Shiver, page 31part #1 of The Wolves of Mercy Falls Series
Her father shrugged and stirred his soup. “Stranger things have happened. It’s not worth getting worked up about, anyway. So it was dragged off the deck by a wild animal. I don’t think other animals can catch rabies from a dead animal. ”
Grace just crossed her arms and glared at him, as if this comment was just too stupid to dignify with a response.
“Don’t sulk,” he said, and pushed the door farther open with his shoulder to leave. “It’s not becoming. ”
Her voice was ice-cold. “I have to take care of everything myself. ”
He smiled at her fondly, somehow reducing the value of her anger. “We’d be lost without you, obviously. Don’t stay up too late. ”
The door softly clicked shut behind him, and Grace stared at the bookshelves, the desk, the closed door. Anything but my face.
I closed my novel without noting the page. “She’s not dead. ”
“Mom might’ve called animal control,” Grace said to the desk.
“Your mom didn’t call animal control. Shelby’s alive. ”
“Sam. Shut up. Please. We don’t know. One of the other wolves could’ve dragged her body off the deck. Don’t jump to conclusions. ” She looked at me, finally, and I saw that Grace, despite her complete inability to read people, had puzzled out what Shelby was to me. My past clawing out at me, trying to steal me even before winter did.
I felt like things were getting away from me. I’d found heaven and grabbed it as tightly as I could, but it was unraveling, an insubstantial thread sliding between my fingers, too fine to hold.
CHAPTER FORTY • SAM
And so I looked for them.
Every day that Grace was at school, I searched for them, the two wolves I didn’t trust, the ones who were supposed to be dead. MercyFalls was small. Boundary Wood was—not as small, but more familiar, and maybe more willing to give up its secrets to me.
I would find Shelby and Jack and I’d confront them on my own terms.
But Shelby had left no trail off the deck, so maybe she really was gone. And Jack, too, was nowhere—a dead, cold trail. A ghost that left no corpse behind. I felt like I had combed the entire county for signs of him.
I thought—vaguely hoped—that he’d died, too, and ceased to be a problem. Been hit by some Department of Transportation vehicle and scooped into a dump somewhere. But there were no tracks leading to roads, no trees marked, no scent of a new-made wolf lingering at the school parking lot. He had disappeared as completely as snow in summer.
I should’ve been glad. Disappearing meant discreet. Disappearing meant he wasn’t my problem anymore.
But I just couldn’t accept it. We wolves did many things: change, hide, sing underneath a pale, lonely moon—but we never disappeared entirely. Humans disappeared. Humans made monsters out of us.
CHAPTER FORTY-ONE • GRACE
Sam and I were like horses on a merry-go-round. We followed the same track again and again—home, school, home, school, bookstore, home, school, home, etc. —but really, we were circling the big issue without ever getting any closer to it. The real heart of it: Winter. Cold. Loss.
We didn’t talk about the looming possibility, but I felt I could always sense the chill of the shadow it cast over us. I’d read a story once, in a really dire collection of Greek myths, about a man called Damocles who had a sword dangling over his throne, hung by a single hair. That was us—Sam’s humanity dangling by a tight thread.
On Monday, as per the merry-go-round, it was back to school as usual. Although it had only been two days since Shelby attacked me, even the bruising had disappeared. It seemed I had a little bit of the werewolf healing in me after all.
I was surprised to find Olivia absent. Last year, she’d never missed a single day.
I kept waiting and waiting for her to walk into one of the two classes we shared before lunch, but she didn’t. I kept looking at her empty desk in class. She could’ve been just sick, but a part of me that I was trying to ignore said it was more. In fourth period, I slid into my usual seat behind Rachel. “Rachel, hey, have you seen Olivia?”
Rachel turned to face me. “Huh?”
“Olivia. Doesn’t she have Science with you?”
She shrugged. “I haven’t heard from her since Friday. I tried calling her and her mom said she was sick. But what about you, buttercup? Where were you this weekend? You never call, you never write. ”
“I got bitten by a raccoon,” I said. “I had to get rabies shots and I took Sunday to sleep it off. To make sure I didn’t start foaming at the mouth and savaging people. ”
“Gross. Where did it bite you?”
I gestured toward my jeans. “Ankle. It doesn’t look like much. I’m worried about Olive, though. I haven’t been able to get her on the phone. ”
Rachel frowned and crossed her legs; she was, as ever, wearing stripes, this time, striped tights. She said, “Me, neither. Do you think she’s avoiding us? Is she still mad at you?”
I shook my head. “I don’t think so. ”
Rachel made a face. “We’re okay, though, right? I mean, we haven’t really been talking. About stuff, I mean. Stuff’s been happening. But we haven’t been, you know, talking. Or over at each other’s houses. Or whatever. ”
“We’re okay,” I said firmly.
She scratched her rainbow tights and bit her lip before saying, “Do you think we should, you know, go over to her house and see if we can catch her?”
