Street signs have a magic all their own.

They can lead you to your destination.

They can direct you to your death.

Ignore them at your peril.

The Urbäna

 

With a scream, Sean sat bolt upright throwing off the covers. Eight months after the accident, the crimson dreams still wrenched him from his sleep at least once a night. He staggered to his feet. From past experience he knew that if he stayed in bed, the nightmare would return.

In the bathroom, he splashed icy water on his face and tried to wake up. Running his fingers through his hair produced a sharp pain in his left palm. Examining his hand, he found a little blood at the base of his thumb. Sean rubbed the bloody spot and felt a hard lump.

Bracing himself for the pain, he squeezed the lump between the thumb and forefinger of his other hand. With a quiet popping sound, the skin parted and a tiny shard of safety glass slid into view. In the harsh light of the bathroom’s bare bulb, it glittered like a bloody diamond. Grabbing a pair of tweezers, Sean pulled it free, rinsed it off, and dropped it into the cough–drop box sitting beside the sink. There were nine or ten more already there. The doctors hadn’t been able to get all of the pieces, and they’d told him he’d be pulling bits of glass out of his flesh for years to come.

He wasn’t sure why he saved them, but he couldn’t seem to help himself. There was the box in the bathroom where he deposited the ones he’d harbored within his own flesh and a bowl in the dining room for those he found scattered amongst his belongings. It was a good–sized bowl and already close to full. It shocked him how the bits of broken glass had infiltrated his whole life. Like the dreams, they seemed omnipresent. Maybe that was why he kept them. They provided a tangible link to the event that had destroyed his nights and was now eroding his sanity, the event that robbed him of his son.

He walked into the dining room, picked up the bowl, and spilled it across the table. The fragments caught at the light, scattering it in a million directions, a miniature nebula spread across the night blue of his tablecloth. It compelled his attention, and he sat unmoving for long minutes while he contemplated the glittering mandala and worried at the question he had asked himself every day since the accident. Had he killed his son? Or had it been fate? If there was an answer in the constellations of glass, he couldn’t read it. Eventually, he returned to bed.

§

The semi’s horn blasted Sean’s ears. Its grille filled his vision. He screamed and pulled the steering wheel hard to the left. Tires screeched. With painful slowness, the oncoming truck slid off to his right. The license plate that had been centered in the windshield of his Corolla was replaced by a headlight. Suddenly he could see clear space ahead. He gunned the engine. For a split second he thought he would make it.

There was a splintering crash as the semi smashed into the back of Sean’s car. The impact spun the Corolla. It bounced off a light post and fishtailed like a walleye trying to shake the hook. The steering wheel was ripped from Sean’s grasp as it spun wildly. The side of the truck’s trailer loomed in front of him, and Sean ducked as the car slid underneath. The sound of rending metal snarled in his ears as the underbelly of the truck peeled the roof of the Corolla away like the top of a sardine tin, and all he could think of was his three–year–old son sitting in his safety seat in the back. Before he could check on the boy, Sean’s world went black and then red.

§

“I’m so sorry, Aaron,” said Sean, kneeling at the grave. “First I lost Mary, now you.”

His wife had died of blood poisoning a month before Aaron’s first birthday. It was such a tiny cut, they hadn’t thought anything of it. But it had gotten infected and in a few days her whole arm was red and swollen. They took her to the doctor, but the antibiotics hadn’t helped. It was some kind of new resistant strain, something you might read about in the paper, not something that happened to your wife, and it had killed her. After that he and Aaron had been alone. That’s when he’d moved to the city: more jobs, better living conditions. A dead boy.

He clenched his hands into tight fists. “And now I’m lost too,” he whispered.

He could feel his fingernails biting into the fresh cuts on his palms, feel the blood begin to flow and then drip onto the lush grass of the grave. An impulse seized him; maybe he could trade his blood for his son’s. Unsnapping the case on his belt, he pulled out his Leatherman and opened it, laying the blade against the skin of his wrist. He’d lost what faith he’d had in God when Mary died, and he’d lost his faith in himself when Aaron followed. Now he prayed silently that some power out there would take him up on his offered bargain of blood for blood. Tensing his arm, he prepared to make the cut. The tip sank into the flesh beside his thumb and the blood rose around it.

“Not that way.” The man’s voice was raspy and harsh, but somehow conveyed a fallen nobility, like a Stradivarius with corroded strings. “That way lies nothing, not even escape. Boy is lost, but maybe boy is not gone. What a Master has done, he may not undo, but in the knowing he may regain some of his own.”

