The Calling Page 45

I was lying on the ground. I caught a glimpse of one of Kenjii’s paws and I remembered where I was. I blinked and yawned. Out of the corner of my eye I saw another of Kenjii’s paws jerk, and I glanced over to realize it wasn’t hers. It was the huge tawny paw of a cougar.

I leaped to my feet. Or I tried to, rolling awkwardly. I managed to get half up, then reached out to push to my feet and—

I screamed. Only it was no girlie scream this time—it was a snarling yelp. I looked down again at my hands, stretched out before me. Not hands. Paws. Cougar paws.

I gulped air. Even that didn’t feel right and when I closed my mouth, a fang caught my lip.

I’d changed into a cougar. Transformed in my sleep.

As I swung my head, I caught sight of Kenjii. She was still fast asleep. I stared at her. If Kenjii wasn’t leaping up with a cougar standing two meters away, then there couldn’t be a cougar standing two meters away.

I was dreaming.


I told myself I should be relieved, that I wasn’t ready to deal with the shape-shifting, that I needed more information first, I needed to be prepared. Yet there was part of me that didn’t want to be prepared. Didn’t want to be so damned organized and informed all the time. The part that longed to just leap and experience.

Yet the transformation couldn’t be that easy, could it? For the body to turn from human to animal must involve pain. Vast amounts of real pain, not just discomfort. That was only logical.

Damn logic. Why couldn’t I have a little magic in my life, instead?

I sighed. It came out as a feline chuff, jowls quivering.

Oh, get over it already. You want magic, Maya? How about the ability to heal animals? The power to become one—painful or not.

That was magic.

I stretched, catlike, hindquarters up, front paws out. I stayed back from Kenjii, though. Part of me still hoped I wasn’t dreaming, that she was just soundly asleep from her long day of adventure. After everything I’d been through, I was entitled to enjoy my fantasy while it lasted.

As I stretched, I flexed my paws and my claws shot out like switchblades. I relaxed and they retracted. In and out, in and out.

I took a closer look at my paws. They were as big as splayed human hands, oversize for climbing. If I looked closely at my flanks, I could see very faint spots, all but disappeared.

I pushed onto all fours and took a few steps. It wasn’t as awkward as I’d feared. I knew how animals moved, and when I put that image into my brain, it was like an instruction set. My muscles obeyed and I walked. Forward. Back—

I tripped and landed on my rump. Okay, that explained why animals usually turn around instead of switching into reverse. Backing up on two legs is a lot easier than on four.

So what else was different? Everything I saw, for starters. The world came in shades of gray, like a high-qualityblack-and-white movie. My night vision seemed sharper, as did my hearing. The dark clearing where we’d fallen asleep looked twilit, and I could pick up the scuffle of a distant animal.

The most noticeable difference was the overwhelming number of smells. Musk and rot and a sharp, clean scent that I somehow recognized as water. I swallowed. Water.

I followed the scent until I found a stream, barely a trickle. I sat on my haunches and reached out a paw, ready to scoop some up to drink before realizing that really wasn’t going to work.

I bent, stuck out my tongue, and licked the water. I knew I was supposed to lap, not lick, but that’s not easy when you aren’t accustomed to it. After slopping around and soaking my face, I managed to get a few mouthfuls.

When I had enough, I twisted to go and felt a weird ping on my cheek. It was like I’d brushed against something, but a more intense sensation. And my face was inches from the ferns bending over the stream. I tried again. Another ping, and I realized what it was. Whiskers. They were warning me I was close to hitting something. Like the backup sensors on my grandmother’s car.

As I turned around, I felt another brushing sensation, this one not nearly as intense but even odder. My tail. It was off to the side and I couldn’t really get a good look at it. So how could I move—?

My tail swung. Okay, that was easy. I took a closer look. It was thick and over half the length of my body. When I thought of moving it, it moved. Very convenient.

I crept forward, sniffing and listening and, occasionally, tasting. When I caught the faint smell of raw meat, my stomach rumbled. That part, I ignored. Definitely not something I cared to explore, and the mingled musk of a weasel or marten told me I’d be stealing dinner from someone else if I did.

The next scent on the breeze was also from a living being. And this one brought me to a skidding stop, paws outstretched. I lifted my head, nose twitching as I found the smell again, to be sure I wasn’t mistaken.


Daniel and the others? My heart beat faster, tail swinging. Another sniff. No, these were scents I didn’t recognize. Not consciously, at least. But as I stood there, nose raised to the wind, images flashed in my mind and told me I did know these people—I just hadn’t realized I’d stored the scents.

Moreno. Antone. The woman. And the faint smell of a campfire.

As I sniffed the air, I started to seriously consider the possibility this was real. I’d dreamed of undressing. I must have done that, in my sleep, like I’d walked in my sleep two nights ago. As for the transformation, I’d seen Annie do it and it had seemed relatively painless. And why hadn’t Kenjii woken? Because I’d moved away from her before I shape-shifted. She was too tired to hear me get up and I probably smelled the same as I always did. No cause for alarm.

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