Fiber

“One car, five cheerleaders, and a totally disregarded speed limit: these are the things that dreams are made of.” But when Heather and her friends head to a rest stop, they drive straight into the middle of a bad horror movie—well, to be fair, as a former zombie, Heather is always in the middle of a horror movie…

Tor.com is pleased to present Seanan McGuire’s short story, “Fiber”, originally published in the Shawn Speakman’s Unbound anthology—available now from Grim Oak Press. Like Unfettered before it, the contributing writers of Unbound were allowed to submit the tales they wished fans of genre to read—without the constraints of a theme. It is an anthology filled with some spectacularly new and wonderful stories, each one as diverse as its creator.

 

 

 

“Fiber”

 

The trouble began when Laurie discovered that Jamie Lee Curtis yogurt. You know, the stuff that’s marketed at, like, middle-aged moms who want to reclaim their youth, or at least the ability to have regular bowel movements again. Anyway, Laurie loves Jamie Lee Curtis, for reasons that are a mystery to anyone whose taste in popular culture has matured past the early ’90s. Also, Laurie is frequently too lazy to chew. So when Jamie Lee Curtis said “come, my children, and eat of my poop yogurt,” Laurie was first in line.

Well, Laurie’s mom was, on account of Laurie is also too lazy to go to the goddamn store. It’s sort of a miracle that Laurie wasn’t too lazy to go out for the cheerleading squad, except for the part where once you wear the orange and green uniform of a Fighting Pumpkin, you basically have a license to cut class. She became a cheerleader because it allowed her to be even lazier. Now that was dedication.

Anyway, we were driving back from an away game against the Devil’s Spoke Scorpions—a bunch of lazy jerks whose cheer squad was barely deserving of the name, much less their pom-poms—with Jude behind the wheel, Marti in the front, and me, Laurie, and Colleen jammed into the back. The rest of the squad had gone on ahead in the football bus, choosing comfort and efficiency over the freedom of the road and being stacked like cordwood in Jude’s backseat. Which, well. The bus was seeming like a better idea with every mile we drove, since Laurie was slurping down yogurt like it was about to be made illegal, while Colleen balanced her notebook on her knee and scribbled in her weird shorthand. We couldn’t even really have a conversation, since Marti had all the windows down and the radio cranked all the way to “moving noise violation.”

At the same time, I hadn’t had this much fun in ages. Largely because I had been a zombie up until the homecoming game, when the weird girl we’d found in the woods had flung herself into the post-game bonfire, burning up and being forgotten by everyone who wasn’t on the squad in the same instant. There had been no body, no bones; only straw, and the faint scent of singed pumpkin-flesh. And I had come back to life. My heart had started beating, the scars from my autopsy had scabbed over and started to heal, and I had found myself with a lot of explaining to do.
My parents were still sort of in shock, and viewed me as something between a miracle and a test. When I’d explained, very earnestly, that my return from the grave was connected to the cheerleading squad, they had opened their checkbooks, made a substantial donation to the school, and bought me a new uniform. Being alive was pretty cool. Even if Marti did need to learn how to turn the music down.

Then Laurie looked up from her yogurt—strawberry with extra fiber—worried her lower lip between her teeth for a moment, and said, “I need to go.”

Colleen kept writing. Marti kept howling along to a Katy Perry song that had been pretty much incomprehensible before it became a duet with a tone-deaf cheerleader. I blanched, leaning away from her. The worst thing about coming back from the dead: bodily functions. It didn’t matter what it was, if it came out of an orifice, I didn’t want anything to do with it. Doubly so if the orifice it came out of wasn’t my own.

Laurie scowled, guessing—rightly—that Jude hadn’t heard her, and repeated, more loudly, “I have to go.”

The car continued to hurtle down the road as fast as Jude’s commitment to safe driving would allow. The howling of the wind mingled with the howling of pop music and cheerleader, creating an unholy trio that could only be pierced by something even worse.

“I said, I HAVE TO GO!” shouted Laurie. Colleen jumped, her pen drawing a thick black line across the center of the page she’d been scribbling on. Marti swore, loudly enough to be heard over the song. And Jude hit the brakes, slamming us all forward. I gasped, closing my eyes.