Sean raised his eyes so that they met the speaker’s over the top of the headstone. An old man dressed in beggar’s motley. His gaunt face wore several days of salt–and–pepper stubble, tending more toward the salt. His bloodshot green eyes told a tale of too many nights spent sucking on a bottle, and his twisted and scarred nose described a city map in broken blood vessels. Yet, as with his voice, Sean felt a power emanating from his person. Like the ruined Lear in Shakespeare, broken and mad, yet still “every inch a king.” The old drunk seemed to be inhabited by something greater.

“What did you say?” whispered Sean.

“Your son that passed may be only a part of the whole. Seek for your son that stayed. He is within you and without you.” It was madness, yet Sean heard some grain of truth in the speaking.

“What do you mean?”

“Seek the Urbäna.” The last word came out with a long ahh sound after the B, like the second A in autobahn.

“What? Urbahna? Where?”

“Speak to the doctor. The doctor knows.”

“What doctor? Who are you talking about?”

But the man suddenly seemed to shrink and deflate, like a balloon too long in the cold. “Doctor?” he said, and the strings on the Stradivarius snapped, leaving only the corrosion. “You a doctor?” He put a hand out. “Can you spare a couple bucks for an old man down on his luck?”

Sean wanted to shake him, to strip the information from his scrawny carcass. Instead, because it felt the proper thing to do, he pulled a couple of twenties from his wallet and prepared to hand them to the old bum. He couldn’t spare it, not really, not since he’d lost his high–paying job, but the man had given him hope. And even if it was a fool’s hope, he felt he owed him something. Blood money, he thought and stopped in mid–reach. Not knowing why, Sean dipped the corners of the twenties into the blood flowing from the fresh cut on his wrist before handing them over.

“Here,” said Sean. “Try not to drink it all in one night.”

“Thank you. Thank you!” repeated the bum, showing no sign of distaste at the red stains. Then he drew himself up straight, swept his filthy hat off in a courtier’s bow, and this time when he spoke the tone was pure and sweet. No corruption, only the singing of the strings. “The shrink knows us. And we know him. Tell him the whole story next time you see him. He’ll help.”

§

“Was it my fault, Doc?” asked Sean. “Even knowing I turned the wrong way down that one–way, I don’t know if it was my fault. It seemed…”

“Seemed what?” asked the psychologist. He was a nervous man, tall and thin, who specialized in accident trauma. The long angry scar on his left forearm attested to his personal experience with violent wrecks. Courtesy of his insurance, Sean had been seeing him regularly since the accident, but it hadn’t helped. Not yet at least.

“Look. I have this very vivid memory from the accident, almost like a snapshot.”

“Describe it.”

“I’m coming up on the street, and even though I’m in a hurry I look carefully for signs. I see one. It’s a one–way arrow, pointing to my right and I think that’s great, because that’s the direction I need to go, so I turn right. Only…”

“Only what?” asked the doctor.

Sean hesitated for a moment. He’d never mentioned this part to anyone. It was too strange. But now he remembered the old bum’s words and he plunged ahead. “I’m sure this is going to sound like some sort of bizarre justification, but it’s not. I think that someone, or something changed that sign. In my mental picture of the sign the words ‘one–way’ are backwards, like in a mirror, and they seem to shimmer like a heat mirage. It’s —”

“Describe the shimmer,” said the doctor abruptly. There was a hard edge to his tone that hadn’t been there before.

“I don’t know, it was just a shimmer, like some sort of optical distortion on the surface of the sign. I can see it in front of my eyes right now as clearly as I could that day.”

The doctor seemed to freeze for a moment, and Sean thought he saw alarm in the man’s eyes.

“What is it, Doc?” The fears that Sean had harbored in his own heart took fire from those he now saw in his doctor’s face. “Is there something wrong with my mind? Am I going mad?”

“No,” said the doctor, flatly. “Your problems are much worse than that.”

He reached into his desk drawer and fished out a business card. There was a jerky, hesitant quality to his motions that seemed almost furtive. Placing the card face down on the desk, he slid it across to rest in front of Sean.

“I wish you’d told me this before,” the doctor continued. “I’m not going to be able to help you. Not with them. I don’t know if anyone can. I just hope they haven’t been following you here.” The fear lurking in the doctor’s eyes blazed up into obvious terror. “If you’ve led them to me here… Shit!” He stood abruptly. “No. I won’t go through that again.”

