In my dream, I’m running through mud, my pale nightgown flapping. I can hear the splat splat splat of my bare feet as they slap the soft, wet ground.
I run through puddles of cold water, and I can feel the cold even though I’m completely aware that I’m dreaming. I know that the whispers I hear are the leaves on the trees shivering in a stiff, warm wind.
I feel the wind on my face, and I hear the whispers all around behind the splat splat of my bare feet, kicking up the mud, sending it splashing like waves on both sides of me.
I see the crescent moon in the purple sky above the shimmering trees. It looks like a sideways smile, and it reminds me of the silver moon pendant on the chain around my neck.
The moon seems so close in my dream, as if I could reach up and squeeze my hand around it. But I can’t slow down to grab the moon. I’m being chased. And I know if I turn around, I’ll see it.
And even though I know that, I can’t keep from turning back. In my dreams, I’m never in control. I can’t do what I’d like to do.
I’m running barefoot in the wet mud under the low, leafy tree branches. I’m scared. I know that I’m scared. And that I have good reason.
Because when I turn around … when I take a quick, shuddering glance behind me … the wolf is there. The black wolf of my dreams.
It grunts and snarls as it trots silently behind me. It lowers its head as if preparing to attack. The black fur on its back bristles. And once again, I see its eyes. Blue like mine. The black wolf has my eyes.
I have black hair and blue eyes, and I’m dreaming about a wolf with black fur and blue eyes. And I tell myself in my dream that I’m not crazy. People have nightmares. People have the same dream over and over.
But most people don’t dream of animals with their eyes. And why does it make me so frightened? I’m asleep but I can feel the butterfly flitting of my heartbeats.
I gaze at the wolf. Our blue eyes meet and lock on one another. Its long snout quivers. Thick white drool oozes from the sides of its mouth. The black wolf bares its teeth and utters a low menacing growl from deep in its throat that sounds like choking, like someone spewing.
I want to look away. But the eyes hold me, paralyze me.
And suddenly, I am the wolf.
I am the wolf. I am the black wolf.
In my dream, I become the wolf, staring, my eyes locked on the other wolf.
We attack. We wrestle. We snarl and rage and spit and drool. We bite and claw and bump heads and tear at each other.
I am fierce. I am exploding with anger. Exploding.
I wake up screaming. I try to leap out of bed. Tangled in the bedsheet, I tumble to the floor. Land with a soft thud on my side.
I’m panting. My heart skipping up and down in my chest. I blink several times, blinking the dream away. Forcing away the lingering pictures, the face of the wolf … the anger … the blue eyes.
I’m in my room. Silvery moonlight floods in through the open window.
“Hey,” I mutter, still shaking away the frightening images. “Hey. Another nightmare. A nightmare. That’s all.”
A voice from across the bedroom startles me. “What’s wrong?”
My sister Sophie sits up. Sophie and I share the room. Sophie’s eyes catch the moonlight from the window. She has blue eyes, too.
“Another nightmare,” I tell her, still shaky.
“You had your wolf dream again?” She crosses the room to me and places a warm hand on my shoulder.
I nod. “Yes. Again.”
She gazes over my shoulder and her eyes go wide. Her mouth drops open. She steps past me and leans over my bed.
“Emmy? Why are your sheets all torn and shredded?”
I felt a shudder run down my body. I turned and stared at the ripped-up sheets. Sophie clicked on the bedside table lamp, and we both stared in silence.
My brain whirred. I struggled to explain it. I felt as if I were still in the dream. I kept trying to wake up, to pull myself out of it.
Sophie hugged me. Her short black hair was damp, matted to her forehead. She’s fifteen, two years younger than me. But we look like twins. The same high cheekbones, pale skin, and blue eyes. That’s why she cut her hair so short and severe, shaved on one side. Because mine flows down past my shoulders. She just got so tired of people calling her by my name, Emmy.
“These awful dreams…” she started, letting me go and taking a step back, her face filled with concern.
But my eyes were on the window. “Sophie? Wasn’t that window closed when we went to sleep?”
She turned. “I don’t know. I guess so. I don’t really remember.”
I gazed at the window, at the silvery crescent moon high in the sky. A gust of cold wind ruffled my hair. And I shivered again.
