Home > Ashes (Ashes Trilogy #1)(8)

Ashes (Ashes Trilogy #1)(8)
Author: Ilsa J. Bick

“No!” Fists balling, Ellie kicked at the map, the toe of her boot catching a crease. The map made a sound like worn cloth torn in two. “I won’t, I won’t, I won’t!”

“Ellie!” Alex dove for the map. “Stop! We need this.”

“Well, I don’t need you!” Ellie was stumbling back, slipping on dead birds and a slick of Jack’s blood. “I’m not going anywhere with you!”

“Fine! Then you and your stupid dog can stay here. But it’s getting late.” Pushing to her feet, she pulled back her sleeve to glance at her watch. “I’ve got a lot of ground to cover, and I don’t have time to ar—”

She broke off as her brain stutter-stepped.

Wait. She stared at her watch. That’s not right.


Her watch was an older-model Casio IronMan, the only watch she wore when she hiked because the watch was rugged and waterproof and cheap. She’d had it about ten years, maybe replaced the battery twice in that time. The watch had never failed her, or given her a millisecond of trouble.

Now, however, the gray screen was blank.

Had she fallen that hard? She inspected the watch, saw that the face had only the dings and scratches she remembered. No, she was sure the watch had been working just fine. In fact, she remembered checking the time.

Well … okay, so her watch had died. A coincidence.

Yes, but so had Jack, and something made those birds go nuts and those deer. Something had sizzled through her brain like an electric shock—no, more like lightning—so bad she’d nearly passed out. Only now she had her sense of smell back.

So … maybe not a coincidence.

Her fingers shook as she dug out her iPod. She thumbed it. Then she thumbed it again and then a third time, but the iPod stayed just as dead.

She tried her cell. Nothing. Not just no signal—she expected that out this far—but the cell wouldn’t power up.

Neither did her radio. Changing the batteries did nothing. By the time she figured out that her two LED flashlights were also dead, leaving her with just a big Swiss Army clunker her father had bought about a million years ago, she was thoroughly freaked out.

One electronic gizmo crapping out was something that just happened.

Two was bad luck.

But everything?

Her gaze crawled to Ellie, and those iPod earbuds still dangling

around the kid’s neck. “Ellie, is your iPod working?”

“No.” Ellie’s silver eyes inched up grudgingly. “It got hot.”


“It got hot.” Her tone suggested that Alex was clearly as deaf as she was a complete moron. “I was listening to it, and it got hot.”


“Like it burned my hand, okay? And then it stopped working and—”

Alex interrupted. “Do you have a flashlight?”

“Of course.”

“Can I see it?”

Ellie got that pouty look again. “No.”

Alex knew not to push it. Then her gaze snagged on Ellie’s wrist. “What time is it?”

“You’ve got a watch.”

Alex wanted to pitch the kid off the cliff. “Can you just tell me?”

Ellie heaved a deep sigh. “Nine and … eleven.”

Alex was confused, then thought maybe an eight-year-old kid might not know how to tell time, and she sure wasn’t going to get into that. So, 9:11 would be 9:55, and that seemed right. Which meant that Ellie’s watch … “Your watch still works?”

Ellie nearly sneered. “Of course. It’s Mickey Mouse. It used to be my daddy’s. I wind it every day like Grandpa taught me.”

A wind-up. So are we talking just the batteries? No, Dad’s Swiss Army flashlight works. It’s got to be something else. Even with all that blood, she made out the watch on Jack’s right wrist, but she was too far away to be certain. She didn’t want to touch Jack again. Mina might not let her get close anyway. “Does your grandpa’s watch still work?”

“I don’t know. Why are you asking all these questions?”

“Ellie, could you check, please? I don’t think Mina will let me—”

“I don’t want to touch him,” Ellie blurted.

“Oh.” She understood that. “Well, can you hold Mina? I don’t want her to freak out, but I have to check something.” For a moment, she thought Ellie might refuse, but then the girl’s hand snaked around Mina’s collar.

Alex slid forward, one eye on the dog, the other on Jack’s watch. The Seiko’s hour hand was locked on nine. The minute hand said it was three minutes after the hour, and the second sweep hand was notched between twenty and a hash mark—and it wasn’t moving. Alex stared at that watch face so hard that if she’d been Cyclops, she could’ve burned a hole right through it. She stared so long, her eyes watered. But that second hand didn’t budge.

Her watch and Jack’s, the iPods, the radio, and her LEDs—all dead, and Jack … Her gaze drifted up to his face. Something he’d said was important: I’m a tough old bird, all except my ticker.

Of course. Jack had a pacer. That was the only explanation for why Jack was dead and they weren’t. She knew pacers had tiny computer chips that synchronized the heartbeat to what a body required at any given moment. Jack’s pacer had shorted out and that’s what killed him. But how? What could reach inside Jack’s chest, fry his pacer, kill all their electronics—and grab them? They’d all felt it: Ellie, with her nosebleed and headache; the dog, which had yowled in pain; and the birds and the deer, which had all gone insane.

And she could smell again—things like blood and the tang of resin from the evergreens and her sweat. She smelled the dog, too: not just its fur but something nameless steaming from somewhere deep inside the animal.

Yet Ellie was back to normal, which for her seemed to be somewhere between whiny and nasty. The dog … well, who knew? It wasn’t attacking her, at least. She threw a quick look into the sky, eyed a hawk floating by on an updraft and then, still higher, a trio of turkey vultures turning a slow, looping spiral. The birds seemed back to normal, too.

So, if her sense of smell didn’t evaporate, then only her brain had altered in some way. Out of all of them, only she had changed.

But how? And was she done changing? Was that the end of it?

Or was this just the beginning?


The good news was that Ellie cooperated just long enough to dig out a blue rain poncho that Alex used to cover up Jack. The bad news was that Ellie decided she was done being helpful and Mina wouldn’t let Alex anywhere near Jack’s pack. Every time she got close, the dog’s teeth showed, and finally, Alex gave it up. They’d just have to leave whatever food and water Jack had. That was okay. Ellie could have most of her food. If she could get the kid to lay down some distance, they wouldn’t be on the trail more than two days. Three, if they were really unlucky. She’d get by.

Hot Series
» Unfinished Hero series
» Colorado Mountain series
» Chaos series
» The Sinclairs series
» The Young Elites series
» Billionaires and Bridesmaids series
» Just One Day series
» Sinners on Tour series
» Manwhore series
» This Man series
» One Night series
» Fixed series
Most Popular
» A Thousand Letters
» Wasted Words
» My Not So Perfect Life
» Caraval (Caraval #1)
» The Sun Is Also a Star
» Everything, Everything
» Devil in Spring (The Ravenels #3)
» Marrying Winterborne (The Ravenels #2)
» Cold-Hearted Rake (The Ravenels #1)
» Norse Mythology