Read Gifted: A Holiday Anthology Online

Authors: Kelley Armstrong

Gifted: A Holiday Anthology

BOOK: Gifted: A Holiday Anthology
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GIFTED © KLA Fricke Inc 2014, all rights reserved.
Published by Traverse Press
www.traverse-press.com
ISBN: 978-1-62274-072-7

eBooks created by
www.ebookconversion.com

Author’s Note

This mini-anthology began with an orphaned story. I wrote
Gabriel’s Gargoyles
for an anthology of holiday fantasy fiction. The editor never received the submission, and by the time I realized that, he’d thought I backed out, and it was too late for my contribution to be included. That left me with a story that was too short to sell as a single and unlikely to find a home in another anthology. So I decided to create a home for it, as one half of a holiday-themed duo.

Gabriel’s Gargoyles
is a prequel to my Cainsville series. Gabriel Walsh is one of the major characters, and this story is set twenty years ago, when he was ten and searching for the last “hidden” gargoyle in Cainsville. To parallel his story, I decided the Otherworld one should be narrated by the character closest to Gabriel’s age. That would be nine-year-old Logan Danvers, one of Clay and Elena’s twins.

Gabriel’s story is also about trying to come up with the money to buy his great-aunt Rose the perfect Solstice gift. I further paralleled the Otherworld tale by having Logan struggling to figure out how to give his sister, Kate, the perfect gift. So we have two resourceful pre-teen boys thwarted in their efforts to get the perfect gift for the most important person in their lives. That’s where the similarities end, though. Gabriel and Logan’s home lives could not be more different, and these stories gave me the chance to explore and juxtapose those lives, while working with two relatively “new” characters.

While I have released previously published stories as e-books, this is my first time trying it with all-new material. I’ll be curious to know what readers think of this holiday-themed experiment!

Gabriel’s Gargoyles

Gabriel Walsh shielded his eyes against the late-afternoon sun and squinted up at the gargoyle, peering back at him from under the eaves of the towering bank. One of Chicago’s oldest buildings, his teacher had said. No longer a bank, though. There was no need for such an elaborate financial establishment in this neighborhood. It
was
elaborate, with intricate stonework and swooping eaves. And, apparently, a gargoyle.

Gabriel hadn’t seen the gargoyle before, which meant it hadn’t been there. If it had, he’d have spotted it. He was something of an expert. In Cainsville, where his great-aunt Rose lived, there was an annual May Day contest to see which child had found the most town gargoyles. Gabriel had won for the last four years. This year, he was determined to take the grand prize: the honor of having found every gargoyle in Cainsville. The town elders had assured him he had only one left to go.

He sidestepped to get a better look at this gargoyle. The fact it did not seem to have existed a day ago came as no great shock. Cainsville would hardly make such a big deal out of the competition if the gargoyles were always there, waiting to be counted. Some kids claimed they were living things, that when no one was looking they spread their wings and flew about the town and guarded it against all comers. Which was ridiculous, of course. The real explanation? Simple illusion. A visual sleight of hand. A concept Gabriel was far more familiar with than flying stonework.

“Gabe!”

He tried not to stiffen at the voice. Jay Hoover, toughest kid in the fifth grade. Also the stupidest, which had made Gabriel’s school days slightly more bearable. And much more profitable.

“Yo, Gabe!”

He didn’t turn. That wasn’t his name. Which Jay knew very well, and which was why he insisted on calling Gabriel by it.

Jay swung in front of him. He was a big kid, a prerequisite for bullies at this age. The second-biggest kid in class, and that, Gabriel had decided, was the root cause of the issue.

Jay stepped up toe-to-toe with Gabriel, as he did with all his victims. Not too bright and, apparently, lacking proper memory skills, because he always moved right in front of Gabriel and then looked
up
at him before remembering who was the
biggest
kid in fifth grade and quickly stepping back before anyone else noticed the height difference.

“So, Gabe, you didn’t tell the class what you’re getting your mommy for Christmas.”

Gabriel said nothing, just eyed the trio of Jay’s hangers-on, bouncing on the sidelines, waiting for the first blow, rather bored by the verbal preamble.

“I’ve got something you can give her.” Jay pulled a crack pipe from his pocket. The others laughed obligingly. It was a poor joke. Anyone who knew his mother would realize a needle was the proper tool and, therefore, would have been much funnier.

“You don’t like that?” Jay pulled a ten from his pocket and waggled it. “What do you think I could get from her for this?” He made an obscene gesture. Two of his friends giggled. The third said, “Nah, you don’t need that. Everyone knows Gabe’s mother isn’t a whore. She does it for free.”

More laughter now. Gabriel waited it out. Again, neither allegation was entirely accurate. His mother did not take cash from her “boyfriends.” That would be asking for a prostitution charge. She did, however, accept and expect “gifts”—either drugs or something she could hock for drugs. Yet there seemed no point in clarifying. So he waited.

