It took James Washington forever, almost literally forever, to remember that his wife and children were as dead as he was. For a while, he barely even realized that he was dead himself. Heaven, for lack of a better word, is bliss, and as anybody who has known euphoria can tell you, bliss doesn’t always allow room for rational thought.
You’re just stepping into the crosswalk when the SUV screeches to a stop with its bumper six inches from your hip. It’s sleeting. It wasn’t sleeting when you left your apartment, so you’re wearing canvas sneakers with holes beside the little toes, where all of your sneakers always get holes, and you haven’t been able to feel your feet for six blocks. It’s been weeks since you got more than four hours of sleep.
It starts as a twitch. Or that’s what I thought it was. At first. A jitter in my thumb. Then it’s in my wrist, a jolt of energy running up my arm. All at once, too fast to know exactly where it had come from. There it is, I would start to think, but it was over before I had finished the thought, and there I was, gun in hand, smoke weeping from the barrel.
As usual, Win was late to work. Since he hadn’t had time to eat breakfast at home, he arrived at his office—tucked into the old wing of the hospital, now a maze of ancient files and obscure personnel—clutching a styrofoam vat of cafeteria coffee, a donut balanced atop it. He wore jeans and hiking boots and a wrinkled pinstripe dress shirt, from which his ID badge hung crookedly. “Winston Z, MDiv, LCSW, BCC,” it read.
Long ago, a woman in Bavaria had to peel some potatoes. She had to do the washing. She had to check on the soup that simmered on the stove and was never quite thick enough. She had to watch her smallest child where it lay wrapped near the fire and sweating, and watch her oldest daughter tying back her hair to look finer when she went to trade the day’s milk for some woolens from the merchant with the unmarried son.
Dear Sara: The official verdict that I am no longer classified as human arrived in a windowed envelope bearing the return address of the Bureau of Lineage Affairs. There is one envelope for me and one for you, although I haven’t opened yours. Except for the return address, these envelopes look like something from the bank, or perhaps an offer for home insurance, the kind we throw away.
In a dusty, antique-littered back room of the loft on St. Mark’s Place, a room with walls the color of ripe cranberries, Hannah stands naked in front of the towering mahogany-framed mirror and stares at herself. No—not her self any longer, but the new thing that the man and woman have made of her. Three long hours busy with their airbrushes and latex prosthetics.
When word came that the king had died, Kyros began packing his tools. Agathon had been a fine patron, commissioning statues and friezes for his capital’s many temples and his own palace, but his wife had no reputation for piety or art. He was surprised, then, when one of her pages delivered a scroll requesting his services.
On October 11, 2035, Jamie Wrede, R.N., was the sole employee staffing the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Temperance United in Martinsville’s Pine Ridge district. In the course of her career, she’d been asked to kill nine newborns. That morning, she planned to kill four more. Jamie woke at 6:45 and began preparing breakfast for her eighteen-month-old daughter, Claire. At 7:34, she picked up a “crank call” and listened for three minutes.
He was in the library. It was quiet. No guns. No mud. He could crawl in peace, as long as he didn’t make any noise. Mrs. Dientz, the librarian, wouldn’t allow noise. Ed was worried that he would get dirt in his wound, and it would get infected. The library is full of fungus, like a locker room: You can get athlete’s foot in places you would never put your feet.