Val Experience:1

Pulling the trigger

The morning after the fight, Val woke early to go running. She pulled
her sneakers on and rolled her shoulders. Then, she sighed and pulled
out her cell phone to call her insurance agent and start the claim for
the truck. “I don’t know,” she sighed, “maybe I shouldn’t’ve left the
sandwiches on the seat. Damn bear.” The fucking thing was probably
going to be written off — at least she had only a small deductible.
Worst part was losing the Johnny Cash CD’s. She gave the agent the
location where she had left the truck, and said that yes, she would
file whatever reports were needed with whatever law enforcement
agencies were appropriate. And good luck to them in arresting the
fucking bear that was responsible for tearing the thing apart.
Ken and Cain were already up before her — or maybe one or both of
them just hadn’t gone to sleep at all yet — and the sight of the two
of them, one methodically cleaning a hand-gun, the other with a rifle
in one hand as if he were about to go hunting, made her stop. “I’ll
be back in about an hour or so,” she told Ken, adding that this
morning she would take a route towards Wolf Run Road. “Seems
appropriate,” she added. “Might turn up Horse Thief Run if there’s

“We will put another pot of coffee on,” Ken assured her. He snapped
the stock back on the rifle after finishing wiping the oil down the
barrel. “You ready for more practice later?”

“Sure. And you can quiz me on First Tongue in between wildly
misdirected shots.” She had flashcards in the house, neatly stowed
in a card file in her desk. It helped learn the vocabulary, but not
so much on the grammar. That required actually talking to someone,
which meant Ken or Anthony — the times when the two of them felt it
necessary to shoot questions at her one after another were annoying,
but educational. And right now, Anthony had settled into a camp up
near the lake, to keep an eye on it for a while — or to keep an eye
or ear out for any of the other wolves who might think to encroach on
their territory again. So, that meant Ken.

With a nod, she headed out for her run.

It turned out that breathing slowly and evenly was not the problem for
Ken in getting Val to shoot straight. She had a propensity, unless
Ken talked her through each step, of jerking the trigger on the rifle
instead of pulling it slowly in one motion. At least it didn’t get
worse when he was forcing her to conjugate verbs in the First Tongue.

Val cursed as the last shot went wild, and glared at Jake when he
quipped from his perch on the tailgate of his old pickup about how she
was supposed to aim at the target. “Maybe you could get out there
and hold the paper up for me,” she suggested. When Jake hopped down
and made to head for the target, she just waved him off. The boy had
no fear — a taunt like that wasn’t a taunt to him, it was just an

“When you leaving?” Val asked Ken, trying to gracefully add more
ammunition to the rifle clip and — once again — screwing it up.

“Morning, first thing,” he answered. He didn’t really expect trouble
while he was driving sixty miles an hour down a highway, but best to
wait until most packs were done for the night. “Use your thumb more,”
he advised as she loaded the clip.

Somewhere in the background, Jake made a crude comment about what she
could do with her thumb, but she tuned him out. “I’d go with you,”
she said. “Or send Jake.” She cursed softly, and decided to start
over again with the cartridges. “But with Anthony up by the lake …”
She trailed off, and then shook her head. “Make sure you got a full
tank of gas, and take a plastic bottle to piss in for the drive.” She
didn’t like the idea of him going alone. “We could call
Heart-drinker, see if she could smooth any troubles.” Just making the
suggestion left a foul taste in her mouth, the idea of going crawling
and mewling to the bitch and turning belly-up to her to ask a favor.
But she felt like she needed to raise the idea, let Ken think about
it, if he didn’t think his grandmother could do the smoothing for him.

“From here, it’s almost all highway. I’m not planning on stopping, so
troublemakers would have to first know that I was coming, and second,
be able to stop a jeep on the highway. The only trouble I should be
in is entering my grandmother’s territory, and I called and asked
permission for that. I’d ask you to go, but the territory needs you
all. And if things go well, when I get back, I’ll be able to call
spirits to help you guys learn Gifts.”

“Okay.” Finally, the clip was full; she took a deep breath and
managed to get the clip into the rifle without bungling it. Somewhere
behind her, Jake was trash-talking again, this time in mangled First
Tongue, in an effort to distract her. She tried to pull the trigger
smoothly, like both Ken and Cain had told her, imagining her father’s
face on the target.

The next morning, she was up early again, this time before the sun, to
get in her run before Ken left, telling Cain she was headed towards
Hilbolt Road this time. She was sweaty and energized and ready for a
cup of coffee — and to pick up the rental truck the insurance company
had arranged — when she got back. Troy, back from wherever it was
that he went during the night, was sitting on the porch, iPod earbuds
in, listening to the spirits knew what. Cain and Jake were both at
the rear of Ken’s jeep. Jake handed an empty Coke liter to Ken, with
the straight-faced comment “Val said you might need this.” Then he
handed over another. “Or maybe two.”



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