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The Leyward Stones, Book 1
Macchiatos, Faerie Princes, and Other Things That Happen at Midnight book cover

Macchiatos, Faerie Princes, and Other Things That Happen at Midnight

Crystal Crawford

I’ve always been careful, anxious, slow to trust. I come by it honestly—my parents aren’t social butterflies, either, though they’re masters at conflict avoidance, both within our family and outside of it. Keep the peace. It’s such a family mantra I’m surprised we don’t have it framed on the wall. We’re not exactly a family of risk takers. So it’s no surprise that the few times I pictured what my final moments might look like, I imagined myself living a long life and fading peacefully into old age, breathing my last breaths like falling asleep, tucked safe in a comfy bed.

I never imagined this.

As the writhing vortex expands in front of me, sucking me toward it, I realize nothing about this moment is at all what I expected, including the uncertainty. I’m at peace with this death, and what it will mean for those I love, but as the black abyss swallows me, one final, panicked thought tremors through me: Will it be enough to save them?

 

Two Weeks Earlier

My feet ached, but my closing shift at the café was finally done. I texted my parents "On my way home," then dropped my phone into my purse behind the counter. 

An electrical trill sliced the air. 

I stood, scanning for a frayed wire, a sparking outlet...

I was not expecting the strange man curled in a ball on the floor.

I rushed toward him. “Sir, are you okay?” My heart lurched. I’d locked the door—How did he get in here?

His gorgeous, deep-blue eyes locked on mine. He seemed about my age, but wore clothes like kids from school wore to the Ren Fair. His brown hair fell haphazardly over one side of his forehead, and his face was about the most perfect face I’d ever seen. 

“Help me,” he whispered. 

Then he passed out.

“Oh no. No no no.” I ran for my phone. My foot caught on his outstretched arm. A glass vial clattered from his hand.

A strange, iridescent liquid glinted inside. I reached for it. The vial was warm, the stopper partway pulled loose. Was it a medication? I debated for a second, then rushed for my phone.

While I waited anxiously for the call to ring, I hurried back over to the guy. 

He twitched.

 

I screamed and dropped the vial. It hit the guy’s shoulder, dumped liquid on his shirt, then shattered on the floor. 

I jumped backward—a shard of glass jabbed through my sneaker as my foot came down. “Crap!” I yanked my foot up in pain.

“911, what’s your emergency?” the operator asked.

“Um, there’s…” I hobbled to a chair, then peeled the sneaker from my foot. My foot was bleeding, but not badly.

“There’s a guy here, and he’s—” I looked up, and the words died in my mouth.

The guy had vanished.

***

 

Sunday morning came too early after my night of fitful sleep, but once my family and I arrived at the small community center where our church met for worship, I was glad I’d come. Our church was a little group, only a few dozen people, but Gary and Mr. Slate and others I knew from school and businesses in the community were all there, and whenever our church met, I always felt like people were accepting and happy to see me. And somehow, when we sang and prayed, the worries from outside the building seemed to recede a little.

Of course, it helped that Madison and her family were not there. They were part of a larger church that met downtown. Sundays were one of the few times I was almost guaranteed not to run into Madison in our small town, and I was grateful for it.

This morning, however, the friendly smiles that greeted me as I entered the community center also held curiosity and concern—everyone had heard about the strange intruder at Gary’s Cafe. I smoothed my frizzy hair down and tucked it behind my ears, wishing I’d gone with a bun today as usual.

Gary was the first to reach me as I stepped through the door. “How are you this morning, Ayla?” he asked, clasping my shoulder and peering at me with wide, sympathetic eyes. “Quite a scare last night. Were you able to get any sleep?”

The police had arrived soon after I’d stammered an incoherent explanation to the 911 operator about a break in and an unconscious guy and a vanishing man. I was pretty sure the officers who responded to the call were expecting to have to set up a perimeter and go through hostage negotiations with some kind of crazed intruder, but by the time they arrived, it was just me and some broken glass and my sore foot, which somehow had already stopped bleeding. I could barely even see the cut anymore, though I still felt the tender place when I put weight on it.

I nodded at Gary. “Yeah, a little.”

After the police made sure I was home safely the night before, they’d scoured the block and the surrounding areas and even checked the local hospital, but found no sign of the guy I’d seen. The consensus was he’d probably been homeless, maybe someone who fell sick while traveling through our town, not anyone who’d meant to rob the cafe or hurt me.

Gary’s smile oozed compassion. “Well, make sure you take it easy today. I’m just glad you’re okay.”

I nodded again, and Gary gave me one final pat on the shoulder before wandering off to find his seat.

My dad met my eyes across the small crowd and waved me over to where he, my grandfather, and my mother had taken seats near the back row. I was thankful my parents shared my disdain for sitting near the front—I certainly didn’t feel up to everyone’s stares on the back of my head today.

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