"Every child deserves one miracle," is the motto of the Fairy Godmothers Union. Raymond Crandall is skeptical whether he wants to be a part of something that sounds so hokey, but his Grandma Eustatia insisted he join. To his shock, Ray discovers that the fairy godmothers use real magic to grant those wishes, but the proper use of magic and the responsibility that goes with it are not easily learned. While he studies with Mrs. Rose Feinstein, a rival force, the Demons, Djinni and Efreets Guild, is also recruiting apprentices—from the local street gangs. Ray discovers that granting wishes to children touches something in himself that he never knew was there. The DDEG want that power for themselves and are prepared to go to terrifying lengths to get it. The Fairy Godparents are in danger. Can Ray pull off a miracle for all of them, without jeopardizing the people that he loves?
Jody Lynn Nye has been a friend for a very long time; my wife Rebecca Moesta and I have been guest instructors at her writers' workshop at DragonCon for several years, and Jody has taught at our Superstars Writing Seminar. My WordFire Press is in the process of reissuing a dozen of her great titles, including THE MAGIC TOUCH, which seemed perfectly appropriate for this bundle. – Kevin J. Anderson
"Jody Lynn Nye's irrepressible humor makes this story a delight… One of those ideas I wish I'd had."– Christopher Stasheff, author of The Warlock In Spite of Himself
"Jody Lynn Nye has a deft touch with fantasy and an ever-ready imagination."– Anne McCaffrey
One of the young men in black leather wiped his nose with the back of his hand. "I want power." He looked around quickly, as if daring someone to make fun of him.
"Yeah," another youth laughed. "Show us, man. We see, we believe. Got that?"
Froister smiled at them. With the merest flick of will, Froister turned into a puff of smoke. As the astonished gang members watched, he turned from a formless cloud into a stream that poured itself into the lamp. After allowing the wonder time to sink in, Froister re-manifested and solidified on the other side of the crowd.
"I want to do that, too!" one gangbanger exclaimed. "That's ba-ad!"
"Me, man, listen to me! Me first…"
The phone rang in an ordinary suburban household.
The woman looked from the sinkful of suds in which her hands were immersed to the phone and called up the stairs, "Honey, can you get that?"
"It's for you," her husband said a moment later, propping the phone on her shoulder.
The woman listened to the phone, all the time edging away to glance at her husband, looking uncomfortable because he was listening in so intently.
"Yes. Yes, all right. Are you sure it's got to be tonight?" she asked. "Yes, I know there have to be three of us or it won't work.…" Another uneasy glance. "Yes, I've still got it. It's in… a safe place. All right. Pick me up at eight. I'll be ready."
She hung up the receiver and turned, a little breathlessly, to face her husband. "I have to go out tonight."
Looking terribly uncomfortable, the man gestured to her to sit down. His wife sank into a chair with wary, wide eyes.
"Sweetheart, I have to ask you this," he began cautiously. "I've been feeling funny about asking, but I have to know. The strange clothes, the basket, the notebooks you keep locked up… I don't mean to pry. I know it sounds strange but… are you in some kind of cult?"
"No, honey," she said, taking his hand gently. "I'm a fairy godmother."
O O O
The fair-haired woman in the light blue suit leaned forward into the microphone on the lectern and smiled brightly at the huge crowd in the Assembly Hall. With a long stick tipped with a star she tapped on the wooden top for attention.
"Will everyone please rise, so we can sing the union song?"
Raymond E. Crandall, Jr., stood up with everyone else. He glanced around him out of the corners of his eyes at the people and wished the meeting was over so he could leave. He hated assemblies. Two weeks ago, when he graduated from high school, he thought he was through with sitting in huge rooms full of deranged people. These adults, ranging in age from his own eighteen years to what he thought of as near death, were all strangers, and they had dippy, intense smiles on their faces, as if they were brainwashed or something. The ones who noticed him looking offered him a friendly glance. Hurriedly, Raymond turned his stare away, feeling miserably uncomfortable and wishing he was anywhere else than wasting a Saturday night in an auditorium full of strangers. He was an adult now, in control of his life, right? Wrong. Here he was, following orders. His grandmother said he needed to expand his horizons. That was the last thing Ray was thinking of. He had one precious summer left before starting college. He didn't have a clue as to why Grandma Eustatia thought he ought to come. She didn't tell him a thing about the organization except to suggest strongly that it was in his best interest to join up.
He had a strenuous day job as a gardener's assistant for the city. In the evenings he ought to be out hanging around with his friends, or seeing his girlfriend, or something fun, not significant. At least there were other black people here.
At the back of the hall, an old organ stung a churchlike chord.
"When we listen to the dreams of children
"It's our task to make them come true."
What? Ray looked around at the people singing, and wondered if he could still get out before anyone jumped him and fed him whatever it was these folks were buzzed on.
