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Fiction
"an excellent, fast-paced medical thriller" - DOUGLAS PRESTON, NYT-BEST SELLING AUTHOR of RELIC
Poetry
"channels the voices of the wild and brings the fearsome dangerously close" - Sandra McPherson, Poet and Professor Emerita, UC Davis
Scientific Texts
"[describes] great possibilities that exist to sharpen our view of biology and of medicine" - International Journal of Toxicology
"A great text that explains the concepts underlying this new field"- In Vet Human Toxicology


Excerpt from "The Ripper Gene" - Prologue

PROLOGUE

Halloween, 1983.
Crossroads, Mississippi.

Every Halloween the ladies from Crossroads Baptist took us to different church members’ houses for trick-or-treating, so no razor blades, rat poison, or liquid Drano would end up in our candy. My mother was always one of the chaperones, and that night she rode in the front seat of Mrs. Callahan's station wagon with us.

The car rolled steadily beneath the swaying fingers of Spanish moss as we left the swamps. Glowing faces floated in the back seat around me as we bounced over the rutted, gravel road. A ghost, a cowboy, a ballerina, a ghoul. One kid even wore a devil mask beside me.
I wore a knight’s costume, replete with a wooden sword and a breastplate of armor made from an aluminum trashcan. The lid served as my shield.

Mara, my twelve year-old girlfriend, sat beside me. She was dressed like a princess, a silver tiara glinting atop her raven black hair in the moonlight. We’d stolen a kiss in the bathroom of the church basement earlier, during the apple-bobbing contest. There, in the darkness of the back seat, I could still taste the cinnamon from her glossed lips. The memory of kissing her, somehow finding her mouth with my own in that dark and forbidden bathroom, had sent pulsating waves of excitement through my young torso for the entire night.

We continued along the gravel roads not speaking, just stealing glances in the moonlight.
No man-made lights or lampposts punctuated the pine-choked countryside surrounding us. Out the windows a million stars spread away from the Milky Way like a white paint explosion across a midnight-blue canvas.

Just as Mara leaned towards me to finally speak, the car slammed to a halt, screeching in the gravel and sliding a good twenty feet on the road. All the kids toppled to the floorboard and after a moment’s silence, Mrs. Callahan’s voice whispered in the dark. “Oh, my God.
What’s that?”

I poked my head above the back seat just as my mother replied, the thick curls of her black hair spilling over the seat and filling my view. “Oh, just some young boys horsing around up there. Wait. Is that blood, Marjorie? Drive on up.”

Mrs. Callahan shifted into drive, but didn’t take her foot off the brake. “Probably just a Halloween prank, Mrs. Madden. We best go on around.” Mrs. Callahan’s eyes were so intensely focused ahead that I craned my neck away from my mother’s hair to follow her gaze.

Two teen-age boys, both in white T-shirts and jeans, stood illuminated on the road ahead. One of them turned toward us, shielding a hand in front of his eyes, the front of his T-shirt stained a deep red. A moment later the other boy staggered and fell sideways into the shallow ditch along the far side of the road.

“Margie, I think they’re really hurt,” my mother said. “Maybe they were in a car wreck.”

Mrs. Callahan's eyes narrowed and her voice fell to a growl. “Ain’t no cars around here, Mrs. Madden. Why don’t we just go to the next house and call an ambulance?”

I inhaled the air behind my mother’s hair. She used Prell, and her hair smelled just like the green liquid in the bottle. She faced Mrs. Callahan, but caught sight of me out of the corner of her eye and cupped my chin in her hand as she spoke. “It wouldn’t be Christian, Margie. Drive on up, and I’ll roll down the window and ask them what happened. Go on.”

Mrs. Callahan eyed my mother as if to speak, but instead released the brake and we rolled forward in the night slowly, approaching the boys. The one boy still lied face down in the ditch, unmoving. The other one stumbled at the edge of the road, moving in circles back and forth as though tracing the symbol for infinity.

My mother rolled down her window.

The boy who was still standing was crying. His blond hair hung in front of his face, and he whined. “Help us, please. There’s another boy on the other side of the hill. He ain’t moving, either. We had an accident. We were riding motorcycles.”

My mother unlocked and opened her door. “Margie. You stay with the children--” she began, but Mrs. Callahan’s hand shot across the seat and clutched my mother by the sleeve of her white sweater.

“Mrs. Madden. Really. I don’t know.”

My mother leaned back inside and smiled. But it wasn’t the genuine kind, rather the kind she always used whenever she was about to end a conversation. I knew it, and Mrs. Callahan knew it, too.

“Margie, these boys are hurt,” she said, “and I’m a nurse. It’s the only thing I can do. Ya’ll go on up to Nellie’s. Call 911 and the ambulance. Then call Jonathan and let him know I’m all right. Leave the children at Nellie’s for the time being. When the police get there, bring them here. We’ll be waiting right here on the side of the road. Hopefully that poor boy in the woods isn’t hurt too bad.”

“Mama,” I said.

“Hush. Go on up with Mrs. Callahan and I’ll help these boys, then I’ll see you and daddy up at the house. I love you, Lucas.”

The memory always goes fuzzy then. The next thing I remember is my mother’s face receding into the dark woods as Mrs. Callahan drives away. I press my face against the glass of the window, a tear trickling for some reason over my cheek as the one bloodied boy holds my mother’s wrist and leads her into the overgrown grass and small trees. My mother looks back at me one last time, smiling the way only women can, the one that’s sad and frightened and turned in the wrong direction but is supposed to reassure you that everything will be fine.

It’s the last time I’ll ever see my mother’s face.

They disappear into the woods.

And just before our station wagon crests the hill, I see the other mortally wounded boy suddenly stand up in the ditch, not looking at all as sick and hurt as he’d appeared before. He looks furtively about to make sure no one is watching, then runs into the woods, sneaking behind my mother and her bloodied companion.

I wrestle and thrash in the car, begging Mrs. Callahan to stop, until she finally screams at the top of her voice, swearing at me with a stream of profanities that stun us all into silence, screaming at me to be quiet because I’m scaring the other children. She drives faster and I can still hear the sounds of children crying all around me as the dark forest envelopes the empty gravel road behind us, separating me farther and farther from my mother, forever.