Read Amarok Online

Authors: Angela J. Townsend

Amarok (16 page)

BOOK: Amarok
3.06Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Amarok’s mouth fell open.
NO!

37

A strange sound broke into Emma’s head; an ancient crackle, reminding her of crinkly old paper. She couldn’t quite make out the words, but she continued to shut it out, as well as the unsettling chanting. Whatever she was doing seemed to be working. The burning pain searing her skin had faded. She relaxed, letting herself drift farther and farther away.

Emma ignored the shaman’s angry call echoing in some distant place in her mind, filled with rage and hatred, demanding she come back. She drifted to a spot inside of herself that no one could penetrate. This was the place she loved to visit the most, a field filled with daisies behind Grandmother’s cottage. She sat with the loving old woman, who had died when she was ten. They laughed and picked flowers, tucking them into each other’s hair. Every once in a while, the shaman’s angry chant broke through, and she’d look at the vision of her grandmother and smile. Emma forgot all her worries in the woman’s soothing gaze.

An itching sensation tickled her nose and arms. Fur brushed against her skin and she sneezed. Somehow, her allergies had broken through into her dream world. Her grandmother smiled and handed her a cup of Earl Gray and a homemade gingersnap. Emma savored the cookie’s delicate flavor and sipped her tea, feeling at peace. The scent of animal dander intruded on the serene moment, growing stronger. Her eyes burned, but still she focused on her grandmother’s kind face and held her cup out for more tea. She lifted it to her lips, picking out a long strand of fur before taking a sip.

38

Amarok examined the lump of fur resting near the fire. He tiptoed around it, fearing a trap. He viewed it from every available angle before he could finally put a name to the nondescript ball of fluff—a coyote. Small for one of its kind, it was either very young or dwarfed somehow. The creature lifted its head, and then laid it down again, closing its eyes. Amarok’s breath hitched in his throat as he crept closer.
Could it be?
The coyote lifted its head again and let out a soft whine. The animal blinked, showing a flash of blue—an extraordinarily rare eye color for a coyote. But they happened to be the same color as Emma’s, and its reddish fur matched the shade of her hair. If he touched it, would it be the same silky texture as hers? His throat went dry. He took another step closer, not wanting to believe. The thing fixed pleading eyes on him and whimpered.

Amarok fell to his knees. “Emma, is that you?”

The creature whined again.

“Don’t try to move, it’s okay. We’ll find your totem. I’ll fix this, I promise!”

Amarok reached to stroke the coyote, which whined again, this time more pleading, insistent. Amarok choked back tears, leaning closer. The creature suddenly sprang to its feet, growling. Amarok took a step back, then another, as the creature lowered its head. Its eyes filled with rage. Amarok bolted for the door, his unsteady legs slowing him down. He could hear the creature closing in behind him, and then he could hear nothing as the creature sprang into the air.

As he reached the door, the coyote hit him, knocking him flat and driving the air from his lungs, snapping at the back of his neck, its white tongue slithering out like some albino snake as it bit him, hard, on the shoulder. Blood sprayed, and Amarok could feel it coursing down his arm. The creature’s muzzle pulled back from its dagger-like teeth as it leaped again. Amarok caught it in both arms, driving him backward. He slammed it to the ground, smashing its small head into the hard-packed dirt. Rewarded with a sickening crunch, Amarok watched as it started to dissolve in his hands, twisting and squirming until it sank into the ground in a heap of hide and bones. Amarok’s heart raced. He should have known the coyote was a trap. As a small child, he’d listened while his mother told him tales of tricky coyotes by campfire light, drawing symbols in the ashes, warning him to beware.

Amarok bolted from the hut, scanning the area as he ran. He had to find her.
But where?
His eyes locked on the gaping maw of the cavern in the mountain.

39

Emma smiled at her grandmother through watering eyes. The tickle started far back in her nose, and she slapped a hand to her mouth just in time to catch the explosive sneeze. The old woman handed her a pink hankie, and Emma dabbed at her tearing eyes. Her grandmother smiled, looking down at Emma’s lap. Emma realized there was a cat curled up there. She grinned and picked it up, cradling the feline in her arms, despite the price she knew she’d pay. It was Mittens, the long-haired Persian, a treasured companion from her childhood. The cat had always made her sneeze, but she’d loved it and would brave the unpleasant allergic reaction for the sake of an old friend.

Mittens blinked up at her with liquid pools of blue. Emma stroked the cat’s fur until it purred, scratching the spots on the cheeks right behind the whiskers and the one between the ears. The animal leaned into her touch, claws kneading painfully into her leg. The purr vibrated loudly, tickling her fingers. She took her furry companion and lay down in the soft field, staring up at the cotton-like clouds. They moved across the sky rapidly, and darker, more threatening ones followed close behind.

