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The Prophecy

The Prophecy

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The Prophecy

Longueur:
422 pages
6 heures
Sortie:
Mar 26, 2017
ISBN:
9781386365402
Format:
Livre

Description

Six girls, abandoned at birth, are secreted away, reared in isolation until the night evil comes knocking.  A decade later, three are dead, one is being held prisoner, one has realized her destiny as the Sioux's White Buffalo Calf Woman, and one is senior adviser to a president who plans to forcibly mine uranium on an Indian reservation.  With the help of Boston-born Lakota Charlie Blackhorse and reservation-born Harmon Trimble, the Sioux must make one final stand for their land, facing not only unscrupulous politicians but also a demon from their past when a prophecy long foretold is fulfilled.

Sortie:
Mar 26, 2017
ISBN:
9781386365402
Format:
Livre

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The Prophecy - Grace Jelsnik

Biography

Part I: The Prophecy Revealed

Prologue

December 29, 1890, Wounded Knee Creek, South Dakota

He worried he was dying.  Never had he been this ill.  The sickness had spread to his lungs, and every breath caused torment.  It was not a good time to die.  He must get his Miniconjou band and Sitting Bull’s Hunkpapas safely to Red Cloud at the Pine Ridge Agency.  Together, they could shape a peace with the white men who feared them and their Ghost Dance.

Never had his people known such trouble as this.  The buffalo were gone.  The Indian agents were stealing their food and money.  He’d encouraged his people to grow corn, but the crops had failed for two years now.  Their rations had been reduced to half what they’d been promised.  His half-brother Sitting Bull was dead, killed by Native American policemen during a botched arrest attempt at Fort Yates. 

There had been no need to arrest Sitting Bull.  Their Ghost Dance, what they called a Messiah Craze, was not a threat.  It caused no harm.  They were not the warrior nation they had once been.  Long ago they had set aside their medicine hats, their war bonnets, for the white man’s flat-brimmed hats and scratchy woolen scarves. 

His lungs felt as though they were on fire.  He had never been this weak.

The tipi flap opened, and his wife slipped in, her arms filled with sticks for the fire.  You are awake.  You should be sleeping.  She gave him a disapproving glance while moving to the fire.

I must get up, Spotted Elk said, struggling to sit up.  I must talk to the interpreter, Shangreau, and learn why they need 500 soldiers to escort 230 Lakota men and 120 women and children.  What did you see out there?

He thought he saw fear flit across her face before she turned away, busying herself with the fire.  They have set up the big guns, the ones that can fire hundreds of bullets at the same time.  Four of them.  They want all Lakota to give up their rifles.  Already they have a big pile.

As long as we comply, we will be safe.  They will escort us to Red Cloud.  We will sort this out then.

It might not be that easy, Uŋpȟáŋ Glešká.  Yellow Bird is stirring up the warriors with the Ghost Dance.

Frustration rose.  That is the worst thing he can do.  The Ghost Dance is why Sitting Bull was arrested.  It is why the settlers fear us.  Yellow Bird knows wašíču think it is a war dance.  Why would Yellow Bird do such a thing?

He says the Ghost shirts they wear will repel bullets.  He says they must do the dance to give the shirts their power.

He is a fool.  The Ghost Dance will only anger the soldiers.  I must get up.

You must rest.  There is nothing you can do, and you are too ill to be outside in that cold and snow.

Both swiveled their faces toward the entry when the flap opened and a warrior poked in his head.  You are needed.  Black Coyote won’t give up his rifle, and the soldiers are going to take it from him.

Spotted Elk struggled to his feet, every breath knifing through his lungs.  Do they know Black Coyote is deaf, that he may not have heard them?

I don’t know.  You are needed.  Yellow Bird has begun the Ghost Dance, and the soldiers are becoming angry.

I will come.  He turned to his wife, feeling impotent in the face of the fear she no longer tried to hide.  I will be back.  It will be fine.  You will see.  He stiffened at the crack of a rifle.  Ducking his head, Spotted Elk hurried outside, greeted by several isolated gun shots and then the staccato clatter of the big guns.  He revolved slowly, seeing all four big guns raining bullets down on the camp.

