01 – Maggie

This is a raw draft, as produced for NaNoWriMo.

This is a young!Magnolia story – this starts when she’s eight years old, so about seventeen years before the start of Mirrorfall.


 

There were disadvantages to being the protagonist.

Donald Hammond threw aside the paperback, into the pile to be sold – it was signed, but well used and creased – it was one of the books he’d been trying to hold onto. An old favourite, but his latest attempt to reread it had left him cold, uneasy and unsatisfied, like always.

He wrote the title, and the price for the starting bid on a neat piece of paper on the bed beside him, then moved to the floor to start sorting through the next pile.

Two rooms of books, magazines and figurines had become three bookshelves, had become two, and now was just the one. Five shelves of books he’d been trying to hold onto. Five shelves that no longer gave him any comfort.

He ran his fingers over one of Maggie’s drawings – one he’d tacked up to cover a stain on the side of the second-hand bookcase.

Being the protagonist sucked, but he wouldn’t trade it for anything.

He heard running footsteps as his daughter ran past – a cheap laser sword in one hand; a plastic doll in the other. Knights and princesses again – where the princesses rescued the knights, because that was just apparently the logical way of things.

He closed his eyes, grateful for his precious little girl.

He placed the next first-edition more carefully into the box – this one would actually probably bring in a few dollars – something his bank balance would appreciate.

Don gently touched the spines of the remaining books on the shelves, cursing each and every author for messing with their characters. Adventures were fun – but only when they were safe.

Adventure, gallantry and romance weren’t so fun when they followed you back into the real world.

Maggie ran back down the hall, thrusting the doll forward as though it were flying, the laser sword hanging limply in her arm, catching on the thin carpet as it went.

‘Maggie?’ he called, moving back off the floor to sit on the bed.

She peeked in the door, her head hanging at an unnatural angle. ‘Yeah, daddy?’

‘Twenty minutes till bedtime, go put on your pyjamas.’

She nodded, swung the laser sword over her head – something she’d been carrying since they’d watched Star Wars and she’d become convinced that Leia would make a better Jedi than Luke – and headed off towards her bedroom.

Don tidied his books – there wasn’t much space in the room – he always let her have the larger bedroom when they moved to a new rental – if she ever had friends over, they’d appreciate the space.

And it wasn’t like he needed much space – he’d been shedding possessions for the last eight years. Everything – except keeping his daughter safe – had seemed to become less and less important. Maggie and his job, anyway, they needed some way to keep the roof over their heads and the lights on.

He fluffed the pillow on his single bed, then went to the bathroom, brushed his hair and his teeth, then wound his watch – it had been his grandfather’s, passed to his father, but his father had never liked it very much – it had apparently brought back too many times for being scolded for being late home from school, or coming in past curfew.

He, on the other hand, loved the elegant old timepiece – it seemed like relic from an old world – and the fact that it was mechanical stopped it from being too fantastical, too…much like the faerie that had touched his life for one night, and left him with a daughter.

Don walked down the hall – the apartment was far from huge, though it was big enough for the two of them – and found Maggie, still in her after-school clothes, holding court with the dolls on her bed.

‘Execution, your ladyship?’ he asked, ‘or are they going to be pardoned?’

She lifted the raggedy old bear, and pitched it towards the wicker basket that held the rest of her toys. ‘Jail,’ she said, grinning. ‘Just for tonight.’

He helped her clear away the rest of the toys, then he found the book they’d been reading for the past few nights and settled in to read. Two chapters later, he reached for her lamp, and switched it off, leaving the room illuminated by the light from the hall, and a selection of glow-in-the-dark shapes stuck to all of her furniture.

‘Did you check your feathers, Maggie?’

She gave a little solemn nod – children were amazing good at solemnity when the situation called for it. ‘You’ll probably need to chop them before school tomorrow.’

He leaned forward and kissed her forehead. ‘Just remind me in the morning then.’

He wouldn’t forget. He would never forget, but asking her to do it made her feel like she was a part of the process, like she had some control over her little body, and the feathers that grew from her back, no matter how much he wished they would just go away.

She nodded, her black eyes tiny pools of shadow in the darkened room. ‘And…’ she said, trailing off.

He stood, and fixed the covers, a smile forming on his lips as he guessed at her next question. ‘And what, sweetheart?’

‘You didn’t say it!’ she said, the words bursting from her – far too excited for this close to bedtime.

He took a tiny envelope from his pocket. ‘Happy tomorrow birthday,’ he said, and clicked the lamp back on – it wouldn’t hurt to let the glow-shapes soak up a bit more light.

