Home > End of Days (Penryn & the End of Days #3)(11)

End of Days (Penryn & the End of Days #3)(11)
Author: Susan Ee

Among the tall grasses, my sister puts a bandage on a monster’s finger as if it were her pet instead of a biblical locust designed to torture people in true apocalyptic style.

Beneath her oversized T-shirt, I know that Paige’s ribs stick out in clear lines. It hurt to see them this morning when I put her to bed. She has circles around her eyes, and her hands are nothing but bones as she plays nurse to the monster.

She sits in the grass beside her pets. I’ve noticed she sits every chance she gets. I think she’s conserving energy. I think she’s starving to death.

I have to force myself to walk toward them. No matter how much time I spend with the locusts, I can’t get comfortable around them. As I near, the locusts fly away, much to my relief.

I sit beside her on the grass and show her the can of tuna. ‘Remember the tuna sandwiches Dad used to make for us? They were your favorite before you became a vegetarian.’ I pull open the pop-top can and show her the pink fish inside.

Paige leans away from the can.

‘Remember how Dad used to plop the tuna onto the bread and make a smiley face with it? That used to make your day.’

‘Daddy come home?’

She’s asking when he’ll be coming back. The answer is never. ‘We don’t need him.’

Wouldn’t it be great if that were true? I’m not sure I’d come back if I were him. I wonder if he thinks of us.

She looks at me with doe eyes. ‘Miss him.’

I try to think of something soothing to say, but I just don’t have it in me. ‘Me too.’

I pick out a piece of tuna with my fingers and put it up to her mouth. ‘Here. Try a piece.’

She shakes her head sadly back and forth.

‘Come on, Paige.’

She looks down at the ground like she’s ashamed. The hollows in her cheeks and between her collarbones scare me.

I put the tuna in my mouth and slowly chew. ‘It’s good.’

She peeks at me from beneath her hair.

‘Are you hungry?’ I ask.

She nods. For a second, her eyes dip down to the bandage on my shoulder. It’s spotting with blood.

She looks away as if ashamed and gazes up at the locusts circling above us. But her eyes keep drifting back to my bandage, and her nostrils flare like she smells something good.

Maybe it’s time for me to go.

I’m putting the can down when I hear an animal calling. It sounds like a hyena. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard a hyena, but my bones recognize the sound of a predator in the wild. My hackles rise on the back of my neck.

A shadow jumps between the trees to my left.

Another shadow leaps between branches, then several more.

And as the next one jumps closer to the nearest tree, I see the shape of teeth and wings.

Hellions.

A lot of them.

The trees around us begin to boil with shadows leaping from tree to tree, getting closer. The mad hyena laugh keeps up its steady call as the mob of shadows leaps toward us.

Paige’s locusts fly toward the hellions. But there are too many of them.

I grab Paige’s hand, and we run toward the main house. The skin along my spine prickles, trying to sense how close unseen claws are to sinking into me.

I yell toward the house. ‘Hellions!’

Raffe looks out the dining room window.

‘How many?’ he calls out as we run to the house.

I point to the shadows hopping closer to us from the woods. Raffe disappears from the window.

A second later, he bursts out the front door and thumps down the porch, carrying a backpack with a blanket bundle strapped to it.

As he runs by the picket fence, we both look at Beliel’s broken chain hanging off the post. Beliel is nowhere in sight.

I assume the hellions freed him. They may not like each other, but they’re still on the same team. Isn’t that why Beliel invited me to look into his past, so he could lure the hellions to help him?

Raffe tosses the backpack to me. I assume the bundle attached to it is his wings.

I slip on the backpack while a couple of Paige’s locusts land beside her. They hiss at the shadows gathering around them.

I take a step back. I still can’t bring myself to get too close to those scorpion stingers. ‘We gotta go, Paige. Can you get them to fly us?’

My heart races at the thought of being held by one of these monsters, but I’m more comfortable with that idea right now than being in Raffe’s arms. He’s made it pretty clear how he feels about me – about us – and the fact that there is no us.

Raffe throws me a dirty look. He bends over and swipes his arm behind my knees, lifting me up in his embrace.

‘I can go with one of the locusts.’ I stiffen in his arms and try to lean as far away from him as I can.

‘The hell you will.’ He runs a couple of steps before spreading his wings.

With two sweeps of his wide wings, we’re up in the air.

My arms wrap around his neck. I have no choice but to lean close and hold tight. This isn’t the time to argue.

The locusts are just behind us with my sister.

Shadows leap toward us through the trees. Angel Island must be some kind of hellion convention center. Either that or these new hellions are far too good at organizing.

Raffe leads the way toward San Francisco. Behind us, a cloud of hellions bursts out of the trees after us.

11

As usual, there’s a swarm of locusts funneling over Alcatraz. My hair whips my face from the wind generated by their wings. As we near, a stream of locusts heads our way.

They join our little group until we swell into a swarm of our own. The creatures aren’t nuzzling us, but they’re not attacking either. They seem to be joining us on our flight by sheer instinct.

The hellion cloud behind us pauses. It’s nowhere near the size of the locust swarm. It hovers in place for a few seconds as if assessing the situation, then the cloud turns around and shrinks into the distance.

I take a deep breath and let the tension out. We’re safe for the moment.

Raffe watches them go with a frown, deep in thought. I look back at the hellions retreating and realize what the problem is. The hellions aren’t behaving as stupidly as they should.

I have a nagging worry about what just happened. What did I release into the world?

The funnel over Alcatraz becomes thinner as more of the locust swarm peels off and heads toward us.

This new group flows in a spike formation led by a locust with an extra large scorpion tail curled over his head. Something about that makes me nervous. They’re just following my sister out of instinct, aren’t they?

 

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