Please enjoy the opening scene from the young adult urban fantasy novel GLORY.
My dad was dying and I didn't know what to do.
As I stood at the kitchen sink filling a pan with cold water, I looked out the window at the flurries of white fluff dancing in the wind. Cottonwood trees were shedding seeds of new life on our farm, while seeds of death swirled around the planet taking root and growing in every human host they could claim. And now the black seeds of the pandemic-plague had found fertile ground in Dad.
This morning at breakfast he had been fine. He put on his chef's hat and baked tasty cinnamon rolls we shared with Mom before she left for work. He talked about the new painting he was working on—a portrait of our Australian Shepherd Hallie. He joked about what an uncooperative model she was, and then concerned his teasing might have hurt her feelings, fed her a warm, frosted roll as a peace offering.
Uncharacteristically, Mom didn't fuss over Hallie being fed from the table. Lately she had been moody and distant. I understood that her failure to create a successful vaccine for the pan-plague weighed heavily on her, but her gloominess made me so uncomfortable that I was relieved when she finally left.
Now I would give anything if she would only come home.
I fumbled in the pocket of my jeans, pulled out my cell phone, and hit redial for the umpteenth time. Mom's voice mail picked up again.
This is Dr. Kate Templeton of Scorpio Pharmaceuticals International. Please leave a message and I'll respond as promptly as possible.
Where was she? Why didn't she return my calls? Had she become sick too? The ambulance had refused to come for Dad—the 911 operator said the hospitals were overrun with pan-plague victims and had closed their doors. Mom was a scientist and would know what to do. I needed help. I couldn't handle this alone
I didn't leave another message. I slipped the phone back into my pocket and returned to Dad's bedside with the water and a clean washcloth.
I dipped the cloth and wrung it out, then placed it on his forehead. He groaned and Hallie jumped onto the bed. She nosed him with worry and he managed a weak smile. "Glory, promise me you'll take care of Hallie. When I'm gone, she'll keep you safe."
Fear tried to steal my voice. "You're not going anywhere."
He became agitated. "Promise me."
"I promise I'll take care of Hallie."
"I'm not going to make it, honey. You need to know how much I love you."
I grabbed his hand and squeezed. "Please don't leave me, Dad." I couldn't imagine a world without him in it. If he died, how would I survive without his love?
He struggled to say something else, sighed, and then fell asleep so abruptly that—for a horrified moment—I thought he was gone. After what seemed like an eternity, I heard his raspy breath return and I, too, began to breathe again.
Hallie's sky-blue eyes met mine and she stretched out alongside him. Earlier, she had been the one who let me know that Dad was in trouble.
A well-trained farm dog, Hallie never barked unless she had good reason. I was fixing lunch when I heard her frantic alarm and raced outside to find her standing over Dad, who lay on his back floundering in a sea of cotton. His face was red as blood, his eyes wild as fire.
Cotton to spin," he said, looking at a handful of the fluffy seeds. "Spinning, spinning. 'We come spinning out of nothingness, scattering stars like dust.'" It was a quote from his favorite poet, Rumi, and I gasped as I realized he was delirious with fever.
I knelt and pushed Hallie out of the way. "No, no, no." This couldn't be happening. Not Dad. My hand flew to his face and recoiled from its heat. I managed to rein in his eyes and held them. "I'll help you stand. We need to go inside."
"Kate? Oh you're so beautiful. Marry me."
Dad recently told me that I looked just like Mom did at seventeen.
I forced a smile and imagined myself as her. "Let's go inside and talk about it, Mark. You're going to have to convince me that I should marry a dreamer; I'm a very practical woman, you know." I took his arms, pulled him into a sitting position, and then supported him as he struggled to his feet.
"My dear Kate, 'in dreams and in love there are no impossibilities.'"
The only other time I ever heard him quote two epic poets back-to-back was one New Year's Eve when he had too much champagne. Now, it was as if he had drunk an entire bottle of it. He lurched and stumbled toward the house, his arm thrown around my shoulders. Hallie nipped at his legs, doing her best to herd him along.
We got him into bed just as he passed out.
Cases of the pandemic-plague manifested as sudden fever and delirium accompanied by dizziness and fainting. Severe tremors and excruciating pain followed. Next came moments of clarity sandwiched between slices of unconsciousness. Then the victim died. The span of time from first symptoms to final breath was brief.
I glanced at my watch. It had already been three hours.
As I sat on the edge of the bed holding Dad's hand, his heat began to overwhelm me. I wrung out the washcloth and momentarily placed it on my own hot forehead. The summer air was oppressive and I stood to open the window, but halfway there the floor began to rise and fall beneath me. Confused, I looked around the room and saw that everything was spinning. Spinning, spinning. Claws of terror ripped into my stomach as I realized I had the virus too.
Somehow, through my disorientation, I managed to make it back to the bed and crawl in next to Dad and Hallie.
My thoughts were disjointed. Couldn't be happening. So unfair. Too many lives cut short. This disease, death's servant, was an evil monster.
If tears could slay the beast, then the torrent of mine would have blasted him out of existence.
I cried myself into a restless sleep filled with feverish dreams. In a particularly vivid one, Hallie appeared to me as a beautiful blue-eyed cowgirl. She threw her hands to her hips, gave me a disgusted look, and said, "Don't be such a wimp, Glory. It's time to cowboy up."
"Easy for a herding dog to say," my dreamself replied.
The field of dry grass where we stood erupted in flames and a howling wind whipped it into a firestorm.