Emily was drowning. It was very cold, and dark, and--where was she? The water was choppy, and deep, and seemed to be swirling around her. She tried to swim, but the current was too strong. Then, a huge wave came rushing towards her, and she felt herself being sucked under.
She fought her way back to the surface, gasping and choking and fighting for air. Okay, okay, she shouldn't panic. It would only make things worse, if she panicked. Even though she couldn't breathe, or think, or--the water was salty. Very salty. Ocean water. She was somewhere in the ocean!
She tried to yell for help, just as another wave washed over her, and she gulped a mouthful of seawater, instead. It tasted awful, and she coughed as hard as she could, trying to spit it out. The surf was so rough that it was hard to stay afloat, and she paddled frantically, trying to keep her head above water. She knew how to swim--she was sure she knewhow to swim--but, for some reason, she couldn't seem to remember any of the things she had been taught. So, she just thrashed around wildly, hoping to find a rock, or a buoy, or anything she could reach out and grab.
How had she gotten here? Had they been out on a sailboat? Or one of her mother's kayaks? Her parents never let her go in the ocean by herself, even in the daytime! There was no moon, and she couldn't see any lights, so she must be way far out. Alone. In the middle of the ocean. The thought of that was so scary that she screamed for help, but only managed to choke on more water. She gasped and coughed until she could breathe again, paddling frantically the entire time.
"Mom!" she shouted. "Dad! Where are you?"
But, the only thing she could hear was the pounding of the waves, and the only thing she could see was the pitch-black night.
She was going to drown. Right here, right now. Her arms and legs were getting weaker, and she knew she was going to drown. She was so tired--and scared--that she wanted to give up and let herself go under, but she decided to call for them one more time and see if they could save her before she--
"Emily," a voice was saying.
Her mother's voice. She wasn't alone! Emily twisted around in the water, trying to find her. There was too much water in her lungs for her to be able to speak, and she coughed violently, her whole body convulsing with the effort.
"Emily," her mother said, sounding gentle. "Emily, wake up."
Her mother was a really good swimmer, so they would be safe. Her mother would figure out some way to--"Where's the boat?" Emily gasped.
"Wake up, Emily," her mother said. "Everything's okay."
Emily looked around, trying to locate her in the dark water--but, it wasn't dark. And, suddenly, they weren't in the water. They were in her room, with the light on. Her mother was sitting on the edge of the bed, looking worried, and her cat, Josephine, was staring at her from on top of the dresser. Now, her father was coming into the bedroom, too, looking sleepy and confused--and very nearsighted as he fumbled to put on his glasses.
"What happened?" he asked. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing," her mother said calmly. "Emily just had a bad dream. Everything's okay now."
Her father frowned. "Another? Were you drowning again?"
Emily still felt scared and trembly, but she definitely was in her room, safe indoors. Not in the ocean. Not lost. Not alone. And, most important, she wasn't about to drown. She checked her t-shirt, which felt dry, so she must not have been anywhere near the water, even though the dream had seemed completely real. Incredibly real. "I-I think so," she said, and coughed some more, because her lungs still felt--weird. Congested.
Her father frowned again. "Three nights in a row?"
The nightmare had been a little bit different each time, but yeah, she had been having bad dreams for several days, and almost all of them were about drowning. "Is it weird to have it more than once?" she asked uneasily.
Her mother shook her head. "No, of course not. You're probably just overtired from the game."
Emily was still trying to wake up, so she wasn't sure what that meant, but then she remembered. She and her father had driven down to Portland to watch the Sea Dogs play, and the game had gone into extra innings, so they had gotten home much later than they had planned. Her father hated exercise--of all kinds, but he loved to watchsports. Her mother, on the other hand, was surprisingly athletic--but, did not enjoy being a spectator.
"And, you know, we ate quite a lot," her father said thoughtfully.
That was for sure. Her father had had a hot dog, a lobster roll, and a fish sandwich, and she'd gotten popcorn, cotton candy, some fried dough, a huge soda, and two Sea Dog Biscuits--which were ice cream sandwiches made of vanilla ice cream and chocolate chip cookies. On top of that, their team had lost, after the bullpen gave up a whole bunch of runs in the twelfth inning, which had made her feel kind of sick. Then, when they turned on the car radio on the way back home, they found out that the Red Sox had lost, too--which was always upsetting news, for people who lived in New England.
But, at least they had gotten bobbleheads.
"Maybe you had the nightmare because of the bullpen," her father said, and shuddered a little. "I know I had trouble falling asleep."
Emily's mother laughed. "Go back to bed, Theo, okay?"
While her father gave her a hug good-night,her mother went out to the bathroom and came back with a wet washcloth. She sat back down on the edge of the bed and used the towel to sponge off Emily's face.
Cool washcloths were her mother's cure for all illnesses. "I don't think I have a fever, Mom," Emily said, although she coughed experimentally, just to make sure she wasn't sick.
Her mother shrugged. "Well, just in case."
Josephine, who was a small, round tiger cat, landed noisily on the bed. When she was younger, Emily's father had read her a poem about fog--and they had lots of fog in Maine--coming in on "little cat feet." That might be true, but Josephine had always been really, really loud. She walked loudly, ate loudly, and purred loudly. When Emily had pointed this out to her father, he had frowned for a minute, and then said, "Well, that just makes her the exception to prove the rule."
Anyway, Josephine sat down on the quilt, yawned a big yawn, and then began to wash her own face very delicately.
"I think she wants you to do it for her," Emily said.
Her mother shrugged. "Okay," she said, andwiped the washcloth lightly across the top of Josephine's head.
Josephine reacted with an expression of complete cat horror, and leaped back onto the dresser to safety. That was pretty funny, and normally, Emily would have laughed, but she still felt--strange. Confused. A little bit dizzy.
"Do you think you're going to have any trouble getting back to sleep?" her mother asked.
Emily looked over at the clock, and saw that it was almost three in the morning. She knew she should be tired, but she wasn't. If anything, she felt sort of jumpy and nervous. Tense. Alert. Wide awake. "I don't know," she said nervously. "I'm not sure. I feel weird."
Her mother reached down to touch her forehead with the back of her hand. "Well, you don't seem to be warm."
No, she felt cold. Really cold. And scared, and lost, and alone--even though she was right here, at home, with her parents, and her cat, in her own bedroom. But she was still more scared than she had ever been in her whole life.
"Are you all right?" her mother asked.
Could she have a nightmare while she was stillawake? Because it seemed that way. She suddenly felt like she wasn't even inside of herself--and it was really, really scary.
"What's wrong?" her mother asked, looking at her attentively.
Emily shook her head. "I don't know," she said, hearing her voice shake. "I think there's something wrong with me."
DOG WHISPERER. Copyright © 2009 by Nicholas Edwards.