Shiver, page 23part #1 of The Wolves of Mercy Falls Series
“Nope,” Beck admitted. He headed around to the back of the Tahoe. I noticed then that the van was filthy—thick with dirt. Dirt that smelled of somewhere else, stuffed up into the wheel wells and splattered along the fenders. “Salem and I were up in Canada. ”
So that’s why I hadn’t seen Salem anywhere recently. Salem had always been problematic: He wasn’t quite right as a human, so he wasn’t quite right when he was a wolf, either. I was pretty sure Salem was the one who had dragged Grace from her swing. How Beck had managed a car trip with him was beyond me. Why he managed a car trip with him was even further beyond me.
“You smell like hospital. ” Beck squinted at me. “And you look like hell. ”
“Thanks,” I said. Guess I was telling after all. I really didn’t think the hospital smell could still linger after a week, but Beck’s wrinkled nose said otherwise. “I was shot. ”
Beck pushed his fingers against his lips and spoke through them. “God. Where? Nowhere that’d make me blush, I hope. ”
I gestured to my neck. “Nowhere near that interesting. ”
“Is everything okay?”
He meant were we still okay? Did anybody know? There’s a girl. She’s amazing. She knows, but it’s okay. I tried out the words in my head, but there wasn’t any way to make them sound all right. I just kept hearing Beck tell me how we couldn’t trust our secret with anyone but us. So I just shrugged. “As okay as we ever are. ”
And then my stomach dropped out from under me. He was going to smell Grace in the house.
“God, Sam,” Beck said. “Why didn’t you call my cell? When you were shot?”
“I don’t have your number. For this year’s phone. ” Every year, we got new phones, since we didn’t use them over the winter.
Another look that I didn’t like. Sympathy. No, pity. I pretended not to see it.
Beck fumbled in his pocket and pulled out a cell phone. “Here, take this. It’s Salem’s. Like he’s going to use it anymore. ”
“Bark once for yes, twice for no?”
Beck grinned. “Exactly. Anyway, it’s got my number in its brain already. So use it. You might have to buy a charger for it. ”
I thought he was about to ask me where I’d been staying, and I didn’t want to answer. So instead I jerked my chin toward the Tahoe. “So why all the dirt? Why the trip?” I knocked a fist on the side of the car, and to my surprise, something knocked back inside. More like a thud. Like a kick. I raised an eyebrow. “Is Salem in here?”
“He’s back in the woods. He changed in Canada, the bastard, I had to bring him back like that and he sheds like it’s going out of style. And you know, I think he’s crazy. ”
Beck and I both laughed at that—as if that needed to be said.
I looked back to the place where I’d felt the thump against my fist. “So what’s thumping?”
Beck raised his eyebrows. “The future. Want to see?”
I shrugged and stepped back so he could open the doors to the back. If I thought I was prepared for what was inside, I was wrong in about forty different ways.
The backseats of the Tahoe were folded down to make more room, and inside the extended trunk were three bodies. Humans. One was sitting awkwardly against the back of the seats, one was curled into a fetal position, and the other lay crookedly alongside the door. Their hands were all zip tied.
I stared, and the boy sitting against the seats stared back, his eyes bloodshot. My age, maybe a little younger. Red was smeared along his arms, and I saw now that it continued all over the inside of the vehicle. And then I smelled them: the metallic stink of blood, the sweaty odor of fear, the earthy scent that matched the dirt on the outside of the Tahoe. And wolf, wolf, everywhere—Beck, Salem, and unfamiliar wolves.
The girl curled into a ball was shuddering, and when I squinted at the boy, staring back at me in the darkness, I saw that he was shivering, too, his fingers clenching and unclenching one another in a tangled knot of fear.
“Help,” he said.
I fell back, several feet into the driveway, my knees weak beneath me. I covered my mouth, then came closer to stare at them. The boy’s eyes pleaded.
I was vaguely aware that Beck was standing nearby, just watching me, but I couldn’t stop looking back at those kids. My voice didn’t sound like mine. “No. No. These kids have been bitten. Beck, they’ve been bitten. ”
I spun, laced my hands behind my head, spun back to look at the three of them again. The boy shuddered violently, but his eyes never left mine. Help. “Oh, hell, Beck. What have you done? What the hell have you done?”
“Are you finished yet?” Beck asked calmly.
I turned again, squeezing my eyes shut and then open again. “Finished? How can I be finished? Beck, these kids are changing. ”
“I’m not going to talk to you until you’re done. ”
“Beck, are you seeing this?” I leaned against the Tahoe, looking in at the girl, fingers clawed into the bloodstained carpet of the back. She was maybe eighteen, wearing a tight tie-dyed shirt. I pushed off, backing away, as if that would make them disappear. “What is going on?”
In the back of the car, the boy began to groan, pushing his face into his bound wrists. His skin was dusky as he began to change in earnest.
