Frostbite- Chapter 56

Up near the top of the junk heap was what looked like a school bus. Most of its windows were still intact. If she could get inside of it she could hide, for a while at least. Of course, getting up there wasn’t going to be easy, but that actually made it even more desirable as a refuge. As hard as it would be for her to climb up there, it would be next to impossible for a human being.

Directly ahead of her lay the enormous crumpled bulk of a tunnel borer, a big round machine with a toothed maw on one end. It must have been used to dig out the mines, back in the day, and she didn’t doubt it had been great at cutting through solid rock. Its teeth were blunted by age and shiny with erosion now. A length of massive chain, each link as thick across as her thigh, lay draped over its cab. She grabbed onto the chain and pulled herself up, out of the polluted mud, climbing the links like a ladder. She dragged herself up on top of the borer and then stumbled across the side of a tailing heap, a pile of fist-sized rocks that crumbled under her touch.

There, ahead, she saw where a pile of metal rods had rusted together into a thick stalk that jutted out from the side of the pile. The individual rods were no thicker than her thumb. She could swing up on top of the pile and then the school bus would be easy to get to.

She grabbed one of the rods and pulled on it. It gave, but just a little. She worried it might snap off in her hand. She looked down and saw that her footing was ridiculously bad. She had one foot on the loose tailings, the other on a flap of rusted metal that probably wouldn’t support her weight.

It didn’t matter. She had more important things to worry about than falling in the lake. Chey leaned out as far as she could and then jumped, swinging on the rod, all of her mass conspiring with gravity to pull down hard, to shear off a length of metal.

The rod held. She brought her feet up to get them on top of the pile, but missed.

Chey screamed a curse and swung back, got one foot on the tailings again. The skin of her palms screamed in agony where they held the rod. She paused a moment, but just a moment, and then shifted her grip on the rod.

As she readied herself for another swing she heard a flat snapping sound. Dust exploded next to her cheek, one of the rocks on the tailing heap spontaneously turning into gravel. Or maybe not so spontaneously.

Another snap, like a robot coughing, and something whizzed by her ear. Something hard and metallic. A silver bullet.

She turned in slow motion, unable to hurry anymore, and saw a human figure standing on the shore, holding a hunting rifle. Taking his time, he raised the rifle to his eye and sighted on her. She barely had time to jump before he fired a third bullet at her.

It could only be Tony Balfour shooting at her.

It didn’t make a lot of sense. Silver bullets would be useless in a rifle. They would be too inaccurate. Bobby had been quite clear on that fact. Balfour had already put three bullets close to her head. He wasn’t having any trouble with accuracy. Was he using normal lead bullets? But why?

He smiled. She could see his teeth by starlight. He switched the rifle over to the crook of his arm and then took a long knife out of a scabbard on his belt. The blade almost glowed in the darkness and she knew it was made of silver.

She understood. He wanted to shoot her with lead bullets not to kill her but just to stop her in her tracks. If he blew her head open with the rifle it wouldn’t technically kill her—but it would leave her unable to run away. You need a functional medulla oblongata to be able to run. She imagined herself spread- eagled on the scrap heap, her blood leaking out on the rusty machinery, her eyes unable to focus, her mouth unable to close. In her mind’s eye she saw drool leaking from one slack lip. Then she saw him climb up carefully, taking all the time he wanted, the knife ready in his hand.

Would she feel it as he stabbed her to death? Would she be aware even then? Would he do it quickly, one jab into her chest, or would he take his time?

He gave her a jaunty little wave and came toward her.

Down on the shore he stepped gingerly, almost delicately, into the dark water. The mud surged around his boots and he winced almost comically, but he didn’t stop. One leg in, then the other, wading in hip deep. Then he stopped and looked up at her. He switched the rifle back into his hands and watched her expectantly.

She realized then that she hadn’t moved a centimeter since he’d stopped firing. She needed to get up, she needed to run. Why didn’t he fire?

He took his eye off the rifle’s sights and lifted one hand. He flicked his fingers dismissively, telling her to move on. He wanted to see her run, she realized. He wanted to chase her because he would enjoy her death more that way.

Adrenaline surged in her blood and made her go. She didn’t worry about her footing, just jumped across the pile of tailings and leapt onto the tires of an overturned truck. She got her hands down, grabbed for anything that presented itself, and threw herself around the side of the pile, toward the shadows, toward the toxic junk.

Behind her a bullet blew out one of the truck’s tires and it deflated with a sagging, sighing sound. She flinched and missed a handhold. Her body rolled forward and she slid, her feet unable to grip the loose tailings beneath her. She was falling, sliding, falling in slow motion down the side of the heap. Suddenly she did care if she fell into the water. She would be slower down there, unable to run. Her hands flew out and she grabbed at a side mirror on the upside- down truck, a long rectangular shadow with splinters of broken glass winking at her. Her feet flew free and she was hanging by her arms in empty space. Her weaker left arm twitched as it tried to hold up her weight. The fingers uncurled and she swung like a pendulum by her right hand, and that arm felt pretty weak, too.

She couldn’t hear him coming for her, but she knew he wouldn’t be long behind.

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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