Frostbite- Chapter 23

She drove until she found people. Good, kind people who took her in and let her tell the story as best she could, and who tried to understand what had happened to her and help her in any way they could. But not the people she’d imagined, the people who could make everything okay. Over time she began to realize those people did not, and could not, exist.

After the police were through with her, they put her on the phone with her mom, who told her not to worry. That everything was going to be okay. On the phone it sounded like her mom was a long, long way away.

Chey got to fly home in first class. She slept through the flight and the stewardesses had been advised ahead of time not to wake her until they had to, and then someone came and led her through security to her mom, who just stood there watching her for a while, studying her. Maybe looking for signs of injury. Maybe just watching to see if her husband would come off the plane as well, even though everyone knew he wouldn’t. There wasn’t even a coffin to ship back, because the body still hadn’t been recovered. Eventually her mom hugged her, and rubbed her back, but she didn’t say anything. She just led Chey to the car, and drove in very uncomfortable silence back to their house.

Chey went home, except home wasn’t there anymore. Not home like she remembered it.

She was in the papers for a while, and even on TV a couple of times. Her mom wouldn’t let her give any interviews, though, so quickly enough the media attention dried up. On the other hand the police wouldn’t take no for an answer, and for weeks afterward they would come to the door at night, right after Chey had finished dinner and cleared the plates, and she would have to sit down with a man in a uniform and answer questions. Sometimes they brought pictures, photographs of different kinds of wolves. None of them looked like the one who attacked the car, and she wondered what it would have meant if one of them had. Was it like a police lineup? Was she supposed to pick the wolf out of the usual suspects? Once the police brought pictures of the crime scene, of the stretch of road where it had happened. She just nodded and said yes, that was what it looked like. Neither the car nor her dad’s body was in the picture.

Her mom hated it when Chey had to look at the pictures. Chey claimed it was okay, that it didn’t bother her, but that wasn’t really true. She just said it for her mom’s benefit. She couldn’t sleep after she saw the pictures. Not for whole days on end.

Chey tried to ask her own questions, but the police didn’t like to answer them, even when they could. They did tell her that her dad hadn’t felt much pain at all, that he had been in shock when he died and probably wasn’t even aware of what was happening. They also confirmed what she’d thought, that it wasn’t any kind of ordinary wolf that had attacked them. That it was a lycanthrope. That was the word they used. The Assailant was believed to be a Lycanthrope. Just like the car was a Late Model Vehicle, and her dad was the Decedent Victim.

Lycanthropes fit a certain profile of Assailant. There were Protocols for dealing with Lycanthropes. There were statistics on Lycanthropes— no more than three Fatal Attacks in the last twenty years, a believed Global Population of no more than a thousand Individuals, most of them in Europe now. There were whole three- ring binders of information on what to do when investigating a Lycanthrope Sighting.

The police carried out a Thorough Investigation. They formed a Searching Party and they swept the country around the Incident Area. They turned up No Result—the Lycanthrope was never found.

The police had done what they could. Chey never blamed them— why would they even want to find the wolf ? Who would ever want to face such a thing if they didn’t have to? The main detective on the case was good enough to recommend a therapist for Chey, and so her mom took her to a little office downtown with dusty potted plants in a win¬dow with shades that were always drawn.The therapist was a very skinny, very pale man with blond hair who recommended they meet three times a week, at least until they saw how much help she needed. Her mom just nodded and wrote a check.

They had a funeral for her dad. The police had finally collected his body, but they held onto his remains for the duration of their investigation. Chey’s mom had not protested. Chey’s mom bought an empty coffin and arranged for a service. All of her relatives came up and touched the wood of the coffin and some of them cried. Chey got to stand with her mom at the door of the chapel, wearing a black dress that buttoned at her neck. She got to shake all their hands and thank them for coming.

Back at the house they had a reception and the same people showed up, but there was a lot less crying. People in suits and dresses filled up the tiny rooms, pressed up against the walls balancing paper plates full of food or plastic cups full of soda. They spoke in whispers or at least in low voices, but the combined sound was loud enough to hurt Chey’s ears. She really wanted to just run back to her room and go to bed, but it was covered in coats and bags, so she couldn’t.

All of her aunts and adult cousins had to make her go through the same ritual that was boring after the first time. They would pat her head or hug her to their waists and tell her how brave she was and how the hurt would go away with time. She would nod morosely and look like she was about to cry and eventually they would let her go. After a couple hours of that she couldn’t even hear them anymore, but it didn’t matter. She could respond without paying any attention at all. Then the doorbell rang and she ran to get it, because it got her away from all the sad people who were trying to talk to her. “Such a good girl, ”someone said behind her. “A time like this and she’s still so well- behaved. I would be in hysterics.”

She opened the door and looked out into the daylight. A tall man in a military uniform stood there, holding a peaked hat in his hands. He was maybe fifty years old and he had a fuzz of iron- colored hair on his head. Chey had never seen a man with hair that short. It startled her, but she tried not to show it on her face.

“Cheyenne,” he said, and bowed forward a little to hold out his hand. “I doubt you remember me, but I’m your uncle Bannerman. Your father’s American brother.”

She nodded politely and shook his hand. He smiled at her, a cold little smile without anything at all hiding behind it. She asked him to come in and he disappeared, making the rounds, greeting everyone. A couple of Chey’s aunts tried to grab him up into bear hugs, but he deflected them easily with a neat little trick. He held his hat in front of his body. If they hugged him they would have crushed the hat, and nobody wanted that. Chey was impressed. She wished she had thought to wear a hat.

She lost track of Uncle Bannerman then, but near the end of the reception he found her. She supposed he wanted to tell her how sorry he was for her loss, and she assumed the correct position, eyes downcast. Instead he squatted down next to her and wouldn’t look away until she met his gaze.

“I wanted to say something to you, specifically,” he said. When she didn’t reply he just went on. “I was very impressed with how you escaped.”

She squinted. Nobody at the reception had mentioned any of that. The day was supposed to be about her dad. “I had to do something or I would have died,” she said, trying to dismiss him.

“Not everyone would have had the presence of mind to make that connection. Very few people would have had the resolution to carry it out.” He smiled at her and started to stand up. It was all he’d wanted to say.

A question came out of her then like a belch. She had no control over it. She actively fought it. This man was her dad’s brother, after all. His grief would be very real, too, and she needed to be sensitive to that. But she had to ask.

“Is this how people die?” she demanded. “They just disappear. And then nothing. There’s nothing there.”

He looked at her with very hard eyes, as if trying to decide what to say to her. “That’s exactly how it happens,” he told her.

“A person just goes away.” Her voice was getting louder. She couldn’t seem to control it. “A person is there, one day, and the next he doesn’t exist. Even if he’s your dad. Because nobody is safe. Ever.”

More than a few black- clad aunts turned to look. But Uncle Bannerman just held her gaze and wouldn’t let go. He said nothing, just looked at her. Finally he took a handkerchief out of his pocket, not a tissue but a real cloth handkerchief, and gave it to her. She hadn’t realized she was crying.

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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