Cold Iron Comfort

Apá always said I could come home. He never had to say the words if it doesn’t work out, but I heard them clear enough the day I left to live amongst the Fair Folk.

It was the same offer he’d made me throughout my life, any time I got that itch, the one telling me to get out. If a school dance turned awkward, my date moving on me too fast, I could come home. If I started feeling sick at a slumber party, I could come home. Before I had my license, the invitation also covered transportation—mi papá would come get me. Didn’t matter what I’d been doing or with who. I could come home. No questions asked.

“Just want you safe, mija,” Papá explained that first time.

I was ten, maybe older. I remember him next to me, smelling of metal and tires, hands gloved in work leather, dusty with iron shavings. He’d set up two plastic lawn chairs for us out front, so he could sit and wait for customers to drive up, rather than having them surprise him by honking their horn while he was inside at the counter, or worse still, just dumping their shit and driving off. His rusty, sun-worn face looked just like the cars out in the yard, reposing in the tall summer grass.

I didn’t take much when I departed for the Otherworld: a few outfits Kinnear found pleasing, such as the Sunday dresses I hadn’t had occasion to wear in years, and the tiny milagro my abuela gave me on my quinceañera. It was shaped like a leg, for protection during travel. I wore the metal charm on a blue thread around my ankle, where my fairy lover wouldn’t see, afraid he would make me leave it behind like my favorite Swiss Army knife.

On the morning I finally crossed over, mist rose impossibly from the dry earth, like cold steam. In addition to the milagro and my dresses, I carried my father’s voice with me, his offer an insurance policy I hoped never to have to use.

§

I don’t remember when I first felt afraid of Kinnear.

Maybe the day he grabbed my arm, shoving me aside as I tried to clean up the broken pieces of a sculpture I’d accidentally knocked over. One he’d conjured for me using ice pilfered from Arctic glaciers.

He opened a lot of portals in the beginning—showing off, I thought, when he presented me with flame-red dahlias from Colombia, petals still cool with mountain air. Later, I wondered if he merely intended to illustrate his powerful reach. In the time it took him to snap his fingers, Kinnear could appear anywhere in the mortal world, crossing whole continents in a few strides. There was nowhere I could go where he could not follow.

We started having sex while I was still living at school, but something changed once we passed the border into the Otherworld. Kinnear started positioning me in bed like I was a doll, and I let him, wanting to make him happy. Over time, his passion turned rough, almost cruel. I made excuses for his behavior, even as I cleaned the blood from between my legs, hunched over a pretty porcelain bowl.

In college, I had a friend whose boyfriend tried to control every aspect of her life, flying into white-hot rages when she didn’t immediately respond to a text. We all told her to dump his ass, but she never did.

Kinnear never flew into a rage. Sure, he could be sullen and distant, and sometimes he disappeared for long stretches, leaving me alone in his large, empty estate—but he was Fey. As he frequently reminded me, I couldn’t expect him to act the same as a mortal. It was like asking fire not to burn. He was always better when he came back from those trips abroad, gentler, more patient. His kisses became tender again, a form of worship. Bueno es Dios. His touches made my body sing. Gloria a Dios en el cielo.

My abuela would have been ashamed of my sin. She would have called my thoughts blasphemy. Maybe that’s why the fear was able to hide for so long; it wore the disguise of Catholic guilt, and the thrill of finally assuming control of my own life.

I’ll admit, loving Kinnear did feel sacrilegious at times, especially the nights he came to bed late, his hot breath reeking not of alcohol, but of blood. I let him put his mouth on me, his wine-dark tongue satisfying a hunger of my own.

And in the dark, both of our eyes were black.

§

The salvage yard was about twenty miles outside Tucson, formerly a three-acre stretch of angry scrub brush and sand. Papá named it the Briar Patch for the scattered rosario thorns, but also because, when he first started the place, he’d just gotten back from a trip to Disneyland with me and Mamá, before she got sick. I guess the part of Splash Mountain where Br’er Rabbit tricks Br’er Fox into throwing him into the briar patch stuck with him. Apá’s patch of thistly desert wasn’t much to look at either, but it was home.

