Translated from the Hebrew by Yaron Regev
The howl pierces my body from inside, echoes in my flesh, rattles my bones like some inner earthquake. I cringe and try to gain some distance from the terrible beast towering over me. The monster pins me to the sidewalk with a heavy paw and gives an angry snarl. I feel the weight of its claws on my skin and stifle a frightened yelp.
No, not again. Please.
I want to throw up, or scream. Perhaps if I scream, the monster will vanish. Yes, I’ll scream so hard that the monster will think I’m scarier and fade away. That’s what Mom always tells me to do. If someone hurts you, scream as hard as you can and run.
Just this once, please. Let me escape.
My mouth gapes open, but no scream comes out, only a whimper. My pathetic attempt makes the monster press its moist nose even closer. Blood slowly drips onto my cheek, and I feel the breath of the monster on my face—warm, hot, smelling like gummy bears.
Someone is calling my name from afar. Someone I love.
Fear washes over me as the voice echoes around me. No one can come. The monster will hurt them!
The beast peers at me with green, human eyes, exposing teeth as sharp as kitchen knives. It pricks its pointy ears with interest, recognizing the voice as well.
Not again! Please.
I begin to cry, the tears mixing with the blood on my face.
The beast’s eyes narrow, its long fangs edging closer to my neck.
Hands urgently shake me awake. I open my eyes and see Mom’s terrified face close to mine. Her blonde hair, so different from mine, is disheveled.
Relief washes over me in waves, and I can’t stifle the sob that comes rolling out of my mouth.
“Enough…I’m here,” she whispers, stroking my cheek with cold fingers. She smells like dish soap. “Another nightmare?”
Mom gently strokes the hair out of my eyes. Her gaze turns up to my scalp. Then she puckers her lips, suddenly upset.
She’s looking at the stain.
I recoil and pull my head away from her hands. Mom clenches her lips even tighter, then studies me with a tense smile.
“This is the third time this week. Same nightmare as yesterday?”
“No,” I whisper. I want to tell her, but the words refuse to leave my mouth. If I tell Mom, maybe the monster will start visiting her at night too.
“What was it this time? The wolf?”
I give her a weak nod, trying not to think about the sharp teeth that so nearly tore into my flesh.
Mom pulls me to her, presses my head to her soft bosom. “I know, Reese. I’ll take care of it, I promise.”
I push myself against her, wrapping my small arms around her body. Mommy’s here, and she’ll keep me safe. Over her shoulder, my eyes wander to the far corner of the room. Two huge suitcases rest on the floor, right by my little princess backpack. The closet has already been emptied; the carpet is rolled up. I drive away the memory of green eyes and sharp fangs.
“My little baby girl,” Mom murmurs into the tangle of my black hair. “Don’t worry, Mommy will keep you safe. Mommy will do whatever it takes to keep the nightmares away.”
If he wasn’t already dead, I’d kill him myself.
Or at least scream at him. Or firmly explain why abandoning your only daughter and then remembering her after you’re dead is just terrible parenting.
I drag the suitcase across the tiles of the Ben Gurion Airport, tightening my grip on the handle. For the millionth time this week, I regret answering that phone call. It would have been so much easier if I’d simply ignored the unlisted number and gotten on with my life. I could have traveled to New York with Luce, or boxed at the club all summer. Instead I’m here in the middle of Tel Aviv, going to bury him.
I peek outside at the metallic-blue sky, then look down and see that everyone here is in shorts. I’m not exactly wearing the right outfit for Israel’s steaming summer. Pulling up the hem of my black funeral dress, I try to ignore the clicking and clacking of the heeled shoes Luce begged me to wear. They’re too tight, and I promise myself that the moment the funeral’s over, I’ll change back into my comfy Vans.
If it had been up to me, I’d have given up this forced trip to the “homeland” before it started, but Mom insisted.
I called her two hours after getting word of it. She was at her morning job, which meant she was holed up behind a huge wooden counter at Mike’s Motors, wearing a forced smile and sucking up to her pompous-ass boss, Mike, and his no less pompous-ass clients.
