“You summoned the kraken?” Irving said.
“Not exactly, sir.” Abbie went right on looking him dead in the eye. All those years of self-preservation and petty theft topped off with police academy training had taught her the art of mastering the inscrutable stare. She’d never be as good at it as Jenny, but it was always hard to get a bead on Jenny. Everyone supposedly had some sort of tell, but the Mills girls were tough to read, case workers had always said so. “Technically, it’s a leviathan.”
“And technically, the leviathan cannot be summoned,” Crane added. “It’s a biblical beast said to arise when the time is nigh—”
“We put it back,” Abbie interrupted. “Let’s focus on that, okay? We didn’t actually plan on this, believe it or not. There was this festival where they were doing Revolutionary War reenactment and—”
With great deliberation, Irving lifted a brow until it practically merged with his hairline. “Maybe you’d better start from the beginning.”
It began with Jenny, because most things did.
Jenny was the reason Abbie had thrown herself into rebelling, into belonging, into believing in logic and reason instead of truths that involved neither. Corbin had been the catalyst, but Jenny had been the heart.
Jenny was also the reason Abbie’s kitchen was completely innavigable.
“I had people regimenting my meals for the past two years,” Jenny told her, pulling open a drawer where Abbie’s spatulas were now cohabiting with her measuring spoons. “Can you blame me for exercising my culinary freedoms?”
“Cutting boards go in the bottom cabinet,” Abbie sighed.
Jenny shrugged, blithely dicing a zucchini for the kale and chickpea stir-fry she was working on. “And now they’re next to the refrigerator.”
In the grand scheme of hills Abbie was willing to die on, this one wasn’t even a blip on her radar. Back when she and Luke were together, they’d filled one of her countertops with empty wine bottles and then tried to make a modern art sculpture out of them. Neither of them knew a damn thing about wine except drinking it out of glasses only meant more dishes to wash later.
“You know what, have fun with your kale. I’m ordering Thai food. Fried, greasy, terrible-for-you, Americanized-within-an-inch-of-its-life Thai food.” She was sure she could see Jenny mentally adding a few more reps onto her already extensive fitness routine just from hearing about this.
In a way, she got that. Jenny situating herself in Abbie’s place was all part of the process, doing little things like reorganizing the kitchen and refolding all the bathroom towels a certain way just because she could, because it was nice to have the kind of autonomy she wasn’t permitted at the institute. She hadn’t really thought too much about Jenny and Crane both trying to adapt to everyday living, both of them and their coping mechanisms were just part of her life now and both of them treated her coffeemaker the way it deserved to be treated, so no harm done. Aside from the encroaching apocalypse.
Jenny was eating her stir-fry and looking a little too smug about it when Abbie’s phone rang twenty minutes later. Abbie was expecting it to be the Thai place confirming her address, possibly Irving calling about something a lot more ominous than dinner, but instead it was Crane.
She’d drilled him relentlessly on how to use a phone and left him enough money for cabs if he needed to get anywhere in a hurry. Teaching him to decipher the bus system was still a work in progress.
“Good evening, lieutenant.” His voice sounded tired. “My wife appeared to me in a dream and informed me there was a terrible hunger in the east. I thought it prudent to inform you.”
Abbie saw a hundred potential responses flash before her eyes. But even though Well, your wife also appeared to me in a dream and informed me you’ve been wearing the same outfit for two hundred and fifty years and Is there a rule in the witches’ handbook that says they can only speak in riddles? were both on the tip of her tongue, she held back the urge. “I see. Do we have any idea what that means?”
“No, I regrettably have no idea about anything anymore.”
She knew what was on his mind and there was no point in pretending not to, so she went straight for the throat. “Crane. Did you tell her about what happened to Jeremy?”
“I still can’t believe he’s learned how to hang up on someone.”
Jenny watched her stab up another spring roll. “That’s progress, right?”
“I guess,” Abbie grudgingly admitted, and waited for the other shoe to drop.
Jenny obliged. “Also, great job holding back there. No way is that a sensitive subject he might not want to talk about.”
Abbie gave her a flat look. “Yeah, you’ve made your point. Thank you. Anything else you’d like to add?”
“Did it never occur to you the man might need a pick me up after learning his son was nuts? People in general don’t respond that well to family members being nuts.”
