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Nalo Hopkinson [], a Jamaican-Canadian writer, is a recipient of the World Fantasy Award and of the Sunburst Award for Canadian Literature of the Fantastic. Her novels include Brown Girl in the Ring, Midnight Robber, The Salt Roads, The New Moon’s Arms, and The Chaos, and her short fiction has been collected in Skin Folk and Report from Planet Midnight. She is currently a professor of creative writing at the University of California Riverside, specializing in science fiction and fantasy. Her sixth novel, Sister Mine, will be published later this year.

O h, Black Betty, bam-ba-lam,

Oh, Black Betty, bam-ba-lam.

“The easthound bays at night,” Jolly said.

Millie shivered. Bad luck to mention the easthound, and her twin bloody well knew it. God, she shouldn’t even be thinking, “bloody.” Millie put her hands to her mouth to stopper the words in so she wouldn’t say them out loud.

“Easthound?” said Max. He pulled the worn black coat closer around his body. The coat had been getting tighter around him these past few months. Everyone could see it. “Uck the fuh is that easthound shit?”

Not what; he knew damned well what it was. He was asking Jolly what the hell she was doing bringing the easthound into their game of Loup-de-lou. Millie wanted to yell at Jolly too.

Jolly barely glanced at Max. She knelt in front of the fire, staring into it, re-twisting her dreads and separating them at the scalp where they were threatening to grow together. “It’s my first line,” she said. “You can play or not, no skin off my teeth.”

They didn’t talk about skin coming off, either. Jolly should be picking someone to come up with the next line of the game. But Jolly broke the rules when she damned well pleased. Loup-de-lou was her game, after all. She’d invented it. Someone had to come up with a first line. Then they picked the next person. That person had to continue the story by beginning with the last word or two of the line the last person said. And so on until someone closed the loup by ending the story with the first word or two of the very first line. Jolly was so thin. Millie had saved some of the chocolate bar she’d found to share with Jolly, but she knew that Jolly wouldn’t take it. If you ate too much, you grew too quickly. Millie’d already eaten most of the chocolate, though. Couldn’t help it. She was so hungry all the time!

Max hadn’t answered Jolly. He took the bottle of vodka that Sai was holding and chugged down about a third of it. Nobody complained. That was his payment for finding the bottle in the first place. But could booze make you grow, too? Or did it keep you shrinky? Millie couldn’t remember which. She fretfully watched Max’s Adam’s apple bob as he drank.

“The game?” Citron chirped up, reminding them. A twin of the flames of their fire danced in his green eyes. “We gonna play?”

Right. The game. Jolly bobbed her head yes. Sai, too. Millie said, “I’m in.” Max sighed and shrugged his yes.

Max took up where Jolly had left off. “At night the easthound howls,” he growled, “but only when there’s no moon.” He pointed at Citron.

A little clumsy, Millie thought, but a good second line.

Quickly, Citron picked it up with, “No moon is so bright as the easthound’s eyes when it spies a plump rat on a garbage heap.” He pointed at Millie.

Garbage heap? What kind of end bit was that? Didn’t give her much with which to begin the new loup. Trust Citron to throw her a tough one. And that “eyes, spies” thing, too. A rhyme in the middle, instead of at the end. Clever bastard. Thinking furiously, Millie louped, “Garbage heaps high in the…cities of noonless night.”

Jolly said, “You’re cheating. It was ‘garbage heap,’ not ‘garbage heaps.’” She gnawed a strip from the edge of her thumbnail, blew the crescented clipping from her lips into the fire.

“Chuh.” Millie made a dismissive motion with her good hand. “You just don’t want to have to continue on with ‘noonless night.’” Smirking, she pointed at her twin.

Jolly started in on the nail of her index finger. “And you’re just not very good at this game, are you, Millie?”

“Twins, stop it,” Max told them.

“I didn’t start it,” Jolly countered, through chewed nail bits. Millie hated to see her bite her nails, and Jolly knew it.

Jolly stood and flounced closer to the fire. Over her back she spat the phrase, “Noonless night, a rat’s bright fright, and blood in the bite all delight the easthound.” The final two words were the two with which they’d begun. Game over. Jolly spat out a triumphant, “Loup!” First round to Jolly.

