I rubbed between my eyes, sighing at the release of pain. I didn’t have to open my eyes to see the worried look Cole was giving me. “I’m fine, Cole.”
“The headaches are back.” he noted, “What about the blackouts? Are the back too?”
“No,” I told him, reaching for my water and sipping it carefully, hoping the cold would take the pain away before my head split open. “They haven’t.”
Cole was silent a minute before sighing himself, “Its nearing that time of the year, Red.”
“It’s nothing, Cole.” I leaned back against the couch, “It’s just another month.”
“You know what I mean, Elise. You can’t ignore the signs. This happens every year.”
He was, of course, referring to the habit my brain has of shutting down every June. The blackouts started the year after I was released from the hospital. Always around the same time, for exactly two weeks. I’ve tried all the medications, all the rituals, and nothing seemed to help. I even bugged Cole into taking me to see a witch doctor outside the city once – but we don’t talk about that.
“Elise, I’m worried.” Cole sat on the coffee table in front of me, his green eyes clouded. “You know what happens. You know it’s not a coincidence.”
My heart stuttered in my chest, my blood cooled several degrees.
“It will come.” He said. “And we can’t stop it.”
I licked my lips, “Maybe it died over the winter.” I rubbed my suddenly damp palms against my jeans, “Maybe it’s still in hibernation.”
“Wolves don’t hibernate.”
Ever since it killed my family, the wolf had been stalking me. No matter where I was, no matter how far I’d travelled to evade it – it always found me. And it always killed. Never me, or Cole or Grams. It merely injures us. But others? The people around, people I care for…they end up dead.
It was relentless. Every year like clockwork, it appears. It kills. It ravages. It torments.
To the point where I’ve considered throwing myself in front of the subway.
“It’s not exactly normal.” I replied. “It’s a monster. Not a wolf.”
It’s always weird talking openly about my demons with Cole. For so many years, I’d been told that I was seeing things. That the monster was a figment of my imagination – made up to make sense of what happened to my parents that night. But I know what I saw. I know what I heard. Cole believed me. The first time I told him, he nodded and said we’d teach ourselves how to fight back. And we did. Every summer we’ve taken a new lesson. Karate. Jiu jitsu. Anything to prepare for it coming back. Yoga. Meditation.
“They’ve been getting worse over the years – your blackouts. Don’t think I haven’t noticed. They last longer. They’re deeper.” Cole leaned towards me, “You take longer to recover.” His hands covered mine. “What happens this time? What if…what if you don’t wake up?”
Cole’s question still echoed in my head three days later. I gave an elderly woman a latte with two shots of espresso and a bubble-gum snapping teenager a decafe tea. I took an early break.
I walked to the park a few streets over, and watched the people passing by.
This is always one of my favourite things to do. People watching. I like to try and figure out who they are, what their lives are like.
A young couple strolled by, holding hands, sneaking looks at each other when they thought the other wasn’t looking. They have the golden glow of a newlywed couple. I pictured them going home to a quant two bedroom apartment somewhere in Queens. They’d been married just under a year. She wasn’t yet aware that he will always forget to put down the toilet seat. He doesn’t know that she bites her nails. They’d find out soon enough. And you know what? They’d work through it.
Across from me, sitting on a bench, was a couple in their late fifty’s. He wore a golf hat, a long sleeve shirt and perfectly pressed slacks. She wore a beautiful summer dress, with a little jacket. They held hands, smiled at each other. And, like the young couple, snuck glances at each other.
I watched as the woman blushed like a sunrise when she was caught. They exchanged a sweet kiss.
This couple, they knew everything there was to know about each other. The faults, the good things. And still, they loved.
“Elise?” A female voice asked.
I blinked against the sun, and looked up to see a woman wearing a peach sundress standing in front of me. “Yes?”
“I’m Erin. I’m in your English class?” She explained. “I was taking a walk, and I noticed you sitting here, so I thought I’d say hi. Um, if you want to be left alone, I can-“
“No, no.” I moved my bag from the seat, strung it on the corner of the bench behind me. “Please, sit.”
Erin smiled brightly, “Thanks.” She set her messenger bag down at her feet, brown hair bouncing as she moved. She crossed mile long legs and tilted her face towards the sun with a lusty sigh. “Don’t you just love summer days?”
I just shrugged, “The sun is nice. But I prefer the winter.”
Erin raised a glossy brow, “You like the cold?”
“Not particularly.” I hedged, “I just don’t really like the summer.”
Erin nodded, “Burn easily?”
“Your skin. You’re quite light skinned. Do you burn easily? I’m guessing that’s why you don’t like the summer.” She smiled, settling back against the bench comfortably.
