Vivian

How can we lead a life without regrets? Should we avoid all pain and hardship and search only for joy? Should we avoid all frivolity and search only for meaning? Or should we cast all cares aside and simply live in the moment? Perhaps it is all these things and more, but one thing is certain – the thoughts and ideas that drive us are often buried so deeply in our psyche that sometimes, we do not even know they are there. It should come as no surprise, then, that the journey to answer this question so often begins with a rude awakening, with the realisation that something is wrong.

– Perdót, “A Life Without Regrets”

On a clear afternoon in the early days of October, when the events of the recent wave were already beginning to fade into recent memory and life was returning to normal, Vivian made the hardest decision she had ever made in her life. A decision that, even a few short months ago, might have seemed as unlikely as any number of events to a resident of the small town of Northbrook. Almost as absurd as the idea of encountering one of the enemy this far north, or wielding a rifle on that eternal, ever-hungry graveyard that was the Line.

But all that was before.

Passing down the main street through town, Vivian ran cautiously along the sidewalks as she made her way towards the gates. Her pace was even and sure-footed, the gait of a practised runner, and her sight was a common one to these streets. And yet, no matter how she tried to act normal and blend into the crowds, she couldn’t shake the feeling that today, someone knew that something was different, something was wrong.

Three hours to go.

The change of seasons had arrived early that year to the town of Northbrook. The leaves on the maples and aspens were already beginning their transformation into brilliant red and golden hues, and the lingering rains of summer had turned the first few early leaves on the ground into a carpet that made the streets slippery and wet underfoot. The air was crisp and cool, enough to send small puffs of steam into the air as she ran, and the smell of wood smoke filled the air as houses across the town built their fires for the evening.

Northbrook wasn’t big by any standard, its population and facilities barely even a third-tier settlement in the grand, seven-tier system of Central. It had its own supply of power, some of which it shared with First Peak to the north, but it lacked the one defining feature that marked all cities of renown across the free world. The town had no military presence of any kind, that honour going to the major settlement in Harper’s Brow more than a thousand kilometres to the south instead. What the town lacked in grandeur, however, it made up for with quiet solitude in droves. Its two greatest qualities were its seclusion and the long, blank pages that marked the time between events of note in its history, and its residents took as much advantage of them as they could.

As if in testament to the times, Vivian passed two rows of ancient gun batteries that lined the concrete walls surrounding the southern approach to the city as she ran down the main road and up to the gates. Their slender barrels poked through walls that were worn and long overgrown, hidden by trees and covered in long, hanging vines that made them look more like statues or works of art than anything remotely functional. All that spoke of their former purpose were the walls themselves and the rusted barrels of the guns whose sound and method of operation none in the town now knew.

Stopping just outside, Vivian stretched her legs as she scanned her surroundings. The Northbrook River ran right to left along the walls at the feet of a steep embankment, nothing but a broad walking trail separating the two. The silhouette of a railway bridge sparkled under the reflection of the afternoon sun to the left, but nothing had crossed that span in days. And where the main gates opened out onto its expanse, a second, more exposed bridge crossed the gap to the far side, two towers at either end looking down on all those who crossed in silent vigil. But no one moved along the pedestrian path, and of any sign of people in the immediate area, there was none.

One cautious eye on the street ahead, she passed through the gates and onto the pedestrian path across the bridge. No familiar faces crossed paths along the way, no voices called out for her to stop, but she hurried her pace just the same. Every rustle of the breeze through the rusted links along the guard rails made her jump, the babble of the waters below making it hard to detect any approaching sounds from behind.

She reached the far side at a sprint, skipping down a set of concrete stairs to a rocky path along the river. Several more steps until she reached the protective safety of the trees at its edge, only stopping to check the way behind once she stood in their shade. One or two people moved about on top of the bridge, making their way slowly towards the gates. But none of them had noticed her come down this way and, more importantly, none of them had followed.

Her eyes still lingering on the town, she tore her gaze away from the path behind her and disappeared into the golden-red depths of the nearby trees.

It wasn’t long until the steadily growing sound of rushing water reached her ears, a soft murmur on the breeze that grew in volume and intensity as the town faded into the distance. Little over a kilometre from where she departed the bridge, a concrete arc cut off the waters of the river from one side to the other, a row of towers lining the wall like pawns on a chessboard to form the Northbrook Dam. From there, the water that passed through their gates fell over a hundred metres down to the valley floor below, disappearing amidst the trees and the mountains.