Sai slapped the palm of her hand down on the ground between the players. “Aw, jeez, Jolly! You didn’t have to end it so soon, just cause you’re mad at your sister! I was working on a great loup.”

“Jolly’s only showing off!” Millie said. Truth was, Jolly was right. Millie really wasn’t much good at Loup-de-lou. It was only a stupid game, a distraction to take their minds off hunger, off being cold and scared, off watching everybody else and yourself every waking second for signs of sprouting. But Millie didn’t want to be distracted. Taking your mind off things could kill you. She was only going along with the game to show the others that she wasn’t getting cranky; getting loupy.

She rubbed the end of her handless wrist. Damp was making it achy. She reached for the bottle of vodka where Max had stood it upright in the crook of his crossed legs. “Nuh-uh-uh,” he chided, pulling it out of her reach and passing it to Citron, who took two pulls at the bottle and coughed.

Max said to Millie, “You don’t get any treats until you start a new game.”

Jolly turned back from the fire, her grinning teeth the only thing that shone in her black silhouette.

“Wasn’t me who spoiled that last one,” Millie grumbled. But she leaned back on the packed earth, her good forearm and the one with the missing hand both lying flush against the soil. She considered how to begin. The ground was a little warmer tonight than it had been last night. Spring was coming. Soon, there’d be pungent wild leeks to pull up and eat from the river bank. She’d been craving their taste all through this frozen winter. She’d been yearning for the sight and taste of green, growing things. Only she wouldn’t eat too many of them. You couldn’t ever eat your fill of anything, or that might bring out the Hound. Soon it’d be warm enough to sleep outside again. She thought of rats and garbage heaps, and slammed her mind’s door shut on the picture. Millie liked sleeping with the air on her skin, even though it was dangerous out of doors. It felt more dangerous indoors, what with everybody growing up.

And then she knew how to start the loup. She said, “The river swells in May’s spring tide.”

Jolly strode back from the fire and took the vodka from Max. “That’s a really good one.” She offered the bottle to her twin.

Millie found herself smiling as she took it. Jolly was quick to speak her mind, whether scorn or praise. Millie could never stay mad at her for long. Millie drank through her smile, feeling the vodka burn its trail down. With her stump she pointed at Jolly and waited to hear how Jolly would Loup-de-lou with the words “spring tide.”

“The spring’s May tide is deep and wide,” louped Jolly. She was breaking the rules again; three words, not two, and she’d added a “the” at the top, and changed the order around! People shouldn’t change stuff, it was bad! Millie was about to protest when a quavery howl crazed the crisp night, then disappeared like a sob into silence.

“Shit!” hissed Sai. She leapt up and began kicking dirt onto the fire to douse it. The others stood too.

“Race you to the house!” yelled a gleeful Jolly, already halfway there at a run.

Barking with forced laughter, the others followed her. Millie, who was almost as quick as Jolly, reached the disintegrating cement steps of the house a split second before Jolly pushed in through the door, yelling “I win!” as loudly as she could. The others tumbled in behind Millie, shoving and giggling.

Sai hissed, “Sshh!” Loud noises weren’t a good idea.

With a chuckle in her voice, Jolly replied, “Oh, chill, we’re fine. Remember how Churchy used to say that loud noises chased away ghosts?”

Everyone went silent. They were probably all thinking the same thing; that maybe Churchy was a ghost now. Millie whispered, “We have to keep quiet, or the easthound will hear us.”

“Bite me,” said Max. “There’s no such thing as an easthound.” His voice was deeper than it had been last week. No use pretending. He was growing up. Millie put a bit more distance between him and her. Max really was getting too old. If he didn’t do the right thing soon and leave on his own, they’d have to kick him out. Hopefully before something ugly happened.

Citron closed the door behind them. It was dark in the house. Millie tried to listen beyond the door to the outside. That had been no wolf howling, and they all knew it. She tried to rub away the pain in her wrist. “Do we have any aspirin?”

Sai replied, “I’m sorry. I took the last two yesterday.”

Citron sat with a thump on the floor and started to sob. “I hate this,” he said slurrily. “I’m cold and I’m scared and there’s no bread left, and it smells of mildew in here—”

“You’re just drunk,” Millie told him.

