“You can see right through that dress when you stand near the light,” Maddie told her mother.
She sat on the bed, cutting her toenails with dull kitchen scissors.
“Then I won’t stand near a light.” Violet smacked glistening red lips at the mirror. “Don’t use those on your feet, Maddie.”
“They’re the only scissors we have. Will you be back by bedtime?”
“Don’t start. You’re almost nine, you can take care of yourself.”
Maddie returned to savaging her big toe. A horn honked outside. Violet shouldered her bag.
“That’s my ride. I’ll walk in there a pauper and come out a Queen. You’ll see.” The motel room door slammed behind her.
Maddie opened the mini fridge to two shriveled heels of white bread.
Violet would bring back appetizers smushed into a napkin. But not for hours. Maddie slammed the fridge door, then did it again, just for fun. A flier floated to the floor.
“Untold Riches! Bring A Sacrifice, Reap the Rewards!!” The address was for the Kiwanis Hall, not far away. Maddie’s stomach growled.
Golden light spilled from the hall’s windows, but the parking lot was only half full. Maddie slipped into a service door.
Maddie crept through the hallway and peeked into the main room. A small group stood in a circle. Maddie hovered, watching.
Violet stood next to an unkempt man in tattered army pants. There was a certain glazed, hungry look men got around Violet. It’s how Maddie imagined she’d look at a steak. This man had that look, but something else, too. He swayed in place, his eyes half-closed.
A man stepped into the center of the circle. He smiled, and his expression made Maddie’s stomach flip.
The man lifted his hand; the room stilled.
“Good evening. My name is Nick. I’m so glad you joined us. Remember, you can only reap the rewards if you brought a friend. Their sacrifice will open the doors to everything you desire.” Nick smiled at Violet. “Are you ready?”
Violet pushed Army Pants forward. Nick caught him as he stumbled, face wrinkled in distaste.
“He’ll do, I suppose.”
Nick placed a hand on the man’s chest and mumbled something. Army Pants groaned and collapsed, his gaze empty, his chest still. Violet didn’t react, her eyes fixed on Nick. Maddie had never seen her look so cold, and it opened a deep, empty place in her chest. She gasped with the pain of it.
Violet’s head whipped toward the hallway. For one long awful moment, she and Maddie locked eyes. Then Maddie turned and ran.
Inside the motel, Maddie collapsed on the bed, heart pounding. She squeezed her eyes shut. She tried to block out the image of Violet’s expression when Army Pants hit the floor — like she was watching a leaf fall from a tree.
An hour later Maddie heard the door open. The bed squeaked as Violet sat down.
“Do you have anything to tell me?” Violet pulled off her boots.
“No. Do you have anything to tell me?” Maddie’s voice trembled.
Violet sighed. “No. I don’t guess I do.”
They sat in silence for a long time.
“Did it work?” Maddie asked.
“No. We’re still poor. But look. One of the other members gave me this.” Violet pulled a flier out of her bag. Maddie glanced down long enough to see “untold riches” and an image of some red rocks. “Get some sleep. It’s a long bus ride to Sedona. I have a really good feeling about this, Maddie. I’ll walk in a pauper and come out a Queen. Just you wait.”