Haunted once again by the nightmares of his childhood, Pete is beginning to fear that these twisted scenes may be more than figments of his imagination, that they may be trying to warn him of somet...
I turn around and boot it down the stairs and out the door, the others right behind.
I stand at the edge of the woods, flashlight in hand, Andy, Joe, and Patrick each running to catch up.
"Rachael!" I cup my hands around my mouth and shout as loud as I can, but there's no reply.
"I gotta find her," I mutter to myself.
"Man, it's three in the fricken morning," Joe says, catching his breath, "How are you gonna find her? It's a big woods and there's only four of us."
"I'll find her," I say, pushing brush out of my way and walking into the forest.
My flashlight beam dances back and forth across the ground in front of me, and across the trees and brush on either side.
The guys follow not far behind, all doing the same as me.
We come into a clearing, the moonlight illuminating anything our flashlights fail to reveal.
The grass is overgrown and the branches of the bushes stick out in all directions.
I take a step into the tall grass and suddenly my skin ices over and I feel the blood drain from my face.
My heart makes a bungee cord jump into my stomach and then up my throat and back again.
"Oh my God," Joe whispers, only loud enough for us to hear.
He whips back around,"Patrick! Check over there!" he points at an overgrowth of bush in the opposite directions.
Patrick just offers a confused look and we all edge closer, not exactly sure of what Joe doesn't want him to see.
And that's when I see her.
She's lying on the ground, the grass flattened down around her as well as several rocks.
Theres a narrow stream of liquid running from her head, pooling itself into a pear-shaped puddle.
I feel myself gasp and shake my head over and over again, swallowing the bile down telling myself that it's not what it is.
But I know it's blood.
That she's dead.
Her eyes stare up at us, wide and disappointed, asking me why we didn't get here sooner.
The cool October air blows around us, playing with the wisps of chocolate-brown hair at the base of her forehead, now stained wine red.
I cover my face with my hands as Joe and Andy do all that they can to keep Patrick from the horrifying scene.
But it doesn't work, eventually he pushes past them and falls to his knees at the sight in front of him.
He's speechless, he can only gape and let the tears fall.
Andy puts a comforting hand on his shoulder and just stands by him, letting him cry.
That's when the darkness folds around me and starts to swirl.
That's when my body hits the ground.
I wake up minutes later, to Joe kicking me in the side.
I stand up and put my hand over the spot where he was kicking me, I'll have a bruise there tomorrow.
Patrick is still crying, and Andy is still right beside him, being a good friend and just standing by him, hand on his shoulder, just being there.
He waves Joe and I on, telling us that they'll be fine.
Joe and I leave the clearing and the smell of earth surrounds me and seems to intensify with each step.
We walk in silence for several minutes, doing our best to stay on a path of sorts, to keep moving in a straight direction.
I concentrate hard on the sounds around me - the crickets chirping, leaves rustling, and twigs snapping under my feet.
But then I hear something else - footsteps, the sound of someone's body moving through the brush, scraping against the branches.
I try to figure out which direction it's coming from, but the ringing in my pocket stops me, and sends a trickle of panic down my spine.
I pull out my sidekick and stop where I am to answer it.
"Not long, now Peter," a voice says and the line goes dead, just like that.
We continue down the path, this time at a quicker pace.
It's quiet behind us now, like the person who was following us stopped or went in a different direction.
A couple minutes pass and I look up into the sky for direction, but I can see dawn starting to break in the horizon, reminding me that I need to hurry.
I take giant steps with my arms outstretched, swiping the brush out from in front of us.
I stop a moment and turn around, sure that someone is moving behind me again.
I take a few quick steps in an effort to create distance between them and Joe and I.
The person following does the same.
I speed up even more, running now, doing my best to weave my way in between the trees and around the brush as Joe struggles slightly behind.
The ground is beginning to turn to sludge beneath my feet.
With each step it gets deeper, slowing me down and tugging at my ratty old Vans.
I take another quick step and my foot sinks, beyond ankle-deep, into the mud.
I tug my foot up hard and take step, doing the same with the other, my sneakers are left behind somewhere deep in the sludge, but I don't have time to care.
Now barefoot, I struggle to trudge my way the sopping muck, to reach sturdier ground.
But then I have to stop.
