Home > The Outside (The Hallowed Ones #2)

The Outside (The Hallowed Ones #2)
Author: Laura Bickle

CHAPTER ONE

The hard part about the end of the world is surviving it, surviving when no angels scoop you up to fly you away to heaven. God doesn't speak. But I kept asking.

"Unser Vadder im Himmel . . ."

My breath was ragged in my throat, my voice blistering around the words of the Lord's Prayer. I spoke in Deitsch, the way my people always did when we prayed. It didn't matter if evil understood me, only God.

". . . Dei Naame loss heilich sei . . ."

I opened my arms, my coat and dark skirts flapping around my legs and wrists. I stared out at a field, holding a sharpened pole in each fist. One had been a garden hoe in a previous life and the other a shovel. The metal had been stripped from them, but they were still tools. Weapons. A crumpled piece of paper was fastened to my chest with straight pins, the writing growing faint and illegible in the gathering darkness.

Darkness with eyes.

"Dei Reich loss komme . . ."

I strained to see into the night. Shapes seethed. I knew that something terrible was out there. The bullfrogs had stopped chanting and the late-season crickets had gone silent. I heard crunching in leaves, saw something shining red.

"Dei Wille loss gedu sei."

My knuckles whitened on the wood in my hands.

"Bonnet, c'mon!"

My head snapped around, my bonnet string slapping my chin. I could see two familiar figures retreating behind me. A short, round woman scurried through the field. Her platinum hair was bright against the night, almost appearing as a moon bobbing along churning water. She reached a nervous white horse who was pawing at the earth, clambered clumsily onto its back. Between her and me, a lanky shadow in a dark jacket gestured at me with white hands. Alex.

Bonnet. That was Alex's nickname for me. My real name is Katie.

Alex said that God did not rule the end of the world. Alex said the end of the world was ruled by sun and Darkness. By time. And time was one thing we had very little of. The light had drained out of the day, and we were vulnerable.

I saw Alex taking off his jacket, wading through the grass toward me. I swallowed. That meant that he sensed the same thing I did, that the hair also stood up on the back of his neck, that he was ready to fight.

He stripped off his shirt. My heart flip-flopped for a moment and my grip on the stakes slackened for a fraction of a second. His pale skin was covered by black sigils that seemed to blur in the twilight. It was cold, but for them to work well, the creatures pursuing us needed to see them-the same reason I'd pinned the petition to God to my chest.

I worked the prayer through my teeth, one eye on the horizon, at the roiling shadows in the east.

" . . . Uff die Erd wie im Himmel."

"Damn it, Bonnet." He grabbed my elbow. He tore the white bonnet off my head, stuffed it into his pocket.

I snatched at the strings. "Don't . . ."

"This thing makes you a target. I could see you from all the way back there." He stabbed a thumb at Ginger's retreating figure on horseback, melting into the grass. "It shines like a beacon."

I lifted my chin. "Ja. Maybe it should."

This was an argument we repeated often. Though the end of the world had come, I adhered to the old ways. I was born Amish, and I would die Amish.

But hopefully not tonight.

Alex's eyes narrowed and he looked over my head. I could feel his hand grow cold through the sleeve of my dress.

"They're here," I breathed.

He swore.

Alex pulled me back, back into the tall grass disturbed by a breeze.

My breath hissed behind my teeth:

"Unser deeglich Brot gebb uns heit,

Un vergebb unser Schulde,

Wie mir die vergewwe wu uns schuldich sinn."

I ran. I felt the grass slashing around my skirts as I plunged into the gathering night. The landscape slipped past, and I had the feeling of flying for a moment, of hurtling through that striped shadow in which no crickets sang.

But I knew that a more solid Darkness gathered behind me. I could feel it against my back, the way the air grew thick and cold, the way it felt above the earth right before first frost.

The last lines of the Lord's Prayer slipped from my lips:

"Un fiehr uns net in die Versuchung,

Awwer hald uns vum ewile.

Fer dei is es Reich, die Graft,

Un die Hallichkeit in Ewichkeit . . ."

Evil hissed behind me, crackling like ice popping over a fire. I felt the thread of a spider web slip through the grass, breaking on my hands.

"Amen."

I turned, swinging the hoe in an arc around me. It whipped through the grass with the sound of a card trapped in bicycle spokes. A pair of glowing eyes leapt back, but claws scrabbled around the makeshift stake. I lunged with the second weapon in my left hand. The point struck home into something solid, and that something shrieked. I fought back the urge to shudder.

Nothing human made a sound like that. It was a sound like a bobcat wailing at sunset, mourning the loss of the day. Only this shadow mourned the loss of flesh.

Alex, ever the anthropologist, had a theory about that sound. In the calmer daylight hours, he speculated that this shriek had been at the root of the banshee myth, in an earlier, more orderly age. Once upon a time, when there had been civilization. I'd never heard the myth before, but I knew that inhuman sound all too well now.

The stake broke off in my hand, and I stumbled back with only splinters in my fist. Something swept up from the grass and ripped at my sleeve with claws.

I howled, smelling my own blood. The scent would bring more of them.

I twisted in its grip. The letter pinned to the front of my dress rustled and the creature with the glowing eyes hissed. It loosened its hold, enough for me to jam the ruined stake into its face.

I was no longer a pacifist. I meant to kill.

I was no stranger to death. We Amish lived close to the earth, under the watchful eye of God and all of his kingdom. I had helped with the butchering of pigs, mourned the loss of dogs at my kennel in whelping. I had stood at the bedsides of my grandparents when they died. I'd held my mother's last child, a stillborn, and witnessed a neighbor die during childbirth. Those things had happened in normal life.

But when life stopped and God's kingdom fell into shadow, I saw death in an entirely different fashion. I had dressed the bodies of women in my community for burial, only to be forced to cut their heads off before daylight's fingers of sunshine had left them. I had seen children torn asunder, reduced to unrecognizable smears on a ceiling. I had slain men who were once like brothers to me, impaled them, and burned them.

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