“You listening to me, Gabe?” Jay said as the laughter died down.

“Only to see if you’re going to say something interesting.”

Jay hit him. His first blow went for the stomach, as always. Gabriel deflected it and landed one of his own on Jay’s jaw, which was the signal, as always, for the others to join in. Gabriel avoided the worst of the blows but made only a half-hearted attempt to return them. After a few minutes, they tired of the game and strolled off, high-fiving each other on their victory.

Gabriel lay on the cold pavement and stared up at the old bank. No sign of the gargoyle. Something landed on his bruised face. He sat up, put out his hand and caught a fat flake of first snow. He watched it melt on his palm. By then, the other boys were long gone. He rose and pulled Jay’s ten from his jacket, along with two fives and three singles he’d picked from the pockets of the others.

A faint smile, one last look toward the perch of the now-vanished gargoyle, and Gabriel headed home.

With the extra twenty-three dollars in his pocket, Gabriel allowed himself to detour out of his neighborhood and into one his mother called, “Where the rich folks live.” Which was laughable, really, and a perfect example of his mother’s low aspirations. It was a middle-class enclave, barely teetering above the line from working-class. Gabriel set his goals higher. At least two zip codes higher. Preferably downtown, close to the Loop. Suburban living would never be for him. A downtown address, then, was his goal. Not a dream or a wish. Those were for the weak. Gabriel had goals.

One goal he intended to achieve very soon lay in that neighborhood, nestled in the glass display case of an antique shop. Before opening the shop door, he checked his reflection in a nearby window. He wiped dirt from the fight off his face. Removed his winter jacket and folded it under one arm, hiding the frayed hems. He ran a hand through his hair, smoothing his cowlick. Another quick check in the glass assured him he didn’t look like a street urchin out of a Dickens novel, which was the most he could usually hope for.

The bell over the door rang as he walked in. The elderly shopkeeper poked his head out from the back.

“Andrew,” he said, which was the name Gabriel had given him. “Looking for work?”

Gabriel nodded.

“I don’t have anything today, but I’ll need a pair of strong hands tomorrow to help me move a few pieces from the basement. Think you can do that?”

The old man smiled. Gabriel often felt a twinge of remorse at that—genuinely kind grown-ups who tried unsuccessfully to coax a smile from him. He dipped his head in a nod, murmuring his thanks and hoping civility would be enough. The shopkeeper smiled again and said he’d see Gabriel the next day.

Before leaving, Gabriel detoured past the glass box. Inside was a Victorian tarot card deck. His Christmas gift for Rose. Or, it would be, once he’d saved up enough to dicker over the hundred-dollar price tag.

He didn’t
need
to pay for it, of course. Despite the fancy glass box, the deck could easily be stolen. Incredibly easily, given that the shopkeeper had already retreated into the back and would never suspect a ten-year-old boy of stealing old cards. But the man had given him work, and that meant he was off-limits as a mark. There were rules, Rose would say. First, don’t cheat family. But a close second: don’t cheat anyone who’s helped you.

Gabriel took one last look at the cards, mentally ran through the calculations of his funds, what he could earn, and the amount of time remaining before Christmas. As long as the deck remained there for another week, the goal was achievable. With a nod of satisfaction, he left the shop.

Television bored Gabriel. He saw little appeal in the dull, overacted dramas and even less in the screeching laugh-track-plagued sitcoms. His mother felt differently, which meant he could hardly escape the medium, not when she’d turn it up so loud it reverberated through their tiny apartment. In those shows, children would come home after school, bang open the door and yell, “Mom, I’m home!”

Gabriel did not do that. First, he didn’t remember ever calling Seanna “Mom.” In his head, she was Seanna. In front of others, she was “my mother.” To her face, she was nothing at all. It was remarkable how one could simply avoid calling someone by name, if one tried hard enough.

When Gabriel came home, he unlocked the door and eased it open an inch. Then he listened. If he heard a man’s voice, he would withdraw and go to the library. Same if he heard Seanna thumping around or grumbling or slamming drawers. That meant she was jonesing for a fix, and he should steer clear. If she was already high, whether he went in depended on his mood. It was only when Seanna was high that the fact of Gabriel’s existence didn’t annoy her. She could be downright maternal, wanting him to talk to her, asking how his day had been, offering him a Coke or a candy bar from her stash. Some days, Gabriel could tolerate that, if only for the free food. Other times, he saw her smile and heard her wheedling voice, and he wanted to shout and snarl at her. To get angry. Perhaps even to lose his temper. But that would mean she’d won, that she’d made him feel something, that she’d made him care. On those days, he’d rather face the cold and pay for his own snacks.

