Dad never wanted me to be here in this big farmhouse at the end of Black Dog
Alley. That thought gets me through each day from the time Child Services drops
me off at my uncle’s door.
I stay out in the hallway while Mrs. Perkins, the lady from Child Services, talks to
my uncle in the old-fashioned parlor. Looking around, it seems unreal that I’m
standing in the house my father grew up in … well, until he was 15 years old,
anyway. Upstairs, his mother, my grandmother who I’ve never met, supposedly
lies dying in the bed she once shared with my grandfather, an abusive husband, a
I stand at the bottom of a spiral staircase with
worn varnish and listen past the murmur of
voices in the parlor. Silence presses down upon
me. The silence of a house that’s too big for its
inhabitants. The silence of empty rooms. The
emptiness of a home without a soul.
The parlor door opens with a squawk, startling
me and shattering the emptiness. Mrs. Perkins
walks out beside my uncle with a hopeful smile
on her face. She’s been kind to me since my father’s death, but I know her hands
are tied here. I’m almost seventeen and I have only a year to go before I can
leave home one way or another. To college if I can earn enough to supplement my
father’s meager savings and life insurance, to the Army if I can’t. Uncle Brian and
Grandmother are my last known relatives, and living with them will definitely be
better than getting lost in the overcrowded system of the state’s foster homes.
At least that’s the theory.
Uncle Brian smiles at me. “Welcome Alicia,” he says. “We’re happy to have you
here.” The words are right, the smile is right. If I look just at his mouth, I might be
Trouble is, I learned a long time ago to look at the eyes when people talk to you.
You can tell if they mean what they’re saying by their eyes. Uncle Brian’s eyes
disagree with his mouth. His face is so like my father’s, except for the bushy beard
and mustache. I want to see my Dad’s sparkling blue eyes beneath the brows but
instead, Uncle Brian’s are dark, dark brown. They suck in the light instead of
reflecting it back at me.
“Everything’s going to be just fine, Alicia,” Mrs. Perkins
says. I smile. Mrs. Perkins can’t fool me. Her eyes are
By dinnertime, I can find no further reason to remain in the room Uncle Brian
showed me to earlier. I’m on the ground floor, in a small room near the kitchen.
Uncle Brian and Grandma both sleep upstairs. “I hope you’ll be comfortable here,
Alicia,” Uncle Brian says. “Your grandmother often wakes at night, so I thought you’
d get more rest down here.”
Uncle Brian isn’t in the kitchen, so I start looking through the cabinets. Macaroni
and cheese, beanie weenies, Spaghetti-o’s, peanut butter, white bread. Nothing
even vaguely resembling an adult meal. I check the refrigerator. Milk, orange
juice, soda. Every container is new, unopened, as if it was bought for me.
I open one of the drawers. Raw hamburger. At least eight one-pound packs. It
looks fresh, blood oozing between the plastic covering and the Styrofoam platters.
“Maybe we’re going to have a cookout,” I say out loud.
“I hope you’re finding something to eat.”
I spin around, startled. Uncle Brian must have moved as quietly as the wolf he
vaguely resembles. I’d have thought I’d hear him coming down the hall. Maybe he
has pads on the bottoms of his feet, I think. Without meaning to, I glance down.
My uncle is, indeed, barefoot. He steps into the kitchen.
“Did you?” he asks.
“Sorry?” I say, then realize I heard him. “Oh, yeah. I found that. I mean, the food’
s fine. Can I fix you something?”
“I always eat late,” Uncle Brian says. “I’ll keep you company, though.”
“How about Grandma?” I say. “Can I fix her something?”
“Mother doesn’t eat … much, anymore.” Uncle Brian meets my eyes as if he’s not
afraid of me. “I’ll take her a tray later on.”
I fix a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. The jelly lid pops as I open it. The purple
surface is smooth and undisturbed. A bit of the grape jelly slides off the knife onto
“Is your room all right?” Uncle Brian asks.
“It’s fine,” I mutter.
“Tomorrow you may want to go out and explore the neighborhood,” Uncle Brian
“Neighborhood?” I hadn’t seen any evidence of other houses as Mrs. Perkins drove
me down Black Dog Alley.
“We’re not all alone here,” Uncle Brian says. He gestures vaguely. “There are
several homes in this area. Quite an active group of young people, too.”
I can’t deny the lift in my spirits at these words. “Young people?” The thought of
the summer with only Uncle Brian and my absent grandmother for company was
“Oh yes,” Uncle Brian says. “Joey Martin and his sisters live just over that way. I
think they have a pool. You might want to get to know them. Joey’s older than
you, but one of his sisters is about your age, I think.”
