Illustration from Les Fleurs Animees by J.J. Grandville, 1847

The last time this happened we went into lockdown so I know what's next. The chirping sound of the alarm tells us a curfew is on until they deal with the situation. News of who the victim is won't be released until morning.

No one knows why God punishes us. One minute you're minding your own business and the next, no head and no evidence. God takes the head with him like a prize and we are left with only memories of the victim until next year. If you're already sealed with a promise kiss or healed quickly, you'll be able to regenerate eventually, but all hope of making a match this season is clearly over. That's why we're in such a hurry for the kiss.

My phone chimes and I can't believe who it is. "You okay?"

I don't answer, not after she ditched me. But Lily is nothing if not persistent. "Fuch, please let me know you're okay! I would die if it was you who got hurt tonight."

This goes on about five more times that include apologies for her behavior and make-up gifts of my choice. Finally I put her out of her misery. I tell her I have to go to sleep and she asks if she can talk to me in the morning. I don't answer.

At homeroom Lily is waiting with my favorite sweet beverage masquerading as coffee. I thank her and take the cup, grateful for the energy it will give me. Maybe I can milk this for a while. The room buzzes with new rumors this morning but not the trivial kind. The victim has been identified. It was an elder who wasn't worth saving and so she died in the night. Those are the rules if you're not young enough for a promise kiss or aren't still holding a job in the community. It makes me shudder as I down my beverage quickly and dump it in the bin before Ms. Kelso tells me to.

The morning announcements confirm this news and ask us to keep the Arnica family in our thoughts. I'm preparing for the moment of silence when they say the name and I have to keep hot tears from spilling out. How could they not save a member of the family that saves for a living? What kind of crap is this?

I feel such anger for Cord. They moved here into the line of fire only to lose their own grandmother and we can't even bother to save her? What kind of heartless dictator wrote this rule? The sugary drink has my heart racing and I break into a sweat, my acrid odor evaporating into the room. Oh no, not here. I can't, not after yesterday. When the minute of silence and the announcement about this weekend's Bloom Fest are over, the chatting resumes. I press my thumb to voice control. We're not allowed to choose messengers or even know their names, but I hope it's the one that saved me yesterday because he will know exactly where to go.

He nods from behind his silver handles when I tell him what to do. We are off, breaking free of the building in the crisp morning air. Just as we round the parking lot, Officer Aquilegia blocks us with her tiny patrol cart. She holds her hand up for us to stop and of course my messenger does.

"Ms. Brook, where do you think you're going this morning?"

I really don't care what she says so I shrug. If they want to send me back, fine.

"You do realize the only reason this isn't your second offense is due to Mr. Arnica's request yesterday. I hope you were in fact helping him and not just taking advantage of his generosity. Especially under the circumstances, I would hate for his kindness to go to waste."

A sour taste in my mouth tells me she's right. If I'm sorry for what the Grove has done to Cord Arnica this is no way to show it. "Of course. I'm just trying to get more water samples for him while he's absent."

"Well if that's the case, let me see the vials you brought."

"Vials?" I hadn't thought ahead.

"To collect the water." Her piggy eyes bore into mine. Sweat pools where my arms are open to the breeze.

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