She got the house
Lightning struck the storage unit he now called home. Her ghost forced his eviction. He held their wedding photo as sparks threatened to become flames.
All Roads Lead to Home
A kick to the ribs was his wake up call. The speaker in the corner of the cell crackled. "Get up," a distorted voice said.
McGee squinted. He coughed out the pain. The guard's boot struck mostly scar tissue, but McGee let the guard think his kick did more damage than it did.
"There's a bucket in the corner. You have two minutes to memorize the map inside it. Follow the instructions carefully. Any deviation from the instructions will result in death," the voice said.
He scrambled to his feet. The metal bucket reminded him of the ones his Uncle Jack used to milk cows on his farm. Even though this was not the time to be sentimental, he wanted to fill his mind with good memories in case today was his last day alive.
McGee skimmed the instructions on the map. It was a lot of mumbo jumbo about latitudes, longitudes, and coordinates. Those didn't mean a thing to him. He had never regretted his English degree more than in that moment. The only written instructions were to not stray from the path. He scanned the map for landmarks or any clues that would help him. There were none.
The guard snatched the map from his hands. He lit it on fire and threw it in the bucket. He jammed his rifle into McGee's back. The barrel of the rifle felt strangely at home in his back.
"Go," the guard said nodding.
McGee didn't need to be told twice. He smelled smoke, but didn't look back.
A helicopter thundered above him. McGee raised his hands above his head. He was powerless, whether it was impending rescue or the guards hunting him for sport.
The helicopter landed beside the path. Soldiers motioned to him, shouting for him to run to them.
He ignored them. He knew it was a trap. Defeated, they slid the door shut, flying off in search of other prey.
He walked for days on the path. McGee tried to motivate himself with those quotes about pain just being weakness leaving the body. Everything except hope had left his body.
A familiar house and barn appeared to him in the distance. His Uncle Jack's farm. It couldn't be. Surely the rebels had taken it. The throes of dehydration had to be causing him to hallucinate.
He saw his uncle. Time had taken its toll. He walked with a stoop and a shuffle, but still carried two buckets filled to the brim.
McGee doubted his uncle would recognize him in his emaciated state. Instinctively he raised his hands above his head and treaded lightly.
The livestock became aware of the stranger first. Restlessly they shuffled and made noise.
Uncle Jack shielded his eyes from the sun to look upon the weary figure approaching him.
"About time you showed up," Uncle Jack said.
Upward Angle and the Downturned Smile
She was late. Again. No time to put in her contacts. She promised to send her mom a picture everyday, just to let her know she was ok in the big city. Traffic sounds drowned out the shutter's click. Hopefully her mom wouldn't be able to tell she'd been crying.
Look who’s talking
Kids playing the "quiet game" in the car, then talk to ask who is winning.
You probably don't know me. My name is Matt. I sit behind you in math class.
I've heard you like guys in bands, but I think we would get along good together. Those older guys are just after your body. You're more than just a pretty face to me. Don't get me wrong I think you're pretty foxy (dare I say Megan Fox-y? ;) ). Sorry for the lame pun, I'm just nervous. I also think you're the best cheerleader on the squad. I don't even like football, but I'm at every game because of you. For real though, I like you for your personality.
I was at the pool that night when you were flying. Needy said you were just hovering and that it wasn't that impressive, but don't listen to her, it's very impressive! So maybe we can hang out sometime...please reply, my locker is #47.
Different for Everyone
Rejection beget sadness. Sadness beget depression. Depression beget the end of me.
After ample time feeling sorry for myself, I decided to go for a midnight stroll to clear my head. Little did I know I was about to become a statistic.
I was officially victim number fourteen, but hey who's counting? "Point blank" is how the coroner described it. I call it cowardly. The killer could've at least faced me.
The act itself didn't hurt. It was all over before I really could grasp the severity of the situation. I wish I could be more vivid and tell you what it's like, but the best way I can describe dying is that it happens to all of us, but it's different for everyone.
