A chill January breeze blew across the Sonoran desert. Malcolm shivered. Everybody talked about global warming, but the Arizona desert was undergoing a record cold spell. Not that deserts were any strangers to cold. Almost all the temperature range extremes were in deserts, where the lack of humidity in the air allowed the day’s heat to flee unimpeded. Malcolm pulled down his knit Diamondbacks cap and zipped his hunting jacket up till the cold of the zipper touched his chin. He was looking at another day of getting skunked—coming home with the bad news that the big cat was still out there. And that overnight it would probably kill another one of the family’s steers. But what could he do? He’d hunted the animal obsessively for two weeks now. It had gotten to the point where he dreamt of the big cat.

Jaguars were back in Arizona. That was the problem. Well, the problem from a ranching family like Malcolm’s perspective anyway. One jaguar in particular, probably up from Mexico, was taking out more and more livestock. Malcolm was torn by the dilemma. There were so few of the majestic cats—jaguars are the only North American cats that roar—and it was such an exotic animal, but on the other hand, he felt for the cattle. Just standing out there defenseless, set upon and butchered in the middle of the night by the silent assassin.

It was illegal to kill jaguars. JAGCT (the Jaguar Conversation Team) were fanatical about protecting the big cats. And the rhetoric had gotten so extreme, some conservationists threatened violence against anyone who would take—hunter-speak for “kill”—one of the cats. It was the last thing somebody like Malcolm needed. At seventeen his biggest problem was getting a date for Homecoming, but he had his father, rapidly losing his eyesight and counting on Malcolm to take over the ranch, to think about. It troubled Malcolm deeply that he was doing something illegal, but from his family’s perspective the law made no sense.

Oh well, it was enough frustration for one day. Malcolm put his Remington 30-06 bolt action rifle in its case, climbed in the ATV and headed home. It was at the dinner table, although his father would never say anything, that Malcolm could sense the disappointment the man felt.

Lying in bed that night, Malcolm dreamt of a steer being mauled, the big cat hanging onto the steer’s jugular until the terrified and weakening animal finally succumbed. He woke up in the middle of the night shaking and sweaty. He got up, drank a glass of water and threw an extra blanket on the bed—the cold penetrating the bedroom walls.

In the morning he was amazed to see that it had snowed, and he immediately thought of only one thing—the snow would allow him to track the big cat better. With his parents’ permission he blew off school. He ate a big breakfast of steak and eggs, dressed warm and headed out on the ATV.

After a half hour he came to the grazing area, and sure enough a bloody steer carcass lay in the far corner of the field near a bluff. He drove out there, half feeling like the rest of the herd gave him dirty looks.

Why won’t you protect us?

Malcolm knew with the big cat’s tracks in the newly fallen snow this might be his one and only chance to kill the animal. He thought of his father. Of how disappointed he’d be that yet another of his steer had been killed, but also of how happy he’d be if the big cat was finally dead. Malcolm checked his ammo. He wiped the rifle’s scope with a micro cloth. He was ready.

He had no illusions. He knew the odds of killing the cat were overwhelmingly slim. Some hunters spent their lives hunting big cats and never killed a single one. But with the steer herd as bait and the cat’s tracks in the virgin snow being fresh yeah, this would be his chance. He trailed the cat’s tracks in the ATV, driving slowly, making sure to never crank the throttle. The cat would hear the slightest sound, especially in the pristine snow-covered desert. He drove the ATV up the bluff, the tracks still really good, but as the sun got higher the snow would melt and the tracks would soon be gone.

The top of the bluff gave an unparalleled view of the desert to the south. He stopped and shut off the ATV’s engine. He took out binoculars but before he could even put them to his eyes he saw movement 800 yards or so out. Probably a wolf. The wolves had killed most of the coyotes. But the animal didn’t have a wolf’s characteristic lope. Malcolm felt his heartbeat race as he raised the binoculars to his eyes.

But there was nothing. Until, from behind a sagebrush, slunk the jaguar.

“Oh my God,” Malcolm said slowly, working at holding the binoculars steady. He knew he didn’t have a lot of time. The cat could disappear as quickly as it had materialized, and even with the rifle’s scope, 800 yards was too far to take a shot. Malcolm was accurate for a once-a-month shooter but knew he’d have to get to at least 500 yards to have a chance of killing the cat. He’d have to get closer, much closer, and he’d have only the one shot. If he missed, the animal would be long gone.

Jaguars’ eyesight was even better than their hearing. All he really had going for him was that the cat was traveling away from him. The first time it turned to check behind it, which it certainly soon would, it would see him and bolt.

He left the ATV where it was and headed down the bluff. The slope was slippery with the snow, and he fell hard on his hip but refused to cry out. He got back up and kept going. He needed to control his breathing. A panicked breath at the moment of the trigger pull would skew the shot wide. Okay, he was down on the flat. Maybe 500 yards out. Still, it would help to be a little closer. He set his sights on a boulder a hundred yards into the valley. If he could make it there without being detected, he had a real shot.

So far so good. Then his cell phone rang. Oh God! He struggled to get it out of his hunting jacket. He killed the ring and checked the screen. His father.

He looked back at the cat. Thank God it hadn’t heard. It was still sauntering along. Malcolm was almost at the boulder. He eased his rifle out of its sling. Breathe, he reminded himself. Calmly.

He hunched behind the boulder. It made for a good base, a natural tripod. The cat still hadn’t seen him, and Malcolm picked him up in the scope. But the cat was still moving away, and Malcolm had difficulty adjusting the scope’s power ring to keep the animal in the proper magnification. Hitting the cat at that distance while it was moving was a near impossibility.

Then the jaguar stopped and turned. Malcolm had him lined up perfectly in the cross-hairs. He felt as if the cat was looking right into his eyes, for certainly it saw him. The big cat hesitated, trying to discern the level of threat Malcolm posed. It was time. He needed to shoot. He exhaled softly and started to squeeze the trigger but then stopped. The cat’s eyes seemed to hold him in their spell. For truly, as deadly as the animal was, it was also incredibly beautiful. Its spotty coat, pert ears, and white whiskers, but more than anything, its luminous green eyes.

Malcolm swallowed and the scope shifted. He brought the gun back and was ready to shoot. But the big cat was gone.

The End

The shark circled behind him. It was taking all of Henry’s energy just to keep turning to face it, but he had to do it—if he stopped, he was sure the shark would attack. Besides, he wouldn’t be able to stand the fear if he didn’t keep facing it. A marine biologist, he knew that rule number one in encountering a shark in open water was never taking your eyes off it.

