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datatime: 2022-09-26 04:29:57 Author:BYEMCXtW

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Now a searing pain coursed in Swan's hands, and her fingers seemed locked to the glass. The pain rippled through her bones and she started to cry out, but in the next instant the anguish had passed, and left in her mind were scenes beautiful beyond dreams: fields of golden corn and wheat, orchards where trees bent under the weight of fruit, meadows of flowers and verdant green forests stirred by a breeze. The images poured forth as if from a cornucopia, so vivid that Swan smelled the aromas of barley, apples, plums and cherry trees in full bloom. She beheld dandelions blowing in the wind, forests of oaks dripping acorns into the moss, maples running sap and sunflowers thrusting up from the earth.

"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 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.

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.

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

"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.

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.

"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.

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.

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

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

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.

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.

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.

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

"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."

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

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?"

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