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First pages

Prologue

In the moments before she died, Chloe Olivetti smiled as she crossed Miller’s Park after school, enjoying the bright sunshine of an early spring day and anticipating some major snuggle time at Vanessa's and two whole days without school, homework, or pop quizzes.

Two bicyclists sailed by, rolling their eyes at her in a manner she was far too familiar with. Check out the weirdo. She debated flipping them the finger then decided it was too nice a day to get annoyed.

She’d only taken another couple of steps when a tingling sensation crept across her winter-pale skin. A moment later, the hairs on her arms sprang to attention. She stopped as the mild tingling escalated into a full-blown, itching discomfort, like a thousand mosquitoes were biting her flesh. At the same time, the piercings in her ears and tongue began to vibrate.

“What the...”

Before Chloe could finish her sentence, the world exploded around her in a tremendous flash of white and then she was floating in a sea of blinding colors, neon reds and yellows, fiery oranges, ultra-vibrant purples, fluorescent greens. The dazzling universe spun around her and formed three-dimensional blocks, circles, arcs, and lines. Revolving mazes sailed past. Colors bent and twisted, creating bizarre shapes that made her head hurt. She couldn’t feel her arms or legs, couldn’t even tell if she was breathing or not. When she tried to scream, the words echoed painfully around in her skull but no words reached her ears.

The colors moved closer, creeping in from all sides until the lines and hoops were actually passing through her body. She wanted to cry for help, to run away, to do anything, but her body refused to respond.

A black rectangle appeared in front of her and suddenly she wasn’t floating, she was flying, faster and faster, heading right for it. Bright lights glittered in the inky depths, things that looked like stars and planets.

And then there was only darkness.

CH 1

“I know you’ve been hearing this a lot lately, but you sure are one lucky girl.” Doctor Wilson Bloom lifted his stethoscope from Chloe Olivetti’s chest and flashed a grandfatherly smile. “The odds of being struck by lightning...”

“I know, I know. One in three thousand in a lifetime, or one in six hundred and fifty thousand in any given year,” the seventeen-year-old finished for him. “My science geek of a brother looked it all up on the internet last night. He couldn’t wait to tell me.”

Chloe rolled her eyes and let out an exaggerated sigh. “That's all I've heard for the last two days. Did you know only one out of a hundred and twenty-five thousand people are actually injured when they’re hit by lightning? Or that a park ranger in Virginia was struck eight times during his life, including once when he was in an office, and once while walking across the yard to get the mail. He lost his big toe and his eyebrows. If I hear one more word about lightning or how lucky I am, I'm going to scream.”

Chloe stared up at the doctor, who was looking at her with an amused expression on his face, one bushy gray eyebrow raised higher than the other. With his thick mustache and glasses, thin face, and slightly pointed ears, he reminded Chloe of a scholarly imp.

“I guess you’re feeling better if you can be so sassy,” Doctor Bloom said. “I suppose we’ll have to let you out today before you start making everyone’s life miserable, like you did a couple of years ago when you had your appendix out. But before I go, here’s a little bit of trivia for you. A few years ago there was a movie made about the life and death of Jesus. During the filming, the actor who played Jesus was struck by lightning. Twice. Tell me that’s not strange,” Doctor Bloom finished, raising his eyebrow once more.

“Yeah, that’s so fascinating.” The stud in Chloe's tongue added a slight lisp to some of the words. When she’d woken up in the hospital and learned what happened, she’d been afraid it might have melted. Then the reality of everything set in and she’d had a minor panic attack, although she hadn’t admitted it to anyone except Vanessa. Even now, with all the test results back showing she was perfectly healthy, she still had moments where she felt like freaking out. Especially the part about her dying. According to the doctor who'd treated her in the emergency room, when the ambulance had arrived she'd had no pulse and hadn't been breathing. The EMTs had to use the shock paddles on her to get her heart started. Sure, it was kind of cool and all, but still... she died.

I’ll bet I’m the only kid in school who can say that!

On the other hand, it’ll probably be just another thing for everyone to make fun of me about. Linda Hudgins and her bitch squad will have a field day.

She could already hear the insults. Zombie Girl. Dead in bed. “Hey, I smell dead people.”

