Frostbite-Chapter 6

Dzo let her lean on his arm as they hiked out of the clear­ing. It was a blessed relief not to have to put her full weight on her hurt ankle. It still throbbed like mad, though, and she was terrified it might be getting infected. She didn’t want to take another step on it if she didn’t have to. If he faltered, or if she lost her grip on him, it was going to hurt badly, but he didn’t let that happen. He was shorter than Chey, maybe ten centimeters shorter, but his shoulder felt hard as a rock and she got the impression he could easily have carried her. Not for the first time she wondered who this guy was, and where he’d come from. She tried asking, but his answer didn’t make much sense to her.“I came up from the water down there,” he told her.

“No, but originally,” she said, thinking she needed to be very careful to be as literal as possible when talking to him.

“Gosh,” he said, and looked up at the trees as if trying to remember. “That was a long time ago. I think there was less water back then. Every­thing was so dry.” He shrugged. “Things change, you know? Places change. Especially up here. Seems like it’s different every summer.”

Her leg hurt too much for her to want to quiz him further. She de­cided it was enough he was there, and that he could save her, and she lapsed into silence as they trudged along.

They headed along the course of the trickling stream.The water was cold and very clear. Red pine needles spun on the surface and caught on exposed tree roots and then slid past them again. Insects skimmed along the surface or walked on the water with hair- thin legs longer than their bodies. None of them were biting her, so she ignored them.

Not so very far away from the stream ran an abandoned logging road. It didn’t look like much to Chey—it definitely wasn’t paved, and must not have been graded in years, judging by its rough surface. Mostly it was just a winding lane, a ribbon of fallen pine needles where the trees didn’t grow quite so closely together.You had to follow it carefully with your eyes to see it at all, but Dzo assured her that to the animals of the forest it was like a six- lane superhighway. “I’ve got a friend, now, who’s only about twenty klicks from here. He can patch you up right quick,” he assured her when she demanded to know where they were headed.

“Twenty kilometers?” she gasped. On her ankle she’d be lucky to get twenty more paces. He just nodded, making no attempt to reassure her that she could do it—and then led her to another clearing, where his pickup truck waited. She was so relieved to see the vehicle that tears leaked out of the corners of her eyes, dehydrated as she was.

It looked like she wasn’t going to die in the woods after all.

The truck had little to recommend it other than its very existence. The body was the color of old rust, more brown than red.The bed was strewn with dirt and dead leaves and organic debris, and the passenger’s side window had been replaced with yellowing plastic, held on with layer after layer of peeling invisible tape. Chey had never seen a vehicle so old and decrepit that was still capable of driving before.When Dzo turned the old screwdriver that had been jammed into the ignition lock the engine started up just fine, however, and once they were under way the truck’s chained tires grabbed the snowy ground and held tight.

They rolled down the path doing no more than fifteen, Dzo keep­ing one easy hand on the wheel while the other drummed slowly and rhythmically on the outside of his door as if he were keeping time.The trail wound back and forth and seemed to cut back across itself.To Chey it constantly looked as if the trees would close in and cut off their for­ward progress altogether, but then they would chug around a corner, dead tree branches rattling and scraping at the roof, and then there was always more path ahead of them. Dzo never spoke and Chey didn’t have much to say herself. Before she knew it she had put her head back and collapsed into sleep.

When the truck braked for a stop her head flew forward and she snapped back to consciousness. For a second she couldn’t remember where she was, or what had happened to her, but it all flooded back when her ankle twinged and searing pain shot up all the way to her hip. She looked around and saw that the light had changed—she must have been asleep for hours. The plastic in her window warped what she could see outside, but it looked like more of the same, trees pointing up at strange angles, the ground choked with underbrush. On the other side, to the left, though, the trees had been cut back to make a neat lit­tle patch of open ground.A wood- framed house with red shutters stood in the middle of the clearing, with an outhouse to one side and a pair of low sheds to the other. Bluish smoke reefed up out of one of the sheds, dribbling out of its poorly sealed eaves, and she thought it might be on fire. But Dzo didn’t seem alarmed, so she guessed it was supposed to do that. Maybe it was a smokehouse or a sweat lodge or something.

“Is this where you live?” Chey asked.

“Nah,” her savior told her. “It’s my friend’s place, like I told you. Mostly I sleep rough, but he’s a civilized type, likes an actual bed with a pillow.”

It sounded like heaven.

Dzo jumped out of the truck without a word to Chey and pulled his white mask across his face before running up to the door of the house. His furs swung back and forth as he pushed open the door and popped his head inside. He shouted “Hello” a couple of times, and then, “Hey, Monty, you around?” No answer was forthcoming. He trotted around the side of the house and was gone from view.

Chey wanted to follow—she didn’t relish the prospect of being alone, even for a second longer—but she didn’t dare try to walk on her hurt leg. Leaning forward to peer through the muddy windshield, she studied the roof of the house.The shingles looked immaculate, as if the roof had just been repaired. She did not find what she was looking for—satellite dishes, radio masts, shortwave antennae, anything of the kind—which made sense. If she was where she thought she was, there would be no direct connection with the outside world at all.

When Dzo didn’t come back after a few minutes she decided she was going to have to make her own way over to the house. Maybe, she told herself, it would be warmer inside. Maybe it would have central heating. Or at least a wood- burning stove.

She eased her door open and then jumped down onto the packed earth of the clearing, careful to land on her good foot. She smelled wood smoke and pollen, and somewhere nearby another smell, a musky animal odor. She heard a footstep crunch on fallen pine needles and she gasped as she spun around, hopping like a spastic.There was someone behind her.

He was a slender young man dressed in a gray cotton work shirt, jeans, and a pair of undecorated cowboy boots. His hands, which she saw first, were rough and dirty, but the fingers were thin and sensitive. He had a pale face and coal black hair, cut short and combed neatly, with a part to one side. His cheeks and forehead were smooth—he couldn’t be over forty, she thought—but deep cobwebs of wrinkles sur­rounded his eyes, as if they were much older than the rest of him.The eyes were clear and inquisitive and in color they were an icy green she had seen before. Oh, yes, she would never forget that color.

They were those eyes.

Gotcha, she thought to herself. She kept a tight rein on her emo­tions and let nothing show in her face.

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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