Although the Patch was less centrally located than the Pull-A-Part, and smaller than a lot of the other big-name auto wreckers in the area, it still received a decent amount of customers, enough to keep the business afloat.

Which is why I was stunned when I arrived home and saw the sign for the Patch gone from out front. In its place, a generic billboard sat propped against the chain link fence, its faded blue lettering disappearing into a background stained with dirt and bird droppings. It was hard to make out, but I think it read The Lodestone.

My chest tightened. ¿Qué diablos es un Lodestone?

I loitered for a few moments, not sure what I was expecting to happen. No one came out to greet me. Behind me, the parking lot—a crusty space enclosed by a perimeter of small rocks—was empty. Most of the lines I’d spray-painted last year were gone, probably worn away during monsoon season.

Everything else seemed more or less the same, at least at a glance: cars older than I was parked close enough to share paint, hoods shot through with veins of rust, mirrors wilting, hanging by a little plastic or a few wires. An old Kenmore washing machine, missing its front door, looked surprised to see me, its mouth wide open. I mocked its expression, out of habit.

When I got closer to the main office, I noticed someone had recently replaced the roof—something Pa had been wanting to do for ages but kept putting off due to the expense. The new asphalt shingles glittered in the late afternoon sunshine, the air above them wrinkling with heat.

I turned my milagro bracelet around my wrist anxiously. Being here felt like one of those dreams where the place you know you are looks nothing like it does in real life. So much felt familiar, but enough novelty had invaded the yard to make me wary. I was used to feeling tense all the time, but I’d hoped that would go away once I left the Otherworld—left Kinnear.

Standing on my tiptoes, I peeked inside the office window through cupped hands.

No one stood behind the counter.

After a few minutes, I got up the nerve to try the door, but it was locked. A handwritten sign read: OUT TO LUNCH, BACK AT 2. It wasn’t Apá’s neat handwriting. The letters were big as a shout, veering drastically outside the ruled lines like they weren’t even there. The author hadn’t even bothered to tear out the sheet along the indentation, resulting in a fringe of annoying paper tags.

I glanced behind me, watching sand teased by a small breeze. The place looked abandonado, a ghost town. No one would see me sneak deeper into the yard, grab some dirty old mechanic’s cushions, and crawl into the open trunk of an old Chevy. Which is exactly what I did.

My eyes burned. I was so fucking tired. I had been on the run for the last twenty-four hours, most of that spent on buses after I crossed through a portal into Tacoma, instead of Tucson, by mistake. During that time, I remained in a heightened state of alert, fearing every stop along the way. But now, surrounded by safe and ancient steel, I finally slept.

§

As I stirred awake, Kinnear was suddenly there, his pale face looming over mine, his beauty mutilated by anger. His hand pressed hard on my chest, and I couldn’t move.

With a scream, I finally launched myself upwards, thumping my head hard on the roof of the trunk, which I had closed just enough to conceal myself, more afraid of getting trapped than of being found.

I blinked, trying to clear the sleep from my eyes, but he was gone. A nightmare. My heart continued to hammer. Just a nightmare.

I lowered my fists, not sure how I planned to defend myself, anyway, against a creature more magic and malice than flesh. The milagro had bought me enough time to escape before, the iron poisoning him briefly, but I doubted that trick would work a second time.

A flashlight beam cut across my vision, and before I could crouch down, a woman called out to me.

“No voy a … llamar la migra,” she said in clunky, practiced Spanish. I’m not going to call immigration. That must have been the extent of her Spanish because she quickly reverted back to English when I didn’t immediately move.“But I’m not gonna ask you twice either. Come on out of there. ¡Vamos!”

“I’m not illegal,” I said, exiting with hands raised. It was instinctive, the kind of training you get early growing up brown in a Stand-your-ground state. I couldn’t see the woman behind the glare of her flashlight, but I knew there was a strong possibility she had a gun. Most people did, who lived near the border. Scared white people, anyway.

“Good,” the woman grunted, and clicked off the flashlight. “Because my Spanish is shit. What are you doing in there, girl?”

“Sleeping,” I said stupidly.

