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Chapter 1

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Chapter 1 

The first time Piper Preach died, he was ten years old. 

He'd gone fishing with his stepfather, Moses, the two of them setting out in an aluminum canoe from the Preach family's camp on the rocky point it occupied every summer. They'd paddled along the lake for a good hour through muggy heat before turning into a little bay lush with spikey water grass. A stream tumbled down from the next lake up the chain, a smaller one which had no name on the government map but was awesome for catching walleye and the occasional muskie. Moses led them away from the mucky beach where they'd grounded, through a stand of tangled alder, then up the ridge separating the two lakes. Slate scraped and slid under Piper's sneakers as he climbed, so he made sure to plant each foot firmly and wiggle it around, getting a good grip before stepping higher. It had taken a couple of trips to get the technique right and he had the scarred dents in his knees to prove it. By the time they reached the top of the ridge, Piper was sweaty, dusty and blackfly-chewed. When Moses stopped and dropped his pack he did the same and took a long swig of cool lemonade from his Thermos. 

While he drank, Moses dug in his pack. He found what he was looking for, but before he pulled it out, he looked at Piper. "So, the only three things you need in the bush are...?" 

Piper rolled his eyes. "Axe, matches and toilet paper." Moses had told him this the first time he'd taken Piper into the bush. As long as you had these three things, he'd said, you could survive in the bush forever. With an axe, you could cut wood for a shelter and fire; with matches, you could start that fire; and with toilet paper...well, then you didn't have to use birch bark or leaves to wipe your butt. 

Moses produced that third necessity from his pack, the roll of TP sealed in a plastic bag. He pointed toward a stand of poplars. "If you need me, I'll be that way." 

Piper nodded and slurped more lemonade. He doubted he'd need Moses so badly he'd have to interrupt...that.  

Alone, Piper screwed the cap back on the lemonade and looked around. Bush everywhere, of course, with Moses taking care of business in that direction. Leaving their packs where they were, Piper let his curiosity lead him the opposite way, which brought him to the edge of a ravine. 

He peered down. A deep notch cut through the ridge between the two lakes, water rushing along its bottom. He could hear it sluicing over ledges of rock, see it foaming here and there through the trees growing out from the sides of the ravine. It looked cold and fresh and made him feel thirsty again. He turned to retrieve his lemonade, but something near his foot caught his eye. It was a crack in the rock, about as wide as his sneaker. 

Piper didn't know much about rocks, except they were hard and his grandfather called them the bones of the earth because they were everywhere, beneath everything. Piper liked that, the bones of the earth, because it had a mystical, mysterious sound to it. This particular bone was broken, though. He paced out the crack, putting heel to toe, first away from the cliff-edge, then parallel to it, then back to the edge again. It roughly outlined a slab six feet by ten, standing slightly apart from the rock around it, a massive column of ancient stone. He couldn't see the bottom of the crack, just loose dirt and shadow.  

"Huh." 

Piper looked back over the edge. Chunks of rock were heaped in the bottom of the ravine, presumably fallen off this cliff-face and the one opposite, freed by the patient chew of wind and water, ice and time. This slab looked like it was ready to join them. All it needed was a little encouragement. 

"Hmm." 

It had to be a thirty foot drop. Maybe forty. Piper imaged the slab toppling, slowly at first, then faster, tipping over, falling, crashing through the trees, splinters and leaves flying, then a heavy crash of rock on rock, the cliff shaking, dust rising... 

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