"Joyful wonderworking is our forte
"Granting wishes is what we do."
A short, plump man with a round face standing next to him noticed that he wasn't singing. He obligingly extended toward Raymond the creased sheet of paper he was reading from, holding it between them so they could share. Ray tilted his head slightly for thanks. He still didn't sing, since he didn't know the tune, but he followed along.
"Fairy godmothers, use your magic wisely,
"Heart and head should have equal pull
"To keep them on the path to their future.…"
Hokey as hell, he thought. What am I doing here? Well, he knew why he was sitting there in his best shirt, pants, and tie. It would take a stronger mind than his to go and tell his grandmother Eustatia Green he hadn't stayed where she'd told him to, so he'd stay. He wouldn't like it, though.
"… Every child deserves one miracle!"
Buoyed by a hundred voices, the organ music rose to heaven, echoing off the tatty acoustic tile of the ceiling, then died away on a final chord. The members sat down. The woman at the podium picked up the stick with the cutout star on top, and waved it over the audience. Ray sighed. More hoke. Then, as he watched, a veil of silver light spread out from the arc of her arm over the heads of the crowd and settled down on them, sparkling as it fell. He started.
I'm out of here, he thought. I am gone! I'm yesterday! He braced his arms on the chair arms to push out, to get away from this weird place. A hand settled on his shoulder, shoved him down into his seat. It was the chubby guy.
"It's okay," the man said. "I wanted to do the same thing myself the first time, but it's kind of nice, really. You new to the FGU?"
"Hey, eff-gee-you, too, man," Ray said, defensively narrowing an eye. He might be interested in bettering himself, but he wasn't going to tolerate disrespect from anybody, especially not a stranger.
The plump man chuckled, and lowered his head a little closer to Ray's collarbone. "No, man, are you new in the FGU? Fairy Godmothers Union?"
"No, he's not a member yet, and if you don't stop talking, you'll distract everyone. Be quiet."
The woman behind them poked them both in the kidneys with a sharp forefinger. Ray turned around to glare at her, and she stared back, undaunted. Her big dark eyes were interested, harassed, and kindly all at the same time. She reminded Ray of his sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Howard. This woman's hair was a swirl of dark and light strands, all mixed together in an old-fashioned bun that covered the back of her head, and she had a broad, blunt nose and wide lips. She winked at him.
"Sit tight, honey," she said. "We'll talk later."
Fairy Godmothers Union? Ray thought. What had his grandmother gotten him into? Okay, so he'd seen some special effects, but that didn't mean that these people considered themselves anything but maybe public benefactors. Still, he spent the next few minutes trying to see where the projector that had made the silver veil was hidden.
The woman in blue raised her voice over the murmuring crowd. "Will you all make certain to sign the attendance sheet before you leave? Thank you. I declare this meeting of the Local Federation 3-26 open. Does anyone have any old business?" Her brows lifted as she looked around inquiringly at the audience. "Secretary Aldeanueva?"
A short, stocky, older man with wire-rimmed glasses and a mustache rose from his chair on the dais.
"I wish to register the minutes of the last meeting into the official records." He held up a few neat sheets of white typing paper.
The chairwoman nodded. "We'll waive the actual reading into the records. Any members opposed? So moved." The wand tapped down onto the lectern. "Anything else? Good. Then, on to new business." The secretary flipped through a notebook full of documents and handed one to the chairwoman.
She raised the sheet of paper to show everyone. "This is the preliminary draft agreement from the Central Union offices for a merger between the Fairy Godmothers Union and the Djinni, Demons, and Efreets Guild to form the Wish Granters Association." Immediately, protests erupted from all over the room. A middle-aged man with gray hair and a big nose sprang to his feet.
"I don't want to mix in with them!" he exclaimed. "I've said this before, and I'll keep saying it until someone hauls me out of here. They don't want the same things we do. It's a question of ethics!"
Ray rolled his eyes. Politics, he thought, piously. And over make-believe stuff, too!
"Mr. Garner, the draft agreement has yet to go to committee for discussion."
"I want us to merge with the DDEG," said a small, dark-skinned woman, standing up. She had a small hawk's beak for a nose, and black eyes set in wrinkled sockets. She fixed the angry man with a firm gaze. "My cousin Raj was in the DDEG in Delhi, and he is a good man! This will be a good thing for the FGU."
"Mrs. Durja, you are out of order, too," the chairwoman said, rapping. The chairwoman might look like a California Barbie, with her fluffy hair, blue eyes, and pert features, but she was all business.
"One good djinn isn't going to help," Garner shouted. "You should hear about some of their practices."
"Local, only, perhaps," Mrs. Durja insisted. "Not internationally."
"You don't know that," Garner said, waving his arms.
