A Most Magical Girl - Karen Foxlee


For the most magical girls I know: Julia Elizabeth, Chloe Rose, April Maria, and Alice May

It’s exactly the kind of day she sees things. She knows it, but it doesn’t stop her going out. Her head tells her to stay indoors, but the outside is calling: all the gray buildings and dripping eaves, all the wet stone and gleaming, rain-polished streets. The clouds are streaming, and the wind is banging at the windows. She slips out before Mercy can catch her and make her do schoolwork.

It has rained so hard that the street has filled with puddles. She mustn’t look. Don’t look, she tells herself. Don’t look. The wind is tugging at umbrellas. It’s pulling at her skirts, untying her hair. She should go inside. Her mother will be coming down the stairs. She’ll make Annabel recite a passage from her Latin reader. Then they will take their places, pretty and fragile as flowers, pick up their embroidery, and wait for their callers.

Only, Annabel doesn’t go inside.

Nothing in her lessons can explain this sensation, nothing in the way she is taught to walk and talk and sing and dance. There is a cord of something that joins her to a day like this. It feels like a rope that starts inside her belly and stretches up into the wild clouds. This rope tugs at her, as though at any moment she’ll be dragged up into the sky. She struggles to keep her feet on the pavement. That’s just what it feels like, and it frightens her, but part of her feels excited, too.

There—she’s looked now.

She’s looked straight into the puddle at her feet.

It’s just an ordinary puddle, dull ditchwater, the wind rippling across its surface. She shouldn’t bend down. What if her mother, coming down the stairs, catches a glimpse of her kneeling in the street? Oh, the shame of it! It has happened before, and her mother has been incensed. She has held Annabel’s face in her hands and spoken wildly, in a way that Annabel has never heard. “It cannot be!”

But there is nothing that can stop her falling down, hands to stone. There is something moving there. She’s leaning closer. Through the puddle clouds she catches a glimpse of something dark. There’s a window. It’s a window filled with blackness and a curtain blowing, and she wants to see inside it and she wants to look away, both at once. She moves closer, her nose almost touching the water, and sees inside.

There’s a great room filled with shadows, and a man standing with his back to her. She’s filled with dread upon seeing him. Cold dread, as though her heart has stopped. She cannot breathe. Look away, she tells herself. He’s turning, that man, tall and dark and horribly thin. He’s turning, and she doesn’t want to see his face. She doesn’t want to see the shadows in his cheekbones and the shadows in his eyes.

She hears someone crying out, doesn’t know it is herself, and then there are arms around her, lifting her up and away from the ground.

The day slides back into view, the clouds twisting in the sky. Faces swim before her, fade, form again. There is the maid, Mercy, clearly, her face grimly set, holding out her arms, and, standing at the top step, her mother, darkly beautiful, trembling.

It was dark in Mr. Angel’s ballroom, but the small words etched on his invention glinted. DARK-MAGIC EXTRACTING MACHINE. There was a cold quietness. The large machine made soft noises. It hissed in the darkness and sighed. Its inner workings rattled the floor of the room, which it filled. Its bellows opened and shut, inhaled and exhaled. The waxing moon gleamed on the moon funnel, a great brass horn that sprouted from the top of the machine and almost touched the jagged hole in the ceiling. Mr. Angel stood very still and admired his terrible invention. It had been almost thirteen years since he had fed the first tearstained handkerchief to its strange, dark heart.

Today he offered up flowers stolen from a new grave. A black feather from a large bird kept in a very small cage. The machine sucked these things from his hand with great force, drew them across the room, and gobbled them up through a slit in its leather.

It was hungry and growing stronger. It wanted more. It wanted unfinished embroidery, stopped clocks, roses that a lover had refused. Mourning rings and black-bordered handkerchiefs freshly stolen from those still weeping. It wanted