Home > Monsters (Ashes Trilogy #3)(9)

Monsters (Ashes Trilogy #3)(9)
Author: Ilsa J. Bick

“Shut up, you old douche bag,” Lucian said, the silver fob of a tongue stud ticking against his teeth. Scabs beetled Lucian’s patchy, moth-eaten scalp. Greg wondered if maybe one of these days, the kid’s hand would slip while he shaved his head and instead slice open a carotid or jugular and do them all a favor. “I didn’t feel anything,” Lucian said. “I didn’t hear anything neither. Probably just this guy bouncing around, or the music.”

“No, I don’t think so.” Kincaid transferred his eyes to Greg. Well . . . eye. The left. The right was gone. A bit of Aidan’s handiwork. Greg thought Kincaid didn’t wear a patch on purpose. Like he was daring Greg to take a nice, long look at what they’d done. The worst had been the first week or so after, when the socket was raw and wept blood. “Sound came from the south.” The baby-pink flesh of Kincaid’s socket twitched. “Might want to check with—”

“You deaf, old man? We’re busy, and you’re not here. Unless”— Aidan favored Kincaid with a snaky grin—“there’s something wrong with that other eye? Want me to scoop it out, too, take a look?”

“Well now,” Kincaid said, mildly, “you do that and then get yourself shot, Aidan, I just might have to operate by feel. I wouldn’t lay odds on that turning out so go—”

A fast whicker, something cutting air. A snap that made Greg jump and Pru straighten out of his slouch as Kincaid doubled over, grunting with pain and surprise, as the too-red lips of a slash opened beneath his remaining eye.

“Duuuude!” Sam crowed as Lucian cracked up. The two mumbly guards jostled out of the way like startled sheep, putting distance between them and a man they’d probably once called a friend.

“Aidan, are you nuts?” Pushing aside the ache in his head, Greg started forward but stopped when Pru clapped a huge paw around his wrist, tipped his head toward Aidan, and gave a warning shake of his head. His meaning was clear enough, but Aidan slicing and dicing their only doctor into ribbons did no one any good. Greg pulled free of Pru’s grip. “Doc, you okay?”

“Of course he’s okay.” Aidan’s lips skinned from a ruin of yellowing teeth. Whatever else Aidan had cared about before the world went bust, good oral hygiene hadn’t been at the top of his list. “If I’d wanted it any other way, I’d have done worse.”

“Yeah. Old ass**le’s lucky I ain’t clipped off his tongue with a wire cutter and fed it to the dogs,” Sam drawled.

“I don’t know.” Uncoiling his own very long, very pink muscular rope, Lucian flicked his tongue at Kincaid like a serpent tasting the air. His stud gleamed. “My dad used to boil up this big old cow’s tongue every winter, eat it with this sauce of raisins and wine and shit? Some Jew thing, but it was pretty good.”

mo ns ters “Yeah, but you need a cow first,” Sam said.

“Or a Jew,” Aidan said, and the three boys sniggered. Greg ignored them. “Doc?”

“I-I’m all right, Greg. Th-thank you, son.” Fumbling open his bag,

Kincaid ripped open a gauze pack with shaking hands. Whimpering, Daisy left her corner to nuzzle Kincaid’s elbow. “Yes, girl, thank you, it’s okay,” Kincaid said, gently shoving the dog back as it tried licking the blood sheeting over his fingers. “Greg, she’s all upset. You want to call her off, please?”

“Daisy, down,” Greg snapped, ashamed, the heat crawling up his neck. He should go to Kincaid. “Go on, now, sit.”

“Leave the old bastard,” Aidan said. “He’s fine.”

“No, he’s not,” Greg shot back. “You do that again—”

“And what?” Aidan tossed the blood-smeared aerial aside. The thin whip ticked to the grimy brick and then rolled into a purple puddle of Dale’s blood. Aidan unzipped his parka, revealing a baggy, redchecked flannel and white thermals so grimy the collar was the color of ash. “You want to fight, Greg? You want to take a shot? Go on.” Squaring his bony shoulders, he slipped to his falsetto again. “Or is poor widdle Greggie-weggie too scaaared?”

Aidan’s minions howled. “Hey, hey, knock it off, A,” Pru said, his eyes pinging from the Three Musketeers to Greg and back again. “Greg, man, let it go.”

“Screw that.” Heat crawled up Greg’s neck, and before he stopped to think, he was shucking his parka. “Stay out of this, Pru.”

“Greg, listen to him. Don’t do it.” Kincaid struggled to his feet. His hand was still clapped to his cheek, the gauze pad going crimson and drippy. “I’m fine. Just calm down.”

“Stay out of this, Doc!” Greg roared, thinking, I don’t want to calm down. I haven’t been calm in months. Why start now? His heart was drumming so hard he could feel the knocking all the way in his teeth. His brain was bleeding, the migraine stabbing like knives. No one was supposed to get on top of him, no one! He was in charge and Peter was dead and Chris had run away; he’d run and left Greg to pick up the pieces, and goddamn Chris, what kind of friend did that? And Aidan was there, grinning, and probably had a shiv for sure or just a good sharp knife, or one of his crew did, and they’d stick Greg in the gut or the heart and say it was self-defense and get off, scot-free, because the Spared were Spared and special and got away with murder; and there was Mick Jagger, wailing, Please, Doctor, I’m damaged.

“All of you, back off !” A hot, rose-red bloom of rage expanded in Greg’s chest. “Just back off, back off!”

“No, Greg!” Kincaid and Pru shouted at the same moment—but it was, of all people, poor Dale Privet who probably saved Greg’s life.

“My God,” Dale said, with a touch of wonder in his wheezy old man’s voice, “what is wrong with you people? What are you boys doing to each other?”


Alex had no idea what she should do or how to save herself. A tumble down a regular vanilla mountain, no sweat: roll onto your stomach, dig in, protect your head, do a self-arrest. Oh, and don’t panic.

But one thing her dad never taught her was what the hell to do in an avalanche.

The snow was her world. It was like being carried in the crush of an enormous wave, only instead of riding it like a surfer, the snow had scooped her up and swallowed her whole in its mad, churning thunder. She was tumbling, somersaulting, slamming sideways, then crashing onto her back. The snow was a boot planted between her shoulder blades, and it ground down, as inexorable and unforgiving as gravity. She’d lost the night, wasn’t even sure which way was up. She kept trying to dig in with her boots and hands, attempting to stop her slide the way she might if she’d stumbled into a chute. But the snow kept pillowing over her head, cresting then curling and breaking. Snow jammed into her mouth and up her nose. Spluttering, she coughed it out, started sweeping her arms in front of her face, desperately shoveling away the white, punching out an air pocket.

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