Four Days Ago…
MAGGIE ran hard and fast. All of the faeries’ vehicles remained at the farmhouse; those cars were too easy to track. So, Maggie relied on only her feet to carry her off into the unknown.
She traveled by the highway, staying out of sight but keeping the sound of traffic within hearing distance. The sun was beginning to set when she came to a gas station. The parking lot was mostly empty except for a semi parked by the gas pumps and a Ford pickup encrusted with rust and dirt. Her legs burned and one of her ankles was starting to swell. Her shirt stuck to her back and shoulders, drenched in sweat. Her injured shoulder, the one the shadowy apparition scratched, afflicted her with a different kind of burning than her overused muscles. It was inflamed and itchy. Maybe she should have swallowed her pride and allowed Rush to heal her.
It was too late now. Rush and the other changelings were long gone.
It was strange to hear the chirping of crickets and cicadas and the drone of June bugs beyond the confines of the farmhouse. A nervous pit ate at the lining of her stomach. For almost a century, the Fairchild house and the nearby town had been Maggie’s entire world. She lived in a time-resistant bubble; new technologies crept in gradually, new things that must have come from somewhere, but nothing really existed outside of town.
The feeling of being truly alone was both novel and terrifying. She had felt alone in the past, but only now that she had lost everyone did Maggie realize what true isolation felt like. She had always had someone there for her, be it Tilda or Darrius. Now she was on her own, no safety net to catch her.
She stood on the sidewalk looking into the gas station through the glass door. The lights inside were too bright. The attendant behind the cash register was a young man. His face was partially hidden by curly, sand colored hair. She could just make out a shaving nick on his chin. He wore a wrinkled, blue t-shirt with a nametag that was unreadable from a distance; the nametag only covered a portion of a dark stain on his shirt, possibly from pizza sauce. The bright lights were just another unflattering layer to the scene. Maggie didn’t see the driver of the semi, but he might have been washing up in the restroom.
Wearily, she pushed the door open. A bell tinkled, and the cashier’s head popped up. His dull gaze followed her suspiciously as she wove in between aisles. Her feet hurt, her hand ached, and her head throbbed. Maggie only wanted to rest for a minute or two. She slipped into the women’s restroom and locked the door. Too tired to care about the state of the filthy room, Maggie sank to the floor and stretched her legs.
Her eyes were so heavy. She could barely keep them open…
The next thing she knew, someone was banging on the door. “Miss, is everything all right? You’ve been in there for a while.”
Maggie groaned and sat up. Her whole body protested the movement. Her hips and knees popped and creaked.
“Miss, this restroom is for customers only!”
Her head pounded in rhythm with the cashier’s fist pounding on the door. Couldn’t he give her five more minutes? With no small amount of effort, Maggie was able to get on her feet. She stood in front of the mirror next to the toilet.
The grimy glass displayed her disheveled appearance making her look even dirtier. Her hair was tangled and matted with sweat and dry blood from the injury on her shoulder. The memory caused her to cringe. She could still feel the shadow’s claws slashing her skin. Even though the wound had stopped bleeding, although it continued to ooze, it remained open and chaffed against the material of her shirt.
Maggie appraised her reflection. Her eyes were tired, blank slates. Not her eyes at all.
Her gaze slid down to her right hand. It was like flexing a newly discovered muscle, one she hadn’t previously known she could control at will. Slowly, the bones and tendons popped into their rightful places. Reaching into her backpack, Maggie withdrew the tire iron, something she stole from Chelle and Max’s duffle bag of iron knickknacks.
“Miss, we have a no-loitering policy…” The boy trailed off as Maggie yanked the restroom door open. His eyes widened briefly and then she swung her right arm. The tire iron glanced off his skull. Instantly, the skin broke, and blood poured from his forehead. The boy crumpled in a heap on the floor.
Maggie didn’t strike him as hard as she could have, but by the way he dropped so fast, she conceded that the blow might have been a bit too hard. She shrugged it off. What was done was done.
She glanced up at the security cameras. There was probably no need to worry about them, so long as Madam Fairchild’s spell hadn’t worn off yet. The spell ensured that the House Pets disappeared from school records and from the minds of their classmates and teachers once they were absent from the school for a certain period of time. It was a rather complicated spell, the likes of which would probably linger for a few weeks after the matriarch’s death. She also imagined that the same concept applied to security cameras and one nondescript gas station cashier. No one would remember she had been here.
Maggie crouched by the young man’s side and searched his pockets. His wallet she returned to him, but his car keys she kept. She stood and dangled the keys above his unconscious form. “Thank you for your generosity.”
Walking out of the gas station, she tucked the tire iron into her backpack and unlocked the rusty Ford. Her hand didn’t twist back to its deformed state until she was behind the wheel and speeding down the highway.