Chapter 1: Reflection

There are times in every person's life when they have to justify acts of complete stupidity and make it seem like it was a rational thought process that led to their conclusion. In defense of your sanity, it's always a good idea to have a nice long list of why you weren't actually losing your mind, and the reasons behind the sudden mental breakdown that caused you to actually go through with whatever you were doing. And then, of course, you add the line that goes hand-in-hand with potentially insane activities: "It seemed like a good idea at the time."

I was at that point as, writing by flashlight and keeping a close ear out for any footsteps or toilets flushing, I struggled to compose my letter of justification to my parents. It was well past midnight on a full-moon Saturday, and I was trying to explain with pen and paper why I was going to be flying to Kansas that night and possibly not be coming back for a while. It wasn't coming easily. After all, how are you supposed to justify disappearing in the night and flying to Kansas because of two things: a mysterious e-mail from someone you'd only known on the internet, and a visit from God, something unheard of in our modern day world? I was still laboring to justify it to myself, much less my parents, who were no doubt not going to be jumping up and down for joy when they discovered my bed empty and the only reason behind it being a letter left on the dining room table, signed with a heart and a promise that I knew what I was doing.

I can't believe I'm actually doing this, I thought, not for the first time since I had started putting my escape plan into motion. I don't know what I'm doing. Not even close. Now instead of just thinking I'm crazy, here's absolute proof that I belong in the loony bin. And now everyone else knows it, too.

It had been difficult even forming my plan—I would be the first to admit I didn't exactly scream 'bad girl'. The very concept of sneaking out of the house at midnight to fly to Kansas by myself was unthinkable. Anyone who knew me would keel over and faint on the spot upon hearing it. 'Maria?' they would say. 'Never. She's such a good girl. It's beyond possibility.'


And I did have a good reason.

I put down my pen for a minute and thought back. Do I really have a good reason? I wondered. Was a plea from a friend and divine intervention really enough?

I closed my eyes, just for a second, and conjured up the events of the last few days.

It had all started with the e-mail, three days ago.


After struggling out of bed at ten o'clock and showering for a luxurious half hour, I plopped down on my computer chair and daydreamed while my computer started itself up. This is what summer is all about, I thought lazily, stretching my legs over the side of the chair and tugging the keyboard to my lap. Going to bed at one and waking up at ten. I love it. School had let out just a week earlier, and I still hadn't reached the tear-your-hair out boredom that usually accompanied the absence of homework and extracurricular activities. I was planning on enjoying my freedom to the fullest before I ended up putting my head through a wall for lack of better things to do.

My familiar War Emblem desktop popped up, and I clicked into the Internet—most of my computer time was spent on the web. The convenience of DSL kept all frustration at slow Internet speed to a minimum, thankfully. The familiar Yahoo homepage came up, and I spotted my mailbox alert blinking, indicating that I had mail.

I had opened my mail account and found three messages awaiting me. Two were workout notifications for racehorses—one of my passions was watching the races, and it was this passion that had brought me to the dilemma I was going to inevitably face three days later.

The third message was an e-mail from one of my closest friends at the horse racing forum I frequently visited. Unusual, but not out of the ordinary. Holly (as she was known by—she never gave out her last name, as was usually wise on the internet) and I were known to stay up till odd hours in the night talking about anything and everything, from authors to horses, and sometimes just life in general. Although we had only known each other online, on a forum designed to bring together those with mutual love of horse racing, we had clicked surprisingly fast. After exchanging the usual online pleasantries, we had discovered our shared love of reading and the similarities in lifestyles corrupted by adverse events. The friendship had exploded from there: she had sympathized with me after a devastating fall shattered both my dream of riding professionally and my confidence on horseback; I had encouraged her when her parents went on drinking sprees and left her alone to fend for herself for weeks at a time. Although we talked periodically on the forum, exchanging e-mails had started to become just as popular.

The e-mail had no subject, which was surprising. Although I wasn't much for bothering to put a title to my writing, Holly considered a subject just as important as the message, and religiously thought up unique titles to her e-mails. Feeling a bit apprehensive, I clicked on it, and waited for the message to come up. And by the time I was finished reading it, apprehensive no longer described my mood. I was bordering on shocked.

"Maria --I need help. Something's here. You should know what I mean—remember what you promised? But it's worse this time. There's no one here. Come--come as fast as you can. Desperation. –Holly"

The entire e-mail was only three lines long. All it took was three lines to leave me ashen-faced, staring at the computer screen, with a pit the size of California in my stomach and the feeling of possibly throwing up.

I probably sat there for ten minutes, just re-reading those three lines over and over again, occasionally pinching myself to make sure I wasn't in one of my consistently vivid dreams. This would have been the most creative one yet if it had been so. But it wasn't. This was really happening.

Deciphering the message is the first step, I told myself vigorously, trying to put rhyme and reason back into my life. Just try to figure out what this means.

The plea for help was self-explanatory, of course, as was the statement that something was there, even if that was extremely vague. The next sentence made sense, too—several months ago, Holly had told me a tale of some intriguing qualities about her hometown of Tyrone, in northeast Kansas. Before she had launched into her story, though, she had sworn me not to secrecy, but to acceptance: she had made sure that I would believe the unbelievable and let my previously shoved-into-a-corner gullible tendencies rekindle and shine as she wove a narrative of the strange people, places, and events that had stricken her town long before she was old enough to remember.

Although I hadn't been sure what I was getting myself into, I had made the promise.

After receiving my agreement to those certainly unorthodox conditions, Holly had sent me an e-mail (wasn't it funny how my life continually got upturned by e-mails?) to start filling me in on the strange and unusual happenings of Tyrone. Short and sweet didn't even begin to describe her online letter. The contents were simple: her explanation had consisted of a single line.

A link to the history of Tyrone, Kansas, and an added note: The Animals

Of their own accord, my eyes had fixated on the italicized print of that one statement, and my body had been remarkably detached from my hands as I reached out and clicked on that little blue link.

And so my involvement in the bizarre and twisted story of the little town of Tyrone had begun.