At night, she dreams she is a wolf.
She runs through fields, tall grass rippling around her sleek gray and white body. A clear night sky expands into the infinity above her, and the stars guide her toward a home she can never quite find.
When she wakes, she yearns to return to sleep, to the peace of her wolf-self. Every dream feels more real than the last; every morning it is harder to face the world once she wakes.
Like her mother before her she spends her days working ten-hour shifts on an assembly line in a factory. The other workers keep their distance. It has not always been this way. But just as she can’t remember when the dreams started, she can’t remember when things changed, or why.
She lives alone. There was a man, once, but he has long since gone. Now she sleeps alone in the middle of the double bed they bought together. Only sometimes does she regret the extra space. Still, in the moments after waking from her wolf-dreams, when the morning light feels harshest, she wonders if the days would be easier to bear if she did not carry them alone.
At night, she dreams she is a wolf.
In the morning, she wakes. Goes to work. Returns home. Dreams. Like the endless night sky of her dreams, the cycle of her life spreads out into the infinity before her.
She lays awake in bed one full moon night, bright moonlight filtering between thin curtains and settling on her face. Her body hurts; she can’t get comfortable enough to sleep, and the longer she is forced awake the more her anger grows.
A wolf howl cracks the night air, startling her. She has never heard a wolf around here, and for a moment she thinks she must have drifted to sleep. She sits up in her bed and pushes back the curtain, peaks out the window, tries to catch a glimpse of the howling creature. There is nothing. Just the same view as every night: tightly packed apartment buildings, scraggly trees planted by the city to fill a quota.
Lying back down, she finds that her body has stopped aching and her anger has left. She pulls the blanket up and enters her dream world, welcomes her wolf-self.
When she does not come to the factory the next day, the others are worried. No one can remember the last time she missed a day. Without her, the assembly line is thrown off. They try calling, but there is no answer.
On the second day she does not show up, does not answer their call, the others decide someone has to check on her. When the two chosen for the job reach her apartment there is no response to their knock. One of them tries the knob, finds it unlocked. Pushing the door open just a little, they call out her name. There is no answer. They let the door swing open fully, hitting the wall behind it with a dull thud.
The apartment is ruined. Deep scratches cover the walls around the bed, and the mattress has been ripped to shreds, springs sticking out at odd angles. The bedsheets are nothing but rags, the curtains tattered ribbons. Glass shards from the shattered window cover the floor, sparkling in the morning light.
Police are called. It is ruled a wild animal attack, even though there is no blood, even though there are no footprints, even though there is no sign of the kind of animal that could do something like this. Her body is never found.
They will say it was a tragic end to an innocent life. Some of them will cry. There will be a funeral, and flowers. Now that she is dead, they will talk of her work ethic, her friendly personality. People who never spoke to her in life will claim her as a friend in death. Stories will be crafted, tall-tales told of a life well lived. Post-death, they will rewrite her life.
Out past the edge of town, past the apartments, past the city-planted trees, in a place where few ever go, two wolves run free. One stops, tilts its head up to the moon, and howls, the sound vibrating through its gray and white body. The other wolf stops and howls in return. The two howls meet in the air, swirl together, spread out into the night sky, into the infinity above them.
Grace Carlson is a writer from Washington. She writes about travel, mental health, writing, and books. Sometimes she’s funny, or at least that’s what her mom says. Follow her on twitter @gracieawriter