* * *
I opened the door and led the way outside on that seventeenth day. Stone was on my back, obviously unable to crutch through the snow for too long. We had fashioned a sling that went over my shoulders and around my waist, and Stone was able to sit in it and lean against me. Uncomfortable for both of us. Luckily, Stone didn't weigh much.
Behind me was Eleanor and behind her was Mikey. We had no belongings besides the clothes and coats and blankets we had wrapped around our bodies.
And the rifle.
Stone was holding that. He swept the area in front of us, the barrel visible in my peripherals.
I took a deep breath. The iciness stabbed at my lungs and burned my throat. My eyes watered and almost instantly dried out.
The day was clear. The sun hung in the sky, shining through the overcast. I wondered if it was a July sun up there and if it was the clouds that belonged to a different time. I shook the thought away, focusing on one thing and one thing only.
The house across the lake with the light on, our destination.
Couldn't have been more than half a mile's walk over the water and land beach, but in the snow and cold, half a mile away might as well have been as far as it is from Ohio to California.
We had to try, didn't we? What other option did we have besides die? The old saying "Damned if you do, damned if you don't" played on a continuous loop in my head leading up to our departure. I would try to think positive and then a record would scratch somewhere in my mind, reminding me of how screwed we were. It was a classic conundrum. Still, I think we would've rather tried then given up. Humans are built to survive; it's in our genetic code. That's all this was. Surviving.
The wind blew harshly. I almost lost my balance. We hadn't stepped off the porch yet, and already the difficulty of the expedition had me thinking about turning around. We may not have been able to get a fire going inside, but the walls would shelter us from the worst of the wind. Right?
No. The clock was ticking, time was running out. We had to leave.
For some odd reason, I had become sort of a leader. I don't know why and I certainly don't know why I accepted the position, but here I was, and it was my job to lead.
I went down the steps, or where I thought the steps were. My boots sunk about two feet through the snow before they found solid ice. I pressed all of my weight down, expecting it to break with Stone on my back. It didn't.
That was good and made me feel slightly better.
If the rest of the ground was like that we'd get across without too much of a problem. As long as the bitter cold didn't kill us first, and that was certainly a possibility. I took the next step and the next, reaching for the covered handrail for support, and then I was off the stairs and touching the ground.
Instantly, I sunk another two feet. Maybe more. It came up past my waist, and despite the layers I wore, the freeze got through my clothes.
"Fuck," Stone said. "Too late to sit on your shoulders?"
"S-Screw you, Stone." I found it hard to move my lips. They felt frozen like the rest of the world. I turned and saw Mikey and Eleanor sink at nearly the same time. Eleanor's head and shoulders were all that stuck out from the snow, and although Mikey was still a kid, he had been blessed with his father's height so it came up to about his upper abdomen.
"You okay?" I asked them.
Eleanor nodded. She wore a scarf over her face, exposing only her eyes and the bridge of her nose, but judging by the movement of her jaw beneath the scarf, her teeth were chattering.
"Mike?" I called.
"Better than ever," he answered with sarcasm as sharp as the cold.
"Then let's go on."
From the small backyard, we navigated toward the nearest tree, as was the plan, stopped and took a break to catch our breath. Moving through the hard-pack was like trudging through mud. When the wind blew, I lost all will to go on. I'm sure the others did, too. I just kept telling myself, Next tree, next tree, get to the next tree.
Eventually, I did.
Stone still had the gun leveled over my shoulder. It crossed my mind that I might trip and the gun would accidentally go off and kill one of us. Bad thoughts. I pushed them away and moved on to the next landmark.
At this point, the feeling in my right foot left me. It felt like I was dragging a couple of bricks. My brain forced my right leg to move again and again, until we got to the last tree.