* * *
It took a long time to get back to sleep. And Mom woke me up too early the next morning, clanking around in the kitchen. Why couldn’t she wait to unload the dishwasher? Did it really have to be done at seven on a Saturday morning?
I pulled on the faded jeans I’d worn the day before and a T-shirt that didn’t look too wrinkled and hurried to the kitchen. Mom leaned over the white Formica counter in her bathrobe, hair unbrushed, having her breakfast cigarette. She has one cigarette first thing in the morning and one after dinner. Two a day. She tells everyone she doesn’t smoke.
Dad says she should drink an extra cup of coffee in the morning, and she wouldn’t need the cigarette. He’s the practical one in the family. I guess that’s why no one ever listens to him.
Actually, Sophie is a lot like Dad. They’re both soft-spoken and quiet and would rather sit in a corner and read a book than go out, and Sophie is just like that. Mom and I are the social ones. I always wonder if most families are divided into two camps.
“Mom, I had the wolf dream again,” I said. I cleared my throat. My voice was still clogged with sleep.
Mom stubbed out the cigarette. She blew a strand of hair off her forehead. Mom has straw-blonde hair and brown eyes. She doesn’t look at all like Sophie and me.
She shook her head. “Ever since you were five…” she started. She sighed. “Ever since you were five and that dog bit you.… that’s when the dreams started.”
“I know,” I said. “Tell me something I don’t know.”
Mom stood up straight. “You don’t have to be sharp with me. I only meant—”
“We keep having the same conversation,” I said, trying not be so shrill. “How come I don’t remember being bitten by a dog?”
Mom fiddled with the belt on her black-and-white-checked robe. “You were so young, Emmy. How much do you remember from when you were five?”
“I remember some things,” I said. “I remember some things that happened in Kindergarten. But a dog bite … Mom, you’d think I’d remember something as frightening as that.”
“You’ve blocked it from your memory, dear,” she said, finally raising her eyes to mine. “We’ve talked about this. Such a painful thing. People block memories like that. They don’t want to think about them.”
“Don’t you remember anything?” she asked. “We were overseas. Visiting your Great Aunt Marta in that little farm village outside Prague? I wasn’t there at the time. But Marta saw it happen. That dog came leaping out from the trees and attacked you. And she—”
Sophie stumbled noisily into the room, coughing and clearing her throat, her bare feet clomping on the yellow tiles. She twitched her nose and sniffled a few times. “I think I have a cold.”
“It’s your allergies,” I said. “You get your spring allergies every year, and you always forget.”
She coughed again. “How come you don’t have spring allergies?”
“It’s not like we’re twins,” I said. “I don’t have to have everything you have. Duh.”
Mom poured a cup of coffee from the coffeemaker. “Sophie, you were there with Aunt Marta that day,” she said. “Do you remember when the dog came out of the forest and bit Emmy?”
Sophie rolled her eyes. “Are we having this talk again? Mom, I was only three. How am I supposed to remember anything?”
I didn’t want to continue this discussion, but I felt so frustrated. I had a strong feeling that Mom wasn’t telling the whole truth. I knew she wouldn’t lie to me. But her explanation of why I’ve had these frightening wolf dreams just didn’t totally add up.
“Where’s the scar?” I demanded. I lifted my right leg and pulled up the jeans by the cuff. “You said it bit my leg. But where’s the scar?”
“It healed,” Mom said. She twirled the coffee mug in her hand. “You were lucky. It healed pretty quickly.”
I stared at her. The radio behind us at the table droned in the background. Two voices discussing the news, I think. “But, Mom,” I insisted. Why couldn’t I just let it go? “I keep dreaming about wolves—not dogs.”
She brushed her hair back with one hand. “Dr. Goldman can explain it better than me,” she said. “I don’t know why you keep refusing to see him. Sometimes in our dreams we make our fears even more horrifying than in real life. In your dreams, you turn the dog into a wolf. But that doesn’t mean—”
“Ssshh.” I raised my hand to silence Mom. The voice on the radio had caught my attention. I moved closer so I could hear better.
“What’s wrong?” Mom asked.
“Sssshhh.” I leaned toward the little black table radio.
