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BAD LUCK GIRL

CHAPTER ONE — THIS MORNIN’, FEELIN’ BAD

June 14, 1935

Once upon a time, a girl from the Dust Bowl traveled across the country to rescue her parents (with some help from her best friend, Jack) from the evil fairy king who’d locked them in his enchanted castle. Now normally that’d be the whole story, and there’d be the happy ending and all afterward. But that wasn’t the way things turned out.

My name, by the way, is Callie LeRoux. My father vanished before I was born, so Mama raised me alone out in Slow Run, Kansas. I didn’t know that all that time she was keeping secrets from me. Like how my father was a prince of the Unseelie fairies, which made me a fairy princess, or half of one anyway. What’s more, I’d somehow gotten myself born with a special power that allows me to open and close the gates between the fairy world and the human world. This power is so darn special that the fairies—both the midnight Unseelies and the shining Seelies—had fixed up a whole prophecy about it.

See her now, daughter of three worlds. See her now, three roads to choose. Where she goes, where she stays, where she stands, there shall the gates be closed.

The fairies had been waiting just about forever for the girl with these gate powers to turn up. Now that I had, they all wanted to get their hands on me, or at least keep the other side from getting their hands on me. My own grandparents tried to trick me into promising to stay with them forever, and, incidentally, into helping kill my best friend, Jack. The Seelie king shoved one of his own daughters—a half-fairy girl named Ivy Bright—into doing the dirty work of killing me. But it turned out Ivy’s luck was even worse than mine, because I killed her instead. Then I shut the fairy gate on the dragon that was somehow both the Seelie king and the palace on the hill at one and the same time.

It had been a really long day.

***

I honestly don’t remember how we got onto the streetcar out of Culver City, or much about the ride, except that I spent it huddled on the bench with my parents as we rattled into downtown Los Angeles. Papa sat with his arm around Mama’s shoulders. I pressed against her other side, and she clutched my hand hard enough to hurt, but I didn’t care. I couldn’t shake the feeling that if she let go, one of us would vanish. Jack slouched in the seat in front of us, all alone. I knew I should say something to let him know I didn’t care about him any less now that I had my parents back, but I couldn’t make myself talk. I was banged up. My clothes were torn about to shreds and a map of red cuts crisscrossed the backs of my hands.

I was too tired to hold my extra fairy senses closed, so I felt the look the conductor gave us crawling across my skin as we climbed off the streetcar at the corner of Fifth Street. He was good and glad to be leaving us behind. I tried to be glad too, but in my gut, it still felt like the end of the world. Every time I breathed in, I smelled gun smoke and copper, and I kept hearing the shot that killed Ivy Bright. With that going off inside my skull, nothing else felt entirely real, not even being back with Mama. Not even finally meeting my papa, Daniel LeRoux.

The streetcar rattled away and I stood staring at the hard blue California morning, trying to kick my brain into some kind of action. Papa lifted his arm from around Mama’s shoulders. He walked three slow, tottery steps down the sidewalk. Then he took one deep breath, swung both arms over his head, and whooped out loud to the rising sun.

“We did it! You hear? We did it!”

Papa whipped around and grabbed both of Mama’s hands. He swung her in a tight circle until she shrieked, half startled, half jubilant. “You were magnificent, Margaret. Magnificent!”

“My God, Daniel.” Mama ran her palms across his face and brow. “My God. Is it real? Are we really free?”

Papa laughed and he kissed her, hard and strong. She broke away and laughed, and he kissed her again. Kissed her so long, in fact, that I squirmed and looked at Jack. He was grinning. I looked back at my parents, and sure enough, they were still kissing.

When Papa did let Mama go, he turned to Jack and pumped his hand hard enough to rattle Jack’s teeth. “And you, sir! Jack of Chicago, isn’t it? Jack, hero of the day! And you!” Now he faced me with a smile as bright and warm as the sun in July. “My brave, beautiful daughter.” He swept off his battered fedora and bowed deep. “It is an honor and privilege to meet you at last, Calliope.”

I had no idea at all how to answer him. I wanted to grin, and to shout too, but I couldn’t make myself do it. My head was spinning too hard. It was Mama who spoke up first.

“Daniel,” she said to Papa. “It’s a little early to be celebrating in public. Someone will remark on us.”

My mother, Margaret LeRoux, was a tiny woman. I was only a hairsbreadth shorter than she was, and I hadn’t even turned fifteen yet. She was a delicate thing too, with white skin, worn hands, and bones like a bird. Her blue eyes were so big and so pretty, Bette Davis would have paid a year’s salary for the loan of them. But there was steel under those fragile looks, and it never did to forget that.

