This is yet another post about the YA horror novel I’ve been working on, which I roughly outlined here. Last time I gave you the very beginning of the story (which I’ve already altered again); this time I’m going to give you the very end of the story. This ending will undergo further changes: I already know that I need to decide whether it makes sense to have italicized thoughts-of-the-moment within the narrative, and if I like them, decide how to alter other story sections to incorporate them holistically rather than as a last minute deal.
Here’s the action climax:
The lights of the main shaft were achingly bright after my long slow trek up through the dark. The broken headlamp thumped lightly against the bruise it had left on my chest, where I’d ignored it in my rush to get out of the mine before anyone realized I was here. Mr. Felber was waiting for me up in the parking lot, and my stomach was tense with worry as I thought about the chance of someone finding him there and asking what it was that he was doing.
My luck held all the way back out of the mine, and I breathed a sigh of relief as I stood in the shadows to the side of the mine’s entrance. The parking lot ahead of me was normally used by the workers, with a lower section to my left where the large trucks would come to load up, and it was all lit by tall lampposts, their pools of light flickering with flecks of brightness as the evening’s snow continued to drift down. I’d unzipped my gear while underground, and then worked up a sweat as I carried the heavy duffel full of eggs back up the long sloping shaft; now that I was outside once more, I started to shiver. My sweat turned icy-cold, and I could feel the heat leaking out of me.
The dimly lit parking lot was mostly empty, just as it had been when Mr. Felber drove us here, and I could see his jeep in the space next to the plowed snow pile at the close end of a row of parking spaces. I started walking towards him, doing my best to stick to the darker sections of the lot, just as he had parked as far from the lampposts as he could. Too late, I realized that he had his window down and was talking to someone standing on the far side of the jeep from me, while yet another person approached from further away.
I didn’t see any other options, so I kept moving towards the car. I didn’t recognize the person Mr. Felber was talking to, but as I approached I recognized the other figure by his walk; Mr. Lafferty was the other one moving cautiously towards the jeep on the ice- and snow-slicked pavement. He paused for a moment, and I could practically feel his gaze shift from me to the duffel that I was carrying. He stared for a moment as I kept walking, watching the way that I had to compensate for the heavy load, and then something must have clicked. He yelled, the words lost to me in the snow and wind, but whatever he said the man standing by Mr. Felber must have heard it. Fumbling in the cold, the man tore open the velcro of his coat, scrabbling for something on his belt and revealing the uniform of the mine’s nightwatchman. I tried to move faster, dragging the duffel towards the jeep as I raced Mr. Lafferty, but he wasn’t struggling with almost a hundred pounds of living rock.
I could see Mr. Felber silhouetted against the lighter snow on the far side of his jeep as he dove for the glove compartment and came up with something in his hand. He turned towards the guard, hand coming up with something heavy pointed at the man, but there were three sudden sharp cracks accompanied by bright flashes, miniature thunder muffled by the snowfall followed by ringing silence. The nightwatchman held a gun, leveled at the now-slumping Mr. Felber, smoke whipped from its muzzle by the snow laden wind.
I pushed myself faster, almost forgetting the weight of the duffel that I still dragged behind me. I slammed up against the side of the jeep, crouching low and wrenching open the door to look at Mr. Felber. He’d been hit at least once, though there was also a bullet hole that I could see spiderwebbing the glass of the passenger-side window. A revolver lay across the shifter, and he looked up at me in pain as he pushed the small homemade flamethrower towards me in the passenger footwell.
“Light it up,” he grimaced at me, blood leaking from his fleece jacket onto the seat, “before they can stop you!” I grabbed the heavy contraption, glad that its metal wasn’t so cold as to stick to my fingers, and scuttled back towards the rear wheel well. I fumbled with the valves, hearing the apparatus begin to hiss as I started trying to work the striker. The jeep’s door slowly swung mostly shut.