“Sure,” I say. “Yeah, I’ll go for a walk tomorrow. I was planning on it, anyway.”
“You do that,” Uncle Brian says. He gets up and heads for the door. Mission
accomplished flashes through my mind. He wants me to meet these Martin kids.
To get me out of his ample hair?
“Uncle Brian,” I say.
He stops and glances over his shoulder but doesn’t turn. “Yes?”
“Why did my dad leave here?” I ask. “Why did he run away?”
Uncle Brian shrugs and turns away. “I don’t know,” he says. “Your dad and I never
saw eye to eye about most things.”
He closes the door behind him.
I wake. The house is quiet. Silent. Empty.
Not empty, I think. Grandmother and Uncle Brian are here, just upstairs. Maybe
that was what woke me. I listen for the sound of footsteps.
When I hear it, it’s not where I think it will be. Not upstairs. Not even in the
Outside. Right outside my window.
It doesn’t sound like a human footstep. I look at
the window. I left it open to the evening breeze. I
wish now I hadn’t. Moonlight lights up the
window, casting an irregular rectangle across the
floor and over my bed.
A shadow passes. I draw back under the covers. Would Uncle Brian hear me if I
screamed? In fact, do I want Uncle Brian with his black brown eyes to come to my
room at night? I don’t believe I do. I’ve never felt so alone.
Another shadow. Why can I see the shadows but nothing to cast them? There’s no
choice. I slip from the bed and tiptoe to the window. I yank the window closed and
am turning, ready to skip back into my bed when something catches my eye.
Outside, the yard is lit with an eerie blue glow. On the other side of the yard, a
wolf sits, unabashed, silver fur ruffling lightly in the wind. My heart stops. Is it
really a wolf? I’m a city girl. Maybe it’s a dog, a German Shepard, or, at worst, a
coyote. But even as I tell myself these things and get back into bed and pull the
covers up, I know I’m not kidding anyone but myself.
I know it’s a wolf.
Uncle Brian doesn’t come down for breakfast the next
morning. I can’t hear any sounds of stirring, either, so I
figure he’s not a morning person. After my breakfast of toast
with grape jelly, I decide to go explore the neighborhood.
Maybe I can meet some of the kids.
I go out the back door and round the corner of the house in
the direction Uncle Brian indicated the Martins lived. I stop
short. Standing in the backyard wearing only a pair of dark
blue swim trunks is a young man I’ve never seen before. He’s sleek and muscular
and tan. His eyes are so blue they’re almost silver, and when he looks at me, it’s
like he’s touching my bare skin.
“Hi,” he says. “You’re Alicia.”
“I – uh, yeah.” Somehow, the fact that he didn’t say, “You must be Alicia” makes
the statement that much more intimate. “You’re Alicia.” A statement of fact. He
knows who I am. Perhaps he knows much more… or wants to know much more.
He smiles. His teeth look really white. “I came to invite you to our pool.”
“Oh,” I say. Why can’t I think of anything to say? Preferably something with more
than one syllable. “Sure. That’d be great. Just let me change.”
When I come out a few minutes later, he’s still standing in the same spot. I start
toward him and check just a bit as I realize he’s standing exactly where the wolf
stood last night. Silly, I say to myself. Out loud I say, “It must be nice having a
“It’s the only way to spend an afternoon in the Southeast,” Joey says as we walk
across the backyard and into the forest. I realize he never actually introduced
“So, my uncle says you have sisters,” I say as casually as I can while I race to
keep up with his easy cross-country lope.
“I do.” He doesn’t elaborate, but maybe that’s because we’ve emerged from the
woods onto what was probably once a neatly manicured lawn. I can still see traces
of careful gardening, but now the bushes are overgrown, the lawn is weedy and
although there are still some perennials blooming here and there, the clover
outnumbers them by far.
In the middle of the weedy lawn, like a blue oasis, the swimming pool is
surrounded by a cracked concrete walkway. Two girls close to my own age recline
on a couple of lawn chairs. Both wear bikinis and sunglasses. Neither move as we
approach. I turn to Joey to say something, but find that my escort has vanished.
Turning forward again, I see him leap and dive neatly into the pool. One of the
girls sits up at the sound of the splash. She nods and smiles at me, gesturing
toward another rusted lawn chair. I shrug. Whatever. It’s better than going home
to a house with an absent uncle and an invisible grandmother.
