I woke with a jolt. Or at least, that’s how it felt. I knew as soon as my eyes opened to the mesh-like texture obscuring my vision that my body hadn’t made the motion my mind thought it had. Stone didn’t move.
“Shit.” The curse word dripped from my lips, burning through any last shred of hope I’d had that this was a dream with the efficiency of acid.
Despair settled in my chest. The memories had been nothing more than that — memories. They were never the answer, never a puzzle whose solution would yield my freedom. They were simply the painful reminders of a time I’d long wished I could forget.
So, now what?
As I focused my eyes to see through the mesh, my thoughts stilled, stunned into silence by the sight in front of me. Snow. And lots of it.
I swept my gaze as far across the landscape as my stationary body would allow, confusion blanketing my thoughts as surely as the park was coated in fluffy white.
What the heck? Portland was known for it’s highly unpredictable, schizophrenic weather, but four feet of snow in October was unheard of, even for here.
The river churned sluggishly, its brown water lapping at the white-frosted banks. Diluted sunlight filtered through the trees, sparkling against the icy grass at an angle that was far too low for autumn, and everything smelled wet with a sharp edge of frozen. Fear uncurled in my belly, raising its head in interest as my confusion grew. Quickly, I glanced toward the Morrison Bridge. Its lights were still on, dim against the early morning light, glowing in shades of red and green. That’s weird. Shouldn’t they be pastels?
A sudden cough startled me and I jumped. Well, my consciousness did, anyway. Seconds before I looked down, I became aware of a strange weight lying across my lap. It wasn’t heavy — not in the sense I’d always known the term — it was more like a subtle pressure, a difference in the way the air moved against my concrete skin.
I stared at the strange lump of stained brown fabric covering my legs, trying to determine what it was, and why it was on me. And then it moved.
The phrase “crawling out of my skin” took on a whole new meaning as I retreated within myself, unable to physically extricate my body from whatever — whoever — had decided I was a good pillow. And oh God, the smell. A pungent mix of wet fabric, unwashed human, and something unidentifiably disgusting slapped against my nose; for a second, I was incredibly glad I couldn’t react physically, otherwise the bile kicking up the back of my throat would have added to the person’s revolting perfume.
What if it was the homeless woman? She had said this bench was her bed. Now that I was a permanent fixture on it, was I destined to be her nightly companion?
My stomach roiled further at the thought.
The call came from behind me and slightly to my right, but I couldn’t turn to see who was approaching. The bundle in my lap grunted and burrowed down deeper. Unpleasant, on several levels.
“Hey!” the voice said again, closer this time. I pushed my eyes as far into my peripheral vision as I could, hoping that maybe salvation was at hand. A man wearing a black jacket with a fur collar and patches that looked comfortingly official stepped into view, heading my way. I’d never been so happy to see a cop. Right now, he was my best bet to get Homeless Jane Doe off me.
My attention snapped back to the person in my lap as they sat up, the blanket cocooning them to their ears and obscuring their face completely.
“You can’t stay here, son,” the cop said, coming to stand before the bench, his mouth pulled into a frown as he stared at the bundle of fabric beside me.
Son? So much for my theory of the homeless woman’s revenge.
John Doe mumbled something, but it was indecipherable through the layers of quilted fabric wrapped around him. The cop shook his head and took a step forward.
“It’s freezing out. Come on, I’ll take you to the Rescue Mission up on Burnside. No one should be alone on Christmas, after all.”
I choked. Did he just say “Christmas”?
My mind whirled as the cop pulled my homeless companion to his feet and proceeded to herd him up the path. I glanced toward the bridge’s lights again. Well, that explained why they were red and green, and why there was snow on the ground. But still. When I’d fallen asleep, it was the middle of October. If it was now December — the end of December — then somehow, I’d slept through nearly three months? How was that possible?
As the lights on the bridge abruptly shut off, conceding to the marginally brighter daylight, one thought swirled through my head:
This curse just kept getting better and better.