Her name was Polly, or Brandy, Savannah maybe. The name didn’t matter as long as she did what she was supposed to do. They had warned: do it or we’ll make you.
The field lights were on, illuminating her feigned search. She fished through green stalks and petals. Her eyelids were red, her nose pink from torrents of furious tears. Even if she saw one, she wasn’t going to pick it.
Popcorn steam and grill smoke perfumed the humid summer air. Children with blue popsicle mustaches giggled in step with their running legs as they darted under bleacher beams and up and down sloping hills. One of them tripped. A man dressed in a pressed polo and fine posture helped the child up with his free hand.
Old Lady Joe spotted him first. His simple dress didn’t fool her; he was a reporter, one of dozens at the game who came to write some witty four-paragraph chain about a small town with big town clovers that would launch his career from one made of local featurettes to one of national features.
This one had a good eye, however, as he spotted Old Lady Joe at the same time she spotted him. She was about the right age, he judged. Subtracting the years, she would have been a teenager when the field of clovers became infamous Clover Field. That and she was town royalty, complete with secret guard eyeing her every move—a man and a woman at the top of the stands, an older lady three seats down, and two men standing at the fences. The old woman might as well have been wearing a crown, wielding a scepter.
“Excuse me,” he said, sitting beside her. He tried to sound casual, but his voice said formal, and there was always that posture, one that only big-city animals had. “I’m from a couple towns over. I was wondering about the story of this field, and you look like the one to ask. Were you here when the phenomena first began, Miss—”
“Call me Mrs. Joe.” She was a stickly thing with whole landscapes of wrinkles and a voice rough and phlegmy from chain smoking. She raised her voice half an octave to speak to this man, and opened her eyes a bit wider, smiling with greater frequency, folding her hands as if she wasn’t dangerous.
“Mrs. Joe,” the reporter complied.
“Which paper are you with?”
He hesitated. “How’d you know?”
“Burg has had almost a hundred newspapers profile Clover Field over the years. Considering I’ve been here for all of those years, I think I know what a reporter looks like. Now, which paper?”
“The Chicago Sun-Times. My name is Tyler Feld.” Old Joe forgot his name, but giddied at the rest—the kind of publicity that could counteract, just a bit, the damage the girl had done to the field’s prestige.
“Nice to meet you. So, where shall I begin? With that first day so many years ago? Or are you interested in my theories as to why the luck stopped two games ago?”
“The former, if you don’t mind, Mrs. Joe.”
Old Joe liked the reporter because of his hungry eyes. They were like hers, long before, when she and Willa had stepped on the field and first imagined what was to come. Her skin was smooth then, and voice not so gravelly. She’d held up the lucked clover that kept her niece from choking and asked, “Are there others, Willa? Are there others?” And Willa said yes, that she could help one see them. For a price. “If you pay enough, you can get enough.”
“You got it,” Joe told the reporter.
She dulled her eyes and smiled sweeter, hiding her cunning and craft, and weaved yet another story of the night luck became pluckable. Just the night and nothing more, and even then Old Joe stripped down the tale to the truest lie it could be, altering small details to suit her mood.
Tonight she was twenty, not eighteen, and she sat on the knoll when the first one was plucked, not the wooden bleachers by third base. Her hair was up not down, her skirt deep green not violet. She ate a hot dog during the second inning, when the man two blankets over started speculating on the girl, the girl of that time. He was balding, his wife wore a polka dot skirt. Their two children worked at a puzzle. The boy cried for juice.
But the rest was the same. Her soon-to-be husband, Gerald, spilled soda on her ankle. Before she had a chance to level her eyes and curse at him, she felt the aftershock. Luck had been claimed.
The crowd couldn’t have been more silent. Only their shallow breaths dared, their beating hearts and rising goosebumps. Those visiting could not feel it, but knew: a weight had shifted. The verdant magic zipped across the field from the plucker’s feet, hitting the home team first and strongest and then the locals who’d touched field soil as youngsters, breathed in field air as teens. It tingled from their feet to their foreheads. Young Joe exhaled swiftly then. The baby in her belly stretched and kicked. She had won; her plan would work.
Second inning. Home team down, 1-3
Principal Menning looked from Old Joe to the scoreboard with red numbers already laughing at their efforts. Another looked too. He exchanged a gaze of meaning with the woman—Nancy Olsen. She had four light and thin scratch marks across her right cheek. He had a matching set across his forearm. They’d just tried to make the girl understand: the luck was for the town, for the team, not for random strangers having a rough time.
Menning shook his head just thinking about it. Kids these days: when did rebellion for the sake of rebellion become a thing? Picking the right girl every four years had been getting harder and harder—
Someone pointed in his direction. It was Old Lady Joe and her young reporter. Menning took a swig of soda and waved. What now? The reporter came up to meet him.
