The Drama Queen Who Cried Wolf


by Jocelyn Rish

Chapter One

A white towel was a terrible outfit . . .

White woman with brown hair holding up a white towel with a confused look on her face.

. . . for trying to outrun a homicidal maniac.

A man in a dark suit with white wrappings around his face holds an ax while standing in front on the evening woods.

Although I had to admire the woman’s skill at avoiding a wardrobe malfunction as she raced through the dark forest.

Even with pink, fuzzy slippers flapping against her feet, she managed to widen the distance from her attacker. Hope sparked within me.

She tripped and crashed to the ground.

“Oh, come on.” I leaned forward. “Get up! Get up!”

The shadowy silhouette of a man aiming an ax at a victim kneeling on the forest floor.Instead of scrambling to her feet, she cowered in the leaves.

“Well, at least grab a tree branch to defend yourself.”

But she only whimpered, “No, please, no,” while the killer stood over her adjusting his grip on the ax.

“Pathetic.” I sighed.

The killer’s blade whistled through the air. Thwack! Blood spurted.

Warm wetness splattered my hand.

I yelped and flung myself in the opposite direction.

Then my brain remembered the psycho couldn’t crawl through the TV screen. From the arm of the couch, I glared at Maximus, the seventy-pound pooch taking up more than his fair share of the brown cushions. He was a Frankenstein mutt cobbled together from the parts of purebred ancestors. At least one of those ancestors drooled. A lot. “Holy shit, Max, are you trying to give me a heart attack?”A big white fuzzy dog panting and lounging on a brown couch.

He chuffed in a way that sounded suspiciously like a yes.

“Jerk.” I ruffled his white, furry head.

His mouth dropped into a panting smile. Then he nosed my shoulder.

“Really? You have to go out just when the killer is about to give his ‘why I did it’ monologue?”

Max blinked innocently, like he’d never interrupt my cinematic experience for a bathroom break. Then he barked in my face.

I huffed. “Okay, fine. Those speeches are always ridiculous anyway. Let’s go.”

Before I could shove myself off the couch, Max’s giant German Shepherd ears swiveled toward a sound that sent my heart into tap-dance mode: footsteps on the stairs.

I grabbed the remote and fumbled to turn off the TV.

The footsteps reached the hardwood floor of the hallway. The clicking of my mom’s high heels implied tonight’s do-gooder event was a fancy one. “Brea,” she called out, “I thought I heard a scream. You aren’t watching one of those awful movies, are you?”

“No, I’m doing my pre-calc homework.” I slid the nearby textbook onto my lap and opened it to the middle.

Max’s Husky blue eyes glared at me in disapproval. Or maybe he just really needed to pee.

Mom swept into the family room in a elegant black suit dress, her brown hair pulled into a tight bun, which made the streaks of grey more prominent. Her eyes were focused on her phone screen. As usual. “Good, we don’t have time for one of your escapades tonight.” A white woman with brown hair in a bun and a black jacket texts on her phone.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Nothing, honey.”

I stage whispered to Max, “Our lives are boring; when do we ever have escapades?”

Mom frowned at her phone, but I didn’t know if it was meant for me or if the caterer had used the wrong tablecloths for tonight’s charity thingie. Her fingers danced across the screen. “Let’s see, off the top of my head, how about the time you thought our mailman was the top fugitive on the FBI’s most wanted list? Or when you were convinced you’d seen a UFO that turned out to be a remote-controlled plane? Or when you swore you saw Elvis at the gas station?”

My cheeks warmed. “Those were just misunderstandings. And they were years ago.”

“How about two weeks ago when you made us come home early because you were positive there was a killer in the attic?”

I narrowed my eyes at Max. He’d kept staring at the ceiling and barking, scaring the crap out of me. “Well, to be fair, Dad did find rat droppings in the attic, and rodents can carry deadly diseases, so technically I was right about a killer in the attic.”

The corners of her mouth curved into a smile before she smothered it. “Regardless, sixteen is too old to keep letting your imagination run away with you like that. And we don’t need any distractions because tonight’s fundraiser is very important.”

“That’s what you say about all of them,” I muttered under my breath.

She continued tapping on her screen without looking up. “So please try to have a quiet evening with your geometry.”

My lips tightened. “Pre-calculus.”

Mom finally looked up with the same confused look Max got when I squeezed his squeaky toy behind my back. “What?” A white hand with a silver watch pets a fluffy white dog.