“—and Millie’s cranky all the time,” Citron continued with a glare at Millie, “and Sai farts in her sleep, and Max’s boots don’t fit him any more. He’s growing up.”

“Shut up!” said Max. He grabbed Citron by the shoulders, dragged him to his feet, and started to shake him. “Shut up!” His voice broke on the “up” and ended in a little squeak. It should have been funny, but now he had Citron up against the wall and was choking him. Jolly and Sai yanked at Max’s hands. They told him over and over to stop, but he wouldn’t. The creepiest thing was, Citron wasn’t making any sound. He couldn’t. He couldn’t get any air. He scrabbled at Max’s hands, trying to pull them off his neck.

Millie knew she had to do something quickly. She slammed the bottle of vodka across Max’s back, like christening a ship. She’d seen it on tv, when tvs still worked. When you could still plug one in and have juice flow through the wires to make funny cartoon creatures move behind the screen, and your mom wouldn’t sprout in front of your eyes and eat your dad and bite your hand off.

Millie’d thought the bottle would shatter. But maybe the glass was too thick, because though it whacked Max’s back with a solid thump, it didn’t break. Max dropped to the floor like he’d been shot. Jolly put her hands to her mouth. Startled at what she herself had done, Millie dropped the bottle. It exploded when it hit the floor, right near Max’s head. Vodka fountained up and out, and then Max was whimpering and rolling around in the booze and broken glass. There were dark smears under him.

“Ow! Jesus! Ow!” He peered up to see who had hit him. Millie moved closer to Jolly.

“Max.” Citron’s voice was hoarse. He reached a hand out to Max. “Get out of the glass, dude. Can you stand up?”

Millie couldn’t believe it. “Citron, he just tried to kill you!”

“I shouldn’t have talked about growing up. Jolly, can you find the candles? It’s dark in here. Come on, Max.” Citron pulled Max to his feet.

Max came up mad. He shook broken glass off his leather jacket, and stood towering over Millie. Was his chest thicker than it had been? Was that hair shadowing his chin? Millie whimpered and cowered away. Jolly put herself between Millie and Max. “Don’t be a big old bully,” she said to Max. “Picking on the one-hand girl. Don’t be a dog.”

It was like a light came back on in Max’s eyes. He looked at Jolly, then at Millie. “You hurt me, Millie. I wouldn’t hurt you,” he said to Millie. “Even if…”

“If…that thing was happening to you,” Jolly interrupted him, “you wouldn’t care who you were hurting. Besides, you were choking Citron, so don’t give us that innocent look and go on about not hurting people.”

Max’s eyes welled up. They glistened in the candle light. “I’ll go,” he said drunkenly. His voice sounded high, like the boy he was ceasing to be. “Soon. I’ll go away. I promise.”

“When?” Millie asked softly. They all heard her, though. Citron looked at her with big, wet doe eyes.

Max swallowed. “Tomorrow. No. A week.”

“Three days,” Jolly told him. “Two more sleeps.”

Max made a small sound in his throat. He wiped his hand over his face. “Three days,” he agreed. Jolly nodded, firmly.

After that, noone wanted to play Loup-de-lou any more. They didn’t bother with candles. They all went to their own places, against the walls so they could keep an eye on each other. Millie and Jolly had the best place, together near the window. That way, if anything bad happened, Jolly could boost Millie out the window. There used to be a low bookcase under that window. They’d burned the wood months ago, for cooking with. The books that had been on it were piled up to one side, and Jolly’d scavenged a pile of old clothes for a bed. Jolly rummaged around under the clothes. She pulled out the gold necklace that their mom had given her for passing French. Jolly only wore it to sleep. She fumbled with the clasp, dropped the necklace, swore under her breath. She found the necklace again and put it on successfully this time. She kissed Millie on the forehead. “Sleep tight, Mills.”

Millie said, “My wrist hurts too much. Come with me tomorrow to see if the kids two streets over have any painkillers?”

“Sure, honey.” Warrens kept their distance from each other, for fear of becoming targets if somebody in someone else’s warren sprouted. “But try to get some sleep, okay?” Jolly lay down and was asleep almost immediately, her breathing quick and shallow.

Millie remained sitting with her back against the wall. Max lay on the other side of the room, using his coat as a blanket. Was he sleeping, or just lying there, listening?

