The skin on the back of his neck prickled and Thom shuddered, lifting his head and looking around slowly. The mist that had burned off earlier that morning was back again, but he didn’t think that’s what was giving him the creepy crawlies. His fingers tightened around his lukewarm mug as the dampness settled in and goosebumps rose along his limbs.
Shadow-shapes dove from the tops of walls like silent death, flickering in and out of his vision as he watched them. His heart thundered and he fumbled for the nearest weapon, a half-forged something laid out on a split log to cool. All he knew is that he couldn’t face these things without a weapon in hand. He wasn’t Rory or any of the rest. All he had was physical defenses.
The screams began a moment later. He spun at the sound of claws on gravel, eyes searching for any bare sign of the creatures that had landed here.
Nothing, just a scraping sound of claws on gravel.
His heart hammered against his ribs. Where are you, ugly? His fingers tightened around the unfinished shaft of iron and steel.
Pain blossomed in his arm and he struck out toward where he thought the source might be. Something inhuman screamed.
Something hit him square in the shoulders and he stumbled forward, losing his grip on the unfinished weapon in his hand. He hit the ground, rolling, searching frantically for the things that he could only occasionally see. It was getting worse.
It was getting deadly.
Someone was calling his name to his left and he tried to shout back, but something large and heavy landed on his chest, driving sharp knees into his diaphragm and robbing him of breath.
Matt shook him again. “Thom?”
Thom blinked blearily back to himself, shivering as he looked up toward Matt. “Sorry,” he mumbled. “What were you saying?”
“I wasn’t,” Matt said, brows knitting. “You just had…y’know, that look.”
Thom exhaled. He knew what look Matt was talking about—the one that Marin got when she was seeing something, the one that apparently he got, too. He shook his head slowly.
“I’ve got a bad feeling about this morning, Matt,” he muttered before he could stop himself, hunching uncomfortably. He started to fumble the letter back out, but stopped himself.
She can’t help me now. Might not ever be able to help me again.
Matt winced. “Good to know I’m not the only one.” He paused for a moment, then asked quietly, “Did you—?”
“The Shadow Man is coming.”
Thom jerked, looking toward Angie, whose expression was far too serious to grace the face of such a young child. What the hell is she talking about? “Who’s that, Angie?”
Her nose wrinkled as she came closer to the fire and stood between where Thom sat and Matt crouched. An errant breeze lifted her dark hair away from her face, making it float, wreathing her head almost like a halo. She stared into the flames for a moment, eyes old and distant. “He came and talked to Paul and me, before Miss Kellin and Miss Stasia and Miss Tala and Mister Brandon came and took us away from the farm. He wanted Paul to help him, but Paul said no. I had to make him say no, though. I had to tell him the Shadow Man was bad and that he shouldn’t help him. It didn’t matter what he wanted, it wasn’t gonna be right to help him.”
She looked at Thom. “And now he’s coming here. I can feel him. He makes my skin feel all funny and my head hurt.”
Holy shit. This is coming from a ten-year-old kid. Thom stared at the girl mutely for a moment.
Matt touched Angie’s shoulder. “What does he look like?” He looked at Thom over the girl’s shoulder, jaw tightening.
Guess this is getting too weird for him, too. Thom’s lips thinned as Angie turned toward Matt.
“He’s tall and all covered in shadows,” she said, crossing her skinny arms and staring at him intensely. “Didn’t Miss Kellin tell you about him? She and I talked about him a lot! She wanted to know, too, because I think she knows what he looks like, too. I don’t know if he tried to talk to her, too, but she wanted to know about him back at the farm, so I told her.”
Her eyes bounced between the two men for a moment, then she scowled and looked at the fire again. “You could see him if you looked, when he comes, but I don’t think you want to see him, do you? I don’t want to see him ever again, but he’s coming. I can feel him.” She looked at Thom, her gaze almost baleful, voice shifting subtly. “You can feel it, too. I know you can.”
Thom held steady, but the desire to recoil almost overwhelmed him.
She’s just a kid. She’s just a kid. She’s just a kid.
How the hell could she know that? How the hell does she know any of this?
He thought of his cousin’s dreams, of how strongly she believed she was seeing another time, another life. His throat started to close up, a lump rising and choking off his air. He swallowed hard and steadied.
“Yes,” he said softly. “Yes, I can feel something, too.”
Angie nodded slowly and stared at the fire. When she spoke again, her voice was normal. “He scares me.”
Right now, I’m not sure that everything doesn’t scare me. Thom’s hands tightened around the mug again as thunder growled in the distance.
He edged closer to the fire. Something about the light and the heat made him feel safer. Angie glanced at him and smiled a small, weak smile.
“It makes me feel safe,” she said quietly, pointing to the flames.
Thom nodded as Matt sat down on the other side of the little girl and put his arm around her shoulders.
“Me too,” Thom said, touching the girl’s knee.
Me too. I just wish it was enough to shake this bad feeling. It wasn’t.
The Shadow Man is coming. But who is he, and what the hell does he want with us?
He didn’t want to know the answer, but he had a feeling that one way or another, they were going to have to find out.