When she opened her eyes she saw she was still in the crazy forest, with its trees sticking up at random angles to the ground. It wasn’t any part of the forest she recognized, however. She was nowhere near the little house, or the clearing by the stream, or the giant birch tree she’d sheltered in. She felt sort of as if she’d fallen asleep for a while, and sort of as if she had just blacked out. As if no time at all had passed, and she had just been transported from one place to another instantaneously.
She remembered very little, though she understood vaguely what had happened to her. She had turned into a wolf.
She was just like him. When he scratched her leg—oh God. He had infected her with his curse.
—but—she couldn’t—that made her—
Her head hurt too much to put those thoughts in any kind of proper order. She had to shelve them, as desperately as she wanted to explore them. To ﬁgure out what had gone wrong and, much more importantly, how to ﬁx it. For the moment the demands of her body had to take precedent.
Everything hurt. Her body felt weak and ineffectual. She was freezing cold.
At least that made sense. She was naked, after all.
She pulled her knees up to her chest and hugged them hard. A strong shiver went through her and her arms shook so hard she couldn’t hold them down. They rose up, away from her body, no matter how hard she tried to pull them close, to make herself small and conserve her body heat. And there was something else. She was hurt, had been hurt before she unexpectedly turned into a wolf and woke up naked at the bottom of a tall bank of ferns. She was wounded, wasn’t she? The wolf had—the wolf—
She was a wolf now, too.
She shook her head, or maybe she just let the tremoring shiver run up her neck, and that helped a little. Cleared away the alarming, nasty thoughts that kept demanding to be heard.
The wolf had clawed open her ankle. The bone had been bruised, if not fractured. Running around in the woods like that must have worsened the injury, she thought. With careful ﬁngers she probed her leg but couldn’t ﬁnd any tenderness. Craning forward, she looked down at her ankle. There wasn’t even a scar there.
Oh God. Oh God. The wolf—Powell—the thing had—he had de¬stroyed her, he had—healed her, somehow, but at what price?
There had been another injury, another grievous hurt. She could barely remember it, but, if she studied her half- glimpsed recollections, if she forced her brain to think a certain way, she could just recall ﬂashes of light that resolved themselves into fragments of images. Though the pictures seemed half- formed and inconsequential. What came back strongest were sounds and smells. It was so hard to remember because those sounds were in frequency ranges her human ears had never heard before. And those smells—her human nose, and the part of her human brain that handled sense data from her nose, couldn’t even begin to process the smells she could just about remember. But if she pieced things together, let the memories coalesce, she could get some rough idea of what had happened to her. She had transformed into a wolf. And then what? Something bad. Something violent had happened and she’d been badly hurt. She had been convinced, utterly convinced in the way only an animal can be, that she was going to die. The wolf had no abil¬ity to deny facts or obscure the obvious. The wolf had known that it was bleeding to death and that its wounds were too severe to survive. The wolf had rolled over on its side, all it could do, and waited for the end to come, waited for the moon to set, when it would transform back into the human woman. Its one simple, ugly consolation had been that the human woman it hated would die too.
Only now she was completely healed.
There were no scars on her body. Not even the old ones, the scars she’d gotten in nasty ﬁghts on the playground as a child, the scars that hard work had left on her hands. The scrapes, cuts, and abrasions she’d gotten while she was lost in the woods—there had been a lot of those— were all gone. What else?
Chey slowly looked down at her left breast. She’d had a tattoo there, had it done when she was sixteen. Sometimes she regretted getting it, other times she thought of it as a badge of her determination, her will. Most of the time she was barely conscious of it. It was there every time she looked in a mirror, every time she got dressed in the morning, and every time she got undressed for bed. The tattoo had become part of how she saw herself, part of her body.
It was gone. Completely gone, as if she’d never had it done.
She thought of Powell and his fresh face. Only his eyes showed his real age. Would she be like him? Would she stay young- looking forever, but with eyes crinkled in moldering rage?
Or, she thought, as a fresh shiver went through her, would she die of hypothermia on the shore of this tiny lake? She was still naked and while she sat there examining herself and digging at memories that ought to be left buried, her perfectly unblemished skin was turning blue. Her body kept shaking until she felt like she was having a seizure. The cold sand burned the soles of her feet. Her teeth chattered together so sharply that she thought they might crack. She needed to ﬁnd shelter. If nothing bet¬ter presented itself she could dig down into the sand, bury herself in it to trap in her body heat. And then what, she wondered? Did she hunker down and wait for the Mounties to come save her?
Oh God. Even if such nonexistent Mounties did come, would they ﬁnd her in human form, or as a wolf ? Would she attack them? Would they shoot her on sight, on principle? Oh God.
A truck’s horn honked some way off. She jumped in surprise and shouted, “Hey, over here!,” then immediately regretted it. It had to be Dzo in that truck, and he had to be honking for her. She wasn’t sure she wanted to be found. He might take her back to the cabin and a warm ﬁre. Or he might let Powell cut her head off with a rusty ax.
“Lady? That you?” Dzo’s voice said, cutting through the trees. “Hey, come on, we’re not going to hurt you. Not anymore.”
The only people in a hundred kilometers who could help her were the same people who had tried to kill her. She could hide—or run. If she did she would either die in the frozen woods or live as—as a wolf. Too much. Too much to think about. Better just to face this, to not have to go through it alone. She stood up and waved and shouted until she heard the truck’s horn again, closer this time. She ran through the woods, her arms clutched around her breasts and her pubic hair, and shouted for help. Eventually she found the truck and she pulled her arm away from her breasts to wave. She covered herself quickly again when she saw Powell in the bed of the truck glaring at her. He was wrapped in a heavy woolen blanket. Dzo drove the truck with his mask on.
Powell stood up in the bed. “Truce,” he said.
“What? I’m naked and freezing. Don’t play games with me,” she replied.
“I want to call a truce. We stop ﬁghting and try to get along. Okay?”
She didn’t reply—but what choice did she have? He tossed her a bundle of clothing and a green blanket. He looked away just long enough for her to struggle into her pants and shirt. Dzo didn’t turn away, but he didn’t exactly leer at her either. She got the sense that she looked about the same to him naked or dressed. When she tried to climb up into the passenger seat, though, he shook his head and pointed at the bed with his thumb.
“Wolves in the back,” he said. “I can never get the smell out of the seats.”
Her face perfectly still—her soul too twisted up to let her feel anything—Chey climbed into the back. Powell stared at her openly but didn’t say a word. The truck growled to life and bobbed and rolled forward along a path that had never been designed for vehicular trafﬁc. She had to hold onto the side of the truck or be thrown around in the bed like loose cargo. She hunkered down in her blanket and tried not to look at anything. Eventually she stopped shaking so much.
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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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