Autumn breathed fire over the trees. Their leaves were an explosion of vibrant orange and yellow. In the cool morning, a breeze cut through the limbs and swept over the little valley in northern Montana with a subtle crispness that reminded the people in Ashbridge City of the coming winter.
The weather forecasters claimed, according to the farmer’s almanac, that it would be an exceptionally cold one. All of the adults were making a big fuss about it. Ethan couldn’t quite understand how someone’s bones would warn anyone about the weather, especially since they were just bones after all. His weren’t anything special, and he imagined that it would take someone with a particularly special skeletal system to predict a season before it even arrived.
That didn’t mean that there wasn’t any such thing as super powers, however. Being a young man who has been on the earth for twelve long years meant that he had picked up a thing or two about how things work. The stars, for instance, winked at him from the heavens by pure magic. It was a magic that only someone with extraordinary abilities could perceive. Another example would be how Clayton Wareing, the Montana Grizzlies prize pitcher, always seemed to throw a breaking ball that moved just inches beyond a bat’s reach. The poster of Clayton on his bedroom wall served as a reminder of how Ethan would one day be able to throw just like him.
“Don’t wander too far.” His mother broke his concentration. She sat on the wooden bench typing nimbly on a smartphone. Her blonde hair was pulled in a tight ponytail that dangled just above her burgundy turtleneck. “I’m not going to be late chasing you all over the station again.”
“Mom.” Ethan rolled his eyes. “That was, like, three years ago.”
Crisp leaves skittered along the sidewalk. The air nipped at his cheeks. When her liquid green eyes turned from the little screen to give him a pointed look, he could have sworn that the temperature dropped another ten degrees.
“Okay, okay.” He took a step back. “You won’t be late because of me, I promise.”
Seemingly satisfied with the response, she returned her attention to the little screen.
Ethan tightened his jean jacket before tossing the baseball into his leathery glove. The most surprising super power, he thought while balancing himself on the edge of the sidewalk, was his mother’s ability to pay him any attention at all.
It wasn’t long before the smartphone vibrated in her hands, and she was talking embarrassingly loud into the receiver. Ethan took the opportunity to move into a more open area; a patch of cobblestone that led to a marble fountain. There weren’t a lot of people at the station today; only a couple who lingered near the fountain.
Across the way, towards the parking lot, he could just make out the frosty haze that had followed them to the station. He stood there for a moment, watching people spring into existence from the fog, before throwing the ball as high as he could. It spiraled into the air and was almost invisible against the bleak backdrop of clouds.
“Pop fly!” he yelled while racing to position himself underneath it. The ball slammed into his worn glove, stinging his hand. “Another expert catch by Ethan Winfield,” he proclaimed to the cascading waters. “I’ll tell ya’, that kid is going places.”
Sandra Winfield watched the bus burst through the curling fog. She had heard its distant approach long before making a grand appearance through the winding gash in the woods surrounding Harris Station. It rumbled along toward her, an old beast that creaked and squealed in dismay as it slowed to a stop.
“What?” She raised her voice to a yell and pressed a hand over the ear that didn’t have a phone against it. “No, the bus just got here. Yeah, I’ll call you back. Oh, don’t worry. You’ll hear all about it.”
She tapped the end button before stuffing the phone into the cavernous confines of her purse. Finally, she stood up and turned around in a full circle.
“Ethan? Come on, honey. You promised you wouldn’t do this to me.”
The doors to the bus slid open. Around twenty people spilled out and made their way across the courtyard. Some wrinkled their brows at her when they strode past, as though sensing that something was wrong.
She quickened her pace along the sidewalk in the direction of the fountain. Several people had stopped there, and some were even settling into a scatter of wooden benches.
“Shit!” She cupped her hands over her mouth. “Ethan!”
A heavy set woman with a bright blue scarf half walked, half ran to her side. “Is everything okay, miss?”
“My son…” she said, but the words caught in her throat. On the other side of the fountain, she could just make out a brown baseball glove. Her heart beat so hard that she felt as though it were about to explode through her ribcage.
She didn’t remember running to the fountain. She didn’t even feel the cold spray from the water. When she snatched up the glove, noticing the baseball cradled inside, her legs turned to putty and the world around her began to spin into darkness.
Selena Marrenger quickened her pace on the treadmill. The view outside the double windows of the apartment overlooked a sprawl of buildings in the downtown area of Ashbridge. Rain spattered the glass, and she could see the hazy glow of headlights making their way along the streets below.
A steady beat of Trance music pounded through the headphones of her iPod. Sweat beaded her brow. The morning jog was a ritual that she couldn’t imagine doing without. The routine began immediately after sliding out of bed, and deliberately before her first cup of coffee.
Her life was made up of routines. They were, in her opinion, healthy ones at least. The apartment was immaculate, a characteristic trait she had adopted from her mother. Of course, that was partly due to her line of work as a detective in the homicide division. Injecting a little order in an otherwise chaotic world would help her to function in it on a daily basis. If something was out of place, it could threaten the way that her entire day went.
That’s why she ignored the towers of boxes stacked up against the walls. It had taken nearly a month for her to pack and label each and every one. When the movers came, they would be provided with specific instructions about the positioning of her belongings inside the truck. She imagined that it would be the best way possible to avoid a box filled with books to come crashing down upon her mother’s china.
The rain fell harder outside. It pelted the windows and blurred the view. The city lights bloomed through the haze; a dazzling display of vibrant color. After glancing down at the timer, she slowed the treadmill and immediately felt her muscles ease at the new pace.
A shadow detached itself from the wall out of the corner of her eye. Her heart skipped a beat. She jerked her head around in time to see a broad woman standing in the light of her kitchen.
“Jesus,” she yelled while pulling the earbuds down around her neck. “If you’re going to show up unannounced, the least you can do is brew a pot of coffee for me.”
“Don’t get pushy with me,” the woman said in a high pitched tone. “I knocked. You didn’t answer.”
Selena stepped off the treadmill and wiped the sweat from her brow. “You know Kat, I gave you a key to my place in case I misplaced mine, not so you can just parade around in my apartment whenever you want.”
“My partner doesn’t answer her phone,” Kat said while stuffing a bagel into her mouth, “or her door, then I start to worry.”
Kathryn Lincoln wore a gray trench coat over her mildly overweight frame. When she moved, Selena caught a glimpse of a green sweater. Auburn hair draped her shoulders, and the corners of her eyes were marked with crows feet, an unspoken result of stress from working in homicide.
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