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Always Darkest


Dawn rose after noon the day she died. You've known her since kindergarten, when she stole your fire truck during recess and you socked her in the arm. You had been inseparable since, once she contented herself to take no more than most of your time and the only pain you caused her involved pointed questions.

You watched as she side-stepped the homeless woman begging change on the corner. From across the opposite curb, you saw the truck crush her, your arm caught in mid-wave. You rushed to her, but the damage was too severe, too unquestionably fatal. You'd heard that quick deaths are supposed to be a comfort because the deceased didn't suffer.

Dawn disagreed. Once you were home again, after answering the questions from the police, once you were back in your apartment with the tension and fear leaking from your eyes, your phone rang. Dawn asked you to swing by the hospital and pick her up. She hung up and didn't answer when you called back. So you went to pick her up because what else were you to do?

She told you that it had been a mistake. The truck had just shocked her heart, but she'd revived thanks to adrenaline. "Could you not mention this to anyone else?" she asked, almost embarrassed. You were so grateful that you acceded, as strange as you found it. You'd been there. You'd seen the broken bones, the blood, the injuries that no longer existed when she hopped into the passenger's seat of your car. The only heart shocked was yours.

She wouldn't talk about it on the way back to her home, said it felt like sleep. She woke up to doctors calling it a miracle and was discharged. You had joked that she must be a superhero, then amended this to "zombie."

She went to work the next day, selling music at a tiny store on Main Street. She greeted you with a kiss on the cheek-her frustrating custom-when you had come in to check on her. Her dark hair smelled of lilacs and ashes. Her green eyes were crisp as apples. In retrospect, you have tried to remember if her lips were cold, if there had been any indication.

Dawn had a way of confusing the subject. You'd try to talk about one thing, tried to pin down definitions, but found yourself in a conversation about the minutia of books without knowing how. She thought it was charming, but you held it as one of the reasons you could never date her. Not for very long, at least.

You had asked her to meet you for dinner, tried to confirm a where and when. You caught the quick look downward before she declined, as she felt for something in her pocket, but couldn't register its meaning. "I have another appointment," she said.

"I'll come," you replied. "I'll drive you and then we'll get a bite to eat after."

"No, I need to go alone. It's a lady issues problem," she said, the force of her denial startling you.

"I can deal with lady issues," you began, having known this as her stock excuses, but then came to the real issue. "You scared the hell out of me yesterday. I don't want you to be alone."

"I want to be alone. You are around me too much."

Maybe it was that look in her eyes, the hard pleading, but you listened.

Read the rest in Find What You Love and Let It Kill You

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings.

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