Thursday, January 19, 2017

Top 20 Comics of 2016

These are my favorite comics of 2016, including manga, superheroes, graphic novels, reprints, etc. I try to be as true to how I feel about a book as possible when ranking them, which is why it may seem odd for some to see a superhero title hardly anyone read rank over an acclaimed graphic novel. If I enjoyed my experience of reading it more, it was placed higher on my list.

These are my favorite twenty comics of the year. I hope you enjoy my list, and hopefully check out some books that may have eluded you.

Honorable Mentions
The Complete Crepax: Dracula, Frankenstein & Other Horror Stories (Guido Crepax)
Descender (Jeff Lemire & Dustin Nguyen)
Jessica Jones (Brian Michael Bendis & Michael Gaydos)
Ms. Marvel (G. Willow Wilson & Takeshi Miyazawa)
Princess Jellyfish (Akiko Higashimura)

20. Someone Please Have Sex With Me (Gina Wynbrandt) - A desperately horny girl has a series of misadventures as she miscalculates her sex appeal and fawns over her sex god, Justin Bieber.  This graphic novel has a frustratingly real emotion behind its misses in love and lust, and is hilarious as it sweeps you in its wake.

19. Captain Marvel (Tara Butters, Michele Fazekas & Kris Anka) - Captain Marvel heads the new first response to extraterrestrial threats, with the aid of Alpha Flight, on a space station orbiting Earth.  Captain Marvel is always a lot of fun in space, and a space station so close to Earth keeps her grounded and at hand for adventures in other books (like, say, Civil War II), so this is a smart role for her.  With former S.W.O.R.D. operative Agent Brand as her second-in-command to keep her in check, Danvers is a force to be reckoned with, even as the twists and turns and space monsters come at her full-speed.

18. I Am a Hero (Kengo Hanzawa) - Hideo already has a lot of problems in his life.  He's in his mid-thirties and socially awkward, and works as a manga assistant, having failed at trying his hand with his own manga series.  But one thing that Hideo might be good at is facing a zombie apocalypse.  Drawn beautifully, this slow-building series only hints at the horrors to come at first, before it explodes in a cacophony of flesh-eating monsters bent on tearing Japan apart.

17. Black Widow (Mark Waid & Chris Samnee) - Former Red Room operative, gone S.H.I.E.L.D. agent and Avenger, faces her past in this fast-paced adventure series of spies and conspiracies.  Samnee draws the hell out of this book while Waid weaves an exciting story for Romanov that rivals the best comics we've seen featuring the Avenger.

16. Queen Emeraldas (Leiji Matsumoto) - Emeraldas is a legend in the vast blackness of space, traveling for mysterious purposes, and disposing of adversaries in her wake.  With its retro style, Queen Emeraldas has a strong Tezuka influence and an epic scope, while the Wild West feel Matsumoto has created for this universe gives it a raw feeling where anything can happen.

15. Three Thieves (Scott Chantler) - The concluding volumes of Scott Chantler's all ages series sees Dessa fulfill her quest, but with unexpected allies and painful loss causing ripples as things go sideways.  As always, Chantler fills his books with a great balance of action and drama, while cartooning like nobody's business.  A fun series that I'm sad to see come to an end, as satisfying as that ending may be.

14. Spider-Woman (Dennis Hopeless & Javier Rodriguez) - With a child, things aren't as easy as they once were, but Jessica gets by with the help of her friends, grappling with the baddies in a street level comic with heart and humor.  I love Rodriguez' clean art and the amazing colors, while Hopeless injects the perfect amount of sass and badassery to Jessica Drew for a well-rounded comic that's hard not to love.

13. Wandering Island (Kenji Tsuruta) - This gorgeous manga features a girl who delivers air mail with her trusty plane.  When her grandfather dies, a mysterious package turns up to be delivered to an island that only exists in legends.  With her grandfather's notes, she becomes obsessed with the idea of an island that wanders the vast oceans, and will stop at nothing to find it.  This book has a bit of a Hayao Miyazaki vibe to it that spoke to me, and I love the determination of the heroine in the face of loss and loneliness.

12. Hilda and the Stone Forest (Luke Pearson) - Luke Pearson continues to explore a magical world through the eyes of a rambunctious little girl named Hilda, who explores the realm of fairies and trolls enthusiastically.  I love the gentle nature of this book and the ever-expanding mythology of Pearson's world in this lovely all-ages fantasy title.  Pearson's cartooning is so stunning that you have to stop and admire his work from time to time, especially when he lays out his pages in beautiful ways.  This is a series that just has so much heart in it.  Anyone not reading it is truly missing out.

