Kitty Takes a Holiday
By Carrie Vaughn
Warner Books Copyright © 2007 Carrie Vaughn
All right reserved. ISBN: 978-0-446-61874-8
Chapter One She runs for the joy of it, because she can, her strides stretching to cover a dozen feet every time she leaps. Her mouth is open to taste the air, which is sharp with cold. The month turns, and the swelling moon paints the night sky silver, lighting up patches of snow scattered through-out the woods. Not yet full moon, a rare moment to be set free before her time, but the other half of her being has no reason to lock her away. She is alone, but she is free, and so she runs.
Catching a scent, she swerves from her path, slows to a trot, puts her nose to the ground. Prey, fresh and warm. Lots of it here in the wild. The smell burns in the win-ter air. She stalks, drawing breath with fl aring nostrils, searching for the least flicker of movement. Her empty stomach clenches, driving her on. The smell makes her mouth water.
She has grown used to hunting alone. Must be careful, must not take chances. Her padded feet touch the ground lightly, ready to spring forward, to dart in one direction or another, making no sound on the forest floor. The scent-musky, hot fur and scat-grows strong, rocketing through her brain. All her nerves flare. Close now, closer, creeping on hunter's feet-
The rabbit springs from its cover, a rotted log grown over with shrubs. She's ready for it, without seeing it or hearing it she knows it is there, her hunter's sense filled by its presence. The moment it runs, she leaps, pins it to the ground with her claws and body, digs her teeth into its neck, clamping her jaw shut and ripping. It doesn't have time to scream. She drinks the blood pumping out of its torn and broken throat, devours its meat before the blood cools. The warmth and life of it fills her belly, lights her soul, and she pauses the slaughter to howl in victory-
My whole body flinched, like I'd been dreaming of falling and suddenly woken up. I gasped a breath-part of me was still in the dream, still falling, and I had to tell myself that I was safe, that I wasn't about to hit the ground. My hands clutched reflexively, but didn't grab sheets or pillow. A handful of last fall's dead leaves crumbled in my grip.
Slowly, I sat up, scratched my scalp, and smoothed back my tangled blonde hair. I felt the rough earth underneath me. I wasn't in bed, I wasn't in the house I'd been living in for the last two months. I lay in a hollow scooped into the earth, covered in forest detritus, sheltered by overhanging pine trees. Beyond the den, crusted snow lay in shadowed areas. The air was cold and biting. My breath fogged.
I was naked, and I could taste blood in the film covering my teeth.
Damn. I'd done it again.
Lots of people dream of having their picture on the cover of a national magazine. It's one of the emblems of fame, fortune, or at the very least fifteen minutes of notoriety. A lot of people actually do get their pictures on the covers of national magazines. The question is: Are you on the cover of a glamorous high-end fashion glossy, wearing a designer gown and looking fabulous? Or are you on the cover of Time, bedraggled and shell-shocked, with a caption reading, "Is This the Face of a Monster?" and "Are YOU in Danger?"
Guess which one I got.
The house I was renting-more like a cabin, a two-room vacation cottage connected to civilization by a dirt road and satellite TV-was far enough out from the town and road that I didn't bother getting dressed for the trek back. Not that I could have; I had forgotten to stash any clothes. Why would I, when I hadn't intended to Change and go running in the first place? Nothing to be done but walk back naked.
I felt better, walking with my skin exposed, the chill air raising goose bumps all over my flesh. I felt cleaner, somehow. Freer. I didn't worry-I followed no path, no hiking trails cut through these woods. No one would see me in this remote section of San Isabel National Forest land in southern Colorado, tucked into the mountains.
That was exactly how I wanted it.
I'd wanted to get away from it all. The drawback was, by getting away from it all I had less holding me to the world. I didn't have as many reasons to stay in my human body. If I'd been worried about someone seeing me naked, I probably wouldn't have shifted in the first place. Nights of the full moon weren't the only time lycanthropes could shape-shift; we could Change anytime we chose. I'd heard of werewolves who turned wolf, ran into the woods, and never came back. I didn't want that to happen to me. At least, I used to think I didn't want that to happen to me.
But it was getting awfully easy to turn Wolf and run in the woods, full moon or no.
I was supposed to be writing a book. With everything that had happened to me in the last couple of years- starting my radio show, declaring my werewolf identity on the air and having people actually believe me, testifying before a Senate committee hearing, getting far more attention than I ever wanted, no matter how much I should have seen it all coming-I had enough material for a book, or so I thought. A memoir or something. At least, a big publishing company thought I had enough material and offered me enough money that I could take time off from my show to write it. I was the celebrity du jour, and we all wanted to cash in on my fame while it lasted. Selling out had sounded so dreamy.
I put together about a dozen "Best of The Midnight Hour" episodes that could be broadcast without me, so the show would keep going even while I took a break. It'd keep people interested, keep my name out there, and maybe even draw in some new fans. I planned to do the Walden thing, retreat from society in order to better reflect. Escape the pressures of life, freeing myself to contemplate the deeper philosophical questions I would no doubt ponder while composing my great masterpiece.
