Monday, April 29, 2013

Game Changer Part 1

by Mary Ruth Pursselley -

Robin Corpsman kept clean living quarters. For all the faults he willingly owned up to, he at least had that to his credit. Weekly room checks during his years at boarding school and the university had trained him well.

There were times when clutter was a necessary evil, though, and this was one of them. The table in his hotel room was a wreck of books and diagrams surrounding the disk Robin had bought from the fisherman, Burt.

He had transcribed the symbols from the disk onto paper—reading them line by line was easier than following their spiral—and was now beginning the process of comparing them with the symbols in Hanks’ book.

He’d been surprised at how quickly Trinity had responded to his request for informational resources. Ernesto Hanks and his work weren’t exactly lauded in the academic community, and yet the archaeology department had gotten a copy to Robin in just a couple of days. They must be getting antsy for a big find—it had been a while since their last one—and Robin’s descriptions of the disk must have seemed irresistible.

They wouldn’t be disappointed. Robin was only a few lines in, and already his heart was pounding, his hands shaking. His excitement grew with every symbol he translated and transcribed into his notebook. This was incredible: the artifact was angel-made.

Hanks was right about everything—angel writing, angel intelligence and civilization, all of it. If he was right about that, Robin could see no reason Hanks couldn’t have been right in his theories of angel-human interaction, too.

It was amazing. The very beginning of the inscription was a short list of meaningless words that Robin guessed were names, followed by an account of the angels’ decision to colonize some kind of headland somewhere, above water. Incredible! There were legends about this, theories thrown around by the most radical dreamers and speculators, but who would have guessed those dreamers were right all along?

This very premise of this find went against everything Robin had learned about angels. It was almost more than he could process and accept at one time.

It would take time to translate the disk, at least another day, but God only knew what he could have learned by then. This was going to revolutionize the academic world—maybe the world in general. Whether he ever succeeded in finding Empathia or not, the find in front of him not only had the potential to secure his future, but to open the door to a whole new world of knowledge.

Thursday, April 25, 2013


by Travis Perry -

Jax ran after the headless coriander beetle that dragged Ernsto under its body. The spear would not be effective against the thick shell at the rear of the creature, but he thrust it anyway. Perhaps some sort of pain reflex would slow it down…

The beetle’s hindquarters twitched when Jax jabbed, but otherwise the spear point had no effect. A streak of dark human blood flowed behind the dragged human, from Ernsto’s back.

“Help! Help!” Ernsto barked as he helplessly kicked and punched upward. Jax briefly considered pulling his scythegun. It would ruin the value of the kill, but it certainly would stop the beetle’s forward motion. He hesitated, concerned the blast might also injure or kill the human underneath the beetle…

Before he could decide, the beetle’s headless—but still running full speed—thorax pushed into the sandy patch where Ernsto had hidden. In the sand, Jax saw him push hard with arms and legs and disengage himself from the bug’s undercarriage, the softer ground allowing him to succeed in pushing himself down and away. The decapitated beetle kept moving forward until it impacted a boulder on the other side of the sandy patch. Its way blocked, it still tried to move ahead, its legs vainly scratching the rocky ground, the headless torso pressed into the boulder too big for it to budge…

“You all right, pal?” asked Jax, standing over the motionless Ernsto, who had rolled over to his stomach on the sandy ground. Quite a lot of dark venous blood oozed from his back, all over the back—the wounds in fact seemed deeper and more extensive than what he could account for based on the recent scrape along the ground.

“Just give me a minute,” said Ernsto. “I’ll be fine.”

 “We need to get you to a doctor,” Jax replied. “With this bounty of a harvest—three corianders in good condition—we should be able to pay the medics for some treatment.”

“Bounty,” muttered the voice below him, “That’s an interestin’ choice of words…there’s a bounty on my head that’ll make your notion difficult to carry out…”

“Don’t worry. Nobody checks that sort of thing at the Palmer trading camp.”

The man chuckled bitterly. “If only you knew.”

Monday, April 22, 2013

Quo Vadis

By Jeff C. Carter

Kwame wandered aimlessly through the tangled corridors of Avenir, lost in his thoughts.  He hadn’t eaten in days.  He hadn’t slept in weeks.  He haunted the endless hallways, always moving, trying to find his way back to where it all began and figure out where it had all gone wrong.