She had just gone out for her coffee break when I called. I could hear the rustle of her movements as she moved into the alley behind the dealership.
“Hi, Reese,” she said too loudly.
“Hi, Mom. You don’t need to shout. I can hear you just fine.”
“Oh, wonderful. Is everything all right?”
There was an undertone of anxiety in her voice. She was right: I never called her at work; that was our agreement. Mike didn’t like it when Mom “ slacked off.” He had sacked other secretaries for much less than a few calls, and losing this job wasn’t something we could afford.
“Some lawyer called Ido Kuperschmidt called me a few hours ago,” I said.
Mom gave the usual “Mm-hmm,” asking me to go on. I heard her placing her coffee cup on the plastic table in the alley.
“Daniel Green is dead.”
“Oh, wow. Okay…” After a pause she said, “And how do you feel about that?”
“Kuperschmidt wants me to attend the reading of the will. They’re burying him in two days.”
Another silence. Then Mom cleared her throat. When she spoke she sounded closer, as if she were pressing the phone against her mouth. “Your passport is in the top drawer of my dresser.”
“I’m not going.”
“Seriously, Mom. I’m not flying all the way there just to see him buried. Inviting me to his funeral is like laughing in our faces. Besides, this is my last summer vacation.”
I’d planned to use the vacation for doing double shifts at the ice-cream parlor and saving at least enough for the competition entry fee. Not that I was going to tell Mom about it.
“You have to go. He’s your father.” She paused, hesitating. “Even if he wasn’t too involved in your life.”
“Wasn’t too involved?” Daniel Green, “my father,” had left us when I was eight, and we hadn’t heard a word from him since. “He wasn’t even present in my life. There’s a difference. And you should know it better than anyone.”
On the other side of our room, Luce raised her head from her pillow and gave me two thumbs up. I blew a kiss at her. I wasn’t about to argue with Mom over this. After all, I was sixteen, going into my senior year after the vacation. I could make my own decisions.
“It doesn’t matter,” Mom said, softening her voice. “He’s still your father.”
“Well, let’s just agree to disagree,” I said, and she sighed. In the background, I could hear Rachel, the other Mike’s Motors secretary, reminding Mom that her break was over.
“I need to go,” she said. “We’ll talk about it some more tonight.”
After I hung up, Luce raised her head and gave me a bewildered look. “Well, that was surprising.”
“Yes,” I said, staring at my phone. “I didn’t expect her to be happy he’s dead, but I was sure she’d agree that flying to the funeral is a bad idea. You think she’s planning something?”
Luce snickered. “Like what—dragging you all the way to Israel?”
“Yeah.” I frowned. “Sort of.” It wouldn’t be the first time that Mom dragged me from place to place without giving me any say in the matter. Actually, the fact that she hadn’t dragged me anywhere recently was what I found most surprising.“I’d wax my mustache if I were you. I hear Israel is just loaded with hotties.”
I threw a pillow at her, but Luce was actually right.
That night, when Mom came back from her evening job as a janitor at an accounting office, her face was swollen and red. She sat opposite me in the kitchen and placed an envelope between us.
“Ticket cost me twelve hundred dollars,” she said, while I timidly opened the envelope. “No cancellations, and I’ve already confirmed your arrival with the lawyer. I can’t go with you because of work. I know you don’t want to go, but please, do it for me.”
No cancellations. The ticket had cost Mom more than what she was making at Mike’s Motors in a month. We didn’t have that kind of money to spend, certainly not on flight tickets.
She hadn’t left me much choice.
At least I’ll go back home with a tan, I decide as I impatiently drag my suitcase toward the exit of the airport terminal. Once this whole funeral thing is over, I plan to spend the remaining two weeks at the beach, frying myself front and back.
I hurry to the sliding glass doors. Ido Kuperschmidt, Daniel Green’s lawyer, told me there’d be someone waiting to pick me up from the airport.
