“The Last Star” is a flash fiction piece following two girls who sneak into an arboretum in the middle of the night to hang out together. Then something strange happens…
The Last Star
White lights filled the night sky. Grace had never seen so many stars. People say that beauty takes your breathe and your words, but Grace finally felt like she could breathe. She felt the pull of the universe. “This place is amazing.”
Her new friend, Fiona, beamed. “I’m glad you like it. No one ever comes here at night.”
They were in the middle of the county arboretum, right off the path where the trees opened up to let in the sky. Technically it was closed after sunset, but there wasn’t a fence. Fiona’s hand bumped against Grace’s. “I like to lay out here. I have a blanket in my trunk if you want,” Fiona suggested. “I’ll be right back.”
Grace’s heart jumped, but before she could worry too hard, a shooting star caught her eye. What should I wish for?
Another star fell. Then three more. Then groups of ten stars started streaking down and disappearing.
“Got it! What are you looking at?” Fiona dropped the blanket and it rolled into the back of Grace’s legs.
“Is it a meteor shower?” Grace asked. But nearly half the stars in the sky had disappeared. “Should we tell someone? Should we find shelter?”
Fiona shrugged. Then the whirring of the tornado siren sounded in the distance, and their phones buzzed.
The Presidential Emergency Message system had texted: “Take cover. Do not panic. This is not a drill.” Grace opened the message, trying to find more information, but there wasn’t any.
As Grace looked around for the nearest building, she grabbed Fiona’s wrist. Fiona stopped scrolling. Besides their phones and a streetlight in the parking lot, everything was pitch black. The last star had fallen.
“Gwen, on our last anniversary you hit your head. You were really drunk, fell down some stairs. When you woke up in the hospital, you couldn’t remember your own name. It took awhile before you could leave. You were so distraught. Every day you woke up remembering nearly nothing. The doctor warned me before you were released that your memories could vanish again.” My supposed-fiance gave me a sad smile. It was almost patronizing. “Here, I’ve been helping you keep a diary since the accident. It’s supposed to help you retain your memories.” He grabbed a floral notebook off of the bookshelf.
Holding it tight, I sunk back onto the couch. Just from looking at the closed pages, I could tell that I’d nearly filled half of the notebook. “I’m sorry, what’s your name?”
“Cal. I’ll put this stuff away while you read. Feel free to ask me anything if you have questions.” He started storing the groceries. The cupboard was organized the way I remembered, but there was more junk food. His junk food.
My hands fiddled with the journal pages as I opened it to the most recent entry. It was from yesterday. My small, tight handwriting was scrawled across the pages:
Woke up remembering that yesterday I’d forgotten everything. I had, had a weird dream about sleeping with Destiny. I don’t know if it happened sometime long ago, but I can’t ask Cal. He’s been so patient with me. At least that’s what my diary tells me. I feel like I’m moving one step forward and two steps back. How does this happen? I’ve never heard of someone remembering and then forgetting and then remembering again. Cal says to trust the doctors. I don’t know. They don’t seem to have any more idea of what’s wrong with me than I do.
I flipped to an earlier entry.
I remember. I remember meeting Cal and falling in love with him. My life was perfect. I want that life again. I want to remember always. I just don’t know how.
Could I have been more vague? If I had remembered, then I should’ve written a detailed description about everything. Why not make it easier for myself to remember later?
I tried another entry.
Today Destiny called. She’s moving across the city for work. Apparently she’s been promoted. Since it’ll now take two hours to get to her apartment, Cal and I probably won’t be seeing her much. She sounded happy. I’m happy for her, but she’s my closest friend. I don’t want her to move so far away.
“What’s Destiny’s new address?” I asked.
Cal looked up from the pack of chicken that he was separating out into freezer bags. His eyebrows furrowed. “She’s hours away now, Gwen. We haven’t spoken to her in a month.”
“I know that she moved, I just. I think seeing her will jog my memory. The journal is good, but I just have a feeling.”
“I’ll come with you. I miss her too, and I can’t let you navigate that far without all of your memories. The electric line has changed recently.”
Saying that the electric line made some changes was an understatement. They had done a massive overhaul, revamping the stations and adding new stops and lines. It was incredibly more complicated than I remembered, and I was actually glad that Cal was here to help. Until we arrived at Destiny’s.
Her apartment was the penthouse in a newly refurbished tower across the street from the mall of the north side. Luckily she was home. She let us in and an hour and a half of obligatory small talk commenced. It was only when Cal left for the bathroom that I could actually talk to her.
“The last thing I remember is you leaving my apartment the morning after the company Christmas party.” I leaned forward. “How?”
She was just as beautiful as I remembered, except now there was a streak of grey in her hair. I couldn’t tell if it was intentional. Destiny tilted her head. “I honestly don’t remember that night, but I probably left through the front door.”
“You don’t remember meeting me? Or do you remember it differently?” I tried to keep my voice level, but my angry and frustration leaked out.
