”Somebody’s in friend jail. Somebody’s in friend jail."
Louise jerks awake with Millie’s stupid song stuck in her head. Two years and the damn song hasn’t budged. She reaches over and turns on her lamp. “Copper, you up? Get my leg, buddy.”
A golden retriever rises from his bed in the corner of her room, stretches lazily, and yawns widely. He meanders across the room toward the bed, stopping halfway to grab a large object in his mouth, shift to readjust it, and continue his journey to his handler.
“Hello, it’s later!”
“Oh, Millie! Milliemilliemilliemilliemillie.” Darrel must be seriously freaking out to talk to Millie.
“Louise, you in there?” Millie called.
There was only one choice. She had to help the others escape. “I am!” she cried loudly, keeping her cringe to herself. “Millie, you have to get us out of here. Go for help. The truck pinned us in, and someone needs to move it.”
“Thanks, Copper,” Louise says, reaching with her left hand to take it from him and scratching the top of his head with her right hand. “Good boy.”
She swings the prosthetic leg up onto the bed, then swears under her breath, glad for the vocabulary upgrade she’d gotten while in the hospital. “Copper, go get a sock.”
The dog melts out from under her hand and crosses the room to do just that. “Good boy,” she praises again when he returns with a sock for her stump. (Her parents bought into the whole ‘residual limb’ debate, but she likes the word stump better.) She stretches the sock and pulls it over her stump, affixing her leg as soon as the sock is in place. She swings her legs over the edge of the bed, then sighs.
“Millie! This is Gene! Hey, can you go for help?”
“Oh, yeah,” Millie agreed readily. “I’m going to. Hey! When I say Lou, you say Ise! Lou!”
Louise suppressed the urge to roll her eyes. “Ise! Okay, that was fun. You can go now.”
“Ise. Okay, that is enough of that.”
“Ise. That’s plenty.” She ground her teeth trying to keep her cool.
“Lou!” Millie cried again.
“Ise, ise, ise!” Louise shouted, feeling the last shred of patience snap. It wasn’t the biggest fort, and it smelled like farts and spray paint. “Go get some help, you frickin’ nutcase! You creepy stalker psycho kook! Can you not understand a hint? Go get help!”
“Go get your harness.” As soon as Copper returns, she takes the harness from his mouth and buckles it onto his body. “Get ready.” He turns around and backs up until his butt is against her bed. She reaches out and grabs the strap attached to it. “Pull me.”
Copper steps forward slowly, putting his weight into his harness, and Louise pushes herself up with his help. As she gains her feet, the dog eased off with his pulling and she switches from the pull strap to a semirigid handle coming up over his shoulders. “Alright, let’s go to the bathroom.”
The duo walks slowly down the hall, Louise moving more slowly than normal as she cursed the shoe permanently on her prosthetic. She didn’t think to take it off or to put a shoe on her real foot, so now she’s off balance and relying more heavily on Copper’s balancing work than normal.
“This is Gene again,” Louise’s brother announced pointlessly. “We think you're terrific. Did you do something with your hair? You look great. You seem real strong. You been working out?”
“Louise, can you tell me this? If dust hits the ground and no one's around to hear it, does it make a sound?”
Of course not; it’s dust. "I don't know, Millie."
"No, it doesn’t. So, I guess what I'm saying is have fun spending Halloween in a box!” The other girl literally cackled as she left, and Louise cringed as she turned to face the others in the fort, sure they would be judgmental and angry.
She stops and sighs. “No, Mother, it’s your other child who’s missing a leg.”
“Did Copper wake you up?”
Shorthand for ‘Did you have another nightmare’. “No, just a Dream.”
Mom comes over and puts her hand on Louise’s shoulder. “Do you want to talk about it?” Well, at least she’d heard the capital D and understood it was about the fort incident.
“I want to pee.”
“You sound like we need to put more toilet paper in your shoe.”
“I sound like I’m not wearing a shoe on my real foot.”
“If you don’t let me pee soon, I’m going to your bed and peeing on Dad. And training Copper to poop in your shoes.”
Mom held up her hands in imaginary surrender. “Alright, alright, I won’t slow you down. But come wake me and your dad if Copper has to wake you, okay?”
“Yeah, whatever, Mom.” However hard she tries to be dismissive, it just comes off as weary. She’s not the same Louise anymore. The Louise that would deal with this alone isn’t the Louise whose leg was crushed by a truck from the knee down. “If you’ll excuse me, I’d rather miss Gene’s 3 AM poop.”
“This is all your fault, Louise! You were mean to Millie, and now we’re stranded!”
Louise gaped at her older sister. Had Tina missed how incredibly psycho Millie was?
"Yeah! She seems really cool,” Gene added, albeit a bit hesitantly.
