New Villains

When I came back into the auditorium, Troy Brewster was sitting on the edge of the stage, looking like someone had just clipped him on the back of the head with a lacrosse stick.

It wasn’t that remarkable. In truth, Troy always looked kind of like someone had crowned him with something heavy and now all his thoughts and feelings and vague, unarticulated suspicions were spilling out of his cranium. It was kind of his default expression.

“On your feet, tiger,” I said, clapping my hands like I was Coach Klein, calling the C Team players in from the practice field.

thread

Troy raised his head, but didn’t change expression. “You said that they liked me. You said they’d be fighting over themselves to elect me. That I’d be an automatic.”

The way he looked at me was plaintive and the truth is, I did say that, but the other truth is that I lied. I invented this impossible, shining reality from purely imaginary cloth, and I take full responsibility for that. But honestly? It wasn’t even my story.

The real lie had started—oh, years ago—back when Troy was just a mean, ungainly eighth-grader with a growth-spurt, whose main hobbies were breaking people’s glasses and pinching girls in the halls. But he was good at sports and at knocking people down, and so everyone smiled because no one wanted to invite his wrath by not smiling. If fear is love, then yes, they loved him. Because the truth is, love under duress is complicated, and sometimes a lie is not a lie.

Sometimes, with enough attention and enough cultivation, a lie is just another name for that thing you always wished was true. keep reading…

TK

This week the Merry Fates are gathering together in order to work on our not-quite-anthology with Carolrhoda Lab! We’re super excited and promise to get at least SOME work done.

Involving these things:

 

AND…. on Friday there will be a Hilarious Vlog as proof that we did, indeed, work. See you on the flipside!

Manhattan Swans

It was always the same in Manhattan. At sun-up, the traffic shuddered and the subways choked and the sidewalks seethed and everyone became animals.

My brothers were swans, because my step-mother said it was so, and no one disagrees with her, because she has all the money.

swan by FurLined

“You’ve ruined them,” I cried to her as soon as she had done it. When I said ‘them,’ really, I meant little Philip, the youngest of my seven older brothers. Even though he was a year older than me, I thought of him as my baby brother. He still collected insects from the back yard and chalked funny pictures on the old brick wall around the garden.

My cellophane stepmother had sighed and rolled her eyes from where one mahoghany-haired friend grew from a chair to where another friend in a brocade vest melted into a cushion. She said, “The dramatics are a bit much, aren’t they, Julie? There are worse things than swans.”

They didn’t have to be animals at all, though. They could’ve stayed boys forever. I knew she only preferred them as swans because she didn’t like them as boys, because all she’d ever known was swans, because my father was too dead to stop her. I screamed this at her while tiny lines appeared around the edge of her mouth, and then, the next morning, I ran away to New York. All my brothers flew after me. Julian, the eldest and most swan-like, every line of him an arc, found me crying in the subway on the first evening.

“Poor Julie,” he said, helping me up. He was wearing a tweed vest and looked very dapper with his frame of Broadway posters and graffiti. “This is where homeless people sleep.”

I tried not to sound pitiful, but I did anyway. “I am homeless.” keep reading…

One Wing

Rory Cahill has a wing instead of an arm. From the edges of his neck, spreading down his shoulder, over his biceps and triceps, around his elbow and lengthening along his wrist, are intricately inked feathers. Every inch of tan skin slinks and ripples with lines of the tattoo, as if wind flutters around him.

He always wears those A-line shirts as soon as the sun’s out, even in winter, as if he can’t stand to have a sleeve hiding his skin. Or he just wants to show off that physique. (Nobody complains unless they’re jealous anyway.) I definitely don’t complain. He sits in front of me in Pre-Calc, and even though the dress code forces another layer onto him I can stare at the back of his neck, where the first thin black feather peeks out from his collar. When I know the answer to the problems on the white board, I let myself fantasize about skimming my finger right there, and up into his hairline where I know the short hairs will tickle him. I’d put my tongue against that feather and Rory Cahill would say my name.

Nobody knows why he got it. I mean, one wing? He’d fly in circles.

He’s been asked before. By friends and enemies, in homeroom and in the quad, and memorably, during the pep rally against Newan High, Sandy Redford the head cheerleader asked right into the spotty microphone: “The question of the day isn’t whether we’ll defeat the Bighorns, or even by how much! The question is why does Rory Cahill have a one wing?”

