Chapter I

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Current day, North of Mount Silver, Virginia.

"Can we keep it, mom? Pleeezzze?"

Placing her hands on each side of her faded blue jeans, Frannie angled her head and eyed the trio of muddy, wide-eyed beggars with a heavy heart. The soggy, severely outmatched combatants had chosen to meet her on the killing floor of their cluttered living room, eyes filled with both trepidation and hope.

Like a monolith, the stony-faced woman stood erect, her face never betraying the internal empathy she held for the small, brave warriors before her. Beings clearly filled with yearning; physically shaking, wishing with every fiber in their being to obtain the unattainable. 

Full of pity, she resisted giving in. Frannie was also a veteran of this sort of battle, her own scars buried just beneath the skin. She recognized the sensation, old familiar pangs of holding onto something 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. Frannie sighed. 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. 

Frannie swallowed, begrudgingly uttering the deadly monosyllabic word, "No."

Boom!

"Awww, mom!"

"You're the meanest mommy, ever!" squealed the smallest of the wounded, catching the brunt of the one word verbal assault. Like an old rag doll, she 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 then 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, Frannie's 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," Frannie added before exhaling a sigh of sadness, noting several patches of missing hair surrounding varying sized sutures and scars appearing in numerous places on the animal's pink, exposed skin.

"We know, momma..." the duo sang in unhappy acknowledgment. They turned and sorrowfully shuffled away, heads down, carrying the panting, very muddy dog, its long wet fur draped over the arms of one tearful nine-year-old boy.

"Poor thing looks like it had been cut on repeatedly," Frannie muttered 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 old world..."

"You're the meanest mommy ever!" issued a distant five-year-old female voice. The small girl was still lying on the battlefield, fatally wounded with a broken heart, sadly smearing a fallen tear into the grains of a floorboard with her pointer finger. She shuddered. "You hear me momma?"

"Yes, I hear you and so does Jesus. Now, dinner is almost done. Just let me know if you go to meet him before I fix you a plate and I'll give it to the dog, okay?"

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