The thrilling third novel in the Live Once Trilogy.

When the Smithsonian Institute was bombed, killing hundreds of people and destroying the United States government, Will watched Mira die. Or so he thought.

After escaping into the forests of Canada, Mira joins the Lifers, a group of rebels who’ve plotted the government’s demise for hundreds of years. Here, she meets friends, enemies, people she thought were dead, and those who want nothing more than to see her end up that way.

When Will arrives at camp from the front lines in Washington D.C., Mira has to confront the past, and her feelings for Will, before she can finish what Socrates started. She has to, because the fate of her world depends on it.

 

Chapter 1

Call Me Mira

Mira

 

 

“Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like meeeeeee.” Carroll slings his arm around my shoulders at the last, awful note. “I once was lost, but now am found. Was blind, but now, I seeeeee.” He gives my shoulders a squeeze. “Come on, girl, sing. You’re alive. I’m alive. We’re all alive, at least for now. We might as well celebrate!”

I shrug out of his grip. “People died when the Smith fell. There’s nothing to celebrate.”

“But you didn’t. You’re their savior.”

“Stop being ridiculous. I’m nobody. I’m just glad I didn’t get everyone killed.”

“Not yet.” He laughs. “But there’s time. Chin up, my dear. Everyone’s looking at you. You are the face of the rebellion. The one they all revere. You are Mira. You are Socrates. You are everyone and everything they stand for. Without you, there is no rebellion.”

“Shut up.” I shoulder past the mentally unstable man. I still can’t believe he’s in charge. Everyone knows he’s been in a mental institution since his most recent Exchange procedure left him with two minds trapped in one body. It’s not like he keeps his insanity a secret.

My hand strays to my side, feeling for that scruffy shepherd mix, Ben, who’d given his life trying to save mine, but he’s not there, of course. I blink away the tears burning my eyes. Come on, Mira. Get a grip. Now is not the time to lose it.

Tanner jogs up to join me. “Carroll giving you trouble?” There’s a sparkle in his eyes that shows he’s only half-serious.

I force a smile on my face. “No more than usual.” Tanner’s grown so much stronger since he left the farm, physically as well as mentally. That kind of happens when you have to cut off your own hand.

“That’s good, or I’d think he was losing his touch.”

“Nope. I can handle him.” I scan our ragtag group of misfits. There are about a dozen of us, and we’re travelling to what Carroll assured me is a safe location, but given that he’s tried to kill me on more than one occasion, I have a hard time believing him. Still, I’m safer here than anywhere else.

A dark-haired woman named Anna calls Tanner’s name, and he trots over to her just as the mysterious doctor, James Scoffield, jumps up on a fallen log and cups his hands around his mouth.

“Heads up. We crossed the Canadian border about an hour ago and we’re now approaching Calgary Camp. Hopefully the fact that we’re over the border will keep the government away long enough for us to regroup.”

Adrenaline pumps through me, as well as relief. Even though I didn’t realize where we were, being outside the United States seems to have lifted a heavy weight off of my shoulders.

“Remember,” James calls out. “Even though we’re out of the capital, we’re not out of danger. Watch yourselves. We’re only here to rest and then we’ll get moving again. We have a lot of work let to do. Understand?” After a chorus of agreement, James claps his hands. “Great, let’s move out.” As the line continues down the narrow game trail, James hops off of the log and jogs toward us.

His words dampen whatever happiness I’d started to feel. Thanks, James.

“How are you feeling?” James asks. He touches my arm, and his eyes are full of concern.

“I’m fine, really.” I shake him off, irritated that everyone keeps treating me as if I was about to break. “Just keep Carroll away from me.”

James searches the crowd until he finds the twisted, psychotic man. “He won’t hurt you. At least, I don’t think he will. Not anymore.”

I raise my eyebrows. “That doesn’t exactly make me feel better.”

“Don’t worry, Mir,” Tanner says. “No one’s going to hurt you while I’m around.”

I bite back my reply and try to come up with something nicer. “I know you will.” He stands up a bit straighter at my words.

James chuckles. “Don’t let your guard down, though.”

“Why?”

James shrugs. “The camps are isolated, and there are probably some people who don’t know you’re really you. I’m sure they’ve heard the rumors that you were impersonating Socrates, but they won’t believe it until they meet you.”

In other words, they’ll probably try to kill me too. “Are you sure this is a safe place?”

