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Thirty-two year old Alyssa didn’t much care for living out-of-doors in sub-freezing weather. She dreamt of nights in front of a fireplace, dreams culled from her former reality, where the sweet aroma of burning birch tickled nostrils with a scent tethered to the holiday season.

Life didn’t always roll the way people wanted. Alyssa lost her job with a Fortune 500 company in the meltdown of 2008. One month she strategized personal investments, the next she received word both her assets and job no longer existed.

Depression birthed hopelessness, a condition she countered with alcohol, her own Maginot Line, and no more effective. The former executive outlived her welcome with friends, the last resulting in a sendaway after a hellacious midnight argument. She made her way to a department store, scavenged its dumpster, and fell asleep on cardboard.

She’d take that night, back when the temperature couldn’t reach down to scratch 70°F. Unlike that first night, Alyssa wouldn’t cry, not when tears would freeze to her cheek.

Memories of her cosy life upset Alyssa and not because of its loss. She despised her old haughty attitude. She didn’t think much of vagrants then, fools who refused to participate in what a land of opportunity offered its citizens. Even when she conceded life overwhelmed some who worked hard, she couldn’t fathom why the person didn’t seek a bed from city shelters.

Alyssa tried. One turned her away, no beds available. Another blasted her with preaching. Embrace the Lord, give Him your heart and with it your soul. Jettison your personal guidance for one we’ll install for you. Alyssa walked out. No god worthy of the name stood with fat cats tossing people from their jobs and homes.

A cough started as it did every night of late, as a benign tickle. It escalated until Alyssa hacked up phlegm mixed with too much of a crimson shade. Her throat burned, nowhere near as much as her chest. She grabbed her tattered knapsack and removed a paper bag enwrapping a bottle, cheap whiskey she’d bought with money someone threw at her. Half saw her through the previous night. She’d drain the rest before consciousness blurred into a place where pain never quite let her be.