loving, were hard and impatient. He sneered at her, leered at her, and she instinctively took a step backwards. When he spoke, she heard not the words, but the cruel tone and cold reality.
He was not charming, not in the least.
Her eyes filled with tears. This was who she’d spent her life waiting for? This snarling brute of a man?
He reached for her; she recoiled.
She knew exactly what to do.
She pushed him, grabbed his sword, and ran past. She fought her way out of the castle, past the traps and monsters she’d feared all her life. She emerged, blinking, into the glorious day. Laughter bubbled up and sprang from her lips, echoing through the valley. She grabbed the reins of his horse, freed the poor beast from its bindings, and lept upon its back.
She rode off into the sunset, all by herself.
Break His Heart
I am about to break his heart.
I watch him sleep, for the last time. His dark eyes closed, twitching as he dreams. His chest rising, falling, breathing. He stirs, he mutters, but he does not wake.
He has no idea what’s coming. No idea of what’s in store. He thinks me in bed, still beside him, all is well and nothing wrong.
But everything changed three days ago. Three days. Thirteen steps from the bed to my car. And only one minute for the world to tilt, for everything to change.
I lay my hand on his chest, feeling the slow steady beat within.
I will break his heart, like he broke mine.
Crop Circles in the Carpet
She sat in the driver’s seat of her brand-new car in the parking lot of her brand-new apartment, her head resting on the steering wheel as she willed herself to get out. To go inside. To start her brand-new life.
She took a deep breath, dried her eyes, and opened the car door. The cool night air rushed in like a lover eager to greet her.
She shook away the thought, burying the memories. Not now.
She opened the hatch and pulled out her duffel, slinging it over her shoulder. She took the first few steps toward her apartment with trepidation until determination took hold and her pace quickened. She unlocked the door, sweeping it open and stepping inside. Fumbling for the light, she dropped her bag on the plushly carpeted floor. Her fingertips found the switch, throwing on a soft golden glow.
It illuminated the tiny loft like sunrise.
Not here, too.
Keys, duffel, trepidation – all forgotten. She took a couple of steps further into the room, heart pounding, breath held.
Oh, yes. She could see clearly now.
In the carpet.
They’d found her. Again.
She skipped into the café, holding her mother’s hand. Her aunt sat at a table, awaiting their arrival. She bounded over to her aunt and held out her new pendant with pride. “Lookit, lookit, I got my own!”
The aunt, fingers instinctively reaching up and touching a similar pendant around her own neck, looked up at her sister, who nodded. “She did quite well, actually.” The mother’s hand fell onto the little girl’s shoulder.
An undisguised look of relief passed over the aunt’s face. “I was concerned.”
“As was I,” said the mother, and a shiver ran through her.
But the little girl beamed. “It was so easy! Let me show you what I did!” She reached into her pocket and began to pull out a slender wand.
The mother’s grip on her shoulder tightened. “Not here, dear. Not in front of others.”
The little girl frowned. “But they’re sleepers. They won’t even remember!“
“Nonetheless,” the aunt chimed in, “we don’t do such things out here. You know better.” The mother and girl sat at the table, the girl kicking her feet to and fro. The aunt leaned in and had a hurried whispered conversation with the mother, the two of them discussing a fate the little girl will never know she brushed against.
Tears fell from the mother’s eyes as she looked at her daughter, proud and afraid and relieved.
She watched. All-too-familiar white clouds bobbed on the horizon, moving swiftly in the wind. She watched as they grew closer, larger. She watched as they became sails on ships, white as snow, billowing over dark wooden bellies. She watched, unconcerned, as they moved over her waters.
The ships dropped iron into the sea and slowed to a stop; she watched as the fish around her followed in the wake, watched as they danced in and out of the links in the chain. Her dolphins took flight and plunged back, spiraling around her, around each other.
She watched as they lowered their tiny boats into the ocean, unknowing of their deeds or their futures. She watched as they began rowing toward the island. She watched as the sea began to froth, as the waves began to rise, as the storm began to brew. She watched their tiny frantic faces as their little boats tipped, casting them into the tumultuous waters. She watched as her sharks devoured all of them, one by screaming one. All except the captain. And she watched as the octopus wrapped all eight arms around the man and brought him to her.
She reached out her hand to the captain. The rest was up to him.
I put tulips under all the pillows, and then I set fire to the house. I had spent twenty years with Bill, and I finally snapped. I couldn’t take the thing he does with the newspaper anymore – I tried to ignore it, then I tried to forget it, but eventually, I realized that the only way out was to burn it all down.
I realized it when I caught them at the diner. She was standing behind the counter, giving him this root beer-float kind of smile. And there he was, doing that thing with the newspaper. I knew they were up to something, and I knew it was nothing good.
So that night, I raided the garden. Tulips were my favorite flower, so I had them planted in every color imaginable. I picked only as many as I needed.