People, his people, Sitting Bull’s people, were running away.  Single shots rang out, and they fell.  He glanced back at his tipi, worrying about his wife, but his people came first.  He must stop this.

Spotted Elk took two steps before the first bullet hit him and another two steps before the second bullet drove him backwards onto the snow.  His vision began to blur, but still he could see.  He saw a dead woman lying twelve feet away, her infant suckling at her breast.  He saw another woman running away, her child in her arms, and he saw the bullet enter her back and exit through the child.  He saw carnage everywhere; the dead and the dying; men, women, and children; his people. 

Above it all, through the gun smoke, he saw the white flag of truce.

It hurt to breathe, but he need not worry about that.  He was not for this world much longer.

Then it was silent, except for the tick-tick-tick of the cooling big guns and the whimpers and moans of the dying.  He watched soldiers gallop past on their horses, chasing down the women and children who had managed to escape the slaughter.  Faint screams drifted toward him through the frigid winter air.

Come out, someone shouted.  We will not hurt you.

Don’t trust them, Spotted Elk thought, rolling his face toward the voice.  Don’t come out.  Three young boys, perhaps age six or seven, rose from behind a dead horse and cautiously moved toward the center of the camp. 

Don’t, he thought.  They are not to be trusted.

He heard the rifle shots, and he saw the blood blossom on slender chests.  Everything went black.

December 27, 2006, Denver, Colorado

He stepped inside the office and paused, inspecting the decorating scheme.  Gold curtains, gold carpet, gold-embossed frames, gold trappings, and not a book in sight—people’s décor reflected their personality.  This man’s personality was one of unchecked ego, unbridled greed, and intellectual complacency.

Perfect.

Sit.  Venard gestured at the vacant chair facing his desk.

Inclining his head, he moved to the chair, sitting and crossing one leg over the other.  After a minute of silence, he said, You called this meeting.

Irritation flitted across the broad face.  I was told you can help me with a political problem.  Eleven years ago, a geological survey revealed a wealth of uranium, possibly the largest deposit in the world, beneath an Indian reservation.  I optioned mineral leases, but I’ve been blocked at every turn by Indians, the EPA, and environmental groups.  I want that uranium.

Clayton pretended to ponder the problem.  His go-between had filled him in.  He knew what he wanted.  How long are you prepared to wait?

I’m not certain what you’re asking.

I can get you your uranium, but it’ll take time.  How long are you prepared to wait?

As long as it takes.  How long are you talking?

Ten years.

The man looked stupefied.  That long?  Why?

First tell me if you’re prepared to wait that long.  If not, this meeting’s over.  If Clayton knew one thing, it was the political climate in America.  It would be a decade before Americans were ready for a someone like Gunther Venard.

His expression annoyed, Venard made a production of thrusting a stray ink pen into a cup before replying.  I can wait.

Good.  I can make you president.

Venard frowned at him.  President?

Of the United States.

That’s all you have for me?  Run for president?  If that’s your idea of a joke, I’m not laughing.

It’s not a joke.  It’s a solution.  Eminent domain can now be used for economic development if that development is in the best interests of the public.  The president could enact a nuclear proliferation policy that would make uranium mining necessary for the public.  The president could also strip the EPA of its teeth.  As far as environmental groups, the right president could squash them like bugs.

The man stared at him in silence, but his face spoke volumes.  Clayton knew he had him when a smile began to crease the puffy cheeks.  I’ve got ideas.

Don’t get ahead of yourself.  There’s a caveat.  The last thing Clayton wanted was a puppet with ideas.  The presidency will be a temporary gig.  You run.  I get you elected.  Once you’re in office, you’ll be able to clear all obstacles to your mines.  After three months, your running mate resigns the vice presidency, and you appoint me in his place.  After six months, you resign the presidency, passing it to me.

Why would I want to do that?

Because that’s my price for getting you elected.  You need to decide how important that uranium is to you. 

I could run without you.

You could.  You wouldn’t win, but you’re welcome to try.  He watched pique flash across the face.  He waited. 

Pique altered into contemplation.  All right.  When do we start?

Today.  I’ll tell you what we need to do to pave the road, preparing the nation for what you have to offer.

