Hent never held his breath. A witch’s curse kept his family from being swimmers or blowing out birthday candles or taking advantage of the wish-enhancing powers of tunnels, for fear of their held breath catching as per the terms of the curse.
But here and now—in the Upper Bough of the supply tree, on Clean Out Your Computer Day—Hent held his breath ever so slightly while he flattened his wings against his back to slip past a trio of grandmothers walking at one quarter speed.
He would have arrived earlier to avoid the crowds, but Elyse’s appointment with Healer Jessen had gone long and she could not make it back up to Lee-o’-the-Nest on her own since the lighting strike. Hent was not about to abandon Elyse, not when he had promised their father he would take care of her.
It wasn’t enough that the past few months had been way weird. Like, Twilight Zone weird. Mona wanted nothing to do with any of it, most especially since pretty much no one else around her realized the weirdness.
Pretty much because at least she had Monty. Sure, he was annoying AF, but he was her brother and they kinda had to watch each other’s backs. If she was alone in her knowledge, she’d have gone crazy by now.
The biggest pain in the butt was not knowing when the weirdness was going to happen. It could be any day, randomly, that the rest of the town (state? the country? THE WORLD?) lost their marbles.
“Isn’t your hair just so adorable in the mornings, my little rumple-head?”
The room brightened as her Mom opened the shades. “Mnhuh?”
“Your hair, Jess, your hair. Specifically the bedhead. It’s simply adorable. Always has been. Ever since you were a little baby. The way it sticks up in the back there. So sweet.” Mom clucked, then sighed at the clutter scattered about her bedroom. “Now, get your sleepy little rumple-head out of bed and come downstairs. You’ll be late.”
Jess sat up on one elbow, running the other hand through her spiky hair and blinking in confusion. Sleepy little…? Mom usually came bursting in here spewing fire and doom when she overslept. What the hell was wrong with her?
“I don’t understand why you choose to torment me like this,” Fred’s mother said, and Fred hung up and threw the phone across the room.
He ground his teeth together. He had placed the long-distance call to StarChip III to wish her happy Mother’s Day, thinking—wishing? Dreaming? Naïvely believing?—she might have a normal conversation with him, just this once. No such dumb luck. She’d been in a foul mood; there were more of those than there used to be, or maybe Fred noticed them as an adult.
As usual, Marjorie Hall had had something to say about her son’s cancer research career.
You could have been an artist. A luthier, like your father, your grandmother, your great-grandfather before her.
“Bye, Mama!” Hilda squealed as she pushed out the door. Ylsa clung to her like a furry shadow, ducking to Hilda’s left side to avoid the satchel swinging at the girl’s side.
“Before dark, Hilda!” Even through the closed door, her mother’s voice boomed hoarsely, a result of the projection spell she’d cast on herself the night before at the music festival.
At age eleven, Hilda thought it was very improper for a mother to go make a fool of herself at the same parties as the rebellious kids from Hilda’s school. She was glad for a reason to run out into the woods with Ylsa, the girl and the cat alone, to explore and escape to other worlds through the characters they became.
Such freedom came at the cost of finding a few ingredients for her mother’s latest brew. Hilda considered the price fair, and she did like to dig in the dirt for garlic and mushrooms and climb trees for the tenderest leaves and the beeswax. Ylsa had a good nose for truffles and more than earned her keep by marking likely sites for Hilda to dig.
Stella is a witch. She’s not the kind of girl Felix can bring home to his mother, but he doesn’t care. His mother hasn’t called him down to the docks for months, and he knows the Felicity pulled out of port a few days ago.
Felix is just glad Stella lets him climb up through her window and curl up in her bed to fall asleep with her arms around him. It’s what he wants for the rest of his life.
Stella wakes Felix up every morning by planting a kiss on his nose, and then he smiles and yawns and she tickles him until he rolls out of bed. While she makes her tea and reads the leaves, he watches her from the living room; it’s warmer there, in front of her fire that never goes out. Sometimes she reads to him from whatever book she’s enjoying, and he listens with his eyes closed. And when she opens her shop to customers, he loiters in the doorway or wanders out into the streets, depending on who walks in that day.
Niamh loved a bargain.
