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Rebecka was not like most young girls her age growing up in Stockholm; she was different. She cut her hair short with a pair of scissors because it kept falling in her eyes, she always forgot to do her chores, and she ran outside everyday and played in the forest that surrounded her home, even when it rained and thundered overhead and long after the sun had set.
Rebecka never talked much, at least not to her step-mother, Elak, but she did have an uncomfortably strange way with animals. So it was no surprise to her father, Johan, when she was found sitting under a spruce tree playing with her newly found friend, whom she aptly named Stark.
"Rebecka," her father said calmly, trying to hold back a cough, "where did you find that animal?"
"Här," she answered.
"Put it down, baby, and come to me."
"Nej, pappa! Han är min vän."
"I know he is your friend, but you must do as I say. Put him down and slowly walk toward me."
"Okej, pappa, jag ska." Rebecka placed Stark down on the ground, stood up, and walked to her father.
In haste, he shoved her behind him and slowly began to walk backwards. Even in the light of dusk, he could see those glowing, yellow eyes.
"Don't say a word," he whispered, "just head for the house."
When they reached the back steps, Rebecka turned away from the house and refused to go in.
"Varför?" she asked.
"Why? You're asking me why? Did you not know what you were holding?"
"Ja, en hundvalp."
"Nej, Rebecka, nej. It was not a puppy, it was a wolf!"
"Han är min vän," she cried.
"Nej, he is not your friend. A wolf can never be your friend, ever!"
Rebecka opened the back door to the kitchen and ran to her room, crying.
"How could you let her go out alone like that?" he asked Elak, "you know this area is surrounded by forest and wildlife."
"Well, she never listens to me, so why should I bother? Look, I cooked dinner over an hour ago, and now it's cold. She never eats my cooking and she's always giving food away to those creatures she calls pets."
"But that's just it..." he began to cough, bracing himself against the kitchen table.
Elak watched on, unaffected. She walked over to the window, and rearranged the flowers that were on the sill.
"She is a child," he continued, "she's not aware of the dangers out there like you and I are. That's why you're here..."
"I beg your pardon? I did not sign on to raise some abnormal ---"
"Rebecka is not abnormal! She's just --- just different, that's all. Look, you agreed to take care of her."
"Yes, well I was wrong. Now that I've met her, perhaps it would be best if she lived with other children that are more similar to --- to her."
"What?" Johan asked sadly.
Silence filled the kitchen and then penetrated the entire wooden house. Elak turned and walked out into the hallway, she paused to adjust a picture hanging on the wall, wiping the dust from its edge.
'I've made a grave mistake,' Johan thought as he slid down into the chair beside him, coughing.
While in her room, Rebecka pulled a metal box out from under her bed. It housed her mother's picture, her savings of 98 cents, and a small, cloth pouch where she kept her mother's wedding ring. She fastened the box with a combination lock the day before Elak and her father were to be married. She curled up under the blanket with her mother's picture and cried herself to sleep.
Later that night, Rebecka quietly opened her bedroom window.
"Kom hit Stark," she called in a whisper.
Stark came walking with his head lowered and his tail wagging. Rebecka saw that the kitchen was dark and empty. She slipped Stark in through the back door and then into her bedroom. She foraged food and milk from the refrigerator and shared it with him, and he slept at the foot of her bed.
The next week, Johan did not go to work. "Rebecka," he called out in a weak voice.
"I must go to the hospital for some tests. Be on your best behaviour with Elak, and try to eat what she prepares for you, okay?"
"Ja, pappa," she answered.
That evening, Johan did not return home. He called Rebecka from the hospital.
"Pappa, var är du?" she asked.
"I'm still here at the hospital;" his voice sounded muffled, "they want me to stay over night, nothing to worry about. How's it going with you and Elak?"
"Okej," she answered.
"Ja," she said.
"Well, eat your food and do your chores. Call me if you have any problems."
"Good bye, baby."
"Hej då," she said.
That was the last time Rebecka was to hear from her father; that night, at the hospital, he died in his sleep. Elak was more than happy to deliver the news to Rebecka.
"Va?" Rebecka asked.
"Are you deaf, child? I said your father is dead."
"Nej!" Rebecka said.
"Yes!" Elak shouted.
"Nej! Nej! Nej!" Rebecka shrilled, and then she ran out of the house and into the forest. She ran and ran, not knowing where she was headed. Finally, she stopped beside a bush covered in berries; she dropped to the ground and cried. She hadn't noticed Stark running beside her.
Back at the house, the phone rang.
"What?!" Elak shouted, "there must be some mistake."
"Everything goes to Rebecka? The house, the car, and all the money in his accounts? Everything?" she asked.
"When did he change his Will?"
"He left me with nothing?"
"Yes, I'm sorry, too. Good bye."
Elak lowered herself onto the living room sofa and stared out the front window, and thought, 'That child has got to go!'
While out in the forest with Stark, Rebecka became hungry. She saw the berry bush and began to pluck the berries. By the time she and Stark had finished eating, the bush was bare. It was at that time that she heard Elak calling out from the back steps.
"Rebecka, time for dinner!"
Elak had prepared Rebecka's favorite, pasta and meatballs with a small glass of milk.
"Take out the trash when you finish," Elak said, and then she went to bed.
Rebecka did not want to upset Elak, but she was not hungry, not even for her favorite meal. Her stomach was over stuffed with berry juice. She took the food to Stark.
"Är du hungrig?" she asked, him, "Are you hungry?"
Stark sniffed the pasta, turned his head, and then walked away. She poured the milk back into the milk carton, and placed the food in the refrigerator but forgot to empty the trash. Then she went to bed.
Not long after, Rebecka developed a sharp pain in her stomach. She knocked on Elak's door, moaning in pain. To Rebecka's surprise, Elak was very sympathetic and helped her back into bed. She sat at Rebecka's side all night.
The next morning, Rebecka opened her eyes and saw Elak asleep in the chair. Rebecka felt much better and decided to make Elak a hot cup of strong coffee with milk and sugar, just the way she liked it.
"Elak, kaffee," Rebecka called out while shaking Elak's shoulder.
Elak could barely open her eyes, and since she had stayed awake all night, she was very drowsy. Elak took the cup from Rebecka's hand and sipped the coffee until it was all gone.
Feeling a little bit more awake, Elak stared at Rebecka, her memory slowing starting to dawn.
"Rebecka, you're still here." she said.
"Ja," she answered.
"But you shouldn't be," Elak said, starting to feel drowsy again.
"Varför inte?" Rebecka asked.
"Why not?" Elak tried hard to focus her vision, but everything was a blur, "Didn't you eat your dinner last night? Didn't you drink your milk?"
"Nej," Rebecka said.
"Nej?" Elak shouted. She began to slur her words. "What did you do with your dinner and milk?"
"Jag satte i---"
"English, child, speak English!"
"I place them in the refrigerator. It's okay, I didn't waste it. I poured the milk in your coffee, and I will warm the pasta later for lunch."
"You what?!" Elak slurred, "Quick...dial...112..." Then she fell back in her chair.
The ambulance arrived and carried Elak to the hospital. The doctor said she was fine, and that she could return home, but that she would be a little different. Elak could not remember her name, and when she returned home, she did not know her way around the house.
"I will help you," Rebecka said, "Here is a list of things to do: cook the food, clean the house, feed Stark, and take him to the vet for shots."
Rebecka now owned the house, the car, and had lots of money in the bank. Elak worked as the maid; she kept everything tidy and always made sure there was plenty of food for Stark.
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