17. Omen

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Ash ran into the house to see if her landline was working, and while she was gone, my heartbeat grew until I could feel it in my teeth, like I was chewing on it. I rode Bitchmaster to the van and tried to open the passenger door. It was locked. Slip-sliding in the gravel, I pushed to the other side. Locked. When Ash came running back down the staircase, I was tugging on the handle so hard my chair shook beneath me.

"Phone's no good," she called. "Neither are the lights. Whole town must be—"

I screamed. "Shut up and help me."

My aunt had escaped from the back room of my brain where I had locked her, and now she was running free. I saw her drinking box wine in the kitchen of her house. Her little cottage house, a mile away from school. There was something below Honaw, something that had been buried within the world since light first touched this corner of the universe, and with the prick of a knife it had awoken from watchfulness into despair, from millennia of silence into howling agony, and yet as vast and terrifying as the thought of it was, the fear I felt for Sandy was larger still. Let her be all right. Oh God, let her be all right.

Ash had the van opened and Bitchmaster loaded in thirty seconds. Not fast enough. As she slammed the trunk, I leaned across the emergency brake and laid on the horn. Come on, come on, come on. Billy and Nip were sitting in the back seat, both of them there and not there.

Ash jumped behind the wheel.

"We have to go," I told her. "We have to hurry."

"I know. I know."

She cranked the wheel, and I caught a glimpse of Honaw through her window. The view was disappearing, sky and town melting into pink. At the bottom of her driveway, she stepped on the gas. At the main road, she gunned it. The van rocketed toward Honaw. I clenched my thighs. "Come on, come on."

She twisted toward me. "Do you want to drive?"

I did. I did want to drive.

"That's what I thought," she said, turning back to the road. Her voice softened. "It's going to be okay, Joel. It's going to be okay."

I blinked. The dark behind my eyelids was moist.

A white blur slewed around the bend ahead. A horn blared. Ash yanked on the wheel and the van bounced as its tires veered onto the dirt shoulder. "Where the hell is he going?" she said, looking in the rearview mirror as the car passed out of sight behind us. "There's nothing that way."

"There's the mine," Nip said sleepily. "And your house and Billy's house and all the other houses."

"All five of them," Ash said.

One final curve in the road spit us out into the open, and what waited there silenced even Ash. We had looked down on Honaw from the perch of her driveway, but seeing it from above was not the same as actually seeing it. Power lines hung loose from leaning posts. Fallen trees lay uprooted beside the road. The first building we rolled past remained upright, but the ceiling had caved and slammed open the front door from the inside, leaving it to swing on its hinges. From that point on the devastation only grew worse.

A stop sign had impaled the windshield of a Volvo.

A bicycle stand had unbolted itself and rolled into the road, dragging a bike along with it.

Exploded planters spilled mud in front of Honaw's solitary coffee shop.

The massive wooden post of the Turn Your Money-Dreams into Cash-Money billboard protruded from the supermarket's ceiling like a mast. Every one of the building's bay windows had blown out, scattering pixie-dust shards of glass across the parking lot. Inside the store, I saw someone standing in an empty checkout lane, just standing there behind a cart full of groceries.

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