That night, Jack had a nightmare.

He was running. The dark, barren landscape was flat under a sky that flickered like flames. The endless plain offered no shelter. No hiding place. And something was coming for him. Something that knew the darkness well, that loved it. Thrived on it.

Something evil and all-possessing, that wanted him.

Yellow eyes watched him run. They shone. Jack felt them on his back. Like a laser sight on a rifle, marking him for death. Long bony jaws snapped. A hiss of triumph sounded from behind him, just out of view. He felt a hot breath on the back of his neck. A roaring, rushing noise began to close up over his ears.

Jack awoke just as the creatures teeth were closing around his face. He sat upright in his bed, wide awake, drenched in sweat. The noise was his frantic breathing.

Through the window, the sun was heaving itself over the horizon. His bedsheets were coiled around him like fat white snakes.

The key rattled in the lock and Marcie glided into the room in a long nightdress, her dark hair mussed up from sleep. We heard a noise, she said. Bad dreams?

Jack shuddered, his heart still racing wildly. The worst, he whispered.

Marcie smiled. Well, if that was the worst, your dreams can only get better from now on, right, honey? She poured thick syrup from a large brown bottle into a glass and handed it to Jack. And they will. Youll see. You tell yourself that before this sends you back to sleep, OK?

Jack took the glass and drained it. It had an odd sweet yet burning taste, like aniseed. Marcie busied herself rearranging the bedclothes.

As Jack started drifting back to sleep he heard raised voices from outside the room. A man shouting – Hal? – and what sounded like a girls voice yelling back at him. He tried to catch the angry words, but Marcies concoction was knocking him sideways. He couldn focus on anything. Whos that? he drawled, his vision beginning to blur. The girl, I mean …

Youll find out, Marcie promised him. But not today, she added, as she faded from Jacks view.

****

Wake up. Wake up.

Jack woke to find Wesley Dane sitting on his bed. Thin, watery light filtered through the drawn curtains.

The boy grinned at him. You sure were out of it, Jack. Did you sleep OK?

I feel like Ive been sleeping for days. Jack yawned and realised with relief that he could hear no rain beating at the glass. Floods drying up? he asked.

Wes shook his head. Rained all night.

Jack felt his heart sink. As the rest of him followed suit, slumping back into the mattress, he caught a whiff of how bad his sheets smelled. Small wonder if he hadn washed for the best part of a week. Or maybe Marcie had given him bed baths.

Gross.

You must be bored out of your skull, Wes remarked. Want to play cards or something?

Jack raised his bandaged hands and grimaced.

We laughed, a little sheepishly. I guess not! Shame though. Im bored to death.

Must be tough if you
e completely cut off each time it rains, Jack said.

Yeah, Wes agreed. And my sisters no fun to hang out with.

Sister? Jack suddenly remembered the female voice hed heard.

Avala. Ava – shes seventeen. We said this as if it explained all his problems.

She hasn been in to see me, Jack remarked.

We looked a little uncomfortable. Trust me, he said. You wouldn want her to right now. Shes not in the … friendliest of moods.

Everything OK? Jack asked.

We smiled again. Sure. Then he shrugged. Things were different back in Twilight.

Twilight, Idaho?

Hey, you heard of us! Wes joked. I liked it there. But we had to leave three years ago.

Why was that? Jack questioned.

Reasons, said Wes vaguely. Mom had had it with nursing. And Dads writing was taking off, so …

Your dads a writer? Jack said, impressed.

Yeah. Hes pretty famous, too. Kids stuff. Wes grinned and mimed slitting his throat. Id tell you his pen name, but then wed have to kill you.

Jack smiled. So thats why he likes his privacy, I guess. I mean, cutting you all off in this place.

Just then Jack heard a door slam somewhere in the house, and a girls voice bawling someone out. Ava? he asked.

We looked away. She just didn fit in, back in Twilight, you know? Bad stuff happened. Real bad.

Jack frowned. Stuff like what?

Wes shook his head. You want your nightmares to go away, right? He got off the bed and walked to the door. Id better let you rest up.

One more thing, Wes, Jack said quickly. The door. He paused. Why am I being locked in?

We shifted uncomfortably. Moms idea. She doesn want you sleepwalking. You might get hurt.

But I feel much better, Jack said. Really.

Good, Wes replied, though he looked doubtful as he opened the door. Ill tell Mom. Shell be pleased to hear that.

Jack watched the door shut behind Wes. But then he heard the quiet, definite click of the key turning.

*****

The door remained locked after each visit. Marcie Dane was adamant that Jack was not yet strong enough to roam the house by himself.

What am I? Jack wondered uneasily. An invalid, or a prisoner? He wanted to insist on his freedom but felt it would somehow come across as ungrateful. And in any case, he was still feeling pretty feeble.

But the locked door bothered him.

The day gradually shrivelled into the night. The time passed slowly and feverishly for Jack and for the second time, he found himself sinking into that flat, barren nightmare landscape. The deep red sky burnt and toughened his skin as he ran in the darkness. But this time, something was different. He felt stronger – no longer so afraid. The fierce yellow eyes were no longer fixed on his back, pursuing him. Instead, they belonged to the shadowy creature running alongside him, urging him on.

Together, the two of them were chasing after something. Something that was running for its life. They would kill it when they caught it, rip into its flesh and—

Jack jerked upright in his bed, wide-awake. His heart felt like it was going to burst out of his chest. He forced himself to breathe deeply, wiping away the sweat that drenched his face. And then he noticed.

His door was open.

Jack stared at it for a few moments. Then he saw that a mug of black tea had been left for him on the bedside table. He touched it. Still warm. Whoever had left it had forgotten to lock it up again.

This was his chance to see what lay beyond his little room.

Cautiously, Jack swung his bandaged legs off the bed and onto the floor. He felt woozy as he tried to stand, but managed to hobble over to the door. He winced as he grabbed the door handle – his hands were no longer bandaged but still swollen and sore. He pulled the door fully open and peered around it to view his surroundings.

Jack was standing at the end of a long corridor painted deep red. He felt strangely light-headed. The polished floorboards were cold under his bare feet as he set off to explore.

Turning the corner, Jack found himself on a landing. A flight of wooden steps to his left spiralled down to a gloomy hallway. To his right was a bathroom, unoccupied, and another door. The light was seeping from its edges.

Maybe this was Wess room. Jack could hear the murmur of talking downstairs. It sounded like Marcie and Hal. Knowing they weren nearby give him the confidence to knock on the door.

No answer.

Almost without thinking, Jack pushed the door open, and at least twenty candle flames danced madly in the resultant breeze.

Jack glanced around, suddenly uneasy. No way was this Wess room.

The walls were a deep, dark blue, the colour of summer nights. By contrast, the bedspread and wardrobe were dazzling white. A full-length mirror stood in a corner beside a rack of clothes, most of them black. Masks, statues, weird bric-a-brac and flickering candles cluttered every surface.

Lying flanked by four scented tea lights was a student card. Jack read the name: Mark Fisher. The photo showed a dark-haired boy, about eighteen. The boyfriend, Jack decided. Had to be pretty serious to get the candle treatment. It was like some kind of miniature shrine.

To his right was a small writing desk piled high with old books. He picked up one of them on impulse, sending specks of dust spiralling in the candlelight. The book was so heavy he had to hold it in both hands. The title was stamped into the leather cover in ruddy gold letters:

COVENANTS WITH THE LYCANTHROPE.

Lycanthrope?

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