11. Vision (Tom King & Gabriel Hernandez Walta) - In a very interesting title featuring Avenger Vision, we see the android superhero put down roots in the suburbs with his wife and two children.  Amid prejudice and admiration, the Visions have trouble settling in, especially as they grapple with what fitting in means.  Manslaughter and blackmail complicate matters as these androids struggle to understand human nature and get deeper and deeper in their lies to appear like the perfect family.  This is a page-turner that's unlike anything else out there, especially in the superhero realm.

10. The Adventures of Dieter Lumpen (Jorge Zentner & Ruben Pellejero) - Set in the 1940's, these comics from European team Zentner and Pellejero have an adventure strip vibe to them, and feature Dieter Lumpen, a man who travels the world to exotic locales, and gets into all sorts of trouble along the way.  Lumpen isn't your typical action hero though, as he wants no part of the trouble he finds himself in, and makes some choices you wouldn't normally see a hero making.  This collection has all of the Dieter Lumpen comics, including the short stories and the three graphic novels (which were all fantastic).  The lush artwork and twisty-turny plots are a ton of fun to take in.

9. Shigeru Mizuki's Kitaro (Shigeru Mizuki) - Shigeru Mizuki and Kitaro are no strangers to my best-of lists, especially since Drawn & Quarterly's first Kitaro collection, a sort of best-of, was my favorite comic of 2013.  Kitaro is a yokai who helps people who find themselves in tough situations with other mischievous yokai.  Mizuki's comics are the perfect mix of humor, horror and action, and are wonderful all-age stories.  These classics are being collected by Drawn & Quarterly in affordable little books, with The Birth of Kitaro and Kitaro Meets Nurarihyon coming out this year, with more to come.

8. Snotgirl (Bryan Lee O'Malley & Leslie Hung) - Lottie is a fashion blogger.  A self-absorbed fashion blogger who is utterly jealous of her ex's new homely girlfriend, is judgmental of others and makes up mean nicknames for her friends, and has a penchant for murder.  Oh, and she also has allergies that make her sensitive to dripping copious amounts of mucus, a small blight that has the potential to ruin the perfect persona she puts out there of a fashionista, earning her fame and invites to the best parties.  This book is just deliciously catty and hard to put down. 

7. The Wicked + The Divine (Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie) - Gillen and McKelvie's saga of reincarnated gods continues in a twisty plot that proves that not everything is as it seems.  McKelvie continues to draw gorgeous art (although volume three has a rotating cast of fill-ins), while gods pit themselves against one another in an epic showdown.  Divine is right.

6. Rosalie Lightning (Tom Hart) - Tom Hart recounts the heartbreaking tragedy of his daughter Rosalie's sudden death.  The young couple try to find meaning in her last days as they attempt to move on, while dealing with constant reminders and feelings of guilt and depression.  This memoir feels so heart-wrenchingly honest and real, as the author bares his soul during this dark time, his frenzied artwork an extension of that emotion.  But it's also a celebration of a beautiful girl's young life in her formative years.  Deeply touching and traumatizing.

5. Patience (Daniel Clowes) - Jack comes home one day to find his girlfriend, Patience, dead.  To understand why this happened, and by whom, Jack finds the key to time travel and steals it, delving into the past to stalk Patience's life, and interfering much more than he intends to.  Daniel Clowes gives Patience a believable, if not messed up, backstory.  Seeing Jack maneuver through her life, knowing what he does, and making discoveries alongside him, is fascinating.  Full of mystery, fun sci-fi, and that darkness that Clowes injects into all of his works, this is another great work from master cartoonist Daniel Clowes.

4. A Girl on the Shore (Inio Asano) - A Girl on the Shore follows the messed-up adolescent relationship between Koume and Keisuke.  It's difficult to understand their motivations, but they're obviously both looking for something and the ennui of this book feels very genuine and the characters' directionlessness very honest.  Asano is one of the best manga illustrators around, and she just solidifies her position with this book as one of the best manga creators out there period.

3. Otherworld Barbara (Moto Hagio) - Moto Hagio is one of the greats.  Her latest book translated to English is the first of two volumes, a story of dreamscapes, cannibalism and immortality.  The story itself seems very dreamlike, as Dr. Watari delves into a young girl's dreams to try to understand why she won't wake up, and what connection she has to the mysterious island of Barbara.  There's a lot going on here, and the mystery is thick, and at times seems very close to falling into place but is just out of reach.  The characters are complex, the illustrations are beautiful and vivid, and the haunting elements of the story stay with you long after you put it down.

