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Authors: Angela J. Townsend

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BOOK: Amarok
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Tok’s mother buried her head in her husband’s chest and cried, great sobs wracking her soul, until Tok lifted her firmly and took her over to the bed. She was too exhausted to struggle and lay weak and pale on the coverlet of furs. Tok wrapped his father gently in the blanket, and then took a large needle and thread and sewed it closed. He would bury the body in the morning
.

Tok sat in his father’s chair until sleep claimed him, still cradling the rifle. He woke to the sound of his mother vomiting, and a cold, clammy hand took his heart. The rest of the day he dug through the permafrost, making a hole deep enough to bury his father, then piled on enough rocks and stones to stop the animals from feasting on his remains
.

When he finished, he trudged into the cabin to find his mother shivering at the fire, face pale and blank. Too tired to even cry, Tok turned around and went back outside. He began to dig a second hole alongside the first
.

The next morning he stood, silently whispering a brief prayer over both graves. Tok’s heart nearly burst as he stabbed wooden crosses into the earth as grave markers. Then a wave of cramps hit his stomach, and the sickness overtook him as well
.

Tok barely clung to life, with his mind fevered and his throat so tight he could hardly breathe. He lay for a week in his bunk, only able to swallow a few sips of water. Then the old native arrived
.

Too weak to save himself, he lay helpless while his body painfully morphed from man to beast. Harder times came later, when he struggled to adjust to being a wolf, unable to accept what he had become. Unable to cry or speak, only to whine and howl like a depraved beast
.

Tok had looked at the old man with questioning eyes. Why? Why had he done this to him? The native glared as if reading Tok’s mind, and then told him the story of his people, mammoth hunters who’d lived during the ice age. He was the great Milak, a shaman of the Kuno tribe. They’d experienced a winter like no other, and provisions ran low. The earth turned to endless sheets of ice, and storms raked over the land like the claws of a saber-tooth tiger
.

With the coming of the howling winds and endless snow, his hunting songs failed to bring the gift of the mammoth to the hunters of the tribe. Many moons passed, and still no mammoths came. The small band feared the great spirits no longer heard Milak’s songs, so they abandoned him. Angry and resentful, Milak turned to the dark spirits of the land to give him revenge on his tribe and all who entered this valley
.

Milak found refuge in a cave, and he sat near the lip overlooking the deep valley, chanting to the crooked spirits to make his old body immortal. In return, he promised to do their bidding for all time. He cursed the valley so his small band of people could never return, and to doom all others who dared to enter. The dark spirits taught him to change the forms of living things, to enslave them in new bodies and draw magical strength from the transformation. The old shaman slept for centuries, impervious to the cold or to hunger, and woke when the frozen tundra had thawed and daylight spilled across the land. He’d paused then, staring at Tok, a sinister grin of satisfaction spreading across his leathery face
.

Tok shut his eyes, forcing out the painful memory.

He wondered how many others were like him, trapped in the bodies of animals. He only knew of one other—one whom the darkness had nearly consumed—and for two days he’d smelled Suka’s terrifying scent. The creature, once a man, stood on the edge of madness, and Tok couldn’t blame him. To know there was no hope of release was to invite despair. And when the form of the prison comes with tooth and claw then despair and madness can turn to hate, a hatred so strong it yearns to savage the world in an avalanche of blood and death.

For the girl’s sake, Tok prayed they wouldn’t cross Suka’s path.

7

“Take off that parka.”

Emma flayed him with her eyes. “No way!”

He stepped toward her, teeth clenched. “I said, take it off!”

Emma hesitated. He wrapped his grimy fingers around an ivory knife handle on his belt. A muscle near his eye twitched, and he drew out a long, thin blade. Emma glared at the weapon. She’d never backed down from anyone, not even Stan when he’d threatened to slice her with a broken wine bottle or the time he’d gotten drunk and aimed a forty-five at her eye. But this man was different; there was something evil about him, inhuman. He enjoyed hurting rather than killing, like a cat toying with an injured bird.

“Fine!” She tore off the coat, flung it at his feet, and planted her hands on her hips.

