Olivia & Hale Excerpt
Available May 7
All my life, things have fallen to me which shouldn’t have. My mother’s suicide. My brother’s resentment for being the favourite, even though I wasn’t and never tried to be.
Following my mother’s death, we took in a woman named Grace. My brother and I, along with some neighbourhood kids, discovered our neighbour had been keeping her as a prisoner in his cellar. My father took her in, risking his career as a police officer to make sure she was safe. We saw her to the man’s trial, where she managed to get a hold of a firearm and kill her tormentor inside a packed courtroom.
I haven’t seen or heard about Grace in almost twenty years. To the best of my knowledge, she was institutionalized and never released.
As I lead my three compatriots down Central Park West, she comes to mind. In another chain of events which fell to me, I was the only person Grace felt comfortable communicating with. No doctor or shrink could take my place. Grace placed all her visions and blind faith in a grieving thirteen year old girl.
On some level, Arthur Locke’s trial was the springboard for my entire career. Before that, I was going to be a writer, given how much I loved to read. My old therapist and I would start most sessions discussing my love of literature. I was pretty smart for my age, and saw it for the segue into my trauma Charlotte Huxley tried to cleverly conceal.
“Is there actually a plan?” Sydney asks behind me. Ahead, scaling apartment buildings overlook the sprawling park adjacent to us, and I wish I had a better answer for her.
“Find the others,” I shrug.
“Great,” she snipes, “How many of them are there? Are they even in Manhattan, or are we just wandering, aimless as fuck?”
“Settle down,” the doctor says. Over his initial fear of her, his attitude now borders on hostile.
“I don’t know, okay?” I say, “I’m just going to keep walking, and hope to God we come across someone else.”
“And then?” Sydney asks, “Will one or two be enough, or are you planning on tracking down every goddamn survivor, Heidi?”
“Harper,” I correct. Woman obviously never read To Kill a Mockingbird. Still, fighting fire with fire won’t make Sydney any more co-operative. “I feel there can’t be too many more.”
Skylar and Alex agree.
Sydney scowls, without verbal response.
“And then what? We go to this ‘cantina’? In the fucking Bronx? Are you kidding me?” When none of us respond, other than with the sounds of shuffling feet, she continues. “And what, you just propose we walk there? Do you know how long that will take us?”
“I didn’t make the plan, Sydney,” I explain, “Just going on the information I have.”
“Why don’t we settle down?” Skylar suggests.
“No!” Sydney says, “You people want to keep going with this crazy plan, go right the fuck ahead! I’m splitting.”
“Great,” Alex says, rolling his eyes, “I’m sure someone else out there will appreciate being greeted as your new hostage!”
Sydney pays the doctor no heed, crossing into the park. The three of us watch her disappear between the trees, listening for the sound of her scraping sneakers to fade before speaking ill of her.
How does this fall to me?
I can’t let her wander off. I’ll give her a few minutes to cool her head, and hopefully rejoin us. Evie didn’t say we needed everyone to make it to the cantina, but it was well implied.
Alex, however, has different ideas.
“Good!” he says, “Woman is going to get us all killed, anyway.”
“Is that even possible?” Skylar asks, “I mean, can we die in this place?”
It’s not a thought which crossed my mind. In any case, I don’t dwell on it long. My wandering thoughts are interrupted by the sound of something being broken in half. The ground rattles beneath my feet, carrying aftershocks of the park floor splitting. Beyond the trees where Sydney disappeared, a blinding light emerges.
I lunge forward, but am pulled back. Alex and Skylar each maintain holds on my arms to stop me.
“Get back!” the doctor yells, as I am launched backwards. Both of them huddle over my body, and I try to ask them what the Hell they are doing.
“You didn’t see it?” Skylar whispers over me.
“No! Let me up!”
“Harper,” Alex says, “if you go into that park, you may not come out! Now lie still!”
Both of them fall quiet, shielding my body with their own, as if arrows will hail from the sky and try to pierce me. I stop struggling long enough for them to ease their collective weight and allow me to join them in crouching. My eyes fall on what theirs have seen, and my brain can’t explain the creature before them.
When I was young and scared of the shadows on my wall, I would cry in terror of the night, plead for my father to purge them from my bedroom. He always explained nothing in the world could get to me without going through him, but even the strongest man I’ve ever known is no match for this thing.
