Frostbite- Chapter 51

The wolf didn’t understand why the breath in her lungs felt rank and bitter. She did not understand why her skin crawled as she closed on her goal. She barely cared. The human stench was full upon her and a few toxins weren’t about to stop her.

She trotted out to the top of a sand esker, a long, low bar of sand atop slickrock that had been deposited by glaciers when true dire wolves still roamed the earth. She wanted to howl in jubilation and anticipation of the bloodshed to come, but she didn’t want to alert her prey to her presence just yet.

Her eyes were not sufficiently keen to see the buildings a half kilometer from where she stood. She could make out some square outlines— unnaturally square, humanly square. She could not see the red and green pigments that painted the tops of the waters all around, but she could smell the heavy metals floating in great swirls like oil slicks there.

She could not feel the radiation that leaked upward like darkness from the very ground she stood on. She could not in any case have understood that the very land here was cursed with uranium, with radon gas, with the vast deposits of pitchblende and raw radium that gave the place its old name.

But she could tell the place was cursed.

Cursed, she panted, cursed, cursed. Cursed forever. She would have chosen another place if it had been up to her. Any other place. But she was a predator and she followed her prey. If they went to ground in tainted earth she would wallow in poison to get to them.

And they were nearby, she knew it. Even over the bitter wind, over the stinks of heavy metals and broken ore and disturbed earth and rusted metal and decayed plaster and crumbled concrete, she could smell the humans. The human. The one who had chained her and tried to drive her mad.

As the sun began to set she picked her way down from the esker and into Port Radium, and it was there she yelped and whined, for the change came too soon.

Chey cursed and spat at the pain in her limbs. Her arms and legs were sore and stiff. She rose slowly and saw that the world had changed while she was gone.

She was standing, for one thing, on a road.

Not just a logging path or an animal track. A real, paved road. Long broken slabs of concrete led off to the horizon in either direction. In places they had cracked and rotted away, and in the gaps some grayish weeds had poked up, and the uneasy soil of the Arctic had bucked and shifted the concrete around until it looked half like crushed rock. Nature was busy reclaiming the abandoned road. But it was still a road.

Chey covered her breasts with her arms. She had become accustomed to waking up naked in an uninhabited forest, where the nearest voyeurs were hundreds of kilometers away. But now she was effectively in a town—and she was completely lacking in clothing.

She hurried off the road and between a pair of giant steel cargo containers, one rust red, one a faded and streaky blue. She ducked inside the blue one and listened to her footfalls echo alarmingly. She had to be in Port Radium, she decided. Her wolf must have reached the fabled town.

Peeking around the edge of the container, she saw buildings off to the west, long industrial sheds with fallen- in roofs and decaying walls. She saw dozens of smokestacks like cyclopean chess pieces on a board of upturned soil. Nearer than the buildings she saw a forlorn bulldozer, its blade gnawed by rust, its black leather seat turned into a nest for some absent bird.

She got the message. Port Radium it might have been, but Port Radium had long since stopped being anywhere. There would be no people here other than those she’d come to confront. At least she had that.

Moving as quickly as she could, she ducked out of her cargo container and scrambled up a slope of loose dirt and fist- sized rocks. The nearest building looked like an aircraft hangar, an enormous structure of corrugated tin. Wind and rain had bored holes in it until she could see the setting sun right through its metal walls. She found a door, or rather the frame where a door might once have been, and slipped inside.

Orange light fell in dusty beams to make burning spotlights on the floor. Overhead a massive skeleton of iron girders remained partially intact. At the far end of the enclosed space stood a conical pile of rubble, bright brownandsteep- sided. A dumptruck stood bythe pile, its bed tilted upward as if it had been abandoned in the middle of depositing a new load.

Closer to her a small portion of the building had been enclosed to make office space. The wide windows were broken and smeared, but she could see desks inside and lockers—maybe there would be clothes hang¬ing up inside that she could use. She went to the office door and pulled up on the latch, half- expecting it to be rusted shut. Half- expecting that she would need her extra- normal strength to open it. Instead the door almost flew open and she staggered backward, nearly losing her balance. It felt almost as if the door had been kicked open.

In fact, it had. Bruce Pickersgill stood in the door frame, stupid mustache, fur collar, and all. He held his twin pistols at arm’s length, one barrel trained on her forehead, the other on her heart.

He had orders to shoot on sight. Chey closed her eyes and prepared to accept the inevitable.

He didn’t fire.

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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