A bitter wind seemed at odds with the beautiful day, blowing the dainty lace handkerchief from her hand. Grandma frowned and peered at the sky. She smoothed her knotted hands across her plaid apron and started to pack up their things, tucking them into a basket. Emma sat up, shivering. The sky continued to darken with the gathering storm. Thick clouds muted the bright sunshine, and the faint rumblings of thunder could be heard far in the distance.

Suddenly the sound turned into a tearing shriek, and lightning flashed overhead, illuminating the nearly-black horizon. The skies opened up and heavy droplets of rain splattered their heads. She grabbed for Mittens, but the cat bolted, its claws raking her skin as it leapt from her arms.

“Ouch!” Emma yelled. She tried to pick the cat up again, but it arched its back and hissed. Another flash—followed immediately by a deafening gong of thunder—startled the creature and it ran, disappearing into the tall grass. Emma glanced at her grandmother. The picnic basket still sat on the blanket, but the kindly old lady was gone.

Emma jumped to her feet, whirling around. The field remained—and the tree she’d climbed as a girl—but the house that’d held so many of her happy memories was gone. The field extended into the distance until it met the trees, but not even an impression in the grass showed where, only moments before, an entire house had stood.

Her gaze strayed to the woolen blanket and the one empty teacup remaining. Something about it chilled her and she shivered, spinning again. Fear raked her insides. Something was wrong—very wrong. The scratch on her arm throbbed. As she examined it, she noticed the mist licking at her feet. The ice fog crept in, swallowing everything in its path. It reached her ankles now, climbing higher and higher up her body. The cold burned like fire on her wound and she wrapped her arms around herself.

In the distance, thunder rumbled again, except this time Emma realized it wasn’t thunder at all, but the pounding of giant feet. She strained to see into the fog, her throat tight. Exploding through the mist charged a herd of mammoths, their tusks dripping blood, their ebony eyes dead. Emma tried to bolt but the fog slithered around her shoulders, holding her in an iron grip. The mammoths raised their trunks, trumpeting in rage as they drew near. Emma’s ears rang as she braced for the terrible collision, but the beasts suddenly swirled into a freezing wall of haze, washing over her, sealing her in a sheet of ice, consuming her.

40

Amarok watched the owl swoop down from the treetops, settling in a thick patch of snow at the foot of the mountain. It beat its wings and gave a soft hoot. Amarok rushed to the bird, spotting Emma’s backpack. The owl pulled at the zipper with its black beak.

A chill of dread sank into Amarok’s chest like an arrow. He dropped to his knees, unzipped the pack, and spotted a dozen totems jumbled at the bottom. Amarok searched until he found one with an owl and draped it around his uncle’s neck. He jumped back as the bird sprang into the air, its big wings slashing toward the cabin, where it swung a hard left and dove inside through one of the broken windows. Amarok waited and watched, holding his breath with anticipation. He’d need Jock’s help in dealing with the shaman. There had to be a way to destroy him, but how could he kill someone or something that had survived since the ice age—a creature filled with so much rage and hate it had escaped death for centuries?

Amarok watched the cabin desperately, waiting for what seemed an eternity before the back door swung open, banging in the wind. Amarok’s eyes went wide as his breath hitched in his throat. Was it all just a crazy dream? In one swift movement, out stepped the man he’d known so well. His uncle wore a red-checkered woolen shirt, wool pants and mukluks. He lumbered closer, trying to hurry but unsteady on his feet. Amarok charged forward, almost knocking him over, hugging his uncle hard. The big man patted him on the back, and then abruptly pushed him away.

He pinned Amarok with hard eyes. “We don’t have much time. He’s got the girl. I took the totems from her as Milak dragged her into his lair. I knew the only thing I could do to help her was to try to save you, so you’d be able to come back and rescue her. Now come on, we have to hurry.”

They started up the narrow steps leading to the cave and Amarok paused. “After all this time, how did you get free?”

Jock glanced back at him. “I found my totem—the one that freed me—long ago,” he said. “But I needed the second one to return to human form. I flew free for decades, but was never crafty enough to find its mate. His magic was much too strong, and I didn’t dare come too close for fear he’d ensnare me again, force me to scout for new victims.”

They climbed to the ledge, and Jock helped him up. The big man eyed the cave entrance and frowned. “Over time, I hid clothes and supplies I found in your folks’ cabin, knowing I would need them someday, never giving up hope. I stuffed them into the burners of your mother’s cook-stove, hoping to keep them safe from rodents, and I stored other things as well. I’d almost given up hope, until I watched Suka attack Weasel Tail.”

BOOK: Amarok
3.06Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

A New Home (Chasing Destiny) by Denver, Abigail
Defiant Heart by Steere, Marty
Maceration by Brian Briscoe
Cindy's Doctor Charming by Teresa Southwick
Mama Rides Shotgun by Deborah Sharp
The Known World by Edward P. Jones