Cover image for The future falls
The future falls
Huff, Tanya, author.
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Publication Information:
New York, NY : DAW Books, Inc., [2014]
Physical Description:
326 pages ; 24 cm.
When NASA and Doomsday Dan confirm Auntie Catherine's prediction of an approaching asteroid, Charlotte "Charlie" Gale turns to her supernaturally complicated family for help and soon discovers that the asteroid is the least of her problems.
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FICTION Adult Fiction Central Library

On Order



When Auntie Catherine warns the family of an approaching asteroid, the Gales scramble to keep humans from going the way of the dinosaurs. Fortunately for the world, they're wielding a guitar and a dragon.

The Gale family can change the world with the charms they cast, which has caused some supernaturally complicated family shenanigans in the past. So when NASA and Doomsday Dan confirm Auntie Catherine's dire prediction, Charlotte "Charlie" Gale turns to the family for help.

But Allie is unavailable because the universe seems determined to have her produce the seventh son of a seventh son of a seventh son of a Gale. And the Aunties can't help because they're tied to the earth - although they are happy to provide their delicious, trademark pies. And in the end, all Charlie has is a guitar...

...and Jack. The Dragon Prince, and a Sorcerer.

But Charlie might like Jack just a little too much, and Jack might like Charlie a little too much in return. Actually, between Allie's hormones, the Aunties trying to force her and Jack into ritual, the Courts having way too much fun at the end of days, and Jack's sudden desire to sacrifice himself for the good of the many, Charlie's fairly certain that the asteroid is the least of her problems.

The Gales are going to need more than pie to save the world from an incoming asteroid. But together there isn't anything they can't deal with - except possibly each other.

Author Notes

Tanya Huff was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. After graduating high school, she served in the Canadian Naval Reserve as a cook from 1975 to 1979. She received a B.A.A. in radio and television arts from Ryerson Polytechnical Institute. After graduating college, she worked at Bakka, Canada's oldest SF and fantasy book store, from 1985 to 1992. She is the author of more than 20 books including Blood Price, Blood Trail, Blood Lines, Blood Pact, and Blood Debt.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

Continuing the adventures of the powerful ladies of the Gale family, the third Enchantment Emporium contemporary fantasy (after 2011's The Wild Ways) focuses on the Wild Power, Charlotte Marie Gale. Charlie hears the music of the world, and a series of magical coincidences puts her in the path of Gary Ehrlich, a bouzouki player who just happens to know the secret of the apocalypse. The immensely powerful women who propel this story could easily be overwhelming and even melodramatic in their casual exercise of immense magic, but the cosmic scale of their dilemma and each character's unusual individual abilities make this a step into a new world only gently framed by our own, rather than a painful stretching of the familiar. With geeky in-jokes, dynamic leads, convincing romantic complications, and a threat that is both unusual and wonderfully convincing, this is an enchanting example of contemporary urban fantasy. (Nov.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Library Journal Review

An asteroid is heading for Earth but the Gale family gets an early heads up from Auntie Catherine who can see the future. Musician Charlotte "Charlie" Gale has been avoiding her family as much as possible, partly because her wild magic puts her outside the rigid control of the aunts, but also because she has fallen for her much younger cousin Jack, who is half-Gale and half-Dragonlord. His special place in the family allows him to work with Charlie to search for a way to stop the asteroid. VERDICT As this is the third book in the series (after 2011's The Wild Ways), there is a lot of family history that new readers will have to catch up on. Although Huff has a habit of repeating a lot of the phrases and mannerisms of her characters and the sexual rituals hinted at are a bit off-putting, there is plenty to like about the Gale family and their squabbling, controlling matriarchs. (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



  * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *: * * * * * * * * *               ACKNOWLEDGMENTS With thanks to Vicki Farmer, who brought JPL to life, to Alex Potter, who did the same for Vermont, and to John Chew, who helped with two plus two. Any deviation from reality is on me. She lay stretched out under a beach umbrella, long silver braid coiled on top of her head, the fingers of one hand wrapped around a piña colada--made with real island rum and fresh coconut milk--the fingers of the other drumming against the broad teak arm of the lounge chair. She'd been watching a beach volleyball game and she hadn't appreciated having her view of half-naked, athletic young men bounding about on the sand interrupted by the Sight of a falling rock. Usually, what she Saw was as open to speculation as an election promise. She Saw fire burning in the center of Calgary, and her granddaughter holding a double handful of water, ready to put it out. She saw discarded antlers on an empty throne, and knew the bloodline had been both challenged and changed. Granted, the Elder God rising up from a rift in the ocean bed off Nova Scotia had turned out to be more literal than she'd anticipated, but, usually, what she Saw was the metaphysical equivalent of interpretive dance. She got out of it only what she put into it. Usually. She wasn't in the habit of making the family a gift of what she'd Seen. A firm believer in anything free was worth the price paid, she usually arranged it so that the family worked for the information while providing her with weeks, or even months, of amusement. This time, however, she thought she might have to make an exception. Having been banished from Calgary by her granddaughter, who was strong enough to enforce the banishment--pride warred with annoyance and occasionally won--she'd have to return to the family home in Ontario. To the old farmhouse where she'd raised her children and arranged for her grandchildren. In Ontario. In October. When the weather was seldom pleasant even with September barely out of sight. Ontario meant Jane. Who was less likely to be pleasant than the weather. A warm breeze wafted past, bringing with it the scent of coconut oil and sweat, the sound of laughing young men willing to be charmed. She had to be crazy to leave this behind. Except . . . It had been a very large rock. Still, it wasn't as if a few more days of lovely weather and obliging young men would make any significant difference in the end. ". . . turns out that 2007 AG5 had masked the other asteroid." Pam Yorlem noted that Dr. Grayson's voice had remained admirably steady throughout his report. The Director of JPL had dark circles under both eyes and his hands had been shaking slightly before he shoved them into his jacket pockets, but, considering that he'd spent the night on the red-eye from LAX then taken a taxi directly to NASA HQ after landing at Dulles, that was hardly surprising. Dr. Mehta, one of the scientists involved with the Near-Earth Object Program, looked significantly less affected, but she was twenty years younger than both Dr. Grayson and, Pam allowed, herself. Perhaps that made her more hopeful. No, she seemed too smart for that. Drawing in a deep breath, Pam released it slowly and said, "Let me see if I've got this. Sixteen months ago, LaSagra in southern Spain, determined that 2007 AG5, an M-class approximately 45 meters in diameter, will pass within about 3.5 Earth radii of the Earth's surface inside the geosynchronous satellite ring. Seventeen hours ago, you, Dr. Mehta . . ." Pam nodded toward the astrophysicist on the other side of her desk. ". . . discovered that 2007 AG5 was hiding another asteroid. A larger asteroid. An asteroid over a kilometer in diameter, masked by the metal content of AG5, including, but not limited to, the brightness of reflected light from its polished surface. You determined the existence of this second asteroid mathematically while killing time waiting for Vesta data to run rather than by actually finding another bright spot in the sky." Dr. Mehta's brows rose, but before she could speak, Pam raised a hand. "My apologies; that was uncalled for." Blaming the messenger was not the response of a person with her training and experience. "I'm not doubting your math. I'd like to, given that we apparently have twenty-one months before impact, but I'm not." At least not right now. It seemed a safe assumption that after discovering an NEO on its