Chapter Four

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Stories. They were simply stories adults told children. They were the monsters underneath the beds. Brush your teeth or the Junkers will come to getcha. Go to sleep or the Junkers underneath your bed will drag you away. Or in a young conduit's case—like Clara—use your abilities where people can see and the Junkers will come take you away forever. Except, Clara always believed her mother and Grammy put more seriousness in the warnings to her, more than any parent of a non-conduit would have.

When her father failed to come home from one of his runs with Uncle Marty is when she started to take the stories seriously. When she grew older—about thirteen—and heard in more detail the story, Clara tossed away any lingering doubts. Nightmares were real. Nightmares could take. Nightmares could kill.

Those nightmares struck Clara in the heart today like a blacksmith's hammer, ringing in her ears. Cold sweat slicked her back, making her twitch. She pushed away the external stimuli, dulling the world as she walked through Linden Grove. She could sense a hole inside her, an old wound, the unhealed edges throbbing with soreness.

Her mother heard the news about the Gonzales family and came running to find Clara ready to charge into the apartment building where the family lived on a horse named Curiosity. Gossip and news in general spread fast, especially in small towns like Linden Grove. Everyone knows each other. Jessie Danvers knew Gabby's mother, they worked in the same shop as seamstresses under the flamboyant tailor Gerard. When she heard about the Gonzales family being murdered in the night, slain by intruders, she didn't hesitate to seek out the truth.

Clara waited in the street, behind the crowd. She might have waited five minutes or an hour for her mother to return.

Quiet and somber, Jessie Danvers moved through the crowd of gawkers like a ghost, in no hurry to deliver horrible news. Mother hugged daughter and whispered that the family was indeed dead. All except Sammy, whose body the militia could not find. They were holding on to the hope the boy was kidnapped rather than killed.

Junkers took him, Clara knew instinctively. The nightmares had reached out and snatched the boy, drawn by his perfunctory use of his conduit abilities. Gabby wanted me to talk to him. I should have taken the time. Guilt filled the emptiness in Clara, a poor substitute for the loss from years ago.

Though her eyes remained dry, Clara face must have shown the distress and culpability bleeding from that hole within. Her mother didn't understand why—she thought her daughter merely empathetic—and Clara did not tell her about how Gabby wanted Clara to speak to Sammy about using his abilities discreetly, if at all. When they were still children, Clara showed Gabby what she could do, the Waking of machines. The Gonzales girl gradually stopped coming around the dangerous and unnatural conduit. Afraid of conduits—same as most people—the now teenager Gabby had wanted Clara to tell her brother to not use his powers. Coming from another conduit, the warnings would have sunk deeper, meant more to Sammy. The whole time the two girls spoke the term coppertop was on Gabby's lips, unspoken but ever present. It was on everyone's lips.

Hearing the crowd murmur coppertop and Junkers, Clara excused herself, telling her mother she needed to get to the shop, to work.

Anywhere but here. Burn it, I need to get away from this...

So Clara walked on, the guilt bleeding from that hole of hers.


Despite her lethargic, distracted state, Clara found herself in Linden Grove's market square as the morning sun was rising over the town's defensive walls.

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