Stillness can be unbearable, silence terrifying.
A bright moon had risen over the woods. Nothing moved. A stand of slender trees swept down the slope ahead of me, thin black columns edged in vertical lines of white moonlight. Somewhere close to me the man with the knife, the man in the bomber jacket, waited.
I had run from him. I had bolted, sprinting flat out, my ankle twisting, feet tripping over uneven ground. I scrambled over moss-grown deadfall. I didn’t look back. I knew he would be following, I knew he would overtake me. Was that why he wanted me to run, so he could hunt me like prey? Isn’t that what this was all about: power? Savoring the fear of the hunted. Feeling the power of claiming a life.
I was running. There was a deeper darkness in front of me, and all at once I lost my footing, the ground falling away. I covered my face with my arms and tumbled down through a thickness of scrub and brush that cut at me everywhere, branches like whips, the barbed tips of twigs as sharp as wire. Then I went over a ledge of rock. Dropped straight down. Into water, into a trickling creek. I landed on my feet and then pitched forward into the freezing stream.
And I picked myself up, and I ran.
The dark pines in the woods above had given over to the tall, graceful trees—there was less undergrowth here, I could maybe make it to the road, to the fence that surrounded the property of Arcyn.
Except did this slope lead down to the edge of the property? Was it the right direction?
What if he was already down there, ahead of me?
I stopped running. I threw my arms around one of the slim trees. Held on tight to it. Made myself still. Listened.
Just my own breathing. My heartbeat.
Clouds drew back from the moon and the shapes of the trees glowed soft silver-white as if lit from within. It was beautiful. I wouldn’t forget it.
I held my breath. Listening for him.
There was no sound at all.
Now, in the car, parked at the gas station in the middle of nowhere, I put the heat on full blast, and turn the dial on the radio between loud static and the quieter hisses of dead-tuned nothing. On the windshield the rain diminishes but I’m soaked and shivering, and who knows how long the car will run. The empty-tank red light’s been on all night.
I had turned the headlights off—does that save gas? I don’t know—except all this darkness has started to feel like it’s teeming with threats hidden just out of sight. I can see the closed gas station, but the illumination from the streetlight at the highway seems to stop like it hits something right at the edge of the building. I know there’s nothing around that corner, out in the back of the place, but it feels like anything could be there, beyond the light. My teeth are chattering again.
Wait. Did something move?
I flick the headlights on.
I blink and I see Linna standing there. I blink and she’s gone.
What the hell was that. How could Linna be there?
If this was one of my mother’s horror movies, I would probably get out of the car and walk around to the back of the closed gas station to figure out if I really did just see Linna there, or something else, someone else. It’s almost hard not to do it, like it’s expected of me. My hand goes to the door handle.
No. I’m not going anywhere. At least while the car’s running. While there’s heat.
I look over to my right. Linna is standing there. The palm of her hand slaps onto the passenger side window. I scream.
My eyes are closed.
Can’t open them.
I’m seeing things. I’m scaring myself.
I open my eyes and no one is there. Not Linna, not anyone. I really am making myself crazy, aren’t I? But why do I keep seeing these visions of Linna? It must be some kind of aftershock of what happened earlier, my mind trying to deal with it, process all of it.
I see headlights now. There’s a car on the highway. Please god let it be Zach.
The car slows down and turns into the gas station parking lot.
When I got home that night after leaving Arcyn, having met Linna’s father and brother, it was getting late; my mother was already asleep. Or at least, I hoped she was. I made sure I was quiet as I came into the house.
This was our old home in Park Heights, the house my mother had bought with the last of her money, what was left after her early retirement from acting, after her many hospitalizations over the years. It was a quaint, modest house—everything in it broke down all the time, which had prompted us to work hard to befriend our handyman neighbor—and often, to me, the rooms felt too small even for the two of us. Our cramped and cluttered living space was usually a mess: dirty dishes in the sink for days; untouched leftovers going bad in the fridge; dust bunnies multiplying underneath the couch.
I was starving, thinking about making a quick stir-fry, but I stopped outside my...