To become a zombie, you have to die. That’s just Necromancy 101. And I, well, died in a car crash when my boyfriend-at-the time decided that he wasn’t too drunk to drive. I couldn’t put all the blame on him. I had been too drunk to stop him. End result: while I don’t mind riding in cars, I don’t like it when they swerve, or brake abruptly, or do anything else that feels like losing control.

“Dammit, Laurie, you scared the crap out of Heather,” snapped Marti. I could hear her, which meant she had turned the radio off. That was a nice change.

“No one was listening to me,” said Laurie sullenly. I opened my eyes. Laurie had her arms crossed and was sulking at Marti, who had twisted around in her seat to glare into the back. Jude had pulled off to the side and was also twisted around, although her expression was more concerned than accusatory. Her sleek black hair fell in perfect wings to either side of her face, held back with a pumpkin-shaped hair clip that would have seemed immature, if not for our school mascot. Being a Fighting Pumpkin meant never needing to apologize for shopping at Claire’s.
“What do you need, Laurie?” asked Jude.

“Can we—” began Laurie.

Jude held up a hand, stopping her. “Please don’t,” she said.

We all had our little quirks, like me having been dead for a while, or Marti being allergic to gluten. In Laurie’s case, “quirk” was another way of saying “people generally did what she asked them to do.” She could turn a simple request into an order, just by phrasing it the right way. Jude had been working with her on finding ways to say things without making them an irresistible compulsion for the people around her.

(Laurie’s parents were both perfectly nice, perfectly normal people who didn’t seem to understand why anyone would want to do anything apart from what their daughter asked. But Colleen, who was the squad’s record keeper and had access to all the Fighting Pumpkins handbooks, going back to the foundation of the high school, said that she was pretty sure Laurie’s great-grandmother had been a river nymph of some sort. Some things can skip a generation or two. Like gills, or an irresistible voice.)

“But I need to go,” whined Laurie. “I gotta go bad.”

“Can’t you just piss behind a bush like a normal person?” asked Marti. She sounded annoyed. That was pretty normal. Marti generally sounded annoyed by anything that wasn’t all about Marti, which made her a perfect mean girl attack dog for the rest of us. Any time someone started to question why the Pumpkins did things a certain way, we’d just point Marti at them and run in the opposite direction. After she was done stripping the flesh from their bones with her tongue—metaphorically speaking, anyway; she wasn’t a real flesh-stripper—they were generally way more willing to tolerate the rest of us being a little odd.

“No!” Laurie shot a horrified look at the back of Marti’s head. “I don’t need to go number one. I need to go.”

Colleen looked up from her notes and said, in a surprisingly clinical tone, “She’s been eating yogurt for the last hour. By now, her colon is probably ready to explode. She needs to—”

“I am begging you not to finish that sentence,” said Jude. “We’ll stop at the very next place we see so you can use the bathroom, all right, Laurie? Do you think you can hold it for just a couple of miles?”

“I can try,” said Laurie. She sank deeper in her seat. “Just hurry, okay?”

“I’ll hurry,” said Jude, and hit the gas.

#

One car, five cheerleaders, and a totally disregarded speed limit: these are the things that dreams are made of. Jude drove like a girl who desperately didn’t want to have her upholstery cleaned, until an exit loomed up ahead of us, complete with a large, hand-painted sign advertising JACK’S COFFEE * GAS * HOMEMADE BEEF JERKY.

“I bet they have a bathroom,” said Laurie, with strained enthusiasm.

“I bet they have a man in a hockey mask waiting to carve our faces off and wear them like pretty little masks,” said Marti. “I don’t want to stop here. This looks unhygienic.”

“I gotta go,” said Laurie.

“I don’t know—” began Jude.

And that was when Laurie, sensing that the bathroom was about to slip out of her grasp, did the unforgivable. “Jude, can we please stop? This place seems nice.”

“Sure, Laurie,” said Jude, and swerved for the exit, ignoring the way Marti and Colleen were shouting for her to slow down. I didn’t shout. It wouldn’t do any good now that Jude was on a mission, and I had a better task to perform: glaring at Laurie like I was willing the flesh to melt right off of her bones.

