Author's Revised Edition now in paperback and first time ever e-book!
The next morning, Emma faced the bridge.
She wanted to run away. Back to the shelter. Hide her head in
the sand. Die. It was insane, trying to go home, and this whole
scheme of trekking out to Maine like some brave person. When
she wasn’t. What was she thinking?
No. She could do it. She had to do it.
She looked at the bridge, the water shimmering before her. It
had become a sort of a test. Cross that bridge, go home, and bury
her past and she could do anything. Even make it to Maine.
Her stomach growled in protest.
She promised herself she’d find food. Afterwards.
“Here goes nothing,” she grumbled, and waded into the frigid
water. She regretted that she didn’t have a change of clothing.
There was no help for it, she’d just have to build a fire afterwards
and dry her clothes out. Taking the rope out of her pack, she held
it close. She’d use it as a safety line.
The sun filtered down on her in the quiet early morning, as she
swam toward the first stretch of the half-submerged bridge. She
was a strong swimmer, but she knew her limits, so she took it slow
and easy. She braced herself mentally against what floated in the
water around her, or what she would find sandwiched in the sections
of the bridge. And the smell. God.
She was shivering so badly when she got there, that she could
barely claw her way up on the first section. Her hands cramped up.
Tears of anguish stained her haggard face. She tossed the rope,
snagged a broken girder, then torturously pulled herself from the
river. After she’d rested a few minutes, she started working her
way across the bridge, carefully. She had sturdy tennis shoes on
and was glad of it. Waterlogged, they squeaked and left round, wet
spots behind her. At the places the bridge dipped or plummeted
into the water, or was blocked with debris, she had to find alternative
Once everything under her fell into the water, and the only
thing that saved her from being sucked down with it and crushed
was her lifeline. As she was hanging out over thin air, twirling at
the end of the rope like a dead fish on a hook, she wondered again
why she was doing this. Maybe she was touched in the head? She
smiled at that. Of course she was.
But she gritted her teeth, wiped her tears away with numb fingers,
and kept crawling along the concrete span.
Not all the cars had toppled into the water. Most of the vehicles
on the bridge were empty, some weren’t. Emma tried not
to look at the decomposing bodies, but it was difficult. They were
“This is really stupid, Emma…this is really, really…dumb,” she
groaned under her breath, as her weight accidentally dislodged a
loose piece of the structure, and, with bated breath, she watched
it plunge into the watery depths below her.
Her bad leg gave her more trouble than she expected and soon
she was dragging it behind her like a useless dead thing.
It took agonizing hours to cross the bridge, and when she finally
made it onto safe land, her body was shaking with the exertion,
and her hands were scraped bloody. Her clothes were frozen
to her like an icy shell. The first thing she did was gather wood
and build a huge fire, then hunched over it until her clothes were
almost dry. It was too chilly to take them off.***
But she found her home, or what remained. She stood and
looked at it with misery in her eyes. Once it had been a beautiful
old two-story frame and brick house. Danny had done a lot of
work on it, though, and it had always been kept up. Now it was just
a burnt-out ruin.
There was no one there, and no sign that anyone had been
there in the recent past.
As the raindrops began to fall, she stalked around the grounds,
calling for them hysterically: “Danny? Peter? Jenny! Anyone…is
anyone here?” she sobbed over and over as the rain fell harder. No
“Here kitty…kitty, here kitty—” she yelled into the rising wind,
remembering Midnight, her cat; stopped as her foot brushed up
against a tiny, feline skeleton half-buried in the rubbish at the
front of the house. “Oh, no,” she sighed, kneeling down to stare
at it in sorrow, water and tears mingling to trickle down her face.
“Midnight!” She reached out and touched its bony paw. “Poor little
She saw the fingers of a human skeleton sticking out from under
a section of fallen plaster and Emma knew without a doubt
that it was her husband’s hand. She dug with trembling fingers
until she partially uncovered the other two pathetically small
bodies—revealed them just enough to prove to herself that all
three were there. Buried. Dead. Then she covered them again. Let
them rest in peace. This was where they belonged after all.
They must have been caught when the house collapsed. Emma
prayed they hadn’t suffered. Now all that was left were the bones
and Emma wept her final grief, as the skies emptied their tears
along with hers.