“Principal Menning? I’m Tyler Feld. I work for the Chicago Sun-Times.”
“What can I do for you Mr. Feld?”
“Mrs. Joe down there said you could quick show me the framed clovers inside the school. Do you think that’d be alright?”
“Of course,” Menning smiled, gesturing forward. He eyed Joe. She nodded her approval. Always manipulating, always arranging she was.
They walked over the tiny gravel mouth of the parking lot, crunching stones instead of speaking, and into the side entrance of the high school.
For over fifty years the clover collection had been contained in the principal’s office. Mr. Menning presently, before him, Mrs. Blomme, and before her a Mr. Lindeman. For the sake of mystique, rarely did a reporter get to photograph the collection, but Old Joe allowed it because of Tyler’s high caliber, because the town was in trouble after losing two Field games after a fifty year winning streak, because green-filled images would draw a reader’s eye more than plain blocks of typeface.
Dots of jade hung in twelve-inch square frames, one frame per year since the luck had become pluckable. Over six hundred clovers in all, dates and opposing teams listed below each one. They weren’t all green. Some were more brown, others even blackish. But the more recent the year, the better preserved the clovers.
Tyler began to examine them, pulling out his prosumer camera and snapping as much as he could without seeming desperate. “Wow,” he marveled, “so they’re not all four leaf.”
“No. Luck comes in all hues and shapes on this field.” Menning stepped back and admired the collection as he did every day. He liked to think that some of the excess luck, decades of it, leaked into his tissues as he sat at his desk.
“So if it’s not because of a clover commonality, is it because of the pickers?”
“No. The pickers are unrelated, otherwise we could win a game in any town. It’s because of the field, plain and simple. The field says one clover and not another. The field chooses the picker. And the picker merely sees them. There’s nothing to be theorized beyond that.”
Menning was halfly lying. Old Joe, he, and the others were the key, not the field. Sure, the field had offered real luck, randomly takable luck. But it had been Joe that made the discovery and thought up the idea of turning it into money to keep the town from fading into one of those ghostly remnants haunting county roads. It was Polly who connected Joe to Willa. It was Isaac who handled the mayor’s meddling, Kevin who knew how to drug the girls, Nancy and Menning who painstakingly sought out the right student every four years, and Rob who helped with whatever was needed.
Tyler nodded politely.
“Wasn’t your final home game last summer against Wapsie?” Tyler asked, research fresh in his mind.
“Yes,” Menning answered.
“The clover’s missing for that game.” Tyler pointed at the spot where it should have been posing.
“Yes,” Menning smiled, “the athletic director and I and some of the volunteers get together after the last home game each summer and blend the final clover into a heaping batch of margaritas to celebrate. It’s a bit of a tradition now. Off the record.”
This story wasn’t true either. Tyler laughed, not knowing the difference.
Third inning. Home team down, 3-6
Nancy eyed the score board again, those looming stats. She looked over to where Menning should have been—they all sat in the same places every game—but he was absent, still showing that reporter around. She slid past her neighbors’ knees and picked up his half-full coke bottle. He would find her later to get it back.
Nancy sauntered to the fence beside third base. The girl hadn’t found one yet. Nancy doubted she would. There were probably three lucky clovers dotting that field, and from what Nancy remembered from when she was picker twelve years prior, they were all buzzing conspicuously with the magic of fortune. The girl avoided them on purpose.
The scratch marks on Nancy’s cheek itched. At least that meant they were healing.
Menning always wondered how Nancy could support the cause after knowing what had been done to her. And Nancy always shrugged—it didn’t matter that they’d drugged her, fed her some liquid spell, and buried her in Clover Field for three days so she’d become in tune with its ways. Because she understood the purpose. If you pay enough, you can get enough.
She had two kids now, loving school, enjoying the fruits of small town life, quiet streets, large backyards. Without the picker, without these rough magics, the income would dry up and the town would die. The town couldn’t die. Someone had to be faceless and nameless so the town could have a face and a name, a life regardless of new interstate or super mall—
The crowd skidded into silence. The girl leaned. Her hand ruffled the grass to better see among the blades. A deep breath.
Liar, Nancy thought. If it’s there, it’s there. No need to muss around.
A sigh from the masses. No, the girl shook her head at them, playing a part, she hadn’t found one after all.
“You weren’t at your spot,” a voice called. Menning.
“Here’s your soda,” she said.
Menning leaned against the fence beside her, six dots of light reflecting in his eyes. He loosened his tie, loosened the principal ensemble momentarily because they were alone.
Eight years before, Nancy had paid Willa twenty thousand dollars for a never-shrinking candle that, when burned once a day, kept her husband from leaving her for his mistress. But after meeting Menning, Nancy daily thought of neglecting to light the wick. She would finger the match, swipe it along red phosphorus so it would flame to life with a hiss. But her hand would hover, she’d pause to think. She would draw in breath to blow it out, candle unlit. But then the what ifs came. Courage went. And the candle flickered once more.
