She heard no sound behind her, but just like that, she knew. Even with the wind in her ears and the sound of her own feet, there was a murmur of something, a whisper she must have been attuned to, because when she turned her head this time, her neck creaking in protest, she saw the figure. Cresting the rise she'd just come over herself, it started the descent down the road toward her.
No. I was the only one to get off the bus. There was no one else.
But she'd known, hadn't she? She had. It was why she was already in a near run, her knuckles and her chin going numb with cold. Now she pushed into a jog, her grip nearly slipping on the suitcase handle as the case banged against her leg. She blinked hard in the descending darkness, trying to make out shapes, landmarks. How far away was she? Could she make it?
She glanced back again. Through the fog of darkness, she could see a long black skirt, the narrow waist and shoulders, the gauzy sway of a black veil over the figure's face moving in the wind. Unseen feet moving beneath the skirt's hem. The details were visible now because the figure was closer—moving only at a walk, but already somehow closing in, closer every time she looked. The face behind the veil wasn't visible, but the girl knew she was being watched, the hidden gaze fixed on her.
Panicked, she made an abrupt change of direction, leaving the road and plunging into the trees. There was no path, and she made her way slowly through thick tangles of brush, the dead stalks of weeds stinging her legs through her stockings. In seconds the view of the road behind her disappeared, and she guessed at her direction, hoping she was heading in a straight line toward the sports field. The terrain slowed her down, and sweat trickled between her shoulder
blades, soaking into the cheap cotton of her blouse, which stuck to her skin. The suitcase was clumsy and heavy, and soon she dropped it in order to move more quickly through the woods. There was no sound but the harsh rasp of her own breathing.
Her ankle twisted, sent sharp pain up her leg, but still she ran. Her hair came out of its pins, and branches scraped her palms as she pushed them from her face, but still she ran. Ahead of her was the old fence that surrounded Idlewild, rotted and broken, easy to get through. There was no sound from behind her. And then there was.
Mary Hand, Mary Hand, dead and buried under land...
Faster, faster. Don't let her catch you.
She'll say she wants to be your friend...
Ahead, the trees were thinning, the pearly light of the half-moon illuminating the clearing of the sports field.
Do not let her in again!
The girl's lungs burned, and a sob burst from her throat. She wasn't ready. She wasn't. Despite everything that had happened—or perhaps because of it. Her blood still pumped; her broken body still ran for its life. And in a moment of pure, dark clarity, she understood that all of it was for nothing.
She'd always known the monsters were real.
And they were here.
The girl looked into the darkness and screamed.
The shrill of the cell phone jerked Fiona awake in the driver's seat. She lurched forward, bracing her palms on the wheel, staring into the blackness of the windshield.
She blinked, focused. Had she fallen asleep? She'd parked on the gravel shoulder of Old Barrons Road, she remembered, so she could sit in the unbroken silence and think. She must have drifted off.
The phone rang again. She swiped quickly at her eyes and glanced at it, sitting on the passenger seat where she'd tossed it. The display glowed in the darkness. Jamie's name, and the time: three o'clock in the morning. It was the day Deb would have turned forty if she'd still been alive.
She picked up the phone and answered it. "Jamie," she said.
His voice was a low rumble, half-asleep and accusing, on the other end of the line. "I woke up and you were gone."
"I couldn't sleep."
"So you left? For God's sake, Fee. Where are you?"