Torn from the world of consciousness, and adrift in the world of slumber, I dream of a white sky and a grand green field, in which I watch a wolf run in the distance.
Where is it going? I wonder. And why is it running?
Some would say that the wolf runs because it can. Others would say that it runs for a purpose. In this landscape, which can surely be only of dream, I watch it run across the field, slowly but surely drawing closer as something trails behind it. It, I soon realize, is fire—and though it tries to outrun the past, it cannot escape the present, nor the future that rushes ever quickly toward it.
The wolf gains speed. Beneath red paws the grass burns. Toward me it runs.
I lift my eyes, and watch, in grandeur and realization, as it comes running straight for me.
At first, I feel as though it will collide with me.
When it jumps—and when I feel as though it will strike—I close my eyes.
Its body does not impact me.
Its spirit, however, does.
A tangible essence of everything that it is to be a wolf consumes me. The need to hunt. The need to eat. The need to breathe, live, exist. I taste blood in my mouth as the facets of life assault me, and feel burns on my paws as the fire surges forward—attempting, it would seem, to consume me whole.
But I am not simply a normal girl.
Now, I realize, I am a wolf—the red wolf, to be exact.
So I turn. And I run. And I change, shedding one visage for another.
As I shift into the being that I know I was meant to become, a thought strikes me.
Is this me? I wonder.
Then, I realize, it is.
Waking up in a hospital bed for the second time in less than two weeks is unnerving. Knowing that I’m now all alone, though? That’s chaos.
Chaos, I think, of the body, of the mind.
Of the soul.
My heart yearns for compassion—for the touch of my father, a hug from my mother.
But neither will come.
The sad, and unfortunate, truth is that neither will come.
Because they’re dead.
Smothered by smoke, burned by flame.
It’s almost too impossible to imagine.
And yet, here I lie, in this hospital bed, connected to all these machines, wanting and wishing for life to be simple, for life to be pure. As of now, I am alone. Zachariah Meadows has gone to attend to errands. And Jackson—
I sigh as I consider what all he’s done for me in the past few days, and find myself wishing he was here with me. Maybe then I’d be able to find answers to the questions that fill my life.
The first of them being: what happens now?
Now, I think, even though it is not premeditated, even though I am completely unsure, I have to find out who did this.
Surely Zachariah Meadows’ security footage will find out who started that fire. Who murdered my parents. Who inexplicably, and irreversibly, altered my life forever. And when I find out who did this…
I pause as the thought consumes me.
When I find out who did this, I think, I’ll make them wish they were never born.
There is nothing else to say, do, think, or even believe.
As much as I hate to think I am that person—that I am becoming this person—I realize now that I have to do what I feel is right.
That, above all us, is what compels me to survive.
As my hand balls into a fist once more, popping the knuckles and flushing oxygen into my joints, I think, for but one moment, what will happen come time Jackson returns.
Then a knock comes at the door, and all thoughts of the future are lost.
“Hello?” I manage, coughing as the first true word of the morning escapes me.
Jackson steps inside.
I sit up almost instantly.
“Hey, hey! Take it easy,” he says with a smile. “I was just coming in to check on you.”
“How’s Belle?” I ask.
“She’s doing great, Oaklynn. You have nothing to worry about.”
I let out a sigh.
“How about you?” Jackson asks. “How are you feeling?”
“Sore,” I manage, then grimace and add, “And my chest hurts.”
“Do you need me to get a nurse in here?”
“No, no. It’s… just from the smoke. It’ll clear up on its own.”
“How did you sleep?”
Sleep? I think, and frown.
The dream comes flooding back to me—slowly, effortlessly, as if I’d experienced it no more than a short moment ago. My heart flutters at the thought of the wolf running, of us colliding, of me turning and fleeing. For a moment, I feel as though the breath will escape me. But when it doesn’t, I nod and say, “I… I slept fine.”
“Why do you ask?”
“I imagine it’s hard to sleep in a hospital sometimes, what with all the machines beeping, the people coming in and out to check on you.”
“I’m okay, Jackson.”
“Are you sure?”
