Would you ever quit your day job in order to devote yourself entirely to your creative endeavors?
I’ve read countless reports over the years of people who have done this very thing, and because of it they were able to flourish in all areas of life.
It’s scary, yes.
It brings an ample amount of uncertainty. A vast array of, “… but what if’s?”
What if it doesn’t work out?
What if you’ve forfeited a good job?
Especially in this pandemic economy, where good jobs are becoming increasingly more difficult to come by.
“There is freedom waiting for you, On the breezes of the sky, And you ask “What if I fall?” Oh but my darling, What if you fly?” ― Erin Hanson
Have you ever heard of the parking lot test? It’s when you pull up to your job and you’re sitting in the parking lot before you go inside. How do you feel? Do you feel a sense of dread, excitement, joy, anger, anxiety, etc.? If you feel negatively toward the job while sitting in the parking lot for a solid week, they say (whoever “they” are) it’s time to look for a new one.
Life is far too damn short and far too damn precious to waste in a space where you’re anything other than happy.
I also feel, however, that there’s more to be considered, such as…
Do you feel a sense of fulfillment?
Do you feel as if you are valued?
Do you feel as if the place you are spending your precious time at is contributing good energy to your life?
The parking lot test, while effective, I feel also has it’s faults.
Life ebbs and flows and the ups and downs are one of the only constants you can rely on. What goes up must come down; and as such, maybe you’ve hit a lull in your job that will pass when something unexpected happens, so waiting out the negative feeling you get while your sitting in the parking lot might be the best option.
But… we can’t know what’s going to happen, can we?
And we sure as hell should never sit around and wait for life to happen.
So I say, in all of my Aquarian-non-committal-glory, to take chances, and give up on the things that no longer serve you.
Because life is fucking precious, and not a single moment should be wasted.
Jessie laid belly-down on her bed with her knees bent and ankles crossed, finishing up Rolling Stone Magazine’s, “Fiona Apple: The Caged Bird Sings,” article while wiping a tear from her dampened cheeks after having learned of her favorite musician’s childhood rape and subsequent mental health struggles as she entered adulthood, because she unfortunately, could relate.
Jessica “Jessie” Reynolds grew up in a small town just north of Indianapolis with her mom, dad, and four brothers. The youngest of the bunch, Jessie learned fairly quickly how to survive on her own. Her father, Bill “Butch” Reynolds, was somewhat of an oddball, although rumor had it he was clever in his own right. On the rare occasion he would be seen outside of his garage “workshop,” he might give Jessie a handful of quarters to walk up the street to the local creamy whip for an ice cream cone.
A man of little words, “Be good now,” was all he’d usually say to her, followed by a pat-on-the-head before retreating into what Jessie and her brothers referred to as his “secret lair.” No one was exactly sure what it was that Butch would do in his secret lair for hours, days, and sometimes weeks on end, but no one seemed to question it either. It just was, like fuzz on kiwi and the bill on a platypus.
Sissy Reynolds, Jessie’s mother, was a retired high school home economics teacher, having forfeited her life of cookie baking and sewing machines for a full-time partnership with her best friends Jimmy Beam and Johnny Walker. She wasn’t a bad person, really, but just not quite a good mother. She seemed to care more about her barfly friends and live music, and less about whether food was stocked in the fridge or pantry for her kids, or if the electric bill had been paid the last month or four.
Jessie heard the phone ring in the kitchen and she jumped out of bed and sprinted out of her room in a mad dash toward the wall-mounted yellow telephone with ten-foot-long, tangled-beyond-saving cord, before her brothers got to it.
She lifted the handset off the receiver and said, “Hello?”
“Where the hell are you? Practice started ten minutes ago, Jess! I snuck out to the office so I could call your dumbass!” Jessie’s best friend Annemarie said on the other end.
“Oh shit! I totally forgot! I’ll be there in like twenty minutes, okay? Can you cover for me? Tell her I um… tell her I got into a car accident,” she said, clumsily slamming the phone back onto the receiver, which missed its mark and fell to the ground with a hard crack before Jessie picked it up and slammed it into its correct spot.
Jessie ran to her bedroom, changed her shorts into a pair of jeans, threw her hair back in a pony with a blue scrunchie, slipped on her shoes and left out the back door toward her sky blue 1987 Acura Integra LS 3-door hatchback. She popped Garbage’s “Version 2.0” cassette tape into a boombox which rested on her passenger’s seat because the car’s radio hadn’t worked since the day she bought it; cranked up the volume and sang loudly along to, “I Think I’m Paranoid,” as she drove ten miles over the speed limit the entire route to her high school.
Most of the class of 1998 were in the school’s gymnasium sitting on the bleachers, and hundreds of eyes fixed on her as she flung open the gym’s door and made her way toward them.
“Miss Reynolds,” Mrs. Raines, their high school chorus teacher admonished, “fashionably late as always, I see.”
“Sorry,” Jessie called back as she walked up the bleacher stairs to sit with her friends, “my um… radiator belt was malfunctioning, or something.”
Mrs. Raines pursed her lips and rolled her eyes and called out, “Alright listen up, we’re going to start again from the beginning since Miss Reynold’s missed it. Sopranos, Altos, I need to hear you over the Tenor’s this time, got it?”
