“That one. He came up to me on the first day and told me he didn’t know whether I was a girl or a boy because the ponytail on my nametag had torn off.” Genny pointed to a blonde boy on the back row of the class in the photo. “Why did you keep this?” She pressed her chin to the side, popping her neck, and shook out her shoulders. She'd been clinging to the steering wheel while navigating the deluge that marked the border. She'd abandoned the car as soon as the rain stopped. “I hadn’t thought about Gage in years.” Muscles along her back tightened as her mother tugged at her hair. “What are you doing?”
“You used to talk about him all the time. We would show this picture to the rest of the family to prove that we had slipped you in, right under the noses of the nuns.” Genny’s mother laughed like the teenager she resembled, high and clear and slightly cruel. “We thought you would entrance him. Give us children to exchange."
Genny dug her bare toes into the cool sand just beyond the patio stones. She and her mother where sitting in the small stone gazebo, facing out into the sandy field that led to the creek, visible only as a line of trees. “I don’t remember if they were nuns. Especially since it was just a summer thing.”
Her mother sat back, her white summer dress falling around her knees and pooling over her tiny waist and stomach. Genny couldn’t remember the last time she’d looked like that, if she ever had. Her mother’s hands were blue with sand from the field beyond, the Dusk her family had mined and shipped for the past few generations along the Texas coast. “Your hair was so beautiful—auburn, brown, and those sky blue curls. They were the lightest thing about you. Solid enough for living mortal, your dad said.”
Genny rolled her shoulders and stretched them up to her ears. She already missed her car and the block where she'd grown up. Dusk coated everything around her and she’d felt it seeping in, felt the hunger that it gave the people—the humans. She rubbed her arms. Showers and swimming in the creek hadn’t removed the feel of it from her skin. She wanted to feel the kick of hunger in her gut, see the halogen shimmer of something precious and dusty under glass.
She pushed her toes further into the sand, watching the wrinkles in her jean shorts relax as she slid her legs straight, catching the back of her knees against the irregular lip of stone. The picture, labelled “French, ‘75” in her mother’s elegant ink letters lay between them. She tried to relax into the same posture as her mother. She glanced to her other side, where the dress her mother had given her on her return was crumpled by her hip. It looked like a child's costume. “How long until I can, until I am back to normal?” Genny asked.
“It takes so long now to understand them. Years of school. And the boxes of stuff that you sent back, obsolete and out of date. We had to send a child out again before you returned. I don’t know how long he’ll stay out there.”
Genny frowned. “A boy? I thought…girls were preferred.”
“Boys keep up the trade and mark the nascent blood. Entire lines run along the edges. Girls are good for that. You always kept a foot in our door. We don’t need girls for that. Girls open other doors.”
“You brought me back.”
“What more could you learn? All of your information was old. You were getting old.” Her mother stared up at the gazebo roof, where a morning glory vine blooming to match the Dusk wove itself among a dome of pipes that reminded Genny of a climbing gym on the old playground at her elementary school.
“I needed to come home. I was starting to get nervous at every rainstorm, starting to overspend…” Genny had been imagining a kind of fairy-tale spa. Slimming down, drying out. Her family had been horrified to discover that she could smell Dusk and that she liked the way it smelled. Not to mention that she was hungry for food full of grease and salt and savor. Grapes exploding like musk in her mouth drizzled with the sharp sweetness of honeysuckle had been good, but she’d eaten three times as much as the rest of the family. Genny felt a burn race along the surface of her skin as she remembered her mother’s expression. The next morning, her mother had taken Genny to the beach, pulled her into the rolling waves and scrubbed her skin with the salt water until both of them were bleeding.
“I’m having a fire built among the aloes,” her mother murmured. “You need to remember how to breathe here. We’ll burn some of the water from the sea. There are still things you can do.” Genny shuddered.
“You know we came from the water, didn’t you? Not the sea, but the clear water that fell through the lightning.” Genny’s mother lifted an arm and swirled her fingers through the air. A charge shimmered in the air and a flash stabbed Genny’s arm.
“Opposite charges—we are drawn to them and they are drawn to us. Energy in the difference and the discharge.” Her mother glanced at Genny. “We’ll need more aloes for the fire. You should be the one to pick the rest.”
The aloes grew throughout the field before them, so Genny pushed herself away from the cool stone and glanced around. There were knives and baskets just to one side of the gazebo. She took one, trying to remember the proper method to selecting aloe limbs.
“Pick the ones with the sharpest spines. There is much to scour away.” Genny’s mother gestured toward the line of the creek. “Try the ones closer to the water. Change first.”
Genny changed right there, slipping out of shorts, underwear, t-shirt, and bra while her mother watched. She put on the dress, which was more of a shirt. I’m still Fae, Genny reminded herself. Still part of her flesh. Once I shrink and my skin grows thicker, it will be fine.
She walked into the Dusk barefoot, watching the blue for signs of insect life. There were things that bit hidden in the twilight of the sand. She made it more than halfway across the Dusk, when she felt the dress beginning to pinch across her chest. Her shoulders were burning. Hunger flared and she forgot herself, stamping the sand. It was dark and the soft. And trembling.
Genny looked up. The trees lining the creek shivered and parted. A house appeared—the empty green house from the block where she’d grown up on the mortal side of the highway. She froze as it lurched forward and stopped breathing as it rose on two chicken legs that gleamed a poisonous orange against the indigo Dusk.
She turned and ran, but the Dusk was too soft. Like running in a dream, she couldn’t force speed into her legs. Her muscles ached.
She dropped her shoulders and bent them forward, straining until her chest popped and then wings exploded from her back. A breeze caught them and blew her up and back.
The house loomed up, claws grasping the Dusk and bounding forward. Genny yelled, wings spread pale and loose in the night. She was reaching for the road, for the car she’d abandoned on the other side of the border when the house leapt up and ripped the wings from her back. A bolt of lightning hit the metal lattice of the gazebo and the entire structure hummed.
Her mother licked a charge from her fingers and watched as Genny fell to the ground, dead before she fell into the Dusk, wingless, no longer identifiable as Fae.