She used to like Max. Weeks after the world had gone mad, he’d found her and Jolly hiding under the porch of somebody’s house. They were dirty and hungry, and the stench of rotting meat from inside the house was drawing flies. Jolly had managed to keep Millie alive that long, but Millie was delirious with pain, and the place where her hand had been bitten off had started smelling funny. Max had brought them clean water. He’d searched and bargained with the other warrens of hiding kids until he found morphine and antibiotics for Millie. He was the one who’d told them that it looked like only adults were getting sick.

But now Millie was scared of him. She sat awake half the night, watching Max. Once, he shifted and snorted, and the hairs on Millie’s arms stood on end. She shoved herself right up close against Jolly. But Max just grumbled and rolled over and kept sleeping. He didn’t change. Not this time. Millie watched him a little longer, until she couldn’t keep her eyes open. She curled up beside Jolly. Jolly was scrawny, her skin downy with the peach fuzz that Sai said came from starvation. Most of them had it. Nobody wanted to grow up and change, but Jolly needed to eat a little more, just a little. Millie stared into the dark and worried. She didn’t know when she fell asleep. She woke when first light was making the window into a glowing blue square. She was cold. Millie reached to put her arm around Jolly. Her arm landed on wadded-up clothing with nobody in it. “She’s gone,” said Citron.

“Whuh?” Millie rolled over, sat up. She was still tired. “She gone to check the traps?” Jolly barely ate, but she was best at catching gamey squirrels, feral cats, and the occasional raccoon.

“I dunno. I woke up just as the door was closing behind her. She let in a draft.”

Millie leapt to her feet. “It was Max! He sprouted! He ate her!”

Citron leapt up too. He pulled her into a hug. “Sh. It wasn’t Max. Look, he’s still sleeping.”

He was. Millie could see him huddled under his coat.

“See?” said Citron. “Now hush. You’re going to wake him and Sai up.”

“Oh god, I was so scared for a moment.” She was lying; she never stopped being scared. She sobbed and let Citron keep hugging her, but not for long. Things could sneak up on you while you were busy making snot and getting hugs to make you feel better. Millie swallowed back the rest of her tears. She pulled out of Citron’s arms. “Thanks.” She went and checked beside Jolly’s side of the bed. Jolly’s jacket wasn’t there. Neither was her penguin. Ah. “She’s gone to find aspirin for me.” Millie sighed with relief and guilt. “She took her penguin to trade with. That’s almost her most favorite thing ever.”

“Next to you, you mean.”

“I suppose so. I come first, then her necklace, then the penguin.” Jolly’d found the ceramic penguin a long time ago when they’d been scavenging in the wreckage of a drug store. The penguin stood on a circular base, the whole thing about ten inches tall. Its beak was broken, but when you twisted the white base, music played out of it. Jolly had kept it carefully since, wrapped in a torn blouse. She played it once a week and on special occasions. Twisted the base twice only, let the penguin do a slow turn to the few notes of tinny song. Churchy had told them that penguin was from a movie called Madagascar. She’d been old enough to remember old-time stuff like that. It was soon after that that they’d had to kill her.

Millie stared at her and Jolly’s sleeping place. There was something… “She didn’t take socks. Her feet must be freezing.” She picked up the pair of socks with the fewest holes in it. “We have to go find her.”

“You go,” Citron replied. “It’s cold out, and I want to get some more sleep.”

“You know we’re not supposed to go anywhere on our own!”

“Yeah, but we do. Lots of times.”

“Except me. I always have someone with me.”

“Right. Like that’s any safer than being alone. I’m going back to bed.” He yawned and turned away.

Millie fought the urge to yell at him. Instead she said, “I claim leader.”

Citron stopped. “Aw, come on, Millie.”

But Millie was determined. “Leader. One of us might be in danger, so I claim leader. So you have to be my follower.”

He looked skywards and sighed. “Fine. Where?”

That meant she was leader. You asked the leader what to do, and the leader told you. Usually everyone asked Jolly what to do, or Max. Now that she had an excuse to go to Jolly, Millie stopped feeling as though something had gnawed away the pit of her stomach. She yanked her coat out of the pile of clothing that was her bed and shrugged it on. “Button me,” she said to Citron, biting back the “please.” Leaders didn’t say please. They just gave orders. That was the right way to do it.

