Frostbite - Chapter 11

They rode in silence for a while. Chey was lost deep in thoughts that didn’t please her, but that she couldn’t shake.

“He hurt you,” Powell finally said.

Chey looked up at him with bird- fast eyes. “What?” she chirped. She was about to go into hysterics. She was about to cry. She couldn’t talk to him at that moment, couldn’t play the game of being a social creature. Like an injured animal hiding in its den, her personality had curled up to lick its wounds. “What?” she demanded again. “He? He who? Who hurt me?”

“He hurt you pretty badly. ‘He’ meaning, well, my wolf.” His face was set like stone. She supposed he’d had plenty of time to get used to this. He didn’t look away from her face as he spoke, didn’t drop his eyes or even fidget under his blanket. Chey could read that body language from long experience. He had something uncomfortable to say to her and he was going to be a man about it, a man with a capital M. “I try to think of the wolf, of him, as another being, someone different from myself. That we aren’t the same creature at all. That I stop existing when he appears, and vice versa.”

“How’s that working out for you?” Chey asked, too fast, her voice too high and too loud. She could read her own body language, too.

“It helps ...sometimes.”

Chey tried to look away from those eyes, but found she couldn’t. They kept drawing her gaze back. “Okay. So...your wolf...he...”

“He hurt you, I think. He bit you or something. I want to say I’m sorry. I never remember what happened until later, until I’m clean again and warm and I can think straight.”

“I think I’d rather not remember,” Chey said.

“Fair enough.”

She rubbed at her eyes with her palms. “It’s going to happen again, isn’t it?” she asked.

He said nothing. Maybe he thought the question was rhetorical, or maybe he didn’t understand what she was asking.

“I’m going to change again. Be that wolf, again.”

“Yeah,” he answered.

“It’s going to happen over and over. For as long as I live.”

Powell finally did look away from her. It helped not to be pinned by those green eyes. “Whenever the moon rises. Every single time.”

Chey shook her head and her hair bounced on her cheeks. It felt greasy and thick. “No, listen, I remember now—when you—when— when the wolf clawed me, up in that tree, the moon wasn’t full. It was a half moon, at best. It wasn’t full.”

“They made up that guff about the full moon for the movies. Whenever even a sliver of moon is over the horizon, even when it’s new, even if we can’t see it, we change. We can be at the bottom of a coal mine when it comes up. We can be at the bottom of a lake and it won’t matter. There’s no way to stop it. Every single damned time. I’ve been trying to find a cure for—”

“No,” she said. “Please, no more. I can’t talk about the rules right now,” Chey insisted. “I can’t hear about this.”

Powell didn’t say another word for the rest of the trip.

Afternoon was well on them by the time they got back to the cabin. The men busied themselves with various tasks, picking up firewood and folding blankets. Chey stood in the middle of the yard, just outside the house. Just stood there with her arms folded and didn’t move.

A curl of smoke rose from a pipe chimney sticking out of the side of the house. Inside a fire crackled and a little yellow light came through the open doorway. Was Powell waiting for her to come in on her own? Maybe he thought she just needed some space. Some time to process what had happened.

She would never get used to this, she thought. She was never going to accept it.

There was no point standing outside in the dooryard all night, though. She went inside and warmed herself by the stove.

Inside Powell made up a bed for her, lining his rough wooden couch with blankets and pillows. It looked more like a dog bed than one meant for a human being. When he finished he took a step toward her, but she wouldn’t let him come near her. He tried again, tried to touch her arm, and she recoiled as if he were a snake trying to bite her. He got the point and retired to his smokehouse. Chey followed him as far as the doorway and watched him go inside and close the door behind him. Dzo was outside refueling the truck from an enormous plastic jerry can. It was yellow with age and translucent, and she could see the shadow of the liquid sloshing back and forth inside.

“Make yourself at home, eh?” Dzo said, grinning at her.

She slammed the door shut. There was no lock, just a simple latch, but she pulled hard to make sure it caught. Then she found a chair—not that nest of a bed—and threw herself down in it and had a good sulk.

A day earlier, when she had been lost in the woods, she had been certain she was going to die. It was the worst feeling she’d ever known. Now she was certain she was going to live and it was even worse.

There was no way back, no cure except death. That was what Powell had been trying to tell her. She was stuck with the wolf for the rest of her life.

What did she do next? Did she give up? There had been no room in her plans for this, for becoming a monster. How could she adjust her life to make room for a giant wolf? How could she hold a job if every twelve hours she transformed into an animal? She’d had a few boyfriends back in Edmonton. Mostly they’d been cowboy types, guys with ponytails and motorcycles. The kind of guys who might try to keep a wolf for a pet. None of them would have understood what she’d become. If she had tried to explain this to them, they might have thought it was cool. She could not agree.