way to becoming slightly more than near , everyone would check and then recheck the math. "How long before the trajectories of the two asteroids diverge to the point where there'll be too many sightings of the second for us to keep . . ." She glanced down at the screen of her tablet, frowned, and looked up. "Seriously, Dr. Grayson? The Armageddon Asteroid? You're naming a large chunk of rock that will destroy a significant proportion of life on this planet unless we pull off the Hail Mary Pass to end all Hail Mary Passes after a Michael Bay movie?" "Subsurface nuclear explosives are one of the listed diversion options," Dr. Grayson pointed out. He covered a yawn with the back of his hand. "Sorry, I can't sleep on planes. And technically, subsurface nukes are possible. Sort of." "Maybe Bruce Willis can save us," Dr. Mehta offered, rolling her eyes. "Let's not rule it out. All right . . ." Pam rewound the conversation back to before the distraction of a scientifically ludicrous movie. ". . . how long before there's too many sightings worldwide for us to keep this secret? And when I say secret, I mean out of the media, off the blog-sphere, public panic delayed?" "Given the way the budgets have been cut for the big scopes and that amateurs tend to ignore asteroids once they've been listed . . ." Dr. Mehta tucked a strand of short dark hair behind her ear and shrugged. ". . . with luck, six months." "Or someone could stumble over it tomorrow the way Kiren did. Or we could luck out and it'll be another 2012 LZ1--unseen until Siding Springs spotted it before the flyby." Dr. Grayson shrugged. "It's a crap shoot, Chief." He spread his hands. "And we're screwed either way. Twenty-one months, big hunk of rock, bam, extinction event." "Bam?" "Scientifically speaking." "No." Pam squared her shoulders. She was a Brigadier General in the United States Air Force. She'd logged over 5,000 hours flight time in over 50 different aircraft and over 38 days in space. She was the second woman to command a shuttle mission and the first to command the International Space Station. She was the first woman to be in charge at NASA and she didn't do bam . "We stop it." "How?" "I have at NASA, Dr. Grayson, the best and the brightest minds in the world--and I include the two of you in that assessment. That's neither hyperbole nor flattery, that's fact. I'm sure that in the six months before the panic starts, you and your colleagues, here and internationally, will come up with a solution." Dr. Grayson stared at her for a long moment, then all the tension left his body at once and he sagged down in his chair. "You really believe that." "I do." She had to because when in danger or in doubt, run in circles scream and shout was no way to live. Or die, if it came to it. "I'll inform the president. I'm sure he'll want to speak with both of you, and I'll advise him to lock down both this information and what we plan to do about it at the highest security level. Thank you for bringing this to my attention. I'm sure I don't have to tell you to mention this discovery to no one else." "It was why we got on a plane." Dr. Grayson covered another yawn. "You can't hack wetware. Well, you can, but it's not usually where they start. I hear everyone breaks on the third day." "Dr. Grayson . . ." Another yawn. "Sorry. Free associating." "Before you got on the plane, did you mention this discovery to anyone?" "I told the wife we were heading east for another budget discussion." "What about Houston?" "I thought we should see you first." "Dr. Mehta?" She shook her head. "I told Dr. Grayson . . ." "Of course." Dr. Mehta had begun to look drawn, shocky if Pam was any judge. It seemed the younger scientist had held it together until she'd passed the buck upstairs and now reaction had begun to set in. "Talk to my assistant on your way out. She'll see that you have a place to stay until we know when you're heading back to the west coast. Get some sleep. Get ready for questions. In my experience, the joint chiefs appreciate PowerPoint." "And small words," Dr. Grayson muttered under his breath. Given that she wasn't intended to hear it, Pam decided she hadn't. And he wasn't entirely wrong. "Thank you for this." She gestured with the tablet. "You've given us a chance, however slight. I'll let you know what else we'll need from you as soon as I find out." She'd started making notes before they were completely out of the office. The heads of equivalent organizations internationally would have to be informed. Media Relations could spin any leaks--and there would be leaks, there always were--on the conspiracy websites the government assisted the deluded to maintain. Only nine million dollars of NASA's yearly budget went toward searching for NEOs, the majority of it supporting the operations of several observatories, and a significantly smaller portion into finding ways to protect the Earth from a potential collision. That would have to change. While waiting for the president's office to get back to her, Pam started running the numbers, lips pulled back off her teeth as she imagined bringing this before the House Committee on Appropriations. "Let's see if this is enough to free up more than not quite half of one percent of the budget . . ." With Dr. Grayson dozing beside her, Kiren stared out the window of the taxi, watched the rain, and wondered if she should have protested General Yorlem's interruption. The military might consider an assumption by a brigadier general to be fact, but she was a scientist and she knew better. Would have known better even had this particular assumption by the general not so personally concerned her. Dr. Grayson had been the only person connected with NASA she'd told, but before she'd spoken to him, right after she'd checked the math for the sixth time, she'd called her oldest friend--fingers trembling so violently it had taken her three tries to make the call. She'd known Gary since third grade when his parents bought the house next door to hers. They'd gone through middle school and high school together--double-dated at both junior and senior prom--and headed off to MIT together, science nerds and proud. Their ways had started to diverge then; he'd headed into engineering and she'd gone into space science and data analysis, but they'd stayed friends. Accomplices when possible. She'd stood for him at his wedding to a wonderful woman, her red sari a burst of color by their canopy. "He's like my brother," Kiren always said when it came up. Actually, Gary was closer to her than her brother who was five years older and a bit of an ass. She hadn't called her brother when she'd worked out the mathematical possibility of the world ending. Gary had listened to her babble, taken a deep breath, and said, "Are you sure?" "Yes." "Twenty-one months?" "Yes." She chewed her lip while he thought. He might not have access to all the details, but he had information enough to draw the correct conclusions. "Even if they free up the money, there's no way we--you, NASA--can stop an asteroid that size . . ." "It's not so much the size, it's how close it is." "All right. There's no way you can stop an asteroid already that close in twenty-one months." "No." Oh, they'd try--the entire international community of space scientists would try--but, realistically, no. Unrealistically, no. Actually, no. Deflection efforts required years of warning. They had less than two. NASA had compiled a list of options back in 2007, but time had passed and Congress had never approved the funds necessary to begin developing them. "But you're not going to give up." It wasn't a question. She almost managed a smile at the certainty in his voice. "No." "Well, then, I guess we'd better make the next twenty-one months count . . ." Charlie loved Red Dirt music. It had a raw power that sang under her skin and buzzed through blood and along bone. More than merely a distraction, it was a cleanse and she desperately needed a few things washed away. It wasn't always pretty music, but she'd take power over pretty any day and she much preferred music meant for kitchens or cabins or smoky bars where her shoes stuck to the floor than music trapped by the engineered pattern of acoustic tiles. If the family in Calgary wanted to believe she'd run from the occasionally cloying domesticity of Allie and her babies, well, Charlie was good with that. The actual reason was no one's business. Cloaked in their useful belief that musician meant irresponsible , she'd stepped out the back door and into the Wood and followed the music to Norman, Oklahoma, where she spent Wednesday night listening to the Damn Quails at Libby's, Thursday night at the Deli with Camilla Harp, and Friday in Oklahoma City at the Blue Door. John Fullbright's concert, his first back at the Blue Door for a while, had been sold out for weeks, but Charlie was a Gale girl and a ticket returned in time for her to make use of it. Fullbright was amazing. His