Not so fast.  First there’s a related problem I need you to take care of for me.

He was being tested, asked to demonstrate commitment.  What?

The Indians.

We don’t need to worry about them now.  They can be dealt with once you’re president.

Not if they’re incited before then.

And do you have reason to believe they will be?

A white buffalo was born on that reservation shortly after the first geological survey.  This meant something to them, something to do with their religious beliefs.  My reservation informant warned me the animal would strengthen their unity.  He recommended it be killed, and I gave him the go-ahead.

So a symbolic white buffalo’s dead.  Problem solved.  What does that have to do with me?

They’re a superstitious people, and now something else has come up that could be even more problematic.

What?

Before I say, I need to know whether you’re in or out.  If you’re in, you’ll need to deal with this second Indian problem.

Indians were an inferior race who relived past glories to blind themselves to a dreary present and a non-existent future.  There wasn’t anything they could come up with that an educated man of intellect and reason couldn’t handle.  Clayton stood.  I’m in.  I’ll take care of this second problem, and I’ll get you elected for a six-month stint as president.  After six months, you’ll resign, passing the presidency to me.  Fair enough?

Venard nodded and stood, walking around the desk and shaking Clayton’s hand.  Fair enough.  Now, there’s someone I need you to meet.  He pressed a button on the intercom.  Bring him in.

The door opened, and a man walked in, flanked by two thugs.  A portly Indian with red-veined eyes visible beneath a crumpled straw cowboy hat, he looked wary.  No, he looked afraid.

Venard addressed the Indian.  Tell this man about the prophecy.

Chapter 1

Evil tasted like copper and smelled like death.  It was cold, with webbed hands that pressed down, suffocating, and its voice was the hiss of a snake.  She couldn’t see it, but she knew it was out there, somewhere in the night.  Maybe evil was black like the night.  That would explain why she couldn’t see it.

Kendra threw back her blanket and slung her legs over the side of the bed.  Bracing her hands at her sides, she pushed herself off the top bunk, landing lightly and silently on the bare wood floor.  Bending over the bottom bunk, she nudged a rounded, blanket-shrouded shoulder.

The form made an unintelligible sound consisting of m’s and smacking noises.

Wake up, Frannie.

The form rolled toward her, assuming a head and then a face.  Kendra?  Why are you waking me up?  It’s still nighttime.

We need to get dressed.  Wake the others.  Tell them.  While speaking, she tugged on blue jeans beneath her nightgown, and by the time Frannie crawled out of bed and stood beside her, she’d shucked her nightwear and was pulling a t-shirt over her head. 

What’s wrong? Frannie asked over her shoulder while hurrying to wake Theresa.

I’m not sure, only that it’s wrong.  Kendra sat on Frannie’s vacated bed to tug on socks and winter boots.  Hurry, she whispered while thrusting her arms into parka sleeves and checking for gloves in the pockets.  We don’t have much time.

For what? she heard Yvonne complain in her trademark shrill voice.  A pretty girl with soft angelic features, a cloud of auburn hair, and wide-set baby-blue eyes, Yvonne’s voice always seemed at odds with her appearance, like a puppy mewing or a cow braying.  Someone shushed her, and then the sounds of whispering and activity faded into the distance while Kendra sprinted down the hallway between their quarters and Mrs. Durbin’s.

When Kendra prodded the elderly woman’s shoulder, Mrs. Durbin bolted upright in bed, her bulbous eyes wide and round, her short gray hair sticking out in tufts on her head, giving her the look of a great horned owl.  She whipped her face toward the girl.  What?  Mrs. Durbin had the voice of a child, and the word emerged on a squeak.

Evil, ma’am.

What are you talking about, dear?

Evil.  I can taste, smell, feel, and hear it.  I can’t see it.  Maybe it’s far away. 

The alarm on the woman’s face shifted to a look of wonder.  "So that’s what he meant.  You.  It’s been there all along, and I never knew.  I should have.  After the bear, I should have."

Kendra battled confusion.  This was not a good time for Mrs. Durbin to make one of her cryptic comments.  I don’t understand.

The woman shook her head as though to clear it.  I’m sorry.  You said evil?

Kendra nodded. 