“The attack occurred last night in Shadyside Park behind the high school,” a man was saying. “Delmar Hawkins of North Hills reported the attack to police. Hawkins said that he was walking his dog along the path toward the river when a large black wolf jumped out from the trees and attacked the dog. Police confirmed that the dog was killed in a most ferocious manner. Police have begun a search of the park for the black wolf, and a helicopter unit has been sent for. Meanwhile…”
The voice continued, but the reporter’s words were meaningless to me. Just a blur of sound. I suddenly felt cold all over, as if my blood had frozen inside me.
My thoughts were crazy. I dreamed about that black wolf last night. And at the same time that I was dreaming, a real black wolf appeared in Shadyside Park. A real black wolf came out of the trees and killed a man’s dog.
Of course, that had nothing to do with me. Of course, it had to be a totally weird coincidence.
So why was I trembling so hard? Why did I feel so strange?
“Emmy? What’s wrong?” Sophie’s voice broke into my thoughts.
I didn’t answer. I suddenly remembered my bedsheets. All shredded. I grabbed Mom’s hands and tugged her away from the kitchen counter. Her hands were warm. Mine were ice cold.
“Mom—come with me,” I said. “I have to show you something.”
She tugged her hands free. “Don’t pull me. I’m coming. What’s your problem, Emmy?”
“I’ll show you,” I said, leading the way down the back hall. “You have to see this, Mom.”
“Okay, okay. I’m coming.”
“My dream last night … I was running in the woods,” I said, suddenly breathless. “Barefoot. Running in mud. And when I woke up … the sheets … they were torn … all shredded and wrecked.”
Mom didn’t say anything. I heard Sophie sneezing back in the kitchen. I grabbed Mom’s arm and pulled her to my bed. “Look.”
We both stared at the tangle of sheets on my bed. My mouth dropped open. My breath caught in my throat.
The sheets were perfectly okay.
Sophie appeared in the bedroom doorway, a Kleenex wadded in one hand. “This is getting too weird,” she said. She crossed to my bed, grabbed the sheets, and tugged them, making them billow like sails. “You should listen to Mom, Emmy, and go see Dr. Goldman.”
I started to protest. But the words wouldn’t come.
Am I seriously crazy?
“B-but … Sophie,” I stammered, finally finding my voice. “You saw the sheets ripped up. When I woke you up. You saw it, too.”
“Huh? You didn’t wake me up.” She studied me, her expression sympathetic … caring. I could see she was worried about me. “It must have been part of your dream, Em. I didn’t see your sheets or anything.”
Again, I had that cold feeling. I followed them to the kitchen. Mom offered to make scrambled eggs, but I didn’t feel hungry. I sat down at the table and filled a bowl with corn flakes. But I didn’t reach for the milk.
“Let’s change the subject,” Mom said, forcing her “cheerful” voice. “What are you doing today?”
“I’m going to the library to work on my Asian Studies report,” Sophie said. Sophie’s second home is the library. She has a special place behind the stacks in the main reading room where she likes to sit on the floor and spread out all her papers and read and write. The librarians know her. She’s like their pet. I can’t understand why she likes to be alone so much of the time. But she does.
I guess that’s the biggest difference between us. I can’t stand to be alone. I’m a social person. I like friends and boyfriends and hanging out with crowds of people and partying and laughing and having fun.
Sophie is prettier than me. I really think so. But she’s never had a serious boyfriend. I can’t talk to her about it. She just clams up when I mention it.
“And what are you doing today?” Mom had turned to me.
The radio voices droned on. Some kind of call-in show. Were they talking about the wolf attack? I didn’t want to hear anymore. I clicked it off.
Who listens to radio these days anyway? No one. Only my dad. He always has to have a radio on. And he collects old radios, like from the nineteen forties and fifties. Weird-looking but he loves them. He loves fiddling with them, fixing them, polishing them up, and getting them to work.
Mom was waiting for me to answer her question. “I have to bring Eddie his backpack,” I told her. “He left it at the gym yesterday.”
Mom frowned. She always frowns when I mention Eddie.
“Eddie started his new job this morning,” I said. “At the pet cemetery in Martinsville.”
“What a horrible job,” Mom said, making a face.
“I know. It’s yucky,” I said. “But he really needs the money. Especially since his stepdad was suspended from the police force.”