It was all a mistake. Attempting swimming the Gulf Stream without a shark cage, and even worse, attempting it on his own. And why he was doing it was wrong too. Yes, he knew there was the possibility of an attack—he knew the sharks would be there, drawn to the warm water and mullet—but he figured he understood shark behavior so well he’d be okay. And he had been. Sharks were like any other animal in the ocean: looking for food. For sharks that meant fish, turtles and sometimes even other sharks. Human beings were not on the menu. And the seven or eight sharks he’d seen so far had passed him by uninterested.

But not this one.

A Tiger Shark. Ten, eleven feet long. Circling. Its stripes on its side, giving it its name, clearly visible with each pass. A Tiger. One of the few species that rarely shows in these waters. One of the few man-eaters.

Adrift, the strong Gulf Stream current took him further north than he’d planned. He would be nowhere near the destination boat and his PhD students that had agreed to pick him up. And who knew how long it would take them to figure—via his gps signal—that he was in trouble. If they ever did.

The shark came at him, and Henry braced. He knew to punch it in the snout or gills, and if it bit him and latched on, to gouge its eyes. At the last second it veered off. Henry felt a release of urine, warm on his leg. He bobbed up in the water, taking a quick look for the destination boat.

Eyes back on the shark. It circled again. Henry knew shark attacks varied. Some sharks came right at you, but most, like this one, circled, ever cautious, investigating, looking for an opening, a weakness, before they pounced. He’d seen the videos of attacks, the sharks thrashing their prey until the flesh or limb came loose between their razor-sharp teeth. And then blood in the water, and more sharks.

But he had to keep his fear at bay. There was no bona fide science saying sharks could sense fear, but if they could, he was doing his best to mask his. And if it was going to be a fight, the shark needed to know it faced a worthy, aggressive opponent.

He kept pressing the GPS location button, hoping against hope the destination boat might interpret it as a Mayday call.

And stupid. So very stupid. Arguing with his wife over this. He loved her, more than anything, but he’d had to have his way. He had to be right! He’d had to prove to her, and anyone else who doubted him, he could still swim the Gulf Stream at forty-three. He knew he had it in him.

The shark circled faster now. A clue an attack was imminent. To be in this situation. The sky heavy with white clouds roiling above him. The salt spray blurring his eyes. The rollicking swells all around, rolling him, controlling him, the vast Atlantic tossing him about like a rag. Was this how it all ended?

The shark flashed past. The closest it had come yet. If Henry had had a cape, he could’ve whisked it past bullfighter style. This was it. The next pass would be an attack.

He bobbed up in a swell again and in the distance saw the destination ship. There it was! And it was headed for him! But so was the shark. What sort of mocking irony was this: minutes from being picked up!

The shark drew a bead on him. Henry knew not to wind up, the water slowing the effectiveness of any punch he might be able to throw. It was on him.

Like a fillet knife, it gashed his stomach, and its momentum dragged him back a good five feet. Now it had him. Henry punched at its gills and sucked in a quick breath before the shark took him under. Its eyes. He gouged at the shark’s right eye, his fingers finding their way into the gushy socket. He dug his fingers in hard, wanting to drive them into the shark’s brain. He felt no pain. The shock of it all. The whirl of motion, the battle, masked everything. He gouged deeper.

Finally the shark released him. Henry pumped his legs for the surface and burst through, gasping for a breath. He felt his side, a wide flap of his belly hung loose, his blood mixing with the warm salt water, which would fill with sharks within seconds.

A desperate last bob up to check for the destination ship. It wasn’t there. Oh God! He looked for the shark. Here he comes! Henry took a deep breath and kicked the shark in the snout just as it got to him. The shark glanced off.

He had no time. His blood gushed. He was losing consciousness. And shark dorsal fins cut through the murky water like black knives. It was over. He’d fought the good fight. There was nothing he could do. The shark came in for the kill.

The sound of a shot. A smirch of blood on the shark’s head, and the shark’s charge lost momentum. Still it came. As if too late to change course. Henry punched it in the gill, over and over. The shark anticipated one of the punches and bit his hand. Henry, feeling the pain now as the shark crunched down on bone, gouged at the shark’s good eye, but still the shark wouldn't release him.

Henry had no strength left. He heard voices calling. The destination boat. But he was losing consciousness. Even if he survived the attack, he had just seconds till he passed out and drowned. The shark thrashed. Oh, it was going to tear his hand off!

Henry caught sight of one of the PhD students leaning over the edge of the destination boat, a shotgun shouldered, his eye down the barrel.

The student called: “He’s too close to you! I might hit you!”

Henry yelled: “Shoot him! Just shoot him! Now!”

The deafening sound of a shot. The shark fell away.

Hands reached for Henry, hauling him into the destination boat.

The End

The cable on the ski lift gondola was frayed. Susan turned to her boyfriend to see if he’d seen too. He smiled at her.

“Life is short, Susan,” he said. “And besides, the next gondola won’t be for another half hour. Do you really want to wait?”

The cable wasn’t frayed badly, and this was Russia after all. You couldn’t expect the same safety standards as they had in Sweden. She looked at him again. He was brushing snow off his ski pant leg. Carl was a bond trader daredevil. He probably liked it that the cable was fraying—a little extra excitement to spice the trip up. But Susan hardly wanted to die, especially since she thought she might be pregnant. “I’m going to head back to the lodge.”

He caught her elbow and looked her firmly in the eye. “That’s a tiny fraying. All ski lift cables have tiny fraying. Don’t be silly, Susan.”

“It’s more than tiny.” She should have known he would object. He got his way. He powered through life. It was usually a very appealing trait. She swallowed hard. He was probably right about the tiny fraying. Oh God. She nodded, and they climbed onto the gondola with five or six others.

“See.” He put his arm around her as they settled on a bench, the gondola rocking as it started up the immense mountain. “It’s fine. And if it was going to fall, it certainly would’ve by now. It’s the startup that has the most strain. ”

“Oh great. What happened to ‘they all have tiny fraying’?”

He smiled, leaned in and kissed her. “You’re so pretty when you’re angry.”

Across from them a couple, the woman tall, ski goggles atop her head, were talking in what sounded like Polish. Susan glanced back at the resort and the bunny hill, skiers snowplowing, falling down the tiny hill, as the gondola rose and rose, on its way up the Courage Course run, the highest run there. Susan had no fear of the skiing. Carl, though, was another matter.