It is massive, its limbs seeming to shift between a blunt object and something sharper, as it begins patrolling the common area. Its movements are slow, but each step leaves imprints in walkways and crushes grass beneath its feet. Its skin surface shimmers, and it has no facial features; just black where its eyes and mouth should be.
More than ever, I hope this is a nightmare.
There is no sign of Sydney. I can only hope she sought shelter, because the new presence does not look friendly. It stops every so often, slamming the ground beneath, shaking the wall we cower opposite.
“What the Hell do we do?” Skylar whispers, but I see no discernible way to defeat it and offer no reply.
“We’ll have to sneak around,” Alex says, “If we can move toward the southern entrance, maybe we can slip away without it noticing.”
I shake my head.
“We have to get Sydney out of there.”
“What?” Alex hisses, “She obviously has her own plans! Why risk ourselves for her?”
Leaning forward to see the doctor past Skylar’s head, I tell him I’m not leaving anyone behind.
“The woman is a lunatic, Harper!” Alex protests.
“He is right, you know,” Skylar adds, “She does seem kind of deranged.”
“Whatever,” I reply, “You two do what you want. I’m going to help her.” I scramble to a crouching position before strong fingers reassert themselves around my arm.
“Think about this, Harper,” Alex says, “What good can come of it?”
I grab his hand, prying it off me.
“I hope no one ever asks the same when it comes to you, doc.” Even if Sydney is dead in theory, something tells me that monster can mess her up a whole lot worse. “Working together, right?”
He concedes with a nod, but I don’t have time for people who don’t believe in me. My whole life, people haven’t.
Ducking under the ledge, I continue along the wall, in the direction Alex wanted us to travel. Only, I have no intention of sneaking on by, abandoning the girl who stormed away.
I have to draw that thing away from Sydney.
Alex and Skylar’s eyes burning holes in my back, I reach a gated entrance and settle against the wall, peeking around. The monster is so big, I can see it from any vantage point, and bringing it down won’t be easy.
I can do this.
I use hedges and walls as cover, creeping closer toward the park’s center. When I’m close enough to see Sydney doing the same behind a trunk which leads upward into bare branches, I signal to her. She mouths what the fuck? and I shake my head in response.
No doubt she will think me crazy, but Sydney won’t clear the immediate area if I don’t get that thing’s attention somehow.
It circles near me, and I recoil my neck so far, it hurts. Just because it has no eyes means it won’t spot me in plain view. Once it passes, and I can draw breath again, I study the scenery of the park. There is little I can use of my immediate surroundings to attack it, and even if there was, it would likely smash the life from me.
Beyond the gates opposite Alex and Skylar’s position are apartment buildings, glistening under the Shroud’s mauve-encrusted atmosphere. The creature many have brute strength, but I’m willing to bet it lacks human mobility.
Only one way to find out.
I stand, walking out into the open where it can see me, if it even has such organs to observe the physical world with. There are no visible ears, either. I yell up at it, and the behemoth ceases stomping around, hones in on the insect it could crush like nothing. Like a giant primate, it leans forward on front limbs, bowing its head aggressively.
Running track all through high school and post-secondary will be my only saving grace.
“Hey ugly!” I yell at it, “Come and get me!”
“Hey ugly!” I yell at it, “Come and get me!”
“What the fuck are you doing?” Sydney hisses.
I look away from the monster, to her. I may have only seconds before it launches itself from a pouncing posture, and I can pull it to the park’s opposite end.
“Go back to Alex and Skylar,” I tell her, “Don’t come back for me.”
Before she can answer, the creature shrieks and lunges. My feet turn the opposite way, heel lifting off the grass into a sprint. The earth rattles beneath me; the creature closes the gap as I dart for the east end of the park. My legs burn, heart pounds. Through the gate, walls crumble as the pedestrian entryway comes down behind me.
Unexpectedly, two people are hunched on the barrier’s outside, as Alex and Skylar are, and hopefully Sydney has joined them by now. The horror- I hesitate to christen it demon quite yet- crashes through the Central Park barrier behind me, sending both men jumping out of the way. I cast them a glare in passing.
No time for them at this moment.
Crossing the street to a soundtrack of potholes being created and a high-pitched shriek emitting from the monster- any turn of the head would slow me down- I sprint for an apartment building with glass windows on the ground level and a brick facade above.
