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datatime: 2022-09-25 13:49:32 Author:rDQYCsFR

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

I know what my work is now.

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

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

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

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

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.

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

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.

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 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.

"Sixteen. Josh keeps track of my birthday for me. 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.

I know what my work is now.

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.

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."

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."

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 know what my work is now.

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 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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