“Strange place to take a nap,” the woman said. A half-moon illuminated the yard well enough that once the afterimage from the flashlight beam faded, I could make her out, a grey smudge against the blue of night. Her face was doughy with age, like an uncooked Pillsbury biscuit, more layers than wrinkles. She was wearing what could’ve been a nightgown, or what passed for old lady fashion these days, I wasn’t sure. I was more interested in the bat she held in her left hand.

“You going to hit me with that bat if I argue with you?”

She looked at the bat, almost like she’d forgotten she had it. “Honey, if I hit every person with a bat who argued with me, I’d be outta family. Anyone else with you in there?”

“No,” I said.

“You’re not lying to me, are you?”

I gritted my teeth. “No, ma’am.” I assumed she took some issue with my tone, just like all my teachers at school had. In high school, I was teased for having a resting bitch face, and I’d had to work hard to watch that when I was with Kinnear. He hadn’t liked when I looked unhappy.

The old woman waved her flashlight, annoyed. “Oh, leave off with that ma’am business. My arthritis does a good enough job of making me feel old. Now, tell me. What are you doing all the way out here, girl? You running from something?”

“I’m twenty-two,” I said, bristling at that label. Girl. It wasn’t just how infantilizing it felt to be assumed a child. Even before I’d left for the Otherworld, I’d begun questioning my gender. Now, after living among the Fair Folk, whose appearances and appetites fluctuated with the self-assured grace of passing seasons, I felt even more in turmoil. It was easy to come home to a place. It was harder to find a path back to a self you had barely allowed yourself to know.

“Well, par-don me,” the old woman said sarcastically. “Didn’t answer my question, though.”

“I’m not in trouble with the law,” I said.

“But you are running from something,” she persisted, adding in a gentler voice, “Someone?”

“Maybe.”

“Maybe means yes.”

“Maybe means maybe.”

“Not according to my grandkids.” The old woman smiled, and something released inside me, something I hadn’t realized I was holding. A breath the size and shape of a thorn, just like the rosarios that grew up around the fence that Pa couldn’t bring himself to uproot. Just like the crown paining Christ on Abuela’s old crucifix. “You got a name?”

“Amadis,” I replied, giving her the name I’d been considering for years. It felt right the moment it left my lips. And now, if Kinnear came looking, he wouldn’t be able to command me by my true name. He no longer knew it.

“Carlene,” the old woman said. “Now that we’ve gotten introductions out of the way, you look like you could use a hot meal and a shower. As it happens, I made myself a little too much stir fry tonight. Eyes always have been bigger than my stomach. Or used to be.” She patted her round belly good-naturedly. “You’re welcome to come inside, wash up. I could probably find you some clean clothes to wear, too. My niece comes to stay with me every now and then and she’s about your size.”

I almost said no, despite how desperately I needed to feel clean, and it wasn’t because I didn’t trust Carlene. Apá never took showers at night, as a rule. Before coming to America, he’d lived most of his life in a little town outside of Zacatecas, Mexico where most homes stood apart from their bathrooms. My father liked telling the story of the time he’d showered near midnight against Abuela’s warnings, only to emerge to a black cajedo watching him from the bushes, red eyes glowing hot like coals.

I doubted Papá was worried a cajedo would find him here in Arizona. He just wanted an excuse to fall into bed after a long day without having to wash up first. Still, I’d developed the same habit. I didn’t believe in cajedos, but if my track record with dangerous, unearthly creatures suggested anything, it was this: had I believed, I probably would have sought one out.

My stomach growled, accepting Carlene’s offer on my behalf.

As I followed her to the back of the yard, where Papá’s house—my house—squatted amongst columns of squashed cars, something tickled my neck. I swatted myself, expecting to catch a spider, but my hand came away clean.

My eyes shot up, narrowing on the fence line. I thought I saw someone standing there, just outside. A man-shaped shadow. But as with my dream, when I blinked, he was gone.

§

My stomach must have shrunk to the size of a bur while I was in the Otherworld, living off honeyed words and the bright red fruits Kinnear sometimes brought me—always with the warning not to look at them for too long. I barely ate anything on the table, and hardly spoke. Thankfully, Carlene did most of the talking, chatting to fill the silence. I kept waiting for her to ask me questions—what I was doing here, where I was from—but either she didn’t care, or she sensed it was a story I wasn’t ready tell because she never steered the conversation toward me.

