—Rainer Maria Rilke,
Corny woke on the hillside to the sound of bells. He was shaking with cold. His teeth were chattering, his head felt thick and heavy, and just shifting his weight made his stomach lurch. His jacket was gone.
He was lying alone on a hill in a graveyard, and he had no idea how he had come to be there. He saw his car, hazard lights still dimly flashing where he had pulled off alongside the road. A wave of dizziness hit him. He rolled weakly to one side and retched.
The taste of the wine he vomited brought back a memory of a man’s mouth on his, a man’s hands stroking him. Shocked, he tried to form a face to go along with that mouth and those hands, but his head hurt too much to remember any more.
He pulled himself to his feet, trying to keep his queasiness under control as he stumbled down the hill toward his car. Despite the lights being on all night, when he turned the key, the engine turned over and roared to life. Corny flicked the heater on full blast and sat there, basking in the gush of hot air. His body shuddered with pleasure.
He knew that there was a bottle of aspirin under all the fast-food wrappers and discarded novels. He couldn’t make himself move. He leaned his head back and waited for the warmth that was creeping through his limbs to relax him and chase away the nausea. Then he remembered Kaye in the backseat, and the beginning of the evening flooded back with disturbing intensity.
Kaye’s skin cracked and peeling, the first flutter of wet wings, her strange new self stretched out in the car, the music… then alone on the hillside, tangled memories tripping over one another. He had heard stories like this—men and women waking on a hill, dreaming one night in Faery. The hill never opened for them again. Angrily, he wondered if Kaye was there still, dancing to distant flutes, forgetting that he’d ever tagged along.
His stomach clenched as he thought of another explanation for being alone on the hill.
It was a memory, really, Kaye hunched over him whispering,
Because the more that he thought about it, the more he remembered the brutal parts. The distant scream he couldn’t place, the sight of some of the revelers, teeth red with blood, and the man, the man with the cloak of thorns who had found him sitting drunk in the dirt and…
He shook his head. It was hard to remember the specifics, only that soft mouth and the scraping of those thorns. His hands fluttered to the sleeves of his shirt, rolling them back. Angry red wounds running up and down his arms were incontrovertible proof of how he’d spent the night.
Just touching them filled him with a longing so intense it made him sick.
Kaye stumbled in the backdoor. A quick look at the red digital numbers on the microwave told her that it was late morning.
Exhaustion settled over her as she strained to sense the wend and weft of magic in her fingers. She felt like a too-taut piece of string, fraying as it was pulled. She’d looked and looked, but there was no way back into the hill. Perhaps it opened only at dusk. She’d have to go back tonight, retrace the same path, and wait.
Her senses were overacute; the flimsy glamour she was wearing now was nothing like the one she had before. She could still feel the slight rustle of wings against her back, still smell the trash under the sink, even separate out smells—coffee grounds, eggshells, a bit of moldy cheese, detergents, some thick syrupy poison used to bait roach traps. The air thrummed with energy she had previously ignored. If she opened up to it, she might be able to leave her fatigue behind.
But she didn’t want to—she wanted to cling to the facade of humanity with both fists.
“Kaye? Is that you?” Kaye’s grandmother came in from the other room. She was wearing a robe and slippers, her thin gray hair pinned up in curlers. “Did you just get in?”
“Hi, Gram,” Kaye said, yawning. She went over to the kitchen table, shifted a pile of newspapers and circulars out of her way, and put her head down in her hands. It was almost a relief to just let her grandmother yell at her, as if everything could be normal again.
“I called the school this morning.”
Kaye forced herself not to groan.
“Did you know that you are not allowed to drop out of school without a parent’s written permission? According to your transcripts you haven’t been in school since you were fourteen!”
Kaye shook her head.
“What does that mean? Was that a no?”
“Well, it’s a good thing that you know, missy, but
“Nowhere,” Kaye said in a small voice. “I just didn’t want you to know. I knew you’d be mad.”
“Well, why didn’t you hightail it back to school then? Do you want to be nothing your whole life?”
“I’ll get my GED,” Kaye said.
