Chapter One

Kalli wakes up to not-quite-darkness, carnival lights shining through her threadbare gray curtains and throwing her plastic glow-in-the-dark figure of Jesus into unnervingly phosphorant relief. Daisy is crying, as usual, and at first she thinks it is the noise that had woken her. Then the smell hits her nose. She recalls, with an odd sense of certainty, the awareness of it seeping into her consciousness and interlocking with the fevered dream she'd been having.

"If you puked blood again I'm gonna kill you, rugrat," she screams. In the living room, Daisy shuts up.

Kalli is nineteen, Daisy is two, which means Kalli had been a fucking stupid sixteen year old when the brat was conceived and Matty had convinced her it would be great to have their own little spawnmonster running around. Now Matty is who-knows-where and Daisy is sleeping on a couch from the junkyard because she'd outgrown a dresser drawer, and there was no way in hell Kalli was crawling back to her mama to ask for the nice convertible crib she'd bought Daisy. Not after what that bitch had done.

Kalli sits up on the lumpy mattress and runs a hand through her long, ratty blonde hair, just as Daisy starts crying again. Well, if she's crying she's not puking or comatose with hunger like she gets sometimes. And Kalli can't smell anything but that nasty, pungent copper smell, so Daisy hasn't gotten shit everywhere again. She's fine, then. Just being a spoiled fucking brat as usual.

"Mama," Daisy yodels pathetically, on cue. Kalli ignores her and swings her legs over the side of the bed, fitting them, through trial and error, into the room's square foot of unoccupied floor. From the edge of her bed she can reach the window and the dresser and the unclosable door, and that's really about all there is to reach, anyway.

The smell of blood is making Kalli sick, so she snaps up the torn window shade without looking, figuring she'll deal with the inevitability of being unable to close the window later. She never does get around to opening it, though. When the roller shoots up the lights from the Ferris wheel up on the ramshackle pier overhead turn her room into a kaleidoscope of color, and clear as day Kalli can see the thick coating of blood down the front of her body.

The choked moan rises up in her throat before she even totally comprehends what she's seeing, and Kalli snatches her hands away from her bare breasts, stiff and dry under the plaster of red. It's all the way down her stomach, covering her panties and her legs, and when Kalli presses her hands to her mouth she can feel it there, too, down her chin like Daisy with an ice cream cone. Daisy. Kalli screams hr name with her whole body shaking, screams for her to come and help, but Daisy isn't crying anymore and Kalli can't hear a damn thing over her own whimpering. What the fuck had she done last night? She can't remember and that's not unusual, but she's never woken up drenched in dried blood before, she's never been hurt before, not like this. Kalli's gripping herself under the elbows, arms crisscrossed, and rocking and crying, and the sweetest, most ordinary voice she's ever heard says her name.

Kalli quits crying and looks up to see a boy holding Daisy in his arms and looking at her.

"Kalli," he says again. "Don't you hear your daughter calling you?"


Her first thought is that she can see through him, and then she looks closer and she can't, but she can—it's all confusing, like trying to trick her eyes into seeing through murky water. He's so pale he glows like the plastic Jesus figurine (watching over all this from the dresser), or seems to, and from looking just at his face she would have pegged him as a child. But he's at least six feet tall, skinny as anything. Kalli grips onto a handful of bloodstained surplus blanket and stares till he's a sea of colorless white hair and skin, fractured by Ferris wheel lights. And he is seethrough, maybe, although he's holding the kid in his arms…

"Who the hell are you?" Kalli asks feelingly. He doesn't look like anyone she would ever pick up, wasted-drunk or not.

He smiles, the vague, sweet smile of an angel outta her mama's Bible. He keeps stroking Daisy's filthy, theoretically blonde hair and the brat is staring at him, all quiet and big-eyed and content like she never is for Kalli.

"Hi? Do you speak fucking English?" Kalli is freaked out, not going to pretend otherwise. The rough edge of her voice shakes.

He speaks up, wispy little deep voice again. "You don't remember, Kalli?"

"Obviously fucking not. What did you do to me?" She spreads her arms wide, almost naked and bloodsplattered like something out of a horror show, only there's no obvious wound in sight. "What are you doing to my kid, you goddamn pervert? Give her to me!" Daisy seems all-important suddenly, like when she was a teeny new baby. Kalli lunges at him for her and he presses to the side, letting her fall heavily against the door. Her protruding ribs start aching instantly.

Behind her, she hears him tsking.

"Kalli, Kalli, you're no mother. Don't pretend." She turns against the door in time to see his colorless lips brush Daisy's forehead. "You're killing this poor baby. Leaving her alone all day while you lay in a drunken stupor—kh."

"What the hell do you know?" Kalli screams.

"More than you." He reaches out a hand and takes hold of her arm, a feather-light pressure that's cold as iron. He pulls her upright, off the door. "There are people in this world who deserve to burn in hell, Kalli. And you're one of them."

She draws in a slow, sick breath. "You don't even know me."

"But I do." He puts Daisy down on the bed and looks straight at Kalli. And she realizes his eyes aren't colorless, they're blue, so vibrantly blazing blue that she feels dizzy looking at them. "I've been inside you."

Kalli snorts before she can stop herself. "Believe me, buddy, around here that doesn't mean much."

"Oh, I know." He's touching her and she hadn't even noticed, but the sensation of ice spreading through her shoulders makes her realize his fingers are resting on them. Unbelievably, Daisy has gone to sleep on the bed. This isn't normal. Panic rises up in Kalli's chest but she can't move anymore, can't even speak. Just… listen. "Believe me, Kalli, I know. You're nothing better than a whore. All the men, the stealing, your selfishness. You've never touched a person you haven't corrupted."

Kalli can feel tears dripping off her face.

"Like I said…" He leans close to her and the sensation of ice spreads, working its way from her face down to her toes. "There are people who deserve to burn in hell."

She manages to force the words out of her mouth. "What—are—you?"

He vanishes before her eyes. When she hears him speak again, it seems to come from inside of her. "I'm here to help you burn."