Chapter 7 Page 59
Posted December 17, 2021 at 01:50 am

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It was a horrible, animal cry, somehow lament and threat together, neither tone defanged by each divergent feeling's depth. Trees shuddered like frostbit bones, leaving in the great wave's wake a silence even light seemed to retreat from. Spender found himself completely stunned.

One by one, his senses settled into blurred cohesion. Hair standing on end. The flashlight's blade dispersed once more. The matchstick sizzle of Isabel's energy failing to form into armor again and again. He reached out, put his hand down on her shoulder.

"It's okay," Spender said shakily. Then a breath, and again, more steady now, "It's okay, Isabel."

She looked incredulous to say the least. Her eyes were saucers, her body locked into a rigid battle stance.

Spender smiled sympathetically. "Looks like we heard our West Hill Horror, huh? Ha ha. Don't worry—there's lots of weird sounds in the woods when you're a spectral. We just lucked out and got one that's close by." 

Boy but that had been a spooky howl. Spender was truly concerned there for a second, especially after the fear he thought he'd briefly glimpsed on stoic Mina's face. When he glanced at her now, though, she seemed perfectly placid, quickly scanning the treeline from the back of the group with a detached sort of determination. Nothing to worry about, then.

Except Isabel, of course. Right, right. He had to reassure her. Why was he still so shaky?

"Don't worry. Don't worry, Isabel. I may not look like much, but there's no spirit here in Mayview that would dare to mess with me." Spender felt silly invoking his unearned reputation like this, but it was true most ghosts and ghouls were all bark and a wide berth away from him these days, now that the rumors were so thoroughly entrenched. Isabel had nothing to fear, not with him around.

Spender's plodding logic turned to Jean. That's right, he thought, Jean could only smell spirits, the weirdo. It was easy to forget that particular quirk of his condition. He was probably gawking at the rest of them, wondering just what had them so startled. "Sorry," Spender said, turning to him, still in a daze, "there was this horrible howl—"

Jean was utterly frozen in place, pale, a mask of wild terror. Every muscle in his body was balanced in paralyzing tension between fight and flight.

Spender could only blink at him, lost in his shell-shocked confusion. "...Huh?"

He'd heard it? Not a spirit, then. Not a ghost. But what...?

"Go." Mina's order stopped his thoughts short. Spender's stare shifted to her. "GO!" she shouted, this time with an urgency that shook him, though she still looked calm and resolute.

The truth that he'd forced down began to buoy up past his denial.

"A monster. A–" Spender shook his head. "That's impossible."

It couldn't be. Not here. Jean hadn't changed, and—yes, yes, the moon wasn't full. Far from it, just a sliver. He could see it through the trees—

Mina was on him and Jean now, shoving them forward. "There's only one thing with a howl like that!"

At last instinct broke free from reason's shackles. Spender grabbed Isabel's hand. They ran, were running, and the forest was a blur. Ahead, the hawk watch and the East Hill lights were jostled into abstract form by their frenetic vision, a dizzying geometry of motes and lattice.

The group was in the open when the next howl came. Spender heard gravel hiss behind him in its aftermath: Jean and Mina spinning on their heels. Just a little farther now. The hawk watch wasn't safety, but a vantage point at least, some distance...!

Clack clack clack clack clack! The sound of Isabel running beside him up its wooden steps filled Spender's heart with dread. They reached the tower's shallow peak too soon. Fifteen feet off the ground at most, far from the fortress it had felt when it had been their distant goalpost.

Spender whirled, arms spread wide in front of Isabel. Ahead, his friends, the treeline. Behind, sheer cliffs, the lake, and all of Mayview.

Silence hung in the air.