I didn’t answer right away, and she didn’t push it. This was unfamiliar territory for both of us: We’d never had to really work to make our trio stick together. I didn’t know if tracking Olivia down was the right thing or not. It seemed kind of drastic, but how long had it been since we’d seen her or talked to her, really? I said, slowly, “How about we wait until the end of the week? If we haven’t heard from her by then, then we…?”
Rachel nodded, looking relieved. “Coolio. ”
She turned back around in her seat as Mr. Rink, at the front of the classroom, cleared his throat to get our attention. He said, “Okay, you guys will probably hear this several times today from the teachers, but don’t go around licking the water fountains or kissing perfect strangers, okay? Because the Health Department has reported a couple of cases of meningitis in this part of the state. And you get that from—anyone? Snot! Mucus! Kissing and licking! Don’t do it!”
There was appreciative hooting in the back of the classroom.
“Since you can’t do any of that, we’ll do something almost as good. Social studies! Open up your books to page one hundred and twelve. ”
I glanced at the doorway again for the thousandth time, hoping to see Olivia come through it, and opened my book.
When classes broke for lunch, I snuck into the hall and phoned Olivia’s house. It rang twelve times and went to voicemail. I didn’t leave a message; if she was cutting class for a reason other than sickness, I didn’t want her mother to get a message asking where she was during the school day. I was about to shut my locker when I noticed that the smallest pouch of my backpack was partially unzipped. A piece of paper jutted out with my name written on it. I unfolded it, my cheeks warming unexpectedly when I recognized Sam’s messy, ropy handwriting.
‘AGAIN AND AGAIN, HOWEVER, WE KNOW THE LANGUAGE OF LOVE, AND THE LITTLE CHURCHYARD WITH ITS LAMENTING NAMES AND THE STAGGERINGLY SECRET ABYSS IN WHICH OTHERS FIND THEIR END: AGAIN AND AGAIN THE TWO OF US GO OUT UNDER THE ANCIENT TREES, MAKE OUR BED AGAIN AND AGAIN BETWEEN THE FLOWERS, FACE TO FACE WITH THE SKIES. ’
THIS IS RILKE. I WISH I HAD WRITTEN IT FOR YOU.
I didn’t understand it entirely, but, thinking of Sam, I read it out loud, whispering the words to myself. In my mouth, the shapes of the words became beautiful. I felt a smile on my face, even with no one around to see it. My worries were still there, but for the moment, I floated above them, warm with the memory of Sam.
Sitting in the empty classroom and listening to the faraway sounds of noisy students in the cafeteria, I was reminded of feeling sick in class and being sent to the school nurse. The nurse’s office had that same muffled sense of distance, like a satellite to the loud planet that was the school. I had spent a lot of time there after the wolves attacked me, suffering from that flu that probably hadn’t really been a flu.
For a measureless amount of time, I stared at the open cell phone, thinking about getting bitten. About getting sick from it. About getting better. Why was I the only one who had?
“Have you changed your mind?”
My chin jerked up at the sound of the voice, and I found myself facing Isabel at the desk next to mine. To my surprise, she didn’t look quite as perfect as usual; she had bags under her eyes that were only partially hidden by makeup, and there was nothing to disguise her bloodshot eyes. “Excuse me?”
“About Jack. About knowing anything about him. ”
I looked at her, wary. I had heard once that lawyers never ask a question they didn’t already know the answer to, and Isabel’s voice was surprisingly sure.
She reached a long, unnaturally tanned arm into her bag and pulled out a sheaf of paper. She tossed it on top of my poetry book. “Your friend dropped these. ”
It took me a moment to realize that it was a stack of glossy photo paper and that these images in front of me must’ve been digital prints of Olivia’s. My stomach flip-flopped. The first few photos were of woods, nothing particularly remarkable. Then there were the wolves. The crazy brindle wolf, half-hidden by trees. And that black wolf—had Sam told me his name? I hesitated, my fingers on the edge of the page, ready to flip to the next one. Isabel had tensed visibly next to me, preparing for me to see what was on the next sheet. I knew whatever Olivia had caught on film was going to be difficult to explain.
Finally, impatient, Isabel leaned across the aisle and snatched the top few prints from the stack. “Just turn the page. ”
It was a photo of Jack. Jack as a wolf. A close-up of his eyes in a wolf’s face.
And the next one was of Jack himself. As a person. Naked.
The shot had a kind of raw, artistic power, almost posed-looking, the way Jack’s arms curled around his body, his head turned back over his shoulder toward the camera, showing scratches on the long, pale curve of his back.
I chewed my lip and looked at his face in both of them. No shot of him changing, but the similarity of the eyes was devastating. That close-up of the wolf’s face—that was the money shot. And then it hit me, what these photos really meant, the true importance. Not that Isabel knew. But that Olivia did. Olivia had taken these photos, so of course she must know. But for how long, and why hadn’t she told me?
“Say something. ”
Finally, I looked up from the photos to Isabel. “What do you want me to say?”