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I wake up screaming. I’m bloody, my shirt is ripped, and I’m surrounded by desert. My head is attached to my body; my upper torso is no longer spooned clean.
A brief chill. Then the torment returns.
“No.” I push myself up. I grab my expos cap, jam it on until I’m eye-deep, then rip it off and throw it to the ground.
Somebody’s handgun is in my pocket.
I pat my pockets down – no phone, no wallet. I do a three-sixty. My family is gone. Loretta and Avery are hostages.
Master has them. In real life.
My eyes glaze over the sand, then the rocks around me. How is this possible? Am I delusional, have I gone full-blown insane?
I pick one of the rocks up, then hurl it. How could a psychopath from my dreams kidnap my family? I snatch another, then fling it forty plus yards.
I grab a third, then sprint forward. I swing my arm back, then hurl it through the air. My pace diminishes to a clumsy limp. Two more lifeless steps, then I stumble and fall, face-first into the sand. My wrist jams from my half-assed attempt to catch myself. Grains of sand fill my mouth and catch in the cracks between my teeth.
I slip the handgun out from my pocket and stare down the barrel.
The sicko has my family. He could be raping them, torturing them. Maybe he’s killed them already. Maybe he’s right – maybe I’m doomed to fail.
Have I lost my mind? Has ‘Master’ really infiltrated my dreams and abducted my family? Does he even exists, or has paranoia deranged the shit out of me?
I think hard about my morning with Loretta, searching for some alternative explanation. Is it possible our love wasn’t mutual, and she opted to take our daughter and run? No – She wouldn’t do something like that, I’m sure of it.
That cop who pulled me over – he seemed tormented, too. Especially when he blew his brains out. Maybe Master had him.
I flip the gun aside.
I’m dehydrated, hungry, and disoriented. I push off my belly then sit on my knees, gazing absently at the sun. I remain there until only a faint orange glow remains. I drop my head, let out a breath, then rise to my feet.
I have to get going. I have to save my family.
There is a roadway in the distance. I look down at the handgun, bend over to grab it, then stop. I swipe my expos hat up instead, then fix it over my shaggy hair as I walk toward the roadway.
I’m not going to kill anyone. Like I said before, I’m not a man of violence, and there’s no way in hell I’m going to let Master get to me. Even with my family in jeopardy, force and intimidation is not part of my lifestyle. I clean pools for Christ’s sake.
I pause short of my fifth step. What choice do I really have, though? My wife and daughter are in his hands. He’s the one calling the shots.
I shut my eyes and sigh.
I return to where I sat, grab the gun, then tuck it in the waistband of my jeans and hike through the desert sand over to the roadway.
I’m not going to use it. But I’d be an idiot not to take it.
I wish going to the authorities were an option. Too bad cops don’t file police reports about nightmares. Plus I’m freaked out about how Master tracks me in real life. Could be some wacko shit like Being John Malkovich, where there’s this portal that allows people to observe life through some famous actor’s eyes. I forget the actor’s name.
Master? Who is this guy? Why did he pick me to carry out his dirty work? Somehow this complete stranger has jacked the steering wheel of my own life and taken me for a joy-ride.
I reach the road, then wait on the side. A trailer approaches. My arm is outstretched, thumb aimed skyward. I step out for the driver to see me. He tugs the horn and swerves around.
Five minutes pass without a single other vehicle passing. Then a truck rumbles my way. This time I jump in the road and wave my arms frantically. They slow to a roll, and I move aside and signal for him to lower the window.
Guy laughs and gives me the finger, then drives off.
Enough with the bullshit.
I hold the gun firm with one hand. Next car is mine.
A red mustang comes tearing down the highway. I flag them down from the middle of the road. I hope to God the driver isn’t one of those mad-as-hell gun owners who live for murdering in self-defense. The mustang pulls over and stops, but the tinted window remains up.
I take one last breath, then aim my gun at the driver’s side window. I fight jitters as I reach out for the door handle. Part of me fully expects my head to be blown off before I ever see who’s inside. I tug the handle, and hear the snappy click – it’s unlocked. I bring the door toward me.
“O… M… G,” she says.
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