"The Unwelcome Destiny of Virginia Monahan"
Jennifer Lee Rossman
Gin had always seen the ripples. Not with her eyes or any of the other senses, but she saw 'em just the same. Mama and them called it magic, but Gin figured it was more likely something akin to a snake's Jacobson's organ, like they taught about in her AP biology class.
Whatever the cause, it didn't much matter. The ripples were part of her world. A part maybe no one else could see, but a part nonetheless. And today they were particularly active, less like a gentle breeze on the bayou and more like the chaotic splashing that followed in the wake of Big Oscar going after some fool tourist who couldn't read the NO
That musta been how she'd got into this predicament, she decided, hiding the uneaten half of the tomato behind her back: there were too many ripples in the air today for her
to read them all. She'd missed the ones that would have told her Jim LaFleur was gonna catch her stealing from his garden.
Now he was staring at her, waiting for her to confess, but she just stared back and watched the energies rippling off his soul.
Everyone had 'em. Everyone and everything. Most weren't nothing all that interesting, but Jim's... Jim's had quite the story to tell.
Wasn't too clear—the way the destinies of people and objects intersected meant it was often hard to see very far into the future—but there was no two ways about it: Jim was gonna die, and die bad. Blood. There was blood in his future.
Gin never had figured out how to act around people who didn't have much time left. Maybe she should be nicer, on account of how she might be the last person he ever saw, but that would be compromising her number one principle: no messing with the ripples. She had to let destiny do as it intended, and it intended for her to be her usual, just-polite-enough-so-folks-wouldn't-say-nothing-to-her-parents self.
Every ripple touched another. A fish jumped a mile downstream, and every water molecule in the whole river was affected.
So Gin just kept on staring at Jim, and when she got bored of that, she went on her way, taking a bite out of the stolen tomato as she stepped into the body shop out back of her house.
Mama had her head under the hood of a car—crappy purple thing Gin recognized as belonging to the son of a prison guard who lived in town—but she still heard Gin come in.
"Bought your dress yet?" she asked in lieu of a greeting.
"Nope." Gin leaned on the wall, stretching her crooked spine. They'd almost gotten the scoliosis fixed when she was little, but Gin had seen her future, and she was meant to be crooked.
She could feel Mama's scowl from under the hood.
"I don't see why I need a dress," she argued for what had to be the millionth time, and for what had to be the millionth time, Mama shot her down with a "Because I said so,” this time adding, "And we're gettin' your hair done before we go up."
Gin made a face and tugged at her mop of brown curls. Her brother hadn't ever minded the way she looked before; why should that change just on account of him getting some
fancy government job?
But she'd gladly have the argument another million times, because the busier her mind was, the less she noticed the ripples. Especially that big one with her name on it.
Gin had always known her destiny. It'd made itself known to her early on, and no matter how many times she tried to tell herself that she'd interpreted the ripples wrong or that
somebody else's destiny would come along and knock hers off track, she knew it would always be coming for her.
Some girls might have been excited at the prospect of learning they were a fairy, the heir to a long forgotten fairy kingdom, no less. Some girls might have dreamed about
how they were gonna lead their people, bridging the gap between their blood kin and the humans who had obliviously raised her like she was their own baby cuckoo. Not Gin.
Gin had simpler plans for her life, mostly involving taking over her daddy's alligator park. On days when she felt extra ambitious, she thought maybe she'd finally catch Big Oscar. End his reign of terror by sticking him in an artificial pond and charging tourists to throw him bits of chicken. But her destiny was going to go and ruin all of that. She poured another cup of coffee. Never mind that it was the middle of the night or that she had a test in the morning, this was not something she could handle without being caffeinated.
She started off with sticky notes and pieces of string, like detectives do on TV when they’re stuck and need to figure out who the murderer is before the next commercial break. She ran out of room on her wall, and branched off into the rest of her room, crisscrossing multicolored strings in a three dimensional spider’s web that wound under her bed, coiled up her floor lamp, and knotted itself around her dresser knobs. But the ripples were four-dimensional. They stretched up and sideways and forward and through time. No matter how many events Gin wrote on the little cards, no matter how
many she connected to other ones, three-dimensional string just wouldn’t work. It was like trying to catch Big Oscar with a butterfly net instead of one of daddy’s patented gator traps. Science just wasn’t there.
In frustration, or maybe just good old-fashioned desperation, Gin tore down her project. She crumpled up all of the important moments in her life. Big moments, tiny little
moments, some moments that hadn’t even happened yet.