“Your GED? Like a drug dealer? Like a pregnant teenager? Do you want to wind up trailer trash like your little friend?”
“Shut up!” Kaye yelled, holding her head. “You think you know everything about everything, don’t you? You think that the world is so easy to understand. You don’t know me at all—you don’t know one single thing about me! How can you possibly know anything about Janet when you don’t know anything about me?”
“I will not have you shouting at me in my own house. You and your mother are just the same. You think that it’s enough to want things. You think that if you just want and want then you’re just going to magically get them.”
Magically. Kaye felt her face twist with an expression somewhere between a wince and a smirk.
“Nothing but hard work gets anyone anywhere. Even then, people don’t get what they want. People just suffer, and no one knows why they suffer. Talented people—like your mother—they don’t make it, despite the talent, and what are you going to do then? You can’t rely on luck. How do you know you’re lucky?”
Kaye was surprised to hear that her grandmother thought that her mother had talent. “I’m not relying on luck,” Kaye said numbly.
“Oh really? What are you doing then?”
“I don’t know,” Kaye said. She was tired, and she could feel a whine creep into her voice. She was afraid that she was going to cry, and if she started crying right now, she wasn’t sure she could stop. Worse, she knew she sounded petulant, upset only that she was caught. It wasn’t far from the truth. “We needed the money.”
Her grandmother looked at her in horror. “What money?”
“Is that what you think? Don’t even talk to me,” Kaye said, burrowing her face in her folded arms. She mumbled into her own skin, “I was working at a fucking Chinese restaurant, okay? In the city. Full-time. We needed the money.”
Her grandmother looked at her in confusion.
“I don’t have a job yet here,” she confessed, “but I thought I might go work over at the gas station where Janet’s brother works. I put in an application there.”
“You are going to high school, young lady, and even if you weren’t, a gas station is no place for a girl to work. What kind of boy is going to go out with a girl like that?”
“Who cares about boys?” Kaye said. “Look, Mom will sign any form I need to get my GED.”
“No, she will not!” Kaye’s grandmother said. “Ellen!”
“What?” the annoyed shout came from above.
“Come down here and listen to your daughter! Do you know what she’s planning to do? Do you know what she’s been doing?”
A couple of minutes later, Kaye’s mother was there too, hair pulled back with a red leather kerchief. She was wearing a black T-shirt and sweatpants. “What were you doing?”
“I wasn’t doing anything,” Kaye said. She should have known this fight was coming, but now she felt distant from it, as though she were watching from far, far away. “I
“Don’t be smart,” Kaye’s grandmother said.
Ellen leaned against the doorway to the kitchen. “Look, it doesn’t matter what she’s been doing because we’re going to be in New York the beginning of next week. I’m fronting Meow Factory.”
Both Kaye and her grandmother graced Ellen with almost identical looks of horror. Ellen shrugged, moving past them to fill the coffeepot with water. “I was going to tell you last night, but you never showed up for dinner.”
“I’m not going to New York,” Kaye said, disgusted at how childish she sounded. This was the same girl who had insulted the Unseelie Queen’s favorite knight? Who had talked down a kelpie?
“Ellen, you can’t seriously mean that you don’t care that your only daughter has not been attending high school?” Kaye’s grandmother’s lips were pressed in a thin line.
Ellen shrugged. “Kaye’s a smart girl, mom. She can make those decisions for herself.”
“You’re her mother. It’s your job to make sure that she makes the right decisions.”
“Did that ever work with me? You tried to make all my decisions for me, and see where it got us both. I’m not going to make the same mistake with Kaye. So what if she doesn’t want to go to high school? High school sucked when I had to go, and I can’t imagine it’s any better now. Kaye can read and write—that’s more than plenty of high school seniors can say—she’s probably read more books than most girls her age.”
“Ellen, don’t be stupid. What’s she going to do for a living? What’s in her future? Don’t you want something better for Kaye than what you have?”
“I want her to have the future she wants.” Kaye slid out of the room. They would be arguing for long enough that they wouldn’t notice or care for a while. She just wanted to sleep.
The phone rang close to her head, where she’d dropped it. Kaye groaned and pressed the on button.