Haggling with merchants along the dusty village square was her favorite weekly past time. Father feigned disapproval. Mother ducked her head in mock shame, muttering worthless apologies. In truth, they loved the coins Niamh saved them, the extra butter and eggs she acquired.
It wasn’t easy being the plain, simpler older sister, but the occasional sweet or bundle of herbs she brought home especially for me softened the manner in which others scorned or outright overlooked me.
“Betha! Oh, dearest sister! Look what I have for us!”
The ferrets had been the first to discover the Gift, when they stretched their long bodies to reach the sap off of the trees to mix it with their nimble paws – berries and melted spring water and tiny gruff mutterings. The word of the ferrets’ discovery had sent a ripple across the small-footed tribes of the Murai like a shiver across fur, and over moons and seasons and revolutions nearly all of the inhabitants of Blue Hollow had learned their own clever tricks: chants for abundant berries, conjurings to shield naked and whimpering young from prying noses, strange spells for lighting a nest through the bitter dark of a winter’s night.
The forest became so thick with Gift-conjuring that it hung off of branches next to the vibrant moss. In the autumn, when the air was most alive, it dripped from whiskers and clung to ears like a fine mist of sap. One could always tell that they wandered through the territory of strong conjurers when the underbrush was punctuated by soft, whiskered sneezing during the morning hours, when conjuring was most often done.
Most days the line at the downtown soup kitchen stretched around the block an hour before it even opened. Today–an unexpectedly windy, chilly day of the kind that usually drove those in need inside for more than mere sustenance–the line was a good three-quarters of what it should be.
Angela would know. She’d been in charge of The Church of Mary’s soup kitchen for over three years. A glance at her best friend Lorna, slicing donated day-old bread, showed a mirrored surprise. Still, the huddled masses needed to be fed; her concerns would need to wait until later. Three-quarters of the expected people would still demand one hundred percent of her attention, so Angela returned her focus to the veggies on her chopping board. Lunch wasn’t for another three hours, but she had plenty to prep.
Before long, the homey aroma of stew stirred around the large, functional kitchen, the steady whish-chip of knives against cutting boards the only chorus she needed; both filled her soul. Her hopes and dreams for their future successes seasoned every dish she created.
Not beloved, not reviled—just an essential color in the 1500-odd human tapestry of Willowglen, Minnesota: this was what Vivette and Shirley wanted to be, and had wanted to be for almost two decades now.
That, and to finally host their grand tea party, once and for all.
Here they were, in the perfect house for a sternly unsettling tea party for the retirees, farmers, and college students of Willowglen, whose faces were all lightened attractively by their phone screens. Here they were, an adorable, aloof, timeless middle-aged couple—the perfect anesthetic for the small Midwestern town nestled up to tiny Lake Serenity. They’d moved here in their 30s, melded into the sticky air and wispy clouds, and decided never to move again.
Two women, two birds, one likely haunted shingle-style Victorian home on the outskirts of a three-block downtown. This was exactly what they wanted and, now that they could be certain it wanted them too, they wanted to celebrate it.
Mirain roughly scraped her right cheek back and forth against a piece of blue mark-out tape on the main stage floor. The dried tears had started to itch where they had left salty streaks. The sensation pushed her past caring what he thought. The inflamed blood vessels crisscrossing the whites of her eyes aggravated her blue irises casting a lavender glow when caught by the spotlight. Black smudges of supposedly waterproof mascara veined down the sides of her face. A decent sized goose egg throbbed under her blonde hair just behind her right ear. Mirain’s head pounded out the matching beat of her racing heart. She was fuzzy on what had just happened and was unsure what was coming next.
It all started way back when I was nothin’ but a toddler, maybe two or so. Mama has pictures of me holding whole bouquets of four-leaf clovers. Didn’t even know what they was way back then. Just liked ‘em, you know? Same way a lil one picks a whole buncha dandelions for their Mama.
Anyhow, there’s whole albums of me and my clovers, all the way ‘til I was round about tens or so and wouldn’t let her take ‘em no more. Figured a person only needed so many pictures of themselves holdin’ greenery.
Didn’t matter, cuz by then it was obvious there was something diff’rent about me. Like, I was just always finding stuff. Lucky stuff. Charms, clovers, and the like.
Lucky penny? Every penny I find has its head staring right on at me. I got jars full.