She Dies at the End (November Snow #1) (2 page)

BOOK: She Dies at the End (November Snow #1)
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“Thanks.”  Her mother just stared at the coffee cup.

“Mike read me the riot act, Mom. I’m surprised he didn’t call the cops.  We weren’t even closed yet.  There were still families here.  Kids, for God’s sake!  This is the longest we’ve lasted anywhere, and Mike is going to put us out if you keep on with this,” November said in an even voice.  She couldn’t even work up any anger. 

“I’ll do better,” Julie said.  “I will.” 

“Go to work,” November ordered as she let the screen door slam behind her.  At this point, she knew better than to get her hopes up.

***

November laid out the tools of her trade on the table in the center of her tent: a five-minute hourglass, a sketchpad, some sharp pencils, a bowl of sand, and a lamp.  She worked barefoot.  Contact with the dirt floor helped to ground her, just as the bowl of sand somehow cleansed her palate between clients, washing away the last vision and making way for the next.   Her costume was a white, Grecian gown she’d found for three dollars at a secondhand store.  In the dim light, her fair skin and wavy, inky hair made her ghostly and beautiful rather than sickly and pale as she appeared by daylight.  Her cash box sat at her feet, to be turned in to Mike for the count as soon as the gates were closed.  A lamp and a fan were plugged into a generator outside; early fall in the San Joachin Valley was brutally hot.  She opened the flap of her tent, put out her sign, and sat down to wait. 

She hoped it would be quiet tonight.  The first few days in Tracy had been ridiculously busy.  She’d had lines halfway down the midway due to her reputation from the year before. This was their second-to-last night, and usually this was when the crowds started dying down.  She was exhausted, though she was glad to have a little more money to put by for the winter, assuming she could keep it away from her mother.  In theory, her dad’s death benefits from the force should easily get them through a few months in a trailer park in Nevada, but money went through Julia’s hands like water.  During the day, November's business was light, and she was grateful for some cool weather for once as she did math problems and sketched.  Work began to pick up at sundown, after Neil had delivered her a dubiously nutritious lunch of a hot dog and some cotton candy. 

Things quieted down for a spell, so she broke out her new textbook:
Modern Physics from A to Z
.  She was just finishing the first chapter when she heard her next visitor.

“I hope we’re not interrupting you,” came an amused voice at the entry.

Oops.
  She could usually hear her clients’ footsteps or see their shadows on the canvas in time to hide her books, but these people had been completely silent.  “Not at all,” she said quickly, then stopped short as she looked up to see her visitors. 
They're here
, she told herself, disbelieving.

Her heart came into her mouth as the blood left her face.  Her whole body shook once in sympathy as her world reordered itself.  Finally, the Oracle remembered to breathe again.

She began to put her book away, carefully marking the page, pressing the bookmark into place, struggling to find calm and control in the ritual.  She made herself look back up at them, willing her face not to show her fear.  She forced a smile and welcomed death through her door.

Chapter 2

The businessman wipes his hands on a linen handkerchief after he lays the body in her grave.  His hair is slightly silvered, his severe features strangely young and slashed with a thin scar.  “The shovel, William,” he commands the redhead.  The son, who appears to be the older man, tosses the tool to his father, who catches it deftly without even sparing it a glance.  The businessman looks down at the girl lying in the dirt.  “Don’t be frightened, little one.  I’ll be here when you wake up,” he whispers as he begins shoveling dirt atop November’s remains.  “Wait,” cries the tall girl with the blue hair.  She snatches a flower from a nearby bush.  She tosses it into the grave and resumes her weeping.

November wasn’t sure when she’d begun having the vision.  It seemed to have always been with her, a frequent presence in her dreams, and the sole vision she had ever had of her own future.  When she was very small, she could pretend that the bloody little corpse was a stranger, but as she grew older, resembling the deceased more and more, she was forced to admit to herself that she was watching her own burial.  She knew that she would die, violently, and much too young.  The vision tasted like fate, not possibility.  That certainty, that inevitability, was part of what drove her into the hospital after her grandmother’s death, along with guilt over her father’s death and the mental exhaustion of a power she could not control, a power that seemed to grow stronger by the day even as her mind tried and failed to keep up. 

Grandma Reggie had been the only one who acknowledged the reality of November’s gift.  She'd tried to teach her granddaughter that her second sight did not make every tragedy her fault.  She'd tried to devise ways for November to cope with the visions.  It had been her idea for November to begin drawing what she saw as a way of getting it out of her system.  Regina had gotten her art lessons as soon as the child could hold a pencil properly.  Too, soon, however, she had died and left November to the abuse and neglect of her floundering mother and the ineffectual-at-best treatments of a series of increasingly depressing hospitals and doctor's offices.

