“Shh,” she said. “I’m sorry, Chris, but there’s nothing we can do for you. You’re hurt too badly. This is better, Chris. Trust me. It’ll go easier if you stop fighting.”
But what if he wanted to fight? I don’t want to die, I’m not ready, I’m not . . . “Nooo,” he moaned. “Don’t.”
“Shh,” she said again, but now her voice was no more than a sliver, a waning crescent of sound. “Don’t fight it, Chris. Accept this and let go. I’ll stay with you until the end. You won’t be alone.”
No. But he couldn’t stop this. His mind was drifting away, higher and higher, the margins of his world closing down like an iris. No . . . don’t let go, Chris . . . don’t . . . let . . .
She woke in agony. Gasping—no, not gasping; croaking, straining for air, the sound a ragged awk-awk, an invisible fist crushing her throat. She swam up from the dark of nothing and into the blackness that was her now. The pain in her lungs was awful, more than a burn; every breath was like sucking down broken glass. Her brain was pulsing so hard it felt like her heart had crawled into her skull. Or maybe that was the monster, straining to get out, beating its fists against bone.
From just above her left eye came a dim, sulfurous glow. White light? Was this how it was supposed to go? First, the light as her brain, starved for oxygen, gave up the ghost, and then that tunnel, and at the end . . .
No, not a glow. Tiny pinpricks. Not breaks in the snow either. She worked at bringing the light into focus and understood: Ellie’s Mickey Mouse watch. She hadn’t taken it off since the night before that terrible morning that Harlan shot Tom and took Ellie. Mickey said it was—she forced her vision to firm—five after seven.
Past dawn. Been here for . . . She couldn’t do the math. The glow from Ellie’s watch was fading, the lights winking out and pulling apart even as her mind shimmied and seemed to swell beyond the limits of her skull. For a brief moment, she actually thought she was standing above, on the snow, as her gaze swept over splintered trees, rocks fractured to rubble, and . . . a ski pole? She couldn’t tell, had no time to parse it out. The vision faded and what was left was something blinding and too white, like the eye of a full moon before the world died.
This must be that last tunnel. There was the light. That was where she had to go, because Tom had been there, high above and unreachable, and if only she could float far enough, fast enough . . . Tom . . . wait . . . wait for me . . .
All of a sudden, her mind shifted with a hard, panicky clench, a flutter, the sudden bunch and twist of the monster sensing that she really was on her way out. That this was it, end of the line—and it was fighting like hell to work its way free.
Despite everything, she wanted to laugh. Might have, if she’d had the air. The monster had become something more, the way Kincaid thought it would, but it was still trapped inside her head, and she was buried alive.
Got you . . . I g-got you . . . Her thoughts were slurring. Hurts, this hurts. So hard to focus. Words slipping through her fingers, dropping out of her mind. Everything going away, except for the pain. Hurts. No air. Chest . . . hurt, hurt. Dark. No . . . air . . . n-no, can’t let go.
She fought to suck in one more breath.
Can’t . . . l-let . . . Outside the torture house, the horses were restless, nickering and tossing their heads. Matching him step for step, Greg’s golden retriever, Daisy, alternated between anxious pants and high whimpers.
“Man, you see that?” Pru asked in a low voice. “Yeah. All the animals are spooked.” He looked up at the older boy. “You felt it, too. I know you did.”
“Felt what?” With his fun nixed, Aidan had attached himself to Greg and Pru. For Aidan, an alert over the radio? Excellent. Go where the trouble was, because you just never knew when the next opportunity for a little mayhem might present itself. “I didn’t feel nothing.”
“Well, I did. Ground shook, just like Kincaid said. Like a . . . a rumble, something vibrating. You know? When a semi goes by? Or a big lightning strike, real close?” Pru lifted his nose and sniffed.
“What are you doing?” Aidan said.
“Sniffing for the ozone,” Pru said. “You know. The way air smells after lightning.”
“Shut up.” Aidan snorted. “Lightning’s electricity. It ain’t got a smell.”
“Yeah, it does,” Greg said. “Like car exhaust in summer.”
“Ozone,” Pru repeated, then shook his head. “I don’t smell anything but the snow.”
“Well, I can’t smell because it’s so damn cold,” Aidan said. “My nose froze five minutes ago. You guys are just being pussies, letting Kincaid psych you out.”
“Oh yeah?” Pru pointed to the left of the stable’s slider. “Look at the snow, A.”
Greg saw what Pru meant at once. They’d had fresh snow the night before, but instead of only a new layer icing the hard pack piled atop the entry ramp, there were discrete hummocks, like miniature mountains of sifted confectioners’ sugar. Digging out his flashlight, Greg scrutinized the roof. The stable had no gutters, so whatever melt there’d been showed in a glittering bristle of long icicles, as sharp and pointed as bloodied fangs. Several had snapped, however, and now protruded, like silver stilettos, from the hard pack.
“So?” Flipping up his snorkel hood, Aidan jammed his gloved hands into his parka pockets and hunched his shoulders against a sudden snatch of wind. “Snow slid off,” he said, his voice so muffled and far back it reminded Greg of second grade: tin cans on string.
“Yeah, no shit, Sherlock.” Pru said. “But why’d the snow slip? It hasn’t been warm enough for a melt, and the snow’s not soft. Those icicles are snapped clean.”
“Slabs got shaken so much they slid right off.” Greg skimmed the light over the roof and saw naked shingles where snow had caromed down the incline. “Same as an avalanche.”
“Come on.” But Aidan sounded uncertain now. “What could do that? Like . . . an earthquake? That’s crazy. This is Michigan. Stuff like that doesn’t happen here.”
“Until now,” Greg said.
WHERE THE BODIES ARE
It was another foot this time—the left, and a guy’s. Those tufts of hair sprouting from the toes? Dead giveaway. The owner was a pig. Terminal case of corns, two huge bunions, calluses so rough you could use them for sandpaper, and toe rot. Since the person had been old—they were all old—the skin was mottled, papery, wormy with bulging blue veins. The crumbling nails were so long they actually curled into snot-colored talons. Peter couldn’t imagine how the old geezer had walked.