“I meet a lot of people, Gwen. Do you remember your first time meeting everyone you know? I’m sorry. That was insensitive.”
“You don’t remember anything about that night?”
“I had had a lot to drink, and I’ve been to quite a few Christmas parties over the years. I wish I could remember, believe me.”
“I don’t. I don’t believe you about any of this. One minute I was single in a shitty apartment, and now I’m supposedly engaged with a memory disordered? Switch it back.”
Destiny’s eyebrows rose. “I don’t understand.”
“Switch it back. I don’t want this life. I want to be where I was before.”
I expected her to lie through her teeth, to convince me that I just couldn’t remember. Instead, she smiled. “Everyone wants to go back to the past. But what’s done is done. I promised you a perfect life, and I’ve delivered. Minus the memory issues–which you created by the way, just wouldn’t give in and be happy. This life is my gift to you, remember? Free of charge. No returns. You’re welcome.”
Somehow, overnight, my apartment had been transformed. I sat on my new blue satin couch, staring up at my lofted bed. My boring kitchen table had been replaced with an ugly white and blue tiled table built from iron and the uncomfortable wooden chair had changed into a grey bean bag.
I locked the front door since Destiny hadn’t bother to on her way out. Then I spotted her business card on my kitchen counter with a handwritten note:
Great night! I owed you one. Your perfect life begins now. XOXO-Destiny
I turned the card over and over in my hand. How had she done all of this without waking me? Did she drug me? My legs ached, but that probably had nothing to do with the new apartment. Where had my old furniture gone? Did she sell it?
I dialed the number on the card.
“I’m sorry. The number you are trying to reach is no longer available.”
Even though it was Saturday, I looked up the number for Perfect Homes on my phone. The website only had the number for the main line, but I called anyway.
“Hello, Perfect Homes. This is Susan.”
“Hi, could I please speak to Destiny Andrews?”
“I’m sorry, who’s calling?”
“One of her clients, Gwen.”
“And you said you’re calling for a Destiny Andrews?”
“I’m sorry, we don’t have a Destiny here. Did you perhaps mean Diana?”
Did Destiny give me a fake name? “No, I don’t think so. Thank you.”
Did she use fake business cards to sleep with women? But why actually transform my place then? And how?
Sinking into my new couch, I was amazed at how comfortable it was. My eyelids drooped. The wires on my old futon used to dig into my back. Maybe I could keep the furniture and moving on. So what if it was possibly stolen? Who cares what happened to the old junk? This was a gift. Or at least that’s what the card had said.
The handle on my front door rattled. Then a key slid into the lock and clicked it open. No one had keys to my apartment except me. I jumped up and grabbed the closest heavy object, a hardback book.
As a tall man stepped into my apartment, I launched the book at him. It fell short. “What the hell are you doing in my apartment?” I demanded.
The man was classically handsome: perfect nose, strong cheekbones, and beautiful green eyes. He held his hands up, stopping just inside the doorway. “Woah! Honey, it’s me. I just went to the grocery store.”
“I think you have the wrong apartment.” I snapped. It felt ridiculous to be having this conversation in my baggy PJ’s while he was dressed in dark jeans and a fancy pea coat. Why was he living in this rundown complex if he clearly had money or at least enough to buy a nice coat and food?
The man smiled, but his eyebrows furrowed in confusion. “Are you feeling okay? I moved in last week, remember?”
“No, you didn’t. Who are you and where did you get that key? I live in a studio with barely enough room for one person. Why would I want a roommate?”
The man set the grocery bags on the counter and approached me, but I grabbed another book. “Come any closer and I’ll smack you with this.”
He stopped. “Gwen, we’re engaged.”
I swung the book, thunking it against his head. On the second swing, he grabbed my wrist and knocked the book out of my hand. “What’s going on with you? Don’t you remember me?”
I yanked my hand away and backed up against the window. “Don’t come closer!”
“Gwen, please talk to me. What’s the last thing you remember?”
I wanted to climb out the window or call the police, but this guy just looked so concerned and nothing was making sense. “Yesterday was my first company Christmas party. I met Destiny Andrews, an interior designer. She came back to my place, gave me a quote, and spent the night. When I woke up, my apartment was different. It was exactly like she had described. But I don’t know how that’s possible. And I didn’t pay her. I don’t know why she would do all this for free.”
The man’s mouth quivered slightly. “The doctors had said this would probably happen again. You’ve been under a lot of stress lately. Gwen, you met Destiny in 2037. She introduced me to you in 2042. Today is November 13, 2045.”
I laughed. It didn’t make sense. I’d spent almost ten years in the same studio? No. No, that wouldn’t happen. This guy was the crazy one, maybe an actor. Maybe I was on one of those prank shows. I pulled my phone out of my pocket to show this guy the date. November 13, 2045. And the lock screen was a picture of the two of us bundled up together on a ski lift. I scrolled frantically through my pictures and combed over my social media. It was true. Everything that he had said was true. There were pictures of us dating over the last few years, a handful of engagement pictures, and a few with Destiny. As I looked at them, memories tickled the back of my mind. I could remember a scent or a feeling, but nothing more substantial. I looked at the man, my supposed-fiance, but his name wouldn’t form. I liked men well enough, but I had always expected I’d marry a woman. “What’s going on?”
