CHAPTER SEVENTY-ONE

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ACE OF HEARTS
CHAPTER SEVENTY-ONE: THIS IS
ONLY THE BEGINNING

     HOLDING AN ICE PACK GENTLY ON HER bruised throat, Cassie Harrington gazed out of her living room window

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HOLDING AN ICE PACK GENTLY ON HER bruised throat, Cassie Harrington gazed out of her living room window. One by one, she watched as her neighbors packed up their belongings and moved out of their houses. Since the earthquake hit, almost every single Hawkins resident decided that it wasn't safe to live there anymore. And honestly, nobody blamed them.

"Check it out, Steve," Cassie called to her brother, pointing across the street. "Looks like the Peterson's are leaving, too."

"Really?" Steve asked, moving beside her and peeking through the window. "Wow, that was quick."

"I wonder how many others have left..." Cassie trailed off, turning around to face the boy seated on the living room couch. "Hey, Mike, turn on the TV."

Nodding, Mike Wheeler reached out for the television remote and pushed the power button. Advancing back into the living room, Cassie Harrington took a seat beside him on the couch, resting her head on his shoulder.

As the static hissed, the television screen grew clear and a news reporter appeared. At the sound of the news, Steve, Eddie, Nancy, Robin, and Dustin made their way over to the couch to join the others. As Mike turned the volume up, the reporter's voice spoke loudly towards them.

"It's been less than 48 hours since a 7.4 magnitude earthquake rocked the quaint town of Hawkins, 80 miles outside of Indianapolis, in an event that seismologists are calling a natural disaster of near-unprecedented scale. The death toll now stands at 22. But with hundreds more filling Roane County hospitals and many more still missing, officials expect those numbers to rise."

"Jesus," Cassie muttered, pulling her head off of Mike's shoulder and gluing her eyes onto the television screen.

As the reporter continued to speak, the camera panned over several burning buildings, injured citizens, and emergency vehicles. It was no secret. The town of Hawkins was in absolute chaos.

"This is only the latest tragedy to befall this once-safe town. Most recently, a string of high school students were killed in a series of ritualistic murders, which have been linked to a local satanic cult known as Hellfire. Eddie Munson, the leader of this cult and prime suspect in the murders, has been missing since the earthquake and is presumed dead."

Seated on the couch, Eddie Munson let out a sigh as a picture of his face flashed onto the screen.

"But this offers little comfort to the people of Hawkins, who are scared, angry, and searching for answers. Why their town? What have they done to deserve so much suffering? A growing chorus believes the two recent tragedies are linked, claiming the Munson murders opened a doorway between worlds. A doorway, they say, into hell itself."

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