The gondola shuddered. The Polish woman gasped. Heads swiveling all around. Susan leaned back and looked for the cable. Half of it was fully unwound now. And they still had a long way to go. People were up, peering around feverishly. Carl yelled at them to sit down and be still. Great, Susan thought, he lets us ride up in the death trap and now he’s taking charge.

“Just calm down,” he barked at them. “That cable can support ten times our weight. But stop moving.”

“We’re in trouble, aren’t we, Carl?” Susan gave him a hard look. Her baby. Her first. His baby (though she hadn’t told him yet).

“It’ll be okay.” He brushed the hair off her forehead.

The gondola shuddered again, this time dropping several feet. A few of the women screamed. Susan didn’t want to look but how could she not? The cable was down to a quarter of its original size, the remaining wires springing off steadily.

“We’re not going to make it, Carl.”

He said nothing, confirming the worst.

He lifted her onto his lap. The gondola slipped even more. Some people fell to their knees and prayed. “We’ll be okay, Susan.”

“No, we won’t be okay, Carl. We’re going to die.” She looked at him. His brown eyes normally so self-assured were crazy with fear.

The gondola slipped again.

“Carl, there’s something I should tell you.”

He buried her head into his shoulder as the gondola plummeted.

The End

Lenny LeBlanc was just killing time. It was summertime. Hot. Yeah, he was just killing time like any kid would really. But he was a loner. Who wouldn’t be really with a nickname like Lenny “Le Blank,” so he was walking up and down the dirt pathways behind Hawthorne school, minding his own business. He felt comfortable there. No one to bother him. Able to think his own thoughts. He even had a fort there, but sitting in it could be lonely so he preferred wandering the trails. It was rare he’d run into anyone there. Yes, he’d heard the warnings about how a twelve-year-old shouldn’t be alone in the woods, but he felt safer there than in the company of other kids.

Oh, he’d meet the rare person now and then, usually a drunk, but it was noonish on a weekday, running into drunks this time of day was unlikely. He was walking down a well-worn dirt path, a dense stand of trees to his right. Even with the trees he saw something move on the other side. In fact, he was sure of it. Well, mostly sure anyway.

He could take the path that went to the left. That’s what he would do, but even so, he picked up a sturdy stick just in case. Yeah, he’d take the path to the left. But whatever had moved had been white and shaggy, and on four legs. It was no human being but could it have been a sheep? He supposed it was possible. It was Iowa after all, but there were no sheep farms around there. Yeah, it was Iowa but it was still a suburb of Des Moines, and there were no animals wandering around, especially in the woods behind the Hawthorne school.

There was no advantage in investigating. Best just get out of the woods and do that quickly. But getting out would only take him back into the world of other kids—and their merciless teasing. It could be a sheep, he thought.

Stranger things had happened. His Uncle Henry in Ft. Lauderdale had an alligator in his swimming pool one day. So, yeah, a big wooly sheep or a ram or a goat, it could be. (He wasn’t sure what the difference was.)

He heard footsteps or was it hoof beats? No, it was too soft for hoof beats. And whatever it was cried softly. Now he had to investigate. He took the path to the right. And soon found himself face to face with a big dog. A big dog with long wheat-colored fur. It was a strange-looking dog, tall, kind of like a pony with long flowing hair.

Lenny was scared. He raised the stick high, but when the dog cowered and shied back, he lowered it—and felt bad. This dog seemed lost. Maybe it was a loner just like him. “Hey, boy.” Lenny pitched the stick into the woods and held out a hand. The dog cautiously approached.

It was a pretty dog. And so clean somehow, its hair brushed so perfectly. Its eyes were the clearest brown and seemed smart. Another step closer it ventured. And another. “Come on now. I won’t hurt you.”

Contact. Lenny slid his hand over the dog’s slender snout, then gently over its head.

“See. I told you.”

Wow. Whose dog? What was it doing there? Wait till he told his snapchat friend in Vietnam about this. Crazy. But he’d been grounded from using his phone. It would have to wait until he used his laptop back home. Still, it would be a shame he couldn’t get a picture.

He kneeled down and the dog nuzzled its head into his neck. “Well, you’re a friendly pup, you are. But where is your owner?” He felt for a collar and found it. It was such a soft leather and the dog tag there seemed to be made of silver.

Cutter, and there was an address and telephone number.

“Well, time to get you home.” He stood and took a few steps. “Come on.” But the dog didn’t move.

Too bad Lenny didn’t have his phone he could’ve called the number. Or he could’ve given his GPS coordinates—his friend in Vietnam had showed him how. “Come on now!” he called again. Still nothing.

Lenny stared at him. “You’re a peculiar thing, aren’t you? Just like me.” He looked at his watch. He had to be home by two or his mother would have a conniption fit. “Well, I gotta go, and if you’re not coming, you can stay here.”

The dog stood up on its hind legs, then dropped down. It was as if it was trying to communicate something. But communicate what?

“Now where did you learn to do that?” Lenny shook his head. There could be no doubt this dog was smart. That was some kind of special move it had made. He’d known a lot of dogs and none of them had ever done anything like that. He shrugged. “Look I gotta go.” He walked off a few more feet. The dog just kept waiting on him, maintaining eye contact, as if trying to say something. “Suit yourself.” Lenny headed down the path, checking over his shoulder every so often. The dog didn’t move, just sitting there patiently, looking at him.

At home, Lenny couldn’t get the dog out of his mind. His Mom was making spaghetti and meatballs.

“Lenny, did you wash your hands?”


“Lenny.” Her tone said she knew better.

He got up from the kitchen table and washed his hands in the sink.

“What were you doing all day, honey?”

“I was only gone an hour.”

“Try three.”

“Well, I found a dog.”

She stirred the sauce in a pot on the electric stove. “Well, that’s a coincidence because the Longworths posted on Facebook that they lost their dog, Cutter.”

“No way.”

“It’s true. And not only that. He’s a prize show dog. An Afghan hound, I think the post said.”

“Oh my gosh.”

“Oh my gosh, what?”

He thought hard and fast. “Nothing.”

“Was that the dog you found?”

“Nah, I don’t think so. Mine was small and mutty.”

“Well, that’s too bad because you could’ve made yourself five hundred dollars because that’s the reward they’re offering for anyone who finds it.”