The elegant brunette woman clutched a business card in her perfectly manicured hands. It read: “A fully furnished home is the only path to a truly happy life.”–Destiny Andrews, Decorator for Perfect Homes, the family-friendly furniture company.
The pearly pink surface of the card shimmered as I took it. “Thanks.” I had just started my job as an executive assistant in the big city and my own cards hadn’t arrived yet. I wouldn’t have brought them to my company’s Christmas party anyway.
The woman, someone’s date no doubt, gestured for the bar tender to pour me another. “You just moved you said? I can give you a discount for your whole apartment.”
“It’s a studio.” I’d spent the last month in a $3000 a month studio with barely room for a bed and kitchen table. What could she possible do to fix it?
“Well, I love working with quaint spaces. I’ll give you a free quote if you’d like.” Her hand brushed against mine as we both reached for our drinks.
I pulled my hand back, adjusting my dark green shawl. Compared to everyone else, my simple, black dress was shabby. It looked too business-y and stuffy. Destiny smiled at me over her vodka cranberry. The drink matched her lipstick and her slender cocktail dress. It was bold, a little short and a little low cut.
I grabbed the drink she ordered for me. “Thank you, for the drink and the offer. I’m sleeping on a futon. It’s…I haven’t had much time to furniture shop yet.”
“I’ll bet. Where’d you move from?”
“West. Middle of nowhere really.”
“Hon, everywhere is the middle of nowhere compared to here. I’m surprised that after the last of the gas dried up, people stayed in the countryside. They don’t even have electric car ports out there. Not that we need the ones here with the metro and electric lines, but they’re really stuck.” Destiny’s clipped accent, the city accent, made each word sound sharp.
My parents and most of my family were stuck out west. They had known it was coming, but they didn’t want to move. The city was too cramped, too expensive, too liberal. I didn’t blame them, but at twenty-two, the city had all of the opportunities, or at least all of the ones that mattered to me.
When I set my drink down, I had nearly finished it already. Two drinks and no food does it for me. I was grateful that the electric line runs close to my apartment. “I should probably be heading back soon. It was nice to meet you, Destiny.”
Destiny downed the rest of her drink. “I can walk with you back. It’s better to use the buddy system this late.”
It was only 9 pm, and we both knew the electric line was the safest transportation in the country. Women didn’t get attacked anymore, not randomly in this city. I finished my own drink. “You really don’t have to come. I’d hate for you to miss the rest of the party.” Half of my co-workers were still here, settling in for a long night.
“I don’t think I’ll miss much. My friend brought me so she wouldn’t be alone and now she’s over there flirting.” Destiny gestured to the blonde woman who was sitting in a booth whispering to a waiter half her age.
Destiny offered me her arm, and we shuffled out into the cold. Frost coated the sidewalk, slowing us down in our heels. The streets and sidewalks bustled, and snow flakes danced underneath the streetlights. My favorite thing about the city was that even at night, it shone bright as day. The ride to my street went fast, and we arrived at my place still arm in arm. Once upon a time we might’ve been heckled, not anymore.
“Could I come up and see your place? I just like to get an idea of the space that I’m working with.” Destiny asked as I fumbled for my key.
“I don’t think I can afford a bunch of furniture right now. I just moved. I can barely eat.” I said the last part like a joke, but we both knew it wasn’t one.
“The quote is free, and furniture is an investment.”
I let her follow me up the three flights. The building was dingy and smelled moldy. I figured she wouldn’t stay long, just long enough to be polite. It was her fault really for not taking no for an answer. When I opened my front door, her face lit up at the kitchen table tucked between the wall and the back of the unfolded futon. “I can work with this.”
She stepped in before me and started taking my books off the shelves above my table. “We’ll take these shelves out and put in a table that can fold up against the wall. Then we’ll replace this wooden chair with a memory foam bean bag so it can double as a kitchen chair and arm chair.” She looked around a second as if searching for more space. “Instead of a futon, you can loft your bed against the far wall with the window and set up a love seat in the middle of the room. It’ll be cozy, but it would really open up the floor space.”
I couldn’t imagine it. The ceiling didn’t seem high enough to loft the bed. “Thank you for the suggestions.”
“You hate it? What if I wrote up the dimensions and showed you through VR? You could see what the space would really look like.”
“I told you. I can’t afford it.” I kicked off my shoes and filled a glass of water. “Do you want anything to drink?”
She settled herself on the edge of the futon. “Night cap?”
“I have wine or rum?”
I joined her on the opposite side of the futon. I didn’t usually do this, bring strangers back to my apartment. To be fair, I wasn’t in the dating scene much to begin with.