Louise felt her fists clench. "Okay, I'm hearing a lot of blame being thrown around loosey goosey right now.” She was going to offload some of it, but Millie interrupted with her stupid song.
After emptying her bladder, she decides to take Copper downstairs to empty his. It’s not the first time they’ve been out off leash and with one shoe on, and it won’t be the last time. It’s just part of their routine.
As is balancing awkwardly on the bottom stair on her way up. “Copper, pull me.” He surges ahead and provides the momentum she needs to make it back up to their apartment. “Thanks, boy,” she tells him at the top of the stairs. He answers with an open toothed grin over his shoulder and a happy wag.
"Andy's still in there! Let him out! “ Ollie cried as the group hastily sealed off the room into which Millie had released unknown spiders.
"We can't! Then we'd all get spidered!” Louise reasoned.
"I'll never forget you, Andy,” Ollie said with his hand on the window.
Andy replied, "I'll be with you every time you look in the mirror."
"'Cause we look alike. Never mind!”
"Oh! No, I get it now!"
"I didn't want those to be my last words!” Andy called loudly.
"Why?!” Ollie cried in dramatic upheaval as his twin slipped down the window and out of sight.
"Wait a minute. Wait a minute. What the?” Louise barged through the door and stepped over the body on the floor. "Hold on. Andy, get up. They're fake spiders.” She dropped the one she’d been investigating and repressed a smile at the twins’ antics over the ’near-death’ experience, but they were all interrupted when a creepy sounding cackle was loosed over their heads from outside the fort. There was only one response Louise could make to that.
"Oh, my God.”
She jumps, hard enough to overbalance, but Copper leans into his harness and kept her on her foot. As soon as she regains her balance, he moves slightly to press against her, nose in her thigh.
“Sorry. I didn’t mean to—“
“It’s fine,” she interrupts, tired of the same apologies for her same reactions. There wasn’t even anything he could have done to prevent it.
She nods, already bored with the conversation.
“You want a drink with me?”
Louise sighs. “Dad, until you’re offering me alcohol…”
He laughs. “Fine. You want some warm milk and honey with me?”
“So you can fall asleep at the table again? I get that this is how you think you can help, but it’s off-putting to try to eat cereal when you’re snoring a foot away.”
"Why is my butt wet?”
"Butts get wet, Tina. It's what they do,” Gene exclaimed.
"Or maybe it's from that,” she said, pointing at a soggy patch on the fort’s floor.
Gene grabbed a finger-ful to sample. “Hmm. Must be garbage juice from the dumpster next door. I'm getting pinto beans, some sandpaper, prawns—“
"Guys, we just found our way out,” Louise interrupted. "All right, Andy, Ollie. You two and me are the only ones small enough to fit through that hole in the dumpster. I would go, but I'm master-minding this. So one of you two should go. Ollie, squeeze into the dumpster, burrow through the trash, jump out and run for help. Just like when you came out of your mom.”
Dad sighs. “How do you want me to help, then?”
She (easily) suppresses the urge to hug him. “Hawk and Chick. Fix me the milk but go back to bed. Go back to suspecting me for everything, because I’ve still been doing stuff. What kind of dad are you, letting a kid get away with everything?”
“The kind of dad who’s trying to be understanding of the horrible situation she’s in.”
Louise stares at him. “It’s horrible enough I don’t get punished for anything? I really should have gone through with what I threatened Mom.”
Dad grimaces and shudders. “Thanks for not peeing on me. And there’s a sentence I never thought I’d say. Or that I’d be saying it to Gene.”
Louise fumed. "How could Millie have possibly known about our plan? We whispered the whole time! Well, there's only one explanation, isn't there? One of you, in this room, in this sacred fort is a rat!
"Darryl, why are you wearing your backpack?” Tina asked.
"Why are you wearing your backpack, Darryl?” Louise jumped in. "Answer the question.”
"I just want to make sure I don't lose it?"
"Oh, really? You don't want to lose it? Because you think you're getting out of here?”
"I am!” he cried. "Millie, let me out of here! I did my part, you do yours!”
"She's not letting you out, Darryl.” She’s not letting any of us out anytime soon.
Dad shifts on his feet. “No Hawk and Chick in the middle of the night.”
“Just the drink, then. Not too hot.” She follows him into the kitchen, sits at the table, and glances at Copper. “Settle in.”
The dog lies down and make himself comfortable as Dad gets a mug and spoon out of the cabinets.
“Do you want to go back to your therapist?”
“No,” she says immediately.”
He pours the milk and returns it to the fridge, still not looking at her. “Do you need to go back to your therapist?”
Louise shifts in her chair. “Maybe.”
“I’ll get you set up.”
"Guys, take a look at this,” Darryl interrupted everyone’s conversations.
