The summoning, p.30
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       The Summoning, p.30

         Part #1 of Darkest Powers series by Kelley Armstrong
 
Page 30

 

  “You need help—”

  “No!”

  “Simon, then. I'm getting Simon. I'll be right—”

  “No!”

  He twisted and I caught a glimpse of his face, contorted, misshapen… wrong. He whipped his head down before I could process what I'd seen.

  He gagged, the sound horrible and raw, like he was coughing up his insides. His back shot up again, limbs stretching to the very limits, bones crackling. His arms went dark, then lightened, the muscles and tendons rippling. The moon chose that moment to peek from the cloud and when his arms darkened, I could see it was hair sprouting, just enough to break the surface, then sliding back under his skin. And his hands… His fingers were long and twisted like talons, digging into the earth as his back arched.

  In my mind, I heard Simon again. “Guys like Derek have… physical enhancements, you might say. Extra strong, as you saw. Better senses, too. That kind of thing. ”

  That kind of thing.

  Then my own voice asking lightly, “I'm not going to run into any werewolves or vampires, am I?”

  And Simon's answer, coupled with a laugh. “That'd be cool. ”

  Not an answer at all. Avoiding a reply he couldn't give.

  Derek convulsed, his head flying back, jaw clenched, an awful moaning howl hissing through his teeth. Then his head whipped down and he gagged, strings of saliva dripping.

  “Derek?”

  He retched, his whole body racked with heaves. When they subsided, I inched forward. He tilted his head away.

  “Is there anything I can do?”

  A voice inside my head said, “Sure. Run for your life!” But it was a small warning, not even serious, really, because there was no question of running. This wasn't a matinee monster. Even now, with hair sprouting on his arms, fingers twisted into claws, when he looked away and growled at me to leave, I knew that whatever was happening, he was still Derek.

  “Is there anything I can do?”

  A ridiculous question. I could imagine the response he'd make any other time—the curl of his lip, the roll of his eyes.

  But after one halfhearted “go away,” he crouched there, head turned, body trembling, each breath a rasp ending in a quaver.

  “Don't. ” His fingers dug into the ground, arms stiffening, then relaxing. “Go. ”

  “I can't leave you here. If there's anything I can do…”

  “Don't. ” A sharp intake of breath, then he expelled the words. “Don't go. ”

  His head lifted my way, just enough for me to see one green eye, wide with terror.

  His arms and legs went rigid, back shooting up as he heaved. Vomit sprayed the grass, a fresh wave with every spasm. The sickly smell filled the air.

  And I sat there, doing nothing, because there was nothing I could do. My brain raced through ideas, discarding each as fast as it came. I inched over and put my hand on his arm, feeling the coarse hair push through red-?hot skin that writhed and pulsed. That was all I could do—stay and tell him I was there.

  Finally, with one last heave, one last spray of vomit dappling the fence three feet away, it stopped. Just stopped.

  The muscles under my hand went still, the coarse hair receded. Slowly, he relaxed, his back dropping, hands releasing their grip on the earth. He crouched there, panting, hair hanging around his face.

  Then he slumped onto his side, hands going over his face, fingers still long, misshapen, the nails thick, like claws. He curled up on his side, knees drawn in, and moaned.

  “Should I—? Simon. Should I get Simon? Will he know what to—?”

  “No. ” The word was hoarse, guttural, as if his vocal cords weren't quite human.

  “It's over,” he said after a minute. “I think. Pretty sure. ” He rubbed his face, still shielded behind his hands. “Shouldn't have happened. Not yet. Not for years. ”

  In other words, he knew perfectly well what he was, he just hadn't expected the… transformation until he was older. I felt a spark of anger that he'd misled me, made Simon lie to me, but I couldn't sustain it, not after what I'd seen, not sitting there, watching him, shirt soaked with sweat as he struggled to breathe, his body shaking with exhaustion and pain.

  “Go,” he whispered. “I'll be fine now. ”

  “I'm not—”

  “Chloe” he snapped, the old Derek back in his voice. “Go. Help Simon. Tell him I'm fine. ”

  “No. ”

  “Chloe . . . ” He drew my name out in a low growl.