voice was a soft burr, a rough prayer, or shared laugh as required, and his roots were sunk so deep in Southwest Oklahoma he had almost a Gale connection to the place. He wasn't so young that he reminded Charlie of why she was on the road, but he was young enough the words "old soul" were tossed about the room between songs. He wasn't an old soul, at least not so old it was obvious in his voice--Charlie would have been able to hear an internal age beyond Human norm--but he was undeniably talented. "If you're Canadian . . ." Charlie stared across the table at the burly redneck she was sharing with; she hadn't thought her nationality was up for debate. ". . . you should hear John's cover of 'Hallelujah.'" "Leonard Cohen's 'Hallelujah'?" "No, Handel's 'The Hallelujah Chorus.' Of course Cohen." He erased his frown with another swallow from a root beer can full of bourbon. "That boy and that song'll strip the meat right off your bones. Closest thing to a religious experience you'll ever get in a place where your shoes stick to the floor." Hearing her own qualifier thrown back at her, Charlie grinned and hummed a quick charm onto his tattooed forearm, the sound slipping through pauses in the room's ambient noise. There were powers that respected a Gale charm, even this far south, and this man, who understood what music meant, needed a little luck in his life. From the moment he'd sat down beside her, she'd been half afraid of a lightning strike from the metaphysical black cloud hanging over his head. A few days later, the music led her to a campground on a river, emptied of the summer tourists and filled with family in all but blood. Although the days were still pleasant enough, the nights nudged freezing. Charlie barely noticed the chill as she jammed until dawn with old women and young men and old men and young women and banjos and mandolins and fiddles and a dozen guitars. There was even a set of pipes and although the piper got pelted with bottle caps every time he began to play, he was clearly a familiar and loved part of the circle. Charlie had to fight to keep her power from rising with the music. She let it go once, after midnight had safely passed and let her creation hang in the air for a moment after the last note had been played. "Well, damn," breathed the piper as wings and scales and fire dissolved into the night. Then one of the banjo players picked out the opening bars of "Talking Dust Bowl Blues." And they were off again. The next day Charlie stopped off at a coin laundromat in Austin--even Gale girls needed clean underwear--then stepped out of the world, back into the Wood, and listened for where the music would take her next. Allie's song wove through a stand of rowan, berries formed in the Wood's perpetual late summer but never getting a chance to ripen. She could follow Allie's song home, only Charlie wasn't ready to go home yet--and not only because Allie's song sounded a little sharp. Allie wanted Charlie to stop wandering. To stay home for more than a few months at a time. To allow herself to be gathered in under Allie's newly maternal wing. Jack's song moved through the crowns of the birches, never settling, skirting the line between the Wood and what passed for sky in a place that ended where the trees ended. Like Allie's song, Jack's song had always been separate from the family symphony--hardly surprising given the unique combination of Dragon Prince, sorcerer, and Wild Power. Charlie stood for a moment, wrapped in what was almost a symphony on its own, well aware that with very little encouragement, Jack's song would fill the Wood until it was the only song she could hear. "Oh, no, you don't." Hands clenched so tightly her knuckles ached, she concentrated on not hearing him, not veering toward him, pulled by the power of his song. Fortunately, Charlie had been walking the Wood for almost as long as Jack had been alive. "Unfortunately," she muttered, following a fiddle through the maples, "I've been walking the Wood for almost as long as Jack's been alive." Irony was a bitch. The fiddle joined a drum and led into the shadows under the oldest oaks where she lost the melody. Drums often led back to the aunties and she really wasn't in the mood to deal with that. Them. They'd poke and they'd pry and, while misdirection was possible, she'd pay for it later. Where the aunties were concerned, later was a guarantee. Avoidance had been working for her so far, so avoidance remained her best bet. Spanish guitars. An accordion. A pipe organ that made the leaves on the alders quiver. Curiosity almost sent her after a marching band, but the memory of the 2011 Rose Parade stopped her. Who knew massed potted roses would be enough greenery to give her an exit from the Wood? Or that the Rose Queen would be so high-strung? Although the screaming and the flailing had provided an opportunity for Charlie to slip away. Power prickling under her skin, she cocked her head to catch something that sounded like a bluegrass mandolin. Richer. Fuller. A little like a cittern . . . No, a bouzouki. Flat picking "Snug in a Blanket," interwoven around a bass guitar, a fiddle, and a bodhran. Irish then, not Greek. Now that was a worthy distraction. Grinning, Charlie followed the song in and around the willows and out of the Wood, humming a countermelody as she stepped out from between two browning verbena and down off a concrete planter. Fortunately, at 9:10, the optometrist behind the planter was closed, and although there were a fair number of people still out on the old, red-brick sidewalks, no one seemed to have noticed her arrival. The surrounding buzz said fairly large city, the traffic told her she was in the US, and the license plates of the passing cars declared specifically for Maryland. To be on the safe side--not that stepping out of a planter was even close to the weirdest thing she'd ever been spotted doing--Charlie sang out a quick charm to erase her arrival from the memory of anyone who might have seen her. Then "Mama Mia"--from the Abba Gold album, not the Meryl Streep movie version--rang out from the gig bag on Charlie's back, demanding attention and re-attracting every eye for blocks. "Family," she sighed to the couple who stared at her as they passed. The nearer woman nodded in understanding. Slipping her gig bag off her shoulders, she dropped her butt down on the edge of the planter as she rummaged for her phone. She'd tossed it into a washing machine on her way out of the laundromat in Austin after fifteen minutes of her mother complaining about her twin sisters, twenty minutes of Auntie Meredith telling her about the weather in southern Ontario, and five minutes of her sisters declaring it wasn't their fault--where it remained mercifully undefined. Unfortunately, Gale family phones were hard to lose. Not so much smart as scary after the aunties finished messing with the basics, these days the phones were handed out to every member of the family as soon as they turned fifteen. Although the general consensus was that the aunties used the phones in ways that would make James Bond shit jealous bricks, no one refused the gift--cheap, reliable cell service was far from the default on the Canadian side of the border. "Okay, you've had three weeks to play around. Come home." "You sound stressed, Allie-cat." Phone clamped between her shoulder and ear, Charlie tucked her guitar safely away and zipped the bag up. "You know what would make me less stressed? If you came home. I know, I know, you're Wild--outside the family, beyond the laws . . ." "Actually, I think that's Torchwood." "Charlie! I have something to tell you." "Okay." Charlie slid her voice into a soothing register, not quite a charm, but intended to calm. "I'm listening. Tell me now." "Not over the phone." Ah. Allie didn't want the aunties to overhear and, being Allie, didn't care if the aunties knew it. Odds were high there'd been more problems between Auntie Bea and Auntie Trisha. Auntie Trisha's initiating first circle ritual as an auntie had been in Calgary with David, so her ties to the original branch of the family back in southern Ontario were significantly less deep than Auntie Bea's--or Auntie Carmen's or even Auntie Gwen's. As the heart of the family in Calgary, Allie constantly had to play peacemaker between the dominant personalities. Not that dominant personality wasn't essentially a redundant description when referring to the aunties. A door opened across the alley next to the optometrist's and the bouzouki music Charlie'd followed from the Wood spilled out onto the sidewalk, lifting her onto to her feet. "I'm chasing a piece of music right now, Allie, but I promise I'll be home later tonight." A red sign over the scarred wooden door identified the bar as Nick O'Connell's. A sign taped to one of the three big vertical windows announced that the bands started at nine-thirty and there was no cover. Gales didn't pay cover charges, but Charlie