I walk to Waindale High School on Monday morning—well—I briskly walk and avoid the trees at all costs. The bear warning was put out, but Grandma said this morning that there wasn't another sighting. It must have run off, is her reasoning.
Waindale High School seems like an okay place to be. The outside is wet-looking like everything else, but like most high schools is a bunch of bricks and doors and windows and cars. The people in the front office are nice and walk me to my first class. It's like ripping off a bandaid every time I enter a classroom and say that I'm new. I suppose this is what happens when you change schools when the year has already begun.
Some students are kind enough to introduce themselves, but most are too preoccupied with their own lives to notice my existence—which is just fine with me. It's hard coming up with things to say.
At lunchtime, a girl with red hair hurries up to me and grabs my arm. I spill a sound of confusion as she takes me to a table. Gripping the strap of my bag, I stand awkwardly when she releases me.
"Hi, I'm Vivian, but most people call me Viv. I saw you standing over there alone, so I thought I would invite you to my table since you're new."
"How do you know—"
"Your name is Wrenley, right? Word travels fast around here. That's a pretty name, though. Please, sit. The others should be coming soon."
I glance back and make another noise of confusion.
Vivian takes it upon herself to grab my hand and pull me down. "You don't have to be shy, really. I hope we can be friends."
I sit and place my bag on the table. "Sorry, I just, you're very straight-forward."
"I know. Some people like it, others don't. Does it bother you?"
"Oh, uh, no. I'm just surprised. Um."
Her pale skin looks so delicate under her pretty blouse. Vivian smiles and something about it makes my heart warm. "So how are you acclimating to the weather?"
"I-I actually like it. It's really different than what I'm used to."
"Oh," she says and turns to a boy who's settling down at the table. His eyes don't leave me. "Wrenley, this is my friend Eli."
Eli smiles a little, nods his head, then glares at Vivian. My insides grow heavy and I wonder if I should excuse myself.
"What are you doing, Viv?" He asks lowly.
She turns away from him. "So, Wrenley, do you play any sports or are you more of a club person? I'm in the student body government as the secretary. We already had our elections for the year, though. I would suggest you join if there were still spots."
"Oh, that's okay. It's not really my thing."
Her head tilts. "So what is your thing?"
"Uh, I—I like to read and watch T.V."
"Oh, well, that's cute." A girl sits down beside Eli and seems shocked by my presence as well. Vivian perks up. "Wrenley, this is my other friend, Elara. Eli and Elara are together. Isn't that cute—that their names are so similar."
"Hi, Wrenley," Elara says then turns to Eli. They face away from us as they talk.
Beginning to feel unwelcome, I grip my bag. "It was nice meeting you guys. I actually have to go to the office about schedule stuff."
Vivian frowns. "Oh, okay. We'll see you later then?"
"Yeah, um, see you guys later."
As I walk to the cafeteria doors, I peer back and watch them argue. Relief washes over me in the hallway, although I have to hide somewhere so they don't see me.
Outside there is an area with picnic tables. I take a seat even though most people are inside—my eyes are occupied by the trees, anyway. The clouds aren't as dark as yesterday, so I don't have to worry about it raining when I walk home. The rest of lunch, I think about the bizarre conversation with Vivian and how her friends didn't seem to want me there. If I could, I would walk home now.
When school is over, I head back and Grandma asks about my first day.
"It was okay. People were nice," I say.
"That's good. What about your classes? Do you like them?"
I shrug. "Yeah, they're okay too. The teachers are nice. The work doesn't seem too hard."
"Oh, I got a call. There still aren't any other sightings. I think it went home, right? At least it's gone."
I nod. "Yeah. At least it's gone."
That night I have the strangest dream. I'm laying on the cold, damp ground without any clothes on, buried deep in the forest at night. Laying on my side, I curl up into a ball and shake as noises become louder and louder. Leaves and dirt cling to my body, and I stay still, hearing something heavy approaching. Holding my breath, the dark thing towers over me, it's electric eyes burning my skin. I squeeze my eyes shut. The dark thing licks from my hip to my shoulder, the streak of warmth jarring me awake.
I can't fall back asleep. The night pours through my window and watches me.
In the morning, my ghost looks back at me in the mirror, her pale skin and grey eyes startling me. Grandma made waffles and gives me an extra one, believing my sickly-ness to be from a lack of food. I pass my mom on the porch as I leave. This seems to be her new spot. Back home, it was the recliner in our living room.