Yeah, so okay, maybe not cool after all.

Chloe let out another sigh. The only thing more boring than sitting in a hospital bed was dwelling on her total lack of peer acceptance while sitting in a hospital bed.

“So, like, can I get out of here now? You said there’s nothing wrong with me.”

“Whoa, hold on. Not until your parents get here. You’re still a minor, which means they have to sign your release papers before you can trade that hospital gown for your street clothes.”

As if on cue, Aldo and Kerri Olivetti entered the room. Chloe’s brother, Benny, trailed behind, his big, brown eyes glued to the game he was playing on his phone. He was wearing the Sailor Moon sweatshirt Chloe had bought him for Christmas, his subtle way of saying he was glad to see her.

Not that she’d acknowledge the gesture to the little turd. She’d have to be on her death bed before that would happen. At least in public. Maybe later, when no one was around.

Maybe.

“Doctor, how’s our little girl doing?” Aldo shook Bloom’s hand. Wilson Bloom had been Chloe’s doctor since she’d been born, and was Benny’s pediatrician as well.

Kerri set down the bag she carried and gave her daughter a crushing hug, despite having seen her only a few hours earlier. Chloe endured it, knowing it would be days—probably weeks—before her already over-protective mother got over what she’d taken to calling Chloe’s “brush with death.”

“Fresh clothes and shoes,” she told Chloe when she finally let go. Her voice trembled slightly and she wiped at her eyes. “Your old ones had to be thrown out because they were all burnt.”

“Crap! Those were my favorite jeans! It took me months to get them all faded like that.” Chloe shook her head, her bobbed hair shaking back and forth. At least the lightning had only burned her clothes away. Losing her hair would have been a whole ‘nother level of disaster, especially considering how much money she’d spent getting it cut and colored at a salon only a month ago.

It was worth it, though. She was totally psyched about the new style, and so was Vanessa, which was even more important. They’d dyed everything bright blonde except the last two inches at the ends; those she’d colored raven black. She’d fallen in love with the look after watching an old music video on VH1 Classic by the ‘80’s new wave group Berlin, whose lead singer had worn her hair the same way. When she'd mentioned how much she liked it, Vanessa had told Chloe it would look ultra retro cool on her, so they’d decided to give it a try. As usual, Vanessa had been right. Which was only to be expected, since Vanessa Garcia practically lived fashion, was planning on majoring in it in college next year. Unlike Chloe, who was perfectly happy to spend her days in baggy jeans and t-shirts. Except when they went to clubs, of course. Then she couldn’t resist getting her glam on.

“Watch your mouth and don’t complain about your clothes,” her mother said. “You’re lucky to be alive! Only you could get hit by lightning without a cloud in the sky.”

Chloe ignored her and rummaged through the items in the bag, mostly to make sure her mother wasn’t trying to sneak in some lame, vanilla clothes. She gave a sigh of relief when she saw her mother hadn't surprised her, that everything actually came from her own drawers and closet.

“Actually, it happens fairly often, Mom.” Benny flicked his long bangs back from his pudgy face and spoke without looking up from his game. The muted beeps and bloops of the animated characters provided electronic counterpoint to his words as his fingers blurred across the buttons. “A lightning bolt can travel horizontally up to ten miles from a dense cloud, so you can get hit by lightning way before a storm reaches the area. Something like seventy-five percent of the people who get hit by lightning say it occurred when there was a clear sky.”

“I don’t want to hear another word about it,” Kerri Olivetti said, hands planted firmly on her slim hips. In her fashionable pink blouse and white pants, she looked ready for an early afternoon brunch or a stroll through a shady garden. “Chloe’s safe, and that’s all that matters. Oh, and by the way, dear, your glasses are in the bag as well. You must have been going crazy in here, not able to see anything.”

“What do you mean, Mom? I can see fine. I’ve got my contacts in. Do you really think I could go two days stuck in this bed without watching TV? Bad enough my phone got fried.”

“Contact lenses? You aren’t wearing contact lenses.” Dr. Bloom frowned. “What would make you think that?”

“Um, mostly ‘cause I can see everything perfectly fine? I was wearing them when all this crap happened.”

