"An intense werewolf story with some interesting new twists."
Reviewed by Sue Burke
Posted February 6, 2009
Veterinarian Abra Barrow has almost a sixth sense when it
comes to animals, but very little sense when it comes to
people; and when it comes to men, no sense at all. When
Abra's husband, Hunter, comes home from a three-month
research trip in Romania, she knows there is a change in
him, but it's nothing she can put her finger on...yet. As
their marriage begins to flounder, Hunter tells her he's
leaving her. He's returning to his family's home town of
Northside to "figure things out." Desperate to save her
marriage, Abra quits her job and moves with him.
Manhattan to Northside is almost too much of a transition
for Abra. The house is isolated and the townspeople wary of
outsiders. Abra does have one friend in Northside, a
wildlife removal operator named Red. As Hunter pulls away
from Abra even more, she begins to depend on Red. A bond
grows between the two of them, and though she's still
married, she knows Red is the man she's meant to be with.
It's not long before Abra figures out her husband's secret.
And not long after that, she figures out Hunter and Red
have more in common than she would have thought. Then comes
the day when her world really spins out of control -- Abra
is changing too. She doesn't know how or why, but she's
becoming a creature of dense woods and moonlight. Now she's
part of a world that only a short time ago she didn't even
believe in. Abra's search for her own identity has just
Sheckley takes her time setting up Abra's world and its
inhabitants. The story is character-based with most of the
emphasis on how Abra views her world and her reactions when
reality, as she knows it, starts to change. The plot
explodes in the third act and Sheckley brings it all home
as her characters all come together in a final (or is it?)
violent confrontation. A werewolf story with some
interesting new twists, look for the sequel MOONBURN in May
SHE KNOWS WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE.
Manhattan veterinarian Abra Barrow has more sense about
animals than she
has about men. So when her adored journalist husband returns
research trip to Romania and starts pacing their apartment
like a caged
wolf, Abra agrees to move with him to a rural mansion
upstate in order to save her marriage.
But while there are perks to her new life, particularly in
Abra soon discovers that nothing in the bucolic town of
what it seems. The local tavern serves a dangerous,
underworld. Her husband has developed feral new appetites
and a roving
eye, and his lack of humanity isnâ€™t entirely emotional. As
the moon waxes full, Abra must choose between trusting the
man she married, taking a chance on a seductive stranger, or
following her own animal instincts.
There are many different Manhattans. Which one you
happen to live in depends partly on geography and
partly on perception. I live on the Upper West Side, in
the midst of an eccentric animal kingdom.
In my Manhattan, people like their animals big:
aristocratic hunting dogs with wide, soft mouths,
overfed guard dogs and pit bull mixes, sled dogs that
have kept the look of a wolf about them. These are
large animals for large apartments: six- room prewars,
with a couple of children and possibly a weekend home
in the Hamptons. Nobody has time to go jogging with the
dog anymore, and the nanny refuses to pick up feces
from the sidewalk, so a walker is hired.
Elsewhere, on the East Side, are toy breeds with
their adorably hydrocephalic heads. The own ers are
older; the children have grown up and been replaced by
skittish canine midgets with the appeal of perpetual
Downtown are the elaborately designed fashion
victims, entrancingly ugly breeds with faces wreathed
in wrinkles, their noses squashed up between their
eyes. They are dragged behind their fit and fabulous
own ers, panting from their deformed jaws.
And then there are the exotics: lizards, parrots,
rabbits, the odd squirrel monkey or de- glanded skunk.
I donâ€™t usually see these outside of work, but then,
theyâ€™re not my specialty: They belong to someone elseâ€™s
Manhattan. So I suppose I was a little startled to see
the man with the baby barn owl on his shoulder,
although not as surprised as the other subway
The man had a quality of alertness about him
that didnâ€™t quite seem to match his appearance. He had
that look you get from sleeping rough: T-shirt not
quite clean, the worn cotton molded to his wiry chest.