Five hundred dollars. That would set Lenny up for life. All the video games he wanted. All the Pringles he could eat. He could even visit Trang in Vietnam. Or so it seemed anyway. “Is that spaghetti going to be done soon?”

“Yes.” She brought a colander filled with steaming pasta to the table. “Here you go.” She came back with the sauce and a meatball.

“Mom, how did they lose that dog?”

“I’m not sure, honey, but I guess he ran away. Those show dogs don’t have much of a life, just traveling from show to show and being put on display like trophies.”

“So it must’ve been pretty unhappy to run away?”

“I don’t know honey, but that’s my guess.”

The doorbell rang. “Oh, that must be UPS. I’ll be right back.”

Lenny jumped up, grabbed a plastic bag, put a meatball and a piece of bread in it and tucked the bag under his shirt.

His mother walked back in.

“Thanks for the spaghetti.” He got up.

“But you didn’t finish.”

“I had enough.” He wiped his hands on his blue jeans and was out the door.


Back at the woods behind Hawthorne school he cruised the paths looking for Cutter but with no luck. Now it was getting late and the sky had clouded over. Thunder grumbled in the distance. Oh no, he thought, worrying about the dog getting caught in a thunderstorm, or maybe even a tornado. They’d had one two weeks ago in nearby Warrenville. Another grumble, this one louder, and a few raindrops splattered his shoulders.


Nothing. He shook his head but he had to get a move on. His mom was going to be so mad he stayed out so late with a storm coming, and the rain was intensifying, and if he didn’t hurry he was going to get soaked on the way home.


The rain continued ramping up. Oh, this was a mess. But what if the dog was still out there, all on its own. “Cutter!”

It was as if his call brought on a thunderclap and with it a downpour. The trees forming a natural canopy were a little help but within minutes Lenny was going to be soaked and his mother livid.


Lenny turned and the dog came bounding down a path. “Thatta boy!”

But there was no time. The storm was upon them. “Come on, boy.” The fort! They ran down the winding dirt paths, Lenny slipping in the dirt-becoming-mud, Cutter with better traction, galloping at his side.

“Come on.” Lenny bent low and ducked into the fort, the dog following. The rain still seeped through the thatched fort roof, but it was better than being in the deluge. Thunder rocked and Lenny and the dog shivered. Lenny put his arm around the dog, their heads next to each other. And there they stayed until the storm passed.

“I brought you something.” Lenny handed him bits of the bread and then he parceled out the meatball, the dog eating happily, licking Lenny’s fingers when the food was gone.

The storm over, Lenny stuck his head out the fort. Rain still dripped steadily from the treetops but the sky was lightening and there was even a patch of blue. It was time to go home. His mom would be worried sick and mad as could be. But he didn’t want to turn in Cutter either, despite the five hundred dollar reward. Cutter was a loner just like him. He couldn’t send him back to a home where he’d be unhappy. But his mom would never let him keep him, especially knowing it was the Longworths’ dog. “Oh, Cutter, what am I going to do?” Lenny moved back into the fort, sat and locked eyes with the dog, its coat substantially matted and darker-looking wet. “I have to turn you in but I can’t turn you in.” The dog groaned, walked to him and laid his head on Lenny’s shoulder.


“Oh no,” Lenny said and he looked at Cutter. “My mom.”

“Lenny, are you out here?” The voice came closer.

Lenny hugged Cutter and told him to stay. “You can live here for now and I’ll come back tomorrow with more food.” He ducked under the fort’s opening and ran to meet his mother.

The end

Sometimes life’s clues are fleeting. It’s not that they’re overlooked entirely. That’s not the problem. It’s that if those clues are small or short-lived, they’re often not paid sufficient attention, or worse, they’re disregarded altogether.

In this case the clue was the look on a person’s face. A brief look that if you blinked, you missed it. But I didn’t miss it. I caught it entirely. Now I wished to God I hadn’t.

I was meeting a couple of friends from church for dinner at Desmond Altobelli’s house. The three of us got together once a month to make sure we had all the loose ends tied up for St. Aloysius’ monthly bingo night. It was more a camaraderie thing than a work thing, though. In churches like St. Aloysius you had to manufacture a social life. It didn’t happen naturally. Which isn’t to say the people of St. Aloysius aren’t friendly. They just need a little pushing.

Des owned a townhouse in a subdevelopment in north suburban Spokane, Washington. The development was gated, quite a place. You could tell it was top-shelf because, despite the building being new, the landscaping had huge trees. What happened was the less exclusive new developments used saplings, whereas a place like Des’s brought in fully developed trees on eighteen-wheelers.

Des’ townhouse had a huge airy feel to it. There was no loft but there could’ve been. The living room had white carpeting and you didn’t have to take your shoes off. A very noticeable, copper-color wire golfer hung on a black frame and an equally noticeable picture of Des shaking hands with Jack Nicklaus hung near it. The photo was in black and white and showed a young, suntanned Nicklaus and a young, and much thinner, Des.

I remember that night so clearly. It sticks with me. I remember it was only five-thirty in the afternoon but already really dark. I couldn’t see five feet in front of me.

“Hey, Des, what’s up, brother,” I heard Arthur Mallick say. That was Deacon Mallick, to St. Aloysius parishioners. Art was at Des’s door in front of me. It was so damp that night, too. And brisk. Not quite snow weather but the feel of rain pushed into your skin.

Des was at the door, greeting us like an Italian Santa. “Oh, the social committee’s here. Thank God,” he said, laughing.

It was all schmaltz. The usual stuff. We got together because we were three single guys getting older in need of company. That’s all there was to it.

Des was cooking us some sort of calamari casserole. It was amazing. He was interested in cooking, and so he used Art and me as guinea pigs. But really more often than not the food was great, and always better than the tuna fish and noodles or fast food I had just about every night.

“Let’s get right to it, boys,” Des said. “What are you drinking?”

“A …” Art said as if thinking it over. (He always had scotch.) “… I guess Scotch.”

I had a light beer. The hard stuff strained my internal organs these days. I could feel it.

There were chips, salsa and small talk. Yes, the usual breeze was shot. And, yes, as always, the conversation eventually turned to the parish women. This is when my clue came.

I was asking if the guys knew anything about Dolores Ingstrom. That was it. What did they know? Well, I happened to be looking right at Des when I asked, and I saw him look up at the ceiling. He did it really quick. It was as if he glanced up at a comet hurtling overhead in the night sky or had a neurological tic. Then he sighed.

