A Curse So Dark

By: Heather Davis

Chapter One




No secret can stay hidden forever. The best ones—crushes, surprise parties, special gifts—are revealed and everyone smiles or laughs. But then, there’s the other kind. Dark truths that break apart families, destroy reputations, ruin lives. Nothing can prepare you for the reveal of a reality-imploding secret like that. Trust me.

It’s pretty hard to keep any secret in a small town like mine. And when I say small, I mean one-stoplight-everyone-knows-your-business small. Pioneer Falls is barely a map dot in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains in Washington state. It’s pretty and green—so green—surrounded by endless trees and cut by a river, which long ago, starving settlers miraculously found full of fish. Couples love to take engagement and wedding pictures in front of the falls, and tourists come from miles around just to watch the leaves turn colors. Basically, our town is the fantasy of every suburbanite who longs for a simple life. A safe community where people move to raise kids and earn an honest living, a place where you know every neighbor.

But the folks in town don’t know the truth about my family, and I hope they never find out. We’re hiding a terrible secret, a mark that will never fade, a gnawed branch on our family tree.

And I didn’t learn the truth myself until my father went missing.

That night I was working my usual Monday shift at the coffee shop––the only one for twenty miles. Business at Pioneer Perk always slowed to a trickle after seven, but Maggie, the owner, insisted on staying open a few more hours for the folks heading to work graveyard over at the lumber mill. I gladly filled travel mugs and sold the scratch-baked muffins and scones, but the tip jar never counted out to more than a few limp dollars and a handful of coins. After pocketing that night’s skimpy proceeds, I adjusted my College Fund sign, wondering if I needed to put a few more glittery stickers on it to attract more contributions. At this rate, I wouldn’t be able to afford community college tuition, let alone the cost of the university next year.

Just before nine, the last customers finally cleared out. I closed the copy of Wuthering Heights I’d been reading behind the counter and locked the front door. Out on Main Street, antique lampposts illuminated the emptiness. The rain had stopped an hour earlier, but the pavement glistened, reflecting the sliver of moonlight. A raven perched on a telephone wire swaying in the night breeze, not seeming to care it should be nested in for the night. A few lonely leaves skittered down the sidewalk, runaways from the maple saplings that’d been planted recently in the square. I definitely wouldn’t miss this kind of excitement when I left town for good.

After straightening the couches near the front, I wiped down the tables, and then closed out the till. My last task was gathering up the garbage, compost, and recycling to take out back. Though we were two hours from Seattle, Maggie insisted the shop observe the city’s progressive sustainability standards. Pioneer Falls may have been founded by loggers and miners using the natural resources of the area, but there was a surprising number of conservationists like Maggie around. I emptied the first container of recyclables into the bin, hearing the satisfying clunk of glass hitting glass.

That’s when I saw them.

Four wolves edging the woods near the parking lot.

They’d heard me, because they stood motionless, staring in my direction. A chill slithered down my neck as I realized they were standing over something. Another creature, down on the ground. The wolf closest to me lifted its nose in my direction. Viscous dark liquid dripped from its graying muzzle, illuminated by the light of the quarter moon.

My heart hammered. I hoped they were some of the hybrids bred by the eccentric man Ivan, who lived across the river. Locals saw the half-wolf, half-dogs occasionally sniffing around livestock pens when they escaped his kennels. But these canines seemed larger, as though they might actually be more wolf than dog. They reminded me of the violent creatures from my nightmares, predators that chased me unrelentingly. Dreams that I’d been having since I was little.

Countering my lengthy stare, the animal flashed its teeth and issued a low growl. Horrified, I stepped backward, right into someone standing behind me. I was almost too startled to scream.