She picked up the remote and skimmed through the channels when a commercial break began. The two of them were watching an episode of American Horror Story—Jenny’s choice, not Abbie’s. Jenny had airily claimed you naturally became a little desensitized to monsters once you admitted to yourself any of them might be real. Abbie was still coming to terms with that but didn’t want to argue about it either, which described most of her thoughts on Jenny in a nutshell these days.
“What, are we supposed to take him to a bouncy castle?”
“I’d pay good money to see that, but I was thinking more like finding a way for him to use his strengths. The guy has a photographic memory, he should be able to pick up a new skill in a snap.” Jenny looked a little dreamy. “He could learn to speak Spanish or play the accordion or open an Etsy shop for historically accurate wood carvings. Or maybe we could get him to offer translation services. Just to local businesses, I mean, I’m not talking about setting him loose on Craigslist.”
“You’ve really thought about this, huh.”
“And you really haven’t. Do you seriously think he’s happy hanging out at that cabin when he’s not helping fight off harbingers of the end of days?”
“Oddly enough, he’s never actually said.”
“Yeah, exactly. He needs to get out more. Think about it, he could be the most kick-ass museum guide ever.”
Abbie still hadn’t gotten over the last time she took Crane into a museum and practically had to drag him out of it for yelling at a tour group of schoolchildren. “I’m gonna have to disagree with you there.”
“Okay,” Jenny drew the word out long-sufferingly, “then we’ll get him into historical reenactment. Those people will probably love him for knowing every detail about stuff. Hang on.” And she darted down the hall, leaving Abbie alone with her chicken satay and thoughts of Ichabod Crane playing Spanish ballads on an accordion.
“Here.” Jenny reappeared as quickly as she’d disappeared, dangling a pamphlet in front of Abbie’s nose. “I saw this at the historical society. It’s Revolutionary War weekend in New Canaan. Weekend as in tomorrow, as in don’t you conveniently have the day off?”
“‘Residents of all ages are invited to come for the day to see the troops. Living history demonstrations of both military and civilian life during the American Revolution will take place all day.’” Abbie looked up. “This could be a disaster, you know.”
“It’s free,” Jenny pointed out casually, and that was that.
The disaster didn’t happen immediately, which was what lulled Abbie into a false sense of security. Afterward, she was incredibly annoyed at herself about this, since anytime there wasn’t some kind of disaster happening generally meant one was about to. It was just so easy to let herself pretend to be a normal person enjoying a normal day off doing relatively normal things with her time-traveling partner in crime and her fresh-out-of-the-nuthouse sister.
“Why do you care what Crane does in his spare time?” Abbie asked, finally voicing something that had been nagging at her ever since Jenny had started talking about giving the poor guy a hobby. Crane was skimming titles at the bookseller’s, far enough away to be out of earshot but close enough that Abbie could bail him out if they had a repeat of the museum incident.
Jenny was gazing at the smithy’s display of weaponry a little too longingly for comfort, but she tore her eyes away in order to cock a brow at Abbie. “Haven’t you ever heard the old saying, If the apocalypse becomes your life, your life becomes the apocalypse?”
“Nope, because you literally just made that up.”
“Okay, fair. But it reminds me of something Corbin told me. Then he taught me to read Latin and shoot a gun and behave long enough to not be locked up for a little while. You can’t just devote yourself to one thing or you lose the rest of yourself, you know?”
Abbie was starting to think maybe she did know.
Then she glanced over her shoulder and noticed Crane was studying a copy of one of the Harry Potter books. “Hey, I’m just—” she started, but Jenny had already melted back into the crowd.
Crane didn’t seem to notice when she came over to him. “So I’m guessing this one isn’t exactly period appropriate?”
“Fanciful depictions of witchcraft are being celebrated in children’s literature. How...quaint.” He didn’t exactly sound like he believed it.
His face was drawn and somber, and it made Abbie’s stomach plummet when she realized that thoughts of children and witchcraft had to be swirling through his mind a mile a minute and none of them were especially pleasant. As tactfully as she could, she set the book aside and steered him towards the clothier’s tent next door.
“Hey, look at this. You could actually invest in a second shirt.”
“The texture is unpleasant,” Crane noted, pinching a sleeve between his fingers.