He nods. “Remember that it’ll take time though. Everyone’s suspicious of everything right now.”

“They’ll come around.” Tanner gives me a reassuring smile. “You’ll see.”

James scans the towering green trees around us. “I better get up front so when the sentries from Calgary arrive, we can get everything squared away.”

“Okay,” I say.

Tanner and I watch him leave, his white-blonde hair a stark contrast with the green foliage. “It’ll be fine, Mir. I promise.”

“Aren’t you a heartbreaker,” someone purrs behind us, his silky-smooth voice making all the hairs on my neck stand up.

I spin around. Lewis Carroll rocks back on his feet, a leer twisting his lips. He tips his old top hat to me.

“What do you want?”

“Oh nothing,” he says. “Just observing my opponent.”

I cross my arms in front of my chest, bolstered by the fact that Tanner’s standing next to me. “I thought we’re on the same side.”

He strokes one corner of his mustache. “Are we?”

“Oh course we are,” Tanner says, his voice steely. “We all want to defeat the government and free our people.”

“Oh yes, I almost forgot.”

“How could you forget? You blew up the Smithsonian!” Rage sparks deep within me. All the lives lost and history destroyed, and he forgot?

Carroll chortles. “That was merely a preamble. Wait until you see what I have planned, my dear. It’ll blow your mind.”

As he meanders away, I give Tanner a meaningful look. “I don’t like this.”

Tanner surveys the trees. “Me neither, but like it or not, Carroll’s the leader. He’s a good one too, when he’s in his right mind.” He makes an exploding motion with his hands.

“Too bad that doesn’t happen very often.”

Just then, a group of armed men and women emerge silently from the trees and surround us. Their clothes, made up of mottled browns and greens, blend in perfectly with the forest around them.

They’re armed with guns of various styles, and some that even look like they’ve been pieced together from different parts. Either way, they’re all deadly.

Tanner pushes me behind him and pulls out a knife. “Stay back. I’ll protect you.”

I shove him aside. “We’re surrounded, you idiot. And outnumbered.”

The fighter closest to me, a young woman with deep brown eyes peeking out beneath her hood, smirks.

“Oh, right.” He steps aside.

“I’m Mira.” I hold my hand out to the stranger.

She stares at it for a moment, but doesn’t take it. “I know who you are.”

Face burning, I realize this must be what James was talking about. Do I have the time it’ll take to overcome what people think of me?

Near the front of the group, a stocky middle-aged man approaches Carroll and bows. Tanner and I slip through the crowd so we can hear what they’re saying.

“It’s an honor to have you at our camp, sir,” the newcomer says. “Everyone here at Calgary thanks you for your sacrifices and we pledge our devotion to the fight for freedom.”

“It was my pleasure, Ronnie.” Carroll’s voice is warm, friendly, and free of his characteristic sarcasm. He clasps the other man’s hand, an oddly normal gesture for a man who once leapt out of his chair and tried to strangle me.

Ronnie jerks his head toward us. “Do you vouch for these people? We don’t want to bring anyone into our camp who is a threat.”

Carroll’s eyes twinkle. “Then I’m not sure you should let me in.” Ronnie chuckles, and Carroll continues, “But yes, they’re all good people.”

“What about the First?” Ronnie points at me.

“Little Alice isn’t as crazy as I am, I’m afraid.” Carroll laughs.

I scowl at the nickname. James once told me it was from an old story Carroll’s namesake had written, but I don’t care. I hate it.

“She’s entirely, unfortunately, normal.” I almost laugh. Was that a compliment?

“Is it true she’s was pretending to be Socrates all along?”

“I’m right here, you know.” My annoyed voice rings out over the crowd. Everyone around us falls silent. Tanner reaches out to stop me, but I shake free from his grip and march up to the men. “And yes, I was pretending all along.” After being forced to impersonate Socrates for so long, being looked at with suspicion and anger every day, it feels liberating to claim my own identity. I don’t want to hide any longer. “If you have any questions, ask me. Don’t go through Carroll or anyone else, ask me.”

“See?” Carroll crows, leading Ronnie away. “She’s good, I’m good, we’re all good. Let’s go!”

Ronnie grumbles his response. I still don’t think I’m in the clear, but he barks a command and he and his people escort us through a small clump of trees and into the camp.

Calgary Camp consists of a ragtag collection of mismatched tents grouped around a larger central tent. From the corner of my eye, I see a long, low tent tucked under some trees, but no one mentions it, so I file that away for later.

