Excerpt: Happiness in Numbers

If Wishes Were Fishes by Meredith Katz

Keith Marose’s room at his parents’ house was, by any way of measuring it, larger than his room in the dorm at Stonybridge U, but several things made it feel smaller.

First was the fact that it was his room in his parents’ house. Whenever he visited them, he only felt more relieved to not be living with them anymore. As much as he loved them, they had nothing in common—his seeing ghosts and monsters was only just part of that. Besides, whenever they (accurately) thought he was still seeing them, they got worried.

Their worry was understandable, no matter how much Keith hated it. His visions had started after the accident—he’d been crossing the street, unaware of the car barreling toward him, and the next thing he knew, he was on the ground, shoved out of the way by a total stranger who’d taken the impact for him. No wonder he’d thought the visions were just the result of trauma. They all had. And his parents had done their best for him in that stressful circumstance—got him therapy, tried to keep talking to him about it, checked in on him after he’d moved out for school.

That whole thing had fucked him up pretty bad, and he knew it. There were days still when the idea of going out and seeing other people was just impossible, where having to get out of bed and do anything made his chest tight and his breathing short and his head ache—

But those days weren’t that frequent now, five years later.

And the ghost, Lucas, the man who’d saved him… well, Lucas was still there. And not just hanging around, either—Keith was now dating said ghost and one of those so-called monsters he’d started to see after the accident.

But, of course, none of that was anything he could even begin to talk about with his parents. They would think the truth was a sign of a backslide at best. Even so, it wasn’t easy to avoid, not when they constantly asked what was going on in his life, how he was feeling… all of it.

Only ten minutes ago, Keith had tried to get a breather from their overprotective, but well-meaning, love, and had ducked up to his room to ‘grab a book to take back with him to the dorms’. But that was an activity that would only take so long, and he had to head back down soon.

“Ughhh, I’m trapped in a cocoon of lieeeees,” Keith groaned aloud, muffled by his pillowcase. It had been washed since he’d last slept in it; it smelled and looked just fine. But to his other senses, the ones that the accident had awakened, it was still stained by the tears he’d shed into it over the years, shadows sticking to it and sliding off like a thick oil.

Lucas made a sort-of-amused sympathetic noise from where he hovered at the end of the bed, which didn’t bend under his insubstantial weight. “Yeah, you’re all wrapped up in it, aren’t you. ‘What’ve you been up to?’ ‘Oh, you know…'” Lucas paused for several beats too long. “‘Definitely not saving the Otherworld and practicing my psychic powers.'”

“Lucaaaaas,” Keith whined plaintively.

Lucas laughed, leaning over and pushing Keith’s messy black hair off his pale forehead with a hand that had no more strength to it than a cold breeze did. “Yeah, yeah,” he said. “But they missed you.”

Keith’s parents had never known Lucas, but Lucas knew them. He, too, had wanted to help Keith through the aftermath of his death, but had kind of been in a bind. Lucas had known he was no hallucination, after all, and had been desperate to be seen and heard.

“It’s just complicated,” Keith muttered. They might live in the same town, but he’d been avoiding them a little. He’d skipped out of seeing them over Christmas break except for Christmas Day itself, and knew that his answers as to why had sounded horribly vague.

How could they be anything but? He’d wanted to spend the time with his new boyfriends. He wasn’t even out to his parents about being gay, let alone poly, let alone all the supernatural parts of it.

Even if he told one part, he couldn’t tell the rest, and it made the idea of talking about any of it choke in his throat. The last time he’d tried to figure out how, his anxiety attack had lasted two days.

“Keith?” his mother called up the stairs. “You find that book you were looking for?”

He grabbed one off the shelves almost at random. “Yeah!” he called back. “Be right down!”

Sundown, Holiday, Beacon by K.L. Noone

The Sinister Sorcerer’s cape caught the wind. Fluttered. Wreathed his flying form with imposing eerie green. That well-practiced supervillain laugh rattled buildings and sent a matching shiver down Ryan’s spine. The two of them hovered across from the Golden Gate Bridge and watched each other, trapped in a mutual mid-air stand-off.

The Sorcerer waved a hand. Stormclouds gathered. Rain pelted the world. A screech of threatened metal rose up from below.

“Don’t you dare,” Ryan told him, “there’re people on that bridge—” and caught his balance amid wind and pointed a finger. Lightning flashed. Electric as his current, pun intended, superhero name. Beacon. He was having second thoughts about that one. Too on the nose. Better than being the former Lightning Kid, Captain Justice’s teenage sidekick, though.

“Ow,” said the Sinister Sorcerer, who at home went by Holiday Jones or Holly or occasionally That person who left yesterday’s dishes in the sink; he jerked a foot out of the way, and glared. “You’re not supposed to actually shoot me!”

“It’s verisimilitude!”

“Big words from a former sidekick—”

“Getting a little too into the role, aren’t you, did you forget who tied you up yesterday—”

“Both of you behave,” said John’s calm voice across their earpieces, “or no one’s getting to tie anyone up tonight. Holly, menace people without hurting them, please. Ryan, don’t shoot Holly in the foot, that’s either obviously purposeful or ridiculously awful bad aim. And let’s wrap this up soon, because the other Masters of Terror are starting to wonder whether they should leave the Terrible Tower and help. I’m hearing the calls out to henchmen, and I’m not out there to even the odds.”

Strategic. Experienced. Practical. John always had been the best, or at least most traditionally trained, among them. Good at plans and staging fake-but-believable battle scenes.

“Sorry,” Holly said immediately. He even visibly meant it. Sincerity behind the curling green and silver of his mask. In that elegant English accent. In those big anxious hazel eyes.

Which meant he was perilously close to dropping the whole supervillain persona that kept them informed about the Masters of Terror and secret plans to be foiled. Ryan sighed. Holly, at nineteen, was nine years younger than his own twenty-eight, twenty-five years younger than John, and arguably more clever than both of them, but far less experienced as far as actual on-the-ground strategy. And more emotional, particularly when afraid he might’ve done something wrong.

There were reasons for that, of course.

Holly, continuing to apologize, went on, “Never mind, Ryan, you can shoot me, it’s fine, I heal fast—”

“I’m not going to seriously shoot you! I love you, you moron.” Ryan considered this phrasing, added, “You know what I mean. Sorry, John. And I love you too.” The rain got into his hair. Flattened it in black spikes over his face and the corner of his mask. He still wasn’t sure about the gold and dark grey color scheme, but at least he’d successfully argued for sleek and simple and functional over fanciful and ornate. He liked sleek and simple and functional.

He spared a second to glare at Holly, who was managing to float serenely between raindrops and stay dry. Definitely a Sinister Sorcerer. Charming his own personal weather.

Buy the ebook!