appreciated the thought. Slinging her gig bag over one shoulder, she opened the door . . . "Charlie, are you going into a bar?" ...and hung up the phone, allowing the music to draw her into a narrow room; a long wooden bar along one wall, tiny tables along the other. The clientele seemed younger than she often saw in these kind of quasi pubs and the number of sweating bodies already in place defeated the cooler air that entered with her. The fans hanging from the high, pale ceiling merely pushed the warm air around. The pass-through at the far end of the bar showed part of a second room. Specifically, a stage and musicians. The music pulled her forward. As much dining room as bar, the inner room was twice the width of the outer, the ceiling half as high. The stage had been tucked into the front corner by the bar, the walls were lined with booth seating, and the rest of the room filled with small round tables. This room was significantly less crowded and two of the three tables closest to the stage were empty. Charlie'd seen enough girlfriends, boyfriends, techs, and roadies to know that the occupants of the third table were with the band. The bouzouki player was a slender man in his late thirties, early forties, with brown hair that curled around his ears and brown eyes behind wire-rimmed aviator-style glasses. He wore jeans and sneakers topped by a blue flannel shirt over a dark gray T-shirt. A ten-string Irish bouzouki hung from his shoulder by an embroidered strap--it was the wrong angle for Charlie to get a good look at the headstock--and the finish had the kind of small nicks and scratches that told her it was both well loved and well played. Most people preferred to sit where the band couldn't see their reactions, but Charlie wasn't most people. She tucked her guitar under one of the open tables by the stage, caught the waitress' eye and ordered a Fat Tire as the song ended and the bouzouki player moved to the front microphone. "I want to thank you all for coming out tonight, we're Four Men Down . . ." There were five of them. The fifth was a woman with blue streaks in her hair and a smile that could probably be seen from space. ". . . and we call Baltimore home." He waited until the crowd's cheering died down a bit before continuing. "I'd like to take a moment now to introduce the band. On guitar, Dave Anders. On electric bass, Mike Carter. On fiddle, our mistress of the bow, Tara McAllister. On drums, Paul Stephens. And I'm Gary Ehrlich on bouzouki." "Can you do that in public?" someone yelled from the back. "We can't get him to stop," the bass player responded. Gary dipped his head and grinned, adjusting his tuning pegs as the room filled with laughter and innuendo. When he drew a fingernail across the strings, Charlie set her beer down and took notice. He'd re-tuned to FCDG, one tone below standard, in a noisy bar, by ear. Not too shabby. Bouzoukis usually played an interwoven accompaniment--a mix of open-string drones, two-note intervals, bass lines and melodic play--but Gary took the lead, fingers flying into "Boys of Blue Hill," a popular Irish session tune, familiar, given the reaction, to many of the people listening. He played a double drop style, two adjacent strings struck simultaneously, one with a flat pick and the other with his first fingernail. More importantly, at least as far as Charlie was concerned, he played like he was exactly where he wanted to be, doing exactly what he wanted to be doing. She drank her beer and drew petty, inconsequential charms in the condensation. Charms that said, I want what he has and were wiped away again before they could take . Damn, he was good. This music didn't cleanse, it moved in and made itself at home, leaving little room for anything else and that made it totally worth the crap she'd catch from Allie when she finally got back to Calgary. By quarter to one, the three tables by the stage had been pulled together and O'Connell's had emptied but for Charlie, the band, the band's extended family, and Brian and Kevin Trang-Murphy who'd kept the original name when they bought the bar. No one remembered or cared that Charlie was a stranger--the universe arranging itself to fit the needs of a Gale girl. "Specials didn't do so well tonight." Brian set two platters of wontons stuffed with cheese and potato down on the tables then dropped into an empty chair. "We might as well eat them, they won't keep." "No bacon this week?" Dave asked. When Brian assured him they were as close to kosher as Vietnamese/Irish bar food got, he smacked Tara's fingers away from the wonton closest to him and popped it in his mouth. Tara cradled her hand and declared she'd never play the piano again. Someone pointed out she was a fiddler. Someone else said violinist and all fourteen of them got into a discussion about the difference, arguments tumbling over and wrapping around each other like puppies. Charlie kept at least part of her attention on Gary, who sat drinking a coffee and eating his share of the wontons. When he spoke, she heard so many layers in his voice it took her four wontons and half a beer before she managed to separate the parts. Granted, less beer earlier on might have made the separation a bit easier, but since the beer also blunted a few other edges, screw it. She heard contentment. As when he was playing, he was, right now, exactly where he wanted to be. She heard love. For these people, these friends in general, and for Sheryl, his wife, in particular. When he spoke to Sheryl, that layer overwhelmed the others, obvious to anyone with working ears and half a brain. She heard sadness. It sounded as though he were counting down the days to loss. Half of what he said had good-bye as the subtext. He had a secret, Charlie realized with a sudden sense of kinship. He'd made his peace with keeping whatever it was to himself, but every now and then he wondered if he'd made the right choice. Every now and then, he'd shift his shoulders as though he were shifting the weight of the world. He wasn't dying. Charlie'd heard Death join in every conversation she'd had with Auntie Grace last spring--they'd buried her in June--but Death didn't lurk behind Gary's laughter. Although death did. It was a subtle difference that seemed a bit emo for the bouzouki; it wasn't an instrument that lent itself to eyeliner and studded wrist bands. She heard fear and anticipation. Doubt and joy. "So, Charlie, got any advice about the whole itinerant musician gig?" "Learn to depend on the kindness of strangers." Charlie snatched the last wonton out from under Mike's fingers and saluted him with it. "Why? You planning on trying it?" "Not likely," Mike's wife Rhianna snorted. "And speaking of the kids . . ." She pushed her chair out and stood, one hand smacking her husband's shoulder. ". . . we should get back to them before my brother sells them for scientific experiments." "Nothing's open this late," Mike told her, then turned back to Charlie as he got to his feet. "I'm not trying it, Gary is. Well, Gary and Sheryl. They sold the townhouse, bought an RV, loaded the cats, and are heading off to see the world." "Or as much of it as you can reach in an RV with a cat," Paul added. "This was in the manner of a good-bye gig," Kevin said, stacking the empty platters. "Next week at this time, they'll be hell and gone away from here." "You can't get to hell in an RV," Dave pointed out. "Even with cats." "I have a few gigs lined up." Gary ducked his head, adjusting and readjusting his glasses. "We'll be fine." "We have savings," Sheryl added. While that wasn't his secret, quitting a secure job for the road certainly explained the fear, anticipation, and doubt as well as the undercurrent of good-bye. Charlie helped sort cables and listened as Gary talked about finding their wedding DVD when they packed up the townhouse. "We have no idea how it ended up behind the hot water tank." "I suspect the cats," Sheryl sighed. Charlie'd already bought both the band's CDs and when Gary tried to give her a copy of his EP, she paid for that, too. "This is your living now, dude. Don't give it away." Half an hour later, they all stood out on the sidewalk in front of the bar as Kevin locked the door and Brian waved good-bye from inside the nearer front window. There were hugs and some tears and promises to stay in touch then, as Dave and Tara headed south, Charlie fell into step on Sheryl's right, heading north. "My ride's this way," she explained, glancing up at the sky. It looked as though the clouds were resting on top of the streetlights and, as little as she wanted to be caught out when the storm finally broke, she could feel a small park or a large yard a block or two away--either less likely to attract attention than waving good-bye and jumping back into the planter outside the optometrist's. "So, Charlie . . ." Gary shifted his case to his left hand and put his right arm around Sheryl's shoulders. ". . . do you have