It was a big oak with a trunk as thick as my car. Here, I leaned on my right shoulder and reached my left hand out to Eleanor. She grabbed it when it was in reach and I pulled her closer. Mikey was right behind her, face snow-caked, eyes looking defeated. I grabbed his hand and pulled him in, too. The four of us huddled there against the tree trunk while the wind picked up. This was always the plan. We needed the break and we needed the heat, as little as it may have been, of each other's bodies.
This rest lasted about two minutes. It felt both like a lifetime and only a few seconds. Funny how that worked out. It was all we could spare, considering the sun hadn't been staying out very long. And when it went down…
I didn't want to think about that, either, but as the leader I had to. Those things…the monsters…the ghosts…the wraiths…whatever they were would come out from their hiding spots and change us, and I couldn't let that happen.
"See anything?" I shouted over the whistle of the wind.
"Nothing but white. It's like a Taylor Swift concert out here," Stone answered.
Mikey laughed, but it barely sounded like one. I think it was the first time I'd heard him do so since his parents passed. Me, I was too cold to even try. The iciness had gotten past layers of clothing, my flesh, and even my bones. Now it was drilling into my bones. I didn't know where it would go after that, but I figured I was going to find out whether I wanted to or not.
It was so cold that my body heat wasn't melting the snow the way I or anyone would expect. You know what I mean. If not, let me give you this scenario: You walk through less than an inch of powdery white in your house slippers and socks when you grab the newspaper or mail down at the end of the driveway one morning, and on your way back the snow somehow makes its way into your slippers, and, oh shit, it's melting. Now you've got wet socks, wet slippers, and it's just so damn uncomfortable. Your morning's ruined.
But let me tell you that's not as uncomfortable—or unnatural—as when the snow doesn't melt because it can't melt and all you feel is the constant cold.
Like I was feeling. Numbness no longer existed or mattered; the freezing pain sliced through that with ease.
"Ready?" I asked everyone.
"No," Eleanor said, "but let's go."
We did. Our next goal was the beach about a hundred feet away, down the slope and onto the sand, which was long gone, buried underneath the snow. As I stood on the edge of the land, the white still up to my waist, and looked out over the flat expanse of the lake, I thought to myself, the easy part was over, and that was just great.
"We'll have to slide," I said over the wind, my voice barely audible. With Stone on my back, I had to turn and lie on my stomach; the others didn't. The snow got under my clothes and packed beneath my coat and shirts, icy against my belly. I eased us downward as best as I could, which wasn't very good. I lost control about halfway, my boots slipping, and instead of shimmying we rolled, me crushing Stone and then Stone crushing me for about five seconds. Five seconds that felt like an eternity, I should add. The snow lessened the blow, for the most part, but the hardness of the ice hurt. Pretty bad.
"Good going, Grady," Stone said.
I swiped snow from my face and flung it away. "Sorry. And…ow."
Eleanor and Mikey's descent was much smoother. They both helped me stand again. When I looked down at my feet, I noticed the snow only came up to about my thighs down here. Still pretty high, but nowhere near as piled as it was by the house. But as we got closer to the lake, it grew taller again.
I stopped at its edge, where the tide should've been coming in, and looked out. The wind kicked up a bunch of white, creating a haze we could barely see the distant house through. I located the upper window, the one I'd seen the light coming from. It was still dark and this gave me another bad feeling in the pit of my stomach.
"No lamp," Stone said, as if reading my mind. A telepathy reserved for best friends, the Two Musketeers.
"I know. You think it's a bad omen?"
"Nah," he said. "We all saw it last night when you woke us up."
I looked at the window again. "Well, what do you think it means?" I was nervous we might've all been tricked, that our brains gave us what we wanted to see. Or…maybe it was the shadow things that had done it. Maybe they had projected that image of a bright lamp burning across the lake to get us out, to give us the courage to move on.
God, I hoped so. I really did, but the possibility of it seemed all too real.
On my left, Mikey snorted and said, "What do I think it means? I think it means whoever's there is trying to save on their electricity bill." He pointed up. "Sun's out. Why would you need a light on now?"
"Kid has a point," Stone said.
