The snow melted on Glenn. The drips found the creases of his face. With dawn here, warmth slowly convinced branches to dump their burdens. Every pour sent Glenn jumping but the soldiers kept calm and carried on.
"How do you track something like that?" Jimmy asked the Gunny as they marched on their target.
The Gunny was constantly on the radio affirming she'd gotten the latest news and Glenn and Jimmy only heard the other side when she repeated it to another team. It was a lot of military babble and Jimmy nodded along like he knew, so Glenn did as well. She said, "You should know that on this mountain, that's impossible."
"Why?" Glenn asked.
Gunny had a radio to answer. Jimmy either didn't know or wouldn't say. Then when she was off it, it was like his question had gone with the wind.
It'd been like that all night. Ever since Jimmy met the Gunny, Glenn had no input into the conversation that they valued even if his questions were the same as Jimmy's. So Glenn got in front and asked, "Seriously, why's it so hard to track that thing? Aren't there bio-metric scanners or something for that thing?"
But they brushed past him like he was another tree to avoid. He stood with his shoes sunken into the snow.
"I'm a part of this team, too," he yelled after.
Jimmy turned to address him. "This isn't some pick-up game. Leave it to the professionals."
"You're a fucking cop! A bad one."
The Gunny sensed this question wouldn't die like the rest and it was already festering dissent between the two. She wouldn't care much but they tagged along on a mission that needed the most basic of stealth--no crying. In a tough whisper, she explained, "Right now, your sister's a toddler. Not exactly full control of her body. We're tracking her like we would anyone, like how we found you on the lake. Footprints, broken branches," she said then a call interrupted her. "And we've just found her."
"What's the plan?" Jimmy asked. "How are we going to approach her?"
"It." Glenn hated hearing that thing inside Sunny's body referred to as her.
The Gunny drew the plan out in the snow. "She's in a field, seemingly resting. The goal is to draw out the main body so we'll have two rings. The first around the woman. The second wider one to hopefully catch the main body. We won't be able to kill it with these water sprayers, but its core temperature will drop enough to cause long-term hibernation. Only acid strong enough to melt through the mountain will kill it. Maybe."
Thinking it over, Jimmy saw the flaw. "What if it bolts again?"
"We'll just need a few minutes to get everyone into position before it drags her away."
"I'll do it," Glenn volunteered. He stepped on the snow map. The only way they'd even see him tonight was if he got in the way and so he did. "I can talk to it. Tempt it. Be bait."
"That worked so great for Malia."
"I'm not some random chick," he said. "They maybe had a long history together but my sister went from loving to hating her Monday to Tuesday. I'm her brother. If anyone's going to stir up something, it'll be me."
“You’re going to die out there,” Jimmy said.
“I know. Just give me a knife or something.”
"I'm not stopping you, but there's nothing left of her," the Gunny told him.
"Okay, you're the bait."
Jimmy looked like he wanted to say something but Glenn had every right to choose so stupidly. If the Gunny said it was okay, he had to let him.
They saw it from a distance, standing amidst a field, and it had a child next to it. That fishing line had detached and left a lump that clung to Sunny’s leg. Maybe it was a child or maybe more like an ankle bracelet.
Growing up, Glenn liked the woods. Little hikes for exercise or to find that great photo, even before Instagram and maxing the saturation in photoshop, and when he got older, to go in secret with girls and older still, with boys, and he even had favorite spots and great memories and could identify deer tracks and poison ivy, but he wasn’t a woodsmen. He stepped through the brush with a giraffe’s stealth.
Sunny didn’t flee. Didn’t charge. Didn’t even look at him.
He gripped the knife tighter anyway.
Her usual dark skin was so pale in the cold.
“Give her back!” he screamed at it. “Do you even know anything about her? That she had a scholarship and loans but worked about fifty hours a week anyway to pay for housing. Or that she unironically loves Spice World. That she collects little spoons from all over the world but she hates that people know that and gift them to her because she hasn’t been to those places but she can’t be rude and throw them out. Do you know anything? Or did you just take her like you would anyone else?”