Chorus wasn’t an elective, so for every student it was mandatory. Jessie’s graduating class was only ninety-eight people however, and a good chunk of them were vocational students, so the choir itself was made up of about sixty teenagers; half who wanted to be there, and half who would rather be doing pretty much anything else. While the bleachers were filled with her classmates, the gymnasium floor was being used simultaneously by the junior varsity basketball team, who went about their own practice as instructed by the coach, who threatened them with infinite burpees should they allow themselves to become distracted by the vocalists.
“Your excuses get shittier and shittier, Jess,” Justin, a friend of Jessie’s since kindergarten, loudly whispered to her from over her shoulder. Jessie shot him a coy smile, and elbowed him in the knee behind her playfully.
“Did you know Fiona Apple was raped?” Jessie whispered to Annemarie as the students began to sing.
Annemarie furrowed her brow and glanced at Jessie as she sang along with the rest of the class to “Sun and Moon” from the musical Miss Saigon.
“I read about it in this month’s Rolling Stone, man. It’s crazy. She’s a fighter, like me,” Jessie said, and Annemarie relaxed her brow and smiled empathetically at her friend.
“She’s such a badass. Remember when she got on stage at the MTV Music Awards and said, “this world is bullsh-“
“Miss Reynolds, do you want to fail this class? Keep talking. I dare you,” Mrs. Raines snapped while continuing to flail her arms around like one of those inflatable waving tube men.
Jessie joined in their song.
Tornado sirens wailed outside, but no one in the gymnasium was startled in the least because this was Indiana, after all, and tornado sirens were damn near as common as sunshine.
“I didn’t know it was supposed to storm today,” Deana said from two rows back.
“I called the weather line before practice and it didn’t say anything about rain,” said Jerry.
“Kids, I have to run out and roll my car windows up,” Mrs. Raines said as she fished through her purse for her keys. “Talk amongst yourselves until I get back. Don’t move a muscle.”
Nearly every kid started flailing their arms and legs in sarcastic response to her direction, followed by rounds of laughter.
“You know what I mean,” their teacher said as she jogged down the bleacher stairs in her purple windbreaker pants and matching jacket, hair-sprayed bangs bouncing with each step, to the gymnasium floor.
“Thanks for calling me,” Jessie said as she nudged Annemarie.
“What would you do without me?” Annemarie said.
“Fail, most likely,” Jessie replied.
“Yep,” Annemarie said.
“If we have to sing that stupid song one more time, I swear to God I’m going to lose it,” Justin said.
“Lose what? Your mind? Because I hate to break it to ya, but that’s been gone a long damn time already,” Jessie joked.
“Ha-ha, very funny,” Justin said.
“She’s not wrong,” Annemarie laughed.
“Did you guys watch Dawson’s Creek last night?” Deana chimed in.
“Who watches that bullshit?” Jessie said, “Tell me you don’t watch that crap, Dean.”
“I do, and it’s really good. You would like it. Joey and Pacey… it’s so good, you should give it a chance,” Deana said.
“No thank you. I’d rather chew my own arms off and beat myself with them,” Justin said.
“You and me both,” Jessie laughed.
The sound of basketballs bouncing on the gymnasium floor and sneakers squeaking as the players pivoted and made their shots reverberated as their continued their conversation.
“Fiona Apple is like our age, you know,” Jessie said to Annemarie.
“Isn’t she older?” she replied.
“Yeah, but not by much. I think tragedy paves the way for greatness. I think a lot of famous people become famous because they have terrible things happen to them when they’re younger, so some level of fear is removed so they are able to push through to greater heights than most normal people who haven’t experienced tragedy,” Jessie said.
“Deep,” Justin said sarcastically.
Jessie elbowed him again, this time much harder.
“It makes sense if you think about it,” Jessie said. “We have less to be scared of than normal people.”
“We?” Deana asked.
Realizing her slip, Jessie’s face quickly reddened and she cast a look at Annemarie that said, “Save me!”
“I think she means since we’re all from poor backgrounds, you know? Like, we weren’t raised with a silver spoon. We go back-to-school shopping at Valley Thrift, buy our sporting equipment at Goodwill, and are all on the government’s school lunch program. When was the last time you went to a shopping mall to actually shop, or ran to the grocery store with money in hand instead of food stamps?” Annemarie asked Deana and Justin, effectively distracting them from Jessie’s unintentional slip of the tongue which had hinted at her own set of childhood tragedy, which only Annemarie was aware of.
Just then, a horrified scream filled the hallways of the school and entered the door to the gymnasium. The bouncing balls and sarcastic laughter of teenagers came to a silent halt in an instant. Time stood still, and so did every individual in the gymnasium in that moment.
“What the hell was that about,” Jessie asked quietly.
Just then another scream echoed through the hallways, followed immediately by another. Tornado sirens began wailing again outside. Most students didn’t dare move, too petrified by the screams to investigate. Jessie, however, wasn’t most students. While all the others remained glued to their seats, she had already jumped up and started down the bleacher stairs. She ran across the gym floor and out the double doors that led to the concession hallway. Three students stood, also petrified, with wide eyes and trembling limbs.
“Where did it come from?” Jessie asked one of them.
A younger kid only pointed.
She jogged down the hallway toward where the kid had pointed, but saw nothing.
“Hello?” she called out, “Is someone hurt?”
Only silence responded.
When she reached the end of the hallway, she ran up the stairs that led to the second floor. She called out again, but again was met with only silence.
