Twilight Fans, this book is for you.
I huddled in the narrow crawl space under the cabin’s wooden floor, flinching at the screech of rusty hinges as my father swung the hatch closed. My lungs seemed to go into overdrive as I gasped for air. Though not airtight, the small, dark confines of my hidey-hole tricked my brain into thinking there wasn’t enough oxygen.
My harsh breaths echoed around me as my heart beat a staccato rhythm inside my chest. The scuffing sound of furniture being moved sounded above me, and in a panic, my hands pushed at the trapdoor. It didn’t budge. Not even a centimeter.
I was trapped, and I didn’t even know why. Why did Dad suddenly freak out in the middle of dinner and shove me under the floor? His terror had been palpable, spiking my own fear enough to make me blindly obedient as I squeezed into the coffin-like space without questioning his demand or his sanity.
He knew I hated small spaces.
I gasped for air, despite my lungs filling with each breath. I knew I was hyperventilating, but I couldn’t stop the desperate panting. My whole body shook with terror, and I knew I couldn’t take it anymore. I needed to get out. Immediately.
I opened my mouth to scream at Dad, to beg him to let me out. But whatever I might have yelled died in my throat as I heard the front door crash in, banging against the floor. I slapped a hand over my mouth in an attempt to quiet my harsh breathing.
My dad’s voice was laced with fear and revulsion, making the order sound more like a desperate plea. There was a scuffling sound accompanied by a guttural growl, and my breath froze in my throat.
What the hell was that? my mind shrieked, repeating the phrase over and over as the scuffling grew into a heavy thrashing.
Hot tears poured down my cheeks as my father screamed in agony. I pushed at the wooden trapdoor again, this time putting everything I had into it. It still didn’t move. No! I had to get out. I had to help him!
Suddenly the noises stopped, a heavy silence falling over the cabin. Fear paralyzed me, my frozen blood clogging in my veins as I struggled to breathe. My ears pricked, listening for…anything.
The scrub of wood against wood as Dad moved the furniture off the trapdoor. The squeak of hinges. His sigh of relief at the sight of me, unharmed. His voice, telling me everything was going to be okay.
But none of those came.
I waited for an eternity, then for another one after that. But silence reigned supreme. I sucked in a breath, ready to call out to him when a dull thud echoed above me. I snapped my jaw shut, and I held my breath.
Footsteps, slow and steady, thumped toward the front of the cabin. The sounds grew fainter as they moved over the downed door and out onto the porch before disappearing altogether. Still, I didn’t breathe.
I waited for the scrub of wood against wood, the screech of hinges. The sigh of relief.
I waited for Dad to open that damned door and let me out of the hell he’d put me in. For fresh air and open spaces. For warm arms and tight embraces. For the world to be made right and start turning on its axis once more.
My lungs screamed for oxygen and yet, I still refused to give in and breathe. Dad was going to pop open that door any minute. He’d laugh and tell me it was just a wild dog or a bear cub. He’d tell me he’d overreacted when he’d squished me under the floor and ordered me to be silent. We’d go home to Mom, then laugh and laugh as we retold the story, embellishing it with funny voices and wild hand gestures.
As my lips tried to curve up into some insane version of a smile, something dripped onto the apple of my cheek. I reached up to wipe it with a fingertip. It was warm and wet. Another drop landed, and as I wiped it away, it was replaced by another. Then another and another, until a steady stream of drops pattered against my skin.
I tried to scoot my head away from the stream. But the space was too small, my movements in vain. The thick, warm liquid ran down my cheek before streaming onto my neck.
I sucked in a harsh breath, my need to breathe overcoming my fear of missing any telltale sounds from above. A scent of bitter copper filled my nose, and I forced myself to stop breathing it in as panic sparked in my nerves.
I needed oxygen, but I needed to not smell that scent again. I needed to pretend everything was fine, and it wasn’t what I knew it was dripping from the floorboards above to coat my skin.
I needed to wake up from the nightmare. Wake up. Wake up. Wake up.
My body recoiled in my chair, my back pressing into the cushions as Dr. Whitley’s voice cut through the memory and brought me back to the present. My eyes danced around the room, my breath steadying as I inventoried the space like she taught me to.