Neither Joey nor his sisters seems disposed to conversation. I lie on the lawn chair
feeling the sun soaking into my skin and listening to grasshoppers and crickets
chirruping not far away. I wonder if my uncle is awake yet. I wonder if I’ll ever see
my grandmother. I wonder if Joey is still in the pool. I raise my head to find out.
He is in the pool, his arms propped on the side, silver-blue eyes fixed on me. I’m
so startled by his scrutiny, I sit up, then wish I hadn’t. I’m wearing a fairly modest
two-piece suit, but I feel naked under his gaze. He smiles, his teeth glimmering,
and holds out a hand to me. Without thinking, I rise to accept his invitation.
I’m only vaguely aware that Joey’s sisters are sitting up, then standing and moving
around us in circles as Joey rises from the pool waters and draws me into his arms.
I feel his lips, his teeth, his hands on my bare skin. My world narrows to the
sensation of his body against mine.
A snort from behind startles me. It’s a wild animal type of sound, rage and denial
mixed together. A hand closes over my left elbow, wrenching me backward and off
“Get away from her,” my uncle snarls.
As I regain my balance, I see Joey, water glistening on his body. His sisters are on
their feet behind their brother. All three radiate animal defiance. Chins thrust out,
lips parted, fists clenched. I want nothing more than to join them. Joey smiles.
“She’s mine, old man. It’s what she wants. Your day is over.”
For answer, my uncle growls, low in his throat. Then he yanks me around and
starts pulling me back toward the house. “Hey!” I protest. “What the hell?” But my
uncle is strong and before I can do more than throw an apologetic look over my
shoulder at Joey, I’ve been pulled into the woods.
Back at the house, my uncle releases me in the kitchen. He starts to pace the
room. Every now and then he casts a look out the window. I can see the darkness
gathering outside. It’s much later in the day than I’d thought. “Would you like to
explain to me exactly what is going on here?” I demand, but just then the door
leading to the upstairs opens and I see my grandmother for the first time ever.
She’s beautiful. She’s nothing like what I expected of a grandmother. She has long
white hair that moves in the slightest of air currents. Her skin is ageless. Her body
is slight but strong. I catch my breath. Could this be the mother my father ran
away from? Even as I gaze at her, my uncle falls on his knees before her. “It’s
happened, Mother,” he says. “I’ve lost them. I knew I would when Erica died. It
was only a matter of time before they rebelled against me. I can’t hold the pack
together like I did before. Why did you tell me to send the girl to them?”
My grandmother places her hands on my uncle’s head. She looks at him almost
tenderly, then turns her gaze out the window. “It was the right thing to do,” she
says. “You must fight. It is our way. Tonight the moon will be full. It is time.”
“And if I die?” my uncle says. “If he wins, what happens to you?”
“I take my place in the pack. I eat last. I survive.”
“And Alicia?” My uncle’s question surprises me. I hadn’t anticipated concern from
“We knew she would upset the balance,” my grandmother’s voice is cool. “Perhaps
we were foolish to trust Joseph for so long. However, he has bided his time long
enough.” She turns and her eyes rake over me, cold as marble. “You are very like
your mother,” she says with distaste.
“You knew my mother?” I’d been under the impression that my father had left
home long before he met my mother.
“I cast your mother out of the pack,” my grandmother says coldly. “More fool me.
Your father chose to follow. Now you come when my last son is alpha male only by
default. His mate is dead. Before, there was a truce. Joseph had no mate and two
young sisters as dependents. Brian had only me. Now you come, a mate made to
order for Joseph, so he challenges. Tonight your uncle will fight. Perhaps he will
die. If he loses, you and Joseph will be the alpha pair. Perhaps that is best.”
Pack? Alpha pair? My mind reels just as it did when Joey kissed me. A whirl of
sights and colors, my father outlined in moonlight one night, recognizable to my
childhood consciousness even in his lupine form. “You’re a werewolf,” I whisper.
“You’re both werewolves.”
My grandmother smiles. “We’re all werewolves, child.”
I break free and run for the pool in the
wilderness. Joey and his sisters wait for me.
I sense them in the night. Tree branches
scratch my face and body, but I’m twisting
through them at a remarkable speed,
falling to all fours when the path narrows.
The brambles stop snatching at my skin and
I lope on, all four limbs pushing me onward
and I wonder why I haven’t always run like
I break through and moonlight outlines three wolves standing by the pool. I lunge
forward to join them. The male steps forward and touches my nose gently with his.
From behind me, I hear a deep-throated growl. As Joey moves around me to meet
my uncle, his sisters and I lift our snouts in the air and howl.