Shiver, page 6part #1 of The Wolves of Mercy Falls Series
I leaned in close, although the hall was so loud that even I had to struggle to hear our conversation. “Olive, I know what I saw. They were Jack’s eyes. It was his voice. ” Of course, her doubt made me doubt, but I wasn’t about to admit that. “I think the wolves turned him into one of them. Wait—what do you mean? About me wanting to believe it?”
Olivia gave me a long look before setting off toward our homeroom. “Grace, seriously. Don’t think I don’t know what this is about. ”
“What is this about?”
She answered with another question. “Are they all were-wolves then?”
“What? The whole pack? I don’t know. I didn’t think about that. ” It hadn’t occurred to me. It should have, but it hadn’t. It was impossible. That those long absences were because my wolf vanished into human form? The idea was immediately unbearable, only because I wanted it to be true so badly that it hurt.
“Yeah, sure you didn’t. Don’t you think this obsession is getting kind of creepy, Grace?”
My reply sounded more defensive than I meant it to. “I’m not obsessed. ”
Students shot annoyed looks at us as Olivia stopped in the hall and put a finger on her chin. “Hmm, it’s all you think about, all you talk about, and all you want us to talk about. What in the world would we call something like that? Oh, yeah! An obsession!”
“I’m just interested,” I snapped. “And I thought you were, too. ”
“I am interested in them. Just not like all-consuming, involving, whatever, interested. I don’t fantasize about being one. ” Her eyes were narrowed behind her reading glasses. “We’re not thirteen anymore, but you haven’t seemed to figure that out yet. ”
I didn’t say anything. All I could think was that she was being tremendously unfair, but I didn’t feel like telling her that. I didn’t want to say anything to her. I wanted to walk away and leave her standing there in the hallway. But I didn’t. Instead, I kept my voice super flat and even. “Sorry to have bored you for so long. Must’ve killed you to look entertained. ”
Olivia grimaced. “Seriously, Grace. I’m not trying to be a jerk. But you’re being impossible. ”
“No, you’re just telling me that I’m creepy obsessed with something that’s important to me. That’s very”—the word I wanted took too long to surface in my head and ruined the effect—“philanthropic of you. Thanks for the help. ”
“Oh, grow up,” snapped Olivia, and pushed around me.
The hallway seemed too quiet after she’d gone, and my cheeks felt hot. Instead of heading home, I trailed back into my empty homeroom, flopped into a chair, and put my head in my hands. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d fought with Olivia. I’d looked at every photograph she’d ever taken. I’d listened to countless rants about her family and the pressure to perform. She owed it to me to at least hear me out.
My thoughts were cut short by the sound of cork heels squelching into the room. The scent of expensive perfume hit me a second before I lifted my eyes to Isabel Culpeper standing over my desk.
“I heard that you guys were talking about the wolves yesterday with that cop. ” Isabel’s voice was pleasant, but the expression in her eyes belied her tone. The sympathy conjured up by her presence vanished at her words. “I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt and assuming you’re innocently misinformed and not out-and-out retarded. I heard you’re telling people the wolves aren’t a problem. You must not have heard the newsflash: Those animals killed my brother. ”
“I’m sorry about Jack,” I said, automatically wanting to jump to my wolf’s defense. For a second, I thought about Jack’s eyes and what a revelation like that might mean to Isabel, but I discounted the idea almost immediately. If Olivia thought I was crazy for believing in werewolves, Isabel would probably be on the phone to the local mental institution before I could even finish a sentence.
“Shut. Up,” Isabel interrupted my thoughts. “I know you’re about to tell me the wolves aren’t dangerous. Well, obviously they are. And obviously, someone’s going to have to do something about that. ”
My mind flicked to the conversation in the classroom: Tom Culpeper and his stuffed animals. I imagined my wolf, stuffed and glassy-eyed. “You don’t know that the wolves did it. He could’ve been—” I stopped. I knew the wolves had done it. “Look, something went really wrong. But it could’ve been just one wolf. The odds are that the rest of the pack had nothing to do with—”
“How beautiful objectivity is,” Isabel snapped. She just looked at me for a long moment. Long enough for me to wonder what it was she was thinking. And then she said, “Seriously. Just get the last of your Greenpeace wolf-love done soon, because they won’t be around much longer, whether you like it or not. ”
My voice was tight. “Why are you telling me this?”
“I’m sick of you telling people they’re harmless. They killed him. But you know what? It’s over now. Today. ” Isabel tapped my desk. “Ta. ”
I grabbed her wrist before she could go; I had a handful of fat bracelets. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
Isabel stared at my hand on her wrist but didn’t pull it away. She’d wanted me to ask. “What happened to Jack is never happening again. They’re killing the wolves. Today. Now. ”
She slipped out of my now-slack grip and glided through the door.
