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You will find the manuscript enclosed. I do so hope that it meets with your enthusiastic approval. Lucy had her nose tucked into her book so deep she didn't even notice me step into the sitting room. Mimicking her wonderful English accent that I so envied, I repeated her. My terrible attempt to sound like a local caused Lucy to laugh. I coveted the sound of her chuckle as well.

Lucy and I had been friends for these past three years, after we met at my husband's wake. My poor dear Xavier and I had only been married for eleven months, two weeks, three days, and two hours before a most terrible accident placed him in Heaven. At the wake, I had recognized no more than a dozen attendees dressed in black, who were condoling me, the young widowed bride. I noticed that a fellow who worked for the funeral director seemed to be harassing a little woman my age, who looked quite fearful. She was a pretty, petite thing, with dark hair and porcelain skin. My own appearance is decidedly un-unique.

I made my way to where the mortuary staff member spoke in a hushed tone to the fretful young lady, and he explained that she did not know the family at all; she had merely attended the wake so that she might make a dinner out of the finger food being served by the wait staff. He had seen her doing the same at three other wakes over the past few weeks. Her black shoes where scuffed, and one heel had been poorly repaired. She wore no jewelry, and one of her white gloves had been mended at the joint of the thumb and forefinger.

See that a hardy plate of dinner is sent to her right away. This was how our friendship began. For whatever divine purpose, Xavier had been taken away from me, and Lucy had been sent as my companion. Mother Stayton thought nothing of Lucy staying on with us. I enjoyed a good book, but this tome in Lucy's hands had me perplexed. She had been reading it all morning with great interest. Had you heard of her before she went missing for a week, her husband suspected of foul play? I just nodded; my point had been proven.

The individual might be an excellent writer, but she was also rather clever with publicity. Seemingly, she then vanished, her car found abandoned. This created quite the sensation. Over a full week passed before she was spotted at one of those hydropathic hotels, checked in under an assumed name. The papers said she had amnesia; she suffered some sort of breakdown. I do realize that this digression may need to be edited, and I am open to the suggestion of different wording.

As you do still represent this person, you may prefer to omit any reference. Delighted to explain, Lucy stuck her thumb in the book and partially closed it. I sat on the edge of the chair beside my friend. Lucy described the man, who was not what I expected, and I threw my head back and smiled. Lucy's brow rose, and her lips pinched; clearly she didn't believe me, and why should she?

There was a stack of those books in my room, still on the dresser where my dear Xavier had left them—unread. There was a brief silence; Lucy had read the expression on my face. I reached across the side table and opened a little ceramic box. Plucking out a clove, I placed it gently on my tongue and savored the flavor. The little spell of melancholy passed, and I asked her to read from the book aloud.

I wanted to hear this master sleuth at work. Lucy read one chapter to me, in her lovely voice. The little detective was ever so ingenious. Or should I say, his creator was a master of her trade. Planting all those misleading clues, with the actual important information just being mentioned on the surface. Yes, quite clever. A book, one of the most marvelous things ever created. The thought occurred to me, What if I wrote a book? My mother had not been pleased with my decision to keep London as my home.

She wanted me to move back to St. Louis and find another husband. On my last visit she had lost her ability to hold her tongue. I am all she has. I would never tell my insistent parent that Mother Stayton was dependent on me. Mother Stayton and I never spoke of this. While the house and other property were mine, we called it all hers, as it had formerly been.

This just seemed the right thing to do. I still had a husband; he just was no longer on this mortal plane. However, he was in my heart, and always in my thoughts. Do you plan on remaining a widow your entire life? My Great Aunt Dotty, sharing our company, voiced what I could not. She was rather senile and spoke without compunction. You'll love him for the rest of your life. More men would be better off dying young, before their wives get to know them well enough not to miss them. Slowing him down. Killing him. By the grace of God and the sheer force of will that sustained him through his long journey, he forced himself upright.

His only thought was to put one foot in front of the other. He would think of nothing else. For to think would be to remember. And to remember would be his downfall. I am a prisoner. She is cooking. I wish I could. Maybe that would make her happy. They are on my mind again. The questions. She saved my life.

Isn't that enough? The sun was rising over the battered old castle wall. An orange sliver shone brilliantly, the sky beginning to turn pale blue around it. Slowly, the castle became more visible as the shadows and the light stood out more sharply on the grey stone.

