Dawn in San Francisco

The broken music box

Wendy stood outside Kevin’s basement. She held her music box gently in her hands, lifting the lid to reveal the mechanism. In the end, the springs had given out and the mechanics inside had snapped. At least it had survived long enough for them to help deal with the carousel. Another one to add to the pile of failures, the price of being a nocker.

She wasn’t sure why she was here. Maybe she had hoped Kevin would help her understand what she was doing wrong? He was good with mechanical bits and pieces. She didn’t know why she was so bothered about the music box, that wasn’t even the end goal of this project. She’d been to the luthier at the shop where she got her parts and he’d told her that the box was bust, but he hadn’t been fey. Maybe Kevin had some insight.

Wendy raised a hand to knock on the door, and hesitated. She hadn’t even checked to see if he was home. She had just assumed he would be here, but maybe he had gone out to the car mechanic’s?
She didn’t know why this was so hard all of a sudden.

Well, you do, you just don’t want to admit it.

Cleansing the carousel had been easier than she thought it would be. Marco had done most of the horses, and she had done the main body. She had felt a bit panicked that maybe her actions would make the task invalid, that Marco had to be the one who did the bulk of the carousel. But the queen had been OK with it, so that had been a relief.

She realised her hands were shaking a bit. Why was she shaking still?

She motioned to Marco. Go, get on the carousel. Do what we came here to do. There was a man, a banal man acting really weird – that mayoral candidate she’d seen on the news at her brother’s place. What was he doing out on the pier at this time of night? Kevin had spotted him, and he had engaged him for some reason. She didn’t know he had a gun, when she stepped between Marco and him. She saw him reaching into his jacket as she stepped in front of him. It didn’t seem real as he pulled out the firearm and shot at her. He missed, not expecting her to move and shooting wide. She hadn’t known he had a gun.

Wendy crouched down, leaning against the wall and curling her arms around the music box against her chest. She could feel tears beginning to leak out of the corners of her eyes. A man had shot at her, with intent to kill. That could have been it. She hadn’t said goodbye to her parents. She hadn’t finished her project. She hadn’t spoken to Kevin about all the things that needed to be said. They had been close the other day, when she’d given him the scrying token. She’d seen it in his eyes, but they had both bottled. That could have been it.

And Kevin hadn’t followed her onto the carousel. It had taken her a while to realise – she’d been focussed on trying to make the rainbow globe and stay out of sight of the gunman mayor guy, trying not to think about the man who had just shot at her. She had just assumed that when she had told him to follow her and Marco that he would, he’d get out of the way and not put himself in danger. But he hadn’t. He done… something, she didn’t know what he’d done, but somehow he’d disarmed the mayor – she didn’t think the banana-gun was Marco, or the tangled shoelaces. The streetlight-wedgie was definitely Marco.

Kevin was smart, he found ways to solve dangerous problems – like when he’d gotten the tablet back. But solving them required proximity to the danger, the possibility that he could be hurt or… killed. The tears dribbled out faster. She didn’t understand why he hadn’t followed her. Sure it had worked out OK but… The man had shown no scruples about shooting at her and Marco. He could have killed Kevin.

Wendy spent five minutes silently crying outside Kevin’s room.

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A Purpose.

The first task was over. It had gone… differently to what Marco had expected. At first it had seemed just like the kind of thing the Queen would do, put them in a strange place with weird creatures and a bear that would no doubt attack them, but once they’d figured out what was really going on. The pain that Tommy was feeling and how he was dealing with his guilt poorly, it just wasn’t expected. What was even more unexpected was that he got a great deal of satisfaction out of helping Tommy. Sure he’d been happy that they’d succeeded every time the Queens had given them a task. They’d had to stop people being hurt. But this wasn’t the same. Helping Tommy had felt different. Helping someone to be good was a different feeling to stopping someone from being bad.

Marco couldn’t help but think back to his youth. How he used to isolate himself because he didn’t want people to find out he was different. His best friends had been the animals on the farm. They didn’t care if he saw dancing lights that no one else could. He hadn’t been as upset or angry like Tommy had, but he knew what it was like to feel different, how it felt to be scared that someone would find out that you could see things. That fear often turned to loneliness and anger. If only someone had been there to tell him that his parents weren’t keeping secrets from him, that they didn’t know what was going on. That he wasn’t been punished. Maybe that was something to ask the Queen. If there are people that try help with children who are going through their Chrysalis. Maybe he could join them, or if there aren’t anyone who does this maybe they could set something up? Meetings with children or a summer school or something.

