Kitty Raises Hell Page 9

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Some of the pack members had left their clothing in their cars and walked out naked, like ghosts, moving with purpose. Others had already Changed; they were larger than natural wolves, waist-high, padding forward, heads low to smell for scents, tails out like rudders. Becky, Mick, Tom, Kris. The first ones to Change tended to like being wolves, or weren’t able to control themselves as well. They came to our territory, with the moon shining on them, and the wolves took over. These animals trotted to me, their backs at my hips, heads and tails low, looking away. I reached out, hands spread, and let their bodies pass under my touch. My fingers left tracks in the thick velvet of their fur. Grays, browns, tans, blacks. Their eyes glinted yellow and amber. I pressed my lips in a smile.

The ones who were more comfortable in their wolf skins seemed to revel in these nights. The few of us who lingered by the cars, kept our clothing on, our human trappings, still resisted, even though most of us had lived this life for years.

All of them, wolf and human, showed deference to me. The bowed heads, slumped backs, tails flattened between their legs when they looked at me. They didn’t look at me, but around me, glancing away, not daring to meet my gaze, to offer challenge. All of this was body language that said, You lead, we’ll follow, we trust you. So much trust shown in a few gestures. Almost, it was comforting—I didn’t have to guess what the wolves were thinking about me. In the human world, someone could act like they adored you even as they planned to stab you in the back.

Eighteen of us made up the pack. We’d lost a few people over the last year to fighting, battles for dominance, all the crises that happen to a pack in transition. I didn’t want to lose anyone else. I was desperate not to. I wanted to justify the reverence the others showed me.

I wanted to justify what I’d gone through to become alpha of this pack.

It was my job to keep them all in line. To keep everyone safe—from enemies, from each other. From attention. We came here, to the wild, where no one would get in our way. Where we couldn’t hurt anyone. By touch and look, I replied: Thank you. I will lead, I will keep you safe. I was more confident on these nights than any other. I had to be. They had to believe me if they were going to feel safe.

A couple more of those still human among us hunched over, skin blurring, bones stretching, fur growing, muscles straining, voices groaning. Their transformations called up something in me. The itching turned to fire. Time to run.

The wolves of my pack paced into the woods, to the wilds of our territory.

Ben stood at my shoulder. He kissed my neck. “Ready?”

“No,” I said. “I’m never ready for this.”

“Yeah.” His voice was tight, and I knew what he was feeling. Wolf clawed at my insides, howling, It’s time, it’s time.

We walked farther into the woods, some of us human, some of us wolf, to the place where we made our den. A beautiful spot for a picnic, I always thought, shaded over with trees, a well-worn rock outcropping, lichen-covered granite forming a sheltered space. Plenty of space for a dozen and a half wolves to curl up and sleep. It smelled safe, despite my misgivings. We stripped.

A few steps away, Shaun had taken off his shirt. He looked through the trees, his gaze distant, vacant. His breaths were deep, fast. He grimaced and hunched his back.

A wolf howled, and around us human flesh melted, slipped, morphed into something else. Fur grew on smooth skin, bones stretching. Think of snowmelt becoming a rushing stream.

I quickly hugged Ben. All my muscles tense, I clung to him for a last lucid moment. “I love you,” I said.

He kissed me mouth to mouth. Then he fell, groaning, and I fell with him, and the wolves around us surged and whined, hungry, celebrating. I shut my eyes, clamped my jaw, let my mind slip away—

Her mind is torn. Senses in one direction, thoughts in another. Two-legged thoughts, from the other world. Worried, uneasy. But the fear has no shape, and she can’t focus on it. Her senses tell her that nothing is wrong. But the tension is there, shared among the whole pack. Tails twitch, ears flicker. Watchful. This is what the furless human world does to them. The pack’s children, weaker ones whom she must protect, are especially fearful, slinking close to the ground, whining.

She remembers how that felt, fearing all. She nips and nudges them, encourages them. This is their night. Must not fear.

Her mate is at her side, silver and burning. They bump shoulders, trot side by side, circling around, searching for scent. Hunting.

She stops. Ears up, tail straight. Hackles grow stiff like reeds. Whole body stiff. Because finally she smells it.

Too late, she smells it.

Sulfur, carbon, banked flames from hot coals. The two-legged self provides the names for what she smells. The names don’t matter; it’s wrong. She whines, yips—at her side, her mate bumps her, flank to flank. They look in all directions, but see nothing. Gather the pack, she thinks. Run. But where? The fear is confused, directionless. The scent doesn’t have a track. It’s everywhere. It simply appears.

A wolf yelps, high-pitched, pain-filled.

She and her mate together—he is at her shoulder—race, bounding in huge strides over brush and bracken until they find their threatened brother.

Not one of the weak ones. A strong male, the beta, able to take care of himself, yet something pins him to the ground, a weight on his back. He yelps and snaps, struggles to twist his mouth around to bite, to free his claws to slash at the thing. He only scratches at dirt. There is a scent of scorched fur.

Nothing attacks their kind. Unless they corner desperate prey, they have no enemies except for two-footed death—enemies from the other halves of their beings. This is something else. Maniacal, deadly, a shadow rising from the earth itself to swallow them.

She attacks. Her mate follows from the other side. Jaws open, throats rough with snarling, they can’t see what they attack, they only know something must be there.

But nothing is. They crash into each other and fall to the ground at their brother’s side, stunned.

Something sinks against her, pressing her. Human hands, but they’re too large, too strong, and too hot. In a panic she lurches, claws into earth, struggling to escape. Writhing with every muscle, she manages it, cries out, and then all her wolves are running. A burning smell fills her and drives her to panic.

They can run very, very fast when they need to.

She nips at flanks, pins her ears at the slow brothers and sisters, urging them on, faster. This is for their lives. The forest becomes a blur, the moonlight a tunnel through which they fly. Lungs pumping, hearts pounding, mouths open to take in air, tails straight out. Miles pass effortlessly. The pack together is a sea of motion.

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