Some of the stone looked green; the castle had long been out of use, and nature had had years to take it over, enough years that what was once the tallest tower had only half of its original height, while moss and vines thrived in the cracks between the crumbling stones, many of which, no longer in their proper places, were lying scattered around the walls. Her contractions were coming every two minutes. Machined metal on metal; it sounded like the Devil clearing his throat.

Everyone knows that sound. Little boys in backyard wars know that sound. The peaceniks in the toothless, doughy enclaves of Berkeley, Portland, and Cambridge know that sound — it was a shotgun. A pale glow from the Tiffany lamp cast a muted kaleidoscope of color across the barren white walls of the efficiency, broken only by the dim shadow of a man with a burden. It took six steps to cross the apartment, but he was panting when he eased the limp body onto the narrow bed. He folded her arms across her chest and tucked the matching comforter up around her chin, smoothing out the wrinkles in the blanket on all sides of the still form.

The man stood over her, silent, watchful, until his breathing returned to normal. He double-checked all the window locks, closed the bathroom door, and replaced the CD in the stereo with one from his jacket pocket, careful to handle the disk by the edges. A final circuit of the room to wipe down any surfaces he noted touching earlier. In the kitchenette, he opened the oven door and turned the gas on high, blowing out the pilot light when the electronic ignition kicked in. One more glance at the unconscious figure on the bed and the man was gone, leaving only quiet music in his place.

I hated field trips. Sitting on my ass for God knows how long in a tin can crammed full of bored, hyperactive seventeen-year-olds. Yeah, that's a recipe for a fun time. An autumn wind pushed through the branches of the old tree, fluttering golden leaves around him as he made his way to the top. His long fingers gripped each bough gently, the dry bark, rough against his skin. He ascended slowly but purposefully while he enjoyed his conversation with his brethren, still asleep in the nurturing earth. Their branches were intertwined, and their roots close to overlapping; it was so easy in this dark forest, in the silence, to enjoy the company of his family.

Fuzzy white poplar seeds floated on the cool summer breeze. Zoya stepped carefully over broken sections of concrete. Trash and broken glass littered the yellowed grass and weeds that lined the sidewalk. A sound from the abandoned building to her right brought her to a halt. There was a crash of metal followed by a yelp.

A wild dog, she thought. Perhaps a pack. No one — no one sane anyhow — lived in this part of the city anymore. The ancient dormitories that had once housed university students now towered forlornly in staggered rows along the decaying street. A rusty fire escape lay across the sidewalk, and Zoya was forced into the street to skirt around it. She peered out of the corner of her eyes at each dark doorway or window, imagining drunks or rapists lurking in the shadows, watching, waiting to pounce.

Why did I let Georgy talk me into this? Zachery was used to the stillness, the silence, the absence of air and ether, the sheer emptiness that comprised the netherial plane. There was no sky and no ground to give a sense of depth. It was a grey void and he accepted that. That was normal. Sometimes there are rules. Also, girls should like pink and dolls. The humidity clogging her lungs was as unexpected as the yank on her backpack. The wide straps seared the tender flesh of Isabella Mumphrey's arm pits two steps outside the Flores, Peten Guatemala airport.

She whipped around to confront the antagonist. An assault by the heat was one thing. A mugging was entirely different. The doctors say Daddy won't live through the night. I was daydreaming my way through freshman English class again when Mrs. Anderson came in to our classroom and whispered something to Mr. And take your things with you. In a ballroom packed with those who live their lives governed by strict decorum, a harried woman elbowing her way through the crowd attracts considerable attention. This is doubly true when the woman in question has been on the arm of the crown prince for most of the evening.

She does not bother excusing herself; she plows on regardless of who blocks her path, be it a strapping soldier or a frail grandmother. Her corset is a tight fist around her chest, and she fights for a clean breath through a hundred conflicting perfumes and the scent of burning candles. The spell is slipping through her hands. She trips over pieces of tulle dangling from her petticoats and is jerked backwards as others step on what trails behind.

Steam rises from a delicate bowl as hot water mixes with brownish-green powder inside it. As he watches her prepare the tea, the old Japanese man thinks: Everyone is addicted to something. I felt it in my chest, this feeling like a tiger prowling heavily on my breastbone, his weighty strides fissuring each rib and crushing the air from my lungs.

He woke from hibernation the night before, when my younger sister called to trumpet her engagement. I tapped the bronze knocker on the cracked wooden door. It sounded like a gunshot in the quiet street. I looked back over my shoulder. There was nothing as far as I could see, no lights in the meshrebiya windows projecting from the second story of the house diagonally across the alley, and beyond in both directions there were only blank walls.

