By: Evangeline Anderson

Chapter One

It was happening again.

Emily Brooks gasped as a flash of heat swept over her body. It started in her lower pelvis and rolled outward, like flames licking her skin from the inside out, stealing her breath and making every inch of her tingle with unwanted heat.

Oh God, ohGodohGod…No, please—not this—not this again!

Her hands clenched into fists at her sides and her toes curled in her sensible low heeled shoes. The shapeless cotton dress she wore was suddenly too hot—sticking to her full-figured body with the dew of sweat that bloomed across her flushed skin. The hair at the nape of her neck was prickling with tension and her eyes burned. Not like she’d gotten soap in them, though—they burned as if there was some strange heat source behind them. As though there was a flame inside her brain that was burning its way out.

But though all these weird physical problems were uncomfortable and strange, they weren’t what Emily feared the most. She feared the other coming out. The one she sometimes glimpsed in the mirror. The one inside of her who was getting closer to the surface every day…

“Miss Brooks? Miss Brooks, Avery pushed me!”

“Did not. Anyway, she pushed me first.”

“Did not!”

“Did so!”

“Class!” Taking a deep breath, Emily forced herself to forget about what was happening inside her and concentrate on the kindergarten class under her care at George Washington Elementary.

Her stress must have come through in her voice, because all fifteen of her kids got suddenly quiet and looked at her with large eyes.

Oh God, what do they see? Do they see what I see when I look in the mirror?

Emily took a deep breath…then another. Calm, she had to be calm. It was only 9:30 and she had to make it until 2:15 when the bell rang for dismissal.

“Miss Brooks,” ventured Avery Andrews. “Do you feel okay? Maybe you oughta go to the nurse.”

“I’m fine, Avery. Thank you for your concern though—that’s sweet.”

Emily did her best to smile at the little boy who was the class clown but so endearing you couldn’t help but love him.

“You don’t look fine,” Kelsey Pincter remarked.

“Yeah, your eyes look funny.” Miracle Jackson said. “All sparky and hot. Like you gots a candle in your head, right behind your eyes—like a jack-o-lantern.”

Like a jack-o-lantern… Emily took another deep breath.

“I’m just fine,” she said again more firmly. “Or I will be if everyone will settle down before we go into the library. Other students are studying in here so we need to be…what?”

“Quiet!” they all chorused loudly and each of them put a finger to his or her lips. “Shhhh!”

Emily tried to smile. Normally her class was the light of her life—she loved kids and since she was never going to have any of her own, being a kindergarten teacher was wonderful. But just now she felt shaky and hot and out of breath—like she’d just run an hour on the treadmill at the gym. Not that she could usually do more than a brisk walk for that long but still—that was the feeling she had.

“All right then, let’s go in quietly,” she murmured, putting her finger to her lips. “Elbows and tip-toes. Line leader, open the door and hold it for the rest of the class.”

Avery was the line leader and he gave her a big freckle-faced grin as he followed instructions, tucking his elbows in and walking with exaggerated caution on the tips of his toes. Emily tried to return the smile as she shepherded her class, which were all doing the same thing, into the large, beautifully decorated media center.

It was a warm, welcoming area with various storybook characters on the walls which had been painted by a local artist . Alice and the Mad Hatter took tea in one corner while the caterpillar looked on from his mushroom. On a far wall, Lucy was opening the door to the magical wardrobe that led to Narnia and on a another wall, a haggard looking Frodo Baggins was holding the One Ring aloft and staring up at the ominous Mount Doom, looming in the distance.

This last mural was perhaps a touch dark for an elementary school library but as a confirmed Tolkien freak, Emily had always loved it. Today, however, she barely noticed it as she herded her class to the big rainbow carpet in the Alice in Wonderland corner. There, to her intense relief, she saw Mrs. Andrews, one of the parent volunteers, was sitting in the big rocking chair and waiting to read a story. Dragons Love Tacos! proclaimed the book in her hand and Emily’s class was already crowding around her. They loved story time.

Mrs. Peltz, the librarian with iron gray hair and stern features, was standing behind the check out desk explaining to a fifth grader why he couldn’t check out the graphic novel he wanted since he still had two more out.