“Guh,” she let out.
Her heart pounded in sheer unadulterated disgust. She thought she might throw up. When he’d put his hand on her shoulder, that was one thing, but this—she could not let herself get close to him. Not like that. “Jesus,” she said, her whole body shivering, and not with the cold. She slid out from under him and dashed behind a tree. When she looked again his green eyes were open and staring at her but he lay still as a dead man on the forest ﬂoor. “This is not cool,” she said. “This is deﬁnitely not cool.”
He didn’t cover himself up. He didn’t even look down at himself. “Don’t be so agitated,” he told her. “You’ve never seen a man’s thing before?”
“A man’s thing? His thing? What are you, twelve years old?” She turned away and covered her face. When she looked again he hadn’t moved. “Put that thing away, please. Now.”
He waited a moment longer. Then he smiled with a certain degree of self- satisfaction. She didn’t like it at all. Eventually he sat up and moved his legs so he wasn’t so—so entirely naked.
“You knew we would be naked when we came back,” he said, which sounded almost like an apology.
“I didn’t think you would be stretched out all over me!”
He shrugged. “I can’t control what my wolf does.”
A new wave of disgust surged up from her stomach to the roof of her mouth. “Oh. Oh my God. We didn’t. We deﬁnitely did not. Please tell me we didn’t—”
“My memories are hazy at best. But no, I don’t think so.”
That was some kind of relief, anyway. She clutched her arms around herself, hiding her breasts, and said, “I can’t do this for the rest of my life. Don’t look at me!”
He put his hands up and covered his eyes. “Dzo will be here soon enough. I’ll try not to look at you until you’re dressed.”
She sat down on a soft carpet of reindeer moss. Her arms broke out in gooseﬂesh, but at least this time she knew she wasn’t going to die of hypothermia. She watched him for a while, watched him keep his hands pressed tight over his eyes, and started to feel a little guilty. She had been harsh, she decided. Everything he’d said had been true.
“I’m sorry,” she said. Her stomach rumbled and she realized that maybe some of her nausea didn’t come from the horror of waking up naked with Powell. She felt like she’d eaten something that didn’t agree with her. With a sudden inpouring of wisdom she realized she did not want to ﬁnd out what it might have been. “I know you didn’t ask to get saddled with a newbie wolf who didn’t even know how to hunt. I’ve been pretty abominable so far.”
“It’s understandable,” Powell said. “You didn’t ask for this either. I just hope you’ll ﬁnd it in your heart to forgive me.”
She started to talk. Then she bit her lip hard enough to make it bleed.
She’d been about to take a step in that direction, had reﬂexively almost said yes, that she did forgive him, but then her old self, her purely human self, recoiled inside her head, squirmed with negation. Not on your life, she wanted to say. Never.
She decided to deﬂect the subject. Say anything, anything else. “I’m so far out of my element,” she said. “Nothing up here makes sense to me. Compasses don’t point north. This is midsummer, the days last eighteen hours, but it never really gets warm. And these trees. Why on earth do the trees point in all different directions? For my entire life I was under the impression that trees pointed straight up.”
“These did too, originally.” He rolled over onto his stomach, his hands still over his eyes. He wasn’t technically showing her his butt. But she could see it if she wanted to. She told herself she 100 percent did not want to. “It’s the permafrost that does it. That’s soil where the groundwater is permanently frozen, and the groundwater never thaws, not even in summer—”
“I’ve seen a nature documentary before,” she told him.
For a second he looked like he had no idea what she was talking about. He went on. “Some parts of the ground, the shadowy parts, stay frozen all year. Other parts thaw out and turn to mud, which sags.” He held his two hands next to each other, then lowered one, which had the effect of making the other look higher. “The earth around here is ﬂuid. Not stable at all, even if it looks solid right now. It just moves very slowly. If you could stay still long enough to watch it, say over the course of a year, you would see waves rolling through it like on the surface of the ocean. The miners and loggers who used to come through here called this the Drunken Forest.”
Chey rested her chin on her kneecap. “You’ve been up here a long time, haven’t you?”
“Nearly twelve years now. You learn plenty about a place by just being in it and paying attention. I’ve even come to love it.”
“Why?” she asked.
“Well, it has its charms. For one thing, north of the Arctic Circle there are days every month when the moon never rises. Of course there are days when it doesn’t set, either.”
“No,” she said. She caught her breath. This was one of the important questions. One she’d been asking herself for a long time. “I meant, why did you come up here in the ﬁrst place? Dzo said the main reason was because there were no people up here for you to hurt. Fair enough. But if that’s the main reason, it must not be the only reason.”
“I’ve got others,” he admitted, his voice suddenly rough. She looked around the tree and found him staring at her. “I don’t know if I should trust you with that kind of information or not.”
“Don’t you think you owe me?” she asked. His eyes narrowed and she shifted uncomfortably. “This isn’t just obnoxious curiosity. I have to understand you better if we’re going to be stuck together for the rest of our lives.”
“Don’t be dramatic,” he said, a little too quickly.
Hmm. For once she seemed to be getting through his armor. She decided to capitalize on the advantage. “Isn’t that exactly what we’re looking at? Dzo said it—you can’t let me go. I might go south, back to civilization. Where I might hurt somebody. So you’ve got to keep me close, where you can watch me. This place,” she said, indicating the whole of the North, “is one big prison cell, and we’re bunkmates. You want me to forgive you for—everything. Why don’t you start with a little honesty?”
She could see it was working, that she was persuading him. She wanted him to say it, to admit why he had ﬂed to this frozen place. If he would just confess to what he’d done it would go so far with her. He opened his mouth and started to speak, but just then they heard Dzo’s truck honking through the woods, honking for them.
The spell was broken. “Maybe we’ll talk about that later,” he said, meaning they wouldn’t. She knew that game.
They walked together naked through the trees, Powell in front so he wouldn’t stare at her. She studied the angular shape of his back, the bones that stuck out beneath his shoulders, and wondered if she really could have connected with him anyway. She had to shake those thoughts out of her head. It had worked before to talk about other things. About the weirdness in his world. “Will you tell me something else, then?” she asked.
He sounded guarded when he grunted a yes back at her.
“Will you tell me how you got your wolf ?”
He turned to face her and her arms went up to cover her breasts. He was looking right into her eyes, however. “Alright,” he said. “I’ll tell you that much.”
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.
Purchase Frostbite - In the U.S.:* Amazon* BN.com* Borders
In the UK:* Amazon.co.uk