My father settled his fedora back on his head and tugged the brim down low. Papa looked to be a Negro man, tall and slim with clear mahogany-colored skin. But if you got a look at his eyes, you saw that wasn’t all he was. His eyes were utterly strange and beautiful at the same time, twin swirls of deep blue, black, and silver, like thunderheads at midnight with the full moon shimmering behind them.

My eyes held that storm-blue color, and when I got mad, they had that same light behind them. From Mama I’d gotten a pointy kind of face that the old ladies back in Slow Run called “dainty,” and skin that stayed close to white if I stayed out of the sun. In fact, as long as I kept my coarse hair braided up, I could pass for being as white as Mama or Jack.

“You’re right, of course, Margaret,” said Papa. “We are not out of the woods yet. Come around here, why don’t you? Let’s get you all fixed up.”

Papa led us around back of the brick streetcar shelter into the shadows where we’d be screened from the traffic rattling past. With a sharp glance around to make sure the sidewalk itself was still empty, Papa straightened up and pushed his hat back on his head. I could see the shining swirl of his fairy eyes clearly now. I expected him to make a wish, or ask one of us to. Wishes and feelings are a big help to shaping fairy magic. But Papa didn’t seem to need any such help. He just looked at each of us, hard. I could feel his gaze sink through my skin and rummage around underneath. Jack actually staggered and Mama laid a hand on his shoulder to steady him. Then Papa pursed his lips and whistled three bright, trilling notes. A dry, sharp-edged wind swirled around us. All at once, I was scrubbed and clean, like I’d just gotten out of the bath. My ruined mission-store clothes were replaced by a blue dress with a drop waist and a pleated skirt and white sash. A cloche hat settled over my head. I stared at the backs of my own hands, now all healed up, and at the nails buffed to a fine gloss. Mama was wearing blue as well—a short-sleeved flowered dress, and white gloves and a sun hat with a blue flower in the band. She had on silk stockings and white patent-leather pumps and a purse to match. It seemed my father was the kind who thought about details. He was all cleaned and pressed too, with a crease in his gray trousers and a snappy tilt to his fedora.

So this was what full-blood fairy magic could do, easy as, well, whistling. If it had been me, I could have made folks just think we looked respectable. Papa could make it happen for real, and he wasn’t even breathing hard.

“Hey, this is swell.” Jack brushed the cuffs of his new shirt and grinned. “I think I’m gonna like traveling fairy class.” Jack Holland was tall enough to be taken for a grown man when he wanted to be. He had too many freckles on his face, and when he didn’t have his hair slicked down hard, it was a mass of brown curls that stuck out every which way from under whatever hat he happened to be wearing. Just now, that hat was a straw boater Papa had given him to go with the white flannel trousers, blue striped button-down shirt, and blue tie. He looked like he had just come home from some fancy college. I had to look away fast before my cheeks started heating up.

“Unfortunately, it won’t last.” Papa frowned at the line of light behind the mountains that would turn into full morning before too much longer. “This world can be very hard on such tricks, but it should hold us until sundown.”

“So, what do we do now?” Jack looked at me when he said it, but it was Mama who answered.

“We need to get something to eat,” she announced. “You children must be starved.”

“That’s as good a place to start as any,” agreed Papa.

So, we picked a direction and started walking. After about a block and a half, we spotted a diner. We must have looked respectable enough because the waitress hustled right over when we took a seat in the red vinyl booth. I wondered if Papa was pulling the magic wool over her eyes so she didn’t notice we each had a different skin color, but then, Los Angeles was one of those places where it sometimes didn’t matter so much.

Either way, I was awfully glad to see the burgers and French fries she brought us. We all made short work of our meal, including the thick slices of apple pie with ice cream afterward. It felt good to be full and, for just the minute, safe.

It didn’t last long. When the bill came, Papa pulled out a money clip, laid down some bills on the table, and hustled us back out onto the sidewalk. We all went quietly, and quickly. Fairy money has this nasty tendency to vanish on short notice, so it’s not good to hang around anyplace you have to use it.

I wasn’t the only one thinking that. Mama slid her arm through Papa’s as we strolled up the street, all of us trying to look like we had somewhere to go.

“What now, Daniel? We can’t stay here with no real money. And they . . . they might find us.”

“They can’t be after us yet,” said Jack. “Callie trapped the king on the other side of the gate when she shut it. That’ll hold ’em off for a little while, won’t it?”

“He might have gotten out,” I said. “That dragon was awful strong.” I tried not to remember how strong, and how big, but that didn’t work very well.

“Either way, your mother’s right. It will be safer to get out of town,” Papa muttered.

“Can we go home?” suggested Mama hopefully. “You told me the Imperial’s protected. . . .”

