Janine gathered up her long skirts and raced through the stable yard to the kennels where the dogs were kept. She ran down the rows of pens, searching each one for Freddie. The dogs stared at her but didn’t say anything.
“Where is he?” she asked them.
The dogs only whined. Their tails were tucked between their legs, and their ears drooped.
Janine came to the cage at the end of the row where they kept the quarantined animals. It was empty.
Her dog was gone.
Something smelled strange. Janine sniffed. She reached into the cage, took out the bowl of water, and sniffed again. The water smelled weird. Janine sneezed.
Paul, the Kennel Master, came towards her. He walked stiffly, as if he waded through a stream. His gray hair stood on end. He carried an axe.
“Where is Freddie?” she asked. “What did you do with him?”
Paul opened his mouth and panted. There was something wrong with his expression. He spoke in short, terse bursts. “King’s orders. Put the dog down. Gone mad. Foaming at the mouth.”
“Freddie isn’t mad. He’s a good, kind, little dog who was just trying to protect me. Now where is he?”
“No choice.” Paul labored to breathe, sucking air in and out. “Sorry. Must obey.”
Janine swallowed hard. “You mean… you already kill him?”
Paul clutched the axe. Drops of sweat beaded his forehead. His hands shook, and his face was red, as if he strained to carry a huge bale of straw. “No. Old Bob did it. Took dog out back. I was. Too busy here. Dogs howling.”
Janine looked down the corridor. The kennel was silent. Not a single dog was saying a thing.
She frowned at Paul. He had the axe in front of him now. Sweat poured off him. His eyes were wide and staring.
Janine’s heart began to pound. “Paul? What’s wrong? You’re scaring me.”
Gasping for air, Paul’s eyes fixed on her. He slowly raised the axe.
Janine backed up, terrified. “Paul? What’s the matter? What are you doing?”
Paul ground his words out from between clenched teeth. “No choice. Must obey.” He raised the axe high above his head.
He was going to kill her.
Janine ducked under Paul’s upstretched arms and raced out of the kennels and around the back.
Paul howled in fury. Then he came after her with a pounding of heavy footsteps.
Janine ran for her life. The fields were quiet, smooth silver in the moonlight. No one was in sight. There was no one she could call for help.
She dashed across the fields and into the woods. The trees reached long, bony fingers out to grab at her dress. Yellow eyes stared at her from the shadows. In the distance, a wolf howled of his hunger. Bats fluttered around her. Worst of all, Paul was behind her, crashing through the underbrush, getting closer and closer.
She stumbled on the hem of her dress, tripped and fell.
Before she could get up, a hand seized her shoulder.