After that, Art filled in the awkward silence. “Oh yeah. I heard she’s really nice. She goes to Ginny Fasbeth’s Bible study. I don’t know her personally, though. How ‘bout you, Des?”

“Oh, I know her all right,” Des said flatly, and that was all he said.

Well, that was a clue, too, now that I think about it.

I really tried to gather more information about Dolores, but what was I going to do, press him? No, Des is a good guy. I wasn’t going to upset him. Besides, his action spoke loudly enough. I had two eyes and ears and could evaluate the situation (i.e. Dolores Ingstrom) on my own. No, I wasn’t going to press him. That’s not saying I didn’t want to. But, no, I didn’t press him. And we ended up having a fine time that night.

Des’ reaction had a big influence on me. If Dolores got a good guy like him upset, well, she must’ve done something to cause it. Yes, I knew I’d better be on guard. I’d better be very on guard. In fact, that night, I promised myself I was going to stay away from her altogether.

The problem is that time passes. Time passes and if you’re lonely enough your memory gets very selective. It’s a mass phenomenon. It isn’t just me. It’s all of us, I think. If you’re lonely and lonely long enough, you’ll end up remembering only what you want to.

That’s what happened to me. Loneliness took over my mind, and I started forgetting Des’ warning. It was like wishful thinking about Dolores overwhelmed the reality of the situation. My imagination overpowered my reason.

I asked her out.

Don’t get me wrong. I had a sense that Dolores was a tense, enigmatic woman. But she had a depth to her, a subtlety of emotion that played on her face that you just didn’t find in any of the other churchwomen. Dolores was special, and if that specialness brought additional risks, so be it. What worthwhile in life wasn’t risky? That’s the way I felt. The only thing is Des’ warning stuck in my mind anyway.

I thought Dolores liked me. I really did. And, who knew, maybe she did, at some level anyway. But what she did to me… Well, it’s probably the same thing she did to Des. To say she played head games doesn’t go far enough. Head games were just the start of it.

So yeah, I asked her out. I figured, what the hell. She’d answer yes or no. I mean, I was fifty-three years old, and she had to be in her mid forties. At this stage of life, you figured she’d know how to answer appropriately.

But Dolores’ mind was off in the clouds it seemed. Oh, she loved the church. She loved God. Maybe that was it—she was so in love with God that I paled in comparison. But what was I supposed to do? How can you compete with a deity? Anyway, that simple yes or no I was expecting turned out to be an eternal maybe.

“I’d have to seek the Lord and see what he says about you,” she told me.

“Well, what’s the Lord got to do with it?” I felt like saying, but I didn’t. You know, I should’ve said it. But sometimes the right thing to say only comes to you later.

So, yeah, I just went along with it. “Oh, okay,” I probably said. I can’t remember. I was really nervous.

And on and on it went. Every two weeks or so, I’d check with her to see if she’d “heard.” Nope. No luck. God, for whatever reason, hadn’t gotten back to her yet. And—it’s amazing to me now—I bought into it all. “Oh, okay. You haven’t heard yet,” I’d said.

Four months went by like that. I know because it was springtime now. Oh, I had wised up a little by then, but for that four month stretch, I got beat up pretty good, I think.

Making a life with me was not a priority for Dolores Ingstrom. She chose to just drift along with the Lord, endlessly waiting to hear from him. Or maybe that’s just what she told me. I know now that’s a real possibility.

It was weird, though. It wasn’t as if I had just wasted my time waiting for her. There was more damage than that. It was as if she drew something out of me, as if she sensed my interest in her was sincere, and then she played with it. She played with me like I was a Cocker Spaniel on a leash. I mean, I felt really jerked around by that woman. You know, guys don’t mind rejection, but they don’t like getting dragged over the coals. Just say no.

Or hopefully yes once in a while yes.

In hindsight, I think I can say that what Dolores did wasn’t right. It wasn’t that she didn’t know her mind. Which would have been excusable. It wasn’t that she didn’t like me. In fact, that’s what made the whole thing so confusing—there was a genuine sense that she did. But it didn’t go any further than like. That was all. Like it was a game for her. She enjoyed my interest in her and played with it. She’d encourage my interest, but then when I got too excited, she’d dampen it. Her eyes would lead me on but her words put me off. I felt so much for her and I know she felt my desire. I know it.

Maybe that was it. I guess it can be exciting when somebody has genuine feelings for you and you don’t feel the same. It makes sense. You go through your life. Nothing’s all that exciting. But then there’s this person that’s crazy about you. They’re attentive, kind, caring, patient. They’re admiring, hopeful, expectant. It’s like being queen for a day, or, in Dolores’ case, for about four months.

That situation is inherently unfair. The admirer’s mind is beclouded—he can’t think straight—while the admired is unaffected. Most people admired most often quickly and kindly disabuse the admirer’s aspirations. But then there are people like Dolores Ingstrom. Maybe I perked up her life a bit, I don’t know. Why should she dash my interest if I gave her a little fun? Maybe that’s how she thought about it. It doesn’t matter now. The only thing that bothers me now and then is that there are such hard-hearted people in the world.

Did I learn my lesson? Oh sure. You need to pay attention to the little things. Pay attention to the clues. It hasn’t happened yet, but I suppose if someone were to ask me what I know about Dolores Ingstrom, I’d answer exactly like Desmond did. Oh, I might want to tell the person to stay a million miles from her. I might want to make them swear they’ll never have anything to do with her. But more than likely, like Des, I’d just glance up at the ceiling and sigh.

The End

It was blue. His mood. The weather. The world. At least that’s how it seemed to Gerald Hardy as he walked home from work in the late afternoon. The rain fell, or no, it was more like mist, coating the bleak winter landscape north of London with gloom. Gerald had once again spent the day doing what he hated. Selling. Selling magazine subscriptions to people who didn’t want or need them. What he really sold was guilt.

“Hello,” he’d say as he rang a number on his list of leads. “Do you have a few moments to talk about (fill in the name of charity here)…” Who was going to say no? And then he’d follow his flow chart, his script, that prepared him for any rebuttal the over-matched person might have. The flow chart was delivered by an Artificial Intelligence algorithm that had analyzed over a hundred million conversations. The people he called—mostly retirees and shut-ins—had no chance. And after all, the charities did get a cut of the proceeds. All of less than one percent. He’d tried to quit, many times, but there were no other jobs available and ten guys waiting to take his job.

