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As can be read in the 'Making of Wordamentary', Early Riser went through an exhausive set of rewrites before I finally settled on the story I wanted to tell and the way in which I wanted to tell it. This opening comes from a draft of about a year earlier, when Charlie Worthing had a dead-end job in Procurement with the Winter Consuls and ultimately decides to go on a Winter Excursion with a Thespian, part of the 'Winter Players' tradition.

This was when I was still using parallels between 'The Importance of Being Earnest' and Early Riser, and Aurora and Toccata each playing Lady Bracknell and Miss Prism, who were to to meet and have the denouement in the final act of the book as that of the play within the book, and well, I'm not sure what would have happened. Somehow the pieces didn't fit.

In this lost opener, which actually runs for a tedious 16,000 words, 'Fat Thursday' is already established and many of the ideas that were later introduced more slowly in the book are all gathered here in a bunch, like hungry sheep in the winter. The 'Causal Chain' motif that ran through the books as a kind of sense of inevitability is also still present. So many ideas, so many deletes.

Note remnants of the 'post-war with the French' still in play, and a few more poems. Birgitta is introduced here, too, but it never worked.

A Fistful of Carrots

"...The length of time humans have hibernated has shifted subtly, mostly due to climatic conditions and advances in agriculture. 'Standard Winter' was adopted in 1775 and fixed to eight weeks either side of winter solstice. From Slumberdown to Springrise, 99.99% of the population submit to the dark abyss of sleep. Overwinterers, are, quite literally, one in a million.."

Billy deFroid had a theory that he couldn't die. He's dead now, so I guess he was wrong on that one. He'd been known as Billy-16 at Sister Angelique's, deFroid was his adopted name. Everyone liked Billy. Even when he talked nonsense, which he did quite often. He had a theory about causal chains, too.
    "The thing is," he said, explaining the theory as the tram rumbled down the Abertawe seafront, "is that one's ultimate destiny is neither pre nor self-determined, but shaped on the fly by a succession of events that take you to where you deserve or need to be - like links in an invisible causal chain."
    "Whatever," said Maisie Rogers, who had been a healthy sceptic for as long as I'd known her, which was, like, forever, "but if you don't know where you'll end up, how do you know what these links are?"
    "Ordinarily, you don't," said Billy, "but if you can learn to sense those links and act accordingly, then you could steer your own destiny. Successful people have an instinct for this sort of thing, so if you're low to near the bottom of the pile, it's a skill that might be useful."
Maisie looked dubious. Me, less so. I'd look back six months from now and try to figure out the links in the causal chain that led me from Procurement Assistant to the Winter Lounge of the Sarah Siddons Dormitoria at Springrise Plus Six. I'd find every link, of course, but they'd all be as tenuous as wet cotton, the trail anything but obvious other than in cosy retrospection. But perhaps that's how life is intended to unfold: Apparently randomly and with significance only relevant after the fact.
     But if there was a chain, then this was the first true link: Fat Thursday, Birgitta, Rocco Hunter - and inept mine clearance.
     The tram stopped and we stepped out into the warm sunshine, the seafront curving away to the pier and lifeboat station in the distance, the sea calm, the puffy white clouds tinged with the orange glow of the setting sun. We walked across the broad esplanade, flags moving languidly in the breeze, the smell of salt, barbecue and fresh paint hanging in the air. We commented upon the rusty stain on the pavement, a reminder of the barbed wire recently removed, then made our way down to the beach.
    "I'm always uneasy about Pool reunions," said Maisie, "on the whole the experience was good, but I didn't like everyone."
    "Rough with the smooth," said Billy.
    "Shits with the saints," I replied.
    "Do you think Rick Astley will be here this year?" asked Maisie.
    "Almost certainly not," I said.
    "Why not?"
    "Because there's no earthly reason why he should be. He probably spends Fat Thursday with his friends or family or something."
    "I know," sighed Maisie, "but one can always hope."
    "Irrespective," said Billy, still unsure - like the rest of us - if Maisie's Rick Astley obsession was genuine, a joke, or genuine subtly masquerading as a joke, "but we still have to pay our respects to the penguins."
When organising the the Pool's Fat Thursday reunion, Sister Angelique had thought the beach might be free of revellers as the land mines had only recently been cleared, but no, others had thought the same and in consequence the safe area in the middle of the strand was fairly busy. I thought there had been about two hundred people present, and I wasn't far off: The final tally had been two hundred and twenty-two in an area one hundred yards wide and two hundred yards deep. If the two other parties had joined us as planned, the fatalities would have been much higher.