“Ah, no. I don’t go out much anyways. I work, and then I take care of my Grams. So the sun isn’t a problem.”
“Oh, sorry.” Erin immediately tensed. “I didn’t mean to-“
“Don’t worry about it. Really.” I held up a hand, waved it. Cleaning the slate.
Erin was silent for a few seconds, her bottom lip between her teeth. Clearly she was battling the urge to ask something. I could guess what it was. I braced for it-
“Where are your parents?”
Yep. Called it.
“They died when I was young.”
“Geez. I’m sorry.” Another nibble, then, “How did it happen?”
Always the same questions. People really do have fascination with death.
“Ah, animal attack.”
Erin tilted her head to the side, her brown eyes perceptively curious. “You don’t sound sure.”
“What do you mean?” I asked, glad my own eyes were shaded behind sunglasses.
“They was you said that. You just sounded…doubtful.” She explained.
I studied the woman sitting beside her. She was beautiful. Her hair was long and an interesting blend of browns and blondes. Her body, toned and lean. The peach sundress did little to hide it, short as it was – reaching to just above her knees. And set in a face that was both perfectly sculpted and movie star beautiful, were a pair of brown eyes, threaded with gold. They were wise, and underneath the bubbly façade, and I could see an intelligence far beyond her years.
And somehow, this woman, this practical stranger, had decoded the truth from the lie. Every person that I’ve met for years, believed me when I told them what happened to my parents. They believed the lie, I’d been convinced to tell. But not Erin.
“Elise?” Erin said, “I’m sorry. Did I go too far? I do that a lot.” And just like that, the seriousness vanished from her eyes, replaced again by the innocent, bubbly persona.
We spent twenty minutes talking about school. Work. Friends. The usual idle chit-chat that one would have with a classmate. Then, when my phone beeped, signalling the end of my break, we said our goodbye’s and parted ways, with the promise to “definitely do this again sometime”.
My shift passed quickly, and I was on my way home after what felt like five minutes.
The city was dark now. Still full of life and noise, but darker. Now the underground came above, the people turned less prim and proper. The night life emerged.
Having spent so many years wandering around this city, I wasn’t afraid of it. The alleys were dangerous, but I know which ones are safe to go down. I know what streets to avoid, and what ones I can travel down without any problems.
I had just crossed up behind an old movie theatre when I heard the sound.
A low rumble. Like thunder.
I slowed to a stop, not moving a muscle as I waited for the sound to come again.
It did. And this time, it sounded closer.
Jerking into motion, I ran through an alley, and onto a residential street.
And heard the growl again.
Looking around, I spotted a convenience store on the corner. I could make it. Just then, two teenagers, a couple, rounded the corner ahead of me. They were walking slowly, holding hands and talking, but still heading right towards me.
And the wolf.
I flashed back to that summer night. I could hear the screams, and the rips. I could smell the fear. And I could feel the sticky sensation of blood coating me.
I made the decision quickly. Ducking down an alley, I sped away from them. Taking the beast with me.
I could hear it growling behind me, getting closer with each passing second.
It’s like in a nightmare – when you tell your limbs to move, to run as fast as you can, but no matter what you can’t make yourself move quick enough. It’s like you’re running through Jell-O in slow motion, your feet sticking to the ground.
The hair on the back of my neck stood up and I knew I was running out of time. It was going to find me, it’s going to-
I stumbled over garbage bags, and slammed to my knees. I gasped at the pain, but forced myself up, made myself keep going, keep running. I just had to find somewhere to hide.
The alley ended suddenly, splitting into a crossroads. I chose one at random, the left one. I’d gotten halfway down it when I realized that it was a dead end. A chain link fence, with barbed wire cut it off.
I ran the rest of the way, hoping I’d find a door in the fence. Or something I could stand on to jump over it.
There was nothing. And it was too late to turn back. I pressed my back against the fence, crossing my arms over my chest, gripped my elbows in sweaty, shaking hands. My vision started to waver in and out of focus and I let lose a ripe curse.
Now? This can’t be happening now!
I was going to black out. I could feel my chest tightening, and I tried to take deep breaths to calm down. But it was no use. I gasped for air, nails digging into my own skin in attempt to ground myself.
My knees gave out, and I sank to the concrete in the
dirty alley way, where the wolf was stalking me. The world tilted sideways, and
I heard a crunch as my head hit the pavement.
My eyes gave out then, turning the world around me to a pit of darkness. A growl sounded.
I curled into myself, trembling and shaking as the growls got louder and louder. The last think I felt was a blistering pain in my right forearm. And the last thing I heard, was the click of nails on pavement.