I have to help her. Never mind the clawing of my own bones inside my lungs. I haul myself over onto my stomach. Using my knife like a mountain climber’s pick, I heave and scrape across the floor.
As the house shifts, a thousand boards and rusted nails groan out of tune. And then there are the sounds that they make, crashing together, the noise dense enough to make me wince. I’m amazed that they don’t both shatter into bleeding pieces.
“Anna!” My voice is urgent but weak. I’m not taking in much air. They’re grappling with each other, grimaces of strain on their faces. She wrenches him to the right and left; he snarls and jerks his head forward. She reels backward and sees me, coming closer.
“Cas!” she shouts through gritted teeth. “You have to get out of here! You have to get everyone out!”
“I’m not leaving you,” I shout back. Or at least I think I do. My adrenaline is running low. I feel like the lights are blinking on and off. But I’m not leaving her. “Anna!”
She screams. While her attention was on me, the bastard unhinged his jaw, and now he’s attached himself to her arm, dug in like a snake. The sight of her blood on his lips makes me yell. I pull my legs up under myself and vault.
I grab him by the hair and try to push him away from her. The slice I made in his face flaps grotesquely with each movement. I cut him again and use the knife to pry his teeth up, and together we use everything we have to throw him. He hits the broken staircase and falls down, sprawled and stunned.
“Cassio, you have to go now,” she says to me. “Please.”
Dust is falling around us. She’s done something to the house, opened up that burning hole in the floor. I know it, and I know she can’t take it back.
“You’re coming with me.” I take her arm, but pulling her is like trying to pull a Greek column. Thomas and Carmel are calling to me near the door, but it seems like a thousand miles away. They’ll make it out. Their footsteps hammer down the front steps.
In the midst of it all, Anna is calm. She puts her hand against my face. “I don’t regret this,” she whispers. The look in her eyes is tender.
Then it hardens. She shoves me away, tosses me back across the room, the way I came. I roll, and feel the sick crumple of my ribs. When my head lifts, Anna is advancing on the Obeahman, still lying prone where we threw him at the foot of the stairs. She grabs him by one arm and one leg. He begins to stir as she drags him toward the hole in the floor.
When he looks with his stitched-over eyes and sees, he’s afraid. He rains down blows on Anna’s face and shoulders, but his punches don’t look angry anymore. They look defensive. Going backward, her foot finds the hole and sinks in, the firelight glow illuminating her calf.
“Anna!” I scream as the house really starts to shake. But I can’t get up. I can’t do anything but watch her sink lower, watch her drag him down while he screeches and claws and tries to get free.
I throw myself over and start to crawl again. I taste like blood and panic. Thomas’s hands are on me. He’s trying to pull me out, just like he did weeks ago, the first time I was in this house. But that feels like years ago now, and this time I fight him off. He gives up on me and runs for the stairs, where my mom is yelling for help as the house rattles. The dust is making it harder to see, harder to breathe.
Anna, please look at me again. But she is barely visible anymore. She has sunken so deep that only a few tendrils of hair still writhe above the floor. Thomas is back, yanking and dragging me out of the house. I take a slice at him with my knife, but I don’t mean it, even in my fear. When he pulls me over the front porch steps, my ribs scream as they bounce, and I’d like to stab him for real. But he’s done it. He’s managed to drag me to our defeated little pack at the edge of the yard. My mom is holding up Morfran, and Carmel’s hobbling on one leg.
“Let go of me,” I growl, or at least I think I growl. I can’t tell. I can’t talk well.
“Oh,” somebody says.
I push myself up to look at the house. It’s filled with red light. The whole thing throbs like a heart, casting a glow into the night sky. Then it implodes with a sick crash, the walls sucking in on themselves and collapsing, sending up mushrooms of dust and flying splinters and nails.
Someone covers me, protecting me from the blast. But I wanted to see it. I wanted to see her, one last time.
You wouldn’t think that people would believe that we all got so incredibly beat up—in so many interesting ways—from a bear attack. Especially not when Carmel is sporting a bite mark that is a spot-on match for wounds found at one of the most horrifying crime scenes in recent history. But I never fail to be surprised by what people will believe.