I noticed that the manâ€™s eyes were a pale hazel, almost
yellow, as he kept moving his gaze around the subway
car, careful not to make eye contact with anyone. I
wondered where he had found the little gray bird, which
had sunk into itself, but stopped myself from asking
him. Most people think theyâ€™re rescuing owlets when
all theyâ€™re really doing is stealing the baby on its
first day out of the nest. My friend Lilliana can
explain this to people and theyâ€™ll frown and say they
had no idea, but when I open my mouth, people tend to
get red in the face and become defensive.
The little owl huddled closer to the manâ€™s neck and
he reached back and patted it, shifting his other hand
from strap to pole. A blond businesswoman sidled away
and I saw the man notice.
Then, for a moment, the man met my eyes, a
halfsmile on his lips, as if he had something amusing
to impart. I turned away from him, because I donâ€™t
approve of people wearing animals as accessories.
Particularly wild creatures, which are far more
delicate than you might think.
I knew this because we get the odd raptor at the
Animal Medical Institute. Weâ€™re the only veterinary ser
vice in the New York area that caters to exotics, so
weâ€™re pretty much the only game in town if your
anaconda loses its appetite or your parrot breaks its
foot. Weâ€™re also the only place in the tristate area
that can do dialysis on cats and the best place to give
your dog chemo.
But somehow I didnâ€™t think the raggedy man was
taking his little pal in for a checkup. I was wondering
if I owed it to the owl to intervene when the subway
screeched to a stop and the doors opened. There was a
reshuffling of bodies and I realized that the person
pressing against my back had gotten off, giving me room
to breathe again. Reflexively, I lifted my hand to adjust my
pocketbook strap, only to find that there was no
I felt a moment of disorientation. Was it possible
that Iâ€™d left home without it? Had it fallen to the
floor? And then, on the heels of these thoughts, the
realization: Someone had stolen my bag. I said it out
loud, half in disbelief, just as the subway gave a hiss
and a jolt, the doors closed, and the train began to
I looked around, wildly, as if I expected the thief
to still be there. But of course, whoever it was would
have gotten off the train. Around me, people were
watching with various degrees of sympathy, alarm, and
disinterest. I met the raggedy manâ€™s eyes and he gave a
little shrug as if to say, Sorry, but it wasnâ€™t me.
A heavyset woman with a vast ledge of a bosom
patted my shoulder, and there were murmurs from
the other women and some of the men. â€śWhat
happened?â€ť â€śSomebody stole her bag.â€ť â€śDidnâ€™t you feel
anything?â€ť I shook my head. â€śI didnâ€™t feel a thing.â€ť I
felt a rising panic as my fellow passengers checked
their own bags and briefcases and wallets. But they
were fine, while I was suddenly stranded without money,
credit cards, cell phone, and keys. I tried to remember
how much cash Iâ€™d been carry ing. Crap. Iâ€™d just gone
to the bank yesterday after work.
â€śThey carry knives,â€ť said a thin teenage boy, his
oversized jeans hanging off his hips and revealing
white boxers. â€śThey just cut right through the strap,
and bamâ€“emergency surgery on your finances.â€ť He
looked at me with mock concern, aglow with his own
cleverness. For a moment, I suspected the cocky boy of
being the pickpocket, and then I turned, feeling the
owl man regarding me with heavily lidded eyes and a
cynical halfsmile. He knew what I was thinking, and I
could hear his judgment of me as if heâ€™d said it out
loud: racist. As if the color of the boyâ€™s skin had
anything to do with my momentary suspicion.
Flushed and embarrassed, I turned away. I
realized with a clench of anger that the man had been
observing me for a whileâ€“he might even have witnessed
my being robbed without bothering to warn me. My heart
pounding, I felt a wild urge to accuse him. He met my
eyes as if he could read this thought as well, and then
the subway lurched to a stop. Without actually making a
decision, I found myself pushing through the crowd to
On the subway platform, I tried to think things
through. I was already going to be late for rounds, but
I couldnâ€™t wait till lunchtime to cancel all my credit
cards. And whoever had taken my bag had my house keys
along with my address. I had to tell my husband to
change our locks.