Then she was in my lap kissing me or maybe I kissed her first. It happened so fast I can’t remember.
Our drinks left rings of water on the kitchen table.
I woke to the front door clicking shut and the sight of cranberry lipstick smudges on my sheets. Half asleep, I swung myself out of bed to lock the door, and I fell and smacked my face on the arm of a couch. Luckily I wasn’t bleeding and I still had all of my teeth. But somehow, overnight, my apartment had been transformed. I sat on my new blue satin couch, staring up at my lofted bed. My boring kitchen table had been replaced with an ugly white and blue tiled table built from iron and the uncomfortable wooden chair had changed into a grey bean bag.
When I locked the front door, I spotted Destiny’s business card on my kitchen counter with a handwritten note:
Great night! I owed you one. Your perfect life begins now. XOXO-Destiny.
The toadstools glisten in the autumn rain. Evanora Everett pulls her black cloak tighter around her shoulders as she approaches her coven leader’s home. It’s a quaint cottage, English in style and at odds with the nearest neighbors. Water soaks through Evanora’s pointed black boots, and her black kitten splashes alongside her. Familiars don’t mind water. They don’t mind much. They’re said to be braver than witches themselves sometimes.
Through the iron gate of the garden and into the gathering hall, Evanora and her kit invite themselves in. All twelve members of the coven are already present, but not one looks up when they enter. Evanora has a reputation for her tardiness. She scoops up Freddy, her kitten, and takes her place in the back row, end chair.
Circe Harper, the eldest witch, stands up from her seat at the front and lays her cane across the chair. “Samhain approaches sisters. We must prepare to pay tribute to our ancestors and ready any spells or potions for the world beyond. You know the rules. No divination from now until the veil is sealed. Faeries can interfere, and if we allow them, they will control our fate.” Despite her curving spine and sagging skin, she holds herself upright, as straight as age and nature will allow. “I open the floor to the coven principals.”
Three women rise. Each represents a faction of the whole: one middle-aged, one early adult, and one teenager. Witches have a place in the coven at age 13, though they’re not full witches until 19. Each faction meets separately to discuss their concerns with their principal who then voices these concerns at the monthly coven meetings. It’s dry and political. Evanora despises the mini-meetings and the principal reports.
The principals have little this month. Circe nods as each woman speaks, but the familiars in the room shift restlessly, licking paws and rustling feathers. When the final principal sits, the entire coven moves to their feet. Circe waves her hand to silence the chatter. “We have one additional matter of business, the missing child.”
A ripple of indignation flows through the crowd. Circe raises her hand once more. “As many of you know, some humans are spreading rumors that an old crone is behind this. That only a witch could make a child vanish in daylight. While this theory is generally known to be an unbelievable, impossible conspiracy, the closer we get to Halloween, as they call it, without a child or a body, they will become more inclined to lash out. Though they will not suspect the whole coven, some members are more vulnerable than others. Travel in twos, but avoid suspicion. Only plain clothes unless indoors. No odd purchases. Keep your tools in a safe location until this passes.”
“Sisters, why have we not tried locating the child ourselves?” the teenage principal, sixteen-year-old Morgan Andrews, asks. Her green eyes burn with frustration.
Evanora holds her tongue between her teeth, and Freddy kneads her jeans. Morgan used to put her faith in Circe, but since starting high school, the girl has mastered over half of the coven’s spell book and thinks herself more powerful and intelligent than most of the coven.
“We have tried. The Faeries have her,” The no-nonsense, middle-aged principal, Phoebe Harper, replies. Phoebe is Circe’s niece.
“So let’s get the girl back on Samhain. We’ll take her from the Faeries and return her.” Morgan sticks her hands into her pockets as her raven familiar bristles with pride.
“It’s not that simple,” Evanora blurts. “Kidnapping the child will begin a war with the Faery folk. That’s a war that neither side wants and one that we can’t finish. The last war with the faeries almost ended the Everett bloodline. A human child isn’t worth it.”
Morgan turns to Evanora as does the entire coven. “The child is a means to an end. Rescuing the child will make the humans accept our coven. We will be free to practice magic and carry on.”
“And the humans will just accept that faeries are real? They’ll take our word for it that we rescued the kid from beyond the veil and we didn’t take her initially ourselves?” Evanora’s face heats as she meets the eye of every witch in the coven, landing last on Circe. Circe’s pale blue eyes are almost totally white. Her thin lips twist up slightly, encouraging and agreeing.
Morgan starts in with a counterargument, but Evanora raises her hand. Stunned, Morgan falls silent. Evanora feels Freddy stiffen with his eyes locked on Morgan’s raven. “We protect our own. We stay out of human affairs.”
Morgan’s shoulders slump. “I used to babysit her.”
Freddy leaps across the room, climbing his way onto Morgan’s chair. He sniffs her, and rubs his head against her arm.