Pain gnaws at the arch of one foot.
The feeling explodes towards my ankle and all the way up to my knee.
I bend over and grab my leg, groaning in pain.
"You alright, man?" Joe asks, coming to a stop beside me.
I nod my head and grit my teeth, reaching down to feel the spot.
There's a stick poking out through my skin.
I feel myself begin to pant, and the lights behind my eyes go dim.
I want to be sick.
I reach out into the darkness for a branch to help steady myself, but end up slipping, smacking down against the cold wet soil.
"Pete?" whispers a male voice.
"Pete, Joe? That you guys?"
A beam of light finds its way from my bare foot to my face, making me squint.
And then it moves to highlight his.
And he's hiding.
He's squatted himself down between two wiry shrubs, his face partially covered by a web of branches.
"Andrew?" I say through gritted teeth.
But Joe, he gets straight to the point,"What in the hell are you doing in the woods, half an hour away from your house, at four o'clock in the morning?"
"Andy called and told me what happened, I figured I'd come help you guys out, since Andy had to stay with poor Patrick," he says, without missing a beat.
Joe shrugs, it's a good enough excuse.
"Are they gone?" he asks,"Did you see them?" his face is pale, and masked in a mix of fear and sweat.
I shake my head and grab at my bear foot, trying to figure out how deep the stick is in my foot.
A good half inch at least.
"What happened?" he asks.
But my breathing is hurried and ragged, sweat dripping from my temples, I can't answer him.
He pulls out a cellphone and starts to dial, pressing the phone against his ear.
"Shit," he mutters.
"What?" Joe asks, as if reading my mind.
"Nine one one. I keep trying to call but I can't get reception out here."
He looks over both his shoulders, parts a web of branches, and moves closer to where Joe and I sit against a fallen tree.
He zooms the flashlight in on my foot,"Here, let me help you there."
He sets the flashlight down to where it beams up at my foot and takes the end of the stick, making it shift slightly.
I grit my teeth even more and groan through the pain.
He nods in understanding and in one swift motion he quickly twists the stick and tears it from my foot as I cry out in pain.
I take off my sock and tie it around the wound to clot the bleeding.
"How's it feel?" Joe asks.
"Just like falling in love," I say sarcastically,"How do you think it feels? But I think I'll live."
"You sure?" Andrew asks.
"Come on, we can't stay here," he says, helping me up.
"Hurry, I don't know who's screwing with us, but they'll find us if we don't move."
"Who?" Joe asks, cocking an eyebrow quizzically.
Andrew simply walks forward, utterly ignoring Joe's simple question.
We scurry through the bushes, over rocks, and between trees, his flashlight our only guide.
He constantly looks back, over his shoulders and past me and Joe to see if we're being followed.
We arrive at a clearing and he gives us instructions.
"Andrew, what the fuck is your deal?" Joe asks, once again speaking my mind.
"I just saw something I shouldn't have and want to get the hell out of here alive."
"Wait," I say,"What did you see?" I ask, wondering if he saw what happened to Emma.
"Nothing you need to know about now," he replies,"Trust me on that."
"Well, I've got to do something," I say, remembering why I came out here in the first place,"And I can't keep running."
"I'll tell you what," he shines the flashlight over at a boulder,"You guys go crouch down behind that and I'll make sure they're gone. If they are, then we can all just head back to your house."
I open my mouth to say something but he doesn't give me the time.
"Hold this for me. I'll be right back. Just don't make any noise."
I take the flashlight but I refuse to sit down.
I look up into the sky, which is slowly beginning to get lighter, as the sun starts to come up in the distance.
I aim the flashlight in the direction Andrew just went.
Joe and I take careful steps over the brush and fallen leaves, trying my best to be quiet.
There's sort of a trail through a huge cluster of trees.
We take to it quickly, walking down it silently.
I lift a fork-shaped branch from in front of my eyes and that's when I see it: the building from my nightmare.
It's the same exact shell of a house, lit up by the same exact spotlights.
She's in there.
I'm limping now, walking on the ball of my foot to avoid the pain, I limp as fast as I can towards the front of the house, fearing yet knowing exactly what I'll find.
There it is, freshly dug, right in front of my very eyes, Rae's name dug freshly dug into the moist soil.
