Yet when he headed out into the woods, on foot, her immediate urge was to follow him. She slipped out of the house and headed into the woods herself, trying to look casual. Trying to act as if she’d just decided to take a stroll of her own.
It didn’t work. No matter how far ahead she let him get, he was always aware of her presence behind him. He would stop in the act of climbing over a moss- covered log or lifting a branch away from the path so he could climb underneath it and freeze in place for a moment, then glance back at her before continuing on his way.
When he looked at her his eyes weren’t as hard as she’d remembered them. He didn’t look concerned or apologetic—but he damned well should be, she thought—as much as sympathetic. As if he remembered his ﬁrst time changing into a wolf, and knew she had to come to accepting it in her own time.
Eventually he got tired of their slow- motion game of freeze tag. He stopped in a small clearing in the woods and just waited. When she didn’t follow him in after a minute he turned and stared at her. She’d thought she was perfectly concealed behind a stand of whip- thin saplings covered in shaggy needles ﬁfty meters away, but he caught her eye as easily as if they were standing together in an otherwise empty elevator, trying not to make eye contact.
She started to come forward, a little sheepish. He nodded and called out to her, “We don’t have enough time to play silly buggers.”
Chey had never liked being scolded and she especially didn’t like it coming from him. “Silly buggers? Who says that anymore except, like, my grandpa?” She shook her head. “Anyway, it’s not like I have anything better to do.”
He shook his head. “You have to start thinking differently,” he told her. “You have to change the way you think about time. Time when the moon is down is precious, because it’s the only time you’re really yourself. Don’t waste it.”
Maybe he knew what she’d come to him for. She sat down on a slightly damp log and looked up at him expectantly, a pupil waiting for her teacher to start lecturing.
“You’ll learn to be very conscious of moonrise and moonset. Most places that’s easy but up here, in the Arctic, nothing is simple. This is the land of the midnight sun, right? And the moon cycle’s crazy too. We’re moving through a phase of longer moons, when the moon rises earlier each night and sets later the next day. In a couple of weeks we’re going to have a very long moon—it’ll stay above the horizon for ﬁve days before it sets again.”
“I’ll be a—I’ll be that creature—for ﬁve days?” she gasped.
“No. Not the part of you that’s really you,” he said. “We share our bodies with them, but not our minds. They think their own animal thoughts. We don’t ever completely remember what happens when we change back. I’ve spent a lot of time wondering why. My best guess is it’s just because the wolf ’s memories don’t make any sense when they’re picked over by a human brain. It’s as if you dreamed in a foreign language, and when you woke you couldn’t translate what you’d said in your dream.”
She’d thought something similar herself, earlier, but she kept quiet. She was learning the rules now.
“You have to understand, though, that no matter how good a person you are, you’re a killer now. A savage. Come up here and look at this.” Powell clambered up onto a boulder overlooking a stretch of what looked like a patchy meadow to Chey. “Even the country up here is different, and you need to be careful every time you put a foot down. This is muskeg,” he told her. “Partially frozen bog land. Looks solid, right? If you try to walk on it, you’ll be in for a surprise—there’s plant life on top, sure, but underneath there’s just water, and no way of telling how deep it might go.”
“The Great White North’s answer to quicksand,” Chey said, and he nodded. She climbed up onto the rock next to him and had a seat.
“Our relationship with our wolves is like the muskeg, alright? We’re the solid- looking surface. The trap. We can even trap ourselves, thinking we’re in control. But we’re not, and we’ll never be. Underneath we’re deadly—and we can’t change that.”
She sighed deeply. “Okay. So life sucks and we can’t die. Great.”
He shrugged. “I won’t pretend I enjoy this curse. But it isn’t a fate worse than death, either. The wolves aren’t completely without their virtues. There are some things they do better than us. They can survive here much better because they know how to get food in ways we can’t. Whenever they eat, we get the nourishment.” He frowned. “I’ll try to remember to teach you how to hunt tonight,” he said. When the moon came up, she realized. He meant he would try to teach her how to hunt when they were wolves. She shuddered at the thought of transforming again. “This land belongs to them. For hundreds of thousands of years before people came they hunted the caribou here. You may have no¬ticed they aren’t like other wolves.”