My weight won’t be enough to go through its glass, but the the colossus will destroy it easily. Like a mad guard dog, death remains on my heels, chomping at the bit.
Hoping this works, I run up as close to the building as I can. Its flailing upper climbs swing wildly, well aware one lash of its arms can cover a large berth, and anything within its trajectory will be pounded into submission.
At the last second, I dart left.
The creature slams into the front of the building at the highest speed its size achieves. The flailing wipes away the entire front wall, sending bricks hurtling down from the first five storeys, entirely decimating the fourth. Glass panes implode and the building’s beams bend, weakening against several tons of pure velocity coming to bear against it.
Cutting back, I run through one of the destroyed window panes, narrowly avoiding pieces of a plunging balcony rail. It hits the ground and shatters outward where my feet touched seconds earlier. Chest burns, head pounds, but I reach the stairwell, thrusting full weight into its door.
The ascent is smooth until I reach the carcass of the third and fourth floors, where the stairwell wall has partially collapsed. Squeezing between the debris, I emerge safely on its other jagged side and continue up.
I could have returned to the others; could have gathered the people on both sides of the park and gotten the Hell out of Dodge. But the monster would pursue us.
I need to know how to defeat it.
The building groans on its foundation. Reaching the seventh floor, I grab the stairwell door. Lights flicker from the electrical damage below. The hall itself seems lopsided as the creature struggles to break free.
In the middle section of apartments, I hurl myself into the door until it breaks. The force at which I throw my body at the wood should break my shoulders and make my lower back scream, but I am afforded some leeway being trapped outside reality.
The door gives, splitting at the knob. I kick the last of it away.
Finally, the monster has broken free, and stumbles back from the building reformed into its own, boneheaded image. Walking across ugly decor and matching carpets to the apartment’s opposite end, the building buckles and halts my progress halfway.
I might have thought this through a bit better.
What should have been a short walk becomes a climb as the floor takes on angles my feet can’t compromise with. The building tips backward on its foundations, and suddenly, furniture from near the sliding door tumbles down, nearly taking me with it toward the doorway which is flirting with becoming a floor.
I have to reach the balcony. Clawing up yellow carpet, the furniture gathered around an entertainment unit is impressed by the smaller household objects’ flight and begins sliding downward in imitation.
With no time to reconsider, I unlatch the balcony’s lock and slide the door open, leaping over the buckling bannister.
Seven storeys is a long fall- far enough to consider your mortality for a few precious seconds. Reaching for anything to break the fall- another balcony, the monster itself- I just barely manage to latch onto its imposing physique as it searches for me like an angry wasp.
Despite struggle and thrashing to get me off its back, my hands manage to interlock around the front of its neck.
The two men I saw before are specks to my whirlwind vision as the monster shrieks, whipping me around. Joined by my companions, the group below is helpless to stop this thing crushing me if I fail. Its skin, despite looking liquid, feels more like slime-soaked scales, and I have never craved soap and hot water more.
Just when I think I can’t hold on anymore, as the monster flails and fights my flea-like existence, a bright light from my left blinds me. The behemoth’s knees buckle, and a shriek emits from the head I’m locked around. The tone is almost painful, and rips through both eardrums. The creature kneels in submission, cracking more pavement below.
My exhausted arms can hold on no longer.
Its more posture is more docile now. The slide down its massive, arched back is broken by Alex and the gentleman from behind the other wall catching me. I am yanked away to safety, but as I turn back to look at the dark manifestation I can’t explain, it is shrinking. At its feet, a group of roguish strangers shine lights on it, and the shadow being bubbles and collapses until it reaches a fraction of its former size.
I can’t process the newcomers’ beige trench coats or general unkemptness. The world spins around; my muscles ache and it is readily apparent death does not protect you from stupid decisions.
“Set her down here,” Alex says, and the two men lower me until I feel a sidewalk beneath my pulsing tailbone. “What the Hell were you thinking, Harper?”
There is no answer to that question. It is all I can do not to watch the ragtag outfit who saved me, condensing that monster down into nothing and squashing it beneath their heels like a cigarette butt. It is all I can do not to collapse, and sleep on this sidewalk for all eternity.
And it is all I can do not to ask how these things always fall to me; they only do because I chase them.