Five hour phone conversations with her brother, making fun of the president that he had to go and get a job working for. That time a shark from the Gulf decided it didn’t care about no fresh water, and swim up the river. Counting airplanes at Reagan.
She didn’t even know what Reagan was till she went and googled it. Just some random word the ripples brought her. Turned out it was the big airport up in DC.
They all lay in crumpled piles around her, no rhyme or reason or pattern. It was chaos, and it was real pretty. Gin didn’t get the luxury of chaos very often. Life found a way to make sense, to put itself in a logical order. This event led to that event led to that one… No mystery.
If she could just do the same with the ripples, tear ‘em down and tangle all the strings up til not even she could see how it all went together. Maybe then her destiny’d get lost, at least for a little while. At least longer than next Tuesday morning.
Gin pulled back her hair in frustration. She didn’t want this. None of it.
It was going to happen like this:
Gin and her family would arrive in Washington DC, Just another family coming to visit their kin and take pictures in front of all the touristy things. Washington Monument, that big old Lincoln sitting in a chair…
But then something would happen. She wasn’t sure what—the ripples weren’t too awful clear on that, and that terrified her. But something would happen, and then everything she’s ever known would change.
This, this she saw in excruciating detail.
Rain pouring from a clear blue sky.
Stars shining in the sunlight.
A bridge burning. Not sure what bridge. She hadn’t gotten that far in her research. And everybody holding their phones up in the air, recording as the fog rolled in. Everybody hollering, lights flashing, and then the fairies.
Riding in on butterflies and on the backs of nightingales, riding straight through the rain and the smoke and the starlight, straight up to Gin.
There weren’t nothing she could do about her destiny, Gin decided, grass and mud on the edge of the water tickling her bare feet with every step. But maybe she could change someone else’s.
See, something happened while Gin was crumpling up all her little moments. Nothing that would help her, unfortunately, but something nonetheless.
Somehow, and she wasn’t sure quite how, the act of tearing everything down had brought to the front a new ripple she hadn’t seen clearly before.
Now she knew exactly how Jim LaFleur was gonna die.
She kept sweeping the flashlight beam across the water. This was far from the first time she had set up a gator trap, but it was her first time doing it alone, and doing it at night no less, so she didn’t want no one or nothing sneaking up on her.
She took a tentative step into the cold water, sliding her feet along the rocks and mud. Might sound more dangerous to go in without shoes, but shoes couldn’t tell the difference between a rock and a gator’s head. Each step sent ripples out into the water; they seemed to dissipate after a while, but she knew the entire bayou could feel her coming.
The trap itself was a monstrous thing, made of sticks and mesh and designed to hold a gator even as big as Big Oscar himself. It didn’t move easily, and she feared the sound
of it scraping down the banks would alert Big Oscar to her intentions. Or worse yet, wake up her parents.
Gin swept the beam across the water again. And that’s when she saw it.
Eyeshine. Two bright red spots of light in an otherwise gloomy night.
Tapetum lucidum. A reflective layer of tissue in the back of the eyes of some animals; made ‘em glow in the dark if you shined a light on them. Gators had them, cats, dogs… most every predator that had superb night vision. Not humans though.
Sometimes Gin wondered if she had tapetum lucidum. If she didn’t use the flashlight, she found she could still make out individual leaves on the trees. And she had redeye in
every picture ever taken of her; a simple photographic error, or something more? If someone shined a flashlight in her direction, would her eyes shine back like a predator? Now, there was no way of telling which gator that particular set of eyes belonged to, what with only the head sticking out of the water like a dead log. Might’ve been one of the smaller females that hatched a couple years ago, or it might’ve been all 16 feet of Big Oscar.
But it was him. She knew it the same way she knew everything else unknowable in life. So she dragged the trap into the water, feet grappling for purchase on the slippery
rocks. She had to turn her back on Big Oscar to secure the bait.
He cut through the water like it was nothing, not making so much as a splash. The surface of the water barely rippled as he moved. But Gin‘s ripples… they told another story.
In an instant, every little bit of intuition she had was telling her to get out of there. She whirled around, dropping her flashlight in the process. It sank down, under the muddy
water. But she didn’t need it anyway.
Even on that moonless night, the stars hidden away under a blanket of clouds, Gin could see every tooth in the gaping jaws, every drop of water spraying off his enormous head as he lunged for her.
It wouldn’t be quite right to say time slowed down. Time went as fast as it always did. But Gin’s mind seemed to speed up, letting her read every single one of the millions of ripples coming at her.
