I stumble on home in the dark, dizzy and delirious.
Excerpted from Bonechiller by Graham McNamee Copyright © 2008 by Graham McNamee. Excerpted by permission of Ember, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
The wind whips up, cutting right through me. So I start to jog. Back at the house, Dad will have a fire going and the place will be nice and toasty.
He’s the caretaker at the Harvest Cove marina, for the off-season, while the owner winters down in Florida. Staying at the small marina house comes with the job. There’s a bait and rentals office on the ground floor, with the living space up top.
It’s a temp job. Everything’s temporary for us. In the spring we’ll be moving on to the next town, next life. I’m not going to think about it.
I think about Ash instead.
Back on the first day of school, I was slouching in my seat. Trying to lay low. New place. New faces. Same old same old. Then in walks the boxer-girl who knocked me out. I slouched some more, hoping she didn’t see me. I was staring at the floor when a pair of black army boots stopped beside me. I looked up into the dark eyes of my assassin.
“Hey, killer. Ready for a re-match?” She was grinning wide.
Then she grabbed the seat right in front of me, and I had to stare at the back of her neck the rest of the day. A very nice neck, I discovered. And a very nice rest of her too.
Now, licking my lips as I jog, I can taste her Mars bar. So what do I do when I see her at school tomorrow? She’s going to act like nothing happened. Guess I’ll play along with–
What’s that? Out of the corner of my eye, I catch something big moving in the ditch on the right side of the road. I only get a blurry glimpse before it dips out of sight. Something pale and quick. And big!
Slowing to a walk, I try and focus in the dim light from the crescent moon. Without moving too close to the ditch, I can only make out shades of gray–dark, darker and darkest.
Nothing’s dumb enough to be out on a night like this. Like my grandfather used to say–a night not fit for man or beast. Or me.
So I start jogging again. All the insanity that’s gone down tonight has got me wired and twitchy. That, and a case of hypothermia, must be toying with my brain.
Coming up to Fourth Line, I pick out the firefly lights of houses set back from the road. The wind brings the smell of burning wood from cottage fireplaces. The taste of smoke in the air teases me with a promise of warmth, making the cold seem even colder.
Passing the Line, I catch a flash of something pale in my peripheral vision, emerging from the right-side ditch to cross Fourth Line, then diving back into the deep shadows of the ditch on the other side.
That was something–definitely something!
I slow to a stop, listening hard. But there’s nothing past my own panting, and the hollow whisper of the wind.
Maybe it’s just a plastic bag. There’s tons of trash blowing around out here, with the local dump only a mile off. But even I know that’s weak. It would have to be one huge bag. And whatever it is, it’s going against the wind coming off the lake.
Might be one of Mangy Mason’s big Alaskan huskies. He’s this ancient guy who lives in a rusting trailer on the lakeshore, and lets his dogs run wild. They’re harmless, right?
Should I take a peek?
There’s a shiver doing laps up and down my spine, from the cold, but also from that phantom itch you get when you feel someone staring at you. Someone, or something.
Take a peek? Hell no!
Just as I’m going to bolt, I hear it. A growl, so deep it shivers my eardrums. Like when you max out the bass on your speakers.
I’m paralyzed for a long moment. Then I force myself into a staggering jog, eyes locked on the far side of the road.
I stick to the left side. The edge next to me drops off into the deep dark.
Just as I hit Third, I see it.
And it’s no dog.
It’s big! And long. And fast. It isn’t much more than a blur as it flashes across Third Line and vanishes back in the ditch on the other side. It looks eight to ten feet long.
That can’t be right. There’s no way.
It’s running on all fours, I can tell that much.But running silent as it speeds through the debris in the ditch. Not a sound–no scratch of gravel, cracking twigs. Nothing.
My brain stalls on me.
Stunned, I slow down and try to remember what you do when confronted by a wild animal. Make some noise? Try to scare it off?
Then I hear that growl again, keeping pace with me in the dark. Shivering me bone-deep.
At top speed, I can make it home in five minutes.
But that’s a long time on a dark road, too far from the nearest house for anyone to hear me scream.
Shut up and run!
I sprint against the wind, arms pumping. My runners chew up the gravel. I’m flying now. Raw fear makes me ignore the burning in my chest as I heave for more oxygen.
Up ahead, I can just make out the light at the end of the road, marking the turnoff for the marina. First Line, finish line.
Crossing Second, I can’t help looking back. My vision is blurred with tears from the frigid wind.
Nothing. Nothing. Maybe it’s had it’s fun, and now–
No. Diving from ditch to ditch, it clears the Line without even setting foot on it this time. My eyes must be screwing with me. There’s no way anything can move like that. If it’s making any noise now, I can’t tell past my own gasping and my shoes pounding the snowy gravel.
Focus on the light! Eyes on the prize.
That beacon in the black grows slowly. So slowly. As I close in on it a few more lights from the marina wink in and out through the trees.
I might just make it.
Then my foot hits a patch of ice.
From the Hardcover edition.