Another scream echoed from further away, this time sounding male. Jessie took off in a full sprint toward other end of the school. The locker-lined, empty hallways revealed little detail as to where the screams were originating from. The tornado sirens continued to rise and fall outside.
When she reached the other end of the second-floor hallway, she ran back down the stairs which brought her back to the concession area in front of the gymnasium.
The young boy who had pointed her in the direction of the first screams said to her, “That one came from inside the gym.”
She pushed open the double doors to the gymnasium and saw a crowd had gathered around the bleachers where she had sat moments earlier.
“Someone call an ambulance!” a kid shouted.
There were sobs, cries, and gasps for air from within the startled crowd. Jessie pushed her way through and realized only once she got to the center of the commotion that her friend Justin was holding his hands tightly to his torso, his eyes wide with terror.
Jessie stooped down in front of him, grabbing his hands in hers and asking, “What’s wrong, dude?”
Justin’s eyes stared deep into hers as he slowly pulled his hands away from his stomach. As he did, blood gushed and quickly began to cover his lap and the bleachers beneath them. Deana screamed.
Annemarie was on crowd control, making sure everyone gave Justin and Jessie space. Jessie’s hands were covered in his warm, thick, sticky blood, and the metallic smell overtook the nostrils of everyone who stood near. Jessie quickly pushed his hands and her own back onto the wound in hopes of slowing the bleeding, but as she did she realized his entrails were all that stood between their hands and his spine.
“SOMEONE CALL A GOD DAMN AMBULANCE!” Jessie cried out, her voice raw and cracking with emotion.
Justin said nothing; only keeping his stare locked into Jessie’s olive green eyes.
“What the hell happened? What happened?” Jessie asked, but no one answered.
“You’re going to be alright, Justin, okay? It’s okay. Help is on the way,” she lied to her friend.
Another scream came from the opposite side of the gymnasium. A girl stood on the top bleacher, holding her own stomach briefly while staring blankly across the gym. After a moment, her arms fell to her sides and her insides spilled out onto the bleachers beneath her as she fell forward and tumbled down the stairs.
Finally, whatever spell that had kept the students petrified and glued to their seats released, and a stampede began to make its way out of the gymnasium doors. Muffled shouts and horrified sobs could be heard amongst the group but Jessie kept her focus on her dear friend who was dying right before her very eyes.
Justin, who had picked her up when she fell off her bike and broke her ankle when they were just eight and carried her all the way to her parent’s house. Justin, who had packed a spare turkey sandwich nearly every day for lunch since third grade for her because she never had food at her own house to bring. Justin, who had even helped her name her car, “Marilyn” after his own favorite musician, Marilyn Manson, last year when she had finally saved up enough money to purchase it.
Two tears fell from his big, brown eyes and slid down his cheeks and fell onto his lap, which was now a gory show of things that should have been neatly tucked away inside his strong, only-just-barely-eighteen-year-old body, and his grip on Jessie’s hands released, and he slumped forward, then down onto the bleacher beside Jessie.
Jessie screamed an anguished sob, and hugged her friend tightly. The world around her no longer existed, nor did it matter. Her friend that had just been teasing her only moments before had somehow just passed away in her arms.
She was covered in his blood.
Another scream echoed from outside the gymnasium, followed by another, and then another.
“Jess-“ Annemarie placed her hand on Jessie’s shoulder. Jessie hadn’t even realized she had stayed behind until that moment. “Something going on… we should go.”
“Go where? The sirens are blaring, the screams are coming from everywhere, Annemarie… We can’t just leave him here like this…” Jessie cried, wiping her tears away with blood-soaked hands.
Annemarie helped her friend stand up and said, “Let’s at least walk down to the locker rooms and get you cleaned up while we wait for help.”
“No, I don’t want to leave him,” Jessie pleaded.
“It’s okay, Jessie. I’m sure help is coming. We can hide in the locker rooms until it does.”
Reluctantly, Jessie allowed her friend to help her down the bleacher stairs and into the girl’s locker room where she turned on a shower and stood underneath, fully clothed and numbed by the situation.
Annemarie shut the door to the locker room and locked it.
“I think we’re okay down here. Safe,” she said.
“Safe from what?” Jessie asked.
Neither girl said a word. More screams echoed in the gym above them.
“What the hell is happening?” Jessie asked, turning the shower off and walking toward her friend.
“I don’t know.”
Jessie started opening lockers that didn’t have combination locks on them and rifling through her classmates’ belongings.
“What are you doing?” Annemarie asked through her own tears.
“Looking for a radio,” Jessie said, “maybe they’re talking about whatever is going on. We need to know.”
Annemarie stood from the bench and began to open lockers and search the contents alongside her friend.
“Found one!” Jessie called out, holding up a small, handheld, battery-operated radio. She sat down on the wooden bench, and clicked it on, while pulling the metal antenna up.
She turned the dial to search through the stations, most of which were static, until finally a man’s voice could be heard saying, “WE REPEAT: DO NOT LEAVE YOUR HOME. LOCK YOUR DOORS AND WINDOWS. SOMETHING IS HAPPENING. WE DO NOT YET KNOW WHAT… (the voice of the announcer was noticeably filled with emotion and cracking) STAY INSIDE, FOLKS. STAY INSIDE UNTIL WE KNOW WHAT IS GOING ON.”
