On the plus side, I was still alive. She could have killed me but she didn’t. And it meant that Dex was still alive. On the negative side, I was still tied up awaiting certain fate and Dex was about to meet his, most likely by the hands of someone he trusted the most.
No wonder Bird had said not to trust me. He knew. If only the old idiot had actually put enough energy to explain why, it would have made a whole world of fucking difference.
And then the spins came. Not just the spins that made my head wobble back and forth like I was having an out of body seizure, but the waves of paralysis that coursed through me. I went from feeling like I could rip out of the binds (which I knew I couldn’t) to feeling like I was frozen from the inside out.
Then the room started to move again in waves. But it wasn’t my head this time. It was figures and shapes coming out of the shadows. They were ghostly, transparent. Shapes in vaguely human forms. They hovered around me. I didn’t know if this was a product of going insane from the circumstances or the fact that I was drugged with peyote.
I looked at the objects. They hovered and quivered as if they were timed to an irregular heartbeat. Whether they were real or not, I didn’t have many options.
“Can you help me?” I pleaded, quietly at first, ashamed of my voice when there was no one around. I was talking to myself.
“Please? Can you help me? I need help.”
Tears pricked at my eyes and fell unaided onto my thighs. I started bawling. I couldn’t help it. I was so lost. I couldn’t do a single thing. I couldn’t even think.
I cried for a few minutes, feeling stupid and useless and a sorry excuse for a human being. The love of my life (OK, so there it was) was in grave danger and I wasn’t able to do a single thing about it.
I cried for a bit more until I noticed a change of energy in the room. I looked up through my tears. My vision was watery but I could see the figures were closer to me. I wasn’t afraid though. They didn’t mean me harm, whatever they were.
“Please,” I sobbed one last time, meaning every messy note I managed to get out.
I felt warmth around me which made me feel better. The warmth didn’t undo my straps though.
But they did make my fingers feel more agile. I started to strain my wrists behind my back, trying to loosen their casing. It worked in a sense. I worked out how I was tied to the chair. My hands were tied together but it seemed I was only connected to the chair on my right side.
I wondered if I had anything MacGyver-ish in my left pocket. I moved my hand around in that direction, still noting that the strange white figures were hovering nearby like blurbs on badly processed film.
I felt in my back pocket and my fingers reached something. It felt like a plastic bag. Was it a gum wrapper? Only MacGyver could make something out of a gum wrapper.
I coiled my fingers around it and brought it out of my back pocket. I leaned forward in my seat as far as I could, so that I was almost tipped forward and tried to look behind my shoulder. I couldn’t see what it was but it did feel like something soft and squishy had been encased in Saran Wrap.
I had no idea what it could be. And I had zero patience to slowly open the bag and figure out what it was. As soon as it was in my fingers, I ripped it apart.
I heard a faint puff of sound and felt a sprinkling of softness on my thumbs.
The white, weird figures suddenly retreated into the depths of the room and were gone. I didn’t know if that was a good sign considering they hadn’t done anything wrong but, regardless, the fact that I could the rip the bag made me realize I could reach the other hand with the other.
I concentrated as hard as I could, and even though it took a few wrong attempts, much like trying to do your hair in front of a mirror, I was finally able to get my left hand free from the straps.
I brought the hand forward and marveled at it. It was covered in a white powder, similar to talcum. I quickly made work of my other hand. I bent over and tried to untie my feet but the reins were too tight. I looked up at the wall and spied a saw hanging above the sink. I hopped awkwardly across the tack room floor, chair clanking loudly as I went. I hoped wherever Sarah and Shan were, they wouldn’t hear it.
I got the saw off of the wall and quickly put it to use against my leg binds. The supple leather snapped easily and soon I was free of the chair. I was still dizzy and disoriented but I was free and ready to go.
I stumbled across the room and into the barn. I heard the horses stirring nervously in their stalls as I ran past.
Seeing the cloudy moonlight at the end of the barn, I started sprinting for it. I entered the stormy air of outside. Nothing ever smelled as sweet. The wind was really blowing now and threw my hair behind me.
I narrowed my eyes against the flying grit and sand and tried to piece together where Dex could be. He went into the house with the sheriff, the last I saw.
They couldn’t obliterate everyone, could they? The house was the first place I would have to go.
I scampered across the dry paddock towards the Lancaster’s house, which still had the lights on. As I neared, I saw that all the cars had gone. That wasn’t a good sign.
I slowed a bit and tried to take everything into account as much as I could.
If everyone was gone, that probably meant that they were alive. Maybe taking Bird to the hospital? Would they leave without Dex though? They couldn’t, Bird wouldn’t let that happen. Unless Bird was so out of it…
I stopped a hundred yards from the house and instinctively crouched down, hiding myself.
So where was Dex? I didn’t have the luxury to examine all my options. All I knew was that –
Off in the juniper woods, near the other barn, there was a light bobbing in the trees. It seemed to be searching.
