Chapter 4 (0201)

Whoever the hell that was stalking the deck until he came upon the doorway, Mal didn't know his stocky form. It wasn't Jimmy. It sure wasn't Damion, and she had no clue who it could have been but he had a… A weed sprayer? The kind she remembered the groundskeepers at university carrying but no one in Arizona ever used those unless they were rich and had grass. She had never been rich. She had never had grass. She'd had rocks for a yard. And yet, that was the only possibility, in her mind, on what that humming suped-up thing could have been only a few steps away.


He was looking outside.


Mal backed up, peeking over her shoulder for the other door, not wanting to take her eyes off him for too long; she kicked an empty box of cocoa mix.


It wasn’t loud. Just a bump. Maybe he wouldn't…


He whipped her way.


Below the counter with silhouettes of the coffee maker and some mugs drip drying (one with an icicle), she stayed hidden. But he was coming through the door.


His steps slow.


His weed sprayer ready.


Malia searched for cover to dart to.




The bedroom was too far.




To get to the other exit would cross his line of sight. But staying another step meant getting caught.


“What the hell?” Jimmy cried from outside.


The man creeping her way stopped, did an about face, and went with that same plodding pace toward Jimmy, and suddenly, Jimmy be damned, she wanted the intruder to hurry.


With him around the doorway, she turned away to avoid the cocoa box or other bumps and then when Jimmy yelled as the two men met, fought, a bullet ringing through the skies, Mal fled out the back door.


When someone grabbed her. Their bare hand instantly over her mouth.


She bit them


They say biting through a finger is like biting through a carrot but Mal’s teeth just caught fleshy, unwashed palm.


“Jesus, Mal,” a familiar voice whisper-yelled.


A cold spray of spittle hit Malia’s cheeks as she turned to see a pained but friendly face. Rosie! She must've been freezing in that T-shirt and jeans, but God, Mal had missed that pink hair.


Rosie, probably realizing the situation hadn't changed and danger was just peeking out the door, looked less relieved. “I've met these guys. They come in pairs so we're going now. Careful but quick.”


There was no path and it was still dark but Rosie knew the way to a cave that went far enough in and around that the wind died whistling at the entrance. The way Malia’s little phone lit the whole place was extraordinary. They had tracked snow in. What did it matter? Safety. Relief. Mal sat down. When they'd last seen each other, Rose was a sobbing mess in wet dinosaur pajamas and now she looked forged by fire; a calm surface with the occasional tick revealing such great fortitude didn't come peacefully. There'd been sacrifice. Hellfire. Of course she had some scorch marks.


Her old friend went to check if they'd been followed.


Mal, though.


Mal always put out that vibe, that she was tough, hard. Yeah, hard like an ice cube. And when the fire of tonight came, she melted to an embarrassed mess on the floor.


It was really good to see Rose again.


“I'm really sorry,” Rosie said.


Oh God, was I that obvious? Mal thought. Sure, she was alone. She hadn't started alone but she was now and Rose was smart enough to put the story together. Whatever had happened to her half of the group--she’d seen enough to fill in what had happened in the hours since they'd last seen each other. Malia mumbled, “Thank you,” even now putting on that act so Rose wouldn't see her cry, but hoping a hug was next.


The wind died.


Then Rose said it again. “I'm really, really, really sorry.” But she sounded muffled.


Where was she?


Where was the whistling?


Where was the entrance?


When Malia shined the light over where it had been, it glistened like black ice over asphalt. Or like whatever had grabbed Sunny. Then the sheen dulled and the color changed and if she hadn't known there should be a gaping hole in the wall it'd look like any other.


Still she pounded at it. It was softer than rock should be and grippy. Sticky? But she kept hitting and soon it hurt. Was solid. Scraped up her forearms.


There was no point.


She stepped away. There had to be another exit. Or a weak spot. She couldn't be trapped, not after coming so far, not by Rosie.  


Then again the wall changed. It swelled. Morphed. The color a pale peachy sort. And Malia was again looking at her friend, or a giant version of her head sticking out the wall, but without the hair it was uncanny and her cheeks had these deep tunnels drilled into them, large enough for a finger.


“Open the door, Rosie!”


“I didn't do that.”


“Open up!”


“I can't.”


Malia threw a shoe at the face. What else was there to throw?


“You were always cute when you were mad. I know you hate hearing that but nothing I say is going to make you feel good about what's next.”


Mal said in the voice of a melted ice cube with more empty despair than rage left, “Please let me go.”


“I have to listen. It's inside of me and it hurts so much when I don't listen. It hurt just telling you I was sorry.”


“Should've saved yourself the pain for the fat lot of good it did me.”


“Every wall in this cave. This mountain. The trees. Everything, even me, is part of it. And it wants more. It wants everything.”


A wall behind Malia transformed into a ramp down that went far beyond where the light fell. Maybe it went all the way down. To the heart of this all. From the wet depths, Mal heard an echo. A hollow reverb of someone that had always softened her thin exterior. She'd even talked cute to him, for the brief period they'd been comfortable with one another. Again, bouncing around that rocky corridor came a familiar little bark. Beagsley. Somehow though, it chilled her.


However, another gaping hole probably led to the same fate--Rosie's bullshit-spewing mouth.


1. Climb inside Rosie's mouth.

2. Follow the ramp down to Beagsley.