“Still nothing, eh?” he asked.
Nancy shook her head. “She’s not going to, Joel.”
“Maybe not. But the next girl we choose will, and the reporters and the out-of-towners and the money will keep on coming.”
“No. Not after losing three games. The magic is over. We’ll be downgraded from Wonder to Kitsch.”
Menning reached out a hand. “Nancy—”
“Hey you two.” This voice was Rob’s. He was a slightly balding man, arms and chest bandaged in layers of muscle, and every pair of jeans he owned were so worn they were almost white in color and holing in dangerous places.
“Hey Rob,” Menning said, sipping his soda again and inching away from Nancy just enough. Rob knew Nancy’s husband.
“I was just checking up on our backup plan,” he said, “making sure my car hasn’t been stolen or set on fire or something. Old Joe doesn’t want it out until the last inning, if it gets that far. Hopefully it won’t.”
“It will,” Nancy told.
“But we’ll get our way even so.”
Menning loosened his tie a little more, thinking, seeing more of Nancy’s point of view. “The girl remembered, Rob. She could cause us trouble long after this game is over. Threats didn’t work—verbal or otherwise. She’s a fiery thing.”
“What’s her name again?” Nancy asked.
“I thought it was Frankie,” Rob said. “Whatever. We’ll figure out how to handle the girl later. I’m just looking forward to when this is all over, a good night’s sleep, and a morning at Willa’s Cafe that’s back to how it used to be with all of us a little more relaxed, none of this spying and kidnapping crap.”
“So the doll is fine?” Nancy asked. “Looks good and everything?”
Rob stretched and rubbed his gut to see how much room was inside. He liked to eat when he was nervous. “Sure does,” he answered.
“Willa’s here, ya know. She’s sitting a couple rows behind Joe. I guess she was curious, hearing us scheming every morning. Came out to see the finale.”
“We’ll I’ll be damned,” Rob chuckled. “I’m going to grab some popcorn. You two want anything?”
“No,” they chorused. The other team scored.
Forth inning. Home team down, 3-7.
The mayor occupied the center of the stands behind the catcher. He frowned. Everywhere he looked, he saw flaws. The trashes were overflowing, holding much more than a night’s worth of waste. Weeds lined the fences. The visitors’ stands needed painting. The concession stand menu board needed to be reprinted, a few prices upped and a couple items removed. Where was the money going? Abbott may not have been on the school board, but he knew the softball program was getting loads of money. Yet none of it was showing on the field apart from consistent mowing. It reflected poorly on his town.
The answer was Willa, the woman sitting right beside him. Most of the budget went to her from the people of the town as payment for their luck-seer spell once in a quadrennial.
Willa looked like a simple woman of fifty, though a fellow sorceress would have been able to judge her as two hundred and fifty. She had a head of tomato curls kept at bay by a white and navy kerchief, and her hands were scarred by cauldron sprays and griddle burns. She could have wiped the scars away with three words, but appreciated them as she appreciated the life and spells that gave them. She was an old fashioned sorceress with an old repertoire of spells—nothing like mind-reading, divining, or such fancy—and in that, she was well-suited to an old town that could just as well have wasted away some fifty years ago.
Willa’s eyes swept over to Menning, Nancy, and Rob. Menning ordered breakfast special #2 whenever he came in, Nancy an english muffin with a side of peanut butter and a diet coke, and Rob ordered special #3 with extra bacon. Always the same things. Their group sat among the rest: the grumpy farmers with John Deere hats, little old ladies unable to turn their necks anymore, and lone wanderers in town on a construction job or part-time field work.
From Willa’s secret menu, the farmers and wanderers wanted personal prosperity, and the old ladies wanted the strangest and darkest things you’d imagine.
So Old Joe’s group was strange in that along with caring for themselves, they cared for the good of the town, the grand and valuable other. They realized that if the other died, they would whither, this late in their lives with no firm way out. They and the town were bound. Most small town folk didn’t realize that.
The athletic director, another of Old Joe’s allies, Isaac, took a spot behind Willa. Abbott began to pester him about the condition of the field. Willa listened absently, wondering if Old Joe would ever get up to smoke a cigarette.
She hadn’t moved much since the game started—still that hunched posture, those sewn lips and a crumpled brow. She didn’t palm the doll yet, but when she did, the girl would be sorry. Most were sorry when they messed with Joe, be it step-sibling, fresh faced copywriter, a mayor from a rival town, and now an eighteen year old girl.
When Old Joe was eighteen, she was with child, living in the trailer park north of down, and working at Willa’s Cafe. Oh, and then she was stealing, digging up graves for supplies, running strange errands in the dead of night with her baby sleeping in a car seat, attending nursing school to be Willa’s on-call aid for those townspeople who paid in tiny limbs or bags of blood. All to repay Willa for the picker spells.