Circe holds her moonstone necklace in one hand and addresses the coven with her other. “We will honor this child’s sacrifice. Alive or passed, she is allowing our worlds to live in peace. Praise to the Goddess.”
The entire coven raises their hands. Evanora meets Morgan’s eyes. Beneath the despair, a fire still burns in them. “Praise to the Goddess.”
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“And I want my grandparents to come back to life.” My cousin’s words ring in my ears. It’s like all of the air is sucked out of the room.
“Done.” The genie picks at her nails and turns to me. “Two wishes left for you. What do you want?”
My brain locks up. “Our grandparents are alive? Just like that?”
“Yes, that’s how wishes work.”
“But where are they?” Ness asks. She’s on her feet, eyes ringed red. Her car keys jangle in her hand.
“Wherever they were before.”
Ness grabs my arm with her cold fingers. “Jessica, wish for them to be here.”
“Don’t you want to see them?”
“They–they’re supposed to be dead.”
“Do you want them to be dead? I brought them back. They’ll be happy. Everyone will be happy.”
“I miss them too, Ness, but they’re supposed to be dead. Bringing them back…it’s not right.”
Ness’s grip tightens on my arm. “Please, Jessica. Wish for them to be here.”
“But what if?” The words stick in my throat. What if they’re decomposing? “How are we going to tell everyone that they’re not dead anymore?”
“We show them the lamp. And grandma and grandpa can explain it to them. Please, Jessica.”
My stomach twists so tight I’m not sure if it will ever untangle itself. “I wish our grandparents who you just brought back to life were standing in this basement, healthy and not d-decomposing.”
The genie, who had been completely ignoring our conversation, perks up. “Done.”
One second its the three of us, and then my grandparents are sitting on their ugly paisley couch. Just like that. As if they had been there the entire time. They barely have a moment to breathe before Ness is charging at them, trying to hug them. I stand back, scanning their skin for any sores. They don’t look pale or blue. Their eyes don’t look cloudy. But they aren’t smiling.
Grandma speaks first, “Ness? Where are we? Why are you crying?” Not a hair on her white head is out of place. She’s still wearing her nice navy dress, her funeral dress.
I jump in before Ness can. “What’s the last thing that you guys remember?”
Grandpa pushes his brown, oval glasses up his nose. “We were in bed about to fall asleep. Then we were ended up here. Did we sleep walk?”
“I told you you’re getting dementia.” Grandma put her hand on grandpa’s. “We were falling asleep. Then we heard you two rustling around. We came down here to see if you needed anything and…” Grandma’s brow wrinkles. She looks at the genie.
I hold my breath, waiting for her to ask. Instead she turns back to Ness. “What are you girls doing in our basement? Why are our boxes out?”
Ness shakes her head. “It doesn’t matter. You’re here now.”
“Where else would we be?” Grandpa huffs.
Grandma swats his hand. “Frankly, you girls are scaring us. What’s gotten into you two?”
“You were dead.” Why did I have to tell them? Why couldn’t Ness own up? My stomach drops at the horror on their faces.
Grandpa sticks his tongue in his cheek, his thinking face. “That’s not possible.”
I grab the genie lamp out of the box, ignoring the genie’s glare. “We found this and used it.”
“Oh.” Grandma won’t look at me.
“We-we thought you’d be happy,” Ness explains. “Everyone misses you.”
Silence settles over us. The seconds stretch on. Grandma doesn’t look up, but Grandpa holds her hand tight. I feel Ness dissolving beside me. Her shoulders shake with grief. I want it to end. I want our grandparents to say something, to go upstairs and hug my aunt and make cookies. I want that family reunion Ness was talking about. But it doesn’t feel right.
“Are you going to make your third wish?” the genie sighs.
Grandma jumps. “You didn’t use it yet?”
“No.” I didn’t want to yet either. I don’t know what to wish for, and I can’t think straight.
“Honey,” Grandma reaches for me.
I try not to shrink back. Her hand looks wrinkled and normal, but what if she feels dead? Swallowing the bile that rises in my throat, I lightly put my hand in hers. It’s warm. I feel her heartbeat beneath her skin. She’s not like a zombie or a vampire or a ghost. She’s really alive again.
“Wish for a wonderful life or happiness or love. It’s your last wish. Don’t waste it.” Grandma pats my hand.
She’s really here. The surreal sheen that had fallen over the past twenty minutes after seeing the genie finally falls away. They are here, and they’re going to have a reunion tonight. They’re going to be at my wedding. They’re going to meet my kids. They’re going to be alive.
I turn back to the genie. “How long?”
“Do you wish to know how long your grandparent’s have?”
“Can’t you just tell me?”
“Fine. I wish to have a long and happy life.”
“Done.” The genie shimmers, turning back into smoke.
I don’t feel different. I don’t feel healthier. And when I turn back to the empty couch with two butt imprints still mushed into the cushions, I don’t feel happy.
