Chapter I

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Current day, North of Mount Silver, Virginia.

"Can we keep it, mom? Pleeezzze?"

Frannie eyed the trio of muddy, wide-eyed beggars with a heavy heart. The severely outmatched combatants had chosen to meet her on the killing floor of their cluttered living room. She stood with her hands on her hips, sadly understanding the feelings these small warriors possessed; the purity of hope, of obtaining the unattainable. She was a veteran of this sort of battle and wore the scars just underneath her skin. Old familiar pangs of holding something you have long dreamt of only to have the powers that be, whatever form they chose to take at the moment, rip it squarely from one's hands. However, this time she would be the slayer of dreams, the evil tapped to wield the weapon that dealt the blow; she would be the immovable face of this immense dark power and its world-levelling force. The woman swallowed, begrudgingly uttering the deadly monosyllabic word, "No."

Boom!

"Awww, mom!"

"You're the meanest mommy, ever! "The smallest of the wounded caught the brunt of the one word verbal assault and fell to the old wood floor in a writhing heap, destroyed at the utterance of the exclamation. "I hate you! I want to die!" she cried.

Frannie rolled her eyes at the pitiful casualty and focused her gaze of warning onto the other two warriors, who in their collective twenty-two years of experience wisely knew when to wave the white flag of compliance, unlike their younger sibling. "Okay, you two, take that nasty dog outside into the garage. I really shouldn't have to say this, but you know we can't afford to feed the thing, I am doing well enough to keep food in your three mouths. Plus, it looks like it may need some serious medical care and that's something we definitely can't deal with at the moment."

"We know..." said the oldest of the three, her thirteen-year-old daughter, Kaitlyn.

"The dog can stay in there for the night, but in the morning it has to go to the shelter," she said flatly. The woman winced as she noticed several patches of missing hair surrounding varying sized sutures and scars appearing in numerous places on the animal's pink, exposed skin.

"Yes, momma..." the duo sang in acknowledgment. They turned and unhappily shuffled away, carrying the panting, very muddy dog, its long wet fur draped over the arms of one nine-year-old boy.

"Poor thing looks like it had been cut on repeatedly," she thought to herself as she turned to walk into the kitchen and check on the spaghetti noodles boiling on a vintage gas stove. "There are some sick people in this world..."

"I hate you! Do you hear me, mommy?" issued a distant five-year-old female voice. The small girl still lying prone on the battlefield, fatally wounded with a broken heart.

"Yes, I hear you and so does Jesus. Now, dinner is almost done, let me know if you die before I fix you a plate, okay?"

"Whatever, meanie! Jesus sees you, too!"

"Shut up, Raven! You're bein' stupid!" shouted her older sister, riding in like a white knight to rescue her mother, the destroyer of all things fun.

"Kaitlyn, you're a booty-head! I had a name picked out for it and all!" shouted the small girl, now sitting vertically, wiping the tears from her eyes.

"Woundn't matter none, my name is better, anyways," retorted the smudge-faced Hunter from the garage.

"All of you, that's enough! Go change out of them filthy, wet clothes and come sit down at the table, it's time for dinner!"

"Yes, ma'am!" they echoed and scurried off to the bathroom.

***

As the door closed behind the children, one very wet, unkempt Pekingese whimpered standing in the warm, damp garage all alone. It lapped from a bowl and then lifted its head, leaving drops of water on the concrete floor. The animal watched the door, its tail wagging in anticipation of the humans return, hoping they would bring something edible with them. It had not eaten anything substantial in a couple of days. The wagging stopped as the dog flinched, responding to the sudden sound of a thunderclap in the distance. It ran beneath an old station wagon and whined, still no one came.

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