Everybody laughed and cheered, and his buddies prodded Rory from where the basketball team stood in a line, across the gym floor to Sandy. She shoved the microphone under his mouth, (nearly gagging him I thought), and he said, “So I don’t have a disqualifying advantage over the other team.”

He was everybody’s favorite after that. We’re all shallow in the 11th grade.
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Feathers

One of these days—soon—without word, without warning, I’m going to go up in smoke.

It won’t sputter or smolder. When the blaze finally comes, it will be a conflagration. I’ll explode into flame like a dynamite crate, blackened paper and broken boards going everywhere. One of these days, the weight of the feathers and the silk will be too much. My bones will break like matchsticks, splintering, striking sparks off the edges of my cold steel core.

swan princess

Two times since rehearsals started, the footlights have gone out during the Pas de trois. Back in November, it was raining all the time. The breakers kept shorting, crackling out in a shower of sparks. It wasn’t anyone’s fault, but someone had to answer for it. The new director told the stage crew that if it happened again, heads would roll. We could hear her through the door of her office, screaming into her phone. The pitch of her voice was inhumane, and directors are all crazy. They’re supposed to be temperamental, dramatic. This is different. When Madame de Sevigne raises her voice, it’s like a struck bell that won’t stop ringing. You can almost hear the frequency of her stiff, violent rage, buzzing under her skin.

Three of the corps dancers quit in one week, less than a month into the season. The ones who stayed called it insane, leaving the best company in the state, but those three were done with it and even their little-girl dreams of being pretty ballerinas weren’t strong enough to keep them here in the glowering presence of the Madame. They gathered up their lace and ribbons and disappeared, leaving nothing but a few loose hairpins and sequins, a few scattered feathers. keep reading…

2011 Wrap-up!

We made it through another year here at Merry Fates! We’ve all got one more book out (or in some overachiever’s case, two more)! We’ve done our very first official Merry Fates Live Event where all three of us get together in public just to talk about short stories!!! We’ve welcomed 11 awesome guest writers to write on the blog! There are 33 new stories from myself, Brenna, and Maggie!

In short, we win!

But it’s December, which means hiatus time. While you suffer through the holidays (I mean, of course, have a wonderful solstice), here are our top stories from 2011:

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BRENNA:

“Dead Ringer v. 1”
At first it was little things—how he always wore the watch I’d given him, even though it left a raw spot on his wrist and he’d never worn one before. More…

“Cuts Both Ways”
I hate Baz Crandall. More…

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TESSA:

“Three True Things”
For my entire life, Mom and Dad insisted they did not believe in the Piercy family curse. More…

“Mask of Petals, Mask of Thorns”
Every night before we retire, he gently takes my hand, leans in, and stops a breath away from me. “Will you kiss me with your eyes open, Beauty?” he asks. More…

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MAGGIE:

“Hel”
It’s hard not to feel bad for the prisoners, but I guess that’s because I don’t know what they did to get in here. More…

“Deep Subject”
On Tuesday, we discovered the dragon in the well. More…

And when we return in January… we’ll be starting the Epic Countdown To The End. That’s right, May 2012 will be 4 years exactly that Merry Fates has been around, and just before our Not-Anthology comes out with Carolrhoda Lab at the end of the summer, we’re gonna go out with a bang!

January, February, March, and April, we’re going to write our stories to a common prompt, and end each month with a contest. Then in May, we will have the grandmother of all epic contest giveaways as we ask you to help us celebrate all the fun and stress and awesome creating this website has brought us.

“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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King Me and King Me Again

Ordinarily, the sorts of notices you get by mail these days are quite boring and non-urgent, easily ignored, so you’ll forgive me when I admit that we didn’t open up the letter about Edmund for a week. It had a county return address, which usually meant that we’d forgotten to pay a bit of property tax or that —surprise!— all dogs need to be registered or risk being put down if found wandering about or possibly something truly, incredibly riveting like our voter registration cards.

It does not usually mean that you have a relative being released from a high security prison in a few weeks and that you need to collect them, please, in order for the conditions of their parole to be maintained. The correspondence inside usually doesn’t go on, then, to explain that the said relative committed the crime several hundred years before and has only now become eligible for parole. And even if it does say that, it doesn’t go on to explain that eight-hundred-year-old criminals are only permitted to go free if lodging with direct family members for the duration of their parole.

