When grad student Dulcie Schwartz thinks she hears a wolf late one night, on her way to pick up some forgotten papers from her departmental office, she tries to dismiss it – but it’s too late for her peace of mind. The noises, the dark building and an unnerving sighting of her adviser – looking strangely unhuman in the moonlight – all combine to thoroughly give her the creeps.
But it is not until the next morning that Dulcie learns the disquieting truth: she was right to be spooked. A woman worryingly close to the university was savagely attacked, that very night. A woman who looks like Dulcie.
Aided by the cryptic advice from her kitten Esmé and the ghost of her late, great cat Mr Grey, Dulcie can’t stop herself from investigating, just a little . . .
About the Author
Clea Simon is a Massachusetts-based writer, journalist and a regular contributor to the New York Times, Boston Globe, San Francisco Chronicle, Ms., Rolling Stone and Salon.com. Sheas the author of three nonfiction books, She lives in Cambridge, MA, with her husband, the writer Jon S. Garelick, and their cat, Musetta.
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The word sprang unbidden into Dulcie's mind. Wolf, she amended it, as the unearthly howl once more split the night. But what would a wolf be doing in Cambridge, in Harvard Square of all places? Much more likely that she was hearing a dog, Dulcie told herself, even as she picked up her pace. It was late, and there weren't any other pedestrians on the little side street by the English Department offices. But she'd never felt unsafe here before. Certainly not afraid of an animal.
Another howl, wild and chilling. Dulcie took a deep breath. She hadn't told Chris she was going out. Her boyfriend worked the overnight shift in the computer lab, so Dulcie had been home alone when she'd realized that she'd left the English 10 papers in her cubby at the departmental office. He would've encouraged her to leave them till tomorrow, if she'd called him. Or told her to splurge and take a cab. But Chris wouldn't be working nights if they had any money to spare, and their apartment was really only twenty minutes away, if she walked quickly. Besides, grades were due by ten a.m. tomorrow. She'd already missed several of her teaching deadlines this semester, and this time she wouldn't have had her own thesis as an excuse. Carelessness seemed like a silly reason to push her luck. Martin Thorpe, her adviser and the acting department head, was prickly at the best of times. No, walking into the Square to retrieve them had been the sensible move.
It wasn't like it was an inherently frightening night. Between the street lights and a bright autumn moon, Dulcie could see all the way to the end of the block. Even the brick sidewalk, treacherous when icy, appeared to be in high relief. True, the shadows looked particularly menacing right now. But that, Dulcie told herself, was because she'd worked herself up into a good snit. And so, really, a little scare served her right.
In truth, it wasn't just the student papers that had sent Dulcie out into the cold November night. She'd been caught up rereading a section of a newly discovered novel. For weeks now, she'd worked in the library, painstakingly transcribing the stained, handwritten manuscript into her computer. The previously unclaimed pages, which she'd found among the unfiled documents in the Mildon rare book collection, made up a ghost story, full of all sorts of supernatural high-jinks and at least one particularly gruesome murder. It was also, most likely, written by the author of The Ravages of Umbria, the subject of Dulcie's doctoral thesis. If Dulcie could definitively place it in her author's canon, she'd have a significant academic credit. But all the time she'd spent squinting at the faded ink, trying to make out an archaic crossed 'S' from a half-smudged 'F' had distracted her from the story itself.
Tonight, for the first time, she had settled in to actually read what she had. And while that was a very welcome break from student compositions, it might not have been the best choice for a lonely moonlit night. Even Esmé, her tuxedo cat, had made herself scarce, as if spooked by the tale of ghouls and evil. And so, after one striking confrontation, Dulcie had been almost grateful to remember her real-life duties. Grading seemed so ordinary after an encounter with a werewolf.