Since I was taken before my time, I was given the option of going back or moving on. They said I had a week to think about it.
I did what most people would do in my situation. I went to my funeral. The turnout was about what I could expect for a Saturday. A weekday funeral probably would've drawn double.
I checked on my pets. My mother took them in. At the rate she fed them table scraps, it probably wouldn't be long before I was reunited with them. And of course I checked on Jenny.
Jenny was the rejector from the start of my story. I hate to say I haunted her because that seems to conjure up images that I mean her harm. I suppose I was just nosy and taking advantage of the fact I can't get caught.
Jenny heard about my demise via text. She read the message, shrugged, and put her phone down.
She was notably absent at my funeral. It was a weekend, but still there was free food.
I watched her go about her daily business. Mostly she just switched her attention from her phone to her laptop and back in again in a battery draining relay race.
I noticed a lot of unread emails from me in her inbox. I poured my heart in those. I don't think I came off as desperate, but I guess that's all in the eye of the beholder. What hurt the most wasn't that they were unread, but that they were in her junk folder. How was I not a trusted sender? I knew her for six years! To her my feelings were no better than mortgage refinance offers and pornography.
After seeing how little I meant to the one person I truly cared about, it was pretty obivious that one life was hard enough, I didn't want to try again. I decided to take advantage of my week and have a little fun.
I knocked her pictures off the wall and dishes out of the cupboards. I know it seems cliche, but mostly it was just clumsiness. It takes awhile to get used to not having a solid body anymore.
Day two I decided to take it up a notch. I waited until she was in the shower and decided to give her a nice scare. I couldn't tap her on the shoulder or do anything physical, so I decided on mindgames.
I planned to wait until the mirror was nice and foggy and write "I'M WATCHING YOU" on the mirror.
Unfortunately I got caught.
I should've quit while I was ahead. After all "I'M WATCHING" would be cryptic enough, but no I had to keep going.
Just as I was starting to write the "Y" she stepped out of the shower. She blotted her face with a towel and looked up.
Unbeknownst to me, steam is a great conductor for ghost sightings. She saw my reflection in the mirror.
All that sitting around on her phone and computer caught up with her and poor Jenny's heart couldn't take it anymore.
I offered to go to her funeral with her.
"Thanks, but no thanks," she said.
"The story of my life," I groaned.
Goodbye Forever by Alkaline Trio
And we say goodbye, and go underground
Or up towards the sky, up in smoke, burnt down to size.
At least we're still friends.
At least we're still alive.
Out of focus
The voyeur dropped his binoculars. He couldn't bear to watch. Hearing the screams was enough.
"Come on you piece of junk," Darren said.
He was on his knees under his desk trying to plug his phone charger into the nearest outlet. With surgical precision he wiggled the exposed cable wires, until they hit the sweet the spot and battery icon showed it was charging.
It was during all this that he didn't notice the women walk by.
They had developed quite the routine. The oldest of the two had a baby. The stroller was the perfect cover. No one would question it. She could wheel it into the bathroom while the other girl dismantled the dispensers. A good night would get them a haul of at least six rolls of toilet paper. Then simply pull the stroller shade up and exit the bathroom nonchalantly. Not exactly a bank robbery, but it saved a few bucks. The economical standpoint didn't mean much to them, it was more the thrill of getting away with something, no matter how petty.
By now Darren had assumed the position in his guard booth in front of the monitors. He nodded politely to the young women as they exited the building.
He was in the middle of a prank video marathon when Gladys knocked on the window.
She motioned for him to come out.
Darren rose from the chair. He shuffled to the door. Although he was fatter now than he had ever been, he didn't understand how his pants still fell down when he walked. He tugged up on the waistband.
"Yeah?" he poked his head out the door.
"They did it again," Gladys said.
"They stole the toilet paper."
"Oh. I didn't see anybody."
"Of course you didn't," she scoffed.
"Sorry," he said quietly.
