8

8:07 p.m.

Cobra Dancer sits in a church balcony, eyes loosely tracing panes of stained glass in no particular order. Rain draws phantom shadows outside the window, dark from both sides. Bulbs in antiquated lamps have long snapped their filaments, tiny pings absorbed by a cavernous wooden sepulcher. This is the old church, abandoned some fifty years.

The padlock had either been rusted through or helped along by someone, because it complied with little encouragement. Old things are like that.

This is the kind of place her mother loved, when Cobra was little. Annabeth would find abandoned buildings in whichever town they were passing through and take Cobra on "adventures." Sometimes it was trespassing. Sometimes they got caught. It never mattered.

They just moved on.

Then Annabeth disappeared, and Cobra had been left alone. For six days she had hidden in the tornado shelter of an Oklahoma farmhouse, until the children who lived there found her. She lived with her brother until she was sixteen, and then she ran.

But that's all the past. And this is the present.

Back to the window.

There is one pane that interests her more than the others. A green piece, maybe the size of her outstretched hand. It is the color of pine needles and the color of her eyes, shaped roughly like a square. What interests her, though, is a fleck of silver just off center.

She knows what it is. She also knows that very few, if any, other people would see it. Not because her sight is better, but because it is different. Silver means stumble, just like red means stop and green means go and black means dead. She just knows.

It has been nine weeks, four days since last the silver caught her unaware. Cobra doesn't really keep track, but she can feel it just as surely as she can see the glint in that window. Nine and a half weeks since last she drew the eyes, never quite right

Her right leg has fallen asleep, an effect of sitting so long in contemplation. She shifts, to restore blood flow, hand descending to brace her against bare wood. A sliver of wood impales her palm, and she winces. Sucks it out along with the coppery sweetness of a torn capillary.

The nerves of her foot tingle nearly unbearably, and she shuts her eyes tightly to fight the sensation. Instead of darkness, she is met by a poorly lit street. Children play in the dim pool of luminance spilling from a dirty glass streetlamp. It flickers like candlelight.

Don't tell Mommy
Jilly's jagged,
Daddy won't like that,
no he won't.

Don't tell Mommy
Jilly's jagged,
Daddy'll kill her
if she don't.

Cobra's lungs catch mid-breath, that familiar word sticking in her throat. Jagged.

"Don't worry," he had said, looking at her and through her simultaneously. "You're just jagged."

And then one child stands up from the group, frail with what might be hunger. "Ginny, somebody's watchin' us."

"Ain't nobody there, Cyrus. Set your marbles before this lamp dies, too." The faceless girl crouches over a circle speckled with faintly reflective glass spheres.

The chant begins again, this time culminating in the click of marbles bouncing off each other across roughly even cobbles. Jilly's jagged, they say, with a cruel edge to their young voices. But that's it, no more explanation as to what it means. Only the implication that jagged is a very bad thing to be.

The game continues, quick paced and brutal. The girl called Ginny is losing, as near as Cobra can see. She seems agitated, then fervent as less marbles occupy her side of the circle. She also looks to be nearly the oldest, but the little kids show no hesitation to take her pieces for their own.

There is more at stake than pride.

Or maybe Cobra is simply imagining things, justifying an unreal glance into a place she is nearly certain does not exist. This is no modern city. Grey buildings flank the street, concrete faced but lit flickeringly by flame, just like the street. These children are simply figments of a mind hoping to grasp another impossibility.

She does not see the end of the game, because another figure approaches. The children tense, but it seems not to even notice them. A hood shrouds its face, but when it is directly in front of her, it looks up.

"You have to worry now." Every-color eyes bore into her, no longer looking through. "Jagged isn't what it used to be."

10:46 p.m.

There was blankness, and now there is shock. Two hours have slipped by. Cobra jumps up, putting weight on her right leg before she realizes it has fallen asleep again. She sprawls across the rough planks, scratches opening on both arms. Ignoring pins and needles, she stumbles down the stairs. Normal stumbling, not the supernatural kind.

11:19 p.m.

Alyx is waiting up when Cobra gets home. She reads by lamplight in her room, facing the hall. Cobra expects annoyance, but Alyx only smiles.

"I was starting to think you fell in a ditch," she teases, closing the book and placing it on the bed. Alyx never leaves a book sitting spine up.

"I got lost," Cobra tells her, trying not to look at her stinging arms. It sounds unbelievably fake, but there is no argument.

"Just in your head, sweetie. Goodnight." Alyx puts out the light, climbs into bed. Cobra shuts the door behind her on the way out.