It seemed the roar and the screams had come from the southwest, and they didn’t have to run long to be sure. The chain link fence that surrounded the Happy Oaks trailer park wasn’t far away. A metal post had been pulled from the ground and lay flat, bending the chain link down with it. Tristan stepped through it carefully while Asche cleared the whole thing in one long leap.
They could see the lights of the highway to the north. To the east, so far away already, was the back lights of the Two Step. The music would be on. They wouldn’t hear a thing. In front of them, to the south, there was nothing but darkness on the ground and starlight above. They could make out some shadows that were probably scrub, but everything was bleeding together. They skidded to a halt.
“I don’t have a flashlight,” Asche said.
“Do you hear anything?” Tristan asked.
Trucks on the highway. Some bass beat from the bar. Nothing else.
Nothing? Maybe not nothing. Maybe there was the sound of something moving in the brush. Something with a heavy tread. Something looking for something else.
“I can’t tell,” Asche said. “I might…but it might be nothing.”
Tristan nodded. He then pulled in as much breath as he could, and with everything his diaphragm had, bellowed Marguerite’s name.
“What are you doing? What if Daphne comes at us?” Asche asked.
“Then we’ll know where she is.”
Tristan put his hand up and tilted his head to listen.
“Over here! Hurry!”
It was faint, and sounded tired, but it was undeniably Winona. And it was coming from the southwest.
They started moving in that direction again, but it was hard to tell in the dark if they were still going in the same direction, let alone the right one.
“Winona!” Asche shouted.
They corrected a little to their right.
“Here! Hurry, please!” She was getting louder.
And then that roar again, unmistakable as something alive and certainly not human or normal. It was a little bit to their left. It sounded a little farther away than Winona.
But the heavy tromping meant it was getting closer. The whole ground seemed to shaking now underneath them.
“Winona!” Asche yelled at the same time Tristan shouted, “Marguerite!”
“Here!” came the response, practically right underneath them. Without warning the ground below them disappeared, and Tristan and Asche found themselves trying to stay up straight as they tripped and skidded down a sandy embankment towards a dried riverbed.
Tristan almost stepped on Marguerite’s head. She and Winona had been hiding in the shadow of the culvert. Tristan could barely see either of them, but could hear pain in Marguerite’s voice when she spoke.
“What the hell are you guys doing?” Marguerite asked.
“Coming to rescue you,” Asche said in a whisper. The ogre was still tromping around, but had apparently lost the signal again.
“Tell me you have guns or weapons or something…” Winona spit out. “That thing ate my daughter. It ate my little girl and it’s coming for us.”
Marguerite clamped a hand over Winona’s mouth to keep her from screaming.
“Winona, Winona, calm down. Daphne is alive,” Tristan said.
He could make out Marguerite shaking her head.
“Just trust me, okay?” Tristan turned to Asche.
Marguerite didn’t have time to argue. Another roar, feet away. They weren’t alone anymore.
It was tall. Eight feet at least, although it was slouching, so probably closer to nine if it stood up straight. It was barrel chested and muscular, overly so. Its face was overcrowded with large, bulbous features that were contorted in rage and hunger. Maybe it had green skin. It was hard to tell in the pooling dark. It paused for a brief second, its eyes scanning the four of them, and then it roared again, forcing them to cover their ears.
Before it could move forward again, Tristan stood up and held up his hands.
It took a step back, as though it had been pushed. And then it started in again, slow, deliberate.
“I know who you are! Daphne Miller!”
Another pause. A look of confusion, but then it started again.
“Tristan, tell me this isn’t the whole plan,” Asche said. He tried to back up but only found the dirt behind him.
“It was supposed to work,” Tristan said, taking a step back.
Behind him, Marguerite whipped to Winona and pulled her hands away from her face.
“What’s Daphne’s middle name?” Marguerite asked. Winona was sobbing and didn’t even hear the question.
“Winona! Winona, listen to me, listen to me now. What is Daphne’s middle fucking name?”
“Ma…ma…Martina! It was Martina!”
“I call you out! I know your secret, so give it up! Daphne Martina Miller!”
It stopped again. Look confused. Another roar. But this one faded off into a confused groan. It lifted its hands to its heads and fell to its knees, almost crushing Tristan in the process.
Cracks started. Snaps. It sounded, at first, like brittle wood in a campfire. They came faster, and louder. Slowly, one by one, they realized that it was the creature’s bones. Breaking. Remolding. It roared with pain. Its arms bent in wrong shapes. Legs. Back. Its face was changing, although they could see the face of pain before it doubled over.
It seemed like it went on for hours. Really, it was at most a minute. Sixty seconds. And then the shape in the ground in front of them was no longer the lumbering, towering ogre. It was small. Human. Feminine. Crying.
Tristan knelt down next to the shape and put a hand on her shoulder.
“Daphne? Daphne, it’s okay. You’re safe. We’re all safe.”
She lifted her head. Her eyes. They were still…
But then they weren’t. And it was just a scared teenager sobbing in front of him.
“What did I do?” she whispered.
“It wasn’t you,” Tristan said. “Not really.”
Winona was surrounding her daughter before she could get anything out.
“Mom, I’m so sorry-”
“I thought I lost you.”
“I didn’t want to hurt you.”
They were sobbing together, holding each other in the middle of the dry riverbed.