My fingers reached for the soft fur at the base of Max’s ears. “Geometry was two years ago. I’m in pre-calc this year.”

“That’s right. You’re growing up so fast it’s hard to keep track of your schedule.”

But juggling her one million different volunteer activities was a snap. “I’m taking Max out.”

Mom returned her attention to her phone before waving in my general direction. “Okay, honey. Your dad and I’ll be leaving in a minute. Order yourself some pizza.”

Oh, goody, pizza again. Bet the delivery guy knew I was in pre-calc this year.

I glanced around the room, trying to remember where I’d left Max’s leash. Framed photos lined the walls, a shrine to the people my parents had helped while volunteering around the world before I was born. Or at least that’s what they claimed they’d been doing. Because of the dicey places they’d been, I sometimes wondered if they’d actually been spying for the CIA.

All those photos of people smiling with my parents, and not a single photo of me in the room. Not that I needed a picture of myself to know what I looked like: stubbornly straight brown hair, brown eyes, pale skin, and a few dots that couldn’t decide if they were moles or freckles.

I finally spotted Max’s purple leash poking out from under the couch. He started wiggling and dancing in circles when I grabbed it. I managed to hold him still long enough to clip the leash to his collar, but he hauled me to the door so fast I didn’t dare go upstairs to grab my phone. I was not in the mood to clean up a yellow puddle.

Outside, the moon and stars played hide-and-seek through clouds creeping across the dark sky. The air smelled like rain and felt sticky on my bare arms. Although the official start of fall was around the corner, in South Carolina we wouldn’t need long sleeves until November.

Max sniffed every tree and bush around the house but apparently judged them all unworthy. I jiggled his leash. “Come on, I thought you were desperate.”

He tugged me to the sidewalk and then ambled down the block, investigating the greenery. I heaved a hurricane-strength sigh. “Hurry up, or I’m tying a knot in your boy parts.”

Max’s giant ears perked up. Then he bolted, practically wrenching my arm out of its socket before the leash ripped from my hand.  White dog running through the forest at night.

“Max, get your furry butt back here!”

He didn’t even slow down.

“Maximus, come here! Or no treats for a week!”

His fluffy, white tail disappeared into the woods at the end of the street. What was he doing? After dark was not the appropriate time for him to discover his inner Lewis and Clark.

Hollering his name, I trudged to the edge of the woods. The glow from the streetlights didn’t reach past the first line of trees. I’d watched enough horror movies to know nothing good ever happened in the woods at night.

“Max,” I shouted, “if you don’t come out now, I’m leaving you.”

When Max didn’t reappear, I turned back toward my house. But after a few steps, I thought about the way he woke me up every morning by licking my cheek with his purple Chow tongue, and I knew I was going in after him.

“Stupid, stupid, stupid,” I grumbled as I dug my keychain out of my jeans pocket. It had one of those tiny lights, and I figured I could use the keys as a weapon if needed. Not really the best equipment for a nighttime hiking expedition, but it would have to do.

At the exact moment I stepped into the trees, thunder grumbled in the distance. I narrowed my eyes at the cloud-covered sky. “You have got to be kidding me.”

The thunder grumbled back to prove it definitely wasn’t kidding.

My pitiful keychain light picked up a flash of white.


I sent up a quick prayer to whichever god was foolhardy enough to watch over idiotic teenagers who wandered in the woods … by themselves … at night … with a storm coming and ran after Max.

“Max, please come here!”

He continued to ignore me, and I continued to follow the path of swaying vegetation he left in his wake.

The trees loomed closer, their leaves whispering to each other. Their branches snatched at my hair.

I swung my arms to fend them off and pushed deeper into the darkness.

A gust of wind blew past. Tingles danced across my neck. Something was watching me. Stalking me.

I shook my head. Stop creeping yourself out.

No longer able to see Max’s trail, I stopped to listen for him blundering through the underbrush. All I heard was an echo of thunder and the continual chatter of wind in the trees.

A branch snapped behind me.

I froze. Something bigger than Max had made that sound. Plus, I was pretty sure he was in front of me. Moment of truth: would I rather see the machete as it descended into my forehead or be surprised when it split the back of my skull? The light from a flashlight sweeping around a night forest.

I whipped around.

Nothing there. But then again, I could spit farther than my light reached, so who knows what might have been lurking only a few feet away in the darkness?