any words of wisdom about the whole itinerant musician gig?" Her itinerant musician gig wasn't exactly typical, but most of her friends walked the same road without her advantages. And some things were universal. "Getting called for three months' session work in Vancouver while your cousin's twins are teething is a godsend." In more ways than one. She'd even managed to slip away before Jack could beg to go with her. Deciding to drive rather than drag half a dozen instruments through the Wood had meant she hadn't been able to use her inability to shift his scaled size as an excuse to leave him behind. "Uh . . . Teething's not really an option. Anything a little less specific?" Charlie waited for her phone to ring with one of Auntie Carmen's random bits of advice about clean underwear. When it didn't, although Auntie Carmen seldom missed so obvious a cue, she said, "Like anything else, music can be as much who you know as what. You'll have to work your contacts." "Contacts? He was an engineer until two weeks ago," Sheryl laughed. The theme from Jaws ran under her words. Ever since that summer in Cape Breton, Charlie had picked up a personal, albeit intermittent, soundtrack. Background music for the inside of her head. It had started as fiddle music, specifically Cape Breton fiddle music, but had branched out into multiple instruments and genres. Usually, although sometimes obliquely, pertinent to the matter at hand. Movie themes were new. "So you're thinking you might need a bigger boat?" "I guess . . ." Charlie could hear the worry behind Sheryl's confusion and suspected Gary could hear it, too. "It's just," he began without prompting, "that this . . ." He patted his bouzouki case with his free hand. ". . . is something I've always wanted to do. I finally realized I had no good reason not to do it. This is my chance, my one chance to let music have its place in my life, and I'm taking it." There was the joy. Only the secret left. "Fortunately," he bent and kissed the top of Sheryl's head, "my wife loves me enough to give up heated tile floors in the bathroom." "I gave up the entire bathroom," Sheryl reminded him with a laugh. Charlie considered bluntly asking what his secret was. Not the secret of why Sheryl loved him more than heated tile floors--less impressive in Maryland than in Alberta where it sometimes snowed in July--but why he'd decided to finally give music a chance. He'd tell her, Charlie could make sure of that, but, bottom line, his secret had added music to the world--which Charlie was all in favor of--and they were all--Gary, Sheryl, and the secret--thousands of miles and an international border away from her family. That made it none of her business. She suspected the whole not telling his wife thing would come back and bite him on the ass, but that was even less of her business and, as she was quite possibly the worst person she could currently think of in regard to relationship advice, all she said was, "Good for you." He frowned. "Good for me?" "Hey, Sheryl gave up heated floors. Good for both of you." "Most people think we're crazy." "First, I know crazy ." Auntie Ruby had been insisting the chickens were flying monkeys for long enough even the chickens had begun to believe her. "Second, I'm not most people. Me, I'm all about people following their dreams. My family is a big believer in dreams." And, occasionally, in reading entrails. "I don't know of any bands looking to sign on a bouzouki, and I haven't heard about anyone who might need one for session work, but I do know someone who pays more attention to that sort of thing than me." When Gary and Sheryl stopped to wait for a red light, Charlie looked up and down the empty street, shrugged, and waited with them. She pulled a pen from the front pocket on her gig bag, and, after a little digging, managed to find a crumpled receipt. "If anyone's recording or gigging folk or Irish in North America, Dave Clement will know about it. Actually," she added thoughtfully, scrawling his number, "he's got a decent line on what's happening in the UK, too. Tell him I told you to call and he'll know you're worth his time." Sheryl began to protest, but Gary stopped her. "And this . . ." Charlie paused, decided she might as well go big since she still hadn't gone home, and wrote another line of numbers. ". . . is my cell. Call if you need me. If you're ever in the Calgary area, maybe we can throw a band together for a couple of local gigs." She couldn't promise more than that. A band would tie her to a place, and she needed to be free to run. "Calgary, Alberta?" Gary shook his head. "Canada? That's a bit of a distance. What are you doing in Maryland?" Charlie grinned. "Being itinerant." Sheryl turned the receipt over, twisting it so it caught the spill of light from the streetlamp. "The Derby Girls?" "My youngest sisters are on a team in the local roller derby league," Charlie told her as the light changed. She flashed a smile at a very pissed-off cabbie trapped behind the red, the only car in sight, and started across the street. "Gale Force Eleven and Gale Force Twelve. Our last name is Gale," Charlie added as both Gary and Sheryl looked confused. "Gale force eleven is a violent storm, twelve is a hurricane." "Isn't Roller Derby a little . . . dangerous?" Not as much as staking vampires in the Paris catacombs. Or beheading zombies in New Orleans. Or whatever the hell they'd been up to in Peru before Auntie Jane got a call from an old friend and sent Charlie to haul their butts home. "Please," she snorted, "it's Canadian Roller Derby. It's all 'sorry about the kidney shot and excuse me, coming through.'" "Really?" "No." "Okay, then. This is where we turn." Gary pointed west at the barely visible sign for a public parking lot. "You're . . ." "Still heading north." She could feel trees on the other side of the big brick church. "Best of luck following the dream." As there'd been enough beer and music for hugs, Charlie took the opportunity to trace a charm on the bouzouki case, protecting the instrument within from rough handling, sudden changes in the weather, and cat urine. "If we're in Calgary . . ." Gary grinned, all of them aware of how unlikely that would be. ". . . we'll be sure to . . ." "Brush Up Your Shakespeare" rang out from Charlie's pocket. "It was gangster Shakespeare or Katy Perry," she explained, pulling out the phone. Gary laughed. "Good choice." They waved as she unlocked it, Gary's arm around Sheryl's shoulders as they walked away. Charlie half expected the overture from Man of La Mancha to follow them down the street, but when the silence remained unbroken except for a squeal of tires from the passing cab, she turned her attention to her phone. "Katie?" Katie sighed with enough force Charlie almost felt it. "You hung up on Allie." "I was . . ." "Don't care. Every stoplight in Calgary has been red for the last four hours." Charlie checked her watch--2:15 AM EST--and rounded back. "It's 11 PM in Calgary." "Yes, and four hours ago it was 7 PM and traffic's been a complete bitch. I'm only grateful you waited until after the evening commute. Do you know why all the stoplights have been red for the last four hours? Why I've been here instead of spending the evening in the park with David? Because you hung up on Allie." "Graham . . ." "Graham got threatened with an ice cream scoop, decided discretion was the better part of valor, and spent the evening down in the store." "An ice cream scoop?" "She couldn't find the melon baller; not the point. The point is, you hung up on her." "About four hours ago. Why'd it take you so long to call?" "We tried. What did you do to your phone?" "Nothing." "I don't believe you." "Why would I lie about that? Trust me, if I actually figured out a way to block calls, I'd tell you all about it." But her phone hadn't rung once while she was in O'Connell's or while she was walking with Gary and Sheryl, at least not until it was time for them to separate. In the last four hours, Charlie hadn't considered flushing her phone down a toilet, tossing it through the open window of a passing cab, or mailing it to Argentina to get a temporary reprieve from family. She watched Gary and Sheryl turn into the parking lot. Someone or something had really wanted her to spend that time with them. If Charlie ever found out who or what it was, she'd have to thank them. "Is Allie okay?" "What part of all the lights have been red for four hours sounds like okay to you?" "I'm on my way." "On your way where?" Okay, maybe she deserved that. "Home." "Aim for yesterday." She couldn't make yesterday, but it sounded like Allie's reaction had been strong enough Charlie could have followed it back to the moment right after she'd hung up. "It won't change anything. The lights will still be red, and you'll still be pissed off when you call." "Fucking Schrödinger's future," Katie muttered. "You're the one who opened the box." Because the past had already