For now the trash heap was awake with the voices of the wild bracken. Every blade of flaxen grass had raised its voice to Prue, chiming in a cacophonous unison. And they were all looking to her for instruction. A thistle branch clawed at the creature’s calves; more weedy grass grasped her ankles. A maple tree, lost within a stack of hollowed-out truck cabs, shook free and whipped its branches at Prue’s pursuer. From below the earth, a bellowing noise arose as the ground began to break away and the roots of the plants, long buried beneath the heaps of trash, liberated themselves and redirected their strength to the destruction of the half-fox, half-woman.
In the spray of mud, dirt, and metallic detritus, Prue stood and commanded the plants like the conductor of a symphony.
Darla screamed in terror and despair as the roots at her feet began to drag her beneath the earth.
Prue then realized: She was going to kill this woman.
This moment’s hesitation caused the voices of the plants to spiral into confusion. Prue, blindsided by her newfound power, had forgotten herself. Forgotten that the plants, in her control, were bent on murdering Darla. And while it seemed like the right outcome, considering that her own life was very much in danger, it still gave her pause. And it was that pause that threw her. Suddenly, she found she could no longer keep their chiming voices separate and, as a consequence, began to lose control of them. With a violent lurch, Darla broke free of her bonds and moved toward her target.
Before Prue could shake herself from her trance, Darla’s fingers were around her neck and squeezing.
“You stupid child,” said the creature, her long yellow teeth spotted with blood. “No more of your magics.”
“Please!” Prue squeaked. She tried to commune with the plants, but the noise was just too wild in her head, a rat’s nest of intersecting voices, all screaming and shouting. The grasses were seeping back into the earth; the tree swayed dumbly in the wind. Prue felt herself slipping from consciousness.
A darkness was descending over her eyes, a threadbare veil. The world was being erased from her vision. Her pain was disappearing; her body glowing with a quiet numbness. The noise in her mind receded to a static hum, and she closed her eyes. And that was when she heard:
They were two sounds that Prue would never forget; they would remain etched in her mind until her final dying breath—a breath she was not destined to breathe that day, nor any day in the very near future. But regardless, she would remember the sounds—and though she’d never actually witnessed such an event, she imagined they were not unlike the sound of a butcher’s meat hook sinking, twice, into a heavy, cold side of meat. She was abruptly dropped to the ground, where she collapsed in a pile.
Opening her eyes, Prue saw Darla, still poised to attack, standing above her. The whites of her eyes—half fox, half woman—shone brightly. She mouthed a distressed and surprised gasp. And then she was lifted from the ground.
Below her was a massive—and very angry—bear. He was holding her aloft in the twin pincers of the golden hooks he wore in place of his paws. His head lolled back, and he gave a loud, expressive roar. Darla, writhing in his grasp above his head, screamed shrilly. Her body, crooked and contorted, seemed to metamorphose violently between her human and fox shapes as she lay punctured on the bear’s hooks. Blood streamed down the bear’s paws and spattered his face. Finally, just as Darla’s body began to heave in death-shudders, the bear flexed his massive biceps and vaulted the body, now assuming its human form, across the junk heap to land with a hollow clunk on a pile of discarded toaster ovens.
“My shop!” shouted Unthank, his voice brimming with anguish. “It’s burning!” The orange light of the fire played on his face. It gave his goatee a devil-like cast.
He seemed to be more concerned with the destruction of the machine shop than he was with the pack of ravenous children, freed from their bondage, running toward him. Roger was keeping a keen eye on Carol, who was still in the midst of the protective Unadoptables. Desdemona clung to Mr. Wigman, who was quick to shore up his stevedores.
“Hold your ground!” he shouted as the hulking men prepared their makeshift weaponry. He had actually given seminars on the quelling of worker rebellions; he was somewhat in his native element. The fact that they were children did not seem to daunt him.
“You want us to, uh, fight ’em?” asked one of the stevedores.
“No, I want you to snuggle ’em,” replied Wigman angrily. “Of course you should fight them!”
Elsie and Rachel found each other in the huddle and gripped each other’s arms. That was when Martha let out a celebratory whoop and fired the first volley of the insurgency: She walked over to one of the stevedores, his attention diverted by the rapidly approaching gang of kids, and kicked him, hard, in the shin. He looked down at her, surprised. “Why’d you do that?” he asked. So she did it again, in the other shin.
By that point, the rebelling children from the Unthank Home had reached the group on the road; they threw themselves into the horde with an unbridled relish, their teeth flashing and hands flying. The stevedores were trying to fend off the attacks of the children without doing bodily harm; it appeared that even these giant men, vicious by nature, recognized the dubious morality of the sit
uation. Wigman, on the other hand, did not bat an eyelash: When a young boy leapt toward him, he grabbed the kid by the neck and threw him to the ground. As if to illustrate his contempt, he then stepped on the poor child’s back.
“That,” he said, “is how one stops an uprising.”
And then he was dogpiled by a throng of kids.
Martha, her goggles engaged, was bear-hugging the upper torso of a stevedore while Carl Rehnquist had dived to grab his ankles. The man soon plummeted, with a howl, to the ground. They disarmed him of his pipe wrench, and Martha set about whacking his neighboring hulk in the shins. She seemed to be taking to the violence with enthusiasm.
In the chaos, Elsie felt Carol’s hand at her elbow. He leaned low and hissed to her, “Get me away from that man!” He evidently meant Roger, who was presently approaching them with a look of intense covetousness etched on his face. She hollered to Rachel, “Let’s get out of here!” Grabbing either arm of the blind man, they began to hustle him away toward a small avenue between two chemical tanks.
“What’s happening back there?” Carol asked as they slowly moved through the warring crowd.
“The orphans have escaped; they’ve set fire to the machine shop! The whole place is going up in flames!” said Elsie, aghast at the chaos around them.
“Good for them,” said Carol, smiling.
A voice came from behind them. “Stop them!” it cried. It was Roger. Caught in the clamor, he’d climbed on top of a metal pylon and was pointing a bony finger at the escaping trio. A few stevedores heard his call and began to lumber toward them.