“Straight to the cemetery, of course, so we can get this over with,” he said over the phone in his polished English, allowing himself to sound a little embarrassed. “I don’t want to pressure you; it’s just that people have been waiting for an announcement regarding the time of the funeral. We’ll finalize everything about the will after the, er…ceremony.”
Outside the airport, the humid air strikes my cheeks, and I curse Luce for the thousandth time for the stupid fashion choice she made for me. By the time we get to the cemetery, I’m sure I will have sweated myself to death in this dress.
There’s a row of white taxis parked by the curb, and a small crowd of drivers holding signs with names on them. Most are in English, some are in Hebrew (along with a couple in a language full of squares that I don’t recognize). I know how to read both languages, though I feel much more comfortable in English. After we left Israel, Mom insisted that I practice my Hebrew even while we were constantly traveling, and when we finally settled in Ithaca, she found me a regular teacher.
I run my eyes over the names. None of them is mine.
Maybe Kuperschmidt wants me to take a taxi to the cemetery? Or maybe I misunderstood him. His English was excellent, but there are lots of details you can miss on a transatlantic call.
I turn to go back inside just as a shadow looms over me: someone is blocking my way.
“Ms. Green? Tirtza Green?”
I look up and see a man’s wide shoulders and two green, sparkling eyes. They remind me of glassy mints, the sort Mom keeps on her counter at Mike’s Motors.
When these minty eyes meet my own, their owner recoils as if he’s seen a ghost. I try not to be insulted by his obvious rejection. I didn’t expect a warm welcome from the people working for a father who left me, but this wasn’t the reaction I expected either. Actually, I have no idea what I expected.
“It’s Baker, not Green,” I answer sourly. I’ve never been a Green, and I’m Therese, not Tirtza.
The guy nods with a grimace. He’s not much older than me, but he’s at least four inches taller, and that’s saying a lot because I’m five feet nine in these heels. I take a better look. His skin is swarthy, his hair wild and black as an oil stain. He has sharp features, with a chiseled chin and pointy ears. Dark stubble adorns his high cheekbones, giving him the look of a wild animal. He seems familiar, but there’s no way I could have seen him before. I’d have remembered his face.
His jaw clenches when he notices my prying look, and his eyes settle on my hair, which is gathered into a tight bun.He can’t see it, I assure myself, putting a hand on the back of my neck. Not with my hair
pulled back like that.
“All right, Ms. Baker. I’m supposed to escort you to the cemetery, so we’d better get a move on. We’re late.” He says it as if it’s my fault.
“The flight was delayed,” I say.
“That doesn’t mean they’ll wait for us.”
I consider a clever reply, but he’s already turning and pulling my suitcase after him.
“Hey! Wait a minute,” I cry, and hurry after him on my damned heels, squeezing between taxi drivers. The guy is moving quickly, a little too quickly for me.
Damn him. I dodge one sweaty body after another, then finally bump into him: he’s stopped unexpectedly by a dusty pickup truck with dark windows and huge wheels as tall as my hips.
“You all right?” he asks in English, looking at me as if I were more than a little stupid.
“Yes, I am. Could you at least explain who you are?” If he thinks I’m going to get in a stranger’s car with no questions asked, he’s never been to New York.
“You haven’t introduced yourself yet?” a raspy voice says in Hebrew. It comes from behind the driver’s window.
I turn and discover the most pierced guy I’ve ever seen in my life. He has at least ten hoop earrings in each ear, a piercing in his left eyebrow, and a golden nose ring. A tattoo of a wild animal pokes out from the edges of his green tanktop.
“Look, man, I thought you guys agreed about how you should treat her,” the driver sighs. Then he turns to look at me, and his eyes open as wide as soup bowls. He gives a slow, admiring whistle, revealing a metallic tongue piercing. “Man, doesn’t she look just like him! Like two puppies in a litter.”
I tense. My fingers clench into a fist. There’s nothing about me remotely related to Daniel Green, and I don’t look like him at all. I look nothing like my mom, either, as the irritating voice of reason quietly reminds me, but I choose to ignore it.
