Frostbite- Chapter 38

Bobby gave her back her old clothes—he’d gathered them up from the campsite at the tiny lake. She’d almost forgotten how cold she was until she pulled her parka back on and felt warmth, real human warmth caress her. It made a big difference, though even getting warm didn’t seem to shake the hollow feeling she had, the strange high-pitched emptiness in her stomach and her limbs.

She tried not to think about it. She helped Lester build a fire out front of the cabin. She couldn’t help but look up among the trees. She tried to focus on the wood in front of her, concentrate on building a little pyramid of medium- sized branches, but then Lester cleared his throat and she realized she was scanning the dark rank of trees again. Looking for Powell.

He wanted to kill her. He had killed other people before. She had plenty of reason to be frightened of him. Right?

Skin—human skin—hanging in his sweat lodge. What had Powell been up to? She didn’t like to imagine it. She’d come north to kill him. She had wanted to confront him, thinking she knew what kind of monster he was. She’d started to think things were more complicated than that. That there was something to him ...something human. The straps told a different story, though.

She watched the trees. Waiting. It was only a matter of time before he came back. To finish things with her. Maybe to finish her off.

The little kindnesses he’d shown her—taking her into his home, teaching her the ropes of lycanthropy. Had those been the gestures of a human being reaching out to the only other person in the world who might understand him? Or had it been an initiation? Had he just been recruiting her into his own world of blood and horror? Breaking things to her slowly, so she wouldn’t get scared off. What dark secrets had he hidden from her? And then she had betrayed him—a creature capable of such violence.

Maybe she’d made a very bad mistake when she didn’t shoot him. Maybe it was destiny catching up with her. Making up for the day twelve years earlier when she should have died.

Things moved out in the woods. Occasionally a pine needle would flutter down through the branches and be swallowed by the gloom between the trunks. A bird would take off, bursting up into the air with a snapping sound of desperate wings, then catch itself on the breeze and swoop off in silence. One of the trees would creak and pop. Those trees froze in winter and thawed only slowly, one growth ring at a time, and when the ice broke inside them it would sound like they were ready to fall. These sounds made her jump, made her heart race a little faster. A squirrel rattled up a tall birch, skidding circles around the bark. She nearly cried out.

Lester put some water on to boil, made some instant oatmeal. She ate, and felt a little better—and then Bobby came over and squatted next to her. He studied her face as if trying to figure out how she would react to what he said next.

She didn’t like it.

“We need to start thinking about this thing in a rational way. We need a medium- range plan, at least. The moon will be up at eight fifty-six tonight,” he told her. He showed her a piece of yellow legal- sized paper covered in two rows of numbers. He tapped it and she saw written there the number 2056.

“Already?” she asked, trying to keep her voice low. “It feels like I just ...woke up.”

“Since you changed back to your human form,” he said. He had a way of saying things like that. He made them sound real. Like facts, facts that had to be dealt with. “The moon set at twelve fourteen today.” He tapped his paper again. The other row said 1214.

“That’s not enough,” she said. “I mean, that doesn’t seem right. How much human time did I get today?”

“About eight and a half hours,” he told her. “It’s gone seven o’clock now. I need you to help me prepare for tonight.”

Chey’s spine shivered. She remembered Powell telling her that this far north the moon cycles were weird. He’d said their human time would grow shorter as the month went past, but she hadn’t expected the transition to be so noticeable. “How much time will I have tomorrow?” she asked. Human time, she meant, but unlike Bobby she couldn’t say those words out loud and take them seriously.

“Six hours,” he told her. “We need to be ready.”

She nodded. Six hours. Her wolf would have three quarters of the day to itself. She grew jealous suddenly. It was her life the animal was devouring. “And the day after that?”

“Four. Come with me, please.”

She finally let him take her arm, lift her to her feet.

Four hours, out of twenty- four. Powell had said there were days coming up when the moon wouldn’t set. When it would never drop below the horizon. It would dip and rise and dip again but never quite go away.

Chey suddenly felt weak. She felt like she was about to die. Bobby took her through the woods, along the logging trail. Sometimes he had to hold her up, his shoulder in her armpit.

“I need to call my uncle,” she said. She wasn’t thinking clearly. “I need to get my uncle to come help me. He can fix this.” Her voice sounded shrill and insignificant in her own ears. Like the buzz of a black fly. She hated it, hated her weakness. She had been strong before—she’d been as strong as a wolf. What had happened?

They walked for a kilometer like that, maybe two. Ahead of her she saw the little turnoff for the fire tower. She hadn’t realized how close it was to Powell’s cabin.

“You’re going to put me back up there?” she asked. She struggled to regain herself, to put some iron back in her bones. “Bobby?”

He didn’t look at her. He was looking up at the silhouette of the fire tower. The sun was setting in its measured way and there were already long shadows striping the road. “I know you don’t like this, Chey,” he told her. He sounded sincere and she loved him a little for that. For the fact that despite all the horror and the violence that swirled around them, he could still care a little about her feelings. She remembered how much she owed him. Without him she couldn’t have gotten as far as she had. She couldn’t have made any sense of her life at all.

“You need to walk a ways in my shoes,” he told her. “Lester and I have a right to be safe. Don’t we? And I’ve got the guys coming in from Selkirk tomorrow morning. This is going to suck for you. But it’s the only way.”

Chey breathed in the smell of musty pine needles. She would be safe up there. Everybody would be safe if she was up there. It had held her wolf just fine the night before—it would work again.

“I understand,” she said, and started climbing the stairs.

“Good girl,” he called up at her. She spun around to half- laugh, half- snarl at him, to shoot him a good- natured glare, but he was already walking back toward the cabin.

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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