Frostbite- Chapter 36

She came to, naked and stiff, on the floor of the fire tower. It was nearly pitch dark inside but she recognized the texture of the floorboards under her cheek and her stomach.

It was somewhat reassuring to find herself in the same place she’d been before. She was a little surprised, though, to find herself still there—surely her wolf would have wanted to get down to the forest floor, to get out among the trees and run and hunt. Then she noticed the trapdoor that led to the stairwell. It opened easily; in fact it was on a spring, so you barely had to tug with one finger on a ring to make it pop open. Of course, what’s easy for a human finger might not even be possible for a wolf’s paw.

Rising to her feet, she pushed open one of the shutters to let in some morning light. Then she turned around and jumped in surprise.

The wolf had been busy while she was out.

It must have gone wild when it realized it couldn’t escape through the trapdoor. The walls of the small room were gouged, scarred with claw marks, scratches whole meters long, some deep enough to put her finger inside. The graffiti left behind by the tower’s human occupants were obliterated by the scratches. The table and the chairs had been broken into pieces, while the footlocker had been smashed up against one wall, its contents strewn across the room, battered and trampled. Nothing remained of the Edward Abbey book except tiny scraps of paper that littered the floor like big moldy snowflakes.

She understood, of course. They had been human things. Maybe they even smelled, to the wolf, like their previous owners still. Trapped and alone, the wolf had resorted to the one thing it really understood, which was destruction.

The smell of the wolf was thick in the tiny room. A little like wet dog, a little sharper than that. Chey pushed all the shutters open and let in a frozen wind to try to disperse the funk. Then she sat down on the floor—the chairs were useless, broken—and put her head in her hands.

She didn’t even hear the helicopter at first because she was too sunken into her own depression. It wasn’t a particularly loud sound, either, not one that demanded attention. Just a rhythmic chattering carried on the wind. As it grew closer she did look up, but she had no idea what she was listening to. Then the light coming in through the shutters changed and she jumped up.

Out over the treetops, maybe five hundred meters away, Bobby’s helicopter zoomed past in a long arc. It was curving inward to get a better look at the fire tower. Chey waved her arms and shouted, then thought to open and close the shutters rapidly as a signal. The helicopter tilted backward and stopped to hover in midair, then slowly moved closer. She redoubled her efforts until the pilot waggled his vehicle back and forth to tell her she’d been seen. He hunted around for a minute, then started to descend toward a clearing she could make out in the distance.

Chey didn’t waste any time. She rushed down the stairs and across the forest floor, her bare feet aching from the cold in the ground, from sharp rocks and pinecones and broken branches. She stumbled and tripped, but she ran as fast as she could toward the clearing.

When she arrived Bobby and Lester were both waiting for her. They didn’t look like they’d been hurt at all.

“Oh, thank God,” she said. “I thought I’d killed you!”

Bobby wasn’t smiling. “You very nearly did,” he told her. “I thought I was pretty clever bringing that chain along.”

“What happened?” she asked. “What did I do?”

“You don’t remember at all?” he asked. He glanced down at her legs. Involuntarily she took a step backward. “I really should have thought it through better. You did what wolves in traps are famous for doing. You gnawed off your own leg. Except, there wasn’t a lot of gnawing involved. Then you came for us like you wanted to swallow us whole.”

“How—how did you get away?” she asked. What she really wanted to ask was why he hadn’t just shot her. He had a pistol full of silver bul¬lets, after all. No one could have blamed him for defending himself.

“The second you changed you started straining against the manacle. I had a bad feeling, so I told Lester to get the chopper warmed up. When I saw what you were going to do we jumped in and took off. You still came for us and you even jumped at us but, well, with only one hind leg you didn’t get much air.”

Chey put an arm across her mouth. She could hardly believe it. “I’m so sorry,” she said, and moved to reach for him, to grab his hands, to hug him.

It was his turn to step backward. Maybe he was afraid she would scratch him and pass on the curse. Maybe he was just afraid of her.

She stood there for a moment with her hands out. She needed something from him, something she couldn’t ask for. Maybe not ever again. But he was still alive—he and Lester were both still alive. That had to be enough. She backed off until he looked a little more comfortable and stood there, hugging herself in the cold.

“Do you have any food?” she asked.

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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