That eased my mind a little bit.
"Can w-we stop chatting and go on?" Eleanor said.
"Not yet," I said. "I need a rock. Preferably a big one." This wasn't part of the plan but it was now. I wasn't about to walk out on the frozen lake, get a few steps, and then sink to my icy death. I needed to test it. Finding a rock shouldn't have proven to be a problem. The shore was littered with them. I remembered grabbing more than enough when we made our little fire in the sand on that doomed July 4th weekend, which felt like it so long ago now.
"Here, is this good?" Mikey held out a chunk of stone about as big as my fist.
I shook my head. "Bigger." I couldn't bend down and search myself with Stone on my back, but I felt around with my boots, hoping to hit something other than ice.
Eleanor grunted and heaved up a rock much bigger than any fist. The exposed flesh of her face, already red from the wind, went a darker shade as she passed it my way. I took it and it nearly pulled my arms out of their sockets.
"Yeah," I said, grunting as well, "this'll do. Mikey, can you help me out here?" He crunched my way, and we each took an end of the rock. "On three."
I counted down and we heaved it out on the lake's surface. It didn't go very far. I didn't expect it to, considering neither Mikey nor I were much in the muscles department; plus, let's not forget the fact that the cold had zapped most of our energy away as soon as we stepped outside. On top of that our trek down to the beach felt like hundreds of miles instead of the couple hundred feet it actually was.
We watched as the rock disappeared in the piled snow. It thunked against the frozen surface of the lake a second or two later, a solid thunk.
"Satisfied?" Stone asked.
"Not really. Not like we have much of a choice, though, is it?" I answered. Not having a choice seemed to be the recurring theme of the day.
"Let's just get a move on. I've lost feeling in my face. Already can't feel my legs, I don't want to add the rest of my body to the list."
I craned my head up at the sky. If the cold wasn't motivation enough, the waning light certainly was. With the darkness came those things. Those wraiths. I had started mentally calling them that around this time.
"Okay," I said, turning to Eleanor and Mikey, "walk slow and easy. There's already a ton of weight on top of the lake from the snow—"
"If you were an optimist, Grady," Eleanor said, "you'd say, 'So what's a little more weight, right?' But apparently you're not…"
"He's a 'Noptimist,'" Stone said to no one's amusement.
I smiled at Eleanor. She didn't see it on account of my covered face, but I'm sure it wasn't hard to read in my eyes. "I'm a realist. Be careful. Easy steps."
"Or," Stone said, "we just sprint across. You know, like they do on old, rickety bridges in movies. If they go all slow and cautious, I can guarantee that the ancient son of a bitch is snapping and you're losing some characters. Besides, falling in some icy water ain't the end of the world."
"No, but hypothermia's gonna be hell," I said. "And it'll probably kill us if we never make it somewhere warm.
"I know. I'm joking, I'm joking. It's easy for me to shout out orders when I'm strapped to your back like Yoda in Star Wars," Stone said. "Then again…" He trailed off for a second.
"Mikey?" Eleanor called, and I realized the reason why Stone's train of thought had derailed. Mikey was currently plowing through the snow on the lake. In the span of the few seconds Stone and I had been talking, he'd covered about fifty feet without a problem.
"Kid's got guts," Stone said. "Or he's just stupid…"
Eleanor shot us a worried look. "Him being stupid is what I'm afraid of." She cupped her hands around her covered mouth and called for him again. He looked back and waved us on.
"Smart, actually," I said. "We should go at intervals. If we're too close together the ice might not take all the strain." I motioned Eleanor onward. She hesitated. "It's okay. Just go nice and easy, like Mikey's doing. Don't look ahead, either. Just look down at your legs. Focus on each step one at a time."
"Or close your eyes," Stone added. "That's what I'm gonna do."
"You better not," I warned. "You're the one with the gun."
"Fair point… Okay, I'll squint."
I grabbed Eleanor's hand and squeezed reassuringly. "Go on. We'll be right behind you."
