They closed the curtains and covered the mirrors, drawing in close and tight and safe. This wasn’t a time for the living, sun in the sky or no. This was one of the four days that belonged to the others, the dead and the never-so, the ones who dwelled in a distant place the living would only see when time had finished marching and their personal hourglass was empty of sand. This was her time. And it had been her time since 1927 and a boy with none of the manners he ought to have. Her hair was still bobbed short and her skirt still swirled around her knees, or at least it did on these days. Any other day and you’d never have picked her out of the crowd of college co-eds. Today, she was free to be herself though and to dance to a record that hadn’t been played anywhere but her mind since that year. Today, she smiled at a pretty girl and held out her hand, promising forever to the newly dead.
Her bass drum heart boomed so loudly the band on the stage could have used it to keep time. The trumpet crooned and the snare drum begged her to follow her dreams across the room to the beautiful brunette leaning against the bar. She took one last sip and set her glass down on the table. Pulling her courage on, she hummed along as she wove through the crowds. Stepping in alongside, she smiled and held out a small bunch of lavenders.
“How’s about a dance, sweetheart?”
The brunette turned, smiling shyly as she took in the flower and the suited woman offering it. Taking it, she slid away from the bar and tucked it into her hair in a fluid motion.
The night went on like that, with laughing and dancing until the midnight hour approached. The doors were suddenly flung open, church bells tolling the midnight hour somewhere in the distance. Heads snapped up all over the room as the lights came up and the police poured in. She turned, meaning to run together, but the brunette was gone. All that was left were their memories. She had no time, though, to worry about that. She had to make it out before she got caught.
“I didn’t get her name.” The realization hit her like a truck as she stepped into her small apartment. “Dammit!”
Running her fingers through her short blond hair, she wondered if they would ever see each other again. But it was so unlikely. So unlikely that it hurt. With a sigh, her shoulder slumped and she hung her coat by the door. Leaning against the wall, she wondered. That club would be closed for a while after the raid. How could she possibly know which one to go to to find her again? It was like looking for a needle in a haystack or trying to find Cinderella without her glass slipper. Hopeless.
One in three hundred twenty-five. That’s how many people go missing and don’t come home in a year. The crazier part is, that’s the same percentage that a herd loses to predators on the Savannah. Kinda raises a question, doesn’t it? Who or what is hunting us? I’m in a unique position to find out for you, it turns out. Do you know why? I’m missing. My name doesn’t matter anymore, so don’t worry about it. I guess you need something to call me, so let’s go with Mouse. As of right now, I’ve been officially missing for two years, five months and fifteen days. I was twenty-four when I went missing, gone out for a night on the town with friends and never came back. My friends have no idea what happened. I was there one minute and gone the next. I’m putting this out there hoping maybe someday one of them will see it and understand, know what really happened.
The night was cool but the smoke and sound in the bar were starting to get oppressive. The same skeez-ball had been trying and failing both to stand up straight and flirt with me pretty much all night and I was sick of it. I was just going outside to get some air, I’d be right back in. There was a woman already standing out there, dressed all in leather and lace. I’ll never forget my first sight of her, with just the barest hint of the tattoos that run all the way up her arms and down her back showing, just tiny hints of black feathers. Her hair was jet black and cut in one of those gorgeous asymmetrical bobs. In short, she looked like death in heels, but if death had just walked off the runway. She turned to look at me, tapping the ashes off her cigarette and smiled. Her eyes were the purest green I’d ever seen. Not even an emerald looks that bright.
“Hello there, little mouse. Escaping your playmates?”
“Wh-what? No, I just wanted some air.”
“Really? I saw you in there, off on the edge and they did nothing to help you with that…I hesitate to call him a man. You deserve more respect than that.”