He pinned her with his eyes, hatred burning in his stare. He sheathed the knife and snatched the jacket.

Emma shivered in the bitter cold. “So is this your brilliant plan, genius? To freeze me to death?”

He raised his hand to slap her, but his eyes darted to her arms. A wicked smile curled the corners of his thin lips. “Where’d you get all those scars?”

She turned away, wrapping her arms around herself. Unexpected tears filled Emma’s eyes, and that made her even madder. She didn’t want to cry, and she didn’t want to discuss her scars with this creep.

“What’s the matter? You gonna cry?” He threw his head back and laughed. “Little spoiled brat wants her mommy? Whaaaaaaaaa!”

“Shut up!”

He muttered under his breath and stalked off, stuffing the coat into his backpack.

Emma glared at him, wishing she could make him pay—grab the knife from his belt and sink it deep into his chest, laughing in his ugly face as the blood drained from his worthless, stinking body. She pressed the heels of her hands against her eyes. She wouldn’t let him get to her. That’s what he wanted. She could see it in his eyes. He thrived on pain and misery.

Rage burned inside her like lit gasoline. She sucked in a deep breath, slowing her heartbeat and embracing the anger. Anger was her friend. Anger was a good thing, because when she was mad she couldn’t disconnect. She couldn’t drift away. And drifting away was the last thing she needed right now.

Footsteps padded beside her and something wet and warm slithered across her skin. Her eyelids flew open. She jerked her arm away and peered into the soft, yellow eyes of the wolf. He had licked her, felt sorry for her. With that one act of sheer kindness she started to cry.

“Get back!” the man yelled. He kicked at the wolf and missed.

“No, don’t! He didn’t do anything.”

The wolf’s eyes turned cold. He growled, flattening his ears to his head and bristling his fur. The man stomped forward, trying for another kick. The creature lowered its muzzle, trotted to the top of a frost heave, and glanced back at Emma before disappearing into a dip in the landscape.

An aura of hopelessness strangled her soul, like a dark mist that wouldn’t rise. She hated to see the wolf go—dejected, miserable, alone—just like her. Her life was like a freight train that had jumped the tracks. How had everything gone so terribly wrong? Gotten so out of control? All she could do was fight, because that’s all she had left. She’d always been strong, always been a rebel, but now the sorrow she carried weighed so heavily on her shoulders it threatened to extinguish the basic urge to survive.

The man grabbed his backpack, rummaged around, and jerked out a dirty fur coat. He scowled, tossing it at Emma’s feet. Freezing, she picked it up, examined it, and wrinkled her nose. It reeked of wood smoke, but all she really cared about at that moment was covering her arms. She couldn’t bear to look at her own scars or the bruises from Stan, each one a raw reminder of how she’d failed. Her anger and sorrow united, and then she went numb. Why did she have to hash over all of this now? And why did painful memories have to haunt her when she didn’t want to face them?

None of it made any sense because, in the beginning, she’d done all the right things. She’d gone to the school counselor, but he’d betrayed her, telling her mother she’d been cutting herself. Emma had trusted him not to tell. She’d gone to him in a fury, demanding to know why he’d told on her. All he could do was stand there in his stupid polyester suit and show her the sections in the student handbook that stated the reasons why. He was worried about her. It was his duty. He was obligated by law to tell. Blah. Blah. Blah. She understood the reasons, but it left her with no one to confide in. She’d cried herself to sleep, abandoned and miserable. Who could she trust now? No one. So she’d learned to keep her mouth shut, to just smile and say everything was fine.

Her mother had confronted her, yelling and threatening to send her to an institution if she cut herself again. Emma couldn’t bear the thought of it. She’d be so far behind in school, and her friends would think she was crazy. She’d been in a hospital before, when her drinking had gotten out of control. She’d hated it there. It was like being in a prison. Why had she done this to herself? Why did she do things that ruined her life? Why didn’t she just stop?

Emma wished she had all the answers, but what else could she have done? Cutting had been her only form of relief from all the pain for the past two years, since her mother had met that asshole, Stan. She’d felt caged and closed in, and she’d had to release it. If she hadn’t cut herself, how could she have taken the pain?