After we pass through a pair of small tents, a small shape darts around us. My hand strays to the knife at my waist, but it’s a boy, not much older than four or five. He laughs, and the sound rings out in the stillness, so foreign I almost don’t recognize it. What is James thinking? If there are children here, we shouldn’t be. It’s not safe for them.

I grab James’ arm as he passes me. “You didn’t tell me there’d be kids here,” I hiss.

His sky-blue eyes cloud over in confusion. “Why would it matter?”

I gesture at Carroll and myself, my anger rising. “We’re the government’s most wanted fugitives, and you bring us to a village full of kids? You know being in Canada won’t keep us safe for long. They’ll come after us eventually.” I can’t help the anxiety filling my voice. As much as I don’t want to think about what the President will do if he catches me, it’d be worse if there were innocent kids involved.

He follows my gaze. “Life here isn’t like the farms. Nobody’s innocent. They’ve all seen death. It’s not right, but it’s the way it is. Besides, we won’t be here long enough to put them in any danger, anyway.”

Before I can respond, Ronnie whistles to get our group’s attention. “Listen up, boys and girls.” A few of the men in our group chuckle. “Your first stop is the intake tent over there.” He points at a tent positioned away from the others. “The people in there will give you a once-over. Be honest. If you’re sick, tell the truth. If you lie, we’ll throw your asses out of camp.”

“Aye aye, captain,” someone in the back of the group shouts.

Ronnie scowls. “After that, you’ll eat, and then you can rest. Tomorrow, we put you to work. There’s no room for dead weight around here.”

Amidst a few grumbles at Ronnie’s less-than-motivational speech, we file over to the intake tent. The inside of the patchwork brown tent is dimly lit, but clean. There are a couple of tables set up with people manning each one. The young woman at the first table asks us questions from a questionnaire printed on real paper.

“Where’d you get the paper?” I ask. It’s so rare nowadays. My mind flashes to the last place I’d seen real paper: Socrates’ study. I’d been afraid to touch it, terrified that the oils in my skin might damage the paper.

“We raided an old hospital once, and these were lying around. We use what we can. My name’s Marie, by the way.”

The other man, who introduces himself as Uli, also extends a hand. His almond shaped eyes crinkle at the corners as he smiles. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.” He directs me to one of three smaller partitioned areas off of the main room. “We’ll do your physical exam over here,” he says. “It’s more private.”

I blush as I disrobe down to my underclothes so they can inspect my body for injuries. “Call me Mira, please.” Tentatively, I set my knife on the table. “Is this going to be a problem? I don’t know if weapons are allowed here or not, but I feel better having it.” I run my fingers along the sheathed blade.

“It’s fine,” Uli says. “Almost everyone except the kids are armed. Guns aren’t allowed unless you’re on patrol, but I don’t think you’re going to cause much trouble with that knife.”

Relief rushes through me. I need my knife. There used to be a time when I didn’t, but now it feels as necessary as one of my arms, or legs. Without it, I’m vulnerable. “No, I don’t plan on being any trouble.”

Uli laughs. “Nobody ever does.”

Marie gestures to the angry red scars dotting my arms. “Are those from the bombing at the Smith?”

I rub the marks self-consciously. They don’t hurt much anymore, but they’re a constant reminder of what happened. Although it’s not like I could ever forget.

A deafening boom rocks the auditorium. The speaker clings to the podium, mouth agape. Senators, Firsts, and other dignitaries cry out in alarm. My eyes dart, panicked, and that’s when I notice that all the servants have vanished. It’s only us, the immortals, who remain.

“What the—” someone yells as another explosion blasts through the room.

Screaming follows. In a chaotic flurry, chairs crash to the floor; people rush to their feet and trample one another as they frantically race for safety. As everyone dodges, dives, and shoves each other out of the way, the stage explodes in a blinding burst of light and flame. A high-pitched ringing fills my ears. Red-hot flames flicker along the edges of several tables around us. Blackened chunks of wood and other debris litter the ground.

Eliot pushes me to the ground and under the table. “Don’t move. It’s safer under here.”

“Do you have any other injuries?” Marie’s words startle me out of my memories.

“No.” Not any she can see.

“What about skills and abilities?” Uli asks. “This is a working camp and we like to put people where they’re best suited.”

“Does staying alive count?” I say, with a wry grin.

He chuckles. “We all have that going for us, so far.”

