The Calling Page 48

When I twisted, I flung myself at the tent roof. I hit it and the tent went down. I heard them swearing then—their quarry was in the midst of a mass of billowing canvas, impossible to shoot.

Before the tent could collapse completely, I grabbed a mouthful of canvas and ran into the forest, wrenching it along with me. It was too heavy to drag very far, but I didn’t need it to go far—just to the first trees where it caught, wedged between them like a sail. I let go and tore off into the forest.

Behind me, I heard an ATV roar to life. But I already had a huge lead.

Cougars are decent sprinters, but they aren’t long-distance runners. Soon I was exhausted and had to slow to a steady lope. By then, though, my pursuers were long gone, having headed north—the way I started running—while I’d looped south.

I found Kenjii easily, as if I could instinctively retrace my steps. When I got back to the clearing, I collapsed into sleep.

I dreamed of the rack and the bugs again. Then I dreamed of Serena at the lake. Only this time, I was right beside her, paddling around, laughing and goofing off. Then I saw Nicole, at the side, almost hidden in the bushes overhanging the lake. She slipped into the water.

I grabbed Serena’s arm and started dragging her toward shore. “We have to get out.”

“Oh, no.” Her hand wrapped around my wrist. “I just got you in.”

She tugged me out farther, then flipped onto her back and floated. Beneath the crystal-clear water, I could see Nicole swimming, coming closer with each stroke.

“It’s Nicole,” I said, pointing.

Serena grinned. “Good. I invited her, but you know how she is. All work and no play. I don’t see why she has to practice so much. I don’t.”

Nicole grabbed Serena by the leg. She let out a giggling shriek as she was pulled under. I dove and managed to grab her under the arms and pull her up. She came up sputtering and scowling.

“What was that for?” she said, pushing wet hair from her face.

“It’s Nicole,” I said, grabbing her arm again. “She’s trying to drown you.”

Serena laughed. “Nicole wouldn’t hurt me. She’s my friend. She’s just—”

She went under again as Nicole dragged her down. I swam after them, but this time they were moving too fast. I could see Serena’s face. Her eyes glittering as she tried not to laugh. Then, as she went deeper, worry crept in, and she reached for me, pulling against Nicole. She started to kick, mouth opening in a scream. They hit the bottom, and a cloud of dirt billowed up.

I hit something, too, an invisible barrier. I clawed at it, screaming as Serena fought and writhed and kicked at Nicole. Then she tried to get to me, her fingers stretching up, higher and higher and then, an inch away, they stopped.

I battered at the invisible barrier. Nicolecrouched there, holding Serena down. She looked at me and she smiled.

I shot up from sleep, a scream still in my throat. Hands gripped my wrists.

“Maya! It’s me!”

Daniel. Dragging me to shore. Not knowing that Serena was out there, drowning.

“Serena!” I shouted. “Let me go and get her. Please get her.”

Arms went around me. “She’s gone, Maya.”

“No, she’s—” I looked over his shoulder as he hugged me and I saw the forest. Heard Kenjii whimper. Felt her tongue lick the tears from my cheek and thought, This isn’t right. I backed away and took a better look around. No lake. Just a gray forest, sun rising to the east.

“I was dreaming,” I said. “Again.”

“Can’t say I blame you.” Daniel eased back as I moved away to sit on the ground. “Been having a few anxiety dreams myself.”

I looked at him and the events of the last day slowly returned.

“You shouldn’t be here,” I said. “I’m still dreaming, aren’t I?”

“That depends. Am I better looking?”

I gave a soft laugh and shook my head.

“Do I at least smell better than I did yesterday?”

“No. Sorry.” I rubbed my eyes and yawned. “Where are the others?”

“Sleeping a couple hundred meters that way.” He pointed. “I figured that was far enough from you.”

“I thought I told you we should separate.”

“And you expected me to listen? The point was that we shouldn’t be close enough together that the bad guys could swoop in and nab us all. Gotta admit, though, when you looked like you were going to sleep in that cabin, even Sam was tempted to join you. We would have, too, if you hadn’t come out and set off again.”

I stretched. “Well, Kenjii isn’t tagged. I—” I stopped and blinked harder, then murmured. “Or was that a dream…?”


“I shape-shifted in my sleep. But if you were nearby all night and I’m dressed…”

“Your T-shirt’s on backward. Your socks and shoes are off. Your jeans aren’t zipped. And I’m pretty sure those aren’t Kenjii’s.”

He pointed to two large cougar tracks in a patch of dew-damp earth.

“But how…?”

“I stayed downwind so Kenjii couldn’t smell us. She probably didn’t wake because she was exhausted. As for the clothes, I guess you do more than shape-shift in your sleep. Which is convenient.”

“So I really did…?” I looked at the tracks again. “Wow.”

“And you’re going to tell me all about it, right?”

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