As the house burned, I walked away with a new sense of peace in my heart.
She stood up, looking around herself in horror. What have I done? she thought, and she panicked. She bolted, grabbing her purse and keys and darting to her car. She sped down the street, tears streaming down her face. What now, what now, what now?
At a red light, she flipped down her visor. She looked into her bloodshot eyes. What you need, she told herself sternly, is a coffee.
She looked up and saw a Starbucks, just there on the corner. Perfect, she decided.
She pulled into the parking lot. There was only one other car, so all she had to do was get past a couple of people into the safety of the bathroom. Then she could wash up and compose herself. She took a deep breath and got out of the car. She walked in, flustered. There was a couple of women at the counter, chatting with the barista. She hesitated. Maybe I need to order first?
The women laughed, enjoying the conversation with the barista. No, she decided. Everyone was distracted. Bathroom first.
She darted through the door and up the little hall to the bathrooms. In and locked the door, and finally, for a moment, she felt safe. She took off her gloves, horrified at her hands. She ran them under the water, cleaning them frantically, losing track of time. After a few minutes, she heard voices in the hall outside the bathroom.
Dammit! Those women were coming. She turned off the water. One of them tried to get in, but the lock held. “Just a minute,” she shouted – a little too loudly, a little too edgy. She frantically looked around. The sink was a mess, so she grabbed paper towels and silently cleaned it as best she could.
Her phone chimed. Dammit! She grabbed it out of her pocket. It was her sister, demanding answers. She silenced it and laid it on the toilet paper holder, flushed the toilet so it’d sound like she was being normal, then washed the sink and her hands again. Her hands… they were almost clean.
She darted out of the bathroom. A little too quickly – she forgot her phone. The two women went into the bathroom together, but she stopped them in time – “I left my phone, I think. Can you see it?”
The shorter woman smiled. “Yes,” she said, handing it to her, “here it is.”
The pair of them smiled at her and shut the door.
Alone in the hall, she realized her hands were dripping. She hadn’t dried them. And they still weren’t clean. She dashed into the men’s, hoping to get her hands clean and get out before anyone noticed. After scrubbing a few minutes, they were finally clean. She dried them off and opened the door, only to find another woman standing in the hall, waiting to use the bathroom. The other woman gave her an odd look, but said nothing.
She panicked. She mumbled something inane about needing to pee but the men’s being too dirty, and the woman offered to let her go first – so she tried the door. The voice of the short girl rang out, “Just a minute!” and she wanted to bash her head against the door. Of course they were still in there – why else would this other girl be in the hall? Finally, the two of them came out, and she avoided their eyes and darted back in.
Door closed, locked. She sat on the toilet and took great gasping breaths of air. What have I done? What am I doing? What now, what now?
Finally, she decided. Get coffee, get out of here. Call my sister. Make a plan.
Get coffee. Get out. Call my sister. Make a plan.
And that’s what she did.
It was a dark and stormy night.
How cliche, he thought to himself as he began the long walk home. The rain came down in slow, fat drops; manatee swimming ever downward from the sky to end by kissing the ground. He held out his hand, catching a palmful of drops, and smiled.
Then he saw her.
She’d been watching him through the window of the café all afternoon. Even as the sun began to hide behind the clouds, she was there. Even as the darkness crept across the afternoon, even as the bolts of lightening streaked across the sky and the manatee-drops began their slow dance down, she was there. Calm. Watching. Patient.
Their eyes met. He froze, his hand outstretched and filled – filling further, overflowing. The drops gathered on his eyelashes, making her look like a dream, like an illusion. He blinked and the rain ran down his face.
He blinked and she filled his vision. Time slowed. He blinked at half-speed, and she was right there in front of him, her hand in his.
“You,” he whispered.
“You,” she whispered.
She took his other hand, the world forgotten around them. They began to dance, to move together. She sang to him, the music filling him, encompassing them. He rested his head on her chest, and her heartbeat gave rhythm to the song. He let his tears join the rain’s slow waltz down his face, and he found his voice joining hers. He looked at her face, and she looked into his eyes. They walked a few steps, rounded a corner, and climbed the raindrops like ladders. Up, over, up. They reached the clouds and walked together, hand in hand, hearts in sync. Reunited.
The Second Chance
It’s not that she was a bad child. She was stubborn, difficult, often challenging and occasionally downright immovable, but not bad. Her father had died the day before she was born. I’d done everything I could to give her a good life on my own. I didn’t have to work; her father’s company supported us, so I devoted my life to raising her well.
Somewhere along the way, I must have done something wrong. Otherwise, this wouldn’t be happening.
I watched her sitting with the other kids. She was lecturing on the behaviors of cats, holding her own kitten captive so she could bare his tiny teeth and gently expose his claws for demonstration. The other children were enthralled. I could just barely hear her, and everything she said was factual and correct. I wondered where she’d learned so much about cats; the kitten had been a present only this morning. Today was her 12th birthday.