It was after midnight and late for anyone to be abroad in the medina, never mind an unescorted woman. Hurry up, I thought. Jimmy Spittle from Cybyl probably came closest to putting his finger on the nature of the relationship. Jimmy was a pretty deep guy, as punks go. When I look at them I see her, pinching a smoldering Winston between her index and middle finger or grasping a sweating glass of vodka on the rocks. I used to watch her paint her nails hot pink, when hot pink was the new red.

Each little stroke of the tiny brush painted on femininity, if she was anything my mother was feminine. Just like her parents. Beth Rhinehardt was smiling when the white SUV came out of nowhere and clipped her back bumper on the passenger side, spinning her around and depositing her in the path of oncoming traffic. She cursed as the old Honda skidded on unseen ice. But a split second later, she caught some traction, enough to regain a measure of control.

One that would strip me from my lackluster life so I could uncover the world and my place within it. A future that would grant me freedom to pursue my desires, whatever those may be. And for that future—that bright shining, fantastic future—I was impatient. Not a damn thing. He rested his forehead against the glass as he stared out the window. I tumbled out of bed, down the stairs, to the kitchen sink and diluted the dehydration, dislodging the dream. But something had gone bump in the night. And the bump was on me. My left breast, to be more specific.

What's wrong with swigging a bottle of Old No. It's not like I can't handle it. I once drove from Dallas to Austin with a head full of high powered acid. The trick is to keep your eye on the yellow center-line, even if the road itself ceases to exist. On a blacktop road, surrounded by the woods, I blinked in the dark, unable to remember how I had gotten here. The unmistakable smell of gasoline and burnt rubber tinged the air leaving a subtle burn in the back of my throat.

Incipit Vita Nova here begins new life. Pretty appropriate actually. I ran my finger along the row of Biology books, pushing my other hand into the back pocket of my jeans. Sarah tilted forward, craning her head to see down the long row of shelves to Dev.

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He stood with an open book in his hand, engrossed. Not high on my list of priorities. Talking to Sarah, the biggest gossip in the place? Even lower. He flipped the load transfer to run in the background and went back to his closet, grabbing the black nylon duffel bag from the top shelf. The bag still carried the stench of his last visit to the gym as he slid the zipper open, a dank combination of month-old sweat and mentholated rub.

Not a great way to start fresh, but where he was headed, he didn't have to smell good. Sweat ran between my back and the splintered cabin door I was pressed against. I tightened my death grip on my favorite backpack. It's pink leather side marred by blood stains. Unshed tears stung my eyes and my cramping legs screamed in pain but I couldn't risk moving.

Seekers where combing the dense woods for me and any movement would alert them. The fast beat of my heart nearly stopped at the flutter of wings. Would it be demons or angels who found me first? Not that it mattered. The demons wanted to keep me and the angels wanted me dead. I just wanted to go back home and pick out a prom dress. My hand clutched the detonator connected to my pack a little tighter. If I lived the gates of both heaven and hell would open. If I died humanity would have a little more time.

My only family I had left was my absentee dad who I just found out was Death himself. My friends had turned against me and the one angel I loved had betrayed me. I had nowhere to turn. Hearing the Seekers coming closer I closed my eyes and let my finger rest on the button. Well, she did yesterday before her house burned down. It woke me up. Then this monster came through. Kind of barreled out with flames and smoke. The rain beat down on them as though the God of the sky himself were throwing a tantrum. The neon lights of the nearby liquor store gleamed through the rain, reflecting upon the water gushing down the slope of the street and into their eyes.

They had nowhere else to go; everything else was closed at this ungodly hour, and sitting in the broken down car until the rain stopped was not an option. The voices of the dead never truly leave us. They become the wind and roam the barren places of the world seeking solace. It's in the night they shout the loudest, when daylight sounds of work and play are bundled off to bed and the world is left to those sleep has forsaken. When restless souls find common ground with restless feet.

Wanting to just get away from her past, the memories and pain. Oblivious to the towns she passed or the National Parks she drove through; stopping only for gas or when pure exhaustion forced her to pull over at a motel along the way. The further she ran though the more intense the pain and memories became.

Memories of the stupid fight she and her husband, Lance, had had before he left for the Search and Rescue training program that fateful evening. The phone call telling her there had been an accident at the training grounds. Tears pouring down her face, she could still hear the dirt hitting his coffin as everyone filed away from the cemetery.