  “Five minutes. I want to make sure you're okay. ”

  He grunted, but settled into silence, relaxing onto the grass.

  “See, you did rip out of your clothes,” I said, trying to keep my tone light. “Hope you didn't like that shirt, 'cause it's toast. ”

  It was a weak joke, but he said, “Least I didn't turn green. ”

  “No, just. . . ” I was going to say “hairy,” but I couldn't get the word out, couldn't wrap my head around what I'd seen.

  The back door banged. Derek shot up, his hands falling from his face. His nose looked crushed, wide and flat, cheekbones jutting as if rising to meet it, his brows thick and heavy. Not monstrous, more like an artist's reconstruction of Neanderthal man.

  I tore my gaze away and crawled toward the corner of the shed. He caught my leg.

  “I'll be careful,” I whispered. “I'm just getting a look. ”

  I slid on my belly, creeping to the corner and peeking around it. A flashlight beam swept the yard.

  “A woman,” I whispered, as low as I could. “I think it's Rae—no, too skinny. Ms. Abdo, maybe?”

  He tugged my ankle. My jeans had hiked up, and his hand was wrapped around bare skin above my sock. I could feel his palm, rough, like the pads on a dog's feet.

  “Go,” he whispered. “I'll boost you over the fence. Climb the next one and—”

  The flashlight beam cut a swath across the back of the yard.

  “Who's out there?” The voice was high, sharp, with a faint accent.

  “Dr. Gill,” I whispered to Derek. “What's she—?”

  “Never mind. Go!”

  “I know someone's out here,” she said. “I heard you. ”

  I glanced at Derek, his face still deformed. Dr. Gill couldn't find him like this.

  I grabbed the shoe of his that I'd dropped, and kicked off one of my own, and that confused him enough for me to wrench from his grasp and dart to the side fence, squeezing between it and the shed. At the last second, he scrambled up and lunged at me, but I was wedged in too far to reach, and he couldn't follow.

  “Chloe! Get back here! Don't you dare—”

  I kept going.

  Forty-one

  I SQUEEZED THROUGH THE gap between the fence and shed, with Derek's shoe clutched in one hand, while the other tugged the shirt from my jeans, and mussed my hair. When I reached the end of the shed, I peeked out. Dr. Gill had her back to me, her flashlight scanning the other side of the yard.

  I darted behind the shrubs and continued along the fence until I reached the porch. Then I crouched in the bushes there, daubed dirt on my cheek, and stumbled out, twigs crackling.

  “D-?Dr. Gill. ” I fumbled to shove my shirt back into my jeans. “I—I was just out g-?getting some air. ”

  I hopped on one foot, trying to put on Derek's shoe.

  “I don't think that's yours, Chloe,” she said as she approached, flashlight in my eyes.

  I shielded my face from the light and lifted the shoe, squinting at it. Then I let out a nervous laugh. “Whoops. Guess I grabbed the wrong one when I came outside. ”

  “Where is he?”

  “Who?” I squeaked.

  She pointed at the shoe. “Derek. ”

  “Derek? Is this his?” I cast a surreptitious glance over my shoulder, into the bushes, drawing her attention there. “I—I haven't seen Derek since dinner. Is h-?he out here,
too?”

  “Oh, I'm sure he is. Long gone, I suppose, with Simon and Rae. Making their escape while you stand guard and provide a diversion. ”

  “Wh-?what?” That time the stammer wasn't faked. “E-?escape? N-?no. Derek and I were . . . ” I gestured at the bushes. “He knew the code so we came outside to be alone and… you know. ”

  She stepped closer, beam right in my eyes. “Pick up where you left off Friday afternoon?”

  “Right. ” I tugged down my shirt and tried to look embarrassed.

  “Do you really think I'm going to buy that, Chloe? Girls like you wouldn't give boys like Derek Souza the time of day, much less roll around in bushes and crawl spaces with them. ”

  My head shot up. “B-?but you caught us. Friday. You're the one who said—”

  “I know what I said, Chloe. And I know what you were really doing in that crawl space. I found your new friends. ”

  I stood, feet rooted, unable to believe what I was hearing.

