Miya stared blankly at the piece of paper on her desk, patterns of small, black and white maple leaves dancing along the margins.
It was her teacher’s ill-conceived attempt to inspire feelings of national pride among a classroom of sleepy fourth graders. Forget bringing words to the page—she could still hear the alarm clock ringing in her ears. The maple leaves blurred and danced on the sheet of white as she squinted and rubbed her eyes.
“For this term’s ecology project, your assignment is to pick a Canadian animal to research and write a report on.”
Miya looked up at Ms. Li—definitely a morning person—and wondered if she could try some of that magic black bean juice her teacher drank every morning.
“You will be using library resources to do all your research—both print books and the electronic databases we have installed on our computers…”
Miya sighed loudly. She hated doing research at school. It was noisy and the other kids were distracting.
“…Your job is to find out everything there is to know about your animal…”
And those databases sucked. The public library had way better books.
“…That means determining if your animal is a carnivore, an herbivore, or an omnivore. You’ll also have to research behavioural patterns, food sources, placement on the food chain, and most importantly, the relationship your animal has with its natural habitat. Why is this animal important for maintaining the balance of our ecosystems?”
Wasn’t the answer to that obvious? It was like playing dominos. If you knock out one species, the rest go down too.
“…Oh, and every student needs to have a different animal!”
And just like that, every hand in the room shot up.
“Ms. Li, can I do the polar bear?” came Leila’s frantic plea.
“But I also want to the polar bear!” whined Jeremy, his outburst followed by several others as Ms. Li raised fumbled to calm the class down.
“I’ll do the chipmunk!” squealed Elise, while several of the girls around her gasped in horror.
“You told me I could do the chipmunk!” came Penny’s accusation. “No take-backs!”
Ms. Li raised her voice over the other students, “Is there anyone planning on learning about an animal they don’t think someone else will want?”
Slowly, Miya raised her hand.
Ms. Li blinked in rapid succession like she was fighting back her obvious astonishment. The broody nine-year-old who always sat in the back and rarely ever spoke was volunteering to put an end to the bloodbath. “Yes, Emiliya?”
The young girl’s dark green eyes shifted around the room as she scanned the faces of her peers, taking note of their apparent stupor at seeing her participate for once. “I’ll do the wolf,” she said without elaboration.
“Why would you do that?” asked Timmy just as Ms. Li smiled and opened her mouth to respond. His face looked like he had just swallowed a rotten lemon peel.
“Why not?” Miya shrugged, frowning at the boy. “What’s wrong with wolves?”
“They’re scary! Duh!” It was Elise, she and her friends traded knowing glances—the kind that told Miya they thought she was a lost cause. “Everyone knows they’re bad. They eat people.”
“Don’t you know about the Dreamwalker?” Penny sneered, rolling her eyes while Timmy nodded in agreement.
“Yeah! Wolves kidnap girls for the Dreamwalker!” the boy added, his eyes bulging with excitement. “The whole town knows it!”
“They take girls to the witch! Wolves are the witch’s familiar!”
Miya clasped her hands tightly atop her desk. Maybe the witch only kidnapped the girls who were sick of Black Hollow “That’s just a story. It’s like Santa Claus—made up.”
There was a moment of stunned silence before the entire class burst into laughter.
“You’re crazy!” Elise yelled across the room. “Santa’s real too!”
Feeling the heat rise to her cheeks, Miya quickly ducked her head as Ms. Li tried to regain control of the classroom. Miya put her head down on the desk and buried her face in her arms. There was a lump in her throat—heavy like coal—but she refused to let the others see her cry.
No, she thought. She couldn’t be wrong. There was nothing to be afraid of. She knew the truth, even if no one else believed her. Wolves didn’t eat people, and if they really did steal people from the town, maybe it was to a better place.
Maybe if the wolves took her, she wouldn’t have to be here anymore.