I was six and nowhere to be found. My mother organized a search party — herself and a bottle of tequila — and wafted around the house, warbling my name in a tone more lonely than worried. Even then, I wondered why she was bothering to look. But for my money it was a moniker with moxie in a trade that was right up my alley.

Besides, the good folks with the state bar had said my solicitor days were kaput. So the wet paint outside my door read in simple block letters, 'Gary G. Abernathy, Gumshoe at Large. And to the point. We all got our angles. The plane pulled up to the gate and Sarah rose with the others. She picked her computer bag up from under the seat, pulled her briefcase out of the overhead compartment, and waited for the crush of passengers to thin a bit before stepping into the aisle.

It swayed under the feet of the deplaning passengers, all rushing to catch connecting flights, meet friends or family, or make their way home. I soldiered on and just as the sun stopped shining in through the hole in the wall serving as a door Grady Boyle sauntered in for his evening tequila.

He ducked behind the bar and I heard the clink and tinkle of half empty booze bottles as he searched for something halfway potable. After a minute and a half of vain searching Grady pulled himself back up with a grimace and an unlabeled bottle of something the color of piss. I like to burn things.

The truth is I like monkeys. On the other side, there is one thing I hate—liars. I also hate crooks, reporters and burnt almond fudge, but I hate liars the most. He forced himself to look at his right hand, his thumb poised over the button that would decide the fate of all humanity. Both fates would bring an end to civilization as he knew it. One fate would destroy all human poverty and suffering along with the struggles and redemptions that all humans must go through, the other would destroy all human life.

Its hair was shaved into a pattern of puffy snowballs—its body mostly bare—and the puffs on each ear were dyed the exact same shade of pale pink as its owner's crisp polo shirt. She groaned and looked over at her dad in the driver's seat. Hope is the enemy of reason. You see all these stones here? The last time I saw my old man, there was blood on his knuckles and spattered on his face in wet red freckles. My blood. He was standing over me in the back porch.

Grit from the floor dug into my elbows as I scrabbled to push myself upright, trying to get my hands up to protect my head before he put the boots to me. He had a big grin on his face, but his eyes were cold and empty. For the hundredth time that day Sergei sighed in contempt at his surroundings. Since he and Deriek had crossed the barrier neither of them had been able to use any magic to help their search; something about the First Realm acted like a damper on his magic. Sergei had naturally sharper vision, which was why he was perched in a tree to keep watch for Zerin while Deriek scouted the woods.

Water sloshed and spilled over the edge of the porcelain bathtub, rivers of soapy water ran across the tiled floor seeping into the bathmat. The body that occupied the tub thrashed violently, arms and legs flailing, sending even more water to rise like a tidal wave and spill over the cliff of porcelain. Henry stepped back, dropping the HALT sign in his hand, and nearly swore.

One day someone was going to either kill or get killed, all because of speed and deadlines and a desire to get ahead. Finding the body had been an accident. Two days earlier a boy had crossed the yellow painted boundary into the protection zone, traveled the ten feet to the fence line, and was shot in the back of the head in less than 15 seconds. Rumor had it he'd even managed to slip his fingers through the chain links before being dropped. The boy was cremated, the sniper celebrated, and the image of the clinging boy sliding to his knees haunted parents.

Overnight the shortcut home from school past the fence became absolutely forbidden. Now, with the waves brushing against my chest and my feet bouncing over the ocean bottom, I anticipate the moment it will all vanish from under me. Twenty feet ahead, the water turns from clear to cerulean blue. Be it sharks, mermaids, or Davy Jones, I want to be in that place where the unknown lurks below. A man in a uniform, one hand on the shoulder of a young man, answered.

Caught him stealing food. Only thing I know to do is leave him here at the orphanage. I just want to see him taken care of. Those that graduate out of the system are worse off. Though he was much older than 14, he was grateful. Being in a strange country and alone was hard enough. At least this way he would have room and board. Each day I face Megan with her coffeehouse coffee, always the same flavor. Her bobbed hair swings against the collar of her jacket. She approaches me on the platform with the click click click of four-inch heels. I was standing half asleep, which was most likely the reason that I dreamed up the correlation between my life and my shower caddy in the first place.

The beaded curtain of water fell onto my body, tracing maps around my soaped skin, and all I could do was stare at this collection of materials clogging the corner of my shower.