“Hello?” I almost smacked my forehead when the shaky word slipped out. How many times had I mocked people in movies for doing that?

Something crunched through the leaves a few yards in front of me although still outside the reach of the light.

No reason to be scared, Brea, it’s just your imagination. It’s just your imagination. It’s just your—

The crunching came again.

Not your imagination!

I whirled and raced in the direction I thought Max had headed, hoping he’d protect me.

“Max! Max! Where are you?” I used that shouty-whisper voice, which is really stupid: the person you want is never going to hear you, and it’s only going to pinpoint your position to the bad guy hot on your trail.

Fortunately, the person I wanted happened to be a dog with enormous ears, and Max’s answering bark resonated through the trees like a homing signal.

Max kept barking, and I sprinted toward him, dodging trees and ducking branches.

The urge to check behind me became overwhelming. Even if it slowed me down, I had to look.

Nothing there.

As I turned back to the front, I saw the log.

Too late.

Lightning streaking across the night sky.I crashed to the ground. The momentum rolled me over and stole my breath. My lungs screamed for air. Lightning flashed behind the shadowy clouds. Or maybe that was my brain firing as I blacked out?

I managed to suck in a gasp of air. Then another. I could finally move again and scooted behind a clump of bushes. I reached for my phone.

Dammit! It was in my room charging.

My ragged panting drowned out other sounds, so I held my breath. Were those footsteps? All I could hear for sure was Max’s frantic barking.

Then he cut off mid-bark.

A dizzying coldness washed through me. Had the maniac followed Max’s barking and done something horrific to him?

A whimper escaped before I clamped my hand over my mouth. All those times my parents were out helping other people, Max’s warm head resting on my leg had assured me someone thought I was special. A sob swelled, but I pushed it down; I would cry for Max later. First, I had to get out of here alive.

Then I heard it … rustling in the leaves. Moving fast. Toward me. My whimper had given away my position. Too late to run.

Instead of preparing to defend myself, I squeezed my eyes shut. Pathetic.

A solid body knocked me over. Hot breath enveloped my face. A warm tongue licked my cheek.

An oddly familiar tongue.

A white dog licking the face of a young white woman in the evening forest.My eyes popped open to find my attacker standing over me with a goofy grin on his white, furry face. The suppressed sob broke free but emerged as a wobbly laugh. I wrapped my arms around Max’s neck and showered his face with kisses. He wriggled free, tail wagging.

“Max, you’re alive!”

He gave a playful yip, clearly telling me I was silly for believing otherwise.

“But what about the homicidal maniac?” I whispered, glancing around.

He cocked his head, and his bushy Retriever tail fanned the air. He didn’t seem very concerned, so maybe it was safe to leave the shelter of the bushes.

Trying to listen and look in all directions at once, I climbed to my feet. No one came hurtling at me, so I did a three-sixty with the keychain light. Tree limbs danced in the wind, but I didn’t see anything suspicious.

I ruffled the fur on top of Max’s head, and my pulse evened out. “So what was it, Max? A extra chunky opossum waddling through the woods?”

The image made me chuckle, and Max wagged his tail faster.

“Maybe Mom’s right about cutting back on the scary movies.”

BOOM! I jumped at the sharp clap of thunder.

Max panted as he watched me. I cleared my throat. “Let’s get out of here.”

Max did a little prance, turned in a circle, walked a few steps, and sat down. He always did this dance to lead me to his food dish whenever he thought I’d waited too late to feed him.

“Max, I already fed you tonight.”

Prance, circle, walk, sit.

“Okay, after that excitement, I think we both deserve a snack. But you’re going the wrong way.”

Prance, circle, walk, sit.

“Stop that. You’ve already scared enough years off my life. And it’s about to rain. We’re going home. Now.” I stomped over to grab his dragging leash, but he took off through the trees.

“Dammit, Max, not again!”The camera follows the back of a woman as she runs through the evening woods.

He resumed his frantic barking, so I raced after the sound.

I burst from the trees into a small clearing. Even in the dark, I recognized it as the clearing I used to play in with my best friend Kylie and her super-cute older brother Caleb. It was our secret, magical sanctuary. We’d had so much fun being pirates, elves, and wild beasts. Then brutal reality had invaded five years ago, and we’d never gone back.

A sharp bark from Max interrupted my thoughts, and I turned to find him pawing at a pile of rags. I pointed the tiny light at the pile, and the dizzying cold washed through me again.

It wasn’t a pile of rags.