  “What did they tell you?” Her fingers went around my arm. “They were his, weren't they? Samuel Lyle's subjects. “ She leaned toward me, eyes glittering, as feverish as Derek's but with a glimmer of madness behind them. ”Did they tell you his secrets? His discoveries? I'll make sure no one knows you ran away. I'll say I found you asleep in the TV room. Just tell me everything those ghosts said. "

  “I—I can't talk to ghosts. ”

  I tried to pull away, but her fingers clamped down tighter. I went limp, as if giving in, then threw myself in the other direction. Her hand fell from my arm, but I'd pulled too hard and stumbled, off balance. She plunged toward me. I dove, hitting the ground. As I clambered out of her way, a dark shape vaulted over the deck railing.

  Dr. Gill only had time to see a shadow passing over her. She turned, mouth opening. Derek landed right in front of her. Her arms flew up, and she let out a shriek, falling back, but she was still in mid-?turn and tripped over her own feet. As she went down, she fumbled for something in her pocket. Derek dove and pinned her arm as she pulled out a two-?way radio. It flew onto the grass. Her skull smacked into the cement pad.

  I ran forward. Derek was already crouching at her side, checking her pulse.

  “She's fine,” he said, exhaling with relief. “Just unconscious. Come on. Before she wakes up. ”

  His fingers closed around my arm. Dirty, but very human fingers, his face and hands back to normal, the ripped and sweaty shirt the only sign of his ordeal. I brushed him off, jogged over to his shoe and picked it up, then turned to see him holding the sneaker I'd discarded.

  “Trade?”

  We pulled our shoes on.

  “Simon's waiting at the factory,” I said. “We have to warn him. They know about the escape. ”

  He pushed me toward the side fence. “The road won't be safe. Cut through the yards. ”

  I glanced over my shoulder.

  “I'm right behind you,” he said. “Now go!”

  * * *

  At the first fence, I started climbing, but I was too slow for Derek, who grabbed me and swung me over, then vaulted like it was a hurdle. Two doors down, the wail of a siren sent us diving behind a child's playhouse.

  “Police?” I whispered.

  “Can't tell. ”

  After a moment, I said, “Dr. Gill knows about the bodies. When I raised them, she must not have been holed up in her office like we thought. She knows I can contact the dead, and about Samuel Lyle, and—”

  “Later. ”

  He was right. I squeezed the thought from my head and concentrated on the siren. It whipped past, heading back the way we came, then disappeared.

  “Did it stop at the house?” I asked.

  He shook his head. “I can still hear it. Now go. ”

  According to Derek, there were seven backyards between Lyle House and the end of the block. Trust him to have counted. We were racing through the fifth when his hand shot out like a railway guard and I plowed into it. When I turned, he had his head cocked, listening. Ten seconds passed. I plucked at his shirt, but he ignored me for another ten. Then he lowered his head and whispered, “I hear a car idling. Someone's out there. ”

  “Where?”

  An impatient wave. “There. On the street we need to cross. ” He held up a finger. “Footsteps. Someone's talking. A woman. She's whispering. I can't make it out. ”

  “Do you recognize the voice?”

  He shook his head. “Stay here. I'll get closer, see if that helps. ”

  He loped closer to the house, stopping behind a cluster of bushes.

  I looked around. I was standing in the middle of the yard, exposed to anyone who heard a noise and glanced out the window. His spot looked a whole lot safer. When I approached, he whirled, pinning me with a glare.

  “Sorry,” I whispered, and moved slower, quieter.

  He waved me back. When I didn't stop, he glared again, then turned away. I crept up behind him and went still. His head moved slowly, tracking the voices, I presumed. But when his head swiveled my way, I noticed the lift of his chin, the flare of his nostrils, and realized he was sniffing the air.

  When he noticed me watching, I got a full-?blown scowl.

  “Can you recognize the, uh… ?”

  “Scents. ” He spat the word. “Yes, I can track scents. Like a dog. ”

  “I didn't mean—”

  “Whatever. ”

  He looked away again, scanning the fence line. “I suppose you figured out what I am. ”

  “A werewolf. ”

  I tried to say it casually, but I wasn't sure I succeeded. I didn't want to sound freaked out because that was exactly what he expected—why he hadn't told me the truth. I told myself it was no different than being a necromancer or a sorcerer or a half-?demon. But it was.
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