“This is all your fault, you know.”
“Shut up and help me with this, will you? Does it really matter who’s fault it is right now?”
“All your fault,” Hayden repeated, but held his end up as Mason worked with the hammer.
“Besides,” said Mason as they placed another board above the first, “it wouldn’t be here at all if it hadn’t followed you two.”
Hayden’s heated reply was lost amid the pounding of hammer on nail. He waited until the cut steel shank had been driven through the board and deep into the window frame, then poured his indignation into the following silence as Mason reached for another nail.
“How dare you? What were we supposed to do? Look for shelter in the forest? There’s no way we were going to outrun that thing for long, and I —”
“Could you two quit your bickering?” came Woody’s harsh whisper-shout from upstairs. “It’s getting dark. How the hell am I supposed to tell if your pounding draws it back if I can’t hear it coming? That thing could be right outside that window you’re working on and you wouldn’t even know it for all the noise you're making. Now knock it off!”
Hayden and Mason worked in silence, but for the pounding of the hammer; soon four broad boards blocked their view of the outside world.
“Well, that was the last window,” said Mason, tucking the hammer into his tool-belt. “There’s no way for it to get in here any more.”
“That’s what you said the first time,” said Hayden, one eyebrow raised, quiet voice mocking. “But you were wrong then, weren’t you? What makes you so sure you haven’t forgotten something this time?”
Mason’s shoulder muscles bunched, ready in case he should give in to his sudden, strong urge to punch Hayden in the mouth, but he too kept his voice low as he stepped up and whispered, nose-to-nose with his brother.
Woody had a point about the noise.
“Alright then, you think of something I missed.”
Without batting an eye, Hayden pointed toward the back of the house; toward the kitchen.
“What about the fireplace?” he said, the words harsh with sarcasm. “The chimney? He’s put them to good use in the past, as I recall.”
Mason ground his teeth, one hand squeezing the hammer-head on his hip in a white-knuckle grip. A sarcastic shout rose to his lips, and he was about to let it loose, the warning against loud noise be damned, when Woody appeared at his elbow, thrusting one arm between he and Hayden, the other raised to hold a finger to his lips.
“It’s right outside,” he whispered, wide eyes flicking from Mason to Hayden and back again. “I was looking out for it and I still almost missed it. It’s still sneaky.”
His eyes, the whites clearly showing all the way ‘round, flicked from locked door to boarded up window, then sought out his brothers again.
“What do we do?” he said.
“It’s still cunning,” said Hayden. His voice was frightened rather than sarcastic as he re-asked the question: “What about the chimney?”
“What do we do?” said Woody again, eyeballing the boarded window.
Mason, still angry, tried to consider things rationally, ignoring Woody. “I don’t think it can climb up there, not now. I mean, it seems a little clumsy to me now. Besides —”
He swallowed, forcing down the memory of screams and the reek of burning hair.
“Besides,” he said, “I don’t think it’d try the chimney route. Not after… after what happened last time.”
“Like I said.” Hayden spoke through a strangely triumphant smile. “Your fault.”
Mason was eye-to-eye with his brother before Hayden could even finish the thought, one hand raided to point a finger directly into Hayden’s face from less than two inches away.
“Look. If you hadn’t led him here in the first place, then I wouldn’t have been able to burn him like that, could I?”
“Guys, please,” Woody said, trying to inject himself into the hissed conversation.
“I suppose not,” said Hayden, slightly mollified by his own failure to think of anything better. “But it seems you’ve put us out of the frying pan and into the fire.”
Mason nodded, his jaw set.
“But—” started Woody.
“It seems that way now,” said Mason. “But at the time I thought I was doing the right thing. I thought he’d just die — hell, he was dead. I don’t know how he came back, or why, but he was dead! Now he’s just dead-ish.”
“Right,” said Hayden. “Now he won’t get tired, won’t give up, won’t get discouraged. He’s never going to stop until he gets in here, especially if he figures out we’re actually still in here!”
“But what do we do!” Woody shouted, then clapped a hand over his own mouth. The other two fell silent, staring at him with wide eyes of their own. The sudden crash of glass breaking just to the other side of the newly nailed boards shattered the silence and pulled a screech from both Woody and Hayden. Mason waved them to silence once more as he crept up to the now broken window.
Mason’s nose wrinkled as the scent of cooked flesh and burned hair rode the draft in through the gaps between the boards. He held a finger to his lips and patted the air behind him, urging the others to hold still and silent. Without a sound he put his eye to one of the cracks that allowed that stench to invade the house, peering out.
Then there were eyes, milky and white, filmed over with the first stages of decay, peering back through the gap in the boards. There was the slow, almost sensuous scratch of claws dragging across the wooden barrier. There was a whisper, hoarse, air forced through a scorched and ruined throat.
“Little Pig, Little Pig, let me in…”