K. J. Pedersen

Copyright © 2014 by K. J. Pedersen




Elisha Christian Bengtsen

MATTIAS INSISTS THAT HE HAD, all kidding aside, heard a dog in the woods earlier in the evening once we reach the bridge crossing over the creek. “See?” he asks, pointing. “Right over there, where the creek widens.”

Where?” I ask, peering hard into the darkness.

There—right therewhere it becomes shallow, and the boughs hang low over the water.”

In such darkness, I can hardly see a thing. “You saw the dog?”

No. But that’s where I heard it.”

It’s not there now.”

No. But it was, I swear,” he says.

Probably one of the neighbors left their gates open, leaving their dog a perfect opportunity to stretch its legs.”

Yeah. Probably,” he agrees. “But maybe...maybe it was a cougar.”

Enough,” I say. “Stop trying to scare me.”

Is it working?”

No, not really.”

Mattias leads me away from the path as he had the other night and into the woods. He pulls me along, our hands linked. A moment later, after we’ve found a spot we feel comfortable with, one secure, free of any potential observers, like midnight joggers, he leans in and kisses me. I wrap my arms around him, tightening them about him, embracing him until we both sigh.

Feels good,” he says.

Uh-huh,” I whisper against his forehead.

We don’t kiss again, but just stand there, holding one another.

We really do need to find a place,” I say. “A place where we can be together. Where we can have sex anytime we want.”

Yeah. That’d be nice,” he replies. “I want to wake up every morning and find you right there in my arms.”

I lean in and kiss him again. “I’ve been thinking....”

About what?”

About what Brandt had said Saturday night after the party, about college life, about where I wanted to go ultimately, about staying in Salt Lake and going to the U., about finding an apartment off campus. Brandt had suggested we might be roommates, an idea I really could not entertain seriously, but one which had me thinking along similar lines.

I’ll go to the U.,” I tell Mattias. “I kind of want to go to U.H.—I do—but I don’t want us to be apart. And Hawai‘i is so expensive, I’ve heard. An apartment downtown Salt Lake, not so much—”

You’re proposing you and I should live together—live-in boyfriends and all that?”

If you’re interested,” I say. “Maybe we could find a cozy little place right up there by the campus. A one-bedroom apartment in an old Victorian mansion by the city cemetery.”


Right after graduation,” I say. “I’ve got plenty of money in my college savings account. Enough for a deposit and for first month’s rent. For some furniture. And a big screen TV. We could get part-time jobs.”

We could go to school together,” he says, more to himself than to me; he’s clearly letting the idea find a good place to settle in. “I like it,” he says finally. “I love it.”




Hand-in-hand, side by side in the darkness, we walk and talk as we make our way through the woods. When we reach his house, I take him in my arms again, and we hold each other, standing on the front porch for some time, my forehead resting upon his.

I’m serious,” I tell him and kiss him goodnight.

Me too,” he says, then unlocks the door and lets himself inside.

On the way home, as I reach the point three-quarters of the way through the woods, I feel my phone vibrate in my front pants pocket. I expect it’s a text message from Mattias, but the vibration continues. Someone is calling. I go for the phone.


Brandt’s little brother, calling me, at twenty minutes to midnight?

I’m surprised—and suddenly worried. Why would he call me? In all the time I’ve known him, he’s called me once, when Brandt needed to get in touch with me after his own cell’s battery had died.



Yeah, Harry, it’s me,” I say. “What do you want?”

I can’t reach my mom and dad,” he says. “Mom’s phone cuts to her voice message box immediately after connecting. Dad’s just rings and rings.”

Where’s Brandt?”

I don’t know. He didn’t go to school today. And when I got home this afternoon, he wasn’t here. He hasn’t been home since. But his bedroom door is closed. When I checked earlier, about an hour ago, he wasn’t in there, like he usually is.”

Where are your parents?”

They went out for dinner around eight,” he says. “They still haven’t come back yet.”

They probably made a date of it,” I say. “Probably went to see a movie. That’s why you can’t get through to them. Your mom shut her phone off. And your dad has silenced his and shut down the vibrate mode, too.”


But what?”

I’m scared. The dog is going crazy, scratching at Brandt’s door and howling.”

I can, indeed, hear Mr. Barks howling in the background.

Listen, Harry, are you certain Brandt isn’t home?”

Yeah, I’m sure.”

Do you want me to send my mom or dad over?”

No. I don’t want to bother them.” A moment passes. “Can you come over?”

I don’t think—”

Please,he begs.

Okay,” I tell him. “It’ll be a few minutes.”

