Misunderstood and overmedicated, twelve-year-old Lilith Bloom finds the prospect of a grand family reunion decidedly dull... That is, until she discovers that the rose garden surrounding her grandfather's Berlin mansion is, well, completely and utterly carnivorous. Armed with Panther, her talking pet whippet, and the help of the mute boy next door, Lilith must unravel the secrets behind the mysterious estate, all while her family remains gloriously unaware that they are about to be devoured.
Lilith Bloom had a peculiar feeling that the rose garden wanted to eat her. She surveyed it through the open car window, unable to look away. The garden seemed to survey her back. It was enormous. Its red blanket surrounded a solitary mansion at the end of Rose Street, Rosenstrasse in German. No other houses stood in sight, only a distant forest. Apart from tires grating on the gravel, it was eerily quiet, too quiet for a hot summer afternoon.
Their rental sedan pulled into the motor court in front of the mansion, joining a long line of cars. A sudden gust of wind washed over Lilith’s face. She expected it to smell like roses. Instead, it reeked of rotten sweetness, of something decomposing Lilith rolled up her window.
“Panther,” she whispered.
“Panther Bloom Junior! Will you kindly wake up?”
She shook the black shape curled to her left. The shape yawned, revealing a long tongue and rows of pearly teeth, then promptly sat up and blinked. It wasn’t exactly a dog, not in the most typical sense of how one would describe it. It was a cat in a dog’s body. In proper canine terms, it was a whippet, Lilith’s pet and only friend. He possessed a unique gift. He talked, as Lilith ascertained her parents. Of course, they refused to believe her.
Lilith’s father, Daniel Bloom, an avid whippet breeder and dog race enthusiast, deemed Panther as the runt of the litter. Too softhearted to part with the puppy, he gave it to Lilith last summer for her twelfth birthday. Since then, they’d become inseparable, disappearing on long walks in Boston neighborhoods and arriving this fine sunny day in Berlin, after Lilith point-blank refused to go anywhere without Panther, especially not to the Bloom family reunion at her grandfather’s house.
“You’d think a herd of elephants died here,” she whispered.
Panther raised a brow.
No matter how much Lilith pleaded with him to talk in front of her parents, he viciously disapproved of the idea, lest they parade him in some freak show like an otherworldly miracle.
“Don’t look at me like that. I hate it when you don’t answer,” Lilith said, loudly enough for her parents to hear. They exchanged a painful glance.
“Here we are, my puppies. Looks like we made the cut,” said Daniel Bloom cheerfully, attempting to diffuse the mood. When nervous, he spoke in dog show lingo.
“Lilith, did you take your pills?” said Gabby Bloom, as she twisted in the passenger seat and gazed at her daughter through metal-rimmed glasses, her fingers momentarily paused from knitting.
Panther studied Lilith.
Lilith studied the front seat. “I thought we agreed that pills are for sick people, Mother. I must assure you that currently I don’t feel sick in the slightest.”
“Don’t take that tone with me, missy. Look at me when I talk to you. I asked you a question. Did you or didn’t you?”
Panther continued to study Lilith.
Lilith continued to study the seat.
Gabby’s lower lip trembled. She looked like a lost squirrel perched on top of a roof, not knowing how she got there or how to get down. Her brown hair could pass for fur standing on end.
“Lilith, don’t be puppyish. Answer your mother,” Daniel muttered while patting his pockets to look busy.
An awkward silence filled the car.
“I flushed them down the toilet, on the plane. By accident. They’re excruciatingly slippery,” Lilith said with an innocent expression on her face. She liked using sophisticated words like excruciatingly to purposefully annoy her mother.