“He deserved to be suspended,” Mom said, twirling her coffee mug again. “He beat up that teenager for no reason.”
I groaned. “Mom, you know that’s not true. He thought the kid had a gun. He made a mistake, but—”
“I don’t know why you got mixed up with Eddie and that Kovacs family,” Mom interrupted. “Danny Franklin is such a nice guy.”
“Mom, give Emmy a break,” Sophie chimed in. “You know that Danny broke up with Emmy. Emmy didn’t break up with him. Now he’s going out with Callie Newman.”
Mom squinted at me. “So you had to immediately start going out with his best friend?”
I wasn’t enjoying this conversation. I could feel the anger growing in my chest. I tried to hold back, but I couldn’t. I exploded. “None of your business, Mom,” I screamed. “Eddie can’t help it if he isn’t rich. You’re a total snob.”
Of course, standing there, tugging at the sides of my hair, feeling my anger burn my chest, I had no way of knowing that in a few short hours, Eddie and I would be incredibly rich.
I tossed Eddie’s backpack into the backseat and climbed into Mom’s Corolla. Mom teaches English at the private Boys’ Academy in Dover Falls, a few towns south of Shadyside. Her school let out in May, and Mom is taking the summer off and mostly staying at home. Which means the car is basically mine.
It was a hot, hazy day. It felt more like summer than spring, and the sky was an eerie yellow above the mist that clung to the road. Still early on a Saturday morning. There wasn’t much traffic after I got out of Shadyside.
Martinsville is a small industrial town about fifteen minutes away. I always picture blue-and-white uniforms whenever I think of the town. The Martinsville Blue Devils are our big rival in football and basketball.
Eddie told me the pet cemetery was on the outskirts just past the old dairy, where the highway narrows. I found it easily. I followed a narrow dirt road along a brick wall up to the tall iron gates where a stenciled sign read: PET HEAVEN.
I saw only one car parked in the small lot, a beat-up old Pontiac with the rear window cracked. I parked a few spaces away from it, hoisted up Eddie’s backpack, and headed to the main gate.
I saw Eddie through the tall metal fence that stretched on both sides of the gate. He was bent over the handle of a shovel, mopping his forehead with the sleeve of his shirt. He turned to the fence when he heard me calling to him.
He brushed back his wavy brown hair. His face was red, from work, I guessed. He didn’t smile. Eddie almost never smiles. But he gave me a wave and motioned me to the gate.
Eddie has slate gray eyes that don’t look real. People think he wears contacts, but he doesn’t. People notice his eyes right away.
He’s lanky and tall and his serious expression makes him look more like a man than a boy. He has a scar on his chin that he doesn’t remember how he got, and it makes him look a little tough. But he’s generally calm and has a soft voice and an easy manner. He’s very confident. Little things don’t bother him.
I think that’s why we’re a good couple. Sometimes I can be like an emotional volcano, and he’s always smooth and steady. When I’m feeling really troubled about something, he always knows how to calm me down.
Ha. Here I am talking like we’re an old married couple. I should be talking about how I don’t really know Eddie. I mean, we’ve been going together for less than a month.
Eddie was watching me, waiting for me to enter the pet cemetery. I grabbed the handle to the gate—and stopped.
I felt a sudden chill. A coldness in the air … I couldn’t tell where it was coming from. My senses felt alert. A kind of warning. My skin bristled, as if all my nerves were standing on end.
I let go of the gate handle and gazed around. No one there. I couldn’t see anything that would make me feel this frightened.
But I felt it. I felt I was in the grip of something very wrong.
I suddenly realized I was holding my breath. Holding it against a strong, putrid odor that seemed to be pouring through the entrance gate.
What smells so awful here?
“Emmy? What’s up?” Eddie’s shout burst into my thoughts.
I took a deep breath, pulled open the gate, and stepped inside. The backpack stuck on the iron frame and I had to tug it free. The gate slammed behind me as I hurried over to Eddie.
“Eddie, there’s something wrong here,” I said breathlessly. “I don’t think you should work in this place.”
His strange gray eyes flashed. “Hello to you, too,” he said softly.
“I’m sorry. Hello,” I said. “But there’s something evil here, Eddie. I can feel it.”
