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Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group

Red Hands

A Novel

Christopher Golden

St. Martin's Press



Later, Maeve Sinclair will think of the girl with the pink balloon, and her heart will ache with a sting unlike anything she’s felt before. She’ll feel that sting forever, or for as long a forever as the world is willing to give her. In her mind’s eye, the little girl’s hand will always clutch the balloon string so fiercely, and Maeve knows it’s because the girl lost her balloon at the Fourth of July parade the year before. When you’re three years old, that’s the sort of thing that can scar you, and little Callie Ellroy was three last year when she watched her Mickey Mouse balloon sail into the blue and vanish forever.

It’s not Mickey this year, just an ordinary pink balloon, even a bit underinflated, as if Callie didn’t want to invest quite as much of her now-four-year-old adoration this time around. Yet she holds the string so tightly and smiles so brightly, showing all her crooked teeth and every ounce of the joy bursting within her, that Maeve is sure the little girl can’t help but love that balloon. A little deflated or not. Plain, ordinary, boring balloon or not. Her sneakers are the same pink as the balloon, and though Maeve can’t hear the words she speaks when she tugs her mother’s arm and points at her sneakers, the pantomime is enough to communicate just how much delight she’s taken from this moment of pink epiphany.

Maeve has watched Callie Ellroy grow. She can remember the moment five years ago when Biz Ellroy—short for Elizabeth—had rushed up to her, beaming, and shared the news that she was pregnant with the little bean that would become Callie. Biz had even picked out her name already.

At twenty-nine, the memory makes Maeve feel unsettlingly adult. She’d been standing in nearly the same spot where she stands today, watching a troupe of clowns toss candy from the back of an antique fire truck while the Conway High School marching band blatted on trumpets and thundered on drums in a rough approximation of “Yankee Doodle Dandy.” But she’d been twenty-four then, still young enough that older people hesitated to take her seriously. Now she’s on the verge of thirty, unmarried, no children, steadily employed but not in love with her job, and looking for a change.

Maeve gets a little shiver as she watches Biz holding Callie’s hand. The same antique fire engine goes by, probably the same clowns on the back, throwing the same stale candy. Only Maeve figures the fire engine is a little more antique now than it was then, and aren’t they all, really?

Time is fucking merciless, Maeve thinks. It doesn’t ever slow down for you, even when you need it to. Even when, for instance, you still live in your hometown and can never escape the certainty that there’s another life for you out there, somewhere. Maeve wants to work to improve people’s lives, but after four years studying global health and public policy at George Washington University, dipping her toe in the water of half a dozen D.C. internships, she felt lost. She came back to Jericho Falls and got a job working for CareNH, a White Mountains political action committee. The money sucks, but she loves New Hampshire. She loves her parents and her brother and sister. Over the past year, she’s foolishly allowed an old flame to reignite, and that makes it harder to leave and all the more important that she does.

The new job’s in Boston. A nonprofit called Liquid Dreams, which she thinks is a stupid name, but she admires the hell out of the company’s mission, fighting for clean drinking water in the United States and around the globe, and fighting against corporations trying to monopolize control of the water supply. It’s a fight worth having, and so what if her job is as an events coordinator and not impacting the company’s political efforts? She’ll be serving that admirable goal, and that’s what matters to her.

It’s time to leave Jericho Falls. She just has to tell her family. And she has to tell her … Nathan. Her Nathan. She guesses he’s her boyfriend, but that seems too concrete a word for the tentative way they dance around each other. Or, more accurately, the way she dances around him. Maeve is sure he’ll want to carry on seeing her, even if it means a long-distance relationship. Three hours in the car doesn’t seem that long to begin with, but Maeve already knows it’s going to wear on them, and the truth is she never really thought of her thing with Nathan as long-term, just like she never thought she’d stay home for seven years after college. Both things just sort of happened. She wonders if she ought to leave both of them behind—Jericho Falls and her relationship. Nathan’s sweet and a comfort to be around, but so were the plush animals in her childhood bedroom.

Today’s parade feels like an ending of sorts, and maybe a beginning, too. The mayor rolls by, sitting in the back of an old Cadillac convertible with his leathery wife, who’s never quite learned how to apply her makeup. Maeve feels a rush of love for the old doll and for her town, because in other places the mayor’s wife might’ve been replaced by a younger, blonder version, but in Jericho Falls, she looks just the way you’d expect her to look. The future is going to catch up to her town soon, and though Maeve yearns to be a part of the rush of the real world, it saddens her to think of Jericho Falls changing. She thinks, momentarily, that the mayor’s wife should ditch him for a younger, more attractive husband and then run for mayor herself. If the future has to come to Jericho Falls, Maeve wants it to arrive in heels.

