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By AJ Gentile
CHAPTER ONE

At night, under the ancient warehouse canopies off the river, he looked like just another homeless old man. Just another in the army of derelict, transient, impoverished men who wander aimlessly through the icy city streets, searching for whatever doorway, alley, or Laundromat will offer shelter. But the man moved with purpose, as if he were not a stranger here. His walk was torturous, unsteady. He staggered clumsily, neither drunk nor doped up, his steps short, awkward, as if the weight of his own body was too much to carry. His fingers—bent, arthritic, clutched like claws—searched out support at every step. His limbs seemed curiously contorted more because of the feeling they conveyed than what you actually saw. Like some diseased tree whose gnarled and twisted roots are hidden from sight under the earth. But what disturbed you most about the man, what made you really pity him, was his head. It hung low on his chest, slumped to one side as if the bones in the neck had dissolved. From behind, a block away, he looked headless.

For the last few days the grip of bitter winter had held the city. By midnight the temperature had fallen dramatically. Flaws of snow spun through the air. A freezing, sailing wind swept through the streets, clearing away the night crawlers, the homosexuals who bargain in whispers in the vacant lots, forcing them inside. It was the kind of cold that seeps into your body, chilling you instantly, pulling the heat from you. Yet the man seemed oblivious to it. He turned into the teeth of that icy gale coming off the Hudson, a ragged, filthy suit his only protection. Against the rushing of the wind the cloth had a life all its own, pulling away, trying to tear itself free of the man. His ankles were naked, his blackened bare feet dragged through slush and broken glass.

In the company of night it was all so easily concealed.

He was alone. There was no one to witness his coming.

Re stopped in front of a subway entrance, peering down the dimly lit stairwell. He hung against the rail and tilted his head into the light. Bubbles of blistered skin spotted his head and chest, bloated by pockets of gas.

He studied the city that lay before him with remarkable clear bright eyes. Blue eyes. They seemed out of place in the face of the man. You would think for someone who had lived so long, had seen so much, they would have that vital intense look of age. They didn't. They were soft, dismayed . . . like a child's. More than anything else the eyes gave him away.

He did not know his name or where he had come from, but he knew why he had journeyed to this city, what he must do.

The Sin.

He lived for the Sin. He existed solely because of it. It ravaged his mind like a festering cancer, burning a hole in time. There were no memories, no thoughts, no emotions.

Only the Sin.

It was the seventeenth of November. He would find the childwoman. She was here, somewhere in this city, one of the last of the Thirty. He would find the childwoman, and they would commit the Sin.

And it would start again. Just as it had those many centuries ago.

The subterranean rumble of the subway drifted up the stairwell. It called to him. A familiar voice, a voice that seemed to echo from some dark, distant place. The same voice had awakened him from limbo so brief a time ago. "Come," the voice had said. As lucid as a howl of mad love in the night.

Come.

He stood a moment, gathering his strength. Bracing himself, he took a rigid step forward. Under the sleeping city he descended.


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