At first, without her grandmother’s help, the effort needed to cling to sanity just didn’t seem possible or even worthwhile.  Why struggle if she was going to die before she could even begin an adult life?  Eventually, November had come to an acceptance of her fate.  She began to find her happiness in little things, as grim as her life in the hospital sometimes was.  Once she got a little older, got a handle on her fear of mortality, she began to gain some control over her power.  None of her varied visions frightened her any longer; she no longer scratched at her eyes in her sleep.  She found ways of coping with her sightings, blocking them with some success, and seeking them if she wanted to find them.  Her periods of lucidity became longer, and her attempts at suicide ceased.   Finally, she was able to convince a new doctor at the hospital that she was cured enough to be released.  She had found a path through her madness.  She’d long hoped her mother would be able to do the same with her addiction, but in this, November was forever disappointed.

Now, here stood three people in her tent, two of whom she knew for a fact would help put her in the ground before she was old enough to rent a car.  The redhead was a little on the short side, with the solid build of someone accustomed to physical work, but his clothes were those of a wealthy man, his aura one of leader of men.  He was handsome and imposing, with his dark red hair and the fairest skin November had ever seen.  A sprinkling of freckles and a crinkle of laugh lines softened his serious face.  The blue-haired girl seemed even more graceful in person than she had in the vision, and she was even lovelier looking happy than she was in grief.  Her hair and her eyes were the same improbable shade of electric blue, her ethnicity difficult to guess.  The boy was new to her.  He looked like he’d just stepped out of a frat house on the way to a beer run – cute but not very impressive.  He was blond and cocky and very "California beach bum," though lacking the requisite tan. 

November closed her eyes briefly, trying to regain her balance.  They would not kill her tonight; she could be pretty certain of that.  The clothes were wrong; there was an extra man, and two of her gravediggers were missing.  She clung to that assertion.  This focus helped her to slow her runaway heart, and she opened her eyes again.  Her fear was gone.  After all, she did not fear death anymore.  Pain, she feared, but not death.  And in the vision, they seemed to be her friends.  They were sad that she died, so she didn’t think they would try to hurt her.  She was actually more excited than scared, she realized.  She had spent her whole life wondering how she was going to come to such a strange end.  Now she seemed on the verge of finding out. 
Showtime.

“Please, do sit down.” Perhaps a display of power was in order, to get rid of the feeling that they’d caught her flat-footed.   She looked at the redheaded leader.  “Your name is William, yes?”  Now it was their turn to be surprised.  They glanced at one another as they sat down in November’s sanctum.

“Yes,” he allowed. “It’s William Knox.  Microphones planted around the carnival, is it?  Or scouts to relay what people are saying?”  His lips were pursed with amusement.  He had the air of an adult humoring a lying preschooler. 

“If only,” November replied with a tired smile.  “I’ve been waiting for you for quite some time – well, two of you, at least.  I just didn’t know we would meet tonight.”

William raised an eyebrow.  “Is that right?  And what do they call you when you’re not playing Oracle, little girl?”

“November,” she answered, surprising herself.  “Em, to friends.”  She never shared her real name with clients, but she guessed there was no reason to dissemble with these ones.  They would get to know each other soon enough, after all. 

“That is a different one,” commented the girl with a friendly smile.

“Mom accidentally put the date on the name section of the birth certificate form, and she and Dad decided that they liked it.  And what shall I call the rest of you?” November replied.

“You can’t tell with your magic powers?” sneered the blond youth.

“I probably could, but it isn’t very polite.”  November didn’t mind skeptics, but he didn’t have to be so obnoxious about it.

William gestured toward his companions.  “Zinnia and Ben.”  Zinnia gave a wave and a smile.  Ben just rolled his eyes.

“How does this work?” Zinnia asked, tucking an errant lock of her short blue hair behind her delicate ear.

“Five minutes for five dollars.”  She held out a gloved hand into which Knox placed a crisp ten dollar bill.  November dispensed with her usual theatrics, assuming correctly that they wouldn’t play with this crowd.  “I will begin with the past, to establish my credibility.  I then will probe the future, which is so much more uncertain.  Much of the future is fluid and can be changed by decisions that lead you down different paths,” November explained.

“Trying to prepare us for this turning out to be a crock?” chimed in the younger man.  November raised an irritated eyebrow.

“May I continue?” she asked with a touch of hauteur. William silenced Ben with a look.  November began again.  “In each person’s life, however, there are usually one or more events that are unavoidable.  All paths lead to those points, however circuitously.  Some things are just inevitable.  Some people call these moments fate.”

“So how do you tell what is fated from what can be changed?” asked Zinnia.  Her voice lacked Ben’s condescension.  November realized that this member of the party, at least, was actually interested in her work. 

“I can’t know for certain, always.  But so far the visions that come unsought and that come again and again, unchanging: those ones seem to come true no matter what people do.”

“Why the notebook?  And the sand?” Zinnia probed.