All these thoughts spin through her head while she glances around the crowd. Her dad, Ted, munches an ice cream sandwich from a street vendor. He’s with Rue Crooker, maybe his best and oldest friend, so close that when the kids were little they called her Auntie Rue. Maeve’s brother, Logan, is over beside their mom, on the other side of the street, which is a good illustration of their lives since Ellen Sinclair finally had enough of her husband’s alcoholism and changed the locks on the house. None of it has been as ugly as Maeve feared, but it hasn’t been pretty, either. Her dad’s had a rough time with addiction, but he’s kicked the pills at least, and he’s trying, which is maybe why Ellen and Ted can stand across the street from each other and offer a smile and subdued wave.

Maeve likes that. They’ll always be family, thanks to the three children they share, so it’s nice if they can manage not to hate each other. The youngest member of Maeve’s family finally arrives, her twenty-one-year-old sister, Rose, who grins nervously as she approaches their mother and Logan while holding hands with her girlfriend in public for the very first time.

This is the Sinclair family today, doing their best to reenact a tradition begun decades earlier. The Jericho Falls Fourth of July parade, held at 11:00 A.M. on the actual goddamn Fourth of July, no matter the weather and no matter the stink some locals put up because they like the parade but they want to be on vacation somewhere nicer, somewhere with a great fireworks display, on the actual holiday. Other cities and towns cave to the pressure, celebrate a few days before or even after the Fourth, but not Jericho Falls. Fuck that. It’s another thing that makes Maeve proud of her town.

She’ll dwell on all of this later. She’ll turn it over in her head, wondering if there was something she could have done differently, anything that might have changed the outcome. If she had been paying more attention to her family, or the parade, or the crowd instead of being lost inside her head and worrying about breaking the news of her new job and impending departure to her mom, would she have been able to save lives?

Would she have been able to save herself?

Of course, she’ll never know.

The car comes from Kingsbury Road, which is perpendicular to Main Street. Over the squeal of a coterie of kilted bagpipers she hears another sound, someone’s music turned up obnoxiously loud, a 1970s pop confection blaring from car speakers, and she scowls at how inconsiderate people can be. This moment ought to be about the parade, about the town celebrating its history and its future and the very nature of Jericho Falls as a safe place, a nice place to live in a world where such places grow rarer by the day.

Biz Ellroy drops her bag of popcorn into the road. Somehow there’s a tiny lull in the bleating music, and in that lull Maeve can hear little Callie cry out, “Oh no, Mummy!” as mother and daughter release each other’s hands. Callie hops off the curb as Biz reaches for the fallen red-and-white striped bag, trying to rescue whatever she can, which is understandable when a little bag of popcorn costs six bucks. In that same lull, in the same sliver of a moment between bagpipe bleats, Maeve hears the roar of a car engine.

It’s a parade. No engines are roaring. Some are groaning, some are putt-putt-putting, as floats and antique cars and baton twirlers inch up Main Street. A big old Ford pickup truck tows a flatbed carrying a bunch of Little League players and a float that’s supposed to look like a miniature Fenway Park. The kids swing their bats at imaginary pitches while the pickup truck lurches and groans in its deep, pickup truck voice. But this other engine roars, and its roar is not coming from the parade, not from in front of Maeve and her family but behind them, over Maeve’s right shoulder. She’s about to turn and search for the source of that roar when she sees Biz drop her popcorn and Callie pull away from her mom and both of them go for the bag with that “Oh no, Mummy!”

Callie’s fist is tightly closed on the string of that pink balloon. You’d damn well better believe it.

Biz picks up the popcorn bag. Smiling, she takes a couple of kernels out and tosses them at her wild-haired little girl with the big blue eyes, and she steps back onto the curb, beckoning for Callie to follow.

The engine roars. People shout warnings and scream in panic, and some of them run or dive or hurl themselves out of the way as a sparkling silver BMW careens from Kingsbury Road onto Main Street, 1970s pop music crying from the open windows, not slowing for the people who can’t get out of the way in time. Not slowing for Mrs. Kestler, who taught Maeve science in middle school, or Geoff Strahan, whose brutal father trained him from birth to be a major-league baseball player, only to have him go to law school, come home to open his practice, and coach Little League.