I held my breath and listened. I didn’t hear anything. I started running towards the light as quickly as I could while keeping as low to the ground as possible. Given my height, it wasn’t that hard.
I was close to where the sheep paddock ended and the trees began, when I heard it. I paused.
It was me. It was my voice coming from where the flashlight was.
“Dex, help me,” it said.
I opened my mouth to scream “No!” but nothing came out. Instead, I heard my disembodied voice again coming from the trees.
“Dex, help me!” it said again, louder.
And to my horror, I heard Dex’s gruff rely, “Perry? Where are you?!”
This could not be happening. I started booking towards the trees at full throttle now, not bothering to hide myself anymore.
I entered the forest and came crashing through. I got a few yards in when my feet caught on tangled undergrowth and I went flying onto the ground. My jaw clanked against the ground and I bit my lip on impact. The metallic taste of blood filled my mouth.
I froze. From where I was lying amongst the trees, I would be hard to spot.
The footsteps were coming faster now and I saw a flashlight. Within seconds, Dex entered my view. He had the flashlight in one hand, the infrared camera in the other. That figured.
I tried to move, to yell, but before I could do anything I saw myself come out from the trees. And by myself, I mean Sarah’s skinwalker version of me.
“Dex,” it said, pausing a few feet away.
Dex shone the flashlight on the fake me’s face and ran up to it.
“I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry,” he started apologizing. He reached out for the fake me with his hand. Every instinct in my body told me to get up and stop them but that paralysis was seeping through my veins again. My own voice was caught in my throat, borrowed by someone else.
“Dex, I’m afraid,” it said to him. It was my voice but it sounded emotionless and robotic.
I could see him hesitate in the dark. Did he know something was up?
He aimed the flashlight in ‘my’ face. It turned away, squinting. He couldn’t see the eyes.
“I’m hurt,” it said, still flatly. She showed her hands to him. They were covered in blood. Whose blood that was, I had no idea, but I was relieved it wasn’t mine or Dex’s.
“Shit,” he swore as he kept the flashlight at the hands.
“What happened?” he asked.
She looked up at him. Her eyes were carnivorous, ravenous. An animal’s.
Before he had a chance to look into them, she reached up with her bloody hand and pulled his face towards her, closed her eyes, and kissed him.
Er, I mean I kissed him. I was awestruck and forced to watch something that should have been the most epic moment of my life. Only it wasn’t happening to me. Not really.
I was afraid she’d try and eat him. That’s what it looked like she was doing.
And Dex. Dex was kissing her back.
Wait, he was kissing me back.
My heart jutted around in my chest. Despite everything that was going on, the thought, the sight that Dex was kissing me (and getting quite into it, it seemed), made my insides feel giddy, and my stomach lurch around like I had butterflies. What was wrong with me?
I watched for a few more seconds, feeling like a Peeping Tom, or like Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window. It was turning me on. It was so unbelievably wrong.
But something happened to shake me out of it.
It was Dex.
He pulled back from the makeout session and touched his mouth. He looked down at his hand. Had she bit him?
The skinwalker me went for him with her other hand. That hand was already a full-on wolf paw. It was going to swipe across Dex’s face. It would remove his handsome mug in one go.
Something came over me. I don’t know what. But I found the strength, or the strength found me. I bolted upright and screamed at the top of my lungs. I think I tried to say “stop!” or “duck” but it all came out in a supersonic unintelligible shriek.
But it worked. Dex looked up just in time. He ducked and did a roll on the ground as the wolf made a lunge for him. He got to his feet and scooped up the camera, forgetting about the flashlight and aimed it at the wolf which was moving raggedly away from him, its head and neck held at an awkward angle.
“Dex!” I screamed again. “Get away!”
I ran towards him. He flashed the camera in my eyes and tried to read me from the infrared viewer. He looked as confused as you could imagine.
“What the fuck?” he said.
I grabbed his arm and started to pull him towards the trees. “Come on, it’s you she’s after!”
At that, it was like the heavens opened up. Whatever breeze was blowing lifted the clouds away and the moon shone down on us in a straight shot. Everything was illuminated. Dex’s confused face. The wolf lurking awkwardly behind us. The crow that swooped down from the treetops and landed on the ground beside us with a squawk.
We jumped at it, knowing full well it wasn’t just a crow. But it was too late to do anything.
The crow morphed into a snake, then a deer, then a coyote, then Shan. For two seconds Dex and I were looking into the sparkling eyes of the ranch hand, Sarah’s confidante, and murdering medicine man.
He cocked his head sideways at us but didn’t say anything. Dex pushed me behind him and held me there with his arms, shielding me.
The wolf slowly crept over to Shan. Shan raised his hand at it. It stayed still and sat back on its haunches like a dog. Like a hunting dog.