Chapter Twenty-Two: Thrice Rings the Bell

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It was the bells that roused her.

Three sharp peels that reverberated through Freddie's brain. Shredded at her skin.

Thrice rings the bell, she thought groggily, as her eyes opened. As white snow and bitter cold swept in. To warn everyone.

The world hung sideways, dark forest and frozen shadows. She knew, without words actually forming in her brain, that she must be in City-on-the-Berm County Park. How she had gotten there, though...

That was a mystery. One neither her brain nor her gut could quite unravel.

If Freddie was smart, she would stand up and figure out where she was. If she was smart, she would dig out Sabrina and call...someone.

But Freddie was so cold. So tired. The thought of standing seemed impossible, and the thought of finding Sabrina was worse than summiting Mount Everest. Too high, too far, too challenging.

Freddie blinked away snowflakes on her lashes. Nothing looked familiar from her spot upon the snow. It was just an army of skeletal pine trees. Row upon row, waiting for their marching orders.

You make no sense, she chided. You're delirious and need to get up, Gellar. Now.

She didn't get up. Instead, she thought back to the Frame & Foto. To the glass front door, so near yet somehow so far away.

Then she thought back to the white cloth that had been shoved into her face. And to the gleaming sheriff's badge, winking in the darkness.

At that thought—at that memory—a gag reflex scorched up Freddie's gullet. Hot and heavy and surging in fast.

She tried to rise. Tried to haul herself onto her knees before the bile surfaced...

But as soon as she drew her hands beneath her, she found her body didn't want to comply.

It couldn't comply.

She was bound.

Freddie heaved then. It burned up out too fast to stop, then splattered out her mouth and down her face. It hit Theo's blazer too. There was no time to worry about that, though. No time to clean up or brace for the next gag, rising fast. Because she was tied up, lying on the snow, and all alone in a dark, dangerous forest.

Freddie blinked down at her arms, fighting the nausea. Her wrists were bound with...with a zip tie.

Just like you saw in Mrs. Ferris's attic.

Attached to the zip tie were a pair of handcuffs—also familiar—and those in turn were fastened to another zip tie around Freddie's ankles.

She was well and truly trapped, stuck in a crooked fetal position while frostbite and hypothermia shivered in. While vomit threatened to be released.

Okay, Gellar, she told herself, swallowing back more bile. You can do this out. Get your head on straight and think it through. Surely she had read enough gothic tales and watched enough detective shows to know how to escape this.

Plus, she had something none of those sleuths had: she had her gut to guide her. Her dad's instincts to see her through.

She, Frederica Gellar, was not helpless.

With a grunt, a shove, and great clenching of her abdominal muscles, Freddie rolled upright. The forest dipped and spun as blood rushed from her head. She blinked. Then blinked again until at last, the world was still.

No familiar markers stood out in the darkness. No suicide tree or Archives hut or tombstones with candles. However, if Freddie listened...

Yes. Great cracks split the night every few seconds—and she knew that sound.

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