“Hey, beautiful.” The driver extends his hand out the window to be shaken. “My name’s Jonathan. You can call me Johnny.”
He uses English to talk to me, like the other guy, so I assume they don’t know that I can understand Hebrew. That’s an advantage. I immediately decide to play the game.
“I’m Theresa, but you can call me Therese. Pleased to meet you.”
He envelops my hand in both of his and clicks the piercing against his teeth. How can he eat with that giant stick stuck in his mouth?
“Come on, Johnny, get your paws off her,” Mint-Eyes snaps. “We have a funeral to get to.” He hauls my suitcase onto the tarp-covered bed of the truck.
“What’s the rush? It’s not like he’s going anywhere.”
“Okay, don’t sweat it. No need to get yourself all riled up.” Johnny turns to me again. “I think you’d better hop in. Yoav here got up on the wrong side of bed today.”
So that’s his name. Yoav.
I remain standing on the sidewalk while Yoav circles the car and stops by the rear door. He opens it impatiently. “You getting in or what?”
“How do you two know…” I almost say “my dad,” but the soon-to-be buried man doesn’t deserves that title. “Daniel Green?”
Yoav gives me a glazed look. “We worked together.”
“And Ido Kuperschmidt sent you?”
“She’s talking about that lawyer now?” Johnny asks in Hebrew, without looking at me. “Does she understand that the Seer is going to be buried in an hour and a half? We’re gonna hit traffic if we don’t get going.”
“What do you want me to do?” Yoav keeps his eyes on me. “Toss her into the backseat by force?”
“We need to hurry up a little, Therese,” Johnny says, switching back to English and giving me a meaningful look. “We don’t want to be late.” Then, to Yoav, “Get your ass over here.”
Yoav remains standing by the rear door in a stance that would have been cute, except he’s staring at me as if I were about to explode and get blood and guts all over his polished shoes.
I squeeze my way into the back seat. Yoav slams the door after me and climbs into the front.
“Isn’t she hot in that teacher outfit?” Johnny throws out, his eyes brushing over me in the rearview mirror.
I cross my legs and turn my face to the window so they won’t see me blush.
Teacher outfit? I think. Coming from a guy wearing a tanktop to a funeral?
“You’re more than welcome to ask her yourself,” Yoav says grudgingly. “Just do me one favor, Johnny.”
“She’s the boss’s daughter—take your foot off the gas.”
“I’m not speeding or anything.”
I allow myself to sink into the back seat and take my cell out of my purse. This certainly isn’t what I expected before boarding the plane to Israel.
Luce and I enjoyed playing guessing games about the real reason Daniel Green abandoned Mom and me, casting us out into the cold water of life. Luce claimed he was a convicted felon hiding from the police, but I preferred to think he was a secret agent working for some Israeli intelligence agency.
Actually, that was the first thing Luce and I ever talked about—three years ago, on my first day of high school in Ithaca. I’d been pissed at Mom for bringing me to yet another city I’d be a stranger in, and I wasn’t very eager to start making new friends. But Luce was the kind of girl who didn’t give you a choice.
“My mom says your dad’s a criminal, and you and your mom are on the run from him,” she told me during lunch.
“That’s just stupid,” I answered with confidence, even though I didn’t actually know much about Daniel. From the few details I did have, this strange girl might be right.
“Mom also says your grandma died of a broken heart,” Luce continued.
“No way—Grandma died of cancer.”
I was happy: if Luce was wrong about Grandma, she must be wrong about Daniel too. The doctor who’d arrived after we found Grandma’s body said the cancer had eaten her on the inside for years.
Luce shrugged and took a half-eaten candy bar. “Mom also told me I need to be nice to you, ’cause you’re so miserable and everything. Want to come to my place this afternoon?”
That was a weird way of starting a friendship, but it was the best offer I got, and a weird beginning is better than no beginning at all.
