Chantelle Mizuki didn’t want to die today.
I’m wearing old underwear. With holes. Nobody is going to see them. No nurse, no doctor, no coroner. Nobody.
Chantelle’s footsteps crunched in the autumn leaves of the mountain forest. Night was falling. Wolves were howling.
Granny Ceci’s voice rang in her ears. “Don’t go in the forest at dusk, mon chou.”
Too late, Granny.
She hadn’t planned to be out this late. It was light when the After-School Art Club finished at the library. She had asked her student Alfonso to stay and talk about his application for art school. By the time they were done, the sun was low in the sky. Only after Alfonso had left did she discover she’d locked her keys in the car.
In the daytime, everyone used the path through the woods to get to the other side of the village in the Laurentian Mountains of Quebec. She loved the soft pine needles underfoot, tall trunks stretching their branches to the sky, soothing fragrances of moss and fern. During the day Chantelle expected to stumble across Snow White singing and dancing among the trees.
Night-time was different. Every noise was menacing, every shadow a predator waiting for her to stray off the path.
Chantelle kept to the darkened trail, wishing those howls and barks were getting fainter. The sounds of the forest were soothing when she was tucked into Granny Ceci’s gingerbread cottage—her cottage now. This evening, those sounds took on ominous undertones.
She remembered Granny Ceci telling her, “Ma cocotte, the Laurentian Mountains are home to many creatures, some fair, some foul. Be prepared for both.” Tonight, it was the foul creatures. Why couldn’t it be chipmunks or raccoons?
Another howl wailed over the tops of the trees. The hairs on the back of her neck stood up. One step in front of the other. You can do this.
Soon she reached the edge of the village. Only a quarter of a mile left. Past Marie’s big house on the hill, through the ravine, then up the path to the top of her street.
No problem. She had survived book signings with dozens of cranky children and their bad-tempered parents. She had run off her cheating no-good boyfriend. A wolf or two? No sweat.
She picked up her pace to a jog. Her legs were aching, her chest heaving. At the very least she’d have a funny story to tell Yvette and Kat. Well, it would be funny if she made it home in one piece.
The recent wolf sightings had everyone in town worried. The wolves were larger than usual, more vicious. They had even killed some dogs. Villagers were warned to stay away from the woods at night. She knew her woodcraft and carried her multi-tool at all times, but that wouldn’t be enough to stop a feral wolf.
Of course, today was the day she’d locked her keys in the car. She’d forgotten to take her ADHD medication. And her publisher called in the afternoon to say they were passing on her “passion project,” as they’d called it. Illustrating Granny Ceci’s stories and having them published were a way to honour her grandmother’s legacy. But her reputation as a children’s story illustrator was not opening doors for the collection of folk tales. Her usual collaborator hadn’t helped at all. He didn’t want his favourite illustrator distracted from his own book projects.
Was the howling closer now? Or was it her imagination? She crouched by a small cluster of sumac bushes. Her heart raced. The wind whistled through the treetops, clattering in the dying leaves.
There was a clearing ahead. What a relief! It was the small field behind her neighbour’s house. Marie, a dear friend of Granny Ceci’s, lived on the edge of the village. The little meadow divided the forest from her garden, which was enclosed by a stone wall.
There would be a large blue spruce at the northern edge of the clearing. The conical silhouette of the tree stood tall against the dying light. Three shadows, large and shaggy, skulked at the base.
She spared half a breath for one of Granny’s favourite curse words.
Could she make it to Marie’s house? She should move slowly, deliberately, not run. But rabid or savage wolves would still attack. If they came for her, she would have to run along the perimeter.
She was stuck. Sweat trickled down her back.
I need a plan. If she got out of this, she could move back to Montreal. There was nothing keeping her here. Granny had died last year. Why was she still here? Pull yourself together, girl!
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