The fact is: I’m not. Telling him that would be pointless, though—because truth be told, he does know how I’m feeling, does know that I’ve experienced an immeasurable loss. To state that I’m feeling crushed, defeated, twisted about, and laid open would be paramount to describing what color the sky is.
In the end, everyone knows what suffering is. Everyone’s experienced it in one way or another.
Especially Jackson, I think, and frown.
His brown eyes fall on mine—watching, waiting, anticipating another question, a statement, maybe even an answer. When I offer none, he frowns; and when I open my mouth to speak, he cuts me off by saying, “My dad’s gonna help take care of everything.”
“Everything?” I frown. “What’re you—“
“Getting the property cleaned up. Your estate arranged. Your living arrangements.”’
“He wants to help,” the young man continues, reaching down to take my hand. “I… I know that it’s a lot to take in right now, but now that everything’s changed… you need someone in your corner.”
“My dad wants to be a part of this, Oaklynn. And so do I.”
“You… you do?”
He nods. “Yeah. I do.”
I close my eyes, take a deep breath, then expel it accordingly, allowing the air to filter from my battered lungs and into the space before me.
What to say, I think, to someone who cares so much?
I want to say something—anything—to reassure him that I’m going to allow him to help me. But, at the same time, I wonder:
Is it worth it to tell him my feelings? Here? Now? With so many potential ears listening?
No, I think. I can’t do that. Not yet, and not here.
With a nod, I lean back against the pillow and say, “You’ll stay here with me?”
“If you want me to,” he offers. “It’s not like I’m willing to go back to school anyway.”
Jackson’s sad eyes are answer enough.
“Know,” I then finish, allowing the word to trail off.
“I told her I’d keep an eye on you. She said she’d make it as soon as possible.”
“Thank you,” I whisper. “I think… I think I’m gonna go to sleep now.”
“Okay. Sleep tight, Oaklynn.”
I’m out before I can even think twice.
J’vonte’s eyes are ghostly, her lips like a town quiet about the most sinister happenings. Her hands tremble as she enters the room alongside her mother, Yvette Fawn, and her gaze strays straight toward me.
“Oh, Oaklynn,” J’vonte says as she steps forward.
I take her into my arms and hold her tight as Jackson stirs from his place on the couch. Her small frame is vibrating—not, I know, with sadness, but rage.
Hell have fury on whoever hurts your best friend, I think, and tighten my grip on her.
Missus Fawn sets a small vase of flowers on the bedside table and asks, “How are you feeling?”
“Like I’ve been run over by a truck,” I say.
Missus Fawn’s eyes shift from me, to Jackson, then back to me again before saying, “I see you’re being taken care of.”
“I’m sorry I didn’t come sooner,” J’vonte says. “I had to go to school. To see if I could figure out whoever did this to you.”
“And you damn near got yourself expelled,” Missus Fawn says, then sighs before adding, “I guess I can’t blame you, though. Claire was my friend, too.”
“Are you okay?” I ask.
“I’m fine, dear. It’s just… a shock to me. More than a shock, actually.”
“It’s like whoever did this just stabbed a knife in this small town,” J’vonte offers, before backing away and crossing her arms over her chest. She looks toward Jackson for a short moment, then returns her gaze to me before asking, “Do you know how long you’ll be here?”
“Probably another day at least.”
“Do you…” She swallows. “Have somewhere to go?”
“Jackson said he’d take me in,” I say.
“We have a spare room for her and Belle,” he offers.
J’vonte closes her eyes. “Thank God you and her are all right.”
“I’m not really sure how much thanks I have in Him,” I offer. “Sorry, Missus Fawn.”
“I understand, Oaklynn,” Missus Fawn says. “Don’t worry yourself over simple things.”
I nod, close my eyes, and turn my head before looking out the window. “Did you—“ I start, then stop before I can finish.
“Find out anything?” J’vonte asks. “No. I… I didn’t.”
“The police will handle this,” Missus Fawn continues. “Don’t you kids go sticking your nose in this. It’s bad enough that someone… did what they did. I… I don’t want anything to happen to you. Any of you.”
“We’ll be good,” J’vonte says. “Won’t we, guys?”
I can only continue to stare out the nearby window.
As much as I want to agree, I find myself unable to do so.
The only thing I can think of is vengeance.