     The smell of sizzling food increased dramatically as soon as we'd walked down the stone steps to the beach. It was a mix of barbecue sauce, sausages and ketchup. I'd always been quite good with smells; the sausages were Cumberland, the ketchup smelt too vinegary to be Heinz, and so it proved. The others went on ahead as I paused to tie my shoelace next to an abandoned ice-cream stall.
    "Want to buy some pies?"
    "Ham hock and leek," said a small man partially hidden behind a weathered sign that announced to the ghosts of tourism past that a cone with double flake was now only five francs. He had a pale complexion, frightened eyes, and was wrapped up tightly even though it was quite warm.
    "No thanks."
    "How about mocksteak and Kidney? Almost palatable."
    "Tempting but still no thanks," I replied as the police - a notoriously overzealous bunch - often ran entrapment exercises during Fat Thursday, hoping to ensnare a hungry citizen on the sway. Bulking up was meant to be an enjoyable affair but with food supply no longer in abundance, those who were metabolically challenged could easily be tempted by blackmarket battenberg or pies of unproven provenance.
    "One pie a day for six weeks," continued the marketeer in a low voice, "and a fistful of carrots every Saturday. Here, have a tin of creamed rice on appro."
I showed him my Winter Consul's ID and the trader scurried off without a word. He probably hadn't been the police, just someone who had finally conceded they wouldn't last another season and were flogging their allocation on the sly. It was closer to sad than seditious, more forlorn than felonious.
     I walked through the scattered groups in the late Summer sun, the lively chatter of voices mixing with the music wafting down from the bandstand. Fat Thursday had long been accepted as the first day of serious gorging, the time to indulge in the latest faddy get-fat-quick diets. It was also the day to take a vow of abstinence from the mass-stealing sin of exercise. Yesterday you could run for a bus and no-one would turn a hair, tomorrow it would be frowned upon as almost criminally irresponsible. For the next two months, every calorie was sacred; a fight to keep every ounce. Spring only ever welcomed the weight-diligent.
There was a poem:

     Skinny Pete went to sleep,
     Underfed and bony
     Skinny Pete went to sleep
     And died a death so lonely
I rejoined Billy and Maisie who were amongst a gaggle of familiar faces - those from above and below me at at Sister Angelique's. I hugged Declan Peebles and little Lucy Knapp who was already pregnant with her third, then shook hands or nodded to the others, strictly according to a sliding scale of respect and affection. Biddle, Jones, Price, Winton, Williams, Williams, Jones and the kid with the calcites whose name I can never remember. Gary Findlay was there, too, but he turned away on the pretext of more beer from the cooler as soon as he saw me. He and I hadn't exchanged a word since we were nine, the day his bullying stopped, the day I bit off his little finger. It tasted salty if you're interested, and came off surprisingly easy.
    "Someone just tried to flog me some pies," I said, "over at the old ice-cream kiosk."
    "Cops?" asked Declan.
    "I don't think so."
    "Right," he said, "back in a 'mo."
And he ran off up the beach. We all exchanged knowing looks. Declan had trouble keeping weight on. We used to sneak him part of our food at the pool to help him out. I don't know how he'd lasted eight winter seasons out on his own, but it must have been expensive.
     Older members from the Pool were also standing around in small cliques. The ones who'd been gone before I arrived were as strangers, but anyone who'd shared time at Sister Angelique's knew one another.
     I went over and greeted Sister Angelique who was sitting on a deckchair with several of the other nuns. They were down by the water's edge, socks off, habits pinned up after some paddling. They were giggling foolishly at some small joke, their usual austerity ameliorated by the twin jollities of occasion and abundance of food.
    "Our very own Charlie Winters," said Sister Angelique as I approached, "you are well?"
I said that I was, even if my career trajectory was just short of glacial at this point. Four years qualified and I'd progressed no further than working in Logistical Support. And while inventorying stationery has its own peculiar pleasures - who doesn't like stationery, after all - it wasn't what I saw for myself. Trouble was, I didn't know what I did see for myself. I was okay at most things but brilliant at none - except recall. I have a very good memory. All this, right now, is from memory. And smells. Good at them too. Recall of smells also pretty good. The nuns had always smelt of starch, damp, and sherry. Not the best, not the worst - somewhere in the middle, probably Co-Op own brand.