“Language, young lady,” her mother warned.

“Chloe, you had nothing in your eyes when the emergency room physician examined you. Even if you had, they would have removed them as a safety precaution. And noted it on your charts. That’s standard for all incoming patients, especially anyone who’s encountered high voltage electricity. They don’t want to take the chance of tissue damage to the eyes."

"That can't be right." Chloe bugged her eyes out at him. "Check for yourself. If I didn't have them on, you'd be nothing but a gray blur right now."

"I’ve looked into your eyes at least a dozen times, including just a few minutes ago. Even if the ER team missed them, I would’ve seen them. Are you saying your vision has improved?” Bloom was already pulling out his ophthalmoscope.

“Improved? I can see perfect.” To demonstrate, she pointed at an instructional sign hanging over the small sink on the other side of the room and read it to them, word for word.

“How could her vision have gotten better? I mean, that doesn’t happen, does it?” Benny asked.

Mrs. Olivetti’s light blue eyes grew wide and her hand went to her mouth, her pink fingernails standing out against the suddenly pale skin of her face. “Oh, my God! You don’t think her contacts melted onto her eyes, do you?”

“Hush, Kerri. I think they would have noticed something like that.” Aldo Olivetti placed a heavily callused hand on his wife’s arm.

Bloom peered into Chloe’s eyes while he answered her mother’s frantic question.

“No, Kerri, the contacts are definitely not there. As for why she can see better, I can’t answer that. There's always a chance that the heat of the lightning strike did have a physical or organic effect, but it’s highly unlikely. Whatever is causing this is probably temporary, perhaps due to some slight swelling that’s changed the shape of her corneas.”

Bloom pulled back and slid the ‘scope into the pocket of his lab coat. “What I do think is that Chloe should go see her ophthalmologist right away. He’ll be able to perform a much more thorough examination than I can.”

“We’ll make the appointment as soon as we get home,” Mrs. Olivetti assured him.

Her husband nodded. Chloe started to object, but stopped when she saw the look on her mother’s face. If there was one thing you learned growing up in the Olivetti household, it was to pick your battles wisely. And after all she'd put them through the last couple of days, a trip to the eye doctor was not a big enough deal to argue about.

Besides, maybe she'd get to leave school early for the appointment. Now that would make it totally worth it.

“Hey, maybe getting struck by lightning gave you superpowers or something. I can totally picture you turning into the She-Hulk.” Benny laughed at his joke but no one else smiled.

“Ha, ha. At least my superpower wouldn’t be stinking up the bathroom, turd-boy.”

“Oh, yeah? You’re not so—”

“Stop it, both of you.” Kerri gave them her “I mean business” glare. Benny looked ready continue, but wisely closed his mouth and went back to his game.

Mr. Olivetti ran a hand through his short, salt-and-pepper hair. “We can still take her home now, though, right?” When Bloom nodded, Aldo turned to Chloe. “How about we sign your discharge papers and then order some Chinese take-out tonight, have a little celebration? And then after that, maybe a game of Scrabble?”

Chloe knew her father hated Scrabble; he was just trying to show how happy and relieved they all were that she was okay. But after two nights in the hospital, she was itching to get away from them and do her own thing.

Like go to Vanessa’s for some major snuggle time.

Still, tofu and veggies sounded good, especially after the crappy hospital food she’d been eating. And her father’s face seemed to have aged five years since the accident had occurred. For the first time, she had a glimpse of what he’d look like at sixty, or older, when his tanned skin began to sag and his stocky body, the product of generations of hard workers, finally lost its muscle tone.

Someday my parents are going to get old and die. A wave of melancholy crashed over her, but she forced a wide grin in spite of how she felt. The answering smiles from her parents made the effort worth it.

Vanessa would understand. She was good that way.

“Sounds great, Dad. Now, everyone get out so I can get dressed. My pillow and my computer are calling me. And I need to get a new phone.”

“Hold on. There’s one more thing we need to take care of,” Dr. Bloom said, his hand held up in a ‘halt’ gesture.

Chloe groaned. “What? You said I could go home.”

“Is something else wrong?” The worried expression was back on Mrs. Olivetti’s face.

