“I’m asking all of you because I am still searching for the answer myself,” he said, gripping the podium. “And the most complicated truths sometimes come from the simplest places. When I am on my deathbed, I want to know with unwavering certainty what lies ahead of me. I’m sure each and every one of you feels the same way.”

The audience applauded. Claymore waited for them to finish.

“My new book, Road to Death, will be in stores soon,” he concluded. “If you want to know more, I’d be honored to have you read it. And now I wish you good night. I hope you all find the answers you seek.”

A few in the audience gave him a standing ovation. Claymore flashed one last smile before walking offstage. But once he was away from their eyes, he scowled.

This was what his life had come to—being paraded around from one event to another like some circus animal. He was a visionary, but at the same time, a joke. Maybe a dozen people in the audience even remotely understood his work. He knew even fewer would accept it.

The sheer ignorance of his fans disgusted him.

“Mr. Claymore!” His host trotted backstage, and Claymore bent his frown into a smile. She was the one paying his fee, after all.

“You were a hit, Mr. Claymore!” she said, nearly jumping out of her high heels. “We’ve never had such a crowd!”

The woman landed back on her feet, and Claymore was surprised that her heels didn’t shatter under her weight. That was probably an impolite thought, but this woman almost matched him in height, and Claymore was considered a tall person. The best way to describe her would be as a stereotypical grandmother, the kind who bakes cookies and knits sweaters. She was larger than most grandmas, however. And her enthusiasm was fierce, almost like a hunger. A hunger for what? he wondered. Claymore assumed more cookies.

“Thank you,” he said, gritting his teeth. “But it’s Doctor Claymore, actually.”

“Well, you were amazing!” she said, smiling ear to ear. “You’re the first author we’ve sold out for!”

Of course I would fill the auditorium in a tiny town like this, Claymore thought. More than one reviewer had called him the greatest mind since Stephen Hawking. Even as a child, he’d used his silver tongue to make him seem little less than a god to his peers and teachers. Now he was looked up to by politicians and scientists alike.

“I preach the truth, and people long for the truth about death,” he said, quoting his new book.

The woman seemed a bit starstruck and no doubt would have kept praising him for hours, but she had served her purpose; so Claymore used the opportunity to make his departure. “I need to retire to my home now, Ms. Lamia. Have a good night.”

With those words, he walked out of the building and into the crisp night air.

He never would have agreed to speak in backwater Keeseville, New York, if he didn’t own a home here. The massive auditorium stuck out like a sore thumb in this quaint little town where he’d moved to pursue his writing in peace.

With its population barely breaking two thousand, Claymore guessed that the huge crowd tonight must have come from all over the state. He was a special event, a once-in-a-lifetime thing. But for Claymore it was busywork, something his publishers required of him. Just another day at the office.

“Dr. Claymore, wait!” a voice called after him, but he ignored it.

If it wasn’t his sponsor, he didn’t have to answer. There was no point…the event was over. But then someone grabbed his arm.

He turned and glared. It was that boy, the same one who had tried to make a fool of him.

“Dr. Claymore!” the boy said, panting. “Hold on. I need to ask you something.”

Claymore opened his mouth to reprimand the child, but then he stopped.

The boy’s father stood a few feet behind him. At least, Claymore assumed it was the father. They shared the same brown hair and lanky physique.

He thought the man should scold his child for being so rude, but the father just stared blankly at Claymore.

“Why, yes, hello,” Claymore said, forcing a smile toward the dad. “Is this your son?”

“He just has a quick question for you,” the dad said absentmindedly.

Claymore reluctantly turned his gaze to the boy, who, unlike his father, had eyes burning with fiery determination.

“I suppose this is my fault,” Claymore said as civilly as possible. “I should have allowed you more time to talk at the end of my speech.”

“It’s something important,” the boy said. “So please take this seriously even if it sounds weird, okay?”

Claymore resisted the urge to walk away. He disliked indulging people, but his public face was important to his book sales. He couldn’t have this boy’s idiot father telling the world that they had been cruelly ignored.

“Ask away,” Claymore said. “I’m all ears.”

The boy straightened. Despite being as thin as a twig, he stood nearly as tall as Claymore.

“What happens if someone finds a way to stop death?”

Claymore could feel his blood chill from the change in the boy’s voice. It wasn’t nervous anymore. It was as heavy and cold as stone.

“That would be impossible,” Claymore said. “All living things decay over time. There is a certain point at which we become unable to function. That is—”

“You didn’t answer the question,” the boy interrupted. “Please give me your honest opinion.”

“I don’t have one,” Claymore retorted. “I’m not a fiction writer. I don’t indulge myself in impossibilities.”

The boy frowned. “That’s too bad. Dad, the paper?”

