Girl of Nightmares

Page 72


"Turn around!"

Thomas's shout makes my scalp tighten as I spin. The body has moved again. It's at least three trees closer, and this time it's hanging toward us. The bleary, decomposing eyes regard us with something that's almost interest. Behind us, the trees whisper again, but I don't turn to look. I know what would happen. The next time I turn back, those whitened eyes might be inches from my face.

"Circle up," I say, my voice as in control as I can manage. Our time is limited. The movement in the trees is all around now, and it isn't stopping. All of the corpses we passed before are on their way. They must've been stalking us the whole time, and I don't like to think of their heads turning to stare after our backs as we went.

"Keep your eyes open," I tell them when I feel their shoulders press against mine. "We'll go as fast as we can, but be careful. Don't stumble." On my back left, I feel Carmel bend down and hear her pick up what must be a thick stick off the ground. "The good news is we haven't gone in a circle. So we'll be out of here before long."

"Some f**king good news," Carmel snaps sarcastically, and despite everything I crack a smile. Whenever she gets scared, she gets so pissed.

We start off, moving as a unit, hesitant at first, and then faster. But not fast enough to look like we're in a hurry. These things would like nothing better than to chase us.

"There's another one," says Thomas, but I keep my eyes on the bleary-eyed dude. "Shit, there's another."

"And two more on my side," Jestine adds. "It's too fast to track. They just appear, in the corner of my eye."

As we go, I finally have to look ahead, taking my gaze off of Johnny Milk-Eyes. I hope someone else picks him up, but when I see the other three corpses, two hanging in the trees before us and one resting against a far-off trunk, I know that we just don't have enough eyes.

"This isn't going to work," Jestine says.

"How far is it to the edge of the woods?" Carmel asks. "Could we run?"

"They'd just pick us off, one by one. I don't want to turn my back on them," says Thomas.

But turning our backs is inevitable. The question is how to do it. Do I try to cut a path? Or do we all go together? The trio of dead things ahead of us stares at me with black sockets. Their expressionless faces are like a dare. I've never seen corpses look so eager, like dogs waiting to be taken off their leashes.

Carmel screams; there's a sharp whack from the stick she wields and a skeleton hits the ground beside us . The circle breaks as she backpedals. She hits it again, bringing her club down across its spine and cracking it. It isn't until I see the corpse behind Thomas and feel the spongy grip of a dead hand around my throat that I realize our mistake. We all dropped our guard. We all turned away.

I twist out of the fingers looking to break my windpipe and bring my elbow up blind to knock it back. The athame is in my hand in an instant; the blade drives into the corpse behind me and it sounds like it falls to pieces. When I cleave into the skeleton that Carmel dropped, it liquefies and sinks into the ground.

Two down, twenty-five to go. Looking into the trees, bodies are everywhere. They don't seem to move, they don't run up; they just are and every time we look away, they're closer. Carmel's doing this constant groaning, growling thing, swinging her club at everything that gets near. I can hear Jestine and Thomas, two chants in different languages, and I have no idea what they're doing. My knife slides through the black hole of an eye socket and the corpse disintegrates in a cloud of what looks like granular soil.

"There are too many," Carmel shouts. Fighting them off is a pipe dream.

"Run!" I shout, but Jestine and Thomas don't budge. Thomas's voice rattles in my ears. The dialect reminds me of Morfran, of the Obeahman. It's pure voodoo. Ten feet ahead of him, a half-rotten body draped over a low branch suddenly collapses. In the next second it's nothing but a pile of writhing maggots.

"Not bad, Thomas," I say, and when he glances over his shoulder, another corpse is in front of him, too fast to see. It sinks its teeth deep into the meat of his neck and he shrieks.

Jestine growls something in Gaelic and sweeps her arm across her chest; the corpse lets go of Thomas and falls, twitching.

"Run!" she shouts, and this time we do, our legs crashing through fallen leaves and ferns. I stay in the front as much as I can, slicing into anything that shows up in our path. To my left, Carmel is channeling her inner Warrior Princess, using the club to pretty good effect with one arm. The other arm has hold of Thomas. Blood darkens the entire top half of his shirt. He needs help. He can't keep running. But there's new light ahead and a break in the trees. We're almost out.


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