“No, but I want to make sure we cover all the bases. Being hit by lightning isn’t a joke. There’s intense heat and electrical energy involved, and no two people react the same way when hit. Lightning can affect the brain and central nervous system.”

“Affect them how?” Her mom’s voice rose a half-octave, a sure sign that some patented Kerri Olivetti motherly over-protection was threatening to come out.

“Well, the most common symptoms are memory loss, learning disorders, depression, fatigue, sleep disorders, headaches or hearing problems, and sensitivity to light. It wouldn’t be unusual for Chloe to experience one or more of these.”

“She gets like that every month,” Benny muttered.

“Shut up, gnome-boy.”

“That’s enough,” Kerri warned.

“However,” Bloom continued, “we’ve been monitoring her closely the last couple of days and so far there’s been nothing unusual. All of her neurological tests have come back perfect, so I’m sure she won’t experience anything serious or permanent. But that doesn’t mean mild symptoms won’t crop up.”

“So you’re still concerned.” Mr. Olivetti didn’t phrase it as a question.

Bloom smiled. “No, just thorough. I want Chloe to come to my office a week from today for a follow-up physical. Just a precautionary measure. And of course, in the meantime, if she should have any unusual symptoms, or feel strange, call me right away or come here to the emergency room.”

“Okay, fine, a week from today,” Chloe grudgingly acquiesced. It was beginning to seem like her whole week was going to be nothing but doctor visits.

“Good. Now, let’s move it, people. We need this bed for someone who’s actually sick.” Dr. Bloom herded the family out into the hallway and shut the door.

Once she was alone, Chloe pulled on the artfully ripped jeans and faded long-sleeved Avril Lavigne concert tee her mother had packed, and then slipped her feet into a pair of black checkered Vans. Socks, bra, and underwear went back into the bag, as did the toothbrush and comb the hospital had supplied her with. After a moment’s deliberation, she tossed the baby-blue hospital gown onto the bed. Scrubs would’ve been worth keeping, but the gown was so ratty it wouldn't even make a decent Halloween costume.

Before leaving, she stepped into the bathroom and used the mirror to give herself a quick once over. Hair combed and then shaken to give it a carefree appearance. No make up, but she wouldn’t need any tonight. Her eyes the same iridescent blue-green as always, demanding attention even without mascara. Her face, which had just enough of a round shape to look pudgy if she pulled her hair back, was framed perfectly by the straight, nape-of-the-neck haircut. Dark circles under her eyes stood out clearly under the harsh hospital lighting, but sleeping in her own bed—or Vanessa’s—would take care of that. Her complexion was the same pale color it had been before she’d gotten fried, which had earned her the nickname ‘vampire girl’ even before her wardrobe choices became mostly shades of black.

She’d heard a lot worse since then. About her looks and her life style choices.

A careful check assured her the heavy t-shirt did a decent job of disguising the fact that her ‘guns were unholstered,’ as Vanessa liked to say. She wouldn’t have to hear her mother complain. Not that her boobs were ever going to turn heads. Like the rest of her, they were on the small side. As in, any smaller and she’d be back to a training bra. The slightly baggy jeans hid her slim waist and made her butt look flat, but she preferred it that way. She had no desire to be one of the zombie-brained, fashion model wannabees who populated East End High School and spent their days and nights worshipping reality TV stars and rehashing all the celebrity gossip rumors. As long as Vanessa enjoyed looking at her, nothing else mattered.

Thinking about Vanessa sent a happy shiver through her. Although her girlfriend had been to the hospital several times since the freak accident, they hadn’t been able to do more than hold hands and sneak a few quick kisses, thanks to doctors and family always being around. Now that she was back on her feet again, Chloe was looking forward to catching up on lost time.

Maybe I can sneak out for a while after Scrabble.

With a happy smile, she slung the bag over her shoulder and left the hospital room, ready to resume living a normal life again.

#

Chloe closed her eyes and let herself get lost in the moment. She was curled up under the covers in Vanessa’s bed, Vanessa's arms warm and soft where they wrapped around her. Across the room, the small color television was tuned to a music channel, providing all the atmosphere they needed. There wasn’t much to Vanessa’s studio apartment, just the combination bedroom-kitchen-living room and a small bathroom, but it was like heaven to Chloe. A space without parents or snotty little brothers, where they could do what they wanted when they wanted, without any guilt trips or disapproving looks.