Ness takes the genie lamp from my hands. “Maybe it’s a souvenir?” She examines it from all sides. It’s brass with a few decorative swirl engravings. She gives me a half-smile. “Should we rub it?”
“It may be metal, but it’s still just a decoration.” I hold my hand out for it, ready to get back to inventory. We’ve barely made a dent.
“Come on. What if it’s real? What would you wish for?”
“For the inventory to be done.” I try to snatch the lamp away, but Ness is too fast.
“That’s a stupid wish. You should wish for a butler instead. You could make him do inventory for you and then cook and clean every day.” She tries to look into the spout of the lamp. “I wonder what Grandma and Grandpa wished for.”
The lump that’s been sitting in my stomach for the past few days tightens. “Money?” I suggest.
“Yeah, but what about the other two wishes?” Her joking smile falters. “Why’d they keep it in the basement anyway? There’s so much junk down here.”
I look around at the piles of boxes. It’s going to take forever to get through. I wish the other cousins had elected to help. Yeah, it’s hard and it sucks, but don’t they want to see the house before it’s empty and sold off?
Feeling the tears pricking my eyes, I tilt my head back to try to stop gravity from pulling them down. “I’d wish for a personal library with unlimited books and shelf space.”
“Of course you would.” Ness rolls her eyes. “I’d wish for a butler, unlimited money, and a fiance.”
“You’re only twenty-one.”
“That’s why I said fiance and not wife. I want her loyalty forever, but I’m not ready for forever yet.”
“Right…” I start to empty the rest of the box and add the items to my list when I hear Ness’s ring clinking against the brass lamp. She’s actually rubbing it. I laugh to myself.
Then everything happens at once: a whoosh, blue smoke billowing out of the end of the lamp, and the basement lights short circuiting.
A deep female voice whispers, “Who rubbed my lamp?”
No light filters into the basement. I blink hard, trying to discern any shapes in the darkness.
“Well?” She asks.
“I wish the lights were back on?” No sooner as the words out of my mouth then the lights flicker back on.
The genie lamp sits on the ground in front of Ness where she must’ve dropped it, and standing before both of us is a tall, slender woman with dark purple skin and a black ponytail that stretches down to the floor. It looks painful, and her outfit, an emerald pantsuit that nearly melts into her skin seems just as restrictive. “You, whatever your name is. You have two more wishes.”
“Thank you.” I hear myself saying. What else are you supposed to say to that?
Ness sticks her hand out. “I’m Ness and this is my cousin Jessica. You knew our grandparents?”
The genie doesn’t shake Ness’s hand. “Yes. They bought me from a flea market for a lot of money.”
“What did they wish for?”
“The holy trinity: money, sex, and drugs.”
“What?” I blurt. Sure, maybe my grandparents had done drugs back in the day, but the thought of old people smoking weed was a little ridiculous. Not more ridiculous than the genie standing in front of me though.
The genie glared at me with her icy blue eyes. “Not human drugs. Authentic fairy dust. It lasts twenty-four hours, makes you feel good, and lets you hallucinate whatever you want. No bad trips and no side effects.”
Great, so fairies exist too. It’s too absurd. I’m numb.
I don’t know if Ness wasn’t listening or if she’s just as numb, but she asks, “Do we both get three wishes?”
The genie crosses her arms. She hasn’t smiled once. “Those are the rules.”
“Then I want unlimited money.”
“I want to meet and start dating my soulmate tomorrow.”
“And I want my grandparents to come back to life.”
My car stutters as I turn into my grandparents’ apple orchard. It’s a crisp September day, but the trees lining the dirt path reach out with bony, leaf-less limbs. Rotting apple cores sit decomposing in piles beneath the trees, and I roll up my window to avoid the stench. Headlights flash in my rear view mirror as my aunt’s Sequoia rides my ass into the front yard of the property where the path turns into a concrete parking lot. My cousin’s silver convertible has already claimed the first spot. She puts her hard cider on the porch banister and meets me halfway.
I nod at the two story farm house complete with a wraparound porch and yellow porch swing. “It doesn’t look different.”
“My mom’s been taking care of it. They’ve only been gone four days, but she’s cleaned everything twice.” My cousin, Vanessa (Ness for short) brushes her orange, flat-ironed hair back off her shoulders. She usually wears cute sweaters and leggings all autumn, but today she’s opted for light-wash, mom jeans and an old, paint-splattered sorority t-shirt. Ness and I are the only cousins out of ten who volunteered to help sort through our grandparents’ things.
“Your mom’s here by the way.” My head’s up isn’t necessary as my aunt is already lugging a vacuum out her back seat.
“Mom, there’s a vacuum in the house. We’re just sorting through boxes, remember?” Ness rolls her eyes, but her voice is soft and cautious.
My aunt Meredith hauls the vacuum up the porch steps, nearly knocking Ness’s glass off. “While you girls sort, I’m going to get a bit of cleaning in.” Aunt Meredith’s face is more red and puffy than usual, and her jacket is inside out.
