His maddened eyes skated over the rest; saw now the hips that were much too narrow. And the hands, look at the hands, the hands! He’d skimmed right over the large knuckles. Snugged on the right hip, just below where the parka had ridden up, was a holster with a real cannon he’d recognize anywhere: Desert Eagle .50AE, a huge weapon for a Chucky with big hands.

“I am losing my mind.” Groaning, he rolled to his belly and grabbed the snow, the white blushing to pink as he dragged himself from the wreck he’d made of that boy’s head. When he just couldn’t keep on, he stopped, let himself sink. His head was pulsing, the pressure pushing at the limits of his skull. Clamping his bruised, bloodied fingers to his temples, he squeezed. Under his belly, he could feel the

mo ns ters earth opening, as welcoming as a grave; the snow melting, bleeding to water, stealing his heat. Above, the fickle wind streamed down from the lake, licking sweat from his neck, his shoulder blades, and wicking the wet from his hair and scalp so that he shivered. His breath came in sobs, and the taste of snow on his tongue was bitter, like gunmetal.

Just lie here and let go. Lie here long enough so you fall asleep, pass out, freeze to death. Or take the damn shot, you coward. One shot, and then you can just let go of all this. Not with the Bravo, though; it wouldn’t be right to use Jed’s weapon for that. The dead Chucky had that Eagle, though—a real monster. Yes, but the gun had been buried under snow. Mechanism’s probably frozen. With my luck, it’ll explode in my hand.

So, not the Eagle either—and not here. Someone from camp would eventually wonder and come looking, sooner rather than later. Cindi, most likely, and she’d bring Luke. Even with the crows and other scavengers, it would take time to pick him down to bone. He couldn’t do that to any kid. It wouldn’t be right. Moaning, he craned up from the snow as the wind sighed past his right cheek. He was turned halfway around and was now facing northwest, the dead Chucky at his two o’clock, the blighted woods at nine. Bolts of light, laser-bright, burned tears, and he winced, instinctively raising a hand. I don’t even know what living feels like any—

He blinked.

Maybe it was the angle and the fact that he was low on the snow and facing a different direction. Or maybe he’d been so focused on that ski pole and then the boot, and seen only what he wanted instead of what had been in front of his nose all along.

Another gun.

No. He didn’t believe it. Can’t be. It’s a trick. I’m seeing things. He armed his streaming eyes. That portion of the snowfield was incredibly chewed up, pocked with stones and potholes. When he really stopped to consider, the snow was also piled very strangely in a few places, as if someone had dug down into the snow. As if someone had been searching for something.

But the shape remained, crisp and unmistakable. What his vision sharpened on was a gun, jammed bore-first into the snow.

That was surprise enough. But he got the shock of his life after staggering over, his boots stubbing on hidden rocks and debris that kept trying to trip him up. Enough of the weapon was visible for him to know the make well before he dropped to his knees and parsed out the words Austria and 19 stenciled on the barrel.

It was a Glock.

27

Ellie didn’t stop to think. When she looked back at it later, she didn’t remember how the knife even got into her hand. But in the next second there was a wink of steel, the snick as the Leek’s blade socked home, and then she’d grabbed burlap and begun working the point of the knife through the tight weave, sawing as fast as she could. Careful, careful. She made a hole just big enough for her hands, then put aside the knife, hooked her fingers on either side, and pulled. There was a loud riiip as the burlap tore in two.

Spiced air spilled out. Seated over the chest, the red spell bag, no bigger than her fist, quivered like a heart trying to remember how to beat. The body was completely cocooned in that white sheet . . . except the material wasn’t strictly white anymore. Tiny ruby spiders were spreading their legs over the fabric swathing the thighs and chest, that right side.

Fresh blood. Bleeding . . . She stared, spellbound, her horror slipping into a kind of awe. How can there be bleeding?

And then the chest . . . rose.

“Ah!” She let out a mousy squeak. The body was starting to rock and shiver as it fought against the sheet like a butterfly too weak to battle its way out of its cocoon. I have to help, I have to do something!

But wait, did she? It . . . he was alive or coming back to life . . . and that was nuts. She’d never seen any of the Mummy movies, but isn’t this how bad things went down? Stupid person stumbles into a cave or tomb or something, and finds a stone coffin and thinks, Whoa, I think we’ll just open this puppy and see what’s what.

“And then the stupid person gets killed,” she whispered. Or the mummy ate his tongue and ripped out his eyes or something. For a split second, she thought, Run, run fast, just go! Leave and roll the slider back into place and shut up the death house and stick her fingers in her ears—la-la-la-la, I can’t hear you—and pretend she hadn’t seen a darned thing. No one would ever know. Of course, when they came back at the spring thaw to bury the bodies, they’d notice that the burlap was all torn up. They’d see the blood. But she didn’t have to fess up. Because here was the thing: how did she know that this wasn’t what happened to some kids when they became people-eaters? Not everyone was done turning, or turned in the same way. So what if ? What if the second she ripped open that sheet, that person—who might not be a person anymore—grabbed her and . . .

By her side, Mina pawed at her shoulder and let out an anxious whimper.

Listen to Mina, the little voice from deep in the closet of her mind said. She would know if this is trouble. Come on, you’ve got to do something, Ellie, and you’ve got to do it quick, or he’ll die.

“But he’s already dead,” she said, only meekly, the way you offered an answer in class you weren’t quite sure of. Unless he really isn’t. It could’ve been a mistake. Hannah doesn’t know everything. And that calmed her down, enough to stop her thoughts from skittering out of control like boots on slick ice. Mina knows it’s okay. She wants me to help. Mina always knows.

The heck with it. Swallowing back her heart, she patted her hands over the dome of his head. Of all the places she could cut, this was probably the best way not to hurt him. Not hurt him? She tented up a handful of sheet, stabbed with her knife, worked a horizontal slit. He’s dead, or he was dead . . .


Tags: Ilsa J. Bick Ashes Trilogy Horror
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