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Soulmate (Chapter 2)

Hannah found herself on her feet. Her awareness was fragmented and understanding came to her in

pieces because she simply couldn't take in the whole situation at once. It was too bizarre.

At first she simply thought of a bomb. The explosion was that loud. Then she realized that something had

come in the window, that it had come flying through the glass. And that it was in the room with her now,

crouching among the broken shards of windowpane.

Even then, she couldn't identify it. It was too incongruous; her mind refused to recognize the shape

immediately. Something pretty big-something dark, it offered. A body like a dog's but set higher, with

longer legs. Yellow eyes.

And then, as if the right lens had suddenly clicked in front of her eyes, she saw it clearly.

A wolf. There was a big black wolf in the room with her.

It was a gorgeous animal, rangy and muscular, with ebony-colored fur and a white streak on its throat

like a bolt of lightning. It was looking at her fixedly, with an almost human expression.

Escaped fromYellowstone , Hannah thought dazedly. The naturalists were reintroducing wolves to the

park, weren't they? It couldn't be wild; Ryan Harden's great-grandpa had bragged for years about killing

the last wolf in Amador county when he was a boy.

Anyway, she told herself, wolves don't attack people. They never attack people. A single wolf would

never attack a full-grown teenager.

And all the time her conscious mind was thinking this, something deeper was making her move.

It made her back up slowly, never taking her eyes off the wolf, until she felt the bookcase behind her.

There's something you need to get, a voice in her mind was whispering to her. It wasn't like the voice of

another person, but it wasn't exactly like her own mental voice, either. It was a voice like a dark cool

wind: competent and rather bleak. Something you saw on a shelf earlier, it said.

In an impossibly graceful motion, from eight feet away, the wolf leaped.

There was no time to be scared. Hannah saw a bushy, flowing black arc coming at her and then she was

slammed into the bookcase. For a while after that, everything was simply chaos. Books and

knick-knacks were falling around her. She was trying to get her balance, trying to push the heaviness of a

furry body away from her. The wolf was falling back, then jumping again as she twisted sideways to get away.

And the strangest thing was that she actually was getting away. Or at least evading the worst of the

wolf's lunges, which seemed to be aimed at knocking her to the floor. Her body was moving as if this

were, somehow instinctive to her, as if she knew how to do this.

But I don't know this. I never fight… and I've certainly never played dodge ball with a wolf before….

As she thought it, her movements slowed. She didn't feel sure and instinctive any longer. She felt

confused.

And the wolf seemed to know it. Its eyes glowed eerily yellow in the light of a lamp that was lying on its

side. They were such strange eyes, more intense and more savage than any animal's she'd ever seen. She

saw it draw its legs beneath it.

Move-now, the mysterious new part of her mind snapped.

Hannah moved. The wolf hit the bookcase with incredible force, and then the bookcase itself was falling.

Hannah flung herself sideways in time to avoid being crushed-but the case fell with an unholy noise

directly in front of the door.

Trapped, the dark cool voice in Hannah's mind noted analytically. No exit anymore, except the window.

"Hannah? Hannah?" It was Paul's voice just outside the room. The door flew open-all of four inches. It

jammed against the fallen bookcase. "God-what's going on in there? Hannah? Hannah!" He sounded

panicked now, banging the door uselessly against the blockage.

Don't think about him, the new part of Hannah's

mind said sharply, but Hannah couldn't help it. He sounded so desperate. She opened her mouth to

shout back to him, her concentration broken.

And the wolf lunged.

This time Hannah didn't move fast enough. A terrible weight smashed into her and she was falling, flying.

She landed hard, her head smacking into the floorboards.

It hurt.

Even as she felt it, everything grayed out. Her vision went sparkling, her mind soared away from the

pain, and a strange thought flickered through her head.

I'm dead now. It's over again. Oh, Isis, Goddess of Life, guide me to the other world….

"Hannah! Hannah! What's going on in there?" Paul's frantic voice came to her dimly.

Hannah's vision cleared and the bizarre thoughts vanished. She wasn't soaring in sparkling emptiness and

she wasn't dead. She was lying on the floor with a book's sharp corner in the small of her back and a

wolf on her chest.

