REVERB

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PROLOGUE

JAMES

"Get 'em, Ian!"I held the mud covered kitten and paced the water's edge trying not to cry.

"No. You get them." Ian stood on the grassy hillside several feet up from the pond. "It's your fault they're in there. I wouldn't have tripped if you hadn't been chasing me." He shrugged his gangly shoulders and held up the empty shoebox home I'd made for them.

"I can't swim. Get 'em Ian, please!"

Two kittens struggled to stay afloat, clawing at the washcloth moving towards the center of Miller's fishpond. Their whimpering sounded like children screaming in the distance.

"I'm not drowning in that scummy water over some feral cats." Ian just stood there, watching. "Get them if you want to, but I'm not. They're probably rabid." He held the shoebox away from him like it was diseased, then flung it into the pond.

I paced. I was so excited to see my teenaged half-brother, only the second time in all my seven years, but I hated Ian right then. Never should have shown off the Lynx kittens I'd found near the marsh behind Miller's farm. I looked at the barn on the hill. Mr. Miller was away at work all day. It would take too long to go back to my house for help.

I clutched the muddy kitten I'd plucked from the bank and held it against my mounting terror as I stepped into the murky water. My feet sank into the soft, slimy bottom. Cold water rushed through my socks and around my ankles, then seeped into my sneakers and weighted me.

"You'd better learn to swim fast because you'll never reach them from there." Ian's rosy, full face was suddenly angular and hard in shadow as clouds hid the morning sun.

I shivered and waded deeper, the water to my knees, then my waist but I still couldn't reach them. Then one of the kittens disappeared below the surface and I lunged for it, then I was suddenly kicking water, searching for ground. Sharp pain pierced my shoulder from the kitten's needle claws, then my neck as it scrambled up me. I screamed but it was garbled as I gulped in mouthfuls of grimy water. I couldn't get air. My lungs felt as if they were bursting. I kicked and grabbed at the surface above. The excruciating pain in my chest became numbing, almost relieving, and my vision tunneled as I sank. I saw Ian standing at the edge of the pond watching me with the exact same blank expression he wore watching the kittens drown.

What I recall happening next seems impossible, even cliché, but the memory is vivid and visceral. I could see Ian from under the water,then something burst behind my eyes and everything went white. Then my view was from above my body, maybe six feet up, and I was looking down on myself sinking in the pond, watching Ian come in after me,the pain gone. I watched, but didn't feel my limp body being dragged to the shore. And though I saw Ian kneel beside me, I did not feel him pounding on my chest.

"Come on, you little shit." Ian yelled as he practically pounced on me. "You die on me and I'm screwed. Come on! Get up!"He put both his palms on my rib cage and pounded again.

Blinding pain shot through my chest and up my throat as the water was forced from my lungs. And suddenly I was back in my body on the ground, gritty water burning my throat and nostrils as it poured from my nose and mouth. When I finally stopped choking and sat up everything was quiet. The kittens were gone. The pond was still.

"You tell and you'll regret it."Ian stared down at me with a sinister grin plastered on his face."I'll make it all your fault. It'll be easy too. I could almost tell the truth. And father will believe me, since I'm his only real son."

---

Not anymore.

Fast forward twenty years, and now I'm the only one left.

Damn you, Ian.

I stare at the pine casket that lays perched at the edge of the hole in the ground. I picture Ian lying in there with that smirk fixed on his face. The priest is saying something but I don't hear and don't care. I want to be someplace else, anyplace else.




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