Los angeles, 2012
Shadow Market nights were Kit’s favorite.
They were the nights he was allowed to leave the house and help his father at the booth. He’d been coming to the Shadow Market since he was seven years old. Eight years later he still felt the same sense of shock and wonder when he walked down Kendall Alley through Old Town Pasadena toward a blank brick wall—and stepped through it into an explosive world of color and light.
Only a few blocks away were Apple Stores selling gadgets and laptops, Cheesecake Factories and organic food markets, American Apparel shops and trendy boutiques. But here the alley opened out into a massive square, warded on each side to prevent the careless from wandering into the Shadow Market.
The Los Angeles Shadow Market came out when the night was warm, and it both existed and didn’t exist. Kit knew that when he stepped in among the lines of brightly decorated stalls, he was walking in a space that would vanish when the sun rose in the morning.
But for the time he was there, he enjoyed it. It was one thing to have the Gift when no one else around you had it. The Gift was what his father called it, although Kit didn’t think it was much of one. Hyacinth, the lavender-haired fortune-teller in the booth at the market’s edge, called it the Sight.
That name made more sense to Kit. After all, the only thing that separated him from ordinary kids was that he could see things they couldn’t. Harmless things sometimes, pixies rising from dry grass along the cracked sidewalks, the pale faces of vampires in gas stations late at night, a man clicking his fingers against a diner counter; when Kit looked again, he saw the fingers were werewolf claws. It had been happening to him since he was a little kid, and his dad had it too. The Sight ran in families.
Resisting the urge to react was the hardest. Walking home from school one afternoon he’d seen a pack of werewolves tearing each other apart in a deserted playground. He’d stood on the pavement and screamed until the police came, but there was nothing for them to see. After that his father kept him at home, mostly, letting him teach himself out of old books. He played video games in the basement and went out rarely, during the day, or when the Shadow Market was on.
At the Market he didn’t have to worry about reacting to anything. The Market was colorful and bizarre even to its inhabitants. There were ifrits holding performing djinn on leashes, and beautiful peri girls dancing in front of booths that sold glittering, dangerous powders. A banshee manned a stall that promised to tell you when you’d die, though Kit couldn’t imagine why anyone would want to know that. A cluricaun offered to find lost things, and a young witch with short, bright-green hair sold enchanted bracelets and pendants to catch romantic attention. When Kit looked over at her, she smiled.
“Hey, Romeo.” Kit’s father elbowed him in the ribs. “I didn’t bring you here to flirt. Help put the sign up.”
He kicked their bent metal footstool over to Kit and handed him a slab of wood onto which he had burned his stall’s name: JOHNNY ROOK’S.
Not the most creative title, but Kit’s father had never been over-burdened with imagination. Which was strange, Kit thought as he clambered up to hang the sign, for someone whose clientele list included warlocks, werewolves, vampires, sprites, wights, ghouls, and once, a mermaid. (They’d met in secret at SeaWorld.)
Still, maybe a simple sign was the best. Kit’s dad sold some potions and powders—even, under the table, some questionably legal weaponry—but none of that was what brought people to his booth. The fact was that Johnny Rook was a guy who knew things. There was nothing that happened in L.A.’s Downworld that he wasn’t aware of, no one so powerful that he didn’t know a secret about them or a way to get in touch with them. He was a guy who had information, and if you had the money, he’d tell it to you.
Kit jumped down off the footstool and his dad handed him two fifty-dollar bills. “Get change off someone,” he said, not looking at Kit. He’d pulled his red ledger out from under the counter and was looking through it, probably trying to figure out who owed him money. “That’s the smallest I’ve got.”
Kit nodded and ducked out of the booth, glad to get away. Any errand was an excuse to wander. He passed a stand laden with white flowers that gave off a dark, sweet, poisonous aroma, and another where a group of people in expensive suits were passing out pamphlets in front of a sign that said PART SUPERNATURAL? YOU’RE NOT ALONE. THE FOLLOWERS OF THE GUARDIAN WANT YOU TO SIGN UP FOR THE LOTTERY OF FAVOR! LET LUCK INTO YOUR LIFE!
A red-lipped, dark-haired woman tried to thrust a pamphlet into his hands. When Kit didn’t take it, she cast a sultry glance past him, toward Johnny, who grinned. Kit rolled his eyes—there were a million little cults that sprang up around worshipping some minor demon or angel. Nothing ever seemed to come of them.
Tracking down one of his favorite stands, Kit bought a cup of red-dyed shaved ice that tasted like passion fruit and raspberries and cream all mashed up together. He tried to be careful who he bought from—there were candies and drinks at the Market that could wreck your whole life—but no one was going to take any risks with Johnny Rook’s son. Johnny Rook knew something about everyone. Cross him and you were liable to find your secrets weren’t secret anymore.
Kit circled back around to the witch with the charmed jewelry. She didn’t have a stall; she was, as usual, sitting on a printed sarong, the kind of cheap, bright cloth you could buy on Venice Beach. She looked up as he drew closer.
“Hey, Wren,” he said. He doubted it was her real name, but it was what everyone at the Market called her.
“Hey, pretty boy.” She moved aside to make room for him, her bracelets and anklets jingling. “What brings you to my humble abode?”
He slid down beside her on the ground. His jeans were worn, holes in the knees. He wished he could keep the cash his father had given him to buy himself a few new clothes. “Dad needed me to break two fifties.”
“Shh.” She waved a hand at him. “There are people here who’d cut your throat for two fifties and sell your blood as dragon fire.”
“Not me,” Kit said confidently. “No one here would touch me.” He leaned back. “Unless I wanted them to.”
“And here I thought I was all out of shameless flirting charms.”
“I am your shameless flirting charm.” He smiled at two people walking by: a tall, good-looking boy with a streak of white in his dark hair and a brunette girl whose eyes were shaded by sunglasses. They ignored him. But Wren perked up at the sight of the two Market-goers behind them: a burly man and a woman with brown hair hanging in a rope down her back.
“Protection charms?” Wren said winningly. “Guaranteed to keep you safe. I’ve got gold and brass too, not just silver.”
The woman bought a ring with a moonstone in it and moved on, chattering to her partner. “How’d you know they were werewolves?” Kit asked.
“The look in her eye,” said Wren. “Werewolves are impulse buyers. And their glances skip right over anything silver.” She sighed. “I’m doing a bang-up business in protection charms since those murders started up.”
Wren made a face. “Some kind of crazy magic thing. Dead bodies turning up all covered in demon languages. Burned, drowned, hands chopped off—all sorts of rumors. How have you not heard about it? Don’t you pay attention to gossip?”