Mrs. Durbin’s lips tightened, and she climbed out of bed, tugging her bathrobe from the post and shrugging into it.  You’ve woken everyone?

Yes.

"They would pick tonight, what with Hank gone to Pierre and a snowstorm moving through.  Well, there’s nothing we can do about that now, is there?"

Kendra had no idea what she was talking about.  No, ma’am.

Bring everyone to the living room.  Hurry.

Yes, ma’am.  Kendra wheeled and dashed into the hall, stopping at the sight of Yvonne leading the others toward her.  To the living room.

Yvonne hooked a sharp left, and the girls followed.  Kendra waited until the last child passed before taking up the rear. 

Mrs. Durbin bustled through them, marching to the overstuffed couch positioned along one wall before twisting her upper body to run her gaze over them, her eyes falling on Frannie.  Dear, bring flashlights from the drawer in the kitchen.  Once the girl raced away, Mrs. Durbin manhandled one end of the couch to the side, exposing a two-foot gap of hardwood floor. 

When Frannie returned, her folded arms laden with flashlights, the elderly woman said, Each of you take one of the flashlights.  There’s a trap door here.  It leads to a tunnel.  Kendra, you go first.  Stay in the tunnel until I call you.  If you don’t hear from me in an hour, I want you to exit the tunnel at the far end.  It’s a long passageway that opens in the center of the meadow behind the house.  Take everyone to that girl’s house, the one you think I know don’t about.

Kendra felt her cheeks heat.  Molly. 

She’d met Molly when she’d wandered too far away from the house one day, and she’d felt an instant kinship, a recognition of a camaraderie she didn’t share with the other girls.  They’d spoken about nonsensical things, about why some people loved to hate and why others hated to love, why they dreaded and desired maturity, and why rules both confused and comforted.  Since then, they’d met regularly at the same place, a short section of split-rail fence close to Molly’s home.  They wandered, talked, explored, and mused.  Kendra had seen Molly’s house in the distance several times, but she’d never been inside.  They were different people from different worlds, and neither had to speak aloud the words indicating an awareness that the authority figures in their lives wouldn’t welcome their friendship.

Mrs. Durbin flicked aside the curtain and peered outside, turning back toward her.  Can you find Molly’s house in the dark?  The snow is coming down something fierce out there.

Yes.  Even in the snow, there were landmarks: A boulder shaped like an upside-down water glass, two trees entwined like lovers, and the split-rail fence.

Take the children there.  Request shelter.  Call this number.  Mrs. Durbin handed her a rectangular card.  Someone will come get you.

Kendra slid the card deep into her parka pocket and began to move behind the couch, but Yvonne thrust her to the side.  I’ll go first.  I’m oldest.  Two years older than Kendra, Yvonne had breasts now, and they’d worsened her naturally belligerent disposition.  Kendra hoped she never got breasts.

Mrs. Durbin’s voice was sharp.  Let Kendra lead.  She’ll know the way.

They all froze at the sound of knocking on the front door.  It’s here, ma’am, Kendra said.  Let her lead.  I can follow. She gave the woman a look she hoped Mrs. Durbin read as I’ll take charge if we need to leave the tunnel.

Her lips pinched, Mrs. Durbin waved a hand toward the trapdoor.  Hurry!

Yvonne gave Kendra a smug smile before bending down, raising the trap door, and disappearing down the ladder.  Kendra tried to like Yvonne, but she couldn’t.  The girl cared too much for herself and not enough for others. 

You next, Frannie, Kendra said while tugging the girl’s parka hood over her carroty hair and tying it beneath her chin.  Follow Yvonne.

Frannie gave her a trusting smile and descended.  Brenda, a brave smile trembling on her round, coppery face, went next; then Mindy, the youngest, with eyes wide and frightened; and finally, Theresa, her brown eyes soft beneath kinky black hair.  All that remained were Mrs. Durbin, Kendra, and the increasingly stentorian pounding on the front door.

Go ahead, Mrs. Durbin commanded.  I need to push the couch back in place before I can answer the door.