Not slowing for other people, some of whose faces Maeve knows and some she doesn’t.

Not slowing for her sister, Rose, whose girlfriend, Priya, is knocked over in the rush to flee. Rose helps Priya to her feet, but it’s too late for them to run. Maeve’s father discards his ice cream sandwich as he breaks through the crowd. He’s screaming. Maeve is sure he won’t reach them in time, but somehow he does, hands outstretched. Ted shoves his youngest child and her girlfriend out of the way, the effort halting his own momentum, leaving him stranded for the last vital second before the BMW’s grille will make contact. Ted jumps as high as he can, avoiding the impact of the front end, but he hits the hood, the windshield, goes up and over the car and smashes down onto the pavement in its wake.

The car roars onward. Maeve screams for her father, runs toward where he has fallen.

People are running. Screaming. The bagpipers have ceased, but up and down Main Street, there are still high school musicians playing horrible screeching noises on instruments most of them will never touch again after graduation, and which some of them will never touch again after today … after this Fourth of July with its sweet-smelling breeze and glorious blue sky and the promise of a perfect night of barbecue and baseball ahead.

But at least those kids will be alive.

Maeve kneels by her father, sees his blood and doesn’t want to touch him, afraid to hurt him further. He’s breathing, and this is good. He is alive. She looks up, tracking the car’s trajectory. Across the street, she sees Kristie Burns, her best friend since the seventh grade, mirroring her expression. The BMW slews sideways, skidding on clothing and blood, bumping over someone’s legs, then seems to leap toward the curb as it takes aim at more spectators. Or maybe the driver is just trying to get around the Ford pickup and the Little League float. Kristie Burns is in its path, and as Maeve watches, it appears that she has locked eyes with the driver, who maybe guns the engine or maybe not, but in the last moment Kristie staggers backward three steps and falls on her ass and the BMW leaps the curb and strikes a fire hydrant, saving Kristie’s life. The collision is no symphony of tearing metal but a single whump and a kind of grinding whine as the car’s engine begins to realize it’s going to die.

Water pours out from under the crumpled BMW hood and pools beneath the car, spreading into the road, beginning to wash away a bit of the blood that has been spilled. So many people are shouting. Police sirens wail, but they could just as easily be a part of the parade as the signal that it has ended, that people are dead.

Maeve spots something overhead, drifting in the air. Little Callie Ellroy’s pink balloon.

She spins, searching the crowd, scanning the bodies in the bloodied road, and her gaze lands on Biz, on her knees on the asphalt, mouth open in a silent scream, eyes full of tears, holding a single pink sneaker in both hands.

In that moment, the driver’s door on the BMW swings open wide. A bare foot stretches out and touches the pool of water spreading from the shattered hydrant.

And the day gets so much worse.

The driver slips from behind the wheel and staggers to his dirty feet. He’s wearing blue cotton pajama pants and a T-shirt that looks as if it must have been white before all the bloodstains. He’s been shot at least twice, maybe three times if the reason he’s staggering is a third bullet wound in his left leg. The first two are to his torso—one bloodstain has its locus at his right shoulder, the other about four inches to the left of his heart. He’s dying, Maeve knows. One look is all it takes to see the shadow of death looming over him. But the driver limps away from the car, wild eyes scanning the buildings beyond the crowd. He begins to stumble toward the brick post office building, or maybe toward the alley between the post office and the bookstore café. There’s a parking lot behind them, and beyond that a hill slopes through a maze of short streets and then to the river.

He doesn’t make it to the river. He doesn’t even make it to the post office. People shout. Others are still screaming, trying to help the people he’d struck with his car, some of whom are beyond help. Distant sirens grow not so distant, more urgent, as if now that their purpose has turned dire, the sound reflects that. Most of the people who’d been on the sidewalk around Kristie Burns when the car plowed toward her have scattered out of the way, leaving only a few to help Kristie to her feet as the BMW ticks and steams and floods hydrant water from under its hood.

As the driver stagger-marches to the sidewalk, these last few scramble out of his way, maybe because he’s just done something totally insane, or because someone shot him and the bright red stains on his white T-shirt continue to spread. As he steps onto the sidewalk, a barrel-chested guy with a beard emerges from the frantic, grieving, stunned crowd.

“Mother. Fucker.” The bearded guy says it just like that, as if it’s two words. His hands are fisted at his sides, and the rage on his face is made all the more terrifying by the tears streaming down his cheeks. He isn’t just furious, he’s broken, and he’s going to break the driver to make them a matched set.