“Um…thanks? Yeah…I should…I should go back in. My friends are wai-”
The air started to feel heavy and I wanted to run. Something was very, very wrong. If I was a mouse as she’d named me, her’s were the cat’s paws entrapping me. I didn’t even think. I couldn’t, really. The next thing I knew, I was following her as she led me away. Parked just around the corner was a red and white corvette, one of the old ones. Every inch of it shone and I remember the smell of the leather and thinking just how comfortable it was as I buckled myself into the passenger seat. I think I fell asleep. It sounds crazy, doesn’t it? Well, that’s just how it happened.
“Wake up, little mouse.”
All around me was silkiness, soft as lying in a cloud, and I was reluctant to move. Slowly, I opened my eyes and looked up at the woman I’d left with. That’s when it all hit me.
“You…you kidnapped me!” I pulled back, trying to get as far away from her as I could. “You’re some kind of…of…murdering psychopath and you drugged me and…”
“Oh, you silly little thing. I’m far worse than that. Now calm yourself and come eat. You should get cleaned up as well and take some time to get used to your new home.”
“This isn’t my home. You’re crazy and I want to go home.”
I could feel the hot tears pouring down my face as I glared at her. She sighed slightly and shrugged.
“If you don’t wish to eat, I shan’t force you. But you ought, little mouse.”
She left me alone. I don’t know for how long. All I had were those four walls and that soft bed. There were no books, no tv, no phone, nothing. There weren’t even windows or a door. That was the strangest part. I couldn’t figure how she left. Not until she came back, anyway.
“Little mouse, I’m back and I brought you a pizza. You must be famished.”
I sat up and watched her walk in through a door I was certain hadn’t been there minutes before and just as she’d promised, she held a pizza box. Standing slowly, I went to take it from her and then sat on the floor with my back to the wall.
“Thanks, I guess.”
“You should be careful with that word around here, pet.”
“I’m not your pet,” I snapped.
“You still don’t understand where you are and what I am, do you?”
When I looked up to snap a retort about her being crazy, I froze with my eyes wide and mouth hanging open. She glowed subtly from under her skin and her ears had lengthened and came to a point. The most startling change was the wings, all made up of black feathers like a raven.
“Y-you…you…wh-what? What are you?”
“I am one of the Fair Folk, pet. And that is why you can’t go home.” She knelt in front of me and stroked my cheek gently. “Years, years I’ve been watching you. When you and your mother ran from the man who called himself your father, I was there. When you were in school, awkward and learning to be yourself, I was there. I eased you through your nightmares and guided you to your dreams. And now, I have finally come to collect my due. Did you not once wish that someone would make things better? That someone would just take you away?”
I don’t know if it was a spell or if I felt I owed her or what, but I didn’t ask her to bring me home again after that.
My name is Mouse and I’ve missing for two years, five months and fifteen days. My ears come to a point, though they’re still short. I can’t quite weave a glamour yet, but I’m almost there. My mistress saved me from the world of men, brought me away into her world. But I am still the mouse in her feline games. They are the hunters, these Fair Folk. But not all who hunt seek to kill. Some intend to save their prey.
I know I don’t normally preface my writing, but I feel like this one needs it. This is the (largely unedited) opening to my novel-in-progress for NaNoWriMo this year. Just a snippet, a teaser. Just enough to whet the appetite, as it were. If you have any feedback about this, I would love it. More especially since I’m hoping to publish the completed work when it’s…you know…completed. So without further ado, please enjoy the first 425 words of Second Chances.
She had always known where her family’s money had come from. Even as a child, even when they thought she was too young to truly know what her father’s business was, she had known. She had seen it in the shadows in his eyes, in the way he always made sure to trundle the whole family off to church every Sunday, and in the way he never looked at graveyards. So when Isabella’s father was murdered when she was fifteen years old, she wasn’t too surprised. She missed him, of course, but she wasn’t surprised. When you lived outside the law, you died outside the law. But when her mother and older brother both followed shortly after and in the same gruesome ways, Isabella DiBenedetto began to worry.
With all the money from her accounts in a bag on the passenger’s seat, Bella split town alone. She had only gotten a few miles past the city limits when her phone rang. She hesitated for a moment, then answered.
“Gattina, I know why you’re leaving, but that won’t make it stop.”