EVEN BEFORE I REACH THE front door, I can hear Mr. Barks howling. All the lights in the Lyngdal’s home have been turned on, except for the light in Brandt’s second-story bedroom. The window is wide open, though—a dark, dark hollow—and the curtains have been blown out by the wind. They flap against the brick facade.

I knock on the front door and Harry throws it open right away, his face pale and his eyes wide with fear. He’s got a big kitchen knife clutched tightly in his right hand, which is bleeding.

Come in, quick,” he says and grabs my wrist with his left hand, tugging me toward him.

You okay?”

He nods, but I can tell by his expression that he’s scared, almost to the point of panic and shock.

The dog’s cries continue, floating down the stairs, through the entry hall and to all other parts of the house.

What’s wrong with the dog?” I ask and close the door behind me as we stand close together in the entry.

I don’t know,” Harry says, “but he’ll scratch at Brandt’s door and howl and cry one moment, and then back up, with his head down and the fur around his neck all raised, and he’ll growl the next. Viciously. When he first started growling, I tried to pull him away from the door, but—” he shifts the knife from his right hand to the left, then raises the right hand to show me the wound, “—he nipped me, hard. Hard enough to—well, you see. Mr. Barks has never bitten me before. Never bitten anybody before. He’s scared. He’s trying to protect me because there’s something up there, Elisha, in Brandt’s room.”

The window’s open,” I tell him.

Something got in, then,” Harry says. “And I’ve been in here with it all alone, all except for the dog.”

Something got in, Harry?” I ask. “How? How did something get into Brandt’s room on the second floor?”

I don’t know,” he says. “But something is up there, Elisha!”

I think of what Mattias had heard, a dog loose in the brush alongside the creek. “Have your tried to call Brandt?” I ask Harry.

Yeah. Of course.” He steps closer to me, until his arm touches mine, and looks up to me. “When I call, I can hear Brandt’s phone ringing on the other side of the bedroom door.”


Reluctantly, Harry hands it over, then follows me up the stairs.

I find Mr. Barks standing his ground in front of the bedroom door, his stance defensive, black and pink mottled lips drawn far back, teeth bared. A low growl rises in the dog’s throat. And as the dog sees us, he turns his head toward us, then snaps it back in the direction of the door, ears forward as though he’d heard something we could not. Now, eyes fixed on the doorknob, and ears flattened once more, another growl rumbles forth from the dog.

I’m suddenly scared myself and hold the knife out in front of me. I’m not certain it’s a wise move—unsure because Mr. Barks might misinterpret my intentions—but we advance. The dog continues to growl, directing the sound at whatever it is that has found its way into my friend’s bedroom.

I touch the door handle. The brass feels cool to the touch and I hesitate to turn it. But I do. It’s a mistake, I know, as I push the door open and the light spills into the room from the hallway, a golden wedge of it falling onto Brandt’s unmade bed and the oak disk, which lies in its middle.

Clap, clap. Clap. That’s it, the first thing I notice that makes my blood run cold, the sound. Clap.... Clap, the sound of the curtains, wind-driven against the sides of the window frame, and against the outside of the house itself. The Venetian blinds have been drawn all the way up, allowing the curtains to be sucked outside by the wind. The street lamp is visible outside the window, its light adding to that from the hall, but still inadequate to properly light the bedroom.

The second thing is that Mr. Barks backs away, slowly at first, yelps, then turns and flees down the stairs as fast as those old bones will allow.

Elisha,” Harry says, his voice hardly audible, “look.”

And that’s when I see it, the third and final thing that confirms my fear that opening the door was a bad idea: In the dark shadows cast by the bookcase, in the corner by the closet, I see, at nearly chest level, a set of glowing eyes. The blueness of the eyeglow is extremely unsettling—so eerie. So unnatural.

See?” Harry whispers.

It’s eyes fix on my own; I feel its penetrative glare.

And then, a rush of movement—a single, lithe movement, in fact—and the glimpse of a long, agile spine, of legs and heavy paws, of dark fur. I cannot make out precisely the shape of the animal, but it’s big. Too big to be a domesticated dog, surely. And much too wild in its escape. I think of Mattias’ earlier suggestion, of a cougar come down from the canyon. All this occurs in a single moment as the beast jumps out of the shadows toward the open window.

Harry’s reaction is immediate, to slam the door and to run down the stairs into the entrance hall. I follow him, but more slowly, more carefully, aware still of the knife that I have in hand, and that I do not want to trip and fall upon the blade.

I find Harry in the kitchen, pulling a meat cleaver out of the butcher’s block. I approach him, touch his shoulder and he brings the blade up, quick.

Careful!” I cry.

Is it still up there?” he cries.

Put the cleaver down.”

