The squeal of tires and the shriek of metal meeting concrete tore through the smoggy air.

"Oh my God! What happened?"

"That truck came swerving from out of nowhere!"

"Someone's been hit!"


"That uniform. Looks like a student from Siena High."

"Damn. What a mess. No, don't move her. Someone call an ambulance. And contact her school."

Claire stared up at the sky, which had been clear and blue just moments before but was now edged with roiling dark brown clouds. She couldn't move, couldn't turn her head, even though the heat from the pavement was scorching her back, her school bag lying underneath her tilted her hip and legs at a funny angle, and her right shoulder and arm seemed to have landed in a spreading puddle of warm oil. She lay still as she watched dirty yellow lightning streak across the bruised sky, thinking distantly that if she didn't start to breathe soon things were going to get interesting.

The sky became edged with more than just murky clouds as people gathered around her. Strangers mostly, but among them, a familiar face. Kimmy, her best friend, looking ashen and horrified, lurking behind a grim-faced man wearing a policeman's hat who was bending over her.

Hold on. Best friend? Why does that feel all wrong?

Another familiar face appeared beside Kimmy. Renzo, his handsome features contorted in an expression of fear and revulsion. Oh, right. That's why, Claire thought as her brain gradually shut down from lack of oxygen. Don't you two look away. This is all your fault.

The dark clouds swallowed the faces of the people crowding around her, including the infuriating sight of her now former best friend and ex-boyfriend standing close together. Her mouth moved as her body tried to draw in much-needed air.

Another face melted out of the thick fog. A stranger's face, tanned, angular and unshaven. A kindly face. Claire fixed her gaze upon him, and he gave her a gently sympathetic smile.

"Brace yourself," the stranger said. "This is going to hurt."

Claire felt hands upon her. Then pain slammed into her—crashing pain, shattering pain. She gasped, finally managing to suck in enough air to keep from dying of asphyxiation even as her body fell apart like a broken marionette.

Then everything went black.



To My Long-Time Readers:

I'm so, so, so sorry to be starting another fic without finishing my previous ones. It's how I can shake myself out of my looooong periods of writer's block. Also, it's recently come to my attention that I might have undiagnosed adult ADD, so there's that, too.

Please bear with me. I really am working on my stories behind the scenes. T_T

And if you're still here somehow, still reading my stories: THANK YOU SO MUCH.