     Maybe, after all, stationery procurement was as far as I would get. Miss Bartrum, my immediate superior, had been there thirty-nine years and had anointed me as her successor when she retired the following season. She could easily have done better for herself but wasn't complaining. She made no bones about it: she was at the Consul Service only for the exemption.
    "Are you Overwintering?" asked sister Angelique.
     She always asked me this, despite knowing that I wouldn't. For every active winterer, there were sixty who worked in Summer Logistical Support. Overwintering was for the bold, the brave, the connected, the physically adept, those for whom reason and good sense had been sacrificed in lieu of a craving for adventure. There were financial benefits, too. Winter cash bonuses and Tier One rent-free accommodation, but it all came with a price: Even if you survived everything the cold could throw at you, the winter exacted a severe physical and mental toll. No-one ever retired after a career of Overwintering; you were invalided out, or died on the job.
     Mostly the latter, and usually before your fortieth.
    "I'm more into pencils and notebooks, typewriter ribbons and telex paper," I said, trying to make it sound more important than it was, "we're looking into several companies promoting ink that won't freeze - it's very exciting."
    "Is it?" asked sister Angelique.
    "No," I said, "but it's a steady job with exciting retirement prospects. Besides, Wintering is for those with the calling."
    "Like Sammy Driscolls?" asked Sister Lewis, who had her robes rolled up to reveal legs that were so thin and white and bony that she appeared to be skeletal from the waist down.
    "Not really," I said. Sammy Driscolls had been the only ex-pooler from Sister Angelique's to Overwinter, and everyone had high hopes for his success. He'd lasted eight weeks before being eaten down to the marrow by Nightwalkers who had gone pack in Llanidloes. He'd fared better than most. The average life expectancy of a novice was barely a month. The winter had many perils, usually related by Overwinterers in the canteen: Tales of Nightwalkers, villains, womads, somniacs, wake-raged megafauna and, most intriguing, the Wintervolk - Dark Pixies and Tonttu, Night-maidens, Pooca and the suchlike. Wholly imagined, but the most interesting.
     I left the sisterhood to their amiable yet fairly mindless chitter-chatter and then went back to the main party. Declan had returned with an on-the-spot fine: The guy selling pies had been an undercover cop after all.
     Maisie, arguably the most successful of us all, was telling anyone who was interested about her Job at the Tactical OverSleep Resource Centre. It was an overwintering gig - albeit based in Cardiff - and accrued the extra pay and benefits, but luckily for her, held few of the risks. The closest she'd got to the winter was staring out of the window. But she'd seen the six nights where the sun never rises, and had the black spot tattooed on the back of her hand to prove it.
    "Did you get sleep-dep narcosis?" I asked, always a risk for the first time winterer. Once you'd shifted your sleep cycle to the late Summer, it wasn't so bad, but the first season up could be cruel. The only upside was that while you were being frozen to death, getting eaten or being parted out by a villain - you could be hallucinating that you were on the cote de azure or something, sipping mockbanana daiquiris.
    "Quite .. challenging to begin with," she said in the sort of way that meant 'Nearly out of my tiny mind'.
    "Any details?" asked Declan.
     Training officer Walter at the academy referred to the spectrum of Narcosis symptoms as Nonspecific Weird Shit, and told us that it was not only generally harmless and short-lived, but often quite funny: Cadet Kiely hallucinated parrots when there were none, and Neal saw everyone she met as either James Stewart or Betty Bacall. More unpleasantly, Novice McMullen told us he was being eaten alive from the inside by an infant Nightwalker. But one thing the quacks all agreed upon: The symptoms passed and left no after effects, except some well-meaning banter around the office.
    "I thought my legs were made of Plasticine," said Lucy in a confessional tone.
    "What colour?" asked Billy.
    "Brown, of course. Plasticine always ends up brown. But the colder it got, the harder it was to move them without tearing. I was worried that if any Nightwalkers turned up I wouldn't be able to get away."
    "I've had dreams like that," said Declan, "running but not being able to escape."
We all exchanged looks. Declan was one of the 2% for whom Morphenox failed to work. His winter wasn't the low-risk cosy dark nap it was for the rest of us, it was Hibernation old school: Fraught with risk. Anomalous waking, variable weight loss, cold, vermin depredation - and with dreams, thick and heavy and confusing.
    "You don't need to wear it as a badge of honour," scolded Billy, "If someone overhears they'll think you're an ex-con, bone-idle Somniac or - I don't know - some dopey hipster on an au Naturelle sleeping kick or something."