“When I lived at Chesaning, I helped take care of the animals.”

He looks up from his notes. “Are you offering to muck stalls?”

I shrug. “You asked for skills, and stubbornness isn’t good for anything. At the Smith, I pretty much did whatever Socrates wanted, talked to people, and tried to act like I knew what I was doing. Nothing really awe-inspiring.”

The corners of his lips twitch. “I’ll make note of that.” After asking me a few more questions, Uli points me toward the rear of the tent. “You can get cleaned up over there.”

“Thanks.”

He nods in response and then moves on to the next newcomer.

After washing up and getting clean clothes, I exit the tent. Tanner waits on the other side with a mug of cider. “Love the outfit,” he says, and gestures at my new plain brown shirt and pants.

“At least they’re clean.” I accept the cup and inhale its scent. The warmth seeps into my bones, comforting and relaxing me. “Thanks. I haven’t had something warm to drink since the Smith.”

In front of a long, low tent, a slight man jumps on a log, sticks his fingers in his mouth and lets out a piercing whistle. “Grubs on!” He points at a hastily erected table a few feet away. On it, sandwiches and big kettles of what smells like soup beckon our growling stomachs.

“It’s about time,” Tanner says, rubbing his stomach. “I’m starving.”

“Me, too.”

After we get our food, we find a few empty logs and sit down. A few seconds later, James joins us. “How are you doing?” His eyes are full of concern.

“I’m fine, really.” I stuff a huge bite of sandwich in my mouth, as if that will show him how “fine” I am.

“Good.” He surveys the crowd. “After dinner, someone will show you to your tents. There’s also usually a campfire, and drinking, but you can rest if you’d rather. You’ve had a long journey.”

“That might be a good idea, Mir,” Tanner says, his head bobbing in agreement. “You deserve your rest.”

I scowl at him. “So have you. We all have. I’m not going to hide in a tent for the rest of my life.” Even though I want to.

“It’s up to you,” James says.

“Oh yeah, I’ll impress them with my naturally bubbly and happy personality.” That’s what Socrates would do. I may not have to impersonate the old First any longer, but I did learn some skills that might come in handy.

James laughs. “You do that.”

“Don’t worry, Mir,” Tanner says. “My naturally bubbly and happy personality will more than make up for it.”

After we finish eating, we join the rest of our group for our tent assignments. A gray-haired, robust woman, who introduces herself as Hattie stands in front of us with a clipboard.

“Marie and I shuffled the tent assignments around and found room for you all. Couples and families will be together, of course, but we’ve spread out the singles into whatever tents have room. Once you learn where you’re going, we’ll introduce you to your roommates. Tomorrow, we’ll add you to the duty roster. Any questions?”

No one says a word.

“Okay then. If, for some reason, you don’t like where I put you, suck it up or get out. Got it?”

There’s a chorus of yesses and laughter. Tanner ends up sharing a tent with Uli and his cousin. Hattie assigns me to share a tent with someone named Corrin. Insecurity threatens to rear its head but I stamp it down. I can do this. I don’t have to be surrounded by my friends, I can manage one woman on my own. As soon as Hattie finishes assigning the last of the rooms, people break into small groups and greet their new companions.

Someone tugs on my elbow, and I whirl around, facing a petite white-haired woman. Dressed in a light brown tunic and pants, this new person barely reaches my chin, but she has a sense of power about her that draws me closer. “Hi, I’m Corrin,” she says. Her smile wrinkles the edges of her eyes and mouth.

She nods as I introduce myself. “You must be exhausted. Let me show you to our tent.”

I glance at Tanner, but he’s talking to Uli. “That sounds great.” Reluctantly, I let her thread her arm with mine and lead me through the throng of people toward a small clump of tents.

“Don’t worry.” She pats my arm. “It’s not far.”

And she’s right. Corrin’s tent is on the outskirts of the nearest group. It’s smaller than many of the others, but other than that, sports the same patched brown, black, and gray coloration.

“Welcome to my humble abode,” she says, sweeping aside the tent flap.

“Thanks for taking me in.”

She grins. “No problem. The place was getting lonely with only me around.”

A thick brown rug covers most of the bare ground and black and white drawings are tacked to the canvas walls. A couple of mismatched wooden chairs and a small table holding a vase of flowers rest in the middle of the room. A bright quilt covers the only mattress in the tent.