After dinner, I followed Carlene to her guest bedroom, pretending I didn’t already know the way. I knew things would be different, but I still wasn’t prepared for the scene inside.

Nothing was how I’d left it. Someone had moved the bed, dragging it into the middle of the room, where I used to sit constructing animals out of parts I found around the Patch. Pa often encouraged me to sell my constructs online, but I always found an excuse not to. I tried giving some to family, aunts mostly, but they only smiled politely before tucking them away in their purse, never to be mentioned again. After that, I started sending them off with customers’ kids, whose happiness at receiving a gift made me feel like some kind of santa patrona. The few constructs I kept—a small, rusty coyote, not unlike the form Kinnear first took to approach me, and a lion made from a ball joint—were nowhere to be seen, having vanished with my dresser and desk.

Sharp tears stung my eyes, and a sob began climbing the ladder of my throat.

Papá said I could come home. But I waited too long. And now I didn’t have one anymore.

“You’re Luis Lozano’s kid, aren’t you?” Carlene broke the silence just as I took a sharp breath and wiped snot from my nose. “We were having such a nice dinner … I didn’t want to say anything.”

“I can’t believe he sold the Patch!” I said, my voice practically a screech.

“It’s a tough business.” Carlene shifted her gaze to the floor. “Surprised he didn’t tell you, though. It’s been a couple years now.”

All of my grief went cold, replaced by hot, pulsing horror. “What?”

Carlene’s expression turned sympathetic. “When was the last time you spoke to your dad, kid?”

I did the math quickly. “Eight months ago.”

That’s when I left with Kinnear, certain I would visit occasionally, not knowing he would hoard his portal magic, keeping me confined to the Otherworld, drunk on the wonder, and dosing me with his touch whenever I started to sober up.

“Sure about that?”

I held back a nod, suddenly not so sure.

Carlene swore under her breath. “I’m gonna come right out and say it. Luis died some time last year. Bridge collapsed at some new diamond interchange in Tucson. It was all over K-GUN for a few days—”

If she said anything more, I didn’t hear her. I was already halfway to the bathroom, but I didn’t make it in time to save Carlene’s carpet from barely-digested stir fry.

§

Despite a horrible first and second impression, Carlene let me stay. I expected a list of conditions, but she had only one: I pull my weight around the Lodestone. In her own words, she wasn’t running a charity. Even before she listed the tasks she had in mind, I had a fairly good idea of what needed to get done and immediately set to work, grateful for something to do.

Kinnear appeared two nights later.

I was up late, screwing around on the computer in Carlene’s living room, when I heard something that sounded like a fox caught in the fence. The wildlife in the area mostly consisted of birds, lizards, foxes, rabbits, snakes, and bats, so I wasn’t worried about a large predator when I slipped on my shoes and snuck outside to look. Pa and I used to prop the wheels from classic cars upright to avoid any wandering animals getting their leg stuck between the spokes, but I didn’t know if Carlene had continued that habit.

When I saw Kinnear, I froze. Even when we were together, I’d had to fight down that instinct. Now I wondered if it wasn’t some ancient response that had kept my ancestors from wandering off into the dark with strange and beautiful men. I hadn’t had the same good sense, clearly.

Kinnear was caught between some fallen rebar, the hole in the fence where he’d managed to slip through, and one of the oldest junkers on the lot. That car was so rusted I felt like I needed a tetanus shot just looking at the thing. Its body was also made from iron and steel, belonging to the era before car manufacturers made the switch to aluminum, which was lighter and more fuel-efficient.

As soon as he saw me, Kinnear turned on a bone-white smile, but my fear did not retreat like usual, and I remained rooted. He called me by my dead name, likely expecting me to spring into action and free him, but it didn’t work. A small crease formed between his pale brows.

“You’ve changed since I last saw you,” he remarked.

“Or maybe you never really saw me.”

My words ran the smile off his face. I didn’t know I had that kind of power over him. Before now, I’d only ever tried to please him. “Are you done throwing a tantrum?” he asked me. “Are you ready to come home now?”

I almost choked. “Home?”

“I let you take this trip in the hopes that you’d have done with your little mope and be more lively again. This”—he gestured to me vaguely—“is just no fun at all.”

