WRAITH, Chapter 1

Amarok, Alaska

There are two kinds of dreams. Dreams that come true and dreams that don’t. When I say that to most people they think I’m talking about wishes. What I want out of life, like going to college or getting married or having kids. They think I’m wondering about the future or maybe reflecting on things that happened in the past. They don’t say it to my face but I know they’re thinking about my brother. I know they’re thinking of the dream of our family that died when he disappeared.

That’s not what I mean. Because when I dream at night some of my dreams are just like everybody else’s. The kind where you’re taking a final you didn’t study for or you have to recite the lines to a play you didn’t know you were cast in. Or the senseless dreams everybody has where your mother turns into a stranger but you know it’s really your mother and you’re at your house and it’s definitely your house even though it looks completely different. Then you wake up and try to sort it all out and sometimes you can but more often you can’t so you just forget about it.

I have dreams like that all the time. In fact, most of my dreams are dull as white rice. Or maybe just plain weird. But none of those dreams ever come true.

Sometimes I have the other kind of dream though. When I was four I dreamt of my father floating beneath the water surrounded by cool green light. It closed over him as he sank further and further from the surface until at last he stopped struggling and disappeared inside the darkness.

I woke in the night, his bright eyes still before me, and cried out. My mother came running and smoothed my hair back from my forehead. “It’s just a nightmare, Kira,” she whispered. “Your father will return in the morning. Go back to sleep.”

I told her it was more than that but she didn’t believe me. Not that I blame her. She couldn’t imagine the Great Spirit would take her husband from her after he had already called back her only son. When the fishermen found my father’s boat drifting on the ocean the next day my mother refused to believe it. “He’ll be back,” she told them, even after two weeks had passed with no sign of him. “Wait and see.”

After two months went by and the ice began to freeze up for the winter she finally held a funeral for him. That was sixteen years ago and some nights she sits out on her porch with her eyes fixed on the sea as if he’ll still sail back to her.

I never waited for my father. I knew my dream of him was the kind that comes true.

My brother is a different story. I’m the one waiting for him to come back to us someday. I’m the one who knows he’s not really dead, whatever my mother says. The dreams tell me so and I believe them. Unlike most of the people I know, they haven’t lied to me yet.

Lately I hadn’t been dreaming about my brother, I’d been dreaming about Annie. Annie was the four-year-old daughter of Liv and Gavin Michaels, the couple who ran the Blue Moon Café in town. It was more of a restaurant than a café but the Michaels had relocated to Alaska from New York City and I guess they missed the whole urban mood. Or maybe they were trying to recreate it in Amarok.

Yeah, good luck with that guys.

Not that they had done a bad job with the place. Before they moved into town five years ago the restaurant had been a complete dive, the kind of place that served greasy food and lousy coffee. Liv and Gavin had been sous chefs in the lower 48, which meant they could actually cook. They added a lot of frou-frou items to their menu after they bought out the former owners but they serve the standard fare too. Their buttermilk pancakes are epically good and their fried chicken is amazing.

Best of all, they brew really good coffee.

Add a couple of comfy couches and a bunch of mismatched chairs and voila, you’ve got a pretty cool place to hang out. As eclectic as the décor is, the Michaels haven’t been able to completely shake the small town mentality. There’s a big-ass moose head over the fireplace, a pool table in the bar, and a wolf hide hanging on the far wall. But somehow even that stuff seems cool and not tacky like it did before they took over. Anyway, the town name—Amarok—means wolf so it makes sense to keep the hide up. At night you can hear the wolves howling and sometimes a few of them will appear at the edge of the pond I use for a landing strip for my plane. But they don’t bother me and I don’t bother them, so it’s a pretty low-maintenance relationship.

In a town where there were only three restaurants counting The Donut Hole, it didn’t take long for
The Blue Moon to become the local hotspot. Just about everybody stops in at some point during the week and some of the regulars practically live there. I got into the habit of popping in after I got back from my deliveries. To state the obvious, it can get pretty cold flying supplies to the bush villages north of Amarok and it’s nice to warm up in front of the roaring fire while sipping a gingerbread latte. If it’s not too busy Liv and I gossip about life in town or she’ll ask how business is going.

I’ve been flying planes longer than I’ve been driving my car but I didn’t start my own business until the year before, not too long after I graduated from high school. To say I love it would be the understatement of the century. Flying is my life. Maybe I should want more and maybe someday I will. But for now I have everything I need. There’s no better feeling than being up in the air, flying through blue sky as the sun sinks below the mountains. It’s like swimming in beauty.

But I can’t live in the sky. There’s still reality to deal with. Lugging supplies out into the middle of nowhere is hard work, really hard work. So after I land on the ice I rush off to the Blue Moon for my latte. Annie’s always around, playing with her toys on the bearskin rug or following Liv around in the kitchen. At first I worried she’d get hurt or just be in the way but she’s a smart kid and knows how to stay out of trouble.

Which is why when I started having the dream I didn’t take it seriously right away. At first I pegged it as one of the other dreams, the kind that don’t come true and are just weird without being scary. But then I kept having it, night after night, like somebody was trying really hard to get my attention.