Jessie and Annemarie stared at each other in disbelief. The radio fell silent. Jessie feverishly scanned through the channels searching for another voice to tell them what the hell was happening.
Two more screams sounded from above them in the gymnasium, followed by a hard thud.
Jessie continued searching the radio stations until a woman’s voice came through and said, “-he just was sitting there eating his pumpkin pie one minute, and then the next [the woman sobs and sniffles] his guts were all over the floor,” the girls started at one another again.
The station filled with static, and Annemarie took the radio from Jessie and began scanning the channels. Jessie sat on the wooden bench with her elbows on her knees, and her face in her hands. Her legs were going a million miles an hour, keeping up with her mind as it raced.
The man’s voice was back on the radio now, “-SOME SORT OF BIOLOGICAL WARFARE POSSIBLY? WE JUST DON’T KNOW, FOLKS. WE JUST… DON’T KNOW. CALLS ARE POURING IN FROM ALL OVER THE TRI-COUNTY AREA OF THE SAME STRANGE OCCURANCES. WHAT YOU ARE ABOUT TO HEAR IS TROUBLESOME, FOLKS, SO PLEASE… SHIELD LITTLE EARS. THIS IS WHAT WE KNOW: THE TORNADO SIRENS STARTED AROUND 7:13 PM THIS EVENING. REPORTS OF WIDESPREAD PANIC. PEOPLE… MEN… WOMEN… CHILDREN… JUST GOING ABOUT THEIR EVERY DAY LIVES… ONE MINUTE FINE, AND THEN THE NEXT… A SMALL HOLE IN THEIR ABDOMEN NOT UNLIKE A GUNSHOT WOUND APPEARING OUT OF THIN AIR. THE WOUND RAPIDLY GROWS; THE SKIN… SHIELD THOSE LITTLE EARS NOW, YA HEAR, THE SKIN JUST… DISSOLVES AWAY… AND THEIR INSIDES….”
The announcer began to cry, and so did Annemarie and Jessie.
“WE DON’T KNOW HOW IT’S SPREADING, FOLKS. WE DON’T KNOW HOW TO STOP IT. JUST STAY INSIDE. LOCK YOUR DOORS AND WINDOWS. WE CAN ONLY WAIT FOR NOW.”
Just then, someone pounded on the locker room door, startling both girls. Annemarie quietly switched the radio off.
The pounding continued.
Quietly, Annemarie asked, “Should we answer it?”
“No,” Jessie said, “you heard him. There has to be a reason he’s saying to lock the doors and windows. People’s guts are falling out, Annemarie, why would he tell us to lock our doors and windows if all that was happening was people’s guts falling out? Why would we need to lock ourselves inside for that? He knows something he’s not telling us.”
The pounding on the door persisted, becoming more demanding by the moment.
“Help me,” Jessie said as she stood and started pushing heavy gym equipment against the locked door. Annemarie immediately began helping her friend push everything that wasn’t nailed down to the floor against the door.
After a few minutes, the banging stopped.
Jessie grabbed the little radio and motioned for Annemarie to follow her back into the shower room, which was furthest away from the door.
They sat against the cold cement wall and clicked the radio back on, making sure to keep the volume low.
The announcer continued, “-BUT WE CAN’T BE SURE. IT SEEMS TO BE HAPPENING ALL OVER THE GLOBE. REPORTS ARE COMING IN FROM THE MIDDLE EAST, FROM JAPAN, CHINA… IT SEEMS NO ONE COUNTRY IS BEING TARGETED.”
Jessie lowered the volume and said, “What do you think it is?”
Annemarie said, “How could I know? How could anyone know?”
“HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF CASUALTIES; VERY POSSIBLY NOW IN THE MILLIONS. TO MY WIFE: MY BEAUTIFUL PATRICIA, AND MY WONDERFUL SONS EDDIE AND FREDDIE; PLEASE KNOW THAT I LOVE YOU, WHEREVER YOU ARE. I LOVE YOU MORE THAN ANYONE HAS EVER LOVED ANYTHING. LOCK THE DOORS. BRING THE DOGS INSIDE. KEEP THEM SAFE, TOO. LOCK THE WINDOWS. HIDE IN THE CELLAR. BRING FOOD. I DON’T KNOW HOW LONG THIS WILL LAST. I LOVE YOU.”
Annemarie began to sob hysterically, so Jessie again shut the radio off and held her friend in her arms.
“It’s okay,” she consoled her, but she didn’t know if it was, in fact, okay, so her words felt empty and meaningless and like lies spewing from her lips.
“It’s not okay,” Annemarie cried.
“You’re right. It’s not. It’s fucked,” Jessie said as they pressed their foreheads together, “but listen, getting all worked up about it isn’t going to help us. We need to keep level heads.”
Jessie stood and brushed her bottom off with her hands, then held her hands out to help her friend up.
“Let’s dig through these lockers and see what kind of food and drinks we can come up with.”
The girls spent the next hour rifling through the personal belongings of their classmates, whom, they each realized during their search, could either be alive or dead at this point. For all they knew, the gymnasium above them was littered with the bodies of their entire class, having been turned inside-out by some invisible attacker.
Just as Jessie’s mind started to picture their thick blood oozing down the cracks of the walls and through the vents into the locker room in which they took refuge, she shut her thoughts down and said, “Alright, what do we have here. Let’s see… four candy bars, eight mostly-full bottles of water, cheese crackers, a can of tuna – who brings a can of tuna to gym class? – and what the hell is this thing?” she asked as she held up a can with a white nozzle on top.
