Along the road, the buildings didn’t look as damaged as everything on the boardwalk, although Olivia noticed that most of the houses still looked empty and forgotten. Other than the old man, Olivia only saw a few other houses that looked like they had any people living in them.
On the next corner, they pedaled past a group of little kids, barefoot and dirty, standing under a dense clump of trees between neglected yards. The kids held sticks and they poked at something on the ground. Oh, god is that an animal?
Most of the kids ignored them, but one little boy looked up at Olivia as she rode by. His stare was stone cold. Soulless. It chilled Olivia to her core, but she wasn’t going to say anything about it to Alison.
“Hey!” Alison yelled. Olivia stopped and turned around. Alison stood straddling her bike. “Get away from that,” Alison scolded, waving her arms at the kids. “You’ll get sick.”
The six other kids all looked up at once like wild animals. The way they moved all at the same time freaked Olivia out. And she had never seen children’s faces look so hard. So full of hate. They sneered at Alison and Olivia like the girls were something disgusting. All seven children held up their sticks. Olivia noticed the pointy ends dripped red and trailed bits of what looked like bloody meat.
“Alison?” Olivia wanted to get out of there. Fast.
“It’s disgusting. These kids are playing with a dead animal. I think it’s a cat. Poor kitty.” Alison turned back to face the kids. They were closer to her. Moving slowly and all together, like one creature. They held up their drippy, meaty sticks in front of their cold, sneering faces.
Alison didn’t seem to notice or to care. “Don’t even tell me you kids killed that cat. I will go off on you. That’s sick! Where are your parents?”
Their eyes were stony. Their mouths were tight, gray slits like they had never smiled in their lives. Olivia felt the hairs stand up on the back of her neck and her heart thumped faster. “Allie, we need to go.”
“But the cat.”
“It’s dead.” Olivia felt panic rising as the kids moved toward them holding their sticks like a Roman legion. Olivia got the feeling that these kids would do to her and Alison exactly what they were doing to that dead cat. She didn’t even try to hide her panic. “Allie, NOW!”
It finally seemed to dawn on Alison that these little kids wanted to hurt her and that they could. Alison pedaled away, and the kids stopped walking and stood, still holding their sticks like spears. From a safe distance, Alison called over her shoulder, “Leave innocent animals alone, you sick freaks.”
“Allie, we have to get back to The Mansion. We need to get your family and get out of Cape November.” Olivia pedaled faster. She could not stop checking her mirrors. “These people out here aren’t right in the head.”
A few blocks later, Olivia checked the cross-shaped mirror on the handlebar. Her breath caught in her throat when she spotted an old, dilapidated white van. They had passed other cars, but since seeing those kids, Olivia was on edge. Something about the van scared her. She slowed down to let Alison ride alongside her. The van slowed down, too. “Did you notice the van behind us?”
“Don’t turn around!” Olivia warned as Alison began to look. “It’s better if they think we don’t know.”
“Why?” Olivia knew that Alison was giving one-word answers because she was getting winded. She did that on the treadmills at the gym, too.
“I think that van is following us. Can you pedal faster?”
“No. We should…” Alison panted, “get back… to the boardwalk.” Her voice became more breathless as they pedaled harder. “Can’t …follow us.”
Olivia checked the mirror again. The shadowy trees reflecting off the windshield made it impossible to see inside the van. She thought she could make out a pair of long, white chins, just like the big guys she saw at the traffic light and in the parking lot, but she forced herself not to go there in her head.
The girls steered their bikes sharply right and pedaled faster. Olivia let Alison go in front, otherwise she was worried she might lose her. In the mirror, Olivia could see that the van hadn’t turned yet. There were only a few houses on the street, and the first one they passed was boarded up and abandoned. The front yard was overgrown with out-of-control bushes and unmowed grass.
“No way!” Alison said.
At the end of the street, Olivia saw them. Two large men in ratty, black, hooded ponchos stepped into the road, blocking the way to the boardwalk.
Olivia felt her gut turn to jelly.
“Quick! In here.” Alison slammed her footbrake and skidded into the dirt grooves through the grass. It was a driveway that curved through the trees. Olivia could vaguely make out a large, blue building. Olivia felt choking fear grip her. Through the trees, Olivia saw the white van come around the corner.
“Hurry up, Liv!” Alison rasped.
Olivia stood panting next or Alison. “Where are you going?”
“We should cut through and get back to the boardwalk. Just stay low.”
They pushed their bikes to the side of the driveway, trying to stay hidden in the overgrown shrubs. Olivia heard the rattling motor get close and then stop at the end of the driveway.
Alison panted like a dog. “Are those the guys you saw?”
Olivia’s mouth stopped working when the doors on the van creaked and rattled open. Trying to stay low and hidden, the girls watched through the tall weeds as a giant in a long, ragged black poncho hobbled slowly up the driveway. When she saw the distinctive, jerky, limping walk, Olivia felt a tear sting her eye.