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Three half empty shampoo bottles that I had been convinced of their need by a hair dresser only looking for a commission. An empty conditioner bottle that I was so enamored with that every day I attempted to squeeze out another drop. Razors without blades. Disposable razors with rusted blades. Sponges that I had placed hoping I would find the will to clean the tub someday.

An old toothbrush so I could consolidate my morning hygiene routine if I was running late. I sighed and let my head drop. Just like my life, there was room for nothing new here in this small plastic bin. My life, with all its spaces and corners, had become cluttered with useless people. His wedding ring winks in an arc of light as he picks up the revolver from the dresser table. He takes his time, pulling ammunition from a box. Soft jacketed bullets designed to penetrate and pull apart flesh. One by one, he fits them home into their chambers, and when he is finished, he snaps the chamber back into place and holds it in his hand where he sits on the edge of the bed, the covers and sheets rumpled and dirty around him.

There is no one here to clean them and fill the fabric with sunshine and sweetness anymore, and so they decay and retreat into darkness. Does it then follow that you can know the end by the beginning? Perhaps in some things. You can know the end by the beginning. Choices have consequences. Actions have repercussions. But I never could have known that one conflict, one choice, one action, would entirely change the course of my life. I never could have dreamed what would become my end from this beginning. Not even close. Zach had been gone too long.

The twangy country music of the truck stop, the ringing poker machines, and the mindless chatter of customers became white noise, background for my rising panic. The matador thrust his hoof in the air, and the crowd fell silent. The sequins of his silver costume, tight across his bovine chest, rippled in the red sunlight. He stood erect, on his feet, rear hooves tied up to his thighs. One hand clutched a scarlet cape. The other gripped a sword. Twenty thousand Crosses held their breath. As though they hadn't seen the gruesome spectacle a thousand times before.

Rowland, the director of our player troupe, cursed outside our caravan, but the pelting rain drowned out the rejoinder. A thud against the side sent our caravan swaying on its springs. A moan broke the silence before another clap of thunder shook the camp. Curbing my curiosity, I poked a couple branches to the center of the iron stove.

No one challenged Rowland when he roared from the drink. I hunkered down, planning how to get the most heat out of our half-empty wood box. Experiments featuring primitive humans were all the rage in university research, and finally —finally! The experiment that she was running was due to begin in fifteen minutes, and it would probably show what similar work always did: primitive humans were entertaining, clever, and resilient — but they were hopelessly doomed by their limited brain power.

David was entitled to one phone call. A devout husband and a successful businessman, he spent the third Saturday of every month volunteering for a local homeless shelter. He voted, paid his taxes and recycled all of his cans. He prided himself on being honest, hardworking and refined. As he sat in the jail cell waiting for the guard to lead him to the telephone, he only regretted two things; the blood on his lapel, and not killing Jack when he was sixteen. Someone on the boat was going to try and kill her.

In fact it was tiny, barely a tub, bobbing and bucking its way through the spray. Jordan squatted on the damp bench at the back, sandwiched between two large lads. She could feel the rain and spray soaking through her jeans and supposedly waterproof jacket, making her scowl from under her hood. And not just because she was standing there, talking calmly to a group of murderous cyborg women.

I think maybe it was the hair, the bright red hair pulled up into two messy buns on either side of her head, or maybe the way she oozed confidence, one hand on her slim hip, her chin thrust out at the world. Or maybe, maybe it was because she looked familiar somehow; staring at her, it felt like a hidden memory was brushing against my skull, softly trickling its way to the surface.

The darkness is absolute. I strain to push the lids up, but they are already wide. Something covers my mouth and nose, making breathing difficult. My lungs burn for air, but I can only suck tiny mouthfuls through whatever smothers my face. Oh, god no, please! His blood chilled in his four year old veins. He was too young to understand, but he knew his father was angry. This upset him. Maybe David Warren does. I know I remember Henry. It was early in the morning when she woke up. She knew that the marks of a sleepless night were splashed on her face.

She went to the kitchen, opened the old red refrigerator, and looked into its emptiness. All she had there was water, a piece of bread and a little bit of milk. Under normal circumstances she would just give that to her one-year-old son, but she was pregnant. The wind howled in glee. The old house moaned and creaked under the pressure of the wind and the falling rain. Clouds scuttled across a nearly full moon making macabre shadows dance across the lawn. Strange mist covered the weedy ground and snaked its way up tree trunks bare from fall's arrival. When Bisa Owiredu ran, her heart expanded.