“Spray cheese. It’s delicious,” Annemarie said as she sprayed a small amount into her mouth.
“That’s disgusting, but good finds. All good finds. I hope we aren’t down here long, but… we have to be smart about what we have, so no more liquid cheese for you,” she joked as she grabbed the can from her friend’s hands.
“I also found two coats we can use for blankets if we have to sleep here, and a bunch of clothes that don’t completely reek of armpit sweat that we can use for pillows,” Annemarie said.
“Good. Good finds. Good thinking,” Jessie said. “Let’s take all this back to the shower room. That will be our headquarters.”
The girls grabbed the goods and brought it all back to the showers. They sat on the cold floor again, and as Annemarie fidgeted with the drain on the floor to distract herself, Jessie turned the radio back on.
The announcer man, who was now strangely beginning to feel like a friend, continued, “-SOMEWHERE OVER ON WEST ELM JUST BEYOND THE BLOCKBUSTER STORE. ANOTHER REPORT CAME IN ONLY A MOMENT AGO OF A MOTHER WHO’S INFANT HAD TRAGICALLY PASSED IN THIS SAME HORRIFIC WAY AS HE NURSED, YET THE MOTHER REMAINS UNHARMED…”
“Physically, maybe. Not emotionally,” Jessie murmured solemnly under her breath.
“-AND AS THE REPORTS KEEP COMING IN, FOLKS, I’LL TRY MY DAMNDEST TO KEEP YOU AS INFORMED AS POSSIBLE. I KNOW VERY LITTLE, BUT WHAT I DO KNOW, I’M RELAYING TO YOU AS IT HAPPENS. MY PRODUCER IS TELLING ME SHE HAD HEARD THAT THIS COULD BE SOME SORT OF…. [muffled talking]… WELL SHE SAID SOME SORT OF ALIEN ATTACK, FOLKS, BUT I HESITATE TO REPORT SUCH A THING BECAUSE THE TRUTH IT WE DO NOT KNOW IT TO BE A FACT. WE DON’T KNOW MUCH OF ANYTHING YET. PEOPLE ARE JUST SPOUTING OFF THEIR THEORIES AT THIS POINT, SO DON’T BELIEVE ANYTHING UNTIL YOU HEAR ME TELL YOU ITS FACT. LOCK YOUR DOORS AND WINDOWS, FOLKS. STAY SAFE.”
Jessie turned the volume down again and said, “He told us to lock up again. Hear that? He does know more that he’s not saying. He absolutely d-“
Jessie was interrupted by banging on the locker room door again, this time much louder and more violent sounding. The girls jumped.
“It’s okay, the door is solid, and so is the lock, I think. This locker room was built as a war-time shelter years ago, remember when Mr. Minor told us that?” Jessie said.
“No,” Annemarie said. “I’m glad one of us was paying attention.”
“I don’t think anyone can get in that door, Annemarie. I think we’re safe down here.”
“Yeah but for how long? And who is banging and why? What if it’s our friends trying to find safety too, Jessie?”
“It’s not,” Jessie replied adamantly.
“How do you know?” she asked.
“They haven’t said one word, Anne. Not one. If it was our friends, or any other student for that matter, wouldn’t they be shouting for help or something? I don’t know, I just feel in my bones we shouldn’t open that damn door.”
Annemarie nodded, and stared somberly and silently at the drain beneath her.
“What led up to Justin’s… attack? What was going on right before it happened?” Jessie asked.
“I don’t know… we were just talking… whispering about the screams, who it could have been, why they could be screaming.”
“What was Justin saying?” Jessie asked.
Annemarie thought for a moment and said, “Come to think of it, he wasn’t saying anything. It was just Deana, me, and Jerry talking. Justin was silent. He was just kind of… staring across the gym,” she said.
“What was he staring at?” she pressed.
“I don’t know. It was like that girl from across the gym, how she was staring, you know? Like they saw something that we didn’t. Then all of the sudden he grabbed his stomach, and…” Annemarie began to weep. Jessie rubbed her shoulders then brought her in for a hug while they sat.
“It’s okay. I’m sorry, I’m just trying to figure this out,” Jessie apologized.
“I know,” Annemarie cried.
Someone screamed from just on the other side of the locker room door, and the girls held each other tightly. Two thuds against the door, followed by a sliding sound, then another thud.
Jessie pressed her index finger to her lips telling Annemarie to be quiet, and she cautiously stood and tiptoed her way past the benches and lockers to the door. Underneath the equipment they had moments earlier pushed against the door, thick blood pooled.
Jessie made her way back to her friend and sat beside her. Annemarie silently mouthed, “did you see anything?” Jessie lied and shook her head, “No.”
After about an hour had passed, Jessie switched back on the radio quietly and both girls held their ears to it.
“-HAVE BEEN CONFIRMED. I REPEAT: WIDESPREAD CASUALTIES HAVE BEEN CONFIRMED, UPWARDS OF MILLIONS OF PEOPLE IN MULTIPLE COUNTRIES. I DON’T KNOW WHY THIS IS HAPPENING, FOLKS. I WISH I DID. I WISH I COULD TELL YOU HOW TO PROTECT YOURSELVES, BUT I JUST DON’T KNOW. I WISH I KNEW HOW SO THAT I COULD TELL MY OWN WIFE AND KIDS AT HOME HOW TO STAY SAFE, BUT I DON’T. I DON’T.”