2. Monstress (Marjorie Liu & Sana Takeda) - Liu and Takeda's Monstress is a flawless blend of American comic sensibilities and manga.  The world-building on this title is impressive, with a complex, fully-realized world with its own myths and old gods.  The story is intense, as Maika Halfwolf battles witches and armor-clad soldiers in a steampunk world like no other.  Maika is a mysterious figure, who fights her own personal demons - literally, it attempts to come out and eat people around her - while striving to make sense of her past.  Takeda's dark art style is the perfect compliment to Liu's epic tale.

1. The World of Edena (Moebius) - The first release in Dark Horse's Moebius Library is absolutely stunning.  Depicting a future world where gender doesn't exist, and corruption is the norm, Stel and Atan find themselves on a paradise planet where, without the technology that has inhibited them, they begin to revert to their true selves and become self-aware.  Prophecies and fairies, dream monsters and strange alien technology abound in this epic book of star-crossed lovers trying to find one another across a vast, fantastic world where danger lurks around every corner.  Moebius's art is flawless, his designs for the characters and how they evolve, as well as the environments and villains of this world, are magnificent.  There are layers to this story that I don't think you can fully appreciate in just one reading.  The ideas that Moebius piles into this story are ambitious and profound, while he makes his characters complex and flawed.  I've heard about Moebius for years, but now that I've experienced one of his comics -and it truly is an experience - I can understand what the fuss is all about.  Moebius is in a class all his own.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Best in Music 2016

Here we go again.  2016 was another great year in music and these are my favorite songs and albums of the year.

10 Best Albums of 2016


1. Midnight Machines by Lights - In 2014, Lights released an album called Little Machines, full of fast-paced dance songs.  Two years later, and she drops this gem, almost a retelling of those same songs.  In Midnight Machines, Lights pares back her sound, letting her voice do the storytelling, and packs what were dance songs with an emotion that is staggering.  The songs are mostly accompanied by strings and the slow burn of each song is very impactful and just lovely.  It may have begun as an experiment, but it's stunning how these gems were polished off to reveal a beautiful gleam beneath the flash of synthesizers.

Key Tracks: Meteorites, Running with the Boys, Muscle Memory


2. 99 Cents by Santigold - Santigold has always been one to experiment with her sound, and she doesn't disappoint on her latest album, but she also crafts just great pop songs.  I love the build to the chorus on songs like Before the Fire, and the 80's beats of other songs like Rendezvous Girl are just delicious when blended into a more modern sound.

Key Tracks: Rendezvous Girl, Before the Fire, Who I Thought You Were


3. Royal Blues by Dragonette - Dragonette has embraced pop music with this album, complete with an unapologetic 80's sound and club beats.  This album is just bursting with happiness and you'd have to have no pulse to find yourself sitting still while listening to tracks like Darth Vader.

Key Tracks: Darth Vader, Detonate, Let the Night Fall


4. low kii savage EP by Kiiara - Kiiara has a unique sound, playing with electronics and vocals in fun and innovative ways for music that just hasn't been out there previously.  It's manufactured in a way that's just fun and fresh, taking full advantage of what the medium has to offer.  From the breezy sound of Feels to the playful beat of Gold, this is a very special album.

Key Tracks: Gold, Tennessee, Feels


5. Leo Rising by Karmin - This is an album full of catchy pop songs.  Karmin has never sounded better, and the duo's ability to craft hooks and songs that are hard to get our of your head, seems effortless.

Key Tracks: Sugar, Didn't Know You, Blame It on My Heart


6. Stranger Things Have Happened by Clare Maguire - Clare Maguire has a mature, beautiful album full of mostly pared back songs.  The strings are beautiful in naked songs like the title track, and she uses her voice like an instrument itself, almost operatically in Falling Leaves, but she also produces fantastic toe-tappers like The Valley.  Maguire proves that she is versatile, and somehow manages to make this album a cohesive whole.

Key Tracks: Elizabeth Taylor, The Valley, Stranger Things Have Happened


7. All My Demons Greeting Me As a Friend by AURORA - AURORA has vivid imagery in her songs, and has a Sia-like feel to her music that gives it a sense of fun, even when it's rather dark.  And it's clear from how playful she is with her voice that she's having fun creating this music, and the result is an album full of great tracks.