To her extremely slight credit, Laurie grimaced apologetically and whispered, “I’m sorry, I know I’m not supposed to put the whammy on squad members, but I have to go.”

“You didn’t put the whammy on a squad member, you put it on the squad leader,” I whispered back. “You’re going to be lucky if you don’t spend the rest of the season sitting on the bench as a punishment for treason.”

“I wasn’t aware that we were a totalitarian government,” said Colleen, adjusting her glasses as Jude got the car back onto an even keel. “There’s nothing in the bylaws about treason charges.”

“Shut up, Colleen,” snarled Marti.

Laurie crossed her legs, looked apologetic, and said nothing.

We were approaching the end of the exit, which looked exactly as promising as an area that played host to Jack’s Coffee should. Heavy weeds choked the fields in every direction, broken only by the shapes of twisted, claw-like trees. None of the trees had leaves, naturally; that would have been too friendly, and too welcoming to travelers. It was like we were driving into a bad horror movie from the late 1970s, before anyone had discovered concepts like “production values.”

Then we came around the bend, and things got worse.

Jack’s Coffee, Gas, and Homemade Beef Jerky was a wooden shack with two antique pumps shoved into the cracked concrete out front. One of them was listing to the side at an alarming angle. The other had a sign on it that read “Out of Order.” Completing the picture was a green porta-potty, shoved off to one side with a piece of cardboard declaring “Customers Only” taped to the front.

“Go be customers buy something I don’t care what,” wailed Laurie, launching herself out of the car as soon as it started to slow down. The door slammed shut behind her as Jude brought us to a full stop.

The sound was the trigger: Jude’s hands tightened on the wheel, her shoulders going abruptly stiff, before she leaned forward, attention focused on the fleeing Laurie. “We’ve stopped,” she said.

“Yes,” said Colleen.

“I did not want to stop.”

“True,” said Marti.

Jude made an irritated noise. “She whammied me.”

“Yes,” I said, opening my door. “And then she whammied us all. Excuse me, but I need to be a customer and buy something.”

Grumbling and muttering, the other three cheerleaders followed me as I climbed out of the car. We were an odd streak of color in the blasted landscape: we had changed out of our uniforms after the game, choosing comfort over remaining encased in cotton-poly blend, so we were all in jeans. But our sweatshirts and hair bows were in various permutations of the school colors, orange and green, the high school social structure equivalent of those deep-sea fish that look like rainbows and will poison the shit out of anything that tries to eat them. Even with most of the squad elsewhere, we moved like a pack, smooth and fluid and completely united.

The door was unlocked. That was good. It creaked like a prop from a Vincent Price movie. That was bad. Nothing creaked like that unless it had been abandoned for twenty years, or was being intentionally damaged by a local horror enthusiast.

The interior wasn’t much better, although to be fair, it was precisely the sort of place that had been promised by the exterior. The floor was bare, splintery wood, and looked like it would give way under any but the most cautious of treads. There were shelves, which meant that the place could continue to claim to be a “convenience store,” no matter how inconvenient it actually was, but those shelves were virtually bare, and the boxes and cans they did hold were all brands I didn’t recognize. Judging by the hairstyles and clothing of the grinning kids on the cereal boxes, some of the groceries had been here since my parents were in high school, if not longer. Eating anything sold in this store would probably be a quick ticket to food poisoning.

“I am going to strangle Laurie with my bare hands,” said Marti philosophically, as she looked around. “If anyone wants to dissuade me, feel free, but it’s not going to work. She’s going to die, and I’m not going to be sorry.”

“At least prison jumpsuits are orange,” said Colleen. She took a dainty step forward. The floor creaked, but held. “Maybe they have gum.”

“Does it still count as gum after it’s fossilized?” I asked.

“Can I help you girls?” The voice was calm, clear, and sounded like it belonged on the radio, maybe trying to sell us a new car or something. I jumped anyway, spinning around with Marti, Colleen, and Jude only half a beat behind me. (Coming back from the dead hadn’t changed my reflexes back to human normal, and the horror movies lie about how quickly zombies react to the possibility of a good meal: at my best, I could pluck squirrels out of the trees. These days, I’m just a little quicker than the norm. Which is still uncannily fast, especially when compared to the people around me.)