[radio silence for approximately six to eight minutes]
“I APOLOGIZE, FOLKS, BUT I NEEDED A MOMENT TO PULL MYSELF TOGETHER. I WANT YOU TO KNOW THAT A WOMAN FROM SAN DIEGO JUST CALLED FROM INSIDE HER BOMB SHELTER AND SAID HER HUSBAND IS A GOVERNMENT SCIENTIST AND BELIEVES SOME SORT OF VIRUS HAS BEEN ACCIDENTALLY RELEASED AMONGST THE GENERAL POPULATION. AS THIS SEEMS TO BE THE ONLY VIABLE INFORMATION WE’VE GATHERED AT THIS POINT, I’M INCLINED TO BELIEVE IT MORE SO THAN ANY OTHER COCKAMAMEY THEORY WE’VE BEEN GIVEN. IF IT IS, IN FACT, A VIRUS, FOLKS, THAT MEANS IT CAN BE SPREAD PERSON TO PERSON SOMEHOW. STAY INDOORS. DO NOT, I REPEAT, DO NOT LEAVE YOUR HOME, AND ABSOLUTELY UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES ALLOW ANYTHING- I MEAN, ANYONE TO ENTER YOUR HOME.”
Jessie’s eyes grew wide and she looked at Annemarie, “He said ANYTHING, Annemarie. Any THING. He slipped up. He made a mistake. He DOES know more than he’s telling! There’s something else out there. Something that we need to lock our doors and windows to stay away from. Something he said not to let into our homes.”
“What could it be?” Annemarie choked.
“Hell if I know, but if he can’t even tell us what it is, all-the-while he’s talking about babies entrails falling out while they sucked on their mom’s tit – it must be something we can’t even wrap our minds around…” Jessie trailed off.
“Fuck…” Annemarie said.
“Fuck is right,” Jessie concurred.
Scratching noises came from the locker room door. The sound of metal on metal. The girls covered their ears with their hands in an attempt to block the deafening noise out, then it stopped as suddenly as it started.
Jessie stood and quietly walked over to the door again. She slowly dropped onto her knees, in an attempt to peek underneath the door.
She saw nothing. She continued to stare at the floor just beyond the door for a moment when suddenly a shadow passed, which startled her. She cast a look back at Annemarie to let her know everything was okay, and when she turned back to look under the door an eye looked back at her.
She jumped back and scooted on her hands as far away from the door as she could, pushing herself up against a row of blue lockers. The metal on metal scraping started again, and both girls held their hands to their ears.
Jessie peeked around the row of lockers at her friend, who was sitting in the corner of the shower room with her knees pulled up to her chest, and tears falling down her cheeks. She pushed her finger to her lips again, then crawled on her hands and knees over to the door again as Annemarie whisper-yelled, “No, Jessie!”
Jessie whispered, “It’s okay,” then slowly dropped to peek under the door again.
The eye that had been there a moment ago was gone. Jessie stood and walked over to Annemarie.
“What did you see?” she asked.
“Someone,” Jessie could only reply.
“What do you mean?” Annemarie asked.
“I saw someone staring back at me,” Jessie said, although the truth was slightly more terrifying. She had, in fact, seen an eye staring back at her, but it wasn’t someone… it was something. The eye was reptilian in nature; a black slit served as a pupil which stood in contrast to a mustard yellow iris. What was more frightening, perhaps, was the size of the eye. It had to have been at least eight… no ten times larger than a human eye. It was absolutely massive. Jessie did not see the sense in frightening her friend any further, so she consciously chose to leave these details out.
Jessie held her friend as she cried, and realizing now that they might not actually make it out alive, she wept with her.
A far worse fate is loneliness Than any I dare dream To be old and alone With no person at home To share your coffee and cream.
I suppose it’s why I give mine away so generous and so freely A never-ending supply Until the day I die I’ll hand out to all who seem needy.
I do it because I’ve been in a spot Where I felt no one could hear me I’ve gone hungry for days Life was thick with delay And I prayed for someone to save me.
This may come as a shock Or maybe not To those who think they know me But most of my life I’ve battled inside With the feeling of being forgotten.
Cast aside, ignored, and brushed away Like ashes from a fire that escape Fiery red at first then as they float away They turn to dust dissolving in the suns warm rays That fall upon my shoulders reminding me it’s okay I breathe it out and remember I’ll live another day To keep handing out love because it’s free to give away And there are people that need my smile or when I say, “I love you, you are not forgotten in any way.”
And when those moments come few and far in between When what I give is reciprocated by those who carry the gene That tells them life’s too god damn short to be mean
I’ll call them my tribe And I’ll cherish them until I die Knowing loneliness is a lie Constructed by a mind That’s been deprived Of love.
It was mid-July and my vegetable garden was in desperate need of watery relief. I called out to my dog, put his blue harness around his little front legs and buckled the top while I kissed the top of his head, then hooked the leash to the metal rings on top and opened the door to walk outside.
The air was thick and damp, which was typical for an Ohioan midsummer. We natives affectionately refer to it as “armpit” weather, which is a surprisingly adequate description. The sun felt like a warm blanket on my skin as I walked quickly over the hot asphalt of my driveway to the soft, tepid grass which felt heavenly under my bare feet.