“What? Doctor, what’s going on? You’ve got to help me get my son back. The old bum said you would.”

“Bum?” whispered the doctor, his face gone waxy and pale like a plastic soldier left on a sunny windowsill all the long summer. “Damn you!” He jumped out of his seat and headed for the door. “No one can help you!” Then Sean was alone in the office.

Clutching the card in one hand, Sean stepped into the hall. When he stopped at the secretary’s desk, she seemed baffled. She told him the doctor had run out without a word.

When he called the doctor’s office a few days later, he got a message saying the number had been disconnected and that no forwarding number had been left. His visit had ended in failure of a sort.

§

Sean looked at the card again. On it were a phone number and the lone word “Urbäna,” and nothing else.

With his left hand, he scooped a handful of glass shards out of the bowl on the table and let them fall back into it like a diamond cascade. He repeated the action, once, twice, three times. He drew another handful, but this time he didn’t pour it into the bowl. Instead he opened his hand and stared at the glass and the half a hundred tiny cuts it had made. The small mound of safety glass sparkled like a fractured crystal ball. In it he fancied he could see the front of a semi. He thought about his son and the old bum’s words and responsibility. Abruptly he closed his hand. Squeezed. Bright red drops appeared between his fingers, elongated, and fell like a red rain. There was no pain. He picked up the phone with his other hand and without unclenching his bloody fist, he dialed the number. Even if it couldn’t bring Aaron back, he needed to know if he’d killed him.

A woman’s voice answered, “Hello, this is Eleise.” There was a pause. Sean didn’t say anything. “Hello?”

“Urbäna,” said Sean.

“Where did you get my number?” asked the woman. She sounded concerned, but in a welcoming way. Sean gave her the name of his psychologist. “Then it will be Shatter,” she replied. “Shatter at the very least. You’d better come to me.”

“What does Urbäna mean?” asked Sean.

“Not over the phone,” she responded. “Not where the Packets can hear. There’s a small park at the corner of Lake and Mulberry. I’ll be there in an hour.”

“How will I recognize you?”

“You won’t, but I’ll know you.” She hung up the phone.

“Oh joy,” said Sean. “A wild goose chase. Why should I bother?”

His eyes went to the blood dripping from his left hand as if of their own accord. Dropping the glass onto the table, he went looking for a bandage. It was a long way to the park, and Sean hadn’t driven a car since the accident. If he was going to bike, he didn’t want to bleed all over the handlebars. In the garage, he tried not to look at the trike he had gotten the week before the accident, a present for his son’s fourth Christmas, the one Aaron had never seen. It was still in the box.

§

It took more like an hour and a half for Sean to get to his destination. He hoped he hadn’t missed the woman. Rolling up to the rack beside the facilities building, he hopped off his bike and locked it up. He looked around. There were a number of people in the area, but none of them was a lone woman. Well, she would find him or she wouldn’t. The only thing in the balance was his sanity. He’d already lost everything else, and he couldn’t bring himself to believe he was going to get his son back. Sean walked down to the edge of the small lake at the core of the park. Picking up a flat rock, he skipped it. It bounced seven times before sinking near the tiny island in the center of the lake.

The ripples were still spreading when he felt a hand gently touch his arm. She was tiny, no more than five one or two. Dyed black hair stuck up in spikes all over her head like the ruff on an angry hedgehog. Beneath the hair was a pale forehead and a pair of green eyes that seemed to shine with an inner light. She had very full lips situated between high sharp cheekbones and a pointed chin. Despite the heavy makeup, there was something wild about her, like a house cat gone feral.

“You must be Eleise. I’m Sean.”

She nodded her head, but put a finger to her lips and said not a word. She turned and started walking along the path that circled the lake, gesturing for him to come with her. Sean shrugged and fell in beside her. After a few moments they reached the rustic log bridge that crossed a narrow neck of water to the island. When they were across, she reached down and pulled a leaf of wild rhubarb from the ground by the bridgehead. With this she carefully brushed across the end of the bridge as though erasing their tracks. Then she kissed the leaf and tossed it over her left shoulder into the water.

“Now we can talk,” she said. “Did you know that this island has never been improved by humans?” She gave the word a heavy ironic edge. “The park board decided it was wonderful just the way it was. A few trees, some scrubby grass and weeds, and it’s surrounded by living water. Perfect. The only thing they added was the bridge and that was made entirely from wood cut in the park. It’s peg and dowel construction. No cold iron. The Urbäna have no hold here.”

“I don’t understand,” said Sean. “What are the Urbäna?”

