xxxxviii. French’s Forest Is Forever
They turned further inland—keeping to higher ground—but staying parallel with the Payne. This was the last stretch before the end, before nightmare over.
At a tangled crossing, Eva tripped and twisted her ankle―but she kept on out of sheer terror. She could heal later. There was no time for things like pain.
They made it as far as the highway―where they crossed Payne one last time, over an old plank rope bridge—in order to get on the road to freedom.
“Whatever you do, do not look down,” Seven said in stern concern, knowing how the Silverkin really worked.
But, half-way across, Eva stopped, frozen from fright, unable to look below or move forward. The fear had seized her.
Breathing deeply—she closed her eyes. “Seven …” she said quietly. “Seven, … I cannot move my arms …”
At that moment, out of the corner of his eye, Seven spotted Draca in the water below, winding back and forth, stalking.
“Keep going … Get control, Eva …”
“Seven I can’t―” she pleaded now.
He put a hand on her shoulder―and she snapped back in command again—but in so doing shifted to one side, grabbing the left rope—causing the bridge to sway.
“Oh my God! Seven … … … … … !!!”
She dropped to her knees on the bridge—and he tried to steady her on the planks. This was not going as planned.
“Eva … What is wrong … … … … … ?”
“Got the spins … Going to be sick … Can’t help it … Seven … I’m so sorry …”
“Can you make it to the other side?”
She shook her head in serious doubt. She could not imagine moving on.
“I’ll carry you,” he said—stepping over her. He was not going to leave her.
He bent down—and she climbed up on his back, holding on for her life, with her arms around his neck. He had her.
He clung white-knuckled to the rope-railings—as every step was a miracle milestone. This was the very last mile.
She closed her eyes, unable to look down—when Seven sensed Faye breathing down their necks, like phantom on wind.
Then he looked up to see the Silverskin standing at the other end of the bridge—with a long black tail lashing about—raising Ierre over Her head. She waited.
“Please don’t stop …” Eva said—but she was too afraid to open her eyes to see why he had—and he could not immediately respond to her plea, frozen.
Faye brought Ierre to one rope railing then another—threatening to cut the bridge. But Seven closed his eyes—telling himself that She did not exist—and he marched blindly forward toward Her.
“Just pray with me,” he whispered.
But instead of doing so, Eva could not stand the uncertainty of blindness any longer, so she bravely opened her eyes once more. Seven’s own eyes were now closed—yet he was still slowly walking forward. But also, Faye had so vanished.
Eva looked to see how far they had come—and saw that they were almost across—with no sign of trouble—nor any indication of Faye’s presence. She breathed a sigh of relief, thanking God for their safe return, far from French’s Forest.
Meanwhile, not knowing Eva had opened her eyes—Seven felt Faye’s fires fall from his face—reinforcing his belief She could not manifest without his conscious consent. She relied on fear.
So he kept on, one foot in front of the other, bravely throwing off all caution—trusting that She could not touch him if he just refused now to look. He believed.
But then Eva closed her eyes in relief, confident they would now find freedom—and at that moment, Seven check the remaining distance left to go.
He needed to see, in order to make a dash for it if necessary—only to find Godwin standing there on the far bank, roaring with Marietta’s body in his arms.
“I have come for you boy!!!” he screamed. “You have taken my love from me! Now I will take yours! NOW … I … WILL … TAKE … YOURS … … … ! … … … !”
Eva heard what she recognized to be Godwin’s voice, but them having taken him for dead, she felt it must be Faye tricking her ears and did not open eyes.
Seven watched in horror then, as Godwin set Marietta’s corpse down on her feet—and she became animated like a zombie, beginning to stomp across the bridge toward them—frothing at mouth.
“Such a clever girl, for a human,” Marietta said in a deep voice. “How you put up with Seven, I will never know … But I will always envy your mortality, in how it allows you to so appreciate life …”
Eva could not hear Marietta’s voice, however, for Seven’s undead mother was but a manifestation of the Silverskin, but a figment of Eva’s own depthless dreams. She could not hear the words she spoke.
“You have shown me how it feels to be a mortal girl in love—but now it is past the hour for such matters of the heart. Now it is time to show you how it feels to be immortal … How it feels to be dead!”
Eva reopened her eyes just then, and Marietta disappeared—but she gasped to see Godwin again. “Seven?” she whispered. She had grown concerned because he had once more now stopped.
“Do not worry, I will handle him, once we get to land. We have no choice but to make it across and deal with Her cruel manipulations as She brings them.
“Just keep your eyes closed,” he reassured her. “On second thought,” he continued. “Keep them open so you see the other side. Trust me, we will be fine.”
Finally in that moment he instinctually understood there were fewer phantoms when Eva was wide-eyed and alert—but even that was now changing.
Eva’s two worlds were slowly merging, to where the dreams were blending into the daylight, as manifestations became reality at one time.
But ominous dark clouds were now blotting out the budding early morning sun, drawing back the light of day and snapping Eva into one of her blackouts.
So Marietta reappeared right before them again, closing in quickly, and Seven panicked in his progress, unsure which way now was the safer route of travel.
