The Calling Page 27

I tried to step back. I knew I should, but my legs wouldn’t obey. I stood my ground and I held her gaze, and when I did, everything else seemed to disappear. I felt the rush of wind. Heard my feet pounding against the earth. Smelled grass and pine needles and blood. Smelled the blood of the deer and felt the birthmark on my hip begin to throb. The throbbing pulsed outward, an ache that ran down my legs and up into my arms and—

A wrench on my arm yanked me back to reality as I saw the cougar leap. Saw her fangs flash in a snarl, gaze still locked on mine. Saw Kenjii running at her.

I screamed and lurched forward. Beside me, I dimly heard Daniel yell. Felt his fingers brush my arm. Heard my father’s voice. If Kenjii ever goes after a bear or a cat, you can’t interfere, Maya. No matter how hard it is to stand there and let her protect you, you cannot interfere.

He was right. I knew he was right. And it didn’t matter. I looked into that cat’s eyes, and saw her change target, hitting my dog instead, and rage filled me, an indescribable primal rage, like when a cougar had attacked Daniel. There was no way in hell I was letting her hurt Kenjii.

The cat took my dog down and they rolled, snarling and hissing. I kicked the cat. Kicked her with everything I had, and she fell to the side. I kicked her again, aiming for her wide skull. My foot made contact. The cougar went down hard. Kenjii leaped on her and pinned her by the throat.

“No,” I said before Kenjii could bite down. “No.”

The word sounded strange, harsh and guttural, but it stopped Kenjii and she settled for pinning the cat.

Daniel caught my arm. I shook him off and walked over until I was right in front of the cat. Then I bent by her head and looked into her panic-filled, rolling eyes.

Go. Take the deer and go. I don’t want to hurt you.

I meant to say the words aloud. I didn’t hear them, though. Not outside my head. I looked the cat in the eyes and I thought them again, and she went still, gaze fixed on mine as her eyes stopped rolling.

Go on. Take the deer. Feed your cubs. Leave us alone.

She snorted as if she understood. I caught Kenjii by the collar and gently pulled her back. When Daniel moved up behind me, I reached back and took his hand. He hesitated for a second, then squeezed it, and stood beside me as the cougar picked up the deer by the throat again and dragged it off into the woods.

“Situation averted,” I said. My voice still sounded strange.

Daniel squeezed my hand again, reassuring me. But the others said nothing. I looked back to tell them it was okay, she was gone, and we were safe, only they weren’t staring after the cougar. They were staring at me.

I released Kenjii and started to speak, then coughed to clear away whatever was making my voice sound so odd. I reached up to rub my throat. When my fingers brushed my skin, they felt strange, rough.

I looked down at my hand. It was … wrong. Misshapen. My fingers were thick, my nails almost like claws. There was hair on the back of my hand. Thick tawny hairs. As I stared at it, my hipstarted to throb again.

I looked over at my other hand, the one Daniel was holding. It was the same way. He squeezed it again and leaned toward me, whispering, “It’s okay.”

I wrenched away and ran.


I RACED PAST THE others, who stared at me like I was a sideshow freak. Kenjii tore after me. Daniel did too, calling my name. I stumbled into the forest, branches scraping me from all sides. I didn’t look for a clear path, just barreled through the dense trees until I tripped over a log and went flying. Then I lay there, facedown. Kenjii caught up, licked my face and nudged me.


I pushed up and scrambled into a patch of dead brush, burrowing into it, Kenjii tunneling after me. When I was sure I was hidden, I stopped and pressed my rough palms to my eyes, heaving deep breaths as my heart thudded.

I stretched my hands out. Were they going back to normal? I touched my face, running my fingers along the familiar planes and contours. They felt … off. Not completely different, just off, like the lines had shifted, cheekbones lower, chin less sharp, nose flattening.

I rubbed my face hard.


Kenjii lifted her head from my lap. When I still didn’t answer Daniel, she whined as if to say Are we hiding on Daniel? It’s been a long time since we played this game.


“I—I’ll be out in a minute.”

I heard him come closer. He didn’t try to peer at me, just grunted as he lowered himself to the ground.

“How about we back up?” he said.


“Back up to before we went in the cabin. I was going to tell you what I thought was going on. With you. It starts with that old woman at the tattoo studio. The one who said you were a skin-walker.”


“Not yet. This is my chance to look brilliant. So she said you’re a skin-walker. You’ve always had a way with animals. Especially cougars. Lately they won’t leave you alone. We looked up skin-walkers, and saw that they change shape and have healing powers. Now, we could’ve made the leap and said that proves she was right, but we didn’t, because that would be crazy.”


“Like getting sent to a book about Italian witch-hunters—when I’m Italian and I’m good at fighting—and deciding that’s what I must be. Crazy. But then I found that note at Mina Lee’s place. A list of four terms, including skin-walker and benandanti. That made me think some more about your healing powers and the big cats and the visions and the old woman at the tattoo place and your birthmark. I thought about me, too, the weird vibes, how they keep getting stronger, and about what my dad says, and dreams I’ve been having, and some other stuff—just small stuff, but it’s been bugging me. At that point, it was starting to look a little more odd, but it was still too big a leap.”

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