Her first memory is auditory - the percussive thump of a body hitting the bottom of a rowboat. She isn't any older than four – a smart four, too smart, her father tells her later.
His face is lined – old at twenty-nine – when he cast the bundle over the side of the boat. There had been scary things that came from the sky to feast on his bones, and he did what he always had to do.
And they had been so happy in Maryland, by the ocean, where their troubles had seemed avoidable.
"Mommy's sleeping," he insists, as he hauls the bloody trash bag to the edge of the pier and rolls it into the gray water below.
In the back seat of his Oldsmobile she grows older, living off of Mars bars and dehydrated noodles. Her daddy teaches her the words to the popular songs, his good arm draped over the back of the seat, driving with his shiny fingers curled around the wheel.
The girl smells always of the soap from a Mobile station dispenser and wears ragged castoffs from the Salvation Army Store. She has his hearty constitution and can survive frigid nights under Kevlar blankets, curled into the seat like a forgotten potato chip. She is dark brown from the sun as they drive and drive, southward to Georgia.
The monsters take most of his attention. She understands that they should, and always will.
She doesn't dream. Daddy wakes up screaming every night, so she guesses that's a good thing. What she does she remembers her mother as a pretty blonde woman standing in the sunlight, smiling, running to meet her father
It's been years since they've gone inside an S-Mart.
That's where mommy fell asleep.
Her lessons come from the surrounding world – what color is a stoplight? What number on the streetlight? How many quarters make a dollar? Can a dollar get you a good meal? He shows her the stars and tries to teach her what he's learned.
She grows thick at the torso and her hair becomes unmanageable. She learns how to comb her own hair and mend her own clothing. Soon, he tells her, they'll be at their Aunt Marnie's house. Soon they'll stop running.
She was three when he put a shotgun in her hand for the first time. According to him, her mother had screamed at him.
He tries to teach her again at seven, but her aim is atrocious. She's a little better with a knife, but not much.
"You have to know this," he tells her, sounding like an average father at the strangest time.
She tries, but her reflexes are poor – she wasn't built for this. It's not her prophecy.
When she wakes him from a deep sleep he looks up, cloudy-eyed, then lowers her head.
"You look just like your mom in that light."
She wonders if she should have been born a boy. He wouldn't worry about her as much if she were.
Aunt Marnie takes over the raising of her when they finally get to Georgia.
Her father hates the south, but he makes good money as a day laborer, and he finds a group of women who find his stories and charm irresistible.
Aunt Marnie makes her presentable for school. When she goes she is an average student who's utterly invisible to her classmates.
Until they kill her teacher. Then she's 'the weird girl'.
She's developed a southern twang. Her father sighs and says he wishes she had a Michigan accent.
Even he doesn't have a Michigan accent, she points out.
He asks her if she remembers Michigan at all, and she doesn't.
He shakes his head. "Wish you could go back."
But he never wishes for himself.
At eight, she takes a field trip to the aquarium. It goes smoothly and she becomes enchanted with the dolphins, the magic of aquatic life.
When she comes home, she tells her father she's going to be a marine biologist.
He makes a face. "Two words, darlin': Deadite dolphins."
It breaks her heart, but her room is plastered with marine life posters by the end of the week.
She can't make friends, they die.
The ones she keeps are a little too interested in what daddy has to do to keep them all alive.
She starts telling people he works in a funeral parlor.
He's never prouder of her than when she's on the soccer field.
She's not particularly good at it, but he loves watching her run. And he's the loudest father in the stands.
He may bring along bullets instead of Gatorade, but he's there, and that's important.
She starts asking her Aunt Marnie about her mother.
"Jenny was a beautiful girl." She smiles, pulling out a picture. "Doesn't your father tell you about her?"
"Daddy says I look like her."
"They were closer than twins."
She didn't know that. She doesn't know anything about her mother.
Her father doesn't keep souvenirs.
Except for her.
She has one friend named Rachel by the time she's sixteen. She thinks it's 'awesome' that her father can do what he does. She thinks it's wicked that her new friend can slay a demon – efficiently enough, though not with style and panche like her father. They hang out at dance clubs downtown and tempt danger.
She is not her father's favorite person right now.
When she asks him about love, he shakes his head. "I've been in love three times, and I had to kill two of them."
"What happened to the third?"
"Younger or older?"
"Older. By six hundred years."
That's the last time she asks him for advice.
She was raised to believe that there was no future – that any and every moment could be your very last. She doesn't make plans for the middle or end of her life – only the next hour or so.
When she graduated high school, she starts waitressing. Her father wants her to go to college, to study what she wants (does she still want to be a marine biologist? No, he was just kidding about the Deadite dolphins…).
She wants to live through the next day.
She's like him that way.
There's a boy who's arrogant and loud, and funny. He's got green eyes and he's very tall and smart.
He reminds her of her father, who hates him on sight.
They get engaged. They move in together before college. Aunt Marnie left enough in her will for her to have a stylish wedding, which nearly comes off.
Until her groom turns into a demon on the wedding night.
They crouch in the boat, throwing pieces of what used to be the love of her life into the ocean.
"I have to take care of this."
It's the first time he's ever suggested that there's something for him to fix. It's always been about him. Her role has been to stay out of his way and out of the way of the demons or deal with becoming demon chow.
"There's nothing to do. You've told me that a million times."
"It's different now. It's changing over to you. Don't you see – they're going after you when I'm not around. They're going after you."
Her father is fierce in everything he does. Deeply macho. He's never cried in front of her. But she knows he cares about her as he stares her down like that, when he tries to convince her that this is important.
"You weren't in the prophecy, darlin'. What they want is me," he cocks the rifle. "And it's about time I finished this."
She sees him off the next morning.
Nothing happens. She waitresses, goes home, goes to the mall, breathes, eats, goes to the movies. Waits. Waits.
She has to take out one Deadite on her own – clumsily and messily, without any joy about the process of it – but she can do it. It's the one lesson he's managed to pass down to her.
Two weeks later there's an immense thunderstorm, the clouds amber-colored and low. She watches the violence from her aunt's porch, clinging, wondering what's gone wrong.
Afterwards, the clouds clear and the sky turns the oddest shade of blue.
Her father's favorite color…
She has money. Just enough to go back to college. She applies for a scholarship and has to move to Florida, but soon she's learning what will sustain her for the rest of her years.
This boy is much milder than the others. He's got a funny laugh, and he thinks her stories are kind of creepy, but otherwise they suit well.
The girl is no princess – she never really was. She's not beautiful like her mother, but sturdy and well-built like her father. Her truest virtue is the dark, clearly-seeing eyes she inherited from him.
And he's no prince charming – no king-to-be-, but he's sweet.
When she lies with him, only the best of things happen.
She takes a job working for the aquarium that so enchanted her at eight. They get married in the Aqua-tarrium with Delta the dolphin as her flower girl.
She braces and braces and braces, but nothing happens.
There haven't been any Deadites for a year or two now. She keeps the gun and the machete, anyway, knowing that she won't need them.
She calls her baby Ashley. He's mild and dark-haired, with big eyes and a jolly laugh. She's in the front yard of the house, teaching him to walk, when a Delta 88 falls out of the sky.
At first she can't believe it. Then she never wants the dream to end, if it is one, as she runs and runs, the baby in her arms, her free one stretched out.
The man who emerges is gray-haired but still vibrant of eye and body. There's a woman next to him in the car, staring wide-eyed at their surroundings. Before he takes his daughter in his arms and swings her around, he laughs.
"Darlin, you wouldn't believe me if I told you…"