Key Tracks: Conquerer, Warrior, Running with the Wolves


8. Lady Wood by Tove Lo - Tove Lo is just cool.  It permeates her music, and shines when she experiments with her sound.  From the funky R&B vibe to the perfectly-constructed pop, she has a strong voice that she uses to make her sound all the stronger.

Key Tracks: True Disaster, Imaginary Friend, Vibes (featuring Joe Janiak)


9. Prisoner No More EP by INGLSH - INGLSH has a beautiful, haunting sound, complete with unsettling electronic sounds and breathy vocals.  Many of her songs have a powerful empowering vibe to them, and they almost seem to sweep you away in their wake.

Key Tracks: Russian Roulette, Future, Shots



10. Lauren Alaina EP by Laura Alaina - There's always at least one country standout each year, and Lauren Alaina is it for 2016.  Apparently an American Idol contestant, Lauren Alaina has put together an EP of sassy songs with great hooks, many of which are more pop than country, but are nonetheless entertaining and fun.  Unfortunately this EP doesn't look to be available through iTunes anymore, as her record label is releasing a full album early next year with several of the songs, but the key tracks all look available, and if you try, you can probably still find this out there.

Key Tracks: Road Less Traveled, Next Boyfriend, History

Honorable Mentions
ArrangingTime by Pete Yorn
Bubblebath EP by That Poppy
FMA by Grace
The Altar by Banks
Video Tapes EP by Happy Sometimes

30 Best Songs of 2016


1. Gemini Feed by Banks - I'll be honest: It took me a few listens to even like this song.  But then I became obsessed.  I love all of it.  The resentment and accusatory pain of the lyrics.  The distorted vocals and thumping bass.  The chorus that keeps getting angrier and noisier every time we hear it.  It adds up to something unexpected and divine.

2. Meteorites by Lights - This is a beautiful ballad with a refrain that radiates quiet strength.  You just sort of feel this song inside you.  Lights is a talented song-writer and this pared back song flows beautifully with her solid voice accompanied by strings and drums.

3. True Disaster by Tove Lo - This song hits every note you could want in a pop song.  It has a great energy, and culminates in a powerful refrain that is impossible to keep out of your head.

4. Don't Believe in Stars by Trent Dabbs - This contemplative song has an easy grace to it.  It's a beautiful slow number that effortlessly draws you in. 

5. Tennessee by Kiiara - Kiiara is great at playing with sound in her songs, and Tennessee is a great example of her playing with vocals in cool ways.

6. Sugar by Karmin - This is a damn good sugary-sweet pop song.  The chorus, like the title, is delicious. 

7. Heard It From a Friend by LOLO - The Bluesy feel of Heard It From a Friend is delicious in itself, but the ferocity that LOLO bellows into the refrain is jaw-dropping. 

8. Big Man by Dia - The dreamy, ethereal sound of Big Man, coupled with Dia's bitter lyrics, make for one hell of a song.  Haunting and absolutely lovely.

9. Hell of a Girl by Grace - This whole song is great, from the retro vibe, to the ferocity that Grace sings with in the refrain when she proclaims "You messed up!"  If her remake of Lesley Gore's You Don't Own Me doesn't convince you of her talent, this surely will.

10. Scar by Foxes - Foxes is a very versatile artist, but she excels in a song like this, where she can showcase her strong voice in a solid, empowering anthem.

11. I Took a Pill in Ibiza (Seeb Remix) by Mike Posner - This is a solid club song, with fun lyrics.  A great cool-down leads into a fun, frenzied chorus.

12. Summer Day by Zealyn - Aptly named, this is a breezy, beautiful song that absolutely personifies Summer.

13. Starboy by The Weeknd (featuring Daft Punk) - This whole song is perfectly constructed, but that lead into the refrain, and then the culmination of that build-up - it just all comes together for a very impactful final product.  Fantastic song.

14. Lit by Sometimes Happy - Lit is a great anthem from the excellent Video Tapes EP.  It sings in your blood and forces you to stomp along.

15. Water on Mars by Fauna Twin - From the very good The Hydra EP is this moody song with industrial sounds and a New Agey feel.  It's very different than anything out there and is just very hypnotic and kinetic.

16. Walking Up by Pete Yorn - Crooner Pete Yorn took five years off from releasing music, but came back with some great tracks on ArrangingTime, an album well worth the wait.  Walking Up is a slow-burner that has emotion brewing just beneath the surface.