He wiped the mist from his face. There was no point in wiping it from his eyeglasses. They would mist up again in seconds. He just wanted to get home. Get home and forget about it all. Life had its problems. He wasn’t going to fix them all. No, he just wanted to get home and pretend to be happy for a while. If he took the shortcut that ran through the Knox farm, he could shave ten minutes off his travel time. But walking there was hardly a safe bet. The farm had been abandoned for years and was a refuge for coyotes. Oh, he wasn’t overly worried about the predators, although whenever he encountered them, they did send his heartbeat spiraling, but the experience of walking along the dilapidated farm and barn was like being in an eerie world of destruction and death. He called the shortcut “the fear walk.”

Still, he wanted to get home.

Just no nonsense, he told himself. The coyotes were bold it was true, but he’d never heard of them attacking a full-grown human yet. Babies and dogs, yes. The London papers were full of close calls of infants being attacked and mauled pets. No, he’d be okay. Just no nonsense. Don’t stop for anything.

It was darker walking through the Knox property, the woods there shutting out what little light of the afternoon that was left. Oh God. He was only a third of the way through when he heard the yip-howling of the coyotes. There must be several of them. He picked up his pace. But a part of him felt as if he was walking right into the heart of the pack. He looked up ahead on the left. Along the fence was a body. Well, he couldn't be sure it was a body—his glasses were misted and he was walking fast. But it sure looked like a body. But the cardinal rule of going down the fear walk was not stopping, and he wasn’t stopping for the body. He wasn’t stopping for anything.

The coyotes had probably killed something. Maybe a dog. Maybe a deer. Some sort of body lay there but not a human one. Right? Keep walking, Gerald! he told himself. The squeaky, desperate howling of the coyotes, the rain and mist, his disillusionment with his job, with his life, the pressure of it all was mounting up inside him. He was tempted to run, but in his leather soled shoes and with the ground being so wet, there was a good chance of slipping and falling. And fallen, he might indeed be considered prey to a coyote pack. No, that wasn’t a body back there anyway. No running. Get control of your mind.

If need be, if he couldn’t shake this obsession, he’d go back in the morning to check, but for now he was getting the hell out of there. But if it was a body, would he somehow be guilty of avoiding his responsibility? No, no, no, he was not responsible for what lay out on the ground in the woods. Coyotes ran unfettered on the Knox farm. Who knew what they might have killed there.

But…but what if the body wasn’t dead?

No, that was crazy! The body hadn’t been moving. And he’d barely seen it anyway! The coyotes. The leaves rustled in the woods on his right and he looked. He couldn’t see anything, but something was there. Hurry…hurry.

But he couldn’t get the body out of his mind’s eye. It was pointless trying. He turned back. Oh God, now the coyotes were probably tracking him. And it was really getting dark now—he might not even be able to find the body. And the coyotes were getting louder. Were they following him?

This was ridiculous. He was a fool, he told himself. He never should’ve cut through the Knox farm in the first place. Soon it would be pitch black, and he wouldn’t be able to see where he was going. He took out his cell. He’d call the police. But he couldn’t get a signal. More rustling to his right in the woods. A lot more. But there was the body up ahead.

Thank God there were no coyotes feeding on it. He slowed his walk. He wiped his glasses. Still, in the rapidly falling dusk he could hardly see. He inched closer. He bent low. It looked like a man, like a black man. A black man cradled in the fetal position. He wiped his glasses again and reached out and touched…

It was no man. It was a black plastic garbage bag. Gerald straightened up and felt a pain in his chest. He hurried out of the Knox property the way he’d come in. He’d never take the fear walk again.

The End

Seven women had fallen off Bad Conductor before Evan Landry climbed on. Evan didn’t care how many people fell off the gleaming black stallion, men or women. He just determined not to be one of them. A thunderstorm was rolling in over the mountains. KDEN radio had said Denver could expect high winds, lightning, downpours, but there was just enough time for this one more ride.

Hell, he was fifty but Evan jumped up on Bad Conductor like he was twenty. The horse, Evan thought, would respond to male assertiveness, not like the women who’d climbed aboard so daintily. Evan had nothing against women. They were just out of their league trying to ride a horse as unruly as Bad Conductor. He snugged his feet in the stirrups. He knew the horse would need very little encouragement to run. By bolting, it had dumped the seven women. The trainer, a kindly old guy with a silver mustache and wearing chaps, looked up at him.

“You sure you want to give this a go? Bad weather moving in and all.”

Thunder rumbled from the west. “I’m good. Let’s do it.”

The trainer shook his head but led Bad Conductor out of the gate and into the corral. “Now he should obey you pretty good with the tie-down strap on—he won’t be able to raise his head. Just neck rein him and he’ll play nice.”

The old man’s words didn’t gel with the concerned look on his face, Evan thought, but then again the guy was old. Old people got nervous about everything. Evan looked at his daughter, Sara, sitting in the stands with some of the seven women that had been dumped. Then he looked out at the corral, which wasn’t that big really, maybe a quarter of a football field in size, just enough room for a horse to get up to a good gallop. He looked back at his daughter. She was shaking her head, and then she looked down as if she was scared. Yes, scared for him. He could hardly believe it. He’d show her. He’d show them all. He grabbed the reins and with them slapped Bad Conductor on the butt.

The giant black stallion reared on hind legs, neighed and bolted across the corral.

“Ohhhh,” Evan called, thinking this might not have been such a good idea after all. He’d already had one hip replacement, and a fall off Bad Conductor would just about guarantee another. But Bad Conductor would eventually slow as he reached the other side of the corral, right? Right? Right?

The galloping horse bounded over the corral fence like a deer leaping cattails.

“Oh my God!” Evan yelled, his head recoiling but, his thighs clinging to the horse, he managed to stay on. “Oh my God,” he said again, the horse galloping faster and faster across a grassy field, power lines to the south, the Front Range mountains in the distance to the west, the Snake River up ahead. It was crazy, but Evan couldn’t help thinking that Bad Conductor had planned this. As if the horse had wanted to run away and for some strange reason had chosen Evan to be his accomplice.

“Oh, there, Bad Conductor!” Evan called. “Easy boy!” But the horse was gaining speed. But it would have to stop when it got to the river, and that was going to be soon—thank God. But the horse kept on in a headlong rush.

