Kitty Saves the World Page 54

“I brought it on myself. I could have walked away.”

More gently Anastasia said, “I’ve been sending you as much help as I can.”

“Thank you, thank you so much for that.” I reached to squeeze her hand, but pulled back, because my furred arms and clawed fingers startled me all over again.

She said, “He’s here, he’s close, and you don’t have time. Remember this: stop the spell, not the man. Stop the spell.”

I finally did touch her, to brush her sleeve, to reassure myself, but my hand passed through her.

“But I don’t know how, I still don’t even know what he’s doing—”

Sun was moving back into the trees, into the shadows. “I’ll help. Look for me.”

“Okay, okay—”

“Stay safe, stay strong.” Anastasia’s ghostly hand closed over mine. I wanted to grab her, hold her, keep her close. But that didn’t seem possible.

“Anastasia—I miss you. I need you!” She was the strongest woman I knew. She’d been fighting Roman for almost eight hundred years. The wind ruffled my fur, and a howl built up in my throat.

The wind knocked me over, spat dust in my face. As I’d learned whenever Ashtoreth appeared: when doors opened between worlds, wind blasted through. My fur couldn’t keep me warm, my feet didn’t stay grounded.

I tried to shout again, but I couldn’t see her anymore, I couldn’t see anything, and the wind was driving daggers into me—

*   *   *

THEN I woke up, for real.

It was daylight. The same day or the next day, I didn’t know. Weeks might have passed, but I didn’t think so. The world was still here, the sun was still shining. I curled my fingers—regular fingers, with flat human nails—and they dug into the soft dirt of a springtime forest. I heard birdsong, and everything smelled clean, of rich earth and growing things, air moving through pine trees. I could rest here, curled up naked under a half-rotten tree trunk, just breathing, forever.

When I finally looked myself over, I appeared to have a bad sunburn. The burned places were tender, annoying but not crippling. The blisters on my feet had faded. I ached, but didn’t hurt.

In a sudden panic, I clapped my hand on my chest and found the coin on its cord, right where it should be. I hadn’t lost it. But I didn’t know what had happened to my wedding ring. Back with my clothes probably. I tried not to despair.

I shivered. The spring air this far into the mountains and wilderness was still cold. I could survive it. But really, I needed to find some clothes. And a phone. Right now.

Look for me, Sun had said. I didn’t know where to start.

The spell, Anastasia had said. Stop the spell. Yes, of course, that was what we’d been trying to do all along. I was in Yellowstone now, and I assumed Roman was, too, so I supposed I was closer. I remembered her smile, the ghostly touch of her hand, and wanted to cry. I needed her—why couldn’t she be here to help me?

Because she was summoning allies. She was rallying the troops. That needed to be done, and she could do it. Right.

I moved cautiously, alert for the least sound, smell, or flash of movement, knowing full well that if Lightman appeared, it would be suddenly and with no warning. The coin protected me, but only to a point.

The world around me was soothingly normal. The sky was clear and blue. Nice day out. A river ran nearby—its smell had drawn Wolf, the freshness of it had signaled safety. Some distance beyond it, visible from the slope of the hill I was on, was what looked like a major road, two lanes, well paved. This was promising. I followed the river downstream, knowing that it and the road would eventually lead somewhere useful. I found a bridge to cross and watched for cars—didn’t see any. It might have been too early in the season for much traffic in the park.

After a few minutes of walking, I picked up the pace, moving in a Wolfish lope. I didn’t have time to waste.

Half an hour later, an old beater pickup truck rumbled past. I was sweaty, grimy, and still naked, so I ducked back behind a tree, trying to decide if I should leap out and shout for help, possibly shocking the driver of said truck to death. At best, the driver might call the police and race away from the crazy naked woman. But it might actually stop, and it might actually have a phone I could use. And maybe a blanket or an extra coat. I wasn’t about to go back for my own clothes.

I was still debating when the truck swerved up ahead, did a U-turn, and roared back, parking on the shoulder near my hiding place. So, for good or bad, I’d been spotted. Still unsure, I waited.

The driver got out, shaded his eyes, and peered into the woods. I clapped my hands over my mouth to suppress a squeal.

“Sun!” I said, moving into the open, waving. He smiled and waved back. He was back in jeans and a white T-shirt, and seemed all too normal.

Unselfconscious, I ran to the truck and bounced up against it so we were looking at each other over the hood.

“I had a dream,” I said. “You and Anastasia were there. Was that real? That was real?”

“More or less.” He winked.

I glared, and he threw me a blanket from the cab of the truck.

“Do you also happen to have a phone on you?” I asked, wrapping myself with the blanket and knotting it in place. Wearing a blanket like a muumuu wasn’t much better than being naked, really.

He winced. “You know, I don’t. Never been able to get the hang of those things.”

“Why bother, when you’re a divine being?” I said.

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