When the younger ones started helping, Joe stopped all that to make sure her daughter grew up right and landed in some stable suburb with a kind husband. She’d put in her time. Until last night, that is. For the doll she’d given like the old days—a pint of blood, two nursing jobs, and the oldest silver-based coin in Gerald’s coin collection. Others had given other things, but that’s what Old Lady Joe gave.
Willa had the coin in her pocket now. She’d spelled it to act as a white-hot omen if danger were near. Since Willa didn’t know many of the skills others of her kind knew, she had to resort to these simple methods to keep herself in Fate’s loop of knowledge.
Willa stared at the girl who rebelled.
She was pretty. She had a bruised rib no one knew about, and a black eye the crowd couldn’t see from this far away. Her fingernails contained traces of Nancy and Menning’s skins. They’d provoked her in trying to frighten her. Now she wouldn’t give in without a fight, and even then—Willa shuddered. She had an impulse to stand up and leave, as if the coin had turned hot, but it hadn’t just yet, and she calmed back down.
The girl regarded Willa. She didn’t know the redhead was the one who sold magic with pancakes, but she had her suspicions. And seeing Willa there in the stands when she’d never come previously moved suspicion to full theory.
She added the name to her list: Rob, Kevin, Nancy, Principal Menning, Old Joe, now Willa. One of them was the witch and whoever it was would die.
Fifth inning. Home team down, still 3-7.
Isaac joined the concession stand line. Rob was in front of him, getting a hot dog now; his stomach needed filling again. In front of Rob was Kevin.
Kevin craved a walking taco—a bag of crunched Doritos with taco meat and cheddar cheese poured inside eaten with a fork as you walk around. He used to eat them with his pinky in the air as he mixed and picked through the bag, but he had no pinky now. He sold it to Willa in exchange for the deeds to the land his two hog farms sat on top of. Willa used the pinky in making Nancy’s keep-candle. Neither knew.
Kevin ordered and walked away.
Rob ordered, chomping down on his dog the second he set two one-dollar bills on the counter. “Oh, hey Isaac,” he said, mouth full, when he saw the next-in-line.
“Hey, Rob.” Isaac didn’t know Rob as well as some of the others because Rob didn’t work at the school. Menning, Nancy, and Polly worked at the school. He also didn’t have to go on the gritty errands as much, being so busy with Clover Field politics and PR it often kept him away, even from morning meetings at Willa’s.
“You want to come with me to the outfield fences?” he asked after ordering. “Abbott’s been pestering me for the last half hour about the grounds. He says there are exposed wires on the field light behind second.”
“Yah, sure,” Rob said, hot dog inhaled.
The two passed Kevin on their way. He was lingering between where the teens hung out and where the bleachers ended. “I’m going to ask Kev along too,” Isaac said.
“Why?” Rob whined, after which he burped into his fist, an attempt at being polite around someone he didn’t know as well. A dull pain growled through his wrist where a mass had been removed, a deadly thing from the curse of an old friend. Willa got paid for curse and cure that time. She never took sides in the matters of the town, probably because she stood to gain the most from a principle like that.
The one that cursed Rob was now dead, buried on John Grint’s land the next county over.
“Because he’s one of us,” Isaac went on. “Just because he didn’t properly sedate the girl all those years ago doesn’t mean he did it on purpose, and it doesn’t mean he deserves to be shunned. Come on.”
Rob pouted for all of two seconds and then let it go.
“Hey, Kev,” Isaac called.
Kevin flinched at his name. He looked skitzy, guilty even. And maybe he was. Maybe he’d started feeling guilty the last time they did the burial, botched the anesthesia sort of on purpose, knowing it’d cause trouble down the line and end the whole thing. They still had the spring fair to bring in money, and the reputable football program. Those could keep the town going until something replaced magicked softball summers. He just couldn’t help but think that being buried alive for three days, suffocating, pissing on yourself, drifting in and out of consciousness was damaging to a person, even if she was drugged. And the black sludge and bullying—what if they didn’t like softball in high school even if they did in junior high?
It just didn’t seem right.
Isaac invited him along and he went.
“How have you been lately, Kevin?” Isaac asked.
“Good.” He swallowed nervously. His adam’s apple swung from the center of his thin throat to the base of his double chin. “One of our ventilation fans broke down today. Took all afternoon to fix. And I went to Willa’s this morning. Old Joe was there and we talked for a while.”
“What’d she say?” Rob asked, craving a frozen orange juice.
“She said she understands. Mistakes happen. She wants me to teach Nancy how I do the drugging so two of us know and we can check each other’s work. She also said we need to start wearing masks when we grab them, so even if something goes wrong again, at least the sight of one of us won’t trigger their memories like it did this time… with me.”