Hugs weren’t forbidden, but they occurred infrequently and generally with a perfunctory emotional distance.  Tonight was different.  Kendra wouldn’t see Mrs. Durbin again, not in this world, anyway.  Evil was hungry tonight.  She hugged the elderly woman and descended until her feet touched hard clay.  The light disappeared when the trap door closed, and she listened to heavy furniture scrape the floor above.

Clicking on her flashlight, Kendra directed its beam around the enclosure.  The tunnel was as wide as her bunkbed and maybe as tall, lined in heavy railroad ties that lent the rectangular entrance a thick odor of oily chemicals.  She wouldn’t be able to walk upright, but by angling her head, she could avoid bumping against the ceiling beams.  At the sound of whispers in the distance, she jogged until she reached the tail end of the line led by Yvonne. 

Like Mrs. Durbin had said, the passageway was long, maybe extending beyond the center of the meadow, close to the stand of trees north of the house, the wooded area in which she’d met her best friend in the whole world.  At its end, the tunnel widened into a small square room where the girls clustered, whispering among themselves, stomping their feet and hugging themselves to stay warm.  The tunnel was like a refrigerator, keeping the air cool and moist.  The soil didn’t freeze, not this far beneath the surface, but it was chilly enough to make a kid appreciate warm gloves, coats, and boots.

Mindy whimpered, and Kendra slid her arms around the child, holding her while murmuring soothing lies.  They wouldn’t be fine—evil lurked above—and this wasn’t fun, but Mindy didn’t need to know that.

Give her to me, Yvonne snapped, grabbing Mindy’s arm and jerking her away.  When Kendra’s flashlight beam danced across Yvonne’s face, she saw malevolence in the eyes and wondered for a moment whether evil walked with them.

Stepping backward, trying to ignore the harsh whispers turning Mindy’s whimpers into sobs, Kendra felt a hand clutch hers, and she looked at Frannie.  The girl held her flashlight beneath her chin, pointed upward and illuminating a white face with crossed eyes.  Kendra fought a giggle. 

Theresa was less successful, bursting into a brief spurt of nervous laughter.  Kendra remembered how much Theresa feared enclosed spaces.  This must be especially frightening for her.

What’s so funny, Theresa?

Nothing, Yvonne.

Then don’t laugh, stupid.

After tucking her flashlight in her pocket, Kendra took Theresa’s hand and gave it a squeeze.

I want Kendra! Mindy wailed, her cry resonating throughout the enclosed space.

Fine!  I don’t need your snot all over my coat anyway!  Yvonne shoved the girl away, and Mindy went down to one knee before Kendra could catch her.

After pulling Mindy to her feet and folding her arms around her, Kendra stared at Yvonne in consternation.  The other girl was difficult at best, but she’d never been violent before.  Yvonne stared back, her eyes glittering like blue, cat’s-eye marbles in the artificial light cast by their flashlights.  She was in one of her moods, the ones where someone wound up weeping and Yvonne stormed off in a huff.  Kendra shifted away from her, concentrating on calming the trembling girl in her arms.

Popping sounds filtered down the tunnel from the house.  Gunshots?  Having never heard a gun fired, Kendra wasn’t certain. 

Someone’s shooting a gun, Yvonne stated.  We need to go now.

No, Kendra replied.  Mrs. Durbin said to wait an hour.  Although the involuntary sorrow rising within suggested the likelihood the woman was dead, Kendra knew it would be foolish for the six of them to hare off into the snow while evil waited above, maybe even lying in wait by the tunnel exit.  It was close and getting closer, threatening to overwhelm her senses.

You wait an hour.  We’re going.

I want to stay with Kendra! Mindy wailed.

Kendra strove for her calmest voice, hoping to reason with the older girl.  Yvonne, think about you’re saying.  Mrs. Durbin said it’s still snowing.  We’ll get lost if we go out now.

You might get lost.  I won’t.

But you don’t know the way to Molly’s house.

I’m not going to this Molly’s house.  I’m going to no friend of yours.

Kendra fought the apprehension stirred by the words. Where would you go in a snowstorm, Yvonne?

The girl snorted, and the shrill voice slashed the darkness.  I’m taking us to town.

Hank says town is six miles to the east!  Kendra struggled to calm herself.  This was no time for one of Yvonne’s distempered freaks.  She was frightening the girls.  She was frightening Kendra.

