“Isn’t he a friend of yours?” laughs the cheerleader.
“No,” she answers quietly, “he’s just my neighbor. He’s harmless.”
“He’s a retard.”
Tammy Andrews winces equally at the label and the derisive laughter that follows. The cheerleader’s friends begin to show up behind her, seeming to materialize from thin air.
“He doesn’t know any better. He knows me because he’s lived next door since the second grade. He just follows me because it’s comfortable for him.”
Her blue eyes narrows with a combination of spite and arrogance, “We’re not walking with him. You comin’ with us, or walking home with Forrest Gump?”
The same dream again, Tammy sighs in her sleep. She knows what’s coming, but seems powerless to stop it. Night after night, the same dread, shame, and regret.
“Defend him!” She screams at herself. “This is a dream, isn’t it? Why can’t I change things even in a dream?”
Tammy awakens with a start; an uneasy feeling begins to creep over her. Something is different, wrong. The room seems impossibly dark. She looks for her glowing clock, but can’t find it. She reaches for her window next to her bed. It isn’t there. Tammy tries to calm down by taking exaggerated breaths, telling herself she’s still dreaming. She pinches her arm, feels the pain, nothing changes. The room seems to darken, black strips falling across her vision like confetti turning her room even darker.
She begins to panic. This isn’t possible, she thinks. Then comes a voice, wet, as if talking through a rainstorm, “Yes, it is, young one. And this is only the beginning.” Tammy begins to scream.
Her screaming stops abruptly with the feeling of being lifted. She looks quickly in all directions for the source of that sinister voice. The feeling of movement causes her to change her focus. She can still feel the fabric of the sheets beneath her. It feels like she’s still on her own bed, but a moving bed? Tammy’s stomach begins to feel queasy as a wave of nausea sweeps over her.
Moments later, she thinks, Enough of this. Throwing off her covers, Tammy lowers her feet to walk on the floor. It’s only a dream she tells herself and steps down…into thin air.
Tammy’s eyes bulge as she screams. She reaches out, but nothing is there. With that realization, Tammy’s very soul cries out as she continues to fall.
On the verge of passing out, Tammy is able to grasp one cohesive thought. If I’m really falling, why haven’t I hit the ground yet?
“Quite simple, my child,” answers the same dripping voice through the darkness. “It’s a long trip. But, worry not. It’s over now.”
Instantly, Tammy is standing. The ground is spongy, but uneven, causing her to twist her ankles often. She smells sulfur, thick, causing her to gag. The taste of bile rises in her throat.
“Where am I?” she coughs. “Why am I here?”
Booming laughter, “Come now, Tammy. You know better than that. You’ve sent yourself here, and deservedly so, I might add.”
Bowing her head, “Frankie.”
“Yes, child. The one person who truly needs your help, his one friend, and you abandon him. And for who? A group of girls you don’t even like. Such a disappointment.”
Tammy feels a punch to her stomach that drops to her knees.
“You are truly pathetic, child. You desert a mentally retarded boy, and for what purpose? To get invited to the end of year party? Was it worth it? Was the party really that important to devastate such a helpless victim? He must’ve hated you in those final moments.”
Tammy jerks her head up. A smile pulls at her lips.
“Nice try. But, you pushed too hard. Frankie was incapable of hate.”
A fresh wave of sulfur causes another fit of coughing. Undaunted, Tammy continues.
“Yes, I was weak and made a bad decision. I regret it. But, that doesn’t make me a bad person. It makes me stronger, and you weaker. I want out of here. Now.”
Tammy is bombarded by a blinding light, along with a deafening howl of anguish. Instantly, Tammy is in an unfamiliar room. She’s puzzled by the white bars over one window, up near the ceiling. Her left ankle twists painfully on the spongy ground. She looks down at the white padded floor, then at the padded walls.
Before she can scream, she hears the voice, “You didn’t think it was going to be that easy, did you?”
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