Missy woke up hard. Eyes open, breath caught in her chest.
The room was dark and no one else was here.
She contorted her arm behind her to feel the bed, empty but for a tangled sheet she'd ripped off the mattress while she slept.
She heard Ray's voice, clear in her ear.
"I love you."
She pulled her feet free of the sheets, the dream was intense, but she remembered nothing but his voice.
She stood up and looked around at the shadowed hot mess her room was and said,
“I love you too.”
She opened the door to Pepper laying in her doorway, the living room dark, and Freddie asleep on the couch. His mouth was open; drool spilling on a small throw pillow. His breath was slow and even; he wasn’t dreaming and, with luck, he wouldn’t at all tonight.
Missy stood over him, staring hard at the side of his face open to the world. The stubble on his cheek, his loose lips relaxed, eyebrows so dark they looked black at this moment. He was everything Ray wasn’t, but his twin all the same. Ray would call Freddie his little brother; Freddie was too bashful to agree, having lost his older brother before meeting Ray; Missy saw the truth – twins.
She loved Freddie, but would sell him down river to have Ray back… some days; other days she was happy to have a best friend like him.
Pepper trotted past Missy to the front door. She stuck her nose against the small opening in the frame and took in a loud sniff.
Anticipating Pepper’s excitement to bound out the door at whatever wildlife creature might be skulking around their porch, Missy slipped on a pair of well-worn gray moccasins and a jacket from her donation pile.
“Pepper, come on.”
Missy grabbed her leash and opened the front door. Pepper took off running across the porch and slid into the wooden plank, knocking it down.
Missy giant stepped over and snagged her collar.
“Jesus Christ. We need a real gate.”
She clipped the leash on Pepper and they headed down the stairs.
Daytime, somewhere in a field away from houses except an abandoned camper to the left. Years of elements have torn this small camper apart. The siding has snapped off from sunny afternoons and the wooden frame has rotted from long winter storms.
Freddie walks barefoot through the weeds. He’s bleeding from sharp roots and sticks. He can’t feel pain, but he can feel the cold mud splatters on his ankles.
Home is the opposite way, but he’s going forward, toward the naked forest of autumnal trees.
This isn't right; his chest was heavy with a panic attack ready to engage.
He looks left at the camper. The window was long ago shattered and the screen flapped in the wind. Inside, a hooded figure shrouded in thick layers stood nonchalantly holding a knife to a boy’s throat in front of him.
Freddie stares at the darkness in the hood, then the boy, but he keeps moving; stepping on a broken branch, the pointed, splintery end stuck in his foot.
The pain was shocking, he tries to lift his foot, but he was too heavy to balance and he fell backwards into the dry weeds.
“No!” A small voice squeaks.
Freddie straightens up to see beyond the brush back to the camper, but the boy and the hooded figure are gone.
“Wake up, wake up, wake up,” Freddie yelled