It was nice to have a distraction. Since that day he’d just been wallowing in pain. But now Marco had something to do. He needed to complete the tests within the next two days. He had a purpose again. And then. Well then he would inquire about helping young changelings. There was no way he’d ever be able to make up for what had happened. The Queens couldn’t bring him back so there was obviously no way to do that, but maybe helping other people would in turn help Marco. It already felt like Tommy had done more to help Marco than the other way around. Maybe all wasn’t lost after all.

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Between the tasks

When they arrived back in Marco’s flat, Kevin sat down on the couch, feeling the inevitable crash that must follow allnighers drawing near. He thought about the day’s adventures and how they barely averted the Tyranny of Dread King Tommy. Heh. The weirdness of it all amused Kevin. People always said children were innocent, but give them great power and a bad enough day and they’ll turn wicked as sure as any other person.
But now Tommy wouldn’t. They had seen to that.

Wendy had also sat on the couch, but not as close to Kevin as she used to. Things had been strange between them ever since… ever since they killed Aron Smith.

They were all affected by it, it hung over each of them like a menacing shadow, but nobody seemed to want to talk about it. It was killing Kevin. (no pun intended).

All Tommy had needed was to talk about it with the other involved people, have a healthy dialogue to allow him to process what had transpired ..Why the HELL had he not seen that unsubtle hint until now? Why hadn’t Wendy or Marco? Shit. Someone needs to say something, why was it so hard to say something?

Today was the first time he had seen Wendy since the incident. He had made attempts to go see her, but she had gone and lived with her brother, and only hung out with Hazel and Marco.
So instead Kevin had turned to the strange machine he had taken from the hospital. It was insanely complex in way she could not even begin to grasp yet, but he was making some progress with it.
But it had been a lonely month, and he was happy to hang out with Wendy and Marco again – even during awkward moments like this one.

Out of nowhere, Wendy turned to Kevin with her hand held out.
“Here,” she said. “For you.”
It was a necklace, made out of some sort of cog. It was simple, but in Kevin’s eyes it was amazing.
It was slightly dented, somewhat bent. Had he found it in his workshop, he would have thrown it out as useless. But Wendy, as always, had seen it differently. To her it had still served a purpose, in spite of being broken… or perhaps even because of it.

Kevin realised he had zoned out, and had been staring at the necklace and/or Wendy for a good few seconds.
“That’s really cool, thanks” he said, smiled, and put the necklace around his neck.

They maintained eye contact for a moment longer, and Kevin felt that this was the moment, the right time to finally say all the things he needed to tell her.
Then there was a noise, from the kitchen or from outside – and just like that, the metaphorical spell was broken, and Wendy and Kevin awkwardly turned away to pretend to focus on something else.
So close.

He tried to read for a while, but his mind wasn’t up for it. With no one saying anything else, Kevin’s eyes swiftly got heavy. As he drifted off, his hand reached up and grabbed the cog. Its weight felt strange on his neck, but he didn’t mind. Feeling its weight on his chest made the world seem a little better, as if something – at least this one thing – was unbreakably right. It let Kevin forget the image of Aron Smith’s broken head for a moment as he fell asleep.

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Fairground level

The pier was super creepy at night. It reminded Wendy of a horror game she had watched Kevin play once, although she’d had to leave because it freaked her out. She had a super active imagination, especially when it came to giving herself nightmares. Abandoned buildings and fairgrounds were perfect fodder for weird experiences and horrible monsters.

Wendy had never liked carousels. Even as a child, the gaping mouths and bulging eyes of the horses had scared her, and she had refused to go on them. She knew that it was supposed to be magical and whimsical and full of joy, but… it just wasn’t. Same as clowns really – they were supposed to be something that children found delight in, but they had just made her panicky and upset.

She found herself drawn to the carousel even so. The machine was moving slowly, but not in a ‘creaking in the wind’ way. It was clearly still on, despite the late hour and the dilapidation. The peeling paint, cracking bulbs and slow creak of the turning mechanism sent shivers up her spine. And that music, that … tinkly, off kilter music that was such a horror movie cliché but still made the hairs stand up on the back of her neck. Ugh. The others could feel it too. She could see it in Kevin’s stance and his face. It was weirdly comforting to know she wasn’t the only one who was freaked out. For a moment, she wondered how that game had ended.

