The Edge of Everything (The Edge of Everything #1)(7)

The dogs were freaking out, though: they sniffed and growled and poked into every corner.

Zoe shushed them.

“Nobody here but us chickens,” she said.

It was some weird thing she’d heard her mother say.

Her mother.

Zoe dug into her pockets for her phone, but this deep in the woods she couldn’t get a signal to make a call. It was just as well. She’d have to answer too many questions—and micro-questions and micro-micro-questions. She was too tired to explain anything, let alone everything.

Zoe knew that her mom could camp out on her friend Rufus’s couch for the night, if she couldn’t make it back up the mountain. Rufus was sweet, shy, and so slim that he looked like a stick that had somehow grown a beard and bought a Phish T-shirt. He was an artist. He specialized in chain-saw carvings of bears like the one he’d made for the Bissells’ driveway. Depending on the season, he made them out of salvaged timber or ice. (“Carving ice is epic, man,” he said. “It’s a rad, rad journey.”) In Zoe’s opinion, Rufus was secretly in love with her mother. She hoped he’d blurt it out someday. Her mom acted strong for the benefit of the kids, but Zoe knew how much sadness she carried around since the kids’ dad had died. It was always there, like background music.

Zoe had to tell her mom she was okay. She groaned at the thought of expending any more energy—she was, after all, about to fall asleep sitting up, draped in a rug that looked like a giant Danish. But before she closed her eyes, Zoe rallied long enough to do two final things for the day. She checked on Jonah. He lay beside her snoring lightly like a soft little machine. His cheeks were hot, but he seemed basically fine.

Then she texted her mother a single word. She knew it wouldn’t go through—she knew she’d have to keep hitting Try Again—but she did it anyway.

She texted: Safe.

At 7:30, Zoe fell asleep just long enough to have a single violent dream. She was in a white room with a bare wood floor. Animals were chained all around her. She didn’t know what kind of animals they were—maybe they were imaginary creatures that her brain invented—but they were vicious and snarling, all teeth, claws, and saliva. And they were straining at their chains, trying furiously to rip them out of the wall. Zoe stood in the center of the room. They were inches away from her on all sides, howling and screeching. And then snow started falling into the room somehow. She lifted her face and let the flakes drift down on her. She felt relieved for a second. When she looked back down again, Jonah was suddenly beside her. He said he would fight the creatures and save her. She forbade him. She told him to stand still, to stand perfectly still. But the animals were wailing so loudly that he couldn’t hear her and thought she was saying, “Yes, kill them, Jonah. Kill them all.”

The last thing she could remember was Jonah saying, “Yeah, I’m definitely gonna,” and stepping into all those wet, flashing teeth.

It took forever to swim up out of the dream. And the howling followed her, because Uhura was at the door making a crazy racket. She barked so loudly it was astonishing. The noise was like a physical presence in the room. Zoe couldn’t think.

As for Spock, he was hiding under a rug—all you could see was a big quaking bubble.

Zoe went to the door, afraid to pet Uhura when she was so wired.

“What’s going on, girlfriend?” she said softly. “Shhh. It’s okay, it’s okay.”

She reached out to stroke the dog with her palm, but Uhura snapped at her—something she’d never done, not to anyone, ever—and began hurling herself at the door. She thumped against it three times, loud as a monster knocking.

“Do you have to pee or what?” Zoe said.

She opened the door. Uhura bolted, and Zoe followed her out, her entire nervous system grateful that the barking had ceased.

It was pretty dark, and there was no moon, but there must have been light coming from somewhere because the lake was shining. The blizzard had passed quickly. All that remained was a light snowfall. Zoe shivered and noticed again how badly her body ached. The only thing holding her bones together was pain.

She looked around for Uhura, and began worrying about how she was going to get Jonah home in the morning.

Then she saw a truck barreling down the driveway toward the house, its tires kicking up snow.

It was an ugly, banged-up old pickup. Technically, it was black but it’d been patched in so many places that it looked like it had a skin disease. Zoe couldn’t see the driver. All she could make out was an arm holding a cigarette out the window. For a second, she watched, in the semidarkness, as the red dot of the cigarette floated closer and closer. It was hypnotizing.

When she snapped out of it, she saw that Uhura was flying up the driveway toward the truck—directly toward it, unwavering, like she could block it with her body. Zoe didn’t even have a chance to scream.

Either the driver didn’t see the dog in his headlights, or didn’t care. About a hundred feet from the house, there was a terrible thud. Uhura’s body was thrown into a snowbank.

The snow kept falling as if nothing had happened.

And the driver kept coming. He pulled up to the house. Got out. Left the engine running. Slid a new cigarette into his gross, chapped little mouth and, without even glancing back to see what had happened to Uhura, turned to Zoe.

He looked like hate. He was middle-aged with a graying buzz cut and acne scars. His clothes—pleated black pants, a white shirt with blue stripes—were clearly bought to impress people once upon a time but they couldn’t have gotten him far, because they were so dirty now that a washing machine would have spit them back out.

Jeff Giles's Books