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Authors: Dean Murray

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BOOK: Trapped
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I'd
known the number would be low, but I hadn't anticipated a
number that low. Ash continued while I was still trying to remember
how many individuals you needed to keep a species going without the
risk of severe genetic drift morphing them into something drastically
different than what they'd started out as.

"I'll
leave it to you to figure out whether or not we constitute a
subspecies, but there are actually two groups. Wolves, like me, and
cats…which is what Anton is."

Somehow
I'd forgotten about Anton in all of the excitement.

"You
mean like a housecat?"

"No,
more like an abnormally big jaguar."

"Based
on what I overheard earlier, it doesn't sound like the wolves
and the cats get along very well?"

"They
don't. Our two species have been at war for thousands of
years."

"So
I just got caught in the middle of your private war?"

"I'd
never met Anton before the other night. I suspected he was one of the
southerners when he got out of his car and started muttering though."

"Southerners?"

Ash
nodded. "The wolves control most of North America, essentially
everything from the U.S. border on up. The cats control everything
from Mexico on down."

"So
if Anton wasn't after you from before, then why is he chasing
us still? It makes no sense."

Ash
frowned and then shrugged again.

"It's
hard to say for sure, but you have to remember that Anton is probably
at least two hundred years old, and he's been the meanest thing
around, at least in his neck of the woods, for at least the last
couple of decades. He's probably got an ego bigger than
anything you'd believe. I suspect this is all just to prove to
himself that he's still king, as it were."

"That's
a lot of work to go to."

Ash
nodded and then gestured around us, taking in the world with his
hand.

"A guy like Anton isn't really sane, at least not in the way you and
I are. He's created a world view where he's the center of everything.
Given that he's really not some kind of demigod, he's probably had to
make some rationalizations for his world view to stick inside of his
own mind. When one of those rationalizations bumps up against something
that puts it on shaky ground then those kinds of people will go to
extraordinary lengths to try and remove the thing that is putting
their world view in doubt."

It
was a lot to digest, but my stomach was rumbling again. Ash waved
back at the interstate.

"Let's
get you something to eat. Me too actually. I'm parched."

I
fought off another blush. Hard to believe someone who'd scored
a thirty-five on her ACT hadn't thought to make sure her
wounded passenger stayed hydrated. If he hadn't been a
super-human shape shifter that probably would have killed him all by
itself.

I
put the SUV in drive and we headed out.

"You
said that the cops were only one reason why we needed to keep a low
profile."

"Kristin,
I'm trying very hard not to completely blow your world view.
Are you sure you want to jump further down the rabbit hole?"

I
felt my stomach sink a little. I was still thinking through the
implications of what he'd revealed already. It hadn't
even occurred to me that there were more 'impossible'
things out there.

"Maybe
you should give me the abridged version."

"An
awful lot of the myths and legends out there are based in some kind
of fact. Sometimes you have to really work to link it back to what
started it, and sometimes a single creepy-crawly spawns a bunch of
myths that don't particularly seem linked, but that's
more or less how it works."

"So
shape shifters aren't the only thing I should be scared of…"

"No,
in fact living in the U.S. like you do, I'd say that shape
shifters come in at the bottom of the list, right around serial
killers."

 

 

Chapter 5

 

We
actually settled on fast food and used the drive-through. I'd
spent so much time with Ash covered in blood that it had stopped
fazing me, but he was right that our casually walking into pretty
much any kind of establishment was going to lead to some kind of
involvement by the police.

I'd
lost count, but I was pretty sure I was going on my third day in the
same clothes, so as soon as I'd finished my second breakfast
biscuit I started thinking about shopping. I could tell that Ash
wasn't comfortable with spending any more time out and about
than was absolutely necessary, but he finally agreed when I pointed
out that until we had some clothes and a chance to clean up, we were
practically walking around with signs on our back that said
'fugitive.'