“Hello,” she said groggily. She hadn’t managed more than a fitful sleep, tossing and turning. The blankets were too warm, but kicking them off had made her feel unsafe, exposed. Her dreams were too full of slit-eyed things poking her with clawed fingers.
“Fuck. You’re there.” She recognized the voice as belonging to Corny. He sounded astonished and very relieved.
“Corny! I got thrown out. I couldn’t find a way back to you.” She looked at the clock. It was one o’clock in the afternoon. “I thought maybe the hill was only open at night.”
“I’m coming over.”
She nodded and then, realizing he couldn’t see her, spoke the thought aloud. “Yeah. Definitely. Come over. Are you okay?”
The phone clicked off, and she scrubbed a hand restlessly through her hair before letting her head fall back onto the pillow.
“The glamour looks good,” was the first thing that Corny said as he walked into her bedroom. Then he looked around. “Hey, you’ve got rats.”
She blinked up at him. “How did you get out? I was going crazy looking for you. If the cops had seen me they would have thought I was some nutjob grave robber trying to dig up bodies with my bare hands.”
“I woke up outside the hill this morning. I figured that you’d ditched me and I was going to do a Rip Van Winkle and find out that it was the year 2112 and no one had ever even heard of me.” He grinned wryly.
“Roiben threw me out. I’m sorry. I didn’t want to leave you, but I was afraid if I told him that he would figure out who I was.”
Corny smiled. “He didn’t know?”
She shook her head and shuddered. “So, what did you think of the Unseelie Court?”
A slow, wicked smile spread on his face. “Oh, Kaye,” he breathed. “It was marvelous. It was perfect.”
She narrowed her gaze. “I was joking. They were killing things, Corny. For fun. Things like us.”
He didn’t seem to hear her, his eyes looking past her to the bright window. “There was this knight, not yours. He…” Corny shivered and seemed to abruptly change the direction of his sentence. “He had a cloak all lined with thorns.”
“I saw him talking to the Queen,” Kaye said.
Corny shrugged off his jacket. There were long scratches along his arms.
“What happened to you?”
Corny’s smile widened, but his gaze was locked in some memory. He shifted it back to her. “Well, obviously I got inside the cloak.”
She snorted. “What a euphemism. Did he hurt you?”
“No more than I wanted him to,” Corny said.
She didn’t like it, neither what he was saying nor the way he looked when he talked about it.
“How about you, Kaye? Did you revenge yourself on Robin of the White Hair?”
She couldn’t help the blush that crept across her cheeks.
“What?” he demanded. And she told him, the blush growing hot as she did. It sounded even more pathetic out loud.
“So what you’re telling me is that you got him to kiss you once on the lips and once on the ass.”
Kaye glared at him, but she couldn’t help giggling.
“I don’t know if I should call that slick or be really afraid what you are going to use that name of his for in the future. Can you just keep ordering him around indefinitely?”
Kaye aimed a mock-kick in his direction. “What about you and your knight? I mean, look at your arms; is that normal?”
“Makes me shiver when I touch them,” Corny said reverently.
“At least we’re scaring each other.”
“Yeah, well, I better get back home. What’s next on the faerie agenda?”
Kaye shrugged. “I get sacrificed, I guess.”
“Great. When is that?”
Kaye shook her head. “Wish I knew. Samhain, that’s Halloween, right? Probably at night.”
Corny looked at her incredulously. “Halloween is in two days.”
“I know,” Kaye said. “But it’s not like I have to
“What if they get pissed that they were tricked?”
Kaye shrugged. “I don’t know. It’s not my problem, right? All I have to do is be a good victim.”
“Yeah, hopefully not
“Spike and Lutie wouldn’t ever put me in any real danger.”
“Yeah, okay. Well, that’s good.”
“You think they would?”
“I think it sounds dangerous. I think we haven’t seen too much so far that is part of Faery and isn’t dangerous.”
“True,” Kaye said.
“Oh,” Corny said. “Jimmy saw me when I went by the house. He said that if you want that job, you can start tonight at six. It’s the shift before mine, so I guess I’m not fired after all.”
