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datatime: 2022-09-29 18:59:47 Author:pYfkRLFV

Swan held out both hands toward the light. "May I... hold it?"

Her fingers curled around the glass. There was heat in it, a heat that began to spread into her hands, through her wrists and forearms. Under the bandages, the raw skin of her hands had begun itching and stinging. "Oh," she said, more in surprise than in pain.

"Swan?" Josh stepped forward, alarmed at the sound. The glass circle was getting brighter and pulsating faster. "Are you o-"

"Josh said... you came a long way to see me." Swan's head was heavy, and she was getting very tired again. "Why?"

Still half blinded, Sister saw the strange fire, too, saw it crawling up Swan's arms; it snapped like the uncoiling of a whip and began to wrap itself around the girl's head.

Swan held out both hands toward the light. "May I... hold it?"

"Yeah, mine, too. How old are you?"

Swan held out both hands toward the light. "May I... hold it?"

I know what my work is now.

"Here." Sister put it into Swan's hands.

Sister was about to grasp the ring herself, but as she reached for it Josh charged toward the cot again, almost flung her through the wall, braced his legs and got ready to withstand the jolt as he clenched his fingers around the ring.

"I'm-" She couldn't recall. She hadn't kept up with her birthdays. "Let's see, I think I was in my forties on the seventeenth of July. I guess I might be in my fifties now. Early fifties, that is. I feel like I'm gaining on eighty."

But as soon as his fingertips touched the glass, he was flung backward with such force that he left his feet before crashing into the wall, narrowly missing breaking most of the bones in Paul's body. The air was forced from his lungs with a noise like a ruptured steam pipe, and he crumpled to the floor, dazed from the worst knock he'd taken since Haystacks Muldoon had thrown him from the wrestling ring in Winston-Salem eleven years before. Damn thing repelled me, he thought, when thinking was possible again. He tried to struggle up and realized that the flaming ring had been cool under his fingers.

"I'm not sure," Sister admitted. "But we've been looking for you for seven years, because of this," And she held the glowing ring with its single remaining spire up before Swan's face.

Swan held out both hands toward the light. "May I... hold it?"

Her fingers stopped when they found the growths. "You've got it, too." Swan's fingers continued across Sister's left cheek, then down to her chin. "Feels like a cobblestone road."

Swan was listening carefully. She didn't feel very special; she just felt weary, and the fever was pulling at her again, trying to drag her back to that awful place where the bloody scythe reaped a human field. And then what Sister had said dawned on her: "A ring of miracles... all rolled up into a circle of beautiful glass and filled with jewels."

Her fingers stopped when they found the growths. "You've got it, too." Swan's fingers continued across Sister's left cheek, then down to her chin. "Feels like a cobblestone road."

"Sixteen. Josh keeps track of my birthday for me. How old are you?"

Swan was listening carefully. She didn't feel very special; she just felt weary, and the fever was pulling at her again, trying to drag her back to that awful place where the bloody scythe reaped a human field. And then what Sister had said dawned on her: "A ring of miracles... all rolled up into a circle of beautiful glass and filled with jewels."

The fire-noiseless and without heat-had shrouded Swan's face and head before Josh could get up from the floor. Swan made no sound and lay motionless, but she could hear a sizzling over the wonderful scenes that kept swirling through her mind.

"Josh said... you came a long way to see me." Swan's head was heavy, and she was getting very tired again. "Why?"

"I think... it's a lot of things, all rolled up into a circle of beautiful glass and filled with jewels. I found it on the seventeenth of July, in New York City. I think it's a ring of miracles, Swan. I think it's a gift... like a magic survival kit. Or a life ring. Maybe anybody could've found it, maybe I'm the only one who could have. I don't know. But I do know that it led Paul and me to you. I wish I knew why. All I can say is that... I think you're someone very special, Swan. I saw the corn growing out in that field, where nothing ought to be alive. I looked into this glass ring and I saw a tree in bloom, with your name burned into the wood." She leaned forward, her heart pounding. "I think there's work ahead of you. Very important work, enough to fill up a lifetime. After seeing that corn growing out there... I think I know what it is."

She thought of the magic mirror and the figure she'd seen bearing a ring of light. That figure, she knew, had been the woman who now stood at her bedside, and what she'd been carrying had finally arrived.

Swan's skin prickled. She sensed a bright light beating at her sealed-up eyeholes. "What is it?"

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