“It looks exactly the same as the one you’ve got on now.” Or almost, anyway. Up close, Abbie could see the faint discolorations where he’d tried to scrub dirt or blood out of his clothes, and it made her want to buy every damn thing in the tent and throw it at him. “Are you sure you’re not just resistant to change?”
One corner of Crane’s mouth ticked into something just short of a smile. “Need I remind you that I am in the process of acclimating myself to two hundred and fifty years’ worth of change?”
“Okay,” Abbie surrendered, “I get it. Everyone needs a security blanket. But I’m buying it anyway and if you ever want it, it’s there.”
A little later, she ducked into a tent where a speaker was demonstrating various types of colonial dress and learned she’d unknowingly been needling Crane about buying new underwear.
Jenny materialized at her shoulder, smirking and almost scaring the life out of her. “Maybe next time you should start with a waistcoat. Does he know you actually bought him a shirt? I’m pretty sure that counts as first base.”
Abbie didn’t even bother responding to that.
She did, however, go out of her way to make sure Crane had the chance to sample some of America’s finer delicacies. It went over a lot better than the clothier’s.
“These anachronistic foodstuffs,” Crane declared in a tone that was so fervent it was practically sermonizing, “are extraordinary.”
“That’s hands down the most dashing way of describing giant pretzels and funnel cake I have ever heard,” she said. “Hey, share. I haven’t had one of these in years.”
Jenny turned up again, quiet and unnerving as ever. Abbie was either going to have to get used to that or have a talk with her about it. “So.” Her lips twitched as she gave Crane a once-over. There was powdered sugar on his nose. “You think this is what Katrina meant by a great hunger in the east?”
“God, I hope so,” said Abbie. “There’s no death or maiming or creepiness whatsoever.”
“Yeah,” Jenny mused. “And the really creepy thing is, something about that just seems off.”
Making the drive to the waterfront was Abbie’s idea. Crane had come down from his sugar high enough to start looking a little maudlin about being surrounded by pieces of the past he’d lost and it was the first thing she could think of to redirect him. She let Jenny control the radio at first, tried and failed to explain Daft Punk to Crane even though he couldn't seem to work past the proper meaning of daft, and eventually vetoed Jenny and turned to a classical station until they parked. It was peaceful in a way few things in her life had been for a long time, walking along until the town and the harbor full of bobbing boats faded behind them.
Then the sky grew storm-gray and a wailing sound, like a thousand rusty wrought-iron gates being forced open, came from under the lapping waves.
“Crane,” Abbie said slowly, “what did your wife tell you again about something being...?”
“Hungry.” Crane’s eyes had gone as wild and wide as the water. “A great hunger to the east.”
A pebbly-skinned head the size of a boulder popped out of the waves, and then another, and then another until Abbie could only stare and pray each one was the last. In unison, they bared mouthfuls of wickedly pointed teeth. Then, equally in unison, they all disappeared.
Jenny’s cheeks hollowed. “The good news is, there used to be two of them. Supposedly, God originally created a male and a female, but destroyed the female since he knew the world wouldn’t stand a chance if they multiplied. The bad news...” She grimaced.
“What’s the bad news?” Abbie prompted warily.
“The bad news is it’s a fucking leviathan.”
Behind them, all the lights along the waterfront flickered out.
The creature burst out of the water and howled, sending fire arcing into the air.
“Are you serious,” muttered Abbie. “I wasn’t even supposed to be on call today.”
As she watched, the leviathan dove back underwater. A huge wave sent the docked boats knocking into one another like toys in a crowded bathtub.
“Revelations again.” Crane’s voice was preternaturally calm. “‘And I stood upon the sand of the sea, and saw a beast rise up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns, and upon his heads the name of blasphemy. And the beast which I saw was like unto a leopard, and his feet were as the feet of a bear, and his mouth as the mouth of a lion: and the dragon gave him his power, and his seat, and great authority. And I saw one of his heads as it were wounded to death; and his deadly wound was healed; and the entire world wondered after the beast.’”
“I don’t know about leopards or bears, but those are definitely seven heads.”
Crane smiled wanly, his profile dashed with molten gold from the setting sun. “There’s more. ‘And there was given unto him a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies; and power was given unto him to continue forty and two month.’”
Jenny rounded on him. “Excuse me, did you say forty and two months?”
Abbie already had her gun in her hands, gripping so hard it hurt. “Yeah, that’s not happening. Got anything on how to get rid of him?”