17. Handclap by Fitz & The Tantrums - A fun, sunny song with a brisk pace that pulls you along, you'd be hard-pressed to hear this song and not clap your hands along with it.

18. Who I Thought You Were by Santigold - Santigold's funky sound gets an 80's makeover in this really catchy pop song.

19. In My Blood by The Veronicas - This is just a solid dance song that deserves a lot of play in clubs.  It has the feel of the great 90's dance songs I grew up with.

20. Darth Vader by Dragonette - This dance jam is frenzied, with a great refrain, and a delicious retro feel.

21. It's Quiet Uptown by Kelly Clarkson - From The Hamilton Mixtape, Clarkson sings one of the best songs from the musical, and utilizes her strong voice to great effect, injecting emotion into the song in all the right places.  A very lovely rendition.  Regina Spektor also performs Dear Theodosia beautifully with Ben Folds on the album.

22. Man on the Moon by Zella Day - This is a fun song that makes you want to sing along to the refrain.  It's a bit of a departure from Day's usual style, but I like this sort of sunny sound too, and it shows that she's versatile enough to be able to craft a variety of musical sounds.

23. Guys My Age by Hey Violet - A cheeky number, this song radiates cool.  Band Hey Violet throw a good amount of sassy could-care-less rebelliousness into their music.  They released an EP, Brand New Moves, this year with some other great songs too, like Pure and the title track, but unfortunately Guys My Age was not part of that package and it beat them out by a hair's breath for my favorite from the group.  Hopefully, a full album will drop in the near future.

24. Colours by Emma Louise - A slow-burner, Colours builds into a lovely chorus that has you swaying along with the music.  It feels effortless, but heartfelt at the same time.

25. Lost Youth / Lost You by How To Dress Well - This is another song with an 80's vibe that manages to sound fresh.  Great refrain.

26. The Equator (IV Fridays) by Brooke Fraser - Fraser released a series of these IV Fridays singles, many of which are really good, and will hopefully culminate in an album in the future.  Of the ones released thus far, The Equator is my favorite, with a strong chorus and haunting vibe.

27. Elizabeth Taylor by Clare Maguire - The retro feeling this song gives off is amazing, and demonstrates the strength of Maguire's songwriting.  With the piano and strings accompanying such a strong voice, she hits this one out of the park.

28. rEaR vIeW by  ZAYN - Let's face it: this former One Direction member is oozing sex on his debut solo album.  The way we croons, the longing in his voice...it all just mixes with that bad boy vibe for a final product that stirs something inside.

29. Couldn't Believe by Broods - This song has an awesome refrain accentuated by little grunts that actually really add to it.  It's interesting how a little sound can have you wanting to grunt along to a song.  But that's the power of songwriting.

30. Rebirth by Nina Diaz - This song radiates rage with Diaz' strong vocals conveying frustration and anger with a visceral force.  It makes you feel strong, like you're going to fight back, like some sort of mantra.

Honorable Mentions
Money by That Poppy
No Fear by Greyson Chance
Shore by Daniela Andrade
Siren Song by Jill Andrews
Way Down We Go by Kaleo

Sunday, November 27, 2016

The Athena Corps

The seventh book in the Hunters of the Dark series is on sale now!  Get The Athena Corps from Smashwords, Amazon and Barnes & Noble now!


Friday, November 18, 2016

The Athena Corps Sample #2


Prologue II

Twelve years ago…

“You stay alert now, boy.”

Brett nodded, glancing over at his father, sitting next to him in the camouflage tent.  He took a swig of beer, and Brett averted his eyes.

A snapping sound to his left caught Brett’s attention and he looked over to catch sight of a doe.  It sauntered near the edge of the clearing he and his father were watching.  It grazed on some leaves from some brush, oblivious to the danger it was in.

Brett’s heart immediately began to thump furiously in his chest.

The doe was beautiful, with large black eyes, and muscles that moved just beneath a coat of velvety brown fur.  It was graceful and lovely.  It didn’t seem right to kill a creature so pure.

“I don’t think we’re going to catch any deer today, Pa,” Brett said loudly, hoping to startle the doe away.

“Not with you yammering on like that, we won’t,” his father muttered.  “But we came out here to make a man out of you, and that’s what we’re gonna do, if we have to stay out here all damn week.  You hear me, boy?  You’re returning home a man, with your first kill in hand.”

