The Wolf by J.R. Ward



“I want to go home.”

Gordo sounded like a damned baby. Except, yeah, Tiller wanted his mommy, too, not that he was going to say anything about that.

“It’s just piped in,” he blurted.

“What?”

Tiller shoved the kid off. “Like how they do in haunts to scare people going through the mazes. That wasn’t real. Come on, like there’s a wolf inside this fence?”

“You think there’re speakers in the trees?”

“Just keep going. Jesus.”

Tiller put the phone back up because he needed to look like he was in control. Otherwise, he was going to lose Gordo and have to do this alone. And he was not not sending the video—

“I’m out,” Gordo announced.

Turning around, Tiller marched back to the kid. “You want to look like an idiot after we didn’t jump into the quarry this summer?” He and Gordo really should have just frickin’ done the dare. Then they wouldn’t be here. “We promised the footage, we’re going to get the footage. Besides, nothing is going to happen.”

He grabbed Gordo’s arm and dragged them both forward. When more lightning flashed, they both squeaked and ducked down. Tiller recovered first, and he kept ahold of the other kid. No fucking way he was going to let his cover get away. If something went wrong, he was faster than Gordo and it was like in Zombieland. Rule #1: Cardio—

“See?” Tiller said. “It’s just right there.”

His feet stopped, even though he’d intended to keep going. And Gordo didn’t argue with the no-more-walking.

As thunder rolled through the dark sky, another flash lit up the looming structure before them—and the Willow Hills Sanatorium got way too real. The rotten old building was twice the size of the school they went to, with five floors and two big wing-thingies. Broken windows, busted shutters, and nasty stains running from the roof all the way down to the weeds made the place look like it was possessed.

And maybe that was true, Tiller thought as he took in the empty eye sockets in the towering wall of the centerpiece.

“What’s that?” Gordo mumbled.

“What’s what.” God, he should have brought . . . well, he shouldn’t have come here at all. “What’s your problem.”

Gordo shook his head. Standing there in his Minecraft sweatshirt, with his shaggy brown hair in his scared eyes, he reminded Tiller of a fence post jammed into the ground.

The kid wasn’t looking at the building.

“There’s something over there.” Gordo raised his arm and pointed off to the side. “There are eyes between those trees . . .”

Tiller swung himself around—and there it was. A set of yellow eyes glowing in the shadows.

“Fuck this,” Gordo yelped as he dropped all the equipment and tore off.

For a second, Tiller stayed right where he was, his body incapable of motion. But then the snarl was low and carried the promise of sharp fangs and bloody stumps and—

Tiller tripped over his feet as he started to bolt away, and when he landed hard, he lost his phone. But he couldn’t worry about that. Lunging back up, he ran like his life depended on it—because it fucking did—and he didn’t care how long he was going to be grounded or how many weekends he was going to have to work for his dad in the yard to pay for a new iPhone.

He just wanted to get home without being dead.

And so he ran, ran as hard as he could, back for the fence, to the tear in the metal twists. To his friend. To his house, where wolves didn’t howl and didn’t snarl and kids didn’t accept dumbass dares that took them into haunted places on Halloween with the least courageous of the neighborhood’s group of seven boys . . .

In the aftermath of the rushed departures, the snarling in the barren tree line stopped. And then there was a pause, followed by moist cracking sounds, a groan or two, and a ground cover shuffle that was easily drowned out by more of the thunder’s lazy, snoring travel through the ionized air molecules of the storm.

A moment later, a pair of muddy bare feet walked over to the 8S, and a human-like hand reached down and picked up the cell phone. The ghost-hunting app made a frantic beeping sound, and as the wolven turned the sensor to himself, the damn thing lit up like a Christmas tree, screaming with warning.

The male chuckled.

Until a menacing, female voice said behind him, “Don’t you have somewhere to be down in Caldwell?”

The wolven glanced over his naked shoulder and flashed fangs white as morgue shrouds, sharp as surgical instruments. “I’m going.”