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datatime: 2022-09-25 15:48:24 Author:kxrwCAEe

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-" 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."

"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."

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

The ring flared like a golden nova. All of them were blinded for a few seconds as the room was lit up as if by the flaring of a million candles. The memory of the white-hot blast in front of PawPaw's grocery streaked through Josh's mind.

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

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.

The ring flared like a golden nova. All of them were blinded for a few seconds as the room was lit up as if by the flaring of a million candles. The memory of the white-hot blast in front of PawPaw's grocery streaked through Josh's mind.

Yes, Swan thought as the images continued to flood through her mind in brilliant patterns of color and light. My work.

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.

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

"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.

"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."

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.

Sister glanced at Josh. He was standing behind Paul, and Glory had come from the other room. Josh didn't know what was going on, and all this ring of miracles talk was beyond him-but he trusted the woman, and he let himself nod.

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.

"Yes. It didn't used to hurt so much, but now... it's all the time."

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

Josh was first to recover from the glare. He saw that Swan's hands were engulfed by golden fire, the flames licking up along her arms. She's burning up he realized and, horrified, he shoved Sister aside and grabbed the fiery ring to pull it away from Swan.

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

I know what my work is now.

"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."

Sister glanced at Josh. He was standing behind Paul, and Glory had come from the other room. Josh didn't know what was going on, and all this ring of miracles talk was beyond him-but he trusted the woman, and he let himself nod.

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

"I guess so. A doctor friend of ours calls it 'Job's Mask.' He thinks what's in the air causes some people's skin to crust over. Damned if I can figure out why it just screws up the face and head, though." She reached out and touched the girl's forehead, then quickly jerked her hand back. Under the Job's Mask, Swan was running a fever that had almost scorched Sister's fingers. "Does it hurt?" Sister asked.

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