Despite that warmth and contact, I felt scared. I often did when I woke up for no reason. I tried to remember the dreams I just had but they were flitting away from my memory. Something about an owl… Dex…rocks.
The rocks! I remembered what had happened earlier. Could rocks have woken me up? I listened again, harder. I couldn’t hear anything hitting the window or the roof.
Then I felt something brush up against my foot. My feet were underneath the covers but far away from Dex’s feet. My heart stopped. I felt icky. I had to roll over and see what it was but doing so was going to be the toughest, most terrifying thing ever.
I took a deep breath and slowly turned over.
I felt the life being sucked out of me.
There was an animal sitting at the foot of the bed, just six feet away, on top of my feet. As they turned over with the rest of me, I felt my toes jabbing up into his soft bottom.
It was a fox. I couldn’t see it clearly but I knew that’s what it was. A fox, about the size of a collie, sitting on its hindquarters, ears creating a pointy silhouette. It looked right at me. Its eyes were a hazel color but they didn’t glow like a normal animal. They locked with mine. It was like looking into the eyes of someone I knew.
Was this for real? Was this actually happening? I wanted to look at Dex but I couldn’t tear my eyes away. The more I stared into those knowing, harmful eyes, the more I felt entranced. My legs and arms were replaced by lead pipes. I still felt the animal’s weight on my feet, which meant what I was experiencing was real.
I don’t know if I was breathing; I didn’t think I was. My heart thumped loudly in my chest, but even that started to slow. It wasn’t like I was calming down in any way – in fact I could feel the terror slowly take hold of my body – but my heart still slowed until the thumps were further and further apart. My thoughts became sluggish. I needed to look away from those eyes.
Then the fox shifted onto its front feet, perfectly positioned between my legs. It moved closer now and our eye contact had not been broken. I felt like I was drowning internally, my lungs were without air and I was too weak to gasp for it. The room started to spin, with the fox still front and center.
It took a step forward, mouth open. Was it smiling at me? Its eyes said the opposite. They said I was dead.
I tried to talk, to scream but nothing came out. Either I was going to wake up in a second or something horrifying was about to happen. And I couldn’t do anything about it.
It took another step, its tail waving subtly. The eyes narrowed, as if it was glaring at me.
I felt Dex shift and a smattering of hope rushed through me. The fox didn’t break its stare but it paused, its red coat bristling.
Dex stirred again and rolled over. I couldn’t turn to look at him – the paralysis had taken hold of my bones –but I prayed for him to open his eyes.
I felt him shuffle back in the bed and then, stop.
“What the fuck?!” he yelled.
Startled, the fox leaped off the bed and dashed towards the door, which had been open the whole time.
Dex leaped out of bed, dragging half the blanket with him, and hollered frantically, “Will! There’s an animal in here!”
He followed the fox out the door, then turned and ran back to me. I still couldn’t move, I still couldn’t breathe. My eyes and body were locked down.
“Hey!” He jumped on the bed and shook both my shoulders. “Perry, are you OK?”
I tried to answer but couldn’t.
“Answer me! Perry! What happened?”
He kept shaking me, then took my head in his hands and physically moved my face to the left until it was facing his. His eyes – as crazy and worried as they were – brought me a sense of reality. I felt my limbs coming back, hot flashes of nerves climbing up and down them.
My breath followed. I gasped loudly as if I had been underwater for the last five minutes. He held my face steady, hands warm but firm.
“You’re going to be OK.” His voice matched his grip.
There was a commotion in the hallway and Will appeared at the door. “What happened, is she OK?”
“She’s fine,” Dex said quickly and gestured with his head, “the animal went downstairs.”
Will nodded and took off down the hall, the walls shaking from his lumbering run.
Dex looked back at me, my wide eyes searching his as all the fear came rushing in.
“Hey, you’re fine,” he said. I started to shake and he brought his hands to my arms and held me there. “You’re going to be OK. But we need to go find out what that was.”
I shook my head violently. I was still unable to speak.
“We have to,” he said. “And I am not leaving you here by yourself. Will has his baseball bat. Whatever it was, was small, we’ll be OK.”
He climbed off the bed and walked around to my side. He looked down at me, smiled to himself, and picked me up in his arms.
I tried to protest but my mouth was still full of numbing cotton balls. Despite his slight frame and my rather dumpy one, he lifted me with ease. He carried me past the bed, stooping down to pick up his camera from the dresser and then we were out of the room and into the hall. Will’s door was open, as was Sarah’s.
We had made it to the bottom of the stairs when I felt fine enough to walk.
“Please put me down,” I croaked in a pathetic whisper.
He stopped and lowered me. My legs felt like jelly but at least they felt like my own again. He held the camera with one hand and gripped my hand with the other. We walked slowly through the downstairs area. The lights were all off.
