Welcome to my stop on the Halloween Book Trail. I'm Suzanne Lazear and I write steampuk faeries in the Aether Chronicles Series.
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Noli Braddock is one of the main characters in my Aether Chronicles books. Each year, for her birthday (which is October 25th), I write a short story for everyone. In honor of the Halloween Book Trail, this year's story is Halloween-themed. Enjoy!
An All Hallows Wager
An Aether Chronicles Story
© Suzanne Lazear 2014
Noli pulled her cape a little closer to her against the cold Los Angeles night as she and V walked down the street. Many houses were decorated with lanterns carved from gourds and pumpkins, walkways lined with candles, and other such things as costumes adults and children went to and fro attending parties and gatherings. Often more than one.
“Why do we have to do this?” Noli whined, waving around the paper list in her hand. She hated society parties. At least this one had games.
A flying car, a dragon model by the wings, swooped past. Noli waved out of habit. They honked in reply.
“I thought you wanted to play the game? At least we were paired up.” Steven Darrow, or V, as she called him, looked dashing as usual. He was dressed as a prince, complete with a sword. The green and brown velvet, heavy with gold embroidery brought out his green eyes. A thin, golden circlet rested on his messy, golden hair.
The funny thing was that V was actually a prince. Well, an exiled prince. An exiled prince of the earth court from the realm of faerie, or the Otherworld, as they called it.
“True.” There were worse things than being alone with V in the dark on a scavenger hunt. “Still, it’s cold. And I’m hungry.” In the light of the gas streetlamps she peered at the ten items on the list.
“We have five already,” a voice sneered. “How many do you have?”
Noli sighed and looked over at the taunting form approaching them. Missy Sassafras’ costume was blinding, covered in spangles and sparkles. She practically leaked feathers and beads. What was she supposed to be? Certainly, it wasn’t flattering. Missy was mousy and a bit round. Also, that shade of orange suited very few completions. Hers wasn’t one of them.
“Five? Good for you, Missy.” Noli pasted a fake smile on her face. She didn’t like Missy much. Certainly she wasn’t going to admit that they had none. First team to return won. What, she wasn’t sure.
How had Missy gotten so many so quickly? The game just started.
A spindly form skulked behind. One in a Gladiator costume, carrying a small sack. Will was Missy’s partner for the game.
“V,” he nodded, ignoring Noli.
“Will,” V nodded back. Ever the gentleman, V gave Missy a little bow. “Miss Sassafras.”
Missy gave a little giggle that sounded a bit like a pig being tortured. She waved her fan in front of her face.
“Mr. Darrow, your costume is exquisite.” She moved a little as if trying to show off her own costume, probably hoping for V to compliment her in turn. “But Noli I really have no idea what you’re supposed to be.” Her thin lips curved into a sneer.
“A princess, right?” Will said softly. “He’s the prince and you’re the princess. Clever.”
“You’re right, Will.” Noli smoothed the fabric. It was an Otherworld dress of dark green velvet, heavy with gold embroidery, smooth and flowing without the bustles and crinolines so popular in Los Angeles. Her crown was made of roses from her garden and green and gold ribbons. V’s little sister Elise had helped her with it.
“A princess?” Missy laughed so hard she held her sides. “Noli a princess, sure. The dress isn’t even fluffy. I’m not even sure why she gets invited to parties. It’s like inviting the help.”
Noli bit her tongue to keep herself from saying what she really thought. Missy was naught but a social climbing dollymop. However, new money or not, Missy, and her parents, weren’t people to aggravate, especially when Noli’s own social position was so precarious.
Still, ire rose within her and her hands fisted, the list crumpling.
V frowned. “Miss Sassafras, that doesn’t seem like a very nice thing to say.”
It wasn't a very nice thing to say, but Missy didn’t have very nice manners.
“It’s true.” Missy waved it off with her hand, then sniffed. “I don’t know why you even bother associating with her.”
She said what?
“What do you know, Missy Sassafras?” Noli retorted, cheeks blazing as she took a step forward. “I’ll let you know that we’re going to win that scavenger hunt.”
“Care to wager?” Missy sneered.
“Sure,” Noli replied, even though she had no money to wager.
“Fine. If I win the game, Mr. Darrow escorts me to the next ball.” Missy shot her a triumphant look.
“Fine, and if you lose then you give me ten dollars,” Noli retorted. It was the first thing that popped into her head. There was quite a bit she could buy with that sort of money.
“Deal.” Missy held out her hand.
