I walked over to his side and opened the back door. We put Shan in the backseat lying down. I felt immensely dirty, like I was hiding a dead body. It was almost the same.

I quickly grabbed my purse from the front while Dex brought one camera and his laptop out of the trunk.

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He aimed the key at the car but I put my hand on his and lowered it.

“You can’t lock someone in a car.”

We looked down the road towards the house. He was right. We had only been traveling for five minutes or so. We were much closer to the Lancaster’s than to any other property around here.

“Do we take the road?” I asked.

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“I don’t think we should. That would be too easy.”

“Of course,” I nodded. It figured he would chose to slog through the rocks and cacti while I wasn’t exactly in the most agile state.

He handed me the flashlight and hoisted the camera on his shoulder and turned on the camera’s light so we had extra illumination. Then he grabbed my hand and led me off the road and onto the rocky desert floor. I wished all this hand-holding could have happened in happier times.

“I think we should hurry,” he added. “If he wakes up anytime soon…”

He didn’t need to finish the sentence. We both picked up a trot simultaneously and headed across the dusty grounds in the direction of the Lancaster’s lights.

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

We didn’t say much to each other as we scampered through the darkness, across the empty, undulating desert. The lights in the distance bobbed up and down from our uneven footfalls, Dex’s hand on mine kept me stable and focused most of the time. The dizziness seemed to come and go. It didn’t matter in the end how I felt, all I knew is that we had to keep moving and as quickly as we could.

It was silent except for our heavy breathing and the sound of rocks and sand sliding out from under our feet. We didn’t dare speak to each other; what was there to say? We ran for about ten minutes straight before I felt my lungs start to collapse and seize.

I slowed and then stopped, hands on my thighs and spit on the ground. Dex made a move to put a hand on my back but I waved him away. I couldn’t deal with people touching me when I was out of breath and sweaty.

After a minute of regaining my breath, I straightened up and looked around us. Other than the light from his camera and my flashlight, we were engulfed in complete blackness. It added to the suffocating feeling.

“Are you filming this?” I said between breaths.

He nodded, the camera light flinching. “Yes.”

Stupid question.

It didn’t matter, though. Nothing really seemed to matter anymore except our own survival. Also, I knew we could probably edit out those bits of me spitting up from sheer lack of fitness. What did it even matter if we ended up dead anyway? The whole concept of filming and having our stupid web show seemed so illogical and frivolous. Maximus was right. It wasn’t worth it.

Maximus….

I reached into my pocket and pulled out my phone.

“What ?” I heard Dex say. I ignored him.

I dialed Maximus’s number. He answered quickly.

“Hello?”

“Maximus, its Perry.”

“Perry, I’m so glad to hear from you. What’s going on? Have you found Bird yet?” His voice sounded warm and full of relief. Dex watched me closely, camera still on me.

“No, we haven’t. We’re…having some problems.”

Dex made a grab for the phone but I stepped out of the way and held the phone tighter to my head.

“What? What problems?”

“Is there any chance you might be able to come out here. Or find someone to help us?”

“I’m already on my way.”

“You are? How?”

Silence on the line. Then, “When I talked to Dex earlier, I knew I couldn’t just leave. I’m on the road, about an hour away.”

So many good emotions flooded through me. “Oh, thank God.”

“Where are you?”

“We’re going back to the Lancasters. We were in the car with Shan when it died, we…Dex ended up hitting him on the head. We thought he might be a skinwalker.”

“Is he OK?”

“He’s fine, we think. He’s alive. We put him in the trunk and left the car.”

“What about everyone else?”

“I don’t know. Will, Sarah and Miguel went to join the Sheriff at Rudy’s. That’s where we were heading. We think Shan and Sarah are the skinwalkers.”

“Hmmm.” While he pondered that I looked at Dex. The camera was still on me but his attention was on the horizon, in the direction we came from. He reminded me of an animal with its ears pricked. He was listening, watching. It chilled me.

“Listen, we don’t have much time. I think Shan is going to come back. We’ll be at the ranch though, no matter what.”

“Perry,” Maximus said breathlessly.

“Yes?”

“Stay together. Hide somewhere. If you’re right, you won’t stand a chance out there. Let’s hope that Shan stays knocked out and that Will keeps Sarah preoccupied. I’ll be there as soon as I can, OK?”

I swallowed hard. “OK.”

I didn’t want to hang up the phone but I had to. We said our goodbyes just in time. Dex gave me a dark look. It was barely visible but it said enough. We had to keep moving.

We didn’t speak, just ran, faster than before. I could feel his urgency in each stride. It was obvious that he had just seen something out there. I didn’t want to think about it. I just kept moving, running as fast as my stocky body would allow.

We ran and ran until I could almost make out the windows in the Lancaster’s house. We were so close, almost there.

But there was an uneasy feeling behind me, as if something was coming for us and fast. I turned and looked, careful not to trip. I couldn’t see anything but the fathomless black.