Another howl, closer now. Dulcie paused, bending to peek underneath a hedge. The ink-black shadow made the glossy green bush look like it was floating in a void, but surely the space beneath was too small for any serious predator. Besides, it had to be a dog. Perhaps a hurt or injured dog. Maybe she should call animal control. At worst, it was a coyote. Dulcie had read that they'd moved into the suburbs. She'd never heard of one in Harvard Square, but she could imagine an adolescent male, lost, or on a quest for his own space. In that way, he'd be like so many of the young creatures that made their way to the city.
With that thought, she smiled. Cambridge was a city, and as such, it had its dangers. Wolves, however, were not likely to be one of them.
Part of the problem, she admitted as she turned toward Mass. Ave., was the departmental offices. Although, like all the senior grad students, she had both the key and the alarm code to the little clapboard building, she'd never been there late at night. Never been in the little house at all except when Nancy, the motherly departmental secretary, had been on duty, making coffee and fussing over the students like a hen with her chicks. Once the beep-beep-beep of the alarm had been shut off, Dulcie had found the old building creepy. Not silent, exactly, a three-hundred-year-old wooden building would never be totally silent. But the creaks and sighs of the old wood (and almost equally old plumbing) had seemed mindful, somehow, as if the house knew she was there. As if it didn't want her there, not at night, alone. Dulcie had gotten the distinct feeling of being watched and of being unwelcome, as if she were trespassing. She'd grabbed the folder she'd left hours earlier, and taken off so fast she'd almost forgotten to turn the alarm back on. As it was, she'd had to punch it in three times. Each time, she'd felt a little more flustered, sure that if she hesitated, someone – or something – would descend the uneven wooden steps from the top floor and catch her there. When she finally got the flashing green to go on, she'd bolted, slamming the door behind her.
That feeling of being watched had followed her out onto the street, and even the brightness of the night could not dispel it. Instead, she realized as she turned the corner, the light made it worse. It felt cold somehow, as if the moon were in league with the wind. Well, it was November. Dulcie pulled up the collar of her bulky sweater, a present from her mother. Soon she'd be off these side streets and in the Square proper. There would be people out, even at this hour, and she'd be able to shed these silly fears. And, if she still felt squeamish, she would take a cab – and eat ramen for lunch for the rest of the week.
A movement, across the street, made her jump and turn – and then laugh out loud. She'd been hoping for some company, and she'd gotten her wish. A thin figure, somewhat stooped, had appeared. Ultimately unthreatening, even with her overactive imagination. She nodded, despite knowing that here in New England nobody ever acknowledged strangers. Then, as the figure stepped into the light, she did more than nod. 'Hello!' she called. It was Thorpe, Martin Thorpe, her adviser, his bald pate reflecting the bright moonlight.
He turned at her voice, and any other words of greeting died in her throat. It was Thorpe, all right, but not as she had ever seen him. She had recognized the shiny spot on top of his head, but now she could see how wild his remaining hair had become, standing on end as if electrified. And even in the oddly cool light, how drawn his face was. Eyes wide and dark rimmed, as if – could it be? – outlined in red. Watching her, Thorpe ran one long, white hand over his head, as if to tame his disordered locks. He opened his mouth, bobbing slightly as if panting, and Dulcie found herself staring. There was something about his mouth. About his teeth.
'Mr Thorpe?' She heard the tremor in her voice. 'Are you all right?'
Silently, he shook his head, slowly and, Dulcie thought, with a look of profound sadness. Then he turned away and took off, rounding the corner into the dark.
Dulcie hesitated, wondering if she should follow. He was heading toward the Square, in the opposite direction from her home. Still, he seemed so troubled. She took a step, then another toward the corner. That's when she heard it. Off in the dark, where her adviser had disappeared, the wolf howled again.
Dulcie broke into a run.CHAPTER 2
Dulcie arrived home, breathless but safe, to find Esmé waiting at the front door.
'What is it, kitty?' Grateful for the sight of the little cat, for the off-center white star on her fuzzy face. For the pure normalcy of the scene, Dulcie had dropped the student papers on the floor and scooped up her pet. 'Were you worried about me?'