He looked back to the other end of the bridge, for escape to where they had come from—where he saw Aly sitting silent and still as death on old Darkhoof.
His first thought was that she had come to help them—and so he spun about in hopefulness, starting back her way in error. He plodded on with Marietta close.
“Seven …” Eva said, now half-lucid, but with her eyes still closed. “Why did you turn around? We were there …”
“Just stay calm, we will be home soon, I swear,” he said with airs of calm, but his heart was galloping to the finish.
Now when they reached midway across again—he noticed a demonic look in Aly’s slit yellow eyes—and She cackled as Darkhoof’s tail split into nine lashing whips of fire. The bridge quickly lit up in Hellfire unbound by the forces of the supernatural Forest—in eternal dance of demonic delight with Eva’s subconscious.
The terrible truth sank in on Seven now, that this was not Aly at all, but once again the Silverskin throwing up another’s form. The real Aly was in fact still back on the roof of Bane House, plotting her revenge on Faye as fire closed in on her.
Seven tried closing his eyes—but he could still hear the flames crackling—and so he looked again, to see that the bridge before him was burning to a cinder. The only way back led to an undead Marietta—and raging Godwin thereon beyond, who was pacing madly about in frothing frenzy.
So Seven looked down, to where Draca still circled—when up the stream he saw a jaguar stalking in on the big snake through the rapids—with many red ravens at his flanks—flying parallel along banks.
Known as Old One, the black cat was mythologized to be half-man, half-jaguar. The sinewy feline leapt onto the anaconda—and the two ferociously lashed about in the river, two of a kind, wild of feral fury.
Draca stirred himself up, whipping the cat with a coiling tail, sending Old One flying to one side. Then the two circled each other, fixed in a heated battle for life.
Old One bit the snake behind the head, dragging him up onto shore—but Draca struck back, sinking teeth into the cat, dragging him now down underwater.
Still yet, mere moments later, Old One broke surface again—having twisted from the snake’s hold—while Draca swam off into the depths. The battle had ended.
“Midnight?” Eva whispered to herself, sensing the presence of an old friend—but lost to the true significance in it. She just kept her eyes tightly closed.
Then through the flames Seven saw Aly alight from Darkhoof—and approaching the burning bridge—she swiftly now morphed into her lizard form.
One fiery railing snapped—then the other—and Aly leapt to grab the flaming end of the bridge as it fell—and the planks plummeted all askew under everybody.
Eva opened her eyes in a sudden alarm—losing her hold on Seven—entering into free fall. But he kept one grip on her wrist—and one on rope—saving them.
Simultaneously, Marietta tumbled down past them from above—and she grappled onto Eva in her quick descent.
Meanwhile, Aly still held on to the end of the bridge below, even as the fire from the ropes burned fast at her hands.
But before the catwalk could fall very far, the unkindness of red ravens swooped up to catch it—clamping their claws onto the sections above the flames.
By beating their wings furiously, they managed to hold the bridge aloft enough to slow down its descent—so that it did not smash to bits against the cliff.
Rather they slowed the bridge to rest against the face, even as their feathers burned—even as Aly frantically clawed at them—rathering in her self-destructive bent to see everybody fall to their deaths. But of course she was not Aly at all, but the Silverskin under guise.
Eva screamed, pushing Marietta off of her—who nevertheless latched on harder—so Seven’s hold on Eva began to slip from his grasp under the extra weight. Marietta was neither Marietta, but also Faye masked by illusion. She was all.
Then just as Seven was about to lose his hold on Eva, each red raven of that conspiracy dove for the Payne—to douse their wings of fire—before returning to claw at Marietta once again, renewed. They were the vanguards of vengeance.
But being a zombie spirit, Marietta was undisturbed by the birds tearing her flesh apart—and she could only giggle feverishly, frothing at the mouth as she tried to crawl up Eva’s back, in order to disengage Seven’s hold upon his love.
Just then, up above, Faye’s madly posessed Godwin started smashing the remaining bridge posts with Réðscipe—in an effort to see to it that they all met the bottom but him—when from down the river arose a most magnificent melody:
‘Lucky, Lucky … L-u-u-u-cky … …! L-u-u-u-cky … …! L-u-u-u-cky … … Lucky!!! !!! L-u-u-u-cky … … … Lucky!!!’
Then the skeletal Hellbear appeared downstream, stalking through the river, with Sheriff Trollope tracking it along the bank, firing at will. But his bullets were merely bouncing off of silver bone, ricocheting everywhere, not stopping the bear—and so Tony fell back to regroup.
Meanwhile, Eva began to scream, as Marietta slobbered in her ear—wickedlly pulling up Seven’s fingers one digit at a time—drawing out the moment to enjoy it.
Eva’s eyes were wide open now, yet she could see, hear and feel Marietta all over her. She could see Aly cackling wickedly below. Eva finally saw herself.
(Author’s Note: If you are enjoying The Silverskin, you can buy the full 400 page Revised & Expanded 10th Anniversary edition paperback here. Forever Yours In French’s Forest, Rian Torr)