Nikki couldn’t see the hunger. But she felt it. Cold and slimy. Thick with darkness.
It was interested in her.
She could sense its curiousity. Like she was a piece of food, and the hunger was poking around it, seeing if the food was tasty.
Her body was rigid. Sweat prickled down the hollow of her back. Her breathing stuck in her throat.
The music swirled around her, and she thought she heard a voice chiming in with the notes: I want to help.
And then someone was behind her, a warm presense. Hands touched her shoulders. Warm breath puffed on the back of her neck.
She allowed the music to pull her in, and Randy came with her. The music was like an old tapestry with holes in it. The hunger snuffled along the holes, trying to find the biggest gaps.
To get through.
“Take the lead,” Randy murmured.
To do what? Fear jabbed at Nikki’s chest. She didn’t know what she was doing!
The hunger pushed at the music’s barrier again. Its strength horrified her. The music wasn’t strong enough to keep it out.
Fear rose up from her belly, coppery and bitter. She didn’t think. She just reacted.
Bouncing along in the flow of the music, she found the biggest of the holes. In her mind, it was gaping, and black. Dead.
It was from the house on the other end. It had been gutted in a remodel. Nothing left.
How could she fix this?
She felt the hunger grin. It could get through here.
It pressed against the gap. Too big. But it could work at the hole. Make it bigger.
“Spackle it,” Randy murmured. “Like mortar.”
Nikki’s mouth had gone dry. The need to hurry pressed at her.
She pictured the wall of the house with the lines of bricks, the overlapping rows providing support. Spreading the mortar in the cracks.
Randy squeezed her shoulders. She was trembling with exhaustion.
Breathe, breathe, breathe!
The world titled sideways. Nikki fell away from the music. The sidewalk bounced up to her face.
Her chest locked up tight. For a terrifying moment, she couldn’t breathe.
Randy pulled her up into his arms, wrapping them around her.
Better. She could breathe.
The hunger had receded from the air. But its satisfaction tinged the air.
Bit by bit, she took in her surroundings again. Brian was still frozen in his truck, reaching for the passenger lock. A neighbor across the street was stuck in mid-step.
Randy? He was moving, alive, resting his chin on her shoulder. But his eyes were alarmed.
She’d been avoiding that thing in the middle of the street. Now she looked.
Her breath caught in her throat, souring. The edges of the portal had solidified.
She’d made it worse.