Chapter 1

While everyone worried about vampires, I worried about whether or not I could get a job. I age out of the foster care system in just two years. If I don’t start making money now, I’ll never be able to support myself. Without a family to take care of me, that means I’ll be homeless, just another person dressed in rags, sitting on the side of the street hoping people will toss money at me. To me, it was a much more pressing problem than worrying about vampires and other people in the magical community.

I had printed off at the library over a dozen resumes. It had taken forever to actually write up the resume itself. I’d never had a job before, so my experience was currently sitting at zero. My grades were mediocre at best, and the only extracurricular activity I enjoyed was the Glee Club. Maybe that was why every time I tried to apply online for a job, I never got a phone call back. Maybe it was the economy. I understood the economy about as well as I understood algebra (not well), but everyone liked to blame it for everything, so why not? Or maybe nobody liked hiring teenagers.

Fine. I had a different strategy this time. I’d go out and apply in person, making an impression my hopefully soon-to-be employer would never forget. Sylvester Avenue looked like a good place to start. It was close to the bus stop and had a chain of small businesses and a few restaurants. I started with the laundromat because I wasn’t picky. Beggars couldn’t be choosers, after all. I tried to keep the wise words of my choir teacher, Mrs. McKinney, in mind as I pushed open the glass door into the laundromat.

Back straight, shoulders up, smile. My posture would’ve made her proud. I walked in with what I hoped was a confident stride. Warm air and the scent of freshly washed linens permeated the place. It took me a moment to find the person in charge. He was a short, brown-skinned man with dark hair wearing a polo shirt and slacks. I think I surprised him when I shook hands with him out of the blue.

“Hi! I’m Vanessa Brand,” I said, and paused a moment because I wasn’t sure what else to say. “I’m looking for a job!” I tried to keep smiling.

The man gave me an uncertain smile. “Hm. We’re not hiring. Sorry.”

“Oh.” I stood there a moment. I probably should have expected that. Just before, he looked ready to shift away from my general vicinity, I quickly handed a resume to him. “Well, if you ever need someone, give me a call!”

I walked out with a brisk step and tried to gather myself before moving onto the next place. I didn’t think I did too badly. I mean, they weren’t hiring, but nothing ventured, nothing gained, right? My palms felt a little sweaty, and I wiped them off on my nice pants. I took in a deep breath. It was time to try again.

All told, I must have entered twenty different places looking for a job. I didn’t expect to get hired on the spot, but I was hoping that at least one person might actually look interested in hiring me. Some simply told me they weren’t hiring, others kind of gave me an annoyed glance before taking my resume, some just told me to apply online. I still had half a pile of resumes in my arms, and sweat from the heat of the sun kept my hair sticking to the back of my neck. As I walked to the bus stop, head down and shoulders slumped, I couldn’t help but feel like I hadn’t accomplished anything at all that day.

I sat on a bench at the bus stop between an old woman and an exceptionally hairy man. I tried smiling at the old woman, but she didn’t notice. The man paid me no attention, either. I sat there in silence. The bus arrived, late as usual, and I climbed aboard. Nobody on the bus cared enough to smile back at me, either. Sometimes, I didn’t know why I bothered.

When I arrived to the foster home, Susan, my foster parent, was serving dinner. She had made tuna macaroni and cheese with peas. I hardly felt like eating, especially something warm and heavy, but I knew if I didn’t, she’d say something about it. I put my resumes in the room I slept in and made my way back to the dining room. I took my seat between Lakeisha and Ashley, two other teenaged girls in foster care. I poked at the macaroni and cheese, half-listening to Susan and Ashley get into an argument about Ashley’s punk boyfriend. Apparently, he was going to court again, and Susan was refusing to drive her out to the court in order for her to support him. Their voices got steadily louder as I mused about everything I did wrong while I was out job-hunting.

“You never listen to me!” Ashley screamed, blonde hair whipping around as she stood and stormed out of the dining room. I winced when I heard the door to the room we all slept in slam shut. Lakeisha and I glanced at each other while Susan got up to try and talk to her some more. With any luck, we’d be able to get into the room before it was time for bed. If not, it was Lakeisha’s turn to sleep on the couch and my turn to sleep on the floor.

“I’m getting pretty tired of that girl and her boyfriend problems,” Lakeisha said, crossing her arms and leaning back in her chair.

I shrugged. “It could be worse.”

“It could be better, too,” Lakeisha grumbled. She looked over at me and gave me an odd look. “You’ve barely touched your food, Vanessa. What’s up?”

“I’ve been walking around in the heat all day, and I don’t really feel like eating,” I said.

“Yeah? The job hunt isn’t going so well?”

I looked down at my plate and sighed. “I don’t think I’m ever going to get a job.”

“I don’t know why you bother, especially if it’s going to make you like this all the time,” Lakeisha said.

“That’s easy for you to say. You’ve got great grades and play sports. You’ll probably get a ton of scholarships, go to college, and never have to worry about anything ever again.”

Lakeisha raised an eyebrow at that. “Now, you’re just being dramatic. You’re acting like we’re not in the same boat or something. The only difference between you and me is that I think there’s a lot better things to be doing than worrying every second of my life about... well, everything.” She scooted back from the table and stood. “I call dibs on the TV. It’s your turn to do the dishes, isn’t it?”

