Shiver, p.10
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       Shiver, p.10

         Part #1 of The Wolves of Mercy Falls series by Maggie Stiefvater
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Page 10


  He closed his eyes, miles away on the other side of the bed. “Sometimes I do, too. ”



  I woke up all in a rush. For a moment, I lay still, blinking, trying to determine what had woken me. The events of the previous night rushed back to me as I realized it wasn’t a sound that had woken me, but a sensation: a hand resting on my arm. Grace had rolled over in her sleep, and I couldn’t stop staring at her fingers resting on my skin.

  Here, lying next to the girl who had rescued me, my simple humanity felt like a triumph.

  I rolled onto my side and for a while, I just watched her sleep, long, even breaths that moved the flyaway hairs by her face. In slumber, she seemed utterly certain of her safety, utterly unconcerned by my presence beside her. That felt like a subtle victory, too.

  When I heard her father get up, I lay perfectly still, heart beating fast and silent, ready to leap from the edge of the mattress in case he came to wake her for school. But he left for work in a cloud of juniper-scented aftershave that billowed toward me from under the door. Her mother left soon after, noisily dropping something in the kitchen and swearing in a pleasant voice as she shut the door behind her. I couldn’t believe they wouldn’t glance into Grace’s room to make sure she was still alive, especially considering they hadn’t seen her when they came home in the dead of the night. But the door stayed shut.

  Anyway, I felt foolish in the scrubs, and they were useless to me in this awful in-between weather, so I slipped out while Grace slept; she didn’t even stir as I left. I hesitated on the back deck, looking at the frost-tipped blades of grass. Even though I’d borrowed a pair of her father’s boots, the early morning air still bit at the skin of my bare ankles beneath the rubber. I could almost feel the nausea of the change rolling over in my stomach.

  Sam, I told myself, willing my body to believe. You’re Sam. I needed to be warmer; I retreated inside to find a coat. Damn this weather. What had happened to summer? In an overstuffed closet that smelled of stale memories and mothballs, I found a puffy, bright blue jacket that made me look like a blimp and ventured out into the backyard with more confidence. Grace’s father had feet the size of a yeti, so I tramped into the woods with all the grace of a polar bear in a dollhouse.

  Despite the chilly air that made ghosts of my breath, the woods were beautiful this time of year, all bold primary colors: crisp leaves in startling yellow and red, bright cerulean sky. Details I never noticed as a wolf. But as I made my way toward my stash of clothing, I missed all the things I didn’t notice as a human. Though I still had heightened senses, I couldn’t smell the many subtle tracks of animals in the underbrush or the damp promise of warmer weather later in the day. Normally, I could hear the industrial symphony of cars and trucks on the distant highway and detect the size and speed of each vehicle. But now all I could smell was the smokiness of autumn, its burning leaves and half-dead trees, and all I could hear was the low, barely audible hum of traffic far in the distance.

  As a wolf, I would have smelled Shelby’s approach long before she’d come into sight. But not now. She was nearly on top of me when I got the feeling that something was close. The tiny hairs on my neck stood at attention, and I had the uneasy sense that I was sharing my breath with someone else. I turned and saw her, big for a female, white coat ordinary and yellowish in this full daylight. She seemed to have survived the hunt without so much as a scratch. Ears slightly back, she observed my ridiculous apparel with a cocked head.

  “Shhh,” I said, and held my hand out, palm up, letting what was left of my scent waft toward her. “It’s me. ”

  Her muzzle curled in distaste as she backed slowly away, and I guessed she recognized Grace’s scent layered on top of mine. I knew I did; even now, her spare, soapy aroma clung to my hair where I’d lain on her bed and to my hand where she’d held it.

  Wariness flashed in Shelby’s eyes, mirroring her human expression. This was how it was with Shelby and me—I couldn’t remember a time we hadn’t been subtly at odds. I clung to my humanity—and to my obsession with Grace—like a drowning man, but Shelby welcomed the forgetting that came with her lupine skin. Of course, she had plenty of reasons to forget.

  Now, in these September woods, we regarded each other. Her ears tipped toward me and away, collecting dozens of sounds that escaped my human ears, and her nostrils worked, discovering where I’d been. I found myself remembering the sensation of dried leaves beneath my paws and the sharp, rich, slumber-heavy scent of these autumn woods when I was a wolf.

  Shelby stared into my eyes—a very human gesture, considering my rank in the pack was too high for wolves other than Paul or Beck to challenge me like that—and I imagined her human voice saying to me, as it had so many times before, Don’t you miss it?

  I closed my eyes, shutting out the vividness of her gaze and the memory of my wolf body, and instead thought of Grace, back at the house. There was nothing in my wolf experience that could ever compare to the feeling of Grace’s hand in mine. I immediately turned this thought over in my head, creating lyrics. You’re my change of skin / my summer-winter-fall / I spring to follow you / this loss is beautiful. In the second it took me to compose the lyric and imagine the guitar riff that would go with it, Shelby had vanished into the woods, soft as a whisper.

