Frostbite- Chapter 54

The pain curled her inward on herself. It made her want to scream. She forced the pain down, away from her, and rose to her feet. If not for the strength her wolf shared with her she knew she would be unconscious, maybe even dead already.

She spun around in a circle, looking for Powell. Looking for any sign of movement—a flash in the darkness, a dull glint. There was nothing.

“Talk,” he said. “You want to talk to me. Fine. Talk.”

But she couldn’t think of what to say. So instead she looked at Port Radium.

It lay beneath her, spread out at the bottom of a long, rolling hill. What few structures remained intact had collapsed roofs or had tumbled down to fall in on themselves. There had been dozens, maybe a hundred hangars and warehouses and who knew what else, once, but the vast majority of the buildings had been burned to the ground. The roads remained, long dark ribbons sectioning the land into parcels. Long poles of stripped wood had been pounded into the earth at every crossroads and intersection. She knew what they were for—when the snow came, as it would early this far north, that would be the only way for anyone to know where a building’s foundation lay. There were streetlights as well, in some places, but the metal poles had sunk and listed as the permafrost beneath them shifted over the years until they stood at angles like the trees of the drunken forest.

Abandoned—no, more than that. There was a pall over the remains of the town, nothing visible or even tangible, really, but there was a wrongness about it. Chey felt like waves of regret and desolation were rolling up out of the ruins. Maybe they were haunted. A ghost town, in more ways than one.

Between Chey and the ghost town’s near edge glimmered the black mirror of a pond, a big oval pool of water. A heap of twisted metal and broken rock stood in the center of the pond like a gigantic cairn. She recognized a few outlines, of dump trucks and backhoes and cranes, but most of the metal had softened and lost its shape to rust and wind until it became a single agglomeration of bent girders and decaying engines. Hundreds of tons of forgotten equipment, left to soften like compost over a span of millennia. She could only imagine how toxic the water must be with runoff from the dead machinery. “Jesus,” she said, astounded despite herself. After spending the last few weeks in the utter natural serenity of the forest this man- made ruin startled her. “What was this place?”

Powell answered her from the shadows. “It was a mining town, once.” She didn’t turn or give any sign she’d heard him. She didn’t want to move. She didn’t want him to hit her again—her shoulder still hurt from the last time. “The rocks here are some of the oldest on Earth and they’re full of radium, cobalt, and chromium. It also contained one of the biggest silver lodes ever discovered.”

“And you thought it would be a nice place to hide out,” she said, quietly. “Why was it abandoned if it was so lucrative?”

“This is what you wanted to discuss?” he asked. The scorn in his voice made her spine shiver.

She couldn’t find the right words, though. The words that would explain what she’d done to him. “Just humor me,” she said, bargaining for time to find the words.

He growled in frustration. But then he answered her question. “It was too expensive to mine the silver profitably. It cost more to dig it up and ship it back to civilization than it was worth.”

“So everybody just left.”

“Not quite,” Powell told her. His voice came from over to her left— she was sure of it. She had to be ready, in case he attacked her again. She could feel his anger like heat on her back. But so far he was still talking. “They found something else here, too. This is where the Americans got the uranium for their first A- bombs.”

She gasped in spite of herself. “Really?”

“They hired the local Dene Indians to carry it out of here in burlap sacks. They’ve always claimed they didn’t know how dangerous the stuff was, but an entire generation of Dene men died young here. You see those dark mounds down there?” he asked, and she nodded—there were piles of dark earth almost everywhere, sticking up from the empty ground like mammoth anthills.

“Those are pitchblende tailings, what’s left of what they dug out of the ground after they refined the uranium ore. Every couple of years someone from the government comes out here to measure how radioactive they still are.”

“Radioactive. This place is radioactive,” she said, and cold sweat burst in pinpricks under her hair.

“I didn’t think your friends would follow me here.” He was closer now, she could tell by following his voice. “I figured they had to know how dangerous it was. Maybe you can tell them. Maybe they’ll leave, then.”

“Bobby wouldn’t listen to me now,” she said. “He doesn’t think I’m human anymore. And he’s right, isn’t he? That’s what I wanted to tell you. That I understand now, what we are. I’ve ...accepted it.” She turned, her hands up, ready to reach for his. He was so close she could smell his skin—she could smell his wolf.

She expected him to lunge forward and knock her down. He didn’t. She overbalanced and had to stagger to keep from falling. When she’d straightened again, wary, too stiff, he raised a hand toward her and she swung to block his punch. He wasn’t punching, though. He had a square black pistol in his hand. He must have gone back to Pickersgill’s corpse and recovered one of the man’s guns.

“Powell,” she had time to say. “Please. Don’t do that. Don’t you understand? I know why you came here. I know why you’ve spent your life away from other human beings. I know I have to do the same thing, now. But I can’t do it alone. You’re my only chance, if I want to survive. I have to learn from you.”

“I killed your father,” he said. “How could you ever forgive me for that?”

“I...can’t,” she said. “But that’s not the point, that—”

“I’d be an utter fool to trust you,” he said. “Do you think I’m a fool? Get the hell out of here, Chey. Run away and don’t come back.”

“Without you I won’t make it,” she told him. “I can’t survive up here alone.”

He turned around and started to walk away. He gave her one last glance—not so much a look of sympathy as curiosity, as if he expected her to say something or do something to make him stop.

“Powell,” she said, “I need you.”

It wasn’t enough. He kept walking and soon the darkness swallowed him whole.

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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