Frostbite- Chapter 50

That night Chey walked through the forest with the fatalism of the truly damned. Her feet hurt, blistered by the loose boots, and her body trembled with cold, hunger, and fatigue. None of it mattered. If she had thoughts in her head they were dark, earthy thoughts that crumbled like clods of dirt when she tried to grab at them. The landscape changed around her as she hiked, but she barely noticed as the trees grew thinner and shorter. The world got wetter, too, became a realm of swampy half- frozen muskegs where the tree roots dipped like bent pipes into dark water. Once she had to ford an actual river, a ribbon of brown water deep enough in the middle that she was forced to swim across its width. The chilly dip woke her upa little—enough to see the dead forest beyond the further bank.

The trees over there stood white as bones, pointing at random angles at the cold stars above. They bore neither leaves nor needles and their branches stuck out like broken ribs or were missing altogether.

The ground at her feet was caked with ash. There must have been a forest fire here recently, she thought. Every step stirred up more of the powdery gray debris. What had happened? Surely the Western Prairie guys hadn’t been foolish enough to throw a lit cigarette butt into the underbrush. Maybe lightning had struck nearby. She knew that after a forest fire the smaller plant species—grasses, mosses, shrubs—came back quickly, but she could find nothing green anywhere.

She trudged into the dead forest and soon found herself in a place as desolate as the back of the moon. No owls hooted in the darkness and no wildflowers grew up from the ash to tremble in the breeze. She saw very few insects—beetles, mostly, their wingcases snapping open as she approached, their greasy- looking wings convulsing in the air to zip them away from her on long curved paths. She touched the white trunks of the dead trees as she passed by and their wood was dry and rough as if they were half petrified.

She still didn’t know exactly where she was. She had headed west from the stream where Frank Pickersgill died, figuring that no matter how badly lost she got, her wolf would find the way when the moon rose again.

In time the trees grew thinner on the ground, and thinner still, until she was no longer in a forest at all but in a sandy flatland punctuated here and there by the occasional dead stump. Streams rolled across bare rock and through drifts of shallow snow, as far as her eyes could see. After the myopia of the forest she felt like she could see to the very edge of the world. The starlight painted the ground white and the water black and the world seemed striped and piebald between the two. On the horizon she saw what could have been the ocean—an endless wrinkled mass of water. It had to be the shore of Great Bear Lake.

She pressed on.

The sun rose while she was still human. The sun’s warmth on her back and shoulders filled her up, made her skin tingle, eased the soreness in her joints, even as it painted the vast open ground with yellow light. It felt good. She knew it wouldn’t last.

“Dzo,” she said, as if he could hear her. She thought maybe he could.

She heard a splash behind her and saw him clamber up out of a black pond. His furs streamed with water, but by the time he reached her he was dry. He tipped his mask back onto the top of his head. “Uh, yeah?” he asked, as if he’d been with her the whole time. She still had no idea what he really was, but she understood he was a lot more at home
in this weird land than she would ever be.

“Dzo,” she said, “is it much farther?”

“Yeah,” he said. “But your wolf can make it today.” His face screwed up in bewilderment. “You scared or something?”

She nodded .“Yes, I am.”

“Humans seem to get scared a lot. When animals get scared, sometimes they just freeze. You know? Their muscles lock up and they can’t move. You ever try that?”

“That won’t work for me. Dzo—I killed a guy. Kind of. I don’t know what that makes me.”

“A predator?” He sat down on the ground and rubbed his hands together. “I’m not really the guy you ought to be asking these questions.”

She nodded. “I know. The funny thing is I’m not as scared of getting killed as I am of talking to Powell again. But you wouldn’t understand that.”

He raised his hands in weak apology. “Maybe you’ll get killed before you get that far,” he offered.

“Yeah.” She started walking again. “Thanks, Dzo,” she said.

“My pleasure. Listen,” he called after her, “this is as far as I can go. They poisoned the water out there and I can’t follow you now. If you do see Powell, will you give him a message for me?”

“Sure,” she said, turning around.

“Tell him I have his boots in my truck. In case he’s looking for ’em.”

Chey smiled. It felt wrong on her face, but she liked it all the same. “I’ll do that.”

An hour after the sun rose, the moon followed.

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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