She ignored the question and looked him over. “Their hand is upon you. I was right about the Shatter. It’s a young one, fresh minted, but there’s more.” She reached out and touched his face. “I see a Glyph as well, and one of the great powers… Perhaps the Godshouter, perhaps the Drunkard. One of the Archetypes certainly, but I can’t read the spoor; it’s too vague.”

“Will you please tell me what you’re talking about?” he said. She sounded half–mad, and if it weren’t for his dead son he’d have walked away there and then. But he’d have sold his soul to bring Aaron back.

“Maybe. That’s going to depend on you. How long have you been having the nightmares?”

“Since the accident.”

“I know that much,” she responded. “I meant time.”

“Eight months. My boy died in the accident. I… maybe I killed him. With my impatience.” The words came out flat, almost as though he didn’t care, but it cost him to say them. “The dreams have gotten much worse in the last week, since the old man found me in the cemetery. Now, I’m too scared to sleep. I’ve been awake for four days. I don’t know what’s happening. Or what happened.”

“The Shatter needs more energy. If you haven’t slept in four days, your Shatter will be getting desperate. There’s something putting pressure on it, so that it hungers. If it’s as young as it feels, you may be its only host.” She paused. “Your son died in the accident?” She nodded. “That could be it. The mark of the Urbäna is very strong on you. You could even become a Master. You have a choice to make. There could be something left of your son. But if so, you may not want to meet it.”

“How can you say that? I’d give my life in exchange for his.”

“That’s not the bargain they’ll offer you.”

“Who are they?”

“Uh uh. In for a penny, in for a pound. I can’t tell you more until you make your first choice. All I’ll say for now is that they won’t give you what you want, though they may give you what you need.”

“What are my options?” asked Sean.

“I can arrange it so that you get to walk away from your nightmares, at least the ones that come from outside your own head, maybe give you a chance to start over. You’d have to leave the city though. Forever.” In her mouth that sounded like a death sentence.

“Or?” he asked.

“Or I can show you the beginning of the road to knowledge, though I can’t tell you what you’ll find along the way.”

He turned away from Eleise and walked down to the water’s edge. Across the lake he could see the sunset over downtown. The skyscrapers clawed at the sun, biting pieces from its lower edge. He thought back to Darkwater, West Virginia, the little town where he’d grown up and married his high school sweetheart. He remembered harvest season and the scent of the new–mown hay, the feeling of community. That had been good, but there was the dark side too. Everyone knew your business. When Mary died everyone had been there for him. When Mary died no one would leave him alone. The world ended at the place where the highway climbed out of the little valley of the Darkwater river. The horizon lay just beyond Ayre’s farm. On the other side was Terra Incognita. That had as much to do with why he left as needing a job. Had that decision killed Aaron? Did he really want to know? He could just walk away now.

“There’s something I need to know first,” he said, turning back to her.

“What’s that?”

“Why are you willing to help me?” he asked.

“The Urbäna have chosen you as theirs, just as they have chosen me,” she replied. “I belong to them. I could no more refuse you aid than I could cut off my own hand.”

“So, the Urbäna own me?”

“In the same way that they own me.”

“Even if I walk away?”

“Even then.”

“I want to understand,” he said.

Eleise nodded her head. “There is no turning back after this point. Come with me.”

She held her hand out to him and he took it. Together they crossed the bridge and left the island’s tiny wilderness behind.

§

“The first part will be the hardest,” said Eleise. They were sitting in the living room of her apartment. “You must face your Shatter and see if it has a name.”

The chairs in which they sat were low slings of chrome and leather. Between them was a table, glass–topped and edged with purple neon that lent an eerie light to the scene. A steel knife, a rat’s skull, and a book whose covers were made from circuit boards lay on a thin sheet of aluminum in the middle of this table. The book was open. “The Urbäna” was scrawled across the frontispiece.

“Let us begin here,” she continued, laying a hand on the book. “The Urbäna are the soul of the city given individual form. When humanity began the process of urbanization, we created winners and losers. The passenger pigeon is gone, but Rattus norwegicus, the common sewer rat, has never been in better shape. As it is in the natural world, so it is in the supernatural. The Fey are all but extinct. The Urbäna grow in numbers every day.”

“Are they evil?”

“That’s a meaningless question. Is a skyscraper evil? They’re Urbäna, the spirits of the city. No more, no less.”

“And the Shatter is one of these Urbäna?” asked Sean.

