Thom was the first up. He lurched to his feet, crutches forgotten as he started to limp toward the sound. Rory had the presence of mind to tuck himself under his arm, ignoring the forgotten crutches as the five—Angie included—abandoned the fire and headed out into the thickening mist.
“Who’s that screaming?” Angie asked as she kept up with them, right behind Rory and Thom.
“Don’t know, kiddo,” Thom said. It’s not Marin. I know what that sounds like and that’s not her. It was only a minor relief. It sounded like a woman screaming, and if Marin wasn’t the one screaming, then Kellin wouldn’t be screaming, either. That left two women out there in the woods—Leah, who everyone was looking for, and Stasia, who’d gone looking for her with Paul.
Angie’s brother Paul.
“Angie, stay right with me, and Mr. Thom, okay?”
Good call, Matt. If this is a fight, we’re as big as a liability as she is. Thom spared half a second to kick himself for darting off toward the sound, then they were pushing through the mist toward a mass of human-shaped shadows clustered together.
Something moved in the mist, past the four and almost through them, and they heard the scream again, accompanied by male shouting.
“Drew!” Rory shouted.
The mist around them parted. Stasia was shaking in Brandon’s arms, eyes wide and darting. Drew was breathing heavily and Paul had a branch as thick as his arm in hand, holding it like a baseball bat. His eyes widened as he spotted his sister peeking around Thom’s legs.
“What the hell are you doing out here, Angie? I told you to stay with the others!”
“What’s going on?” Thom shouted.
“Something pushed me down the hill,” Stasia said, voice starting to normalize. She was spattered in mud, leaves and other debris in her hair, and was shaking in Brandon’s arms. “I didn’t trip, something pushed me. Then it tried again up here, tried to knock me down and drag me off!”
It was as if someone had swept her legs right from under her. Leah went down hard with the sound of air escaping from her lungs. Then something unseen seized her by the ankle and started dragging her off.
She screamed, and hers was joined by others, and cursing, seconds later.
Something hit him square in the spine and he almost toppled, too.
Thom’s heart thudded against his breast.
“Thom, snap out of it. Here and now, man, we need you.” Rory shook him and Thom blinked, sucking in a breath he hadn’t realized he’d lost.
“Is he okay?” Brandon asked. His eyes were as big as Stasia’s, though he looked like he was trying to hold it together.
“We need to get back to the fire,” Thom said, swallowing hard and leaning more heavily on Rory. The bad feeling was growing worse and he was starting to feel sick.
Something unseen forced its way between him and Rory, who let go, stumbling back with a shout. Thom went down hard, his entire side numb until he hit the ground, when his ribs suddenly sent fire shooting through his chest and robbed him of breath again.
Stasia screamed and Brandon spun her away from something unseen. A shrieking wind surrounded them, forcing them to cluster closer together.
“What the hell is this?” Matt shouted.
Drew and Carolyn exchanged a look. Carolyn swallowed hard and crouched down to help Thom up.
“Thom’s right, we need to get back,” she said. “Give me a hand here, Matt.”
They hauled Thom back up to his feet. He could hear something faintly through the shrieking wind—the sound of laughter.
Malicious, angry laughter.
His throat went tight, as if someone or something had wrapped its hands around his neck and squeezed. He struggled to suck in a breath and found he couldn’t.
He flailed, knocking Carolyn away from him. Matt hung on only a second longer, stumbling back himself with big eyes.
Not real, not real, not real, not real, not real.
It took a moment to realize that the thoughts weren’t his.
“Get off,” he gasped against the pressure around his throat, clawing at unseen hands now. He should be on the ground, laid out flat. Why wasn’t he down? He couldn’t feel the ground beneath the one foot that was on the ground. “Get off!”
Rory’s hand came flying through his peripheral vision, wreathed in a dim red glow.
The pressure on his neck vanished and he sat down hard again, then flopped over backwards, gasping like a fish out of water.
Blood roared in his ears, but he could still hear the shrieking of the winds in the mist.
The mist that hadn’t gone away, blown away, despite the wind.
If it wasn’t the wind shrieking, what was it?
Somewhere in the distance was more shouting, more screaming.
“Get up, Thom,” Carolyn said urgently, grasping his arm. “Get up!”
He rocked up more slowly than he would have liked, but faster than his ribs could take. Dark spots danced before his eyes as he forced his way back up to his feet. His tongue felt thick in his mouth as he mumbled, “We all okay?”
“Here,” she spat, then hauled his arm over her shoulders. “Come on, we have to go.”
They’d gone three steps before he realized where the screams were coming from.
The only one we left was Jay…
Then he realized one of the screams was familiar.