Even in the midst of her terror, she felt a strange appalled fascination. She had never seen a wild animal

this close. She could see the white-tipped guard hairs standing erect on its face and neck; she could see

saliva glistening on its lolling red tongue. She could smell its breath-humid and hot, vaguely dog-like but

much wilder.

And she couldn't move, she realized. The wolf was as long as she was tall, and it weighed more than she

did. Pinned underneath it, she was utterly helpless. All she could do was lie there shivering as the narrow,

almost delicate muzzle got closer and closer to her face.

Her eyes closed involuntarily as she felt the cold wetness of its nose on her cheek. It wasn't an

affectionate gesture. The wolf was nudging at strands of her hair that had fallen across her face. Using its

muzzle like a hand to push the hair away.

Oh, God, please make it stop, Hannah thought. But she was the only one who could stop this-and she

didn't know how.

Now the cold nose was moving across her cheekbone. Its sniffing was loud in her ear. The wolf seemed

to be smelling her, tasting her, and looking at her all at once.

No. Not looking at me. Looking at my birthmark.

It was another one of those ridiculous, impossible thoughts-and it snapped into place like the last piece in

a puzzle deep inside her. Irrational as it was, Hannah felt absolutely certain it was true. And it set off the

cool wind voice in her mind again.

Reach out, the voice whispered, quiet and businesslike. Feel around you. The weapon has to be there

somewhere. You saw it on the bookcase. Find it.

The wolf stopped its explorations, seeming satisfied. It lifted its head… and laughed.

Really laughed. It was the eeriest and most frightening thing Hannah had ever seen. The big mouth

opened, panting, showing teeth, and the yellow eyes blazed with hot bestial triumph.

Hurry, hurry.

Hannah's eyes were helplessly fixed on the sharp white teeth ten inches away from her face, but her hand

was creeping out, feeling along the smooth pine

floorboards around her. Her fingers glided over books, over the feathery texture of a fern-and then over

something square and cold and faced with glass.

The wolf didn't seem to notice. Its lips were pulling back farther and farther. Not laughing anymore.

Hannah could see its short front teeth and its long curving canines. She could see its forehead wrinkling.

And she could feel its body vibrate in a low and vicious growl.

The sound of absolute savagery.

The cool wind voice had taken over Hannah's mind completely. It was telling her what would happen

next. The wolf would sink his teeth into her throat and then shake her, tearing skin and ripping muscles

away. Her blood would spray like a fountain. It would fill her severed windpipe and her lungs and her

mouth. She would die gasping and choking, maybe drowning before she bled out.

Except. . . that she had silver in her hand. A silver picture frame.

Kill it, the cool voice whispered. You've got the right weapon. Hit it dead in the eye with a corner. Drive

silver into its brain.

Hannah's ordinary mind didn't even try to figure out how a picture frame could possibly be the right

weapon. It didn't object, either. But faint and faraway, there came another voice in her head. Like the

cool wind voice, it wasn't hers, but it wasn't someone else's, either. It was a clear crystal voice that

seemed to sparkle in jeweled colors as it spoke.

You are not a killer. You don't kill. You have never killed, no matter what happened to you. You do not

kill.

I don't kill, Hannah thought slowly, in agreement.

Then you're going to die, the cool wind voice said brutally, much louder than the crystal voice. Because

this animal won't stop until either it's dead or you are. There's no other way to deal with these creatures.

Then it happened. The wolf's mouth opened. In a lightning-fast move, it darted for her throat.

Hannah didn't think. She brought the picture frame up … and slammed it into the side of the wolf's head.

Not into the eye. Into the ear.

She felt the impact-hard metal against sensitive flesh. The wolf gave a yelping squeal and staggered

sideways, shaking its head and hitting at its face with a forepaw. Its weight was off her for an instant, and

an instant was all Hannah needed.

Her body moved without her conscious direction, sliding out from under the wolf, twisting and jumping

to her feet.

She kept her grasp on the picture frame.

Now. Look around! The bookcase-no, you can't move it. The window! Go for the window.

