At the Larch Creek Café, where she stops before heading up the mountain, Samantha Abbott orders herself a bacon double cheeseburger. It tastes like fucking death—which is, after all, the point.
“You okay, hon?” asks the waitress when she comes by again.
The blonde stops choking down her food like it’s poisonous and looks up. Torturing herself is not productive—or even timely; at least she’s finally doing something, right?—but it’s a hard urge to resist. Before the premonitions, and before she’d unearthed this last ugly Washington family secret, she could still cling to the idea of herself as a good person. ‘Brave and selfless,’ the papers had called her for helping her friends survive. But that’s bullshit. Hence the butterflies. Hence the premonitions.
Hence this trip.
She parrots a smile that feels more like a dog’s fear grimace. “I’m fine. Everything’s fine.”
With her fresh sense of complicity, the lie that’s grown dull with use these seven months has been re-sharpened. This last in a long line of wrongs is not all her fault, but enough of it is that her heart feels ready to rupture if she lets herself dwell. And since she can’t change the past, a part of her wishes she had never learned the truth, had never thought to support Bob and Melinda Washington in their time of loss and stumbled upon the damning evidence. Like a clown car, that family—the horrors just keep coming, and this one’s swept her legs hard.
Hell, it will probably be the one that finally kills her.
And maybe that’s what she gets for not preventing . . . well, any of this.
Don’t talk like that.
But she is here. She is trying to fix it now.
“Well, just let me know you need anything else,” the waitress tries again. “You staying in town?”
“Just the check, thanks. No, not in town. Up on Mount Washington, actually.”
A laden pause. “Are you really? You know about what happened up there, don’t you?”
“To me and my friends?” Sam blinks, can’t quite contain the icy chuckle. “Yeah, I know. Believe me.”
“Oh. Uh.” The woman’s sudden recoil says it all; she drifts away like Sam’s crazy is catching.
Oh, you’ll get used to that, Sammy-bird. That’s their favorite look; you’re gonna see that one a lot.
“Great. Thanks,” she mutters to the familiar voice that has recently made itself at home.
Not that she doesn’t deserve it, but she must look bat-shit crazy. Maybe she is. Regardless, she’s not an idiot. She knows any shrink would say the voice—and the butterflies that have recently begun gathering at her window, the “dreams” that now torment her nightly—are just lingering survivor’s guilt. That there are and never were any monsters on Blackwood Mountain and that crazy Josh Washington is dead.
Naturally, the police report concurs.
But fuck shrinks, and fuck Dr. Hill in particular. The monster that still roams those dark mines is his negligent handiwork, too, and it is very real. The premonitions aren’t wrong. They’re never wrong.
Sam Abbott is shit. She’s neither brave nor selfless. But once she was a friend to a sad, broken boy who trusted her, and she doesn’t take such things lightly. So after all she hasn’t done for him, she can do this.
Is doing this, actually, now that there is a chance.
She is here.
She is going to bring him home.
* * * * *
The burger has the desired effect: she sicks it up in the parking lot of the cable car station.
Look, why’re you torturing yourself anyway, weirdo? That’s my job. Knock it off.
Josh has a point. Or he would—if. But as mayor of Crazy Town, he’d get a kick out of this, too, being a voice in someone else’s head for a change, if he were here. Would probably make some bad joke about how this wasn’t what he meant when he fantasized about being inside of her, or . . . God, something even more offensive than that. In a way, she had to admire his careful act, the way that creepy-smooth façade could hide a head so full of rusty metal and shattered glass. It’s a skill she’d do well to learn.
But, like, things got pretty jagged there at the end, though, right? Sorry about that, Sammy.
And now she’s apologizing to herself. Lunatic indeed.
Except for the flashbacks that come sluicing into her brain as she steps aboard the cable car, the ride up the mountain is uneventful. It’s a pleasant fall day, cool and bright, the first snow of the season still a ways off. As she fights to keep her breathing steady, everything below is disarmingly picturesque, craggy cliffs and tall pines flanked by a stream ducking back and forth beneath the lone access road. For a second, through the trees, she catches the glint of chrome from a work truck trundling its way up.
The ongoing reconstruction is something she already knows about, but still the proof churns up vague disgust. In a gentler world, the ruins would stay a shrine forever to all those who had suffered here. Only Bob Washington is desperately invested in not thinking about his own role in this—even more so once Melinda’s secret had come out—and this is why he’s rebuilding an exact replica of his former lodge, complete with bedrooms for his dead children and a gourmet kitchen for his creepy-ass wife. Rewriting his own personal horror script from scratch so he can pretend the bad things never happened here.
It’s painful to watch. She wonders who he’ll get to play his shiny, new kids.
