Frostbite - Chapter 1

Part One: The Drunken Forest

The ground shook, and pine needles fell from the surrounding trees like green rain. Chey grabbed a projecting tree root to steady herself and looked up to see a wall of water come roaring down the defile, straight toward her.

She barely had time to see it before it hit—like the shivering surface of a swimming pool stood up on end. It was white and it roared and when it smacked into her it slapped her face and hands as hard as if she’d fallen onto a concrete sidewalk. Ice cold water surged up her nose and her mouth flew open, and then water was in her mouth and choking her, water thick with leaves and pine cones that bashed off her exposed skin like bullets, water full of rocks and tiny pebbles and reeking of fresh silt. Her hand was torn away from the root and her feet went out from under her and she was flying, tumbling, unable to control her limbs. Her back twisted around painfully as the water picked her up and slammed her down again, picked her up and dropped her hard. She felt her foot bounce painfully off a rock she couldn’t see—she couldn’t see anything, couldn’t hear anything but the voice of the water. She fought, desperately, to at least keep her head above the surface even as eddies and currents underneath sucked at her and tried to pull her down. She had a sense of incredible speed, as if she were being shot down the defile like a pinball hit by a plunger. She had a sickening, nauseating moment to realize that if her head hit a rock now she would just die—she was alone, and no one would be coming to help her—

And then she stopped, with a jerk that made her bones pop and shift inside her skin.The water poured over and around her and she heard a gurgling rasp and she was underwater, unable to breathe. Something was holding her down and she was drowning.With all the strength she had left she pushed upward, arcing her back, fighting the thing that held her. Fighting just to get her head above the water. She crested the surface with a sucking gasp and water flooded into her throat. Her body flailed and she was down again, submerged again. Somehow she fought her way back up.

White water surged and foamed around Chey’s face. She could barely keep her mouth above the freezing torrent. Her hands reached around behind her, desperately trying to find what was holding her down, even as the water rose and she heard bubbles popping in her ears. Her skin burned with the cold and she knew she would be dead in seconds, that she had failed.

She had not been prepared for this. She thought flash floods were something that happened in the desert, not in the Northwest Territories of the Canadian Arctic. Summer had come to the north, however, and with the strengthening sun trillions of tons of snow had begun to melt. All that runoff had to go somewhere. Chey had been hiking up the narrow defile, trying to get up to a ridge so she could see where she was. She had climbed down into the narrow canyon to get away from a knife-sharp wind. It was rough going, climbing as much with her hands as her feet, but she’d been making good progress. Then she’d paused because she’d thought she’d heard something. It was a low whirring sound like a herd of caribou galloping through the trees. She had thought maybe it was an earthquake.

Now, stuck on something, unable to get free, she tried to look around.The current had dragged her backward across ground she’d just covered, pulling her over sharp rocks that tore her parka, smearing her face with grit. She could see nothing but silver, silver bubbles, the silver surface of the water above her.

Her hands were numb and her fingers kept curling up from the cold as she searched behind herself. Chey begged and pleaded with them to work, to move again. She felt nylon, felt a nylon strap—there—her pack was snagged on a jagged spur of rock. Fumbling, cursing herself, she slipped the nylon strap free. Instantly the current grabbed her again, pulling her again downward, down into the defile. She grabbed at the first shadow she could find, which turned out to be a willow shrub. Hugging it tight to herself, she coughed and sputtered and pulled air back into her lungs.

Eventually she had enough strength to pull herself upward, out of the water. It now ran only waist deep.With effort she could wade through it. After the first explosive rush much of the water’s force had been spent and she could ford the brand new stream without being sucked under once more. On the far bank she dragged herself up onto cold mud and exposed tree roots and lay there, shivering, for a long time. She had to get dry, she knew. She had to warm herself up. She had fresh clothes and a lighter in her pack. Tinder and firewood would be easy enough to come by.

Slowly, painfully, she rolled over. She was still soaking wet and freezing. Her skin felt like clammy rubber. Once she warmed up she knew she would be in pain. She would have countless bruises to contend with and maybe even broken bones. It would be better than freezing to death, however. She pulled off her pack and reached for its flap. Unfamiliar scraps of fabric met her fingers.

The flap was torn in half. The pack itself was little more than a pile of rags. It must have been torn apart by the rocks when she’d been dragged by the current. It had protected her back from the same fate, but in the process it had come open and all of her supplies had come out. She shot her head around to look at the stream. Her gear, her dry clothes, her flashlight—her food—must be spread out over half the Territories, carried hither and yon by the water.

With shaking fingers she dug through the remains of the pack. There had to be something. Maybe the heavier objects had stayed put. She did find a couple of things. The base of her Coleman stove had been too heavy to wash away, though the fuel and the pots were lost, making it useless. Her cell phone was still sealed in its own compartment. It dribbled water as she held it up but it still chirped happily when she clicked it on.

She could call for help, she thought. Maybe things had gotten that bad.

No. She switched off the phone to conserve its battery. Not yet.

If she called for help now, it might come. She might get airlifted out to safety, to civilization. But then she would never be allowed to come back here, to try again. She would not be able to get what she’d come for. She shoved the phone in her pocket. She would need it, later, if she survived long enough.

The map she’d been given by the helicopter pilot was still there, though the water had made the ink run and she could barely read it. The rest of her stuff was gone. Her tent was lost. Her dry clothes were lost. Her weapon was nowhere to be found.

She spent the last of the daylight searching up and down the steep bank of the new stream. Maybe, just maybe something had washed up on the shore. Just as the moon came up she spied a glint of silver bobbing against a half- submerged log and jumped back into the water to get it. Praying that it was what she thought it was, she grabbed it up with both hands and brought it up to her face. It was the foil pack full of energy bars. Trail food. She started to cry, but she was so hungry she tore one open and ate it instead.

That night she buried herself under a heap of pine needles and old decaying leaves.

(Be sure to tune in tomorrow for Chapter 2!)

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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