Ashes

Ashes by Ilsa J. Bick Read Free Book Online

Book: Ashes by Ilsa J. Bick Read Free Book Online
Authors: Ilsa J. Bick
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some clothes, her toothbrush. Maybe a book, though, honestly, Ellie didn’t strike her as the bookish sort. With Ellie, they were talking Nintendo DS, and it would be a brick just like the kid’s iPod. A moment later, Alex saw that the dazzle had resolved to glare bouncing off rock. No Ellie.
    She sighed. What had happened? She’d turned the morning over in her mind a dozen times. She ought to be able to figure this out. God knows, she had the time. Physics wasn’t her thing, but she’d gotten an A in bio and she knew that the brain—most of the body, for that matter—effectively ran on electricity.
    So, this morning, her brain had gone haywire. The electronics—anything that was solid-state—got toasted, as had the deer, the birds, the dog. The birds were really important, too—something about the way they navigated … Magnetic?
    Now, her hand didn’t shake. She was stronger. After that bolt of white-hot pain, her headache—always a low growl—was gone. Her memories were starting to pop to life again because her sense of smell had returned, and, with it, her sense of taste.
    Only it wasn’t just regular smell, was it? She’d had time to think about this, rewinding to that moment she’d approached Mina and how Mina had looked: teeth bared, ears flat. Going by looks alone, you’d think that Mina had been angry.
    But then there’d been that weirdly feral stink, and the word that popped to the front of her brain now was fear. She’d smelled the dog—and how the dog felt . Mina had been scared to death.
    And what about Ellie? There’d been the ammonia reek of urine and the coppery stink of blood—and another sourer scent, riding just beneath. That cross between morning breath and curdled milk—was that the odor of Ellie’s fear?
    So what did all that have to do with anything? How did it fit?
    After another few seconds, she gave it up. All she had were a bunch of facts, a few theories, and much bigger problems—like getting the hell off this mountain and down to water before dusk.
    How much daylight did she have left anyway? She threw a critical eye at the sun. There was a way you could tell time if you knew true north, but damned if she remembered how at the moment. Something else about time was important, too. What? She nudged the feeling the way she used to worry a loose tooth when she was a little kid, hoping to make the tooth pop out of its socket. Something really important about time …
    The faint scent of char whisked up from the valley. A fire? No, something was wrong with that smell. Not wood being burned, but something artificial, almost sweet. She knew that smell. What was it?
    There was a flicker of movement out of the corner of her left eye. Something above her. She flicked a quick peek back up the mountain, and then her gaze sharpened on a flash of pink.
    Finally.

    The best thing was to slow down, take another water break soon, let the kid close the gap without tipping her to the fact that Alex was actually waiting. Better Ellie should think this was her idea.
    After another half hour, give or take, Alex had slowed to a baby crawl, but Ellie was close. Alex could hear the slip and slide of the kid’s boots on all that scree. From the sound, she thought the kid was going a little too fast. A slithery stream of tiny rocks trickled down the slope to her left with a sound like the chatter of seashells sucked and dragged by a retreating wave. Veering into the chute, the rocks picked up speed and sluiced in a rush down the mountain. That was bad. If the kid made a misstep and slipped, she’d pick up speed pretty fast, get herself banged up for sure.
    Time for a water break. With a casual, practiced shrug, Alex unseated her pack, then slung it to the ground in front of her boots. Tugging a water bottle from her fanny pack, she uncapped it, tipped the bottle to her mouth, and let her eyes crawl back up the

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