Much later, I was to realize my life had been spared by the interference of a kind human nurse who made much of my fame as an artist and called my art teacher to let him know what had happened.
The whole art class showed up with cards and flowers and treated me like a heroine, a survivor of the terror we had thus far only painted about.
I don’t remember what I said. I felt like I was in a bubble all by myself, and could only see faces and hear voices that were warped and vague by the separating wall between us. They said the heavy medication was for the hallucinations and nightmares. I do remember waking up screaming and jerking out the I.V., trying to make a run for the exit door. Then I remember being moved somewhere.
I woke up in a new place. A quiet place with all wolf attendants. It was like living a nightmare, but a foggy, strange nightmare. The drugs made me doubt the things I heard and saw.
One night I dreamed I saw Marcus. He was looking at me through the window and he smiled. He made motions for me to open the window, but I knew he was dead, and sobbed in grief. A wolf nurse came into the room and licked the tears off of my face. This made me scream in terror, but she only laughed and strapped my arms down at my sides.
I wanted to die. All of my family was dead, I might as well be too.
The next morning I awoke to see the wrinkled old face of a human being, the only one I’d seen in countless days and nights. He grinned at me and patted my hand in a grandfatherly way.
“Don’t worry, dear,” he said. “it gets easier.”
“Who are you?” I asked, nervously folding and refolding the top hem of the blanket that covered me.
“Uncle Benny,” he answered affably, pulling up a chair to sit by my bed.
“I don’t have an Uncle Benny,” I said without much assurance. The line between reality and imagination had been erased by the drugs I was given at every meal.
Uncle Benny grinned at me and stuck out his tongue like a small child. On the tip of his tongue was a pill. He spit it into his hand and dropped it in his robe pocket. Then he calmly unwrapped a piece of gum and chewed it, still watching me with an inquisitive stare.
“The trick,” he said, “is to keep acting drugged. You gotta sound crazy even when you’re not. Unless you really are. . . Are you?”
“Am I what?”
“Crazy.” Uncle Benny now spit his gum into his hand, fished the pill out of his pocket, and calmly wrapped the pill in chewing gum until it disappeared from sight. Then he dropped it in the trashcan next to my bed.
“I don’t know.” I said, trying to make sense of what I was seeing.
“They check the sewage, the trash, everywhere. . . to make sure you’re taking your pills,” he explained.
“Why are you here?” I asked him, finally forming a question in my head.
“Same reason you are,” he said dryly, sliding the pack of gum into my limp hand. “Only, they’re not likely to let me go—“
“Mr Cohen!” a gravelly voice exclaimed. It was the day nurse, a wolf with close-set eyes and graying fur. In spite of the medication, I trembled violently and began to hyperventilate. My fist closed around the gum and I stiffened in terror. I saw the mutilated body parts of my parents flash before my eyes and the bloody face of the Protector wolf that had killed them.
“Dear, dear,” the nurse chided, pushing Uncle Benny out of the way. “See what you’ve done, you crazy old man?”
“I heard an elephant,” Benny chattered in a childlike voice. “It was singing the most beautiful song. Why, Nurse Hackle, did you have pedicure? Your nails look so lovely today! I always remember my mothers hands. . .”
Benny babbled on, and the wolf nurse shoved him out of my room. With brief clarity, I remembered the gum in my fist, and hid it beneath the covers of my blanket. By the time the nurse returned with my breakfast and medication, I had decided to live.