She can’t fully loathe the man, though. Yeah, he should’ve been around instead of off in Hollywood petting his Golden Globe Award and his piles of cash. And he shouldn’t have left Melinda in control of everything and unquestioned, even if his tail-tucking retreat in the wake of Hannah and Beth was born of genuine mourning. Still, this whole thing is Chris’s butterfly effect, a nightmare born of ifs.
And he’s tried to make amends with Sam and the other survivors. Didn’t question when she asked to come back, even though his lawyers will have synchronized aneurisms. Even though he is firmly aboard the non-supernatural version of events—the one where wendigos aren’t real, a drifter killed Jess, and his embarrassment of a son is merely dead. About the latter, Sam suspects he may even be relieved.
But he doesn’t say it and she doesn’t dare ask and at least he is willing to indulge her.
* * * * *
This whole thing—what passes for her shit plan—comes down to finding this cure, a needle in a sea of haystacks. Well, it’s like that, only she doesn’t even know what the needle looks like. Which means she has a ton of aimless scouting to do once she’s checked out the state of things. She hikes down to where the new lodge is nearly finished. Word from the foreman is the mountain’s been quiet all summer.
That means nothing, of course. They may have killed all the existing wendigos, but the Stranger’s journal says their spirits never really leave. And since the police are lazy and half-assed—or pathologically stupid, or terrified of the truth and avoiding it—no one’s been back down into the mines since the initial cursory search turned up nothing. But this is not her first rodeo: that’s where the lurking danger is.
Lurking danger? So it’s like that now, huh?
Yeah, it is. But she’s got this plan and a tenacity fueled by mountains of guilt. She’ll find a way.
I thought we were close. What’d you tell those dicks again? We had a connection?
“We were, Washington. We did. Jesus Christ,” she mutters. Sitting on the cabin porch and staring off into the gathering twilight, she pours herself another shot of Jameson. Besides the phenelzine, whisky is—was?—Josh’s drug of choice. It burns going down, and that’s okay—is probably, actually, the point.
That connection is why she’s here risking her life now. Well, that and her insatiable guilt, but the two are related. Sam and her dead best friend’s brother: they’d been a non-event, a gradual, discreet sliding into one another’s headspace and lives. Nothing romantic, despite the obvious and ineffable tension there.
Just . . . close. Which is how they came to be even closer, to grieve together after Hannah and Beth disappeared. How she’d caught glimpses of his shambling demons and figured them responsible for the wild paranoia about his mother, his unspeakable fears. He’d asked for Sam’s help one night last fall—carefully at first, then not carefully. Through streaming tears (okay—okay—I trust you) and shuddering, hitching breaths. And that was something, she knows, a rare gift. It wasn’t everyone that got raw, honest Josh Washington instead of the silly dude-bro veneer. He’d goddamned confided in her.
And, as it turned out, she’d let him down in the most spectacular way possible. Sent him right back to the very person who wanted him messed up and broken and needing. Fucking hell had she fucked up.
But enough about that. She is going to find this damned cure. Find Josh and fix this.
For now, one more shot of Jameson to get her through this first night back.
Okay, two. Two shots. She’s fine.
* * * * *
In the days that follow, Sam splits her time between the mountain and town, between wandering through what’s left of the old hotel and more of the desultory research she started back in California. She rereads the stranger’s journal, long since released from police evidence since no body means no case. In town, where she has cell service, she surfs various mental health pages, pouring salt into old wounds, and reads local newspaper articles about Blackwood Mountain and its rich history of tragedy.
When that gets too numbing, she reads through Hannah’s old Facebook posts.
Hannah, to whom she owes Josh’s rescue just as much as she owes it to the boy himself.
The posts are everyday stuff, mostly boring detritus—stories of school and choir practice, thinly veiled references to Mike. Also tales of endless tennis camps she’d been force-marched off to, photos of trophies she never cared about winning. The words make Sam wince. It’s all there if you look—Melinda Washington’s weird habit of using her kids for glory and attention, her penchant for iron control.
All the things she could’ve done—could’ve seen—should’ve said—that would’ve prevented this.
And it’s not that she doesn’t feel equally horrible about Hannah and Beth’s deaths. She’s still gutted. The fact that she couldn’t save her best friend will always cut deep, but at least she’d tried to intervene in their case. Had attempted to stop the horrible prank that started all of this. Even though she’d failed, she definitely hadn’t made things worse—had never encouraged Hannah in her hopeless, doomed pining. And she hadn’t known what was happening to Hannah in the mines until it was too late.
With Josh, this was hardly the case. Plus she’d fucking promised Hannah to look out for him.
At night, alone with the dreams-that-aren’t-dreams, guilt is an endless ocean and she is
Lost at sea.