“Clean” by Swati Avasthi

It would not be enough.  For Andoria, every curl of her mother’s lips had to be paid for.  Andoria had woken up early, heated the iron in the fire until it glowed, and pressed each pleat of her dress.  She had even braided her hair all by herself.  Now, she stood perfectly still in a line of restless girls, ignoring the snow that seeped through her shoes and pierced her toes.  It ought to be enough.  She looked over her shoulder at the corner of the village square where parents and brothers were gathered, waiting for the inspections to end.  Her mother stood with remote eyes and a frown.  Maybe her father would reward her.  The bakery was so close, just across the street.  She inhaled deeply:  currant cakes.

Finally, Sere Phylos, the Royal Magus, stopped before Andoria.  Andoria had never seen anyone look so clean.  Though her blonde hair was loose, it was kempt and straight, giving her a dignity that Andoria had seen only in men.  The assistant following her had a thin face and puckered his lips frequently, no flaw too small for his disapproval.

Sere stared down at her, but Andoria held her gaze; revealing fear was just an invitation.

“Name,” Sere’s assistant said.

“Andoria Ioke,”

“Age?”

“Eleven.”

“Underage for mind consent alone,” he murmured.  “Will you submit to a mindlink?”  His voice was brisk and impersonal.  Just another girl in just another village.  Something about it irritated her.

“Do I have a choice?” she asked.

His lips tightened.  Sere held up her hand before he responded.  “Yes.  You do.”  She kneeled, looking at Andoria eye to eye.  “Do you know what a mind link is?”

“Where you get to hear my thoughts?”

“Something like that.  If you consent, our minds will be connected to each other, and I can see anything inside your head that I want.  But you can explore my mind, too.  I’m only looking for one thing so I will be fast.”

Andoria nodded.  “Will it hurt?”

“No.”  She did not sound like other adults, the lie hovering around the edge of their voices.  She sounded like she was telling the truth.  “Only if you want to.”

“All right.  I consent.”

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“The Sometimes Mermaid” by Lauren DeStefano

Atticus lived a hundred years, married twice, and loved only one girl. She became more a legend than a girl as the years went on. Her straw-blonde hair took on, in transit from one telling to the next, the pale white of a spirit. Her denim cutoffs and wicked grin became a billowing Victorian petticoat, her soggy daisy crown a shimmering tiara.

Death has a way of glamorizing all things, especially love.

But Atticus never wavered. He remembered his girl exactly as she had been the day she drowned. He remembered the small wet hills of her breasts when she was hoisted from the water, and the seaweed plastered to her arm like a patch sewn over a tear. He remembered the sound of his pocket watch ticking like her heart was in his hand, the last gift she would ever give him.

His youngest grandchild, and the most intuitive, Mary, would sit by his favorite chair in the evenings and struggle with her knitting. “Tell me about the girl you loved,” she would say. She was a romantic creature; it showed in her large, dark eyes. She had a whimsical and restless heart. One day she would be tall. She would be a Queen of Spades, the boys folding before her like unworthy Kings.
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“Sight” by Elizabeth Scott

Here’s what I need to save a life: coffee.

Regular, hot coffee works fine, but I like mine to be full of syrup and whipped cream and to smell like candy. Edgar would say (under his breath) that it’s because I’m a pain in the ass. But what’s easier to get noticed–someone with an ordinary coffee stain, or someone smelling like peppermint and stained with an impossible to remove blob that only sugary syrup, whipped cream, and coffee can bring?

Besides, my job is hard enough that I figure if I can make someone else’s easier, maybe then one day the universe will pay me back somehow. Maybe it will give Gloria the ability to walk again, or maybe it will make Edgar stop being an ass.

Maybe one day I’ll be able to do things normal people can. Like have dreams that are just that, dreams. Or go outside just because I want to. That would be nice.

I can’t be thinking about any of this now because now I hold my Peppermint Surprise! latte–the name would make me smile, if I smiled when I was at work–and make my way through Union Station.

It’s thirty-seven steps to the door David Lewis will come through, the one by the gate his train from Maryland uses–he takes the MARC line to and from Germantown. His security team is lax because he’s not just loud, but abrasive, and he won’t live in the city, which means all four of his bodyguards have to commute in and out with him, plus live in Germantown too, and if you’ve ever been to Germantown–well, let’s put it this way. It makes DC look positively glittery.