“‘In that day the Lord with His sore and great and strong sword shall punish leviathan the piercing serpent, even leviathan that crooked serpent; and He shall slay the dragon that is in the sea.’ I believe we need a sword.”
Abbie thought fast. The blacksmith from the historical reenactment had had a ton of them, but that was too far away to risk doubling back. The only plan B that occurred to her was maybe storming the local aquarium’s gift shop looking for souvenir harpoons, which she was pretty sure aquarium gift shops didn’t actually sell. More importantly, if they tried to run that far, she was willing to bet the thing would leap out of the water and pursue them all the way. Feet of a bear, Crane had recited, which presumably meant it wasn’t confined to the water.
She had all the confirmation she needed when the leviathan tried to haul itself onto the end of the pier with said feet of a bear but only managed to decimate it.
Abbie, at a loss, aimed and shot it in the nearest head. It was a direct hit, one that made the creature howl and gush blue-black fluid she could only assume was blood, and healed immediately.
“Did you even hear me?” Jenny yelled. “Swords.” And then she was sprinting back the way they’d come, not turning a hair when Abbie shouted after her.
Crane was saying something, something loud and urgent, but Abbie couldn’t catch a word of it.
Without consciously realizing it, she had situated herself in front of him, all instinct. “We need to try and keep it confined to the smallest area possible.” No need to leave a trail of death and destruction across town and God knows where else.
All seven heads breached the waves again. Now the pier was on fire. “Wonderful,” Crane said dryly.
“Understand?” Abbie gritted. “We don’t let it get on land. We can’t let it get to land.” By her judgment, the thing seemed more comfortable staying in the water but she wasn’t about to test that.
“Oh, I agree completely, but aside from having a useless firearm and the advantage of higher ground I’m not entirely sure how you propose we do this.”
“You guys are hopeless. Does being a Witness literally mean all you do is watch?” Jenny was standing behind him, a little out of breath. She held up both hands. “Swords, dumbasses.”
Abbie stared at her.
“I might’ve bought a few things from the blacksmith and stashed them in the trunk.”
“You didn’t think maybe I should know about this?”
“Honestly, no, I didn’t see any point in alerting you.” She rolled her eyes. “What, it’s weird someone who just got out of a mental institute doesn’t want to have a friendly chat about buying weaponry?”
“I trust you to to the right thing,” Abbie yelled over the din of the leviathan shrieking again. Another tongue of flame scorched between them.
“I was gonna tell you,” Jenny yelled back. “Eventually.” She tightened her hold on the grip of the sword and passed the other one to Crane. “They were on sale, buy one get one half off. You can’t just walk past a deal like that.”
“As I was saying,” Crane interjected, inhumanly dignified, “one of us needs to meet it on the pier.”
The leviathan had stopped howling and seemed to be waiting for them to respond, looking almost placid beside the burning portion of pier. Each horn-crested head sat atop a long, sinewy neck that reminded Abbie of pictures she’d seen of the hydra from Greek mythology.
“One of us,” Crane said again, emphasizing each word.
And Abbie realized what he was going to try to do approximately a fraction of a second before he did it.
Crane nodded at her, shucking off his coat. “Shoot it again. Don’t stop shooting it.”
And he sprinted down the length of the pier.
He stopped several yards shy of the burning portion, but it was enough.
Abbie had willed the shakiness out of her hands every day at the academy, but suddenly she seemed to have to start from scratch all over again. The earth felt as if it was tipping sideways under her, the gun felt so small and ineffective in her grip, and there was Crane was standing with his blade raised, counting on her all over again, and she couldn’t move.
“Do it,” Jenny cried.
Her first shot hit the leviathan between the eyes, which had almost no effect but managed to distract it long enough for Crane to strike. A deep gash appeared in one ropey neck and healed so instantaneously it was almost cartoonish. Abbie fired again, not thinking, all instinct once again, and this time the creature was baring its teeth right up until Crane lopped the head clean off.
Crane was already running back to the mainland, liberally splattered with reptilian blood but otherwise unscathed. Behind him, the leviathan was already regenerating, an identical head sprouting from the stump of the first.
“Are you insane?” Abbie demanded, hitting the ground as the beast bellowed and set the surrounding trees aflame.
