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Chapter Twenty

You know what? Buses suck.

 

The night before, I was actually looking forward to taking a cross country trip on a big ol’ bus. It was the kind of thing I’d always wanted to do back when…you know…I was human. Just load myself onto that giant metal Twinkie and ride off into the sunset. I’d make new friends, see new sights, and…

 

Yeah, no. Literally none of that is true. Turns out, the other passengers are—to a person—the worst people on the planet. Parents who don’t feel like telling their little terrors not to scream and put their gum in people’s hair. Creeps who ignore the “no smoking” signs because, you know, screw you. Jerks who think their willies will shrivel up and fall off if everybody can’t hear their tough guy rap music. Basically, the dregs of humanity.

 

Now imagine being stuck with them for over twelve hours. No escape. No means of fighting back.

 

“Can I kill one now?” I muttered under my breath as Mr. Two-Seats-Ahead began singing along to his trashy music.

 

“Sure,” he said.

 

I turned to him. “Really?”

 

He smirked. “I’m sure that won’t slow us down at all. We don’t really need to get to Chicago, do we?”

 

I groaned and buried my face in my hands. “How much farther is it?”

 

“If you ask me that one more time, I will turn this bus around!”

 

I looked up and glared at him. “Careful, or you might be the one I decide to kill.”

 

Dex laughed and opened his mouth like he was going to retort, but he froze when his watch began to beep. Cursing under his breath, he reached into his jacket and pulled out one of his vials.

 

“Think this’ll get us kicked off?” he asked quietly as he uncorked it.

 

“That guy’s been drinking vodka since we left the station,” I said, jerking a thumb over my shoulder. “If they don’t care about that, you’ll be fine.”

 

Taking a deep breath, Dex chugged the whole thing in one gulp, then shuddered and made a face like he was being tortured.

 

“Are you ever going to tell me what those do?” I asked while he put the empty vial away.

 

He scraped his tongue against his teeth to get the taste off. “I’ll make you a deal: let your wolf out for a while when we get to Chicago, and I’ll tell you everything.”

 

I scowled at him, resisting the urge to punch his smug, stupid face, and hunched over to stare at my knees. Maybe if I closed my eyes, I’d open them and the trip would be over. It hadn’t worked the first twenty times I’d tried it, but it was worth another shot, right?

 

“What do you mean you forgot my portable dvd player?” yelled a woman a few seats ahead of us.

 

“I didn’t forget nothin’!” her redneck husband yelled back. “Why didn’t you pack it yourself?”

 

“Because you’re supposed to be the man of the house!”

 

“Oh, really?” Their voices were growing louder with every comeback. “Then why can’t I use the bathroom in my own house?”

 

“What about them?” I grumbled. “Nobody would miss those two.”

 

“Because you always pee on the toilet seat!”

 

“You know, I’m almost tempted to say yes,” Dex answered.

 

“Would you shut up, woman?” the man demanded. “Everyone’s looking at us!”

 

“Let them look!” The woman turned around in her seat. “Y’all hear that? My husband can’t clean up his own pee! He’s like a two year old!”

 

“At least my parents aren’t cousins!”

 

I wasn’t the only one getting annoyed by their little lover’s spat. My wolf side actually began to rise up inside of me, sneering at the bickering couple.

 

LOUD, it said. STUPID. PREY EASY TO TRACK.

 

For once, I didn’t entirely disagree with it.

 

GO HUNT. EAT.

 

Yeah, no. There was no way in hell I was going to eat those two in the middle of a crowded bus. Or, you know, at all.

 

CHALLENGE, THEN. BE DOMINANT.

 

I blinked. Maybe my brain had turned more wolf-y than I realized, but that didn’t sound like such a bad idea. I could get up, walk over to them, and slap them a few times until they figured out that nobody wanted to listen to their little spat. My lips quirked upwards into a small smile. And why stop there? I’d ram Smokey’s vape pen up his nose, beat Dr. Dre’s phone against his forehead until it couldn’t play music anymore, grab that annoying brat who kept wiping his boogers on people and throw him across the bus, and…

 

“Amber, don’t!”

