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“Come on,” he pressed, gesturing to the car that had stopped beside them.

The girl just stared at him.

“What’s going to happen to you?” he asked. “Couldn’t be worse than what already has.”

When she made no motion toward the car, he sighed and pointed at her arm.

“Let me look at that.” He reached out, letting his fingers graze her jacket. The air around his hand crackled the way it always did, and the girl let out a barely audible breath of relief. She rubbed at her sleeve.

“Hey, stop that,” he warned, knocking her hand away from the wound. “I didn’t fix it.”

Her eyes danced between his hand and her sleeve, and back again.

“I’m cold,” she said.

“I’m Victor,” he said, and she offered him a small, exhausted flicker of a smile. “Now what do you say we get out of the rain?”




“YOU’RE not a bad person,” repeated Sydney, flinging dirt onto the moonlit grass. “But Eli is.”

“Yes. Eli is.”

“But he didn’t go to prison.”


“Do you think he’ll get the message?” she asked, pointing at the grave.

“I’m pretty sure,” said Victor. “And if he doesn’t, your sister will.”

Sydney’s stomach twisted at the thought of Serena. In her mind, her big sister was two different people, two images overlapping in a way that blurred both, and made her feel dizzy, ill.

There was the Serena from before the lake. The Serena who’d knelt on the floor in front of her the day she left for college—they both knew she was abandoning Sydney to the toxic, empty house—and who used her thumb to wipe tears from Sydney’s cheek, saying over and over, I’m not gone, I’m not gone.

And then there was the Serena from after the lake. The Serena whose eyes were cold and whose smile was hollow, and who made things happen with only words. The one who lured Sydney into a field with a body, cooing at her to show her trick, and then looking sad when she did. The one who turned her back when her boyfriend raised his gun.

“I don’t want to see Serena,” said Sydney.

“I know,” said Victor. “But I want to see Eli.”

“Why?” she asked. “You can’t kill him.”

“That may be.” His fingers curled around the shovel. “But half the fun is trying.”




WHEN Eli picked up Victor from the airport a few days before the start of spring semester, he was wearing the kind of smile that made Victor nervous. Eli had as many different smiles as ice cream shops had flavors, and this one said he had a secret. Victor didn’t want to care, but he did. And since he couldn’t seem to keep himself from caring, he was determined to at least keep himself from showing it.

Eli had spent the whole break on campus doing research for his thesis. Angie had complained because he was supposed to go away with her; Angie, as Victor predicted, was not a fan of Eli’s thesis, neither the subject matter nor the percent of his time it was occupying. Eli claimed the holiday research stint was a token to placate Professor Lyne, to prove he was taking the thesis seriously, but Victor didn’t like it because it meant that Eli had a head start. Victor didn’t like it because he had, of course, petitioned to stay over break, too, applied for the same exemptions, and had been denied. It had taken all his control to hide the anger, the desire to pen over Eli’s life, and rewrite it into his. Somehow he managed only a shrug and a smile, and Eli promised to keep him in the loop if he made any headway in their—Eli had said their, not his, and that had helped placate him—area of interest. Victor had heard nothing all during break; then a few days before he was scheduled to fly back to campus, Eli called to say he’d found something, but refused to tell his friend what it was until the two were back on campus.

Victor had wanted to book an earlier flight (he couldn’t wait to escape the company of his parents, who had first insisted on a Christmas together, and then on reminding him daily of the sacrifice they were making, since holidays were their most popular tour slots) but he didn’t want to seem too eager, so he waited out the days, working furiously on his own adrenal research, which felt remedial by comparison, a simple issue of cause and effect, with too much documented data to make for much of a challenge. It was regurgitation. Competently organized and elegantly worded, yes, but dotted by hypotheses that felt, to Victor, uninspired, dull. Lyne had called the outline solid, had said that Victor was off to a running start. But Victor didn’t want to run while Eli was busy trying to fly.

And so, by the time he climbed into the passenger seat of Eli’s car, his fingers were rapping on his knees from the excitement. He stretched in an effort to still them, but as soon as they hit his legs again, they resumed their restless motion. He’d spent most of the flight storing up indifference so that when he saw Eli, the first words out of his mouth wouldn’t be tell me, but now that they were together, his composure was failing.

“Well?” he asked, trying unsuccessfully to sound bored. “What did you find?”

Eli tightened his grip on the steering wheel as he drove toward Lockland.


“What about it?”

“It was the only commonality I could find in all the cases of EOs that are even close to well-documented. Anyway, bodies react in strange ways under stress. Adrenaline and all that, as you know. I figured that trauma could cause the body to chemically alter.” He began to speak faster. “But the problem is, trauma is such a vague word, right? It’s a whole blanket, really, and I needed to isolate a thread. Millions of people are traumatized daily. Emotionally, physically, what-have-you. If even a fraction of them became ExtraOrdinary, they would compose a measurable percentage of the human population. And if that were the case EOs would be more than a thing in quotation marks, more than a hypothesis; they’d be an actuality. I knew there had to be something more specific.”

“A genre of trauma? Like car accidents?” asked Victor.

“Yes, exactly, except there weren’t indicators of any common trauma. No obvious formula. No parameters. Not at first.”

Eli let his words hang in the car. Victor turned the radio from low to off. Eli was practically bouncing in his seat.

“But?” prompted Victor, cringing at his own obvious interest.

“But I started digging,” said Eli, “and the few case studies I could dig up—unofficial ones, of course, and this shit was a pain to find—the people in them weren’t just traumatized, Vic. They died. I didn’t see it at first because nine times out of ten when a person doesn’t stay dead, it isn’t even recorded as an NDE. Hell, half the time people don’t realize they’ve had an NDE.”


Eli glanced over at Victor. “Near death experience. What if an EO isn’t a product of just any trauma? What if their bodies are reacting to the greatest physical and psychological trauma possible? Death. Think about it, the kind of transformation we’re talking about wouldn’t be possible with a physiological reaction alone, or a psychological reaction alone. It would require a huge influx of adrenaline, of fear, awareness. We talk about the power of will, we talk about mind over matter, but it’s not one over the other, it’s both at once. The mind and the body both respond to imminent death, and in those cases where both are strong enough—and both would have to be strong, I’m talking about genetic predisposition and will to survive—I think you might have a recipe for an EO.”