happened, Charlie couldn't know what she was trying to change. If she were going to change it, she already had. If Katie had called and told her to go home to the moment right after she'd hung up, and nothing more, Charlie would have been able to follow the oom pah pah of Allie's reaction out of the Wood. Later, Katie would have told her to do something she'd already done and, for approximately four hours, Charlie would have been in both Calgary and Baltimore. Once Charlie knew she hadn't been with Allie while she was also at O'Connell's, she couldn't go and be with Allie. Being able to exit the Wood at different times had seemed like a kick-ass travel option until it became obvious that fulfilling the parameters was an absolute bitch. Once she'd realized that, Charlie'd let the family know she'd be happy to help with any do-overs, but the person making the request had to work out the details. So far, no one had taken her up on her offer although Auntie Gwen had spent the last three years working on an elaborate plan involving Joss Whedon and a shot-but-never-shown, second season of Firefly . Having passed the church, Charlie rocked to a stop, stared into the shadows under the trees, and sighed. "It's not a park, it's a cemetery." "What?" "I need to concentrate now, Katie." "Straight home, Charlie. No detours. She refuses to talk about it until you're here." "Talk about what?" "I don't know, do I? You decided to go bar hopping." "One bar," Charlie began, but Katie'd hung up. One bar was not bar hopping. Charlie shoved her phone into her pocket. It was hop , at best. The cemetery was old. Historic even. Shadowed by the church and the office building across from it, the graveyard was distinctly darker than the sidewalk she'd left. Sycamore trees whispered overhead. The storm seemed more imminent here. Modern cemeteries weren't so much cities of the dead as parks filled with inconvenient stone slabs and they usually attracted nothing more dangerous than joggers and dog walkers. The possibility of witnesses--mourners, caretakers, the recently dead--tended to keep thrill seekers and the terminally stupid away. Historic cemeteries, however, with their gnarled trees and high iron fences, time-darkened crypts and worn tombstones, attracted the sort of person who thought burning a few candles and scribbling chalk notations found in musty books bought at library yard sales would have no unforeseen consequences. It was possible that this particular historic cemetery, enclosed, private, and urban, had, over the long years of its existence, escaped being visited by those sorts of people. Anything was possible; Charlie knew that better than most people. It was possible that the shadows wrapped around the worn stones were the result of a solid object blocking both starlight and streetlights. It was possible. But it wasn't very likely. She actually didn't need to go into the cemetery to get home. If she didn't want to return to the planter--and she didn't--Baltimore had plenty of other ways into the Wood. Not so long ago, she'd have sketched a charm on the gate to keep people out and figured she'd done her bit to keep the accumulated malevolence from screwing up too many lives. Those who avoided the gates, clambering up and over the wrought iron, would have been looking for trouble so, hey, not her problem if they found it. Making them even less her problem, they wouldn't have been family. Or a threat to her family. Not so long ago, that would've been enough. But not-so-long-ago was back before a troll had helped her discover that being a Wild Power in the Gale family meant more than charming strangers and collecting metaphysical frequent flyer miles by taking shortcuts through the Wood. Where helped meant holy fucking shit that hurts. As the shadows shifted beyond the gate, Auntie Gwen's voice rose up out of memory. "With great power comes great responsibility, a responsibility someone decided generations ago that not everyone in this family can be trusted with. You, Charlotte Gale, are a free electron, able to affect what you will. A warm body between this world and all the metaphysical shit that comes down the pike." "Because I'm responsible enough to handle it?" "Because until you were put in a position where you needed to use it, you had no interest in it." "Yeah, still not interested," Charlie sighed. It was possible this was the reason she'd been drawn to follow the bouzouki, but she doubted it. That had been all about Gary. This felt more like serendipity--in the universe's favor. "What a happy accident that Charlie Gale ended up where she can be made use of," she muttered, pushed her hair back off her face, and hummed a charm to open the heavy lock. The shadows shifted again. The wrought iron gate swung open so quietly, she could hear the trees rustling. Although there was no wind. Not rustling. A warning. "Go back. Go back. Go back." "Chill, guys. I've got this." She caught the clang as the gate closed and sang it silent. When she turned, she could barely see the cemetery through the gathered dark. Gordon Lightfoot's "Shadow" started up in the background. "Seriously? Lightfoot?" It switched to Britney Spears and Charlie shuddered. "I can see it's a shadow. Is Shadow. Shut up." Tucking her thumbs under the straps of her gig bag, and wishing she'd taken out her guitar if only to have something to do with her hands, she took one long step forward. The world dimmed; the blurred and indistinct surroundings a cross between Corey Hart and Tolkien, between sunglasses at night and the one ring. She felt the shadow prod for weaknesses it could use, knew what it would find, and braced herself. less human than you . . . half dragon, half Gale . . . rules for Gales don't apply . . . how can they apply . . . you know how you feel . . . you'd take care of him . . . see that he isn't hurt . . . you've been trusted with great power but not with this . . . damned for feelings . . . it's like they think you'd deliberately hurt him . . . you know you won't . . . you know you won't . . . they tell you your feelings don't matter . . . they don't trust you . . . all that power and they still don't trust you . . . he could be everything if you only had the courage . . . do it . . . do it . . . do it . . . show them they're wrong . . . do you want to be alone all your life . . . he'd go with you . . . why live in pain . . . "Because it's the right thing to do," Charlie muttered. Salt in open wounds; so much fun. And that had only been the first verse. Those who dared the cemetery after dark--to hide, to sulk, to shit disturb--would be poked and manipulated and shamed and convinced they deserved to have what they wanted. Regardless of consequence. Had the shadow been able to hold a beer, it would have been indistinguishable from the assholes who finished the night with "Where's your phone, man? We got to put this on Facebook." Charlie was deeply in favor of expending the least amount of effort necessary, but this sort of thing, this deserved a rousing rendition of "The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow." Eyes squinted shut against the sudden flare of light, she finished a final irritatingly perky run-through of the chorus as the cemetery came back into focus. Show tunes, one. Gathered malevolence, zero. That said, it took her a moment to unlock her fingers. Remaining shadows were nothing more than a temporary absence of light. The sounds of a city in the very early morning--distant traffic, the hum of transformers on the power lines--pushed in from both sides, met in the middle and smoothed out to normalcy. "Thank you, you've been a great crowd . . ." Names and dates on the gravestones moved in and out of focus as Charlie walked away from the gate. ". . . but it's time to go home." In a cemetery this old, it was unlikely she'd pick up any hitchhikers, an annoyance in newer cemeteries where some of the recently dead seem to believe that being incorporeal was an excuse to cling. Given the situation, arriving with a haunt in tow would only put her further into Allie's bad books. Although, it would also be a distraction . . . No. Allie'd be distracting enough all on her own. She shouldn't have hung up. She was thirty years old, for gods' sake, and Gale girls learned young what happened to those stupid enough or unlucky enough to make a Gale girl angry. Younger members of the family reported that the boys' washroom at the Darsden East Public School still smelled like cordite and cinnamon. "Now that, " Charlie told Honor Brown, 1871 to 1907, Beloved Wife and Mother, "had been effective use of a muffin." She stepped past a weathered obelisk, between two ancient white oaks, and into the Wood. Two AM in Baltimore. Midafternoon in the Wood. October replaced by perpetual late summer. The smell of asphalt and lingering car exhaust and six hundred thousand sweaty people replaced by the scent of damp earth and growing things with the faintest