“Deal.” Noli shook it.
“Wait a moment.” V tried to separate them with his body. “Don’t I have a say in this?”
“No.” Missy shook her head. “See you soon. By the way, Mr. Darrow, I like posies.” She waggled her fingers and flounced off, leaving a trail of spangles.
“Girls are barking mad, I tell you.” Will sighed and gave V a sympathetic look, then trotted off.
“Noli, what did you do?” V’s green eyes went wide. “I don’t want to go any ball, let alone one with her.”
“I know. Me and my big mouth.” Noli sighed. “What did I just do? But ten dollars! And she just makes me so mad.”
“I know.” V looked at the list. “I have some of these, and so do you, but the problem is time, especially if they actually have five.”
“I don’t think they do.” Noli started to walk toward V’s house.
“We can’t risk that.” A resigned look crossed his face. “Come, now, we haven’t much time.” V’s arm linked hers and they ran down the street. They passed more people playing other games or simply out enjoying the evening. They waved as another neighbor drove passed in their steam-powered auto.
They stopped in front of an old oak tree in a nearby park. A ring of mushrooms encircled it and flowers grew around it. The twisted trunk thrummed with energy and magic.
But it was. Not only was this a “fairy tree”, but little wood faeries actually occupied it. As if summoned, tiny balls of light appeared. A yellow one landed on Noli’s shoulder. The light was actually a glowing tiny person with yellow wings.
“Hi there,” Noli greeted. She couldn’t understand them, but they could understand her.
“We need your help,” V told them. “We need all these things and we only have a few moments.”
Noli watched as V made assignments. He could talk to them just fine.
V grabbed her hand. “They’re meeting us at my house, let’s go.”
“We’re asking the faeries for help, isn’t that cheating?” Noli laughed as they ran. She didn’t care about cheating, as long as Missy didn’t win. However, V was usually a fussy old bodger about things like this.
He grimaced. “It is, and I don’t like it. But I’m not about to be her escort. Only you, Noli.”
Those three words held so many meanings, but he was right.
At least he wasn’t angry. She’d be angry if she’d been in his shoes. “I’m sorry, V. I shouldn’t have done that. Missy brings out the worst in me.”
He squeezed her hand. “It’s all right. I forgive you. She is a bit…much.”
They ran up the steps to his house, which was always so neat and orderly, even though there was no mother. Compared to her own house, which no matter how much work she and V did always looked worn and ramshackle compared to the others on their block.
“You get the items from the kitchen, I’ll get the book and what’s upstairs,” V told her as they went inside.
The house was empty, since his little sister Elise was at a children’s party. Noli wasn’t sure where James was. However, he liked parties even less than Noli. Also, Mr. Darrow didn’t approve of them courting. After all, one day V would take back his family’s court and restore his family’s good name.
No matter what, Noli was just the girl next door.
They gathered the items and ran out to the backyard. The fairies there, items in tow.
Noli put them in the sack as V checked everything off the list. A biscuit. A novel by dickens. A handbill for a moving picture. A clockwork bird. A stocking. She laughed as she put the very fancy stocking in the bag.
“Do I even want to know where you got this?” she teased the faeries.
A blue fairy said something to V and his cheeks pinked. “No, you don’t,” he replied, eyes on the floor.
She could imagine quite well. The rest of the items went into the bag. “All set.”
V gave the faeries a little bow. “I appreciate your help. I’ll leave your reward by the tree.”
Noli watched as they flew off. “What did we promise them?”
“That’s easy enough.” Noli slung the sack over her shoulder. “How are we on time, should we hoverboard back?”
“Do you think we could?” He looked torn. “They never said we couldn’t….”
That was good enough for her. “Let’s go.”
They grabbed his small, brown wooden hoverboard from the back porch. She held on to him tight, as she adjusted her position, trying to account for the weight of the sack. As they rose into the air, her loose hair whipped around her face and she wished she had goggles—and a cap.
They took off down the street and she craned her neck, hoping to spot Missy–and make sure they got there first.
Technically, hoverboards were one person conveyances. Also, the law forbid girls from hoverboarding. Once, Noli wouldn’t let it stop her, but now she was trying to stay on the right side of the law. So, she’d simply practiced until she could figure out how to properly balance so they could both fly on his hoverboard.
They landed in the backyard of the Vincent’s, who were hosting the party. Missy wasn’t in sight—and Hope Vincent, dressed as a Grecian goddess, still waited in the gazebo for the first team to come back.
“I didn’t know you could do that,” someone remarked.
