Here we go: the next section of chapter eleven of Ash. This time: what happened to Jason and Rachel after a raging cliche broke loose?
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Coals of Fire: Ash
That’s all I can think of now: not the burning in my legs, or the burning in my lungs, or the crack of gunfire that pursues us. Just that one word, and the tiny, sweaty hand grasped in mine.
Run, Jason. Run, run, run.
It’s mum’s voice I hear, shouting at me, screaming, pushing Rachel into my arms, as the world turns to fire around us and the air becomes thick and acrid. I can’t breathe, I can’t see, I can’t think. All I know is that I can’t let go of the hand in my hand, and that I must run.
So I run. Through a door, through another door, into the void of the night outside, past a body splayed across the garden path, through the gate blown from its hinges, into a black pall of smoke that blinds me and chokes me. I’m sobbing, crying, the tears streaming through the soot on my face. Terror consumes me, strangling me, making me stumble. Still I hold on to that little hand. It’s the only thing I have left now, and I can’t let it go.
Shapes in the fog. Black masks, eyes like flies, hands clutching rifles that turn on us and spit fire and death. We stumble as we turn, veering away from them, losing ourselves in the smoke. Rachel’s hand grips mine tightly, and I know she’s still with me, and I find new strength from somewhere and run faster than ever, down the road, my feet pounding on asphalt, away, away, away.
Then the smoke’s gone, and we’re running through long grass in the cold night air, and I stumble and fall headlong, smashing my head on a stone, and finally I lose hold of her hand as I roll over and over and come to a halt.
I lie on my back in the long grass, shivering and sobbing, gasping and coughing, my body drained, my heart empty. Tears still blur my vision, and only when the shivering subsides do I muster the energy to raise my hand and wipe them away.
I look up. The sky is full of stars. More stars than I’ve ever seen before in my life: hundreds, thousands, millions, billions, Even the spaces between the stars are full of stars. A dense band of them curves across the sky, achingly beautiful. I lie and stare up at it, wondering how I never noticed such a thing before.
There’s movement beside me. A small form crawls up and nestles itself against my body, and I automatically put my arm out and pull Rachel close. She’s shivering too, from fright and from the cold. I roll over and put my other arm around her, letting the heat from my body seep into her. I’m freezing myself, but that doesn’t matter at the moment. All that matters is getting her warm.
Run, run, run.
Panic seizes me. What are we doing? We can’t stop here. They’re coming, with their helicopters and their bombs and their guns and their faceless faces, coming to find us and kill us.
I sit up, every muscle in my body protesting in agony. I ignore the pain. I can’t stop. I have to get her up. I have to get her away.
Then I see where we are.
I stare for a long time, just trying to take it in, to understand what it means. It’s vast, and empty: no houses, no lights, no buildings. Only the stars, and the night, and Rachel, and me. The white moon picks out each blade of grass, each tussock, each hillock, each rolling valley and snow-tipped mountain in the far distance. It’s midday cast in blue and grey.
I turn to Rachel. She’s sitting up now, her arms wrapped around her thin body, her black hair blacker in the bright moonlight. She looks at me inscrutably, her expression saying nothing.
“What did you do?” I say.
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Can anyone guess what Rachel did? Next time: What Happened Next. (Here’s a clue: it involves time travel. Oh, yes I did …)