There was something down there, something angry and loud. Something nasty enough that it could scare off an entire pack of timber wolves. What was it, some kind of bear? But it hadn’t sounded like any bear she’d ever heard on television or in the movies.
She scanned the ground around her tree, straining her eyes in the dark, looking for any sign—any shimmer of movement, any footprints, any low branches stirred by something moving past.
But there was nothing. Not even the glint of light from a pair of eyes, or a reﬂection off a shiny coat as it moved stealthily through the underbrush. Nor could she hear anything. She craned all her perceptions downward, held her breath and listened to the creaking sounds of the tree, the faint groaning of the branch that supported her. She didn’t hear any panting, or any near- silent footsteps. Maybe, she thought, it had gone away. Maybe it had never been interested in her—maybe it had been howling like that just because it had wanted to move the timber wolves along. Maybe it had no problem with her at all. Maybe it couldn’t even hear or smell her, up in her tree.
Then she heard a crash as something big came running through the litter of the forest ﬂoor and she almost yelped in her terror. She felt a desperate urge to urinate, but she clamped her legs harder around the branch and that helped a little.
She heard the creature snufﬂing from not ten meters away. Nosing through the undergrowth like a snorting boar. Winkling out her scent, she was sure. She reached into her pocket and grabbed her cell phone for comfort. Maybe—maybe it was time to call for help. Maybe things had gone too far. But no, even that was pointless. Help could never come in time to save her now. She clutched the phone hard, as if it were a magical talisman that could protect her. She supposed if she had to she could throw it like a rock. It was the closest thing to a weapon she possessed.
She curled up against the side of the tree with her legs holding tight to the branch. She breathed through her nose, and tried not to panic, and didn’t make a move.
It didn’t matter, of course. The beast could probably smell her from kilometers away.
She could see it now. There had been no moment when it went from invisible to visible, but suddenly it was down there, moving. Far too close. It curled around the birch like a liquid shadow, like darkness poured out on the ground.
Then it stopped, its muscles coiling up under baggy skin. Chey stopped breathing. It looked up.
The horror was not very much larger than the timber wolves, perhaps two meters long from nose to tail, maybe a meter and a half tall at the shoulder. It possessed the same broad ﬂat face as the wolves. If anything its muzzle was shorter but far more wicked- looking. The main difference in its features were its teeth. The timber wolves had lots of teeth, of course, yellow and sharp. This thing had enormous pearly white fangs. There was no other word for them but fangs. They were huge, and thick, so big they pushed aside its lips. They looked perfectly adapted to crushing bones. Big bones. Human bones.
The other big difference between this thing and the timber wolves was in the way its paws spread out across the snow, as broad as human hands, each digit ending in a long curved claw. Its coat was mottled silver and black, more striking in its coloration than the dull camouﬂage of the timber wolves.
She took its shape in all in an instant, but after she saw them she had trouble looking at anything but its eyes. Those eyes —they were not yellow, like those of the timber wolves, but an icy green, narrow and cold. Intelligence resided in those eyes as well as something else, a dreadful anger. She could read it quite plainly, as well as she could have read the eyes of a human being. This animal didn’t want to eat her. It didn’t consider her prey. It wanted to kill her.
Memories lit up in her head like neon signs begging for her attention. Memories that had never been far below the surface. She knew those eyes. She’d crossed half a continent to ﬁnd them. And now they were going to kill her.
The monster despised her so much it wanted to tear her to pieces and scatter her remains across the forest ﬂoor. It wanted to spill her blood on the ground and grind her skull to shards with its giant teeth. The weight of that look, of that evil stare, made her press even harder backward against the tree. It made her want to hide away, to do anything to escape such passionate loathing.
The beast’s hackles came up and its tail went down. Its lips pulled back from its teeth and a noise like a motorcycle revving up leaked out from between its jaws. And then it leapt at her.
Pushing hard against the ground with its hind legs, it threw itself into the air. Its forepaws slashed at the space just below her dangling feet. Its mouth opened to grab her legs and crush them into paste. At the top of its leap it was only centimeters short of her feet. It fell back to earth with a snarl and panted as it scratched and clawed at the yielding bark, snarling and growling its thwarted desire. Chey just had time to adjust her hold on the tree before the wolf leapt at her again.
“No,” she begged, but the beast came up at her as fast as if gravity had been reversed, as if the world had been turned upside down and it were falling up at her, its teeth snapping together in midair. She pulled back, trying desperately to get away, but one forepaw caught her in the ankle, a vicious claw sinking through skin and muscle to grate on the bone. Pain ﬂashed through her like a red strobe light going off. For a second she heard only the blood rushing in her head, and saw nothing but the blood vessels at the backs of her eyes.
The monster fell back again, its claw pulling free of her ﬂesh.
Next time it would get a better grip. She was sure of it. She would die in the next few seconds, she realized. She would die, a victim of this enraged creature, if she didn’t do something, and right away.
She scrambled up against the trunk of the tree and lunged for a higher branch. She missed. Her leg throbbed and she gasped in pain, but she knew if she didn’t get farther up the tree the beast would get her. It was just that simple. She reared up, grabbed a branch that looked like it might barely support her weight, and hauled herself up, even as she started hyperventilating and stars shot through her vision.
The beast jumped for her a third time, but she was out of its range. She tried not to look down, but that was impossible.
At the base of the tree the monster dropped down on its haunches and stared at her. Its breath huffed in and out of its lungs in thick plumes of vapor. It was willing her to fall, to let go and fall. She could feel its desire. Its wanting.
Then the impossible happened. It turned its gaze away from her, if only for a moment. It looked out through the trees to where the moon was beginning to sink toward the horizon. When it turned to look at her again its palpable hatred was tempered with bitter resentment. It smoldered up at her for a while, then twitched its shoulder around and disappeared into the dim forest as quickly and as quietly as it had come.
It had to be a trick, she thought. But the wolf was gone.
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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