Frostbite - Chapter 8

Chey would have thought it was impossible to run. No matter how much it might have healed, her ankle was still sprained at the very least and all the hobbling around she’d done in the forest had left her leg stiff and sore. Yet when the option was decapitation she found she could run just fine.

Oh, it hurt. Every bone in her leg vibrated with the pain, but adrenaline or endorphins or some blessed chemical in her bloodstream kept her moving.

She dashed between the two sheds at the side of the cabin, her hand slapping the ancient wood of one of them, and caromed into the forest. The trees accepted her without comment as she weaved between their trunks, her feet digging into the carpet of pine needles. She leapt over a deadfall of gray branches as thick as her wrists and came down on the other side on top of a mass of puffballs that exploded in yellow spores. Silently she cursed herself. Any good tracker would see the broken fungi and know she had passed that way. She had reason to think Powell was an excellent tracker.

Could she outrun him? She doubted it. With every step her leg hurt less—perhaps the unwanted exercise was pumping fluid out of her swollen tissues. Still. There was no question in her mind anymore— those eyes had convinced her. He was a monster. He would be faster than her, and much, much stronger. Unless she’d misjudged the intelligence in his eyes and the way he’d watched her, he would also be sneakier. She’d already gotten a taste of that, hadn’t she? She’d been on her guard when Dzo brought her to the house, ready, she had thought, for anything. Powell had crept up behind her without even trying.

She dashed around a stand of black spruce that grew so close together it looked like a palisade wall, the trunks nearly touching one another. Ducking down behind this makeshift cover, she forced herself not to make a sound. Not even to breathe too loudly. Maybe—maybe there was something she could do.

The time to use her phone had definitely come. Not that help could reach her in time, but she had to at least try.

She grabbed the cell phone out of her pocket and looked at the screen. No service, of course. Nothing new there. She popped open the battery cover, however, and flicked a tiny switch. The switch wasn’t marked. It was even designed in such a way as to look like one of the prongs holding down the SIM card. A very smart person had spent time designing that switch, making it the kind of thing nobody would ever find, even if they got the phone away from her and studied it at length. The screen lit up a little brighter and displayed the message:




The phone wasn’t meant for this purpose, of course. She wasn’t suposed to use precious battery time just to call for help in an emergency. But just then...she didn’t have a choice.

“Come on, come on,” she begged, forgetting she was supposed to be silent. A tiny cartoon radar dish on the screen turned back and forth. She shook the phone in her hand as if that might help.

The rusted head of the ax bit into a tree trunk near her face with a resonant thock . She froze in place, unable to move, unable to think. The tree vibrated with the noise and the impact. A beetle lifted into the air with an angry buzz, clearly disturbed by the shaking of the branches.

“You don’t understand,” Powell said, pulling his ax free from the tree trunk with a grunt. “It has to be this way.”

Chey sucked breath into her lungs and stared up at him. He was still pulling the ax back, getting ready for another swing. It wouldn’t take him long to recover.

Chey had been trained for this particular moment. She visualized a spot ten centimeters behind him, just as she’d been taught. Then she put every ounce of strength she had into punching that spot—her fist driving forward as if it could slam right through him. Her fist collided with his stomach and he gasped in surprise. She gasped, too. Hitting his abdominal muscles had felt like hitting a brick wall. There was no possible way she’d actually hurt him, but it looked like she’d knocked the breath out of him.

The element of surprise, she’d been taught, could mean everything. It could mean the difference between life and death.

No time to think about that, of course. She jumped up and ran again, ran without worrying what direction she was headed in or where she might end up. Her legs did what they needed to do. She was a machine. She’d been taught that line like a mantra: you are a machine, and all your parts work together. When they work together, they can achieve anything. Oxygen cycled into her lungs and carbon dioxide cycled out. She was a machine and she was functioning properly. With one hand she shoved the phone back into her pocket, knowing it couldn’t help her anymore. There would be no time for help to come to her, even if she could get a clear connection. The only thing that could save her was herself.

A black- headed loon yodeled overhead and pushed into the air with broad, slow wing strokes. Chey looked up when she heard it. She imagined Powell looking up as well. It wasn’t much of a diversion, but she took what she could get and swiveled on her good heel. She dashed into the woods at a ninety- degree angle to the way she’d been headed. Maybe he would keep going straight and overshoot her.

Ahead she heard water bubbling over a shelf of rock. That was good too; if she could get into the water it would carry away her scent. She had reason to believe Powell could track her by smell alone. She could follow the course of the water for a couple hundred meters, then climb back out and into the forest. It was an old trick, one foxes used instinctively when they were being chased by hounds, but she thought maybe it would work—

Powell smacked into her legs from behind, his shoulder catching the small of her back and tossing her to the ground. She hadn’t heard him at all, hadn’t been aware of him behind her. She tried to roll when she hit the ground and managed to get onto her back with her legs tucked up near her stomach.

“Stop now. Don’t hit me again and I’ll make this painless,” Powell shouted at her. He sounded a little out of breath. That was all she’d managed to achieve. That was what all her training had been worth. She had winded the bastard. A little. “Look,” he said, and hefted his ax. “You don’t understand. I’m trying to protect you. You and other—protect other people from—”

He couldn’t seem to finish his sentence. He reached up and wiped the cuff of his shirt sleeve across his mouth. Then he looked to the side. “Blast,” he finally said.

A surprisingly mild curse to come out of the mouth of an ax murderer. But he made it sound like the most profane thing he could think of.

Chey looked over as well, following his gaze, desperate to know what could be so important it would distract him in the middle of killing her. She could see the brook she’d heard before, and the gap in the trees where it had worn its path over thousands of years. A bit of actual horizon showed there, a hilltop, and a smear of silver light that graced its top. That had to be the moon, she decided. Moonrise had come.

The ax fell out of Powell’s hand and thudded at her feet. No—that wasn’t right. She watched it fall. She watched it fall through him, as if he’d suddenly turned to mist and lacked the solidity necessary to hold the ax. It had fallen through his hand. He was changing further when she looked up at him again. His skin had turned translucent and it glowed as if lit up with moonbeams. His clothes dropped off of him and fluttered to the forest floor. She could see the bones in his fingers, the twin bones in his forearm. She could see through them. He had become as insubstantial as a ghost.

Then silver light erupted behind her eyes and she didn’t see anything more.

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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