Improbable Futures by Kami Garcia


  Soon you will have an unwanted visitor.

  It sounded like something from a fortune cookie.

  Jeanie knew it was ridiculous to obsess over a prediction made by a teenager at a run-down carnival. But she had always been pessimistic. It was hard to ignore bad news when someone actually handed it to you.

  She just needed some sleep.

  Jeanie didn’t bother to turn on the lights in the kitchen as she poured a glass of water. She was still standing in front of the sink when she noticed the broken glass in front of the sliding doors a few feet away.

  And when the junkie who broke it pointed the black gun at her red sweater.

  I wake to the sound of an angry fist banging on hollow wood. Someone’s at the trailer door.

  “Antoinette? Ilana? Can you come on out here, please?”

  I recognize the voice immediately. It’s Leeds, the carnival’s mender. His job is to pay off the local cops so they don’t hassle us for rigging the games and selling dead goldfish. A few times he negotiated a quick exit out of town, like after the arm fell off the octopus ride with a carload of people in it, or the time some fifteen-year-old girl’s father caught her behind the Porta-Johns with CR, both as naked as the Devil Baby.

  If Leeds is knocking, it’s not good.

  “Antoinette! You get your ass out here!” Big John shouts, rattling the door handle.

  My stomach seizes and I jump out of bed searching for a sweatshirt. I want to cover up every inch of my skin before my mom opens the door.

  “Just a second.” She gropes for her robe, still half asleep.

  8:07.

  Carnies don’t get up before noon. Add Leeds and 8:07 together and it equals crap too deep to wade through.

  My mother opens the door, and I know I’m right. Leeds is wearing his cheap tweed jacket that makes him look like one of those accident lawyers who advertise on TV at two in the morning. Big John is standing next to him, swollen and red faced in a white ribbed tank and suspenders. Anyone can tell he lost a fight with a bottle of Jim Beam, especially the cop hovering behind him.

  “What’s the problem, gentlemen?” my mom asks.

  “You know anything about a woman getting robbed last night?” Big John points a chubby finger at me. “ ’Cause I swear if you do, you’re gonna be the sorriest little—”

  “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I snap.

  “Then why the hell are the cops here?” His voice is hate and poison and the promise of something terrible.

  “Let’s all calm down,” Leeds says. “Ilana, this officer needs to ask you a few questions.” Leeds is talking like a real lawyer instead of a cash-and-carry con man.

  The cop pulls a notepad out of his shirt pocket. “You remember telling a lady she was going to have”—he flips through the pad—“an unexpected visitor last night?”

  “I probably saw fifty people. I can’t remember what I said to half of them. What happened? Did she stay up all night waiting for her ex and now she wants her money back?”

  It’s one of the classics. A third of the women who walk into the tent want to know if their ex is coming back.

  “Nope,” the cop says without losing the grip he has on the toothpick between his teeth. “She spent the night in the hospital. Guy broke into her house. Robbed the place and beat her up pretty bad.”

  My mother crosses her arms and switches to the offensive. “I don’t see how that involves my daughter. Are you accusing her of something, Officer? Because if you are—”

  Leeds holds his hands up. “Calm down, Antoinette. No one’s accusing her of anything. The officer is just doing his job.”

  “That’s right, ma’am.” The cop moves the toothpick from one side of his mouth to the other without touching it. Maybe Big John should offer him a job.

  I look the cop in the eye and hope he knows how to recognize the truth when he hears it. But it’s doubtful. Most people can’t or I’d be out of a job. “I’m sorry about what happened, but I don’t know anything. People give me five dollars and I give them a story. That’s all.”

  The cop gives me the standard intimidating stare. I look him right in the eye and he nods. “All right then. You let me know if you hear anything.”

  My mother’s silk robe flutters gently in the breeze. She looks like the real thing. Someone who can predict your future as easily as making toast. “We’ll be sure to do that.”

  My mom shoves me back inside and watches as the officer disappears into the midway. She twists her long hair on top of her head and slips on a tank top and jeans. The gypsy is gone. “I’ll be back. I’m going to give Leeds a piece of my mind.”

  She stalks across the dusty lot, and I can’t help but think of how she’d react if I told her about Big John—the things he’s done to me. But I can barely stand to think about them myself. I could never tell her. If I did, that’s what she would see every time she looked at me.

  It’s what I see when I look in the mirror. I can’t face seeing it in her eyes too.

  There’s another knock at the door and my stomach sinks. Is it Leeds coming back to give me a tongue lashing for causing trouble? I open the curtain covering the tiny window. An old man is standing on the folding steps of the trailer, holding a cap in his hands.

  I recognize him from last night.

  What did I tell him? Something bad, that’s for sure.

  But his eyes are bright and hopeful.

