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I speed quickly through the streets, picking up the pace now that I don’t have to worry so much about sticking to the shadows and moving soundlessly. Deering Highlands is pretty big, a maze of winding streets that all look weirdly similar, houses looming out of the darkness like ships run aground. The lawns have all gone wild over the years, trees stretching their gnarled branches to the sky and casting crazy zigzag shadows on the moonlit pavement. I get lost on Lilac Way— somehow I manage to make a complete circle and wind up hitting the same intersection twice—but when I turn onto Tanglewild Lane I see a dull light burning dimly in the distance, behind a knotted mass of trees, and I know I’ve found the place.
An old mailbox is staked crookedly in the ground next to the driveway. A black X is still faintly visible on one of its sides. 42 Tanglewild Lane.
I can see why they’ve chosen this house for the party.
It’s set back pretty far from the road, and surrounded on all sides by trees so dense I can’t help but think of the dark and whispering woods on the far side of the border.
Walking up the driveway is creepy. I keep my eyes focused on the fuzzy pale light of the house, which expands and brightens slowly as I get closer, eventually resolving into two lit windows. The windows have been covered with some kind of fabric, maybe to hide the fact that there are people inside. It isn’t working. I can see shadow- people moving back and forth inside the house.
The music is very quiet. It’s not until I make it onto the porch that I hear it at all—faint, muffled strains that seem to vibrate up from the floorboards. There must be a basement.
I’ve been rushing to arrive, but I hesitate with my hand on the front door, my palm slick with sweat. I haven’t given much thought to how I’ll get everyone out. If I just start screaming about a raid it will cause a panic.
Everyone will stream into the streets at once, and then the chances of getting home undetected go to zero.
Someone will hear something; the raiders will catch on, and then we’ll all be screwed.
I do a mental correction. They’ll be screwed. I am not like these people on the other side of the door. I’m not them.
But then I think of Riley shuddering, going limp. I am not those people either, the ones who did that, the ones who watched. Even the Richardsons didn’t bother trying to save him, their own dog. They didn’t even cover him up as he was dying.
I would never do that. Never ever ever. Not even if I had a million procedures. He was alive. He had a heartbeat and blood and breath, and they left him there like trash.
They. Me. Us. Them. The words ricochet in my head. I palm my hands on the back of my pants and open the door.
Hana said this party would be smaller, but to me it seems even more crowded than the last one, maybe because the rooms are tiny and totally packed. They are filled with a choking curtain of cigarette smoke, which shimmers over everything and makes it look as though everyone is swimming underwater. It’s deathly hot in here, at least ten degrees hotter than it was outside— people move slowly and have rolled up their short sleeves above the shoulders, tugged their jeans to their knees, and wherever there is skin, there is a glistening sheen on it. For a moment I can only stand there and watch. I think, I wish I had a camera. If I ignore the fact that there are hands touching hands and bodies bumping together and a thousand things that are terrible and wrong, I can see that it’s kind of beautiful.
Then I realize I’m wasting time.
There’s a girl standing directly in front of me, blocking my way. She has her back to me. I reach out and put a hand on her arm. Her skin is so hot it burns. She turns to me, face red and flushed, craning her head backward to hear.
“It’s a raid night,” I say to her, surprised that my voice comes out so steady.
The music is soft but insistent—it’s definitely coming up from a basement of some kind—not as crazy as the last time but just as strange and just as gorgeous. It reminds me of warm, dripping things, honey and sunlight and red leaves swirling down on the wind. But the layers of conversation, the creakings of footsteps and floorboards, make it difficult to hear.
“What?” She sweeps her hair away from her ear.
I open my mouth to say raid but instead of my voice it’s someone else’s that comes out: an enormous, mechanical voice bellowing from outside, a voice that seems to shake and rattle from all sides at once, a voice that cuts through the warmth and the music like a cold razor edge through skin. At the same time the room starts spinning, a swirling mass of red and white lights revolving over terrified, stunned faces.
“Attention. This is a raid. Do not try to run. Do not try to resist. This is a raid.”
A few seconds later, the door explodes inward and a spotlight as bright as the sun turns everything white and motionless, turns everything to dust and statue.
Then they let the dogs loose.
Chapter Fourteen
“Human beings, in their natural state, are unpredictable, erratic, and unhappy. It is only once their animal instincts are controlled that they can be responsible, dependable, and content."
— The Book of Shhh , p. 31
I once saw a news report about a brown bear that had accidentally been punctured by its trainer at the Portland circus during routine training. I was really young, but I’ll never forget the way the bear looked, an enormous dark blob, tearing around its circle with a ridiculous red paper hat still flopping crazily from its head, ripping into whatever it could get its jaws around:
paper streamers, folding chairs, balloons. Its trainer, too: The bear mauled him, turned his face into hamburger meat.
The worst part—the part I’ve never forgotten—was its panicked roaring: a horrible, continuous, enraged bellow that sounded somehow human.