Reflexively, I reached for my cell phone before
remembering that of course, Iâ€™d lost that, too. I made
my way back to the station agent, who was hiding
behind the Plexiglas, pretending to be deaf.
â€śIâ€™m sorry,â€ť I said, trying to keep the note of
hysteria out of my voice, â€śbut my purse was just
stolen. Do you think I could borrow your phone to make
a local call?â€ť
â€śIâ€™ll make the call for you,â€ť said the woman,
apparently thinking this was some elaborate ruse to
bilk the MTA. Maybe I should have gone for more
hysteria. I told her my number and waited as she
lethargically dialed my home.
â€śNobodyâ€™s home.â€ť She regarded me with blank indifference.
â€śHe is home, heâ€™s just sleeping the sleep of the
seriously jet- lagged. Can you please try again?â€ť My
husband had just come back from Romania last night
looking ill from fatigue, a good fifteen pounds thinner
than Iâ€™d ever seen him before.
The station agent stared at me for a moment, as
if weighing her options. In the end, she redialed the
number, using a pen to protect her inch- long nails.
Hunter, I prayed, please wake up and answer the phone.
I hadnâ€™t been expecting him for another week, and had
nearly jumped out of my skin when he walked in the door
as I was eating day- old Thai food from the carton with
my fingers. Heâ€™d been sick with a stomach bug, heâ€™d
explained, and had changed his ticket. No, he didnâ€™t
feel up to giving me the details just yet, and yes,
if he needed a doctor heâ€™d call one. His tone implied
we were having an argument, and mine implied I hadnâ€™t
noticed. Iâ€™d gone to bed at eleven and actually fallen
asleep fairly quickly, an unusual occurrence for me. I
had no idea when Hunter joined me, but at three a.m.,
when I woke up, he was on my right, snoring lightly
from his attractively once- broken nose. For a moment I
had wished him gone again, so I could pamper my chronic
insomnia without restraintâ€“turning the lights on,
surfing the tele vi sion, eating breakfast cereal in
Then he had spooned his body around mine, a rare
intimacy, and I had felt his warm breath on the back of
my neck. Savoring the closeness, I had remained
motionless while my left arm fell asleep and he began
to snore again. I hated to bother him now, and knew
heâ€™d probably be irritated at first, but heâ€™d
understand once I explained what had happened.
â€śStill not home,â€ť said the station agent, hanging
up the phone. â€śYou want to talk to the police about
the theft of your personal possessions?â€ť
â€śNo,â€ť I said, disconsolate. â€śCould you just let me
back through the turnstile so I can go home?â€ť
The station agent buzzed me through and I retraced my
steps in a sort of daze, making my way to the
downtown platform, then to the crosstown shuttle,
which took me back to the West Side, where I could
catch the Broadway local. It took me three trains and
forty minutes during rush hour to get to work each day.
Most of my fellow interns had taken housing near the
center, but Hunter hadnâ€™t wanted to give up our
brownstone apartment on the Upper West Side.
Wishing that there were some way to call my team to let
them know why I was so late, I emerged from the subway
and headed for Riverside Drive. An unseasonably cool
wind was whipping in from the water. It had been the
coolest summer in over one hundred years, and now fall
seemed ready to bring the curtain down on a lackluster
per for mance.
As I quickened my pace to a jog, I felt a twinge
of cramp low in my left ovary. I was about twenty- five
days into my cycle, but Iâ€™m not all that regular; Iâ€™m
one of those women who skip months, then get their
periods every three weeks for a while, then start going
into a sixweek cycle. Still, I felt that sort of warm
looseness in my abdomen that usually heralds the start
My gynecologist said that I might find it difficult
to become pregnant. I told my husband this last year
and he said, Itâ€™s probably for the best. I should
explain that there is a history of mental illness in
Hunterâ€™s family: His motherâ€™s sister became
schizophrenic at the age of nineteen and his mother
committed suicide when he was a teenager. Hunter is
moody, the kind of moody people expect from writers,
but he always says heâ€™s not sure he should have
children. He spent most of his adolescence wondering if
one day madness would explode in him like a time bomb;
and I think he worries that if we had a baby, heâ€™d spend the
next twenty years waiting to see what might detonate in
I suppose Iâ€™m ambivalent about becoming a mother. Iâ€™m
not sure I have the vocation for it, and I think my own
mother is a good example of what can happen if you have
a child without one. I mean, Mom wasnâ€™t quite in the
â€śMommie Dearestâ€ť league, but she did like
making scenes. Maybe itâ€™s something to do with being a
film actress. Perhaps movie stars, even â€śBâ€ť ones,
In any case, my schedule wouldnâ€™t allow for a baby.