“It was a fox,” I said, my tongue feeling unused and awkward. We peeked around into the empty living room.
“What the fuck was it doing?” he asked.
I shook my head. I didn’t know, but I knew what it was going to do. Eat me alive.
We flicked on the lights and saw neither fox, nor Will, nor Sarah. A breeze rustled in through the holes in the kitchen window. The clock on the microwave glowed 3AM.
The front door was wide open, so we walked over to it and cautiously peered around the doorway. I couldn’t see them but I could hear Will, Sarah and Miguel all talking excitedly in the dark.
A huge white owl flapped in front of me, inches from my face.
I screamed and ducked as Dex stuck his arm out and thwacked it. He hit the owl square in the chest. I peered up, hands around my head. The owl squawked and flew off into the night. I looked up at Dex. He took back his clenched fist and let out a low breath. He was just as freaked out as I was. He looked down at me and offered his hand.
“What a hoot,” he joked but his voice was pinched with nerves.
Seconds later, Will, Sarah and Miguel came around the corner to see what happened. I explained as much as I could. The owl part of the story paled in comparison to the fox. It turns out that they hadn’t seen either creature. Out of all three of them, I knew Will was the one who believed me whole-heartedly. Sarah had only a few choice words and a couple of poignant sighs but for the most part she didn’t argue with what I said too much. I knew she didn’t want us there at all but I finally saw that she believed what was going on. And Miguel, well Miguel was a sneering, sniveling son of a bitch. But even he walked back to his quarters looking more wary than before.
And that was the end of the night for me. I wasn’t about to go to sleep again and neither was Dex. So we stayed up, sitting on top of the bed and playing games with a bunch of cards we found in one of the drawers. We stayed up until the sun began its quick rise above the mountaintops and the fears of the night were washed away by the desert light. Only then was I finally able to close my eyes for a few minutes.
The next morning was understandably sluggish. Miguel and Will were taking up most of the kitchen, fixing the windows, so our breakfast consisted of dry toast and cereal. Dex and I ate it at the dining room table with a giant pot of coffee. Between two caffeine addicts, it didn’t sustain us very well. I thought he was going to fight me for the last cup but I convinced him I needed it more.
And I did. I was tired and drained from only getting about two hours of sleep and the last thing Dex needed was more stimulants. He was already jittery from the lack of medication and his four cups of the black drug just made it worse.
“So, have you figured out the plan yet?” I asked as he flipped through a bunch of ghost and history books he brought in from the car. His foot was tapping again to a fast, imaginary beat and he was chewing his Nicorette (while drinking coffee, mind you).
“Yes,” he answered quickly, scanning the pages like a speed reader.
“Does it involve a nap?”
He grinned and looked up at me. His eyes were red, his complexion ashy. For once, he didn’t look too good.
“What am I? 80? I don’t need sleep. You worry too much,” he said and went back to reading.
This was true. But considering what happened last night, his withdrawal from medication, and the day ahead of us, lack of sleep wasn’t something to scoff at. I had every reason to worry about him. Besides, it made it easier to forget about what happened to me. I hated seeing those spiteful fox eyes every time I let my mind wander.
“I thought my job was to read the books,” I said, wanting him to relax a little bit.
He shook his head. “I’d like to know what the fuck is going on.”
He glanced at the kitchen. Will and Miguel were busy hammering away at something.
“I think they know a lot more than they’re telling us.”
I nodded. I felt that way too.
“So, how do we get them to spill the beans?” I said, lowering my voice.
He shrugged and went back to his book. “Dunno. But I think Max might be able to help us out with it.”
My Led Zeppelin ringtone went off and I jumped in my seat, my coffee spilling out of the cup.
“Easy there spaz,” he said and tossed a napkin at me. Maybe I didn’t need that extra cup. Maybe I should start putting my phone on vibrate.
I quickly mopped up the table and fished my phone out of my jean pocket. It was my parents. If I didn’t answer it, they’d call every five minutes until I did.
“Hello,” I said and got up. I needed privacy.
I walked outside into the apocalyptic heat and shut the front door behind me. It was hard to believe that this arid yet outstandingly pretty place, with its detailed peaks, ridges of green and dots of sheep, was all so scary last night.
“Perry, it’s your father,” he said from the other end. “Just wanting to make sure everything’s OK. You never called last night.”
“You never called me,” I reasoned.
“Do you want us to call you more often?”
“Perry,” he warned me. And then he went off into a big long spiel about how if I was going to be a responsible adult I would have to start acting like one and that meant checking in with the elders every night. If he only knew what I was really up to, he’d be bit more understanding. Actually, he would be a million times more paranoid. Though it felt wrong to lie, the truth would do nothing to help them in this situation.
“How is this Dex fellow, is he treating you well?”