“No, really, are you insane?” she repeated. It was important to make sure he hadn’t missed the first time. “All you’re doing is making it even madder.”
Crane looked at her with a mad little smile on his face. “Lieutenant. The horseman, when he struck with his broadaxe. What did he do?”
Abbie froze, ducked and rolled just in time to narrowly miss being hit with a jet of flame. “He cauterized the wound.”
Beside her, Jenny’s eyes went wide. “Fighting fire with fire? Are we really doing this?” She was laughing when she stabbed her sword into a cluster of flaming shrubs.
Jenny was the first one to take off a head.
The wound sizzled and hissed, and the remaining six heads screeched so loudly Abbie wanted to drop her weapon and curl into a fetal position with her hands over her ears.
But it didn’t heal and it didn’t sprout another head and her sister was screaming, batting at the flames licking up the sleeve of her jacket.
At first, Abbie thought she was screaming in pain and the world gyroscoped around her a second time. But then there was a brief lull in the leviathan’s wails and she was able to make out actual words.
“Come on,” Jenny was hollering in a voice that chilled Abbie to the bone, wild and ready. It was impossible to tell if she was directing her words at the the monster or Crane or simply anyone who could hear. “Come on.”
The next time Abbie fired, she and Crane took off a second head together.
She stood her ground as long as she could, with the pier solid under her wide-planted feet, unloading round after round into the leviathan’s faces until her arms ached and her shoulders were trembling from absorbing the shock. Choking on sprays of saltwater and scorching her coat from ducking flames, yelling warnings until her throat was raw. Almost swallowing her tongue when the end of the pier collapsed into the water and the fray moved that much closer to the mainland. Providing cover fire when first Crane and then Jenny needed to fall back and hold their swords inside the fire until the blades glowed cherry-red.
She lost count of the heads that fell, spewing the pier black and churning the water white.
And later, much later, the town’s power flickered back to life.
Abbie could see the bulbous shapes of capsized boats, the charred spikes of wood that marked the smoldering wreck of the pier. There was no trace of the leviathan. Only the three of them, soaked to the bone, covered in soot and sand and blood—both blue-black and red—holding hissing swords and an empty police pistol. There were sirens crescendoing in the distance.
“Crane,” Abbie said when the smoke cleared, “you’re going to be really glad you’ve got that extra shirt.”
Crane didn’t seem to have heard her. “Did we just manage to effectively dispatch a biblical sea monster?”
“Yep.” Abbie was grinning so hard her face ached. “We sure did.”
“You know what,” Jenny said. “Irving is going to be so, so mad he missed this.”
“And that’s why we purchased a bespangled cephalopod for you,” Crane finished.
The plush purple octopus was perched cheerfully on Irving’s desk.
“It was the only novelty item that possessed anywhere near the requisite number of appendages,” he added.
“Did you,” Irving said deliberately, “seriously get me a present to show you were thinking of me when you chopped up a damn sea monster?”
“Yeah, it seemed like the thing to do,” Abbie answered. “But if you want someone to blame, it was Jenny’s idea. And the aquarium is donating all proceeds towards rebuilding parts of the harbor that were damaged by the,” she curled her fingers into quotation marks, “storm.”
Irving had already swiveled back to his keyboard, tapping away. “All right, so, Google is telling me the leviathan is an incarnation of Lotan, a creature from Ugaritic Canaanite mythology who would summon floods and tidal waves.” He paused, snorting. “Oh, that’s nice, and you went to New Canaan. That’s funny. Next time, go to someplace like Pleasantville. Or Rye. You should be able to handle demonic loaves of bread without a hitch by now.”
Crane furrowed his brow. “I’m unfamiliar with this plague.”
“Another interesting thing? According to the Canaanite myth, Baal kills Lotan, who reappears a thousand years later as the biblical leviathan, and now he’s back.” Irving leaned back in his chair with a grim little smile. “So it stands to reason there’s a chance he’ll be back again.”
Abbie lifted a shoulder. “Then we’ll be ready.” It was so simple to say things like this now. She didn’t know when that had happened.
“It’s really we now, isn’t it?” Irving said.
“I guess so.” She picked up the octopus and gave him a squeeze. “The three of us, Jenny, and this guy,”
“According to the placard attached to one of its tentacles, its name is Otto,” Crane said helpfully.
Irving snatched it back. “Out.”