But that was the nature of running. At the sound of the gun, something swooped into her, beating its wings against her ribcage, hot needles at the ends of its feathers. Her breath brightened — a torch illuminating cave paintings on the walls of her heart. Thundering over the same meters as part of the Varsity Track Team, coeur-courir-couramment set her pace, insistent as a snare drum.

The similarly-rooted words for heart coeur , run courir , and fluently couramment would be the only high school French she kept. Oddly, it was then that Bisa would remember the night she slut-shamed her best friend, called her humanity into question, and cast her out. Eight-year-old Marisol Torchowski jams the shim into the padlock and chooses a pick. Her picks are strung on a neon pink rabbit foot key chain, poor bony thing. The pins drop. The cylinder turns.

The hasp gapes. The night his sister-in-law called, Sam went to Pike Bridge for the first time in thirteen years. He hung up the phone, put down the paper he was grading and got in the car, even though it was almost midnight. Certainly not my pictures. I would rather paint this. I would rather say nothing at all. Pictures are. A group of squires spilled into the narrow passage ahead of Zayne, their voices echoing off the low stone ceiling. Most of them were engaged in an argument about whether or not a dragon had been spotted along the northern borders and if it had, how much damage it had caused.

One of the smallest boys was insisting he heard it had swallowed three knights whole. Anna should have felt guilty. Instead, something she could almost call relief bubbled up and tried to fill the empty spot inside her. It had been three weeks since she had been here. That was too long without the smell of brine and crash of waves.

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Only when the gopher fell from the sky, nearly hitting him, did Miles Vincent put down his ax and look up. A red-tailed hawk, having dropped its kill, flapped hard toward the mountains. The dark mare kicked at her fence. Even the cows bawled in panic. But the prairie wind, something as constant as crickets on a warm night, was silent, gone.

The bodies floating in the water looked serene as she peered down at them, but Penny knew they were dead. There were all types of people down there: young, old, men, women, all nationalities. Their arms and legs stretched out, their hair and clothes suspended and flowing around them eerily.

In the slight moonlight, their faces looked so pale.

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They frightened her. I can remember perfectly the sound of gravel crunching underfoot. A band of soldiers marching in unison, off to fight in battles of titanic forces crashing against one other until a bloody victor arises. In reality, the field hands who traveled along the gravel path beside the cottage could not help echoing their iconic steps through my window. They never knew the sound of their casual journeys took me far beyond my lonely world.

Away in my mind I could be everywhere, anywhere, far from suffocating home. Magda was unmistakably ugly. What little hair she still possessed stuck up from her scalp like cocky clumps of weeds. The spaces between tufts were covered in scabs and age spots. A procession of warts traveled from behind her right ear, across her face and disappeared into the high neckline of her nightgown. Her breath came out beleaguered and stale.

Magda had known for quite a while that death was on her tail and now, now that she could no longer make her own breakfast or sweep out her home, now that she was relegated to the comfort of her little wooden bed, it seemed time to let him catch her. I stand on tiptoes to peer through the crowd. I can just barely make out his face as his body spins on the rope, rotating away from me. No one says a word.

Above us two crows call to each other, their hoarse shrieks piercing the air. No trial. No explanation. Just the ringing of the meetinghouse bell and a man hanging by his neck from a tree. Her skin had lost its color yet there still remained a variance between the freckles that stretched across the bridge of her nose and the skin upon which they rested. Her hair, stiff and dirty, looked like matted, twisted straw. But there was no denying it: these were the sweet, soft features of Madeline Cranston, partially exposed by the recent warm spell. If the eyes are truly the windows to the soul, her body lay beneath the mound of snow utterly vacant.

Darkness was just giving way to a foggy January morning when Roger Coffey noticed the headlights following him in his rear-view mirror. He glanced down at the little notebook in the passenger seat. So, there must be some truth to the rumors he was investigating. Sunday, another dictionary cuddle Sunday. For a went nowhere, did nothing, small town girl, it could be worse. Crosswords lie. The rain sounded like a thousand fingers pounding on the roof of my car. Rivers of water cascaded down the windows around me.

Wind whipped across the road with such force my car swayed back and forth as if it had a mind of its own. My knuckles turned white as I gripped the steering wheel.

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The world was an abstract swirl of colors as my windshield wipers struggled to keep up with the downpour. Desperate to see the road, I leaned closer to the steering wheel. Every nerve in my body tensed as I fought to keep the car on the road. I pocket the flask and reach for the Colt.