  That she could disappear with the same silent stealth as she had arrived reminded me of my vulnerable state, and I clumped hurriedly to the shed where my clothing was stashed. Years ago, Beck and I had dragged the old shed, piece by piece, from his backyard to a small clearing deep in the woods.

  Inside were a space heater, a boat battery, and several plastic bins with names written on the sides. I opened the bin marked with my name and pulled out the stuffed backpack inside. The other bins were loaded with food and blankets and spare batteries—equipment for holing up in this shack, waiting for other pack members to change—but mine contained supplies for escape. Everything I kept here was designed to get me back to humanity as quickly as possible, and for that, Shelby couldn’t forgive me.

  I hurriedly changed into my several layers of long-sleeved shirts and a pair of jeans and traded Grace’s father’s oversized boots for wool socks and my scuffed leather shoes, getting my wallet with my summer-job money in it and stuffing everything left over into the backpack. As I shut the shed door behind me, I caught dark movement out of the corner of my eye.

  “Paul,” I said, but the black wolf, our wolf pack leader, was gone. I doubted he even knew me now: To him, I was just another human in these woods, despite my vaguely familiar scent. The knowledge prickled a kind of regret somewhere in the back of my throat. Last year, Paul hadn’t become human until the end of August. Maybe he wouldn’t change at all this year.

  I knew my own remaining shifts were numbered, too. Last year I had changed in June, a frighteningly huge jump from the previous year’s shift in early spring, when there had still been snow on the ground. And this year? How late would I have gotten my body back if Tom Culpeper hadn’t shot me? I didn’t even really understand how being shot had given me back my human form in this cool weather. I thought of how frigid it had been when Grace knelt over me, pressing a cloth to my neck. It hadn’t been summer for a long time.

  The brilliant colors of the brittle leaves all around the shed mocked me then, evidence that a year had lived and died without my being aware of it. I knew with sudden, chilling certainty that this was my last year.

  To meet Grace only now seemed like an intensely cruel twist of fate.

  I didn’t want to think about it. Instead, I jogged back to the house, checking to make sure that Grace’s parents’ cars were still gone. Letting myself back in, I hovered outside the bedroom door for a second, then loitered for a long time in the kitchen, looking through the cabinets even though I wasn’t really hungry.

  Admit it. You’re too nervous to go back in there. I wanted so badly to see her again, this iron-will
ed ghost that had haunted my years in the woods. But I was afraid, too, of how seeing her face-to-face in damning daylight might change things. Or worse, wouldn’t change things. Last night, I’d been bleeding to death on her back deck. Anyone might have saved me. Today, I wanted more than saving. But what if I was just a freak to her?

  You’re an abomination to God’s creation. You’re cursed. You’re the Devil. Where is my son? What have you done with him? I closed my eyes, wondering why, considering all the things I had lost, memories of my parents couldn’t have been among them.


  I jerked, hearing my name. Grace called again in her room, barely above a whisper, wondering where I was. She didn’t sound afraid.

  I pushed open her door and looked around her room. In the strong late-morning light, I could see now that it was a grown- up’s room. No leftover pink whimsy or stuffed animals for Grace, if she’d ever had them. Framed photographs of trees on the walls, all matching black frames with no frills. Matching black furniture, all very square and useful looking. Her towel and washcloth tidily folded on top of the dresser next to another clock—black-and-white, all smooth lines—and a stack of library books, mostly narrative nonfiction and mysteries, judging by the titles. Probably alphabetized or organized according to length.

  I was suddenly struck by how dissimilar we were. It occurred to me that if Grace and I were objects, she would be an elaborate digital clock, synced up with the World Clock in London with technical perfection, and I’d be a snow globe—shaken memories in a glass ball.

  I struggled to find something to say that wouldn’t sound like the greeting of an interspecies stalker. “Good morning,” I managed.

  Grace sat up, her hair frizzy on one side and flat against her head on the other, her dark eyes filled with open delight. “You’re still here! Oh. You have clothes. I mean, instead of scrubs. ”

  “I went to get them while you were sleeping. ”

  “What time is it? Ohhh—I’m really late for school,

  aren’t I?”

  “It’s eleven. ”

  Grace groaned and then shrugged. “You know what? I haven’t missed class since I started high school. I got an award for it last year. And a free pizza or something. ” She climbed out of bed; in the daylight, I could see just how clingy and unbearably sexy her camisole top was. I turned away.

  “You don’t have to be so chaste, you know. It’s not like I’m naked. ” Pausing in front of her closet, she looked back at me, her expression canny. “You haven’t seen me naked, have you?”

  “No!” My answer came out distinctly rushed.

  She grinned at my lie and pulled some jeans from the closet floor. “Well, unless you want to see me now, you’d better turn around. ”

  I lay down on the bed, face buried in the cool pillows that smelled of her. I listened to the rustling sounds she made as she pulled on her clothing, my heart pounding a million miles an hour. I sighed, guilty, unable to contain the lie. “I didn’t mean to. ”

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