The Calling Page 26

He wasn’t budging. Although we could pretend we held the power here, he knew better because he knew we weren’t going to hurt him. He’d laughed at the thought of us interrogating him, and as much as that pissed me off, he had a point.

We were teenagers who’d grown up in a tiny town where we’d been treated like precious gems, which I guess, in a way, we were. We’d had an easy life. While we were tough enough to survive in the woods, we wouldn’t hurt Moreno in order to make him talk. It went against every value that had been instilled in us. Daniel’s power of persuasion was apparently on the fritz, so we were stuck.

For a moment during our attempted interrogation, I considered getting Sam. I suspected she could have handled this. But I honestly didn’t think it would do any good. Moreno wasn’t telling us anything else.

We patted him down and confiscated his cell phone. It needed a code, and he wasn’t giving it up.

Finally, we did the closest thing to torturing him we could come up with. We gagged him with the towel and tied him to a tree a couple hundred meters from the cabin.

“Your friends aren’t going to find you,” Daniel said. “And the nights are getting cold. It’ll be a race between hypothermia and dehydration, see which kills you first.”

We paused a moment, letting that sink in, then I said, “Are you sure you don’t want to talk to us?”

Moreno rolled his eyes, still looking amused.

“He’ll think it’s a lot less funny by morning,” I said to Daniel. “We’ll come back then, see if he’s changed his mind.”

We’d hoped that threat would be enough to get him talking. It wasn’t. As we walked away, we looked back a couple of times to see if he was straining at his bonds, wildly trying to tell us he’d talk. He just sat there. Which meant we were screwed. No way we were hanging around until morning and then coming back. I suppose he knew that. Maybe he also knew we wouldn’t really walk away and leave him to die—that his bonds weren’t tight enough to bind him there forever. Just long enough to let us get far away as his friends searched for him.


“WE DIDN’T GET MUCH out of him,” Daniel said when we were away from Moreno.

“It fit with what I read in the cabin, though. It’s starting to come together but—”

Barking erupted in the forest. A very deep, very familiar, very loud bark.

“Kenjii!” Daniel said.

I broke into a run. Daniel kept pace behind me. As I ran, I mentally cursed the others for not quieting my dog. That bark would carry for miles.

When I was close enough for Kenjii to hear me, I gave a soft whistle. She came crashing through the bushes.

“No!” Hayley yelled. “Kenjii!”

“It’s okay,” I said. “It’s me.”

Kenjii barreled into me. I managed to avoid being bowled over, but when I tried to get past her, she bumped my legs, prodding me back the way I’d come.

“Maya?” Hayley called, loud enough to make me wince. “Daniel?”

I pushed Kenjii aside. She growled and leaped into my path, then bumped me with her head. Telling me to stay back. Don’t come this way. When Daniel tried to pass her, she blocked him, too.

I shoved her aside with a firm “no.” I saw Hayley and Sam, standing near the abandoned ATV and dead deer. I tried to brush past Daniel. His arm shot out to stop me. And then I saw why. Corey was crouched beside the ATV, as if he’d been working on it. On the other side of the dead deer was a snarling, spitting cougar.

“She came for the deer,” I whispered. Seeing the cougar from another angle, I noticed her hanging teats. “She’s lactating, which means she has cubs close by. The ATVs have probably been scaring away the game. She’s getting desperate.”

“I appreciate the Nature Channel commentary,” Corey said. “But it’s really not helping, Maya.”


“Think you could use some of that animal whisperer mojo? Tell her the deer looks tasty, but she can have it. In fact, I insist.”

“You’ve forgotten everything my dad taught us all about dealing with big cats, haven’t you?”

“Oddly, it’s slipped my mind. Something to do with seeing six-inch fangs a foot from my throat.”

“They’re two inches, tops, and she’s a meter away.”


“Step one, maintain eye contact. Step two, stand up. Never crouch around a cat—it makes you look like prey.”

He shot to his feet so fast the cougar started, then snarled.

“Um, move slowly,” I said.


“Don’t worry. She wants the deer, not you. Dead prey is easier to catch. Let her know you’re surrendering it by backing away, slowly, while keeping eye contact.”

He did that. The cat stood her ground, crouched, but her ears were forward, head raised, rear legs still. In other words, considering attack, but not yet sure it was necessary.

Once Corey had retreated a few meters, the cougar slunk forward, going for the deer. She grabbed it by the neck. Then, hauling it with her, she swung around, her back to the ATV as she looked over at us, checking out the remaining competition.

I tightened my grip on Kenjii’s collar, but she was staying calm.

“Don’t move,” I murmured to the others. “Keep eye contact, but don’t move.”

As I spoke, the cat met my gaze. Her eyes widened and her rounded pupils dilated. She lifted her head and sampled the air. Then she growled.

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