“I can’t move.”

“That’s okay, stay still. I’ll find it.”

I tried to lean over as far as I could without falling over on him, balancing my torso on the edge of the bunk. I reached and fumbled with my hands and eventually found the light switch.

“Close your eyes,” I warned him. I squinted mine in preparation and flicked it on.

Mickey was lying below me, on the wall beside my bunk. His eyes were squeezed shut. His chest and shoulder were covered in blood, his shoulder twisted, his chest sunken in as if something heavy had slammed into him. His face was ashen, paler than death against his dark beard. I almost cried out but bit my tongue hard, not wanting to scare him.

“Okay, Mickey,” I said.

He opened his eyes slowly, blinking hard at me. “Your head.”

“I hit it,” I said. “I’m fine.”

“Where’s Robbie?” he started coughing. Blood bubbled out of his lips.

I grimaced at the sight and looked over the edge of the bunk. I could barely see him in the space beside the other bunk but Robbie was there, lying on his stomach. For what it was worth, I couldn’t see any blood in the darkness and after a few seconds, I saw his back rise and fall.

“He’s there,” I said turning back to Mickey. “He’s alive.”

Mickey smiled then wheezed and groaned. Sweat appeared on his pale forehead.

“Hey, you’ll be fine,” I lied. “Hang in there, boyo. I’m going to go see where everyone else is and get help.”

“I’m sorry, Dawn,” he said.

His voice cracked. It broke my heart.

“For what?”

“I should have been nicer to you. I wasn’t. I’m sorry. Please, please go visit Noelle when this is all over.”

“Mickey…”

“Promise me. She needs a friend. She never had any. She only had me. Promise me, please.”

I tried to smile. The sadness felt too heavy on my lips. “I promise.”

“Thank you,” he said softly. Then his eyes closed and his final breath escaped his bloodied lips.

My chest was heavy, feeling like I was being choked from the inside. My throat was thick and I was unable to swallow. I couldn’t do this right now. I couldn’t grieve. I’d lose it. Mickey was dead, there was no way I could do anything for him anymore. He was dead.

I looked away and made a point to never look back. I shuffled myself along the side of the bunk and carefully dropped myself onto the back of the couch. The wind was lessening, calming down to a dull roar. I could see the shattered windows, edges of glass splattered with blood. The sand seemed to hover in the air, floating around like I was in a ghostly snowglobe.

I reached down to my feet, balancing on the cushions, and felt around for the light switch on the wall. It came on, flickering. Fiddles was lying in front of me, eyes rolled back in his head, still as death. His head was twisted at a gruesome angle, almost hanging down to his shoulder.

Keep it together, keep it together, I chanted to myself, closing my eyes at the sight. Get out now.

I stepped around Fiddles, a few tears leaking from my eyes, and tried to keep the feeling down that was bubbling up inside.

The windshield was completely shattered and sand had piled in, half burying the only way out. I got on my knees and began to crawl through, clawing through the sand like I was climbing a dune at the beach, keeping my back low so the sharp blades of glass didn’t pierce my back and sides.

I was halfway out when I felt something thick and unstable beneath me. It was soft. It was a person.

I felt around and touched a side, a chest, an arm. I didn’t know if they were alive or dead. I pushed on the arm, trying to flip the person over, praying over and over again that it wasn’t Sage.

The person finally gave, sand sifting to make room, and with one thump I was looking straight into Bob’s white face. A huge piece of glass was sticking out of one bloody hole that used to be an eye, the rest of the glass lodged deep in his brain.

That did it. Bob was gone. My dear Bob was dead. Bob who had the mortgage and the wife and loved Elvis. Bob whose twinkly eyes and many stories would be going to the grave with him.

I couldn’t hold it together any longer. I screamed, taking in half the desert in my lungs. I flipped him over so the glass wouldn’t cut me and I scampered out of the bus. I dragged myself along, my breath hitched, nerves crying out, until I felt solid ground and stony earth beneath me. I got to my feet and looked around. I could just the see shape of the bus, lying on its side. One half of it was crushed in where something had hit it. Only something the size of a semi or another bus could do that.

I was too distraught to think properly. Where was I again? Arizona. The highway. I needed to get help. I needed to find Sage. Where was he? Where was Jacob?

I looked around, not knowing what direction to go. I was blind in the dim storm. I walked haphazardly, tripping over rocks, ignoring the cuts and bruises I could see on my legs.

“Sage!” I called out. “Jacob?!”

My voice echoed eerily. I heard nothing but the wind brushing past. My eyes watered from the sand.

I was about to call again when I heard coughing to my left. I ran awkwardly in that direction, my leg starting to hurt, until I saw a fallen shape on the ground.

I fell to my knees beside it, scraping my skin.

It was Jacob.

“Are you okay?” I cried out. I put my hand to his weathered forehead. It was hot. His eyes were closed painfully.

“Rusty?” he asked, choking a bit on the words. “I’m fine. Are you hurt?”