She approached the barrier calmly, stepping up to a section where the moss had been worn away just wide enough for two people to stand side by side. Still only late afternoon, the light in the sky was already fading quickly as the sun dipped over the tops of the nearby mountains. It was almost too dark to see now, none of the lights on the dam awake except for the sparse row of faint, solar-powered emergency lights that ran along its brim. Even with its own power supply, only the town’s critical functions remained alive during the night, those who lived by the edges of the town saving what power they had for more important things.

Vivian ran her fingers through her hair and brushed the back of her neck as she stared at the dying light. Flecks of auburn scattered about her collar at the motion, the faintest touch of a rash tingeing her skin where the ends ran up against it in a bob instead of spilling down her back as they had before.

She sniffled.

Reaching into one of her pockets, she drew out a small crystal pendant at the end of a slender silver chain and turned it over in her hands to catch the remaining light. The soft weight of the chain shifted lightly about her palm, rustling from one side to the other as she closed her fingers around it.

Several moments went by in silence.

“I’m sorry,” she said when the words finally found her. “I tried. I really did, but…”

Shaking her head, she gave a sharp exhale at the sudden wave of emotion that threatened to overcome her at the words. She wanted to say something, felt like she should, but the ones she had prepared for just this moment felt suddenly clumsy and inept. One by one, their sounds disappeared into the growing fog of emotion until only two remained.

She drew the pendant up to her face.

“I’m coming…” she said.

Stretching her hand beyond the rail, Vivian held the pendant out over the open air. Her fingers wrapped around the chain as she turned her fist downwards, almost strong enough for the nails to dig into her skin. Some strange impulse tensed her muscles even now, refusing to move, and she shook her hand once as she gave a deep breath as if to work them free. A grunt, and then, quickly and quietly, the pendant slipped from her grasp to be swallowed by the evening sky and the sound of the rushing waters that poured down the walls of the dam.

The delicate chain disappeared into the spray as though it had never been.

Vivian sighed, drew her hand back in and clutched it to her chest to stop the soft tremor that ran through her fingers.

Holding the rail for support, she looked out over the dam as the light continued to fade, tracing all the colours in the sky. The sound of the water was soothing, almost like a lullaby that begged her to stay there all evening and watch the water as it flowed down over the edge and away from town. Or the stars as they made their slow commute from dusk to dawn across the night skies overhead. Anything that would put off the conversation she knew awaited on her return.

* * * *

When the time finally came to leave the dam, the evening star burned brightly in the sky. The air was deep and cool, and the moon cast pale shadows in the darkness between the glow lamps. Her legs, so light when they carried her out there, now felt like lead as she traced her steps back to the town. Each one pulled down as she climbed the stairs up to the bridge slowly and braced herself against the chill winds that ran across the top.

A familiar voice called out to her, not a hundred metres from the gates.

“Hey, redhead!”

Vivian’s heart skipped a beat as a young, wiry-looking man jogged across the street to greet her.

“You’re in for it now,” he said, eyes darting to the freshly cut fringe of her hair. “Hey, what happened to your hair?”

“What’s going on?” said Vivian.

“Huh?” said the young man, startled at being given a question instead of an answer. “No idea, but I saw that old witch at your place not an hour ago, and she and your father were spoiling for a fight. There’s been a buzz about the place most of the afternoon, but nobody will tell me what’s going on. Something up?”

Vivian nodded silently.

“What happened to your hair?” said the young man again.

“I had to leave it somewhere.”

“What?”

“I’m sorry, Josh,” said Vivian, breaking into a run. “I’ll talk to you soon, but I… I have to go.”

“Hey!” called Josh as she disappeared down the streets. “You come find me, Red!”

It was another fifteen minutes until she reached the street where her father’s house stood on the far side of town. A row of glow lamps lit the sidewalks on either side of the cobblestone pavement, small pockets of detail amidst the growing gloom. But deep shadows still hung around the gaps in between, whole areas that could be hiding anything, anyone.

She peered through the trees, trying to discern some detail from between their branches.

The street itself was almost empty, but several houses along, a set of figures moved about outside the place she called home. One was a tall, imposing man she knew to be her father, surrounded by people. Others stood by in apparent conversation, their voices creating a bubble of animated noises in the quiet street. Another shorter, slender figure stood facing out from the row of houses, scanning the street from one direction to the other. With so many people about and so many watchful eyes, there was no way she would get any further from this vantage without being seen.

