Magic and Misfits

Obernewtyn by Isobelle Carmody

After the Great White came, there was chaos and death throughout the land. The cities were poisoned with radiation. The sickened and the dying fled in great numbers to the countryside. Seeing the tidal wave of incomers making for their homesteads, the country people protected their families and their land ruthlessly, slaughtering all who came near them, for the incomers were desperate and often insane.

At last, there were no more sieges, for there was nothing but destruction in the cities, but the country people did not know that. They elected the Council to keep them safe from the outsiders and give out justice and aid.

The Council did away with all machines, books, and artifacts of the Old World for the Council decreed them sinful and taught that their use had led to the holocaust. Yet the effects of the Great White were subtler than the Council first realized. The radiation led to mutations, both of the body and the mind, in the generations that followed. The Council decreed that those born mutants, or Misfits as they called them, be burned so as to keep the community secure. Some argued with the Council. They were marked as Seditioners and burned, or, in lesser cases, called Unsafe and sent to work on the Councilfarms.

A special class of people was created to deal with these Unsafes. They were called the Herder Faction, and they have no love for the people in their care. Their mission is twofold: to maintain control of the Unsafes as they travel between work assignments and to watch for any latent mutant tendencies. The Council, in its wisdom, had noticed that often powerful mutations of the mind did not emerge until adolescence. The Herders carefully watched their charges. Those discovered to be Misfits would either be summarily executed or held until a more ritualized Burning could take place.

Elspeth Gordie, a slender, dark girl, has been sent on an expedition with other Unsafes to gather the poisonous whitestick that is so vital to the functioning of the orphans' houses. None but orphans are encouraged to handle it, as it is poisonous to the naked skin. Elspeth has been an orphan ever since her parents were burned for sedition. She and her brother, Jes, had been close during their parents' trial. He had sworn revenge for their deaths in those days.

Elspeth cares for her brother, but they had been separated for many years. That, too, was Council policy, to move the orphans about from orphanage to orphanage so that they might not form long-lasting friendships. Jes was the only person who knew her secret: Elspeth had developed psychic powers which, if reported, would be her ruin.

She returned from the whitestick expedition a little dazed from a fall into a pool of contaminated water. She was as angry for drawing attention to herself as she was at her own clumsiness. Accustomed as she was to the minute-by-minute scrutiny of her actions, which she controlled with a grim determination, she was not entirely able to veil her astonishment at the sight that greeted her upon her return to the orphanage: her beloved brother stood before her wearing the beaten potmetal armband of a Herder's assistant.

Elspeth Gordie's adventures continue in The Farseekers, Ashling, and The Keeping Place.

Instead of Three Wishes by Megan Whalen Turner

Selene was only trying to help the cantankerous old man across the street. He seemed frozen by passing cars, and probably would have been hit were it not for Selene taking him carefully by the arm. She did not realize that that she was escorting elven royalty.

When they reached the other side safely, he took three small white cards out his wallet, and pushed them at Selene.

"They looked like business cards. Instead of a printed name, a filigreed gold line wrapped itself in a design in the middle of each white rectangle.
'What are they?' Selene asked.
'Wishes,' said the elf prince. 'You've got three. Just make a wish and burn a card. It doesn't' -- he looked her over with contempt-- 'require a college education.'"

Selene worked in the high school cafeteria to support herself and her disabled mother, but she was not stupid. She said no. Behind the nice suit and tie, she thought he was just as she thought a malevolent sprite might appear. She was certain whatever she wished for would turn out to be a horrible mistake.

But according to the rules of magical kingdoms, Mechemel, prince of the Elf Realm of South Minney, owed her one. He refused to give up trying to pay her back. His first attempt rang the doorbell the next morning. The shockingly green small man bowed and waved his arms to the magnificent golden coach pulled by six black horses standing at the curb of her small, suburban house.

Megan Whalen Turner's collection of short stories run the gamut from crusty New Englanders dealing with a Plague of Leprechaun to a bug-smashing teenager who is transported to Sweden's heroic age in Leroy Roachbane.