It blinked. Glenn hadn’t seen it do that before; even if he had been looking, he wouldn’t have. It worked the eyelids slowly then settled into a consistent, if unnaturally meticulous, pace.
“Give her back, you stupid fungus. Take me instead. Take everyone hiding out in the woods.” The fury, at it and himself and everyone, had run out, and he started to plead. “Just please let her go.”
“Wouldn’t that be cruel?” It came from Sunny’s mouth, but it wasn’t her voice. Or even a voice impersonating her. More like Sunny doing a bad impression of… a human? It was so shocking and also a little garbled. The puppeteer working her vocal cords didn’t know that, to appear really human, it should repeat itself to fill the silence. Glenn almost missed its meaning.
But almost is almost. Sunny had lost her parents, then in the recovery period, Glenn, when he pulled away to deal in quiet nighttime fits and then she fled for New York. As much as the twins had always loved the city, meeting people there was hard with her schedule, and it meant abandoning everyone else. With people like Jimmy, as much as she swore everything with them was a gray area and not a dark stain, it was good to get away, but with Malia, as much as Glenn wanted it to be good to break away, maybe it wasn’t the best. Then tonight. Upon finally reuniting after years of talking about her nostalgically, to actually lose Mal. To be the cause, willing or not. And Tony and the others--whatever was happening with them. Maybe it was better that no one survived tonight or they’d slowly die to the eternal torment of the psyche.
“What?” He snapped back to reality.
“A third of her liver.”
Glenn didn’t want to understand.
“I could tally the functioning organs quicker than the ones that are me. I am her blood. I have found her heart and I will keep that one piece. But even should I let her go, it will be agony in the snow until she dies. It will be quick but it will not feel it. Even now she squirms.”
Glenn finally noticed what was so uncanny about this body. Not the eyes working so slow. Not the voice that was almost hers. Her hair was white. The snow didn’t melt on her.
The soldiers were close enough to hear that thing speak, but they didn’t get the details, and still it froze them, but they had thawed and were ready to move. The Gunny confirmed positions on the radio, but there was silence on channel two.
It was too late.
The fishing line whipped around and caught a soldier aiming its way only to thrash her around until she crashed into another. The Gunny lit up the radio calling in backup but they’d already been taken care of. They’d already been taken. Jimmy grabbed the pack off a dead soldier nearby, but before he could spray at random, the Gunny was in the air screaming as she crashed into Jimmy. Their heads broke against one another, but she came down with another crack. Her leg popped out of the pelvis socket. The knee could now bend in every direction and in the arc, it often found them all. And Jimmy lay there being pulped by her body till they both stopped screaming. Till there was silence.
And even in the silence, Glenn only stared at his sister’s body.
The deformed soldiers slowly knit their wounds back together. Joints popped back together. Fractures healed. And the recently dead rose up and walked away from Glenn.
“Do you want to hug him?” it said, pushing toward Glenn that dark vaguely human lump clinging to her leg. It was like a child but with the skin peeled away and evil inside.
Glenn didn’t know what to say but polite instinct took over. “Okay.”
And the thing walked toward him and still holding that knife, the knife that’d been useless among this all, he hugged the sticky kid thing.
“Thank you,” Sunny said. Her voice was thicker than before like something was caught inside.
The kid melted away and like the remnant soldiers, moved away without care for Glenn.
Then bubbling from Sunny’s throat, black ooze seeped out. But it wasn’t leaving fast enough so it fell from her ears and nose and even tears of it. Dripping off her clothes. Strands of it sliding through the snow in every direction. Finally, it sweated from her pores till Sunny’s dark skin was covered in black and when it washed away, leaving not a trail, not a drop, she fell to the snow and writhed. She seized in pain, wanting to scream but unable to draw in enough breath so her cries escaped in mewling whimpers.
He put her hands on her. “Come back!” he screamed in the early morning light. “Come back and take her. Put her out of her misery,” but what he wanted more was for it to put him out of his misery.