**SAMPLE** Children of the Plague, Chapter One: Waiting for the Scream

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Children of the Plague

Chapter One: Waiting for the Scream

Lanni leaned face-first against her flimsy bedroom door, waiting for the scream. The phony wood grain pressed shallow lines into her forehead and flattened nose, and she could just make out the ghostly scent of two-year-old paint.

She relaxed her grip on the door handle just enough to let the prickling flow of blood return to her fingers. Each sensation was an anchor; something to cling to against the rising tide of pressure behind her eyes. Though they helped distract her from the dull, but constant pain she already felt, they were not an inoculation against what she knew would come.

Any second now…

Pain was seldom worse than the anticipation of it, but Lanni knew exactly what to expect, and it scared her. Her neck and shoulders leached tension from the thick air, making the pressure in her head even worse. She hated waiting almost as much as hearing her mother’s screams rip through the thin walls of their mobile home.

The continual sounds of her mother’s suffering weren’t easy to bear, but some of her screams were different; they reached right into Lanni’s soul. She knew it was crazy, but they had a physical, painful effect on her.

Alex, her twin brother, felt it too. They had both been plagued with sudden, odd headaches for weeks, but for the last two days, the pain had been relentless, and this morning, when the screaming started, it grew magnitudes worse. Now, with her mother wailing in agony only a few paces away, the pain was climbing to new levels.

They found the situation easier to deal with when they were together. Even though they didn’t discuss it, her pain was muted in his company, and she could tell it helped him, too.

At that moment, however, she was alone with nothing but the feel of her her cool bedroom door against her warm face, and the faint smell of paint to help her tune out the throbbing pulse in her temples.

Oh God, here it comes.

The long, moaning cries from the end of the hall settled into a quicker rhythm of higher pitched barks. It was the same pattern every time, and it meant one of the big screams was imminent. Even the already tense air knew it was coming. It coiled around her, tighter and tighter; a giant, invisible snake squeezing the air from her chest, until finally…

The scream.

It’s just a sound. It can’t really hurt me.

But thinking that didn’t make it true. It did really hurt her. It bashed into her tender head like a Louisville Slugger. Even when the scream finally died down, the pain lived on, and it got worse every time. She didn’t know how many more she could take.

Where is that ambulance?

With luck, she’d have a two minute reprieve before the next bad contraction. That was more than enough time to walk a few feet down the hall to Alex’s room.

Despite an overwhelming sense of urgency, she couldn’t afford to give in to her fear, not even a tiny bit. She walked calmly down the narrow hall and tapped on her brother’s door. The ‘Barging In’ rule surely wouldn’t apply at a time like this, but sticking to her routine helped her keep a grip on her self-control, so she waited for him to answer.

“Alex?” she called. It was barely more than a whisper.

More than anything, she wanted to be out of the hallway before the next scream. She glanced nervously at her parents’ door, now only a few feet away, as though a monster was about to smash it down.

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