“Damn it Doug, what do you think you’re doing? I didn’t want to shoot you!” I could hear the watchman yell from the far side of the jeep. “You too, girl, just give up! I’ve got a gun!” I almost laughed, but swallowed it instead. I was worried that it would come out hysterical, that I wouldn’t be able to stop. Now that you know I’m onto you, you think I’ll surrender while I’ve got the eggs here in a bag? Would you like to murder me now, or later? Yeah right.
I worked the striker again, catching a spark this time. There was a satisfying whoosh and a rush of heat as the gas caught, a gout of flame pouring out of the short nozzle like an oversized blowtorch. The man on the other side of the jeep yelled again, “Holy shit Roger, she’s got a flamethrower!”
I turned the flames on the duffel bag, watching in frustration as the fabric caught too slowly for my liking. They had guns, like the man said, and there was no way that they’d let me get out of here with these things as my hostages.
I could hear hurried footsteps in the snow, and then I could Mr Lafferty over the hood of the jeep. His face looked panicked, his expression horrified and priceless. “George,” he screamed, “she’s burning the eggs!” I could see where the fabric had started to smolder and burn away, and underneath it the slick and pulsing eggs were beginning to blister. “Come on!” Mr Lafferty charged towards me around the car, and for a moment I was frozen in fright. Then he slipped in a patch of ice and went down hard by the front of the jeep.
Looking at him as he went down, I caught a glimpse of movement in the rearview mirror of the sagging-shut door. I whirled around, flamethrower coming up more by nervous accident than by intent, and fire blasted across the chest and face of George as he came around the side of the jeep with his gun in hand. The gun went off again, though I had no idea where the bullet went, and George stumbled back screaming, beating at his clothes where they had caught. His puffy down jacket was completely ablaze, and he stumbled several steps before he remembered to stop, drop, and roll.
I swiveled back around to set fire to the bag once more, only to see Mr Lafferty sneaking up on me with fists raised. He dove to the side as I brought up the flamethrower this time, but I followed him with it and shut my eyes as I played it across him. It had to have been only seconds, but it felt like an eternity as I focused on the rush of fire to drown out the other sounds. When I opened my eyes again, he was crawling away and desperately trying to put out the flames.
Resolutely looking away from the men I’d just lit on fire, I swept the fire back towards the bag once more, pouring it over the now crackling eggs in several methodical passes. It was only as I watched the first of them break open and leak a dark bubbling fluid that I realized what I was doing. If I didn’t get away from the dying eggs soon, I’d be caught in the ensuing destruction too.
I set the flamethrower down on the ground facing the bag and still spitting fire. I pulled open the passenger door and reached in to drag Mr. Felber over into the passenger seat. He screamed, but he squirmed and did his best to help me shift him, finally lying panting on the passenger seat with his legs splayed over the seat’s back and his blood puddling into the footwell. I made my way around the back of the jeep, seeing the nightwatchman slowly starting to stand on the slick pavement, tottering towards me once more as I leapt into the bloody driver’s seat. I knocked the revolver away from the gear shift, muttered please please please, and tried to start the engine. It caught, and rolled over immediately.
Out the fragmented passenger’s side window, I could see Mr Lafferty lying on the ground, still moving slowly as if he was trying to stand and just couldn’t figure out how. It felt like something cold had settled over me, and I didn’t even feel nauseous as I knew that I had effectively just killed him. There was no way he’d live through what I’d just done, but all I could think was that he wouldn’t be able to do anything about the eggs.
I shifted the jeep into reverse, sweeping my right arm over the back of the passenger seat and fumbling with Mr. Felber’s feet in order to crane my neck around and look behind me. I pulled away from the treacherous snowbank ahead and to my side, but George, the nightwatchman, was bringing up his pistol once again. Somehow, he’d pulled himself back up to standing, and as the jeep started rolling backwards towards him he began to fire.
Bullets tore into the rear window, casting shatter lines across my view even as I heard them whine through the sheet metal of the car and watched them tear up seat stuffing and slam into the dash. I huddled forward and slammed my foot on the accelerator, praying that I wouldn’t be hit. I didn’t stop until I felt a loud thump, followed by a weird rolling sensation in the jeep’s tires.