No,” he says. “I need to protect myself, too.”

Okay,” I reply, but leave my hand on his shoulder.

Is it still up there, in Brandt’s room?”

I don’t know,” I tell him. “You closed the door too fast. It looked like it was going to jump out through the window.”

Did you see what it was?”

No,” I say. “Did you?”

It was huge.”

Are there any dogs that big on this street?”

The Gray Ghost, maybe,” he says. “She’s a husky. But she’s also a total sweetheart. She plays with Annie, the little Pomeranian next door. She’d never....”

We should call animal control,” I say.

Is it still up there?” he asks again. His tone is frightened and demanding.

I don’t know.”

I’m scared,” he says.

I know you are, Harry,” I say. “I was too, when I saw its eyes. My heart’s still racing.”

What if it comes downstairs?”

You slammed the door on it,” I say.

But what if it breaks the door down?”

I set the knife of the kitchen island, then place both hands on Harry’s shoulders, and give them an encouraging squeeze. “That’s not going to happen,” I say.

But when Mr. Barks emerges into the kitchen through the dining room, tail between his legs, whimpering, Harry whimpers, too, saying, “See? Mr. Barks is still scared.” He backs away from me. “It’s still in the house. I know it’s still in the house, Elisha. I know it.”

Harry darts out of the kitchen and into a side hall that passes the laundry room. Retrieving the knife, I follow; so does the dog. Harry leads us into the den, slides the heavy hardwood doors closed, and locks them.

Then Harry looks up to me again, eyes hopeful. “Do you think we’ll be safe in here? These doors are strong.”

I’m sure we will be.”

Mr. Barks lies on his stomach on the Persian rug, eyeing the doors.

I place the knife on Mr. Lyngdal’s desk. “Now put down the cleaver,” I tell Harry, “and let me see that hand.”

Harry does as I ask.

The bleeding has stopped, at least,” I tell him. “See?”

It was only a nip,” he says.

Does it hurt?”

A little.”

I look through the desk drawers, find a white handkerchief. I wrap it around Harry’s hand. “Better?”

I guess.”

Harry curls up on the expensive hobnail leather sofa by Mr. Lyngdal’s writing desk and I place the tan comforter, found folded in one corner, over him. He pulls it tighter around himself while I bring up local emergency numbers on my phone. I call animal control. The department is closed for the day, naturally, and I’m referred by a voice message to contact the police in the case of emergency. So I call the police instead.

There’s a feral dog loose, running along Big Cottonwood Creek,” I tell the on-duty desk officer on the other end of the line. “Somehow it got into the house, into my friend’s second-story bedroom.”

Did you see it?” she asks.

Yes, I saw it!”

What type of dog is it?”

I didn’t see it that well,” I tell her. “In fact, I’m not even entirely sure it was a dog. It was a huge. And wild. Feral. It scared me shi—it scared me pretty bad, ma’am.”

Do you see it now?”

No,” I say. “I’ve locked myself in the den.”


I give her the Lyngdal’s address and she tells me she’ll send someone right over. I sit down next to Harry and tell him everything will be okay.

BRANDT’S NEVER BEEN THE SAME since we went to Norway,” Harry tells me sometime later as we sit close together on the leather sofa, waiting for the police. “He’s different.”


Has he told you about our trip there to see the ruins?”

A little,” I say.

Oh. Okay,” Then, “We’ve never been close, me and Brandt, you know? We’ve never been...brotherly,” Harry says. “But we got along better before we went.”

Elijah and I have our rough moments, too,” I say in an attempt to encourage him a bit.

It’s not like that,” he says. “You and Elijah get along. I can tell you two love each other; you’re close. He’s a good brother. Brandt’s not really....”

What?” I demand as he trails off.

Brandt’s not a good brother.”

What do you mean?”


What, please?”

It’s all about him,” Harry says. “He’s an asshole half the time. But he’s worse now than he used to be. More arrogant. More demanding. He’s more cold now, Elisha.”

You noticed the change when you got back?”

No,” he says, “I noticed it while we were still there, in Jørpeland.”

What happened?”

My brother will kill me for telling you, but....”

Go on, Harry, say it if it’s bothering you.”

It started on Christmas Eve,” he says. “There was a huge dinner at the Inn where we were staying. It was beautiful, the dining room and decorations. And the smell of the meal that had been prepared was fantastic. The tables were loaded with food: Roasted chicken, lamb, beef and pork...pies, cakes, puddings...potatoes and breads...fruits and vegetables.

