The Wolf by J.R. Ward



vampire (n.) Member of a species separate from that of Homo sapiens. Vampires must drink the blood of the opposite sex to survive. Human blood will keep them alive, though the strength does not last long. Following their transitions, which occur in their mid-twenties, they are unable to go out into sunlight and must feed from the vein regularly. Vampires cannot “convert” humans through a bite or transfer of blood, though they are in rare cases able to breed with the other species. Vampires can dematerialize at will, though they must be able to calm themselves and concentrate to do so and may not carry anything heavy with them. They are able to strip the memories of humans, provided such memories are short-term. Some vampires are able to read minds. Life expectancy is upward of a thousand years, or in some cases, even longer.

wahlker (n.) An individual who has died and returned to the living from the Fade. They are accorded great respect and are revered for their travails.

whard (n.) Equivalent of a godfather or godmother to an individual.





Willow Hills Sanatorium

Connelly, New York

It was a stormy Halloween night when two boys, aged thirteen and thirteen and three-quarters, squeezed through the torn section of a chain-link fence hung with all kinds of “No Trespassing” signs. The one who was older by eight months got his jacket caught on a rusty grab, and the tearing sound was one week without his iPad. Minimum.

“Dammit,” Tiller said as he pulled at the snag.

“C’mon. Let’s get this over with.”

He shouldn’t have brought Gordo, but Isaac was sick, and Mark was grounded for what they’d all done the weekend before. Stupid fire. They hadn’t meant it to get that big, and besides, the leaf pile was gone now and that burned lawn in the Thompsons’ side yard would grow back.

As rain started to fall a little harder, Gordo came over and yanked at the jacket. “Take it off.”

“I am.”

Tiller shoved his ghost-hunting equipment into his buddy’s chest, unzipped the front, and got out of the sleeve. Then he gripped with both hands and pulled as hard as he could—

The release was immediate, and as he landed on his ass, he got rain in his eyes and mud all over him. “Fuck!”

Gordo bent down. “I gotta be back before midnight.”

Like the guy thought Tiller was going to hang around until things air dried. Sometime next week.

“Relax.” He got to his feet and flapped the jacket around. Palm-cleaned his jeans. “What, are you scared?”

“No, dumbass. And we’re s’posed to be online in an hour.”

“Whatever.”

The guy was lying about not being afraid. Which was why he’d been third choice when Tiller had decided he couldn’t handle going alone. Not that he himself was nervous or anything.

Tying the jacket around his waist, he felt like he was wearing his mother’s kitchen sponge, but as he looked around, he forgot about the cold and wet. The trees had no leaves on their clawing branches, and the bushes, with their twisted, finger-like extensions, seemed ready to follow the fence’s example with poisoned thorns—

Overhead, lightning flashed.

Good thing Gordo also jumped.

“Where is the place?”

“Up here,” Tiller said, even though he didn’t know where they were going.

As they continued on, he let Gordo keep hold of the night vision cam and the EVP recorder because he was trying not to run back for the fence, and not sure whether he was going to win the argument with his feet. The deeper into the acreage he went, the more he just wanted to get the video and send it to the seventh grade group chat and have this shit be done with.

“How far is it?”

“Not far.”

Except the trek felt endless, and the trees seemed to move all around them, and Tiller started to lose faith, too. So he fired up the EMF reader on his phone and swung the sensor around, the beeping noise making him think of that submarine movie his father liked to watch, the one with that guy, Stewart Seagal or whatever. The ghost-hunting app, which he’d installed for free, made him feel like he had a flashlight—

The howl came from over to the right. And it was loud and long. And it didn’t sound like just a dog, even a big one like a German shepherd or a Rottie. Whatever was making that noise was much larger.

Tiller grabbed for Gordo, but the kid did the same thing at the same time, so he wasn’t a wuss. As his phone shook in his hand, he almost dropped it. Which would have been a month without his iPad. Or longer.