The night drive back towards the town from the mine felt like a nightmare. The snowfall hadn’t let up, and the jeep’s headlights seemed to leach all color out of the world, shoving narrow cones of painfully bright light through darkness flecked with snowflakes as I stared out through spiderwebs in the glass. Cold wind sucked warmth from me through the shattered windows, even with the heater going full blast.
The road was wide enough for the mining trucks that delivered ore, but it hadn’t been plowed recently and there was an ominous sliding sensation that I could feel through the vehicle. I couldn’t see the road’s markings through the settling snowy slush, only the guardrails. My heart was pumping hard, and I had so much adrenaline that the whole world seemed hard and clear and my hands were starting to shake. Mr. Felber moaned from the seat beside me, still inverted with his head in the footwell and his feet over the headrest. His seat was an audibly soggy mess, black with blood, and I could feel the wet patches on the driver’s seat soaking through my pants and slowly chilling me from below.
So much had gone wrong. The eggs were supposed to be destroyed later. I was supposed to have time to get my things from the house, I was supposed to have time to get Bert. I wasn’t supposed to have used the flamethrower on anyone. There wasn’t supposed to have been anyone there. I guess I’d thought that murdering an entire town was supposed to be easy. For a moment, the road seemed to fade away and all I could feel was that oddly unsteady rolling sensation as I ran over George.
I shook my head, staring out at the night, trying to focus on the headlights’ beams. Beneath the rumble of the jeep’s motor, I felt something a bit like a shiver. I thought I’d hallucinated it at first, but almost as one the snow in the trees’ branches around me sloughed to the ground. The tremors had already started. Something was coming. Taking the last bend before the straightaway towards town, I eased my foot a little further down on the accelerator.
There was another shiver as I pulled into town, taking the corners as fast as I could as I rushed towards home. Lights were starting to come on in the houses around me as I drove, and I could see faces in windows. I kept my eyes focused on the road in front of me, not thinking about the people waking up confused, not thinking about what was coming, not thinking about what I had just done.
There were a few people on their porches as I slid to a stop in front of my house. I could hear dogs starting to bark and howl over the blast of the heater and the rumble of the engine, and it sounded like Bert was going crazy inside, yelping and whining for all he was worth. I pushed open the jeep’s door, dashing around the jeep and towards the house as fast as I could, almost leaping the snowbank that lined the side of the street. The ground shivered again, more angrily this time, and I stumbled and slid to the ground, skinning my palms on the icy front walk. Plan ahead, Mr. Felber had said, be ready to go at a moment’s notice. I’d followed his advice, but all I could think at the moment was It’s going too quickly, it’s too soon, it’s too soon. That safe coldness I’d felt earlier was cracking.
I staggered up to the front door, where I could hear Bert desperately pawing at the other side, and opened it to a faceful of dog. His leash was still tied to the refrigerator doors, and my duffel still lay where I’d left it hours earlier. I snatched up the bag and undid Bert’s leash from the door handles just in time for another tremor to make the ground feel like it was rocking and sliding beneath my feet. Bert howled and dashed towards the door, dragging me with him. I stumbled, miraculously still on my feet as we dashed towards the sidewalk, but I went face first into the snowbank at the edge of the road when I tried to stop him from running further. I dragged and cajoled him, still panicking, to the rear door of the jeep, and opened it and stuffed him in with my duffel as fast as I could.
He was having none of it, barking the whole time as I circled to the driver’s side door. There was a horrifying moment as I stared into the jeep, taking in the bloody chaos, and I froze as I looked at the bullet holes, blood, and broken glass. I’d ignored it in shock the first time I saw it, and that somehow made it worse. Mr. Felber still hadn’t shifted himself, and I could feel a pit opening in my stomach as I looked at him. Another tremor shocked me into motion. There was so much blood that I could smell it as I stepped up into the cab and pulled away from the snowbank.