Wendy could see something else, something the others hadn’t noticed that made her even more unhappy. The horses on the carousel were moving. Not up and down like they were supposed to, but tossing their heads and stamping their hooves in the air. She didn’t like horses. And these ones looked angry, frothing at the mouth and baying for blood kind of angry. She hoped that the stories she had read about kelpies as a child weren’t true.

Oh god, this is how I die.

But this was obviously the test or at least part of it, and they had to go forward. She had promised to help Marco, and after she had watched him finally tidying up his house she had begun to hope he might be able to move past the.. incident. Even if it took time after this, it was a first step. Maybe they could even talk about it at some point.
She hoped that Willow knew what she was doing, that the queen was trying to help Marco instead of just poking to see if he would break. The last test had been weird in a freaky, trippy way. This was just scary. Clearly Willow wanted to see if she could make Marco crap his pants.

They walked forward together after a brief bicker. The closer they got, the easier it was to see the corruption and the banality. The horses were baring their teeth and rolling their eyes. She hoped against all hope that they wouldn’t have to ride them. Or even touch them. Or that the horses were somehow not attached and it was all a trap.
Wendy discovered that in her moment of fear, she had grabbed Kevin’s hand.

I should probably let go.

She didn’t.

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Before the tests began

Wendy stood in her attic, watching the evening light stream through the windows. She stared at her project, wiping a hand across her forehead and leaving a trail of sawdust across her brow. Things were finally coming together.

It had been almost month since the incident. She had spent most of it alternating between here, working on this new idea, and her brother’s flat in the city. She realised for the first time that she hadn’t seen Kevin in a while. He had been fiddling with that machine that they had stolen from the hospital. It made her uncomfortable, so she had simply stopped hanging out for a bit. Plus he’d been a bit weird about all the time she spent at Marco’s. She had thought he, if anyone, would understand why.

But then, none of them had really talked about it since then. She hadn’t wanted to bring it up with Marco. It was hard enough being around him and seeing the gloom he had sunk into. It was hard forcing him to come with her to art galleries and trade shows, or to just sit in the park and watch the animals that he seemed to attract play. And she wasn’t sure how to talk about it with Kevin. Oddly, the only person who she had been able to talk about it with was Hazel. For all her youthful naivety and sweet heart, Hazel was still a princess of the fey and she understood. Wendy suspected there was more than an element of trying to find out about Marco in their conversations, but she didn’t mind. She wanted to talk about it with someone.

It was getting late. She should get her things, Stephen would be here soon. She would sleep on the couch again and go over to Marco’s in the morning. Wendy stood up, carefully beginning to pack her tools away. She’d gotten tired of furniture after… never mind. Her new driving focus was hard. After the incident, Wendy had decided that she wanted to make something that could in turn make something beautiful. When she had been younger, her parents had made her learn to play the violin. She had hated it at the time, but as she had gotten older she had a new appreciation for it. Music could be beautiful. Her first attempts had been dismal, weedy little music boxes with snapping springs and warped instrument bodies. She was simply juggling too much, what with watching Marco, attending class and the first aid course at college. But it was starting to come together.

She leaned forward to sweep up the delicate shavings on the floor around her work and her cog necklace swung forward and hit her on the nose. She touched it lightly. The cog had come from Kevin’s workshop. It was bent on one side, no longer useful for machinery, so he had given it to her rather than throw it away. It had made a nice simple necklace and she wore it frequently. It had a … special quality, at least to her. She hadn’t seen Kevin in a while, not in person. That wasn’t right.

Gently, Wendy reached behind her head and took the necklace off, putting it in her pocket. Next time she saw Kevin, she’d give it to him. Just to be safe. He didn’t have to wear it, but she kind of hoped he would.

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Monster

Marco sat on the couch. The last few hours were a blur. The Queens had come and had tea? They took the weapons and said thank you? Weapons you used to kill. Wendy and Kevin had stayed though. They didn’t bother Marco though. It was like they weren’t really there anyway. Time seemed to move faster for them, as if Marco was in a bubble which slowed him down and blocked out almost all sound. The flat was now tidy and the kettle was on. Since the Queens left Marco had cleaned up in the other rooms, it had needed doing and there was nothing else to do. The kettle hissed and clicked to indicate that it had finished. No one moved. No one had even wanted a hot drink. The three of them sat in silence as it began to get dark. Wouldn’t their families be worried? Aron had a family. Marco moved to empty the kettle. Who had even put it on?