I hooked my pup up to his lead, grabbed his metal water bowl, and relished in the feeling of the warm earth beneath my toes as I made my way over to the garden hose to fill it. I could hear Queen’s “Somebody To Love” playing on my neighbor’s radio, and I sang along quietly as I carefully walked the filled water bowl over to my four-legged little love, who was now rolling around on his back the summer sun-warmed grass; legs splayed in the air, mouth open, and tongue hanging sideways in a show of pure canine joy. I scratched his belly and told him what a handsome, good boy he was, and when he stood to get a drink of the fresh, cool water I had just brought him, I made my way back to the hose.
I removed the hundred foot, supposedly “unkinkable” garden hose from it’s holster one loop at a time, and turned the spigot on. My dog’s ears instantly pinned to the sides of his head and his tail tucked between his little white legs; he hated the hose about as much as children hate Brussels sprouts. I called over to him and calmly assured him it wasn’t bath time, and I continued to sing along with Freddie Mercury as I made my way over to my beloved garden.
“Hey, neighbor!” he called over to me from across the fence and through the treeline. I could barely see him, but he, apparently, could see me so I waved in his general direction and thanked the gods for the sunglasses covering my eyes, hiding my confusion as I scanned for him.
I resumed my watering, lovingly and delicately picking through my giant squash, romaine, and tomato leaves; feeling like a bit of a green garden goddess for having watched these beauties sprout from tiny seeds mere weeks ago. Nothing brought me joy the way gardening did; feeling the soil between your fingers and smelling the earth as you tend to its offspring is a bliss that cannot possibly be described sufficiently in words alone.
“Lookin’ good,” a voice suddenly said from behind me. Startled, I spun to see my neighbor had made his way into my back yard and was now standing about five feet from me.
“Thanks! This is only my second year attempting to grow veggies, so I’m pretty proud,” I replied. Friendly by nature, I welcomed the conversation.
“I have some tomatoes growing on my porch. You should come over and see them sometime,” he said; cigarette firmly gripped between his pursed lips.
“Believe it or not, I’m not a huge fan of tomatoes. I grow them, but mostly for my kids. They eat them like candy,” I said as I continued to water my garden.
“Where are they today?” he asked.
“At friend’s houses. I’m enjoying some much needed mama time,” I smiled.
“Mmm,” he said, taking a long drag from his cancer stick and then flicking it into the woods behind me, which bothered me slightly because it was on my property, but I let it go. I’d pick it up after he left.
Only then did the silence between us begin to grow slightly uncomfortable, and I started feeling a bit uneasy in his presence. I caught myself thinking about our security cameras; were they pointed in this direction? I didn’t think so. One faced the front yard, one faced the driveway…
Before I had time to finish that thought, he grabbed me in a tight bear hug; my arms pinned to my waist. With his mouth against my ear, his breath hot on my skin, he said, “Stop struggling. You know you want this just as much as I do.”
I screamed and kicked with adrenaline coursing through my veins and anger, not fear, swelling in my chest.
How dare he.
I had been nothing but neighborly to him for the last several years.
I had never once flirted with him or led him on in any way.
How dare he feel that he could do this to me.
My dog barked as ferociously as a sixteen pound dog can bark, and tried desperately to escape his harness and come to my aid. I screamed, flailed and kicked wildly. I was not going to let this be easy for him. He brought an arm around my neck and placed me in a choke hold, and I felt things crunch and snap within my neck as I gasped desperately for air.
I stared at my sweet, sweet little pup as the world went dark around me.
The next thing I saw was the ceiling of a camper.
My throat hurt, my head hurt, and my wrists hurt. I realized my wrists had been tightly bound with a plastic zip tie behind me. I had fabric of some sort in my mouth and duct tape wrapped tightly around my face to secure it so that I couldn’t scream. I fought the overwhelming urge to gag. I closed my eyes and took several deep breaths; the only way I was going to get out of this was if I kept a calm, level head.
I’m a smart girl. I can get out of this.
“Wakey wakey, little pet,” he said to me from the other end of the camper.
I glared at him, invisible daggers being thrown from my soul into his.
“You and I…. man, oh man, we’re gonna have so much fun,” he hissed like a snake.
He ripped my pants off, and caressed the tops of my bare legs with his calloused fingers.
I wanted to cry, but I didn’t want to give him the satisfaction. I didn’t shed a single tear.
I stared at him with silent fury.
He grabbed my right ankle and swung it around him so that he stood between my legs. The smile that spread across his face was venomous, and I felt the urge to vomit.
“Dad?” a female’s voice called from just outside the camper. His eyes grew wide, and he put his finger to his mouth, telling me to keep quiet.
“I’ll be right out, hun. Give me just a sec,” he called out to her, his finger still pressed to his lips.
He leaned down and pressed his cheek to mine and whispered, “I’ll be back, my little pet. You stay right like this,” he said as he raped me with his eyes, then left the camper, locking the door behind him.
The moment he left I put my bare feet on the floor of the camper and stood, taking stock of what was around me. It was old and musty, and looked as if it hadn’t been cleaned in decades. There were no sheets on the bare mattresses, and the small sink had rust and dead flies adorning its drain. I walked to the door and pushed my ear to it to listen. I heard a door shut, and realized I was inside the pop-up camper he stored behind his house.
