(21) Swan Song
WHEN BETHANIE RE-EMERGED, DYLAN TOOK his first breath since she’d departed. She was alive. It was all okay. For a moment there, he had feared she wouldn’t come back. Or that if she did, she would be like the ghosts around them: deteriorating and mindless, soaked in blood.
But she was still Bethanie. She was still exactly the same.
The ghost had converged. One tried to grab him, as they had each been doing for the past few minutes. He ducked and kicked it away with his foot. If not for sheer numbers, the dead would have posed no threat. They were empty and stupid, all clawing and no thinking. Like children, grabbing at cookies.
“Why the hell did you do that?” he yelled at Bethanie. “You could have died.”
“It was the only way,” she said.
Another ghost attacked him. He swatted at one of its out-stretched arms only to watch, horrified, as it fell from its socket and landed on the ground. Revolted, he shoved the monster into the ranks of undead behind it.
It took him a second to realise none of the creatures were attacking Bethanie. He frowned, confusion taking over his face. He was about to say something when her eyes suddenly grew wide.
“Dylan, behind you!”
He spun around to find himself face to face with the Hallow. His heart jumped, and he scrambled away.
“Bethanie,” it said, and Dylan swore he saw it smile. “How lovely of you to–”
Before the Hallow could finished, Bethanie charged at it. She didn’t pass through, like Dylan had. Instead they collided. She knocked the Hallow to the ground and followed it down. It let out a shriek, hollow and grating.
She tossed something at him and it wasn’t until after he’d caught it that he realised what it was. Somehow, she had gotten the stone back from the Hallow, and now it was corporeal and burning his hand.
This was it. This was his chance.
Another set of ghosts stumbled up to him, blocking his path to the tombstone. They grabbed for the stone, for his arms, for his face. One raked at his shoulder, cutting a line through his shirt with it’s talon-like nails. It was deep enough to draw blood and his shirt started to turn red.
At this rate, he would never get through. And he only had so long before the Hallow overpowered Bethanie and got the stone back.
“Move!” he shouted at the ghosts. “Move, move, move!”
He was so frustrated that he managed to knock two off their feet with one angry punch. He punched another, and then it was like a domino-effect, each ghost crashing into the next. Breathless, and with his heart beating fast, he jumped over the corpses and ran for the gravestone.
In one exhilarating move, Dylan slammed the burning-hot stone into the slot.
The ghosts disappeared.
Just like that, the world was quiet.
Dylan couldn’t believe it. Overjoyed, he let out a laugh. They had done it. They had really done it. “Bethanie!” he laughed. “Oh my God, Bethanie, we–”
But upon spinning around, he found the forest empty. The ghosts were gone, sure, but so was the Hallow.
So was Bethanie.
“Beth, where are you?” he said, peering into the darkness. “Hello?”