She smiled. “So I guess I’ll see you tonight. I’m glad you’re okay.”
“I would be even better if I was still there,” Corny said, and all her worry returned in a flood.
He smiled, that weird distant smile that he’d gotten under the hill, and she wanted to shake him by the shoulders. Something had to snap him out of it.
“See you tonight,” he said, slipping on his jacket. He flinched as the lining brushed his arms, and, uncharitable as it was, she hoped that it was because the scratches hurt.
As Corny left, she looked at the pink sticky notes posted on the back of her door. They were the messages that her mother had taken for her. One was from Jimmy—probably about the job—and the others were all from Kenny.
Kaye settled on the mattress on the floor, picked up the phone, and dialed the number on Kenny’s first note. She could leave a message for him about where she was working tonight. It was a public place. If he came to visit her there, she could take off the enchantment, and then everything with Janet could go back to normal.
“Hey,” a male voice answered. There was a vaguely metallic whirring and grating in the background.
“Oh. Hi,” she stammered. “I thought you’d be at school.”
“You called my cell phone,” Kenny said. “I’m in shop.”
“This is Kaye.” She felt stupid again, as though a few words from him were some kind of benediction of which she was unworthy.
“I know. Teacher is about to have a hernia, so we got to talk fast. I want to see you. Tonight.”
“I have to work. You could come by—”
“What time?” he said, interrupting her. She felt awkward, hyperaware of each word she spoke, waiting for him to start teasing her and absurdly grateful when he did not.
“Meet me after school. You know which one my car is?”
“No. Why don’t you just come by my job?” She tried to wrest back control of the conversation.
“By the entrance, then. The big one. I have to see you.”
She hesitated, but she had no real reason not to meet him there. After all, removing the enchantment would only take a moment. What happened after, well, maybe it would be better if she was somewhere she could leave. “Okay.”
“Good.” With that, the phone hung up, leaving her feeling as though she had drunk two-day-old coffee on an empty stomach. Her nerves were fried. When she lifted a hand, she was unsurprised to find it vibrating slightly, like a struck guitar string. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, then shucked off Corny’s butchered clothes and put on some of her own. They fit over the illusion of a smooth back easily, but her dual senses could feel the soft cotton of the T-shirt against her wings.
It was weird to be standing outside a school that she should have been going to, but didn’t. Some of the kids looked familiar, people she had known from grade school. Mostly they all just looked like the strangers they were.
She shook her head. She didn’t like where those thoughts took her. It was alien enough that she hadn’t been in a high school in years. Sometimes, like now, she missed it. She’d hated elementary school. She and Janet had been friends by default. Kids teased Janet for her secondhand clothes and Kaye for her stories. But in the city no one had known Kaye, and besides, there were lots of weird kids. But just when things in school had gotten better, she’d left.
“Hey,” Kenny said. He was wearing sunglasses and a gray T-shirt under a heavy navy flannel. He took off the glasses when he got close to her. Dark circles ringed his eyes. “Why didn’t you call me yesterday? I left a million messages at your house. Your mother said that you were at Janet’s, but I checked. You weren’t there.”
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I was out.” He looked so serious that there was something suddenly funny about it. The magic came easily now, rushing to her fingers and spiking along her tongue, but she made no move to lift the enchantment.
“Kaye, I…” he started, then seemed to think better of whatever it was he was going to say. “I can’t sleep. I can’t eat. All I can do is think about you.”
“I know,” she said sweetly. Kids passing by them gave Kenny sidelong glances. She suddenly understood why she had let him kiss her in the diner, why she had wanted him at all.
She wanted to control him.
He was every arrogant boyfriend that had treated her mother badly. He was every boy that told her she was too freaky, who had laughed at her, or just wanted her to shut up and make out. He was a thousand times less real than Roiben.
Her face split in a wide grin. She had no desire to play pretend anymore, no need to prove her worth by Kenny’s regard, no desire to know how different the lips of a popular boy were from any other boy.
“Please, Kaye,” he said, reaching for her wrist, holding it tightly, pulling her to him.
This time she pulled away abruptly, not letting him crush her to him, his lips nowhere near close enough to take another kiss. Instead, she twisted her hand out of his grip and sprung up onto the cement edge of the steps.
