To a couple who deserve a future.
No matter how impossible it seems.
Town of Walters, est. 1834
Upstate New York
LYDIA SUSI’S DESTINY came for her in the veil, on a random Thursday in the early spring.
As she ran along the wooded trail, two miles into a loop that would take her through the preserve’s northeastern acreage, she was measuring the glowing line that topped the contours of the mountains. Soon, the stripe would expand to an aura, and after that, the sun would accept the handoff from the moon, and day would arrive.
Her grandfather had always told her there were two twilights, two gloamings, and if you wanted to find your past, you went into the pines in the evening as the sun went down. If you wanted your future to come to you, you went alone into the forest in the veil, during that sacred transition of night into morning. There, he’d told her, when the distinction between that which ruled the light and that which held domain over the dark was at its narrowest, when the moon and the sun reached for each other before the rotations of their orbits tore them asunder, there was when the mortal could brush up against the infinite and seek answers, direction, guidance.
Of course, that did not mean you got good news. Or what you wanted.
But life was not an à la carte buffet where you could choose everything that went on your plate—another words-of-wisdom from a man who had lived to be 101 years old still smoking a pipe and drinking a glass of sima after his dinner year round.
Why limit spring to just Vappu? he’d said.
Lydia had never believed in his superstitions. She was a researcher, a scientist, and the kinds of things that her isoisä had gone on about did not fit in with that Ph.D. in biology she’d bought on layaway from the federal government and was still paying off.
So no, she was not out looking for any prognostication from the universe this morning. She was getting her workout done before she headed into her office at the Wolf Study Project. With the way things had been going lately, she was going to blink and it would be seven at night. Short-staffed and under-funded, everything was a fight for resources at WSP, and by the time she locked things up every evening, she was exhausted. So Carpe Cardio was her motto and why she was out in this misty darkness—
Lydia let her stride peter to a halt.
Her breath pumped in clouds that captured and held the moonlight, and as a breeze came across the trail, her body did the same with the chill, grabbing it out of the air and bringing it in under her windbreaker.
As she shivered, she looked behind herself. The trail she was on was the widest one in the preserve, a highway rather than a street, but she couldn’t see much into the trees. Pines crowded up close to the shoulders of the packed path, and the fog wafting through the craggy trunks and fluffy boughs obscured the forest even more.
In a quick calculation, she figured she was a good three miles from any other human, two miles from her car at the trailhead’s parking area, and a hundred yards from what had caught her attention.
There, up ahead, something was close to the ground, moving.
Fight or flight, Lydia, she thought. What’s it going to be.
She reached around to the small of her back. There were two cylinders mounted on the strap of her fanny pack, and she left the Mace where it was. Clicking on her flashlight and bringing it forward, she swung the beam in a wide arc—
The eyes flashed over on the left, a set of retinas flaring the light back at her as pinpoints. The stare was about three feet from the ground and the pupils were set close together, as predators’ were.
Lydia looked around again.
“I’m not going to bother you,” she said. But like the gray wolf spoke English?
The growl was soft. And then came the rustling. The animal was prowling toward her.
Lydia kept the beam down on the fallen pine needles as she, too, walked forward. Something was wrong with the wolf, its gait wobbly and uneven. Yet the spirit of the hunter remained undeterred—and she was identified as its target.
She was about twenty feet away when she got a sense of the fully mature male. He was filled out, at a healthy weight of about a hundred and thirty pounds, and his mottled white, gray, and brown fur was thick and lush, especially at the tail. But his head was hanging at a bad angle, and he was dragging his back paws as he continued to close the distance between them.
It was obvious when the wolf was going to collapse. Though his head remained forward, his body listed to the side, his will staying strong even as his rear legs, and then his forelegs, gave out.
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