I
pulled over at a gas station to fill up the SUV and ask directions as
a first step in my master plan to get a change of clothes. The clerk,
an early-twenties skater type, was super helpful, so helpful that I
wondered if maybe I should try the fugitive look more often.

The
sheer normalcy of talking to a regular boy was incredibly refreshing.
I found myself looking to stretch out the interaction, so I picked up
not just one, but two packs of gum. It bought me maybe forty seconds
and then I found myself back in the SUV.

Ash
was even more laconic than normal on the drive to the SuperMart. As
we left the gas station he opened up the envelope and spread out its
contents. Some of the cash went into his wallet, the rest into an
inner pocket of his jacket. The backup pistol went into the jockey
box, the knife into his boot, and the ammunition disappeared into
three or four magazines that he pulled out of various pockets.

Once
we arrived, Ash slid his pistol back into his shoulder harness,
pulled his leather jacket closed, double checked that it pretty much
covered all of the bloodstains, and then nodded his readiness.

I'd
kind of expected that we'd just split up and do our shopping
separately. That was the way that guys tended to think, but Ash
waited for me to grab a shopping cart and then placed a hand on my
elbow and steered me over to the section of the store housing all of
the male attire.

"You're
seriously making me come pick out your clothes?"

"No,
I'm perfectly able to pick out my own clothes. You, on the
other hand, are not leaving my sight until we're safely back
west of the Mississippi."

The
slightly feminist bit of me wanted to throw a very dignified fit over
his implication that I couldn't take care of myself. The rest
of me calmly pointed out that I'd just had a very convincing
object lesson that there were things out there that could rip me in
half without breaking a sweat. I decided against making a fuss.

Ash
was a quick shopper. He pulled jeans, cargo pants and shirts off of
the rack almost without looking at them. Socks took a bit longer. He
picked up a couple of different packages, seeming to be evaluating
the length and thickness.

He
caught my puzzled stare and shrugged. "Sometimes I wear an
ankle holster and if you don't have the right socks it can be
pretty uncomfortable."

Somehow
when I'd been putting together my master plan I hadn't
really considered underwear. Normally that kind of thing didn't
particularly bother me, but for some reason Ash's presence
changed that.

As
he scanned through the options, boxers, briefs, boxer briefs, I felt
my face heating up. He couldn't have stood there for more than
ten seconds, but it felt like an eternity. I tried to tear my eyes
away, tried to turn away but I couldn't. I wasn't even
looking at the underwear, for pity's sake. Instead it was his
lean, muscular frame that had captured me. Ash settled on a choice
and looked up, catching me staring.

Now
I really wanted to look away, but something about his gray eyes had
me captivated. For a second nothing else existed, and then he cleared
his throat and the spell was broken.

"OK,
I've got what I needed. Your turn."

I
nodded, not willing to trust my voice, and led the way to the girls'
section.

Jeans,
shirts, those were easy. Well, as easy as clothes shopping ever was.
It was the rest of the stuff that made me blush again. A boy picking
out underwear when I was with them was one thing. Me picking out
underwear and bras in Ash's presence was something else
entirely. I took a deep breath and headed over to the relevant racks,
intending on picking out the first serviceable items I found, but
instead I found myself picking up the kind of frilly stuff that boys
tended to think girls wore every waking moment.

Once
the first item, a lacy black bra, was in my hands I couldn't
bring myself to put it back and pick something else up so I dropped
it in the cart and kept going, wincing a little every time I looked
down and found myself holding something else that I normally wouldn't
have even considered.

Once
I had enough clothes for a week I turned to go, but Ash shook his
head and pointed at the dressing room.

"I'm
not stupid. No girl buys anything without trying it on, especially
not jeans."

Something
about the way he said it, so matter-of-fact, stopped me from arguing.
He followed me to the changing area and placed his hand back on my
arm for a second to stop me while he took a deep breath.

"OK,
it's clear, go ahead."

"Did
you just smell whether or not there were other people in the dressing
room?"