“Let me?”

“You think you opened a portal all by yourself?” The corners of his mouth quirked. “How precious.”

If Kinnear was responsible for my return, then he was also responsible for all the time I’d lost. Time I might have spent with my family. Papá. Carlene’s words drifted back to me, choking me like a stink in the air. Luis died some time last year. Bridge collapse at some new diamond interchange in Tucson …

I didn’t know how to ask my next question, so I just blurted it out.

“Kinnear—did you kill my father?”

He looked offended, but for all the wrong reasons. “I have better things to do than bother with an old man.”

“But you knew he was dead.” Kinnear’s silence was as suffocating as a confessional and told me everything I needed to know. I wasn’t exactly sure how much control Kinnear had over his piece of the Otherworld, but he must have known how swiftly time flowed outside it, which he had neglected to share. “A la verga! You monster.”

Kinnear’s expression didn’t waver, and for a moment I wondered if I’d ever seen any true emotion there that wasn’t merely all of my hopes and desires pressed onto him like thumbprints over a mirror.

“If I am a monster,” he said after a long moment, “what does that make you?”

§

I knew what he meant.

I had loved him. I had asked to go with him. When he’d offered me drinks, I had drunk, ignoring the way the wine—or whatever it was—tasted like a cut on the inside of my mouth, not caring that each sip only made me thirst for more. Kinnear claimed he had broken some rule to bring me to the Otherworld, and I believed him. I wanted to believe him because then I was special. Then I was not just some chicanx from the middle of nowhere, falling into a life of leather and tires like their papi.

Some part of me must have known Kinnear was a monster when I left with him, and still I went. Maybe I liked his monstrosity, maybe that was the appeal. His power snapped at me like a live wire, and I sizzled with desire. But his body wasn’t all I craved. I craved his guiltless spirit, so different from the ghost I carried—one whose voice sounded exactly like my abuela.

You can always come home, Apá had said.

Maybe he believed it. He’d certainly convinced me. But then, he had never challenged Abuela, never objected to her targeted reminders: Tu cuerpo es templo del Espíritu Santo. Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit. Tu no eres el tuyo. You are not yours.

It was the same message Kinnear sent while we were together, though it took me longer to translate, distracted by the cursive swirls of his tongue.

But Kinnear was wrong about almost everything.

Maybe my abuela was wrong, too.

§

I abandoned Kinnear with a warning never to come back and left him to manage his own escape. The presence of the iron weakened him, drawing out the veins in his neck and arms, but the Fey lord still had enough magic to conjure a portal to some frosty land, and stepped through as gracefully as a gazelle.

“You’ll change your mind,” he said just as the portal closed, halving a gust of chill wind with the precision of a guillotine. Watching a few snowflakes drift down and melt into the warm earth, I wasn’t sure whether it was the wind or his words that raised the goosebumps along my bare arms.

I shook as I crawled into bed and didn’t stop shaking until I heard Carlene get up, several hours later, and grumble her way to the kitchen, complaining about her early alarm.

§

Although I was under no illusions about that conversation being the end of it, I was still surprised each time Kinnear reappeared, usually at night, and always on the opposite side of the iron fence.

Often, he paced, waiting for me to emerge from the house. Sometimes I did, afraid he would do something to alert Carlene and jeopardize my place here. More importantly, I didn’t want to reward her kindness with the kind of danger Kinnear represented. For now, he seemed unconcerned with her, and I wanted it to stay that way.

There was another reason I went out to him, though I didn’t want to admit it.

“You were unhappy,” he said one night in sympathetic tones, his voice like a soulful bell. “I understand that now. Come with me, beloved. I will never give you cause to leave again.”

The next night, when I refused to come outside, he cajoled me.

“Do you think this iron will protect you forever? Everything rots in this world, my dear. So will you.”

It went on like this for almost a week, his visits becoming a predictable part of my schedule.

“Humans are so judgmental. Don’t you think you would be happier living amongst my kind? We would appreciate you where they fear you. Where they hate you, we would love you.

“I will find out your name, you know.”

“All right. I think that’s enough of that.”

At Carlene’s voice, I jerked away from the back window, and turned to find her striding toward the door, bat in hand.

