The end of the world happens in an instant. Not with an opening of seals or the rending of the ground. No angel blares his fearful horn.
Quill collides with me as he bolts from the elder's house. I fall back, but he catches my arm, pulling me to my feet. Someone is ringing the bell in the dwelling house, and Shakers flee toward the sound.
Quill looks toward the house, then at the horde of monsters in the distance. "To the barn, Evie. Take as many with you as you can."
"What about you?" I hold tight to the front of his shirt.
With a curse, he lowers his head and kisses me. Is it the last time? He shoves me sharply away, giving me no chance to cling to him. A new set of hands grasps my shoulders; it is Benjamin, his grip like punishing iron, and he pulls me away from the one person I wish to be near.
"Get her to the barn. Drag her if you have to. And take the others." Quill's jaw is set hard, but his eyes beg my forgiveness.
I don't resist. I won't let that be the last image he has of me.
"Come, Evie," Benjamin snaps, propelling me in front of him as though I am a shield.
"We're supposed to tell the others," I protest, pulling away and out of his reach. I don't wish for him to touch me for a moment longer, or ever again, for that matter.
Benjamin's eyes narrow, and he stops me in place, as though we don't stand at the very brink of our own deaths. "That...man is not the law here. My word—God's word—is."
"Look around," I shout at him amidst the screaming and the chaos. "There is no God here!"
It shocks him enough that he unhands me, and I race toward the barn, calling, "This way! This way to safety!"
A few follow me, but most head in the direction of the clanging dwelling house bell. Quill directs them toward the barn, a shotgun in his hand. Other Shaker men take up arms as well, and the sight chills me. These people deplore violence against their fellow man. Their willingness to kill reminds me that the creatures we fight are not people. Not anymore.
"Go, go!" I urge, practically shoving bodies toward to the barn. I know instantly why Quill has chosen it as our refuge. There main entrance sits at the top of the narrow, easily defended rise. There are no windows on the lowest floor, and it can only be accessed by trap doors and ladders. It is our most secure choice and our only option.
Someone screams, and the terror in the sound is different now. I turn to look, amid the chaos of trampling feet headed to safety, and see an arc of blood spout into the sky like rubies against the golden autumn light. Through the gaps between bodies, I see a man on the ground, two of the monsters biting and tearing at him. Quill stands over them. He shoots the creatures first. Then, looking away from the screaming body on the ground, puts a bullet in the dying man's head.
I cover my mouth then turn and break into a run toward the closing doors. A woman in front of me stumbles, and I lean down to help her, grabbing her by the arm. The entire thing comes away, slipping from her sleeve in one sickening piece. The flesh beneath my hands squishes to pulp, and the woman looks up with milky eyes and flashing, blood-stained teeth.
"Come on!" a man shouts at me, and seizes my shoulder. I make it several steps before it occurs to me to drop the limb.
Quill is still outside. I wrench from the hand that holds me and charge back out, shouting Quill's name through desperate tears. Somehow, he finds his way to my side and pushes me ahead of him. We make it through the barn door. It closes just before a hail of scrabbling hands fall against the wood.
YOU ARE READING
After her father’s death and her mother’s hasty remarriage, Evelyn Whitney is handed over to the Shaker commune of Bannock, New York, into a life she has little chance of escaping. When the dead become monsters and community loyalties fracture, Evel...