I want to be sick.
I cup my hand over my mouth and Joe puts his hand on my shoulder.
"Are you alright?"
I heave in and out.
This can't be real, it can't be happening.
But it is.
This is the real thing.
I back away from the letters slowly, trying to calm my fears as best I can.
Seeing these intricate details from my dreams play out right in front of me like this is strange and terrifying at the same time.
But if I use them to my advantage I might be able to save her.
I run into the house with relentless speed, my forehead smacking against the spotlight hanging down from the partial roof.
A splattering of colored spots shoots in front of my eyes and nearly blinds me.
But they fade quickly, restoring my vision completely.
It's exactly like my dream, everything is the same, it's like I've been here before.
Ahead of me sits the long hallway with the adjoining rooms on both sides.
I take small steps across the boards, searching for any sign of Rae.
In one of the rooms there is a simple blanket laid out, and a fresh bouquet of lilies sprouts from a crystal vase.
Wind combs through the boards and all around me, chilling me to the very bone.
A black backpack is slouched in the corner.
I hobble over and take a look inside.
There's an empty can of Diet Coke with a kiss of lipstick against the rim.
It's Rae's, I'd bet.
The next item is a half eaten candy bar, with plastic wrap over the bite marks for protection.
And last there are several other unmentionables - probably stolen when he ransacked our house.
My body shakes, and Joe peers into the bag, pawing through the items with disgust.
"Honestly, I really don't understand why a guy would take something like this," he says, holding up a dainty pair of briefs,"All I know is he must be a real piece of work."
The floorboards creak, and I glance in the direction of the other room, seeing that the spotlight has been shut off.
I quickly stuff everything back into the bag and jam the flashlight in my hoodie pocket.
I stand next to Joseph, frozen in fear, hoping that the darkness will hide me.
That I'm all alone.
That no one is coming.
The sound of footsteps moving towards me fills my ears.
I stretch my arms out and spread my fingers to try and find the doorway that will lead me into the main room, the one I came in.
Despite the growing ache, I place all my weight on the injured foot with each step to avoid making any noise, but just as soon as I'm sure that it's working, my ankle makes a loud popping noise.
I snap my eyes shut, clench my fists, and remain as still as possible, trying not to breathe.
I wait several seconds but there's only silence.
The footsteps start again but then they stop, and I can tell he's only inches away now.
My chin shakes.
Should I say something?
Should I answer?
I clench my fists even tighter.
"Pete?" he says again,"Is that you?"
He clicks on the spotlight over us and it takes several seconds before his image is more than a blur of light mixed with shadows.
And then it hits me.
The way he's looking at me - head slightly cocked to one side, eyebrows arched, lips pressed together, it's him.
The face in my nightmare.
The one I saw, but couldn't remember.
Him showing up right after the break in.
His joking attitude.
His being here tonight.
He stands in the middle of the room, just below the spotlight.
"You scared the shit out of me," he says, "I went back to get you guys and you were gone and are you alright?" he rambles, shifting subjects mid-sentence.
Teeth clenched, jaw stiff, I nod.
"I think it's best you leave now," he says forcefully.
"You don't want to stay here," he tells me,"Trust me, your brother."
Joe stays silent, and scoots over towards the wall.
I find my courage and a bubble of energy explodes in my chest,"Tell me where Rachael is. Now!"
"I don't know what you're talking about, but you had better leave before it's too late."
"Tell me," I growl,"Or I'm not going anywhere."
"No!" he shouts, lunging toward me, his hands at my shoulders, and pins me against the wall.
I launch my knee up into his groin and he stumbles back, letting out a short grunt.
But that's not enough.
He grabs around my neck and presses the back of my head against a wooden plank.
"Andrew," I gasp, trying to swallow, feeling every muscle in my neck work.
His hands lock tighter.
Until I can't breathe at all, until my world falls silent.
I feel my lips part, my tongue fall forward, and my eyelids twitter.
"Time to go home, now!" He releases his grip on my neck and I feel my knees give way.
I fall to the ground and my hands grasp around my neck.
Trying to fill my lungs with breath.
Still gasping, I stand to meet him eye to eye.
I draw back, and with all my might, I put all my weight in front of me and launch my fist forward, punching him hard in the face.