She nodded and mumbled, "Fuck me," before going on. Her first few steps were almost too easy. Shuffle, stop, look back and contemplate aborting the mission then she'd move forward again.
The wind was really kicking up the dusty top layer of snow, taking it in white swirls, spraying it every which way like ocean mist. Only…this wasn't so pleasant. Through the white haze, Mikey was a barely visible dark blot, but he was getting smaller and smaller, which meant he hadn't quit moving. I didn't think he would unless he fell through. That was the downside of going in intervals. If one of us cracked the ice and sank into the freezing water below, there'd be no one there to immediately pull them out. Reaching them would take a bit, too, since we couldn't exactly run, especially if the ice had already cracked, like in this scenario.
I tried pushing the thought from my mind. It did no good. That sort of thing never works. It's like you're climbing up a ladder and telling yourself not to look down, that it's not that high up, and then you look down and cars and people seem like Hot Wheels and ants.
Bad thoughts or not, I had to go. So, I took a deep breath—well, not that deep since the cold air made it feel like bits of glass were stabbing my lungs—and steadied myself.
"Well, you ready?" I asked Stone.
"No, man, just leave me here and I'll swim over once it all melts. Maybe see if I can borrow a boat or something from Old Man Jenkins down the shore."
"Being a sarcastic asshole isn't helping our situation, Stone."
"Hey now, don't badmouth the dude with the gun. You're not that dumb, are you?"
"Touché." I took my first step. Once my weight pushed through the few feet of snow and made contact with the surface, my worries vanished. It felt as solid as the ground at my back. I took a few more easy steps, and the feeling of solidness thinned. The ice creaked and groaned, making me stop and hold my breath.
"Shit," I said. "This isn't—"
"Don't talk," Stone hissed. "The ice'll break!"
I craned my neck to the left so I could look at him over my shoulder. "Seriously? That's not gonna happen."
"Why chance it?"
He had a point, I guess, even though I highly doubted talking made a difference, but I shut my mouth and kept on going. It wasn't easy. Each step made the ice groan louder as the wind slapped me in the face with crystal needles.
I looked up. Mikey had vanished completely and Eleanor was about two hundred feet in front of me. At least I thought it was her. It was hard to see much of anything. A few minutes later, my confidence returned. I was moving and grooving right along. There weren't any markers to tell where I was at, but I had to have passed the halfway point, maybe even approaching the three-quarter mark.
Then it all went to hell.
It usually does. My father always said nothing was easy. I've heard variations of that saying over the years—"Nothing worth doing is ever easy," "If it was easy everyone would be doing it," and so on—but I've always dug the simplicity of my dad's take. Things went south more often than they went north. Maybe you don't agree, but I'll tell you my personal observation. Things aren't easy, we just get stronger. And when we get stronger, things only seem easier.
So, there I was in the middle of a wintry tundra. One step, another step, my boots hit the ice, and then the sound that filled the air immediately after was like a terrible car crash. That's the best way I can explain it.
I stopped, lost in my wonder of what that crackling noise was, and turned because it seemed to be coming from behind me. I realized we were pretty much fucked.
"Go!" Stone yelled. "What the hell are you waiting for?"
I don't know, but I was frozen. Only for a moment because Stone thumped me in the back of the head with the rifle's butt. Hurt like hell, but it got me going. A little pain now was nothing compared to being turned into a human icicle.
I sprang forward. The ice was already cracking, and I thought it didn't matter how hard or fast I ran as long as I got onto the other side of the lake.
Stone had the best vantage point. He was the rearview mirror I couldn't see out of. That was all right, though, because he gave me constant updates.
"We're gonna die in three seconds!" he yelled. "The Reaper's coming!"
Weirdly motivating and depressing.
I refused to give up and I kept going. Before I knew it, I made out Eleanor and Mikey's dark figures standing ashore. More hope filled my chest. I was going to make it. I was only a few dozen feet away.