“I sewed this myself,” she murmurs, stroking the blanket. “That was before Erin passed away, of course.”

I suck in a breath at the pain in her voice. Sometimes I forget that we’ve all lost someone in this war. “Who was Erin?”

“My wife.” She dabs at her eyes with the hem of her sleeve. “She was a good woman, the best.”

I reach out and touch her shoulder. “I’m sorry.”

She sniffles. “Me, too.” She grabs another quilt off the chair and hands it to me. “Hattie said they’d drop off a bed roll for you, but I’m not sure when. Did you bring anything with you?”

My mind flashes to that mad flight from the Smith after the bombing. “No. There wasn’t any time.” Ellie. Ben. I left them behind and sometimes I feel like a huge part of me was left behind, too.

She nods, a knowing look in her eyes. “At least you didn’t have to carry anything.”

I gasp, biting back my sharp retort. I’d gladly carry any of my ghosts if it meant they were still here.

“I’m sorry, girl.” Corrin gives me a quick embrace. “Sometimes I don’t think before I speak. Why don’t you wait here? I’m going to check and make sure they’re sending a bedroll for you.”

“Okay, I’ll be here.”

After she leaves, I explore the tent, quickly drawn to the portraits on the walls. In the first one, Corrin gazes lovingly from the page. Rays of sun filter through her hair, which was longer than it is now, and she’s smiling. In another, she’s sleeping, the lines of worry and grief erased from her face. A third shows her laughing, and a fourth a simple study of her washing clothes in a creek. I reach out to touch the paper, but someone clears their throat behind me.

“Erin lived for her art,” Corrin says. She strokes the cheek on one of the figures.

“They’re amazing. How did she learn how to do that?”

“Before she left the capital, her job was to create portraits for the aristocracy. In her apprenticeship, she learned how to make paper. There aren’t any factories for that stuff anymore, and even if they do manage to scrounge some from the ruins, it’s usually too degraded.” A wistful smile crosses her face. “So you adapt. You have to, if you want to survive in this world.”

Before I can respond, a couple of men bring in a bedroll with a couple extra blankets. “It gets pretty chilly at night,” one of them says as they set everything on the ground. “But this should keep you warm enough.”

“Thanks, I appre—” I reply, but they are already gone. My shoulders slump.

Corrin touches my arm. “It’ll be all right. I’m sure they were just in a hurry.”

My gaze turns sharply to hers. “You think so?”

She pulls me into a hug. “Of course. It’ll be fine, I promise.”

“Why do they call this place Calgary Camp?” I ask as I spread the bedroll out on the floor.

“Calgary used to be a city in Canada, before the war. It’s where our camp originated, even though we travel all over now so we don’t get caught,” Corrin replies.

“Are there a lot of camps?”

She gracefully lowers herself into a sitting position and traces the faded pattern on the rug. “I don’t know. I doubt anyone, except for Carroll probably, knows the real number. There probably aren’t that many, though.”

Feeling bold by her candid answers, I decide to press on. “Who made Carroll the boss? He’s crazy.”

She laughs. “That’s true, from what I’ve heard. However, he has so much knowledge and information in his head that’s proved invaluable. Without his experience, I don’t know if we’d have gotten even this far.”

That doesn’t make any sense. Carroll’s dangerous, and Corrin acts like he’s some sort of great leader. If he was a great leader, he’d never have tried to kill me when I visited him at that institution.

Corrin and I continue to talk for about an hour before darkness starts settling over the rebel camp. The shadows grow long and I instinctively touch my knife. In my experience, danger often lurks in the shadows.

“Are you coming to campfire?” she asks. “You’re welcome to join us. It’s nothing big, I promise, just an excuse to relax after a long day and have a little bit of fun.”

Remembering James’ words, I nod. “Sure. Let’s go.”

Corrin leads me to the center of camp, where a roaring fire lights up the night. As we thread through clusters of people, conversations die and laughter fades away. Desperate to find another friendly face, I search the crowd until I spot Carroll and James. I can’t believe I’m happy to see Carroll. Seriously, Mira. Get a grip. You have Corrin, you’ll be fine.

As if she heard my inner assurance, my tent mate grabs my arm and leads me to a couple of open stools that circle the flames.

“Have a seat,” she says. “I’ll go get some cider.”

“I can get—” But she walks off before I finish my sentence.

She returns a couple of minutes later with two chipped mugs and hands me one. “Thank you.” I sigh as I wrap my hands around the mug’s warm surface. “We’ve been living off of water and whatever we can scavenge for so long, this is a luxury.”

