The blunt force of a thousand thoughts hit Henry all at once. He scrambled up onto his hands and knees, unsure which he was about to voice, and shouted “Diane!”
Jamal was already at his side. “Staying at her sister’s. Can you stand?”
Henry grabbed Jamal’s arm and pulled himself upright. The world spun. The wreckage of the Tortoise Shell Inn warped and blurred together. It looked like a plane crash. It looked like a lumberyard. “It was just the three of us?”
But the bartender wasn’t at his side any longer. “I’m going to get help! Don’t move!”
He took that advice seriously. He would not move. He tried to stop swaying. He tried not to throw up. The unfocused eyes of Clint swiveled generally in his direction, and blinked.
Henry raced forward and fell to his knees in front of the old man. An entire section of wall had fallen on him. “Can you hear me?” He set his hands on the wreckage. Clint gurgled something. He focused on his arms—on having the strength. He thought of the charms on his neck connecting him to Kara, connecting him to a world of magic. They responded with a pulse of warmth against his chest.
Moving the collapsed wall was not easy, regardless. The boards split as he applied force, so he had to peel the wood away in sections. In the end he had constructed a sort of cocoon, shielding Clint’s shuddering body within. The man’s chest was a swamp of exposed bone and running blood. His skin was pale as paper. He twitched, staring up at nothing.
Henry felt the magic of the village still pulsing through his body. He placed his hands in the mess of Clint’s body. There was nothing else to be done. There was no time to wait for help. He laid his palms flat, and the voice of Teresa Bramble sounded in his head: There are stories of those who could heal with the touch of their hand.
What had begun as a pulsing warmth, the force of electricity he’d felt building over the last few days, finally spilled over, boiling out of his gut through his body—snaking down his arms, and out through the tips of his gore-soaked fingers. Clint gasped. His eyes focused. A nauseating pain radiated from Henry’s shoulder. His arm grew numb. Under his hands, skin was beginning to knit back together. Bone fused. The process continued until Henry lost sensation in the arm altogether, and it limply fell away from Clint’s body. Their connection was severed.
The world was quiet and still. Nothing moved. Then after a moment, Clint sat up. His bare chest was still a mess of blood, but it was drying against healed skin. “What the fuck was that?”
Henry didn’t answer. He sat, exhausted, and stripped his shirt off. The black rot around his wound had run in streaks down the length of his arm, purple and pale like watery grape jelly. He could not move it at all.
The old man grumbled a few more incoherent words, then lapsed once more into unconsciousness. His breathing was stable, but strained. Henry stood and loped for the exit, before remembering that it had been lost in the rubble. Instead he wandered through the rubble into the street, and found himself in the middle of a tense scene.
Sheriff Leia Thao stood where she had before, her gun held aloft in her hand. Her eyes were wild. Her arms shook. At her side stood one of her deputies, his own gun leveled at Emmaline Cass. The woman (corpse? skeleton?) stood on a smooth island between two long lines of broken pavement.
Somebody was talking. It took Henry a moment to tell where the voice was coming from, but eventually he zeroed in on the form of Sofia Bramble. The girl stood on the other side of the rubble. Her clothes were stained red. Fresh gore dripped down her arms. “Don’t shoot,” she was saying. “Whatever you do, don’t antagonize her.”
“As long as she doesn’t move,” Leia said.
“Even if she does. Please, don’t shoot again.”
Henry limped down the street toward the confusion. Pain like needles shot through his leg with every step. By contrast, the numbness in his arm was paradise.
“What do you want?” Leia called.
“I don’t think she can hear us,” Sofia said. “My mother will be on her way. She’ll know what to do.”
“We don’t need a doctor, kid, we need -” the sheriff stopped mid-sentence when she saw Henry step out into the intersection. “Did you just come out of there? Is everyone okay inside?”
He meant to tell her that everything was fine. Clint was asleep. Jamal had run. Diane wasn’t inside. She was staying with her sister. When he opened his mouth, Emmaline turned on the spot. She rotated like a ballerina, pivoting on the spot to land in his direction. There was a moment of silence, and then she raised her hand. A single, bony finger singled him out.
Emmaline started walking. “Hold your fire!” Leia barked. Henry thought it was more for herself than the deputy. “Move away. Walk away. Henry, can you hear me? Stay away from her.”
There was nothing threatening about the approaching figure. Emmaline acted like Mathas had, blindly following him down the street. Her shambling gait was slow. Her face was mostly skull, but he thought it smiled. A familiar voice from overhead snapped him out of his stupor.
“Look what I found!” Clair swept through the air, moving in kicks and strokes like a swimmer. She came to a mid-air stand-still, and let Emmaline’s locket fall from her open hand.
Henry caught it with his good arm. His brain restarted, and he took a few uncertain steps backward. Emmaline was close, and still advancing. “I thought you weren’t coming back,” he said, holding the locket close to his chest.
“What can I say? I saw a skeleton marching through the woods, and my curiosity got the better of me.”
“What do I do?”
“The park!” Clair said. “Lead her back to the park, and let her rest. Just like last time. But hurry, alright? The folks I stole that from aren’t too happy about it.” She kicked herself further into the sky. “Yeah, not happy at all. They’re coming.”
Henry looked around, but saw nothing. Then he backed up into an intersection, and was afforded a clear view of the street leading down toward the forest. A pack of wolves raced toward him. It took a second for the sight to sink in: twenty shaggy wolves, in colors ranging from mottled grey to dark brown. He wanted to scream. Someone else beat him to it.
Bystanders scattered, running either into surrounding buildings or down the street away from the incoming pack. There was more screaming. Distant gunshots. Then, Henry’s feet left the ground. Clair held him up by his armpits, struggling wildly against open air to lift them skyward.
“Stay there,” she rasped, setting him atop the closest building, and was gone. One by one, she began pulling everyone in the area onto the safety of the rooftops.
Down below, the wolves had fanned out around Emmaline Cass. The biggest of their number, a light grey male with a jagged scar across his nose, stared her down. A low growl rose in his throat. She raised her hand, and he lunged. The rest of the pack followed.
The ensuing combat moved too fast for Henry to track. Emmaline’s arms moved like sticks on marionette strings, pulsing energy which cracked the street and threw back her attackers. The wolves landed hard, but bounded up and lunged again to start the cycle anew. He could not guess who was going to tire first.
A warning shout drew Henry’s gaze away from the frenzied action. Leia and her deputy were running, not toward the scene, but in opposite directions down the street. There were two mobs of people closing in on the area. One came with shotguns and rifles, headed up by a man Henry faintly recognized from the bar. The other came empty-handed, but many of those empty hands glowed with an unnatural light. Taylor led them.
Henry had a mind to watch how these confrontations were going to go, but something else caught his attention. Sofia Bramble stood on the roof of the building across the way, waving her arms above her head. Her mouth was open. “I can’t hear you!” he said.
She shook her head, and pointed. There, past the edge of the village and the tops of the surrounding trees, the tip of Emmaline Cass’ headstone glowed like a beacon. “Clair!” He shouted. “Clair, where are you?”
The woman zipped to his side, landing on her knees. “I’m here. What is it?”
“Change of plans. Go find Teresa, and bring her to the old graveyard. As fast as you can.”
“No time! Just go!”
Clair shot him a disgruntled look, but took off regardless in the direction of the Bramble’s home. Henry stepped to the edge of the roof, and looked down upon the complicated tangle of fur, snarls, and bones beneath him.
These wolves are not regular animals.
Let this charm rest against your skin, and it will protect you.
He took a deep breath, and jumped.