He remembered his grandfather’s stories from the faiths and traditions that had melted together during the long voyage across the stars.  Stories of wanderers.  Epic journeys, exiles, quests and redemption.  Kwame had foolishly believed himself beyond those tired and inbred superstitions.  He was a scientist and a pioneer.  Eclectia was a new world, free from the chains of the past.  He was going to discover mankind’s new beliefs and witness firsthand the evolution of the spirit.

He had glimpsed it on the borders, in the eyes of people who lived on the sea of lava or chased meteors tumbling through empty space.  He observed the children of the undersea cities who pressed their faces to the portholes, desperate to connect with the shimmering phantoms of the deep.  None of it had been enough. 

Others were charting the same developments and spinning their own theologies.  Kwame wanted his name alone studied and remembered.  He had to get there first.  He had to go deeper than anyone else dared.

Finally, in the depths of the ocean, it found him.  The monster outside his ship had touched his mind.  He had experienced raw revelation.  It hadn’t been easy.  The visions of catastrophic chaos had deeply disturbed him.  He tried to parse them, or place them in the context of an alien culture and history he couldn’t fathom.  When the visions finally overwhelmed him, he broke down and confided in his peers.  The more he shared them the better he felt until he came to believe that it was his purpose.  He had been chosen to deliver the alien’s dire message of imminent disaster.

Most of his peers turned him away and shunned him, but Dr. Lev had embraced him.  He encouraged Kwame to speak to the poor lost souls at his clinic.  They eagerly drank in his words and took them deeply to heart.  Kwame had felt fulfilled.

The next day he saw the news reports of the riot.  The inmates had put his warnings of chaos entropy and doom into practice or made them reality in a bloodthirsty nihilistic rampage.  Kwame felt the stain of all that blood on his hands and the ashes on his tongue. 

He had been a vainglorious fool, blindly furthering his own reputation.  He hadn’t cared what people believed as long as he got the credit for its discovery.  He had failed to proceed with caution and objectivity, to put the mental impressions from the aliens in the context of their own history or culture.  He had been so impressed with himself that he had convinced himself that he was some chosen messenger. 

He had wandered from his path a long time ago and there was only one way to arrive at a little redemption.  He had to repudiate the warnings he had preached so mindlessly and take the blame for the misguided souls who had acted without hope.  He turned down a dark intersection of tunnels and tried to get his bearings. 

The shadows shifted, swelling and reaching out to towards him.  Kwame stared in shock as the lengths of shadow bent at strange angles and pulled eight gleaming eyes out of the darkness.  Kwame’s mind desperately refused to accept the giant black spider stalking towards him.  Mandibles locked down onto his shoulders and an indescribable stench filled his senses.  He looked up into the malevolent eyes pressing down on him and felt an overwhelming sense of familiar horror.

He thought of the monstrous alien squid that had appeared outside his ship beneath the ocean.  He felt that same smoldering heat of its awful intelligence inside his head.   The lightning flashes of promised agony and destruction flickered once more before his eyes.  A sinister voice dripped like acid across his brain.

Where are you going?

And then Kwame knew that it was all real.  The ruination of flesh.  The annihilation of worlds.  Death incarnate.  Chaos surging on rivers of blood.

The spider dropped Kwame and he hit the ground running.  He screamed as he ran, hysterical warnings of doom.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Uncertain Injury

by Travis Perry -

 “Front or back?” demanded Ernsto in a low voice.

For an instant, Jax wondered front or back what? But then his mouth said, “Front,” and he stepped forward with the spear, eyes searching for any bit of rock he could quickly scramble to the top of to lure the beetle coming down the draw into a standing position, exposing its lungs.

A quick glimpse cast backward showed the man he’d just met pull himself out of the sand, moving backward toward the aggressive male coriander on the rock pile behind them, his very large knife gripped in his right hand. Snapped back forward, his eyes registered the beetle from above now charging down the draw, grunting in rage.

Many possible rock formations lay in view—all good, none great. With reaction time running out, Jax charged a fractured boulder to his left and leapt upon it in a single adrenaline-fueled bound. He just managed to raise his hands over his head as the beetle hit the rock. It paused a moment then flipped up to a standing position, the four lower legs on the ground, its pinchers and upper two legs clawing at its higher opponent—Jax.

