Inspired by classic fairy tales, but with a dark and sinister twist, Grim contains short stories from some of the best voices in young adult literature today:
Jeri Smith Ready
Shaun David Hutchinson
About the Author
Christine Johnson grew up in, moved away from, and finally came home to Indianapolis, Indiana. While she was in the “away” part of that adventure, she lived in Chicago, Illinois, where she attended DePaul University and majored in Political Science. She now lives in an old house in an old neighborhood with her kids and way too many books. Find her on the web at http://www.christinejohnsonbooks.com/ and on Twitter @cjohnsonbooks.
Read an Excerpt
High school is hard enough without having a psychic for a mom.
And no, I don't mean she has that uniquely Mom-like sixth sense. I mean she's literally a psychic. Reading your palms, telling you your future, all for the bargain price of fifty bucks a session (a hundred if you want a full hour, but no one ever does).
Momma runs her business out of our trailer. I know there are people who say that trailers can be nice, fancy even.
Those people had never been to our trailer.
It isn't even a double-wide, which would have at least given us enough space for more than one ratty couch. I think the couch had belonged to my nana at some point. I knew whoever had had it before us had smoked on it, though. It carried the scent of thousands of cigarettes, millions even, deep inside every cabbage rose on its stained and burned cushions.
Momma's "studio," as she liked to call it, was in the second bedroom. When she wasn't reading people's fortunes, I slept on an air mattress on the floor in there. It was either that or share with Momma, which no, thank you. And like I said, the couch stunk-and was haunted besides-so I made do with the air mattress, no matter how big a pain in the ass it was to pump it up every single night, only to roll it back flat every morning.
The studio was the one nice room in the whole trailer. In there, the linoleum didn't have duct tape over the cracks. In fact, you couldn't see the linoleum at all. Momma had bought a real nice rug from Walmart years ago. It was a little too big for the room, curling up against the walls, but Momma kept it so dark in there that no one ever really noticed.
There had been a beaded curtain separating the studio from the rest of the trailer, but I'd talked Momma into getting rid of it. It looked cheap and trashy. I realized that was kind of an ironic statement, considering the rest of our place, but I had some limits. She'd hung a paisley shawl in the doorway instead, and while that wasn't great, at least it didn't rattle every time you walked past it.
Momma was standing in front of that shawl on Saturday morning, yawning as she cradled a cup of coffee in her hands. I stood at the sink, washing last night's dinner dishes and looking out the window. On the porch of the next trailer over, a little girl with hair nearly the same white-blond as mine was playing with a water hose, giggling as she sprayed the vinyl siding. I was smiling at her and nearly missed what Momma was saying. Only when she said, "So you'll need to stay close by today," did I turn around, frowning at her.
"I can't," I told her, the dish in my hand dripping water onto the stained and faded linoleum. "I have track practice at noon."
Momma scowled. Years ago, she had been pretty, but there was something hard in her face now that had nothing to do with aging or wrinkles. "You had track practice last weekend."
I fought the urge to roll my eyes. "Yeah, I have it every weekend. And three times a week after school. Come on, Momma. Use your powers and envision me jogging around the track." I wiggled my sudsy fingers at her. "Because trust me, that's my future today."
Momma sighed, crossing over to me and dropping her nearly empty mug in my newly cleaned sink. I bit my lip as coffee splashed over the enamel. Then she held her hands out to me and I groaned. "Oh, come on, Momma, I was joking."
Moving closer, Momma insisted, "Give 'em here."
Still grumbling, I laid my palms flat on hers, and taking a deep breath, Momma closed her eyes. Almost immediately, she frowned. "Girl, you weren't kidding."
"The running. You are gonna run and run today. Fast."
I took my hands back even as I smiled a little bit. "I am trying to beat my best time today-4:07. School record is 4:01, so I'm almost there."
"Well, if what I saw was any indication, you're gonna sail right through it, sweetheart. You were runnin' like your life depended on it, from what I could see."
Turning away from her, I started to rinse her coffee out of the sink. "In that case, I guess I'll be going to track practice today, after all."
Momma patted my shoulder blade. "The appointment is at ten, so we'll definitely be done by noon."
They'd be done by 10:30-10:15, probably. Usually once people got a look at our place, they didn't like to stay long. I glanced at Momma, still in a mismatched set of pajamas, before looking at the clock on the microwave. "It's nearly ten now-you might wanna go get into character."