Fifteen feet away now.
Five feet, which somehow seemed like another world away.
Then—another vicious crackle.
I shrank, got shorter. It took a second to realize that my foot had plunked through the ice, but by the time I realized it, I was already falling forward. I landed face first in the snow. The lake water beneath the ice was slush, and its violent coldness somehow cut through the rubber of my boots. Instantly, I felt the nerves in my toes cry out and die and I yelled in pain as I heard more cracking. It was like shattering glass.
"Get up! Get up!" Stone was shouting. He sounded far away despite being on my back.
I scrambled and pulled my lame foot from the hole, but moving in three feet of snow while on the wobbly surface of breaking ice wasn't exactly easy. The snow pulled me back. It was like it wanted me, like it was some ravenous beast.
I tried, I really did, but my body gave out and I fell back down, the white turning everything black.
The cold, the wind, the ice…it had won.
* * *
My eyes fluttered open. Eleanor stood before me, still wrapped in all her heavy winter clothes. The snow had consumed the colors, though, turning the navy of her jacket and the gray of her pants white. The only way I recognized her—because I wasn't exactly in my right mind at this point; my brain had pretty much been frostbitten—was by her eyes, the deep green that shined bright in the winter haze, and by a strand of her hair that had spilled out from beneath her hood and danced along on the bitter breeze.
For a long moment, I wasn't sure where I was, but a quick scan told me I made it to the opposite shore. Mostly. My lower half was sopping wet with lake slush, already stiffening as the cold turned it to ice as I watched. I barely felt much of anything down there.
When I passed out, I had passed out and dreamed of summer. Me sitting near the tide on a beach in the Caribbean, the warm water unfrozen and lapping at my bare feet, a campfire at my back. Someone was strumming a ukulele, an upbeat melody, and another person sang along in a high, sweet voice.
Eleanor grabbed my hand, pulled me up. I was hardly able to stand on my own with my frozen foot. Dazed, I looked around and didn't see much except for the endless white, but I noticed the sun above us was mostly gone, blotted out by the enormous pale gray clouds that had arrived on July 4th and hadn't moved on since. I noticed something else, too. I was considerably lighter.
"Stone," I mumbled, alarm raking down my insides like claws. "Where's Stone?"
"Mikey's got him. C'mon!"
I turned and looked toward the lake. There, I barely saw Mikey, but he seemed bigger than normal and that was because he was carrying Stone in his arms. Stone, who was much bigger than a skinny kid like Mikey.
I stumbled again. Eleanor caught me again. Each step I took was like walking on legs controlled by someone else. I had to move, though, because the fact of the matter was simple: if I didn't shed the wet clothes, get out of the cold and wind and in front of a fire, I was probably going to die.
Sadly, a part of me wished it would've just happened. It was easier that way.
With Eleanor's arms around my shoulders, she guided me toward the sloping embankment. I took one look at it and wondered how the hell I was going to make it up there. I'm sure there were steps somewhere, but the snow had buried them. We didn't exactly have the time or tools to go shoveling. Nor did we have the energy. Each second I spent out in the cold was another second closer to hypothermia and death.
"The sun," I said. "It's going down."
"I know," she answered. "Come on, we're almost to the house."
She was right. It loomed above us on a hill overlooking the beach. Through the haze I saw it was the color of a summer sky, deep blue. Snow had engulfed most of the roof, but a redbrick chimney jutted out like a submarine's periscope. And there, on the second floor of the place, was the window I had seen the light burning so brightly in. It was dark now, contained by icy glass.
Mikey and Stone came back to us. Stone was covered in snow, but his eyes were alive. Adrenaline is a hell of a thing, I'll tell you. It probably kept us both our hearts beating.
"I lost the gun," Stone said. "I dropped it when we fell."
"It's okay," I said through chattering teeth and wind-chapped lips. "It's okay. I'm just glad you're with us. I'm sorry I fell."
