Five months ago, I tricked Rosa into kissing me. I’ve been lying to her ever since. That’s not entirely true. They’re not lies. They’re omissions. I omit pieces of the truth because she hunts creatures like me. So far she doesn’t know what I am, so well rehearsed are my stories. I kill hunters like her, but none of them ever caused my pulse to thrum at the base of my wrists. None of them had salted caramel taffy skin, sun-warmed, and soft. Soft in the way only a fawn’s coat should be soft.
We sit shoulder to shoulder at the edge of a neighbor’s pool, water laps against our knees, passing a cigarette back and forth. Sunlight glints off the water, off the drops running down her bare arms. Over the sharp chlorine and cloves, she smells like a field of sunflowers and coconut sunscreen. Rose kicks a leg and water sparkles in an arc. The splash silences the hum of cicadas for a split second.
It’s taken five months to convince her to break into backyards with me. The danger didn’t keep her away, no. She stayed out because she respected the people that live here. She hid her Scout motorcycle along the side of the house. Rosa relaxes against me. Like she’s home.
“Ever been skinny-dipping?”
Rosa laughs in that deep throaty way that’s only for me. I kiss her neck, drag a canine along the tender skin at her throat. Her laughter catches between my teeth.
I didn’t think they would follow me out here where the ice thins and I can hear the crash of the ocean. The wind is wilder here and has freed the ice of its protective layer of snow, making it slick. Slipping now would be fatal. The wind whips off my hood, but I can’t stop to fix it. Their chilling calls rise above the roar of the wind and sea, and I know the Howlers have nearly reached me. My lungs ache with each cold breathe I take, but I push myself harder. I have to.
My eyes leak frozen rivers across my cheeks. I lost my goggles when I tripped and rolled down a powdery hill before reaching the flat ice. The cold and wind burn my eyes. That, and I might be crying. A rush of heat runs up my thigh and all I hear now are Howlers. They’re breathing on me! I scream. It doesn’t help me run faster or release the fear clawing at my heart, but it excites the Howlers. I want to cover my ears to their deafening cries; they know a kill is soon.
No one will hear me out here, days from the shining citadel of Hiverfryt, but I can’t go quietly. I release another scream. It’s part fear and part anger. I was so close to finding my sister when the Howlers caught my scent. Now I never will. Suddenly, my fur boots slip. I try to correct myself by flailing my arms, but there is nothing to catch. I’m grabbing at air as I fall backwards. The Howlers are so close, one leaps over me in a giant stride before turning on me.
Squinting at the sun, he is nothing more than white wisps. Despite this, their teeth are sharper than knives. I’m nearly nose to nose with him, staring into his red eyes before I think to turn on my stomach and cover my head with my hands. Teeth try to find me through the layers of my clothes as I press my nose into the ice. I scream again as one tears off my mitten and bites my wrist. There are paws on my back and my hood pulls taut across my neck. It cuts off my scream.