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After Midnight

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She had been a young girl the first time Gran told her about the Fae, about how they would aid her if she had need of it.

“They have an affinity,” Gran said, “for shiny things. Do not offer them money, Emma my love, but offer trinkets. Gold and silver coins, buttons that shine in the light, a pocket watch that don’t keep time but that has the love of a lifetime embedded in the metal.”

“But you said don’t offer money, Gran,” young Emma protested with a frown, and Gran laughed.

“Don’t matter if the coins have value, darling. Just that they shine in the light.” Gran snorted and added, “Hell, a penny with just enough shine to the copper would make for a happy Fae. But there’s another thing to know.”

Emma blinked and waited, and Gran rewarded her with a smile and tucked a strand of red hair behind the girl’s ear.

“Whatever you do,” she said seriously, “do not accept a gift from the Fae. Gold is a tricky thing, usually from a leprechaun that may not have offered it willingly. And even if it wasn’t a leprechaun’s, it may turn to stone or sand when touched by the light. Trinkets from the Fae, especially those with fantastic traits, may come with a price tag. And in the same line, do not offer anything to the Fae which you aren’t willing to pay. Do not offer a child, firstborn or otherwise. Do not agree to dine with them unless you prepare the meal with your own hands. Do not go with them unless you know the destination.” Gran smiled then, a brilliant thing with white teeth that somehow unnerved others but left her family feeling loved. “Remember these things, my love, and you will never have need to fear the Fair Folk.”

“You know a lot about Fae, Gran,” Emma said admiringly. “Daddy says we have monster blood in our veins. Do we?”

And Gran only smiled and kissed her cheek and sent her outside to play.

It was only when Emma was sixteen and Gran was dying that she was given any clear answer.

“My daddy made a deal,” Gran whispered, and a glance at Daddy told the girl that he knew this tale already. “Wanted to have money to come to this country and went to a Faery mound to ask for aid. He offered up his firstborn child, boy or girl, as he didn’t intend to have a family until he made it here. Thought he’d found a loophole, he did.

“They made it so he could come here, and he met my momma in Virginia. They fell in love, and they had a baby girl.” Gran’s smile widened, showing those white teeth as she added, “And that very night, the Fae he’d made a deal with came to take my sister away and left me in her place. I was born in the Faery, my lamb, but your daddy and you carry my Changeling blood. You’ll see the monsters and know ‘em on sight—and they’ll know you ain’t all human—but you’ll be safe with them.”

There hadn’t been a body to bury; Gran’s relations from Faery came to collect her, and Emma caught a brief glimpse of a woman who could have been her daddy’s twin sister but was likely the child taken when Gran was left before they all vanished back into the mists. It wasn’t long after, maybe a year or two, that she met Matthew Cullen, and she was smitten. Daddy just laughed and told her that she was forever a wild thing when twenty-three year old Emma told him she was marrying that man, that they were going to go into the west and find a home there.

She never saw Daddy again; there was a fire on the farm just a few months after the wedding and they’d already started to their new home. Emma was certain that there wasn’t a body, given Daddy had more Fae in his blood, that their relations had come again to fetch him to Faery and whatever afterlife awaited those with monster blood.

But she was happy, with the secrets in her blood and her beautiful all-too-human Matthew. They had tried for a child, but the babe was born blue and not breathing, and it had nearly broken them both. Emma gave only the briefest of thoughts to finding a Faery ring, to making a deal like her great-grandfather’s, but Matthew had stopped her.

“We can try again,” he said, “but not like that. The price may be too high to pay.”

And god, but she knew it. So she prayed, to God and the gods and the Fae themselves, for a child. When a second child had come from her still and cold, she knew that it was probably her fault. Maybe the Fae blood was too diluted now, or maybe there was still too much. She’d never really known her momma, the woman who’d died when she was a small girl, or she’d wonder if there was a different kind of monster hiding in her blood that twisted the Fae just enough to keep her from delivering a living child.

But she and Matthew, they lived. They made their home in Rose Creek, and they agreed that they would try again when the farm began to prosper a bit.

Then someone found gold in the hills. Then the warlock had come with his human and monster workers, with the hedge witch and skin-walker and demands to buy their land.

Then the warlock came in to make a final offer of twenty dollars per parcel of “dust” and had shot her Matthew dead in the street as the church burned.

That was when Emma decided it was time to do something. She ignored Sheriff Harp’s order to leave the bodies in the street, had dragged Matthew’s body into the cemetery with Teddy Q’s aid, and buried her husband with her own two hands. Once her friend had erected the cross, Emma clapped the dirt from her hands and walked into the house she had shared with Matthew and began gathering trinkets.

Gold and silver disks she’d played with as a young girl that still sparkled in the light. Her daddy’s old pocket watch that no longer kept time but that he’d pressed into her hand the day she and Matthew set off for Rose Creek. A small rock that seemed to shine with the light of a crystal, one that Matthew had turned up in the dirt. Some pennies that Teddy had brought for them as a housewarming and a welcome to town gift, given with a grin and a wink that made Emma think her new friend may have some monster hiding in his family line as well.

She dumped all this into a bag, changed her clothes, and opened the door to fetch her horse. She found Teddy on the other side, also dressed for the trail and holding a bag that likely also contained shiny things.

“He was my best friend,” the young man declared, eyes narrowing. “If you’re going for an army, if you’re planning to find monsters to bring down Bogue, then I ain’t letting you do it alone. Halflings have to stick together. That’s what my momma always said.”

She didn’t ask what Teddy had in his blood; it didn’t matter. He knew that she wasn’t completely human and had shared his secret with her. That made them kin in her eyes, and she rode out of Rose Creek with her new brother in search of what she hoped was righteousness.

But she knew she would settle happily for revenge.