Dex picked up on it too.

“You hear that?” he asked as we continued to launch forward, blindly.

I strained my ears to hear something else besides the crunch of our footsteps. I heard a clackity rumbling off in the distance. It took me two seconds to piece together that it was the sound of a horse galloping.

Only in this scenario did all animals need to be feared. We couldn’t assume that some random horse was running wild in the distance. It was coming towards us and fast.

I looked forward at the house. We were only a few minutes away. The horse would reach us before then.

Without breaking stride, I yelled over at Dex who was a leg-length ahead of me.

“What should we do!?”

No point even contesting what it was. We both knew. Our options were slim.

I couldn’t see anything but the black smudge of his outline in the dark and his bobbing camera light but I could tell he shrugged. It figured. We were going to have to wait and see.

I’m not sure how much time passed before it happened. Maybe it was a minute, maybe it was ten seconds. But suddenly the hoof beats were loud enough to rattle around inside my head and shake the ground beneath my feet with its steady, building rhythm.

I moved closer to Dex and looked behind me again, my flashlight flying around wildly at whatever it could expose. What it showed was red eyes and steam from wide nostrils.

I screamed and headed off to the left, away from the beast. I collided with Dex slightly but we both had the same idea.

The idea was useless. In a matter of seconds the horse veered into us, hitting Dex in his back with its head so that Dex went flying, his laptop bag spinning away like a Frisbee. He landed in a heap on the rocks. I think I screamed again. The camera clattered beside him, the light still shining. The horse stopped a few yards away, close enough that I could see its shady outline, its restless foreleg pawing at the ground.

I threw myself on my knees and tried to make sure Dex was OK. He stirred and let out a low moan but was out of it. I heard an ominous snort and looked up. The horse was pawing in our direction this time. I knew it was a matter of seconds before it charged. I didn’t have much choice.

It took off towards us, head down, wanting to make putty out of Dex’s limp body. I would not let that happen.

I threw my purse down and started running towards the horse like I was a misguided combination of a horse whisperer and a linebacker. I used to ride all the time when I was little. Sometimes I was put on the most wild school horses. I never had the privilege of breaking any horses but I knew how horses thought, at least the horses I had dealt with. And this, this wasn’t even an actual horse. This was someone evil in a horse’s body. Someone human, deep down. They wouldn’t expect it.

I continued to charge towards the horse as it continued on its collision course. We were playing chicken and I hoped I was the only one with the plan.

At the last second, I darted to the right, its noble neck, sneering muzzle and glowing eyes passing within inches as it rumbled past me. I took whatever strength I had and made a move for it. I crouched and sprang as high as I could.

Maybe it was the adrenaline in me, maybe it was something else but it was enough that my hands made contact with the mane and I grabbed and pulled on it for dear life. I used the momentum to hoist myself up onto the horse’s back.

And then things got wild. The horse started bucking and going crazy. I’ve always been pretty good at staying on horses (and motorbikes) but this was no riding lesson and I wasn’t ten years old. I was prepared for this. I was as low to the horse as possible, with my legs gripping its sides with ferocity.

I kept my upper body flat against its withers and neck and held on for dear life. It did whatever it could to get me off but, so far, I wasn’t budging, though I wasn’t winning any points here for eight seconds. And I could see, from time to time, amidst my rolling and bobbing vision, Dex stirring on the ground beside us. If I could just keep this horse preoccupied, that would be enough for the time being.

This wild bronco ride across the black plains of Red Fox continued for at least another drawn-out minute until I heard Dex exclaim: “Holy shit!”

That was all I needed. At this point I was done with the mane and had my arms around the neck of the writhing animal, my fingers clasped so tightly that I thought they might give way to gangrene. Seeing Dex on his feet, I had to think fast. It was only a matter of seconds before it came after him.

“Your shirt!” I yelled at him.

Thankfully, he didn’t hesitate. He pulled his tee shirt over his head, ran towards me a few steps, and flung it at me.

I reached low and grabbed it by the hem. The horse reared but I managed to hold on with my other arm. I knew it was going to do that. I was counting on it.

With the horse’s head back, I yanked hard against its windpipe in an effort to support my motion and, gripping the shirt tightly, I swung it forward as if I was fly fishing.

I only had one chance.

The opposite hem of the shirt caught the horse’s muzzle and slipped on like a feedbag until its nose went straight through and the rest of its long face was covered by the shirt. Time to go.

I bailed less than gracefully. I tried to leap off but just ended up bailing on the hard earth. Pain shot through me but luckily I knew enough to go limp. I rolled over and got to my feet as quickly as possible. Dex was scampering towards me, camera in hand. I looked blindly around for my purse and scooped it up, eyeing the horse out of the corner of my eye. It was rearing blindly, its vision was totally obscured by the shirt that covered its face. I knew there wasn’t much time before it fell off.

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