Excerpt from Bad Cree by Jessica Johns, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Bad Cree

A Novel

by Jessica Johns

Bad Cree by Jessica Johns X
Bad Cree by Jessica Johns
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2023, 272 pages

    Dec 5, 2023, 256 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Elisabeth Cook
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Print Excerpt

Bad Cree

Before I look down, I know it's there. The crow's head I was clutching in my dream is now in bed with me. I woke up with the weight of it in my hands, held against my chest under the covers. I can still feel its beak and feathers on my palms. The smell of pine and the tang of blood sting my nose. My pillow feels for a second like the cold, frozen ground under my cheek. I yank off my blanket, heavy like I'm pulling it back from the past, and look down to my hands, now empty. A feeling of static pulses inside them like when a dead limb fills with blood again. They are clean and dry and trembling.

Shit. Not again.

I step gingerly out of bed, as though the world in front of me might break, and turn on the light, wait for my eyes to adjust. It illuminates my blanket on the floor, the grey sheet kicked into a clump. Every breath I take is laboured, and when I blink, my dream flashes onto the back of my eyelids. Running through the woods. The snow glistening in the clearing. The crows covering Sabrina's body.

Heart thumping in my chest, I kneel next to the bed, how I imagine I might if I ever were to pray. "Come on," I plead into the covers. "Where are you?"

I feel across the bedsheet for anything: blood, feathers, twig-small bones. My fingers shake and search by touch in between pillows, into every crease and wrinkle of the fitted sheet. I turn on the flashlight on my phone and use it to look into shadows, but I find nothing. My shirt, when I bring it up to my nose, smells like the outside in winter, like pine trees and sharp cold.

"You son of a bitch, come on." I kick the blanket to the side and put my cheek to the floor, scanning underneath the bed and bedside table. Dust and crumbs sit forgotten in dry corners. An old plate, mould forming along the ridges, lies next to holey socks. I close my eyes. My awake mind is trying to fog the dream over, shake it away, but I hold on to it. I know it was there, in my hand. As real as the floor still against my cheek, I was holding a crow's head when I woke up. I can still smell the blood in the bedroom air and feel where its beak pressed into my palm, right above my heart line. Throbbing and hot.

I think of the dream while I shower. I lather shampoo into my hair and rinse, watch the brown strands circle the drain. This is the third dream in three weeks. The third time I've brought something back with me.

In the first two dreams, I brought back branches. I broke them off the trees as I was running through the woods in a panic. The first time it happened, the branch disappeared as soon as I woke up and looked down at it. The second time, the moon was big and full outside, and I caught a glimpse of the flimsy stick gripped between my palms. That time, I held on tight, but it still disappeared. I had hoped that if I held on hard enough, I would understand how I could have a pine bough in my hands when the last pine tree I'd seen was a thousand kilometres away in Alberta.

I close my eyes and let the warm water stream against my face, but I'm still shivering against the memory of last night. In my dream, I was in the middle of the winter woods, wearing only what I wore to bed that night: an old T-shirt and sweats. I cursed at myself for not following my idea after the last dream to wear shoes and something warmer to bed. At least it was better than the first dream, when I went to sleep naked.

I was surrounded by bone-thin pine, spruce, and balsam trees, browning at the base up to their torsos, sparse with white snow near the top. I let out a small gasp of surprise to find myself in the same woods again, my breath forming in front of me in an icy puff. There were no footprints in the fresh snow around me, as if I blinked into existence in that exact spot.

The wind whipped hard, carrying an icy whistle past my ears. In the moonlight, the trees cast shadows so tall they swallowed the land whole. My breath caught in my throat and the urge to run itched across my spine.

Excerpted from Bad Cree by Jessica Johns. Copyright © 2023 by Jessica Johns. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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