I sighed again and started gathering up the dishes. Lakeisha was probably one of the nicest girls I’ve ever met in foster care, but she never understood where I was coming from. She’s good at just about everything she does. If anyone has a shot at a great future, she does. Me? I’ll have to claw my way up from the bottom of the barrel and rely on a ton of luck to get me through.

When I finished the dishes, I went into the living room and plopped down on the couch next to Lakeisha. I made a face when I noticed she was watching the news. I’ve never liked the news, and I thought the debates going on right now about how to handle the magical community among us was stupid. It’s been three years since they revealed their existence to humanity in order to help save the world. Before that, they must have been able to keep things pretty well under control. So, I don’t understand why we need to “handle” anything.

“Do you think science will ever figure out what causes magic?” Lakeisha asked me, out of the blue.

I crossed my arms. “No.”

Lakeisha went back to watching TV. They were talking about the Elder Council now, a governing body of the magical community similar to the United Nations. A long time ago, they had written a law about the Separation of Magic and Mundane, and it sounded like some in the magical community wanted to put it back into effect. A lot of the politicians on TV seemed pretty against that, though. I didn’t know where I would stand exactly. On the one hand, I liked knowing there was a whole new magical world out there to explore and deal with. On the other hand, I could kind of understand why the magical community would want to go into hiding again, if this was the way they were treated by the news.

I went to bed early that night... or tried to go to bed early. Actually, I ended up sleeping on the floor again except I wasn’t really sleeping so much as thinking about the day’s events and kicking myself for losing one of my pens. There really was only one option. I would try to look for a job again tomorrow. Maybe I would have better luck.

I dreamed that night. I could tell it was a dream because of all the washed-out colors and the hint of fog at the edge of my vision. I was in a wide, open building brightly lit by glowing white orbs of light. They weren’t at all connected to the ceiling but stayed afloat, regardless. The floor was tiled, and I could see shelves upon shelves that framed hallways in the distance. Nearer to me were what looked like checkout lanes, empty of anyone manning them. In fact, the whole building appeared empty and silent. I was worried I might be on the verge of having a nightmare, but curiosity got the better of me. I began to wander past the checkout lanes.

The tiled floor gave way to carpet, and on the carpet was various articles of clothing, hats, multiple shelves of shoes, and suits of armor. I browsed through some of the clothes, noticing that they mostly consisted of robes. Some robes shimmered. Others gave off a low hum that I had to strain to hear. I walked over to where some hats were hanging off hooks and picked one up, a pointed, purple hat with silver stars embroidered on it. I placed it on my head and became overwhelmed as my vision took in a swirling of neon colors blues, reds, yellows, orange. My stomach churned, and I reached for the hat on my head. I took it off, and the swirling colors in my vision stopped. At some point, I had fallen to my knees, and I got back to my feet, wobbling a little.

I stumbled out of the clothing area and back onto the tile, making my way down to where I could see a number of shelves. I also saw floating signs between the various shelves. I read one of the signs. It had three lines. Practical Witchcrafting, Ritualistic Items, Charms. What kind of dream was this?

“I’ll tell you what kind of dream this is! It’s a dream come true!” A melodic, feminine voice rang throughout the building. I looked around, and then a woman appeared. She hovered above the ground, insect-like wings fluttering to keep her afloat. She was short and might have come up to my chest if she hadn’t been hovering. She looked to be in her late-twenties or early thirties, and had stark, red hair and piercing green eyes.

She raised her arms, spreading them wide as if to encompass the entire building. “Welcome to the Sorcery Superstore, a place for all your magical needs! Now opening to the human public! I’m Alyre Webshine, founder, owner, and corporate executive of the Sorcery Superstore.” She put an arm around my shoulders and led me through the aisle whose sign I was just reading.

“Have you ever craved something different in your life? Something new? Something exciting?” She spun me around, so that I was facing a row of shelves filled with various trinkets and baubles that looked to be several hundred years old. “A charm for love, a charm for life, a charm for adventure?” She picked up a tiny model ship in a bottle, and I watched as the “sea” in the bottle crashed against the ship before it was pulled completely under by a tiny kraken. I tapped the bottle to see if the ship would come back, but Alyre put it down.

She dragged me down to another aisle, filled with books. “How about a spellbook? Impress your friends! Hex your enemies! Bewilder your frenemies!”

She led me to and through an aisle with brains in jars of liquid, jars of eyes, liquids of many different colors, feathers of all kinds, and an assortment of other animal parts. “Enjoy exotic cuisine or mix up your very own potion!”

What kind of cuisine included eyeballs? The sights and smells of everything overwhelmed me. I started to say something, but then she spoke up again.

“And if you think this is stunning, wait until you see our prices! Always dropping like flies!”

Well, that didn’t sound very attractive.

“Dropping like stars from the sky!” Alyre hastily added.

That sounded better; though, I was pretty sure actual stars didn’t drop from the sky. I noticed Alyre was giving me a look as if I had said something wrong when I hadn’t said anything at all, but then, she smiled again. She had perfect teeth.

“Are you ready to add a little magic to your life? Then, come to the Sorcery Superstore soon! You’ll find it wherever you want it to be found!” Then, she blinked out of existence along with the dream.