Citron concentrated hard on the buttons, not looking in Millie’s eyes as he did them up. He started in the middle, buttoned down to the last button just below her hips, then stood up to do the buttons at her chest. He held the fabric away from her, so it wouldn’t touch her body at all. His fingers didn’t touch her, but still her chest felt tingly as Citron did up the top buttons. She knew he was blushing, even though you couldn’t tell on his dark face. Hers neither. If it had been Max doing this, his face would have lit up like a strawberry. They found strawberries growing sometimes, in summer.

Leaders didn’t blush. Millie straightened up and looked at Citron. He had such a baby face. If he was lucky, he’d never sprout. She’d heard that some people didn’t. Max said it was too soon to tell, because the pandemic had only started two years ago, but Millie liked to hope that some kids would avoid the horrible thing. No temper getting worse and worse. No changing all of a sudden into something different and scary. Millie wondered briefly what happened to the ones who didn’t sprout, who just got old. Food for the easthound, probably. “Maybe we should go…” Millie began to ask, then remembered herself. Leaders didn’t ask, they told. “We’re going over by the grocery first,” she told Citron. “Maybe she’s just checking her traps.”

“She took her music box to check her traps?”

“Doesn’t matter. That’s where we’re going to go.” She stuffed Jolly’s socks into her coat pocket, then shoved her shoulder against the damp-swollen door and stepped out into the watery light of an early spring morning. The sun made her blink.

Citron asked, “Shouldn’t we get those two to come along with us? You know, so there’s more of us?”

“No,” growled Millie. “Just now you wanted me to go all alone, but now you want company?”

“But who does trading this early in the morning?”

“We’re not going to wake Max and Sai, okay? We’ll find her ourselves!”

Citron frowned. Millie shivered. It was so cold out that her nosehairs froze together when she breathed in. Like scattered pins, tiny, shiny daggers of frost edged the sidewalk slabs and the new spring leaves of the small maple tree that grew outside their squat. Trust Jolly to make her get out of a warm bed to go looking for her on a morning like this. She picked up three solid throwing rocks. They were gritty with dirt and the cold of them burned her fingers. She stuffed them into her jacket pocket, on top of Jolly’s socks. Citron had the baseball bat he carried everywhere. Millie turned up her collar and stuck her hand into her jeans pocket. “C’mon.”

Jolly’d put a new batch of traps over by that old grocery store. The roof was caved in. There was no food in the grocery any more, or soap, or cough medicine. Everything had been scavenged by the nearby warrens of kids, but animals sometimes made nests and shit in the junk that was left. Jolly’d caught a dog once. A gaunt poodle with dirty, matted hair. But they didn’t eat dogs, ever. You were what you ate. They’d only killed it in an orgy of fury and frustration that had swelled over them like a river.

Black Betty had a child,


That child’s gone wild,


Really, it was Millie who’d started it, back before everything went wrong, two winters ago. They’d been at home. Jolly sitting on the living room floor that early evening, texting with her friends, occasionally giggling at something one of them said. Millie and Dad on the couch, sharing a bowl of raspberries. All of them watching some old-time cartoon movie on tv about animals that could do Kung Fu. Waiting for Mum to come home from work. Because then they would order pizza. It was pizza night. Dad getting a text message on his phone. Dad holding the phone down by his knee to make out the words, even though his eyesight was just fine, he said. Jolly watching them, waiting to hear if it was Mum, if she’d be home soon. Millie leaning closer to Dad and squinting at the tiny message in the phone’s window. Mouthing the words silently. Then frowning. Saying, “Mum says she’s coming home on the easthound train?” Dad falling out laughing. Eastbound, sweetie.

There hadn’t been an easthound before that. It was Millie who’d called it, who’d made it be. Jolly’d told her that wasn’t true, that she didn’t make the pandemic just by reading a word wrong, that the world didn’t work that way. But the world didn’t work any more the way it used to, so what did Jolly know? Even if she was older than Millie.