Later, she huddled forlorn inside the blackened shell of her old
house for an endless time, as the wind slapped at and drenched
her to the bone under night clouds. She mourned in the dark for
the family she would never see, the children she would never smile
at, the husband she would never hold in her arms again.
Now she felt like the ghost. Which was what she was, wasn’t
she? An apparition. Something that no longer belonged
where it was. And she accepted, perhaps for the first time, that Danny and
the others had just been her hallucinations. They’d been dead all
along. All dead. Like the rest of the world.***
How could she hope to fight all four of them? Running for it
was still her best chance. Soon it would be totally dark, and she
could hide in the woods. If she could escape.
The leader was unbuckling his pants when she made another
dash for it.
She hurtled into the forest, but was knocked to the ground before
she got very far.
One of them straddled her and slapped her hard across the
face, while another one tried to pry the knife from her fingers.
Like a leech, she held on.
She didn’t waste any of her energy yelling. She fought to plunge
the knife into one of them. But her body wasn’t responding like it
once might have. The last months and weeks, the lack of food had
taken their toll. She was a weakling.
But as the fist descended again and again, somehow the
strength came from deep inside her. She freed her hand for a second;
the knife flashed; one of her attackers screamed a string of
curses and fell away from her, sprawling on the ground.
The knife rose again, but was knocked from her hand and flew
away like a metal bird. One man was holding her down as another
tried to tear off her jeans. Emma got in a kick shot to his groin,
tore free, and scuttled along on the ground trying to find the knife.
Her hands closed frantically over it. She had it!
Someone kicked her viciously in the ribs. This time she
screamed, curling up on the ground in agony, before she rolled
and jumped to her feet to face her tormentors. The rocks cast
deeper shadows across her tear-streaked face, as she held the
knife in front of her.
“You might get me in the end, but, by God, I’ll hurt some of
you first,” she said in a cold voice through the pain. She was badly
hurt, she knew it. If she passed out now, she was as good as dead.
Worse than dead. After what she’d done to two of them, they’d
make sure she suffered…
“Give us the knife, bitch, or it’ll go worse for ya.” A threat. A
“You can’t get away.”
They reminded her of a pack of ravenous dogs, and she their
intended dinner. The one she’d wounded with the knife was still
whimpering in the dirt. The other three had circled her, closing in
for the kill, unconcerned over their partner’s pain.
“Hell, she’s a little spitfire, I’ll give her that. Even if she looks
like a burnt marshmallow.”
Emma hadn’t thought about her appearance in a long time.
But the words stung, and scattered her concentration
just long enough that one of them kicked out with his foot faster than she
could move, and the knife went spinning from her hand again—
and the three of them were on her that fast.
She tried to fight them. It did no good. They were stronger than
her. More of them. She bit and kicked, even as they brought her
They beat her mercilessly, and later she would recall little of
it except that when the leader, old stringy hair, was naked and
ready to mount her in her twilight nightmare of horror and pain,
somehow, there was suddenly this…man.
Yet, not a man.
Her vision was playing tricks on her. They’d kicked her in the
head too many times. But she thought he was tall and dressed in
dark clothes, and he was so strong. He seemed to be everywhere
He flew into her attackers and lifted them high above his head,
tossing them around like stick men as they cried out. She heard
bones breaking and men dying. She’d heard the sounds before, so
she should know them well enough. There were other sounds. So
horrible, she blanked them out.
After the night grew silent, he knelt over her with a grim smile,
not touching her, and consoled, “You’re safe now, little one. No
one will ever hurt you again.”
His eyes were ferocious and hungry and old. Feral. They reminded
her of a wolf’s eyes. Even though he’d saved her life, she
was unsure of him.
“You…didn’t need…to help me,” she gasped, grabbing at his
arms. “I would have beat them in the end. Somehow. Those bastards!”
Anger made her voice quaver.
The man laughed. “You are a fighter, aren’t you? Just as I had
She looked into his shadowy face, and nearly smiled. The night
was pitch-black, but his eyes were like tiny moons above her. She
turned her head away. “Why did you save me?” she asked weakly.
“Because you have such spunk, my girl. Spirit. I admire that.
I’ve been following you.” He hesitated, and went on in a deeper
voice. “For quite a while.”***