Shiver, page 39part #1 of The Wolves of Mercy Falls Series
“Get away from me. ” Jack took a step toward me, then back, before stumbling to one knee. The knife fell onto the tile; I winced before it landed, but its landing was surprisingly muffled. Jack made almost no sound at all when he followed the knife to the floor. His fingers were claws, curling and uncurling on the black-and-white squares. He was saying something, but it was unintelligible. Lyrics formed in my head. They were supposed to be for him, but they were really about me. World of words lost on the living / I take my place with the walking dead / Robbed of my voice I’m always giving / thousands of words to this nameless dread.
I crouched next to him, pushing the knife away from his body so that he wouldn’t hurt himself on it. There was no point asking him anything now. I sighed and listened to him groan, wail, scream. We were equals now, me and Jack. For all his privilege and nice hair and confident shoulders, he was no better than me.
“You should be happy,” I told the panting wolf. “You didn’t throw up this time. ”
Jack regarded me for a long moment with unblinking hazel eyes before leaping up and bolting for the door.
I wanted to just leave, but I didn’t have any choice. Any possibility of leaving him behind had disappeared as soon as he’d said Grace’s name.
I jumped after him. We scrambled through the house, his nails slipping on the hardwood floor and my shoes squeaking behind him. I pelted into the hall of grinning animals close behind him; the stench of their dead skins filled my nostrils. Jack had two advantages: He knew the house and he was a wolf. I was betting on him using the well-known surroundings to hide instead of relying on his unfamiliar animal strength.
I bet wrong.
CHAPTER FORTY-EIGHT • GRACE
Sam had never been late before. He had always been waiting in the Bronco by the time I got out of class, so I’d never had to wonder where he might be or what to do while I waited.
But today I waited.
Today I waited until the students loaded onto the buses. I waited until the lingering students headed out to their cars and disappeared in ones and twos. I waited until the teachers emerged from the school and climbed into their cars. I thought about taking my homework out. I thought about the sun creeping down toward the tree line and I wondered how cold it was in the shade.
“Your ride late, Grace?” Mr. Rink asked kindly, on his way out. He had changed shirts since class and smelled vaguely like cologne.
I must’ve looked lost, sitting on the brick edge of the little mulched area in front of the school, hugging my backpack in my lap. “A little. ”
“Do you need me to call someone?”
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the Bronco pull into the lot, and I allowed myself a long breath. I smiled at Mr. Rink. “Nope. They just showed up. ”
“Good thing, too,” he said. “It’s supposed to get really cold later. Snow!”
“Yippee,” I said sourly, and he laughed and waved as he walked out to his car. I yanked my backpack onto my shoulder and hurried out to the Bronco. Pulling open the passenger-side door, I jumped in.
It was only a second after I’d shut the door that I realized that the smell was all wrong. I lifted my eyes to the driver and crossed my arms over my chest, trembling.
“You mean the guy who’s supposed to be sitting here,” Jack said.
Even though I’d seen his eyes peering out of a wolf’s body, even though I’d heard Isabel say she’d seen him, even though we’d known he was alive for weeks, I wasn’t prepared for seeing Jack in the flesh. His curly black hair, longer than when I’d last seen him in the halls, his darting hazel eyes, his hands clinging to the steering wheel. Real. Alive. My heart kicked in my chest.
Jack’s eyes were on the road as he tore out of the parking lot. I imagined he thought I wouldn’t try to get away if the Bronco was moving, but he didn’t have to worry. I was fixed in place by the unknown: Where was Sam?
“Yes, I mean the guy who’s supposed to be sitting there. ” My voice came out as a snarl. “Where is he?”
Jack glanced over at me; he was nervy, shaking. What was the word Sam had used to describe new wolves? Unstable? “I’m not trying to be the bad guy here, Grace. But I need answers, and soon, or I’m going to get bad really fast. ”
“You’re driving like an idiot. If you don’t want to get pulled over by the cops, you’d better slow down. Where are we going?”
“I don’t know. You tell me. I want to know how to stop this and I want to know now because it’s getting worse. ”
I didn’t know whether he meant it was getting worse as the weather got colder, or worse right this second. “I’m not telling you anything until you take me to wherever Sam is. ” Jack didn’t answer. I said, “I’m not playing around. Where is he?”
Jack jerked his head toward me. “I don’t think you get it. I’m the one driving and I’m the one who knows where he is and I’m the one who can rip your head off if I change, so it seems to me you’re the one who ought to start pissing herself and telling me what I want to know. ”
His hands were clamped on the steering wheel, bracing arms that were shuddering. God, he was going to change soon. I had to think of something to get him off the road.
“What do you want to know?”
“How to stop it. I know you know the cure. I know you were bitten. ”
“Jack, I don’t know how to stop it. I can’t cure you. ”
“Yeah, I thought you’d say that. That’s why I bit your stupid friend. Because if you won’t fight to cure me, I know you’ll do it for her. I just had to make sure she was really going to change. ”
The staggering sense of it stole my breath; I could barely get my voice out. “You bit Olivia?”