I turned away. I couldn’t watch. Not remembering what it was like, those first days. I just kept my fingers laced behind my head and pressed my arms against my ears like a vise grip, saying, Oh hell oh hell oh hell, over and over until I convinced myself I couldn’t hear his wails. They weren’t even calls for help; maybe he already sensed that Beck’s house was too isolated for anyone to hear him. Or maybe he’d given up.
“Will you help me take them inside?” Beck asked.
I spun to face him, seeing a wolf stepping from the too-large zip ties and a shirt, growling and starting back as tie-dye-girl moaned at his feet. In an instant, Beck had leaped into the back of the SUV, lithe and animal, and had thrown the wolf onto its back. He grabbed its jaws with one hand and stared into the wolf’s eyes. “Don’t even think of fighting,” he snarled at the wolf. “You aren’t in charge here. ”
Beck dropped the wolf’s muzzle, and its head hit the carpet with a dull thud, unprotesting. The wolf was beginning to shake again; already getting ready to change back again.
God. I couldn’t watch this. It was as bad as going through it myself all over again, never sure which skin I’d be wearing. I looked away, to Beck. “You did this on purpose, didn’t you?”
Beck sat on the tailgate as if there wasn’t a spasming wolf behind him and a wailing girl beside him. And that other one—still not moving. Dead? “Sam, it’s probably my last year. I don’t think I’ll change next year. It took a lot of quick thinking this year to keep myself human once I finally had changed. ” He saw my eyes looking at the different-colored collars at his neck and he nodded. “We need this house. The pack needs this house. And the pack needs protectors still able to change. You already know. We can’t rely on humans. We are the only ones who can protect us. ”
I didn’t say anything.
He sighed heavily. “This is your last year, too, isn’t it, Sam? I didn’t think you would change at all this year. You were still a wolf when I changed, and it should’ve been the other way around. I don’t know why you got so few years. Maybe because of what your parents did to you. It’s a damn shame. You’re the best of them. ”
I didn’t say anything, because I had no breath to say it with. All I could focus on was how his hair had a little bit of blood in it. I hadn’t noticed it before, because his hair was dark auburn, but the blood had dried just one lock into a stiff cowlick.
“Sam, who was supposed to watch over the pack, huh? Shelby? We had to have more wolves. More wolves at the beginning of their years, so this isn’t a problem again for another eight or ten years. ”
I stared at the blood in his hair. My voice was dull. “What about Jack?”
Beside him, the girl screamed, a high, thin wail lacking any force, and between one shudder and the next, her skin was the creamy blue of a black wolf’s. Her shoulders rippled, arms forcing her upward, onto new toes where fingers had been. I remembered the pain as clearly as if I were shifting—the pain of loss. I felt the agony of the single moment that I lost myself. Lost what made me Sam. The part of me that could remember Grace’s name.
I rubbed a tear out of one of my eyes, watching her struggle. Part of me wanted to shake Beck for doing this to them. And part of me was just thinking, Thank God Grace never had to go through this. “Beck,” I said, blinking before looking at him. “You’re going to hell for this. ”
I didn’t wait to see what his reaction was. I just left. I wished I’d never come.
That night, like every other night since I’d met her, I curled Grace into my arms, listening to her parents’ muffled movements in the living room. They were like busy little brainless birds, fluttering in and out of their nest at all hours of the day or night, so involved in the pleasure of nest building that they hadn’t noticed that it had been empty for years.
They were noisy, too, laughing, chatting, clattering dishes in the kitchen although I’d never seen evidence of either of them cooking. They were college kids who had found a baby in a rush basket and didn’t know what to do with it. How would Grace have been different if she’d had my family—the pack? If she’d had Beck.
In my head, I heard Beck acknowledging what I’d feared. It really was true, that this was my last year.
I breathed, “The end. ” Not really out loud. Just trying out the shape of the words in my mouth.
In the cautious fortress of my arms, Grace sighed and pressed her face into my chest. She was already asleep. Unlike me, who had to stalk sleep with poisoned arrows, Grace could fall asleep in a second. I envied her.
All I could see was Beck and those kids, a thousand different permutations of the scene dancing before my eyes.
I wanted to tell Grace about it. I didn’t want to tell her about it.
I was ashamed of Beck, torn between loyalty to him and loyalty to me—and I hadn’t even realized until now they could be two different things. I didn’t want Grace to think badly of him—but I wanted a confessional, someplace to put this unbearable weight in my chest.
“Go to sleep,” she murmured, barely audible, hooking her fingers in my T-shirt in a way that didn’t make me think of sleep. I kissed her closed eyes and sighed. She made an appreciative noise and whispered, eyes still closed, “Shh, Sam. Whatever it is will keep till morning. And if it doesn’t, it isn’t worth it anyway. Sleep. ”