Mom hated our guessing game. All she was willing to say about Daniel’s disappearance was that he cared more about his work than he did for us, which was why we had to leave.
Now, sitting in the car with Johnny and Yoav, I start thinking that our wildest guesses were closer to the truth than we ever imagined. There was something off about these employees of his…
Thinking about Mom makes me cringe in my seat. She must be going nuts by now. I was supposed to land about three hours ago.
I turn on my phone and type her a quick message. Hi, I’m here. We’re on our way to the funeral. Talk soon. Kisses.
Four seconds later, my phone beeps and I start feeling guilty. I should have sent her a message the moment I landed, but I was so busy looking for my suitcase that it completely slipped my mind.
Great! How was the flight? Did you get a bite to eat? Did they pick you up?
I smile at all her worried messages. Before I can type a soothing reply, though, another message pops up on the screen.
I’m sorry for making you go, Reese, but I had a good reason. Say goodbye to him from me too. I love you, and don’t you ever forget it!
I read the message with my heart pounding. After all these years, she’s still mourning the man who left us. I’ll just never get her.
But I promised her I’d behave, and I intend to keep that promise. Maybe if I do, she’ll start trusting me more and I won’t need to hide my plans from her.
I take a selfie, poking my tongue out, and send it before she gets stressed and calls me. Then I put my phone back in my purse and lean against the window. This trip isn’t exactly on my dream-vacation list, but at last I’ll finally find out which of us, me or Luce, really won the guessing game. Luce will go crazy if I was right all along.
Johnny pulls the truck into a dirt parking lot packed with vehicles, then kills the engine. A large sign reads “Eternal Rest Cemetery.” Behind it I can see a black fence and a matching, oversized iron gate. Near the gate there’s a long metal sink with a row of taps.
I take a deep breath. Well, here I come, Pops.
The Seer is a YA urban fantasy that takes place in Israel. When sixteen-year-old Therese Baker receives word that her estranged father, Daniel Green, has passed away, she wants nothing to do with his estate. Her mother, however, insists that she return to Israel to deal with whatever legacy he’s left behind. Grudgingly, Therese agrees to go.
Greeted and housed by her father’s gruff associates, she soon begins to suspect that she’s stumbled into a crime family. Her suspicions are raised further when, after a perfectly normal funeral, she is snuck out to the middle of the desert, where a strange cremation ceremony takes place to honor her father.
The truth comes to light after a terrifying feral attack. Therese discovers that her father and his “associates” are in fact a separate species of beings called the Animales, capable of shapeshifting. Animales worldwide have been using this ability to hide their existence since the dawn of time.
Daniel Green was the Seer of the Wolf Tribe. As such, he could not change form but was capable of seeing the future of the tribe and its members. Chosen by the gods that govern Animales’ lives, a Seer’s first and foremost responsibility is to lead and protect the tribe. Now, with Daniel Green gone, the Wolf tribe needs a new Seer, and it turns out that Therese has inherited, along with her father’s estate, the title and abilities that come with it.
Over the course of the novel Therese must deal with enemies from without and prejudice from within, while uncovering a sinister plot that endangers the lives of all Animales cubs. She must also undergo a process of inner growth, forgive a father she barely knew, and learn the truth about herself and her past.
The Seer is a story about growing up and finding courage when it is needed most. I believe that the novel is close to unique in its cultural landscape: there isn’t a lot of original fantasy fiction written in Hebrew. Yet the genre is perhaps the one most capable of enticing new young audiences to read; with its endless possibilities and strong female characters, it inspires young girls to face fears, cultivate their strengths, and never settle for less. My hope is that one day The Seer will do just that.
Yuval Atias is twenty-seven years old, a Jew of Tunisian descent, currently studying for her MA in Hebrew Literature at the Ben Gurion University of the Negev in Israel. She has been writing since her early teens, and her lifelong goal is to encourage young adults to read and engage with literature. She has been working with teens for the past eight years. You can find out more about her on her Facebook profile.
Embark, Issue 15, October 2021