 

He grabbed me by the wrist, and I realized I had started to stand up. I blinked, the human side of me rushing back in to drown out the wolf’s voice, and sat back down. My heart sank into my stomach. That was exactly why I had to find the stupid glove and get it back to Hendricks. A couple lousy hours of being around normal people, and I was already planning my first murder spree. I couldn’t handle this kind of freedom. I needed to get back underground, where they would all be safe from me.

 

“You okay?” Dex asked, leaning close to me.

 

“I’m fine. Sorry.” I put my face in my hands again, trying to block out all the noise.

 

“Here.” He pulled a small bottle of pills from his jacket and held it out to me. “Take a couple of these. They’ll help you relax.”

 

I glanced at the bottle, then at him, but didn’t take it. “Why do you have those?”

 

Dex looked at the bottle a little self-consciously, and shrugged. “Working for the people I do, sometimes you need them.”

 

I frowned. That, unfortunately, made way too much sense. After a moment’s thought, I took the bottle, shook a couple of the tiny white pills into my hand, and popped them in my mouth.

 

“Got anything to wash it down with?” I asked with the sitting on my tongue. “Like…a yellow potion?”

 

Dex gave a dry, humorless chuckle, and handed me his water bottle. I took a quick swig from it, downing the pills, and then sat back with a sigh. Four hours down. Twelve to go.

 

“Scuse me, Sugarsnout,” Dex said, standing up. “Nature calls.”

 

“You’re actually going into that disgusting bathroom?” I asked in disbelief.

 

“Hey, not all of us have noses like yours.” He gave me a wink—why would you wink on your way to the bathroom?—and squeezed past me. I watched him until he closed the creaky metal door behind him, considered going through his stuff to see if he’d left one of his potions behind, but then decided against it.

 

The noise and the smells continued to assault me from every angle. Nine more hours. I fought not to pull my hair out. Nine more hours of this absolute hell. Why hadn’t I even thought to bring a pair of headphones to drown it all out? Maybe…

 

I closed my eyes and slowed my breathing the way my dad had taught me to. I had never been an overly emotional kid, but my dad had always valued control. Close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and when you open them things will seem a lot more manageable, he’d always said. Or, I thought to myself, maybe I could just keep them closed. Pretend the world around me didn’t exist for the next few hours.

 

To my own surprise, I could actually feel myself starting to drift off to sleep. Don’t get me wrong, I was freaking exhausted, but I would have thought I’d have an easier time sleeping on a roller coaster than here. But the longer I kept my eyes closed, the farther I began to feel from the real world. The sounds of the other passengers faded to nothing. The bouncing and rattling of the crappy old bus vanished. And in front of me…

 

A new world unfolded. I was standing on a cobblestone path that led up to a cute little cottage. A forest surrounded it, the leaves all red and orange in the throes of autumn. A brook babbled quietly past on the right before curving to disappear into the woods. It was all so…I don’t know, rustic…peaceful…that it felt like I had walked into one of my mom’s Thomas Kinkade calendars.

 

My feet began to move on their own, carrying me toward the cottage. A tiny white picket fence enclosed the garden, from which every color of the rainbow seemed to shine, but the gate swung open with a gentle creak to let me in. This all felt so real that if I hadn’t kept reminding myself that I was dreaming, I might have actually forgotten. I went right up to the door, reached out, and knocked on it.

 

That door! I thought suddenly. It’s…It’s huge!

 

I admit, I’m no giraffe, but this was ridiculous! The doorknob was so high up that I would have had to jump to reach it, and the door itself towered above me like the entrance to a giant’s castle. I almost expected to hear a deep, gravelly voice start chanting Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum or some such crap.

 

But the reason the door was so huge quickly became apparent when it swung open. A shadow loomed over me from the other side, so massive that my guess about it being a giant’s castle suddenly didn’t seem so funny. At least three times as tall as I was, and so big around that four of me holding hands couldn’t have encircled it.

 

“Hello, Amber!” it said down to me. “We’ve been waiting for you!"

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