Vanessa had moved out of her house six months ago, the day after she’d turned eighteen, partly to escape an overbearing stepfather who'd made her life a living hell for fourteen years, but mostly because of a stepbrother who’d tried to rape her on her sixteenth birthday. She’d stopped him with a knee to the groin and a fist to the nose. She hadn’t been able to bend two of her fingers for the rest of the week. After that, he'd left her alone, except for occasional threats he never followed up on.

Unlike many abuse victims, Vanessa hadn't tried to hide what happened. She’d told her mother right away; that had led to days of arguments, with Martin denying he'd done anything wrong and her stepfather, a Colonel in the Army, taking the side of his son from his first marriage, saying it was "probably all a misunderstanding and what did you expect when you walk around dressed like a slut all the time?" Military-strict with his adopted daughter, the only punishment he'd doled out for his son’s transgression was to take the boy’s car away for a week.

Totally cowed by her husband's domineering personality and violent temper, Mrs. Garcia had backed down in the end and settled for trying to build a peaceful co-existence between Vanessa and Martin, one that relied mostly on Martin coming and going as he pleased and Vanessa doing her best to avoid being in the same room with her older brother. All the while, she bided her time until she was able to graduate high school, get a full-time job, and get the hell out.

She'd been gone three days before her father even realized it.

Rafael Garcia spent most of his time on the road or at Fort Stone, the Army base outside of town, where he was some kind of big deal, from wht Vanessa said. He hadn’t been around for the birthday incident. Not that it would have made much difference. He also hadn’t been there when she moved out. In fact, if he slept home even two nights in one week, it was a major occurrence. Because of the nature of his job—inspecting military installations throughout the country—most of the time he couldn’t even be reached by phone, and it could be hours or even days before he replied to a message or an email. Which was why his wife hadn't been able to tell him about Vanessa leaving.

Vanessa had confided more than once to Chloe that since she and her stepfather disagreed on everything, their current arrangement of speaking on the phone once a month and seeing each other only on holidays was more than fine with both of them.

A month shy from her own eighteenth birthday, Chloe didn’t have those kinds of issues with her family, but she knew once she graduated high school she and Vanessa would be looking for a bigger apartment, one they could share. Although legal status was close enough that she could smell it, Chloe felt it would be better, grade-wise and family relations-wise, to finish high school before moving out.

She’d given her parents enough problems over the years without adding the fear of her dropping out to their list.

“I still can’t believe I almost lost you to lightning, of all things. It’s so bizarre,” Vanessa murmured into her neck. Chloe shivered slightly as Vanessa's breath tickled through her hair.

“Yeah, it was really whacked, all right. I mean, I don’t remember much. I got itchy all of a sudden and then there was this totally gigantic explosion in my head, and all these bright lights and colors, and then, like, everything went white. Next thing I know, I’m lying in a hospital bed surrounded by the family unit going all drama on me.”

“You still don’t remember anything that happened in between?”

“Not really. Although I did have this crazy dream. I was floating through the air and everywhere I looked there were these totally weird images all around me. Like I was looking at movie screens, or through windows. I saw you, and my parents, and people from school. And there were hundreds of others, places and people I didn’t recognize. They were so real-looking.”

Chloe sat up and grabbed a glass of water off the nightstand. Even though it was only April, Vanessa’s apartment was already warm. For some reason they'd never been able to figure out, it was always twenty degrees warmer inside than outside. Now that spring was getting into full gear, they had to keep the windows open even at night. The apartment had been cozy during the winter, but in the summer it would probably suck because they had no money for an air conditioner.

“Majorly weird.”

“Totally,” Chloe agreed.

“I’m so glad nothing happened to you.” Vanessa ran dark-red fingernails down Chloe’s arm, making the fine, blonde hairs stand up in response. “You were so lucky.”

“That’s what everyone says. The first day I was in the hospital, I saw spots in my vision sometimes, and I had a funny taste on my tongue. They went away after a couple of hours. Doc Bloom said they were just temporary effects from the electrical shock. But you want to hear something really freaky?” Chloe turned her head and looked down at Vanessa, who stared back with her soulful, deep-brown eyes.