Damn it.

Retracing her steps, she circled around to the other side in the shadows. All the buildings in that row shared the same escape out into a small brush of trees that backed up against a terraced hill, nothing but a small strip of concrete over a drain in between. Most of the residents avoided this path unless they had to, but it was still wide enough for someone to pass through if they wanted.

She moved carefully along the trail, pushing the branches and overhanging weeds out of the way until she reached the gate in front of their house. The broad, two-storey construction could have been easily mistaken for any of those in the street, few enough signs to separate it from the others in their identical attire. A small row of windows covered in heavy steel shutters were the only marking to disturb the drab grey of the walls, a small path running through a grassy patch that hid the remnants of an attempted garden as it led up to the back door. It was more functional than homely, but it was all Vivian had ever known, and she had never had any cause for complaint.

One hand on the gate to stop the joint from creaking, she lifted the latch on the other side and pushed it open wide enough to slip through the gap.

The sound of arguing voices spilled along the walls from the front as she tip-toed over to the side of the building.

“Dead, I tell you,” came an old and rasping yet familiar voice. “Nobody goes out there that makes it back alive.”

“Enough, May,” came another. “What good are rumours.”

“Hmph,” said the one called May. “That girl’s been a curse ever since the day she was born. The Line should’ve taken her instead of that Thompson girl. The world would’ve been a better place.”

Her father gave an angry retort, but Vivian could no longer hear the words they spoke.

That name…

The mere mention of it struck her like a real and physical blow, the pain stealing her breath. The walls of the house telescoped into the distance as the wave passed through her, the sounds echoing in her ears on a loop.

Focus…

She shook her head to clear her mind and dashed to the side of the house as the voices continued arguing. A quick glance about the area, then she grabbed hold of the metal trellis that ran the height of the house and began to climb with as much quiet as possible. Few were the times she used this way to leave without being seen, but she knew the way well enough and quiet enough that she could scale the building and make it to the second floor without being heard.

Up at the second floor, she drew open a window and crept inside the room where she had grown up. The lights were off, the door closed, but enough light leaked under the door and through the windows that she could still see the bag she had prepared earlier in the day lying beneath her bed.

Pulling it out to where she could see it in the light, she undid the clasps to check its contents. Several changes of clothes, a worn transifax pad, her citizen’s band, and a letter on a freshly folded sheet of paper. She took the letter out and placed it on the table by the door, then strapped the citizen’s band around her left wrist. A faint light pulsed when she clipped it into place, the time showing on its worn display.

Two hours to go.

Quietly, she stepped over to the door and pulled it open wide enough to peek outside and down the stairs to the first level of the house. The citizen’s register on a small panel by the front door downstairs showed two faint dots of light, one glowing green, another light grey. When she woke up that morning, both were green.

So that’s what gave it away, then.

Closing the door again, she returned to the window. A gentle release to close it behind her as she stepped back out, then once more down the trellis and back into the garden. The voices on the far side of the building continued, but they seemed to be –

“Hey, I think I hear somethin’!” came a voice.

She froze.

A lean shadow ran along the side of the house close to where she stood, growing taller as it approached.

Vivian ran.

Not the casual pace that carried her to the dam earlier that day, but a full-on sprint.

She took the fence in a single leap, landing heavily on the other side before running off through the underbrush away from the direction she had come. The sound of feet giving chase rose along the sides of the house, a clatter of echoes on the walls as a group came running around from the front. Another voice called out from somewhere between the two buildings, but its owner was too far to catch her now. She ducked and weaved through the rough underbrush almost carelessly, tangled vines scratching at her sides and face as she went. But two more steps and she was free, running through open streets.

Her feet carried her deeper into town as the voices and sounds of pursuit faded into the distance. A series of shouting calls at first, disappearing entirely several blocks away from home. And soon, she was running through streets that even she didn’t know as long as they took her further away from where she was moments before.

It was only when she reached a fork in the road by a small park that she stopped to take stock of her surroundings. A small row of patterned houses on one side, a sloping street rising into the hills on the other. Somewhere near the far reaches of the town, away from the river, near the residential districts. No sign of those who came after her, no reason for them to think she might have come in this direction.

But there was no time to waste.

Shifting the weight of the bag on her shoulder, she started off on a tired jog along one of the streets headed off to the far side of town.

There was one more place to go.