But the wolf had stopped shaking its head. Even as Hannah started across the room, it turned and saw

her. In one flowing, bushy leap it put itself between her and the window. Then it stood looking at her,

every hair on its body bristling. Its teeth were bared, its ears upright, and its eyes glared with pure hatred

and menace.

It's going to spring, Hannah realized.

I am not a killer. I can't kill.

You don't have any choice-

The wolf sprang.

But it never reached her. Something else came soaring through the window and knocked it off course.

This time, Hannah's eyes and brain identified the creature at once. Another wolf. My God, what is going on?

The new animal was gray-brown, smaller than the black wolf and not as striking. Its legs were amazingly

delicate, twined with veins and sinews like a racehorse's.

A female, something faraway in Hannah's mind said with dreamlike certainty.

Both wolves had recovered their balance now. They were on their feet, bristling. The room smelled like

a zoo.

And now I'm really going to die, Hannah thought. I'm going to be torn to pieces by two wolves. She was

still clutching the picture frame, but she knew there was no chance of fighting them both off at once. They

were going to rip her to bits, quarreling over who got more of her.

Her heart was pounding so hard that it shook her body, and her ears were ringing. The female wolf was

staring at her with eyes more amber than yellow, and Hannah stared back, mesmerized, waiting for it to

make its move.

The wolf held the gaze for another moment, as if studying Hannah's face-in particular the left side of her

face. Her cheek. Then she turned her back to Hannah and faced the black wolf.

And snarled.

Protecting me, Hannah thought, stunned. It was unbelievable-but she was beyond disbelief at this point.

She had stepped out of her ordinary life and into a fairy tale full of almost-human wolves. The

entire world had gone crazy and all she could do was try to deal with each moment as it came.

They're going to fight, the cool wind voice in her mind told her. As soon as they're into it, run for the

window.

At that moment everything erupted into bedlam. The gray wolf had launched herself at the black. The

room echoed with the sound of snarling-and of teeth clicking together as both wolves snapped again and

again.

Hannah couldn't make out what was going on in the fight. It was just a blurred chaos as the wolves

circled and darted and leaped and ducked. But it was by far the most terrifying thing she had ever

witnessed. Like the worst dog fight imaginable, like the feeding frenzy of sharks. Both animals seemed to

have gone berserk.

Suddenly there was a yelp of pain. Blood welled up on the gray female's flank.

She's too small, Hannah thought. Too light. She doesn't have a chance.

Help her, the crystal voice whispered.

It was an insane suggestion. Hannah couldn't even imagine trying to get in the middle of that snarling

whirlwind. But somehow she found herself moving anyway. Placing herself behind the gray wolf. It didn't

matter that she didn't believe she was doing it, or that she had no idea how to team up with a wolf in

fighting another wolf. She was there and she was holding her silver picture frame high.

The black wolf pulled away from the fight to stare at her.

And there they stood, all three of them panting, Hannah with fear and the wolves with exertion. They

were frozen like a tableau in the middle of the wrecked office, all looking at each other tensely. The

black wolf on one side, his eyes shining with single-minded menace. The gray wolf on the other, blood

matting her coat, bits of fur floating away from her. And Hannah right behind her, holding up the picture

frame in a shaking hand.

Hannah's ears were filled with the deep reverberating sound of growling.

And then a deafening report that cut through the room like a knife.

A gunshot.

The black wolf yelped and staggered.

Hannah's senses had been focused on what was going on inside the room for so long that it was a shock

to realize there was anything, outside it. She was dimly aware that Paul's yells had stopped some time

ago, but she hadn't stopped to consider what that meant.

Now, with adrenaline washing over her, she heard his voice.

"Hannah! Get out of the way!"

The shout was tense, edged with fear and anger- and determination. It came from the opposite side of

the room, from the darkness outside the window.

Paul was there at the broken window with a gun. His face was pale and his hand was shaking. He was

aiming in the general direction of the wolves. If he fired again he might hit either of them.

"Get into a corner!" The gun bobbed nervously.

Hannah heard herself say, "Don't shoot!"

Her voice came out hoarse and unused-sounding. She moved to get in between the gun and the wolves.

"Don't shoot," she said again. "Don't hit the gray one."