The Inn’s owner, his wife, and their adult children were there. We were dressed for the occasion, all of us, the guests and staff. The food was great. There was traditional music. It was fun, a lot of fun. But then, about halfway through the meal, Brandt excused himself. When he didn’t come back right away, I went up to the room to see where he was. Wasn’t there. His coat was missing. So, I went out into the cold and found him walking toward the center of town.

When he discovered I was following him, he grabbed my shoulders and shook me so hard, Elisha, I saw stars. He told me to go back to the Inn or he’d hit me harder than he ever had before—”

He’s hit you?”

A few times,” Harry says. “On my shoulders. Sometimes hard enough to hurt, and not just a little bit, but he’s never slugged me. And that’s what he was threatening to do.”

I didn’t know that about Brandt,” I say.

Yeah, well,” Harry starts, “there’s a lot you don’t know about my brother.”


Harry nods. “He never came back that night, to open our presents as we do on Christmas Eve,” he says. “And then.... Christmas day came and went. Still nothing from him. Mom and Dad were scared pissless. They called the police. Mom called the American embassy. The Norwegians were on it—all diligent and efficient, you know? Still nothing. Not a sign of him. Not a word. He’d left his cell phone in the room.”

Like tonight.”

Like he does every time he disappears.” He lowers his face, then shakes his head. “Anyway...the week just dragged on and on.

We were all afraid that maybe he was....”


Harry nods slowly, eyes lowered. “Then, the day after New Years, the police officer who was assigned specifically to the case called,” he says. “He told Mom and Dad to come to the department. They’d found Brandt wandering naked at the edge of the woods, on the far end of this valley called Selemork, where the excavation site’s located.

His hands and face were covered in blood.

And that was just the beginning of it.”

But when I press for more, Harry just shuts up, scooting closer to me, huddling against my side.

YES,” I TELL THE POLICE officer, “I saw it. And no, I can’t describe it to you, other than to say that it was big and fast and wild-looking. It had glowing blue eyes. Blue. Not yellow. Not golden. Blue.”

He takes the notepad from his pocket and looks over the notes he’d been given by the dispatcher. “It was upstairs?”

Yes,” I tell him. “Come upstairs with me and I’ll show you.”

A raccoon, perhaps? You have all these trees on the property and the cottonwoods behind us.”

No!” I say with rising anger. “Raccoons do not grow up to be the size of a husky!”

The police officer shakes his head, clearly annoyed with the impatient and increasingly agitated teenager that I’m becoming, and follows me up the stairs. I don’t care what he thinks. He was sent here for a reason, and not to make me feel like a fool—a raccoon, seriously?!or a criminal for wasting his time.

Naturally, when we arrive on the second floor, Brandt’s room is empty. The window is still open, and the curtains are still flapping freely in the wind.

It was right there, in the corner,” Harry tells the officer and points to where we had seen it.

The officer turns on the bedroom light. “Well, it’s gone now.”

But it’s out there, on the streets or in the woods,” I say. “My boyfriend—”

The officer’s eyebrow rises, ever so slightly, but enough for me to notice.

My boyfriend,” I repeat, “said he heard an animal in the woods earlier this evening. It’s out there, Officer Carroll, and judging by the size of it, I’d say it’s dangerous.”

Fine. My partner and I will run a foot patrol along the path in the woods tonight, and I’ll have animal control informed of this in the morning,” he says, though his demeanor and patronizing tone lead me to believe that he is merely trying to placate me now.

As he’s talking, a car pulls into the driveway; Mr. and Mrs. Lyngdal have returned. I hear Mrs. Lyngdal’s voice, raised just enough to be audible, as she demands of the second police officer, who’s waiting outside by the cruiser, to know what’s happened and why they’re here, parked in their driveway.

Brandt!” she calls.

Mom,” Harry calls back and rushes out of Brandt’s room and down the stairs to meet her in the entry hall.

I follow.

Harry spills the entire story in such a jumble I can’t keep it straight and then he starts to cry. It’s kind of embarrassing; he’s fourteen, after all. But it’s been a rough night and I can’t help but feel sympathy for the lad.

Where’s Brandt?” she demands.

Harry shakes his head.

Mr. Lyngdal comes into the house then with Officer Carroll’s partner.

Harry wraps his arms around his mom. And a moment later, she hugs him close. I can’t imagine any tenderness or comfort in her embrace, or that it would be any warmer than hugging a block granite statue of Joe Stalin in Siberia, at midnight, in the middle of a frickin’ January blizzard. But, obviously, he feels differently and calms down as she speaks soothingly to him.

All the while, as I tell Mr. Lyngdal what had happened, she watches me. Then after the police have finished and left, she instructs her husband in a very matter-of-fact way to drive me home.

* * *

To be continued with Chapter Eight.

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