Excerpted from Wildcat Fireflies by Amber Kizer Copyright © 2011 by Amber Kizer. Excerpted by permission of Delacorte Press, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
“Pulloverpulloverpullover!” I screeched as we approached the outskirts of another small town.
One more bump, one more pothole sitting in this beater truck, and I was going to lose my mind. Tens and I were just past three weeks from leaving the wreckage of Revelation, Colorado, on our Divine-tasked quest to find other Fenestra. More people, girls, like me. More Protectors like Tens. Supposedly, there was one, somewhere in the state of Indiana, who needed our help.
“Pleasepleaseplease!” Now at the tail end of January, it had been nearly a month since Jasper’s granddaughter brought us the newspaper article about a cat who predicted deaths and a girl called the Grim Reaper.
It was impossible to think in the bouncing, flouncing truck. I refused to inhale any more hay dust, mud particles, and springs of decades past, not for another second. I heard my brain rolling in circles around the inside of my skull like a Super Ball. “We’ve been driving for lifetimes, Tens. Pull over!” I shouted.
Unflappable as always, Tens didn’t take his eyes off the road. “Meridian, we’re almost there. It hasn’t been that long today. You’re exagger--”
I cut him off. “Long enough. I need to stretch. Just for a minute. Here’s good.” I reached for the door handle as we passed a sign proclaiming Welcome to Carmel, Indiana.
“Here?” He slowed, but didn’t stop the truck.
I needed out.
“Here.” I leapt out. As Tens parked the truck along the curb, I breathed in warm pre-spring air, huffing and puffing like I’d been running instead of sitting.
Custos sprang out of the truck bed, disappearing into the shadows. If I glanced around, I knew I’d see her. But knowing she was watching from the periphery was enough for the moment. I hadn’t truly figured out whether she was more than dog, more than wolf. But I suspected.
Tens unfolded and walked around to the front of the cab, waiting for me like one of the Queen’s guards. I knew that expression. All patience, calm, and deliberation. He used it with wild animals in traps.
I closed my eyes against the irritation with him I felt bubbling up. “I have a feeling about this place.” I knew it as truth, as soon as the words left my mouth.
Tens brushed the area with his glance, taking in every detail, assessing our safety in a blink. “Good or bad?”
Frustrated, I blew out a snort and rubbed my palms on my thighs. Our third day on the road, the newspaper article had mysteriously gone blank, the ink disappearing. Now all we had left was flimsy newsprint and our memories to guide us. I kept expecting another sign. Something I recognized, something that told me we were on the right path. Only nothing presented itself. Each day flowed into the next and failure frayed my edges.
Where was she? This mysterious girl like me, hunted by the Nocti, needed by the good, by everything that was light, clean and pure. What was she thinking? Was she wishing someone would fall from the sky and tell her she wasn’t a freak? Or did she understand her destiny and feel confident in herself?
“Meridian? Good or bad feeling?” Tens loped toward me, carefully keeping his distance. I didn’t bite, but I’d been cranky enough lately that I understood his reticence.
“I don’t know yet.” I turned away, trying to puzzle out the gut feeling twisting me up. “Why don’t you sense it, too? Why can’t you sense her? What good is your gift if we can’t count on it? What if we don’t find her? Are we supposed to drive every road in the state, and the next state, and then . . . what? Canada? Mexico? I can’t believe we’re supposed to drive around for the rest of our lives eating burgers and sleeping in crappy motels.” We had plenty of money, thanks to Auntie. What we didn’t want to do was grab the interest of authorities--the last thing we needed was a Good Samaritan wanting to rescue a minor from life on the road. Although sixteen and old enough to drop out of high school, I still resembled a barely pubescent girl. I didn’t look a day over fourteen, and Tens’s intimidating nature screamed criminal. Not a good combination for keeping a low profile.
“You’re tired.” He said this like it explained everything, including my volatile attitude.
Pissed, I hissed up at him, “Don’t patronize me.” Of course I was tired. We never ceased driving, not for more than a few hours at a time. We’d been to every retirement and nursing home from the southern Indiana border to the middle of the state. I walked in circles, kicking the truck’s tires.
I craved a bit of balance, stillness for my soul. Direction wasn’t enough on this quest; I wanted a clear purpose. What was the point of sending us out in blind ignorance? Not for the first time I wished for a conversation with the Creators--the rule makers. I wanted one of those comment cards. Fenestras shouldn’t have to operate alone and vastly outmatched by the community of Nocti, who had each other and leaders and clear mandates to destroy and bring suffering. Me--my team? We simply had journeys and lessons and growth. Yee-haw for the good guys.
Tens sighed and leaned over the hood of the truck. “Fine, you’re not tired. You’re thinking clearly and you’re not wailing like a toddler who didn’t get the lollipop. Tantrum much?” He rested his face in his hand, huffed a breath, and straightened toward me.
My mouth gaped. Then I choked back an utterly bitchy retort. He was right. He was always right. “Wow. Harsh.”
“Yeah, sorry. No excuse.” He softly brushed hair off my neck and kneaded the muscles knotted in my shoulders, successfully turning my claws into purrs. “I’m hungry. You have to be hungry. Let’s go in there.” He kissed the top of my head and turned me gently toward the restaurant behind us. He patted my butt flirtatiously, shocking a giggle from my throat.
From the Hardcover edition.