Two navy blue chairs. Two wooden end tables. One glass coffee table between them. One desk. Three bookshelves. Six potted plants near two large windows.
By the time my gaze returned to my therapist, my breathing had reverted to normal, and I’d managed to fully untangle myself from the memory. I swallowed thickly against the knot in my throat, then took a moment to clear it before speaking.
“Where were we?” I croaked out.
“You lost consciousness.”
“Right,” I said. “When I woke up, there were footsteps and voices above me. I tried to scream, but my voice was too weak, so I banged on the trapdoor, begging to be released in the loudest whisper I could manage. Then there was light, and I was blinded. Hands grabbed at me, and I fought them off even though I knew I needed help.”
I fell silent, the memories threatening to suck me back under. Men and women in blue uniforms and dark suits. Yellow tape. Cameras and tiny orange cones with numbers on them. Copper-colored stains on the floor and a sheet-enshrouded gurney wheeling through a gaping hole where the front door used to be.
“You were trapped there for two days,” Dr. Whitley said, rescuing me from the memory before I got sucked into its vortex again.
I shook my head, saying “I don’t remember it. I was unconscious the whole time.”
This was the point in the session where we usually left the past and discussed the present. She’d ask me how school was, and I’d reply it was fine. She’d ask me about my home life with Mom. Also fine. Any extracurricular activities? No, but it was fine.
I relaxed back into my seat and took a deep breath. I’d made it through the hellish part and would now be rewarded with the easy questions. My muscles loosened as the tension drained out of me, only to lock back up as Dr. Whitley asked me a question she never had before.
“What do you think killed your father, Piper?”
“Wh-what?” I stuttered. “What are you doing?”
She gave me a sympathetic smile before her expression turned determined.
“It’s been a year, and we’ve never addressed this. In fifty sessions, I’ve let you decide how far we go, and we’ve only talked about the details. The facts. We need to dig deeper if I’m ever going to be able to help you.”
“A bear. A bear killed my father.”
That was the answer we’d been given after the official investigation. The broken-down door. The gashes and bruises on my father’s body. The bite marks on his neck.
Only a bear could have knocked that door down. Only an animal could’ve left a human in that mangled condition.
“It was a bear,” I repeated.
“Do you really believe that?” she asked, her head cocked slightly to the right as she searched my gaze for the truth.
“I do,” I answered.
But it was a lie.
I wanted to believe it. I wanted to accept the fact that in some strange and terrible twist of fate, a mad bear crashed into our vacation rental cabin and took my father from me on the fourth day of our week-long father-daughter getaway. That it was an act of nature. A cruel accident.
But I remembered the fear in my father’s eyes when he stuffed me under the floor. He knew something was coming, and that it was too late and too dangerous to run. A rampant, enraged bear would’ve take us by surprise, killing us both. Instead, I was here and Dad was gone, and I had to live with that pain and guilt for the rest of my life.
“It was a bear,” I muttered again, my unfocused eyes dropping to the floor.
They told me it was a bear, and I’d screamed at the police, and the nurses, and doctors, and everyone else within earshot that they were wrong. They were lying. They were covering something up.
I yelled at my mom when she tried to calm me. I pushed her away from my hospital bed, screaming and scratching and thrashing from side to side. A buff orderly pulled her back before inserting a syringe into the plastic tubing that led to my I.V.
As my movements calmed and my brain grew sluggish, I tried to yell some more. But the words came out garbled and indecipherable.
I tried to tell them about the footsteps. I tried to tell them it couldn’t be a bear, or any other animal because those feet were wearing boots. I could still hear the thump-thump-thump of them as they crossed the floorboards above me.
It wasn’t a bear. Or a mountain lion, or any other animal.
I didn’t care what logistics said. I didn’t give a shit that science proved a human couldn’t have done what had been done to my dad. No amount of authenticated tests or lab reports were going to convince otherwise.
No in-depth therapy sessions were going to make me see the light and accept the fact that I’d been mistaken. I knew what I heard.
And bears don’t wear boots.