The night was uneventful. Marco soon found himself laid in bed. This was the point he’s usually go though they day’s events, but instead he just stared at the ceiling. Had Kevin and Wendy stayed or gone home? He couldn’t remember, probably gone home. Why would they stay in a flat with a killer? Sleep did not come. Nightmares did not come. What came was worse. Marco started to remember what had happened as if a voice that wasn’t previously heard had begun to grow louder.

You’re a murder. It had been an accident. Kevin had tricked the old man, you could have left. I didn’t know. He was injured, you had time to flee. I was trying to help people. You didn’t. You just destroyed. Innocent people were being hurt because of him. So you just get choose who is guilty, who dies? That’s not what I meant. His family were innocent. They’ll suffer now. It wasn’t my fault. I didn’t mean it. That doesn’t bring him back. I know. I’m sorry. Being sorry doesn’t help. I know. You’ve destroyed lives. I know. You’re a monster. I know.

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Murderers

Wendy was throwing up. Marco was staring at the ground. Aron Smith was bleeding heavily.
With roughly zero medical training, Kevin still did what he could – what he had to – to try and stabilise the man. He put his body in the right position, to help breathing (and slightly slow down the leaking from the hole in his head… it was a wonder the guy was still alive).
Then he took of his jacket and used it to try and stop the bleeding.
What did they say in those tv shows? Apply presure to the wound, it helps against the -Ohgod, something cracked! No, keep at it, must apply presure. The queens will be here any moment, they’ll take care of him, just have to keep him alive until then.


It wasn’t until one of them put a hand on his shoulder, and gently but firmly pulled him away from the body, that the truth of the situation dawned on Kevin.

He looked for Wendy. She was still hunched over, facing away. It now seemed like her initial reaction, rather than his, had been the correct one. He wanted to go over to her, but his body didn’t respond. It took all of his concentration to not look at the body. Should he call it by name? Was it still Aron Smith, or had the name left with the soul? Some people believed the person was in the brain, and even that was no longer in the body- What the HELL kind of thought is that??

He looked over towards Marco. How could he… No, that wasn’t fair. Nothing about this was fair, but they were all in it together. They had all done what they did to protect eachother. They had all done this.

We just killed somebody.

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Post-mortem

Wendy sat curled up on Marco’s sofa. After the queens had found them, they had sent them back to where they had begun. In this case, it was Marco’s flat.

She wanted to go home very badly. She wanted to curl up in a ball under her covers and just cry until it all went away and there was nothing left. She want to make something, anything, so that she could focus her attention and still her trembling hands. She wanted somebody to hug her and tell her that it would be ok, and that it hadn’t been real.

But right now she was afraid to leave Marco alone. After what he had done… she knew it had been an accident, had seen the horror and shock on his face as the troll had crumpled. Part of her wondered if maybe the queens had engineered it, deliberately given them an overpowered weapon in order to teach some sort of lesson or test the group. After all, they had to have known that the bad man wouldn’t be heavily guarded or have terrible weaponry at his disposal, right? They had to have known that the fight wouldn’t be too dangerous. You wouldn’t send kids to their deaths.

Marco had still killed a man. A terrible man, complicit in torture and murder and awful acts, a man who by moral laws should have died or at least faced terrible punishment. But a man with a family, a man who had been confused and a little contemptuous about fighting what he thought were children until his chest caved under the hammer blow. If she could turn back the clock, make things different… She wasn’t an adult. She couldn’t find a way to justify death.

This wasn’t the first time Wendy had seen somebody die. When she had been 9, her grandparents had been in a road accident. Her grandmother had been killed in the vehicle, but grandpa had survived to the hospital. The entire family had raced over, even Wendy, but he only survived another few hours. Sometimes her parents had forgotten that she wasn’t an adult, so they let her stand by the bed, let her see his injuries. It was strange seeing the life literally leave somebody. It was even stranger to see her mother break down, to see her parents crumple and be vulnerable. She hadn’t ever really forgotten it. She talked to Kevin about it, afterwards. But she didn’t think he had really understood. Not then.
This was the second death. Both times, the people had looked… confused, as if they couldn’t quite believe it was happening. But then, who expects to die violently? It had hit home for her how easy it all could be, how thoughtless the queens were with the lives of others. Was that who Hazel would one day be?

