Frostbite - Chapter 9

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When a caterpillar turns into a butterfly, it sews itself up into a cocoon just big enough to hold its body. A gossamer coffin— because it knows that in a very real sense it is dying.

Its body dissolves inside the cocoon. Other than a very few cells, the caterpillar liquefies entirely. Its eyes, its legs, its furry segmented body all disappear and are lost forever. Then it rebuilds itself. From scratch. When the butterfly emerges from the cocoon, later on, it will not resemble the original caterpillar at all. It will not remember anything of its previous life, even to the extent that butterflies are capable of remembering in the first place. It will have new powers and senses that it literally could not have conceived of before, but they will not seem strange, because the butterfly has no past experience from which to draw comparisons.

It can fly from the moment it hatches. It does not mourn its former life, any more than it mourns the quiet, liquid time in between.

Something very similar happened, but much more quickly, when the first beam of silver moonlight struck Chey from afar.

The silver light filled up her senses. It didn’t so much blind her as suffuse her with light, a blossoming, cold light that passed through every cell in her body as if she were made of perfectly transparent glass. She could see it with her skin, with her heart and her bones as well as she could see it with her eyes—better, even. Beams of that light pinned her to the ground. She struggled, at first, but her struggles changed into a writhing transformation, as her body changed its shape. As her being changed.

It was not what she’d expected.

Hair did not burst out of her skin, nor did her jawbone lengthen and sprout enormous teeth. Her ears did not slide up to the top of her head and stick out in points. There was no halfway state, no hybrid creature, not even for a moment. She was a woman, and the silver light swept through her, and then—

—and then she was a wolf.

The transformation was painless. In fact, it felt good. Really good. It felt like an incredibly intense orgasm that lasted only for a split second, but afterward left her trembling with ecstasy. With a sense that this was right. Natural.

It felt like taking off a suit of uncomfortable clothes at the end of a very long and tiring day. It felt like standing under a waterfall and letting the pounding water drive all the filth and sweat off her body. It felt magical.

It did not feel as if she were a woman transforming into the shape of a wolf. It felt as if she were a wolf awakening from a long and tedious dream in which she had been forced to live in the body of a human being. The distaste she felt for such a state—for the entire state of humanity— was only matched by her relief to be back in her lupine shape, to have returned to what felt like her native skin.

When it was done she opened her eyes again and saw in a whole new way. Her eyes themselves were changed, both in shape and in function. She saw colors, but fewer than her human eyes would recognize— there was no red nor any green in this world, only shades of blue and yellow. Things in the distance were hard to focus on, while the pine needles next to her face took on a supernatural clarity. If her vision was reduced, however, her senses of smell and hearing more than compensated for the lack. She could hear martens and shrews burrowing under the ground, and the sound of a bear scratching at a tree on the far side of the valley. She could smell a whole landscape of animals and plants; she could tell how far away they were from her wholly based on the strength of their odors. It was like she had a map inside her head of the world surrounding her body out to several kilometers’ distance, a map that was constantly being updated and gave her more information than she could ever possibly need. By comparison (though she did not then make the comparison, nor would she have wanted to), the awareness, the consciousness of a human being seemed pitifully limited. The woman had only been really aware of objects she could see, and even then only of objects directly in front of her. The wolf was tied in to the world around her as effortlessly and completely as if she were looking down from above with hundreds of eyes at once.

The smells—the smells—everything smelled of something. Every object in the world had a unique odor, an olfactory signature that matched up with some instinct or memory in her brain. This smell meant food. That smell meant water. A third smell meant pine needles, and it was everywhere. There was more to it, though, layers of smells on top of each other. These pine needles had been trampled on by a colony of ants. Those pine needles smelled of the urine of a rabbit—a very exciting smell, indeed. She wanted more, suddenly. She wanted to smell everything, everything in the world, and learn its secrets.

One smell predominated and kept her from fully exploring her new sensorium. It was like a solo note played against the backdrop of a grand symphony and it demanded her attention. She smelled a creature like herself. She looked up and snarled and found herself muzzle to muzzle with him. His frozen green eyes thawed a little when his gaze met hers. He looked almost sheepish.

He had tried to kill her. She couldn’t remember the details, but they didn’t matter. He had tried to kill her.

There was blood between them, and it had to be settled.

Every other concern in the world could wait.

