Fa Switch gathered her daughters in her bedroom the night before the wedding.
“No funny business,” she said.
She made each of them look her in the eye and cross their hearts. Her daughters knew this was serious: the consequence for breaking a promise crossed over the heart was severe, and Fa Switch could be trusted to show no mercy.
Mina, the littlest one, pouted.
“Where’s Mara?” she said. “Why doesn’t Mara have to cross her heart?”
Morgan rolled her eyes. “Because she’s the one getting married, dufus.” A candle was flickering by Mina’s seat, and the flame seemed to jump playfully onto Mina’s arm, dancing across her sleeve and then going out in a puff of smoke in midair.
“Hey!” Mina jumped up and batted her arms, turned around in circles to make sure that the back of her shirt was okay. “Marie, help me!” she said, “Put it out!”
Marie rolled her eyes. She had been reading a book that she’d snuck into the room. Her mother frequently assembled the sisters to give long, stern lectures about secrecy and discretion that were mostly directed at Morgan. After all, Mina had shown little power besides once tipping over a glass of milk without seeming to touch it (everyone agreed afterwards that she had most likely just swiped it with her elbow when no one was looking), and everyone knew Marie would never be the cause of any flashy business. Marie flipped a page in her book, and the water sitting in a cup by their mother’s bed arched in the air, splattering on Morgan’s head. “Come on,” Marie said without looking up. “Leave her alone.”
Ms. Switch stood up, her long black jacket rustling, and clapped her hands once. “No funny business,” she said. Her voice seeped into the corners of the room like a hiss until it was silent and still. Her daughters lowered their heads and nodded.
Tomorrow was a big day, for Mara, the oldest, was marrying a man. Graham Hunter was his name, and for all anyone could guess he was a mortal who knew nothing about the Switches and the ways in which they were special.
For the Switches were special indeed. A family of four sisters, they had black hair that fell straight as a pin and soft pale skin punctuated by catlike eyes. But besides their unusual looks, there was something about the Switch family that unsettled the people of Ambrose. Ever since Fa Switch came striding down Tamany Lane with a girl in one hand, twins strapped on her back, and her pregnant belly bulging through her long black coat, there had been whispers. She opened up Fa’s Food on Main Street–the first and only Chinese restaurant in town–had her baby and settled quietly into a house. As her daughters grew older and her business became more successful, she remained as young as she’d looked on the first day, and never once spoke to the townsfolk more than was necessary. Cold and silent, she kept her daughters close and guarded. Besides dining in her restaurant, the villagers kept their children away from Fa Switch. Behind closed doors, whispers were exchanged that the youthful Chinese face was a mask for an old woman with a hooked nose and sunken, bulging eyes. Stories were told by flashlight about her transforming, in the blink of an eye or a turn of the head.
The Switches lived in an old house at the end of Tamany Lane. It was a narrow two-story building, with black paint chipping and shingles hanging off the edges of the roof. Whenever visitors to the town passed by the house, they marveled to discover that it was not abandoned, and that five people lived happily inside, because it looked all together too old and small to be fit for living.
But appearances were deceiving. The lucky ones who did have a chance to enter the house will tell you that the inside was gleaming and new, with polished mahogany floors and a bright chandelier dangling in the foyer. A spiral staircase made of glass snaked through the stories, and the house certainly revealed itself to be much more spacious on the inside than one would have guessed from its outwardly appearance. They would even say that there was something off about it, a kind of beauty that was not quite natural. The others would nod, because there was something about the entire family that fit that description.
Fa sent her three younger daughters to bed, tucking in each one with a warning. Any funny business on their sister’s big day, and they would feel the fullness of her wrath. Finally, she reached Mina, who was too young to do those things that made the Switches special. She was sniffling, tossing and turning in her sheets. And so, instead of the warning, Fa bent down to kiss her youngest daughter on the forehead.
“What’s going to happen to us?” Mina said, “Is Mara leaving forever?”
Fa Switch wiped her hand over Mina’s eyes to close them. “Ssh,” she said. “Go to bed.” She sat on the edge of Mina’s bed and stroked her black hair. “Sleep well, and everything will be clear in the morning.”