The man in the doorway matched the voice. He had brown hair, brown eyes, and a chin that should have been immortalized in story, song, and the occasional soft-focus photo shoot. Only his clothes spoiled the effect, since I’d never seen a piece of prime beefcake wearing dirty brown zip-up mechanic’s overalls before. They were at least three sizes too big, and still managed to look amazing. The thought that if he looked that good in them, he’d look even better out of them occurred briefly. I shoved it down. This was the time to buy expired sodas and rock-hard gum, not to indulge our carnal natures.

Besides, while I was willing to share most things with my squad, the idea of adding my love life—or lust life, as might have been more accurate—to the list just didn’t sit well with me.

“Hi!” said Jude, falling immediately into her role as leader. She offered the stranger a winning smile. (Literally winning. That smile had put us over the top at cheer camp, twice. When it came to bringing home the gold, the power of Jude’s orthodontist could not be ignored.) “Do you work here?”

“Oh my God what the fuck,” muttered Marti, slapping her forehead with one hand. Louder, she said, “Jude. He’s wearing the logo of this shit-shack on his left boy-boob. If he doesn’t work here, he’s a murder-hobo, and we need to leave.”

“Please forgive my friend; she was raised by wolves, and she doesn’t really understand how to interact with normal people,” said Jude. She glared daggers at Marti before flashing another smile at the stranger. “I was just hoping you could sell us something. Our friend is using your bathroom, and she’s really into following the letter of the law.”

“Ah, the ‘customers only’ sign got another one,” said the man. He looked amused by the whole situation. I wasn’t sure whether that was a good thing or a bad thing. We were sort of a house of horrors once we got going—most people found us less “amusing” and more “terrifying give them whatever they want so they’ll go away.”

I’d say it was because we were a bunch of sometimes semi-supernatural weirdoes who flung each other into the air for fun, but honestly, the semi-supernatural thing didn’t seem to have anything to do with it. Every cheerleading squad had their own version of our repelling field, effective on high school students and high school graduates alike. Once you’ve known the terror of large groups of girls in short skirts and spirit bows, you can never truly be free of it.

Only this fellow didn’t seem to be batting an eye, either out of fear or because he wanted some barely legal cheerleader action (also not uncommon, unfortunately). He was looking at the four of us with an expression of vague amusement, like we were the most adorable things that had ever darkened his doorstep. That made me nervous. No, more than nervous: that made me wary. Never trust anybody who can look at a group of teenage girls in short skirts and not react at all. Those are almost always the people who are hiding something.

“We don’t get much business around here,” he said. “How’d you like some homemade beef jerky?”

“Was it made this decade?” asked Marti.

“Yes,” said the man, looking amused. “It was even made this year. I’m Chuck, by the way.”

“Jude,” said our squad leader. She pointed at the rest of us as she listed, in turn, “Marti, Colleen, and Heather. Our fifth Fighting Pumpkin should be here shortly.”

“If she didn’t fall in,” said Chuck, and laughed at his own joke before starting toward the counter. “Come on. I’ll show you what we’ve got.”

The beef jerky was kept up at the front counter in a variety of old apothecary jars. Anywhere else, they would have looked charmingly antique. Here, they fed right into the overall horror movie décor, making it seem even more likely that a man with a machete was going to spring out at us at any moment.

“Oh, look, teriyaki,” said Colleen happily, and removed the lid from the first jar of jerky.

The smell hit me immediately, blunted by a heavy coating of teriyaki, but unmistakable all the same. I actually moaned, the sound rising involuntarily from the depths of my throat and causing all three of my teammates to whip around and stare at me. Jude, especially, went pale. She extended one hand like she was going to take my arm, only to pause and pull back, unsure of what she was supposed to do.

“Heather?” she said. “Are you . . . feeling all right?”

The man in the overalls raised his eyebrows. “Your friend sounds hungry. She a big fan of jerky?”

