“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.
People shoved past Harold.
Someone’s shoulder butted him back into the wall of crumbling concrete.
The screams of the dying were getting closer.
Harold started running, sandwiched between two women, their elbows punching into his side as they raced ahead of him toward the diminishing firelight.
He didn’t think they had that much farther to go. Three, four hundred yards at the most before the tunnel opened into the woods.
If they could make it outside, even half of them—
The torch in the distance vanished with a shout.
The screams tripling in volume.
Harold could taste the panic in the air.
Some of it his own.
He was knocked down in the stream of water, feet trampling over his legs, then his body. Tried to get up, got knocked down again, people scrambling over him like an obstacle, someone stepping on his head.
Rolling out of the way, he climbed back onto his feet.
Something streaked past him in the dark.
It reeked of decay.
Several feet away, a man begged for help over the sound of bone and cartilage crunching.
Harold’s nerve flattened under a veil of crushing disbelief.
He should go.
The poor bastard beside him went quiet, and now there was only the sound of the monster devouring its kill.
How could this possibly be happening?
Fetid breath hit his face.
Inches away, a low growl began.
Harold said, “Don’t do this.”
His throat felt suddenly hot. His chest turned wet and warm. He could still breathe, and he felt no pain, but there was so much blood jetting out of his neck.
Already he felt light-headed.
Harold sank down in the freezing stream as the beast opened his stomach with a swipe.
There was only a distant, blunted pain as the abby began to eat.
All around him were the moans and cries of the dying, the scared.
People still rushed past him in the dark, fighting to get to safety.
He didn’t make a sound.
Didn’t fight back.
Paralyzed by shock, blood loss, trauma, fear.
He couldn’t believe this was happening to him.
The thing ate him with the intensity of a creature that hadn’t fed in days, its rear talons pinning him down by his legs, front talons nailing Harold’s arms to the concrete.
And still no pain to speak of.
He was one of the lucky ones, he figured.
He’d be dead before the real pain hit.
—Pure human suffering and terror.
Ethan shouted, “Don’t stop! Keep going!”