Papa shook his head. “Not anymore. It will be watched.”

“What about trying for New York?” asked Jack. “You lived there a while back, didn’t you, Mr. LeRoux? Anybody there who might be willing to help you out?”

“There might be at that. Not a bad idea, boy.”

“Jack,” he said firmly. “Jack Holland.”

Papa cocked his head, looking at Jack in a new way, with just the barest hint of gold glittering out from under his hat brim. “My apologies. Jack.”

“New York,” murmured Mama. “So far.”

“Not for Callie,” said Jack. “She can open us a gate and walk us right into Times Square.”

Right then I wasn’t so sure I could keep on standing up. The reminder that the Seelies were still out there had set my knees shaking and my full stomach churning. I sucked in as big a breath as I could hold and tried with all my might to shove the fear aside. My family needed me now. I needed me now.

“I can open the gate,” I said. “But steering on the other side, that’s harder.” Truth be told, I wasn’t sure I could find New York on the other side of a fairy gate, let alone get everybody through to someplace I’d only ever seen in the movies.

Papa chuckled. “I think the old man might be able to help you there, Callie.”

I wanted to smile back, but my mouth wasn’t so sure. There’d been too many times when my magic had gone wrong for me to be easy about the idea of trying to work it now. But the only other choice was to hang around here and wait for whichever of the Seelies were left to come find us, which was no kind of choice at all.

“So, what do we do?” asked Jack.

“Take hands,” answered Papa for me.

Jack took my hand, and Mama took his. Then Mama took Papa’s so we were all in a line, with me at one end and my father at the other. “Go ahead, Callie.” Papa nodded. “I’ll be right there with you.”

The last time I’d done this, the person who’d been with me was Papa’s brother, my uncle Shake. Shake had tried to steer me straight into the Unseelie country so his friends there could make use of me. I didn’t for a minute think my father would do anything like that, of course, but something inside me shivered just the same.

Jack squeezed my hand and I squeezed his. Some of my confidence came creeping back for a second look. Jack I could trust. There was nothing we couldn’t handle together, from dust storms to fire-breathing dragons. I faced the street and dug down into the place where my magic waited.

When I opened up to magic, I opened up to feeling, layers upon layers of feeling. First, I felt the city—the jostling and chattering of a million living souls with their wishes and their dreams laid over the slow droning vibrations of machinery and the foundation of stone and earth. Then I felt my father. I’d known him less than a day, but he filled a space in my mind I’d never realized was empty. Fear, confidence, love, amazement, and mischief all through him like heat lightning in summer.

In that same place, I heard his voice, clear and calm. It’s all right, Callie. Open the gate. Take us through.

And just like that, I believed. It would be all right. I could do this, easy as whistling. I made myself see past motion and emotion, down to the warp and weft of the world. It was soft and fluid and tough to get hold of, except for one spot. One spot was solid with clear edges, like a closed door. Life and time just flowed around it. I could shape my personal magic into a key, put the key into the lock of that door, and turn, until the way opened in front of me. I tightened my hand around Jack’s and stepped through.

***

There’s the human world, there’s the fairy world, and then there’s betwixt and between. Betwixt and between is a place that’s no place in particular. It’s got no shape of its own, except it’s all the shapes of the surrounding worlds piled on top of each other. It’s got no time except forever, and no light, except all the sunlight, starlight, and fairy light leaking through from one side to the other.

At least, that was what it was like last time I walked out there.

This time, somebody’d turned those lights out. The whole world had gone gray. I froze on the threshold of the gate I’d opened. While I stared, something grabbed hold of the part of my blood and brain where my magic waited. It turned me, like I was a compass needle, toward the Unseelie borders, toward the home I’d never really seen. It tried to tell me this was the right way to go, whether I wanted to or not.

“What’s happening?” asked a voice from far away. I thought it was Papa, but I wasn’t sure.

I had no chance to find my words. A low, terrible river boiled out from the direction of the Unseelie world. It rolled through the shifting twilight that had taken over betwixt and between, making the air ripple with a rough and gritty darkness, like the wind that brought the dusters to Kansas. But this was more than wind or thunder. This was alive. In fact, it was a whole lot of alive. A thousand-thousand separate beings boiled past me in that dark. All of them grappled and fought to move faster. They climbed over each other, straining to reach their destination. And as I stood there, openmouthed, I felt their hunger, fear, and anger rush over me. They must have felt something too, because they all turned, and they all looked at me.

The shock of recognition from those thousands of minds staggered me, and I toppled over. My hand slipped from Jack’s, and I was falling into nothing. Jack’s hand snatched at mine, but he screamed and his fingers spasmed.

“Trap!” I heard him holler. “It’s a trap!”

 

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