  I crack the door hesitantly. “Can I help you?”

  The old man looks surprised. He was probably expecting me to greet him in my gypsy garb. “You’ve already helped me, miss. Wanted to thank you.” He’s a townie, a local for sure, grinning at me with cigarette-stained teeth and tired eyes.

  “For what?” Lately, my fortunes haven’t been worthy of thanks.

  “You said I’d win big if I kept betting on the horses.” He pauses and grins wider. “And last night, I finally picked me a winner. Odds were ten to one. Payout was twenty grand.”

  “You won twenty thousand dollars?”

  He nods, excited. “Yep. Like I said, I just wanted to thank you.”

  I try to think of a response, but my mind is on overload. The girl in the red sweater and now this? What are those odds?

  A thought crystallizes with perfect clarity the way the future is supposed to materialize in my cheap glass ball: My predictions are coming true.

  Is it possible?

  The proof already knocked on my door twice this morning.

  “Miss?” He’s watching me expectantly.

  “You’re welcome.”

  He puts his cap back on and disappears, leaving me standing in the doorway of the trailer. He passes Big John huffing through the dust, his beady eyes zeroing in on me. He’s looking for me.

  It’s always me.

  “You think you’re funny?” Big John points across the lot, his face red and tense. “People don’t come to see your hot little ass. They come to hear something good’s about to happen in their sorry lives.” He’s only a few feet away, but I can already smell the sweat mixed with whiskey.

  “They want a future!”

  Anger churns in my stomach, the sick taste of hate in my throat. “You mean an improbable future?”

  Big John grabs my arm, his fat fingers pressing into my skin. He shoves me against the door, crushing my body beneath his. “You’ve got a smart mouth. Do I need to remind you what happens to little girls with smart mouths?”

  The nausea hits me in waves, and I have to swallow the bile to keep from throwing up.

  You’re not here. You’re somewhere else.…

  I can feel his sweat on my skin, thick and sticky.

  Let go.

  He pushes away from me, turning at the bottom of the stairs. “I’ll see you tonight. And every townie that gives you five bucks better walk out thinking he’s gonna be a millionaire. You got that?”

  I nod. But I think about all the things he’s taken from me. All the things he’ll continue to take. I
think about the smell of cigarettes and Jim Beam, the feeling of sweat on my skin. I feel it again.

  The bells on my skirt drag in the dirt. If they’re ringing, I can’t hear them. The only thing I can hear is a Def Leppard song blaring from the cheap speakers above the Scrambler and Big John’s voice in my ear. I walk over the trash and cigarette butts littering the midway. This whole place is nothing but trash.

  Something moves in my peripheral vision near the broken cotton candy cart.

  Big John.

  He’s leading a girl who looks a few years younger than me behind the abandoned cart that marks the edge of the carnival grounds, where the trampled grass and dirt turns into trees and darkness. I’ve never seen her before. Big John’s hand is clamped around her wrist and he’s smiling. She’s not. The girl glances around nervously like she’s trying to decide how embarrassing it will be if she calls out for no reason. Because he’s not going to hurt her … right?

  I can’t move.

  I’m not the only one.

  I want to run or scream or do something, but every muscle in my body is frozen as I watch them disappear into the darkness.

  Do something!

  I will my legs to run. My voice to scream. But I’m frozen, trapped by the solid wall of fear I can’t climb.

  How long has he been doing this? How many girls?

  “Ilana, there’s a line!” Leeds shouts.

  I focus on the trailer. The red paint. The folding steps. The line of people milling around outside, waiting for pink and yellow bulbs to light up. They don’t care if half of them are burnt out and a seventeen-year-old who hasn’t been to school since kindergarten is the one making the promises. No one cares.

  I force my legs to move and I block everything out, the way I’ve done more times than I can count now.

  I scan their faces—hopeful, doubtful, nervous, excited—and think about what I’m going to tell them tonight. Will they win love or lose it? Get rich or go broke? Live forever or die tomorrow?

  I think about the girl who disappeared behind the cart with Big John. I wish I could predict her future. It would be happy and safe and far from here.

  The night blurs around me. I don’t know what I see in my glass ball or what I tell the steady stream of hopeful faces that sit across the table. Lies, I know that much. But these lies are different. They leave the marks smiling and happy, filled with dreams of improbable futures.

  It doesn’t make me feel better like my mother says it will.

  But it makes me feel something, even if it’s an emotion I can’t name.

  I stay in the trailer long after the door closes behind the last happy customer. I stare at the crumpled bills in the bowl on the table. I grab them in handfuls, ripping them up and tossing them in the trash. The lights on the Ferris wheel go black and I sit in the semidarkness.