"Don't be sorry. Be a security guard. Anyways, it's already done. The least you can do is help me restock. Those dispensers are a pain in the ass to open. Especially with arthritis in both hands."
"I'm not really supposed to leave the booth."
Gladys shook her head.
"Why? What could happen if you leave? Someone might steal something?"
"Ok, I get it. I said I was sorry. I'll help you, but you don't have to be mean," Darren said.
"I'm just tired. These old bones are meant for the night shift. Enough talk, those rolls aren't going to hang themselves."
Darren grabbed a walkie talkie and tagged along behind the housekeeper.
"Mama Kitty is sick," Elizabeth said.
"What do you mean?" her mom asked.
"She won't eat. She's just been lying there. She looks like she's lost a lot of weight."
Shannon sighed. She knew she had to plan her reply carefully.
"It's probably just a cold. Cats get sick like people. You know you feel when you have a tummy ache."
"I hope so," Elizabeth said looking down.
Shannon knew her daughter was avoiding eye contact. She didn't want her mom to see the tears welling up in her eyes.
Elizabeth left the room. Shannon crouched beside the cat.
"What's wrong girl?"
She saw the bald spot just below her neck. The cat had rubbed it raw from scratching.
"Oh no," Shannon muttered.
She had seen it before. A warble. That wasn't the scientific name for it. It was some kind of fly, she couldn't remember which kind, that bit animals and burrowed then up under the skin. Nasty little things. If left untreated, the cat could die.
She remembered being a kid and helping her mom hold their cat Lucky down, while her mom used tweezers to remove the bug. It was gross, but the cat made a full recovery. Now it was time for that rite of a passage for Elizabeth. Shannon prepped for the makeshift surgery. Tweezers were sterilized with rubbing alcohol. A pile of paper towels stacked neatly beside the cat bed. Both of them wore long sleeves just in case the cat disagreed with the procedure.
Mama Kitty offered no resistance.
"It looks like a zit," Elizabeth said.
"Yeah, it kinda does. But this whitehead isn't a head, it's actually the tail. So I guess that makes it a butthead," Shannon flashed her daughter a quick smile to break the tension.
Elizabeth eyed her mom suspiciously. She wasn't sure if that was a joke.
"Are you ready?" Shannon asked.
"Hold her down tightly."
Elizabeth held the cat's four legs down.
Shannon steadied the tweezers. She aimed for the small white dot in the middle of the sore spot.
Mama Kitty's head raised slightly.
"I know girl. We're just trying to help," Shannon reassured the cat.
Shannon grabbed the white spot and tugged. A putrid smell escaped the wound.
Elizabeth turned her head. "Gross! Oh I can't watch," she said.
Shannon held her breath and kept pulling. She knew it was like a tick. You had to get the whole thing or you'd risk infection and making it worse.
"All done," she said.
Elizabeth looked back.
"What is it?" she asked.
"I'm not sure. Some kind of larva. I think it grows up to be a fly. Your grandma used to call them warbles. That's all I ever knew them as. They lay eggs when they bite. But I've never really seen what the egg hatches into" Shannon replied.
The parasite writhed in the tweezers, unhappy to be ripped from its home.
Mama Kitty started to get to her feet. She paused momentarily as if to say "thanks, I feel better." Then the cat trotted off to her water bowl.
"Thanks Mom," Elizabeth said.
"You're welcome. She'll be ok now."
"Hey where did worm go?"
Shannon looked around.
"Hmm, I don't know. I must've dropped it. Oh well, it won't get far."
"Did I tell you I'm going to have another baby?" Lori asked.
"No," replied Janette.
The stroller's wheels bumped against the curb.
Lori wriggled it onto the sidewalk.
"Yep, in November."
"That's crazy," Janette blurted out.
"I mean, uh congratulations?"
"Thanks, for a second there I almost believed you cared," Lori said.
"It's not like I could tell. You always wear baggy clothes."
"Just say it. I'm fat."
"No, you're not. I'm happy for you. I really am."
