Chapter 2

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Warm, orange streetlight glowed through sheer curtains over an open window with loose screen stapled to the frame into Missy’s living room.

The apartment was haphazardly built from the office and storage above the defunct Hinsdale Bar. The dark carpet hid stains from past residents, but also gave a disturbing shadow against the white walls. The front door was new, but the drywall cracked in the summer and a few of the doorways weren’t even.

Old, wooden Pepsi boxes were fastened to the wall shelves displaying paperbacks and dusty hardcovers. Red dairy crates hold a record collection ranging from Elton John to Afghan Whigs to obscure dollar gems and lesser known jazz.

 On the vintage floral design couch, Freddie slept fully dressed down to his mangled black socks. He was five years older than the younger man riding in the back of Ray’s car with several scars since the accident. His foot jerked forward, chest popped up, face tightened in a terrified clench of his teeth. His eyes opened with a gasp of air.

Beside the couch, Missy’s greyhound-shepard, Pepper, stood at attention. Her David Bowie eyes were trained on Freddie as he scrambled off the couch and held tightly to every handhold to the bathroom.

The door slammed. Fingertips scraped the wall; the lightswitch clicked and hard light seeped through the bottom of the door.

Inside, Freddie laid on his side, pants and boxers pulled down to his thigh; blood ran from a fresh cut on his hip next to a mess of past cutting scars; a razorblade sat in his fingertips. His breathing slowed and his lips relaxed so drool spilled to the floor. His eyes focused on the bathtub.

The pink flamingo shower curtain was pulled open. Ray sat with his feet propped on the faucet. He was dressed as he was in the car – Andrew Wood t-shirt, leather jacket, new jeans ripped in the thigh, and green high top Chuck Taylor’s. His face hadn’t aged a day; his hair was the perfect messy length.

     “You were dreaming again, Pally,” Ray said.

     “No shit, Sherlock.”

Freddie reached up to spin a length of toilet paper off the spindle. He wiped his hip and held pressure of the cut.

     “How bad is it?”

     “Not that bad.”

     “How bad was the dream?”

Freddie ignored him.

     “That one again? You okay?”

Freddie threw the bloody toilet paper wad. It sailed through Ray to land in the tub.

     “If I were still alive, I’d be real upset with you for that.”

    “I’m sure you would.”

Freddie pulled gauze and tape from the medicine cabinet. He made quick work a bandage and stuck it on his hip.

    “Think Missy won’t notice how small that roll of gauze has gotten?”

    “She already has, we talked about it.”

    “Gonna go back to sleep? You got a doc appointment tomorrow, you think he won’t notice you didn’t sleep again?”

    “For being daed, you’re on my balls pretty fucking good.”

Pepper whined and scratched the bathroom door.

    “See, even the dog thinks you’re being an asshole,” Freddie said.

    “Me? I think she’s saying you’re being an asshole.”

    “Whatever man, duty calls.”

***

Hinsdale’s Main Street was a ghost town at four a.m. Morning dew began settling over fallen leaves and lawns. The neighborhood was dark except the big brown house two doors down from Missy with a tire swing and empty harness hanging from two full-grown elm trees. The front bushes were covered in fake cobweb; giant pipe-cleaner spiders and sheet ghosts hung from the elm trees; every window displayed a, now vintage, cardboard decoration of a witch, goblin, ghost, and pumpkin.

Pepper pulled the full extension of the hazard orange leash with Freddie puffing a cigarette behind her. Nose to the ground, she sniffed out her pee spot near the road.

The sky lightened around the tips of pine trees. It was the darkest before dawn moment when the darkness cracks under the oncoming sunlight. The stars faded with the blackness to blue; the earliest birds began chirping within the branches.

Pepper finished and stood up, scoping out a prey.

     “Pepper, you ready? Let’s go home,” Freddie said. He tugged the leash, but Pepper tugged back hard enough for him to drop his cigarette. “Damn.” Freddie bent down, grabbed the cigarette with his fingertips as Pepper leapt forward, tearing the leash from Freddie’s hand. “Pepper! Get back here!”

Pepper darted across the street, her white spots and the flopping orange leash were all Freddie could see as she ran into a yard of trees.

Freddie jogged after her. Standing at the edge of trees, he remembered the cigarette and put it out on his shoe.

     “Pepper!”

Freddie clapped his hands.

     “Pepper, come on!” His voice was a hushed, terse tone more than a yell.

Leaves rustled in the dark. Freddie’s eyes began to adjust to this darkness and shapes began to form. For a minute, his brain translated the tree’s texture as a crocodile vortex, then slowly became the hooded figure he’d dreamt of several times since first seeing it in his bedroom doorway when he was seven.

He closed his eyes hard for the colors to appear and reopened them. Only trees were in front of him and Pepper sat at his feet.