The minute she saw him, she knew he intended to kill her.
He stepped from behind the car parked next to hers, appearing suddenly in the dusk. He was a stranger, yet familiar – there was something about the set of his ears, the shape of his chin. He didn’t speak, but no words were needed. The blade he cradled in his hand spoke for him.
“What do you want?” She’d meant to make her voice strong, but it came out a gasp.
“Now take it easy.” His thumb caressed the hilt of the knife. “I’d hate to have to hurt you. Why don’t you just come with me like a good girl?”
She remembered her self-defense classes: don’t show fear, don’t back down, and above all, don’t go quietly. Straightening her spine, she met his eyes and shouted, “Get the hell away from me.”
“Why, Mattie, is that any way to treat your long-lost brother?”
She awoke, as she always did, sweating and trembling. The dream came so often these days, and for no reason she could pinpoint. Just my brain cleaning house while I’m asleep, she counseled herself. It means nothing.
She wished she could believe it.
Why this persistent dream of a brother she never had? The feeling of doom and danger that came with it – what was that about? Despite her determination not to succumb to superstition, she couldn’t help speculating whether the dream was some kind of omen. But if it was, what was she to do about it?
If only I had a brother or sister. If only Mom and Dad were still alive. I could talk it over with them, with family. But she was the only child of two only children – no aunts or uncles or cousins, let alone siblings. When people began remarking on the dark circles under her eyes, she decided it was time to seek help.
“I don’t think I really need a shrink long-term,” she said to Dr. Musgrove at their get-acquainted session. “I just have this one dream that is…troubling.”
“Why don’t you tell me about it?”
She did, looking anxiously at the doctor’s face as she finished. “So, what do you think? Am I Cuckoo for Coco Puffs?” she asked, trying to laugh although her voice shook a little.
“Not a bit,” Dr. Musgrove said with a smile. “But I think it would be good to explore the meaning behind this dream, don’t you?”
“I guess,” Mattie said doubtfully. “I was kind of hoping you could give me a logical explanation.”
“I wish I could. You’ll have to do the heavy lifting on this, but I’ll be here to help.”
The dreams continued during that long, stifling summer without any hint of a therapy breakthrough. Mattie was discouraged and ready to quit when Dr. Musgrove suggested hypnosis. At first, she said no.
“I don’t want to surrender my will to anyone, not even you,” she protested.
“Hypnosis doesn’t work like that. You’ll still be in control. It’s just a state of deep relaxation that frees the mind to solve problems.”
It did seem to help. When the dream hadn’t disturbed her sleep for a whole week, she began to hope it was over. But then a few nights later, her “brother” was back, flicking his knife, leering at her. Her own strangled scream woke her.
“Enough! I refuse to be a victim to this irrational fear any longer.”
That day, she bought a handgun and had her first shooting lesson.
She wasn’t even surprised when she recognized him. Out for the evening at an unfamiliar pub with friends, she saw his face reflected in the mirror behind the bar. When she met his eyes, he smiled. Then he came over.
“Don’t I know you?” he said.
Mattie’s friends looked at her in surprise.
“Oh, sorry, my mistake,” he said, holding up his hands, backing away.
She left soon after that, unable to sit still with the fierce anger that consumed her. Her heels hit the sidewalk hard and her hand closed on the gun in her purse. She knew he’d be waiting for her in the parking lot. Let him try it. She was ready. Let him just try it.
He stepped from behind the car parked next to hers. “I know we don’t know each other, but – well, this sounds crazy – I dream about you all the time. I dream that you’re my sister.”
He fumbled in his pocket. He was reaching for the knife, and she knew exactly how he’d hold it, how his thumb would rub along the hilt. How he’d sink that knife into her. She pulled out her gun and fired.
When he fell, his hand came out of his pocket and his cell phone skittered across the sidewalk to her feet. That’s what he was reaching for? She’d shot him for assault with a cell phone? Shuddering, she bent and picked it up. The screen was open for a video call.
He looked out at her with the leering smile from the dream and said, “Why, Mattie, is that any way to treat your long-lost brother?”
The screen went dark. In the distance, she heard sirens.