I was so close to home.
So close, yet so devastatingly far.
I thought about my poor little dog. Was he still tied to his lead? I didn’t hear him barking. I worried he had gotten loose and ventured out onto our busy road.
I thought about my kids, who would be getting dropped off around dinnertime. What would they think when they came home to an empty house; my car still parked in the driveway? And for that matter, I realized I didn’t even really know what time it was because I didn’t know how long I had been unconscious. I couldn’t even be totally sure it was the same day.
I felt tears start to form in the corners of my eyes, and I quickly stifled my emotions.
I reminded myself that I needed to keep a clear head, or I’ll just become another Dateline story.
I looked around the pop-up again. I knew from my childhood camping memories that pop-up campers usually had a window or vent on the roof that could be opened. This one happened to be located directly above the sink. Could I fit through it? I didn’t know, but I had to try. My hands were still bound behind my back, so climbing up onto the sink would not be an easy feat.
I leaned over the sink, laying the weight of my upper body on the counter, and swung my legs clumsily around. It worked. I was now laying with my face in the sink, and my torso planking the counter beside it. I brought my knees to my stomach, trying to bring myself to a sitting, or a standing position even, but I struggled. I turned onto my back and bent my knees so my feet were planted on the edge of the counter. I sat up, then stood, and used my mouth to turn the crank to open the vent.
It was so small.
It might be too small for my childbearing hips to fit through, but I didn’t know what other choice I had, so I just kept pushing forward with the only plan I had.
Once the vent was fully open, I stood fully erect with my head peeking out the top of the camper. I scanned my surroundings. The sun had either begun to set or to rise; I wasn’t quite sure, but hoped it was setting and only a few hours had passed since my abduction. I could hear traffic passing on our busy road just out of eyesight, and I could see the roof of my house.
I fought the urge to cry again, and my chest ached.
I head-butted the plastic vent cap using the top of my head while jumping on the counter – careful not to lose my balance and fall – until it cracked, then broke. I felt the skin on my scalp split and warm blood as it trickled down my temples.
How on earth was I going to lift my body out of this tiny hole without the use of my hands?
I spun around to again surveil my surroundings and was surprised to see a girl of about sixteen with bright red hair that fell in ringlets around her face and down her chest standing in the driveway of my abductor staring quizzically at me, head half-cocked and brow furrowed.
I couldn’t scream, I couldn’t beg for help, so instead I pleaded with every fiber of my being using only my eyes for her to help me.
Just then, the back door to his house opened and I quickly stooped down so that I wouldn’t be spotted.
“Shit, dad, will you go back and grab my sunglasses? I left them on my nightstand,” the redhead called out to my abductor.
“Dammit, Elsie,” he mumbled, and I heard the door shut behind him once again.
I cautiously peeked out the vent again. The girl was now at the door of the camper trying to open it up.
“It’s locked,” she called out to me. “What do I do? Fuck. Shit. Did my dad lock you up in here?” she asked with tears in her eyes.
I could only stare back at her with pleading, desperate eyes.
“Fuck, I can’t open it. I’ll go buy you some more time. It’s an old camper; you can probably kick out the door,” she said, then she turned and went back inside the house shutting the door behind her.
I jumped down from the counter and immediately began kicking at the door with all that I had. It only took four strong kicks before the metal frame bent and gave way; another two kicks broke the door right off its hinges.
I ran from the camper, hands still bound behind my back, down his long driveway toward our busy road. I ran through my front yard and up to my front door and used my head to bang until I began to see stars.
I could hear my dog barking wildly on the other side of the door.
I banged harder. My head ached and the world around me began to fade again as I came dangerously close to slipping out of consciousness.
My six year old son opened the door and I fell onto the hard floor inside the entryway, slamming the door behind me with my feet.
“What did mom say about opening the door when she’s not home?” my daughter snapped at her brother from the hallway. Upon seeing me she dropped her phone on the hardwood floor with a solid thud, and ran to me to remove the duct tape and rag from my mouth.
“Lock the door. Lock all the doors. Lock the windows. NOW! Both of you!”
“Mom?” she began to ask, tears welling in her eyes, but I cut her off.
“Do it now!” I demanded.
She grabbed the kitchen scissors and cut my wrists free, and I rubbed them as I ran to the phone to call the police.
“Where were you, mommy?” my boy asked. “I’m real hungry but sis wouldn’t let me have ice cream because she’s mean.”
That’s when I finally allowed the floodgates to release, and I sobbed as I pulled my children into my chest and held them tightly, kissing their heads and telling them how much I loved them.
“911, what is your emergency?” a woman’s voice asked.
Hi(gh) Maybe a little But If we talk maybe it’ll Open up your mind and it’ll Start to weather down and whittle Your overwhelming need to belittle & judge me of my noncommittal Ways although your loyalty is brittle For others you do so little Our problem is we’re blind to Your venom-poisoned spittle Until past the point of critical Then our issues become political And you get too analytical And I don’t want to fight you Because of beliefs you hold tight to So I bite my tongue and try to Remain calm and clear and neutral But complacency doesn’t fit well Because passion flows in my cells So I call my ancestors to guide me I ask for them to stand behind me In moments I feel like shrinking It’s worse when you’ve been drinking Your mind was so beautiful before Whatever made you close the door To understanding.