“Yes,” replied Eleise. “A common one. The trauma of a car crash generates a great deal of emotional energy, more if there are fatalities. Some Shatters, mostly those that live at large crossroads, take their shape from multiple crashes. These are powerful and very dangerous. They can even cause further crashes when they hunger. Their smaller kin must be satisfied with the energy from a very few crashes, or even just one, the crash that gave them birth.”

“But that doesn’t explain the nightmares.”

“The energy of the crash doesn’t all come out in the moment of impact. It continues to grow as long as the victims and witnesses hold the event in their minds and hearts. If the Shatter has some way of maintaining contact with those people, it can continue to draw on their resources.”

“How does it maintain the link?” asked Sean, but he already knew. He opened his left hand and looked at the bloodstained gauze covering the palm.

“Yes. That’s one way. Anyone who’s ever been in an accident knows how the bits of safety glass turn up in the strangest places for years afterwards. As long as the glass stays with you, you will never be free of the Shatter.”

Sean laughed harshly. “Then I don’t think your cure would have taken. There are dozens of bits of glass lodged in my flesh. The doctors said that they couldn’t hope to get them all.”

“There are ways —” began Eleise, but then she stopped and shook her head. “But I think you’re right about your case. There are other things beyond the physical that can connect a person to a Shatter, and those are the ties that bind you.” She touched her fingers to his brow. “We should make the attempt now, tonight.”

“All right.” He needed to know, and he wanted his son back or at least to touch something of him once last time.

“Here is what you must do.”

§

It was nearing two a.m. as Eleise’s car stopped beneath the street sign reading “One Way.”

“Here?” she asked.

“Here.” His voice was shaky. “That’s the sign. Though I’ll stake my soul it pointed the other way that day.”

“Yes,” replied Eleise. “You will.”

She got out of the car and went to the sign. Taking the signpost in both hands, she leaned her forehead against the cold steel. She held the pose for several minutes before breaking the contact and shaking her head.

“The traces are too faint,” said Eleise. “It’s certainly been touched by Glyphs, but that’s true of every sign in the city. I can’t tell if they changed it for you.”

“Glyphs?” he asked.

“The powers that govern street signs. They’re among the least of the Urbäna, but they’re whimsical, and their pranks can kill. There’s no such thing as a safe Urbäna. But we haven’t time for that now. It’s nearing bar rush, and that’s the witching hour.”

“I thought the witching hour was midnight.”

“No,” she responded. “That’s a relic of the Fey. The Urbäna are attuned to the pulse of the city, not the wanderings of the sun. Bar rush, shift change, afternoon commute. These are the times when the Urbäna are strongest. Come on.” She took his hand and led him the wrong way down the one–way street.

Suddenly he could see the semi again, hear its horn, taste his son’s coming death.

“No!” he said. “I can’t do it.” Now that he had the chance to learn the truth, he was afraid to face it.

“You have to, or the Shatter will eat you down to an empty husk. You must confront it, or you will die.”

He was shaking like a wino with the DTs. She let go of his hand and stepped back onto the curb.

“You know what you need to do,” she said. “I can’t help you beyond this point.”

“I’ll try.” He swallowed hard.

His stomach felt like a cat in a sack, desperately trying to claw its way out of a soft–walled prison. He wanted to break and run, to do anything other than face the terror that haunted his nights. Instead, he took out the vinyl pouch that Eleise had given him. Opening the pouch, he threw it into the air. It seemed to come apart of its own accord. Shards of glass from his dining room table rained down around him in a rough circle. Some caught in his hair or clothes, but he ignored them. Next he stripped the bandage off his left hand. It had been on too long, and the gauze tore away the new scabs that had adhered to it. Fresh blood rose to the surface.

With his other hand he reached into the pocket of his jeans and pulled out the little cough–drop box that contained the pieces he had pulled from his flesh. He tipped them into his bleeding hand and clenched it into a fist. The pain was sharp and immediate, but he waited and endured. After a while the blood overfilled his hand and began to drip onto the dusty street. Now.

“Shatter,” he whispered.

“Shatter,” he said.

“Shatter!” he screamed.

There was a noise like a brick going through a plate glass window and the harsh–edged shards around his feet began to swirl and dance. They made a sound like raindrops on a tin roof, a sound that slowly built from the pattering of a gentle shower into the hammer blows of a pouring deluge. As the sound grew, the myriad spinning fragments coalesced and climbed, moving away from Sean until a column of shining, twisting, shattered glass stood in front of him. There was more glass than could have come from the bowl, more than could have come from his entire car. The bits that were caught in his clothes and hair moved to join the growing mass. It felt like invisible fingers plucking at him. Finally, when they were all part of the thing in front of him, its top bowed toward him and eyes appeared. One was lambent yellow, the other baleful red, like a pair of mismatched tail lights.