He shrugged his slender shoulders. “It’s a cemetery, Emmy. There’s a lot of dead dogs and cats here. It’s not supposed to be the Magic Kingdom.”
“I-I know,” I stammered. I was beginning to doubt my own strong feeling. But the cold lingered on the back of my neck, and the sickening smell had grown even stronger on this side of the fence.
“Thanks for bringing the backpack,” Eddie said. “You can drop it by that tree.” He pointed. He turned and strode back to a rectangle of dirt between two low gravestones. “Mac has me digging a grave. It’s like a hundred degrees. I’m totally drenched in sweat.”
“Is that what smells so bad?” I said, making a joke.
“Funny,” he muttered. He dug the shovel blade into the dirt.
“Mac is your boss?” I asked.
He nodded. “Yeah. And he owns the place. That’s his office over there.” He motioned with his head to a two-story shingle building across the field. “Mac lives above the office. Do you believe it? He lives in a pet cemetery.”
“Weird,” I said. Then I saw the large green trash bag under a tree. “Eddie,” I said, “what’s in that? Is it—?”
“Yeah. A dead dog,” he said. “Killed last night.”
I blinked. “Oh, wow. Last night?”
Eddie tossed a shovelful of dirt aside. “The owner said it was attacked by a wolf.” He turned to me. “Do you believe that? A wolf in Shadyside Park? So close to your house?”
He kept his gaze on me. “Hey, Emmy? What’s wrong? You’re shaking like a leaf.”
Before I could answer, I heard a shout. Eddie and I both turned to the voice. I saw a big man in a baggy gray sweats trotting toward us. “Hey, how’s it going?” he called.
Eddie introduced him. Mac Stanton, the owner of the place. He was tall and wide with a big pouch of a belly poking against his sweatshirt. He had a perfectly round face with a shaved head, a silver ring in his right ear, and a black neck tattoo I couldn’t make out.
“Hey, Emmy—welcome to Pet Heaven.” He had a hoarse voice, scratchy and kind of high. His smile revealed a gold tooth in front. “I’m putting this dude to work.” He slapped Eddie on the shoulder.
“I’m almost finished with this one, Mac,” Eddie said, mopping the sweat off his forehead again.
Mac studied the hole Eddie had dug, rubbing his double chins with stubby fingers. “I think a foot deeper,” he said. He pressed a fist into his back and stretched. “Normally, I’d help you out with this. But I got a kink in my back.” He winked at me. “I don’t want to tell you how I got it.”
“No problem,” Eddie said, shifting the shovel to his other hand. “I’m just happy to have the job, Mac. You know my family needs the money right now.”
Mac nodded. He rubbed his shaved head. “I gotta get out of the sun. I stroke easily.” He laughed at his own joke. “Nice meetin’ you, Emmy,” he said. He turned and started to trot back toward the office.
“He’s kind of rough, but he’s a nice guy,” Eddie said.
I watched Eddie dig the grave a foot deeper. It didn’t take long. I stared at the bulging trash bag. I pictured a big wolf attacking the dog. The wolf was black. Just my imagination again. Dreams don’t come true. Sensible Me knew that. But …
Eddie climbed out of the grave with a groan. Wiping his sweaty hands on the legs of his jeans, he grabbed the trash bag. He started to slide it down into the grave.
“Whoa!” He cried out as the bag broke. The dead dog tumbled onto the ground at my feet.
I let out a cry and stumbled back. The dog corpse was stiff and it already smelled sour. A black Lab, so messed up I could barely recognize it as a dog. Its eyes had sunken deep into their sockets. The fur … the fur … the fur on its back had been clawed away. Patches of dried blood clung to the shreds. The skin underneath was red and raw.
Like a hunk of rotting meat.
“Ohhhhh.” A moan escaped my throat. I couldn’t help it. I couldn’t take my eyes off the disgusting thing.
But I couldn’t stand it. My stomach lurched hard and I started to gag.
“Are you okay?” I heard Eddie call to me. But he suddenly seemed far away. “Are you okay?”
No, I wasn’t okay.
“Urrrrrrp.” I forced my lunch down, swallowing hard. And holding my hands over my mouth, I spun around and ran.