A late spring chill hung in the air. The only people out this time of night were drowsy dogwalkers and the last remnants of last call from the bars, trying to walk home while they had the momentum.
Janette and Lori tossed half-hearted waves of acknowledgment at these people. Familiar strangers and friends of friends. No one questioned the stroller. This side of town had plenty of gossip, but no one wanted their curiosity to lead to accusations of being a snitch.
A convalescing cat was out for a night prowl. It wasn't hunting anything in particular. It was just happy to be outside after feeling miserable. The cat watched the two women chattering.
"Hey what's that?" Janette pointed to Lori's leg.
"What's what?" Lori asked.
"There. On your leg."
"I don't kno- OW!" Lori cried out.
"Are you ok?"
"Something bit me. Did you see what it was?"
"No. It was some little white bug. It must've flown away."
Janette crouched and squinted. A welt was already forming on Lori's leg.
"I don't see anything."
"That freaking hurt! It feels like something is in there moving."
"Maybe you got stung," Janette offered.
"I think we should go back to the hospital," Lori said.
"What if I'm allergic?"
"You don't even know what it was," Janette said.
"I don't know. It seems like that's being greedy. I mean we were just there. Someone is gonna notice if we come back."
Lori rolled her eyes.
"Fine. You take the toilet paper back to the apartment. I'm going to the hospital."
They went their separate ways.
Inside the fresh wound, the warble explored its new home. It was already behind schedule. It had to make up for lost time. The human offered great refuge. The warble split and divided. This process repeated. As it fed, it became they.
Darren was on his knees in the handicap stall. He felt outwitted and overmatched by the toilet paper.
"Harder than it looks, eh?" Gladys teased.
Darren mumbled under his breath. What difference did it make if it fed from the top or the bottom?
"That's good enough. I'll finish up here," Gladys said.
He cycled through his keys. He never could remember which one opened the guard booth.
The young woman's body fell beside him with plop. The sound of an unforgiving floor.
"Miss are you ok?" Darren knelt beside her.
"...bit me...allergic...," she mumbled.
"Hey! We need some help here!" Darren called to the ER window down the hall.
The nurses helped Darren get the young woman into a wheelchair.
"What's your name honey?" one of the nurses asked.
"Lori," she croaked.
"Ok, Lori, what happened?"
Each word took effort, but it gave the medical staff a starting point.
The wound was swollen, but not open or seeping.
"What are you thinking, Doc?" a nurse asked.
"I don't know. Maybe a fever brought on by an infection. Start some IV antibiotics and we'll go from there."
Darren hovered in the doorway of the room.
"She said something bit her," he chimed in.
The doctor cleared his throat.
"Possibly. We'll run some tests and see what we find."
Darren could take the hint. He was out of his element. He forced a polite smile then retreated to the comfort of his booth.
Hours passed with no change in Lori's condition. She was sedated. The warble was not.
Nurses noses were buried in their phones. The doctor watched a cooking show on his laptop in the doctor's lounge. No one heard the buzzing reverberating from Lori's room.
Warble flies trickled out of the wound. The world was new to them, but they flew with purpose. They scattered in all directions seeking out incubators.
The time approached to make hourly rounds. The nurse's scream scared the last few stragglers away from the wound.
Lori was emaciated. Wide eyes punctuated sunken cheeks. Her lips moved, but no sounds came out. A softball size hole cratered her calf. The wall looked like someone had thrown tomatoes at it.
It didn't hurt when the warbles took flight. It didn't feel good either.
Gladys was off the hook. She wouldn't have to clean up the mess. The room would be quarantined pending investigation.
Lori was transported an intensive care facility to recover. Janette visited when she could. The two of them laughed and commiserated at the fact Janette couldn't fit the stroller onto the bus. It was a shame too. The toilet paper on Lori's floor was triple ply.
Darren was in his office. He bellylaughed at a video of someone trying to surf across empty oil drums.
He shooed a fly off of his computer screen.