I had this year of internship to get through, a
residency to apply for, and a husband who was away more
often than he was home.
Ner vous ly checking my watch, I turned the corner
on Eighty- fourth Street and finally reached our
building. Hunter and I had spent the past four years
living in one of those modest turn- of- the- century
mansions that had been subdivided into small
apartments, so that the whole structure is like one big
dysfunctional family. We lived on the second floor, in
the only apartment without a bricked- in fireplace. But
we did have a balcony of which we were inordinately
proud, even if it was barely large enough to
accommodate two chairs and a portable mini- barbecue.
What our building didnâ€™t have, of course, was a
doorman to let me in. I buzzed our intercom repeatedly,
to no avail. I tried the friendly couple of middle-
aged men in the garden apartment first, and then the
angry family who had the nicer duplex above us. Also
not at home. Great. Sinking down onto a floor littered
with Chinese take- out menus, I blinked back tears of
frustration. Clearly, I should have just gone on to
work, but now I was here and unless Hunter let me in I
didnâ€™t have the money to get back to the Animal Medical
Of course, I could hike a few miles across the
park, but I was probably going to get my period today.
Call me prudish, but I donâ€™t feel comfortable going up
to other women in a quest for pads or tampons. I
donâ€™t even like sitting in a stall talking to another
woman, particularly if thereâ€™s going to be any grunting
involved. I blame my mother. She was so intent on my
not being ashamed of my body and its functions that she
instilled in me a fiercely beleaguered sense of
And Hunter was in there. All I had to do was rouse him
out of his coma. Feeling more than a little
desperate, I pressed all the buzzers one last time,
then went outside and shouted â€śHunter, itâ€™s meâ€ť at the
top of my lungs while searching around for a rock to
throw against our window.
And then, looking up at our balcony, I thought: I
can just climb up there. Not by going straight up
our buildingâ€“the first floor was faced with 1940s flat
yellow brickwork, which didnâ€™t offer a hand- or
foothold. But the Victorians whoâ€™d designed our
neighborsâ€™ place hadnâ€™t worried much about crime.
Whoever had built the entrance had arranged foot- long
concrete rectangles into a pattern around the black
iron- and- glass doors, giving the house a vaguely
medieval look. Right under their first- floor terrace
was a little black iron lamp, a perfect handhold. Their
terrace was only two feet away from ours.
A twelve- year- old would have seen this in an
instant. Most adults stop looking at the world as
something that can be climbed, unless theyâ€™re of the
breaking- andentering persuasion.
But back before I sold my soul to the Animal
Medical Institute, I used to do some rock climbing at
the Chelsea Piers gym. Iâ€™m good at anything that
requires methodical attention to detail, and I actually
got to the point where I was developing a few muscles
in my legs and rear, and was looking a bit less like a
loaf of white bread. Then AMI accepted my application
for an internship and I lost all semblance of a life.
The only obstacle to climbing the ten feet to our
balcony was my outfit. Hunter had always said that he
had never known a woman who spent as much money
on sacks as I did, but I like comfortable clothes in
rich fabrics, the sort of thing you could wear to a
medieval fair and pass as a rich guildsmanâ€™s wife. That
day I happened to be wearing my Eileen Fisher wide-
legged pants in soft brown cotton paired with a deep
gold cotton tunic, not ideal for scaling the facades of
buildings, even small ones. I tucked my pant legs into
my socks and looked around to make sure no one was
watching. Luckily, ours is pretty much a block of opera
singers and older people, so the police donâ€™t cruise by
It was almost as easy as I had thought. The
footholds were generous, almost two inches wide, and I
was about twelve feet up, right under the balcony, when
I reached the lamp. It was bolted in, solid enough to
step on. I suppose I looked like one of those graceless
little girls you see in the playground, heaving their
sturdy little bodies up the monkey bars, but I got
myself over the wroughtiron terrace railing. There was
only one bad moment, where I had to balance on the
neighborsâ€™ railing before jumping over the two feet
onto our balcony. I was about to step over when I heard
a dog barking.