It rains on my way to school. I close my umbrella before entering the building.
Just as I look up, Vivian appears. I step back as my hand slaps my chest. "Oh! Vivian, hi. You scared me." Was she waiting for me?
"Sorry. I just saw you come in. Thought I would say hi. I realized that I may have scared you away yesterday, so I wanted to apologize if I came on too strong."
I clear my hair from my face and say, "No, it's okay. At least I can say I know someone here."
She smiles. "Great. Actually, I should tell you that my mother used to be friends with your mother. That's why I was so eager to meet you. They were close in high school."
"Wow. I didn't know. She hasn't told me about her old friends, so... Uh, what's your last name? I'll tell her when I get home."
"It's Smith. My mom's name is Talisa, but she goes by Tali. Your mom would know her by Tali."
"Okay, well, I'll let her know."
When the day is over and I'm turning onto Grandmas property, I see my mom outside. "Have you been there all day?" I call to her.
"I'm on a roll, Kid," she says while finishing up a sentence or two.
I climb the steps and sit across from her. "Tali Smith."
She immediately looks up at me. "What? What did you say?"
"I'm friends with Tali Smith's daughter, I guess."
My mom sets down her laptop and runs a hand through her hair. "Oh my god. Tali Smith. She's still here? In Waindale?"
"I guess so. Her daughter found me at school and told me."
"How would she know who you are? I haven't talked to Tali since I left, long before you were born."
I shrug. "Don't know. Just thought you would be interested."
"Yeah, definitely. Maybe I should reach out to her. I wonder if she still on Munkton. Let me go ask Grandma." She gets up and disappears inside. Alone, I turn around and look over the rail. With my arms resting on top of it, I watch the empty street. There's no one across it, no house or anything, just an overgrown lot and the forest behind it.
I think about my dream and that dark thing that haunts me. When I expected it to tear me apart, it licked me—which is less frightening and more puzzling. It is also weird. Very weird. Thinking about the sensation makes my limbs twitch.
Tonight when I've finished getting ready for bed, I dance around the idea of sleeping and wander my dark bedroom. I settle at the window and stare out into the night until it lightens up. My mind plays tricks with me and paints an image of the dark thing against the forest. My eyes squeeze shut, shoot open, and it's gone. When it starts to come back, I repeat. Squeeze shut, shoot open, it's gone. Squeeze shut, shoot open, it's gone. Then the painting becomes more detailed. Limbs, like a large dog. Electric yellow eyes. Its mouth starts to open and I squeeze my eyes shut. Open them—it's there. Squeeze shut. Open. Why won't it leave! White teeth shaped like a monster's appear and I duck under my window.
I reach up and yank the curtains closed. Not daring to look again, I crawl into bed and decide to sleep. Tossing and turning results in an hour or two of shut-eye here and there before the sun begins to rise. "No, no, no," I whisper to myself. "Sleep, Wren, sleep."
An hour later my alarm sounds.
Grandma gives me an extra bowl of cereal.
"What's going on with you?" She asks.
"I told you. I'm having a hard time sleeping."
My mom comes out from the bathroom and sits across from me at the table with her coffee and laptop ready to go. "Still not sleeping?" I shake my head. "Maybe we can get you melatonin or something," she suggests.
Grandma nods in agreement.
"Here, I'll give you money and you can stop on your way from from school." She gets up and retrieves her purse, handing me a twenty-dollar bill. "There's a drug store down the street from the school, on the corner, okay?"
After school, I make my way down the street, further than I've ever been. The drugstore is there, and on the third corner is a gas station. The fourth is a diner. I cross the street and enter the building, my twenty dollars tucked in my pocket. It's smaller than the regular CVS or Walgreens that I'm used to, but I find the vitamin section and luckily there are bottles of melatonin. I take one, buy it, keep the change, and cross the second street, the third, then enter the diner.
A man is sat at the bar while an elderly couple is comfortable in a booth. I sit down in a booth myself and place my bag beside me. A woman with thin, blonde hair hands me a menu.
I order a strawberry milkshake.
As I sip and work on homework, three guys around my age come through the door. They're dressed in the same outfit, and I realize that they must be from the private school. All three sit at the bar and order sodas and burgers and fries. When one glances my way, I swiftly turn back and sip the rest of my shake. I pack up my stuff and head home, catching a glimpse of the school's crest on their shirts. A wolf.