Chapter 1


The sirens went off at midnight.

The wind had been blowing up from the south ever since the sun rose, flattening the fields as it howled across the prairie. It began with a creep of noise that snuck in through the tiny cracks between the window sills and the panes, rattling the glass with a high-pitched whisper. By evening, that sly, whining sound was demanding to be heard—screeching through the screen door, moaning through the floorboards, wailing like a baby left out in the open.

Crying for a mother who had left it there on purpose.

Abandonment issues, that wind.

I knew enough about those sounds to recognize them.

The television had been nothing but gloom and doom all day. Those tight-lipped newscasters in their polyester and their pearls, helmet-haired and cement-faced, as they delivered the end of days. Oddly detached, handing down their warnings as though talking to paper cutouts instead of living, breathing people.

Get your flashlights, they said. Get your pets and your bottled water and spend the night under the stairs. Crouch down in the basement. Huddle up in the bathtub. Just wait it out, they said. There's nothing to do but wait. Wait and maybe beg or wish or pray the world doesn't flatten all around you. Hope the eye of the storm looks down and sees you in that bathtub with your cat and your anxiety and your dinky little flashlight against all of that great big swallowing darkness and that it passes you by.

I killed the television with a twist of the dial and curled up in my bed as evening fell. The knowing never helped. I still twisted my sheets around my legs. Still wrapped my throat around a raging ball of fear while I waited for that familiar wail. The wind had me coiled up in nervous cotton sheets and itchy wool anxiety.

By the time the sirens finally chimed in, I was crawling out of my skin.

The newscasters had told us to stay safe. Stay inside.

I went outside instead.

In a nightdress and nothing else because I didn't understand self-preservation, or maybe I just didn't care about it.

The screen door was slapping and the sky was green, dismal emerald clouds boiling down angry and hot from an indigo sky. The air was humming, and the wind was still blowing, bellowing now—less abandoned baby and more trapped, bloodied animal desperate to get free. I was no match. It tumbled me like an empty plastic bag right up against the old wooden fence at the edge of the overgrown yard; air smashed out of my lungs, and my fingers dug deep into the rotten wood, lodging splinters beneath my nails.

I clung to the fence, buffeted by the wind, hanging on for dear life.

It really was beautiful. That sounded so ridiculous, but it was the truth. The colors and the wailing and the way the grass laid flat against the ground. The way my hair blew sideways, and my skin crawled with electricity, prickly and tight. The sputtering rain hit like ice-cold needles; the evening sun swallowed whole, nonexistent, as though it had never even been there at all.

Flashes of lightning illuminated a wind monster eating its way across the prairie, ravaging the flatlands with teeth and claws.

Starving fingers reached for the earth, trying to make a landing.

The lights in the house went dark; the power wiped out. A group of cows floundered by, running ahead of the wind, eyes rolling in terror, their bellows of fear lost in the caterwaul of the storm. The monster was yanking at my nightdress, tugging it from my shoulders and pushing it tight against my skin, pulling hair from my head and tears from my eyes. It pawed at the shingles and gnawed on the sagging porch. The shutters were clamoring, the ivy was being torn from the siding, and the screen door wouldn't last long, the way it was banging around.

The storm could take the house for all I cared. It could have it all.

It could take the creaky, stone-smooth floorboards and that terrible, peeling wallpaper. The refrigerator that groaned like an old man with a bad case of gout. The bed I was born in, the one that creaked every time I breathed or blinked, much less rolled over. The lock on the front door that was too rusted to actually function. The flaky paint and the creaky windows.

The stain on the carpet in the hallway… the storm could definitely take that.

It had been seven days. Seven days, twelve hours, and fifteen minutes. I was still waiting for her ghost. Seven days and I was still walking around that spot of the carpet on tiptoes. I still held my breath with my eyes shut tight until I was safely on the other side, pressing my back up against the wall to slink around the edge as though it was actually a hole in the ground that led straight to China. Or to the hot molten center of the earth.

Or Hell.

The storm could take the carpet. And the stain. And the genetic mindfuck.

Good riddance.

One last giant roar of air knocked me flat on my back, the monster's mouth descending around me. I scrabbled to my feet and ran for the house, the shelter of the porch. Bolting headlong through the grass as that fork-tongued tempest took a long, slow lick up the underbelly of the forlorn Midwest.

Hey there!

HB and PB here…

If you haven't checked it out yet, the wonderful ladies at TLS hosted our sneak peek, and it'll give you a bit of a timeline of how this whole thing came to be, and almost not be! This story took four years to complete, through the ups and downs of real life, and we're really excited to finally share it with you.

We could not have done this without the incredible group of women who have dedicated their time, love, and effort to us. We'll keep it brief here, but expect us to get really sappy over them at the end.

LayAtHomeMom is our pre-reader, Hadley Hemingway and CarrieZM are our betas, and we were blessed to have such a stellar group of minds and hearts working alongside us. These three amazing women came together as a team, and many many MANY details had to be ironed out to find the best way to attack this project. They accomplished this monumental task seamlessly and with gusto. Thank you all for your patience, friendship, grammar skills, and insight. Our gratitude towards you three is beyond measure, and our words of love feel completely inadequate.

We must also mention Mina Rivera, who made our banner. We are in love with it, and commend her for pleasing both of us.

Enough rambling.

We hope you enjoy this journey with us, and thank you for reading!