Six miles on the gravel road.  We’ll be less likely to get lost.

And more likely to freeze to death.  We won’t get lost going to Molly’s.  I know the way.

Like you knew someone would visit tonight?  Her voice was strident with an audible undercurrent of distrust.

Kendra struggled for a reasonable response.  Yvonne was demonstrating a maliciousness that went beyond anything she’d seen from her in the past.  Telling her about the evil she’d sensed would worsen the girl’s animosity.  "I didn’t know.  I thought someone might visit.  That’s different."

"And I think I’m tired of the way everyone treats you like you’re something special.  You’re no better than the rest of us, and you thinking about something and then that something happening strikes me as odd.  More likely you told your friend six girls lived alone out here with no one watching them but an old lady and her even older husband, and now kidnappers want us."

Why would kidnappers want us, Yvonne? Theresa whispered.

Kidnappers always want kids, doofus.  That’s what they do for a living.  Yvonne whirled back to Kendra.  I bet I know what’s going on here!  This isn’t even real.  You and your friend set this up so you could play hero!  She lowered her voice to a sinister hiss.  Like the time you stole Mindy’s doll and then suddenly found it for her when she couldn’t sleep that one night.

Kendra sensed rather than saw all faces turn toward her in the darkness.  Mindy stiffened in her arms and drew away.  That’s a lie, Yvonne, she replied, her voice calm despite her alarm.  She’d known where to look because she’d known Yvonne had taken it. 

"That was weird, Kendra, Theresa said, her voice apologetic.  How did you know where it was if you didn’t take it?"

Because Kendra is good at finding things, that’s why! Frannie shouted, jumping to her defense.

Did you steal my glow-in-the-dark bead necklace too? Brenda asked, her querulous voice wistful.  I really liked that necklace.

Yvonne spoke before Kendra could respond.  Was it the pink one?

Yes.

I saw her playing with it last week.  And Theresa’s shiny stone, the one with black, brown, and green stripes.  She probably gave that one to her friend.

Theresa gasped.

Those are all lies, Yvonne, Kendra stated, quelling her anger.  I didn’t steal Mindy’s doll or Brenda’s necklace or Theresa’s stone, and you know it.  She weighted the you because Yvonne had taken them all, and Kendra had known where to find Mindy’s doll because she knew where Yvonne stashed her loot.  Why are you saying these things?

I’m saying them because the girls need to know what kind of a person they’re worshipping.  I’ve kept my mouth shut for a long time because I want people to get along.  That’s always been important to me, that we all get along, but it’s time they knew so they can decide whether they want to trust someone like you to lead them to shelter.

Kendra cast her flashlight beam over the girls’ faces, seeing sorrowful condemnation in Brenda’s eyes and confusion in Theresa’s.  They believed Yvonne, which surprised her.  They genuinely thought she’d stolen their prized possessions.  Mrs. Durbin wants us to wait.

Mrs. Durbin is dead.  Ignoring the sharp inhalations that greeted her announcement, Yvonne turned toward the ladder and, grasping its side rails with both hands, placed a foot on the first rung.  I’m leaving.  I’m going to town.  The rest of you can stay here and die with Kendra for all I care.

Yvonne climbed the ladder, thrusting open the top and sending it crashing over.  Snow filtered in while she finished the climb and stepped outside into blackness overlaid with a lacy snowflake veil.  A second later, her face reappeared above, peering down at them, a white oval against a white-speckled black backdrop.  Last chance.  I’m going.

Sorry, Kendra, but I don’t want to die, Brenda muttered before ascending the ladder. 

I have to get out of here.  It’s making my skin crawl.  Theresa followed her.

Yvonne’s voice filtered down.  Mindy?  Frannie?

Kendra felt Frannie’s hand slip into hers.  I’m not leaving you, Kendra, she whispered.

Me neither, Mindy said, her breath hitching on a sob.  I don’t believe you stole anything!

Kendra forced a smile the two girls couldn’t see in the darkness but should be able to hear in her voice.  We need to stay together.  That’s important.  We’ll try Yvonne’s way.  Maybe she’s right, and I’m wrong.  She gave a laugh that almost sounded normal.  You two go first.

