The Calling Page 6

The girls were shivering. Even Sam, leaning against a tree, twisting the bar in her ear, was trembling, though she kept giving herself an abrupt shake, as if annoyed by her weakness.

I had to give myself a shake, too—a mental one—as I took stock of our surroundings.

With the fog rolling in, I couldn’t tell how big our island was. But it had looked small from the air. The ground was rocky, with patches of long grass and scrubby trees.

The sky was overcast, so dark I thought night was coming until I checked my watch and realized it wasn’t even six.

Mom had been in Victoria when the forest fire broke out. Was Dad with her now? Were they waiting for our helicopter to land? Planning what we’d have for dinner to take my mind off the forest fire?

Had Dad’s helicopter gone to Victoria? Was it only our helicopter that had been diverted or…?

“Maya?” Daniel said.

Don’t think about that. Can’t think about that. We needed to get some place warm and dry before dark.

I whispered that to Daniel. He gestured for me to walk with him.

“We’re going to scout the island,” he told the others.

No one offered to come along. No one said a word. They just nodded, their gazes as empty as I felt.

“We need to tell them everything,” Daniel whispered as we walked away. “Otherwise, they’ll want to wait for rescue. Which we know we can’t do.”

“Because we don’t know who’ll come for us. Real rescuers or fake ones.”

He nodded.

“I’ll…” I struggled to get my brain in gear, but I felt like I was still out in the water, fighting to keep my head above the surface and wishing I could just sink into peaceful oblivion. I blinked hard. “Sorry. I’ll talk to them.”

“No, I will. You just need to back me up. Can you do that?”

I nodded.

Tell them what was going on. God, that sounded so easy. But where to start?

It began less than a week ago. No, that’s not true. It began a year ago. When Serena died. My best friend. Daniel’s girlfriend.

Serena had drowned. It shouldn’t have happened, not to the captain of the school swim team, swimming in a calm lake.

Then Mina Lee came to town. She called herself a reporter, but everyone figured she was a corporate spy. We live in Salmon Creek, a town of two hundred people that was built and owned by the St. Cloud Corporation, so they could conduct drug research. Mina came to Salmon Creek pretending to be writing an article on the local teens—what it was like growing up in a tiny corporate town. She’d really wanted to talk to us—and she was especially curious about Serena’s death, and Daniel and I began to think that she suspected the medical research was responsible.

A few days later we’d found Mina Lee’s body in a cougar cache. Had she been killed by the bigcats? Or died of misadventure in the woods? Or had she been murdered and dumped?

We broke into her cabin and found files on all the teens in our class. Only two were missing. Mine and Sam’s. Sam had stolen hers. When confronted she said it was because she didn’t want others knowing her parents had been murdered. But we’d started wondering if there was more to it, if she might have had something to do with those murders, something to do with Serena’s death, too.

Then there was the note Daniel had found in Mina’s cabin. Four strange words in it, including benandanti. Italian witch-hunters. We knew the word because of Mina. She’d left him a note to call her, on a library book page about benandanti.

I’d recognized other words on that list. Yee naaldlooshii. Skin-walker. A few days before, I’d been called that by an old woman who’d said that’s what my paw-print birthmark meant. That I was a skin-walker. A shape-shifting witch. Crazy, huh? Except… I was. So were Rafe and Annie, who’d come to Salmon Creek looking for the girl who’d been another subject in an experiment to resurrect the latent skin-walker genes. That girl, apparently, was me.

So all that happens, and I’m trying to figure out how to tell Daniel I’m a skin-walker when the forest fire struck. Daniel, Rafe, and I got caught in it. We’d seen a fire-and-rescue truck, and Daniel got a bad feeling—he gets them; I’ve learned to trust them. Turned out it wasn’t fire and rescue. Who was it? I don’t know, but they’d been after us, and one man knew my name and had my eyes, and I was pretty sure I knew what that meant, but I refused to process it. Too much else waiting in the queue.

So how much should we tell the others? I trusted Daniel would know. Normally, we’d hash it out together. But today, I needed him to take charge and he did that.

As we walked, Daniel and I scouted the island to be sure there wasn’t any shelter. In order to get off it, we’d need to swim, which carried the risk of hypothermia. Not something we cared to do if there was an alternative. There wasn’t. The island didn’t have so much as a rock pile big enough to hide behind.

So we returned and Daniel explained to the others what had happened in the woods as we’d been fleeing the fire.

“It sounded like these people deliberately set the blaze,” he said as he finished. “Maya and I thought they were trying to clear Salmon Creek to get into the lab and steal the drug research. But if the pilot drugged the mayor, then that doesn’t make sense. We were already leaving town.”

“How do you know he was knocked out?” Sam asked.

“I saw the pilot grab the mayor’s arm,” Daniel said. “Right before we got on the helicopter. Mr. Tillson rubbed the place, like it hurt. Then Maya found the injection spot.”

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