“Actually, she’s a vegetarian,” said Marti smoothly. She plucked the lid from Colleen’s unresisting fingers and clamped it back down over the jar. The smell of teriyaki jerky stopped invading the store, although it lingered in my nostrils, dreadful and cloying, like smoke, or permanent marker.

Jude frowned, eyes still locked on my face. “Heather?”

I struggled to make my jaw unclench. My heart was hammering, and my lungs ached—I hadn’t exhaled since the jar had been opened, freeing that terrible, wonderful scent. I tried to focus on my heartbeat. It meant that I was still alive. Living people had choices. They could choose whether to moan or not. They could choose whether they were going to stuff their faces with jerky or kick some terrifying gas station asshole in the balls. They were alive. But in the moment, I didn’t feel like I had any choices at all. I couldn’t move.

The door banged open behind me and footsteps pattered into the room, followed by Laurie demanding mulishly, “Aren’t you guys done yet? The bathroom was way gross. I had to raid the glove compartment for wet wipes. By the way, we’re out of wet wipes. Do they sell those here?”

“Just a second, Laurie,” said Jude. Her eyes remained fixed on me. “Heather? Are you feeling all right? Do we need to step outside? Because we can step outside, if that’s what needs to happen. We can always come back in and make our purchases after you’ve had a chance to take a few deep breaths and maybe sit down.”

“Maybe she just needs to eat some jerky,” said Chuck. “In my experience, most vegetarians are just people who haven’t had enough beef jerky in their lives.”

That was the last straw. My jaw finally obeyed my orders to unclench. As soon as I could move again, I grabbed the nearest arm, which belonged to Jude, and yanked it—along with its owner—further from the jars of jerky. “Human,” I hissed.

Jude, who hadn’t risen to leader of the Fighting Pumpkins cheer squad by being slow on the uptake, gasped. Marti and Colleen looked at me blankly. And Laurie skipped over to the counter and reached for the nearest jar.

“This looks delicious!” she chirped. “Sorry about the, um, you-know from before. I just really had to go.”

Marti’s hand clamped down on Laurie’s wrist before she could take the lid off the jar. “How about you reverse the you-know so that we can all leave, hmm?” she said. “I don’t think Heather’s feeling much like jerky right now.”

Chuck, who had been looking increasingly confused by the ruckus we were making, frowned. “Now, hang on,” he said. “We enforce a strict ‘customers only’ policy with our bathroom facilities.”

“Oh, like what, you’re going to shove it back up her ass?” snapped Marti. “How about we leave a dollar on the counter, and you call it all good?”

“Wait, why is my ass involved?” asked Laurie, sounding alarmed.

I found my voice again. “It’s human,” I said. “The jerky is made from people.”

“Are you sure?” asked Jude.

“I know what human flesh smells like,” I said, letting go of her arm. “I know what it tastes like too. None of you need to know that. We need to leave. Laurie?”

“Um,” she said, pulling away from the jerky jar. Marti released her wrist, enabling her retreat. “No one has to buy anything, let’s just leave.”

“Oh, no, sugar,” said Chuck. His voice had dropped down into his chest, becoming dark and gravelly. I whirled, putting myself between him and the rest of the squad.

His overalls weren’t too large anymore. If anything, they were too small, clinging to his body like they had been painted on, seams threatening to split with every move of his densely muscled arms. Hair covered his neck and hands, and ran up the sides of his face in some of the most impressive muttonchops I had ever seen a man grow in under a minute. His eyes had gone from charming brown to piss-yellow, cold and somehow rancid, like they were windows for a soul that had gone bad.

“No, no, no,” he said, showing a mouthful of jagged teeth. “You agreed to the contract when you used the bathroom. Customers only. If you want to break it, you’re going to pay.”

“Oh, goodie,” said Colleen faintly. “We found a wendigo. I always wondered if they were real.”