“What?”

“Notice anything different about me?” When her girlfriend shook her head, Chloe continued. “Look at my face. What am I not wearing?” She wiggled her eyebrows and bugged out her eyes, trying to give a hint.

“I don’t know, what?” Vanessa frowned and her voice took on a hint of annoyance.

“My glasses, doofus! I haven’t had my glasses on since it happened.”

“You wear contacts most of the time anyway. What’s the big deal?” Now Vanessa sat up as well, her dark skin making her almost invisible in the dim light.

Chloe shook her head. “No contacts either, chica. I don’t need them.”

“Whattya mean, you don’t need them? You’re half-blind without them.” Vanessa flipped a lock of long, auburn hair back from her face as she leaned forward to peer at Chloe’s eyes.

“Not anymore. When I woke up, I could see perfect. Better than if I had my glasses on. At first I just thought my contacts were in, since I’d been wearing them when I left the house that day. But Doctor Bloom told me they hadn’t been there when I arrived in the ER. That’s why I had to go to the eye doctor today. They want to know why I can see so well all of a sudden.”

Chloe felt bad breaking the news this way, but Vanessa had pulled a double at work the day before, when Chloe got out of the hospital, so they’d only been able to speak on the phone for a few minutes. And this was something she’d wanted to talk about in person.

“Why didn’t you tell me? What did the doctor say?” Vanessa asked, jumping up and kneeling on the bed. “This is serious! What if they’re melted to your eyes? You could end up with some kind of infection, or even go blind!”

Chloe moved back a little, giving Vanessa a calming smile. “You sound just like my mom. Don't worry. The contacts aren’t in there, they checked. Doctor Ling, my eye doctor, said there’s absolutely nothing wrong with me. She did, like, a total workup, including checking to see if the heat modified the shape of my corneas, like instant laser surgery. But nothing’s different since my last visit. According to her exam, I should still be near-sighted, but I’m not. In fact, I'm better than twenty-twenty now.”

“So what does she think caused it?” Vanessa was still peering close into her eyes, as if she could spot something all the doctors had missed.

“She doesn’t know. The best she could come up with was a whole bunch of big words that basically mean either the electricity zapped my brain and changed the way I interpret the signals from my eyes, or it altered the shape of the back of my eyes, where the light gets focused. They don't know if it's permanent or not, but for right now I’m lovin’ it. No glasses to reach for in the morning, no lenses drying out or popping loose. It’s great!”

“Nothing else is different?”

Chloe shrugged. “Different bad? No. Different good? Totally killing it. Colors seem brighter, like I can see shades that I didn't know existed. It’s so cool. I never realized how much I was missing by having bad eyesight. In fact,” she added, hoping to lighten the mood, “I can see every freckle on your nose.”

Vanessa's lips curled up in a smile and Chloe felt better than she had all week. She'd missed that smile. When Vanessa’s soft lips touched hers, she marveled at how such a simple gesture could convey so many emotions—relief, love, worry.

Then one kiss led to another, and no more words were necessary.

CH 2

“Are you sure about the results?”

The technician seated before the bank of computers and imaging equipment paused before answering her commanding officer. She was well aware that the stocky, square-jawed Colonel demanded accuracy at all times, and he had a reputation for destroying the careers of people who made mistakes. So she mentally double-checked her facts and then nodded.

“Yes, sir. The tests have all gone off without a single glitch. Confirmed lightning strikes were all within three feet of target coordinates.” The technician tapped her finger on the flat panel monitor to indicate a line of data. “And the energy expenditure is actually nineteen percent lower than the projected values, which means we could probably produce as many as sixty or seventy full strength strikes before the satellite needs to recharge the onboard solar batteries.”

She handed the man a folder containing several pages of test data. In the dim, greenish-blue light of the computer screens, his close-cropped black hair and slightly oily skin seemed to glow with pale luminescence.

“Well done, Sergeant. I’ll review this tonight, and I’ll want the full report on my desk no later than sixteen hundred hours tomorrow. In the meantime, begin preparations for Phase II. I want us ready to start by the end of the month.”