She could hear her uncle’s voice in her head. Telling her she was feeling sorry for herself. Bemoaning her fate instead of trying to fix it. She tried to argue with him, but even when he was actually there that had never worked. He had a bad habit of being right all the time.

“Okay,” she said, finally, rubbing the bridge of her nose. “Okay. Fuck! Okay.”

She rose from her chair and walked out onto the porch. As much as she didn’t want to face her new circumstance, she did need answers.

The snow between the trees caught what little sunlight made it through the branches and glowed an unearthly blue. Frigid tendrils of mist snaked around the feet of the bushes. Powell was still hiding in his smokehouse, judging by the volume of aromatic fumes streaming out through the cracks around its door. Behind the house Dzo was washing out the bed of his truck with buckets of stream water.

When he saw her coming around the corner of the house he pushed up his mask and smiled at her.

“Am I a prisoner here?” she asked.

He frowned. “No,” he said. “Of course not.”

“So I’m free to go at any time,” she tried.

He shook his head and smiled at her again. “No, sorry. We’d just have to come after you and drag you back. You might hurt somebody.”

She squinted at him. “I think I have a little more self- control than that.”

Dzo sighed. “A wolf—your kind of wolf—can’t look at a human being without getting blood in his eyes. Normal times, he’s just an animal, but you get him around people and something comes over him. He gets that taste of blood on the back of his tongue. He gets that smell, that smell in the back of his nose like suppertime has come around.” Dzo shook his head. “You see a human being when you’re in that state, you won’t have any choice. You’ll go right from zero to kill in two seconds.”

“No,” she said. “That’s—that can’t be right. What about—what about you, then?”

Dzo stared blankly at her.

“How long have you been hanging around Powell?”

Dzo laughed. “Monty? Me and Monty are old buddies. Like, a lot of years.”

Chey nodded. “And have you ever been around him when he was changed? When he was a wolf, I mean.” She had to remind herself how literal Dzo could be.

“Oh yeah, sure, bunches of times.”

“So,” Chey said, “why hasn’t he killed you yet?”

“I’m special,” he said, as if it were self- evident. “I’m safe. Everybody else is fair game.”

“Everybody...You mean, anybody. Anybody who crosses his path.” Her breath came faster. Her ankle pulsed with phantom pain.

“It’s the main reason Monty lives up here.” He spread his arms wide. “No people. It ain’t for the warm weather. You’re the first human being he’s seen in three years. He attacked you without a thought, right?”

Chey folded her arms across her stomach. She felt suddenly quite queasy. She thought back to when she’d been up in the paper birch. She’d seen the hatred in the wolf ’s eyes, the need to kill. She’d seen what that madness was like, up close and personal, in a way she never wanted to repeat. “I didn’t ...I didn’t know that. My god—how does something like this happen? What kind of virus does that to a person?”

Dzo threw his hands up. “You think it’s some kind of disease, huh?”

She nodded. “That’s where you got it wrong, see. It’s not any kind of virus; it’s a curse. And when I say curse I don’t mean some old Indian story that got handed down over the years, and when some bright fel¬low from McGill comes up here he’s going to say, aha, it was actually a vitamin D deficiency all along. I mean a curse, a magic spell. About the biggest and baddest one ever.” He hopped up onto the open bed of the truck and sat down on the tailgate. His eyes looked off into the middle distance as if he were lost in a bad memory. “See, now it happened about ten thousand years ago, and—”

Chey shook her head. She couldn’t listen to his story. “I don’t want to kill anyone,” she breathed. She thought she might be sick. “I’d rather die myself. I’d kill myself first—but is that even possible, now?”

“Sure,” he said, smiling again. “Yeah, there’s ways. Bullets, poison, traps, you’re pretty much good against them. But silver—”

“Silver bullets?” she asked, too quickly.

“Any kind of silver will do for you,” he said. “Silver knives, silver dissolved in water you drink, silver thumbtacks if you step on ’em too hard. It’s like a really bad allergy, see? You get silver in your system, you’ll come down like a gored ox.” He shrugged. “ ’Course, around here we don’t keep much silver on hand for the obvious reason. I suppose you could ask Monty. Listen, if that’s what you want, we can make it happen.” He put a gloved hand on her shoulder. “Promise.”

She shook her head. Was that really what she wanted? Maybe. But not yet.

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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