Shiver, p.3
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       Shiver, p.3

         Part #1 of The Wolves of Mercy Falls series by Maggie Stiefvater
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  I faced him, near enough that I could have reached out and touched his dazzling fur. Or brushed the deep red stain on his muzzle.

  I badly wanted that blood to be his. An old cut or scratch earned in a scuffle.

  But it didn’t look like that. It looked like it belonged to someone else.

  “Did you kill him?” I whispered.

  He didn’t disappear at the sound of my voice, as I had expected. He was as still as a statue, his eyes watching my face instead of the meat in my hand.

  “It’s all they can talk about on the news,” I said, as if he could understand. “They called it ’savage. ’ They said wild animals did it. Did you do it?”

  He stared at me for a minute longer, motionless, unblinking. And then, for the first time in six years, he closed his eyes. It went against every natural instinct a wolf should have possessed. A lifetime of an unblinking gaze, and now he was frozen in almost-human grief, brilliant eyes closed, head ducked and tail lowered.

  It was the saddest thing I had ever seen.

  Slowly, barely moving, I approached him, afraid only of scaring him away, not of his scarlet-stained lips or the teeth they hid. His ears flicked, acknowledging my presence, but he didn’t move. I crouched, dropping the meat onto the snow beside me. He flinched as it landed. I was close enough to smell the wild odor of his coat and feel the warmth of his breath.

  Then I did what I had always wanted to—I put a hand to his dense ruff, and when he didn’t flinch, I buried both my hands in his fur. His outer coat was not soft as it looked, but beneath the coarse guard hairs was a layer of downy fluff. With a low groan, he pressed his head against me, eyes still closed. I held him as if he were no more than a family dog, though his wild, sharp scent wouldn’t let me forget what he really was.

  For a moment, I forgot where—who—I was. For a moment, it didn’t matter.

  Movement caught my eye: Far off, barely visible in the fading day, the white wolf was watching at the edge of the wood, her eyes burning.

  I felt a rumble against my body and I realized my wolf was growling at her. The she-wolf stepped closer, uncommonly bold, and he twisted in my arms to face her. I flinched at the sound of his teeth snapping at her.

  She never growled, and somehow that was worse. A wolf should have growled. But she just stared, eyes flicking from him to me, every aspect of her body language breathing hatred.

  Still rumbling, almost inaudible, my wolf pressed harder against me, forcing me back a step, then another, guiding me up to the deck. My feet found the steps and I retreated to the sliding door. He remained at the bottom of the stairs until I pushed the door open and locked myself inside the house.

  As soon as I was inside, the white wolf darted forward and snatched the piece of meat I’d dropped. Though my wolf was nearest to her and the most obvious threat for the food, it was me that her eyes found, on the other side of the glass door. She held my gaze for a long moment before she slid into the woods like a spirit.

  My wolf hesitated by the edge of the woods, the dim porch light catching his eyes. He was still watching my silhouette through the door.

  I pressed my palm flat against the frigid glass.

  The distance between us had never felt so vast.



  When my father got home, I was still lost in the silent world of the wolves, imagining again and again the feeling of my wolf’s coarse hairs against my palms. Even though I’d reluctantly washed my hands to finish up dinner, his musky scent lingered on my clothing, keeping the encounter fresh in my mind. It had taken six years for him to let me touch him. Hold him. And now he’d guarded me, just like he’d always guarded me. I desperately wanted to tell somebody, but I knew Dad wouldn’t share my excitement, especially with the newscasters still droning in the background about the attack. I kept my mouth shut.

  In the front hall, Dad stomped in. Even though he hadn’t seen me in the kitchen, he called, “Dinner smells good, Grace. ”

  He came into the kitchen and patted me on the head. His eyes looked tired behind his glasses, but he smiled. “Where’s your mother? Painting?” He chucked his coat over a chair.

  “Does she ever stop?” I narrowed my eyes at his coat. “I know you aren’t going to leave that there. ”

  He retrieved it with an affable smile and called up the stairs, “Rags, time for dinner!” His use of Mom’s nickname confirmed his good mood.

  Mom appeared in the yellow kitchen in two seconds flat. She was out of breath from running down the stairs—she never walked anywhere—and there was a streak of green paint on her cheekbone.

  Dad kissed her, avoiding the paint. “Have you been a good girl, my pet?”

  She batted her eyelashes. She had a look on her face like she already knew what he was going to say. “The best. ”

  “And you, Gracie?”

  “Better than Mom. ”

  Dad cleared his throat. “Ladies and gentlemen, my raise takes effect this Friday. So…”

  Mom clapped her hands and whirled in a circle, watching herself in the hall mirror as she spun. “I’m renting that place downtown!”

  Dad grinned and nodded. “And, Gracie girl, you’re trading in your piece of crap car as soon as I find time to get you down to the dealership. I’m tired of taking yours into the shop. ”

  Mom laughed, giddy, and clapped her hands again. She danced into the kitchen, chanting some sort of nonsense song. If she rented the studio in town, I’d probably never see either of my parents again. Well, except for dinner. They usually showed up for food.

