Frostbite-Chapter 18

Powell drank some water from an old tin canteen and went on with his story. “I left the castle in nineteen twenty- one, I think. I had lost track of time—when you’re not living in society, when every day is like every other, you stop paying attention to clocks and calendars. When I first came back to human civilization I was in a sort of fog and I wasn’t entirely sure where I was, either. I quickly discovered it wasn’t going to be easy fitting in. The moon rises when it’s going to, and there’s no way to hold back the change. I had to make sure I was someplace safe when it happened. That made it hard to make friends, and quite impossible to hold down a job. I slept rough for a lot of that time and spent my human hours pondering how I was going to get along, how I would ever make my own way in the world. I couldn’t go back to my family, I knew. They wouldn’t understand—and what if I ended up hurting one of them? I would have to create my own life, out of whole cloth. I don’t know if you can imagine what that’s like.”

Chey shrugged. Maybe she had some small idea.

“Without a plan, without money, with this horrible curse forcing me to take elaborate precautions for every day of my life, I fell from one bad circumstance into another. I followed the trains and asked everywhere if anyone knew a way to reverse my condition, but of course there was no good way for me to approach anyone who might actually know the answer. I went to scientists who wanted to study me—to experiment on me. I went to scholars of history who frankly disbelieved that I still existed. I went to priests who could only tell me that my immortal soul was forfeit, though their explanations as to why never made any sense to me.

“No one had anything tangible to offer me. I wandered around Europe for a while, but I’d been honest when I said I wanted to come back to Canada. Eventually I got enough courage together to try it.

“It wasn’t easy crossing the ocean. I could hardly afford to buy a silver cage. Instead I stole a trunk, a big steamer trunk large enough that I could climb inside. I had a silver chain I had taken from Lucie’s castle, and no matter how badly I needed money I managed never to pawn it. It was the only way I could keep my wolf from hurting anyone, you see. It wasn’t very thick, but it didn’t matter. When I would feel the change coming on I would climb into my trunk. Then I would wrap the chain around the outside in such a way that it held the trunk shut but could still be easily removed by a human hand. My wolf would try to get out, of course, but it was impossible—without hands the wolf couldn’t pull the chain free. Stuck inside that confined space the wolf couldn’t get enough leverage to kick the trunk to pieces, either. Every time I climbed into that trunk I worried the wolf would get out, all the same. I might hurt someone—for all I knew I might kill every human being on the ship, and as I was no seaman I would be left adrift on the ocean, unable to steer my way to any harbor. Far worse, there was the possibility I might get out, hurt only one person without killing them, and thereby spread my curse.





“My fears went unrealized. The other passengers and the crew knew there was something odd about me, but back then people weren’t terrified of each other’s mysteries so much, and no one asked any questions I couldn’t answer. Two weeks after I’d departed I made landfall at Boston and from there I worked my way north, across the border. Back, at last, to ‘our home and native land.’

“I know the southern part of the country is pretty well developed now, but there wasn’t much of anything west of Ontario back then. This was sometime during the Depression, but before the second war. I found a cabin in the Barren Lands and tried that for a while. I was lonesome, but it was bearable—I thought I had found my place. Eventually, though, the cities of Ontario started to grow and spread out and new suburbs de¬veloped, whole new towns sprouting up where before there had never been anything but logging camps and the occasional hunter. When the land developers moved in I moved out, heading west. That became a pattern. I would live somewhere a while, maybe six months, maybe a whole year, but as soon as the loggers packed up and moved out I knew I would have to hurry on, sometimes with no warning. I roamed through the west until the west became British Columbia and the western coast, which was already growing itself, the cities there spreading back eastward. I changed direction, headed north, and then I roamed upcountry until I got here. Always running away, always foot- weary and wanting to finally settle down, to stop the running, always horrified of what might happen if I did. I know I’ll have to leave even this desolate place eventually, but I think it’ll be a while.”

He stopped talking, then. His story was done. The sudden silence was so strange that she sat up and looked right at him. “You’ve spent all this time alone? All those years in the backwoods with nobody?”

He shrugged. “There’s Dzo. He and I met up in the seventies. He was living above a bar in Medicine Hat. It was kind of weird, actually. I had popped in for a quick beer—I allowed myself that small luxury sometimes, when I knew the moon wouldn’t rise until much later. He was sitting on a bar stool eating peanuts out of a dish, but I knew some¬thing was up because he had another little dish full of water and he had to wash each peanut fastidiously before he popped it in his mouth. I knew, from long experience, that whenever I saw something weird my best bet was to turn around and walk away, but this seemed like harmless eccentricity, so I just pretended not to notice and held up a finger for service. It was too late, though. He saw me and pointed at me and said, ‘Hey, you’re a shape- shifter, right?’ I looked around, expecting to be seized by the patrons of the bar. If they knew what I was, surely they would lock me up, or worse, I figured. I raised my hands in surrender and fled. My car was parked out back—I still had three hours to get back to my cabin before I changed. He came up and stood in front of my car and wouldn’t let me leave. He had his mask on and a bag over his shoulder and he said he was coming with me. I tried to explain that I was just passing through. He just nodded and said he was mobile him¬self. I tried to explain it would be dangerous, that he should be afraid of me, but my threats just made him smile. No matter what I said, he wouldn’t take no for an answer. Eventually I had to give in and let him tag along. We’ve been working together ever since.”

“At least you had someone, then. Anyone. You must have missed your family pretty terribly,” she said.

“Eh, families aren’t what they’re cracked up to be,” he said, dismissively. There was a story there he wasn’t interested in telling.

Chey had her own ideas, though. “Mine was pretty great, once,” she said. She could feel the wolf inside of her, baring its teeth. She fought it back, kept her face clean of emotion. “Then things went to shit.” Some ember of humanity in her heart flared up as soon as she’d said that. No matter what she’d been through, Powell’s sheer life span meant he’d suffered a lot longer than she had. “I’m sorry. I know you’ve had it bad, too.”

He shrugged. They said little more to each other until they were back at the cabin. When he jumped down from the truck bed he took a look at his watch. “The moon’s down until about quarter to ten tonight. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t mind a bath and a bed.” Her eyes must have flashed, because he grinned. “One at a time, of course. We have a big galvanized tub I bathe in, usually. Fill it up with water off the fire and it actually gets medium hot. I don’t have much in the line of fancy soaps and notions, but what’s mine is yours.”

She nodded gratefully. It would feel good to get clean again.

“Listen,” he said. “I know you probably don’t want to think about this right now. But this life doesn’t have to be so terrible as you think. It’s been a long, long time since I had a place I could call my own for more than a season or two. I figure it’ll be five years before we have to move on from here. If you’re going to be sticking around”—her eyes definitely flashed at that, but he pressed on—“If you’re going to be here a while, maybe we can start thinking about how to improve this place. Dig a well for sweet water, maybe even rig up a windmill to get some electricity. Don’t say anything now. Just think about it. Your life doesn’t have to be completely miserable.”

Her face froze. Complete misery. When was the last time her life had been anything but? She tried to smile but felt like her skin was stretching painfully over her teeth. Instead she just turned away and walked toward the cabin. He headed for his smokehouse.

When he’d mentioned electricity it had made her think of her cell phone. She looked around to make sure Dzo wasn’t watching, then pulled it out of her pocket to check to see if it still had any charge. She nearly dropped it when the screen lit up with the message:

SATELLITE

CONNECTION

ESTABLISHED

-you have ( 1)

message waiting-

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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