She excitedly tore the paper away, and revealed the folded gift certificate – it was just ten dollars to the toy store, but it was a tradition they’d built over the last few years, even if ten dollars seemed to buy less and less. It would be enough for another doll, bear, or soldier doll.

She wrapped her arms around his shoulders, then kissed his cheek. ‘Can we go tomorrow? After school?’

He had already accounted for that in his plans – it was the only element of her birthday with a timer on it – defined by the store’s closing time. The cake was taken care of – they rarely got a whole cake, instead, getting two of the huge, over-sized cupcakes from the bakery down the road – something he’d pick up on the way to work.

Birthday dinner was usually take-away, depending on what she felt like – and then it would just be a drive somewhere nice – one of the bigger parks, or down to the bayside – somewhere they didn’t often go.

Maggie tucked the gift certificate into the little plastic holster she kept on her bedside table – the little silver toy gun that had come with it had long since gone to wherever lost toys go to – so it was something she kept for “secret notes” and special things – and it was where he tended to tuck the five dollars that was her weekly pocket money.

He cursed lightly – remembering that he hadn’t given her the pocket money as yet – she hadn’t asked, something he loved and hated in equal measures. She knew that money wasn’t easy, so didn’t push for things they couldn’t afford, and never bothered him when he forget to give her the few dollars he budgeted for…but financial woes were supposed to be an adult’s worry. She was too young to have the consideration of money that she did.

‘I love you,’ he said, and clicked the light off again. ‘Happy birthday, sweetheart.’

‘Tomorrow birthday!’ she corrected brightly as she snuggled into her pillow, the worn images of horses there to take her to her dreams.

He left the room quietly, leaving the door a few inches open – to let the light guard her, and so that he could hear her if she had nightmares – something that was a thankful rarity.

The lounge room was darkened – but there was enough light from the hall to find the remote. He lazily clicked through the four channels and found nothing, but cycled through a few more times as the half-hour hit, waiting to see if anything decent came on.

Nothing did, and he rummaged through his DVDs for his copy of Spaceballs – it was the exact kind of mindlessness that he needed. He turned the sound down low – as to not disturb Magnolia – turned the subtitles on, and leaned back on the couch, stabbing himself on three coloured pencils before he got comfortable.

Science fiction was still safe. Faerie, from the tiny amount he’d been able to glean, didn’t touch science fiction in any way. Spaceballs was safe. Star Wars was safe. He still had some retreats from the everyday world.

He had always relied on his books.

His books had lied.

In his books, you were thrust into a world of great adventure – the wizard came knocking, or you stepped through a portal. You ran through the wardrobe, and away from the ordinary world, where you became the hero, got the girl, defeated evil, and ruled the land as a just and true king.

If you returned to the ordinary world, you returned better, or richer, or vastly more powerful or knowledgeable.

Heroes never seemed concerned with making bill payments. Heroes never seemed to be worried about anything except where to stash their treasure afterward.

Heroes didn’t have an egg in a basket placed on their doorstep, only for it to hatch into a child.

A night at a masquerade. One night with a woman far too beautiful to look at a nerd like him. One night touching magic and Faerie.

One life full of fear, misery and hopelessness.

He had a little girl who grew feathers, who could balance – seemingly on the head of a pin – and who was going to grow into something he didn’t understand, and couldn’t help.

He knew how to deal with knight-saving-princesses; and a little girl who threatened to chop off the heads of teddy bears.

He didn’t know how to deal with a half-fae girl.

Faerie, according to the stories, and the legends, and the books – was supposed to be full of people who steal children away, not to send them away like Moses in a basket.

He’d done everything he could to try and find the woman again – she’d never give him a real name, just insisting on calling herself “Magpie”, as befit what he had originally taken to be a costume, only to find that the wings had been far more real than he had imagined possible. There was no way to track her down.

And the rest of Faerie seemed to keep itself well, well hidden and away from human, mortal eyes.

He’d done his best to walk dark alleys, lurk on message boards that talked about magic, and scout for covens – there had been no credible leads. He’d even – to his embarrassment – lowered himself to relying on offensive stereotypes and checking out Asian markets and alternative therapy healers, seeking out the Mystic Foreign Old Guy, as befit his role as Clueless White Idiot, only to have several people laugh in his face, and one woman recommend what had become his new favourite type of tea.

He was alone – him and Maggie against the world. Just the way it had always been, just the way it would always be.

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