The Calling Page 43

When I was almost back, I heard branches snap as someone barreled through the woods.

I ducked behind a fallen tree. A dark shape sprang, then stopped short, just out of sight. A whine.


I nudged aside branches until I could see her. She was still wearing the muzzle. A length of rope trailed behind her.

I closed my eyes to listen for the sound of anyone else. More twigs snapped as Kenjii caught my scent and raced around the fallen tree.

I grabbed her and held her close, whispering, “Shhh,” as I kept looking and listening.

Kenjii nudged me, as if to say, That’s no welcome.

I pulled the rope in. The end wasn’t broken, as I’d hoped, but as I ran it through my fingers I saw red smears. I took a better look. Blood. Someone had been holding her and Kenjii had wrenched so hard she’d scraped the skin from his hands as she broke free.

I hugged her. “They couldn’t hold you, huh? Good girl.”


I stood. It was Sam, coming through the trees. Daniel and Corey appeared behind her. Seeing the dog beside me, Daniel grinned.

“We got one escapee, at least,” he said.

“Only one,” I said as I tugged off the muzzle. “I found Hayley. She managed to communicate with me. It was a trap. There was no way…” I took a deep breath. “I wanted to try rescuing her anyway, but she said no.”

“Too bad dogs can’t talk,” Sam said.

I glanced over at her.

“Um, we’re all feeling bad about Hayley,” Corey said. “Don’t interrupt by wishing we could question the dog.”

“That’s not what I meant. Hayley could tell you it was a trap. He can’t.”

“Kenjii’s a she,” I said.

“Whatever. My point is that your dog has conveniently escaped, just like Hayley did. You don’t think that’s a trap?”

“If it is, then we’ve already been caught.” I looked around. “Huh. I don’t see the guys with guns yet.”

“Because they’ve put a tracking device on her. Or in her.”

I removed the rope. Then I took off her collar and handed it to Daniel to check while I ran my fingers over her, looking for tender spots.

“It’s clean,” Daniel said, handing me back the collar. “If she was still wearing the muzzle and rope, then they—”

“—wanted it to look like she really escaped,” Sam said.

“There’s blood on the rope,” I said. “That means she pulled free from whoever had her.”

“Or they’re very detail-oriented.”

“Oh, please,” Corey said. “Seriously?”

I turned to Sam. “So what do you suggest?”

“Tie her to a tree and keep going.”

Istared at her.

“I hope you’re not serious,” Daniel said.

“How about we tie you to a tree?” Corey said.

“It’s a dog,” Sam said. “I understand it’s Maya’s pet—”

“No, you don’t understand,” I said, barely able to get the words out. “I wouldn’t tie any animal to a tree and leave it to die. Any animal. And certainly not my dog. She trusts me to look after her. I will not break that trust.”

“I’m not saying we tie her and leave her for good. If she’s tagged, they’ll find her. If not, we can come back after—”

“After she’s died of dehydration? Or been eaten by the first hungry cougar or bear that comes along and finds dinner staked out for it?”

Sam backed up and crossed her arms. “This isn’t about doing what we want. It’s doing what we need to survive. You think you’re the only one who’s had to make hard choices?”

“We just made a hard choice,” Corey said. “We left Hayley—”

“There’s a reason I don’t have pets,” Sam went on. “I found a kitten once. I took it from place to place as we ran … until the day we had to run without going back home. My parents said she’d find a way out of our apartment. I’m not sure of that. But there was nothing else to do. Hard life. Hard choices.”

My parents would have made sure the cat got out, called a neighbor from a pay phone or something. As I looked at Sam, though, I knew she wouldn’t agree. She’d been raised to avoid risk at all costs.

“Sam has a point,” I said.

“What?” Corey said. “No way.”

Daniel shot me a questioning look. Not questioning why I was going along with Sam, but wondering what alternative I had in mind, because he knew there was no way in hell I’d leave Kenjii behind.

“She could be tagged,” I said. “And as we agreed earlier, not all of us need to get to safety. That means not all of us need to stay with Kenjii. I’ll take her. You guys go another way.”

Once again, our great escape devolved into chaos, which could be summarized as: “You can’t do that.” “Yes, I can.” “I know you’re upset—” “I’m not upset. We have a problem and I’m solving it.” Expand. Mix. Repeat until one party wears down and surrenders. That party wasn’t me.

Actually, I was surprised by how quickly Daniel gave in. Well, “quickly” being relative. But he did fold fast enough for me to suspect he didn’t plan to actually let me go off alone. So I kept my ears tuned for signs I was being followed. But I didn’t hear any. He’d realized this was the best solution for all.

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