The edge of the book lung showed itself near the bottom of the beetle, close to the ground, close to the boulder. It would have been relatively easy to miss the target for someone too nervous or plain terrified. But Jax had done this many times before…his pulse pounded and his body trembled with the rush of fight-or-flight chemicals that naturally flooded into his bloodstream, but his mind was focused and clear—the spear flew down in a very short throw, sinking straight into the lung with a psssh of releasing air.

The mortally-wounded bug was not dead yet. It shook, as if with rage, and dropped back down on all sixes and charged up the boulder, pinchers hammering together. Jax lept backward, landing on hands and feet just behind the rock. Before him he witnessed the butt of the spear wedge into a crack of the boulder as the massive beetle plowed forward. Its inertia only drove the spear deeper into its body. It twitched but stopped moving forward, its yardball-sized head advancing no further than just beyond the boulder’s peak.

“Help!” the voice came from to his left. Glancing that way, he saw a headless coriander beetle that clearly had kept charging forward after its decapitation, which must have impacted into Ernsto and knocked him down because now it was dragging him forward, pushing him by the beetle’s undercarriage, its headless neck gushing fluids on the human’s face as it plowed Ernsto forward nearly at full speed, tearing the man’s back across the ground.

This was bad. Jax knew a coriander beetle could live a long time without its head.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Itsy Bitsy

by Kaye Jeffreys -

The summer night was not unbearably warm, thought Jereth. Although the extremes in temperature were the hardest thing for him to get used to on the surface of Eclectia, tonight when he sat down to relax he eventually stopped perspiring. He settled back into a surprisingly comfortable, collapsible chair. Next to him, Uncle Logan sat in a swinging chair that hung from a beam supported by two sheltered wagons. It was the only one they had and the favorite seat in the circle. Logan had the honor of sitting in it now as he swung his sleeping granddaughter on his lap. Someone absently strummed a rickety stringed instrument nearby.

The sound of grit blasting the metal sheets over Jereth's head was deafening in comparison to the rattling of the circuit office window back in Woodless Valley somewhere near civilization. But after a few days it had become background noise to the activity of Apollo Unit's circle while they waited out the storm.

Kellie approached and reached for the child on Logan's lap.

"She's fine here." Uncle Logan smiled.

"Rose is going to tell Itsy Bitsy. I want my baby sleeping in her cubicle before the story starts."

Logan grimaced and handed the little girl off to her mother.

Rose approached the tack box, stepped up, and faced the small congregation of people with her eyes closed. Her somber face, bare arms, and coarsely woven shirt reflected the flickering orange and black patterns of a nearby oil lamp. The stringed instrument fell silent. Rose took a deep breath then opened her eyes wide and recited in a steady voice.

"Long ago
Near the time of the beginning
Darkness came
The angels stopped singing
What is this
The time of gleaning?
Where to go
Away from this stinging?"

Then Rose relaxed and took on her storytelling stance. She glanced around the circle, making eye contact with a few of her listeners.

"Eclectia sat upon her orbit, warm and firm. The early colonists saw her beauty and they settled there singing, 'Arise, Avenir Eclectia. Be strong, Avenir Eclectia. Stand firm, Eclectia, live on, Avenir Eclectia." Rose raised her arms even with her shoulders as she sung and smiled promise and hope.

"But then, the mountains erupted." She threw up her arms over her head. "And the big bugs marched." She marched in place on her box. "And they knew with all of her beauty Eclectia was a dangerous place for men." Anyone else marching on a metal box would look silly. But somehow, in storytelling mode, Rose could pull it off.

Rose stood still again and looked straight ahead. "But there was no greater danger than..."

She crouched down, got a wild look in her eye, put her hand out in front of her, and wiggled her fingers like a bug.

"A gnat, a mite,
a tiny spider,
took to flight
and sat down beside her."

Rose stood up again into her casual story mode. "Merreth Morrett and wife Sara led their family out into the waste. They had gear, they had supplies, and they intended to stake a claim. 'Arise, be strong, stand firm, live on,' they chanted from Merreth down to his youngest child, baby Jayne. They chanted with hope and promise as they steered their land rover out into the swirly grit."

Rose clasped her hands together. "There was a pond in a valley fed by a spring that spouted out of the side of a cliff. More than lavabush grew around the pond. It looked like a garden sheltered from the wind and waste."

Rose looked around her in amazement as though she saw the garden with her own eyes. "This was it. They knew it. Perfect in all things, except..." This time several joined in with her as she crouched and recited:

"A gnat, a mite
a tiny spider
took to flight
and sat down beside her.