“You still with me Mr. Felber?” I asked because I had to, not because I thought he would answer. I left the jeep in low gear as we pulled through the thickening ice and snow towards the edge of town, heading for the highway. More people were up and about, and I could hear some of them calling to each other across the street as we drove past. They had no idea what was going on. Just like Mr. Picket had no idea. Revenge, pre-emption… I struggled with one hand on the wheel for a moment, and fished my phone out of my pocket.
There was a sickening lurch, and we went sideways across the road for a moment. Bert had given up on barking and was just whining in the back now. I think he was disturbed by the blood. I was quietly praising the ice in my mind; all I could think was that if the ground had lurched like that some other time we would have gone over sideways in this top-heavy thing instead of just sliding. “Mr. Felber?” I tried again, but I didn’t get any response.
My heart started picking up the pace once more. I glanced down at my phone, approaching the one spot at the edge of town where I knew I could get reception. It had been so useless for so long, but maybe… I hit the speed dial and hoped.
It only took two rings. “Amanda?” Rich’s voice was frightened on the other end.
“Get out, Rich. Get out now.” My throat was closing as I spoke, and my left hand was going numb on the steering wheel.
“You’ve actually done it?” His voice was thick. Was it despair? Fear? Hate? I couldn’t tell. “Oh my god. I can’t believe—,”
“Shut up Rich! Just go! Take your sister, just,” there was an odd sense of silence from the other end. I stared at the phone in my hand, the little blinking empty bars. Connection lost, the display read.
“Fuck.” I dropped the phone and shifted up a gear as I pulled towards the onramp. My left hand ached as I shook it out. I’d been clenching the wheel so hard that my tendons creaked.
“Amanda?” Mr. Felber’s groan made me jump, and the engine roared for a moment as my foot pressed harder on the gas. We skidded a little as we pulled out onto the highway.
“Jesus Christ Mr. Felber, you scared me.” My heart was thudding in my chest again. Then there was a deep rumble that I could feel even through the jeep, and the tall trees that loomed over the highway on either side of the road shivered and shifted.
“I’m cold, Amanda.” Mr. Felber’s voice sounded distant, weak.
I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t say anything for a little bit, and I think I scared him.
“Are you still there, Amanda?” He sounded terrified.
I reached over and put my right hand on his arm, found his hand. It was soaking wet, slick with blood. I held it tight. “Yeah, Mr. Felber, I’m right here.” My throat felt cramped, and I could feel a little trickle of moisture starting at the edges of my eyes. I kept staring ahead through the spiderwebbed windshield, looking into the cones that my headlights painted across the night. There it was again, another long rumble. This one didn’t stop.
When I blinked, there were long moments when I could still feel the flamethrower in my hands, could almost hear Mr. Lafferty screaming. I tried not to blink very often, focused instead on the feeling of Mr. Felber’s hand in mine, both now slimy with his cooling blood. The rumbling got louder, and I could feel it through the jeep’s wheels again. I stared up the hills to either side of me, terrified of an avalanche, and shifted out towards the center of the road, where I’d be closest to the center of the cut.
“Amanda, I don’t think I’m going to make it much further.” Mr. Felber’s voice was quiet again. He squeezed my hand a little harder.
“Just hold on, Mr. Felber. We can get you to a hospital.” I knew I was lying, but I desperately wanted it to be true.
And then the rumble changed in tone. What had felt like a deep and distant vibration took on a horrible grating tone, and then became a roar. The road buckled and shifted, and the jeep teetered to my side as I caught a horrifying glimpse of trees swaying and shaking in the distant illumination of my headlights. The jeep came down hard on all four wheels, and then slammed over onto the passenger side, skidding while the ground beneath us screamed with metal on icy asphalt. Mr. Felber’s hand slipped through my clutching fingers.
And then the screaming was in my head, not just my ears.