'No!' The answer came quickly, as Esmé pushed her white paws against Dulcie's chest. 'Put me down.'
Dulcie obliged, a little saddened. 'No, you weren't worried about me? Or, no, you don't want to be held?'
'So silly.' The cat stalked away, tail held high, leaving Dulcie to wonder. Did Esmé mean she had gotten scared about nothing? Or had she done something else to merit her pet's scorn?
'Mr Grey?' Dulcie picked up the papers and took them into the kitchen. 'Are you there? Do you have any thoughts?' It wasn't that she didn't trust Esmé. Still, Mr Grey, the late grey longhair who often returned to advise and comfort her, was older and presumably had access to information that might not be available on the physical plane.
'Why are you asking him?' The answer came not in the calm voice of her older pet, but in the slightly peevish tone of an adolescent, as Esmé barreled back – and into Dulcie's shins. 'Why don't you play with me?'
And so she did, tossing a catnip mouse until the young cat was exhausted. By then, Dulcie had calmed down enough to grade the papers she'd gone through so much trouble to reclaim. It was after two by the time she finished, and by rights she should have gone to sleep. After her various labors, however, she couldn't help but feel that she deserved a treat. Calling Chris was always an option – he'd be awake and at his terminal till seven. But Dulcie didn't want to confess that she had gone out alone so late, and unless she did that she certainly couldn't explain what had frightened – no, alarmed – her so. Agitated, that was more like it. The empty office had just been so quiet. And the howls, well, nobody likes to think of a dog in pain, and that was what it must have been. None of it any reason for her to disturb her boyfriend at work. Not when it might worry him. And so she got into bed – with her laptop – planning on reading just a little more of the recovered text.
'Esmé, want to read with me?' She called for the cat, who was batting at something – Dulcie really hoped it wasn't a bug – in the corner. 'It'll be fun.'
The cat simply twitched an ear, letting Dulcie know she'd had her fill of her, and so Dulcie started to read.
Fierce as the wind were the cries that rent the night. Foul and fearsome Voices rang from unearthly throats, wailing like the very hounds of Hell, they called to her, hailing her and keeping pace e'en as the coach raced forward, tossed like a Ship in a Storm, the horses white-eyed and screaming as the coachman whipped them on, breathless with panic, as were they all.
Daring a glimpse, she had pushed back the curtain and seen them, the foul demonic Beasts. Undaunted by the storm, as the flash of lightning rent the night, the glare of light revealed the sable tossl'd pelts, the glowing eyes. One damned Beast pursuing caught her glance with an eye o'er shot with Blood, and turning toward her visage e'en as she closed the curtain with hands that trembled, howled anew.
No wonder she'd been spooked. At least the woman had made it into the carriage. In the last passage, the heroine had been fleeing an evil stranger, leaving behind the relative safety of an inn for the crossroad where she faced the stormy night alone. Until the strange carriage had picked her up, anyway, just as the wolves had started howling.
What would merit such a danger? What prize was worth such risk? Such Questions she clasped to her bosom, held close within the very breath that warmed her. For her Soul's sake, they could not know. Yet, closer they came, fiendish voices whipped by the night's wind, jagged Fangs snapping at the air.
It was all so vivid – jagged Fangs, the tossl'd pelts, glowing eyes ... o'er shot with blood – and strangely familiar. It sounded like ... No, she was imagining things. Seeing a resemblance where there was none. She needed to focus, to think as a scholar, not a scared girl caught up in a ghost story too late at night.
Part of the problem was that it was hard to read this as a straightforward narrative. Too much was unclear or missing. She had to focus on what was actually there, in the text. To start with, there was that curious question – what risk was the heroine talking about? And then the strange description.
