So the following is a short story that’s adapted from a novel I’m working on. In turn, it’s also part of a screenplay I registered with the Writer’s Guild. Feel free to share your thoughts!
It’s just before nightfall and I’m walking down East Bushwick street. My parents are probably sipping coladas in the Antilles at this very moment. I tell them I live on campus but that scene just isn’t for me. Instead, the money they send goes towards this dingy studio above a number of East Asian establishments. The rest is carefully allocated to my growing fondness for malt liquor. The laudanum of my time, I suppose. I’m just a modern-day Keats.
I don’t even lift my eyes from the ground as I trod homeward bound. Last week I almost got into a ridiculous scuffle with some pregnant woman (her fourth at twenty-one) over allegedly looking at her “hard.” Some men are loitering by the corner liquor store, alternating the amber bottle covered in a paper bag, taking swigs in turns. I hesitate as I approach them, but then continue, since they’re half blocking my entrance. As I squeeze by, the men deliberately place themselves as a blockade. The Alpha of the posse swarms round me, a ruddy-faced, bearded fellow in his mid-thirties. His clothes reek as though they’d been starched with sweat many times over, but his breath smells like fermented honey. Stiffening as he pulls up close, I continue to look down.
“We’ve seen you a couple times. Seems you live in this, uh, fine establishment, mm?”
The other men break into laughter at this pitifulattempt at sarcasm. I remain quiet and wait for this to blow over. Wouldn’t be the first time. The man looks at the others incredulously, only just realizing he’s being ignored.
“Well, it seems someone’s forgotten their manners!”
The group nod and grunt their assent, not taking their eyes off me. The tone has changed. I start to wonder if all the malt liquor in the world is really worth dealing with this every other week.
Alpha has a menacing smile for me.
“What are you, fucking deaf? I asked you a question.”
He gets in my face now, smile evaporating. After a few tense seconds where his boys look at him expectantly for the next step, he bursts out laughing. It is a cackle, thrown in all directions, inviting the others in. They easily fall in, like hyenas, though a few seem confused.
“Bitch is probably mute. I don’t do charity cases, anyway. Proceed, my good lady,” he says with mock reverence. He even twirls his wrist to show me the way in.
The hoots continue as I make my way through the thicket of them, careful not to touch the vermin. I waste no time in darting through the door and racing up the stairs to the third floor. I trip on a loose floorboard and nearly lose my footing. I gotta get out of this place, I think for the umpteenth time. I arrive at my door, at the end of the hall. The fluorescent lights above buzz and flicker, casting everything beneath it in a sickly greenish hue. An insidious case of black mold has taken over the area surrounding the heater by the fire escape. There’s the dull rumble coming from the neighbor’s television, which he leaves on every night as a backdrop to his cooking meth. The fumes escape through the slit at the bottom of the door, and presently I cough loud enough for him to hear. I turn the key slowly, and step inside. Right before I get to kick the door closed, I’m thrown forwards and the door handle clangs against the inside wall. My chin lands hard on the filthy linoleum, but I ignore this and turn quickly around. The men have already shut the door and are rifling through my kitchen. One pulls out a steak knife, satisfied with his discovery. But the Alpha does not join in the fun; he merely looks at me jeeringly.
“So, not much of a talker, are we? That’s ok, neither am I. I’m more of a doer, you know what I mean? I can do things that might just…loosen your tongue.”
It’s clear he enjoys the effect of his last words. My breathing is ragged; I hardly recognize the voice issuing from my lips. “Please—“
The Alpha chuckles at my plea and starts eagerly unbuckling his belt.
“Got your tongue back, eh? Shame it’s too late for manners.”
The men crowd around him like children waiting their turn. The Alpha inches closer until he is standing directly above me, and that’s when I black out.
My eyes open to the still of twilight.
There is something I’ve neglected to say, and any psychologically well-adjusted, mentally sound reader would have picked up on just now. How is it that these flashback episodes don’tcome to—how should I say it—fruition? You’re not anxious to envision me getting gang-raped, and yet, you’re still reading. Good thing I blacked out, right?