The bearded guy raising his fists triggers others to move toward the driver. One of them is Tim Mak, who brought Maeve to his junior prom when she was only a sophomore and then promptly abandoned her to be with his friends. Tim’s changed a lot in the intervening years, slimmer and more handsome, much better taste in clothes. But in this moment, he looks fierce in a way Maeve would never have imagined he might be. He looks dangerous.

It’s Tim who reaches the driver first. Blocks his path with a “Where the fuck do you think you’re going?” as the sirens grow louder. Police. Ambulances. Floats and other parade vehicles are inching out of the way, making room for the arrival of first responders. Tim Mak puts out a hand to stop the driver, with Kristie Burns looking on from a few feet away, still visibly shaken by her close call.

Tim plants a hand, fingers splayed, on the driver’s bloodied T-shirt. The driver reaches out and grabs Tim by the face, shoves him backward. As Tim takes one step back, Maeve is sure she sees the imprint of the driver’s hand flare red on Tim’s skin before it fades. But something’s happened. Tim retches, gagging, jerking his body. He coughs and tries to lift shaking hands to his mouth, even as black-red fluid streams from both nostrils and his left eye.

Maeve doesn’t feel as if she’s inside her own body anymore. She’s frozen, jaw hanging open, forgetting to breathe as she watches Tim Mak collapse into a heap of shuddering limbs, and then go still. Kristie stares for a second at Tim’s unmoving form and snaps out of her shock—or maybe immerses herself even more deeply into the maelstrom of emotions that burst across her features.

“You crazy fucking prick!” Kristie shouts. “What did you just do to him?”

It’s possible she doesn’t manage to get those last few words out, that Maeve’s brain fills them in because she expects them. Kristie rushes at the driver while she’s screaming, lunging for his throat. He knocks one of her hands away and grabs a fistful of her wild red hair, twists her around to drive her out of his path. Kristie tries to fight. Still clutching her hair in one hand, he grabs her wrist with the other and shoves her off the curb. She sprawls in the street, convulsing, and then she, too, goes still.

Maeve’s brother, Logan, starts across the street without a word. One second he’s with the rest of the family, and then he’s in motion. He doesn’t get far before Mom rushes forward, wraps her arms around Logan’s chest, and halts him in his tracks with a torrent of angry, fearful words. Rose is holding her girlfriend, Priya, who is sobbing and shaking. Maeve’s mother starts comforting those around her, telling everyone to keep back, to go home, to make way for the emergency vehicles.

As if Kristie hasn’t just died in the street. As if Ted Sinclair isn’t bleeding on the pavement.

Maeve has forgotten how to breathe. It’s chaos all around, and her heart is slamming in her chest. Across the street, as the water from the hydrant spreads farther, pooling around the mangled body of a girl in an American flag tank top, several other people rush at the BMW driver. Some are smart enough to run the other direction, but these three men take it upon themselves to stop him, maybe thinking they’ll make him pay for what he’s done.

An icy chill runs up Maeve’s spine. Hot tears course down her face. She shifts a few feet, trying to get a look at Kristie’s eyes, hoping to see a spark of life but knowing in her heart there’s not a glimmer. She thinks of a hundred summer days like this one, spent at the lake, out on Jack Spencer’s boat. She thinks of watching scary movies during sleepovers, Kristie’s eighth-grade determination to get her first kiss, playing soccer together and laughing as they realized neither of them were very good. All those memories lie dead on Main Street.

When the sirens and the shouts are abruptly drowned out by the roar of a black helicopter sweeping overhead, Maeve barely notices. In her subconscious, she accepts its presence, and a little flicker of awareness recognizes that it means something, that black helicopter, slicing the air, lifting and turning as it searches for a place to land.

One by one, the three men trying to stop the BMW driver reel away from him, bodies racked with seizure, coughing and gasping, black-red mucus streaming from noses and eyes. From her knees, bereft, alone, and feeling invisible, Maeve thinks she sees their skin flare red or flush pink where the driver touches them.

Instead of continuing toward the alley, the driver turns toward the crowd. Bloody and stumbling but somehow more focused, his lips curled in a sneer that says he’s made up his mind about something ugly, he lunges toward a group of people clustered too closely together for all of them to elude him. A middle-aged woman with a glorious mane of coiled black hair is nearest and cannot escape the hand he reaches toward her. His fingers close on her bare upper arm. She pulls free, but she’s already dying. Her skin is dark, but even so, Maeve is sure she can see the momentary handprint left behind.