"Shut up, Grady," Stone said. "Forget about it. I don't really wanna have a sentimental conversation with you while Mike is holding me like a baby."
Fair point, I thought, and shut my mouth.
We went onward. The slope proved difficult and I might not have been able to get up it without Eleanor, but we did. We reached the top. The house seemed so lonely. There were other houses nearby, sure, but the white blocked most everything in the distance out. Since we were close enough to the place it was all we could see.
A warmth radiated through my chest. It felt pleasant, that hope, and it renewed me again. Screw my frozen foot and ice-covered clothes. Who cared that the gun was gone? Who cared that the clouds were claiming the sun?
All that mattered was this new house, our salvation. Beyond its doors, a wealth of possibilities waited for us—
The voice doused the warmth I had momentarily felt. I didn't turn around, but that wasn't necessary to know who the voice belonged to. The dead boy. I had watched him die in the fire a few months ago; I had shot him on July 4th, when the snow first fell; but he was still here and I didn't think he was ever going away.
Although I didn't turn around, I had stopped.
"I hear it," Eleanor said, and she put a hand on my back, nudging me forward. "They're not close yet. Keep going." She spoke with such calm. I admired it, but not nearly as much as I admired her for dragging me from the snow on the lake's shore and saving my life.
"Guys…" Stone said.
"Holy shit!" Mikey said, his voice squeaking like he was in the throes of puberty.
I turned this time. I had to. The first thing that caught my eye was the bright light in the middle of the lake. Flames. Fire. The burning boy. He was advancing, too, still shouting my name, the sound of that unnatural speech drifting on the wind. My eyes didn't linger on him for very long.
Because there was something else.
It took me a moment to realize what it was, my brain unable to comprehend the enormity of it, then I registered the images and put them into one cohesive thing.
It was a spider, a huge spider, and it was crawling up the embankment. I let out a quiet gasp. It was all I could do. My breath had gone as soon as I realized what it was.
"This can't be real—" Mikey was saying.
"Go!" Eleanor said. "Get to the house!" She grabbed my hand, squeezed with a deathly tight grip. I barely felt it. I was barely aware of anything besides the spider. It seemed like it was made of shadows, yet somehow still solid. It was easily as big as the car I had driven down here to Prism Lake over two weeks ago, the car that was now buried and useless. But, despite the spider looking as if it were made out of shadow or smoke, its eight legs sunk into the snow, disappeared then reappeared, flinging clouds of white every which way.
I watched it advance, unable to move myself, my brain going numb.
Eight dark red eyes sought us out. They glowed like the eyes of a jack-o'-lantern. It had pincers, too, three on each side of its gaping maw, which dripped with thick, silver saliva. To top this madness off, the thing was somehow breathing, little puffs of vapor escaping its mouth.
It came closer, close enough that I smelled it. A scent of death and rotting flesh.
Mikey bolted. He dropped Stone, who hit the snow like a sack of rocks. That made me move. Reflex, maybe, I don't know, but I bent and scooped my best friend up. I had lost a Musketeer earlier. Now we were only a duo. If Stone died, too, I'd be alone. Two Musketeers were bad enough…but one? No. Unacceptable.
Eleanor took off after Mikey. His screams cut through the cold air, louder than the wind.
"T-that's a spider," Stone said. "A big fucking spider." That was one way of putting it.
With Stone on my arm, pressed against my hip the way a mom holds her baby, his nearly useless legs dragging through the snow, I took off toward the lake house, and hopefully, salvation.
* * *
You already know it was hard to move through the snow, but it was even harder holding Stone without the sling, all while having a foot that barely felt anything. On top of that, most of my lower half was losing feeling, too. I still moved. I had to.
It's amazing how seeing a giant spider can light a fire under your ass. I'm not even that afraid of spiders. They're creepy-looking, possibly from an alien world, yeah, but if I ever saw one in my house, I never squashed it with my shoes. If they were small, I'd let them wander as long as they wanted; if they were bigger, with noticeable hair and all that, I'd catch them and let them outside. Nothing against those bigger ones, I just didn't particularly want one crawling over my face or into my mouth while I slept.
