I’m not sure what to say, or even what to think.
Did Alecia Meadows really just say that there would be another fire?
I stare at her blankly, openly gawking at the declaration she has just made. I want to ask why and how she knows, but at the same time, know that it would do me no good.
Her words—they are dangerous. Like daggers they assault me, carving back the surface of my conscience, bearing the essence of my flesh.
No, I then think. Stop.
But it doesn’t.
The existential dread that has lingered since the fire flares to the surface. All I see in its wake are flames.
As I stand here, struggling not to tremble in light of everything that I have just heard, I find myself opening, then closing my mouth in question.
When I can finally manage to speak, I ask, “How?”
“How what, dear?”
“How do you know?”
“I don’t know anything, Oaklynn. That’s the frustrating thing about the Sight. It doesn’t allow for much interpretation.”
“But you knew about the fire.”
“I knew there would be a fire. I did not know where exactly it would be.”
“But you said there would be another.”
“And that there would be a tragedy.”
“So I did.”
“Does that mean someone I know is going to die?”
“I would hope not. But I do not know for sure.”
I turn, ready to storm out of the room and back up the stairs.
“Oaklynn,” Jackson says.
“What?” I ask, a bit too sharply for my liking.
Jackson grimaces and says, “We have to consider what’s best for everyone.”
“What’s best for everyone?” I laugh. “Your family is only thinking for themselves right now.”
“We are—“ Zachariah begins.
But Alecia Meadows shakes her head and says, “Not now, Zachary.”
Again: she shakes her head.
Frowning, I turn to face them once more, only to find that they are all staring at me.
Me, who they wish to be their salvation, their longevity, their Shewolf for the next generation.
“Jackson,” I say.
“Yes?” my friend asks.
“Get me out of here.”
“Heed my warning,” Alecia Meadows says as Jackson and I turn toward the door. “Beware the flames. You do not wish to be smothered by smoke.”
I make my way out of the room and storm through the corridor, then pound up the stairs until I burst out of the trap door.
Bernard Meadows turns his head to face me and Jackson as we emerge. “Is everything—“
I ignore him and take off out the front door.
“Oaklynn,” Jackson says.
“Is this really all they want from me?” I ask. “To make me a Shewolf?”
“Shh,” Jackson says, reaching out to take hold of my hand, but stopping before he can do so. He takes a deep breath, expels it, then looks past me. “They’re still gone,” he says.
“Good,” I reply. “That’ll give me enough time to settle the hell down.”
“You’re not overreacting, you know?”
“You’re not overreacting,” he continues.
I can only stare.
Jackson steps forward, then says, “I thought the whole thing was stupid, too. Asking you to hold such a burden? To take on such a responsibility?” He shakes his head. “That’s ridiculous. They should know that.”
“Does your grandmother really have the Sight?” I ask. “Is what she said true?”
“I don’t know, Oaklynn. I know that some of the Shewolves do have the Sight, but… just because she claims to see something doesn’t mean that it’s true.”
“But she knew about the note.”
“And you didn’t tell her.”
He nods again.
“So she has to be the real deal,” I say.
“I… I guess,” he replies. He kicks a rock out of his path and steps across the street alongside me, crossing his arms over his chest in the process. “I just… don’t know what to think of the whole thing.”
“You mean the tragedy and all?”
“Neither do I,” I say, mounting the steps that lead onto my front porch. I pause at the door, then, and turn to face him. His brown eyes are cautious, but filled with fire, with rage. The flicker of doubt in them is enough to make me realize that he had absolutely no part in this. For that, I can’t blame him.
With one last sigh, I reach into my pants pocket, retrieve my keys, then open the front door. “I’ll see you around,” I say after a moment’s consideration.
“I’m sorry it went the way it did, Oaklynn.”
“That’s family for ya,” I reply.
Jackson nods; and with sad eyes, turns and makes his way across the road.
I close the door behind me without much thought.
I can’t believe it. Absolutely, cannot believe it.
They want me to help continue their line? And not only that: they want me to become a Wolf?
This is crazy, I think. This can’t be real.
But it is.
It’s so real, in fact, that I can feel it in my blood, in my bones, in my heart, mind and soul.
