Home > Wolf By Wolf (Wolf By Wolf #1)(10)

Wolf By Wolf (Wolf By Wolf #1)(10)
Ryan Graudin

It was the other shades Yael had a hard time imagining. There was no grass inside the barbed-wire confines of the camp. Sometimes weeds sprouted from the cracks in the dormitory bricks. But these were usually coated in ash and withered into quick, drab deaths. And blue—that was the color the doctor wanted her eyes to be. The reason he kept sinking needle after needle into her skin.

She supposed that when she was younger—before all the grimy grays of the camp, the train, the ghetto—she’d seen all these shades. But these memories were like photographs: rare, blurred around the edges, black and white.

The colors had been taken. Bled out.

The Babushka plucked the wooden pea child from Yael’s palm and started putting the dolls back together. They swallowed each other with snaps. Yael watched with wide eyes as the pieces became whole again.

“There,” the Babushka said after the final snap. “The little one stays safe.”

“This is for me? To keep?”

The old woman nodded.

“Why me?” Yael stole another glance over at Miriam, so still in her sleep. She gripped the dolls-within-dolls to her chest, breathing light against the precious wood. She knew she should share it—but there was a hardness in her heart that kept her clenching.

“The doctor is right. You are special, Volchitsa.” She said this with a knowing voice. “You are going to change things.”

Yael squeezed the dolls even tighter and wondered exactly why the old woman sounded so solid, so sure. So full of magic, miracle words. Yael knew she was different. Dr. Geyer’s injections had already set her apart. Splotched, flaking skin stretched over Yael’s toothpick bones. Her boy-short hair could not decide what color it was (some bristled light, others dark). Even Yael’s eyes were mutt-mixed—one brighter than the other, almost glowing—such a far cry from her mother’s steady brown.

Different, yes. But special?

“Now, off to bed with you,” the Babushka tutted, and waved over the pile of her long-collapsed bunkmates. “Tomorrow will not be forgiving.”

The next day, Yael would remember those words—those last, ominous words—after roll call, when she watched the others leave through a crack in the barrack’s tired doors. They marched as they always did: strung out like dull beads on a string, wooden clogs crunching through piles of gravel and ice.

Tomorrow will not be forgiving.

Yael did not blink when she watched her old friend crumple into the dirt and snow and shoes. She watched with both eyes (the bright and the dark) as the Babushka fell. It was a strange collapse, more like a kneel: gentle, willing.

She did not get up again. Even when the guard yelled and kicked. The other women shuffled on, none daring to look back. Yael felt a hard knot growing in her chest, as if the matryoshka doll were still pressed against it.

When the guard was done kicking, he looked up. Met her strange gaze. His eyes were flat gray—like a winter horizon. He almost looked as if he was the one who died. Not the pile of fabric and skin, so still at his feet.

The guard trudged over to the barrack door, his hand gripping his rifle strap. “Why aren’t you with the others?” he barked.

Yael’s mouth was too dry to tell him that Dr. Geyer ordered her not to work in the sorting hall, in case the extra stress interfered with whatever chemical reaction he was trying to coax out of her body.

She could not speak, but her instincts did. They shouted inside her—iron-loud and clanging—the way they always did when danger drew close.—X MARKS THE SURVIVOR SHOW HIM SHOW HIM—

Yael offered her arm.

“‘121358ΔX’?” He read the numbers out loud. “Geyer’s pet. Should’ve known from the look of you.”

The guard spit into the leftover snow.

—DON’T MOVE HE MIGHT STRIKE—

Yael’s back was to the door, braced for whatever came next. She felt every one of the wood’s splinters digging into her rib cage, her spine. Over the shambly, slanting roofs she watched the smoke spewing, blotting out the sun.

But the guard did not slap or kick. He did not catch her by the scruff and drag her to those brick buildings no one returned from. Instead his hand slipped away from his rifle strap. “The doctor will see you now. Follow me.”

Yael trailed him with quick steps. Away from what-was-once-the-Babushka, away from the hungry black smoke.

But there were some things that would not be left behind. Her friend’s magic, miracle words haunted her ears. Rolled inside the knot of her chest. Burned in her veins.

You are special.

You are going to change things.

When she came back, with Dr. Geyer’s wicked concoction roiling beneath her skin, the Babushka’s body was gone. But the doll was still there, safely nestled in the straw of her mattress. When all the others were finally asleep, Yael took it out and pressed it to her chest. For the whole night.

And every dark night to come.

CHAPTER 6

NOW

MARCH 10, 1956

OLYMPIASTADION GERMANIA, THIRD REICH KILOMETER 0

The stadium was full and roaring. Yells, one hundred thousand strong, wove together to drown out the once-morning-sleet, now-afternoon-rain. Yael stood at the center of it all, her heart dancing hard to the tempo of the crowd’s excitement. Drops rolled down her suit of treated leather, gathering into her armband. The crimson fabric swelled like a bandage heavy with blood. It started a long, slow slip down Yael’s sleeve.

She didn’t bother fixing it.

The crowd was wet, too, but its cheers were on fire, pouring over Yael and the other racers. They stood in a straight line. Twenty faces—German and Japanese, ages thirteen to seventeen, mostly male—turned up into the storm, toward the Führer’s box.

The man who made this world was barely visible. A silhouette etched behind tempest-glazed glass. Yael stared hard at the figure. Toes popping, black rising, hate eating her veins like battery acid.

Half a field of grass, track, and seats. A centimeter of glass. These were the only things that separated the Führer from Yael (and the blade slipped inside her boot—weapons were forbidden on the Axis Tour, yet everyone carried them because everyone else carried them). But there was no getting up there. If there was a way, Reiniger would’ve found it. He’d spent hours hunched over roster lists and blueprints, trying to find cracks in the armor of the Führer’s SS security detail. She’d spent almost as many hours helping him, elbows pinning down the curls of thin paper, her neck sweating as she leaned under the hot lamp.

“Why can’t I just dress up as a maid and infiltrate the Chancellery?” she’d asked after a particularly frustrating training session on the Zündapp. Her leg wept from road rash, and her heart quivered at the thought of 20,780 more kilometers on the contraption. “Wouldn’t that be simpler?”

Reiniger didn’t even glance up at her. He flipped to the next blueprint. “It has to be in public. In front of the cameras. With lots of witnesses.”

“Why?”

“This isn’t an assassination.” Reiniger’s beard stubble glistened silver in the harsh carve of lamplight. “It’s an execution. If Hitler dies behind the walls of the Chancellery, it will be covered up. Made to look like a sudden illness or a bad fall down the stairs. Another will just take his place. Nothing will change. The National Socialists will keep grinding the bones of innocents through labor camps to feed their future war machine. People need to be watching when the Führer dies. They need to know the resistance is out there. They need to know they’re not alone.”

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