* * * *

The knock was light, almost timid, but the door opened straight away as though she were expected. The wiry frame of the same young man she ran into outside the gates to the town appeared, heaved a heavy sigh in her direction.

“Took your time,” said Josh.

“Sorry,” said Vivian.

Josh poked his head outside, shot a look up and down the street, then gestured inside.

“Come on, then,” he said.

Vivian ducked inside the one-storey apartment, slipping past into the familiar living space and its round, welcoming kitchen. A small fireplace in the living room held the remains of a faint fire that kept the space warm, the smell of wood smoke mixing with the fading aromas of recently cooked food. All that remained were embers, a faint glow in the ashes that sparked and crackled like dying breaths.

Josh closed the door behind them and walked past her, moving deeper into the room as she settled in. When he reached the kitchen, he stopped by the door and looked back, an awkward silence falling over the two of them as though a myriad questions ran through his mind and he couldn’t pick the right one.

Vivian stood with her bag on her shoulder, Josh half-standing, half-leaning against the wall.

“So, what’s with the hair?” he said at last. “Why’d you cut it?”

“I had to,” said Vivian, still standing halfway in the shadows of the entry to the hallway. Josh paused, seemed ready to say something, but didn’t press any further.

“Been a while,” he said. “Don’t think I’ve seen it this short since you cut it that time back in school. What was that show again? Star princess something?”

“Galaxy Princess Squadron…”

“Ah-h, yeah,” said Josh. “That’s right, you wanted to look like Princess Radiance, didn’t you. Think you look a bit more like Princess Benevolence now, though.”

“Yeah?” said Vivian, her tone lightening a little.

“Yeah,” said Josh. “Looks good, though.”

Vivian nodded weakly, ran a hand through her hair as though on cue.

“Thanks,” she said.

“You look like you’ve been running the entire time since I saw you,” said Josh. “Water?”

Vivian nodded again, realising for the first time how thirsty she was. She hadn’t had anything to eat or drink since she left home earlier that day, and her throat was parched from running in the dry wind.

Josh disappeared into the kitchen as she came over to a seat by the rectangular table that stood mismatched in the middle of the room. He returned with a glass of water in hand moments later and offered it to her as she sat down and put her bag on the floor.

It disappeared immediately, and he went to fetch another.

“So, what’s all this is about?” he said when he returned.

Vivian drew a deep breath and sat up straight, suddenly awake.

How many times she had played this conversation over in her mind, she couldn’t tell. But now the time had come, the words that seemed so easy to say felt stuck behind some invisible barrier. One sentence after another, they all turned over in her mind until nothing made any sense and nothing came out.

Long, heavy moments of silence passed before she could finally give them voice.

“I’ve come to say goodbye,” she said.

“What?” said Josh, standing upright.

“I’m going away for a while,” said Vivian.

“Going away?” said Josh. “What do you mean? Where?”

The instant the words left his mouth, however, Vivian saw the sudden realisation dawn on his face.

“You’re going after her, aren’t you,” he said.

“Yes…” said Vivian, barely a whisper.

Even in the dim light of the room, she could see the muscles in his face tighten almost immediately. When he next spoke, his voice was calm and patient, but it carried a tension that hadn’t been there before.

“When?” he said.

“Not yet,” said Vivian.

One hour to go.

“Those people around your house, then?”

“Friends of my dad, neighbours.”

“So he knows about this?”

“He does, yes. We spoke.”

“And how’d that go?” said Josh.

“Not well,” said Vivian. “I tried to talk to him about it, tell him why I wanted to go, but he wouldn’t hear me out. He wouldn’t even speak to me for days after that. When we started talking again, he told me he’d make sure I could never leave if I ever did go through with it.”

“So you didn’t talk to him before you came here?”

“No, but… I left him a letter,” said Vivian.

“That’s it?” said Josh.

Vivian ran a hand through her hair.

“This isn’t how I wanted any of this to go, Josh,” she said. “But I don’t feel like anything I said got through to him at all.”

She shook her head.

“Maybe this is all my fault after all,” she said, her eyes searching the ground in front of them as though it might hold the answers. “Maybe I could have phrased it better, found some way to make him understand. I just don’t know why he couldn’t talk to me about it all.”

“Well, maybe,” said Josh. “Have you thought about this from his perspective?”

Vivian looked up.

“What do you mean?” she said.

“Your father’s looked after the security of this town for years,” said Josh. “He’s well trusted by just about everyone. He knows what’s right and what’s wrong, what’s best for this place.”