“Sometimes I draw what I see, faces mostly.  I’m not always able to catch names when I’m under.  Plus, clients get a kick out of it, and sometimes they tip,” she said with a crooked grin.  The sand was harder for November to explain clearly.  She’d never tried to put it into words before.  “The sand helps me transition from one person to the next.  It kind of, like . . . washes away the old vision, so I don’t get too distracted and muddled.  That and digging my toes in the dirt seem to blot out some extraneous noise and fragments.”

“Did someone teach you that?”  The girl seemed genuinely curious.

“I discovered it by accident when I was little, playing in the sandbox.  My grandmother had to drag me away kicking and screaming.  It was the only place I had any peace.”  It was kind of nice, actually, sharing some of her own story with these strangers, though it made her exposed.  People came to the Oracle to ask questions about themselves, not about her, and she hadn’t been able to discuss her gift honestly with anyone since her grandmother had died.  She was accustomed to people looking at her without ever seeing her.

“Can we get on with this ridiculous waste of time?” asked Ben with an impatient sigh.

William offered his hand, and November removed her gloves and turned the hourglass over.  “Let’s begin at the beginning,” she said.  She braced herself and touched his hand. 

The first thing she noticed was that he was cold as death; the next was that this was unlike any reading she’d ever done.  She expected it to be painful.  Her readings were usually a disorienting agony, but she was pleasantly surprised. It was like looking over a cliff and down into a pool of water so deep that she couldn't see the bottom.  Normally, she was sucked right out of time, pulled under like some kind of thrashing drowning victim in a horror movie.  But with this man, she had to consciously choose to jump.  She fell and fell until she hit the water, then she swam for what seemed like forever, past memory upon memory, year after year after year.  She could see William’s life shimmering around her; she could reach out and touch events as she chose, tasting a moment here or there, but they did not reach out to grab her like the pasts of other people.

A creaky ship with black sails, a battlefield littered with men and horses rotting in the sun, a woman great with child, laughing in a garden.  Her businessman, dressed in an ancient style, cradles William’s mangled body, aided by a beauty with golden hair.  William bites a man with a hook for a hand and drinks until the light goes out of his prey’s eyes. 

Alternately horrified and fascinated, she wanted to stop and explore everything, and at the same time she longed to flee back to her tent and forget every bit of it. It took all her discipline to keep going, back and back, further into the depths.  At last she found it: the beginning. 

A mother rocks her child, singing a song in an ancient tongue, singing in the sunlight to quiet the fussing baby with his bright red mop of curly hair.

November began to sing along, singing words both foreign and somehow familiar, since every lullaby is the same, really.  They all say, “I love you, baby.  Sleep well, baby.  Sleep safe, baby.”  November felt wrapped in the warmth and the safety of the scene.

Suddenly, she was back in her chair in her little tent, shaking with exertion.  William had snatched his hand away as if burned and looked at her with a new respect.  “What are you?  How could you possibly know that song?” he asked quietly.

She shrugged her shoulders.  “I don’t know why I can do this.”  She paused, trying to assimilate what she’d seen, having difficulty believing what she’d experienced.  “You are . . . really old,” she said, forgetting her manners in the face of her shock.  William nodded in confirmation.   She glanced at the hourglass just as the last grain fell.  She absentmindedly turned it over again as she began to quickly sketch the faces she’d seen.  “That was . . . unusual.”

“You are quite impressive, I must say,” he admitted, staring at her hand as faces began to appear on the paper.

“Do you impress easily?” November asked with a little smile as she sketched, fishing for complements.

“No,” came his curt reply.  “Besides my age, how was this unusual?” he asked after a moment’s pause.

“Less painful than most other readings.  More information, but easier to control.  More vivid but less . . . suffocating.”  She held up the paper.  “Your mother?” 

William nodded, shocked anew.  “My human one.  I’d almost forgotten what she looked like.  I haven’t seen her face in nine hundred years.”

November finally screwed up the nerve to look into his face.  “Are you really a, um, vampire?” she whispered.  William nodded.  November took a deep breath.  “All of you?”  William shook his head.

“I’m a fairy,” said Zinnia with a playful smile.

November closed her eyes.  “Seriously?  Fairies are real, too,” she said, taking a deep breath.  “I, mean, I’ve seen such things in dreams, but I didn’t put much stock in them.  People thought I was crazy enough as it was.  I told myself that those visions were metaphorical or something.”  She sighed.  “I suppose there’s also a werewolf waiting in the car?” she added jokingly.

“Of course not.  Werewolves are our enemies from time immemorial.  We are allied against them,” replied William severely.

“Right . . .”  She shook her head in disbelief.  “Well, this is all a bit overwhelming.”  November pressed her fingers to her temples.  “Shall I try to see your future, then?”

“Oh, I think that’s rather enough for today,” William said quietly.  “And as for being overwhelmed, you’ll feel much better after I make you forget that this ever happened.  That will give us some time to figure out what to do with you without your running away or telling anyone about our existence.  Zinnia,” he said, turning his head, “would you do the honors?”

BOOK: She Dies at the End (November Snow #1)
4.16Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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