Frostbite - Chapter 13

The power in her legs astounded her. Run, run, run, she could run for hours, far faster than a human, and never grow tired—it didn’t feel like running at all. It felt like the world was made of rubber and she was bouncing along like a ball. Run, run, her body rippling with her panting breath, run. Her claws dug deep into the earth with every bound, absorbing the jarring impact as she touched down, then tensing to send her flying again. She ran with the rhythm of her own pulse, her heartbeat keeping time as the world flashed by around her. She opened her mouth to let the air flow in and out of her lungs, tasting its many smells as it surged back and forth. Unashamed, she let her tongue hang out of the side of her mouth, flapping between two enormous teeth like a flag in the wind.

She bounded into a narrow open space between two stands of trees that leaned away from each other. He waited for her there, his body as still as stone. The saddle of fur between his shoulders was up and she understood the signal—he wanted her quiet. She dug her claws into the lichen- covered forest floor and focused entirely on him. Her level of concentration almost scared her, it was so intense. And yet nothing had ever felt so natural. Before she had been running and the entire universe was speed and motion. Now she was crouching, waiting, and the planet itself seemed to hold its breath for her.

The male watched her carefully. He was making sure she understood what that stillness meant. What it was for.

With her stone- like immobility she proved that she did.

His ears flicked back and forth. His eyes stayed on hers. He was watching to see if she got the next step on her own. She thought she did. Silently, with the smallest motions of the flaps of skin around her nostrils, she breathed in the world around her. It was all there, all the things she’d smelled before, but back then she’d been building a map of smells in her mind, taking in the whole picture. This, she understood, was different.

He tilted his head a fraction of a degree to one side. Asking her a question. What do you smell? Specifically.

Enormous sections of her brain were devoted to just this activity. She ran through the vast catalog of things she could smell, trying to pick out the one he wanted. It took only milliseconds before she had it. It was as if a lover of classical music, having gone to the symphony, had been asked to pick out a single instrument’s voice. It was almost laughably simple, because her brain had already flagged that particular smell, had already mapped and memorized and pinpointed it for her. The male wasn’t teaching her technique or finesse here—only to accept and rely on her most basic instincts. There could be only one smell he was looking for, and she had it: an animal, a mammal, something small and defenseless. Prey.

A whole new set of thoughts, feelings, instincts lit up her mind. All of them revolving around the concept of prey—and the knowledge that she was a predator. She felt reflexively ready, felt an almost unbearable anticipation of pleasure. It was time to learn how to hunt.

Her human side flinched. She hated her human side—it was so helpless and weak and it wanted to control her, to imprison her. If she ever met her human side she would—she would—but that didn’t make any sense, did it? Her brain warbled in unhappiness. It couldn’t finish that thought. So elegantly, beautifully evolved to pick one smell out of millions, it had far more trouble with simple logic.

The male was trying to get her attention again, speaking to her in a silent language she had never needed to learn. She just knew what he meant when he pushed out his tongue and licked his snout a little. She raised her tail. She put aside human thoughts and concerns. They were inessential. Meaningless. Prey was nearby—and she was a predator.

The wind stirred her hair and ruffled her cowl. She possessed two layers of fur, a dense, woolly undercoat and a much looser coat of guard hairs that stood out from her body and made her look bigger than she actually was. The guard hairs were stiff and they grabbed at the wind. She could feel them tingle as they rose away from her body, as her skin prickled with the sense of movement nearby. She was perfectly aware of everything around her, every small, trembling leaf, every insect crawling through the ground below.

She could feel the hunger in the ground, in the trees around her, and felt it matched by the tightness in her own belly. Summer was the starving time in the forest, when the caribou herds, the great food source for wolves, migrated still farther north to calve on open ground. The wolves had to find other sources of nourishment. Sometimes they could not and they starved to death.

She was a hunter, though. She could provide for herself—once she learned how. She narrowed her eyes and felt for the prey. The ground trembled in time with her heartbeat and she felt where it was not solid, but hollow, where the prey had dug itself in for safety.

She could hardly stand it but Wait, wait, wait, the male was telling her, his fierce energy banked and hidden. Wait for it. Then the waiting was over. He opened his mouth in a broad, silent yawn. Then he snapped his jaws shut with an audible click.

The prey must have been aware of them. It must have smelled them, and dug itself even deeper into its hole. But that sound of such enormous teeth coming together must have terrified it. The sound must have driven it crazy.

A snowshoe hare shot up out of the ground and dashed between them, its gray summer coat flecked with mud. Its dark eyes rolled wildly in its head as its broad feet smashed at the ground.

The male was off like a shot after the prey. She came up close behind, staying to one side of the hare, instinctually knowing how to flank it. They moved like electricity along the ground, dodging around tree trunks, fluttering through shrubbery that rattled and shook but didn’t slow them down. His mouth was wide open as he looked across at her, over the head of the doomed hare. He was showing all his teeth and the meaning was clear. He could have snapped up the prey easily, but he wanted her to take the kill.

Her body sang with excitement and hunger. She dug in harder, pushed herself that much faster and made contact. Without hesitation, without so much as a thought, she brought her jaws together around the hare’s spine and lifted it clear off the ground. With the huge, powerful muscles in her neck she shook the animal until it was bloody and twitching. Her legs came up and she rolled to a stop in the leaf litter, her prize still locked inside her jaws. The hare’s wild eye caught hers as it flopped in its death throes, but any idea of mercy or pity was foreign to her. She was a predator.

Her human side screamed in protest, but she just snarled it away.

He dashed up beside her and nosed her kill, excited by what she’d done, panting wildly. He did not bite into it right away, however. It was her prey and hers to do with as she saw fit. He waited for her to signal that she was willing to share. Then together they tore the hare apart and gobbled down its meat. She cracked its skull between her giant teeth and let the buttery softness of its brains slide down her throat. He crunched its long legs and dug the marrow out of its long bones with his tongue.

Yes, yes, yes! In triumph and exultation she tilted her head back and howled in delight.

When they were done with their meal they fell across each other, sated, bloated, barely able to move. She would have been happy to drift off into sleep and she did, in fact, doze a little. She was woken, however, when he batted at her stomach with his nose. She looked up and caught his eyes—then pricked up her ears.

There was a sound, a sound she didn’t like gliding over the trees. A sound like someone was cutting the wind into pieces. She stared at him but he didn’t have an answer for her, couldn’t tell her what it was. Then she smelled it. It smelled of gasoline and metal. Human smells.

A desire similar to that she’d felt for the hare’s blood awoke inside her. Similar, but not exactly the same. She hated that human smell. Hated it with a purity she’d never felt before. She began to rise to her legs—but he pushed at her again with his nose and she didn’t move. The smelly human thing was high up in the air, flying like a bird. She could no more reach and kill it than she could snatch the moon from the sky. He wanted her to be aware of it, but also to know that some things were beyond her expansive powers.

In a moment the smell and the sound were gone, having passed over the face of the woods and disappeared. She lay back, easy and with a full belly, and thought no more of it. When he started nosing at her hindquarters, she did not turn to snap at him. It was only a friendly kind of sniffing, anyway. This time.

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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