“Are you an idiot? I just said that. So now you’d better start talking because I’m going to ahh. ” Jack’s neck jerked, wrenching awkwardly. My wolf senses screamed danger fear terror anger at me, emotions rolling off him in waves.
I reached out and spun the heating dial up. I didn’t know how much of a difference it would make, but it couldn’t hurt.
“It’s the cold. The cold changes you to a wolf and the heat stops it. ” I was talking quickly, trying to keep him from getting a word in, trying to keep him from getting any angrier. “It’s worse when you first get bitten. You change back and forth all the time, but it gets more stable. You get to be human for longer—you’ll get the whole summer—” Jack’s arms spasmed again, and the car fishtailed in the gravel of the shoulder before tracking back onto the road. “You can’t be driving right now! Please. I’m not going to run away or whatever—I want to help you, really I do. But you’ve got to take me to Sam. ”
“Shut up. ” Jack’s voice was part growl. “That bitch said she wanted to help me, too. I’m done with that. She told me you were bitten and that you didn’t change. I followed you. It was cold. You didn’t change. So what is it? Olivia said she didn’t know. ”
My skin was burning from the blasting heater and the force of his emotion. Every time he said Olivia it was like a punch in the gut. “She doesn’t know. I was bitten, she was right. But I never changed, not even once. I don’t have a cure. I just didn’t change. I don’t know why, nobody knows why. Please—”
“Stop lying to me. ” It was hard to understand him now. “I want the truth now or you’re going to get hurt. ”
I closed my eyes. I felt like I had lost my balance and the whole world was spinning away from me. There had to be something I could say to him that would make this better. I opened my eyes. “Fine. Okay. There’s a cure. But there’s not enough of it for everyone, so nobody wanted to tell you about it. ” I winced as he smacked the steering wheel with dark-nailed fingers. My mind’s eye whirled away from the alien reality to an image of the nurse sliding the syringe with the rabies shot into Sam’s skin. “It’s a vaccination, sort of, it goes right in your veins
“This hurts,” snarled Jack.
“Fine. If I take you to where it is, will you tell me where Sam is?”
“Whatever! Tell me where to go. So help me God, if you’re lying, I’ll kill you. ”
I gave him directions to Beck’s and prayed he’d make it that far. I retrieved my phone from my backpack.
The Bronco swerved as Jack’s attention focused on me. “What are you doing?”
“I’m calling Beck. He’s the guy with the cure. I have to tell him not to give the last of it away before we get there. Is that all right?”
“You seriously had better not be lying to me…”
“Look. This is the number I’m dialing. Not the police. ” Beck’s number came back to me; I was better at numbers than words. It began to ring. Pick up. Pick up. Let this be the right decision.
I recognized the voice. “Hi. Beck, this is Grace. ”
“Grace? Sorry, your voice sounds familiar, but I—”
I talked over the top of him. “Do you still have some of the stuff? The cure? Please tell me you didn’t use the last of it. ”
Beck was silent.
I pretended like he’d answered. “Thank goodness. Look. Jack Culpeper has me in the car. He has Sam somewhere and he won’t tell me where he is unless he gets some of the cure. We’re, like, ten minutes away. ”
Beck said, very softly, “Damn. ”
For some reason, that made my chest shake; it took me a moment to realize it was a swallowed sob. “Yes. So will you be there?”
“Yes. Of course. Grace—you still there? Can he hear me?”
“Be confident, okay? Try not to be afraid. Don’t look him in the eyes, but be assertive. We’ll be waiting at the house. Get him inside. I can’t come out or I’ll change and then we’re all screwed. ”
“What’s he saying?” Jack demanded.
“He’s telling me what door you should come in when you get there. To get you in the fastest, so you won’t change. He can’t use the cure on you if you’re a wolf. ”
“Good girl,” Beck said.
For some reason, Beck’s unexpected kindness was hard to bear—it made tears prick my eyes where Jack’s threats hadn’t.
“We’ll be there soon. ” I snapped the phone shut and looked at Jack. Not right at his eyes, but at the side of his head. “Pull straight into the driveway and they’ll have the front door unlocked. ”
“How do I know I can trust you?”
I shrugged. “It’s like you said. You know where Sam is. Nothing’s going to happen to you, because we have to know where he is. ”
CHAPTER FORTY-NINE • SAM
Cold clung to my skin. Earthy darkness pressed against my eyes, so heavy that I blinked to clear it from my irises. When I did, I saw a dull white rectangle in front of me—the crack of a door. Without any other shapes to gauge by, I couldn’t tell if it was desperately close or horribly far away. Smells crowded around me, dusty, organic, chemical. My breathing was loud in my ears, so wherever I was had to be small. A tool shed? A crawl space?