And DC is not even remotely glittery. It has power, and lots of it, but it is not a shiny city. Most of it–past the gloss of the Mall area and Georgetown–isn’t even pretty.
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“The Horses” by Lucy Christopher

I am running through the trees. Even if the moon wasn’t so full, I’d know the way. I’ve done it countless times on Bessie, trotting noisily through the scrub. Never bare foot though, and never alone.

the black horse by heystrobelight

Never like this.

I’m glancing behind me every third step or so. Can’t help it. But he’s not following. Not yet. It’s fine. These are the words I keep repeating to myself. He’s so big and heavy, I’d hear him if he were here . . . . if he were close. I know this. But I also know that the blow I gave him with the candlestick—hard as I could make it—won’t keep him down for long.

I’m glancing at the ground, jumping the fallen branches and rocky patches. Even so, corners of twigs dive into my heels and flint-rock scrapes the palms of my hands when I stumble. I shove a fist into my mouth, stop the screams. My skin tastes like blood and salt and desperation. But I must be quiet. He mustn’t know where I’ve gone; mustn’t even guess. I try to move like the kangaroos do, on velvet padded paws, jumping with the sway of the trees.

All the same, Bessie will know. Her hooves would pick out this path just as soon as he lets the reins drop.

But would he let the reins drop?

He’d pull a bit into her mouth and yank her head around and kick, hard. He won’t want to trust her.

I stop. Pick a thorn from my foot. As I do, I look around me. I need to be careful now. I’m at the very bottom of the gully, where Gilbert says the spirits live. It’s darker here, and the vegetation is thicker. I used to get lost here until Gilbert told me about the red banksia tree that marks the small pathway that leads directly up to the yard. When I jumped the summer-drained trickle of the creek, several feet back, I was crossing the line of where my father’s property ends. I’m in wild country now; the place nobody owns. If I were to turn right and keep walking, this land would stretch all the way into the mountains and to the desert-land beyond. It’s good that I’m here. My father might not expect it from me.

Be careful of wild country, he told me in the first weeks after we moved, don’t go there alone.

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“Cut Glass” by Myra McEntire

The letter is hidden between a box of straight pins with colored heads and a cut glass candy dish. Its contents disintegrated from individual peppermints into one big lump long ago. I take the yellowed envelope down and slip it into my jacket pocket without looking at the seal. I know it isn’t broken.

My very first crime was stealing from that candy dish. My oldest cousin snuck up behind me with a fat green garden snake twisted in his hands and I dropped the lid, knocking off a sliver of glass.

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“The Chemistry Test” by Carrie Ryan

She finally got the courage to kill the bastard and wouldn’t you know it happened right after the damn plague started up. Of course, she didn’t know that at the time. She was never really one for newspapers or the twenty-four hour news guys and since it was election season it all just burned together in her head.

Sometimes she let her gaze flick over a headline or two while waiting for her email to launch but she’d been a bit preoccupied over the past few days. She was busy researching poisons and drugs, wondering which would be the way to go.

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“Eli Ever” by Victoria Schwab

Eli Ever sat in the back of the history seminar, tracing the wood grain of the desk and watching a girl with blue hair named Beth. It wasn’t such a strange thing, the hair, not in this part of the country, but Eli happened to know that Beth dyed it that color after it had all gone white. The white was the product of trauma, a trauma that had almost nearly killed her. Technically had, in fact, for four and a half minutes.

Yet here Beth was, alive and taking notes while the blue strands around her face fell across her paper.

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“Seal Story” by Janni Lee Simner

You know this story.

Once long ago, there was a seal who loved the sea. On bright days she swam through the warm water, while waves crested with foam and salt scented the air. Yet she also loved the land, so on dark nights she shed her skin, took on human form, and danced, not through waves, but on cool, wet sand.

One night a young man caught sight of her, and when he crouched behind the rocks to watch her dance, he also caught sight of her gray skin shining in the moonlight. The young man couldn’t believe his good fortune. He stole the skin, and he hid it like the treasure it was.

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