“Mom, it’s clean. Maybe you should go home and get some rest.”
“I slept a few hours this morning. It’ll only take a few minutes.”
Ness looks to me, and we let Aunt Meredith go in and start vacuuming the living room. The noise distracts from the heavy silence. I grab the red, plastic cookie jar out of the cupboard. There’s only one left. Ness and I split it. Then we start in the basement, knowing it’ll take the longest.
Five boxes of holiday decorations later, I come to the last box in the basement closet. It’s unmarked. At first it appears to be filled with loose ball ornaments in various colors, and then I spot a shiny, ovular object near the bottom. Initially I assume it’s a toy, but it’s heavy and made of brass. “Ness, can you come here?”
“If it’s a spider, kill it yourself,” she calls from the other end of the basement.
“It’s not a bug.”
She sighs. Her footsteps slow as she gets closer. “Is that–a genie lamp?”
The pitter-patter of fairy feet broke through Lily’s dream. Their tinkling voices whispered in a language she didn’t understand. She risked opening one eye and caught a glimpse of small silvery wings disappearing behind her jewelry box. At the end of her bed, her pink curtain blew back and forth. They must’ve opened the window.
Propping herself up slightly, she pulled the covers to her nose and peeked around the room. Two fairies tumbled out from behind her mirror and flew to the window. Their bodies glowed golden, so Lily couldn’t make out their features, except for their tiny feet and their wings.
The window clicked shut, and Lily shot up and pressed her face against it. The fairies were floating off towards the woods in her backyard. She put on slippers, crept through the house, and ran out the backdoor in her nightgown. She could just make out the glow of the fairies disappearing into the trees, so she followed them.
The humidity made the backs of her knees sweat. Sticks poked at her feet and scrapped her legs. Her nightgown snagged on tree branches, but she pressed forward. She needed to see where the fairies had come from. Just when she thought she’d lost them, the woods opened into a clearing with the largest tree she had ever seen in the center. Hundreds of fairies flew around it, just inside a circle of red toad stools. A tin, high-pitched melody drifted from the tree, fairy music. Lily stood in plain view of the fairies, but no one seemed to notice her. They just talked and danced and zoomed around. She inched closer, hoping to get a better look.
Lily had explored these woods a hundred times, but had never come across this place. The leaves of the tree seemed to shimmer in a shade of green so green it couldn’t be possible. The bark of the tree twisted almost as if the lines were writing. Did all of the fairies live here?
She moved closer and closer. The music started to sound familiar. The disconnected notes were finally making sense. She could make out the tiny bodies donned in elegant dresses woven from flower petals. Their hair came in every shade from gold to magenta to mulberry to aqua. As she approached the nearest couple, they turned and stared at her. Their eyes were a dark, deep, impossible blue. Lily wished her eyes looked like that. How amazing it would be to be a fairy. To dance all night and sneak around humans and to be able to fly!
She waved at the two fairies. “Hi!” And as she took one last step, the lights blinked out. All of the fairies and the tree disappeared at once. She was still standing in a clearing, but it was dark. Clouds had covered the stars and the moon. Crickets chirped around her. She blinked and glanced around, trying to understand. Had she dreamed the whole thing?
As she turned to head home, her ankle brushed against a dew-covered toad stool. The circle remained.
After her mom closed the bedroom door, Rae watched the sliver of light creep under her door. If the bathroom light was on, then she could pretend that her parents were awake in the living room. And if her parents were awake in the living room, then she was safe.
She clung to this thought as she hid beneath the covers. Everyone knew that monsters couldn’t get through the blankets. As bursts of orange and yellow began to morph into shapes in her mind, she heard a train whistle as clear as if it was in her room. Now her parents would dismiss this. Call it a dream or tell her she only heard the train passing a few neighborhoods away. But it was so distinct and close.
Rae sat up, eyes darting to make sure her dolls hadn’t moved. They never did, but she could feel them watching. Her eyelids drooped, but her mind bugged her heart until her body twitched with panic. She gathered her courage, bundled her blanket into a lump behind her, turned on her dog flashlight, and leaned over to look under the bed. Two bins of Barbies took up the space there. She pushed them back against the wall so that nothing could hide behind them. No movement or noise indicated that there was anything more there than toys.
Sitting back up, Rae tried to reassure herself. She was being silly. What could a train do to hurt her? How could a train even get in her bedroom?
Adjusting her grip on her flashlight, she headed towards the closet. The doors squealed on their tracks as they slid open. She dropped the flash light. She didn’t need it. Where her clothes should have been was a train compartment. Sunlight streamed through the window onto two dark green benches. She looked behind her into her ordinary, boring room and stepped into the train car.
The closet door slid shut and morphed into frosted glass. The glass door opened. “Candy, Miss?” a train worker asked, gesturing to a tray of chocolate.
Rae accepted two plain pieces of chocolate. “Where are we going?”
“To The Library.”