"Hit the gray one?" Paul's voice rose in something like hysterical laughter. "I don't even know if I can hit

the wall! This is the first time I've ever shot a gun. So just-just try to get out of the way!"

"No!" Hannah moved toward him, holding out her hand. "I can shoot. Just give it to me-"

"Just move out of the way-"

The gun went off.

For an instant Hannah couldn't see where the bullet had gone and she wondered wildly if she had been

shot. Then she saw that the black wolf was lurching backward. Blood dripped from its neck.

Steel won't kill it, the wind voice hissed. You're only making it more angry. .

But the black wolf was swinging its head to look with blazing eyes from Hannah with her picture frame

to Paul with his gun, to the gray wolf with her teeth. The gray wolf snarled just then and Hannah had

never seen an animal look closer to being smug.

"One more shot…" Paul breathed. "While it's cornered…"

Ears flat, the black wolf turned toward the only other window in the room. It launched into a vaulting

leap straight toward the unbroken glass. There was a shattering crash as it went through. Glass fragments

flew everywhere, tinkling.

Hannah stared dizzily at the curtains swirling first outside, then inside the room, and then her head

snapped around to look at the gray wolf.

Amber eyes met hers directly. It was such a human stare… and definitely the look of an equal. Almost

the look of a friend.

Then the gray wolf twisted and loped for the newly broken window. Two steps and a leap-she was

through.

From somewhere outside there came a long drawn-out howl of anger and defiance. It was fading, as if

the wolf was moving away.

Then silence.

Hannah shut her eyes.

Her knees literally felt as if they wanted to buckle. But she made herself move to the window, glass

grating under her boots as she stared into the night.

The moon was bright, one day past full. She thought she could just see a dark shape loping toward the

open prairie, but it might have been her imagination.

She let out her breath and sagged against the window. The silver picture frame fell to the floor.

"Are you hurt? Are you okay?" Paul was climbing through the other window. He tripped on a

waste-basket getting across the room, then he was beside her, grabbing for her shoulders, trying to look

her over.

"I think I'm all right." She was numb, was what she was. She felt dazed and fragmented.

He blinked at her. "Um .. . you have some particular fondness for gray wolves or something?"

Hannah shook her head. How could she ever explain?

They stared at each other for a moment, and then, simultaneously, they both sank to the floor, squatting

among the shards of glass, breathing hard.

Paul's face was white, his red hair disheveled, his

eyes large and stunned. He ran a shaky hand over his forehead, then put the gun down and patted it. He

twisted his neck to stare at the wreck of his office, the overturned bookcase, the scattered books and

knickknacks, the two broken windows, the glass fragments, the bullet hole, the flecks of blood, and the

tufts of wolf hair that still drifted across the pine floorboards.

Hannah said faintly, "So who was at the door?"

Paul blinked twice. "Nobody. Nobody was at the door." He added almost dreamily, "I wonder if wolves

can ring doorbells?"

"What?"

Paul turned to look straight at her.

"Has it ever occurred to you," he blurted, "that you may not be paranoid after all? I mean, that something

weird and uncanny really is out to get you?"

"Very funny," Hannah whispered

"I mean-" Paul gestured around the room, half-laughing. He looked punch-drunk. "I mean, you said

something was going to happen-and something did." He stopped laughing and looked at her with

wondering speculation. "You really did know, didn't you?"

Hannah glared at the man who was supposed to guide her back to sanity. "Are you crazy?"

Paul blinked. He looked shocked and embarrassed, then he glanced away and shook his head. "God, I

don't know. Sorry; that wasn't very professional, was it? But…" He stared out the window. "Well, for a

moment it just seemed possible that you've got some kind of secret locked up there in your brain.

Something… extraordinary."

Hannah said nothing. She was trying to forget

about too many things at once: the new part of her that whispered strategies, the wolves with human

eyes, the silver picture frame. She had no idea what all these things added up to, and she didn't want to

know. She wanted to force them away from her and go back to the safe ordinary world

ofSacajaweaHigh School .

Paul cleared his throat, still looking out the window. His voice was uncertain and almost apologetic. "It

can't be true, of course. There's got to be a rational explanation. But-well, if it were true, it occurs to me

that somebody had better unlock that secret. Before something worse happens."

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