Fresh from the spring snow melts, the river was running high and fast. Impossible to cross, especially on horseback. But it seemed nobody told Bad Conductor. Just what was this horse running from anyway? And it kept running and running. Faster and faster. It was as if the crazy horse was going to dive right into the river. Most horses were water-shy. They waded gingerly into streams and rivers. But Bad Conductor kept galloping at the river as if it wasn’t there! What the hell!

Into the fast-moving, icy river horse and rider plunged, both going fully under. Coughing, gasping, they came up, Evan somehow managing to stay on. Now Bad Conductor headed for the other side. But the river’s powerful current had other ideas. Still the horse kept on until there must have been a sudden drop-off in the riverbed because its upper body and head went under.

And stayed under.

“Come on up, boy!” Evan yelled. “Bad Conductor!”

The horse’s head finally came up with a flurry and a great gasp, shoots of watery steam snorting from its nostrils but then when right back under. It hit Evan—it was the tie-down strap around the horse’s neck. It was keeping his head down so it couldn’t come up. Evan felt sick to his stomach as he realized the awful truth—the horse was drowning. “Come on! Come on! Pick up your head, boy! Pick it up!!”

Bad Conductor’s head thrashed wildly, churning under the water. It wouldn’t be able to survive much longer. There was only one chance to save him. Evan rolled off the horse and fell into the river’s massive power. Bad Conductor’s head popped up and this time stayed up. The horse continued swimming to reach the other side.

Evan Landry couldn’t swim.

The End

It was a rainy Wednesday morning. Damp, cold, the kind of morning that the chilly air gets under your pant legs and makes you wish you’d moved to San Diego. The air was hanging still, the humidity had to be one-hundred percent as I walked out to the mailbox at the end of my driveway. Painted all red white and blue with the colors of the flag, it wasn’t like a mailbox you could mistake for another one. I was hoping Time magazine had come in. I wanted to catch up on how close we were to having a nuclear war. I hadn’t had my coffee yet so I wasn’t quite awake, and yeah, I was cold. I opened the mailbox. And there it was.

A soggy wet envelope, gray, more from the rain than its coloring, and leaking on top of Time and the bright white envelopes there. What the hell. I wished I’d had a latex glove on me to touch it, but that not being the case and not wanting to go back into the house, I gently tugged the dripping envelope off the other mail, hoping to salvage the other mail as best I could.

I set the soggy envelope on top of the mailbox. “Julia” was written on the envelope with what was probably a Sharpie, and the ink was slowly bleeding, making the letters an expanding black color growing lighter at the edges. Julia. My name is Rick. Rick Delevan to be precise. No Julia lives at my address. No one but me lives here. Again, what the hell.

What does a person do in a situation like this? Julia, I thought again. Call the police? I imagined saying, “Yes, uh, 911, there’s a soggy envelope atop my mailbox at 740 Cranville Drive. Could you send the bomb squad out to check it?” No, it was hard saying that even in my imagination. I turned away from the mailbox and headed in. I’d leave the mysterious envelope for the mailman to deal with tomorrow.

Or so I thought.

Because as I munched on my Cap’n Crunch and sipped my coffee, I couldn’t stop thinking about the envelope. Maybe it was for me after all from somebody named Julia. Nah, that made no sense. But what made sense about the envelope? Nothing. I abandoned the Cap’n and walked back out there. Maybe the envelope would be gone by the time I reached the mailbox.

Nope. It sat soggy as ever, lying curved, conformed to the arcing slope of the mailbox. What the hell, I thought for the third time. Wincing, I pinched the envelope between my thumb and forefinger and brought it in. I wasn’t thrilled to be doing this. You could even say I was afraid. But my curiosity outbid my fear. Still I wasn’t crazy. I wasn’t opening the freaky thing on my kitchen table next to my bowl of cereal. No, I took it downstairs into the basement, which was mercifully unfinished, and plopped it down where it belonged—on the edge of the slop sink.

Julia. The soggy paper came apart easily as I slid my finger through to open it. Inside was a single sheet of lined eight and half inch paper, like a schoolboy would have in a notebook. And what was written was in blue ink, again bleeding, like fuzzy blue clouds oozing outward. The writing was just barely legible.

Julia. You are my one and only. I will love you forever. Sam

What? All I could think was that I should be eating my Cap’n Crunch. And here I was dealing with this goofy nonsense. But why would the letter be in my mailbox? That was the thing. And okay, I could see getting the letter by mistake, but why all wet and soggy? Like the letter went through a wash cycle or Sam slept outside in the rain with it in his pocket. No, I needed to call the police.

“Hello 911,” I would say. “There’s a suspicious letter in my mailbox. It’s soggy.” But I couldn’t see saying that either. The reality was there was nothing to do. I just needed to let it go. Or, as my Uncle Frank would say, “Put in on the shelf.” Besides, I had work to do. Yeah, the crew, (I’m a roofing foreman) wasn’t working because of the rain, but I had countless reams of paperwork to catch up on. You know what, though? I could at least plop the soggy letter back into the mailbox. Maybe Sam would come back looking to see if Julia replied.

There’s a part of me that was tempted to write a reply myself. Something flippant like, “Sam, thanks for the soggy letter. Can’t wait for your next one. In the meantime, get a life! Julia.” But I couldn’t do that either. Sam apparently needed all the help he could get. I shuffled back out to the mailbox. Mrs. Arvidson was checking her mailbox down the street. I waved and watched closely to see if what she took out of her mailbox had her too staring at it in bewilderment, as if Sam might have left a soggy love letter in all the area mailboxes. But no such luck. Mrs. Arvidson waved and happily headed back into her house with normal mail.

All right. Enough whining. I opened the mailbox, and my eyes went wide—a bunch of dead, decaying flowers lay there. Like it was a flower bouquet from a month ago. And, oh my God, I didn’t notice it at first, but rice was scattered all around the ground at the base of the mailbox post. What was going on here? Sam had obviously returned when I was in the house.

I wasn’t touching the flowers. Yeah, I was calling the bomb squad out. Well, okay, Murfeesboro, my town, probably doesn’t have a bomb squad, and it was unlikely there was a bomb in the decaying flowers or rice pellets (but with nano technology, who knows), but even so, I was getting law enforcement out here.

I called. They were coming.

As soon as I’d called I wished I hadn’t. Because I didn’t look forward to telling this guy (or worse yet, a woman) what was going on. I mean, okay, it just kind of made me seem like a wimp. (“There’s dead flowers in my mailbox.”) But yeah, they were coming. In fact, they were here. The squad rolled up in front. No lights or sirens—thank goodness. But I could see the recipient of normal mail, Mrs. Arvidson, looking out her picture window. (Murfeesboro is a small, normally, peaceful town. The standing joke is that the worst that happens is the cops get called out to stop squirrel fights.)

