Death fills the night, loud, bright, and hot.
My little lungs gasp for fresh air in the smokey haze that fills the meadow. Behind me, the world is in flames.
“Papa,” I call. My fists grasp tighter to the fabric they clutch and strong arms pull me close.
“Shh, little pup,” the woman who holds me soothes. Gentle fingers cup the back of my head as she picks up her pace, making my body rock with the motion.
Others run with us, beside us, around us. Some away the screaming and fire behind us. Others towards it.
“You’re Papa is strong. He will be safe,” she says around heavy breaths.
I squirm in her arms, twisting my face from her golden curls to look over her shoulder at the burning house. The flicker of flames and smoke seems to be getting bigger and the house gets smaller. I can barely see it through the shoulders of the others that surround us. Through the trees which thicken.
Eyes stinging, I try again, “I want Papa.”
The woman sighs, slowing her pace. Dark figures rush by as she places me down on the ground. I brace to run back toward the house but she places her hands on my shoulders, kneeling beside me.
Black smudges her normally pearly skin. Wetness sparkles under her eyes. “Who is your, Papa?” she says.
I puff out my chest. “The Alpha.”
“And what do Alpha’s do?”
“Protect the ones they love.”
“Very good, little pup. Now those people up there,” she points to the crowd that ran past us, “they are our family and they need our help. As the future Alpha of this pack, what should you do?”
I bite my cheek, glancing once more at the flickering light that dances through the trees. Once more toward Papa.
“Help them,” I whisper.
She kisses my forehead, “Good, now hop onto my back, we need to catch up.”
As I clamber up, I hear her gasp and she freezes beneath me.
Then we are flying backward. Her scream pierces the air and there is only darkness, quiet, and cold.
I jolt awake, panting and covered in a layer of cold sweat, reaching for the glass of water on my bedside table.
It’s almost as though I can feel the smoke still burning in my lungs. Redhot embers still prickle against the skin of my legs, hidden beneath twisted lavender sheets.
They fizzle out as I gulp down mouthfuls of water.
The reoccurring nightmare had plagued me for as long as I can remember. It was troubling, according to my therapist, since I’d never been outside of Toronto. Never been in a forest. Definitely never been anywhere near a burning building.
“Tess?” Mom calls again. She’s putting on a pair of pearl earrings as she appears in my bedroom doorway. Her face falls a little as she takes in my flush skin. “It’s happening a lot again lately.”
I shrug, putting the now empty water glass on my bedside table. “Doc said it could be stress. My last exam is today. It’ll get better.”
She hums, smoothing out her skirt and I notice for the first time she’s dressed fully in black. While the formal dress fits her curvey body well and compliments her dark hair and eyes, it’s nothing like the bright colors and patterns she usually wears.
Mom’s job as a kindergarten teacher had impacted her wardrobe choices my whole life. I’d always been a little jealous of how well the bright clothes suited her. With my lanky frame and white-blonde curls, they made me look like a clown.
“Something happen?” My stomach flips. The fear from the dream making me jump to the worst possible scenario instantly.
“An old friend of mine passed away a few days ago,” she said, her expression even. “I’ve got to go up north to help settle some of his affairs.”
My mother was born in northern Ontario. She lived there, in a small town near the Algonquin National Park, her whole life...until my father died and she moved me and her down to the city.
I’d never been to see where my parents came from. I’d seen pictures online, seen the old photos she kept in a box under her bed, even offered to go with her. She always shot me down though.
Mom’d go once or twice a year herself, usually to check up on a friend, otherwise kept no contact with her previous life.
I’d asked once when I was little why we’d moved. If we’d ever go back. She’d told me that some things needed to be forgotten.
“Ah shit mom, I’m sorry. Should we cancel our weekend plans?”
“Nothing in the world could stop me from attending this weekend. My daughter only turns eighteen once.” Mom steps into my room, stopping at the bedside and dropping a kiss onto my head. “Just focus on acing your last test.”
“Will do,” I say. “Are you staying overnight?”
“Not sure yet. I’ll write you and let you know. Love you.”