Today, though, was one of the best days. A day when he opened the door and heard nothing. When he walked to her bedroom, he found no one inside. She was gone. That’s when he smiled. A genuine smile as he slung his backpack off his shoulder, grabbed his books and tossed them onto the table with none of his usual quiet care. Then he went into his bedroom, eased the loose floorboard free and took out a warm can of Coke. He turned to go . . . and noticed the corner of his threadbare throw rug flipped back.

With a sigh, Gabriel checked under the rug. This morning, there had been seven dollars and fifty-three cents in an envelope there. Now there was an envelope. And a penny that Seanna had dropped. Gabriel took two singles from his pocket and put them into the envelope before fixing the carpet. Then he hid the rest of the money—minus a five for dinner—in his proper hiding place, a tiny tear in his mattress. He had seventy-six dollars in there now. Another ten and he’d have enough for the tarot cards if he bargained properly. But he couldn’t eat the cards. He’d need twenty more in backup for food before he made his purchase.

As he left his room, he felt a pang of . . . something. Not anger. That was too strong an emotion. Too uncomfortable. What he felt was mostly a weary sense of annoyance. He kept that small stash under the carpet for Seanna to steal because as long as she found money there she’d never think to look elsewhere. After years of addiction she wasn’t that smart. The drugs addled not only her mind but also any sense of self-respect, and that’s what brought the annoyance close to contempt. She stole from family. There was nothing worse than that.

Yet, as he left his room, his step lightened, and he popped open the Coke can, guzzling half. The missing money meant his mother would be gone for a few days. At school, the teacher had asked what they wanted for Christmas. Gabriel hadn’t answered, but if he did, it would be this. An empty apartment. The only thing better was . . .

He glanced at the calendar in his binder. He’d circled this weekend in red. No notation was needed. Red meant Cainsville. At least two days Seanna-free, and then Rose would pick him up for the weekend. Then he’d be back to Cainsville for Winter Solstice. He smiled. Happy holidays, indeed.

Gabriel perched on a stool in Rose’s kitchen. It was his stool, an antique his great-aunt had picked up the first time he visited, when he was three and couldn’t reach the counter on a normal chair. Now, at five-and-a-half feet tall, the stool was admittedly a bit ridiculous. He had to hunch to read the yellowed recipe cards spread across the counter. But the stool was his, and, no matter how many times his mother moved, leaving everything behind as they fled in the night, it remained exactly where he’d left it, in Rose’s kitchen.

Rose herself was in the parlor with a client. Gabriel could hear her telling an old woman that she saw strife and dissent in her future, and it wouldn’t improve until she kicked her freeloading grandson out of the house. Gabriel suspected the cards said no such thing. His aunt might have the Sight, but, when it came to telling fortunes, the only real gift needed was a working pair of ears. Listen to the mark and tell them what they needed to hear. Rose would not approve of his choice of wording there. Clients were not marks. Not all of them, anyway.

Gabriel flipped through the recipe cards. A pointless exercise. He knew which he’d want. Rose knew which he’d want. But it was tradition, and, at this time of year, one did not break with tradition. Not in Cainsville.

Gabriel slid off the stool and poured himself a glass of milk and grabbed an apple from the bowl. Good food, better than he was usually able to afford, though he made the effort. Staying healthy was as important as staying clean if one wanted to avoid the attention of those who might think Seanna should be relieved of her parental duties. That included Rose.

Once in second grade, he’d shown up at school with a bruise on his jaw and fingermarks on his arm, courtesy of a drunken “boyfriend.” The teacher had taken him into a private conference room and asked about the bruises. He’d said nothing of course. But then she’d explained that if his mother was abusing him, he could go live somewhere else, perhaps with a relative.

Live with Rose?

The possibility shone like a star that had always dangled far out of reach, now dropping so close he could almost touch it. A few years ago, Rose had tried to keep him, failing to return him to Seanna after the weekend. Seanna came for him, and she’d been furious and Gabriel hadn’t gone back for a year. After that, Rose didn’t try again. But if she could have him, legally . . .

She couldn’t. Gabriel discovered that as soon as his mother learned of his chat with the teacher. Her brain might be muddled by dope, but she had a certain cunning intuitiveness, that part of her that was still a Walsh. She knew what Gabriel had in mind, took him aside and explained exactly why Rose would never get custody of him.

“She has a criminal record,” Seanna said.

“So do you.”

“Doesn’t matter. I’m your mom. She’s never been married, and she doesn’t have kids, which is a huge strike against her, but the criminal record is worse. Plus, she’s a dyke.”

“She does date men,” he’d said. “I’ve seen them.”

“And what about the women? You think they’re just really good friends?”

“No, she dates them, too. I just meant that I’m not sure ‘dyke’ is the correct term. I think it’s ‘bisexual.’”

She’d cuffed him for that, her eyes narrowing. “Don’t be smart, Gabriel.”

BOOK: Gifted: A Holiday Anthology
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