jolted awake because of the barking—deep barks that sounded right next to me
even though I slept alone in my bedroom. I sat up before I opened my eyes and
even then, my brain lagged behind. For the first few seconds, I stared at the
flames before understanding my house was on fire.
house was on fire.
curtains at my window burned, flames shooting up toward the ceiling. I stared
at them and almost forgot to move. Then panic poured through me and I jumped
up. I felt disoriented: the blackness, the flames, the smoke beginning to fill
the room, the roar. My heart raced in terror.
baby was in this fire.
a high-pitched crash, my bedroom windows exploded from the heat, and a shower
of hot glass flew into the room. I reflexively turned away, arms raised to
cover my face. Some of the glass hit me, hot stings against my arms and side,
but I barely felt the pain. Below the thunder of the fire, I heard the smoke
alarm sound a futile warning.
didn’t think to drop to my knees, to detour into the bathroom for a wet cloth,
to crawl to Carson’s bedroom. Instead, I ran through the house, breathed in the
choking smoke, felt my hands and feet start to numb from panic.
filled the hallway to Carson’s room, and I skidded to a frantic stop, unable to
throat so raw from the smoke I couldn’t even scream his name. Heat pounded down
the hallway, along with thick black smoke, and flames blocked his door.
window! Maybe I could get to him from his window, from outside.
whirled, stumbled, and ran back down the hallway. The fire seemed to chase me
until my numb feet tripped on the edge of the area rug and I fell hard, sending
a stab of pain into my arm where some glass stuck.
I remembered I should stay on the floor. The air was slightly clearer down
there, and I crawled the last feet to the front door, lined by small paned windows
shattered by heat. Glass pieces bit into my knees as I reached the door, the
doorknob hot in my hand as I turned it.
launched myself onto the front stoop, then forced myself off the ground to run
around the side of the house. Flames snaked upward toward the roof; the siding
below was a mass of char. How did the fire erupt so quickly?
gaping wound in the siding framed by jagged pieces of glass. The eaves above
sang with rising flame and sheets of smoke poured off the lower walls. My bare
feet sank into mud, deep mud, and I paused for a second, confused because the
water didn’t make sense.
Carson. I had to get to Carson.
tried to knock out the rest of the glass on the window frame, before I pulled
myself up and over the window. My eyes searched for my baby against in the
darkness—thank all the gods! Somehow, there was no fire in his room. I landed
heavily on the carpet. The floor was wet and cold shocked my skin. I didn’t
have sprinklers—what the hell? I sloshed through inches of water and finally
reached Carson’s crib.
cried, which meant he was alive, and my heart leapt. Tears streamed down his
face and his mouth opened in a howl. I grabbed him, held him fiercely and maybe
a little too tight, but he grabbed me right back with arms and legs, burrowed
into my body, rubbed his face into my shoulder. He was soaking wet from tears.
cracked overhead and I leapt back toward the window, swung my legs up and over
the sill, and dropped down into the mud. I landed heavily on one side with
Carson cradled against me and pain stabbed through my hip. Holding Carson to me
with one arm, I crawled as far as I could—which wasn’t far—then collapsed onto
looked back at my house. Fire blazed on the roof. Carson still cried; I cried.
We both gasped for air. We were black with soot, with ash, with mud. We were
soaked. I was suddenly freezing. Nothing made sense.
a growl came out of the darkness and chills raced up my spine. I sat up and
turned to see what my body already knew. A huge, black wolf. A Werewolf—it had
to be. Only Weres were that big. But who was he? Why was he here? The wolf
stood mere feet from me with hackles raised and mouth half-open. Red light from
the fire reflected off his teeth. He crouched, muscles taut, ready to spring.
I shouted and clutched Carson to me, a surge of anger giving me strength.