"What is it, rat?” Louise asked.
"You see those buttons on the truck?”
"We just have to find a way to hit the ‘up' button and boom, the roof is lifted.”
Solid idea, no way they could do it with anything in the fort. "And how exactly are we going to hit the button, huh? You gonna snitch on it?”
"No, we use this."
Louise felt a slightly evil smile spread across her face. “Darryl, you're my favorite kind of rat: a rat with a hanger.” She helped him unbend it quickly, then let him take over; she was not good at this kind of game and wasn’t ready to trust their lives to her own skills. Darryl, though, was known for the kind of video games that required this dexterity.
"Steady ... steady….” Darryl murmured to himself as he fed the straightened coat hanger ou the crack in the door.
"I can't watch. Mostly because I can't see,” Gene announced.
"You hear that? Louise cried. "It's working!" Everyone celebrated loudly, but the shouts quickly turned to screams of terror as the roof upstairs began to collapse inward audibly. "You hit the wrong button! Turn it off! Turn it off!”
"I can’t!” Darryl shouted. "The hanger's stuck!” He tugged on it, hard, and it came apart in his hands. "Aah! We're all gonna die!”
"Every meal I've ever eaten is flashing before my eyes! Oh, my god, my last meal was cardboard,” Gene said, sounding more regretful than proud, to Louise’s surprise.
"This is not good for my claustrophobia!” Darryl exclaimed.
Tina glanced to the side. "Wait, there's garbage. We could use it, we could stack it."
“Yes!” Louise agreed loudly. "Stack the strong stuff. Maybe we can stop this thing from crushing us! Ollie, Andy, get in there!”
She nods, then realizes he’s still not looking at her. “Yeah. Not nightmares, nothing Copper is waking me up from, but Dreams.”
“Panic attacks,” she confirms. “A couple of times a day.”
“Copper helping enough? Don’t forget you can send him to find your mom or me.”
She rolls her eyes. “I know, Dad.”
“It’s working! Isn’t it?” Tina questioned as the stack of strong garbage quavered under the push of the truck’s dock.
“Yes! The door is opening!” Louise shouted back, moving to the side to shove Darryl through the small hole.
“Crawl to freedom!” he cried on his way out, still without pants.
“Crawl to Halloween,” Tina replied as she followed Gene out.
“Go! Hurry!” Louise said, pushing Andy and Ollie to the door gap.
“Just go!” Louise shouted as the truck shook dangerously above them.
His twin threw a shoe in the fort, hitting Louise in the forehead as she tried to follow them. “Now our shoes will be together!”
Louise grabbed both shoes and began crawling out, just as the truck won the battle against the garbage. Time seemed to slow down. She was moving as quickly as she possibly could, but the truck was faster. She was almost there … just her waist … just her legs … just one leg … come on, trash, hold out half a second longer….
And agony. Nothing but agony.
Louise gasps and grabs at her stump, tears prickling in her eyes. She can feel the prosthetic, knows she’s not currently being crushed by a truck, but the pain. She feels a wet nose press against her real leg but can’t do more than notice it.
“Louise? Hey, it’s Dad, okay? I’m going to touch your shoulder.”
She jerks away from his touch but a moment later leans into the hand that’s still there. “Yeah,” she gasps out.
“It’s 2015, and you're home.”
Copper shifts and starts to insist that the hand on her prosthetic pet him instead.
“I’m here with you. You’re okay.”
“I know,” she says. She only kind of knows that, the kind of knowing that her logical side knows but the rest of her isn’t feeling it yet. “I’m just stuck back there.”
“Louise, I’m Dr. Austin,” an elderly man said, and she turned her head away. The look on his face said no good news, even though he had barely spoken yet. “Your parents thought you’d rather hear this from me.”
“They’re cowards,” she replied without venom.
She sighed. “So tell me how much leg we’re talking, here.
Dr. Austin nodded. “I’m afraid we have no choice but to amputate your leg just below your knee. However, you spent some time with that open wound directly in garbage, so the biggest hurdle now is meeting any infection head-on and hoping it won’t take more of your leg.”
“Do they make wheelchairs in my size?”
The microwave beeps and breaks into their attempts to ground Louise in the present. She jumps again, but Copper and Dad both jump into settling her startle response.
“Sorry,” she mutters, pulling away from Dad. She’s come to terms with her changed body, but the PTSD is a constant irritant and source of shame.
“Sure,” he replies. They’d had a huge fight about a month ago, Louise tired of being told not to be sorry, and Dad’s been way better about choosing his words since then. “Milk’s ready, then off to bed for both of us.”
Louise rubs at her stump, brain still half-stuck in the past, and Copper noses at her hand until she moves it. “Bed. Yeah. Sure."
”Somebody’s in friend jail, and friend jail lasts forever.”