Leira owned the Edge of the Universe. The café glimmered in the pocket of downtown between the clothing boutiques and the bowling alleys and none of the customers knew the accuracy of the name, or how close they meandered to the brink.
Flowers touched by Midas draped its railings, and a tree sprouted multicolored pastel lights. Little stands held up spider plants and aloe vera next to the tables, and Leira had named the margaritas things like “Kiss the Frog” and “Stay Out of the Forest.”
She had knitted the magic of the place to draw in the broken, the endangered, and those in trouble who maybe didn’t know it. When the girl wandered in, arms folded around herself like wrapping paper, Leira didn’t need the glow of yellow fear radiating from her to understand the situation. She’d seen enough of them over the centuries.
The girl had drifted in alone. Leira smiled at her. “First time here?”
“The drinks are all five dollars.” She gestured at the menu on the wall, and then pushed forward a small piece of paper. It read: “Poison Apple,” and had an asterisk: “Ask for this with lime if you feel unsafe.”
The girl’s eyes met hers. “I’d like the Kiss the Frog,” she said, with such a small voice Leira’s immortal heart almost cracked.
“Of course.” Leira bustled about, getting it ready. The girl settled in the corner of the café, far from the window, where the vines and the books bloomed into camouflage.
“Here you go.” Leira set the glass on the little table. The girl started. She’d been staring at her phone.
Leira hustled back behind the bar. She ignored the girl and didn’t call attention to her, but then the bell tinkled over the door. A guy strode through.
Leira slid the Poison Apple note back behind the cash register. “Welcome to the Edge of the Universe! What can I get you?”
The guy flicked his gaze around, searching. The girl hunched in the back; her legs drawn up on the chair. The magic flickered, hiding her, the vines protective and growing larger, the books towering by the table.
The guy hissed through his teeth. He had that perfect golden Da Vinci sheen, a veneer of handsome that glowed with a rotten yellow green. “Just looking for someone.”
“Oh?” Leira tilted her head to the left and the right of the shop. “Huh. We’re fresh out of someones besides you, sorry about that.”
The girl had gone so still. The vines grew thorns, and the books grew more pages. She’d begun to drink the Kiss the Frog, and the magic had given voice to her unspoken wishes. Good girl.
Da Vinci guy set his jaw but didn’t leave. He marched to the back of the shop, then stopped at the wall of thorns. He could probably sense the magic, but humans had problems identifying that which they didn’t believe in, be it common sense or magic thorns. Leira’s heart pounded.
The girl didn’t reach out to part the vines. The yellow terror glowed bright like a sun, but she did not show her position.
The guy snorted and pulled out his phone, shooting off a text. He pivoted and flashed Leira a smile—the smile that had likely ensnared this girl with its carnivorous charisma. He would prey on other helpless girls with that smile.
Not if she could help it.
She pushed a button under the bar. The Edge of the Universe glimmered outside. The bell tinkled, and the guy stepped through and fell, screaming. The brink swallowed him in seconds.
Faery would deal with him much better than Earth. All faeries saw straight through veneers to the rottenness beneath. They’d find him within hours and lock him up. Leira was just the gatekeeper.
The vines pulled back around the girl. She trembled. “He—he’s gone?”
“Yeah.” Leira leaned over the counter. “He was too dangerous to leave on this side. I’m sorry if . . . if that’s not what you wanted.”
The girl unwrapped her arms from around her legs. “This place is like a dream.” The light around her evened out to a warm orange, and her fingers twined around the tabletop. “You’re sure he won’t come back? Are you sure? I mean if he does—oh God, what have I—”
“He won’t be coming back.” Leira poured a crystal-colored drink into a vial. “Here. Take this.”
Her voice flickered like a light with faulty wiring. “What is it?”
“Faerie Sight. It lets you see a heart’s intent. Drink it next time you’re on a date; it helps to sort out the bad apples.”
The girl tucked it in her purse. “Thank you. I wish—I wish I had asked for that other drink, now. I wish I’d been braver.”
Leira shook her head. “You did make that decision. The vines and books responded to you, they did only what you wished. And you wished to stay away from him.”
The girl thanked her again and left. A year and a second misted by, and Leira had enough time for a quick muffin and a tea before the bell tinkled. A young man with the body of a girl wandered in, arms wrapped around himself, head tucked, a purple shame surrounding him.
Leira smiled. “First time here?”
Emmie Christie’s work tends to hover around the topics of feminism, mental health, cats, and the speculative such as unicorns and affordable healthcare. She has been published in Allegory Magazine and in Three-Lobed Burning Eye and she graduated from the Odyssey Writing Workshop in 2013. She also enjoys narrating audiobooks for Audible. You can find her at www.emmiechristie.com