With the magazine full, it feels balanced in my hand, the checkered rosewood grip a bit warmer than the night. I extend my arm to sight a silhouette along the barrel and imagine that it's not just a swamp-oak flanking the graveyard. It's Finn Garrett standing in the woods near Moss Creek, on the night in that he and Drew shot each other dead before Garrett's cabin went up in flames.

My index finger flexes until the safety catches. It doesn't matter — I'm twenty-two years late. My brother's bones are decaying beneath my feet, and Henry Zimmerman will have to answer for that tonight. It sounded like a cannon shot in the forest. No, Johnny had tried to open a hot can of pork and beans with his brand new boy scout knife and the metal container had exploded like a hand grenade, sending a hot load of legumes into his armpit.

Cannon Fodder is a coming of age story that takes place in Pennsylvania during the height of the Vietnam War. On the third Sunday of June, I decided. It was time to have my first kiss. At thirteen, this was my concern for the summer. All my girlfriends planned to do the same thing. I would not be left out. And Patrick was the boy who would give it to me, whether he liked it or not.

I love that about where I live. Every form of human being lives in Portland, and they all come and go on the buses. People my age often show up decorated like a Christmas tree with shiny piercings and fierce rainbow hair. Everything from cars to angels is plastered in ink to their skins. They flash their monthly passes without looking at the bus driver, much like someone would flash a VIP pass at a security guard. Homeless people pay in nickels and dimes. High school students come in the morning and lean their heads against a window to catch a few minutes of sleep before their first class.

The nasty side. The side they kept from everyone but me. Black leather felt so comforting under my fingertips. The hourglass-shaped case popped open with barely a flick across the lock. The instrument looked fine, but the violin bow was damaged. Broken horsehair curled on the velvet lining, a reddish tint staining the strings. It belonged to Harry. The light had faded fast. It had been a grey day, the rays of the sun barely shining through the thick layers of cloud. A day with which a heavy sense of foreboding had gone hand in hand. And the night would not be any better.

Loretta Narsonas sat in the window seat of the drawing room and looked out over the vast ocean of grass which seemed to fade into the horizon. She sighed. Again, her mother had ignored her, had turned the other cheek when she tried to talk about her day. Her breath created fog on the window, echoing the mist that was slowly creeping towards the house. That too had an ominous atmosphere. Almost like the night ahead would be different to the normal, repetitive routine of doing nothing and nothing again.

Something had changed. Aidan Flynn was a man who rarely ever swore—until today. Today he cursed repeatedly, at high volume, and with impassioned creativity. As was customary with most princesses, the Princess of Aghaya sat in a room atop the tallest tower of the palace, lounging in her favorite satin armchair.

Chanda, her attendant, shadowed her, carefully fastening gold jewelry to her long, black hair. The gold embellishments in her choli and sari sparkled in the fading light of the sunset. The princess admired the glittering effect of her ornaments and added a few more bangles to her arms. Yet still they ask. The curious, the skeptical, the ones who know all they need to know. They eye my wrist, searching for that telltale proof. I am a survivor without a number.

Bridget ripped a weed from the ground. Clumps of dirt dangled from the roots, and a tiny worm wiggled out in an attempt to escape, but Bridget tossed the weed away worm and all. It was early morning—so early the chilly fog still clung to the grass, and birds still warbled by the hundreds—but Bridget had been outside for at least an hour already. Feelings can change in minutes, seconds even. The Daisy Diamond promise ring on my finger that served as a delighted surprise just twenty minutes ago now caused my stomach to churn. Long distance.

Can we survive it? She was back to annoying me the very next day. Not ruined. My point is, her life — not ruined. Definitely not ruined, just slightly delayed. As Ms. Finch would say, they are just speaking figuratively. But, in this case, in the particular case of that same Ms.

Finch, I think it would be more than fair to say that I did. I ruined her life. When people think about super heroes, they automatically picture Superman or The Flash. Colorful uniforms, dramatic fight scenes, and witty dialogue are all trademarks of the heroic image. Who wants to hear about boring? No one. People want action. They want a protagonist who discovers he or she has a talent for saving the world from evil forces, and then uses it to save mankind from the desperate clutches of Dr. Cue dramatic music and the fade to black. Blah, blah, blah. Same old story.