That’s what I remember as the raiders start flooding the house, pouring in through the shattered door, battering on the windows. That’s what I think of as the music cuts off suddenly and instead the air is full of barking and screaming and shattering glass, as hot hands push me from the front and from the side and I catch an elbow under my chin and another one in my ribs. I remember the bear.
Somehow I’ve surged forward in the panicked crowd that is flowing and scrabbling toward the back of the house. Behind me I hear dogs snapping their jaws and regulators swinging heavy clubs. People are screaming— so many people it sounds like a single voice. A girl falls behind me, stumbling forward and reaching for me as one of the regulator’s batons catches her on the back of the head with a sickening crack. I feel her fingers tighten momentarily on the cotton of my shirt, and I shake her off and keep running, pushing, squeezing forward. I have no time to be sorry, and no time to be scared. I have no time to do anything but move, push, go, can’t think of anything but escape, escape, escape.
The strange thing is that for a minute in the middle of all that noise and confusion, I see things super clearly, in slow motion, like I’m watching a film from a distance:
I see a guard dog make a leap for a guy to my left; I see his knees buckle as he topples forward with the barest, tiniest noise, like a breath or a sigh, a crescent of blood spattering up from his neck, where the dog’s teeth tear into him. A girl with flashing blond hair goes down under the raiders’ clubs, and as I see the arc of her hair, for a second my heart goes totally still and I think I’ve died; I think it’s all over. Then she twists her head my way, shouting, as the regulators get her with pepper spray, and I see that she isn’t Hana, and relief rushes through me, a wave.
More snapshots. A movie—only a movie. Not happening, could never really happen. A boy and a girl, fighting to make it into one of the side rooms, maybe thinking there’s an exit that way. The door is too small for both of them to enter at once. He is wearing a blue shirt that reads PORTLAND NAVAL CONSERVATORY, and she has long red hair, bright as a flame. Only five minutes ago they were talking and laughing together, standing so close that if one of them had even tipped forward accidentally they might have kissed. Now they wrestle, but she is too small. She locks her teeth on his arm like a dog, like a wild thing; he roars, rages, grabs her by the shoulders, and slams her back against the wall, out of the way. She stumbles, falls, slipping, trying to stand up; one of the raiders, an enormous man with the reddest face I’ve ever seen, reaches down, knots his fingers around her ponytail, and hauls her to her feet. Naval Conservatory doesn’t get away either. Two raiders follow him, and as I run by I hear the thud of their clubs, the mangled sound of screaming.
Animals, I think. We’re animals.
People are shoving, pulling, using one another as shields as the raiders keep gaining, surging forward, swinging at us, dogs at our heels, batons whirling so close to my head I can feel the air whooshing on my neck as the wood twirls, twirls near the back of my skull. I think of searing pain, I think of red. The crowd is thinning around me as the raiders advance. One by one people are screaming next to me— crack! —and dropping, getting wrestled to the ground by three, four, five dogs.
Screaming, screaming. Everyone screaming.
Somehow I’ve managed to avoid being caught, and I’m still rocketing through the narrow, creaking hallways, passing a blur of rooms, a blur of people and raiders, more lights, more shattered windows, the sound of engines. They’ve got the place surrounded. And then the open back door rises up in front of me— and beyond it dark trees, the cool and whispering woods behind the house. If I can make it outside . . . if I can hide from the lights for long enough . . .
I hear a dog barking behind me, and behind that, a raider’s pounding footsteps, gaining, gaining, a sharp voice yelling, “Stop!” and I suddenly realize I’m alone in the hallway. Fifteen more steps . . . then ten. If I can make it into the darkness . . .
Five feet from the door and sudden, shooting pain rips through my leg. The dog has got its jaws around my calf, and I turn and that’s when I see him, the regulator with the massive red face, eyes glittering, smiling— oh, God, he’s smiling, he actually enjoys this— club raised, ready to swing. I close my eyes, think of pain as big as the ocean, think of a blood-red sea. Think of my mother.
Then I’m being jerked to the side, and I hear a crack and a yelp, the regulator saying, “Shit.” The fire in my leg stops and the weight of the dog falls off, and there’s an arm around my waist and a voice in my ear—a voice so familiar in that moment it’s like I’ve been waiting for it all along, like I’ve been hearing it forever in my dreams—breathing out: “This way.”
Alex keeps one arm around my waist, half carrying me.
We’re in a different hallway now, this one smaller and totally empty. Every time I put weight on my right leg the pain flares up again, searing all the way into my head. The raider is still behind us and pissed—Alex must have pulled me to safety at just the right second, so the raider cracked down on his dog instead of my skull—and I know I must be slowing Alex down, but he doesn’t let me go, not for a second.
“In here,” he says, and then we’re ducking into another room. We must be in a part of the house that wasn’t being used for the party. This room is pitch-black, although Alex doesn’t slow down at all, just keeps going through the dark. I let the pressure of his fingertips guide me—left, right, left, right. It smells like mold in here, and something else—fresh paint, almost, and something smoky, like someone’s been cooking here.