33. The Bear

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There was a blanket on me. I pushed it off. The inside of my forehead felt soggy, like the outside of my forehead. A flashlight lay nearby on the carpet.

The carpet was red.

I sat up, an oversized heart pounding on my neck. Between each dark beat I saw more of the room. The backpacks full of food and water, the blood, so much blood, and in the blood handprints and footprints, everywhere handprints and footprints. They had come into the house, the children. They had come walking and crawling to the music, fog stained and desperate, and the bear had come with them.

With my eyes, I followed the flashlight's beam down the hall. The trapdoor to the loft was cracked open, like someone had tried to pull it down in a hurry and failed. Past the cushions stood a shadowed doorway. From that doorway came a moan.

A girl's moan.

I moaned back. Then I crawled the other way, still moaning, unable to stop. I moaned across the carpet. I moaned out into the night, the bloodied and dying night, and I dragged myself down the staircase on my stomach, step after step after step. Got any splinters in your butt? called Nip. Wouldn't know, I answered, want to check? Down into the gravel, through the gravel to the van, its front door open and its engine on, moaning an invitation, saying come and let's moan together, let's moan like lost children, like young lovers, like Ash in the moonlight. Let's run the way she and your friends ran for the loft before the bear caught up to them, and trapped them, and tore and tore and tore at them in that room at the end of the hall.

I climbed behind the wheel. Carl Rascoe reached for me over the backseat, his body wedged between the headrests. His hands opened and closed on the air, and that reminded me of my own hand a little while ago. I looked over and there, on the floor by the half-empty milk jug of gasoline, was the drumbeater. I picked it up. It was heavy. It was right. It knew exactly what it was born for, what it was made to be.

A foot pedal.

I shoved the drumbeater down between my legs and pressed the heavy end to the gas. With my other hand, I shifted into reverse and released the emergency brake. The van peeled across the gravel. I yanked the emergency brake and the back tires locked at the edge of the slope, not one foot too soon. Then I sped down the driveway. The loft's window flashed in the rearview mirror, wide open, dark inside. I choked on a sob. The sob came out a scream and I rode the scream all the way to the Road, the real road, the road that ran south through Honaw's broken heart. The curves flung me about in my seat. In the back, Carl was still reaching out to me. His arms swung like he was on a rollercoaster, like he was having all the fun.

"You having fun, Billy's dad?" I said. "You having a blast?"

He was a bomb. That was hilarious. I laughed until tears filled my eyes and the road turned blurry, until I realized I wasn't laughing at all but screaming, still screaming. I hammered at the dashboard with my fist. As the woods ended and Honaw pulled into view below, my hand fell off the foot pedal. The van rolled to a stop.

A heavy, slow drumbeat pounded from the speakers.

The bear was in the road, walking away down the double-yellow. It turned its head. Its eyes were dark and full of pain. Its eyes were my eyes.

The drumbeat grew, throbbing in the closed air. I felt Ash and Nip in the van with me, as they had been on that first ride, for that first song, the one that had refused to play ever since then. Until now.

I wrapped my fingers tight around the foot pedal.

I shoved it down.

The van launched down the hill, bass like thunder, guitar like lightning, and the bear began to run.

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