After that, there seemed to be a gap, and she'd made a note to herself to look for a missing page. She scrolled down to the next bit: suddenly, it seemed, the woman was no longer alone. She was talking to someone who hadn't been mentioned when the carriage had pulled up, offering her refuge from the storm. Was there another traveler in the carriage? Or could it be the coachman? She shook her head. It wouldn't make sense that the character in the next scene would be the coachman. How would a passenger be able to converse with the driver, especially as they raced through a stormy night? But if the stranger – if that's what the word was, Dulcie still thought it might be 'Frenchman' – was there from the start, why had he not been mentioned before? A manuscript this old, and in this poor shape, could easily be missing pages, but everything else had followed pretty normally. Still, it wasn't like a character could just appear out of nowhere. Could he?
Of course he could, Dulcie reminded herself. Especially in an early, handwritten draft of a book. Because however it came to be, by the next scene, her heroine was conversing with the stranger – or the Frenchman. What he said, though, would have to wait, because after all the excitement of the night, Dulcie realized her eyes were growing heavy. She closed the laptop and pushed it aside, and felt, near her feet, the telltale thump of a feline landing beside her. Too tired to look, to see if her young pet had jumped up or if a spectral presence had joined her, Dulcie let her eyes close. She heard purring, she felt paws kneading, and that was all.CHAPTER 3
She couldn't help it. She couldn't stop staring at him. As Martin Thorpe called the departmental meeting to order, Dulcie found herself gaping at the balding scholar. At his pale face and his deeply shadowed eyes, still rimmed in red like the hellhounds in her story. At his teeth.
Partly, it was lack of sleep. Not only had she retired late, but despite the comforting presence of a cat on the bed, she'd slept badly, her night broken up by strange and disturbing dreams. At one point, she'd woken to the howls again, and she'd thought about getting up, about checking the doors and windows, only to be dragged back down by fatigue. At another, she was sure that an intruder had come in and turned on the lights, the moon was shining so brightly.
When she finally did slip into unconsciousness, it was with a sense of eyes watching her. Yellow, feral eyes that radiated menace. She had tossed and turned then, almost waking, when they had changed. It wasn't that they had dimmed, exactly, though they had softened from that poison yellow to green. It was more that their intent seemed to shift. When, near dawn, Dulcie finally fell into a deeper sleep, she had the sense of someone watching over her. The stranger, she remembered thinking, briefly, in a half-awake moment. The man in grey.
She had woken late to find Esmé gone and Chris beside her, snoring gently. His clothes had been left in a pile by the bed, and Dulcie could only imagine how tired he must have been when he'd come in. Maybe, she told herself, she had been subconsciously waiting for him and that was why she had had such troubling dreams. Maybe he had been the comforting stranger, the new presence who had allowed her to slip into a calmer sleep. Except that Chris's eyes were brown.
Whatever. By the time Dulcie finished her shower, she was already late. Nancy always had a fresh pot on for the departmental meeting, so grabbing her empty travel mug, Dulcie ran out the door. It was funny, she thought as she trotted up the familiar brick sidewalks. By daylight, her city looked innocuous. More like a big town than some urban wilderness. It must have been the moonlight – the cool, blue light – interacting with the vivid scene she had read before heading out. Well, that and that poor dog. If she heard it again, she would call animal control. That howl had sounded like an animal in pain.
As luck would have it, she wasn't the last one into the meeting. Thorpe himself was late, which meant that Dulcie had a chance to file the student papers, slurp down half her mug, and refill it before tromping back to the meeting room. There, she found a seat between Lloyd, her office mate, and Trista. Although she'd successfully defended her thesis the spring before, Trista had swung a one-year post-doc at the university that let her add to her credits before leaving the nest to seek a tenure-track teaching position. It also let her stay around her boyfriend, Jerry, who, like Chris, was still a grad student in the applied math department.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Grey Dawn"
Copyright © 2013 Clea Simon.
Excerpted by permission of Severn House Publishers Limited.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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