Frostbite-Chapter 17

Dzo’s truck rolled ever onward, back toward the little house. How far had the wolves run, Chey wondered? The light was already changing, the day getting away from them. Powell didn’t seem to notice the time. He barely even glanced at her as he spoke. She recognized the look on his face from the many years she’d spent hanging out in bars—he was lonely. He hadn’t spoken to anyone but Dzo in years. He wanted so badly to tell this story that it would have been an act of deliberate cruelty on her part if she asked him to stop, or even interrupted too much.

So she didn’t.

“I thought I knew the rules. I thought I understood what I had become, but I was wrong. I don’t suppose children in this day and age tell stories about werewolves to each other when their parents aren’t looking. When I was a boy that was a favorite pastime: seeing who could scare the other boys with the most gruesome, the most vicious story, the best blood- curdling howl. So when Lucie and the Baroness imprisoned me I had reason to believe I knew what they wanted, that they were going to eat me. Why they should bother to change me into one of their own kind first was not something I spent much time thinking on. I spent the first few days trying to remember everything my boyhood companions had told me about lycanthropes.

“There had been wolves like us in Europe for thousands of years, I recalled. The older stories suggested there was something called a wolf strap—a belt, or a girdle, and when a person put it on they could take the shape of a wolf. Whenever they wanted to they could take it off again and regain their human form. Later on, when I was free again, I wasted a lot of time researching the wolf strap, trying to find if such a thing existed. Maybe, I thought, the strap actually prevented the change. Maybe there was a way to make myself normal. No dice, I’m afraid. That part was just a myth.

“The werewolves of the Renaissance couldn’t live in normal human society any more than you or I can. They changed, they ran free. They killed people. There were times when they almost overran the human population. In Germany and France in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries there were thousands—tens of thousands—of werewolves burned at the stake or hanged or tortured to death. Church and political authorities shouted from the pulpits about an epidemic sweeping the land, about the wickedness of the people finally catching up with them. In some places whole villages were put to the torch because every last inhabitant was deemed to be a werewolf.”

Chey whistled in disbelief.

“The strangest part is that werewolves were turning themselves in. Confessing, in enormous numbers. I’m still not sure if there were that many wolves or if it was just mass hysteria. It didn’t matter, often enough. Whenever the authorities caught a werewolf the punishment was always death. Traditionally they were buried with their heads cut off and their hearts impaled by a silver cross.”

“Yikes.”

“The burning and hanging wouldn’t have killed them permanently. As soon as the moon rose their bodies would try to change, even inside their coffins. Those silver crosses would have finished them off. But not instantaneously.”





Chey squinted very hard, trying not to think about what that meant.

“By eighteen hundred our kind of wolves were extinct, or so it was commonly believed. By my day they were nothing but old silly stories. But of course the wolves never went away—they just went into hiding. Lucie in her cage was not the only one. I’ve met others in my time, old beasts, legendary monsters. I met a duke’s son in Spain who lived locked up inside a silver palace, a tiny house made entirely of silver in the courtyard of an enormous castle. He had servants who fed him with very long forks, through a barred window, and a valet who he had infected just to have someone inside with him to dress him and brush his hair. It seemed sometimes like every aristocratic family in Europe had at least one of us hidden away somewhere. It made a certain degree of sense, of course. Peasants who turned into wolves were hunted down without mercy. If you could afford a silver cage, though, you were allowed an amount of leniency. Under the feudal system these nobles were quite literally beyond the reach of law—no court in the land could condemn them. So they lived hidden away, sometimes for centuries. They were lunatics, all of them, of course. Their families saw them as obligations, as part of noblesse oblige, but really I think they were just afraid of their secrets being discovered. If they were careful enough they got away with it, and these old European families had learned to be very, very careful.

“Lucie and the Baroness weren’t in the same league, of course. They were both crazy and had nobody sane around to keep them under control. Maybe that was another reason they wanted me with them. First, though, they had to tame me. They kept me locked in the cage for the first week, even as my body changed and changed again. When they worked together they were stronger than me, so what could I do? They fed me raw meat and filthy water until I went a little crazy myself. At one point a patrol came around looking for me and my pals. We’d been gone so long I assumed the front had moved on without us and that they’d marked us off as missing, assumed dead. When I heard soldiers moving around the half- ruined castle I thought maybe I was going to be rescued. I didn’t even consider what that would mean. Lucie held her hand over my mouth when I started to scream. I tried to bite and even chew through her fingers, but she didn’t even yelp. Eventually the soldiers left. When they were gone I knew there was no hope left for me. I was never going to escape.”

“So you stopped trying, right?” She understood that feeling.

