Assumed Identity - By Julie Miller

Jake wouldn’t mind the nightmare so much if he only knew what it meant.

He thrashed in the bed, knowing he could wake himself in an instant. Instead of saving himself, however, he wrestled with the demons that had haunted his dreams on and off, from nowhere, Texas, to Kansas City, Missouri, for nearly two years now.

The violence and pain had him in their grips again, the sensations as vivid and terrifying as the images were vague and fractured—meaningless flashes of objects and people without a context. But the nightmare was the closest thing he had to a memory, the closest thing he had to understanding. So he let it steal into his bed and wash over him. He invited the torment to become a part of him.

He was hot. Sweat stung his eyes and rolled down his back. He was breathing hard, every inhale the jab of a knife in his side, every exhale a silent grunt of pain. He was hurting bad—the kind of hurt that sent men to hospitals...or the morgue.

Wheezing through the pain that seared him inside and out, he crouched behind a formless shadow in a world filled with ghosts and darkness. A voiceless command echoed in his head, forcing him to press on, demanding that he live. “You let him get away? He’ll destroy everything we’ve worked for if he escapes. You have to stop him. It’s up to you. You’re the only one who can.”

What did the words mean? Who said them? Why did he hurt like this? Where was he? When was he?

What was he?

One of the hazy apparitions moved, darting quickly from night to night. He pulled a hunting knife from a bag at his feet, flipped the blade into his hand as if he’d done the dangerous maneuver a hundred times before. He hurled the knife and the apparition sank into the darkness.

Another shadow rose from the swirling black mist. It took the shape of a man, faceless and unnamed.

He was digging through the bag again. He didn’t know where it had come from, why he had it. It was a heavy black satchel filled with things he couldn’t see, couldn’t identify, couldn’t remember. That’s when he saw the gun in his hand. It was a wicked, streamlined thing of black steel that felt comfortable there, like it was a part of him. Its shiny surface gleamed in the shadows. He knew that gun better than he knew his own name.

He squeezed the trigger and the shadow jerked. But it didn’t fall. He couldn’t see a face, but he could see the gun, pointed at him, and he dove for the ground at the flashes of gunshots exploding in the night.

All Jake knew was the driving need to hunt down prey that was getting away. The instinct to run cramped his sore, weary muscles. But somehow he knew he belonged to the darkness. He had to hide. And wait. And kill.

The barrage of deafening noise came next. Explosions. Thunder. The sounds pierced the darkness, filled it up. Guns and bombs and pain and death. He was stuck in the middle of it. Or maybe he was the cause of it.

“You have to stop him.”

He was stalking the faceless shadow. He was the bringer of death.

The nightmare took a surreal turn as snow began to fall in the darkness. He was hotter than he’d ever been, and it was snowing—but not light, airy flakes. White, acrid pellets stung his nose, melted against his skin, branded him.

The walls were collapsing around him. He needed to get out of there. Now.

But he needed to get the job done even more.

He slung the bag over his burning shoulder and pushed to his feet. Crouching low, he hurried through the darkness, snatching his knife from the dead man’s chest and tucking it into his belt before he flattened his back against a crumpling wall and peered around its black edge into the fire-studded darkness.

He blinked away the snow and sweat and pain, and stilled his breath. There. He spotted the limping shadow and moved from his hiding place. Victory was his. He lined up his prey in the crosshairs of his gun. Jake squeezed the trigger.

A searing pain exploded in his shoulder and he staggered back. A crimson stain added color to the nightmare. The bag dropped to his feet. He clutched his arm to his side and cursed the numbness creeping down to his fingertips.

“You have to stop him.”

He raised his gun again.

There was blood in