I'd expected another comment about making fun, but Momma just swatted me with a dishcloth and snorted. "I will. Thanks for cleaning up for me, baby. You're a good girl."
She said that to me a lot.
As Momma drifted off to her bedroom to drape herself in scarves and eyeliner-People expect a certain look, Lana-I busied myself straightening up the living room. There was only so much I could do, but I could at least make sure things were clean. I always hated the looks on Momma's clients' faces when they first walked in. Like, hello, maybe you shouldn't be so disgusted when you're the one driving out to the boondocks to get your palm read, you know? That seemed way more offensive than an ugly couch and some fake paneling.
Still, I swept up and fluffed the throw pillows on the couch and sprayed some air freshener. The scent of incense was already wafting out of Momma's studio, and I knew I'd have a headache before the day was over.
At exactly 9:57, I heard the rumble of a truck outside. "Momma, they're here!" I hollered as I shoved last night's pizza box into the trash can. The truck's ignition cut off and I glanced out the front window, wondering which kind of client this one would be. Momma's main business came from bored ladies in Auburn, the nearest town over. They were almost never under the age of fifty, and they looked so similar that I couldn't swear Momma hadn't just been seeing the same client over and over again for the past few years.
But when I saw the shiny blue truck, I knew there was no old lady behind the wheel. My heart hammered in my chest, stomach jumping. What was he doing here now?
The passenger side door opened, and a girl came tumbling out, her long legs pale in the late-morning light. As soon as I saw her, I ducked back from the window, the butterflies in my stomach suddenly turning to lead.
"Momma!" I hissed, crossing over to her studio and yanking back the paisley curtain. She was already sitting at her table, shuffling the tarot cards.
"What?" she asked, raising her eyebrows so that they nearly disappeared under her headscarf.
"Those are kids from my school," I told her, trying to keep my voice low. Trailers aren't exactly soundproof, and I could already hear the heavy tread on the stairs outside. "You promised never to read for kids."
Momma blinked at me before returning to her cards. "Well, Lana, it's not like people tell me how old they are when they call and schedule a reading. Besides, they booked a whole hour, and if you wanna keep having nice things like, oh, I don't know, electricity, water "
There was a knock at the door and I winced, afraid the kids on the porch may have overheard.
"Go answer it," Momma said, flinging a hand out, her mismatched bangles rattling.
"Please," I said, but I wasn't sure what I was asking for. For her to go answer it herself, for her not to make me do this with people I knew. For her not to be a psychic in a trailer, maybe.
But Momma just fixed me with her big hazel eyes, eyes that looked just like mine, and said, "You're not ashamed of your momma, are you, Lana Banana?"
There is no way to answer that question. It's a trick that parents throw at you, like Do you want a spanking? or What did you just say?
Besides, I was ashamed, and the guilt of that stung even more than the potential humiliation awaiting me at the front door.
They stood there on the porch, the girl leaning against the railing. Big aviator sunglasses covered nearly half her face, but I would've recognized that bright red hair anywhere. Milly Ross and I might not travel in the same circles at our school, but we'd had a few classes together.
I kept my eyes on her rather than the boy standing just beside her. I could feel the weight of his gaze on me.
"Um.Lana, right?" Milly asked, pushing her hair out of her eyes. "You're in algebra with me? Third period?"
I wondered if everything she ever said sounded like a question even as I said, "Yeah. And fourth-period history."
"Right," Milly said, and then she jerked her head at the boy. "Do you know Skye?"
I didn't want my cheeks to flame, but I could feel heat rising up my neck as I said, "Yeah, Skye Bartlett, right? I think we have English together?"
The corner of his lips lifted for just a second, a crooked smile I'd seen a hundred times. It never failed to make my pulse leap.
"French," Skye said, and I nodded.
"Right, that's it. Anyway, y'all, uh, wanna come in?" Moving out of the doorway, I gestured for them to come inside. Milly went first, and as Skye followed her into the trailer, he briefly let his hand brush my waist. It was a tiny touch, but even through my T-shirt, I could feel the heat of his fingers.
Milly stood in the middle of the room, shoving her sunglasses on top of her head. "So.you live here?"
No, I just hang out in this lady's trailer. "Yeah, I do. You guys can have a seat if you want."