We all nodded agreement. Most people who had to forego the pharmaceutical means to ease themselves through the winter stayed quiet about it.
     Not Declan.
    "I'm not ashamed," he said indignantly, "and I won't be made to feel ashamed. Besides, Dreams are fun and random and usually centre around bundling - and at least this way I never get to be a Nightwalker, lumbering around the winter, killing and eating people until I'm mercifully retired."
    "Not all Nightwalkers eat people," said Lucy.
    "What then? Snow?"
    "If you become a Nightwalker you don't know you're one," pointed out Billy, "that's the tragedy and the blessing - no brain, no torment."
Unlike in pre-Morphenox days when sleepdeath was inevitable after Hibernational Hypoxia, a quirk of the drug ensured the victims retained the tattered parts of the brain necessary for basic motor and survival functions. HiberTec and other agencies had run rigorous tests and concluded, categorically, that Nightwalkers were irrecoverably brain dead. They were a creepy yet generally harmless side effect of the drug - and only represented a portion of the SleepPop who would have died anyway.
     I opened my mouth to tell Declan that we were only thinking of his reputation when Billy spotted someone walking down the steps to the beach.
    "Look over there," he said, tugging at my sleeve, "I think it's ... Birgitta."
I turned to where he was pointing. Birgitta had spent six months in the pool when Billy and I were twelve, and she had become the object of our combined affections. She had piercing violet eyes, luxuriant raven-coloured hair, a dark complexion that made her look faintly Ottoman, and high, expressive eyebrows. She'd looked after us Tuesday evenings while the nuns were at bingo, but that didn't equate to stories or much conversation. An inveterate artist, she used to sketch us all, in silence, from her central position in the common room. She barely knew us in return, but we didn't much care. Every story we could make up about her mysterious past or exciting future was the manner in which we filled our evenings. For both of us, she became our standard candle for womanhood - confident, talented, smart, strong, beautiful. She had Alpha stamped all over her.

There was a rhyme:
     Alpha pairs with Alpha
     Beta goes with same
     Below all this is mix and match
     Cash can name its game
    "I wonder if she turned pro with that painting thing?" asked Billy.
     She was walking towards the sisters, greeting everyone she knew on the way.
    "Why not ask her?"
    "You ask her," said Billy, and I began to feel uncomfortable. All of a sudden we weren't responsible twenty-two year olds, loyal foot-soldiers of the greater Europia, dutifully navigating our way through our fiscal, social and reproductive responsibilities, but dumb-ass twelve-year-olds, back at the pool. And there was a good reason for our childish embarrassment: In the high Summer Birgitta used to bathe in the stream behind the Orchard, early morning when she thought no-one was about, the light low, the thistledown drifting in the breeze.
    "Hello," said Birgitta to Billy as she moved on to us, "Brian, isn't it?"
    "B-Billy," said Billy with a stutter I hadn't heard for over a decade, "did art professional thing that you .. do?"
    "Nope," she said with a smile, "didn't understand a word. Still thinking up weird theories?"
So, she did remember him. He flushed deeply.
    "Yes," he said, "yesterday I couldn't die, and today it's about causal chains shaping our destinies."
    "I'd always thought that if a benign force did shape us," she began, while Billy nudged me in the ribs, "then they must have a fairly wicked sense of humour."
    "I have a theory about that too," said Billy, warming to the subject, "that everything is possessed by an inner awkwardness in order to stop society and life stagnating into an echo chamber of unified thoughts and experiences."
    "You haven't changed," said Birgitta.
    "No," said Billy, "I'm not awkward enough."
    "Hey," she said, turning to me, "what do we call you now?"
I used to have a nickname that related to how I looked. It was used with affection by everyone, except Gary Findlay. Hence the finger.
    "It's Charlie now," I said.
    "I knew someone named Charlie once," she said thoughtfully, "but all I have now are the memories."
She looked up and down the beach.
    "I've moved North," she said, "and miss the old place. Have you been back to the Gower?"
We used to spend the Pool holidays there, at least one with Birgitta helping the Sisters with the tents and cooking and so forth. We'd not been back since they'd mined the beaches five years before, and I told her so.
    "A paradise most unholy defiled," she said with a shake of her head, and we all agreed soberly. She then exchanged greetings with Lucy and Maisie before announcing that she must: 'Say hello to the penguins' and would see us all later.