She saw the consequences of every move she could make in that moment, every step and every reaction. If she moved this way, if she moved that way... She saw how Big Oscar would move too, which body part he would grab first. And somehow, and she wasn’t sure quite how, everything she did, every choice she made, had an impact on the future.
If she fell backwards, the gator would kill her. No two ways about that. But the universe didn’t stop with her, no. It went on, and her parents split up. The alligator park was more
popular than ever, but they just couldn’t take it anymore. Mama went up to Washington, Daddy just kind of disappeared into the woods. Brother Jack… He was fine. He was always fine.
If she tried to fight, Big Oscar would take her arm. But that wouldn’t be the end of it. Her screams woke her parents. Her daddy came out with a shotgun and put an end to the gator once and for all. After Gin recovered, they still went up to Washington to see her brother. Only this time, when the fairies came back to get her, they took her missing arm to mean the humans weren’t taking care of her. It started a war.
Every way she could die or get injured, the world was worse off for it.
She did the math and it made her feel sad, small. She only saw one way to live, but it would mean she had to fulfill her destiny and ruin her life. She saw one way, one in 14 million possible permutations of the future, but one was all she needed.
Gin dove to the right, kicked out with her heel and struck the gator in his jaw. She scrambled up the bank, desperately grabbing at the grass to pull herself away from the water. Behind her, splashing and thrashing sounds shattered the night as Big Oscar exploded with energy, his short but powerful legs propelling him like a rocket.
Gin rolled left. She knew zigzagging wouldn’t actually solve anything with the gator on her tail, but these were the movements that were meant to save her life. Only, when she
tried to scramble to her feet and make a dash for the house, something went wrong. Instead of making a clean getaway like she was supposed to, she felt a tug on her right leg.
She looked back. In some distant corner of her mind, it occurred to her that she shouldn’t have had to look back. That she should’ve known exactly what was going on. But she looked back anyway, and she saw Big Oscar, his jaws clenched around her pant leg.
No. No, it wasn’t supposed to happen like this.
Fear and panic surged through her heart. For a second, she couldn’t move. And it only takes a second to lose a fight with a gator.
Gin fell, rolled onto her back, and as she stared death in the face, every detail on his craggy skin rendered in high definition by her superior fairy night vision, something
In retrospect, it really shouldn’t have come as such a shock to her. The ripples had told her this would happen. But she still couldn’t believe it as a figure emerged from the night.
Jim LaFleur. He musta been out on his porch smoking when he’d seen Gin and Oscar. Or maybe he saw the ripples too, and they told him to save her. Most likely the former, but either way, there he was. And even though she had stolen from his garden every day that summer, he still thought she was worth saving.
Would he have still done it, if he’d known he was gonna die there that night? There was blood. So much of it.
It was downright tragic, what happened to Jim. But when it was all over, Gin couldn’t help but feel hopeful.
See, the ripples had been right. It was absolutely in Jim’s destiny to get himself killed by Big Oscar. But the ripples had also told Gin that she could get away from the gator all on her own.
They had been wrong. First time in her life.
But it wasn’t gonna be the last time.
The whole ride up to DC, the ripples told Gin how it was going to go. The rain, the burning, the fairies on their butterflies and birds. Her going away with her real family to find her destiny.
And the whole ride up to DC, Gin told herself that they were wrong. The ripples weren’t some infallible thing. They had told her she could get away all by herself, and that was a lie.
The ripples’d lied. Maybe destiny just needed a little nudge, needed Gin to help lead Jim to the death he was always supposed to have. It didn’t really matter to Gin. All that mattered, all that would ever matter again, was that the ripples could lie.
Gin saw it coming. Not with her eyes, but with that special thing inside her that mama called magic.
She saw the skies opening up. The fairies riding out. She saw her destiny waiting for her.
In the middle of all the confabulation, the middle of all the people live streaming and sobbing and calling for the police because the police would do something wouldn’t they, Gin walked right up to The leader, a woman on the butterfly so oversized and fantastically colored that you would’ve sworn it was a blacklight poster.
Maybe she was Gin’s real mama. Maybe she and her people needed Gin to come back and lead them to peace and prosperity. On the other hand, maybe her destiny lied. Maybe they just wanted her for her intuition.
Didn’t really matter either way. Because she wasn’t going.
Jennifer Lee Rossman is a queer and disabled author from Binghamton, New York, who writes weird little stories about weird little people.