Excerpt: Resilience Puerto Rico
A Faire Encounter by A.M. Valenza
Elena wiped clammy palms on the heavy black skirts of her costume, ready to plunge, ready to walk up and open her mouth to ask that dangerously cute girl on a date. Except she wasn’t, she totally wasn’t, she was super-glued to the spot, she was a total freakin’ coward. Why?! Why was that girl so cute? Look at that perfect bob of shiny black hair, curled ever so faintly at the ends. Elena wanted to kiss each curl, then kiss those round cheeks and that bubbly nose until it fell off, ay, ¡que linda! That skin was a smooth, buttery dark tan, and Elena could nibble those pouty brown lips forever, ay, oof, ack! Elena couldn’t handle it.
Several sparks of sizzling magic shot from her nose, shit! Shit, shit! She slapped her skirts vigorously, growling as she snatched the mischievous little fires off. She threw them in the mud, ignoring the squeals. Stupid. She wiped her nose, glancing at the girl. Still there. Good. Elena watched. The girl stood awkwardly behind her two friends, cracking an adorable yawn every few minutes. Elena absolutely didn’t want to lose sight of her, though she couldn’t say why that would do any good. She was supposed to be working. Not, like, harassing guests.
Sniffing, she patted her smoking skirts, then scowled when her brass knuckles and metal bracers caught. She definitely didn’t want to get fired. She enjoyed working the Renaissance Faire, and she was today’s Conquering Queen! But the idea of this one disappearing into the crowd, just a glimpse of perfection and nothing more? Unbearable. Elena nodded. Unbearable.
Though disappearing would be kind of hard to do because—because—oh, she could not handle that level of cute, she was going to die—because—
Because the girl was wearing a dragon onesie.
A dragon onesie.
Elena yanked her arms free with a nasty tearing sound. A few more sparks shot free of her fingers, singeing a jerky peddler who yelped, then waddled away in a huff.
Pink! The onesie was cotton candy pink against a sea of dark cloaks, leathers, and furs. Maybe on pirate weekend that wouldn’t be so impressive, but dragon girl was a shining beacon of bubblegum against the overcast sky. She sparkled amidst the mist and mud. Elena swooned again. Her little dragon girl looked so small, so cuddly, so very cute as she jiggled in place, obviously chilled. Elena wanted to snatch her away, tote her off—
“Elena, I would make a joke about you staring a hole into her, but you can actually do that, so maybe stop,” Luís muttered, fiddling with his costume’s belt. The leather was smudged, the golden clasp twisted at a bad angle. His nose twitched, eyes staining black for a moment. “Definitely broken. I told that asshole not-Claudio to stop throwing me so hard in the live chess games yesterday.” He jerked his scabbard off. “I’ll have what’s-his-face fix it. What’s-his-face again? Elena? Elena, seriously, stop. You’ll kill her. Bruja, remember?”
“She’s wearing a dragon onesie, Luís! A pink dragon onesie!” Elena hissed, the strain cracking her voice to pieces. She dug her nails into her cheeks, ready to rip her own face off because this girl was destroying her just by existing. Sucking in a breath, she let out a barely audible moan. “Did you see that, Luís? Did you see her push up her glasses? That was perfect. Those tiny hands, just going boop! ¡Me fascina!”
“You’re so gross,” Luís replied. A snap of his fingers and Elena’s head snapped back, a chunk of her hair yanked backwards, ow! She squawked. Ow! Ow! “Mira, mensa, you’re supposed to be Conquering Queen today—”
“I know that! Ow! Get off!”
He rolled his eyes, but released her. She rubbed her scalp, scowling at him. He continued to fuss with his belt and scabbard. “We’re at Faire. At our jobs. Don’t give me that look. I know you, prima.” She scowled so hard she bit her tongue, spewing a bit of blood. “You’re dumb as a dog sometimes. Once you get ahold of an idea, you don’t let it go until you’ve made a mess. And I am not cleaning up your mess, not this time.” Elena gawped, insulted. She wasn’t dumb! “Get back into character. You’re a queen. She’s a frumpy pajama dragon.” Luís whipped his scabbard back on, tying it all together with a loose piece of leather—wait, hey! That had been hanging from her belt! “Scream, swoon, faint, whatever. Just stop staring. I’m not cleaning up your mess.”
“No one asked you to clean it up last time,” Elena replied.
Luís shot a blistering glare at her, and a welt opened up on her cheek. She wiped it away, annoyed, because Luís could be a real petty asshat when he wanted. “Shows how much of a brat you are if you still think that.”