"Partly.
The better test is whether or not you can hear a heartbeat but smell
at least will tell you if something other than people is in the
area."

Again,
he was so calm, this time while describing something that frankly
blew my mind, that I just shook my head and grabbed my things.

It
wasn't until I was inside the dressing room with the door
locked, that I started wishing I'd just taken my chances and
purchased the clothes. Ash hadn't done a single creepy thing,
other than sort of kidnapping me at least, in the entire time I'd
known him. Even so, stripping down to try on jeans and tops, knowing
he was less than twelve feet away, made me incredibly self-conscious.

I
made it through the first set of jeans, feeling more flushed by the
minute, and then almost as if he could read my mind, I heard him walk
away. By the time he returned a couple of minutes later, I'd
managed to put myself more or less back in my normal frame of mind.
The rest of the process went smoothly. One of the pairs of pants just
simply didn't fit; everything else would work despite most of
it not being anything spectacular.

I
went back out, grateful that enough time had passed for my blush to
have died out, put the pants that didn't fit back on the rack
and grabbed another pair exactly like the ones that I already had
that fit the best.

The
rest of the shopping trip went smoothly, for which I was profoundly
grateful. Ash seemed blissfully unaware of my whipsawing emotions. He
led me over to the luggage area of the store and got each of us a
small, carryon-type suitcase. Toiletries, more gauze, tape and
antiseptic finished filling up our cart, and then we were checking
out.

Ash
was surprisingly domestic, moving items from the cart onto the
conveyer belt and even making small talk with the cashier. It left me
with nothing really to do but wander over to the magazine rack and
shake my head at the latest antics of the reality TV personalities.

A
couple of minutes later Ash put his hand on my shoulder.

"We
can go now."

I
nodded, amazed at the way his touch seemed to make my shoulder
tingle.

Even
after we'd returned to the SUV I could still feel the slightest
warmth where he'd touched me. I didn't even think to
protest when Ash took the keys and climbed into the driver's seat.

We'd
been driving for a couple of minutes before I roused enough to ask
where we were going.

"North.
If we head straight west we'll end up in my old pack's territory.
North is dangerous, but west is worse. My old pack would kill me on
sight."

It
wasn't the kind of comment that you just shrugged off. Whether it had
been his intention or not, Ash succeeded in shutting me up for most
of the rest of the day. Once we made it back onto the interstate, I
pulled out some of the gum I'd purchased at the gas station.

At
one point I'd been a pretty heavy chain chewer. I'd kicked the habit
a while ago, but around finals or standardized tests I always had to
fight the urge to start back up. I offered a stick to Ash, but he
actually winced as he shook his head. I shrugged and put the stick in
my mouth.

The
minty goodness was like a little slice of heaven, and I relaxed back
into my seat with a sigh of relief.

The
miles rolled by. I offered to drive every so often as we pulled off
to refill the SUV, but Ash always declined. At one of the gas
stations I purchased a pen and a pad of paper and started writing a
letter to my family. I knew that they'd be worried, but Ash had
flatly refused to let me call them. I'd wanted to argue with him, but
it was hard to argue with the guy who'd kept me alive so far. He'd
tacitly agreed to a letter provided we took the proper precautions.

I
must have started over a couple of dozen times. I'd do the easy part
about how I was fine and they didn't need to worry about me, and then
I'd grind to a stop. There wasn't really a way to convince parents
that they didn't need to worry about their teenage daughter,
especially not when they had no idea where she was or why she'd left.

The
process consumed a lot of time, and I finally quit when it started to
get dark. No sense ruining my eyes. One day sooner or later wasn't
going to make that much of a difference.

A
fairly heavy rain picked up as the sun went fully behind the horizon,
and the constant drone of the rain hitting the windshield was
starting to lull me asleep. I was fighting to keep my eyes open still
but just about ready to surrender when Ash pulled off the interstate
and headed into some small town. I assumed he was just stopping for
gas until he passed the second gas station.

BOOK: Trapped
9.48Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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