With a growl back in the deepest part of her throat, she rolled onto her feet and bared her fangs.

His tail between his legs, he stepped closer and pushed his snout into her flank. He was trying to apologize, she knew. The hair between his shoulders, a saddle- shaped patch of fur, stood up and then relaxed. It was a signal and an offering.

He had tried to kill her. He would try again, unless she stopped him. Unless she killed him first. Yes, it made perfect sense. Bloodlust burned in her—a whole new sensation, but one that felt as old as time. It felt like it was etched into her bones.

Kill, kill, kill, kill him, she thought, in the rhythm of her panting breath. Kill, kill, kill—the thought beat in her head like a drum, panted on the back of her tongue. Her thoughts were not like human thoughts. They were simpler. More pure. There was no need to examine them, to qualify them. Kill, kill, kill, kill him, kill.

Her hind legs were like powerful springs. She reared up and brought her strong forelegs down on his neck, her paws smashing and tearing at the skin under all that fur. She raked her claws down between his shoulder blades and opened her mouth to snap at his throat.

Beneath her he twisted and rolled away from her attack. She bounced sideways to get in another swipe, but before she could build up the momentum he slammed into her like a freight train, all of his weight hitting her just off her center of balance. She went flying, her legs splayed, and skidded painfully across the forest floor on her back. She couldn’t see where he ended up.

Her vulnerable stomach was exposed. With a snapping twist of every joint in her body, she flipped over with effortless speed. She rose to her paws, spreading her toes out to grip the soft ground. If he came at her again she wanted to be ready. She lifted her muzzle and breathed in deeply. The scents of the forest filled her brain and she caught his signature odor easily. He was running away from her, dashing through the trees, moving quickly.

She glanced back at her ankle, the one that had been injured when she was trapped in her human body. It looked strong and healthy now. Digging in with her hind legs, she leapt over a pile of dead branches and followed him.

It was the easiest thing in the world to keep track of him, even if she couldn’t see him. Her eyes, barely thirty centimeters off the ground, saw little but the underbrush. He was running scared and in too much of a hurry to be silent, however, and her ears twitched back and forth as she heard him crashing through shrubs and stands of saplings.

Oh, the way the world sounded now, a great, sighing, weeping, laughing, exulting, screaming melody of objects moving through time. How she longed to just sit and listen to the planet turn, listen to all its children breathing, their hearts pounding, the air sliding noisily over their fur! But this was not the time. This was the time to kill.

She pushed herself to catch up with him and found herself streaking through the woods, far faster than she’d ever imagined. The crazily tilted tree trunks all around blurred as her body rippled with speed. Her legs intuitively found the right path, her wide paws barely touching the ground and digging in before they shot her forward again. She opened her mouth and let her tongue dangle out as the ground melted away before her.

Up ahead she smelled water, muddy and stagnant. More—she smelled him. Her prey. She leapt through a copse of young larches and heard the screams of wood grouse as they startled up into the air, terrified of her. Hunger grabbed at her gut, but she put it aside and tried not to think about it. She had more important things to kill.

The trees fell away and she was on a high sandy bank overlooking a tiny lake. The sun was just going down: the tops of the trees were still brilliant green, but darkness lurked between their roots. The northern lights played over the gaudy dusk, obscured here and there by clouds. An image of the crescent moon floated on the surface of the lake like a narrow eye. She pressed her muzzle into the wind that stirred the loose guard hairs of her ruffle and felt a howl coming on. He was near, very close by, near, so near, and she was going to finish their fight. It felt good to imagine his blood in her mouth, to hear with her mind’s ear the sound of his bones breaking under her attack.

She opened her mouth to let out a screeching yowl, a battle song, but before she’d even started he came at her from the side. She spun to meet his strike, but she was too late—she had misjudged his speed and ferocity. He wasted no time with feints or dominance postures, instead sinking his enormous teeth deep into the soft flesh of her haunches. With a twisting, tugging motion he tore her side wide open and her blood spattered on the ground.

Everything went black. She felt herself falling, tumbling, and then she was gone.

Check out the previous chapters of Frostbite right here.

Excerpted from Frostbite: A Werewolf Tale by David Wellington. Copyright © 2009 by David Wellington. Published in the Unites States by Three Rivers Press, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc. Published in the UK as Cursed by Piatkus Books, an imprint of Little, Brown Book Group.

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