Shiver, p.27
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       Shiver, p.27
 

         Part #1 of The Wolves of Mercy Falls series by Maggie Stiefvater
Page 27

 

  “Beck?”

  He didn’t look up from his careful painting. “What do you need, Sam?”

  “Would you show me how to kill Mr. Dario’s dogs?” Beck spun to face me, and I added, “If I had to?”

  “You won’t have to. ”

  I hated to beg, but I did it, anyway. “Please?”

  Beck winced. “You don’t have the stomach for that sort of work. ” It was true—as a human, I had an agonizing sensitivity to the sight of blood.

  “Please?”

  Beck made a face and told me no, but the next day, he brought home half a dozen raw chickens and taught me how to find the weak part of the joints and break them. When I didn’t pass out at the sight of snapping chickens, he brought red meat that oozed blood and made my jaw slack with nausea. The bones were hard, cold, unforgiving under my hands, impossible to break without finding the joint.

  “Tired of this yet?” Beck asked after a few days. I shook my head; the dogs haunted my dreams and ran through the songs that I wrote. So we kept on. Beck found home videos of dogfights; together we watched the dogs tear each other apart. I kept a hand pressed over my mouth, my stomach churning at the sight of gore, and watched how some dogs went for the jugular and some went for the front legs, snapping them and rendering their opponents powerless. Beck pointed out one particularly unequal fight, a huge pit bull and a little mixed terrier. “Look at the little dog. That would be you. When you’re human, you’re stronger than most people, but you’re still not going to be as strong as one of Dario’s dogs. Look how the little one fights. He weakens the big dog. Then suffocates him. ”

  I watched the little terrier kill the bigger dog. And then Beck and I went outside and fought—big dog, little dog.

  Summer vanished. We began to change, one by one, the oldest and most careless of us first. Soon there was just a handful of humans left: Beck, out of stubbornness, Ulrik, from sheer cunning, Shelby, to be closer to Beck and me. Me, because I was young and not yet fragile.

  I will never forget the sounds of a dogfight. Someone who hasn’t heard it can’t imagine the sort of primal savagery of two dogs bent on destroying each other. Even as a wolf, I never came across that sort of struggle—pack members fought for dominance, not to kill.

  I was in the woods; Beck had told me not to leave the house, so of course I was out walking in the evening. I had half an idea that I was going to write a song in the exact moment between day and night, and I had just seized a scrap of a lyric when I heard the dogfight. The sound was close, here in the woods, not near Mr. Dario’s, but I knew it couldn’t be wolves. I recognized that rippling snarl immediately.

  And then they came into sight. Two giant white ghosts of dogs in the dim evening: Dario’s monsters. With them, a black wolf, struggling, bleeding, rolling in the underbrush. The wolf, Paul, was doing everything pack behavior dictated—ears back, tail down, half-turned head—everything he did screamed submission. But the dogs knew no pack behavior; all they knew was attack. And so they began to pull Paul to shreds.

  “Hey!” I shouted, my voice not as strong as I’d expected. I tried again, and this time it was halfway to a growl, “Hey!”

  One of the dogs broke off and rushed me; I spun and rolled, my eyes on the other white demon, its teeth clasped on the black wolf’s throat. Paul was gasping for breath, and the side of his face was soaked with crimson. I threw myself against the dog that held him, and the three of us crashed to the ground. The monster was heavy, blood-streaked, and all muscle. I grabbed for its throat with a pitifully weak human hand and missed.

  Dead weight hit my back and I felt hot drool on my neck. I twisted just in time to avoid a killing bite from one dog and got the other’s teeth in my shoulder instead. I felt bone grate against bone—the sick, fiery sensation of the dog’s tooth sliding up against my collarbone.

  “Beck!” I yelled. It was maddeningly hard to think through the pain and with Paul dying in front of me. Still, I remembered that little terrier—fast, deadly, brutal. I snaked a hand forward to the dog that had the murder grip on Paul’s neck. I grabbed the front leg, found the joint, and I didn’t think about the blood. I didn’t think about the sound it was going to make. I didn’t think about anything but the mechanical action of

  snap.

  The dog’s eyes rolled. It whistled through its nose but didn’t release its grip.

  My survival instinct was screaming at me to get the other animal off me; it was shaking and grinding my shoulder in jaws that felt iron-heavy and fire-hot. I imagined I could feel my bones wrenching free from their proper positions. I imagined my arm was being torn from its socket. But Paul couldn’t wait.

  I couldn’t feel my right arm very well, but with my left I grabbed a handful of dog throat in my hand and twisted, tightened, suffocated, until I heard the monster gasping. I was that little terrier. The dog was tireless in its grip on Paul’s neck, but I was equally tireless in mine. Reaching up from under the other dog that was grinding my shoulder down, I flopped my dead right hand over the first dog’s nose and pressed its nostrils closed. I didn’t think of anything—my mind was far away, in the house, someplace warm, listening to music, reading a poem, anywhere but here, killing.

  For a terrible minute nothing happened. Sparks flashed before my eyes. Then the dog flopped to the ground, and Paul fell out of its grip. There was blood everywhere—mine, Paul’s, the dog’s.