“The Library. It has every book ever written, including the ones no one has published.”
Rae had never heard of this library, but it sounded perfect. “Do I get to read the books? How many books are there? Can I read them all tonight?”
“You’ve been invited by Lucinda Powell, the head scholar of The Library. She’s studied every book that it contains, and she can answer all of your questions.” With that, the worker left.
Time passed quickly. Rae watched the scenery go by: hills, plains, mountains, back to hills, and then a dense forest overcame them. The train slowed, and Rae pressed her face against the window as a tall twisting glass palace appeared in the middle of the trees. White iron held the large panels of glass together. It was unlike any building Rae had ever seen, prettier than any skyscraper.
The train pulled directly up in front of the palace. Rae knew this was her stop. She passed empty compartments and climbed out of the train onto the grass. A petite woman wearing a purple dress with a shoulder cloak held out her hand. The woman’s blonde bob bounced as she gestured for Rae to follow her. “I’m Amira. It’s nice to meet you. We never get visitors. It distracts all of the scholars.”
“Are you a scholar?” Rae asked, following Amira up the steps of to the front door.
“No. Just a receptionist. Scholars don’t like handling phone calls. I’m a people person, so I do it for them.” Amira’s perky voice put Rae at easy.
The entrance hall of the library was smaller than Rae had imagined, but a crystal chandelier hung over the center of the room, making the hall magnificent regardless. Amira gestured to a pale tan leather armchair against the wall. “Wait here please.” Before Rae sat, Amira disappeared through a side door.
A heavy wooden door blocked the entrance hall from the rest of the library. If Rae knew that the door wasn’t locked or that an alarm wouldn’t blare, then she would’ve snuck in and grabbed as many books as she could carry. Instead, she sat, swinging her legs and trying to ignore the tiredness creeping over her.
“Rae, I’m Dr. Lucinda Powell.” A tall, grey-haired woman with a few wrinkles strode across the entrance hall. She moved fast and her blue gown revealed a thin figure. “I’m so glad that you could join me this evening.”
Rae smiled, unable to find words. Lucinda seemed to understand. “I want to show you the main chamber. The Library has multiple wings and rooms. With so many books, how could it not?”
The floor to ceiling wooden doors thundered open, and Rae melted. The main chamber was as wide and long as a football field. Bookshelves were built into the walls. Windows and bookshelves were staggered, rising up five stories in a twisting shape. Rae didn’t understand how to get to the ones so high up, but she didn’t wonder long because the main level was filled with cozy armchairs of every color and fabric. Scholars occupied most of them with stacks of books resting on their end tables.
Rae wanted to run for the nearest shelf, grab an armful, and claim a chair for the night. Lucinda watched the anticipation and excitement grow on Rae’s face. “That’s how I felt when I first came here. Would you like to read one?”
“I’ll find a good one. Pick a chair.”
Rae scouted a chair near a window and away from the other scholars. It was floral, blue and yellow. She curled up in the seat. She could fit comfortable with her legs bent. Lucinda brought a heavy, brown leather book over. It was a little bit smaller than a normal book, like it was a field guide. The title read: Magick, Wisdom, and Reason: The Ultimate Guide to a Knowledge and a World Beyond the Visible. Rae dove in. Every page had little notes scrawled in blue ink alongside the printed text. Things were underlined and circled and crossed out. Rae couldn’t stop turning the pages. It wasn’t until she finished it that she realized Lucinda was watching her. Rae pretended to read the last page longer so that she wouldn’t have to give it back. But she couldn’t pretend forever.
“Did you like it?” Lucinda asked, letting Rae hold onto the book a little longer.
Rae nodded, all of her questions demanding to be asked. She didn’t know which one to say first.
“I was your age when I moved into The Library. Like you, I wanted to know everything that I could. I wanted to read every book and understand things that no one else had. I wanted to decipher the meaning of life, the origin of the world, and how it all ends. And I have.” Lucinda lowered her voice. “There is a Book of Time that begins before the beginning and ends beyond Time. In order to comprehend it, you need to learn everything that you possibly can. You have to read every book. Only then will you be able to handle it.”
Rae wanted to handle it. She was ready now.
“I invited you here because you love learning and reading. I’m inviting you to be a Scholar of The Library.”
Rae nodded eagerly, ready to accept so that she could keep reading.
“Do you understand that you will stay here?”
Rae nodded. “I’ll get my clothes and tell my parents.”
“The Library is a secret of scholars. You won’t be able to go home.” Lucinda looked sad. “I know that this is a big decision for someone so young.”
Rae bristled. She didn’t like adults thinking she was a child. She had full capability of her thoughts and actions, and she didn’t like being told otherwise. Her thoughts were reasonable, thank you very much. And she wanted to stay more than anything.
But she remembered that time her mom had thought she was missing. The panic and fear in her mom’s voice. Rae never wanted to hear it again. She missed her bed.
Reluctant, Rae handed the book back to Lucinda, and Lucinda called the train.