hint of autumn on the breeze. In all honesty, Charlie had no objection to the smell of civilization--civilization gave her coffee and beer and the Mesa/Boogie Mark Five--but the Wood was like a member of the family. After a quick check that she remained alone--Baltimore's aged dead evidently preferred the grave to travel--Charlie took a deep breath and sagged against the smooth bark of the closest birch. The moment she stepped out of the Wood, it had to be business as usual, so it was best she take a moment to regain the joy Gary's music had given her and to make sure nothing the Shadow had poked was seeping past the Charlie everyone expected to see. The songs of family and friends wrapped around the bouzouki. Steadying. Comforting. Right up until Jack's song pushed its way to the foreground. "Emotional scab picking. You're a class act, Charlie Gale." The complex harmonies of Dragon Prince, sorcerer, Gale boy wrapped around her, and in the Wood, where no one would judge, she could . . . Shit. If Katie'd mentioned the cemetery, Allie would worry. Worried on top of angry; not good. Charlie slipped out of the Wood in the enclosed courtyard behind The Enchantment Emporium, the Calgary junk shop Allie had inherited from her grandmother--Charlie's Auntie Catherine and the oldest of the family's three Wild Powers. The shrubs in the small center planting were in full bloom even though, given the season, they should've been completely dormant. "Okay, that's weird." She twisted around. The lights were on in Auntie Gwen's loft over the garage, but neither Auntie Gwen nor Joe were in the window, even though both of them would have felt her emerge. Joe wasn't family, as such, and while he might be a little tall for a Leprechaun, he was fullblood Fey with all the sensitivity and proclivity to angst that included. They had to have known she was the reason for Allie's mood and Auntie Gwen, at least, wouldn't want to miss the finale. "I guess she's got her hands on his Lucky Charms." The rim shot from her backing band was one of its few inarguable perks. Facing the store again, Charlie noted that no one looked down from the apartment windows either. The lights were on in the kitchen/living room. The twins' bedroom, the bedroom that used to be Jack's, was dark. She didn't look up at the sky. Didn't listen for the sound of wings. The back door was unlocked. As the door could be only be accessed from the courtyard and the only way into the courtyard was through the Wood by way of the shrubbery or through the garage, the door was always unlocked. The last kid to try and break in through the garage had found himself in culinary school. The one before that still hadn't been found. In the hall behind the store, Charlie turned left toward the stairs leading up to the apartment and paused in front of the large, rectangular mirror that dominated the space. The mirror needed no external light source to cast a reflection and although the background was a familiar expanse of Jack's golden scales to scale, it had, to Charlie's surprise, not changed a thing about her Docs, cargo pants, and leather jacket. Even her Dresden Dolls T-shirt had made an appearance. Her eyes were still Gale gray, her hair dark blonde and barely long enough again to tie back. She'd gotten the small scar through her eyebrow when she was seven and pitched headfirst out of the treehouse. Had her Uncle Tomas, Allie's father, not made an impossible catch, she'd have probably broken her neck. The shiny, quarter-sized scar on her jaw had been a burn last year and to this day Charlie had no idea if Auntie Gwen's and now you know what happens when you get too close to a dragon had been a comment on only the flame. She'd shut down "Ring of Fire" hard enough to hear strings snap. Allie, who had a degree in Art History she'd actually got to use for a while before the grant paying her salary had run out, had declared the mirror to be an 1870s Renaissance Victorian original. Charlie, who almost had a degree in Sociology, Music, Drama, and/or English depending on how almost ended up being defined, considered it more a friend. Auntie Catherine, as willing as any auntie to take credit where credit may or may not have been due, had found it and hung it but denied having anything to do with its working. As she watched, a red-brown stain spread out over the fabric covering her reflection's heart. "It wasn't that bad. I'm fine." The stain split to show a gaping wound with a fleck of gold in its depths. "You're a romantic. I swear, it wasn't that bad." One hand on the heavy walnut frame, Charlie leaned in and rested her forehead against the glass. The mirror knew because the mirror always knew. She didn't know why it had chosen to keep her secret, but she was grateful. Considering the shit she'd given Allie about the angsting she'd done over her entirely unrequited and borderline cliché feelings for Michael, her gay best friend, Charlie was fully aware that payback would be a bitch. At least she wasn't angsting. Running, sure. Angsting, no. "So, any idea what's up with Allie?" When she leaned back, her reflection wore a hazmat suit and stood knee-deep in dirty diapers. "Did Jack try to feed the twins raw liver again?" The pile grew. "I'd ask if you knew something I didn't, but since you usually do, I'm going to go upstairs and take my lumps." Her reflection held a shield. "Thanks." A line of charms to keep the twins away from the edge of the landing had been added to the standard protections around the apartment door. It seemed they'd figured out the doorknob while she'd been gone. "And the lock?" Charlie wondered. "And the charms?" She hadn't been gone that long. She fumbled out her key. Graham, for all that being a seventh son of a seventh son made him a special snowflake, couldn't charm his way in and out, so the rest of the family had gotten out of the habit. Show time. A deep breath and a reminder that Allie loved her, and she slowly pushed open the door. "Hi, honey, I'm home." A piece of pie splattered against the wall beside her head. CHARLIE WIPED AWAY FLAKES OF PASTRY, opened her mouth to apologize, and snapped it closed again. With two years and dozens of other cousins separating them, she hadn't been particularly close to Allie until she'd taken that first Walk in the Wood at fifteen and gotten hopelessly lost. Literally, lost without hope. She'd wandered for about two days; no food, no water, no idea of how to get out and then, in amongst the cacophony of sound slamming against her from all sides, she'd heard a simple and familiar melody that said, this way home. Allie's song had not only kept Charlie's first Walk in the Wood from being her last Walk in the Wood, but had taught her how to separate the sound into paths she could follow. That alone would have been reason enough for Charlie to believe Allie was something special, but after feeding her, her younger cousin had all but carried her upstairs, put her to bed, and stood guard outside the door to the room, refusing the aunties entry until Charlie'd recovered enough to cope with their interrogation. While they hadn't exactly been attached at the hip ever since, their lives had been entwined. And if Charlie had come second in Allie's life to Michael and then Graham, she'd never minded because Allie had always come second to the music. As it turned out, Charlie'd been right all along and Allie really was something special, objectively speaking. Powerful enough to have defeated a or possibly the Dragon Queen, she'd claimed and held Calgary, Alberta; all one million, two hundred and fourteen thousand, eight hundred and thirty-nine people, one million, two hundred and fourteen thousand, eight hundred and thirty-eight souls plus assorted Fey and family. For the most part, the city rocked on as it always had, but, when push came to shove, it didn't have to. Now, Allie sat on the nearer of the two sofas, wiping her hand with a paper towel, an empty plate in front of her on the coffee table, tendrils of power extended far enough to lift the hair off the back of Charlie's neck and trail a heated touch up her spine. The only other time Allie'd ever been so overt, she'd been . . . "Holy crap, you're pregnant again." Katie, sitting on Allie's right, moved her plate and half-eaten piece of pie out of reach. Graham, on Allie's left, wasn't quite fast enough. Fortunately, he'd nearly finished. Charlie swiped this second splattered bit of pie off her cheek and sucked the sticky pastry off her fingers. Apple. Auntie Mary's if she wasn't mistaken. Allie's mother made amazing apple pie--not too juicy, not too sweet, and barely charmed. Get enough sleep. Eat properly. Use the potty. She frowned. Use the potty? "Aren't the twins a little young for pie?" "You've been gone for three weeks," Allie reminded her. "I know, but . . ." "Mom's just trying to help." "I get that." Allie anchored second circle and couldn't leave Calgary, and Auntie Mary