The man pulled a piece of paper from his pocket and handed it to Claymore.

“It’s our contact information,” the boy said. “If you figure it out, call me, okay?”

Claymore stared at him, trying not to let his confusion show. “You do understand me, don’t you? I can’t answer your question.”

The boy looked at him with solemn eyes. “Please try, Dr. Claymore. Because if you don’t, I’m going to die.”

On the drive home Claymore kept glancing in his rearview mirror. Really, he was pathetic. The boy had just been trying to unnerve him. He couldn’t let himself get upset over something like that.

By the time he reached his driveway, he felt like he had gotten over it. But he still found himself setting his house alarm.

Claymore lived alone in his personally designed house. Among his many talents he was an architect, and he wanted his house to mirror him in every aspect. Impressively modern with clean lines, it was set well back from the road. Its security cameras and barred windows protected his privacy, but inside, the rooms were simply furnished, quiet, and comfortable.

No wife, no kids—there was no one in the house to disturb him. Not even a cat. Especially not a cat.

It was his oasis and his oasis alone. Being here always calmed his frayed nerves.

Yes, his beautiful house did help him get his mind off the boy. But it wasn’t long before he found himself sitting at his desk, reading the card the father had given him.

ALABASTER C. TORRINGTON

273 MORROW LANE

518-555-9530

The 518 area code meant that they might live in Keeseville. And Claymore recalled a Morrow Lane about halfway across town.

Was Alabaster Torrington the boy, or the father? Alabaster was a rather old-fashioned name. You didn’t hear it often, because most parents had the sense not to name their children after rocks.

Claymore shook his head. He should throw away the card and forget it. Scenes from Stephen King’s Misery were stuck in his head. But that’s what the alarm system is for, he told himself; to keep the creepy fans away. If his door got so much as a knock in the middle of the night, the police would be dispatched immediately.

And Claymore was not defenseless. He had a respectable collection of firearms hidden in various places around his house. One couldn’t be too careful.

He sighed, throwing the piece of paper on the table with the rest of his scraps. It wasn’t unusual for him to encounter strange people at events. After all, for every semi-intelligent person who bought his books, there were at least three others who picked them up because they thought they were dieting guides.

All that mattered was the fact that Claymore wasn’t alone in a dark alley with those people. He was safe, he was home, and there was no better place to be.

He smiled to himself, leaning back in his work chair. “Yes, that’s right, nothing to worry about,” he told himself. “Just another day at the office.”

That’s when the phone rang, and Claymore’s smile melted.

What could anyone want at this hour? It was nearly eleven. Anyone sensible was either asleep or curled up with a good book.

He thought about not answering, but his phone didn’t stop ringing—which was very strange, considering that his voicemail usually picked up after the fourth ring. Eventually curiosity won him over.

He stood and walked into his great room. For simplicity’s sake, he only kept one landline in the house. The caller ID read MARIAN LAMIA, 518-555-4164.

Lamia…That was the woman who booked the event.

He frowned and reluctantly picked up the receiver as he sat down on his couch.

“Yes, hello, Claymore speaking.” He did not attempt to mask the annoyance in his voice. This was his home, and forcing him to answer a phone call was no better than intruding in person. He hoped Lamia had a good reason.

“Mr. Claymore!” She said his name like she was announcing he’d won the lottery. “Hello, hello, hello! How are you doing?”

“Do you realize what hour it is, Ms. Lamia?” Claymore asked in the most severe voice he could muster. “Do you have something important to tell me?”

“Yes, I do! In fact, I wanted to talk to you about it immediately!”

He sighed. This person made him go from mildly annoyed to just plain infuriated in a grand total of thirty seconds.

“Well, then, don’t just exclaim pointlessly,” he snarled. “Spit it out! I’m a busy man and do not take kindly to being disturbed.”

The line went silent. Claymore was half convinced he’d scared her off. But finally she continued in a much colder voice.

“Very well, Mr. Claymore. We don’t have to go through the pleasantries, if that’s what you wish.”

He nearly laughed. It sounded like this woman was outright trying to be intimidating.

“Thank you,” Claymore said. “What exactly do you want?”

“You met a child tonight, and he gave you something,” Lamia said. “I want you to hand that over to me.”

He frowned. How did she know about the boy? Was she watching him?

“I don’t appreciate your following me, but I guess at this point that hardly matters. All the child gave me was a piece of paper with his address on it. I wouldn’t feel comfortable giving it to you, someone I met only yesterday.”

There was another pause. Just as Claymore was about to put down the phone, the woman asked, “Do you believe in God, Mr. Claymore?”

He rolled his eyes, disgusted with the woman. “You don’t know when to stop, do you? I don’t believe in anything that I cannot see or feel myself. So if you are asking me from a religious context, the answer is no.”

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