Behind me, the branches and trees crunched and snapped as the creature tore through them.
I didn’t scream—there was no one who could come to help me, nothing that could stop the monster that lurched behind me. The only thing I could do was run faster.
Then the ground gave way beneath me. Under the pale moonlight, the tall grass and thick forest made it hard for me to see where I was going, and it was already too late when I felt my foot squelching down into the dense mud of the surrounding swamp.
I fell forward and tried to climb to higher ground, but the ground had swallowed my legs up. There wasn’t enough time for me to get free.
It was close enough that I could smell the sulfur on its breath. I could hear the beast behind me—it made a strange high-pitched guttural sound, like a demonic squeal of delight.
Grabbing a broken branch, I turned around to face the creature as it tore through the trees toward me. I brandished the branch like a weapon. If I was going down, I was going down swinging.
My feet rested against the dashboard of the Winnebago as we lumbered down the road, the second vehicle in a small caravan of beat-up trailers and motorhomes.
The sun hadn’t completely risen yet, but it was light enough that I could see outside. Not that there was much to see. The bridge stretched on for miles across Lake Tristeaux, and I could see nothing but the water around us, looking gray in the early morning light.
The AC had gone out sometime in Texas, and we wouldn’t have the money to fix it until after this stint in Caudry, if we were lucky. I’d cracked the window, and despite the chill, the air felt thick with humidity. That’s why I never liked traveling to the southeastern part of the country—too humid and too many bugs.
But we took the work that we got, and after a long dry spell waiting in Oklahoma for something to come up, I was grateful for this. We all were. If we hadn’t gotten the recommendation to Caudry, I’m not sure what we would’ve done, but we were spending our last dimes and nickels just to make it down here.
I stared ahead at Gideon’s motorhome in front of us. The whole thing had been painted black with brightly colored designs swirling around it, meant to invoke images of mystery and magic. The name “Gideon Davorin’s Traveling Sideshow” was painted across the back and both the sides. Once sparkles had outlined it, but they’d long since worn off.
My eyelids began to feel heavy, but I tried to ward off sleep. The radio in the car was playing old Pink Floyd songs that my mom hummed along to, and that wasn’t helping anything.
“You can go lay down in the back,” Mom suggested.
She did look awake, her dark gray eyes wide and a little frantic, and both her hands gripped the wheel. Rings made of painted gold and cheap stones adorned her fingers, glinting as the sun began to rise over the lake, and black vine tattoos wrapped around her hands and down her arms.
For a while, people had mistaken us for sisters since we looked so much alike. The rich caramel skin we both shared helped keep her looking young, but the strain of recent years had begun to wear on her, causing crow’s-feet to sprout around her eyes and worried creases to deepen in her brow.
I’d been slouching low in the seat but I sat up straighter. “No, I’m okay.”
“We’re almost there. I’ll be fine,” she insisted.
“You say we’re almost there, but it feels like we’re driving across the Gulf of Mexico,” I said, and she laughed. “We’ve probably reached the Atlantic by now.”
She’d been driving the night shift, which was why I was hesitant to leave her. We normally would’ve switched spots about an hour or two ago, with me driving while she lay down. But since we were so close to our destination, she didn’t see the point in it.
On the worn padded bench beside the dining table, Blossom Mandelbaum snored loudly, as if to remind us we both should be sleeping. I glanced back at her. Her head lay at a weird angle, propped up on a cushion, and her brown curls fell around her face.
Ordinarily, Blossom would be in the Airstream she shared with Carrie Lu, but since Carrie and the Strongman had started dating (and he had begun staying over in their trailer), Blossom had taken to crashing in our trailer sometimes to give them privacy.
It wasn’t much of a bother when she slept here, and in fact, my mom kind of liked it. As one of the oldest members of the carnival—both in age and in the length of time she’d been working here—my mom had become a surrogate mother to many of the runaways and lost souls that found us.
Blossom was two years younger than me, on the run from a group home that didn’t understand her or what she could do, and my mom had been more than happy to take her under her wing. The only downside was her snoring.
Well, that and the telekinesis.