  I’m not sure how long I’ve been sitting here when the door creaks open and I smell the whiskey. Big John is standing in the doorway looking satisfied in a shiny sharkskin shirt that makes him look even sweatier. A bottle of Jim Beam swings from his hand.

  My stomach contracts and twists into a knot. I think about the girl, the way I was too scared to help her, and shame burns though me. “What do you want?”

  Big John hooks a finger under his suspenders and smiles. “Came to predict your future.” He takes a swig from the bottle and points at the glass ball. “Says you’re gonna bring your ass to my trailer in ten minutes.”

  The other girl wasn’t enough. With him, it’s never enough.

  Something inside me snaps.

  I think about the old man who won at the races and the woman in the red sweater. Last night, I predicted their futures and they came true. Maybe it was a coincidence. But if there is one thing I’ve learned in the halls of this dirty school without walls, it’s how to play the odds.

  “My turn.” I stare at the cheap glass ball on the table and back at his vicious face—evil and sadistic and everything wrong with the world. “Fate will deal you a fair hand.”

  Big John laughs, phlegm rattling in his chest. “You’re damn right it will. Cash out and I’ll see you in ten—” He looks at his watch. “No—nine minutes.”

  The door slams behind him and I collect the shredded money in my hands. Time to cash out. I’m putting it in my pocket when I hear someone shout.

  I know that voice. I rush to the door, bells jingling at my ankles.

  “You’ve got it all wrong!” Big John shouts. He’s holding his hands up to shield himself, the way I have so many times.

  A man stands a few yards away, holding a hunting rifle. “You filthy son of a bitch. My daughter told me what you did!”

  Carnies come out of their trailers, but no one moves. Even Leeds just stands there with his sleeves rolled up.

  “It’s a misunderstanding,” Big John says.

  The girl’s father doesn’t respond. He keeps the rifle pointed at Big John as if he can see the truth. “Tell ’em that in hell.”

  I don’t see the bullet, but I hear the round explode from the gun. My body tenses for a split second and Big John falls in the dirt.

  The man with the rifle spits on the ground and walks away.

  Everyone rushes toward the place Big John’s body lies motionless. I don’t even recognize the faces as I push my way through the crowd.

  “Ilana, you don’t want to see this.”

  But I do.

  I step through and I see him. The monster from my nightmares, staring up at a sky he will never see again.

  It’s something I’ve wished for a thousand times. But I never thought I would see it happen, or that I would be the one to do it. The realization spreads through me slowly like it’s stretching after a long nap.

  I did this, even if I wasn’t the one holding the gun.

  I turn and start walking. I pass the trailer I share with my mom. The bells on my skirt are ringing again. I bend down and rip them off one at a time. I keep walking until the carnival is somewhere behind me and I can see the highway in front of me. I won’t stop until I can see my future.

  • ♦ •

  ALSO BY KAMI GARCIA

  The Lovely Reckless (Coming Fall 2016)

  The Legion Series

  Unbreakable

  Unmarked

  Beautiful Creatures Novels

  Beautiful Creatures

  Beautiful Darkness

  Beautiful Chaos

  Beautiful Redemption

  Dream Dark (E-Novella)

  Beautiful Creatures: The Untold Stories

  The Mortal Heart (E-Novella)

  The Seer's Spread (E-Novella)

  Dangerous Creatures

  Dangerous Dream (E-Novella)

  Dangerous Creatures

  Dangerous Deception

  Short Stories

  Red Run

  Improbable Futures

  Anthologies

  Dark Futures

  Rags & Bones

  Shards & Ashes

  Foretold

  Enthralled

  ABOUT THE AUTHOR

  Kami Garcia is the #1 New York Times, USA Today & international bestselling coauthor of the Beautiful Creatures & Dangerous Creatures Novels and author of the instant New York Times bestseller and Bram Stoker Award nominated novel UNBREAKABLE and the sequel UNMARKED, in the Legion Series. Her forthcoming novel THE LOVELY RECKLESS releases in fall 2016. BEAUTIFUL CREATURES has been published in 50 countries and translated in 39 languages, and the film Beautiful Creatures released in theaters in 2013, from Warner Brothers.

  Kami is very superstitious, and when she isn’t writing, she can usually be found watching disaster movies or Supernatural, listening to Soundgarden, or drinking Diet Coke. She lives in Maryland with her family, and their dogs Spike and Oz (named after characters from Buffy the Vampire Slayer). Learn more about Kami and her books at www.KamiGarcia.com, on Twitter: kamigarcia, Facebook: KamiGarciaYA & Pinterest: kamigarcia.

  Table of Contents

  IMPROBABL
E FUTURES

  ALSO BY KAMI GARCIA

  ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 


 

  Kami Garcia, Improbable Futures

  (Series: # )

 

 


 

 
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