. The fine hairs prickled the back of Cheyenne Rafferty’s neck as she crouched beside the ice-laced pond and filled the small glass vial with water. Surveying the too-still northwest Montana forest, she sniffed the air, catching the normal scents of a Cabinet Mountains springtime—spicy Ponderosa pines, new quaking aspen leaves, and the mineral tang of mud-tinged snow. She strained to listen.
Silence. Dead silence. No animals, no birds. Weird for early afternoon, even in mid-April. She wanted to melt down into true-self and let Sister take over. The white wolf’s senses were more acute, but she needed to finish collecting water samples and report to her U.S. Forestry Service superiors. Hard to do either with four paws and a growl.
Frowning, Cheyenne pulled her handheld radio from her belt. “Eagle to Nest.”
“What’s up, Chey?” her cousin Sarah asked.
“You got anything from USGS on recent seismic readings?”
“Are you serious? Here? There’s no alert for Kootenai. Why?”
Cheyenne closed her eyes and reached for the inner stillness where soul touched earth. Wrongness. A single ripple on the water’s mirror surface. “Too quiet. Sister’s twitchy.”
“I’ll double-check.” Silence on the line, then “Crap! Hang on, Chey. We’ve got tremors coming.”
The earth shivered; a sigh building to a low groan. With a mighty heave, the ground arched like the back of a newly-saddled mustang and then dropped. Cheyenne lost her balance and tumbled to the ground. The pond crested into a single giant wave that crashed over her. Boulders cartwheeled down the mountainside toward her truck.
With the speed of thought Sister emerged. The nimbleness and claws of the white wolf gave her better purchase on the shifting ground than her human self. As she danced amidst the rocks, Cheyenne’s thoughts buried beneath Sister’s instinct to stay up and keep moving. One rock with sharp quartz edges glanced off her flank. Sister yelped and ducked out of the way. It seemed an eternity but was over within moments.
Sister shook herself free of the debris. Now that it was safer, Sister retreated. Muscles stretched; joints popped as bones lengthened. Skin burst through split fur. There was a moment of pain, of dizziness and disorientation as Cheyenne straightened upright and rose in her wet filthy uniform. She grimaced as cold, clammy material clung to her skin.
This will teach me to leave my coat in the truck. If only she could shift into clean, dry clothes but that wasn’t how it worked. What you left was what you re-entered. A little extra fur made back into clothing. Minus badge and holster belt, radio and cell phone.
Why I haul the phone around in an area with no reception bars… Her older brother Brady would freak when he couldn’t get a hold of her. He’d raised her singlehandedly after their parents died and still took his guardianship seriously, long after she’d reached the age of consent.
“Chey? Chey? You there? You okay?” Sarah sounded breathless—and frantic. “Answer me, dammit.”
Cheyenne wrung out her dripping ponytail and tossed the scraggly ash blonde rope of hair back over her left shoulder. Her sturdy hiking boots squelched in the mud as she picked up her squawking radio. “Tell Brady I’m fine. You?”
“We’re okay, still here. Lights are gone; no phones. Kane broke out a flashlight to check the records vault down in the basement.”
“What’s the scoop?” Cheyenne struggled to buckle her belt one-handed.
“Four-pointer, but localized.” Sarah paused. “I think it just brushed Troy but didn’t make it as far as Libby; Evan’s checking with both towns, but that’ll take time. Phone and power lines are down. We’ve got broken windows, a crack in the north wall and also—yep, right down the middle of the parking lot. So much for the resurfacing. Crap—your mom’s ivy took a header off your desk…hang on…there. It’s a bit squashed. Sorry. What’s the damage out there?”
Cheyenne looked around. Rocks had carved jagged paths through the dripping underbrush. Evergreen trees lay toppled in every direction, the pond now a shallow, steaming mud puddle. Dead fish lay scattered across the bubbling surface of a newly-emerged hot spring. “Looks like an amateur logging event. The pond’s now hot. Total kill. I need to check my truck.” She returned the radio to her belt, snapped some photos—at least the phone was now good for something—and took another water/mud sample. Then she half-staggered, half-slid down the trail to the gravel road where she’d parked.
A moan sounded from nowhere, from everywhere, like a dying moose magnified a hundredfold building to a roar. A sense of glee, of malice and rage, hammered into her. Cheyenne drew her Smith & Wesson service revolver and looked around for the source of the eerie sound. Sister cowered deep within her. Cheyenne frowned. Sister didn’t cower from anything, not even a mama grizz with new cubs. Whatever that noise was, her inner wolf wanted no part of it.
She quickened her pace. Her hunting rifle was in the truck. This early in the season bears weren’t out unless they’d run short on body fat. For taking soil samples and measuring water depths she didn’t usually need weapons, just a pen, notepad, and test tubes—along with the occasional canoe.
Apparently this wasn’t the usual day.