She was so brilliant, it frightened me.
I turned back to the conversation. “She’s gotten so distant from me. I can’t get through to her anymore; she does her own thing most of the time, and when I try to teach her something – anything – she knows more about it already than I do. She has no patience for lessons with me. We’ve grown so far apart, but all I’ve ever done has been for her.”
The teacher nodded, compassion in her soft brown eyes. “Do you touch her?”
I stared at her. I looked over at my daughter and realized I couldn’t remember the last time we’d held hands or hugged or touched at all. I was flooded with sorrow. I couldn’t speak.
The teacher reached out and put her hand on my arm. The feeling of warmth and skin on my skin was so foreign to me; I realized I hadn’t touched anyone else, either. She looked out over the children, then turned back to me. “Her stars say she’s a very physical person. We all are, really, but her especially so. Can you remember the last time you held her in your arms?”
Memories flooded me. The grief at losing her father poured through me, mixed with the joy at her birth. Her perfect little face, eyes that matched his, her ten tiny fingers and ten tiny toes, her completeness. The older she grew, the more like him she became – both in looks and in behaviors. Eventually, it became too much for me, and I retreated into my head. I stopped touching her, grew cold when she would reach for me.
How long ago had that been? Oh gods, nearly ten years?
My heart burst, I broke into tears. I stood, sobbing, and walked toward her. As I grew closer, the other children scattered, clearing the path between me and my daughter.
She looked up at me, her eyes cold, calculating.
A moment, a lifetime, an eternity passed. Tears rolled down my face. Neither of us spoke. The kitten wriggled free and scampered off, unnoticed. She stood, taking slow, hesitant steps toward me.
Her eyes changed, softened. Deepened. Our fingers reached out toward each other.
I was holding her hand. She was holding my hand. We were standing closer than we’d been in years; I could feel her warmth. I could smell her; grass and kitten and dirt and cherry shampoo. Our eyes were locked and for this moment, there was nothing else in the universe.
“Give me a second chance?” I asked.
I looked into the soft brown eyes of my toddler. Today was her second birthday; she grew more like her father every day, and the pain in my heart from losing him eased when I looked at her. She toddled toward me, arms wide, and I scooped her up and spun her around. I pulled her close to me, kissing her face a dozen times.
A shiver ran through me; I heard a voice like wind in my ears. This is your second chance…
I wasn’t sure what it meant. My daughter patted my cheek, tugged my hair, asking for attention. I looked at her and a lifetime flashed in her eyes; pain, sorrow, distance between us. For a moment, her eyes turned cold, calculating. I nearly sat her down, I wanted to shield myself from how like her father she was.
I wanted to close my heart.
But then she grinned, and the moment broke. Her eyes softened, lit up, and she started singing her favorite song. I kissed her a dozen times more, nuzzling her soft baby skin, feeling her warmth. I snuggled her close to me, close to my heart.
I would never let her go.
Not this time.
“I wish I hadn’t given away my fridge and thrown away my takeout menus,” said the girl with no bed.
She looked around her empty apartment, pondering. Her thoughts wandered back to the night it started, the night he’d looked at her with that look on his face, and how she knew it was over before he even opened his mouth.
His mouth, his full pouty lips, his dark stormy eyes. Gone, along with everything in the apartment. Just a few days ago, just a whole lifetime ago.
She’d been surprisingly relieved when he left. The music had returned that very night, flowing from her heart through her fingers and out onto the paper so fast she nearly set it all on fire trying to get it down. And then, she’d started singing.
And that was exactly what she did right now.
After leaving the insane asylum, Nathan needed coffee.
He drove across town, the ghosts of what he’d seen haunting him, cloying and disturbing. He shivered and cranked the heater, and wished the sun wasn’t setting so fast. The echos of tormented screams bounded across his mind, but far worse were the whispers.
Those tiny little voices, hidden in the cracks of his memory.
The eyes of that one girl, so dark, twinkling (mischief? madness?) in spite of everything.
The crooked smile she offered him.
The way she spoke his name… as though… she knew him.
Wait… how had she known his name?
He shook his head, parking in the café lot. He threw open his door and took several deep breaths of the cold, crisp air. Shivering, he ducked into the café and went to the barista. “Coffee, black,” he ordered.
“Yes, Nathan,” she said, and met his gaze with eerily familiar dark eyes.
She slid through the night, darting confidently from shadow to shadow. The light curved away from her, trying to avoid her. Her knife, gripped tightly in her hand, gleamed in the darkness, reflecting the pale moonlight.
She knew her target, he knew her name. Death blew across his neck and he shuddered as he checked the locks on his doors. Far away, she sensed this futile gesture, and smiled to herself. Moving swiftly, she flowed like water – a rapid rushing river, cold and unstoppable. Her every step ringing his ending through the streets.
Again, in the distance, he shivered and rechecked his locks. Her grin grew larger.