Elena glowered. She couldn’t exactly argue. She was a brat. Luís would know—they were cousins, one year apart, but it felt like fifteen sometimes. Or forty. He acted like a crotchety old dude most of the time, and Elena was admittedly reckless on a good day. Downright destructive on a bad. Which meant their parents had kind of designated him as the ‘responsible older one’ and Elena as a disaster to be mitigated. She didn’t mean to be such a wreck, but sometimes it was hard even for her to figure out how she had gotten from point A to filling the ice cream truck with scorpions.
That’s right. It had been the song. The song on the speaker had been super annoying, yep, she remembered now. Woke her up from a nap during the worst part of her period.
Eh. She’d do it again.
Silverhands by Megan Derr
Once upon a time there was a beautiful young woman, named Annia, who was possessed of flawless dark skin, hair the red-gold of autumn, and eyes the gold of a summer sun. She was admired and envied by all in the village, and many dreamed of making her their bride, but none coveted her more than her stepbrother.
She was lovely in appearance, possessed of a kind heart and a bright smile, but it was her hands he most obsessed over. They were strong hands, from keeping house and assisting in their humble mill all day, but soft, the fingers long and elegant, easy when petting animals and deft when sewing, strong when cooking and gentle when stroking a brow at the end of a long day.
He declared he loved her as the sun loves the sky, and wanted her not for a stepsister, but for a wife. Dismayed at his revelation, she begged him to give up such a notion, that though she loved him as any sister loved a brother, she had no desire to be his wife.
Her stepbrother begged and pleaded, but still she would not give in. He raged and ranted, screamed and shouted, but still she refused and urged him to let the notion go, to let them be happy siblings once more.
Enraged beyond all reason, he determined that if he could not have what he wanted, no one would—not even her. Dragging her out to the chopping block, he there took an ax and cut off her hands.
Overcome by pain and fear, Annia passed out.
When she woke in the dark, it was to find someone had carefully bandaged and tended her wounds. The village healer, probably, and bitterness got hold of Annia for a moment at the realization the man had just left her there. Maybe her stepbrother had spun a convincing enough lie.
Heavy snores filled the room, along with the stench of alcohol. Her stepbrother was passed out on a pallet in front of the fire, probably because he’d wanted to keep an eye on her, and later he’d been too drunk to move.
Stifling her tears, Annia did her best to pack what food and supplies she could and fled the only home she had ever known.
On and on she traveled, resting only in brief bursts, keeping hidden whenever she heard people approaching. Eventually, however, her food ran out and exhaustion got the better of her, and Annia was forced to seek shelter in the hollow of a great tree.
The sound of horses and murmuring voices woke her a second time, and she cried out in fear—only to be stopped by a man with kind gray eyes and a warm smile. He was a handsome man, with brown skin and soft-looking, dark curly hair, dressed in the finest clothes she’d ever seen.
Though she was at first afraid, eventually the man convinced her to let him help her, and into his carriage she went. Several hours later, they reached the man’s destination: the royal palace, where everyone greeted him as ‘Your Majesty.’
Before she could run away, terrified all over again at being in the company of the king, Annia was ushered inside and swept off to the healer. Then she was escorted to a room so beautiful and luxurious it made her homesick for her little cottage by the river and the familiar rattle and creak of the mill as it made flour for the village.
Eventually, she fell asleep, and for the first time in many days, slept peacefully. But when she woke in the morning, it was not to find all had been a strange dream, as she had hoped. She had no hands. She was far from home, in a castle that was as terrifying as it was beautiful.
And the king, she was told as a servant appeared to see if she was awake, had invited her to breakfast…
Annia tried not to gawk as she walked through the halls, following the kind woman who had helped her the previous night and woken her this morning, and given her a tonic for pain. She reminded Annia of so many women back home, with her efficient manner and bright smile, hair pulled tightly back so as to be out of the way, a rolling lilt to her words that the rare city folk who passed through the village did not possess. That the king did not possess.
Oh, moon and stars, the king.
She tried to grip the folds of her heavy skirts with her hands, and was yet again reminded that she didn’t have hands. That the fingers she expected to be there, could swear she felt sometimes, were probably still lying in the grass where Tomi had thrown them.
Tears threatened, and a scream started to form in her throat, but Annia blinked away the tears and choked the scream. Neither would help. She would do as she’d done when her mother had died, when her father had died, when her stepmother had remarried and left them for a new life in a distant city: make do and carry on.