The chairwoman rapped for order, and managed to make her voice heard over the hubbub. "Mr. Garner, Mrs. Durja, do you want to volunteer for the committee? You can argue these points in private. The Fairy Godmothers Union will be grateful for any clarifications that improve the agreement for both sides."
"You bet I do," the man said, pugnaciously. The short woman nodded, her eyes flashing. Raymond predicted that there'd be more shouting than clarifying done in those meetings. A few more hands went up, too.
"Mrs. Sayyid, Mrs. Lonescu, Mr. McConnell, Mr. Lincoln," the chairwoman said, and the bespectacled secretary wrote them all down. "Anybody else? All right, can we have a preliminary report for the next meeting?"
"I move we cancel the merger altogether," Mr. Garner said.
The chairwoman, whom Raymond was beginning to think of as the Blue Fairy, shook her head. "The majority of the FGU, local and national, have voted to go ahead with discussions, sir. We can—and should—cover our specific concerns in the agreement. The committee's suggestions will go to the national office. The only thing that can stop the merger now is if both sides refuse to accept the final agreement."
Mr. Garner led the dissatisfied muttering in his part of the hall. Raymond strained to listen, and heard intriguing fragments of sentences. "… Take advantage of young people… corrupt our mission… can't mix policies… mutually exclusive… no planning of their own… just want our pension plan." Ray's ears pricked up at the last. There was some kind of defined benefits plan going on around here. Well, a young man starting out couldn't begin to think about retirement too soon. Of course, a college education and a good job ought to come first.
"Ladies and gentlemen," the chairwoman said, rapping for attention. "We have to think of the future. It isn't our welfare that is important; it's that of the people we serve. The children."
"Hear, hear!" a thin woman called out. Some of the complaints died away into embarrassed silence.
Mrs. Sayyid stood up. "But won't that focus get lost if we merge with the DDEG? They're not strictly oriented toward young people."
"I agree!" Garner said, popping up and sitting down like a jack-in-the-box.
"Well," the chairwoman said brightly, "then they'll learn something, won't they? Don't think of it as the end of our organization. We will have as much effect on the DDEG as they will on us. Perhaps more. The FGU still has a most enviable and respected apprenticeship program. And with that in mind, I'd like to call upon our newest nominees for membership. As I read your names, will you stand up, please?" The chairwoman picked up a clipboard and read from the top page. "LaShawn Davis? David Silverman? Correct me if I get this wrong: Marisela da Souza? Raymond Crandall?"
Apprenticeship, huh? Ray thought. He stood up with his hands in his pockets and his chin down to his collarbone, to keep from looking at all the people staring his way. Maybe he might learn something here that could help him toward a successful future after all. He hoped it paid something, too. The chairwoman counted eight names in all, and stopped, then held her hands out to them with a big smile.
"On behalf of the International Council of the Fairy Godmothers Union and this federation, we want to welcome you to our organization." All the others started applauding. Ray bit his lip and studied his shoes, wishing it was all over so he could go home.
A sharp finger poked Ray in the kidneys. "Stand up straight, honey," the dark-haired woman said. "Your spine will grow in a curve."
Ray turned around to tell her to buzz off, when the chairwoman rapped on the podium once more.
"Ladies and gentlemen, we'll take a break now, while the apprentices meet with their assigned mentors."
She gestured the new members toward her, and herded them over to one side of the auditorium. Ray, who hated being shepherded, was amazed when he found himself meekly following her lead.
While most of the others went to take advantage of the coffee urns on a table under the window, a few of the senior members got up from all around the room and joined the group of apprentices. Ray noticed one nice black woman in a smoky green suit, and found himself gawking at her. She was a local celebrity. Ray had seen her on television a thousand times, and couldn't believe she was there in a meeting of maybe certifiable freaks. She caught his eye and smiled up at him. She had a sexy, curvy figure; surprising, light green-brown eyes; and a twenty-megawatt smile. Ray felt his heart pound hard enough to burst out of his chest. Whew! Maybe this down society had some ups after all.
The Blue Fairy paired off the new members one by one. Ray stood next to the foxy lady in hopes that he'd be assigned to her, and was disappointed when the Blue Fairy chose instead a very young white girl with long, light brown hair and worn jeans. He was even more disconcerted when the Blue Fairy gestured forward the plump woman with dark eyes who'd poked him in the back, and turned to him with a smile.
"Raymond Crandall, this is Rose Feinstein. She'll be your mentor during your probationary period. She's a wonderful person. You can feel free to ask her anything you want. I'm sure you'll be very happy together."
"How do you do?" he asked, not caring much what the answer was. He glanced around, feeling woebegone. The foxy lady was long out of sight.