The rest of the morning passes quietly. My exam isn’t until late afternoon, so I wake up slowly, review my Myth and Religion notes, and eat some toast, before getting ready.
My last exam in High School also happens to be my best subject. I’ve always found learning about ancient cultures and the stories they used to explain the world around them fascinating. Reading about gods, and demons, and dryads had never seemed like work to me. The world of magic had an equilibrium to it, a certain balance, that made more sense to me than math or science ever had.
Unfortunately, as my guidance counselor liked to say, ′There’s no future in studying bedtime stories. You need to focus on the real world in order to have a sustainable future.′
Which is why all the university applications I sent out had either been for an undeclared major or Business...and why I’m dreading the fall.
I'd brought up the topic of taking a year off to my mom, thinking a bit of traveling might give me a better idea about what I wanted to do with my life, but she’d freaked.
Said it wasn’t safe for an eighteen-year-old girl to be traveling alone. That there were half a dozen great universities in and around Toronto. That I’d be silly not to seize that opportunity.
She was right, of course, but that didn’t make it any easier.
My dreams getting worse lately hadn’t helped my case.
After a quick shower, I decide to leave my tangled blond curls alone, swipe on some mascara, and put on a pair of jeans, an old blue t-shirt, and a vintage leather jacket I found in Kensington Market.
Then I’m out the door, off to check the next box in a future I’m not altogether sure I want.
“The essay question was bullshit,” Dyl says, as he places his cappuccino and my chai latte on the dirty coffee table. “How did I get roped into taking that class again?”
Dyl and I became friends in primary school after I punched a bully in the face for stealing Dyl’s fruit roll-up. We’ve been at each other sides ever since.
“You were the one that wanted us to take each other’s elective so we could ‘make the most of our last year’,” I remind him. “I suffered through Illustration for you.”
I’d been a little jealous when Dyl received his acceptance letter for OCAD a few weeks ago. Proud of course. But it all just seemed so easy for Dyl. He’s been drawing his whole life. He’d always known what he wanted. I could hardly choose what shampoo to buy.
“Art is relaxing. Learning the name of five-hundred magical creatures is not,” Dyl says on the defense and leans back in his stained armchair.
“It’s the last time you’ll ever have to do something nice for me,” I promise, grabbing our steaming drinks.
Dyl’s easy smile falters a little, his dark eyes dropping to the steaming mug I pass to him.
He accepts the drink, only to put it down again and take my hand. “Actually, Tessa, there’s something I wanted to speak to you about.”
“Don’t tell me you’re thinking of changing your hair again,” I tease, glancing up at his currently bleached white strands. “I told you I wouldn’t input any more opinions since the barf green incident.”
“No, it’s not my hair,” he says too quickly. “It’s - Well, we’ve been friends for a long time, Tessa. And with so much changing lately it’s really made me think about what I want to keep in my life. I-”
My phone starts ringing, cutting him off.
“Sorry, one sec,” I tell him, pulling my hand from his and fishing the device out of the front pocket of my backpack.
I frown at the unknown number on the screen but pick up anyway. It could be Mom calling from her friends. “Hello?”
“Is this Tessa Evers?” asks a voice on the other line.
“Yes, who is this?”
“My name is Karren, I’m a nurse at the Haliburton Hospital.”
My stomach twists at the word hospital, my hand sweaty on my phone.
Haliburton is near Mom’s hometown.
“I’m sorry to have to tell you this, Miss Evers, but your mother has been in an accident. I need you to come up here immediately.”
“An accident?” I repeat, frowning as my mind goes in a million different directions at once.
“Everything okay?” Dyl asks from beside me, his hand squeezing my knee.
“I’m afraid I can’t tell you too much over the phone, Miss,” Karren says.
“Please?” I beg, already stranding and shouldering my bag. I move to toss some cash on the table but Dyl shakes his head. “It’s my mother.”
Karen sighs. “Your mother was admitted to the hospital with canine induced trauma. She’s alive, but I would recommend you come as soon as possible.”
“Canine induced...She was bitten by a dog?” I ask.
“Not a dog, Miss Evers. Wolves.”
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