“Sure, sure. That’s a good idea.”
They walked on in silence. Kevin put his four-fingered right hand against the fence and it bobbed against the links. Isaac noticed the weeds; Abbott was right. Maybe he could funnel over some baseball budget money to hire the mower for an hour extra each week to trim and fix things up. The boys’ team didn’t make much money anyhow. They used to because they used to be the team playing on Clover Field. But young kids, not believing in supernatural luck, thought they were winning because of talent and moved their games to a fancy field at the edge of town. The girls took over and wouldn’t give the field back when the boys started losing.
“You think these young ones will ever believe in magic?” Isaac mused. “I mean, when we’re all gone, will some of them believe and keep it going?”
Kevin didn’t answer. He just looked at the girl.
“I think about that too sometimes,” Rob said. “These kids enjoy the magic of wizards in secret schools and paranormal creatures made good because of love or some crap like that. But our magic—what magic really is—they don’t believe in that. They wouldn’t like it. It would disappoint them I think.”
“Would it have disappointed us when we were young?”
Isaac found the exposed wires. He stuck his plastic fork into the ground to mark it against a mower or misstep.
The gold band around his thumb glinted against the lights. It was ring of fortune, simple enough. He wouldn’t get sick or die early. He would move up the ladders of career and love at all the right times. Isaac Tusston would never want for anything. In exchange, he did anything Willa asked and always would. He was happy. If you pay enough, you can get enough.
A bat smacked against a ball. A home run for the home team with two players on base, not a leap towards a win, but at least it evened the score.
Sixth inning. Home team still losing, but not as much, 6-7.
“What’s that girl doing with her head down? Doesn’t she know someone’s up to bat?” a man asked without particular aim at a particular body.
He was an out-of-towner.
One inevitably appeared at each game, a man or woman in the area visiting relatives with a hankering for some local fare, or one who’d heard about the field in the news and wanted to see what the fuss was about. Roaming in boredom till dusk, seeing the blazing field lights, the creature would stroll on down to Clover Field and sit on the cold metal behind the catcher. He or she would scan the crowd. Looks normal, even picturesque. But then he would see the girl in the outfield, the only one with her head down while the rest had their heads up for, you know, spying balls and catching them.
“Oh, she knows,” one of the town answered. Menning. “She’s looking for the luck. Always does. When the bat cracks, she’ll look up. But what you want to see is that blonde ponytail fall forward and her hand ruffle the grass. Because that, sir, means she’s found one.”
“Found one what?”
“A lucky clover.”
Menning and Nancy exchanged one of their looks. Menning hadn’t retightened his tie. Nancy tried not to smile too big.
The town didn’t mind the out-of-towners. They bought popcorns and sodas, expertly charred hot dogs and more sodas, then rooms at the Motel 6, return-trip gas and snacks at the local convenience store. Money, the town craved, quarters, dollars, credit cards. And out-of-towners were beasts to milk.
“What happens when she finds a clover?” the man asked next.
“Why, the home team wins,” Menning announced. Listeners hollared and clapped. Nancy giggled.
Seventh inning. Home team down, 6-10.
Isaac and Rob sat down between Menning and Nancy, forgoing the usual routine. Rob had gotten his frozen orange juice. Kevin was back to haunting a random patch of fence. The polo-shirt reporter—they forgot his name—tried to get a quick interview, but Kevin said no. The man had tried to get interviews from each of them throughout the night. He had a good sense, that one, gravitating toward juicy stories even if he didn’t know what they were.
Presently, he was interviewing a kid whose sister played first base. Next he would interview the kid’s mother. The longer the game rambled without a clover presented to the air, the more his questions bent toward fitting an article about Clover Field’s final defeat. Lucky Clover Field Loses its Luck, the reporter would title his story.
But home team wouldn’t lose this night, all willed. And even if they did, there would always be some obscure newspaper from Whositwhatsit, Indiana that would want to do a feature on the field and its used-to-be supernatural clovers. Reporters would still come, they would. The following summer at least, maybe the next too. But no, no, the group told themselves even after these admissions, the game would turn out alright this night.
“I wish I’d been here when it first happened,” Rob said just below the din.
“It was bad,” Nancy said. “I’ve never seen Old Joe so…”
“Defeated,” Menning finished.
“The crowd filed out around us. She didn’t speak for almost an hour. She just stared straight ahead, arms crossed like usual, lips pursed.”
Rob poured the last of the orange ice into his mouth. “What did Willa say about the whole thing the next morning?”
“You know Willa,” Nancy shrugged. “She told us to bother her when we had a specific spell in mind to handle the problem. ‘If you pay enough, you can get enough.'”
