Annie woke up feeling tired, like she’d thrashed around a lot in her sleep. Not tired enough to notice she wasn’t in her room, though. She jumped up, heart pounding, almost slipping on satiny sheets. She was in a small, lush room, all embroidered brocade and rich cloth in carefully-coordinated earth tones. Her favorite colors. There was even a small china plate of chocolate chip cookies on a tiny nightstand that was built into the wall. They smelled like they were freshly baked. She herself was in a silky negligee, but it went down to her feet, very classy-like.
She didn’t understand. She didn’t know how she’d come here. But if she’d been kidnapped or something, this was somebody really sick—who treated their hostages like royalty? She tried to remember what she’d been doing last, or at least what she’d been thinking before she’d fallen asleep, but her mind was a blank. She had an impression that she’d been with Derek—that she’d been breathing in his cologne and the smell of the ocean as he’d kissed her neck—but as she ran a hand over the same spot, the certainty skipped away, out of her grasp.
He is not handsome.
I watch the man sleeping on his side, one hand under his pillow, as if he had a sword stored there, and I know it as well as the rest of the kingdom does. His face is twisted in such a way that it seems as if he always has a surly expression, almost grotesquely enhanced, like some churlish tavern pamphlet illustration.
No one could believe that a hero could be so ugly. They don’t have to believe it—they see his face only when it is covered by his helmet.
He is not like my husband.
When we were seven, it was the names of boys we thought were cute. We pinky swore to take the names of each others’ would-be future husbands to our graves.
When we were ten, it was words we weren’t supposed to know. After we got to the worst ones, you started making them up.
When we were fourteen, it was the worst things we knew about every other girl in our grade. We didn’t keep those secrets—we filtered them into the student body and made sure they couldn’t be traced back to us.
This isn’t really YA. Read it anyhow.
He was almost surprised that the gas station was running as he pushed the dusty metal handle of the glass door.
Dusty. As if it would be anything else. This was the desert—everything was dusty.
It didn’t exactly look like a five-star establishment, either. The refrigerated shelves lining the walls were sparsely filled and water dripped sporadically from the corner of a swamp cooler on the wall. The fluorescent lights buzzing over his head gave much less light than the mind-dazzling sun outside. Part of him welcomed the change—the familiarity of it—and part of him wanted to run back to the vastness of outdoors, something that had been denied him for too long.
He headed towards the beverages, reached in for a sports drink, gritting his teeth as the fabric of his long-sleeved shirt chafed against his wrists, where the skin was raw and red. He chuckled softly. Finally free of their metal restraints, covered in soft cotton, the welts there ached more than they had in years.
It happened the night the sky split.
It was all over the news. The Milky Way would be extra-visible due to atmospheric somethingorother. The scientist were explaining it left and right. The pictures, they said, would be breathtaking. And they were.
But no one saw what I saw.
I was out at the lake with my family that weekend. We were all staying out to watch the sky darken, to watch the stream of light that seemed to tear the sky in two. I’d seen the Milky Way before, but only as a dim trail across the sky. Not this vibrant, violent thing.
“Grandma, what’s happened to all your gnomes?”
It was the first thing that I noticed when I pulled up her driveway. I didn’t remember much about my grandmother’s house—I hadn’t been here in years—but I did know that her lawn used to be absolutely covered in gnomes. They were my favorite thing about coming here when I was a kid. I used to think they came alive.
Grandma waved a dismissive hand. “They get stolen,” she said, her voice weary in a way that only happened with the elderly—frustration at being too tired to care. “I used to replace them, but they get harder and harder to find.”
“So the gnomes are disappearing,” I said, trying not to smile at the idea.
“It all started when these damned young kids started moving into the neighborhood,” she said, staring wrathfully out the window to a house down the street, where I guess the offending neighbors lived. “They ran over my Jox, then let their kids knock over Bean and Bopper. Broke Bopper’s hand right off. All my little friends… ” She shook her head, sighing.
I felt like I’d been in that taxi forever. We’d driven far outside Birmingham, into open countryside. Now we were pulled up next to a small wooden sign that said Serendipity School of Practical Magic and Mysticism.
I didn’t know what to expect. A castle, maybe. No, that’s ridiculous. This is real life, not Harry Potter.
Still, I didn’t expect this. This old house, all gables and bare-branch trees and curtained windows. This place screamed witch. And that’s not… really what I am. Is it?
I didn’t want to be a witch. Witches were old and warty and apparently meltable by water. I was sixteen, Homecoming Queen, and very fond of baths.