"Very well, thank you," the woman said, briskly clasping his hand in a warm grip and pumping it up and down before he could pull it back. "We're going to get along fine, you and I, don't you think?"
"No," Ray said truculently, looking down at her. She must have been a good eight inches shorter than his six feet. "Why should I think that?"
"What's the matter?" Rose asked, wrinkling her brows. "Didn't your grandmother tell you about me?"
His grandmother? Raymond thought, all the starch knocked out of him. He immediately pictured Grandma Eustatia: a short woman, but broad and wide, with a hearty singing voice she occasionally used to raise the roof. In fact, Grandma didn't talk much to anyone. She was always singing, either out loud or to herself, around the house.
"That's right," Rose said, as if he'd said something. "I know your grandmother. Mrs. Green is a fine woman. She told me about you, and I thought you sounded perfect for us. She has all the qualities you'd ever want, and she thinks you have them, too, so here you are. I recommended you myself for membership."
"Want? Want in what?" Ray asked, annoyed by Rose's circumlocutious style of conversation.
Rose gazed at him as if he hadn't spoken. "So young. Maybe everybody looks so young when they first come in, eh? And such a chip on your shoulder, it's a wonder one side of your body isn't higher than the other. You're here because you're going to be a fairy godfather, sonny."
Ray stared at her goggle-eyed. Whatever he was expecting her to say, it wasn't anything like that. "No, I'm not. You must be out of your head. My grandmother sent me here to learn something, not to participate in some weird make-believe."
Rose tilted her head to one side to study him. Raymond was quite handsome. He had warm, deep brown eyes just two shades darker than his skin. His nose had character. His hair was cut in one of the modern styles that was becoming with his long oval face: very short on the sides and back, but a couple inches high on top of his head, and eschewing the idiosyncratic razor cuts that simulated plaid, sculpting, a side-parting, or other symbols. Though his shoulders were broad, his arms and legs seemed awkward and gangly, as if he hadn't finished growing into his body yet. This child was bursting with promise, so much it was squirting out of him in every direction but the right one. She took his arm and squeezed his hand lightly. To his credit, he didn't pull away.
"You want to help people?" Rose asked gently, trying not to frighten him. He looked ready to run away. "You want to do good?"
Raymond started, as if she'd been reading his thoughts. She'd only been reading his face.
"Uh, I guess so."
"Well, that's what we do," Rose said. To her it sounded self-evident.
"What do you mean by good?" Ray asked. "I mean, exactly."
A shrug. "Whatever really needs doing. You heard our motto: Every child is entitled to one miracle. We provide the miracle, one to a child."
Raymond gestured around him at the hall full of people. "But you're a union! That's no help to anyone I've ever heard. Not to children anyhow."
Rose sighed impatiently, and Ray wondered what he'd missed.
"Try to think of us as a guild, rather than a trade organization. We're a teaching society, a mutual assistance collective. We help each other to help others. Anyone can join who has the right attitude, the right aptitude. Honest, helpful, smart, caring, that's the important one. That's you."
Raymond felt his cheeks burning. "What about it?" he asked, defensively.
"So, you're going to make use of all those wonderful qualities. So you don't waste them." Rose put a fingertip almost to Ray's nose. He pulled back, but not too far. "Aha, that intrigues you, doesn't it?" The fingertip pointed up to the ceiling then arrowed down toward the floor. "See here. As of right now, you're my apprentice. As your senior Fairy Godmother I'm supposed to teach you how to do good for children who need you. You're going to have to do what I tell you. Can you handle that, or not?"
She was throwing a challenge up to him. Would he let an old woman be his boss, a white woman, a Jewish woman at that? Raymond narrowed one eye at her, trying to stare her down. She glared back, as she had during the meeting. The old girl had guts, no question. She might well be a friend of Grandma Eustatia. And he liked the idea of helping out kids, whether or not he understood yet just exactly what was going on here.
"I can handle it," he said, in a flat voice.
"Good," she said, beaming, and clapping her hands together. "No time like now to get started, eh?"
"Started?" Raymond asked. He looked at his wristwatch, then at the clock on the wall. "But it's after eighto'clock!"
Rose patted his arm. "That's when our work really begins most of the time, young man." She turned to the Blue Fairy. "We're going, Alexandra. Where can I pick up his manual and wand?"
The chairwoman smiled and nodded toward the side of the room where there was a long table stacked with flyers and a pile of long, narrow boxes.
"Just take them, Rose. George will take care of administrative," the Blue Fairy said, checking off Ray's name on her roster. She smiled at him over her poised pencil. "Ray, welcome. I hope you'll be with us for a long time."
His face said "don't count on it, lady," but his mouth said, "Uh, thank you, ma'am." Rose smiled. The child had beautiful manners, and the curiosity had already gotten the better of him. He was hooked. He just didn't know it yet.