was still disentangling herself from Darsden East where she'd anchored second circle before crossing to first. It was weird thinking of her as an auntie, but it happened to all Gale girls in time. Technically, first circle, like third, could go where they wanted, but with Allie's brother David in antlers in Calgary, the older aunties had decided Auntie Mary needed to be more connected to Uncle Arthur in Ontario before she risked it. And they'd all ignored Auntie Ruby muttering about the insipid morality of the masses and how they should have shot the balloon out of the sky the moment the damned thing appeared. When the twins were a little older, Charlie'd promised to run them back east to meet their grandmother and the rest of the family, but for now, all Auntie Mary could do was bake. "Does she know about the . . ." The expression on Allie's face cut off potential teasing before it reached Charlie's mouth. ". . . new pregnancy." "No. I wanted to tell you first." That wasn't it. Or that wasn't all of it, at least. Allie's pique drowned out the rest of the reason. It was, Charlie acknowledged, impressively loud pique. "But you hung up on me." The lights flickered. "Is that the twins?" Katie jumped to her feet, head cocked toward the smaller bedroom and the sound of silence from two peacefully sleeping babies. "I should check on them." Graham shot her a look as he stood, suggesting that, as they were his peacefully sleeping babies, he should have dibs on using them as an excuse to flee. "I think I . . . I left my laptop in the store. I'll just go down and check." Later, Charlie had every intention of calling them both out on their cowardice. Right now, she let them run--exchanging a quick kiss with Graham as he passed her on his way to the door. When it was just the two of them, she crossed to sit beside Allie on the sofa, sliding into Katie's spot because Graham's wasn't hers to take. Half-dismantled wooden train tracks made a figure eight between the overstuffed sofas. Plush animals had been piled high on one of the two matching chairs, folded laundry on the other. Four loaves of zucchini bread cooled on a rack on the kitchen counter and a pile of zucchini still to be dealt with had been stacked on the enormous dining room table. Kitchen, living room, dining room, all one big room with nowhere to hide. Although, in fairness, if Allie were really angry, there was nowhere in Calgary to hide. Bare feet on the edge of the coffee table, Allie grabbed a throw cushion and clutched it to her stomach. "I'm not mad," she said, fingers picking at a bit of scorched fabric. "You threw a piece of apple pie at my head. Sorry, two pieces." "I'm not mad anymore." She flicked a bit of charred fluff out from under her fingernails. "But that doesn't mean I don't want an explanation." "For?" "Hanging up. Blowing me off to go to a bar. For not being there when I needed you." "Allie . . ." "A better explanation than I'm Wild, Charlie, because that's not an explanation, that's an excuse!" She hadn't been ready to come home. She hadn't wanted Allie to talk her into it. If she was to go home, she'd go because it was her choice because she was Wild, damn it. And yes, she had other reasons, but they were her reasons and none of Allie's business. Charlie searched for an explanation Allie would accept and found, "I had to banish a shadow from a cemetery." Gray eyes narrowed. Well, technically gray eye because Charlie was looking at Allie's profile, but she assumed they still worked as a pair. "You were already on your way home, then. Go back to hanging up on me and try again." "There was bouzouki music." "I don't know what that means." "It's like a mandolin on steroids." "What is?" "A bouzouki." "I still don't know what that means, but go on." Before Charlie could explain, or even work out what exactly the explanation was beyond I heard bouzouki music and I followed it, her phone rang. "That's a classic ring," Allie pointed out as Charlie ran for the gig bag she'd hung by the door and rummaged in the outer pockets. "No appropriate, ironic, and/or sarcastic music?" "About two weeks ago, every auntie switched to "We Are Family." So when I hit my limit on Sister Sledge, I locked the classic ring in." "You can do that?" "I was desperate." "How do you know which auntie it is?" "Does it matter?" Charlie sighed. "Hel . . ." "So you're there," Auntie Bea sniffed. Auntie Bea was the senior of the four aunties now living in Calgary. The aunties themselves would say they had no hierarchy, but then the aunties themselves said a lot of things the rest of the family couldn't get away with. "Good." "Actually, I'm in Baltimore, Auntie Bea. It's two-thirty in the morning, and you woke me out of a sound sleep." "Don't be ridiculous, Charlotte; you're clearly in Calgary." "Because I answered the phone?" "Because the stoplights are working again. As you seem to have returned from where the wild things are . . ." Charlie buried a yawn in her forearm. Aunties being clever. Just what the world needed. ". . . you could make an effort to think of someone other than yourself and be there for your cousin." "I am here for my cousin." "I was referring to emotional support, rather than the soothing balm of your mere presence." "I got that." "We offered our support, singly and collectively, but Alysha . . ." Refused them entry to the apartment, Charlie figured, since none of them were there. ". . . wanted you." "I know." Charlie could practically hear Auntie Bea forcing her teeth to unclench. "So what was the problem?" "I'm not sure you actually want to know . . ." "Charlotte, we're her family. We want to help." "It's a sex thing, Auntie Bea. It seems that while I was gone, Graham just couldn't match my practiced ability at . . ." Charlie snickered as Auntie Bea hung up. Some aunties would have wanted the details. And then offered advice. The trick, as with most performances, was knowing the audience. Allie snorted. "They can tell when you're lying, you know." "Unless Graham got in some serious practicing while I was gone, it wasn't a lie." "Wanting to talk to you about the pregnancy before I made it common knowledge does not make my emotional state your responsibility." After giving serious thought to throwing her phone out the window, Charlie tossed it on the coffee table and sat back down. "I know." "I'm fully capable of being responsible for myself, this branch of the family, two babies, these new babies, the last zucchini out of Auntie Carmen's cold frame, and as much of Calgary as needs me at any given time." The pique shifted and Charlie almost heard . . . No. Gone again. "I know." "Stop saying that!" Allie took a deep breath and clutched the cushion a little tighter. "Okay, let's go back to when you heard bouzouki music." "And I followed it." She raised a hand before Allie could protest. "I'm not being facetious, Allie-cat. I was supposed to talk to that bouzouki player. I might not have known that for sure when I walked in, but it was hard to miss by the end of the evening." "Why?" "No one called while I was with him." "Yes, that's impressive, but I meant why were you supposed to talk to him?" "He needed my help. Maybe even my blessing for the road." Allie shifted on the sofa, turning to stare at her for a long moment. "Your blessing? " she said at last. The lights flickered again. "I'm not ruling out this being a setup for some shit still to come, but, yeah, my blessing. In a musical sense. And a couple of phone numbers." The noise Allie made in response was almost a growl. "He isn't family, Charlie, I am, and I needed . . ." "You wanted," Charlie cut her off. "Not the same . . . Hang on." Frowning, she teased out a piece of information that had nearly slipped by. " These new babies? Twins again? Boys?" she asked when Allie nodded. "Yes." "You're sure?" "Not something I'd make a mistake about." "Because Uncle Arthur is failing to hold just like Uncle Evan did, and when the center of the family is weak, more boys are born to raise the odds of one with strength enough for the job." There'd been no Hunt called for over thirty years, but the aunties had called for two in the three years since Allie'd transplanted a new branch of the family to Calgary. Charlie swung her feet up onto the coffee table and slumped down against the sofa cushions. In a family that ran five to one, girls over boys, Allie and Graham's twin sons were already proof of the shifting powers at the center of the family. A second set of twin boys? The aunties would be smug and Uncle Arthur would get at least a year's reprieve. "Weren't you going to wait until the boys were older?" To her surprise, Allie laughed. "Remember back when Graham was an assassin for Jonathon Samuel Gale and he never missed? Well, we just found another way his seventh son of a seventh son thing manifests." "Through his dick?" Excerpted from The Future Falls by Tanya Huff All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.