I wish I understood more about what happens to me. Wait, edit that. I wish I understood more about me, about who I am or maybe what I am. Because unless everybody’s been holding out on me I’m pretty sure most people don’t dream the future. Maybe they say they do and charge you twenty bucks an hour for it over the psychic hotline but the things they tell you don’t happen. Either that or their statements are so general they could apply to anybody. Believe me, I’ve tried, mostly in hopes that I’d meet somebody who was the real deal and have the chance to ask them some pressing questions about being psychic. When I was in high school I went through what I call my Obsessive Period, when I got into the habit of calling this one psychic every day or two. Eventually two things happened. One, I ran out of money and my mom freaked when she found out I’d been using her credit card behind her back. And two, the psychic got tired of my questions and told me not to call her again. Ever.

That marked the end of my Obsessive Period.

I never got over the actual obsession though. Like I said, I always got the feeling somebody was trying to let me know things for a reason. But who wanted me to know and why? The why was what killed me. What if I was supposed to do something about these dreams? For example, the dream I had of my father drowning. Could I have done something, anything, to prevent that from happening? Or did being four let me off the hook?

That’s the other thing that had been bothering me about the Annie dreams. Annie was four. I was four when I had my first dream, four when my father drowned, four when my brother Miki disappeared. Not killed, because I’ll never believe that’s what happened to Miki. Even my mother admits that much. He wasn’t killed right away. He simply disappeared one afternoon. One minute Miki was outside in the yard building a snowman, the next minute he was gone. About a year later my mom got a call that she wouldn’t talk about. It was right around Christmas time and for one week it was like an alien had taken over her body. She couldn’t stop smiling, not to mention the damn humming. The day before Christmas she put on her coat and walked to the door. She told my father and me she wouldn’t be back until the next morning but that when she returned she’d be bringing “a Christmas present for us all.” That’s exactly how she said it. But here’s the kicker. Right before she walked out of the house she said the word miracle. Of course she denied that later. She told me I’d misheard her but I knew she was lying.

She’d been going after my brother and something went wrong. At least that’s what I think. When she came back the next day the light had gone out of her face. She wouldn’t speak at all for eight days, not even when I opened my presents. On the ninth day she sat my father and I down on our couch and told us Miki was dead. She told us if we ever mentioned his name again she’d leave and never return.
We never mentioned his name again. Only it wasn’t my mother who left, it was my father.

The more I thought about it, the more it troubled me, all those fours. During the days, when I wasn’t making deliveries or servicing the plane, I found myself doodling the number over and over. Or drawing squares. Windows. Anything with four corners or four parts. After a couple of weeks I started wondering if I was going crazy or having some kind of OCD Event Horizon. Maybe insanity was a thing that happened to pilots who spent most of their time alone far above the earth. I had my huskies, Boris and Natasha, but other than the occasional phone call to mom and my visits to the Blue Moon, I was on my own.

There was another issue besides all those fours. The dream itself. In the dream Annie was outside playing. And then she wasn’t.

In the dream someone took her. Always.

The dreams weren’t the same night after night but they ended the same way. In some of them Annie was swinging at the school playground. In others she was lying on the bearskin rug coloring. Or wandering around in her backyard. My dreams weren’t blueprints, more like impressionist paintings. Or maybe overlapping kaleidoscopes. That’s not usually how my dreams worked. Usually I didn’t have so many.

Which gets me back to the idea that somebody—Great Spirit or otherwise—was trying to tell me something. Annie was in danger and I had to help. If I didn’t They were going to take her, just like they took my brother.

They say Alaska’s the number one state in the U.S. when it comes to alien sightings. When my brother disappeared sixteen years ago without a trace some people said he’d been abducted. The local police didn’t go for that theory, but did they consider the idea that one or both of my parents were responsible. Both my parents were cleared of any wrongdoing but even now there are a few in town who still whisper when my mother passes by. The police eventually settled on the idea of a possible serial killer, despite the lack of evidence.

Some blamed the wolves. It was the wolves who took him that day, the wolves who took the others. Whatever their theory of choice, after a while everybody got back to living their own lives. Alaska’s a dangerous place and maybe that makes people harder when it comes to loss.

The elders in the village had their own idea about what happened to my brother. These were the men and women who’d learned the Inuit legends as children, the ones who believed the tupilak were behind it. According to them, the tupilak were restless ghosts who stole children away and trapped them in the void, the place where the uncreated lived. On the nights before a child disappeared the tribe’s shaman or someone close to the child would see its spirit, or wraith. The wraith looked exactly like the child, the only difference was its transparency. Even if a child died after such a sighting all was well. The child would shed its earthly skin and join the sky beings and the other earth creatures without skins in Summerland. But if the child didn’t die after such a sighting—if they simply disappeared—then they’d been taken to the void for all eternity. They were the soulless.

The fact that I’d never seen my brother’s wraith or even dreamt about it is the reason I know he’s still alive. A few years back I saw the wraith of an old woman who lived across the street and the next day she died of natural causes. Once I saw the wraith of a girl at my school. She died too, only the causes weren’t natural that time. She was in a car crash after a night of drinking. I’m not sure if I believe the old legends but they do give me some comfort. I like to think they’re both walking around wearing just their souls, living the good life in Summerland.

There have been others who went missing too. Not too many, maybe only one every four or five years. They weren’t all taken from Amarok either. Some were taken from the surrounding villages. One advantage of being a pilot is that you get around. And people always want to talk. Everybody likes a ghost story.

Even after all those years I wasn’t sure which theory I believed the most. There were two things I did know for sure though. I was going to do everything possible to find out the answer to what happened to my brother all those years ago. And I wasn’t going to let anything happen to Annie.  

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