Chuck snarled and lunged for her. Marti kicked him in the throat as Jude kicked him in the balls. I elbowed him in the side of the neck for good measure before I grabbed Jude again and hauled ass for the exit, trusting the others to follow. The wendigo, meanwhile, was in the process of folding in half and dropping to his knees, thus proving the old adage that you should never forget to wear a cup to a cheerleader fight. No matter what kind of junk you’re packing in your pants, a good boot to the groin is going to put you down if you don’t have protection.
The door hadn’t latched all the way. I hit it shoulder-first, bursting onto the porch in a shower of splinters and deeply confused termites. All I needed to do was get Jude to the car. The others could look out for themselves, or I could double back for them once I was sure that our captain was safe; saving her meant saving the team, at least symbolically. It was less than twenty yards to safety—

Twenty yards, and three more wendigo, their mouths bristling with teeth and their chins slick with drool. I came skidding to a stop, aided by Jude, who grabbed the doorframe with the hand that wasn’t clutching my shoulder. Her fingers dug in to both the wood and my flesh. We halted.

“What the fuck,” demanded Marti from behind me. I glanced over my shoulder. Wendigo #1 was still crumpled in a heap on the floor. He was going to be pissed when he recovered. Marti, Colleen, and Laurie were all standing there, ready to run, which gave them a clear line of sight on the new wendigo. “Why are we in a horror movie? I just had my nails done!”

“Because we’re always in a horror movie,” said Jude. She squirmed out of my grasp, grabbed Laurie, and shoved her in front of us. “Tell them to back off,” she ordered.

“Um,” said Laurie. She looked terrified. That showed more of a brain than was normal for her. Clearing her throat, she cupped her hands around her mouth and called, “Hey, monsters! Don’t eat us!”

The wendigo started laughing.

“I don’t think it worked,” said Laurie, dropping her hands. “Why didn’t it work?”

“Maybe because they’re mangy cannibalistic monsters, and not members of the Computer Club,” said Marti.

“It’s not cannibalism if they’re not human,” said Colleen.

“Should we really be standing here discussing this when we’re about to be eaten?” asked Jude, just before the wendigo we had left inside the shop—good old Chuck—slammed into her from behind and sent her sprawling into me. I slammed into Laurie, and all three of us went down in a heap, with the wendigo on top of us.

He didn’t stay there long. There was an enraged scream, and then he was fleeing from Marti, who was attempting to use his head as a kickball. Wendigo #1 fled to the dubious safety of wendigo #2 through #4, falling into place among his pack. He snarled. So did they. I picked myself up from the porch, grabbed Jude and Laurie this time, and fled back inside.

“Barricade the door!” I shouted.

Way ahead of you,” said Marti, shouldering me out of the way as she hauled a shelf from its place in the middle of the room to prop against the door—which no longer latched, thanks to our earlier exit. “Okay, Colleen, you’re our genius. How the fuck do we get past these things?”

“I’ve never seen a wendigo before!” protested Colleen. “They’re supposed to be mythological!”

“Like zombies, mind-control, and attractive high-waisted jeans, and yet here we are,” said Marti. “Figure something out!”

Jude had picked herself up from the floor. Smoothing her hair with one hand, she asked, “What was that you said about the jerky before, Heather?”

“It’s human,” I said. My mouth flooded with spit. I swallowed it, trying to push back the memory of how delicious people had been, back when I was dead and they were my natural prey. “Teriyaki-flavored human, but still human.”

“Wendigo are cannibals,” said Marti again, shooting a glare at Colleen that dared her to argue the definition of “cannibalism.” Instead, Colleen just looked thoughtful.

“So the jerky is probably other people who stopped here for gas or to use the bathroom,” she said. “That gives me an idea.”

“We’ll try anything,” said Jude.

“Just remember you said that,” said Colleen.

#

Cheerleaders naturally come in two varieties: the ones who throw, and the ones who get thrown. We gussy our roles up with lots of extras, like “who stands on the bottom of the pyramid” and “who does the big tumbling passes,” but at the end of the day, some of us had our feet on the ground so that the rest of us could get our heads as high into the clouds as possible. Jude and Marti were both bases. Colleen and Laurie were fliers. I was a switch—I could fill either role, as needed, although most of the time, I was too busy doing cartwheels for my teammates to fling me around.

Using me as a stabilizer, Marti and Jude knelt down and allowed Colleen and Laurie, respectively, to climb onto their backs, where the two lighter girls locked their knees around the ribcages of their bases. That left Colleen and Laurie with free hands, and the leverage they would need if they had to launch themselves into the air. Jude handed me her car keys. I handed Jude and Marti each a jar of jerky, which they passed up to Colleen and Laurie.