  “Don’t let go!” It was Beck’s voice, and now I heard the dull crash of footsteps in the woods. “Don’t let go—he’s not dead yet!”

  I couldn’t feel my hands anymore—couldn’t feel anything anymore—but I thought I was still clutching the dog’s neck, the one that had been biting Paul. And then I felt the teeth in my shoulder jerk as the dog gripping my neck lurched. A wolf, Ulrik, was snarling, going for its neck, dragging it off me. There was a pop, and I realized it was a gun. Another pop again, much closer, and a jerk beneath my fingers. Ulrik backed away from us, breathing hard, and then there was so much silence that my ears rang.

  Beck gently peeled my hands off the dead dog’s throat and pressed them against my shoulder instead. The blood flow slowed; immediately I started to feel better as my incredible, messed-up body started to heal itself.

  Beck knelt in front of me. He was shaking with the cold, his skin gray, the bend of his shoulders wrong. “You had it right, didn’t you? You saved him. Those poor damn chickens didn’t go to waste. ”

  Behind him, Shelby stood silently, arms crossed, watching Paul gasping in the dry, dead leaves. Watching me and Beck with our heads together. Her hands were fists, and one of them had a black, powdery smear on it.

  Now, in the soft darkness of Grace’s room, I rolled over and pressed my face into her shoulder. Strange that my most violent moments had been as a human, not as a wolf.

  Outside, I heard the distinct scratching of toenails on the deck. I closed my eyes and tried to concentrate on the sound of Grace’s beating heart.

  The taste of blood in my mouth reminded me of winter.

  I knew Shelby had let those dogs out.

  She wanted me at the top, with her beside me, and Paul was in my way. And now Grace was in hers.

  CHAPTER THIRTY-FOUR • GRACE

  49°F

  Days blurred into a collage of common images: cool walks across the school parking lot, Olivia’s empty seat in class, Sam’s breath in my ear, pawprints in our yard’s frosted blades of grass.

  By the time the weekend arrived, I felt breathless with waiting, although I wasn’t sure what I was waiting for. Sam had tossed and turned the night before, plagued by a nightmare, and he looked so terrible on Saturday morning that instead of making any plans to go out, I just parked him on the couch after my parents had gone to brunch at a friend’s house.

  I lay in the curve of Sam’s arm as he flipped between various bad made-for-TV movies. We settled on a sci-fi thriller that had probably cost less to produce than the Bronco. Rub
bery tentacles were everywhere when Sam finally said something.

  “Does it bother you? That your parents are the way they are?”

  I nuzzled my face into his armpit. It smelled very Sam in there. “Let’s not talk about them. ”

  “Let’s do talk about them. ”

  “Oh, why? What’s there to tell? It’s fine. They’re fine. They’re the way they are. ”

  Sam’s fingers gently found my chin and lifted my face up. “Grace, it’s not fine. I’ve been here for—how many weeks now? I don’t even know. But I know how it is, and it’s not fine. ”

  “They are who they are. I never knew anybody’s parents were any different until I started school. Until I started reading. But seriously, Sam, it’s okay. ”

  My skin felt hot. I pulled my chin away from his hand and looked at the screen, where a compact car was drowning in slime.

  “Grace,” Sam said softly. He was sitting so still, as if, for once, I was the wild animal that might vanish if he moved a muscle. “You don’t have to pretend around me. ”

  I watched the car crumble into pieces, along with the driver and the passenger. It was hard to tell what was going on with the sound turned down, but it looked like the pieces were reforming into tentacles. There was a guy walking a dog in the background, and he didn’t even seem to notice. How could he not notice?

  I didn’t look at Sam, but I knew he was watching me, not the television.

  I didn’t know what he thought I was going to say. I had nothing to say. This was not a problem. It was a way of life.

  The tentacles on the screen began to drag along the ground, looking for the original tentacled monster so that they could reattach themselves. There was no way they would be able to; the original alien was on fire in Washington, DC, melting around a model of the WashingtonMonument. The new tentacles were just going to have to torment the world on their own.

  “Why can’t I make them love me any more than they do?”

  Did I say that? It didn’t sound like my voice. Sam’s fingers brushed my cheek, but there weren’t any tears. I was nowhere close to tears.

  “Grace, they love you. It’s not about you. It’s their problem. ”

  “I’ve tried so hard. I never get into trouble. I always do my homework. I cook their damn meals, when they’re home, which is never—” Definitely not my voice. I didn’t swear. “And I nearly got killed, twice, but that didn’t change anything. It’s not like I want them to jump all over me. I just want, one day, just want—” I couldn’t finish the sentence, because I didn’t know how it ended.

  Sam dragged me into his arms. “Oh, Grace, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make you cry. ”

  “I’m not crying. ”

  He wiped my cheeks with his thumb, carefully, and showed me the tear trapped on his fingertip. Feeling foolish, I let him ball me up in his lap and tuck me under his chin. I had my own voice back again, here in the muffled shelter of his arms. “Maybe I’m too good. If I got into trouble at school or burned down people’s garages, they’d have to notice me. ”

 
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