Marc and Vicki
Every one of the teenagers hidden away in the Sugar Shack was completely adrenaline-spent and exhausted. Even their fear and their worry for Tiffany couldn’t keep them awake.
“Vicki?” Marc whispered.
“You never did tell me what happened during your escape.”
Silence. Vicki had hoped he’d forgotten. She searched for words.
Cut your fucking hamstrings and tie you to your bed
It’s when you get naked—
Were there any words? Anywhere?
If there were, he spoke up again before she could find them.
“That’s okay. You don’t have to tell me. I’m always here to listen, but…I just wanted you to know how proud of you I am for saving VanDyne. Whatever happens, you’re already a hero.”
Vicki’s silent tears dripped on the linoleum floor as she pulled
my friend my boyfriend my Marc
The Watches of the Night
The faceless people were on the march. They marched in single file, one great line from the football field, up the gravel track, up the stairs, past the school, and into town.
It seemed like the Freedom Fighters were watching from the top of a hill, though there was no hill that would allow them such a view. They could see where the march began, with people still filing off the home team bleachers and into the line. They could see the leaders marching onward. But they could see details, too: the marching people might not have faces, but they were no longer anonymous. Size, shape, hair, clothes – they could recognize every one of the faceless people (but were they really faceless anymore? Were the ghosts of their features pressing against the insides of their blank masks, silently struggling and screaming to get out?) and Rafael de la Cruz led them on their way.
But at the very front of the line, her hands tied behind her, driven along by kicks and shoves, was someone who still had her face:
The line marched on, driving Tiffany before it, and soon they could see where it was heading: the Mill. The Mill was no longer simply a building. It had achieved its apotheosis. It had become the Beast. Walls bulged and pulsed as it breathed, muscles rolling under the siding that served as its scales. Silver-gray light blazed forth from what used to be windows, but were now eyes, set into the walls at crazy angles, looking out at the valley in all directions. The Beast’s double front doors swung open, mandibles on a vast maw, roaring forth more of the silver light, the roar of the machines, and the shrieks of the lost souls that powered them.
The Silver River and the Shady River had been replaced by vast expanses of dark water, wide as the Mississippi. Something huge moved in the water, just under the black-mirror surface, but a great Bridge, completely unlike the bridges that arched the rivers in the waking world, spanned the water.
Tiffany was shoved out onto the bridge like a pirate captive walking the plank, and the group understood: the Beast’s time had come round at last. Now it was time to feed.
With one of the twists of space that go unquestioned in dreams, Tiffany was already across the bridge, at the very doors of the Mill.
Angelina and Dave leaped forward shouting “No!” and the dream shattered as Rafael de la Cruz shoved Tiffany into the shining maw of the Beast, and the mandible-doors closed behind her.
Seven pairs of eyes snapped open, and dark interior of the Sugar Shack was filled with screams. If the people sleeping there had been home alone in their beds, that would have been enough. Shocked out of sleep, they would have realized that they were safe in their rooms and turned on the lights just to be sure that there were no monsters lurking in the corners. But they weren’t home in their beds. They were in a strange, dark place, and in the disorientation of awakening they couldn’t remember how they’d gotten there, just that it was dark and that people were screaming. Each scream scared them again, wrung out more screams, fed into a cycle of hysteria that might have spiraled into disastrous, panicked flight if Dave hadn’t caught a rolling flashlight and switched it on.
Everyone froze and fell silent. Deer in the headlights. Angelina remembered that she had fallen asleep spooning with Jason for warmth (and comfort), and stopped trying to struggle out of the long, strong arms that had been coiling her from behind. Marc breathed a sigh of relief and relaxed back into Vicki’s arms, laying his head on her shoulder again. Natasha settled back into her booth and pulled Dave’s coat around her again while Tim stayed bolt upright and staring wildly in the next booth.
Everyone took a moment to catch their breath. As they did so, other members of the group began to pick up their flashlights, scanning the shadows to make sure that they were empty.
Angelina was as glad of the light as any of them at first, but she realized something as a beam moved toward the front window. “Turn them off!” She shouted. “It’s dark out! Someone will see!”
The flashlights clicked off with a few hurried, muttered apologies. They weren’t plunged into darkness – the black of deep night had been replaced by the gray of pre-dawn, and they could see each other’s shapes in the dimness.
They all fell still, tense and listening for the approaching footsteps or car engine of anyone who might have seen the lights. After several long moments of sitting in the gray dark and holding their breath, Angelina finally spoke up again: “I think we’re clear,” she announced.
The rest of the group let out their breath in relieved gusts.
“Okay, that was bad,” Tim declared.
“Just about the worst nightmare I ever had,” Big Dave agreed. “Which is weird, ‘cause nothing even happened to me this time. We were just watching. But still…”
“This changes things,” Vicki said, looking at Angelina.
