“They’re not all that defines us. As long as I’m with you, I know exactly who I am.”
“Daniela, I want nothing more than to be with you, but if I don’t do this thing tomorrow, you and Charlie will never be safe. And no matter what happens, you will still have me.”
“I don’t want some other version of you. I want you.”
I wake in the dark to my pulse pounding in my head and my mouth bone-dry.
Pulling on my jeans and shirt, I stagger down the hall.
With no fire tonight, the sole source of illumination on the entire ground level is a timid nightlight plugged into an outlet above the kitchen counter.
I take a glass from the cabinet and fill it at the tap.
Drink it down.
Fill it again.
The central heating cuts off.
I stand at the sink, sipping the cold well water.
The cabin so quiet I can hear the floor popping as the wood fibers expand and contract in distant corners of the house.
Through the window over the kitchen sink, I stare into the woods.
I love that Daniela wants me, but I don’t know where we go from here. I don’t know how to keep them safe.
My head is spinning.
A little ways beyond the Jeep, something catches my attention.
A shadow moving across the snow.
I set the glass down, head to the front door, and step into my boots.
On the porch, I button my shirt and walk into the trodden snow between the steps and the car.
Then out past the Jeep.
I see what caught my eye from the kitchen.
As I approach, it’s still moving.
Larger than I first thought.
The size of a man.
It is a man.
The path along which he’s dragged himself is plain to see by the streaks of blood that look black in the starlight.
He’s groaning as he crawls in the direction of the front porch. He’s never going to make it.
I reach him, kneel beside him.
It’s me, right down to the coat and the Velocity Laboratories backpack and the ring of thread.
He’s holding his stomach with one hand, which is covered in steaming blood, and he looks up at me with the most desperate eyes I’ve ever seen.
I ask, “Who did this to you?”
“One of us.”
“How’d you find me here?”
He coughs up a mist of blood. “Help me.”
“How many of us are here?”
“I think I’m dying.”
I look around. It only takes me a second to lock on the pair of blood-tinged footprints moving away from this Jason toward the Jeep, and then on around the side of the cabin.
The dying Jason is saying my name.
Begging for my help.
And I want to help him, but all I can think is—they found us.
Somehow, they found us.
He says, “Don’t let them hurt her.”
I look back at the car.
I didn’t notice at first, but now I see that all the tires have been slashed.
Somewhere in the near distance, I hear footsteps in the snow.
I scan the woods for movement, but the starlight doesn’t penetrate the denser forest farther out from the cabin.
He says, “I’m not ready for this.”
I look down into his eyes as my own panic builds. “If this is the end, be brave.”
A gunshot shreds the silence.
It came from behind the cabin, near the lake.
I race back through the snow, past the Jeep, sprinting toward the front porch, trying to process what’s happening.
From inside the cabin, Daniela calls my name.
I climb the steps.
Crash through the front door.
Daniela is coming down the hallway, wrapped in a blanket and backlit by the light spilling out of the master bedroom.
My son approaches from the kitchen.
I lock the front door behind me as Daniela and Charlie converge in the foyer.
She asks, “Was that a gunshot?”
“They found us.”
“How is that possible?”
“We have to leave right now. Both of you head to our bedroom, get dressed, start getting our things together. I’m going to make sure the back door is locked, then I’ll join you.”
They head down the hallway.
The front door is secure.
The only other way into the house is through the French doors that lead from the screened-in porch into the living room.
I move through the kitchen.
Daniela and Charlie will be looking to me to tell them what’s next.
And I have no idea.
We can’t take the car.
We’ll have to leave on foot.
As I reach the living room, my thoughts come in a raging stream of consciousness.
What do we need to bring with us?
Where’s our money?
In an envelope in the bottom dresser drawer of our bedroom.
What else do we need?
What can we not forget?
How many versions of me tracked us here?
Am I going to die tonight?
By my own hand?
I feel my way through the darkness, past the sleeper sofa, to the French doors. As I reach down to test the handles, I realize—it shouldn’t be this cold in here.
Unless these doors were recently opened.
As in a few seconds ago.
They’re locked now, and I don’t remember locking them.
Through the glass panes, I can see something on the patio, but it’s too dark to make out any detail. I think it’s moving.
I need to get back to my family.
As I turn away from the French doors, a shadow rises from behind the sofa.
My heart stops.
A lamp blinks on.
I see myself standing ten feet away, one hand on the light switch, the other pointing a gun at me.
He’s wearing nothing but a pair of boxer shorts.
His hands are covered in blood.
Coming around the sofa with the gun aimed at my face, he says quietly, “Take your clothes off.”
The slash across his face identifies him.
I glance behind me through the French doors.
The lamplight illuminates just enough of the patio for me to see a pile of clothes—Timberlands and a peacoat—and another Jason lying on his side, his head in a pool of blood, throat laid open.