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The wind cut into my skin like knives, bitterly cold and dark. The sky above was pitch-black, without even the moon or stars to light my way. The cold seeped into my bones from the stone beneath me, rough and jagged, digging into me wherever my skin was exposed alongside the biting wind. I couldn't move, every muscle frozen, eyes staring blankly up. My breath was held, though my chest burned for air.

The footsteps that passed were quiet, stealthy, but seemed like gunshots in the midnight silence. I tried to keep from shivering. I jumped, life shooting back into me, when cold hands wrapped around my wrists and pulled. My voice caught in my throat but my heart raced frantically, beating as if trying to escape itself. Even my lungs felt paralyzed, but the rest of me fought, struggling and kicking, scratching at my captor. The stone scraped across my skin, drawing blood. Finally, a sound left my throat but it was only a hoarse whisper, drowned out by the laughter above me. I tried again but a hand clamped over my mouth, cutting me off. A face swam into focus, eerily familiar but yet terrifyingly foreign. A mouth opened to speak but before it could the dream melted like frost in the sun.

I woke with a gasp, choking on a scream. The sun was just breaking over the horizon enough to lighten the sky, sending pale streaks travelling across the dark, and I almost laid back down to get some more sleep, until I realized that the sky was stretching freely above me. I was lying on stone, just like in my dream, only in the light of dawn and alone rather than in the dead of night and being dragged to somewhere unknown. I scrambled to my feet, spinning in circles, hair flying around me. I was in a little alley, shielded between two buildings. A dumpster on one side was overflowing with torn trash bags filled with rotten garbage, bugs swarming around it with a dull, unending buzz. Opposite it was a metal door leading to the building across the street. I took a breath and pushed on it, bracing myself for whatever horrible things might be on the other side, but it was locked.

My stomach sank to the ground and I had to force myself to take slow, deep breaths to calm down. I held out my arms to check for injuries, remembering the feel of stone scraping against them in the dream, but they were unmarked, though dirty. I flipped up my shirt and found not a single bruise. There was no sign that any of it had happened—and it was a dream. It was insane to even consider it. But it had felt so real.

The cold hit me, goosebumps racing up and down my skin. I was too exposed to be standing around outside. I needed to find somewhere safe.

Safe—why that word, of all that could pop into my head? Was I in danger here?

Where was safe? Where was here?

My head spun and I raked my fingers through my hair, shaking. I turned around again, searching the alley for something, anything. I couldn't have appeared out of nowhere. "Oh, god, oh, god," I whispered, trying to keep the nearly-hysterical chant from rising in volume as I searched the alley. The only thing that wasn't black with dirt and dust was a white tube propped against the dumpster, a rolled paper adorned with a simple hand-written note. I ripped it off and unfolded it with unsteady fingers, murmuring the words to myself as I read.


Home is where the heart is. You'll know that when it's time.

I turned the note over and over in my hands, searching for something else. There was nothing. Home. That sounded nice right about now, but I didn't know where that was or what that meant. I wandered towards the street, my feet acting on their own, paper clutched in one hand. I couldn't explain any of my actions; I only followed them, hoping some part of me knew where I was going. Nothing around me was familiar and yet it all was, and I stopped at the entrance to a neighborhood, dark and empty. Houses lined both sides of the street, staring at me with dusty windows for eyes. They were neither fancy nor run-down, so perfectly average they meant nothing to me. They seemed to retreat from the curb, like they were trying to blend into the early-morning shadows and go unnoticed. No cars sat waiting in their driveways, no children were up getting ready for school, no adults came out to leave for work. Not a single dog barked, and through the windows I saw no movement. This whole place seemed lifeless.

I continued more slowly than before, studying each house as I passed it. Everything here was wrong. It looked like it should have been lively, but this wasn't a place where people lived. It was a neighborhood without inhabitants, and it gave me a chill that had nothing to do with the weather.

I didn't want to be alone here. I wanted to leave the neighborhood and find somewhere more public, to run screaming through town until I found somebody, but my feet refused to turn around. They carried me further, on and on. I didn't want to keep going, didn't want to confirm that there was nobody here. I felt tears push at the backs of my eyes, stinging to escape, and I swallowed hard to keep them at bay. My hands were trembling and my heart pounded; I knew the signs of a panic attack, and I tried to force my breathing to go slow and steady to stop it from coming. It didn't help.

I picked a house at random, desperate to hear another voice, and climbed the short steps to the porch. The doorbell was cold to the touch and when I rang it I heard nothing inside. I stood shaking for a moment with no answer and finally knocked. There was no sign of somebody about to come to the door. I pounded harder, my breath coming in quick, anxious gasps.

"Hello?" I called, shivering. "Hello? Is anybody there? Let me in, please!" I raised my voice until it scraped against my throat, burned by the cold, and cracked.

If anybody was home they weren't coming. I smacked the door once more and it popped open, swinging inwards slowly, like a ghostly invitation inside. I stared at the dark interior for a long moment before crossing over the threshold, leaving the wind behind.

Inside was just as dark and cold as outside, and when I flicked a light switch on the wall nothing happened. The house seemed still and frozen, as if it was awaiting the return of its owners, and I felt like an unwanted intruder as I crossed the living room, running my hand along the back of a couch. Dust followed my every footstep and I batted a cobweb out of the corner of a doorway. Nobody had been here for a long, long time. I pulled a cold, rough blanket from the back of a chair, shook it off, and wrapped it around myself. With no idea of what else to do, I dropped to the floor and sat, waiting with the rest of the abandoned house.

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