“Just my head. What about you?”

“Bloody leg.”

I looked down. His leg was bloody indeed. It was crooked and a piece of white bone was jutting out of his torn brown pant leg. I nearly vomited on him.

“I think it’s broken,” I said feebly.

He coughed. “No shit. Where is everyone else?”

“Mickey, Bob, and Fiddles are all dead. Robbie is still on the bus. He’s alive but unconscious, I think anyway. I haven’t seen Sage or Graham.”

“I think we can assume they’re gone together,” he said between coughs. “His birthday isn’t until tomorrow at midnight. There’s still time. We can get him back. I think I know where he might be.”

“You’re going to help me?”

“Of course, you natty bird.” He closed his eyes and let out a moan, his legs stiffening out straight. “But first, I need help. Go run to the road. It should be right ahead of you. Get someone to drive to a payphone. The storm is lessening.”

I patted his shoulder and got up. “Don’t die on me, Jacob.”

“It would be my first occupational hazard,” he answered. “I don’t plan on it.”

I nodded, and finding the last reserve of my strength, I started running. It wasn’t long before I began to see the shapes of waiting cars and was almost to the road when a dark figure stepped in front of me.

“I’ve been looking for you,” said a coolly sardonic voice. “Sage’s lovebird.”

It was Graham.

I cried out and turned around to run away from him, only to find Sonja, Terri, and Sparky standing right behind me, eyes black, mouths open in a pointy, demonic grin.

There was a blunt thud at the back of my head and a starburst of pain. I was out before the ground met my face.

CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE

I dreamed I was a little girl again. I was playing at the edge of the swimming holes that perforated the Columbia River, dipping my toe into the cool water but afraid to go in.

“Come on, baby Dawn,” my mother encouraged. I looked up. She was standing in the water, wet hair cascading down the sides of her face. She looked young, strong, and beautiful. “Come in the water.”

I shook my head. I wasn’t a strong swimmer back then.

“I promise to hold onto you,” she cooed. “I won’t let you go.”

She opened her arms and motioned with her hands. Her smiling face was glowing.

“Come on,” she said again.

I hesitated. Then I walked in until I was up to my knobby knees, then I plugged my nose and jumped in the rest of the way.

It was dark and cold underneath the water but I surfaced, my lungs gasping for breath.

“You can do it, baby Dawn.”

I doggy paddled toward her and when I was close, she reached out and grabbed me. I clung to her shoulder like she was a life preserver, instantly calmed by the feeling of her skin against mine.

“See, I told you I wouldn’t let you go.”

I relaxed, resting my head on her shoulder.

Suddenly my ear was being tickled by water. Rising water. I looked up. My mom was staring forward with a blank look on her face.

“I won’t let you go, baby girl,” she whispered absently. Her words were ghosts that floated up in the air.

Now the water was up to my chin. We were sinking.

“I won’t let you go,” she said again.

I gasped for air as we were pulled down.

“I won’t let you go.”

The cold water covered my head. I opened my mouth to scream but water rushed in and filled my tiny lungs.

My mother mouthed the words, “I won’t let you go.”

***

When I came to, I was lying on my back and my world was rocking back and forth, a shifting, splashing sound filling my ears. I opened my eyes to see a black, star-lit sky, open and expansive, stretching from one dark-hilled horizon to the other. The moon was full and radiating against the darkness. I felt terror wrap around me like a cold blanket, holding me still.

I tried to raise my head. Pain erupted from several points and stars spun in my dizzying vision. I let out a cry, unable to feel anything except the terror, except the pain.

A splash came from my left. At first it was just a sound. It continued, and soon I was being flicked with cold water, making me flinch involuntarily. Each movement caused the pain in my head to explode.

A vicious, melodic laugh erupted.

“Wakey wakey,” came a girlish voice. “Your savior is here.”

“Dawn!” It was Sage.

I tried to sit up but my world was immediately rocked. I tensed, trying to steady my arms, realizing it wasn’t just the blows to the head that had made me dizzy, but that I was lying on something extremely unstable. The lower half of my body, my legs particularly, were sloping downwards and thick vinyl was rubbing against my skin.

“Take it easy,” the girl said. “You don’t want to drown yet.”

I forced my eyes open and waited for the spinning to stop. When it did, I saw a lake lit by moonlight. I was lying down on an inflatable raft that was bending awkwardly in the middle. I looked down at my legs. There was a thick, very heavy chain wrapped around them from my ankles all the way up to my knees. I couldn’t move my legs to save my life and I realized that was the point. It was a miracle the raft had just enough air in it to stay buoyant with all the weight.

To one side of me, floating in the water up to her chest was one of the most beautiful and terrifying people I had ever seen. Long alabaster hair, sculpted cheekbones, and iridescent eyes that looked like they were made of gold silk. For all her beauty, there was something so immensely dreadful about her that my skin crawled, like at any moment her face could change into something so horrific that I’d die from fright.

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