"The purity of the water from that plentiful spring amazed the family and they drank their fill. But in the night something attacked baby Jayne. She clawed her skin and cried out in pain because..." more joined in with her.

"A gnat, a mite
a tiny spider
took to flight
and sat down beside her.

"'It was the water,' they said, 'an undetected toxin.' They filtered and purified and comforted little Jayne. But all she could do was cry and say, 'my body, my head, I wish I were dead.' 'Do not speak thus,' her mother Sara soothed. But soon another child cried out in the night, and then another until one by one, all four in agony died, because...

"A gnat, a mite
a tiny spider
took to flight
and sat down beside her."

The hairs on Jereth's neck tingled.

Rose dropped her head into her hands and held it there as she said. "Merreth cradled Jayne in his arms as the skies opened and poured down rain. He shook his fist at the spring-spouting cliff and cursed the day he led his family away from the safety of the colony."

Rose lifted up her head with worry in her eyes. "The safety of the colony." Determination replaced worry. "The safety of the colony.

"And then Merreth knew what he and Sara must do."

Rose turned to look at some unseen person next to her. "We must preserve the colony, Sara. We must save the colonists from this deceptive place, this false garden, this paradise of pain and death."

Rose turned her head the other way to respond to herself, "But what can we do, Merreth, my love? How can we save them?"

Rose turned back, "There is only one way. We must destroy it all, bury it all and leave no trace."

Rose looked back at her listeners. "They guided the land rover to the base of the cliff. They clawed their skin and cried out in pain out in the torrential rain as they rewired their machine. They kissed one another and sang, 'Arise, be strong, stand firm, live on, Avenir Eclectia... live on and on...'

"Merreth touched off the wires and the explosion could be seen for a hundred miles. The cliff and the spring collapsed on the pond and the garden. And the colony was safe, the tiny mite was stopped.

"Or was it?"

Then Rose stiffened and made her eyes wide as she tipped her head back and looked down on Apollo Unit. She quavered her voice as she slowly sang,

"Itsy bitsy spider
went up the water spout
down came the rain
and washed the spider out
Out came the sun
and dried up all the rain
and Itsy Bitsy spider
climbed up the spout again."

The hair on the back of Jereth's head felt like electricity. He turned to Logan and asked, "Where is Itsy Bitsy and this garden buried?"

Logan bore into Jereth with his eyes, "Don't believe this story. There is no such thing as Itsy Bitsy. It was made up by the people on Avenir to scare us away from striking out on our own and to keep us from scattering seeds."

Jereth sat back into his chair, rubbed the back of his neck to coax his hair flat again, and worked to convince himself that there was no such thing as Itsy Bitsy.

Thursday, April 11, 2013


by Travis Perry -
Jax often hunted alone. He’d tried partners and had found that while there is safety in numbers, there was the downside that a lot of these hunters were bugscat crazy—and dangerous. And when hunting alone, he got 100% of the haul, every time.

This blazing fiveday Summer afternoon, out on his own, he stood with a rock formation behind him. Temporarily he leaned his spear on a rock as he pulled loose the drawstring on his rucksack made from a membrane found on the inside of the pinto beetle shell. He reached in and pulled out a wet gland, one he’d taken on a hunt just three days ago. This contained the musk of male coriander beetle. He squeezed the gland, expressing pungent fluid on his hands. He wiped his forearms in the smelly goo and held his arms upward in the air, letting the hot wind spread the odor wherever it whipped in this narrow rocky draw.

He’d learned from experience that male corianders were aggressive and territorial. One strong whiff of a rival and they’d come charging from all around, spoiling for a fight. In practice this may not work so well, since there wasn’t always one in the range of the scent. But he’d spotted several in the area before he came down the ridge covered with broken black basalt into this claustrophobically tight, sandy-bottomed draw.

Another problem came from the fact the beetles could charge in from any direction—that he’d accounted for by where he placed himself. Within the high rock walls on either side, there was only one route in—the natural rock heap behind him covered that route to his rear, so any bug coming after him would have to charge down the draw from the ridge, the direction he was facing, one at a time.

