One of the members told Freddy he had done well. That made all the difference. The meeting had been a success, another round of chanting. Freddy had lead them, the words of the old tongue falling from his mouth in nervous clumps. When others said the words, a rhythm was created, a musical dance that caused the group to sway. Some said the words like a speech, loud and clear, causing the group to stand and cheer and become a unit of like-minded beasts intent on a single goal. Others whispered the words, the group leaning in to hear and drifted like a child hearing a bedtime story. When Freddy finished, everyone had given a light clap.
Still, he had done a good job. He had been told so.
Freddy walked to the library. His afternoon shift started soon. The day became cloudy as he walked. One long white cloud with a bulbous end stretched across the sky below the gray overcast. Freddy imagined a dragon following him. He thought also of going home for his rain jacket, but he did not smell rain in the air. At most, he could make it home a little wet.
He passed the old C Store on his way. A gas station built a dozen years ago by the Porter family. The same gas station his dad had been seen visiting the night he left. Freddy had never wondered if there was an A or B Store. He did not like to think about the place.
"Hey, Fred," Jake Porter said.
"Hey," Freddy said and kept walking.
"Stop for a bit," the boy said. He was eighteen and had graduated a year ahead of Freddy, but he always seemed younger. Jake hung around the C Store even when he did not have to work a shift.
Jake said, "Ain't seen you around much."
"Been busy. Working," Freddy said. He slowed.
"That's cool. Listen, I got something you might like. Better than that old stuff."
"I ain't doing that no more."
"It's the shit. Not like that old stuff. You'll never believe where I got it."
Freddy did not say.
"I'm late for work."
"Then you know. Heh. I bet you do. Why you ain't been buying from me."
"I ain't doing that no more."
"Yeah. Okay, baby. I know you."
"Don't call me that," Freddy said. All the good will he had from the meeting leached from him. He stopped. Reminders did that to you. Put you back in old places with old memories and stop you cold. All it took was a word to break your resolve and reclaim a part of your heart.
"Okay, baby. Don't get mad. I'm just offering you some primo-"
Freddy hit Jake with a wild punch. Right in the chest. It staggered the other boy with a small smack and a deep echo. Freddy's knuckles throbbed.
"You dick." Jake threw a punch of his own. His landed in Freddy's stomach, up and under his ribs. The breath wheezed out and up and acid filled his mouth. Freddy had to lean forward, right into a punch to the jaw.
"You fucking dick," Jake said. Freddy fell to his knees. He felt a kick in his back and fell forward. His face landed in the grass but his hands scraped on the sidewalk. Another kick and he stopped moving. A glob of spit landed on his face.
"Just wanted to share," Jake said.
The grass felt cool under his face. The concrete of the sidewalk was cooling as the clouds filled the sky. Freddy rolled onto his back. The cloud dragon had broken up. Freddy lay there waiting to get his breath back.
To Be Continued…