I walked out.

The cop was pretty loaded up for Murfeesboro, I thought anyway. Yeah, the hip holster and gun but also what looked to be a taser (did they taser the squirrels?), and he was wearing a Kevlar vest. Seriously?

“Hi, thanks for coming out,” I said.

“What’s going on?” He scratched his ear.

I told him. Running through the step-by-step description of the terror (mostly psychological, granted) I’d just been through. I finished with, “It’s just so very strange.”

The cop, a good-looking guy to be fair, held the dead flowers in his hand, looked at me and said, “I’ve seen stranger.”

He reached deeper into the mailbox. And pulled out a little note I hadn’t seen. He opened it.

I said, a little redundantly, “It’s just so bizarre.”

He opened the note. “To Julia,” he read. “Our love was meant to be. Sam Brown.”

“So what does that mean? This guy is sending her—I mean, he’s putting it in my mailbox—dead flowers and leaving love notes and sprinkling rice everywhere.”

The cop shrugged and rubbed the back of his neck. “I think we may have somebody who might’ve been jilted.”

Ahhh. I nodded. It came together rather quickly. The love letter, the dead flowers, the rice. “At the altar?”

“Yeah.” He walked back to the squad.

“So is that it?” I watched him and waited.

“I’m going to run the name and see what comes up.”

I suddenly thought that this poor guy—Sam Brown—who was so down on his luck was going to get into even more trouble because of me. “Why are you going to do that?”

“Well,” he said over his shoulder as he opened the squad door, “to make sure he hasn’t killed anybody.”

That brought it all home. Yeah, this stuff was weird, but it could also be dangerous.

Anyway, the cop found a Sam Brown that had some run-ins with the police in a nearby town. But there were a lot of Sam Browns and he couldn’t be sure. Apparently, Sam for some reason thought Julia lived here. That would seem to be the most plausible explanation, but the fact of the matter is I might not ever know for sure.

No harm no foul, though, as they say in sports. Besides the initial shock, nothing bad happened to me. I was sad for Sam though because it seemed something very bad had happened to him. And I hoped I hadn’t done anything to add to his woes.

My Cap’n Crunch was waiting for me. It would probably now be as soggy as Sam’s letter to Julia.

The End

Erin Protter knew the future. She figured maybe lots of people knew it too. Einstein for one. So Erin was a little shocked so many people were shocked she knew it too. But she wouldn’t let that stop her helping people by knowing it. Anyway, she didn’t like to call it knowing the future. She preferred to call it having the gift of dreams.

Not just dreaming like other people, though, although Erin was convinced other people got glimpses of the future in their dreams too. But she had predictive, prophetic dreams. And yes, it was a gift, but it could be a great burden, as well.

Say she dreamt someone was killed in a bus crash. Then she found out later that day that person was about to take the bus. Does she stop them? Delay them? Ignore the dream? It all seems like fun and games, and maybe you let the person go to their fate a few times, but after she’d seen enough people hurt by not telling them, she started taking chances, telling more people. She couldn’t just stand around and watch Fate’s carnage anymore.

Then her dreaming took a turn. She started dreaming about people’s deaths. At first about just strangers’ deaths—she couldn’t have warned anybody if she’d tried. But then she dreamt her of her uncle’s death. Her uncle Frank, a perfectly healthy fifty-year-old man, non-smoker, non-drinker, health nut dropped from an aneurysm on the golf course and bled to death on the way to the hospital. Six weeks later Erin dreamt the exact date her father was to die. A heart attack took him to his peace.

Now Erin was dreaming of her own death. Only thirty-three, she had a new boyfriend and had just landed her dream job working as an artist for an advertising agency. Maybe a normal person could've shaken off the dreams, but with Erin’s history of the dreams coming to pass, the dreams shook her. No date was given. Which was at least a little comfort, but night after night she dreamt of her death. Death by strangulation, shooting, falling, drowning, burning. She’d wake up screaming.

It got to the point she couldn’t work anymore. She quit her job. Why work knowing the end was so near? She broke up with her boyfriend. He said he understood what she was going through, but he didn’t. She was damaged goods. She wasn’t going to let him marry a soon-to-be corpse. It wouldn’t have been fair.

But what was fair after all? She couldn’t help but notice the tragic irony—the gift that allowed her to help so many people avoid death was killing her. She spent her days analyzing the dreams. Knowing that some dreams were contrarian—dreadful images sometimes signifying wonderful tidings. But not these deadly dreams. These were straightforward. She was on her way out, and soon, she could feel it.

The only thing, the only hope for life was that her mind had somehow turned against her. Her mind had become a foe, no longer an ally, and was intent on torturing her, worrying her to death, not unlike the power behind voodoo.

Her last days dragged on. She took foolish risks. She started smoking. Damn the early withdrawal penalty, she broke open her IRA and bought a diamond ring that not that long ago she’d hoped to one day receive from her boyfriend. She learned to like Scotch and listening to depressing music.

Yet she wasn’t dying. But she was killing herself.

Did she have a death wish? Was her mind signaling to her unconscious she felt undeserving to live? Obsessing over psychological insights into her personality became an obsession as well. But the insights would be obliterated by the Scotch and listening to Amy Winehouse. Morning after morning her head throbbed, her body ached. After a month, she longed for death.

Was she born under a bad star and fated to come to this end? The dreams rolled on. Death by stabbing, electric chair, disease, plane crash. Even Scotch-sodden sleep became a torment.

Six months went by with the one undeniable fact of reality being that she wasn’t dead. But she had no doubt she would soon be if she continued on the downward spiral she was on.

Funny, she had always hoped her end to be a peaceful one—rather like drifting off to sleep when she was old. But maybe she was a sinner and deserved this fate. Maybe it was a foretaste of hell.

Or maybe it was complete nonsense and she was scaring herself to death. Maybe she needed to make a decision to trust her conscious mind over the unruly, unpredictable unconscious world of her dreams. Perhaps, she could forfeit her “gift” and not obey the dreams as her unquestioned masters.

The dream path was more romantic, though. Or maybe that too was utter crap.

And one day she just woke up and decided it was.

Still, it was undeniable—her dreadful dreams were prophetic. She would die. One day.

But not today. Today she decided to live.

The End