The Calling Page 10

Finally, I saw trees and my heart stopped pounding. I walked faster, needles crunching under my feet, the sound, the smell so familiar that my throat ached, and I had to reach out, fingers brushing the boughs as we passed. The fog disappeared, as if kept at bay by the trees. Safe. I was in the forest, Daniel was beside me and I was safe.

“Uh, Maya?” Corey said behind me. “Maybe … this isn’t such a good idea.”

I turned. The others were ten feet back, barely inside the tree line. Nicole and Hayley had moved closer to Corey. Sam hung back, looking into the woods as if I was asking her to jump off a cliff.

“The fog’s gone in here,” I said. “It was marine fog. It doesn’t penetrate the forest.”

“Yeah,” Corey said. “I’m thinking the fog’s not such a problem. It’s very … dark. We don’t know what’s in there.”

“Yeah, we do,” Sam said. “Bears, cougars, wolves…”

“None of which are nocturnal,” I said. Actually, they were crepuscular, which meant they were most active at twilight—both dawn and dusk. In other words, right about now. But I wasn’t telling these guys that. “They’ll stay out of our way if we stay out of theirs.”

“But how can we stay out of their way if we can’t see them?” Hayley asked.

I turned and looked into the forest. I could see fine, but I was part cat. To them it would be dark. Very dark.

“I’ll lead,” I said. “Kenjii and I spend so much time in the woods that our eyes adjust quickly.”

“I don’t know,” Hayley said. “It’s really dark. And really spooky.”

I turned again and saw a scene worthy of a tourist brochure—a rocky, natural path dotted with unfurled ferns and soaring, vine-ribboned redwoods. Somewhere to our left, a nighthawk trilled. Even the leftover fog was like fine lace drifting past on a cedar-perfumed breeze.

“I’m not seeing spooky,” I said. “Dark, yes, but what’s spooky about it?”

“What’s not spooky?” Sam muttered.

Hayley pointed. “You can’t tell me that isn’t creepy.”

I followed her finger to see branches draped in elegant, pale-green Spanish moss.

“That? Seriously? It’s moss, Hayley, not an alien life-form. We just escaped a helicopter crash and a death brush with something in the water. That was scary. This is the forest. This is where we’re going to find shelter and water.”

“Shelter? I don’t want a damned cave, Maya. I want a house, and we’re not going to find that in the middle of—”

Daniel stepped between us. “All right. This isn’t helping. We have to get through these woods in order to find help. That could mean holing up for thenight, but we’ll be okay. Maya knows her way around the woods and so do I. You need to trust us to look after you.”

He spoke to them, but it was for my benefit, too. A reminder that they didn’t have our experience and they were not going to see the forest the way I did.

I led everyone for a while without any sign of light or noise from a road, then I veered south. Instinct, I guess. On Vancouver Island, like anywhere in Canada, the population tends to shift south. Most times that’s for warmer weather. The island, though, is temperate rain forest, meaning we rarely see the white stuff. We gravitate south because it’s simply more hospitable land. While my sense of “where” we’d crashed was vague, I knew it was north. Probably a long way north. The pilot’s goal, I suspected, had been someplace more remote.

It wasn’t a stretch to think that the people responsible for this—and for setting the fire that got us out of town—were the scientists my birth mother had escaped sixteen years ago. Yes, Sam seemed to think they might be after her, but I was sure I was the target. That meant I had to rescue myself. Get to a phone, call my parents—my adoptive parents—and tell them everything. Yet my escape couldn’t jeopardize my friends. If it came down to it, I’d need to get away, separate them from the danger I posed.

For now, they needed me to navigate the forests and find help. Heading south was easy so far—I could hear the crash of waves and smell the ocean to my left, meaning we were going the right way. We hadn’t walked very far, though, before Corey stopped as we were circling around an outcropping of rock.

“Is anyone seeing lights anywhere?” Corey said. “Because all I see is bushes. We need to get higher.”

He started scrambling up the rock pile. The stones were dark. Covered in lichen. Slippery lichen.

“Stop!” I said.

His foot slid and the leg he’d hurt in the crash buckled. We jumped to grab him, but his knee cracked against rock as he fell. He let out a yowl and a string of curses. His jeans had split and underneath, his knee was bleeding. When I tried to touch it, he grabbed my hand.

“I need to check it out,” I said.

The skin had been scraped from his kneecap. It felt whole underneath, but he gritted his teeth at my touch, meaning it was probably badly wrenched.

“We’re going to need to wrap it,” I said. “Or you won’t be able to walk.”

The only thing we could spare for wrapping was socks. Daniel gave his and I tied them together. When the socks were wrapped around Corey’s leg, he could stand, with effort and Daniel’s arm for support.

“Figures,” Corey muttered. “Survive a forest fire, helicopter crash, and killer eels, only to slip on a rock.”

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