“The teeth,” Chey said with a gulp of horror. When she’d been up in her tree, looking down at Powell’s wolf, she’d noticed the teeth most of all.
He nodded. “The curse was cast ten thousand years ago, right at the end of the last ice age. There were timber wolves here then, but they were smaller and not so fearsome. The shamans who created this curse wanted to strike fear into the hearts of their enemies, really mess with them. So they picked an animal they knew would scare anyone—the dire wolf. They had huge teeth for crunching bones and enormous paws for walking on top of snow. That made them look like monsters to your average Paleo- Indian. Dire wolves are extinct now, but in their day they used to bring down woolly mammoths and giant sloths. They were tough sons- of- guns, see? Everything was bigger back then. And nastier.”
“Dzo said a timber wolf would never attack a human being,” Chey suggested. “He said we don’t look like their food.”
Powell nodded. “Yeah. Unless you provoke a wolf—poking it with a stick would do, I guess—it’ll leave you alone. The same wasn’t true of dire wolves. They were man- killers, because back then people didn’t have the technology to make them afraid. There’s more to it, though. The curse makes our wolves resent us. They don’t like being human, any more than we like being wolves. They want to be wolves all the time— you probably felt that.”
Chey nodded. She remembered exactly how good it had felt to change. It sickened her, offended her humanity. But she remembered how bad she’d felt when she changed back, too.
“They grow to hate us. I don’t know if it’s just natural antipathy or if the curse includes some kind of evil twist, but our kind of wolves go out of their way to destroy anything human. They would destroy us in a heartbeat if they could. There have been times when I changed back and found that I had busted all the windows out of my house because my wolf thought maybe I was sleeping inside.”
“Jesus,” she said. “But—”
“What about Dzo? Why doesn’t your wolf attack him?”
“He’s gotten very good at staying out of my way, I guess,” Powell told her. “Believe me, no human being wants to be nearby when the change comes.”
“And there’s nothing you can do to stop it?”
“You can lock yourself up when the moon is out. I’ve tried that and found I couldn’t bear it. I couldn’t take waking up in a locked room. My wolf got so hungry it went a little crazy—it spent all that night bashing itself against the walls trying to get out. It hurt itself, so much so that when I changed back I found myself in so much pain I couldn’t even walk. Dzo had to bring me food. It was ...tough. Too tough. I needed to be free.”
She wondered if she could handle being locked up. It might be bet¬ter than running around like an animal.
He glanced down at his watch and his face fell. “Oh, shoot. I guess I’ve forgotten how nice it is to have somebody new to talk to about this stuff,” he told her. “The time just ﬂew.”
Chey jumped inside her skin. “You mean—”
“Brace yourself, is what I mean,” he told her.
She closed her eyes and nodded. “Okay,” she said. “I guess I’m as ready as I’ll ever be.”
He reached over and put a hand on her shoulder. As monstrous as he was, as much as he had hurt her, she didn’t shrug it away, not immediately. It was some small measure of comfort, something she needed very badly. Without warning the hand got heavier and started to sink through her skin. She looked over in horror and saw it melting through her, even as her own body grew translucent. She glanced over her shoulder to see the moon—
Silver light blossomed inside her head. Her clothes fell away and her body trembled with the joy of renewal. Wolf once more.
She tasted him on the wind, felt the leathery pads of his paw on her own leg. He drew back and bounded into the forest, leaves and branches swinging wildly where he’d disappeared. She was supposed to follow him, she knew. She’d gotten as much from his smell, from the angle of his tail.
Something held her back for a moment, though. She felt something trembling under her feet as if some tiny animal were hiding down there. She looked and saw human clothes lying beneath her. Her immediate urge was to tear them apart, but instead she dug her nose into them and took a good sniff. There was something inside the clothes, something hard and round like a river- washed stone. It vibrated with a noise like bees buzzing. Once, twice. Then it stopped.
Enough. She turned toward the forest and jumped up to follow the male wolf. She still had much to learn.
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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