“What about what’s best for me?” said Vivian.

“What’s best for the town is best for you, Vivian.”

“I don’t think that’s his decision to make anymore, Josh,” said Vivian. “Or yours. I’m turning twenty-four this December. About time I start making my own decisions for a change, don’t you think?”

Josh shifted his weight from one foot to the other.

“Look, Viv… we’re just trying to take care of you,” he said. “Especially after all that stuff in school. You’ve always been the little kid in the group, and in some ways, that’s how we’re always going to see you. What’s so wrong with that?”

“It’s been a long time since I was a little kid,” said Vivian.

Josh’s expression tightened.

“Fine,” he said. “But just calm down for a moment and think this through, would you? Sally was always the adventurous one. If anyone was going to do something different, it was her. But what about you, Viv? All of a sudden, you’re just going to up and go halfway across the world on a whim? You’ve barely even left this place since the day you were born, let alone travelled to another continent. What do you think you’re going to do out there?”

“I don’t know yet,” said Vivian. “But I can try.”

“But you don’t have to try,” said Josh. “That’s the point. There hasn’t been a single recorded battle within a thousand kilometres of this place for more than three hundred years, and why do you think that is?”

Vivian looked down.

“It’s because we’re safe,” said Josh.

Vivian looked back up again, met his gaze.

“If we’re safe, then why do we have guns on our walls?”

“Guns that nobody needs, Vivian,” said Josh. “Not since the days of the First Triumph. The enemy are stuck all the way down on the other side of the globe, and that’s exactly where they’re going to stay. All you have to do is stay right where you are and you’ll be safe for the rest of your life. The other people in the world, the ones actually qualified to go out and there and put their lives at risk, they can go and do that. But you? Why not stay here and get a job? You can have a family, grow old, maybe even watch your children have children of their own someday.”

Vivian shook her head.

“That’s not what I want anymore,” she said.

“Then what do you want?”

“I don’t know yet, but…”

“Why not figure it all out here, then?” said Josh. “There’re plenty of places you can make yourself useful, right here in town. All you have to do is ask your father, and I’m sure he can find a place for you to work.”

“It’s not about Northbrook,” said Vivian, but Josh continued as though she hadn’t spoken.

“Didn’t he say something about getting you a job at town hall?”

“It’s not about Northbrook!” said Vivian again.

Josh fell silent, stared at her silently for several moments.

“Then what is it about?” he said.

Vivian paused, shook her head as though the motion would somehow stop her head from spinning. These thoughts were hard enough to process on her own, let alone communicate to someone else.

But if she didn’t try here, now, then when… where?

“Every morning, Josh,” she said. “Every morning, I wake up surrounded by memories I don’t know what to do with. I’ve never known this place without her, and now… I just don’t know what I’m supposed to do anymore. How can I go back and just pretend things are fine?”

“Because things are fine, Viv,” said Josh. “It’s just too soon.”

“It’s been six months…”

“And it’s still too soon,” said Josh. “Give it some time. You’ll forget all about this, and everything will go back to normal.”

“I don’t want it to go back to normal,” said Vivian. “There is no normal.”

“Except there is,” said Josh. “Everything’s going to be just fine, Viv, but not right away, eh? We’ll work it out together. All you have to do is go back and tell these people they can’t have you. Nobody can force you to do something you don’t want to.”

“Nobody’s forcing me to do anything,” said Vivian.

“Then why are you leaving?”

“I’m not leaving anyone, Josh,” said Vivian. “At least, not forever. But I’m not happy, and I haven’t been for some time. I can’t ask anyone to fix that for me, but I don’t understand why everyone wants to stop me from doing something about it. Don’t you see? I’m not running away from anything. I’m running towards something.”

“Towards what?”

“I don’t know yet,” said Vivian, shaking her head again. “Not entirely. But I can’t understand why she didn’t come back to us. I can’t accept this idea that somehow, she just couldn’t make it. I have to know what happened to her out there.”

“And you think you’re going to find that with them?” said Josh. “With the souldiers?”

“I don’t know, but…”

“It’s not a solution,” said Josh. “It’s a meat grinder. You want to fight the enemy, play souldier for a while? All you’ll ever be is another cog in the system keeping them at bay. Another dead body in the service of keeping the status quo. Is that really what you want for yourself?”

“Who said it has to be that way?”

“What, and you think you’re going to be the one to change things, then?” said Josh. “I’m pretty sure smarter minds than yours have been on that case for some time now, Viv. And if they can’t do it, I don’t see what makes you think you can.”