“A man,” Brett repeated automatically, two worlds at war with one another inside him.  On one hand, he wanted to please his father.  More than anything, he wanted his acceptance.  He wanted to make him proud, to have his father look at him like he looked at his brother.  But on the other hand, there was the doe.  Not just the one doe, but many other animals he would be forced to snuff out for the sake of pleasing his father.  Yes, they would make use of the animal.  They would eat its meat, maybe sell its coat.  But he would have to kill it.  And he didn’t want to do that.

“There,” his father breathed, slapping Brett lightly on the shoulder.  “See that there?  Didn’t have to wait too long after all.”

Brett swallowed hard as he watched the deer saunter into the meadow.  For a moment, the doe looked around warily, suspiciously, like it knew they were there.

Bolt, Brett pleaded silently.  Go away, and never return.

But the doe seemed satisfied that it was in no real danger, and returned to grazing, head down.

“Just like I showed you now,” his father whispered.  “Nice and easy.”

Brett breathed deeply and held the hunting rifle to his eyes.  He had the doe in his sights.

After a moment, his father sniffed.  “What are you waiting for?  We ain’t got all day here.  Shoot it before it gets spooked.”  He grabbed Brett’s arm roughly.  “I didn’t raise no mamma’s boy.  You ain’t no faggot, are you?  Shoot that doe down, and do it now.”

“Yes, sir,” Brett managed.  He let out another deep breath and got the doe in his sights again.  His hands shook slightly under his fingers.

“That’s it,” his father instructed softly.  “Now, just squeeze the trigger.”

Brett intentionally let his rifle slide just to the left of the doe, and squeezed the trigger.

The shot went wide, sending up a spray of dirt near the doe’s head and startling it.  In the blink of an eye, the doe had darted away.

“God damn, mother fucker!” Brett’s father raged, jumping to his feet and swatting his baseball cap against the tent walls.

“I’m sorry,” Brett said weakly.

“Sorry?  You’re sorry?” Brett’s father grabbed him by the front of the shirt.  “We are going to sit here until you bag us a deer.  You hear me?  Or are you some kind of lily-livered faggot?”

“No, sir.  No,” Brett cried, struggling weakly against his father’s iron grip.

Brett’s father shoved him to the ground in disgust.

“Next time,” his father spat.  “Your aim will be true, or you ain’t no son of mine.”

Sunday, November 13, 2016

The Athena Corps Sample #1


Prologue I

Fourteen years ago…

It was snowing.

Natalia should have been cold, but she wasn’t.  She was disoriented.  The snow layered everything in white.  Everywhere she looked, it was white.  She couldn’t see any paths in the forest anymore. 

She stopped and looked up, snowflakes falling fast around her.  Some landed on her face, but she didn’t mind as they melted against her warm flesh.  Tree branches were covered in snow, and some sagged under the weight until it was too much and the snow rolled off in clumps, the limbs bouncing back up again like springs.

She was supposed to be looking for something, she knew.  If anything went wrong, she was supposed to look for…a circle?  She frowned.  She couldn’t remember.  Her head was swimmy.  She put a small hand to her forehead and grunted at the pain the touch caused her.  She looked down at her hand, slick with crimson.  It was thick and dark and dripped from her fingers into the snow at her feet.  She stared at the red in the snow for a moment, mesmerized, and then turned her attention to a sound in the distance.  A rumble.

Cocking her head curiously, Natalia watched twin lights swing over her as they rounded a curve.  The lights stopped and the rumble grew louder for a moment before it stopped.

She had to…find a circle.  A ring.  A hoop?  She couldn’t be discovered.  That would be bad.  Or did she want to be found?  Her vision grew hazy for a moment and angry red and black spots swarmed before her eyes like a swarm of bees. 

“Honey?”

Natalia blinked until the spots faded and her surroundings came into focus again.  She stared at a woman in a gray wool coat and a fuchsia scarf.  She was peering down at Natalia through glasses with a concerned expression on her face.  Her glasses…were round.  Perfect circles.

Natalia sagged with relief, slumping against the woman’s legs.  She was so tired.  She just wanted to sleep.  And now that she’d found the circles, she could rest.

“Honey, are you alright?” the woman asked, holding her up.  “You’re bleeding.  Are you alone out here?”  She looked around, blinking into the surrounding darkness, before returning her gaze to Natalia.  “You’re ice cold.”  She pulled off her coat and threw it over Natalia’s shoulders.  “Come along.  I’ll see that you find your parents.  Come sit in front of the heater.”

Natalia followed numbly, wondering what the woman was talking about.  She had done what she’d been asked.  It was time for her to rest.

All she wanted was rest.