Jolly and Millie’s family had assigned adjectives to the girls early on in their lives. Millie was The Younger One. (By twenty-eight and three-quarter minutes. The midwife had been worried that Mum would need a C-Section to get Millie out.) Jolly was The Kidder. She liked jokes and games. She’d come up with Loup-de-lou to help keep Millie’s mind off the agony when she’d lost her hand. Millie’d still been able to feel the missing hand there, on the end of her wrist, and pain wouldn’t let her sleep or rest, and all the adults in the world were sprouting and trying to kill off the kids, and Max was making her and Jolly and Citron move to a new hiding place every few days, until he and Jolly figured out the thing about sprinkling peppermint oil to hide their scent trails so that sprouteds couldn’t track them. That was back before Sai had joined them, and then Churchy. Back before Churchy had sprouted on them one night in the dark as they were all sharing half a stale bread loaf and a big liter bottle of flat cola, and Max and Citron and Sai had grabbed anything heavy or sharp they could find and waled away at the thing that had been Churchy just seconds before, until it lay still on the ground, all pulpy and bloody. And the whole time, Jolly had stayed near still-weak Millie, brandishing a heavy frying pan and muttering, “It’s okay, Mills. I won’t let her get you.”

The feeling was coming back, like her hand was still there. Her wrist had settled into a throbbing ache. She hoped it wasn’t getting infected again.

Watchfully, they walked down their side street and turned onto the main street in the direction of the old grocery store. They walked up the middle of the empty road. That way, if a sprouted came out of one of the shops or alleyways, they might have time to see it before it attacked.

The burger place, the gas station, the little shoe repair place on the corner; Millie tried to remember what stores like that had been like before. When they’d had unbroken windows and unempty shelves. When there’d been people shopping in them and adults running them, back when adults used to be just grown-up people suspicious of packs of schoolkids in their stores, not howling, sharp-toothed child-killers with dank, stringy fur and paws instead of hands. Ravenous monsters that grew and grew so quickly that you could watch it happen, if you were stupid enough to stick around. Their teeth, hair and claws lengthened, their bodies getting bigger and heavier minute by minute, until they could no longer eat quickly enough to keep up with the growth, and they weakened and died a few days after they’d sprouted.

Jolly wasn’t tending to her traps. Millie swallowed. “Okay, so we’ll go check with the warren over on Patel Street. They usually have aspirin and stuff.” She walked in silence, except for the worry voice in her head.

Citron said, “That tree’s going to have to start over.”

“What?” Millie realized she’d stopped at the traffic light out of habit, because it had gone to red. She was such an idiot. And so was Citron, for just going along with her. She started walking again. Citron tagged along, always just a little behind.

“The maple tree,” he puffed. When you never had enough to eat, you got tired quickly. “The one outside our place. It put its leaves out too early, and now the frost has killed them. It’ll have to start over.”

“Whatever.” Then she felt guilty for being so crabby with him. What could she say to make nice? “Uh, that was a nice line you made in Loup-de-lou last night. The one with eyes and spies in it.”

Citron smiled at her. “Thanks. It wasn’t quite right, though. Sprouteds have bleedy red eyes, not shiny ones.”

“But your line wasn’t about sprouteds. It was about the…the easthound.” She looked all around and behind her. Nothing.

“Thing is,” Citron replied, so quietly that Millie almost didn’t hear him, “We’re all the easthound.”

Instantly, Millie swatted the back of his head. “Shut up!”


“Just shut up! Take that back! It’s not true!”

“Stop making such a racket, willya?”

“So stop being such a loser!” She was sweating in her jacket, her skinny knees trembling. So hungry all the time. So scared.

Citron’s eyes widened. “Millie—!”

He was looking behind her. She turned, hand fumbling in her jacket pocket for her rocks. The sprouted bowled her over while her hand was still snagged in her pocket. Thick, curling fur and snarling and teeth as long as her pinkie. It grabbed her. Its paws were like catcher’s mitts with claws in them. It howled and briefly let her go. It’s in pain, she thought wonderingly, even as she fought her hand out of her pocket and tried to get out from under the sprouted. All that quick growing. It must hurt them. The sprouted snapped at her face, missed. They were fast and strong when they first sprouted, but clumsy in their ever-changing bodies. The sprouted set its jaws in her chest. Through her coat and sweater, its teeth tore into her skin. Pain. Teeth sliding along her ribs. Millie tried to wrestle the head off her. She got her fingers deep into the fur around its neck. Then an impact jerked the sprouted’s head sideways. Citron and his baseball bat, screaming, “Die, die, die!” as he beat the sprouted. It leapt for him. It was already bigger. Millie rolled to her feet, looking around for anything she could use as a weapon. Citron was keeping the sprouted at bay, just barely, by swinging his bat at it. It advanced on him, howling in pain with every step forward.