She can’t watch it anymore. Far off to her left, the dispersing crowd has knocked over a popcorn vendor’s cart, and there is popcorn blowing all over the road and onto the grass and sidewalk. Scattered kernels blow like tiny tumbleweeds onto the pooling water under the BMW and float as if set adrift to race in a child’s dream. Maeve focuses on the popcorn, entirely losing track of the sounds around her. They blend into one larger noise, beneath all of which is the whine of helicopter rotors powering down, somewhere south along Main Street.

The first police car arrives. There’s an ambulance behind it. She sees them out of the corner of her eye, unwilling to tear her gaze from the popcorn regatta floating in the hydrant water. Until several kernels float up to and bump up against the dead girl in her American flag tank top.

Maeve flinches and rises to her feet. Her family’s otherwise occupied as she walks half a dozen paces and picks up a baseball bat that has fallen from the hands of one of the kids on the Little League float. The kids are long gone, having fled their miniature Fenway, and that’s for the best.

It’s possible she hears Logan call out her name as she begins to run, but Maeve doesn’t slow down. She doesn’t turn or hesitate. The BMW driver is a pale, middle-aged, ordinary man with sallow cheeks and dark circles beneath his eyes. He’s got a fistful of a young father’s T-shirt in his left hand, rucking it up to expose the guy’s tattooed back, reaching out his right hand to touch that tattoo. The young father has a curly-haired toddler in his arms, and practically throws the little girl at his wife as the seizures rack his body and he falls.

That’s the last one, though. The last one the driver touches.

Maeve steps up and swings the bat with all the strength and training of her varsity softball days. The driver turns toward her just as the bat is about to connect. When the blow lands, the aluminum bat rings true, as if she’s hit a homer, but the sound is accompanied by the crack of bone. His eyes are wide as he staggers backward, sways a bit, and then falls toward her, bouncing once as he hits the pavement. His neck is twisted to one side, and she can see the indentation on his forehead where the bat did its damage.

When he tries to rise, ordinary blood running from his nose, she hits him again, this time in the back of the head. But he’s been shot at least three times, been punched and shoved and kicked, and now he’s taken an aluminum bat to the skull, so he isn’t quite done yet.

The driver is on the pavement. The puddle of water stretching out from the hydrant beneath the BMW reaches him, flowing around him. He skids himself forward in the water, dragging his chest and face and then lurches one more time to his feet, head hanging askew, reaching for her throat.

Maeve grabs his wrist with her free hand, twists his arm away. He falls to the ground, but she’s still holding on, barely noticing him, staring instead at her fingers clenched around his wrist. Instinct had done it. She’s reacted faster than she could think, had grabbed him to avoid him doing the same to her, and though he’s on the ground now, it’s only after he convulses once and then dies, his gaze going flat and dull as doll’s eyes, that she manages to release her hold on him.

A scream cuts through the buzzing in her head. Her mother’s voice. The scream is her name, and she turns as her mother races toward her. Logan and Rose had been deemed more important, more in need of attention, as has always been the case. Her whole life, they’ve thought of her as more capable, less in need of their love and comfort. Now Maeve is listening to her own heartbeat, waiting for the cough and the seizures to come. She’s going to die like the others, she is certain.

But the seizures don’t come. Maeve shudders. Shock had dried up her tears, but now with her relief, they return. Her hands shake, but she feels good, she feels fine. Better than fine. Somewhere behind her, Kristie Burns lies dead. So many people are dead. Biz Ellroy is lying on the grass across the road, cradling a pink sneaker in her arms. The pink balloon is long gone. But the BMW driver is dead and Maeve is still alive and she feels herself about to shatter inside, fractured by a dozen conflicting emotions.

“Maeve, oh my God,” her mom says.

That voice—the voice of safety and reassurance, of comfort and warmth—is the root of her childhood. As often as she fought with her mother through middle and high school and has dismissed so much of her advice since then, in this moment she’s a little girl again and when she looks up and their eyes meet, her mother sees how much Maeve needs her.

“Oh, my baby,” Ellen Sinclair says, “that was so … You were so brave.”

Maeve cracks. A sob racks her body and she tries to speak, but no words will come. She laughs at her inability to summon language. She knows this is all part of the shock, but oh God, she wants to go home. She wants to check on her dad. He can’t have gone through all the things he’s endured just to die now, like this.

