Morgan’s new job sounds too good to be true, but when Dawn visits her old friend, they discover that haunted houses may be more real than they thought. This small town is full of secrets, and now Dawn has a new secret of her own.
I used to think logic and science ruled the world. Standing at my best friend’s front door, all I had to do was convince her. I crossed my arms at the redhead cowering in front of her little brown bungalow. “Your house is not haunted.”
She glanced from me to the front window near the far corner. Inside, the chandelier over the dining room table swung wildly, nearly hitting the ceiling with each pass.
I tore my eyes away. “Your house is not haunted.”
It couldn’t be. Surely, the chain supporting it had worn smooth over a couple decades of tall men smacking their heads into it. Surely, with a little bit of energy put in, its frictionless bearing let it glide freely. Maybe a bird got in. Conservation of energy. That’s all.
Morgan’s small voice barely reached me over the pounding in my ears. “We haven’t even been in yet.”
“You left a window open.” My skin crawled. But it was just a house. A new house down the street from a cemetery that seemed nearly as big as the rest of this small town, but a building nonetheless. Wood. Brick. Nails. A pile of materials put together in an orderly fashion with nothing living in it but, soon, the two of us now standing outside. Just a thing. “Toss me your keys.”
She threw them at my face, and I snatched them out of the air. The new key was easy to find: the only one without a marker of any sort. I slid it in, and the deadbolt glided open without the click of a new mechanism or the loose play of an ancient one. Just a lock. On just a house.
“See? It’s fine.” Grinning, I tossed her keys back and stepped over the threshold.
My vision grayed at the edges, and I lost my breath. Collapsing to the floor, I clicked my nails against the sturdy parquet and gasped for air against a wave of nausea. Something was wrong.
“Dawn!” Morgan appeared at my side, grasping at my arm as if she’d pluck me out to safety.
“I’m okay!” No, I wasn’t. I’d stepped inside and landed smack on my butt in two seconds flat. What a trip! Waving her off, I pushed back onto my feet. “See? It’s fine.”
The hell if I knew. “I tripped. You know me. It happens.”
She shot me a look that said she believed me as much as I did.
“Your house is not haunted. Look.” I pointed at the swinging chandelier, which had stopped in spite of all the ruckus and now hung bone-still in the silent house.
That, I had no explanation for. Thirty seconds ago, it was swinging wildly. With that little friction, it should still be swaying a little.
“You’re not helping your case, here.”
We both shook as she gave me the nickel tour, but the house was normal the rest of the evening. Still, we couldn’t quite settle.
I woke in the middle of the night to orange streetlights glaring through open curtains and streaking an unfamiliar ceiling over the couch we’d fallen asleep on. Low voices murmured nearby, making my ear twitch.
“That’s not the one that was recruited.”
“Maybe she’s better.”
“But she’s not staying. It’s not better if she’s not here.”
Fear gnawed at my stomach; that wasn’t Morgan’s voice. No one else should be here. I scanned the room, double checking that the shadowy stacked boxes weren’t actually people.
The front hall. Two faces gleamed in the front hall, lit with streetlight through their transparent forms. I launched off the couch with a mighty battle—
I landed face-first on the bare wooden floor, but when I glanced up, the impossible forms were gone.
“Dawn?” Morgan pushed up blearily on the couch, glanced at me, and froze, eyes wide with fear.
“What?” I meant to say. It came out, “Wrau?”
I heard her shuddering breath from across the room.
What was wrong with me? I glanced down at my hands, only to find fur-covered paws tipped in thick, black claws. It took a couple tries to get one up to my face, and I couldn’t turn it enough to feel my skin.
But I felt enough.
It hitched on one pointed ear, dragged across thick fur, dropped down at my eye, and scraped along a muzzle to a cold, wet nose I could just barely see with my eyes crossed. I bolted to my feet. My arms/front legs fell back down, braced between boxes.
No, no, no! I tried to motion her to silence, but she hid her head with a pillow.
I had to figure out what was happening. Somewhere I wouldn’t scare her.
I backed away and darted around the corner where the faces had been. Nothing. I tried to press my back against a wall and look in all directions, but my butt got in the way. I pressed my shoulder to the corner by the front door and tried to think.
What the fuck?!
My thoughts didn’t get more elegant from there.
Crap! Shit! Fuck!
What the hell had happened to me? Was I dreaming? Drugged? Was this a prank? I tried pulling the gloves off with my teeth, but they sure felt like my body. The teeth, too. When I stopped, I caught myself whining.
“Dawn?” Morgan’s voice came from the other room, barely above a whisper and choked with tears. “Dawn? Are you alright? Are you here?”
I caught an unpleasant whiff from her direction.
What was I? How had I turned into a dog?
I wished for the pleasantly swinging chandelier, creepy but impersonal.
Okay. Step one: let Dawn know she’s safe from me. We could figure out the weird voices and commentators later. From a distance. A big distance. Maybe another state.
Keeping my mouth shut and the painfully real teeth hidden, I crept back to the living room and peeked around the corner.
Dawn had ventured to my side of the couch as if I might have fallen off the other side of the metaphorical life raft, but when she saw me, she froze, her breath squeezing out in a soft, high-pitched keen.
I whined back at her. Keeping my head down, I padded forward.
More unpleasant odors.
I got halfway across the room before she started throwing pillows at me. They bounced off my head, and I had the strange urge to catch them in my mouth. No. I was human, dammit. Then Morgan got to the blankets, and they tripped me. I crashed down, smashing my head through the cups and mugs.
Enough. Backing up, I shook the blankets off and body-slammed my friend. Her screams pierced my ears, and I found I could somewhat muffle them with those ears flat against my head. Enough.
I pressed my chin down on her shoulder, my legs around her torso like a giant hug, and stared into her eyes. I didn’t know if I had eyebrows, but I could still feel them rise.
Morgan screamed bloody murder for a solid minute. She ran out of air, gulped up more, and screamed again. I stayed put.
Finally, she quieted into gasping sobs. She looked away. “Dawn?”
Her voice was desperate and hopeless, like I’d left her behind.
I nodded into her shoulder.
She froze again. For a minute, she just breathed. Then she swallowed. More uncertainly, she asked, “Dawn?”
I nodded again.
“How? What’s going on?”
I couldn’t quite shrug, so I shook my head.
“Oh my gosh.” She whispered like she was still trying to keep from being overheard and noticed. “I… I think I need a shower.”
Morgan locked the bathroom door when she went in. Not knowing what else to do, I curled up in front of it to keep an eye out for any more intruders.
It was actually kind of cozy. Warm in the thick fur, curled up like a fetal position—but one that didn’t leave you defenseless. I could be on my feet in a second. I dozed like that for hours.
Morgan emerged after the sun came up.
I noticed when she tripped over me. She stumbled into the linen closet then sank against it, curled in her own little ball, flannel-covered knees tucked under her chin. “Was I dreaming?”
“Was I?” I answered. Aloud. With real words.
I sat up and stared at my normal, human hands. Felt my normal, human face with normal, human fingers. I showed Morgan. “I had to be dreaming. We had to.”
She nodded numbly.
“Just a dream. That doesn’t mean your house is haunted.”
She frowned but nodded.
“Let’s go out for breakfast.”