Frannie hesitated for a second before clambering up the ladder with Mindy behind her.  Kendra climbed the ladder, her heart filled with foreboding.  This didn’t feel right.  Now she sensed danger, not evil.  Danger’s taste was more acidic than metallic, and it smelled sulphuric, like a lit match gone cold.  It had a gravelly texture and a gravelly voice that both beckoned and repelled.  They shouldn’t do this.  They shouldn’t leave the tunnel.

They had no choice.  They must stay together; this she knew as surely as she knew Yvonne’s sickness went beyond coveting other people’s possessions and other people’s admiration.  She should have foreseen Yvonne’s power play. 

Would it have mattered?  Even if she’d known Yvonne would falsely accuse her to win the others over to her side, she wouldn’t have known how to fight her.  She’d learned long ago that only a person as mean as Yvonne could hope to prevail against her when she was in one of her moods.

When Kendra reached the top of the ladder, with her head above the surface, she took in her surroundings in one quick survey, seeing swirling, eddying snow already four inches deep and coming down in fat, penny flakes.  Maybe Yvonne was right.  If it kept coming down like this, they could be trapped in the tunnel.

Her eyes fell on the forest looming blackly through the snow, a comforting presence.  They were less than fifteen minutes from Molly’s home.  She shifted her gaze to the small mass of charcoal several yards away, indistinguishable as a cluster of children except for the heads bobbing above hunched shoulders.  The girls were already cold, and they had a long walk ahead of them.  She needed to hurry.

Kendra braced her hands on the boards squaring off the opening and looked up to see Yvonne’s face leaning into hers.  Let me help you. 

Alarm rocketed through her, freezing her in place.  Yvonne’s voice wasn’t that of a girl.  It wasn’t that of anything human.  It was a voice of another time, a time predating mankind: dry, dusty, and mocking. It smelled of civilizations despoiled and cultures debased.  With a flash of clarity, Kendra realized the evil she’d sensed tonight had been within touching distance all along.

Hands gripped her shoulders, shoving her backward.  Kendra slammed her head into the square frame when she fell, and she was unconscious when she hit the tunnel floor.

Chapter 2

Chester crouched on a rise above the field, his back braced against a rough-barked pine, his rifle resting across his knees, his eyes fixed on the white expanse below.  Damn, it was colder than a meat locker out here, with bone-chilling air that sucked the warmth right from a man’s marrow.  Why he always got dirty-duty he couldn’t say, only that it wasn’t fair.  Right about now, Elroy was in a nice warm house, looking for the entrance to the damned tunnel the girl had told them about, and here he was, sitting outside, watching the snow pile up around him, and guarding an exit they hadn’t been able to find, an exit he had doubts even existed.

There’d been something off about that girl, something that didn’t feel right.  It was like she was happy about getting caught.  About all of it, for that matter.  She was a real piece of work, that one.  Seemed anxious to spill her guts about the tunnel, maybe even proud, though what she had to be proud of, Chester couldn’t figure.  She’d gotten them all caught.  Here he and Elroy had broken into the house, tearing it apart for some sign of where the kids had gotten off to, and here she was, only a couple of hours later, walking as casual as can be down the center of a snowy road.

She’d had three girls with her, said she’d had to leave one behind when she couldn’t keep up.  She was trying to make herself out to be some kind of a hero, all sighs and mournful airs that gave a man the willies when he looked into those knowing blue eyes.  Chester had seen eyes that knowing on a whore in Denver once.  He’d come out of the bathroom to find both the whore and his wallet gone. 

When she’d told them about the other girl, the dead one she’d had to leave in the tunnel, those eyes had glowed.  She was all sad and afraid, except she wasn’t, not really.

And that’s when Chester had started wondering whether there even was a tunnel.  A girl like that might think it was fun to send them off on a wild goose chase.

After they’d dropped the girls off at the motel, leaving Jimmy to guard them—Jimmy’s idea in case one of the desperados decided to make a break for it—he and Elroy had backtracked, finding the fifth kid a half mile back from where they’d found the other four.  She was sitting upright, leaning against a sign with

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