Those flashing beacons of light-in-tights always stop the evildoers just before they achieve world domination. It looks pretty good on the silver screen. Even I used to get sucked into the shining world of those heroes. That was before. Abby lay in the cool darkness of her room, listening to explosions rattle the pictures on her walls. It was loud. Sometimes even very loud. It was two in the morning and I walked through downtown Madrid.

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The cold made my bones ache and turned my cheeks red. I loved moments of solitude. When I was alone, I could lose myself in my emotions, which were altered only by those housed in old buildings. I'm having this really inappropriate thought, and no matter how hard I try to think things like I love my boyfriend, Calvin , I still want to lean over and lick this boy's neck to see if he tastes like icing sugar.

The front-page headline read, Halloween in July. Possibly not the most original ever, but an attention grabber nonetheless. Dressed like some sort of overlord of the universe, the sightings as reported were indeed curious. Traveling between rugged stone, he pushed forward until the vast starry sky opened above. For the first time in ten years, he hovered over the sacred mountaintop. The resounding calm of night surrounded him, beckoning him from the caves of Hell.

I was mostly okay with the idea of my grandfather moving into the house. Me and the old guy shared the same name. I guess my parents felt obligated to pass it along to me; without him they wouldn't have this house. Some kind of super-salesman back in his day, Grandpa Hank gave my grandmother the house, in the divorce settlement, and made the payments on it.

Though he disappeared for stretches of time, there were checks for everyone come birthdays and holidays. My folks got the house when my grandmother died. That first night he handed my parents a "rent" check that had their eyes bugging out. He sat sipping the almost-all-water Scotch and water I had fixed him, and he used the tv remote like an accelerator: racing through programs, pausing occasionally as if slowing into a turn, then blowing by thirty or forty more channels. He sat idling on the History Channel and a sketch-artist's rendering. I can agree with that. I became a memory to my mother of her friend that died five years ago — when I lost Kenzie.

My parents thought that I was a lost cause, with my dad trying to help and my mom finally being taken away when she was more interested in drinking than the mental welfare of her son. I was thinking about my Studebaker when the quake hit. She was wearing one of those napkin-sized skirts she sometimes wears and her legs are all the way up to there anyway. I can get away with zeroing in on her stems without getting caught. I stand in the gritty bathroom, splashing lukewarm water into my face. I look in the mirror, at the washed-out, exhausted face staring back at me.

Rachel Whittier, you are a vision. The lights flicker, making the dirty, grey light even dimmer than before. I glance up at the fixture. Great, miraculous, efficient. Break one, you have to evacuate. The Department of Energy says evacuate the room, avoid stepping on the glass. The Department for Energy says try not to inhale the dust. But I digress. I got on hands and knees, stared at the glob of ground chuck bleeding on the plate in front of me, and willed myself to Spirit Walk. Get bear up in here. Grace McEwen was eight the first time she stood outside a closed door and listened to her mother squeal and sigh with pleasure.

Thirty-one years later, she found the sounds just as awkward. I heard cleats crunching dirt. Not far. So much for a break. I shot up, nearing the end of the woods path that would spit me out by home. Blood dripped on my orange Converse. I clawed at hives purpling my neck and forearms. They taunted through the trees, words the complete opposite of sweet-nothings. Georgia Declan ignored the persistent ringing of the phone she had just tossed into the McDonald's garbage can.

People store their lives on their phones, and her biggest regret was losing all the progress she had made on Angry Birds. The man on the other end calling her, she knew was Stanley Frankel, her father's attorney. There was no way in hell she would talk to him. Now that she had inherited her father's billions, Frankel wanted to control her very existence. He deserved to be in the garbage, with any luck the phone had landed at the bottom of that can in pile of ketchup.

Ensign Dorothy Paddock tugged at the base of her uniform top despite knowing that on the other side of the door was the last person on this ship who cared about appearances. Her hand flew without command to the air around her ear, but of course, grasped at nothing. Were it not for the bun, the Lieutenant might have opened the door to a bald girl. And in Limbo, the rest of the travelers sitting with me ignore it. We didn't talk in the car. Neither of us had to say it. Tonight I'd give my virginity to Anton. I expected some pain, maybe a little blood, but it didn't matter.

I'd kill to be his boyfriend. I'm hiding in the girls' bathroom waiting for the dismissal bell. I don't have a hall pass. I didn't think he'd offer one after I wrenched myself out of his arms and ran for the door. I damn sure wasn't going to ask. It was a stupid reason to die.