His head snaps back and he yelps and folds to the ground, the flashlight shooting from his hand.
I snatch it and run.
I know it'll only be a matter of time before he gets up and comes looking for me.
I continue to run, wiping at the tears streaming from my eyes due to the cold air.
It feels like theres broken glass under my wounded foot but I run with all I have, through the pain.
And then, right below my rib cage, a sting, a pulling.
I'm going to get sick.
But I can't.
I suck in my breath and run, until a board creaks under my foot, popping up just a little bit, and I hear her whimper.
Joe skids to a stop next to me and gets the message, immediately tugging at the board.
I grab the one next to it and immediately thrust it upwards, silently thanking God for the shitty craftsmanship.
"Rae," I whisper into the small crack I've made.
I tug harder, digging my feet into the floor and pulling.
It gives way a little more and I whisper again,"Rae, can you hear me?" I pull again, but it's not going to give anymore.
I glance around the room and see it - a crowbar set on the window frame only about twenty feet away.
I dart forward and grab it, digging it into the crack and thrusting upward, seeing the nails come loose just as I hear the floorboards creak in the other room.
He must be coming back into consciousness.
I give the board one more thrust and it pops upward, and I immediately hand it off to Joe, who is still struggling with the other board.
I want to cry.
I want to be sick.
But I can't.
Rae is depending on me.
I grab the plank, picking it up and tossing it to the side.
Joe mimics the motions I just went through and soon both boards have been removed.
There she is.
She lays on the ground in the fetal position, her eyes wide like a cat.
Her hair, tousled and dirty over her face.
Thick pieces of duct tape over her mouth, around her wrists, and ankles.
I grab her wrists and pull her upward, onto the floor.
I can hear her sobbing beneath the tape.
Her head quivers, like she's scared and cold at the same time.
I grab the corner of the tape and pull until her mouth is free, until her sobs are audible.
"Rae, you have to keep quiet," I say, looking around.
No Andrew just yet.
I fumble with the tape around her ankles, but I can't get my fingers to work fast enough.
Rae continues to sob thick, hungry sobs, like she can't get her breath.
She scrunches up her knees and wiggles her ankles, trying to release the tape.
"Rae hold still," I say, finding the end of the tape and unrolling layer after layer of tape around her ankles, as she continues to wriggle them back and forth as I get closer to the end.
"Quit doing that, you're making it harder," I say, looking around.
Still no sign of Andrew.
She wails even louder.
He has to have heard us by now.
I free her ankles, stand up, and grab at her arms to pull her up.
But she refuses to budge, she's just dead weight.
"Rae come on," I plead.
She focuses down and shakes her head furiously, and continues to cry.
"Rae, please. I need you to help me. He's coming, don't you get it? He killed Emma, the three of us could be next," I say as Joe nods in agreement.
She pulls her knees to her chest and snaps her eyes shut tight to block me out.
I take a deep breath in, squat down, put one arm under her knees, the other around her back and pick her up bridal-style.
I wrestle to stand up, putting all the weight in my legs, but the bottom of my foot feels like its tearing open.
I take a step and fall backwards, Rae toppling over me, crying even louder now.
I hear a shifting in the other room and push Rae off of me, and grab her ankles, as Joe grabs her around the waist.
We hoist her off the ground and hurry out into the woods, the three of us moving as one, as fast as possible.
Suddenly Joe stops and his icy blue eyes, just as Rae's, grow wide with fear.
Rae looks back at me and her mouth arches wide in a loud, crazed scream.
A blade presses against my neck and I drop her legs immediately.
"I bet you wish you'd gone home now, don'tcha, Pete?" Andrew snarls.
He holds me in a headlock, the point of the blade needling into my skin.
"No!" Rae shouts.
She struggles out of Joe's grip and lifts her arms towards her head, like she wants to cover her ears, block everything out, but her bound wrists make it impossible.
"Andrew," the ball in my throat bobs up and down beneath his grip,"Rae, she needs help, a doctor."
"You did this. This is your fault!" Andrew releases the headlock and pushes me to the ground.
I land smack on my butt.
"Hands behind your back!" he shouts.
He squats down next to Rae, but keeps his eye on me.
He touches the side of her face, the blade ever so gently brushing against her cheek, and lifts her chin so she'll look at him,"It's OK now. Everything's going to be OK."