     We didn't see her again. Everyone legged it from the beach during the confusion. I didn't. I ran towards the blast. Still don't know why. Perhaps it was something to do with the causal chain.
     More likely Billy. He was my best and closest friend. We joined the queue for the barbecue and chatted about where ex-poolers were now, who had died, why ducks weren't as big as geese, who was going to win Albion's Got Talent, that sort of thing.
    "Rick Astley," said Maisie, in answer to the Albion question.
    "He's not in it," said Billy, "so fairly unlikely."
    "I know," said Maisie in a mournful tone, "bummer."
Actually, none of us had a clue after last year's surprise winner - Ollie, a dachshund who could count - so the conversation soon defaulted to the usual subjects now the war was over and government had been devolved to Paris: wastage and climate change. Dealing with increased wastage was technically easy though politically a hot potato. Moderates suggested baby drives and cash incentives, while the hardliners favoured more stick than carrot: barren-shaming, removing exemptions and threats of fines for the non-productive.
     Climate change was less easily dealt with. When the wind was from the North you could smell the burning coal-fields. Most of the valleys were now alight, the hills leaking smoke through fissures in the ground. There was never any snow, even in the deep winter - but nothing living, either. The boffins had said it was only a matter of time before the gasses managed to lock in some global heat, but every year it grew colder, the glaciers advanced some more. Some proclaimed climate change a hoax, but consensus and common sense said otherwise. But for us, at least there was a positive: Wales made up much of its revenue from the CO2 release tariffs, negotiated early on, when high.
     We all turned as there seemed to be some sort of commotion near the entrance to the beach. The crowd was parting to let some people through, and that meant one of two things: A celebrity or someone relevant. Or, as it turned out, both.
    "I'll see if I can get a closer look," said Billy, curious as ever, and moved off. He needn't have troubled as the small group eventually passed close by, the crowd opening and then closing as soon as they'd passed. There were three of them: The head of human resources at the Winter Consul service who I knew at least by sight, and a young man who was clearly a novice. The third and most important member was at the front. He was dressed in the white combat fatigues of the Winter Consul, wore a walnut-handled Bambi holstered across his chest and carried with him a sense of quiet dignity.
    "Wow," said Maisie, impressed like the rest of us - indeed, possibly everyone there - "It's ... Rocco Hunter."
Most Consuls sought only anonymity outside the winter, but a few courted the limelight for one reason or another. 'Wildcat' deLuth over in Sector Nine was renowned for her capacity for capturing Nightwalkers alive - four hundred and sixty two either recycled or retired, a record unlikely to be beaten; Rex Slater of Sector nineteen invited controversy by living as and with a Winter Nomad when off duty, and Chief Consul Toccata of Sector Twelve was suspected of resorting to cannibalism more enthusiastically than was considered acceptable. Rocco Hunter, by comparison, was the clean-cut poster boy of the Consul service and probably the most accomplished Winter Lawman in the Albion Archipelago.
     Sure, there were stories of over overzealousness and an eye to commercial exploitation but his record spoke most loudly. He was handsome, too, physically almost perfect and Tier One Alpha. Rumour had it he could charge eye-popping siring fees.
     Hunter nodded greetings as he passed, briefly making eye contact, signing autographs on scraps of paper that were offered to him. We knew he was a long-time patron of Sister Angelique's, but had never attended social events.
    "What's he here for?" whispered Lucy.
    "Don't know."
He passed close by and Maisie cried out his name before we could stop her. Hunter turned to look at her and smiled.
    "Greetings, citizen. What can I do for you?"
He had a low rumble to his voice, friendly and rich, like warm molasses. If he'd never been a Consul he'd have been great on Radio Four.
    "Do you know Rick Astley?" asked Maisie.
     Hunter frowned. Probably not the daftest question he'd been asked, but it had to be close.
    "We've met a couple of times, yes. He's a good man. Something got me started, right?"
    "That's actually ... Mick Hucknell," said Maisie, and Hunter's face dropped.
    "But it doesn't matter," she added, "will your give this to Mr Astley when you see him next?"
And she handed him a small envelope.
     Hunter looked doubtful for a moment, recovered quickly, said: 'it shall be done' and moved on, leaving us all quite speechless.
    "What?" asked Maisie, staring at us all in turn.
    "I don't even know where to start," said Declan, "contradicting Rocco Hunter?"
    "To be fair to Maisie he was wrong," said Lucy.
    "Right," said Maisie.
    "How long have you been carrying that envelope?" I asked, which was the real mystery.