Bella winced and pulled her car over to the side of the road. She wasn’t really surprised that her Great Aunt Maddalena knew she was gone. Everyone in the family knew that she was a Strega. More importantly, everyone knew that they should listen when Great Aunt Maddalena spoke.
“What do I need to do, Zia?”
Bella’s tone was full of respect and resignation, but her hands shook.
“You have to appease the spirits. Keep driving, go to the coast and buy a house. One that isn’t finished mind. Once you’ve done that, let me know.”
“Grazie, Zia. I will. I promise.”
“I know you will, Bella. It’s that, or wait for the Shadow Men to come for you too.”
Those were the last words I ever expected to see in stark text on my phone when I woke up. I pulled my knees up to my chest and stared at them in wonder.
“I should be the one saying that, Mari.”
I whispered the words as I typed them out, breaking the morning silence.
“I’m scared, Jess.”
“Where are you?”
Silently, I begged her to tell me, to allow me back in.
There were hot tears on my cheeks again, just like every morning since she’d left me.
“Maria, I love you.”
My hands were shaking and the phone fell from my fingers. It wasn’t right. It couldn’t possibly end like this. I had to see her again, keep her safe and ward off her fears. I had to make up for what I’d done. I ran my fingers nervously through my hair, trying to keep down the sudden surge of anxiety that was screaming horrors in my mind.
“Jess, if you think you can make it safely, come to where we first met.”
The message flashed at me from within the blankets and I nearly started sobbing again in joy. Then another message.
“And if you don’t bring the Purritto, I will never forgive you.”
Chubs hated his carrier. It was a well-known fact of life, one made more troublesome by his nearly seventeen pounds of feline glory. I managed to coax him in with the last vestiges of carefully hoarded catnip supply and prepared to go. I’d pulled on a jacket and gloves, despite the warmth and wished I had a face mask.
“Come on, you monster, we’re going to see Maria.”
I was so happy I nearly sang. Chubs, for his part, merely yawned and started to sleep.
“Some moral support you are.”
We both knew how the stories all went, how this tale ends. Land and sea can only mix on the shore and only for a brief time. At first, I believed it. Then I met her. Maddie will tell you I saved her, but I will swear until the day I die that she saved me.
It was one of those summer days mortals write songs about. The kind of day where the light skips off the water and plays games in the spaces beneath. I lay on the bottom, watching the girls playing on the shore. One bolder than the others ran out into the water and dove beyond the drop-off. She didn’t realize she’d caught a foot in one of the ropes that littered the seabed. They didn’t realize she hadn’t come back up. So, I freed her and brought her to the surface.
Sitting on the rocks at dusk, we talked alone. She didn’t know then what I was. I was just a pretty girl named Carys and she was just Maddie. Every day, she came back to the same beach to meet me until I was sure she must know, she must have realized.
Realization didn’t come until we’d gone moon to moon twice. Under the stars on that dark night, she kissed me. She tasted like hope and taffy, like young love and summers bright. Her lips were so warm against my own. It left me breathless. But she realized that I was cold despite the warmth of the air, that my lips tasted of salt and sea foam, that my feet were wet even this far from the surf. She knew the stories, knew I wore a sealskin as a coat about my shoulders.
She didn’t take it. We both knew the stories, and I almost wanted her to take my coat and hide it somewhere where neither of us would ever find it. Take me away to her dry shoreland and let me be hers. But she spoke of a thing called University, of studies and grades. And of a promise, sworn on the sea, to return.
The sea is a fickle thing, her faces changing with the tides. But four years later, a young woman with bright eyes and a bag of saltwater taffy walked up the beach. She left her shoes on the shore and walked out into the water calling my name.
She didn’t take my coat then either, though I would still have accepted it. She spoke of research and tides, of the faces of the sea and the wonders beneath the waves. And of something called scuba.
My Maddie and I know the stories well. When a human takes a Selkie’s coat, they stay together for a time and part in anger and sorrow. But when a human gives her heart to the sea, things are very different.