Her mom takes her hands, squeezes them, pulls her into an embrace. Maeve leans into her, leans on her the way she always has, even when she didn’t realize how much of her emotional weight her mother carried for her. Ellen kisses her girl’s forehead. Maeve lays her head on her mother’s shoulder, eyes open, and she sees her brother rushing to join them.

Police push through the crowd, hurrying over to the bodies of the people the driver touched. She spots Auntie Rue, a no-nonsense woman with a sleeve of purple tattoos and half her skull shaved. Rue snaps instructions at the officers, barking orders about quarantine and disease. She isn’t a cop, just a citizen, and doesn’t look like the kind of person the police would ordinarily listen to, but she speaks with authority, and suddenly they’re wary. They’re right to be.

Logan joins the hug. Maeve reaches up to touch his face, meets his eyes, so grateful for his kindness. As she touches him, she feels her mother jerk in her arms. At first she can’t make sense of it, but Logan steps back, his expression contorting in horror. He lifts one hand to cover his mouth, to stifle a cry, as their mother slips from Maeve’s arms and hits the pavement. Convulsing again, and then again, Ellen Sinclair rolls over, and Maeve sees the vile black-red sludge issuing from the corner of her mouth and dripping from her nose. Dark sores appear on her skin.

“Mom?” Maeve whispers as a vast hollow place fissures open within her, an empty chamber where emotion should be. She cries out this time. “Mom?” But there is no answer.

When Maeve’s sister shouts, though, it isn’t for her mother. Rose shouts her brother’s name. Maeve glances up and sees Logan in the midst of a shaking fit that sprays that hideous sludge from his mouth. His eyes are squeezed tightly shut, but squibs of that sludge are being forced out through his lashes. There’s a hint, a little red afterimage, the imprint of Maeve’s hand on Logan’s cheek, but when she blinks it’s gone, and so is he.

Logan is dead before he hits the pavement.

Her sister stares at her, stares at her hands.

Maeve sways from side to side, not knowing what to do, or where to run, or what she’s become. She glances at her father, who has propped himself up on one hand, wincing in pain but alive. The BMW driver, the man she’d killed, the man whose hands she’d avoided but whose skin she’d been touching while the last flicker of life left his body. The small-town cops pushing people back from the bodies, from the crime scene, have paused and watch her with the same stunned wariness as the rest. Auntie Rue takes a step toward her. Maeve stares at her hands.

A second black helicopter buzzes overhead. The remaining bystanders have been staring at her, but they glance up, tracking the helicopter, and as one they all hear the voices barking commands. People begin to clear a path. Through the crowd, she sees three figures in yellow hazmat suits accompanied by armed men in black body armor. All of them wear air filtration masks like they’re afraid of contamination. Of contagion.

She turns toward her father. He must see the decision in her eyes, because he shakes his head.

“Maeve, no,” he says, clutching his ribs, wincing in pain, blood on his face.

But Maeve has never been good at doing what she’s told. She sees those hazmat suits, the guns and the body armor, and she thinks of the bullet holes in the man she killed, the man who killed so many, and she can’t stay here.

So she runs.

People who saw her mother and brother die get out of her way. People who did not are already in motion, clearing a path for the black helicopter’s team. The police who saw Logan and Mom die don’t try to follow her until Rue shouts at them that they can’t let her leave, but by then, Maeve has broken into a run. She bolts through the crowd, across the park, away from Main Street, away from the river. She races through backyards on Kingsbury Road, and then she’s into the woods she’d spent most of her childhood wandering. Maeve knows every path, even the ones that are so narrow and overgrown they hardly look like trails at all.

She glances up. Sunlight streams through breaks in the canopy of the woods, and in those breaks she can see the mountains ahead. Her heart races, and she doesn’t allow herself to think of anything except reaching the foothills, getting lost up there. She won’t be able to hide forever, but she needs time to think.

Her hands itch. Her fingers feel strangely cold.

She thinks of her mom and of Logan, and her breath hitches in her chest. Tears stream down her face as she runs. All she wants to do is scream, to lie down on the trail and curl up and wait for all of this to catch up to her, to punish her.

Branches whip past her face. Maeve ducks and stumbles, then turns off the trail. She wonders if this is what madness feels like. If this is what it feels like to be a killer.

In the distance, she hears the buzz of a black helicopter, and she plunges into deeper woods, always staying on course for the mountains.

She thinks of Callie Ellroy’s pink balloon and feels the icy cold of her fingers, and a terrible knowledge stabs at her—she can never touch anyone again.

Not ever.

Copyright © 2020 by Christopher Golden.