Emma knew she’d hurt her mother. She knew she’d disappointed her. And that brought more pain… and that made her want to reach for the razor again. Her mother had wanted them to be one big happy family, for life to be perfect. But Emma wasn’t happy, and her life was far from perfect. Why couldn’t her mother have just held her and told her everything would be all right instead of yelling at her, accusing her of destroying her life with Stan? Why couldn’t she understand that this was the only way Emma knew to cope with all the pain? Losing her friends, traveling hundreds of miles into the middle of nowhere, and rejection from a father she’d never known.

Now her mother was dead. There’d be no making up for what had happened that night. No apologies, no relief from the guilt.

Emma watched as the man zipped up the pack and secured it on his back. He whistled, and the wolf trotted over the rise. The animal drew near, all the while keeping his eyes on Emma. He paused a few feet away, stiff-legged and tall, ears erect and forward. She wanted desperately to stroke his head, to return the kindness he had shown her—to prove that not all humans were bad. Maybe the wolf would turn on his abusive master and rip his throat out. Emma could only hope.

The man knelt beside the wolf, reaching for the pack on its back. The animal rolled his ears tightly against his head, snarling and gnashing at the man’s face. He snatched the wolf by the hide of his neck and punched the animal in the head. The wolf sank his teeth into the man’s forearm. The man struck the creature again and again, until the wolf went limp and started to whimper. He hurled the wolf to the ground, lifting a boot to crush his skull.

“No, don’t!”

The man stopped, whirling around. He flashed a smug grin. “What’s the matter? You feel sorry for this pile of fur?”

“Just leave him alone.”

“Why? Bet he wouldn’t feel a thing for you, if I cut out that bleeding heart of yours.”

“I don’t care. He’s only doing what comes naturally. When you abuse him, how do you expect him to react?”

He snorted and knelt beside the wolf, opened the knapsack and pulled out a pair of snow boots. “Put ‘em on,” he ordered. “They’ll keep your feet warm. Don’t want to pack ya if your damn toes freeze.”

He hurled them at her, but she ducked and they flopped behind her. An arctic wind whipped through the trees, howling over the land. Emma shuddered at the haunting sound as her scalp pulled tight. She quickly slipped off her shoes and slid the boots on. The short exposure to the chilly weather made the frozen soles of her feet burn. The boots were definitely a lot warmer.

“Thanks.”

He hacked and spit on the ground. “Don’t thank me. I didn’t do it for you. Now give me those stupid girly shoes. I don’t want search dogs sniffing you out.”

Emma snorted. Search dogs? What a joke. No one would come looking for her. She had no one except Stan, and all he cared about were his stupid car and getting drunk. Anger pulsed in her veins, remembering how the drunken pig had told her to get out just days after her mother had died. He hadn’t even given her a chance to grieve. All he could think of was his own loss, but she almost couldn’t blame him. She’d been responsible for all that had happened.

Funny thing is, she would’ve gladly gone, but Stan refused to pay for her flight to Los Angeles, even though he made big bucks as an attorney. He just wanted her gone, and expected her to leave with nothing. The only way out was to jack Stan’s car. Problem was, as much as he wanted her to leave, he didn’t want to lose his precious Mercedes and had hidden the keys. Last night he’d been too drunk to hide them or notice anything and she had made her escape… or so she’d thought. Some escape. All that trouble and here she was, kidnapped by a crazy dirt bag.

It was all so unfair. She gritted her teeth and flung her shoes at the man. One hit his left shoulder. He narrowed his eyes.
Take that, creep!
She wriggled her toes inside the oversized boots. Although warm, she’d never be able to run in them. Maybe this was part of his plan, to keep her from escaping. He snarled and thrust his hands into a pair of moose-skin gloves. Emma narrowed her eyes at him, searching for a weak point. She’d do anything to run his own blade across his throat. Cut
him
until he bled. Take out all her anger and problems on this asshole who’d dared to kidnap her.

BOOK: Amarok
10.39Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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