He shrugged. “Hatred is a funny thing. It’s tough to keep it hot in your heart when you’re faced with the truly mundane. I had realities I had to confront that got in the way of hating my captors. I wanted cooked food. I wanted to shave. I wanted to wash my clothing. All these things I could do, they said, but first I had to behave myself. Eventually I relented. I swore up and down I’d be good. They let me out of the cage, at first only when my wolf was on me. Later I was allowed to move around the castle, though they watched me. Eventually they began to trust me on my own. By then...by then I was a wolf, through and through. I had accepted what I had become, and I knew I could never go back. They didn’t need to watch me anymore. I couldn’t escape, because the most freedom I would ever have again was living with them, away from other human beings. That—that was when they started to discuss with me why I had been chosen. What was expected of me.”

“You mentioned they were looking for a mate.”

Powell actually turned red. His eyes stabbed into her as if he were angered by her interruption. Then they drifted, across her hair. Down to her breasts and then her hips for one flickering moment. Jesus, Chey thought. He’s—he’s checking me out.

“It must have been hard,” she said. “I mean, difficult, to really hate them when they were, you know. Coming on to you.”

He squirmed and his eyes drifted off of her body. “There was that, yes. Having two beautiful women as my captors was—well, I won’t deny it. There was a certain excitement in the idea. Had they been men I might have fought a little harder.”

“Did you have sex with them?” she asked, point blank.

“My God! It sounds so ugly when you say it like that,” he said. He sat up very straight and looked out at the trees flashing by outside of the
truck. “Yes,” he admitted, turning his face into his shoulder.

“Both of them?”

“Yes!”

Chey just watched in fascination as he tried to recover himself. She took some real delight in his squirming. She wondered for the first time how much experience he might have had with sex. She thought he had probably been a virgin before he was cursed. Lucie and the Baroness might have been the only lovers he’d ever had.

Just as he’d mostly calmed down and looked relaxed again, she asked, “How were they? Any good?”

He looked away and blew air out of his mouth. He shifted on the truck bed as if his legs were falling asleep. Finally he looked straight up—then turned his frozen eyes on her. The discomfort was gone. He was going to talk about this, and she wasn’t going to be able to torture him anymore. The sheer strength of his will scared her a little. “They were voracious. But I found it within myself to satisfy them. Physically, at least. I could not truly love them, not the way they wanted—they were like vampires when it came to love, draining me every chance they got and always demanding more. There were endless fights and slow-burning jealousies and quite a bit of treachery. But we had sex, yes. We . . . fucked, if we’re being blunt about such things. We fucked almost constantly. Sometimes as humans and sometime as wolves. Real wolves go on heat just like dogs, only for a few days of the year. The rest of the time they don’t even think lustful thoughts. But like humans, werewolves are in a constant state of estrus. There is no bottom to their desires. Is that what you wanted to know?”

“Just trying to keep you honest,” Chey said, a laugh in her voice she didn’t really feel. She had challenged him and he had responded to her attack. This wasn’t joking around. This wasn’t a game they were playing. But she didn’t want to bring that to the surface quite yet. Especially when she was losing.

Maybe he was tired of their sparring as well. He changed the subject quickly. “For the first few years we hunted with impunity. France was in the grips of chaos at the time. There really were no civilian authorities capable of stopping us, and the military had no interest in chasing down mythical creatures. But after the war ended that had to change. The Baroness was at least sane enough to realize we couldn’t roam the countryside by moonlight anymore. We shared the cage when we were wolves and lived like humans when the moon was down, pretending to be a quietly decaying, formerly aristocratic French family. The local villagers supplied us with our needs and asked few questions. If anyone noticed my accent was a bit off when I spoke, they just assumed I was a deserter from the war, which was true enough.

“We received only vague recollections of the terror and anger our wolves felt locked away like that. In dreams I would catch glimpses of our panic, though, and even in my quietest moments I felt claustrophobic and anxious. I was going insane, just as Lucie had over the decades. I didn’t want to break down completely the way she had. I told them I wanted to leave. To come back to Canada, my homeland, and try to create some kind of life. There were real wolves there, I told them, there were places we could be free. The Baroness might have come with me, but Lucie took it worse than I expected.”

“It was a messy breakup?”

“She tried to kill me,” he told her. “I barely got away—and even then she tracked me. For years she followed me, sticking close to my shadow, waiting for me to slip up.”

“Jesus,” Chey said. “What happened?”

“Like I said,” Powell told her, “hate’s difficult to maintain. Even for crazy people. Love, though. Love doesn’t die so easily. She’s still out there somewhere. She’s still chasing me, though for now I’ve escaped her. I haven’t seen her in thirty years, but I know she and I are not done with each other yet.”

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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