Trouble was, you could get away from society and learn to be self-reliant, like Thoreau advocated. Turn your nose up at the rat race. But you couldn't escape yourself, your own doubts, your own conscience.
I didn't even know how to begin writing a book. I had pages of scribbled notes and not a single finished page. It all looked so unreal on paper. Really, where did I start? "I was born ..." then go into twenty years of a completely unremarkable life? Or start with the attack that made me a werewolf? That whole night was so complicated and seemed an abrupt way to start what I ultimately wanted to be an upbeat story. Did I start with the Senate hearings? Then how did I explain the whole mess that got me there in the first place?
So I stripped naked, turned Wolf, and ran in the woods to avoid the question. As hard as I'd struggled to hold on to my humanity, that was easier.
The closest town of any size to my cabin was Walsenburg, some thirty miles away, and that wasn't saying a whole lot. The place had pretty much stopped growing in the sixties. Main street was the state highway running through, just before it merged onto the interstate. The buildings along it were old-fashioned brick blocks. A lot of them had the original signs: family-owned businesses, hardware stores, and bars and the like. A lot of them were boarded up. A memorial across from the county courthouse paid tribute to the coal miners who had settled the region. To the southwest, the Spanish Peaks loomed, twin mountains rising some seven thousand feet above the plain. Lots of wild, lonely forest spread out around them. The next afternoon, I drove into town to meet my lawyer,
Ben O'Farrell, at a diner on the highway. He wouldn't drive any farther into the southern Colorado wilds than Walsenburg.
I spotted his car already parked on the street and pulled in behind it. Ben had staked out a booth close to the door. He was already eating, a hamburger and plate of fries. Not much on ceremony was Ben.
"Hi." I slipped into the seat across from him.
He reached for something next to him, then dropped it on the Formica table in front of me: a stack of mail addressed to me, delivered to his care. I tried to route as much of my communication through him as I could. I liked having a filter. Part of the Walden thing. The stack included a few magazines, nondescript envelopes, credit card applications. I started sorting through it.
"I'm fine, thanks, how are you?" I said wryly.
Ben was in his early thirties, rough around the edges. He seemed perpetually a day behind on his shaving, and his light brown hair was rumpled. He wore a gray suit jacket, but his shirt collar was open, the tie nowhere to be seen.
I could tell he was gritting his teeth behind his smile.
"Just because I drove all the way out here for you, don't ask me to be pleasant about it."
"Wouldn't dream of it."
I ordered a soda and hamburger from the waitress, while Ben set his briefcase on the table and pulled out packets of paper. He needed my signature in approximately a million different places. On the plus side, the documents meant I was the beneficiary of several generous out-of-court settlements relating to the fiasco my trip to Washington, D.C., last fall had turned into. Who knew getting kidnapped and paraded on live TV could be so lucrative? I also got to sign depositions in a couple of criminal cases. That felt good.
"You're getting twenty percent," I said. "You ought to be glowing."
"I'm still trying to decide if representing the world's first werewolf celebrity is worth it. You get the strangest phone calls, you know that?"
"Why do you think I give people your number and not mine?"
He collected the packets from me, double-checked them, stacked them together, and put them back in his briefcase. "You're lucky I'm such a nice guy."
"My hero." I rested my chin on my hands and batted my eyelashes at him. His snort of laughter told me how seriously he took me. That only made me grin wider.
"One other thing," he said, still shuffling pages in his briefcase, avoiding looking at me. "Your editor called. Wants to know how the book is going."
Technically, I had a contract. Technically, I had a deadline. I shouldn't have had to worry about that sort of thing when I was trying to prove my self-reliance by living simply and getting back to nature.
"Going, going, gone," I muttered.
He folded his hands in front of him. "Is it half done? A quarter done?"
I turned my gaze to a spot on the far wall and kept my mouth shut.
"Tell me it's at least started."
I heaved a sigh. "I'm thinking about it, honest I am."
"You know, it's perfectly reasonable for someone in your position to hire a ghostwriter. Or at least find a co-author. People do it all the time."
"No. I majored in English. I ought to be able to string a few sentences together."
I closed my eyes and made a "talk to the hand" gesture. He wasn't telling me anything I didn't already know.
"I'll work on it. I want to work on it. I'll put something together to show them to make them happy."
He pressed his lips together in an expression that wasn't quite a smile. "Okay."
I straightened and pretended like we hadn't just been talking about the book I wasn't writing. "Have you done anything about the sleazebag?"
He looked up from his food and glared. "There's no basis for a lawsuit. No copyright infringement, no trademark infringement, nothing."
"Come on, she stole my show!"
The sleazebag. She called herself "Ariel, Priestess of the Night," and starting about three months ago she hosted a radio talk show about the supernatural. Just like me. Well, just like I used to.