Menning scoffed. That line had become their motto. He was the only one that hadn’t used Willa for personal gain, for some ring or spot of land, and he had no plans to. Pinkies and graveyard thefts were out of his price range.
“Man, how did the girl come across it?” Rob moaned. “After all our tests when she was younger, the spying, the research, she was the last one I expected to become curious.”
“Me too,” they echoed.
Isaac shrugged. “So people can change.”
“Or, you can never truly know someone,” Menning said. They all nodded in agreement, thinking of themselves, thinking of the girl.
She had been a quiet child and quiet adolescent, never causing trouble, never stepping outside the many lines of rules and expectations. When other students snuck out of the house to meet up with boys, the girl stayed inside reading books. When other students started having parties with scary movies and a little stolen alcohol, the girl took long walks to the town parks and back, and her mother knew where she was at every moment. She obeyed. She followed the rules. She didn’t smart off to adults or insult her classmates. So she should have stayed compliant; she should have followed the norms.
It must have been the books, and all that time spent thinking, two things that reared their vicious heads and made the obedient, revolutionaries. They would have to be wary of that next time, if there was a next time.
Rob slapped his knee just thinking about it, getting popcorn butter on the white patches of his jeans. He’d gotten another bag of popcorn too.
Eighth inning. Home team down, 6-11. Home team on the field.
Old Joe and Polly had migrated to the announcer’s box. The announcer was a man named Harry Plattsmith. Polly grew huffy about revealing the doll in front of him, but Old Joe dismissed her protests. Harry was one of them in the end; Willa’s magics had helped him lose eighty pounds after all.
Harry eyed the doll then pretended it was invisible.
It was a remarkable little wonder. About as long as Joe’s forearm, the doll was made from the black cloth of one of the girl’s shirts. The insides were bags of grass, flowers, earth, and leaves from the girl’s yard, boiled and dried until they formed a dust as heavy as sand. On the doll’s head were three locks of the girl’s hair. Black dots and lines marked the places of possible harm—heart, brain, ribs, knees.
All of this was the reason the doll cost them pints of blood, two hogs, six errands, three weekend trips, one ball of hair from the shower drain, an eighth teaspoon of tears, a coin.
Willa made the doll all on her own, which included sneaking around the girl’s house, gathering bags of ingredients, breaking in, cutting hair with a silence equaling that of the bedroom walls, and growing the hair back before the girl could notice. Not to mention staying up all night to treat the earthen materials. Polly was surprised Willa was awake enough to come out for the game. Then again, she wasn’t quite human.
Polly eyed the door and stairs for anyone unwelcome.
She was ten years older than Old Joe, and the one who knew Willa first. The position of town queen could have belonged to Polly, but she didn’t want it. She hadn’t the stamina for protecting the town’s life year after year. Part-time teaching was enough. Instead, she crept in and out of the group’s activities according to humor.
Polly shooed away the reporter with the polo. He was desperate for an interview from one of Joe’s secret guard. Refused again. Polly shooed kindly, though; he looked some like her son Daniel.
Polly’s first encounter with Willa was to save Daniel from a bad case of the fever when he was eight. All she had to do in return was grow a tomato plant in her garden and water it with the boys’ urine until his fever was gone, after which she was to use water. Spells were so cheap back then.
The crowd hushed at another of the girl’s faked attempts. Polly held her breath. Old Joe scoffed; she’d had enough. She took the silver pin in her fingers.
The girl’s neck was getting tired from playing at this lie. Two more outs and it would be over. The coach would try to make her Courtesy Runner for the pitcher when the team took their turn at bat, but she wouldn’t look then. And the team would lose.
A clover glistened to her right. There was another at the back of the field by the pole with exposed wires marked by a white plastic fork.
They sparkled three shades of green in darkening sequence, blinking slowly in the plucker’s direction. Sometimes the girl thought she heard tinkling bells call her name. Whenever she picked one from the ground, electricity fizzed through her fingertips, down her arm to quake her heart then rattle her ribcage and buzz the rest of the way to her feet and shoes where the luck would dissipate into the rest of the team and then, the town.
The luck began with the touch, her touch, she’d mused once, which had led to the idea of saving the clovers for other moments, other people.
It wasn’t long before she was visiting the field in the early mornings, fog and dew early, when not even the old folk were awake and she could pluck in peace. But she would pluck with tweezers in the morning, slipping the glittering clovers into a ziploc, and touch them with her spelled fingers later on.
The first stolen clover she used on a first date that she desperately wanted to go perfectly. The second was for a day of writing scholarship applications—two funds had already replied in her favor. The third on a random night just to see what happened—that first date guy told her he loved her. After that, the girl felt guilty for using luck on herself. She hung around the library and listened to the librarian gossip, at Russ’ to hear the barkeep whispers, then the Hallmark store for the best juice of all.
