"Okay, so I was running from the creepy place called Doomhallow," Bryce said. He leaned over the steering wheel, peering into the darkness beyond the windshield.
"Uh huh," Eddie said, urging him on.
"But the thing is, I couldn't go far. I mean, there were apples back there. There was nothing anywhere else. I walked half a day to reach the only thing in sight. I could walk for a week without finding anything. I had no choice. I had to go back.
"When it was full dark, I arced around. There was a green light coming from over the wall, so I didn't lose track of the place in the dark. The moon rose with that obnoxious ad. That's when I knew the whole world had gone insane. Lizard dogs and an endless desert and now the moon wants me to drink Sky Cola. What the hell is Sky Cola?
"I didn't know what else to do. I had to get into Doomhallow and not be eaten by the dog or the boss or anyone else. Otherwise, I'd be dead in the desert. I came back around to the back and approached the stone wall, thinking I'd climb it. I searched in the dark, looking for anything to grip on. It was too flat. I felt my way along the wall until I came back to the gate. It was the only way in. I stood outside it, daring myself to stay there and see if the dog came back. I think I had the idea that if the dog got used to my odor, it wouldn't notice me. I was half delirious.
"As I stood there, I heard distant talking. Then there was this roaring sound, like a thousand lions. Big, massive headlights, like the ones chasing us now, came down the road from the mansion. I ran to the side. The gate opened by itself. I crouched down next to the wall, hoping they weren't coming to eat me.
"The jeep stopped outside the gate, and I got a glimpse of the driver. He was huge. I mean HUGE. And the weirdest thing, he had horns on his head. His eyes glowed red in the dark, and he held a big cigar in his teeth. He stopped there in the gateway and looked around.
"'I see a whole lot of nothing out here, Ganny,' he said. His voice sounded like a huge rock tumbler.
"'Looks that way, boss,' said a voice beside him. It was the girl from before, the one with the shotgun. She looked tiny next to the monster. The dog-thing named Gristle stood halfway on her seat, and the girl scratched absently behind his ears. 'You think this is it, Boss? The end of the world?'
"'Looks like. But I've never heard a prophecy say it would play out like this.'
"'Well, where do we go now our bog has gone disappeared?' asked Ganny.
"'it doesn't matter where we go. We'll pick a direction and see what we see out there.'
"'How can the world just disappear, boss?'
"The troll took a big draw on his cigar. 'Don't know. But when I find the one responsible, I'm going to flay him, Ganny. I'll flay him slow, so he can enjoy every second.'
"The engine roared, and they sped off.
"So, there I was with all of the bad guys gone. As the gates closed, I slipped inside.
"I went straight for the apples. On a low branch, I found the most perfectly round red apple I'd ever seen. I pulled it off, shoved it in my mouth and almost gagged. It tasted rancid, like spoiled meat. I actually chewed once, trying to force back the revulsion. I spat it out and fought back a dry heave.
"So, that didn't work out, but there was that big mansion up the driveway. The windows glowed with a greenish light. It was plenty creepy, and the trees and dead hedges and vines formed an evil-looking tunnel. It felt like I had eyes on me. I went anyway.
"The house was worse when I stood up close to it, moss running up the walls like a disease and boards half rotted away. There were racks in the yard where dead animal carcasses hung, splayed open and stinking of rot. There was junk everywhere, and a big stack of bones piled up next to the porch steps. Every instinct told me to run. I decided I'd be satisfied with some water. I didn't know how the troll lived, but the girl seemed mostly human, which meant she had to have a drink once in awhile.
"I took my first step on the porch stairway. It creaked with a wet groany sound. That's as far as I got. Then I spotted the kid at the top of the stairs and I froze.
"He looked normal, a skinny boy of maybe fifteen. He wore a blindfold, a filthy white rag wrapped around his head to cover his eyes. Neither of us moved. 'I can see you,' he said. His voice was weak--sort of croaky--but he was calm, and he stood perfectly still.
"'Please,' I said. 'I just need water. Give me a little water and I'll be out of here. I promise.'
"'Sure,' he said.
"'Really really. Do you want to come in?' He took a step back, but he didn't stop facing me.
"Things already felt off. I took another look at the rotting walls. What must it be like inside, I wondered. I said, 'Do you mind bringing it out to me?'
"The kid smiled. 'Oh, that's no problem at all. I don't get many visitors out here in the bog. No one comes out this way.'
"'I... um. I'm sure that's true.'
"Then the kid looked at me, and I swear he was staring straight through the blindfold, right into my soul. If things felt creepy before, now they were creepy to the tenth power. The kid stared like that and he said, 'Can I show you something first?'
"He reached up to take off his blindfold. He'd only moved it a bit, but from underneath was a yellowish light. Yellow light coming from his eyes!
"Next thing I knew, I was running. I didn't think about it. I just did it. Some animal instinct I guess. My Fight or Flight was telling me it was time to run. I ran! I was certain that a look into that kid's eyes would be worse than getting mauled by Gristle or dipped in lye by the troll. I ran as fast as I could, and I heard him chasing down the stairs after me.
"'Wait,' the kid said. 'What's wrong? I only want to talk.'
"Yeah, right , I thought. I should have run down the driveway, but the gate was closed now, and I couldn't climb it before he caught me. There was an old shed in the shadows to the left. I ran past it, but the hedges behind it were too thick for me to pass. I turned back and caught a glimpse of those yellow eyes. That was enough to send me in a total panic. The shed door was open, and I ran inside into the dark.
"The wood of the shed was rotting like the house, but after only two steps inside, I hit something smooth."
Bryce pointed at the dashboard. "This car. It took a second to realize what it was, but once I did, I jumped inside. I felt around in the dark thinking, there's no way the key is in it. But it was. I turned it thinking, there's no way this thing will start. It did.
"That's when the kid reached the doorway. I didn't see him, but his yellow eyes glowed brighter than the dash lights, shining off the rotten shed's interior. Just being illuminated by those eyes felt dirty, like poison. I didn't care that the bay door was closed. I threw the car in gear and crashed through. The wood door disintegrated into little moist slivers as I blasted through. I nearly collided with the house before I found the headlights. I sped down the road, and when I reached the gate, it opened automatically."
Bryce tapped the steering wheel a few times. "And that's how I got this car."
"And you think the troll is chasing us now?" Eddie asked. He was shivering, the night wind growing frigid.
"I expect so," Bryce said. "And I don't want to--"
Something big thumped under the tires. They both cried out.
"Turn on the lights," Eddie urged.
"No, they'll find us."
"Yeah, but if we run into something..."
The moon was now up, urging the planet Earth to drink Sky Cola. It cast a pale pink light on the landscape below. Eddie peered into the darkness ahead. "There's something up there. Slow down."
Bryce groaned. He hesitated a moment, then turned on the headlights.
They were closing fast on a chain-link fence, heading straight for a pole. Eddie and Bryce both screamed.