When it peered at me from between the trees I didn’t even flinch. It stood there like a man but bristling like a beast, shadow creeping across the road to where I stood.
The cold hit me but it wasn’t enough to stop the riot in my veins, to chill the rage that was pulling me to my feet. When the dark shadow reached the edge of the road, silhouette swimming with the night, my instincts weren’t telling me to run. They weren’t telling me to hide or to be afraid. No. Every cell in my body was telling me to burn.
I took a step toward the shadow, its pull making my chest ache. I felt like I was at the bottom of the ocean, an infinity pressing on my lungs, trying to hold me down. But I didn’t let it. Because this thing was haunting Bryn. It wanted Bryn and whether she found me or not, I couldn’t stay here. I knew that. But I couldn’t leave her with this. I wouldn’t.
I took another step into the vortex, then another, letting my instincts maneuver every muscle in my body. And then I saw it. What was under the shadow.
I saw my face. Eyes bloodshot and seething. Lips curled into a smile that made my insides go cold.
My mouth strained for words, and as the air cut between them, the shadow came with it. It filled me. It clawed its way into every empty space until I thought I was dead. Until I wished I was.
But then I saw the light. I blinked and it was brighter than it had ever been. Warmer. Stronger. Pouring from every inch of me.
I fell on the ground, blinded, the darkness thrashing inside me. It clawed at my insides, trying to rip free. But I felt the heat surge and suddenly I was the flame. I lay there, burning, forcing it deeper, deeper. It strained for other pieces of me—my thoughts, my memories. It tried to snake its way inside, destroying everything but I pushed back, pulling myself to the surface again.
The fire in me reached its apex and I was nowhere and everywhere at the same time. I was human and something else. I was dying and then I wasn’t. I snuffed the shadow out, clawing my way back into my body until the weight lifted, until the quiet settled, until there was nothing inside me but ashes.