“This is a terrible plan,” I said.

“Go, Pumpkins,” said Jude, and kicked the door open.

The wendigo were still outside—true to Colleen’s supposition, they had decided to wait us out rather than destroy their own shack. It was always nice to deal with responsibly minded monsters. Jude and Marti screamed as they ran. I dove for the space between them, hitting the ground on my hands and going into a tumbling pass that would have been illegal in competition; I was pushing myself high and hard, without pausing to breathe or give my spotters time to adjust for my position. It was the sort of stunt that breaks necks.

Like the neck of the wendigo I landed on halfway across the yard. There was a sickening crunch as he went down, and the smell of blood and piss filled the air. Hitting someone in the base of the skull with a hundred and forty pounds of fast-moving cheerleader will do that. Another of the wendigo howled, swiping at me and drawing four lines of burning pain down the back of my thigh. The smell of my blood—human enough to trigger that maddening hunger, even though it was my own—filled my mouth and nose, obscuring the stink of wendigo. The wendigo howled.

Now!” shouted Jude.

On cue, Colleen and Laurie opened their jars of jerky and began pelting the wendigo. The wendigo howled and snapped, grabbing the jerky before it could hit the ground. Two wendigo went for the same piece of jerky. Then they went for each other. Colleen spiked her jerky jar, hard, off the remaining wendigo’s head—and then I was too far ahead of the action to see what was happening any more.

Jude hadn’t bothered to lock the car in her rush to get inside and buy things. Thank fuck for that. I wrenched the door open, jammed the keys into the ignition, and hit the gas, sending the car rocketing toward the fray. Jude dove out of the way, taking Colleen with her. Marti and Laurie were a few feet away, still throwing jerky to the wendigo.

“Get in get in get in!” I screeched. Jude threw Colleen onto the roof and dove in through the passenger side door. Marti didn’t bother letting Laurie go; she just shoved her through the open window to the backseat and slung her legs in after her, leaving her own torso hanging over the edge. Reaching up, she grabbed Colleen’s arm, stabilizing them both. I hit the gas again, and we were off, accelerating away from the shack and toward the freeway, with one cheerleader on the roof, one halfway out the window, and three wendigo in pursuit.

I hate all of you!” I screamed.

Jude put on her seatbelt.

We hit the freeway at just under seventy miles per hour, weaving as I tried to keep the car under control without flinging anyone off into space. Colleen was whooping with glee. Marti was screaming incoherent curses, her meaning clear only from her tone. The wendigo were hot on our trail, which was somehow more terrifying than anything else about our situation. Shapeshifting cannibal monsters were one thing. Shapeshifting cannibal monsters that could run at seventy miles per hour were something entirely different.

A convoy of big rigs was making its lumbering way down the other side of the highway. I said a silent prayer to whatever god looks after cheerleaders and fools, and jerked the wheel hard to the side, sending us careening across three lanes and cutting off the lead truck in the convoy. Horns blared. Tires screeched. Colleen squealed.

Wendigo splashed. Everywhere. Three wendigo could generate a lot of splash. Colleen squealed again, but this time it was in disgust, not delight. “It’s in my hair, it’s in my hair!” she wailed.

“Shut up,” snarled Marti.

I kept pulling on the wheel, steering us onto the shoulder. I turned the hazard lights on, stopped the engine, and slumped backward in my seat, panting.

“Oh my God,” said Jude.

“That sucked,” said Marti, pulling herself in through the window and starting to pick bits of wendigo out of her hair. “Somebody get Colleen off the roof.”

I got out of the car and helped Colleen down as Jude slid into the driver’s seat. Colleen had been right in the path of the bursting wendigo: she was covered in gore, although she wasn’t injured. I was the only one who’d actually been hurt. Marti broke out the first aid kit, and we did some roadside medical care while Colleen toweled herself off. Then it was back into the car and back on the road for home.

#

An hour later, Laurie piped up from the back seat: “I need to go.”

Everyone groaned.

Marti threw the rest of Laurie’s yogurt out the window.

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