She didn’t want to leave Marco alone. He looked shell shocked, drifting aimlessly from room to room. He had spent several minutes by the sink, water running and kettle in hand, with a blank look on his face. She was afraid of leaving him, of what he might do – either by accident or on purpose. And she didn’t really want to be alone either, even though she did. Thank goodness Kevin had been so smart, had gotten them out of there without any of them getting hurt. If only it had happened a little faster.

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While more competent people look

Marco sat at the desk in the study. This room held little information for them but Kevin and Wendy were looking in the other rooms so he had some time to himself. He flicked through some of the documents on the desk. None of them had any new information in. Just stuff they already knew, letters about experiments and research notes. How could someone do these kinds of things? Surely there is good in all people but these notes seemed to be written by a man with no conscience. Even Aurora, in a crazy way, thought she was going the right thing. This man was testing on people for his own personal gain it seemed and his notes never wavered. There was never an indication that he was questioning his methods. Surely this man had known happiness? Surely he had known love? Maybe that was why he was doing it, maybe he’s angry because he lost something important to him and he’ll do anything to get it back. Maybe he wants to protect someone he loves from banality, or maybe he justifies his evil by thinking it’ll help more than it hurts. One thing was sure. The man who wrote these papers was evil, but the bad doesn’t wash out the good, and maybe they could use that good to persuade him to turn himself in. Surely what he has done weighs on him heavily.

Marco raised his head. What was that noise? It came from the top of the stairs, so it was Kevin? Yes, Kevin said he was going to look upstairs. Phew, just a false alarm. Marco really wished he’d hung out with Kevin before the feelings party with Wendy. That way he would have been able to give better advice. He could have told Kevin that he thought Wendy was definitely into him without betraying Wendy’s trust, and then he could have told Wendy that Kevin isn’t the kind of guy to jump into something head first. He could have told her that Kevin tries to be smarter about what he does and wouldn’t want to ruin their friendship and that if she liked him then maybe she’d have to meet him half way. Or maybe she’d have to go 9/10ths of the way and just let him go the other 10th. But Wendy and Kevin are meant to be, everyone knew that, and when people are meant to be together they don’t need Marcos to help them. They’ll find their own way.

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Conversation with the mirror

“So, Wendy, hi… I mean…”
Traditionally the ‘hi’ comes at the start of the conversation.
“Hey, Gwendy – I mean – shit!”
Can’t even get her name right – she’ll love that. Calm down, focus, try again.
“So, Wendy, I’ve been thinking, and the thing is… uhm, that I… that is to say, we… I mean-”
You’re staling. And you sound like an idiot. Start over.
“So we’ve known each other for quite some time now. Like, 13 years or so be be specific-”
She already knows that. This isn’t a presentation for school. Try again.
“Hey Wendy, what’s up? Listen, I need to talk to you about-”
Sounds too ominous. Damnit, why is this so hard?
“So, uh, I uhm… uuuh…”
Aaaaand now we’re not even saying words.
“You’re not helping, brain!”
Dude, I am you. So when you say I’m not helping, you mean you’re not helping. Arguing with your mental voice will only make mom and dad worry about your sanity.
Now come on, let’s try again.
“Wendy, listen, I… I uh… I…”
Three ’I’s in a row. Lost cause.
“Wendy, can I talk to you for a sec? …uhm….”
Okay, excellent start. Let’s hold on to that one. We can’t stop after that though, because we still haven’t actually said anything.
“But what to say? There needs to be a natural progression…”
Does there? Didn’t Marco tell us to just skip the bullshit and get straight to the point?
“Definitely not in those words, and I don’t think that was his point either.”
Really? ’Cause I distinctly remember him saying something about ditching the metaphors.
“I… haven’t used any metaphors today?”
The metaphors are just a symptom of your aversion to directness. You’ve cured the symptom but not the disease.
“Okay, say I am direct. It still can’t come entirely out of nowhere, that would just be confusing for everyone involved.”
Right, that’s what the ‘can I talk to you for a sec’ is for. Anything more than that is at best pointless, at worst actively harmful to our cause.
It’s like jumping into a lake, from a cliff. The longer you stand there looking down, the scarier the jump will seem. You need to not look down, and just take the jump.
“A leap of faith.”
Exactly. Sometimes you have to run…
“…before you can walk”
Okay, let’s try again. We can do this.
“Wendy, can I talk to you for a sec? I… I think I’m in love with you”

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