Before she could utter so much as a yelp of surprise, a single indigo claw shot out like the knife of a switchblade, the tip catching her beneath her chin.

“The name of the game was going to be vengeance,” Scrimshaw said, lifting her face to his. From this close, Isobel could detect the mesh of thin, interconnected hairline fractures that covered his features, like the crackled glaze of a china teacup. “And maybe it still could be,” he went on in a contemplative whisper. “After all, you were there. As a matter of fact, as I recall, you were the entire reason it happened to begin with, weren’t you?”

Isobel jerked her head away from him. “I—don’t know what you’re talking about.”

He retracted the claw, frowning at her. “Oh, come now. It’s no fun if you don’t know why I’m gutting you when I’m gutting you. Think!” he said, and used the same claw to tap her temple.

Isobel smacked his hand away and took another retreating step.

Annoyance flittered over the Noc’s face, but then his expression changed, morphing into a look of coy amusement.

“No need to be so short-tempered,” he said, flexing spidery fingers. “I could offer you a hint if you like.”

Isobel didn’t answer. Instead she focused on the closest archway, one to her right. But just as she mustered the courage to make a break for it, Scrimshaw sidestepped to block her path.

“The park,” he said, grinning again. “You’ll remember our little jaunt through the park, I’m sure.”

Isobel spun and dashed for the archway directly behind her.

It was no good, though. A black fog swept ahead of her, and Scrimshaw reemerged from the murk, his angular form filling the door frame, the sudden rush of movement sending down a flurry of petals between them.


Opening his arms wide, Scrimshaw pressed his hands to either side of the frame, his palms smashing the heads of several flowers. He crooked one leg and crossed it over the other, smiling down at her expectantly, clearly enjoying the one-sided game he’d enlisted her in.

“That’s where it happened,” he said. “Right when I almost had you. Right behind the place where you live.” He pressed the tips of his claws to his lips in a gesture that seemed to say oops. “Pardon me,” he corrected. “Lived. Don’t you remember?”

Suddenly it dawned on Isobel that, just like the previous time they’d spoken in the blue crypt, he was referring to the night the Nocs had entered into the real world and chased her through the park behind her house. Reynolds had been there as well, and apparently, at least according to Scrimshaw, he had been the one responsible for the damage the Noc had sustained.

Isobel did remember. She remembered hearing a crash just as soon as she’d reached her front yard.

But for all she knew, the story Scrimshaw was telling her could be fabricated. What was to say he hadn’t been waiting outside the tomb door for Reynolds to return because they had been in league with each other? Was this just one more trick meant to confuse her? She didn’t know. But something she did know, she reminded herself, was that even if the Nocs could touch her, they held no power to harm her.

Steeling herself, Isobel ducked under one of the Noc’s outstretched arms. As she made her way down the curving tunnel, she forced herself to walk, refusing to let her fear show by running.

She heard him laugh. The sound, like the raspy chuckle of an animatronic fun-house clown, sent spikes of cold dread through her midsection. She knew it meant he wasn’t going to let her pass him by this easily.

“You know,” she heard him call after her, though she didn’t dare stop or look back, “I hear they also say that you can’t be in more than one place at a time. But as one who speaks from experience, I find that particular saying to be less true.”

As soon as she reached a fork in the tunnels, Isobel again felt a rush of air skim by her, this time tousling her hair. She brushed the loosened strands from her face as the darkness accumulated in the tunnel archway to her immediate left. Scrimshaw re-formed once more, tapping his chin in thought with one tapered claw.

“I myself ended up in at least seventy-eight that night,” he said. “But I’m not quite so broken up over you anymore. In fact, I’ve just now come to the conclusion that we would all do so much better without you. Tell me, how many pieces would you like to be? While I can’t promise I’ll be exact, I’ll try to keep your request in mind.”

“You can’t hurt me,” Isobel said, meeting his black gaze.

“Hurt you?” He recoiled in mock horror and folded his hands together, his claws clicking loudly as they interlaced. “No, no,” he whispered. “You’ve got it all wrong, dear child. I don’t want to hurt you. I want to kill you. And that I can do.”

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