But that was what the county return address meant on this letter. Inside the envelope bearing the country return address was another, slightly more battered envelope with a royal air mail stamp on it, and it was in this envelope that we learned that Edmund was meant to come stay with us for a year until his secondary hearing by the District Court of Secondary Instances.

I had never heard of the District Court of Secondary Instances, but I’d never been to England, either, so what did I know?

Eight hundred years.

The letter did not explain exactly how he was still alive. Also notably absent was a description of his crime.

It would not be convenient to take Edmund in. We were not a very rich family. My father sold some sort of imaging software to doctors’ offices, which meant that he was away from home as often as he was home. My mother was a manager for a Dollar Tree. My younger brother was in college, studying to be a drunk. And I was a useless daughter who still lived at home, dating only her journal entries and sleeping only with her masters in English.

But my mother —surprise!— was as unable to turn Edmund away as she’d been to tell me to move out. So Edmund got on a plane and Harry (rarely sober little brother) and I got sent to the airport to pick him up. I had said I could go myself, because my Mazda barely fits two people, much less three, but my mother said that Edmund was a criminal, after all, and she would hate for my first sexual experience, at age 26, to be rape by a 800-year-old man.

My mother is hilarious like that.

Edmund flew into BWI, in Baltimore, and after parking the Mazda in one of the seven spheres of hell available there, Harry and I headed into the terminal. I wasn’t sure what I was expecting Edmund to look like. I anticipated a beard, at the very least. We were all pretty foggy on what was happening in British history in the twelfth century, which was when Edmund supposedly committed his crime. Twelfth century. Was that . . . Anglo-Saxon England? Vikings? Beards seemed like a safe bet. Beards seemed historical.

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Homefront

I close my eyes before I kill him.

Just in the final seconds as my swordpoint hits fast and straight through the hole in the chain mail under his arm. In order not to see the expression on his face, his eyes bulge, the gasp of breath when he realizes it was a killing stroke. There’ll be pink bubbles on his lips as his knees hit the muddy ground, and his own weight jerks his body off my sword as long as I square my feet.

It’s the worst way to do it, to not watch. Anything could happen, but I can’t do it any other way.

As he falls I look again, in time to turn heavily and block another attack with my shield. But Deck knocks the new enemy over by grabbing his collar and flinging him back. My brother stands over the fallen soldier and guts him before grinning at me through a blood-flecked beard. He’s just managed to grow it.

I lower my sword because the enemy band is withdrawing back into their forest. It was only a score of them, down to a quarter of that now, and their long shadows stretch back toward us through the trees, promising more tomorrow. And the next day and the next, through the gods know how many more weeks. Here on the southern front, there’s almost no winter to speak of, and so no pause in the king’s war.

Deck bares his teeth at their backs. “Run!” he screams after them. “Run from us!” And he claps me on the shoulder, making me stagger. I sink the tip of my sword into layers of fallen leaves for balance, thinking of how Captain would cuss at me for it. Your sword is your life, boy, don’t treat it like a stick – what if there’s an enemy behind you and you can’t bring the sword up fast enough? You want to do nothing but fling mud in some banger’s face as you die? I breathe through my teeth, as if I can stop the thick smells from sticking to my tongue: blood and rot and that sharp smell of the evergreens around here.

“Let’s go, Half,” Deck says, not waiting before he begins tromping back toward camp. I kneel down, ignoring the ache in my right thigh from an old scar, and set down my shield beside Deck’s gutted enemy. He’s clutching at his stomach, where blood leaks through the wide round metal joints of his armor, and I smell his death easily enough. But it won’t be easy for him, and I pull my dagger from the sheath on my gauntlet. He’s hissing and his big eyes stare up at the purple sky as I tug off the helmet skewed on his head and set my blade against his throat.

He’s doomed, and this will be better than him gasping and bleeding here until the wolf-priests come to collect our dead and burn the enemy overnight. This is the right thing to do. The good thing.

But I close my eyes again, while the knife pushes gently into his dirt-crusted neck. It’s got to be done. It’s just another practice thrust, Half. Do it.

And I do. I should’ve taken my gauntlet off first, but it’s already got blood soaked into the cracks and this spray won’t make it too much worse.

***

As I drink thick broth at the fire that night, my sword hand begins to tremble.

I set down my mug and clench a fist, tucking the offending hand against my side. I’ve only been back at the front for eight days. I should be good for at least twelve more before fatigue sets in, before I’m anxious again and jumping at the cracks from the fire.
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