Sai seemed to come out of nowhere. She had the piece of rebar she carried whenever she went out. The three of them raged at the sprouted, screaming and hitting. Millie kicked and kicked. The sprouted screamed back, in pain or fury. Its eyes were all bleedy. It swatted Citron aside, but he got up and came at it again. Finally it wasn’t fighting any more. They kept hitting it until they were sure it was dead. Even after Sai and Citron had stopped, Millie stomped the sprouted. With each stomp she grunted, in thick animal rage at herself for letting it sneak up on her, for leaving the warren without her knife. Out of the corner of her eye she could see a few kids that had crept out from other warrens to see what the racket was about. She didn’t care. She stomped.

“Millie! Millie!” It was Citron. “It’s dead!”

Millie gave the bloody lump of hair and bone and flesh one more kick, then stood panting. Just a second to catch her breath, then they could keep looking for Jolly. They couldn’t stay there long. A dead sprouted could draw others. If one sprouted was bad, a feeding frenzy of them was worse.

Sai was gulping, sobbing. She looked at them with stricken eyes. “I woke up and I called to Max and he didn’t answer, and when I went over and lifted his coat,” Sai burst into gusts of weeping, “there was only part of his head and one arm there. And bones. Not even much blood.” Sai clutched herself and shuddered. “While we were sleeping, a sprouted came in and killed Max and ate most of him, even licked up his blood, and we didn’t wake up! I thought it had eaten all of you! I thought it was coming back for me!”

Something gleamed white in the broken mess of the sprouted’s corpse. Millie leaned over to see better, fighting not to gag on the smell of blood and worse. She had to crouch closer. There was lots of blood on the thing lying in the curve of the sprouted’s body, but with chilly clarity, Millie recognized it. It was the circular base of Jolly’s musical penguin. Millie looked over at Citron and Sai. “Run,” she told them. The tears coursing down her face felt cool. Because her skin was so hot now.

“What?” asked Sai. “Why?”

Millie straightened. Her legs were shaking so much they barely held her up. That small pop she’d felt when she pulled on the sprouted’s neck. “A sprouted didn’t come into our squat. It was already in there.” She opened her hand to show them the thing she’d pulled off the sprouted’s throat in her battle with it; Jolly’s gold necklace. Instinct often led sprouteds to return to where the people they loved were. Jolly had run away to protect the rest of her warren from herself. “Bloody run!” Millie yelled at them. “Go find another squat! Somewhere I won’t look for you! Don’t you get it? I’m her twin!”

First Citron’s face then Sai’s went blank with shock as they understood what Millie was saying. Citron sobbed, once. It might have been the word, “Bye.” He grabbed Sai’s arm. The two of them stumbled away. The other kids that had come out to gawk had disappeared back to their warrens. Millie turned her back so she couldn’t see what direction Sai and Citron were moving in, but she could hear them, more keenly than she’d ever been able to hear. She could smell them. The easthound could track them. The downy starvation fuzz on Millie’s arm was already coarser. The pain in her handless wrist spiked. She looked at it. It was aching because the hand was starting to grow in again. There were tiny fingers on the end of it now. And she needed to eat so badly.

When had Jolly sprouted? Probably way more than twenty-eight and three-quarters minutes ago. Citron and Sai’s only chance was that Millie had always done everything later than her twin.

Still clutching Jolly’s necklace, she began to run, too; in a different direction. Leeks, she told the sprouting Hound, fresh leeks. You like those, right? Not blood and still-warm, still-screaming flesh. You like leeks. The Hound wasn’t fully come into itself yet. It was almost believing her that leeks would satisfy its hunger. And it didn’t understand that she couldn’t swim. You’re thirsty too, right? she told it.

It was.

Faster, faster, faster, Millie sped towards the river, where the spring tide was running deep and wide.

That child’s gone wild.

Oh, Black Betty, bam-ba-lam.


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