Rae shakes her head almost violently.
"I had to do this," he rubs her wrists gingerly,"Do you understand? I had to tie you up like this, you said you wanted to leave. I had to make you listen and understand."
There's the long, fork-like branch I saw earlier, laying just out of my reach.
Focusing on Andrew, I sit up tall, lengthening my spine, inching myself towards it.
"I love you, Rae," Andrew continues,"That's why I've done all this."
He smiles, as though this explanation will bring her pleasure.
"I only hid you because I didn't want anyone to find you. Do you know how that would have ruined it all?"
Her breathing is getting worse, the more he talks to her the more ragged it becomes.
"Andrew," Joe says bravely,"I know you want the best for her. But she's freezing. She's having trouble breathing. She needs a doctor.
"No!" he shouts.
He points the blade towards Joe's face and his hand shakes with rage,"Not until she understands!"
He looks back at her but keeps the blade pointed at Joe in midair.
"I'm gonna take care of her. I'm the only one who knows how."
I stretch out my leg, reaching for the branch with my foot.
"I love you, Rachael," He pats the side of her face,"And I know you love me too. I know you used to love our long talks on the phone."
His eyes are desperate for her affirmation but her crying only intensifies.
She huddles further into a crouch and rocks back and forth.
"What's wrong with you?" Andrew shouts,"Why won't you say anything? Why won't she speak to me?!" He glares past the blade at Joe and I.
"You killed Emma," I say.
"She got in my way," he counters.
He changes the direction of the knife so that it's pointed downwards, and stabs it into the ground, over and over again.
I inch myself closer to the branch.
"I had to stop her, Rachael," Andrew persists,"I didn't want to do what I did. You've gotta believe me. I'm not that way, I just couldn't let her ruin this."
He continues to stab at the ground and I continue to inch towards the branch.
She continues to rock back and forth, her eyes blank and distant.
Andrew breathes in deeply and plunges the knife into his knee, penetrating the skin, drawing a gash of blood.
He jerks it out with a slight flinch but continues to stab the ground relentlessly.
He wants her to answer him but she doesn't oblige.
I break my hands from the clasp behind my back and grab the stick, swinging it only for him to intercept it mid-swing.
He grabs my wrist and presses the knife to my cheek,"You think you're clever, don't you, Pete?"
I shake my head.
He draws a line down my cheek and then points the tip into my throat.
"No!" Rachael and Joe scream in unison.
I look over Andrew's shoulder.
Rae is standing, her fingers woven together and Andrew takes a step back to look at her.
"No!" she cries again.
He releases my hand but keeps me pinned with the knife.
I let my arms fall slowly, and grab his hand from near my throat and bit it hard, breaking the skin.
"Rachael now!" I shout, not sure of what she'll do, but praying she'll do something.
Her fists thunder upward and into his groin and he falls to the ground, and Joe kicks his face.
I tear the knife from his grip and turn it on him.
"Sit down," I instruct him forcefully.
He motions to sit but lurches at me, twisting the knife from my grip.
Joe comes from behind him and swings a stone over his head, hitting Andrew hard.
The knife jumps for his grip and Andrew scrambles to stay focused.
I move to grab the knife, but he beats me to it.
"Hold it," but this time it's a different voice.
I look up and there stands the officer, the one who mocked me for claiming I knew this would happen just last week.
He's accompanied by Andy and a solemn-looking Patrick.
His gun is drawn and he lurches towards us,"Drop the knife and step back," he commands.
I do, knowing that we're finally safe.
He wraps a pair of handcuffs around Andrew's wrists and reads him his rights.
Another officer takes off his jacket and drapes it around Rae's shoulders
He unwinds the tape from her wrists.
I just stand there next to Joe, taking it all in, relieved that I don't have to fight anymore.
Andrew gives Rae one last look before he's escorted away.
It's an intense, desperate look, like he really loves her
I walk over and hug her.
"I'm sorry," she whispers.
"Don't worry about it."
I close my eyes and press her into me, feel her fingers touch my back, them press against me to return the hug.
"Thank you," she whispers into my ear.
I kiss her, and pull away, shaking my head, thankful that she's safe, and that the nightmare's ended.