    "Not important," said Maisie, "Rick is superb. I want to have his babies."
    "You can," said Declan, "anyone can."
    "Yeah - but on my salary?"
     Billy came back. He was wearing a Don't Budge an Inch T-shirt, part of Rocco Winter's extensive merchandising range. One of his people must have set up a table somewhere.
    "It's Rocco Hunter," he said, mildly out of breath with the excitement.
    "Yes, we know that."
    "You do?"
    "Sure. But what's he up to?"
Billy grinned.
    "Give me a moment and I'll find out."
And he vanished into the crowd again.
     The initial excitement over, we shuffled along the food queue and picked out some corn-on-the-cob that oozed butter, then rice and tangy chicken. Large portions, too. It seemed almost thrillingly extravagant.
    "What's Rocco Hunter doing here?" asked Reggie Waindrop who was behind the food counter, "not the usual, I'm guessing."
    "He's giving Sister Angelique her twenty-second Silver Stork," said Gary Findlay who was three places further up in the queue.
    "Well deserved," said Reggie. He'd been the venerable Sister's fifth silver stork and Gary and Lucy her seventh and twelfth. The Sisterhood of Perpetual Pregnancy took their pledge seriously. The record was Sister Veronica over in Sector Twelve East, with thirty-three, although I think a few of them were multiples and the last two IVF. All but two survived their first winter and each of them from different men - but then Sister Veronica had a good eye, and took the need for genetic variation seriously.
     Not all did.
    "She's getting another Silver Stork," said Billy, who had just returned, now quite breathless.
    "Her twenty-second," said Lucy, "we heard."
    "You did?" said Billy, face falling.
    "Yup," I said, "will Hunter be performing?"
It was always possible. Those in the military or law enforcement agencies often had a lucrative second career acting out their adventures. Most performances lasted twenty minutes and were a little hokey, but Hunter's performance was more sophisticated and often lasted two hours - with fake snow and wind machines. Once, he featured a real live Nightwalker, but that was stopped when she got loose and caused havoc in the upper circle. If it had been the stalls I don't think anyone would have minded.
    "Okay then," said Billy, this time with less enthusiasm, "I'll go and see."
And he hurried off again.
    "So where are you wintering?" I asked Maisie, as I knew she was between Dormitoria, and boyfriends. We'd both liked Don, but there was no guarantee he'd father a healthy child. First season mortality being what it was, it paid to be choosy.
    "There's an opening at the Nye Bevan Dormitoria in the city centre," she said, "twenty-third floor. It's due an insulation refit, so only half a degree above Low Ideal. Makes it cheap, but I'll need to add a few pounds to make up for-"
    "-I'll have those," said Rocco Hunter's novice who had suddenly appeared upon the scene. He was indicating our plates of food. It didn't look as though he was much into queueing.
    "No you won't," said Maisie.
    "Watch me," he said, flashing Hunter's badge. He smiled unpleasantly, took our plates off us and moved swiftly away without another word.
    "Great," said Maisie, and we tried to get back to the head of the queue, but everyone told us to piss off to the back, so we reluctantly re-queued. I watched the novice thread his way back towards the sisterhood, wondering if being arrogant and pushy were required for the job, or the job made you like that.
    "And to think I paid good money to see him in one of his dumb plays," said Lucy.
    "Which one?"
    "Day of the Nightwalker."
    "I saw that," put in Lucy, "not enough Rick Astley, my opinion."
    "How's the stationery procurement?" asked Maisie, "Will you get the top job next year?"
    "So long as they don't amalgamate us with the motor pool, looks like a dead -"
Our conversation was interrupted by a blur of movement as a concussive vortex ring erupted from somewhere near the sisterhood. The double shockwave hit us a split-second later and sent us all sprawling into the sand. I soon recovered my composure and, without thinking, ran towards where there was now a crater in the beach. The dead, dying and unconscious were covered by a liberal smattering of sand and it suddenly seemed very quiet. I guessed why soon enough - my ears were ringing. I knew why I'd run in this direction, too. It was where Billy had been headed. I found him, or what was left of him, and squeezed his hand as his blood ran out into the sand.
     He beckoned me closer.
    "It it bad?" he asked.
    "It's bad,' I said.
     We never lied to one another. We'd promised each other that almost as soon as we could talk.
    "I'm not going to die," he said with an odd half smile, "because I can't. You'll see."
But he did, there on the sand on Fat Thursday, with his best friend ever holding his hand.

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