The rocks helped him with another potential difficulty—male coriander beetles usually charged in low, pinchers first, making a poor target for a spear attack, which ideally hit the book or bellows lungs under the belly.  If a beetle charged him here, he could back up the rock pile a little bit. Almost every time the corianders would raise themselves up on their four hind legs when facing an enemy on higher ground, giving a perfect shot at the lungs. Though sometimes they didn’t slow down at all, charging straight up, slamming their heavy sharp pinchers together in the attack. Times like that were a little more challenging…

He heard scurrying from the ridge before he even had time to retrieve his spear. Spear newly in hand his eyes caught a coriander as it shook its head back and forth, sweeping its antennae. It audibly grunted from the top of the draw, just over one hundred meters away.

“Right down here, buddy,” Jax said. “Come on down.”

Within seconds the obedient bug charged down the draw, straight toward his position. It was a healthy young male, larger than average. It would bring a decent price.

Crossing the sandiest patch in the draw, the bug suddenly stopped and squealed. Its legs thrashed but something from underneath held it in place. It attempted to pivot its pinchers underneath its body, a position anatomically impossible for it. It thrashed over on its side, legs twitching.

Bug flipped over, Jax now saw an arm, a human arm, holding a large knife that had pierced the bug’s lungs—sticking straight up from the sand. The patch moved and suddenly a man stood up from it, huffing and blowing sand from his mouth.

“Hey you, on the rock pile,” croaked the voice. “I’ll split the kill with you if you can give me a hand.”

Jax moved forward. He didn’t know whether to be more annoyed at the loss of his kill or amazed by the means by which he’d lost it.

The man’s legs were still buried in sand. “I figured one would come by sooner or later,” he mumbled.

“Sooner or later?” exclaimed Jax. “How long were you buried there? I’ve been in the area for a couple of hours and I didn’t see you at all.”

“Ah…it’s been about two days I think. It was fiveday Winter when I dug in.” The man tried to spit but nothing came from his mouth. “You wouldn’t happen to have any water, would you, pal? That’s the main thing I need.”

“Sure,” said Jax, more astounded than before. The dark-haired man took a long drink from his waterskin and reluctantly handed it back.

“So now what do we do? This is my first kill.”

“Your first?” Jax scratched his head. “You came out here with just a knife?”

“Yes. Yes I did.”

“Dear God—who are you?”

“Ernsto—last name doesn’t matter.”

Jax couldn’t help but chuckle. “You must be the craziest man—” he cut off when he heard new grunting from the top of the ridge. Another coriander beetle, this one bigger than the last, stood at the top of the draw.

And then he heard grunting from behind. He whipped his head back and saw another big male waving antennae. From the top of his rock pile.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Encoded Vellum: Part 4

by Jeff Chapman -

“No one has ever lived two hundred Foundings, even artificially. The body breaks down. How could a man in a cave survive that long?”

“I know,” said the Abbot. “But it is him, or a clone. He has the bearing, the aura, of an abbot. Could that be replicated? If I could, I would swear on everything that is holy.”

“Forgive me for contradicting you,” said the medico, “but the man is in a coma. What bearing could he have?”

“I must agree with our young colleague, Brother Anthony. A remarkable resemblance, but it can be nothing more. Perhaps he fathered children after leaving the abbey? I cannot believe that even a former abbot would allow himself to be cloned, at least not voluntarily. You’ve had a shock. Let us walk you back to your chamber.”

“The time capsules,” blurted the Abbot.

The medico looked askance at the director.

“Of course,” said the director. “You haven’t been here long enough, Brother Sebastian. When a new abbot is consecrated, the cup used for his first communion as abbot and one or more personal possessions that he gives up in order to free his mind for service are sealed in a time capsule.”

“And a lock of hair,” added the Abbot.

“Even better,” said Brother Peter. “I had forgotten about the hair.”

“His capsule is not to be opened for at least two hundred more Foundings. The community must pray and decide as one on a course of action.”

“Why not open it and reseal it?” said Brother Sebastian.

“The community vows at the consecration to respect the date on the capsule,” said the Abbot.

“I will arrange a special gathering for tonight,” said Brother Peter.

“Why did the first Abbot leave the abbey?” said Brother Sebastian.

“Questions, questions.” The Abbot looked to the medico and nodded at the other chair. “Sit down, Brother Sebastian, and I will tell you all I know of the first Abbot.”

Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Flight

by Travis Perry -

“It is the wrath of Lallah. We must flee it!” exclaimed Shoo. Back in the nomad camp, all the men had formed a circle around a small fire of lavabrush and bug bristle. Ross had been included this time without question…and now Shoo had just pushed her way into the circle.