When I was about seven, the symptoms behind my condition began to manifest. I’d be running out in the field during recess one moment, and the next I was hailing a cab like I had seen my father do. The space in between the two events was an abyss in my mind. Fortunately, I remembered perfectly who I was and where I lived for the good Samaritans to help me find my way back. The psychiatrists, with much pomposity,referred to their recently updated diagnostic bible and classified it as a Dissociative Disorder with elements of amnesia and fugue. During the sessions, my parents finally had to come clean about the possible onset. In a span of six years, we had moved about thirty two times—always at night. I was a deep sleeper and never witnessed the transition—just the abrupt switch from one life to another. For protection, my parents found it necessary to lie. I would distinctly remember the details of our previous home, the neighbors, and so on, but my parents vehemently denied this, fabricating rationalizations for my “confusion.” The therapist explained that this particular form of instability and misinformation was a form of psychological abuse and it had certainly led to my current state. My father recoiled from this medical opinion and decided to take matters into his own hands. From then on, I was home-schooled by my mother. They no longer lied to me about the moves, but the damage was, as they say, done. I still relapsed, often at the brink of some denouement or other, but now my mother was always close at hand to guide me back. They were hesitant when I said I wanted to go to college in New York. A significant portion of the money they send me monthly was also supposed to go to therapy and medication. And we all know where that went.
I am standing in a kaleidoscopic blur in front of my apartment building. It must be the wee hours of the morning, because there’s no one around except a young man in a green cargo jacket walking towards me. My stomach churns with nausea. My hands are cold and slimy. Looking down at them, I blink several times, only to see they’re covered in dark red. I look up again and see the young man is now a few feet from me. He seems to recognize me. Without warning, my body crumples to the asphalt. He runs toward me.
“Are you okay?”
That voice. Blake? From that English class? What the hell is Blake, of all people, doing here at this time?
“What are you…?
He seemed to anticipate the cause of my bewilderment.
“I read about these murders on the news today. I think they happened in this building right here.”
Blake was still fumbling to get me up and noticed the blood on my hands.
“Oh my God. What happened? Are you hurt?”
I shook my head automatically, knowing I must’ve had another episode but not physically hurt. Then whose blood was it? My mind races to put the pieces together. Suddenly investing in professional help and meds doesn’t seem like such a bad idea.
“Let’s get you to a hospital,” Blake suggests in panic.
I shake my head automatically.
“No medical. Besides, I’m fine. See?”
I raise my shirt to expose my midriff and intact skin over major organs.
“Must’ve taken a spill, or something. Can you just help me get back to my apartment?”
“Of course,” he says as he helps me up and through the doorway. He props me up by my side as we climb the stairs and reach my door. He looks at the dubious surroundings and whistles low.
“And I thought I had it bad.”
Just as he says it, he realizes his imprudence and bows his head in shame.
“Um, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to—“
“It’s fine,” I reassure him. “This place is a shithole, I know better than anyone.”
He grins consolingly. It’s then that I realize I cannot have him come inside.
“Hey, thanks again. I better get in. See you Tuesday.”
Ensuring my tone is very curt, I stand upright, waiting for him to take his leave. He responds better than I’d hoped, mumbling apologies as he slides past me and down the stairs. With a deep breath, not quite knowing what to expect, I enter.
Lamplight filters through the sheer curtains. Just enough to see the fresh blood smeared on the cheap beige carpet. Moans of agony are coming from the living area. My senses are reeling. The nausea returns in swells. Any second now I’ll disappear into the void again. Before going into the next room, I practically crash into the kitchen pantry, looking for an emergency stash of Valium. It’s expired a few months ago but I pray it’ll give me strength for a few minutes while I fend for my sanity. The groans continue—seem to grow louder—and I close my eyes as the pill shimmies down my esophagus. A few minutes pass, what seems like an eternity, before I allow myself to move. I grab a black duffle bag from the top shelf. It’s covered in dust and cobwebs, but it’ll do. I pack in a few non-perishables. As I do, I notice there’s something hard in one of the inside pockets. I unzip it and find several stacks of hundred dollar bills. I hug the bag toward my body, horrified at the implications.
What the fuck?
Shaking my head, I brace myself for the living area. Gingerly, holding the bag like a shield, I step onto the carpet that is now decorated with pink and maroon striations, all leading toward–
The men come into view, the men from earlier tonight. Or was it tonight? Where is the police unit that must’ve leaked the story to the news? Everything was as I left it when—when I blacked out. I advance.
The men are piled on top of each other, shivering on the floor. Every step pulls the bile higher in my throat. The trail of blood becomes thicker and pools around them like an engorged amoeba. It’s becoming harder to breathe.
What did I do?
The Alpha has his shirt lifted up, exposing his bloated stomach. There’s an enormous, jagged wound sown shut haphazardly with black cable ties. His head turns towards me. The moment his eyes meet mine, he wails in pure, unalloyed horror. As he does, blood seeps from the wound. I just can’t. Fuck my clothes. Clutching my bag, I turn and sprint out of there like the proverbial bat out of hell.
© 2014 Laura Ortega All Rights Reserved