For a single moment, I sat at the desk, my cheeks burning, pulling her words apart and putting them back together again.
And then I jumped from my chair, my notes fluttering to the floor like listless birds. I left them where they fell and ran for my car.
I was breathless by the time I slid behind the wheel of my car, Isabel’s words playing over and over again in my head. I’d never thought of the wolves as vulnerable, but once I started imagining what a small-town attorney and big-time egomaniac like Tom Culpeper was capable of—fueled by pent-up anger and grief, helped along by wealth and influence—they suddenly seemed terribly fragile.
I shoved my key in the ignition, feeling the car rattle reluctantly to life as I did. My eyes were on the yellow line of school buses waiting at the curb and the knots of loud students still milling on the sidewalk, but my brain was picturing the chalkwhite lines of the birches behind my house. Was a hunting party going after the wolves? Hunting them now?
I had to get home.
My car stalled, my foot uncertain on the dodgy clutch.
“God,” I said, glancing around to see how many people had seen my car gasp to a halt. It wasn’t as if it were difficult to stall my car these days, now that the heat sensor was crapping out, but usually I could finesse the clutch and get on the road without too much humiliation. I bit my lip, pulled myself together, and managed to restart.
There were two ways to get home from the school. One was shorter but involved stoplights and stop signs—impossible today, when I was too distracted to baby my car. I didn’t have time to sit by the side of the road. The other route was slightly longer, but with only two stop signs. Plus, it ran along the edge of Boundary Wood, where the wolves lived.
As I drove, pushing my car as hard as I dared, my stomach twisted, sick with nerves. The engine gave an unhealthy shudder. I checked the dials; the engine was starting to overheat. Stupid car. If only my father had taken me to the dealership like he kept promising he would.
As the sky began to burn brilliantly red on the horizon, turning the thin clouds to streaks of blood above the trees, my heart thumped in my ears, and my skin felt tingly, electric. Everything inside me screamed that something was wrong. I didn’t know what bothered me most—the nerves that shook my hands or the urge to curl my lips and fight.
Up ahead, I spotted a line of pickup trucks parked by the side of the road. Their four-ways blinked in the failing light, sporadically illuminating the woods next to the road. A figure leaned over the truck at the back of the line, holding something I couldn’t quite make out at this distance. My stomach turned over again, an
I turned the key, but between my jittery hands and the redlining heat sensor, the engine just shuddered under the hood without turning over. I wished I’d just gone to the dealership myself. I had Dad’s checkbook.
Growling under my breath, I braked and let the car drift to a stop behind the pickup trucks. I called Mom’s studio on my cell, but there was no answer—she must have been at her gallery opening already. I wasn’t really worried about getting home; it was close enough to walk. What I was worried about was those trucks. Because they meant that Isabel had been telling the truth.
As I climbed out onto the shoulder of the road, I recognized the guy standing next to the pickup ahead. It was Officer Koenig, out of uniform, drumming his fingers on the hood. When I got closer, my stomach still churning, he looked up and his fingers stilled. He was wearing a bright orange cap and held a shotgun in the crook of his arm.
“Car problems?” he asked.
I turned abruptly at the sound of a car door slamming behind me. Another truck had pulled up, and two orangecapped hunters were making their way down the side of the road. I looked past them, to where they were heading, and my breath caught in my throat. Dozens of hunters were knotted on the shoulder, all carrying rifles, visibly restless, voices muffled. Squinting into the dim trees beyond a shallow ditch, I could see more orange caps dotting the woods, infesting them.
The hunt had already begun.
I turned back to Koenig and pointed at the gun he held. “Is that for the wolves?”
Koenig looked at it as if he’d somehow forgotten it was there. “It’s—”
There was a loud crack from the woods behind him; both of us jerked at the sound. Cheers rose from the group down the road.
“What was that?” I demanded. But I knew what it was. It was a gunshot. In Boundary Wood. My voice was steady, which surprised me. “They’re hunting the wolves, aren’t they?”
“With all due respect, miss,” Koenig said, “I think you should wait in your car. I can give you a ride home, but you’ll have to wait a little bit. ”
There were shouts in the woods, distant, and another popping sound, farther away. God. The wolves. My wolf. I grabbed Koenig’s arm. “You have to tell them to stop! They can’t shoot back there!”
Koenig stepped back, pulling his arm from my grip. “Miss—”
There was another distant pop, small and insignificant sounding. In my head, I saw a perfect image of a wolf rolling, rolling, a gaping hole in its side, eyes dead. I didn’t think. The words just came out. “Your phone. You have to call them and tell them to stop. I have a friend in there! She was going to take photos this afternoon. In the woods. Please, you have to call them!”
“What?” Koenig froze. “There’s someone in there? Are you sure?”