I don’t want to think about how Mr. Lafferty knew to show up at the mine that night. I don’t want to think about what happened to Mr. Picket, I don’t want to think about what happened to Mr. Felber, and I never ever want to think about what I did to all those people in Loneliness. I try to tell myself that they deserved it, and sometimes I believe. Mostly, though, I can’t sleep. Some nights I hope that Rich made it out, even that he got that sister of his out with him. But usually, I just remember being on that highway in the overturned jeep, staring back towards town and knowing what it was like to stand at the edge of Hell.
I was hanging by my seatbelt when we finally skidded to a stop, the screaming still tearing through my mind, making it impossible to focus. Bert was shuddering to his feet, standing incongruously on the side of the jeep’s cab. Mr. Felber lay at an awkward angle, head down in the footwell, feet up by the headrest, blood soaked into the seat, the footwell, his clothes. His revolver lay beside his head. I hadn’t had a chance to put a seatbelt on him. With the bullet holes, I figured it didn’t much matter. And being upside down had probably helped to keep him conscious, though it wasn’t like I’d had time to change that anyway.
Now it didn’t seem like any of that would matter. The already punctured passenger’s window hadn’t survived the jeep tipping over, and one of his legs had scraped along the ground as we skidded. It was a horrific mess. I could feel my stomach revolting: it was too easy to imagine his leg as mine, and I started to feel lightheaded. I pushed open my door, opening it vertically, and I struggled to unbuckle and pull myself up out of the driver’s seat in one motion. I threw up over the side of the car, one arm keeping keeping me in place while the other kept the door open.
As I emptied my stomach, I slowly realized that the horrible screaming hadn’t stopped. It wasn’t the sound of metal on pavement, and covering my ears didn’t stop it at all. I looked back towards Loneliness, and all I could do was stare; the ground dropped away a couple hundred feet back, not slowly but like a cliff. Where the highway had been was now vacant space, and where the lights of Loneliness should have been reflecting off the snow on the ground, making the snow in the air glow, there was instead a vast darkness punctuated by small fires that spread as I watched. The screaming in my head went on and on until my head throbbed.
The fires grew, lighting the distant hole of rubble that used to be a town. In the midst of them, I could see the outline of a darker shape, something long and sinuous that wound around and through the destruction, crushing it beneath its weight. The vast darkness coiled in on itself, and then it slowly rose above the edge of the hole, up, huge and towering, to loom over the hills themselves. The scream got louder still, and I had to fight to keep my eyes open against the pain, and then the shadow dropped, plummeting back into the hole. A huge cloud of dust and snow surged upwards into the night, lit from underneath by the glow of the fires, and then the shockwave hit. I fell back into the jeep, landing on top of Mr. Felber as the door slammed shut overhead.
I don’t know how long I lay there stunned, but I could feel the cold seeping in through the back of my jacket and the bruise rising quickly on the back of my head when Bert started licking my face. The screaming was gone. Loneliness, and anyone who had been in it, was gone too. Everything felt distant, unreal, like that coldness I’d felt in the parking lot.
I was lying on top of Mr. Felber, but when I tried to find his pulse I found nothing, just the same slick cold blood of his that was rapidly congealing on my hands and clothes. His eyes were open, staring into the dark. I tried to slide his eyes shut, the way you see them do it in movies, but people in movies don’t usually have hands still slippery with blood.
I got them shut, smearing more blood on his face. I wiped my hands off on my jacket as best as I could, then fished through the dark footwells for my phone before crawling into the back with Bert. You’re supposed to wait in your car and light emergency candles to keep yourself from freezing to death when you’re stuck in a storm like this, but it didn’t seem to matter much with the windows mostly gone. I changed out of my blood-soaked clothes and into dry things from my duffel as quickly as I could, but I was shivering by the time I eased my bloody jacket back on.
I took one last look at Mr. Felber, where he lay crumpled on what was now the bottom of the jeep, and then I pushed my way out the back, prying open the frigid door now punctured by bullet holes. With a long glance back at the dark valley, lit only by the ruddy light of the fires, Bert and I staggered off down the highway.
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