The interior dome light burned his eyes.
“I need a moment alone.”
“I’m not getting out of this car.”
“That’s kind of the point, darling.”
As they closed in on their group, Ethan registered the growing disconnect between what he’d seen above ground and the fact that his people were still alive down here in the tunnel. It reminded him of the sickening, random way that fate and chance figured into battle—if you had stepped left instead of right, the bullet would have gone through your eye instead of your friend’s. If Kate had led their group to a different tunnel entrance, it could’ve been Ethan and his family being slaughtered on Main Street. He was having an impossible time putting Megan Fisher out of his mind. He’d seen enough death and destruction in Iraq to know that it would be poor Megan who would haunt his dreams for many nights to come. Knew he would always wonder—what if he’d risked everything and gone outside? What if he’d killed her attacker? Saved her? Carried her back to the tunnel? He would play that scene over and over until it bulked up with the perfection of a fantasy. Anything to replace the image of that woman under the abby in the middle of the road. There were still moments from the war he carried and would always carry—incomprehensible agony and suffering.
This trumped them all.
They reached the end of the line just as the group was turning up a new tunnel.
Ethan thinking, One quarter of humanity was just wiped out.
He looked down the line of his people, saw the back of Theresa’s head in the low light.
The need to be close to her and Ben was overwhelming.
Megan in the street.
A single, piercing howl blasted through the tunnel.
Maggie and Hecter stopped.
Ethan raised his shotgun.
The torch began to shake violently in Maggie’s hand.
Ethan glanced back.
The line had stalled—everyone had heard, everyone craning their necks, straining to stare down into the darkness of the tunnel.
Ethan said to everyone, “Keep the line moving. Don’t stop no matter what. Just go.”
They went on.
After fifty feet, Maggie said, “I think I hear something.”
“What?” Hecter asked.
“It’s like . . . splashing. Someone walking through the water.”
“That’s just our group.”
She shook her head and pointed into the darkness. “It’s coming from that direction.”
Ethan said, “Hold up. Let everybody get ahead of us.”
As the end of the line pulled away, Ethan squinted into the darkness. Now he heard it too, and it wasn’t walking.
It was running.
His mouth went dry and he was suddenly aware of his heart banging madly against his chest.
“It’s time to point your gun, Hecter,” Ethan said.
Maggie took a few steps back.
Ethan said, “I know you’re scared, but you’re our light, Maggie. No matter what you see coming down that tunnel, stand your ground. If you run, we all die. Understand?”
The splashing was getting louder, closer.
“Maggie? Do you understand me?”
“Yes,” she whimpered.
Ethan pumped the shotgun.
“Hecter, is your safety off?”
Ethan glanced back, tried to spot Theresa and Ben in the crowd, but they were too far away and the light was shit.
Ethan tugged the black synthetic stock into his shoulder and stared down the barrel. The sights were a self-luminous tritium unit that popped nicely in the dark—three soft green dots.
Ethan said, “You’re shooting slugs, not buckshot.”
“So there’s no spread?”
“Exactly. Be accurate.”
“What if I run out?”
“Cross that bridge when—”
It came out of the dark at a full sprint, barreling low on all fours at an astonishing rate of speed.
Muzzle flash electrifying the tunnel and wrecking Ethan’s vision for a millisecond.
When Ethan could see again, the abby was still coming, twenty feet and two seconds away.
Maggie hyperventilating, “OhGodohGodohGodohGodoh—”
Ethan fired, the stock jerking back into his shoulder, the report of the shotgun in this confined space like a cannon going off.
The abby tumbled to a stop three feet from Ethan’s boots, a large chunk of skull blown out of the back of its head.
Hecter said, “Wow.”
His voice sounded muffled against the ringing in Ethan’s ears.
They began to jog up the tunnel, chasing the end of the line, which was now just a point of firelight in the distance. As Ethan’s hearing returned, he picked out new howls echoing through the tunnel.
“Faster,” Ethan said.
He could hear the abbies’ footfalls in the stream, closing in behind them.
Kept glancing back into the dark, kept seeing nothing.
And they were running, Maggie out in front, Ethan and Hecter abreast, elbows grazing every few strides.
They crossed a junction.
Through the tunnel to their right came screaming, shrieking, wailing—
The people at the back shouted first.
Screams in the darkness.
“—Run, run, run, run, run, run—”
“—Oh God they’re here—”
“—No no no noooo—”
A great surge pushing through the line, people falling in the water.
More cries for help.
Everything unraveling so goddamned fast.
Harold spun around to go back, but there was nothing to go back to. All the torches had been extinguished. Only darkness and screaming—an explosion of noise ricocheting off the walls of the culvert—and all he could think was that this must be what hell sounded like.
He heard gunshots in an adjacent tunnel.
Tiffany Golden screamed his name. Shouting at him, at everyone to come on. Hurry. Don’t just stand there.
She was thirty feet up the tunnel and clutching their group’s last torch.