“Wait!” I shouted, and not because I was afraid for Kinnear. Carlene wouldn’t be able to hurt him. But he could hurt her.

Carlene waved me off. “Don’t defend him. I’ve seen his kind before, Amadis. Guys who won’t take no for an answer. He’s the one who’s been hounding you, right? The one who made you so afraid, you ran home? Ran to the only place you knew you’d feel safe?” Carlene’s face sagged with pity, while I fought back tears at hearing the truth laid bare. “I’m only sorry you got me instead of your dad, kid. But like hell if I’ll let that scum outside continue to bug you.”

As she started forward again, I blurted, “Órale! Wait!” and ran to meet her, slamming my hand to close the door, preventing her from opening it. “There’s something I need to tell you. But you aren’t going to believe me.”

Carlene reluctantly set down her bat. “Try me.”

§

Not only did Carlene listen, she believed me, though I don’t know that she necessarily bought Kinnear being Fey. Older generations like Carlene’s had relied on a whisper network, which inevitably left some in the dark. My generation, on the other hand, was practically force-fed stories of Fey prowling our world for mortal lovers, so when Kinnear came to me, I was less surprised at his existence than to be chosen.

From the pained look on Carlene’s face, I guessed she knew how easily a man’s words could curl around you like smoke, Fey or not.

I exhaled, breathing easier as the weight of my secrets rolled off me. “I’m tired of this,” I told Carlene. I was tired of being afraid of Kinnear. Tired of being afraid of how I felt about myself.

“You want to do something,” Carlene said. It wasn’t a question.

“Yes,” I said.

“Then let’s do something.”

§

But Kinnear did not return the next night, or the one after that.

Weeks went by without any further disturbances, and even though I knew this wasn’t over, that he would never tolerate the blow to his ego that letting his precious mortal mascota go entailed, I still allowed myself to hope.

In the meantime, I tried to find my way back to normal, while still preparing for the worst. Carlene helped by giving me the space I needed and not asking questions when I began rounding up nails from around the yard and packing them into an old life vest. She had some snarky advice when I started practicing with the crane out back, shifting the crushed bodies of cars around like some strange shell game, but it was more helpful than anything.

I kept waiting for the knot in my chest to loosen, the cord of tension that pulled me through each day to finally slacken. But the threat of his return darkened the start of every morning like a second shadow attached to the soles of my feet. Despite knowing better, I sometimes caught myself wondering what I could have done to avoid this whole mess, like his failure as a lover was somehow my fault.

Worse still were the evenings when I missed him. Or at least the parts of him worthy of missing. Time twisted my memories, wringing out the bad until only the shriveled moments of good remained. I battled against fantasies of making amends, of things going back to the way they were at the height of our happiness. I knew it was foolishness. I knew the place I was trying to get back to no longer existed.

Then it finally happened. Almost a month into my new freedom, while I was repairing the old A/C unit behind the office, the air suddenly turned hot and ashy against my back. Alarms sounded in my head as I turned around.

Smoke billowed from the wreck of an old, three-passenger Scarab, its hull flooded with fire. It couldn’t have been burning long—Carlene or I would have noticed—but the small breeze had already carried embers into a stack of old car doors, sparking the interior lining. The smell of burning plastic gagged me, even as I held my arm over my mouth and nose.

Kinnear.

I could guess how he made this happen. If he stood in the Otherworld, he could face two portals against one another, transferring flame from burning California to my little junkyard. I’d seen him do something similar before, shuttling the triumphant sounds of a concert hall into my old high school auditorium during a sleepy talent show. I’d laughed then, amused.

I wasn’t laughing now.

I threw down my tools and raced to find the life vest I kept hidden in the washer nearby. Elsewhere in the yard, another fire broke out, flames shooting high into the air, and by the time I reached the washing machine, a third began to engulf the house.

Carlene! I thought in horror, and quickly slipped on the vest, failing to buckle it as I exploded into a run.

A portal opened in front of me, and my momentum carried me through before I could stop. I turned just as it sealed shut, the image of the junkyard swirling away like the last of a puddle sucked down a drain.

