It was a pair of police officers who spotted me, keeled over, halfway down the cottage road. They shone a flashlight in my eyes and asked me my name and a bunch of other questions that made me realize I was getting the victim of a serious trauma treatment. But it wasn't like I'd been in a bad car accident or had witnessed the murder of my family. I'd been attacked by a mythological beast. It was on par with saying you'd been trampled by a unicorn.
Of course, I couldn't tell them I'd seen a two-headed dog monster. First of all, that would make me sound crazy. And second, the fact that I just happened to also have a tattoo of one would make me look like some certifiable wackjob two-headed-dog-fangirl a.k.a. SUPER crazy.
So when they told me the group back at the cabin reported a black bear had attacked the party, that was the story I stuck with too. Even if it was full of holes and details that didn't make much sense like why a demented bear would suddenly decide to leave me alone and run off into the woods. But it wasn't difficult to lie. The logical part of my brain wanted desperately to believe it actually had been a bear. In fact, for a few days, I managed to convince myself it was. But then everything changed.
My parents had met me at the hospital, after they'd stitched up my leg. It was all hugs and gratefulness at first. My mom couldn't stop recalling news stories about people being killed by bears, as though that somehow helped. I assume she found them comforting. I just wanted to forget the whole thing.
I kept off the grid on Sunday despite incoming texts from Monica, Stephen, and even Tom, asking how I was doing. I didn't feel like dealing with anything. I had big plans to mindlessly veg on the couch in my pajamas.
My parents didn't question it. In fact, my mom even cancelled her open house to stay home and keep me company. We watched some cheesy romantic comedy where the guy's a complete asshole, but for some reason that's charming, and he has the girl thoroughly convinced he'll change for her and her evidently magical lady parts. Yeah, sure. And then later, he'll ask her if they can be friends with benefits to fill the void until college.
There was something nice about spending time with my mom though. My parents weren't usually around much because their schedules were so hectic. Our bonding time tended to be reserved for the occasional family dinner or trip to Grandma's. It was comforting to be reminded I was her baby. It made me feel safe at a time when suddenly nothing else made sense.
But by Sunday evening, the raw emotion of it all had worn off enough that my parents decided it was time to confront me about my tattoo. They'd seen it at the hospital, though I'd kind of hoped they'd forgotten. I don't know why I thought being attacked by a bear would turn into some get out of jail free card, but I did. So I was a little surprised when they said I was grounded. It was only for a week and honestly, I got the feeling it had more to do with protecting me from bears than punishing me for the tattoo. Parents are weird like that. And as for getting it removed, they said we could discuss it.
I was the talk of the school on Monday. Or so I was told. Mom let me stay home after I told her I felt too sore to sit in a desk all day. Which was only kind of true. I probably could have gone, but my brain was still too messed up to deal with the general population.
Monica texted me shortly after first period to ask me 'where the eff' I was.
U didn't hear? I texted back. Got attacked by a bear at some bitch's party.
O, was that u? ;) She texted. I miss u. U OK?
She called me at lunch, and I heard Stephen in the background asking if I was okay. But my well-being wasn't the point of the call. She wanted to apologize for any part her birthday had played in the bear attack. I didn't really know what to say. I didn't blame her. If anything, I felt guilty knowing what had happened was definitely—though I had no idea how or why—connected to me in some way. But of course, I couldn't tell her that. The balance of our call was mostly gossip about Tom and how the whole school was whispering about what had happened at her party. Gossip was Monica’s bread and butter so this was like a royal feast.
On Tuesday, I made it in to school and was instantly bombarded by questions from kids I barely knew. What did the bear look like? How had I outrun it? And then there were the sickos who just wanted to see the gash on my leg. Thankfully, the heat wave had ended, so my jeans were keeping everything well covered. Monica stayed by my side the entire time, re-directing questions and chaperoning me to class. I would’ve been grateful if I hadn’t been so sure her main concern was her own notoriety.
I was a little worried the few kids who'd been in the cabin when the attack had happened would connect the dots between what they saw and my tattoo, but everyone seemed to be on board with the bear story. I think it was probably a combo of them questioning their drunken brains and, like me, not wanting to sound crazy.
I saw Tom briefly at lunch. He acted all concerned, or maybe he truly was. He squeezed my hand and told me all about how scared he'd been for me. I couldn't help but think about how he hadn't tried to save me. Not that I could really blame him. Chivalry was mostly dead. He kissed me before the bell rang and I just kinda went with it because I no longer knew or cared where we stood. He was Tom. I'd kissed him plenty of times before so it wasn't as if it was some transcendent moment. Besides, boy kisses were not my top priority at the moment.
Despite several invites, I couldn't engage in social activities after school because of the grounding, but my parents had given me enough leeway to head to the public library to study for an hour before I had to be home for dinner. This was a good thing. A major project deadline was looming for my American Lit class and I had some reading to do.
I was looking for a private desk to sit at when I passed an aisle marked MYTH AND LEGEND.
I took a quick stroll down the aisle, running my fingers along the peeling spines of books on Hercules and the Loch Ness Monster. I stopped and took a step back as my index finger traced over the foil title of a book called, Beasts of Lore.
I pulled the heavy hardback from the shelf. The dust jacket appeared to be missing, but I flipped it open to the glossy center pages where several pictures were featured. Dragons, gryphons, and a muscular-looking hound with three heads. Cerberus.
I flipped to the index, scanning the O section for Orthrus. There he was, on page 272.
It was then I realized I was being watched.