I looked down to see an overexcited dachshund with
a dapper old man attached. The man looked familiar,
and I realized he lived in our building. You couldnâ€™t
have come home two minutes earlier, I thought sourly.
â€śAnd what do you think youâ€™re doing, young woman?â€ť
â€śItâ€™s my apartment,â€ť I said. â€śI live here.â€ť His dog
â€śI should call the police!â€ť
â€śPlease donâ€™t. Iâ€™m Abra Barrow, your neighbor in 2B.â€ť
â€śWait a minute, donâ€™t I know you?â€ť He pointed
his finger up at me. â€śThe girl. The actress.â€ť
â€śThe vet. Iâ€™m a vet. My husband didnâ€™t hear the
phone, and I lost my key.â€ť
â€śThe key! Lost the key!â€ť
Another old man, thinner and bearded, joined the first.
â€śWhatâ€™s she doing? Breaking and entering?â€ť
â€śNah, nah, itâ€™s her apartment. Husband trouble.â€ť
â€śHey! You! Girl!â€ť The bearded man sounded angry.
â€śLook, itâ€™s really okay . . .â€ť I started to turn to face
him better, lost my grip, and reached over to grab the
railing of our balcony. Unfortunately, this left me in
the awkward position of having my feet on one building
and my hands on the other.
â€śGet your leg over! Your right leg! These kids
donâ€™t know how to climb trees, is the problem.â€ť
â€śAs a boy, I climbed trees, houses, barns. In
Ukraine.â€ť The dachshund gave a little bark of
I stepped over to our balcony, then turned back to
the men, who had now been joined by an el der ly woman
in a fox- trimmed winter coat.
â€śIâ€™m safe, you guys. Thanks.â€ť
â€śNext time ask us, weâ€™ll let you in. Sidney has all
the keys to the apartments in that building,â€ť said the
bearded man. I waved. People think the city is big and
impersonal. The suburbs, where I grew up, are big and
impersonal. The city is a patchwork of tiny provincial
villages without clear borders, each with its own
yenta, postmodern revolutionary, and idiot.
From the street, I heard the old woman ask,
â€śWhatâ€™s that girl doing up there, Grisha?â€ť
â€śSheâ€™s a veterinarian. With husband problems.â€ť
Maybe I was the town idiot.
I tried our window. Thank God, weâ€™d left it open.
I shoved the glass up another foot and climbed inside,
and for a moment I stood in our living room, feeling
very good about myself. I was the prince scaling
Rapunzelâ€™s tower without a hair rope; I was Robin Hood
sneaking into the Sheriffâ€™s stronghold.
Then, with a start, I realized how very unsafe my
apartment was. During the three months that Hunter had
been away, I had often left the window open. Until that
moment, it had never occurred to me that I was
within harmâ€™s way whenever harm might take a notion to
come find me.
But if a modestly athletic twenty- nine- year-old
woman could climb up here and break into her own
apartment, then it didnâ€™t take a big bad wolf. Anyone
could get in. Distracted by these thoughts, I didnâ€™t
immediately notice the strange sounds coming from the
bedroom. My initial thought was that Hunter was having
a nightmare. He kept uttering little panting groans,
punctuated by a soft whimper that sounded almost like a
dogâ€™s. I walked toward the bedroom thinking, Maybe I
should wake him. Then I heard the rhythmic slapping
sound of flesh, and a chill of gooseflesh traveled down
my neck. That wasnâ€™t the sound of Hunter having a bad
dream. That was the sound of Hunter on the brink of
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