“That’s not fair,” Missy’s voice screeched from across the yard.
Leaving the hoverboard on the grass, V and Noli took off for Hope, bag in hand. Must. Finish. First.
“Winner!” Hope called just as V and Noli raced up the gazebo stairs.
Winner? Noli’s heart fell to the floor. She never should have opened her mouth. Do not engage. How many times had her mother told her that.
“Noooo.” Missy came up behind them, face flushed and crestfallen.
Wait. If Missy was behind them, who won?
James Darrow stood there triumphantly, in nothing but a bed sheet. He was the younger brother, though not by much, and looked older. A girl named Violet was at his side, dressed like a fairy, complete with fabric and wire wings. Noli used to take dance classes with her. Once. Back when she had the time and money for such things.
“James and Violent are the winners,” Hope declared. “V and Noli are second and Will and Missy are third, pending you all have the correct items.” She held out her hands for everyone’s sacks.
“Where did you come from?” Noli blurted. “I didn’t even know you were coming.”
James grinned, raking a large hand through his dark blonde girls. “I’m full of surprises.”
“Oh my,” Missy hissed. “Mr. Darrow the younger certainly has filled out.”
Hope looked though each sack. “The winners stand as stated. Here you go.”
She handed out the prizes. A cake shaped like a pumpkin for the winning team and candied apples for everyone else.
“You cheated.” Missy turned to Noli. “I’m not giving you ten dollars.”
“You don’t have to. I didn’t come in first. It was if I won, not if I beat you.” Noli shrugged, though part of her wanted to rub the candy apple in Missy’s hair. How did James win? She could really have used that ten dollars.
“Actually,” Will interjected, “you actually do owe her. The wording was that if you lost then you had to give her ten dollars.”
V nodded. “Actually, Will’s right.”
Missy’s face screwed up as if she’d eaten something bitter. She reached into her décolletage and pulled out a ten-dollar bill. “Here.”
Noli just stared at it. Ten dollars was a lot of money for someone their age to have on hand. Also, that was an odd place to keep money. Should she even touch it?
James yanked the money out of her hand, as if he didn’t care where it came from, which, he probably didn’t. “That was quite gracious of you. Here you are, Noli.”
Ten dollars. All hers.
She shook her head. “You…you can have it back, Missy.”
An eager look crossed her face.
“Missy, a wager is a wager, you should play fair,” Will scolded.
“Fine. You’re something, Noli Braddock.” Missy turned around in a huff and marched down the stairs of the gazebo.
Will just stood there. He shook his head. “Girls.”
James put a hand on Vs shoulder. “On to the next? I hear that Ginny’s party has a fortune teller.”
“I suppose. Though I need to grab a few sweets,” V told them.
“They can have my apple. I prefer caramel apples to candy,” Noli replied.
V nodded. “Very well then.”
“Here, take this.” James handed her the money.
Not sure what to do with it, she tucked it into her stocking. “That was unexpected.”
“That is what,” James agreed.
Violet rushed after them. “You’re not staying, James? Don’t you want half the cake?”
“Keep it.” James didn’t even turn around.
The three of them thanked Hope and walked down the street toward the park with the oak tree.
“How did you do it?” Noli asked. “I didn’t even think you came to the party.”
James grinned. “Cheaters never win, though I have to say, I was very tempted to help Missy just to see V take her to a ball.”
V’s face flushed. “You wouldn’t dare!”
“I can’t believe you would cheat. It’s so unlike you. She cheated too, you know. I got bored so I decided to join you and I saw her and Will cheat, then I heard you to, so I grabbed Violet and…” James shrugged. “We won. Clever, Noli, to word it like that so you got the money regardless. Not that I ever meant to begrudge you of that. I know you can use it.”
They entered the park.
“Then why bother then?” Noli frowned. Though the Darrow boys, not being human did have an odd sense of fun. “Also, I never meant to cheat her out of it.”
“I feel bad though. You’re right, cheaters don’t win. Even if they’re cheating a dollymop like Missy. But how did you win? It makes about as much sense as you trying to beat us, even though you gave the cake to Violet and I still won the money.” Noli placed her apple in front of the tree.
V put his down as well. “That’s what I’d like to know.”
James grinned and pulled a piece of fruit and a handful of nuts out of his bed sheet and placed them at the base of the tree. “That’s for me to know and you to find out.”
Noli looked to him and shook her head. She just didn't get it. Boys. "Now, can we please go to a party with food? I’m hungry.”
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