The girl took the tidbits—soon to be foreclosed homes, kids with sick parents, parents with late bills, failing businesses—and visited the gossiped ones to say, in the most delicate way possible, “I can give you a clover’s luck on the day of your choosing. Do you want it?”
The girl was unexpectedly sly. The girl was getting away with it.
Until the softball game when she realized she’d not left a lucky clover in the field to win the game. That was when two guys, Rob and Kevin, started following her around in a rusty red truck that smelled of hogs. They followed her to gossip scouts and victim meetings. They hung around the field at odd hours, hours she needed. What did they want?
The girl finally marched right up to the truck one humid afternoon. She wanted to know what she’d done wrong. Had she broken some rule? If so, she would have believed them and stopped the misbehavior immediately. But then she saw Kevin.
One night years ago, she remembered, a kidnapping, black tar down her throat, being buried alive, screaming until her throat was raw, clawing at the boards. Her fingernails peeled off. She painted the boards in red. She kicked the red, punched and kneed. One of them broke. Earth, roots, and wriggling worms piled onto her feet—
The bruise on the girl’s side ached. She pressed her hand against it and began to act again. Look left, look right, lean a foot forward.
Kevin was alone by the outfield fences. Rob was in the stands between Mrs. Olsen and Principal Menning. Oh how far the evil had spread. The girl smothered a hiss.
The pain again, this time at her sternum. Strange, Nancy and Menning hadn’t kicked her there. She cleared her throat, which irritated the pain, sent it frothing and bubbling into new places. Her ungloved hand pressed, as if to hold the pain down. She winced.
It traveled to her heart now, a rip and a tear. She couldn’t breathe. The pain made it impossible. Breathing in would set her guts exploding out her chest, burst the tear open further. The girl turned to a teammate and mouthed, “Help.” But the teammate was confused.
The girl collapsed. A deep navy sky and sharp field lights faded in and out of the black sea that seemed to be washing over her body.
Then a hand touched the girl’s shoulder. She opened her eyes to see one of her teachers, the athletic director, Mr. Tusston. Isaac. His head blotted out three of the suns above. Not suns, field lights. His eyes were kind, his voice full of coos.
“How are you feeling?” he asked.
“Not so good,” the girl said. “Where’s coach?”
“Not yet,” he whispered. “First, we need you to pick one of the clovers.”
Her heart almost stopped, and not because of the pin hovering in Old Joe’s hand above the heart dot on the doll’s cloth body. He was one of them, she realized.
“You too?” she asked, she choked.
Isaac sighed, glancing over to the group, to the vague souls here and there who would also help if asked. “Me,” he admitted, “and many others. You’re going to help the town now.”
The girl shook her head. Tears slipped from her eyes with each turn.
In the stands, the crowd had their theories: The girl was telling Mr. Tusston that she was out. She was playing sick. She couldn’t take the pressure of being a picker on this last game with all the reporters and photographers. The reporter whose name they forgot weighed the theories, brainstorming sentences, titles, and tag lines for each as he snapped photo after photo of the girl crying to the athletic director. Maybe the man would give him an interview later, tell him what she said.
Menning and Nancy exchanged a look across Rob, who was munching on a roll of Sweettarts now. Willa was inscrutable. Her eyes were red and tired, but unemotional, her curls waved softly in light breezes.
Isaac looked up and nodded to the announcer’s box. The crowd thought it meant she would pull through and started clapping wildly. But the group from Willa’s knew the nod was for Old Lady Joe, to halt her pins, matches, and wrench.
The girl stood up and the crowd clapped louder. Isaac said a few parting words and left her on the field. The ref conferred that all was okay, blew the whistle, and the game returned to play. The town was ready.
She offered no pretense.
She didn’t wait for a batter or two to step up to the plate so it wouldn’t seem so obvious. No, as soon as the whistle sounded, she turned a specific number of degrees, walked a specific number of steps, knelt down, and plucked the sparkling thing.
It happened as it used to: green-colored luck burst through four clover petals into the girl’s fingers, flaring up and down her limbs, along the strands of her flaxen hair, into her bones, to her toes, through her shoes and into the earth. Chills ran up the home team’s spines, raising little goosebumps and straightening little hairs. Then the electric magic slammed into the crowd, those on stands, hills, and fences, and onward into oblivion. The luck had been plucked. The girl left the field. The crowd cheered the stride of a nameless girl once buried in the earth to give them their joy.
From here it would be quick—three strikes, the switch, a home run for two runs, another for three, and two final plays before the clock runs out making the final score 13-11. Home team for the win. The screams would be deafening, the flashes blinding.