“Something you want?” Kaye taunted. Kids had stopped along the path, watching.
“You,” Kenny said, reaching for her again, but she was far too quick. Dancing out of his grasp, she laughed.
“You can’t have what you can’t catch,” she goaded, cocking her head to one side. Madness made the blood dance in her veins. How dare he make her feel awkward? How dare he make her measure her words?
He snatched for her hand, but she pulled it away easily, spinning along the cement wall.
“Kaye!” he said.
She squatted down, legs wide, chin thrust toward him. “Do you adore me, Kenny?”
“Yes,” he said frantically.
“Are you besotted with me? Would you die to have me?”
“Yes!” Kenny’s eyes were dark with desire and fury. Behind him, students were laughing and whispering to one another.
Kaye laughed too. She didn’t care in the least.
“Tell me again what you would do to have me.”
“Anything,” he said, without hesitation. “Give me a chance. Make me do something.”
The laughter died in her throat. She tossed the magic off him, dispersing the threads of it with a sweep of her hand, as one would brush aside cobwebs.
“Never mind,” she said, angry without being sure of why. Angry and suddenly ashamed.
Kenny looked around him, the school apparently coming into focus for the first time. She could see the blush creep up his tattooed neck. He looked at her with something like horror in his eyes.
“What the fuck did you do to me?”
“Tell Janet to call me,” she said, not caring that that made no sense, not caring about anything except that she needed to get out of there, needed to get away before she careened totally out of control. She didn’t even spare him a glance as she crossed the student parking lot, heading home.
* * *
Jimmy was waiting for her in the office of the gas station. He handed her a blue jacket with an Amoco logo in the corner that Kaye had never seen Corny wear. She put it on dutifully while he explained what she had to do.
A few cars had come through, and she had handled the pump gingerly, careful of the metal.
Her head swam with the noxious fumes of the gasoline and the terrible thoughts of what she had done. It had felt so good, so absolutely right to taunt Kenny as she had. And now, knowing what she could do, was it possible to unlearn it, or just a matter of time before she used it again?
There was a rustling sound nearby, and Kaye looked toward the woods warily. It was Mischief Night, and Jimmy had already warned her that kids might try to toilet-paper the place.
But the figure that emerged had hair as black as oil, and the cloak on his shoulders blew back to reveal thorns on the inside, set like a bed of nails. Other than the white of his skin, the only pale thing he wore was a single white stone swinging on a long chain.
“You?” she said. “You’re the Seelie Spike told me about?” She’d seen him talking to Nicnevin at the ball. He had seemed loyal to the Queen. Was that part of the plan?
“You’re in good hands now,” Nephamael said.
“You made the marks on Corny’s arms.”
“Indeed I did. He is exquisite.”
Up close his eyes were yellow. Looking into those eyes, she suddenly knew why they seemed familiar. She’d seen them in the bar the night that Lloyd had lost it.
“You,” Kaye said. “You did something to Lloyd, didn’t you?”
“We needed you to come home, Kaye.”
The knight touched the stone around his neck, and Kaye felt magic sweep around her, settling on her body with an oppressive weight. She felt smothered for a moment as scents became vague and her vision dulled.
“Remember, we have to make it look real,” he said as she choked.
“What are you doing to me?” Kaye managed to say. Everything felt numb and strange.
“That glamour you were wearing would fool no one. I am simply restoring the one you should have been wearing.”
“But Halloween isn’t till tomorrow,” Kaye protested. There was a strange prickling all along her arms. This time it didn’t seem as though it came from inside her. Something was happening. Her heart sped, and she could feel… something, a strangeness. And then a dark shape hurtled out of the clouds.
Something roared over them.
Kaye threw her arms up over her face. She tried to scream, but when she opened her mouth, it was filled with wind.
Hands clutched her shirt and legs and hair, lifting her and passing her up into a mass of creatures. She kicked and bit, tearing their long cornsilk hair and ripping their powdery wings. Pointed, catlike faces hissed, and fingers pinched her, but they flew on in a long train of monsters and she was with them.