“If the boy says he can’t do it, I’m not inclined to disbelieve him,” Addison said. “We must find another way out of this.”
Emma huffed. “Like what?” She looked at Addison. “Can you run?” She looked at me. “Can you fight?”
The answer to both was no. I took her point: our options were winnowing fast.
“At times like this,” Addison said imperiously, “my kind don’t fight. We orate!” Facing the men, he called out in a booming voice, “Fellow peculiars, be reasonable! Allow me a few words!”
They paid him no attention. As they continued closing off our escape routes, we backed toward the bridge, Emma crafting the largest fireball she could muster while Addison yammered about how the animals of the forest live in harmony, so why can’t we? “Consider the simple hedgehog, and his neighbor, the opossum … do they waste their energy trying to throw one another into chasms when they face a common enemy, the winter? No!”
“He’s gone completely crackers,” Emma said. “Shut your gob and bite one of them!”
I looked around for something to fight with. The only hard objects within reach were the heads. I picked one up by the last wisps of its hair.
“Is there another way across?” I shouted into its face. “Quick, or I’m throwing you into the river!”
“Go to Hell!” it spat, then snapped at me with its teeth.
I flung it at the men—awkwardly, with my left arm. It fell short. I rooted around for another head, picked it up, and repeated my question.
“Sure there is,” the head sneered. “In the back of a prizzo van! Though if I were you I’d take my chances with the bridge hollow …”
“What’s a prizzo van? Tell me or I’ll fling you, too!”
“You’re about to get hit by one,” it replied, and then three gunshots rang out in the distance—bam, bam, bam, slow and measured, like a warning. Immediately the men who’d been coming at us stopped, and everyone turned to look down the road.
Half drawn through a cloud of swirling ash, something large and boxy was rumbling toward us. Then came the growl of a big engine downshifting, and out of the black appeared a truck. It was a modern machine of military issue, all rivets and reinforcements and tires half a man high. The back was a windowless cube, and two flak-jacketed, machine-gun-armed wights stood guard along its running boards.
The moment it appeared, the squatters went into a kind of frenzy, laughing and gasping for joy, waving their arms and clasping their hands like marooned shipwreck survivors flagging down a passing plane—and just like that, we were forgotten. A golden opportunity had smacked into us, and we weren’t about to waste it. I tossed aside the head, scooped Addison into the crook of my left arm, and scrambled out of the road after Emma. We could’ve kept going—cut away from Smoking Street and retreated to some safer quarter of Devil’s Acre—but here, finally, was our enemy in the flesh, and whatever was happening or about to happen was clearly of importance. We stopped not far off the roadside, barely hidden behind a knot of charred trees, and watched.
The truck slowed and the crowd swarmed it, groveling and begging—for vials, for suulie and ambro and just a taste, just a little, please sir, disgusting in their worship of these butchers, pawing at the soldiers’ clothes and shoes and getting steel-toed kicks in return. I thought surely the wights would start shooting, or gun the engine and crush those foolish enough to stand between them and the bridge. Instead the truck stopped and the wights began to shout instructions. Form a line, right over here, keep orderly or you’ll get nothing! The crowd fell into formation like destitutes in a bread line, cowed and fidgeting in anticipation of what they were about to receive.
Without warning, Addison began to struggle to be set down. I asked him what was the matter, but he only whimpered and struggled harder, a desperate look on his face like he’d just caught a major scent trail. Emma pinched him and he snapped out of it long enough to say, “It’s her, it’s her—it’s Miss Wren,” and I realized that prizzo van was short for prison van, and that the cargo in the back of the wights’ enormous vehicle was almost certainly human.
Then Addison bit me. I yelped and let him go, and in an instant he was scrambling away. Emma swore and I said, “Addison, don’t!” But it was useless; he was operating on instinct, the irrepressible reflex of a loyal dog trying to protect his master. I dove for him and missed—he was surprisingly speedy for a creature with just three working legs—and then Emma hauled me up and together we were after him, out of our hiding place and into the road.
There was a moment, a fleeting instant, when I thought we could catch him, that the soldiers were too mobbed and the crowd too preoccupied to notice us. And it might’ve happened but for the shift that came over Emma halfway across the road, when she spied the doors at the back of the truck. Doors with locks that could be melted. Doors that could be flung open, she must’ve thought—I could read it in the hope dawning on her face—and she passed Addison without even reaching for him and clambered onto the truck’s bumper.
Shouts from the guards. I grabbed for Addison but he slid away, under the truck. Emma was starting to melt the handle of one door when the first guard swung his gun like a baseball bat. It hit her in the side and she tumbled to the ground. I ran at the guard, ready to do to him whatever I could with my one good arm, but my legs were kicked out from under me and I crashed down onto my hurt shoulder, a thunderbolt of pain surging through me.