All the Inside Howling (Hollow Folk #2)

All the Inside Howling (Hollow Folk #2)

Gregory Ashe

Today, like every day, I ran. This time, though, it wasn’t because I was trying out for cross country next week. And It wasn’t because I enjoyed the chill or the predawn gray or the way my breath plumed as my feet churned the gravel slope. I ran because of the dream. The dream that had woken me at three in the morning: a vivid, 4k-resolution dream of a greeting card floating in empty space. On the front of the card, a jar of peanut butter had been drawn with exaggeratedly sad eyes. Above it, a speech bubble read, People keep saying . . . And as I watched, helpless to stop it or to turn away or to close my eyes, the greeting card opened. Inside, a jar of jelly with long blond hair posed with one stick leg raised. The speech bubble continued, . . . we should get together. And then below, in thick, black marker, were two words: Missing you. It was a message, the first message I’d had in two weeks. And it had been sent by Mr. Big Empty.

So I ran because in sixteen hours, I wanted to sleep, and if I didn’t run as fast as I could and as hard as I could, if I didn’t push myself to the point that I felt like I was dragging myself through ankle-deep mud, I knew I’d close my eyes and lie in the dark and the fear would tighten around my throat, finger by finger, until I couldn’t breathe.

So I ran. Ahead, the sky turned the color of sheet metal, and against that sky rose the Bighorn Mountains. Huffing cold air, my bare chest prickling, I told myself today was the day: today I would find him, today I would stop him, today the nightmare would be over. These weren’t full thoughts, they weren’t plans or strategies or even goals. They were just bursts of focus, red-hot and screaming over the thunder of my pulse, the way big cats hunted: instinct, tension in the muscles of the neck and back and thighs, the hardwired drive to kill.

In a jumbled heap at the base of the mountains lay Vehpese, Wyoming. By daylight, it was mostly yellow brick and peeling tar shingles and the asphalt road slashing up into the mountains. Right now, though, it glowed like a string of Christmas lights. Not new Christmas lights. Not even last year’s. But maybe ten years old, maybe twenty, like the big gaudy bulbs I’d seen on old movies, all in primary colors and some of them broken and some of them flickering in and out and some of them just plain out, but you could see where they were meant to go by the pattern of the rest. That was Vehpese: old, broken, but maybe worth saving for another year or ten.

I kept a steady pace, my running shoes carrying me easily along the shoulder of the state highway. Everything was quiet. The air had that clean, crisp taste that comes in the fall and spring, but mostly in the fall. Weeds at the edge of the gravel brushed my legs, stiff with frost, and their scratch-scratch-scratch whispered behind me.

It was hard to believe that a place like this, even a place as battered and bent and broken-nosed as Vehpese, could be hiding a serial killer. Worse than a serial killer. Mr. Big Empty was what I called him, but his real name was Luke, and he was the nightmare I saw when I closed my eyes. Over the last month and a half, as I had searched for the murderer of a girl named Samantha Oates, I had come into contact with Luke. At first he had seemed harmless—just another socially awkward teenager. We had started to become friends, or as close to friends as I ever came.

And then I had learned that Luke was Samantha’s killer and that he had powers. Like me, Luke had abilities that I couldn’t explain and didn’t fully understand. We were both psychic, telepathic, whatever you wanted to call it. While I was stuck picking up stray emotions, Luke could jump into people’s heads and control them. He did it the last night I saw him alive, when he forced me at gunpoint to go with him to his grandmother’s cabin. There, he used a local drug dealer named Tony like a puppet. And, as I watched, Tony put a bullet in Luke’s head.

That should have been the end of it, but somehow, part of Luke lived on. His ghost or his spirit or his mind—he was still out there, insane and furious and determined to hurt everyone who had hurt him. And just my luck, I was at the top of his list.

As the gravel ended and the sidewalk began, marking the edge of Vehpese proper, I skidded to a stop. Panting for breath, I turned around, heading back to the string of crappy apartments where I lived with my dad. I walked now, with my heart hammering against my ribs, and the smell of my sweat mixed with the smell of the dry grass. My hair had slipped from its bun, and the long blond strands brushed my bare shoulders.

Since Luke’s death—or whatever you wanted to call it—less than two weeks ago, I had managed to learn one thing, only one: his last name. Witkowski. Aside from that, Luke might as well really have been dead. His body had been buried, and although I had attended the wake and the funeral and tried to get some sort of clue—psychic or otherwise—of Luke’s presence, I had found nothing. No hints, no breadcrumbs, no trail or signs indicating where or when Luke might strike next.

And so at night, when I lay on my makeshift bed on the vinyl sofa and tried to count sheep or count the cracks in the ceiling or count whatever the hell would let me sleep, a part of me knew it didn’t matter. Luke could find me, asleep or awake, whenever he wanted. He’d taken me from my dreams before. It didn’t make any difference that I was technically psychic too, because he was better than me and he was stronger than me and he was coming for me. And there was nothing I could do to stop him.

School passed in a long, oatmeal-colored blur, the color of linoleum scuffed thin by a hundred thousand sneakers, the color of laminate desks scrubbed down to particle board, the color of plaster walls chipped until the laths showed. Since that night at the cabin, a lot had changed for me at school. I was the new kid but no longer the outcast. I was the outsider but no longer the freak.

Gregory Ashe's Books