"She stole the idea," Ben said calmly. "That's it. It happens all the time. You know when one network has a hit medical drama, and the next season every other network rolls out a medical drama because they think that's what everyone wants? You can't sue for that sort of thing. It was going to happen sooner or later."
"But she's awful. Her show, it's a load of sensationalist garbage!"
"So do it better," he said. "Go back on the air. Beat her in the ratings. It's the only thing you can do."
"I can't. I need some time off." I slumped against the back of the booth.
He idly stirred the ketchup on his plate with a french fry. "From this end it looks like you're quitting."
I looked away. I'd been comparing myself to Thoreau because he made running away to the woods sound so noble. It was still running away.
He continued. "The longer you stay away, the more it looks like the people in D.C. who tried to bring you down won."
"You're right," I said, my voice soft. "I know you're right. I just can't think of anything to say."
"Then what makes you think you can write a book?"
This was too much of Ben being right for one day. I didn't answer, and he didn't push the subject.
He let me pay the bill. Together, we headed out to the street.
"Are you going straight back to Denver?" I asked.
"No. I'm going to Farmington to meet Cormac. He wants help with a job."
A job. With Cormac, that meant something nasty. He hunted werewolves-only ones who caused trouble, he'd assured me-and bagged a few vampires on the side. Just because he could.
Farmington, New Mexico, was another two hundred fifty miles west and south of here. "You'll only come as far as Walsenburg for me, but you'll go to Farmington for Cormac?"
"Cormac's family," he said.
I still didn't have that whole story, and I often asked myself how I'd gotten wrapped up with these two. I met Ben when Cormac referred him to me. And what was I doing taking advice about lawyers from a werewolf hunter? I couldn't complain; they'd both gotten me out of trouble on more than one occasion. Ben didn't seem to have any moral qualms about having both a werewolf and a werewolf hunter as clients. But then, were lawyers capable of having moral qualms?
"Be careful," I said.
"No worries," he said with a smile. "I just drive the car and bail him out of jail. He's the one who likes to live dangerously."
He opened the door of his dark blue sedan, threw his briefcase onto the front passenger seat, and climbed in. Waving, he pulled away from the curb and steered back onto the highway.
On the way back to my cabin, I stopped in the even smaller town of Clay, Population 320, Elevation 7400 feet. It boasted a gas station with an attached convenience store, a bed and breakfast, a backwoods outfitter, a hundred-yearold stone church-and that was it. The convenience store, the "Clay Country Store," sold the best home-baked chocolate chip cookies on this side of the Continental Divide. I couldn't resist their lure.
A string of bells hanging on the handle of the door rang as I entered. The man at the cash register looked up, frowned, and reached under the counter. He pulled out a rifle. Didn't say a word, just pointed it at me.
Yeah, the folks around here knew me. Thanks to the Internet and twenty-four-hour news networks, I couldn't be anonymous, even in the middle of nowhere.
I raised my hands and continued into the store. "Hi, Joe. I just need some milk and cookies, and I'll be on my way."
"Kitty? Is that you?" A woman's face popped up from behind a row of shelves filled with cans of motor oil and ice scrapers. She was about Joe's age, mid-fifties, her hair graying and pulled into a ponytail that danced. Where
Joe's eyes frowned, hers lit up.
"Hi, Alice," I said, smiling.
"Joe, put that down, how many times do I have to tell you?"
"Can't take any chances," he said.
I ignored him. Some fights you couldn't win. The first time he'd done this, when I came into the store and he recognized me as "that werewolf on TV," I'd been so proud of myself for not freaking out. I'd just stood there with my hands up and asked, "You have silver bullets in there?" He'd looked at me, looked at the rifle, and frowned angrily. The next time I came in, he announced, "Got silver this time."
I went around the shelves to where Alice was, where Joe and his rifle couldn't see me as easily.
"I'm sorry," Alice said. She was stocking cans of soup. "One of these days I'm going to hide that thing. If you'd call ahead, I could make up some chore for him and get him out of here."
"Don't worry about it. As long as I don't do anything threatening, I'm fine, right?" Not that people generally looked at me-a perky blonde twenty-something-and thought "bloodthirsty werewolf."
She rolled her eyes. "Like you could do anything threatening. I swear, that man lives in his own little world."
Yeah, the kind of world where shop owners kept rifl es under their counters, while their wives lined healing crystals along the top of the cash register. She also had a cross nailed over the shop door, and more crystals hanging from the windows.
They each had their own brand of protection, I supposed.
I hadn't decided yet if the werewolf thing really didn't bother some people, or if they still refused to believe it. I kind of suspected that was how it was with Alice. Like my mom-she treated it like it was some kind of club I'd joined. After full moon nights she'd say something like,
Did you have fun at your little outing, dear?
A lifetime of believing that these things didn't exist was hard to overcome.
"How do you two stay married?"
Excerpted from Kitty Takes a Holiday by Carrie Vaughn Copyright © 2007 by Carrie Vaughn. Excerpted by permission.
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