But this apparition was bigger than my car. When something like a spider gets that big, its ugliness is hard to ignore, even with the low visibility the current wintry weather conditions offered. Seeing all that—the red eyes, the dripping mouth, the pincers, the hairs jutting from legs longer than my entire body—well, that was something else.
It made me forget all about the dead boy, the cold, the frostbite, the deaths, the lost gun. Survival mode had kicked in and I hobbled as fast as I could toward the house we had set as our destination.
"Please!" Eleanor was shouting.
I followed her voice. Stone was slipping from my grasp. I held a fistful of his coat, hanging on for dear life. He was shouting something about the spider, about how close it was.
Around the side of the house, in the front, I found the others. Eleanor pounded on the door with fists and elbows. Snow came damn near up to her chin. Mike wasn't moving. He had pressed himself against the brick facade, every part of him frozen except for his eyes, which darted in all directions.
"Please let us in! Please!" Eleanor shouted.
The spider-shadow screeched, the sound high and serrated. It had lost us, but it was on its way. We weren't exactly hidden, especially against the backdrop of white snow.
"Maybe there's no one here," Stone said, and just as he said this, curtains parted in the front window. In the sliver of space, I saw the unmistakable shape of a face and someone's eyes. When they realized I was looking, they backed away.
"Fuck it," I said. No time for this. The person was letting us in whether they wanted to or not. I didn't travel across a frozen lake, through endless feet of snow and almost die to get turned down.
Now I didn't have much energy, I was beyond tired, and my body was probably going through some sort of catastrophic shock from the cold, but I wasn't going to give up. Not now, not ever.
So, I raised an elbow and struck the glass. It hurt like hell, even through my layers of clothing, but the window pane shattered in an array of frozen shards on the first attempt. That surprised me, considering I'm not the strongest guy. Working as a firefighter helped, I guess. I've broken more than a few windows during training exercises, but I did so with a special tool. What gave me this burst of sudden strength was simple. It was the raw, primal fear surging through my body, all thanks to the spider's pursuit of us. It was wanting to make sure the others and myself survived and being prepared to do anything to make sure that we did just that.
From inside the house, a wave of heat reached out to me. I've never felt anything so good. I reached inside, turned the lock, and pushed the window up, shouting, "In! Everyone in!"
Eleanor moved toward me first, grabbing Mikey by his collar. He was still in a state of shock and bent to her will as easily as a scared dog on a leash. She pushed him through the window. Once the heat hit him, that seemed to perk him up, and his lethargy became almost overexcitement. I leaned Stone against the sill, and he did the rest of the work. His upper body was strong. He hit the floor on the inside and rolled.
"Go, El!" I said.
"What about you?"
"I'll be right behind you."
She nodded and went inside. I followed just as the spider rounded the corner, kicking up drifts of snow like frozen tsunami waves.
I said earlier that I had never moved as fast in my life when I ran from the spider, but that was wrong. I had never moved faster than I did when I was face to face with the monster, when I knew for a fact its eight eyes had landed on me. In those eyes, all of them, I saw its true nature. If I didn't know it before, I knew it now.
It wasn't going to just kill me; it was going to devour me. Rip me apart. Crush me into red jelly and bone dust.
As I pushed off my numb foot, trying to spring, I slipped. I didn't fall or anything. It wasn't a major slip, but it was enough to slow me down. That was all the spider needed.
Its front legs stabbed in my direction. Life went slow-motion. I saw the wispy-but-solid blackness coming, knowing if it made contact I would become a dead man. I would turn into whatever Ed had turned into. I would kill people and then I'd kill myself.
The monster screeched.
This close to me, it gave off not any kind of heat, but a cold greater than the cold of the frozen world. It was impossible; it was true.
Then, I closed my eyes, and I accepted my fate.