“Why?” the Shatter hissed into Sean’s mind, its voice familiar and strange at the same time. “Why you here?”

Sean braced himself, looked inward. Why was he there, if not to get his son back? And Eleise had said that wouldn’t happen. Why? Finally, he said, “I need to know.” Was he guilty?

It nodded. “Come to me.”

He closed his eyes and stepped into the middle of the wildly tumbling glass splinters. The feeling was madness. With each sparkling touch, he felt a tingle, both tiny kiss and vicious bite at the same time. Most of his exposed flesh was covered with minute cuts in an instant, yet his eyelids remained untouched. It was as though the Shatter wanted to cut him to ribbons, but was unwilling to harm him. The time for him to take the final step had arrived. Sean opened his eyes.

Sean lived that bright sunny day again. He had an appointment in twenty minutes, but he had to get his son to daycare first. If he didn’t make the meeting, his company would lose the account. It was a big one, and if he blew it he could kiss his job good–bye. Then he might as well go back to Darkwater. His company’s daycare was only two blocks away, but in the twisting maze of one–way streets and pedestrian–only malls that bound the heart of downtown like a Gordian knot, the trip could take fifteen minutes. If only this next street went the right way… He knew that it didn’t. Still, he needed it so badly. As he approached the intersection he looked up, just to double–check. Maybe the street sign would read differently this time.

“Please,” he thought to himself.

Miraculously it did, but there was something odd. The words read the wrong way like an image in a mirror, and there was a shimmer across them like a heat mirage. He ignored that and started his turn. It was happening just like before, just like all the nightmares. Then another presence intruded itself into his mind and Sean somehow recognized it as the Shatter. Its thoughts were completely alien in texture, but somehow its nature felt familiar. It backed the scene up to the moment before he looked at the sign.

With its power overlaying his vision he lived the moment yet again. The one–way arrow was no longer pointing in his favor. Instead, it heralded the loss of his job. He felt a part of his mind he’d never known about reach out toward the sign. A little man–shaped thing appeared. Its body seemed to be formed of countless twisting letters and numbers in all the colors of the city. Looking at them, he felt that some message hid itself in the tangle of symbols, some meaning that eluded him. But it was impossible to read. At the same time that it was clearly visible to him, he could see through it as though it weren’t there.

A voice in his head said, “Glyph,” and he understood.

The accident was his fault. A Master in the making, he had called the Glyph and, obedient to his will, it had changed the sign. Only it couldn’t change the street beyond. Sean had killed his son with his own self–deception. There was no one to blame but himself. With that understanding came a sort of acceptance. Like a strong drink on an empty stomach, it unknotted the rigid muscles of his trauma as it burned its way through his system. He knew now that he could end the nightmares if he wanted. He could let them go.

“No!” the response was instantaneous and vehement. “Not stop!”

He realized that it was the Shatter speaking in his mind. The Shatter that had been born of the trauma of his accident. The Shatter that needed that trauma as the food of life. If he let that go, his Shatter would…

“Die,” it mourned. “Not want death.”

He felt its sadness and fear twisting away in his heart as if they were his own. No — his son’s. He had fathered this thing in the terror of his accident. The death of his boy had breathed life into this creature, his son’s life. All that remained of Aaron lived in the soul of the Shatter. As the old man had said, “Boy is lost, but maybe boy is not gone.” The Shatter was his child as surely as though he had given life to it from his own flesh. It was a part of him, but it was also an independent entity. If he destroyed it, he would be killing Aaron all over again.

“Not die,” Sean spoke aloud. “Mine. Not die.” With those words, he sealed himself to the Shatter, made it his, and accepted a lifetime of nightmares.

“Father,” it said in Aaron’s voice.

“Yes,” he agreed as the tears slid down his face.


More from Kelly McCullough:

Kelly McCullough writes fantasy, science fiction and young adult fiction. He lives in Wisconsin with his physics professor wife and a small herd of cats. He has nine novels in print and three more forthcoming either from Penguin/Ace or Macmillan’s Feiwel and Friends. His short fiction has appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies. He also dabbles in science fiction as science education, having written short fiction for NSF and co–created a science comic for NASA and the Hubble Space Telescope.

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