She takes a drink. “The picking season ended, and we use everything we can. Apples are one of the few fruits that grow abundantly here without human intervention, so we mark the orchards on our maps. We chose this spot specifically for the trees, that and it’s a good distance from the border. You’ll get sick of them in a few days.” She chuckles.

I glance at the other villagers, none of whom meet my gaze. I sigh. “I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, none of this has been, but I wasn’t expecting this.”

Corrin shakes her head. “Don’t worry about them,” she says. “They’ll come around.”

I stare into the flames for a few seconds, hunching my shoulders. “It probably doesn’t help that I had to impersonate Socrates for so long.” It still feels strange talking about it. Ellie had stressed the importance of me keeping my mouth shut about my identity so often that even uttering the truth feels like a betrayal to her memory.

We talk about the camp for a while, and about the people who make it up.

“Erin always used to joke that the reason we ran is because we were getting up in years, and the people we worked for wanted some fresh faces, so when the orders came for us to be retired, we knew it was time to go.”

That word chills me, retired. At Chesaning, people don’t live long enough to retire, and I imagine it’s the same everywhere else.

A few minutes later, I notice Tanner scanning the crowd until he finds me and waves. He jogs over to us and grabs another stool.

“I missed you.” He presses a quick kiss to my lips. I try to turn away, embarrassed, but I’m too slow. Tanner chuckles. “Always the modest one.”

“Tanner, this is Corrin.” I gesture to the older woman.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” she says as they shake hands.

“How are you doing?” he asks, putting his arm around my shoulders.

“I’m fine.” I stifle a yawn.

Corrin pats me on the knee. “I think it might be time to get you to bed.”

I give her a grateful smile. “I think you might be right.”

Tanner squeezes my shoulder. “I’ll walk you two ladies to your tent.”

We get to the tent, and Tanner pulls me into his arms and promises to see me in the morning. Corrin watches our exchange shrewdly, but doesn’t say anything until Tanner is out of earshot.

“Is that your young man?”

I watch him retreat until he disappears. “He was, once. We were promised to each other at Chesaning. Then Socrates chose me and…” I pause. “Everything changed.”

“Ahh.” She says, understanding in her eyes. “I think he wants to go back to the way things used to be.”

“I can’t. I’m not that girl anymore, and he’s changed, too. And even if I could, I don’t know if I’d want that life anymore.” I can’t imagine returning to the farm. My life there was so limited, and I had no idea what the world was like. I wanted a life with Tanner. Now, I don’t know.

She pats me on the shoulder. “Maybe once you figure out what you do want, you’ll realize there’s room for someone else, too. Life’s better if you have someone to share it with.”

 

 

 

Thump.

I bolt awake, heart pounding. Something is wrong.

A small lantern glows on the low table. A dark shape slinks toward me. I reach for the dagger under my pillow.

The figure creeps closer, the flickering lantern light glinting off the blade clutched in his or her hand.

Adrenaline courses through my system, but I force myself to remain still.

Closer.

Silently, the intruder slinks around the edge of the tent. I’m grateful that Corrin hasn’t woken up. The poor woman would probably have a heart attack.

Closer.

With my eyes half-slitted to pretend I’m asleep, I roll slightly, as if restless. My fingers flex around the hilt of my knife.

The figure pauses at the edge of my line of sight and waits for me to fall deeper into sleep. When I do, he steps around the edge of the bedroll and crouches next to me.

There.

As my assailant’s blade arcs toward me, I roll off of my bedroll and whip my knife out from under the sheets.

He grunts and dodges my strike. I scramble to my feet and ready my knife in front of me.

“Who are you?”  I ask.

The invader pauses, balancing on his heels. Then he picks up the wooden stool and throws it at me. I dodge it, and it bounces off the wall, crashing into the table. By the time I turn to face him again, he’s gone.

As I reach the tent flap, I skid to a stop. Corrin. Why didn’t she wake up when he threw the stool?

Panicked, I rush to her bed. She’s lying on her back, tucked under the gorgeous quilt made by her wife. She has a pillow over her head. Why would she sleep like that? My mind screams at me to stop, to not lift the pillow. But I don’t listen.

Hands shaking, I lift the pillow and set it aside. Corrin stares blankly up at me, her mouth open in a silent scream, her neck sliced from ear to ear.