Milly swung her head in the direction of the couch, the silver hoops in her ears flashing. Earlier, I'd thought that with the pillows fluffed, the sofa had actually looked a little bit better, but seeing it now through her eyes, I knew it was as shabby and ugly as ever.
"We can just stand here and wait," Milly said, her nose crinkling as she took in the faded flooring, the mismatched furniture.
I knew Mom was waiting for me to do my thing, but I really didn't want to. It was one thing when I was helping her with overweight, middle-aged ladies who just wanted to know if their husbands were cheating on them or if they were going to win the lottery. But these were kids I knew. This was Skye.
Skye was still standing by the door, and even though I wasn't looking at him, I was aware of the way his arms were folded across his chest, the thin material of his T-shirt stretching over his biceps.
"I didn't know this was your mom," Milly said at last, fiddling with the end of the oversize shirt she wore over a white tank top. It was a boy's shirt, hanging past her hips, and for a moment, I thought it looked kind of familiar. Had I seen that shirt on Skye before? I couldn't remember.
Then I realized the silence had stretched a little too long, and blinked. "Oh. Right, yeah, I don't exactly wear shirts that say Hey, My Mom's a Psychic."
Milly laughed at that, but it was too loud and too high to be genuine. From behind the paisley curtain, I heard Mom clear her throat.
She wasn't going to come out until I'd done the prep work, so with a sigh I asked them if I could get them anything to drink.
Milly cast a concerned look at the kitchen, but before she could answer, I'd crossed to the fridge and pulled out a couple of diet sodas. They were the off-brand kind from Winn-Dixie, but Milly and Skye both took one. As they did, I let my fingers brush against the thumb ring Milly wore.
It was always the same. Like coming across a closed door and opening it just a crack, peeking inside. As soon as I peeked inside Milly's mind, I saw a familiar face. Kimberly McEntire had been in my grade and had been Milly's best friend.
And Skye's girlfriend.
I saw her and Milly riding in Kimberly's car, singing loudly with the radio. Now they were sitting on Kimberly's bed, and she was crying, Milly wrapping an arm around her shoulders. Milly sitting on the floor of her bedroom, listening to Kimberly's mom asking where Kimberly was, if Milly had seen her. And over all of that was this feeling-worry, anxiety, anger, all balled up together.
I was just drawing my hand back when there was a flash of another emotion, another face and name. It startled me so much I nearly dropped the soda I'd been handing to Milly, and she caught it with a little scowl.
"Whoa. You okay?"
"Yeah," I said, even as I shook my head. "Yeah, totally. Sorry, the can was slippery. Uh, if y'all will wait right here for a sec, I'll go get Mom-er, Madame Lin."
I'd begged Momma to drop the stupid name, but unlike the Beaded Curtain Argument, I'd lost. According to Momma, people felt better hearing their psychic readings from a woman named Madame Lin than from one named Lynette.
Ducking behind the paisley curtain, I found Momma sitting expectantly at her table. "Well?"
Keeping my voice at a whisper, I told her what I'd picked up from the jewelry. "She's mostly here to ask about Kimberly McEntire." I didn't mention the other thing. I wasn't sure I'd be able to without Momma knowing something was wrong with me.
Momma scowled. "Did she bring something belonging to the girl?"
I shook my head. "Don't think so."
Throwing up her hands, Momma blew out a long breath. "Well, how am I supposed to answer any questions about someone who's not even here? That's not how this works," she hissed.
There was no sense in reminding Momma that I knew how this worked. The powers Momma had-the powers I had- were really specific. I could touch people and, if I wanted to, get impressions of what they were thinking, little bits of their present and past. The future was a total no-go for me.
But Momma, she could see only little snatches of a person's future. But that person had to be sitting there with her or she had to touch something of theirs. In other words, if Milly wanted to find out where Kimberly had disappeared to all those months ago, she was crap outta luck.
"Just lie to her," I said with a little shrug. "Everybody says Kimberly ran away from home after a fight with her parents. Make up some kind of glamorous story about Kim living out in, like, L.A. or something."
Momma mulled that over, twirling the end of her headscarf. "That's good," she said at last. "After all, what do I always say? If you can't tell someone the truth-"
"At least make them happy," I finished. It was basically Momma's motto as a psychic.
Momma smiled at me, her teeth white against the dark wine of her lipstick. "You'll be good at this."