“Grandmother,” said the young man standing just to her left, eyes lowered in embarrassment. “Please, this is the council of men…” his voice trailed off into a gurgle.

Shoo looked around with bright eyes, “Yes, I suppose that would be why there are none but men here!”

“Grandmother, please,” said the young man on her right—this one really was her grandson.

“This is a simple thing, dear men. Hear me out and I shall quickly leave you in peace.” The sweet old hag grinned toothlessly.

Markas looked across to the oldest man in the council, meeting his eyes…who happened to be Shoo’s husband. The grizzled elder simply shook his head with a cough that nearly formed a laugh.

An expression crossed Markas’ face that might have been a wave of annoyance, but it soon disappeared as he faced her, his eyes blazing. “You may speak, woman, but then you will return to your place.”

“Good you hear me, young man. Good you hear. For it is recorded in the tales of the old women that if the mountain will not come to the prophet, the prophet must go to the mountain. And in times of trouble, ‘Flee, flee, always to higher ground.’”

“So we are to run then? That is your advice?” Markas spoke the last word with a sneer.

“What will you do instead? Fight? The righteous shall be saved from the wrath of the Holy One, but only if they heed the word of Lallah, given to the community of the righteous, to both the men and yes, the women!”

“The old women’s stories,” replied Markas in faux-deference.

“Stories I was teaching when you were still sucking at your mother’s milk,” answered Shoo in firm determination, her hands on her hips.

“Very well, old woman,” said one of the elders. “We hear you. Please leave now.” Soon others echoed this plea. Moments later, the chorus of voices rising, Shoo stepped out of the circle of men as abruptly as she’d entered it.

Ross found it interesting to note that after hours of deliberation, even though none of the men repeated anything Shoo had said—not in the way she’d said it, anyway—the council agreed the tribe needed to flee…up into the mountains of the volcanoes of the Five Rims…until such time as the wrath of God had passed them by.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Sister Talk

by Mary Ruth Pursselley -

The light was off, and Celeste’s room was black. Without a window, there wasn’t even enough light to see Celia crowded into the narrow bed next to her.

She could feel her, though. Celeste could hear the soft whisper of air and feel the blanket rising and falling as Celia breathed. She could smell her sister’s light fragrance—the ash-free cleanliness of Zirconia that still clung to her hair and skin. That was enough.

Celeste and Celia had shared a bed like this before Mom and Dad died. They’d both complained about the crowdedness then, but now Celeste cherished it. The miserable loneliness was gone, chased away by her sister’s presence. She could almost believe they were back in their old house, Mom and Dad asleep in the next room.

Celeste snuggled deeper into her pillow. She still wasn’t happy about Celia leaving school and deceiving some unsuspecting archaeologist into coming here. But, she decided with a long sigh, there was absolutely nothing she could do about it now, not until the poor fellow arrived, anyway. Then she’d have to try to explain and apologize and hope he wasn’t too outraged. What had Celia been thinking?

The bed squeaked as Celia rolled over. “You awake?” she whispered.

Celeste grinned into the dark, her annoyance forgotten. “Nope. I’m sound asleep dreaming of pot roast,” she replied, quoting Dad. He’d always said that whenever they’d gotten scared and crept into their parents’ room to ask if they could sleep with them.

Celia giggled. “Oh wow, I hadn’t thought about that in ages!”

“Remember the time that beetle screeched right outside our window and scared us half to death?”

“Or the time our bed frame collapsed in that tremor?”

Celeste laughed. “I remember.”

Celia scooted closer and put her arm over Celeste. “I’ve missed you so much, Lessie,” she whispered. “I can’t wait ’til we can be together again… all the time.”

Celeste said nothing as Celia sighed and went still. What could she say? Celia was completely convinced that at some point things were just going to magically fall into place for them. It was like she couldn’t see the obvious truth: that the real world simply didn’t work that way.

And yet Celeste couldn’t bring herself to say that. The fact that Celia could still hold on to hope after all this time was a miracle—at least, according to Celeste’s definition of miracles: something good that happened even though it had no realistic right to.

Celeste had occasional doubts as to whether letting Celia hang onto useless hopes and dreams was actually good…but she didn’t have the heart to extinguish this last little ray of sunlight. Not yet.