  But that seemed unimportant in comparison to the promise of reliable transportation. “Really? My own car? I mean, one that runs?”

  “A slightly less crappy one,” Dad promised. “Nothing nice. ”

  I hugged him. A car like that meant freedom.

  That night, I lay in my room, eyes squeezed firmly shut, trying to sleep. The world outside my window seemed silenced, as though it had snowed. It was too early for snow, but every sound seemed muffled. Too quiet.

  I held my breath and focused on the night, listening for movement in the still darkness.

  I slowly became aware that faint clicks had broken the silence outside, pricking at my ears. It sounded for all the world like toenails on the deck outside my window. Was a wolf on the deck? Maybe it was a raccoon. Then came more soft scrabbling, and a growl—definitely not a raccoon. The hairs rose on the back of my neck.

  Pulling my quilt around me like a cape, I climbed out of bed and padded across bare floorboards lit by half a moon. I hesitated, wondering if I’d dreamed the sound, but the tack tack tack came through the window again. I lifted the blinds and looked out onto the deck. Perpendicular to my room, I could see that the yard was empty. The stark black trunks of the trees jutted like a fence between me and the deeper forest beyond.

  Suddenly, a face appeared directly in front of mine, and I jumped with surprise. The white wolf was on the other side of the glass, paws on the outside sill. She was close enough that I could see moisture caught in the banded hairs of her fur. Her jewel-blue eyes glared into mine, challenging me to look away. A low growl rumbled through the glass, and I felt as if I could read meaning into it, as clearly as if it were written on the pane. You’re not his to protect.

  I stared back at her. Then, without thinking, I lifted my teeth into a snarl. The growl that escaped from me surprised both me and her, and she jumped down from the window. She cast a dark look over her shoulder at me and peed on the corner of the deck before loping into the woods.

  Biting my lip to erase the strange shape of the snarl, I picked up my sweater from the floor and crawled back into bed. Shoving my pillow aside, I balled up the sweater to use instead.

  I fell asleep to the scent of my wolf. Pine needles, cold rain, earthy perfume, coarse bristles on my face.

  It was almost like he was there.



  I could still smell her on my fur. It clung to me, a memory of another world.

  I was drunk with it, with the scent of her. I’d gotten too close. My instincts warned against it. Especially when I remembered what had just happened to the boy.

  The smell of summer on her skin, the half-recalled cadence of her voice, the sensation of her fingers on my fur. Every bit of me sang with the memory of her closeness.

  Too close.

  I couldn’t stay away.



  For the next week, I was distracted in school, floating through my classes and barely taking any notes. All I could think of was the feel of my wolf’s fur under my fingers and the image of the white wolf’s snarling face outside my window. I snapped to attention, however, when Mrs. Ruminski led a policeman into the classroom and to the front of our Life Skills class.

  She left him alone at the front of the room, which I thought was pretty cruel, considering it was seventh period and most of us were restlessly anticipating escape. Maybe she thought that a member of law enforcement would be able to handle mere high school students. But criminals you can shoot, unlike a room full of juniors who won’t shut up.

  “Hi,” the officer said. Beneath a gun belt that bristled with holsters and pepper sprays and other assorted weaponry, he looked young. He glanced toward Mrs. Ruminski, who hovered unhelpfully in the open door of the classroom, and fingered the shiny name tag on his shirt: WILLIAM KOENIG. Mrs. Ruminski had told us that he was a graduate of our fine high school, but neither his name nor his face looked particularly familiar to me. “I’m Officer Koenig. Your teacher—Mrs. Ruminski—asked me last week if I’d come talk to her Life Skills class. ”

  I glanced over at Olivia in the seat next to me to see what she was making of this. As usual, everything about Olivia looked neat and tidy: straight-A report card made flesh. Her dark hair was plaited in a perfect French braid and her collared shirt was freshly pressed. You could never tell what Olivia was thinking by her mouth. It was her eyes you had to look at.

  “He’s cute,” Olivia whispered to me. “Love the shaved head. Do you think his mom calls him ‘Will’?”

  I hadn’t yet figured out how to respond to Olivia’s new-found and very vocal interest in guys, so I just rolled my eyes. He was cute, but not my type. I didn’t think I knew what my type was yet.

  “I became an officer of the law right after high school,” Officer Will said. He looked very serious as he said it, frowning in a sort of serve-and-protect way. “It’s a profession I always wanted to pursue and one I take very seriously. ”

  “Clearly,” I whispered to Olivia. I didn’t think his mother called him Will. Officer William Koenig shot a look at us and rested a hand on his gun. I guess it was habit, but it looked like he was considering shooting us for whispering. Olivia disappeared into her seat and a few of the other girls giggled.

  “It’s an excellent career path and one of the few that doesn’t require college yet,” he pressed on. “Are—uh—any of you considering going into law enforcement?”

  It was the uh that did him in. If he hadn’t hesitated, I think the class might have behaved.

  A hand whipped up. Elizabeth, one of the hordes of Mercy Falls High students still wearing black since Jack’s death, asked, “Is it true that Jack Culpeper’s body was stolen from the morgue?”

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