Angelina, her face drawn and colorless in the slowly growing light, nodded.
“Beg pardon?” Dave asked, confused at the sudden shift in the conversation.
“We knew something was going to happen tonight,” Angelina explained. “But we didn’t know what. Now we do.”
The explanation didn’t seem to help Dave much. “What? What do we know?”
Angelina opened her mouth to reply, but VanDyne spoke up first. “It’s going to eat them,” she said bleakly. “Your Heart Eater, whatever it is, it’s going to eat everybody.”
Angelina nodded. “Who knows what ‘eating’ means for something like the Heart Eater, but yeah. Tonight, the Heart Eater is going to devour everyone it controls, and everyone they could capture.”
“Which is why they tried to grab us last night,” Jason said.
“Right,” Angelina agreed. “And we can’t let that happen.” She paused a moment to let that sink in, then continued: “Plan’s changed: we have to disrupt whatever’s happening at the game.”
“Whoa, whoa, wait a second,” Tim interrupted, waving his hands. “Time out. Last night, we couldn’t risk a rescue mission, but now we’re changing the plan on account of a dream?”
“A dream where the Heart Eater ate Tiffany,” Dave countered, his voice just a step away from a growl.
“But still just a dream.” Tim insisted. Then he paused. “Well, not just a dream.” He amended. “Seven people don’t have the exact same ‘just a dream’ at the exact same time. But the dreams are one thing we haven’t figured out yet. We don’t know where they come from or what they mean, so changing our plans based on one…” He shook his head and shrugged. The gestures completed the sentence more eloquently than words could have.
“I think I know where they come from,” Vicki said. She focused her attention on Angelina: “Remember that dream we had in St. Luke’s?”
“Felt different than all the others, didn’t it?”
Angelina blinked in surprised realization. “Yes. Yes, actually, it did.” Awareness started to dawn in her eyes. “I – we – knew that it was a dream, and I don’t remember being anywhere near as scared.”
“When it should’ve been the scariest one yet, what with the guts everywhere,” Vicki said. “But more than that, it gave us some actual information instead of just running us around town and scaring us.”
“But it wasn’t,” Angelina added, the excitement of a hunter on the trail in her voice. “Because we were in St. Luke’s.”
“Where the Heart Eater had trouble reaching us,” Vicki concluded.
“It burned the church down around you,” Dave said skeptically.
“Exactly,” Vicki said. “At the same time it sent Harfield after us and held the door closed. Can you imagine how much juice that must’ve taken?” She paused as the full implications of what she’d just said struck her. “Damn,” she whispered. “It must really want us dead.”
“Well, we are its only enemies,” Marc said.
Vicki nodded, then continued. “Maybe it was so weak that St. Luke’s was able to sneak a word in. Whatever. How does that work for you?”
“Good so far,” Jason said before Tim could answer. “But if the other dreams come from the Heart Eater, are they – what? – attacks? Psychological warfare to break up our sleep and keep us scared and tired?”
“Something like that,” Angelina answered.
“Worked, didn’t it?” Dave said wryly.
“Okay, suppose you’re right,” Tim argued. “Couldn’t that mean that this is a trick? We change our plans, we could be walking into a trap.”
“We’re walking into a trap anyway,” VanDyne said dully. “The whole town is a trap.”
Everyone paused in their conversation to look at her. Having spoken, she was paying no more attention to them. Instead, she stared at the floor, clearly a long way away.
Vicki nudged Marc, then nodded toward VanDyne. He nodded his understanding, got up, and sat down across from the former popularity queen. “It’s almost morning,” he said as he slid onto the bench. “We don’t have to hide here all day. In fact, we probably shouldn’t. Want to run down to Rome or Oneida, find a thrift store and get you some clothes?”
She snorted and grinned weakly. “A thrift store? I still have some pride, Mozart.”
A feeble joke. But a good sign, nonetheless.
Marc smiled, but continued on. “Some food, too. I think most of us missed dinner last night.”
The rest of the group turned their attention back to each other as Marc continued to soothe the shock-stricken girl.
“You’re probably right,” Vicki admitted. “It probably is a trap. But I don’t think it’s a lie. Somehow I know…the Heart Eater threatens, and it attacks, and maybe this last dream was even its way of giving orders to the Changed Ones. I don’t know. But it doesn’t lie. I wonder if it even can. Don’t ask me how I know, I just feel it, but I know it’s not lying: it’s going to eat everybody. Tonight.”
“And we can’t allow that to happen.” Jason said grimly. “We’ve already lost enough friends and family. That means the plan changes. And we’d better put on our thinking caps, ‘cause we’ve got one day to come up with a new one.”