Her bare fingertips steadied her on the ice when she skidded to a stop. She had just realized. Malia had left the deep of the woods where snow had tripped her up and now she had found a frozen lake dusted over by the wind. Her shoes were wet with the water that flooded over the outer edges. She turned to return to shore.
And there was Glenn barreling after her. She put her hands up and yelled, "Stop!"
Like a mad bull, he didn't care.
He tackled her and she slammed onto that thick slick sheet inches deep; it cracked; she slid and the crack followed. A dull triangle of water followed her out then receded. In his rage, he wanted to chase her on but his first step sunk into a puddle. He stared her down.
Malia's hat, what was once Tony's, was left on the shore.
Sprawled out, her instincts urged her to get up but her eyes were drawn to the sound of an echoing... laser? She looked around for it. Glenn too.
As the ice shifted and gave rise to whistles and whirling pops and an effect perfect for an abduction movie with only the undertones of a crack. It was unbelievable. Her experience with ice was always in cubed form. It'd been so long since she'd seen icicles hanging from roofs and cars that she thought she'd conflated movie props with reality. In truth, now, she didn't know if these sounds were that thing giving chase or the ice.
She felt the crack. The top layer was smooth still. But as she moved, she saw it shoot off into the dark. She stopped. If she waited, it'd settle, and she'd slowly, very slowly think of what to do.
Glenn had a long stick above his head.
"Please," she begged. Anything more than a whisper might stir too much movement.
Jimmy tackled him down into the snow. The two wrestled on the bank until Jimmy pinned him flat. "You take a step onto that lake and they'll need to thaw her body out for ID."
She clenched up, staring up at the cloudy sky.
"Good!" Glenn screamed. He jolted up but Jimmy, straddling him, shoved him back down and a puff of snow drifted onto their shoulders. "That's not even how lakes work, idiot."
"Malia, you need to crawl back to the trees. Don't stand up. Go slow."
Just the thought of movement and she heard the lake moan around her. "I can't."
"You have to."
"Then what else will you do?" the cop yelled at her. "Just lie there forever? If you've already given up just stand up and it'll be over with sooner."
Slowly, painfully, feeling the aches in her joints resonate through the ice, she got to her knees.
"You need to spread the weight out."
She put her hands down. If she could've army crawled, slither around while also icing her belly, she would've, but there was no traction, and so, she had to rise up and have that shaky moment putting pressure, not knowing what would happen. She was okay. She crawled and she was okay. She heard it threaten and she stopped but she was okay. She was okay.
In a mockingly feminine voice, Glenn cried, "'Help me! Help me!'"
"Stop," Jimmy said.
"'Pull me up, pull me up!'"
"Shut the fuck up, Glenn."
"'I've got her.'"
Malia stopped crawling. It wasn't okay to stay like this for long but she couldn't move that last ten, maybe only five feet. She felt the ice burn into her one gloveless hand. The hand Sunny had ripped the glove off. The hand she stretched out for Sunny. The hand that thing had almost touched.
"That's what you said, wasn't it?" Glenn yelled at her from the snow. "'I've got her,' right?"
"I didn't hear that," Jimmy said.
"Shit happens, man, and we've got a lot more coming at us if we don't get out of here."
"Shit happens? That was my sister." Glenn's rage broke to tears. "Who do I even have left?"
In the quiet that followed, when everyone was still but for their hearts, from the woods Sunny was lobbed onto the lake. The cracks her corpse made shot right toward Malia.
Everyone stared. Glenn rose to wander toward his sister, just to see that it was really her, and he took a step when Jimmy stopped him, gently this time.
"I've got to."
"You're not stopping me."
Sunny got to her feet. It was awkward and she swayed and slipped but, alive once more, she stood. She looked at Malia.
"How?" Malia whispered. Then she saw the black line that had dragged Sunny down and how it still hooked around her leg. Whatever that thing was, it was fishing. And it'd caught Malia. She went to join Sunny.
"Hey! HEY!" Jimmy screamed from the shore.
Even Glenn looked on, concerned, but with a gaping mouth, said nothing.
"This is what you wanted," Malia said. If they could've seen the nerves she held down.
Jimmy got onto the ice. The most heroic action of his life was going bow-legged, twisting his ankles so that his heels went in and out as he shuffled along the ice in the safest possible way he knew. It was a race. Malia to Sunny. Jimmy to Malia. He had to stop this sacrifice.
"Stop!" he screamed. Jimmy had lost.
Mal let Sunny grab her one last time. Then Malia stomped the ice. It was weak but it needed two, three, four good stomps.
Jimmy's panicked reaction broke the ice beneath him. One foot fell in; he tipped over; he thrashed on instinct trying to grab the edge, which broke, and he tried for the edge farther and that broke too till there was a wide lane leading to shallow water where Jimmy could stand and shiver.
The women were gone.
Malia had always been able to squash her survival instincts and so their hole was neat and there was no splash. They were just gone into silence.
With sloppy wet footsteps back to shore, Jimmy looked at Glenn. He shook his head. "This is what you wanted, right?"
Glenn couldn't look away from the hole. Like he could still see her memory standing there and that'd how he always remember her, though it wasn't even her. "At least they're together."
"Oh fuck off! What did you do?" Jimmy yelled. "I tried saving Malia and she tried saving Sunny and maybe we both failed, but both times you did jack shit."
"I was scared."
"So was she and you guilted her into--THAT!"
Jimmy needed out of the wet clothes but didn't know if it was better in them or naked. He grabbed a hat from the shore that was just lying there. It had dangling yarn balls. He didn't know its history. He didn't know it was Malia's. He just needed it to live a little longer.
Glenn watched the hole, hoping for a miracle, and he saw the dangling black fishing line stir. He whaled on Jimmy's arm, too panicked to warn him with words, but he didn't need it. The fishing line was loud enough as it shredded the ice when dragging its hook back to shore. It flipped over chunks of ice.
"We're going," Jimmy said but Glenn had fallen to the ground, resigned.
A dark circle moved in the water. It grew taller, dripping. It was Sunny, walking out of the water, cradling Malia. She was coming toward them.
Jimmy yanked on Glenn but the man wouldn't move. He was about to run on his own, when he saw movement in the forest. Dark shadows approaching. They were surrounded by whatever was controlling Sunny. There was no escape. The forest army charged at him.
Then beyond him.
Men and women in winter gear with backpacks hooked to long metallic contraptions fired steaming water that crystallized as it rained down on Sunny and Malia.
Sunny's movements slowed. She dropped Malia's body. She fought forward against these water sprayers but as her loss became evident, the line at her foot dragged her back so violently her face slammed the snow and skin ripped off against the trees.
The soldiers sprayed Malia down so heavily she was cocooned in ice.
One without the backpack and water weapon took off her mask to talk. "You boys okay?"
"Gunny!" Jimmy cried both as Eureka and relief. They'd found a way to win against this thing. And knowing this, Jimmy had two options.