“I’m bored of this,” Kinnear said, leaning against a nearby tree. I couldn’t tell whether we were back in the Otherworld or a forest somewhere on the mortal plane, but the air was still draped in smoke.

“What have you done?” I demanded in a tight voice.

“You refused to come when I called,” he defended. “What else was I supposed to do?”

“If you hurt my friend—” I didn’t want to give him Carlene’s name and risk him being able to control her.

“You’ll do what?” He sounded annoyed, but his expression remained impassive. “Enough threats, my love. We both know you can do nothing except what I allow.”

I stewed, trying to think of a way out. But there wasn’t one, not without Kinnear’s help.

“And take off that ridiculous thing.” Kinnear gestured to my life vest.

“Prove to me my friend is safe,” I said, “and I’ll stay with you.”

“She’s fine,” Kinnear said impatiently. I recalled now how quickly he tired of any conversation not centered around himself or his magic.

“Prove it,” I insisted.

While the Fey are very good at laying traps, they’re not so great at spotting them. Kinnear waved his hand and mist rose from the earth, congealing like blood into the shape of a large archway. Color flowed in from the borders, until I could just make out the rust-brown body of an old Ford pickup.

And behind the truck, in the cabin of the crane, sat Carlene, face smeared with ash. Our eyes connected through the portal, and I gave her a small nod.

“Satisfied?” Kinnear said, turning back to me.

I shed the life vest and walked toward him. His face tensed. I could tell he wanted to step away as I came near with the iron-padded vest still hanging off my arm, but his pride wouldn’t allow it. I forced my own expression to relax into one of reluctant defeat.

A moment later, the jib pushed through the portal. I took advantage of the distraction to throw myself at Kinnear, embracing him with the vest, clasping it at the back. I jumped aside just as the magnet attached to the lower sheave grabbed the iron in the vest, yanking Kinnear with it. I quickly followed as the magnet dragged him through the portal.

Back in my world, the junkyard was still burning. Thankfully, the crane had escaped the flames, and I watched as Carlene climbed down out of the cabin, coughing heartily into her arm. The smoke was growing thicker, turning black as the fire fed on all the toxic parts of the past.

Kinnear, still fastened to the magnet, cursed and then pleaded with us to release him, even daring to use my dead name, still hoping it would have some effect. It didn’t.

“Hope your plan’s got a second part,” Carlene remarked.

I’d given this moment a lot of thought, and even with the fire roaring in my ears, I knew what I wanted to say.

“All right, Kinnear,” I said. “Let’s make a deal.”

§

In exchange for his life, I made Kinnear promise to give up his obsession with me. He wasn’t to come within a hundred miles of Carlene, either. Ever. When the iron started to ignite his skin, he finally consented. A pact made with a Fey was binding, made under duress or not.

“Now, wait a hot minute,” Carlene cut in, just as I prepared to release him. “Let’s not be too hasty. I can think of a few uses for that fancy magic of his.”

She had a point. After the loss of the Lodestone, and all the care she had shown me, it seemed only fair that Carlene receive some sort of restitution. Kinnear agreed, though by that time, I think he would have agreed to giving us his piece of the Otherworld, had we asked for it. It was tempting, but I wasn’t like him. I didn’t hurt others just for the pleasure in hurting.

With the help of Kinnear’s fancy magic, Carlene and I were gone by the time the firefighters arrived. I trust Kinnear was, too.

§

“Where to?” I asked, conjuring a fresh portal in front of Carlene and me. “Australia? Italy? France?” With each suggestion, I changed the location in the portal with a simple gesture, like wiping steam from a bathroom mirror.

“I haven’t been to Disneyland in years,” Carlene said. “Wonder how much has changed.”

“Disneyland,” I said, smiling, and for a moment I felt my apá with me again, his gloved hand warm against my back.

Hayley Stone is a writer, editor, and poet from California. She is best known for her adult sci-fi novel, Machinations, which was chosen as one of Amazon’s Best Sci-fi & Fantasy Books for 2016. Her short fiction has appeared in Fireside Fiction, Escape Pod, Flash Fiction Online, and various anthologies, while her speculative poetry is widely available online. Hayley loves to hear from readers and writers. Find her at http://www.hnstoneauthor.com/ and on Twitter @hayley_stone.

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