Frostbite- Chapter 16

One of the truck’s wheels fell down into a deep pothole and the two of them lifted off the bed and fell crashing back. Chey’s hand jumped over to grab Powell’s arm, for support. When she realized what she’d done she yanked it back quickly. He didn’t seem to notice. He was wrapped up in telling his story.

“This beautiful French girl turned into a wolf before my eyes. I guess you’ve never seen the whole transformation—the first time you saw me change, you were changing too. It’s a weird thing to see. The body turns ghostly and transparent. Almost like the human being is fading out of existence. You can see the skeleton melting like wax from a candle; you can see the entire body collapse in on itself. Then it seems to stagger back up to its feet and become solid again. Color and then solidity return—but in a new form. Suddenly you’re staring a vicious animal in the face. Drunk as I was, as weird as that day was, I knew it wasn’t just a trick of the light. This snarling, slavering thing was going to kill me and it was going to hurt.

“I stepped backward, away from this monster. Behind me the silver cage stood open and inviting. Even as the she- wolf lunged for my throat—and believe me, she didn’t waste a moment—I leapt back into the cage and slammed the door shut. The key was in the lock and I turned it with shaking fingers, locking myself in. For just a moment, though, that meant my hand was outside of the cage. She got her teeth into it. She clamped down. Then she tore it right off and swallowed it like a piece of meat.

“The pain was unbearable, of course. I screamed and fell back on the filthy straw at the bottom of the cage and screamed and kept screaming. You couldn’t live in the trenches as long as I had without learning a little emergency medical aid, so I did what I could to stay alive. I wrapped my belt around my spurting wrist to try to stop the blood loss, and did my best not to panic. That wasn’t exactly easy. The whole time the she- wolf was throwing herself at the cage, over and over, making the bars ring like bells. The pain just got bigger and bigger, but the horror I felt was almost worse. There was the horror of being alone with that wolf, which was pretty bad. But I saw soon enough that it couldn’t get through the bars. They weren’t that thick, but every time the wolf touched them she jumped back as if they were red hot and she’d been burned. So once I knew I was safe, my mind started wandering to other subjects. Like what had just happened to my hand. I imagined what it would be like to live the rest of my life, my normal human life, with only one hand. I’d seen plenty of amputees on the battlefield. Bits and pieces of soldiers were always being blown off. I’d never truly thought it could happen to me, but now I had a ragged stump staring me in the face, confronting me with the reality of it. What woman would ever want me again? How would I find work?

“While I lay there feeling sorry for myself my buddies were still upstairs. The Baroness de Clichy- sous- Vallée was tearing them to pieces. Maybe they tried to fight her off—we all had weapons with us, side arms or trench knives at least—but they never stood a chance. Lucie had locked the big doors at either end of the hall and there was no escape. I saw what was left of them later and it wasn’t much more than scraps of their uniforms and the occasional bone with shreds of meat still attached. Lucie, I came to realize, had gone out of her way to protect me from that fate. She had other plans for me. She liked me, you see, liked my face, and she wanted to keep me around for a good long time. At least until she got bored of me. She hadn’t even wanted to turn me into a wolf, at least not right away—it was just bad luck that I’d reached for that key at the wrong moment. She couldn’t control herself when her wolf was on her. None of us can.”

“You sound like you forgive her,” Chey said, a little startled.

“Not at first. But with time ...when the moon set the Baroness and Lucie came downstairs and let me out of the cage. They saw at once what had happened to me and they knew I was part of their family. Instantly they treated me that way, even when I fought against them. Even when I called them horrible names and threatened to kill them. They knew better. They knew I would come around.”

“The cage,” Chey said. “Why did they have that cage?”

“You haven’t guessed yet?” Powell asked. “Lucie was the black sheep of her family. So to speak. She’d been injured by a wolf some time before I met her. Some time centuries before I met her.”


“That story about the Baron riding into machine gun fire was only half true. He had been a cavalry officer—but he had died during a very different war, back in the seventeenth century.

“As for Lucie, she’d been alive since then, and she’d had her wolf since she was a child. She could barely remember a time when she’d been fully human. She got the curse when she was twelve years old, she told me.”

“Most girls do,” Chey told him.

Powell looked confused for a moment. Then he blushed and shook his head. “Ah, blast, you know that’s not what I mean. I mean that’s when she got her wolf.”

Chey nodded. It had been too good to pass up, that was all.

“At the time that was about the age when she was expected to get married, so she’d been out being courted by the cream of French nobility. A bunch of young men in blue silk suits with wigs and painted faces. She despised them all. They took her hunting, and gave her a little spear with a garland of flowers around the point. They tied a fox to a tree and led her right to it so she could have the experience of what it was like to go hunting with the boys. She had thanked them profusely and with great charm and wit—anyway, that’s how she put it—and then cut the fox’s chain with her spear. The fox knew a good thing when it saw it and dashed off. She followed, riding so fast after it the boys couldn’t keep up. She followed it over hills and well off her father’s property, but she was having such fun she didn’t worry about it. Then, when she finally cornered it, just when she was about to catch it and make it her pet—out of nowhere a giant wolf came charging out of a thicket and snapped the fox up in its jaws. Lucie spurred her horse and was off like a shot, but not before the wolf had taken most of the flesh off her back and arms.

“Her family found her tied to her saddle with her own reins. She was a tough little jeune fille, I will never say otherwise. They brought in doctors who could do nothing but put her to bed, assuming she would die by morning. Instead, she changed.

“I think she hurt somebody, that first time. Maybe killed some of the servants. She wouldn’t say. She told me that she wanted to turn herself in but it would have shamed her family if people knew about what she was. At the time werewolves were being burned at the stake all over France and Germany, thousands of them every year, and some of them were even real. That would have been her fate if anyone even suspected what had happened. So instead she went to her mother, the first Baroness, who listened to everything she said and promptly went mad on the spot and drowned herself in the river. Somebody in the family stayed sane long enough to have that cage built, and laid down the law about how they would keep Lucie’s secret. For twelve hours out of every day they locked her inside and waited for the moon to go down. She would smash against the bars, batter at them with her own muscles and bones, but she couldn’t get free no matter how hard she tried. For generations one member of the female line of her family had tended to her, sat with her, prayed for her soul. Mother had passed the duty on to daughter, who had passed it on to her own daughter, and so on. The Baroness I met was the last of those attendants.

“When the war came, and the castle was abandoned by the rest of the family, it had become clear they couldn’t take Lucie with them. Not unless they wanted to explain to the army authorities why they had a pretty naked girl locked up in an extremely expensive cage. The Baroness had volunteered to stay behind and take care of Lucie. Instead, the moment the two of them were alone, she turned to Lucie and said she wanted to make a deal.

“She’d been watching the wolf for years and she wanted it too. Like I said, she was crazy as a cat in a bathtub. She knew what she wanted, though. She wanted that strength and power. She said there was no need for cages anymore, that Lucie could go free now. In the anarchy of the war the two of them could hunt together as a pack. That Lucie could run free and hunt as she pleased. She was crazy enough to think that was what they were meant for. Lucie was crazy enough to think that was a great idea. So they made it happen. Lucie was the Baroness’s great- great- great-aunt, you see, and when I met her the Baroness had only just changed for the second time. She needed to learn, just like I taught you, except Lucie thought she needed to learn how to hunt bigger game. So Lucie brought my buddies home for the Baroness to play with.”

“But why did Lucie protect you?” Chey asked.

Powell’s shoulders tightened. “Because the two of them wanted a mate.”

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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