Nancy, Rob, and Menning climbed down from their places. Polly and Old Lady Joe too. Isaac completed their little circle behind the bleachers as the inning finished. They smiled at each other, even Old Joe. They could see the article titles now: Clover Field Gets Lucky Again, Lady Luck Returns to Clover Field, Leprechaun Sighted on Clover Field. And then the following summer: Clover Field Strikes Again – Eight Game Streak. Old Joe and Isaac were already dreaming up reasons to give reporters for the three losses. Something about a passing comet maybe, or a black cat living in the concession stand. Whatever it was, it would be okay. Give it five years and the money would be flowing the same.
The black box with the doll sat on the ground beside Old Joe. Ten fingers wrapped around it—
“Hey,” Old Joe called, seeing the theft from the corner of her eye. But her voice caught, out of surprise and not fear. It was the girl.
The girl pulled the doll from its felt bag and box and examined its details. She recognized the shirt. She saw the hair and fished around her own.
“Give that back,” Rob said. He was top heavy, but the girl could outrun him.
“No,” she bit back.
“Oh, I don’t care,” Old Joe growled. “We’re done with her. The magic will fade from her fingers in two months or so. Your time has passed, young thing.”
“My name is Dawn,” the girl said. Her features sharpened at that, as if her name was a magic word. Isaac noticed she had grey-blue eyes like a cold sunrise sky. Nancy noticed she had a scar along her left eyebrow—possibly another source of her unpredictability, a detail they had missed in selecting her.
“So?” Rob asked.
“So, I promise you won’t forget my name this time.”
The girl ran.
The group stared after, unsure and maybe two bones shaken. Nancy’s hand slipped into Menning’s. That reporter approached Old Joe for a post-pluck interview. Polly sent him away again. Children with blue mustaches laughed, teens kissed under the field lights.
Kevin idled in his beat-up truck. The seats and floor mats smelled like his farms. His hair did too. He always wondered if other people smelled the hogs on him. That’s what first got him going to Willa’s; the odor of fresh brewed coffee every fifteen minutes, the pork grease, smells of sizzling beef for lunch always managed to overwhelm his own.
A country song strummed of melancholy wafted from the speakers.
Once the doll was brought out and Old Joe in the announcer’s box, Kevin had left his spot at the fences. He planned on judging the outcome by the home team’s reactions as they filed into the parking lot. He would leave with the first of them once he knew.
To his surprise, it was Willa who was first across the gravel, pulling out her car keys. He never knew she had a car, having imagined she traveled by teleportation instead, or at least one of the brooms from her cafe, the vacuum even—he saw that in a movie once.
The sorceress looked a bit spooky in the dark, Kevin thought. He was used to veils that made her seem like them—the cafe air, the metal spatula in her hand whenever she came from the kitchen the waitresses weren’t allowed in, the island in front of her grill covered in mixing bowls, spice jars, buckets of flour and sugars that were really cauldrons and spell ingredients. Sometimes Willa would heat up a spell when the cafe was still open and a strange smell would lay over the bacon and eggs. He always liked that.
Willa started her car. Kevin didn’t know, but her coin had turned molten.
The first of the fans spilled through. The ones he recognized were suited in giant smiles and giddy arms. The ones he didn’t wore slouches and furrowed brows. Home team won after all. The doll had worked.
Kevin started his car in turn, ready to follow Willa onto Johnson Street—
A car smashed into Willa’s. The sound was an explosion; the metal and glass wandered far. Kevin flinched when three shards hit his windshield.
The girl wanted revenge and she got it. She figured the final piece when she saw them celebrating. Only two people would have been absent: the coward who made the mistake and the witch who sold the magic. Willa was the latter, the way to bring them down.
She clutched the recent clover in her hand as she sped off—she took that from them too so even if they found another sorceress, they wouldn’t have the freshest clover with which to brew a new spell. She had three suitcases in the back of her car and two still-lucked clovers in a ziploc to employ when needed. Also five friends in various states ready to house her, one who happened to know about magic.
She was a sly girl, that one. All those books and thoughts did her well. Blood, fingernails, tears, sanity. If you pay enough, you get enough.
Kevin didn’t stick around to see the others come running, to see that reporter sneak photos and brainstorm the phrase Clover Field Wins, Patron Loses, to see the ambulance and the rescue attempt, then be part of a scavenger hunt through Willa’s house to find the address of another sorceress. They would clutch each other, try to figure out who’d done the worse thing. But it would be no use.
The crutches of the town had been snapped in two. Kevin was glad he lived in the country, relied on his farm instead of Main Street shops and high school press.
He turned out of the lot. He switched the radio station to something of cheer. He should have been sad, maybe. But he felt rather happy as he drove down unsuspecting streets to the highway where he passed by the girl as she tried to look normal. Kevin waved with a smile.
He remembered now: Dawn was her name.
Amy Holt was born in Iowa and currently lives in New York City. Apart from art and photo direction projects, Amy writes fantasy and blogs at wanderingstorytellers.blogspot.com. Her short fiction has been published in Luna Station Quarterly.