Prologue

The little girl stood at the edge of the yard, leaning against the wrought iron lamppost. Her slight figure barely taller than the embellishment around the bottom of the post. The glow of the flickering candle bathed her in dancing light and dark thick shadows. She shuffled in the uncomfortable button up boots and pulled at the tight collar of her dress. At eight years old, she looked out of place outside this time of night.

Through the window, she watched the woman lift the small baby out of the crib and hug her close. Too close. The tiny face pressed into the thick fabric covering the woman’s shoulder. The baby squirmed as the woman held her tight. Wiggling vigorously, the tiny white dress flailing in the light from the fireplace until, finally, the movement stopped.

The woman held the baby close for another moment before she pulled the little body away and stared at it. She kissed the small forehead and placed her back in the crib in front of the fire. Wiping her hands against her dress, she turned and headed out of the room. The front door to the house opened, the woman’s body silhouetted against the yellow glow from the interior. She stepped forward slowly, glancing furtively from side to side. She finally spotted the girl in the pool of light and walked quickly down the sidewalk.

“Delores, darling, it is done.” The woman kneeled in front of her, tears still streaming from her eyes. Her expression as earnest and heartfelt as any Delores had ever seen. “It was like you said it would be. It was almost like she fell asleep. Almost.” The woman’s voice was soft and uncertain.

“It is what had to be. You knew it to be truth. The child had evil in its soul. You felt it in your heart.” Delores reached out her small hand and pressed it against the woman’s face. “Remember that.”

“What do I do if someone questions me? What if they accuse me of this horrible deed?” The woman glanced back towards the house.

“You must make sure that no one discovers what’s happened. They will never understand. They do not know the truth.” Delores scratched under the bow that tied her hair over her shoulder. The air here was always heavy and warm, and the sweat building beneath her thick, dark hair was becoming a burden.

“But how? It is already…” The woman continued to stare at the house. “What I have done is right there for everyone to see.”

“The bassinette is so close to the fireplace. It’s dangerous that close. What if a spark landed on the blanket? Then no one could say that it wasn’t the fire…” Delores took the woman’s hand and turned her back towards the house. The mother looked down at her and nodded. Delores released her hand and watched her walk through the open door. In the window, she saw the woman move the crib closer to the fire and begin fanning the flames with the large bellows.

She watched until they caught the edge of the lacy fabric, Delores reached into the pocket buried in the thick folds of the dress and pulled out a small white cube, which she opened to reveal a clear, crystal leaf. As the flames in the house grew, she closed her hand around the crystal. It was time to go home. The talisman began to vibrate, her skin to tingle. As the feeling moved over her, she felt her body stretching back to its normal shape. Her limbs lengthened. The hair retracted. The heavy dress drifted away in a fine mist.

When she felt the object in her hand dissolve, she opened her eyes to see a plain white room. She brushed her palms against her thighs to rid them of phantom embedded dirt. A quick shake of her muscles released the tension of the return trip. Time to get back to work.

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