A part of me wants to run, but I know that’s impossible. Even if I was able to leave—had the means and possibilities and the resources and everything they all entail—I would still be chased, would still be caught, would still be captured.
The fact is: I’m stuck, and there’s nothing I can do about it.
But… this tragedy, I then think. This next fire.
Was it meant to be physical? Metaphorical? Spiritual? Just what was it?
I don’t know—and that, above anything else, is what terrifies me.
“Okay,” I mumble, reaching up to press my hands to my cheeks. “Remain calm. Everything’s going to be fine.”
Will it be, though? Will it really?
I pace the kitchen for several minutes, trying my hardest to orient myself to the new reality and potential possibilities. When I find that I cannot, I stride to my bedroom, then close the door.
Unfortunately, I can do nothing but wait. Anticipate. See.
I tuck myself into bed early tonight in the hopes that I will escape the living nightmare that has become my life.
Instead, I dream of flames.
They score the ceiling of my room—lay to waste the furniture that lies within it: causing fabrics to shrivel, wood to be set ablaze, plastics and metals to melt, and the people inside to die. I struggle to breathe as I watch them consume everything around me, and though try as I might to fight back the panic that settles within me, I can do nothing but open my mouth and scream.
Thankfully, it doesn’t translate into the real world.
As I come to consciousness—and as the near pitch-black darkness of my room comes into view—I inhale a long, deep gulp of air and thank God for the mercy that has been bestowed upon me.
“Thank you,” I whisper, and close my eyes.
Though there are no flames burning around me, the ones in my mind are more than prevalent.
Immediately, Alecia Meadows’ words are in my head.
I am simply offering you the opportunity to help fight the hatred this town holds, she’d said. To give you a gift to brave what’s to come.
Which is? I’d asked.
Another fire, she’d replied. One that will change everything you know forever.
I do not know what this means, what it entails, whether or not it will come to pass or if it is merely smoke in a metaphorical mirror. All I know is that, the more I think about it, the more I find myself dreading everything that could occur within the coming days.
I need time, I think. A day. A month. A year.
Would this whole thing really take that long? Would the Meadows family stop the supposed ‘hatred’ in this town before it consumed my life in fire and flame?
I collapse into the bed with enough force to shake the mattress.
Tears sting at my eyes.
I wonder why, of all things, it had to be me to meet Jackson, me to see the red wolf.
Me to have been left in that flower shop all alone.
This isn’t right, I think. This isn’t okay.
What did my grandmother once say? That you can’t change things that have come to pass; only the future?
In the end, I know I can’t dwell on this for long. Doing so will consume my heart, my body, my mind.
For that reason, I settle back into the blankets, close my eyes, and try my best to go back to sleep.
I know, deep down, that it won’t be easy.
My parents return sometime later in the night. Where they’ve been I cannot be sure, but I awaken when I hear the deadbolt snapping, the door opening. A part of me is tempted to get up and face them, if only to see where they’ve been. However—I know that will only inspire questions, for which I have few answers.
Because of that, I stay in bed.
They are quiet at this late hour of the evening. Their actions are muffled, their movements short, their footsteps precise. Their voices are low—and try as I might to listen, it’s almost impossible to hear them…
At least until they near my bedroom.
“Don’t wake her,” my mother says.
“We have to ask her,” my father replies.
“She doesn’t need to be dragged into this, Ben.”
“She’s already been dragged into this, Claire. You heard what the cops said.”
What the cops said? I think. What’re they talking about?
I adjust my head in an effort to better hear the sounds outside the room. However—as close as my parents happen to be, they’ve lowered their voices even more, and are making it impossible to hear them.
I want so desperately for one of them to come in—to confront me about whatever it is that the police were questioning them about. I want to scream. I want to cry out. Yet, I know neither will do me any good, so I remain silent and instead listen.
Unfortunately, whatever they’re saying is muffled as their bedroom door closes.
No, I think.
A sigh escapes me so abruptly that I feel as though my chest will burst open. I even fear that I’ll be heard—and that, as a result, I will have been discovered.
Unfortunately for me, that is not the case.
My parents do not hear me. My parents do not come.
Lying here, in this room, I wish nothing more than to discover what it was that the police told them.
You can ask in the morning, I think.
I close my eyes.
All I can do is sleep.