“So we should just be happy with the way things are?”

“Sounds like a good idea to me.”

Vivian ran a hand through her hair as a brief silence fell over the two. The strange malaise that clouded her thoughts before was slowly dissipating, but now that her mind was clear, it all felt more jumbled up than ever before. Sudden thoughts and ideas she hadn’t expected poured forth unchecked and uncontrolled, questions she hadn’t prepared for.

“I have to find some meaning in all of this, Josh,” she said. “I can’t find that here anymore, but if I go to Central, then maybe I can.”

“So that’s it, then?” said Josh.

“It’s not forever,” said Vivian. “I just have to do two years down on the Line, then I can come back and serve the rest of my term in Harper’s Brow.”

Josh snorted.

“Great,” he said. “Aren’t they the exact same words Sally gave you and me before she left?”

“Just another three months and she was going to come back!”

“But she didn’t come back, did she,” said Josh, his anger no longer concealed. His voice echoed uncomfortably in the small room, and he stood up to full height, his figure casting a long shadow on the walls behind him. “And when, pray tell, will the time come when we have to say goodbye to you, too?” he said. “Nothing but a tin can with your name on it and a piece of jewellery to remember you by. Not even enough of you to hold a proper burial, let alone scrape you off the field and ship you back home. Isn’t one death enough for this town? Why do you have to go and inflict that on us all over again?”

Vivian looked away.

The events of that day were burned into her mind like some cruel screenplay that played over and over on an endless loop. They felt so real that she could almost reach out and touch them. A day in the early beginnings of spring with a mild breeze and endless skies of blue on blue. A young man in full dress uniform, his smoke-grey coat trailing to the tops of black boots polished so brightly they almost outshone the sun. The insignia of a seven-pointed star on a red-grey background. Sally’s parents, and the gaping emptiness that greeted her every morning since.

“What if you’re wrong?” said Josh. “You could die out there.”

“Maybe,” said Vivian. “But if I do, then at least it will have been my decision and not somebody else’s.”

As if on cue, the band around her wrist pulsed with a faint white light, and she wrapped her free hand around it instinctively as if to block the signs.

Thirty minutes to go.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I have to go.”

Reaching down, she picked up her bag from under the table and stood back up. But the moment she made to loop it over her shoulder, Josh’s hand shot out and latched on to one of the straps, pulling it across the table. The two friends stood on either side, the bag between them, suspended by their grip.

“Come on,” said Josh. “You aren’t thinking clearly, Vivian.”

Vivian froze.

Would he do anything to stop her physically?

She didn’t know, but neither did she know what he would do if she tried to reach out and take it back.

All the while, the clock was ticking.

Her mind raced over the contents of her bag, finding new definitions of what they meant to her. Leaving it here would mean no change of clothes until she arrived on the other side, none of the memories stored in the transifax pad. But trying to force it from his grip now would mean… what?

“Come on, Viv,” said Josh again. “Snap out of it!”

His grip on the bag tightened.

Wiry as he was, he still stood a full thirty centimetres taller than her, and years of physical work had given him a lean strength she knew she couldn’t match.

Why couldn’t he understand…?

It wasn’t about the Line.

It wasn’t about Northbrook or anyone else, either.

No, it was about –

“Wake up!” shouted Josh, and the harshness in his voice startled her into silent attention. “Sally’s dead, Vivian, and there’s nothing you can do about it!”

She let go.

A look of surprise ran across Josh’s face as the bag dropped on top of the table, but she was already gone. As the strap slipped from her fingers, she ran to the door empty-handed, her shoulder slamming into the entrance of the kitchen in her haste. A soft thud signalled that he had let go as well, but even thrown off balance, she was still moments quicker. Josh was several paces behind her by the time she reached the door, threw it open and burst outside, breaking into a run.

An icy wind whistled through the streets of the town, dry and relentless. It tore at her face and filled her lungs with too-cold air as she ran, as though the whole town were trying to hold her still. The trees creaked and swayed under its fury, their skeletal branches casting crazy shadows on the ground like bony fingers reaching out to grab hold. But she was alone, and there were no signs he had made to follow.

“You can’t make it out there, Vivian!” called a voice, steadily fading into the distance.

She ran on, not even looking back as the wind howled and fresh tears stained her face.

Maybe…

But maybe trying would be enough.


Coming to Apple Books and Kindle in early December!

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