“Yes, sir.” The sergeant flipped a crisp salute, but the base commander was already heading for the door.

Just as well. Glad to be free of his intense gaze, she prepared another data set for graphing.

#

The following afternoon, Chloe headed for Vanessa’s apartment after school, glad that the day was over and she could finally relax. Vanessa wouldn't be home from work for a couple of hours and Chloe was looking forward to some quiet time by herself. The day had been crazy hectic; all she’d wanted to do was return to her normal routine, but it seemed like half the school was eager to find out what being hit by lightning was like. Even kids who didn't know her were asking her about it. It was almost like being popular, except more annoying. Even her teachers had gotten into the act, expressing concern over the incident and asking if she felt well enough to return to class.

Sure, now they’re all making a big fuss over me. But when I want to go home early ‘cause I have cramps that could knock down a horse, none of them give two craps.

It wasn’t all instant celebrity, of course. She’d had to deal with the usual jerks who made her life hell on a daily basis. Neanderthals who couldn’t comprehend that not everyone wanted to conform to their idea of normal. If you dressed different, or didn’t like sports, or didn’t listen to the same music as everyone else, you were automatically a freak.

Once they heard about her near-death experience, they’d wasted no time putting together a whole new list of insults to toss her way in the halls and the cafeteria. Most were crude sexual innuendos having to do with the imagined effects of electricity on her piercings, including some painful-sounding places she didn’t even have one. The rest, as she’d expected dealt with her coming back from the dead and being a zombie or vampire.

By the time she heard the tenth “Hide your brain!” or “Dead girl walking!” she wanted to shout at them to at least go get some original material. But she’d learned over the years that responding only made things worse. Like monkeys in a zoo, the hallway beasts craved attention.

They worship reality TV stars and spend their weekends wandering through the mall like zombies, but I’m the weirdo.

She sighed as she dug her key out of her pocket. Another wonderful day in the public school system.

Chloe let herself into the cluttered apartment and locked the door behind her. As she tossed her schoolbooks onto the counter, she noticed the red light on Vanessa's ancient answering machine was blinking. She'd asked Vanessa once why she even had it.

"Because I don't want my family or work to have my cell number. Some people just shouldn't be able to get through to you whenever they want."

At first, Chloe had found it a bit annoying to use the machine. But over time, it had grown to be a key part of their relationship. She looked forward to coming home each day and finding a message just for her. Or, if she left while Vanessa was at work, she’d leave one of her own. Nothing urgent, just little love notes to say “I miss you” or “Surprise! Let’s get sushi tonight.” The electronic equivalent of post-it notes stuck to the ‘fridge. It made her feel like they lived in a simpler, more romantic time, like in the movies.

Chloe pressed the play button and listened to the message while she poured herself a glass of ice tea.

“Hey, cutie. Netflix and chill tonight. Don’t start anything for dinner. Mainly 'cause the 'fridge is empty. I’ll stop on the way home and grab take out. Love you, bye!”


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

A life-long resident of New York's haunted Hudson Valley, I have been a finalist for the Bram Stoker Award® (The Cure, Ghosts of Coronado Bay) and ITW Thriller Award (The Burning Time), and I am the author of 5 novels, 9 novellas, and more than 50 short stories. I write adult and YA dark fiction/sci-fi/fantasy, and my works range from quiet suspense to over-the-top comic gruesomeness. As a child, my favorite playground was a 17th-century cemetery, which many people feel explains a lot.

Q. Where did the idea for this book come from?
A.
I read an article about how the military was trying to develop a weapon that could use satellites to create lightning, and I had the idea, “What would happen if the lightning did something to a person’s DNA?” And it seemed even more interesting to make the main character a teenage girl, with all th
Q. Why do you write?
A.
I’ve always enjoyed writing, ever since I was a kid. I love developing stories and characters, and then building these entire worlds around them.
Q. Is there a message in your book that you want readers to grasp?
A.
If anything, it’s that it’s okay to be an outsider, a weird kid, someone who’s different. We’re all different. And that’s something to celebrate, not make fun of or be ashamed of.

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Teen & Young Adult
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ASSessment
Don't push a fifteen-year-old too far.