Horror & Dark Fantasy

Claiming T-Mo

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Fiction

Wilderness

The airport was small, squat like a compound, its walls interrupted in regular intervals by tall, shaded windows. When Krista looked out the windows, the sky seemed slate-gray and heavy, but when the front doors opened, she remembered that it was really blue and cloudless outside.

She was early for her flight back to New Haven. She liked to arrive at the very earliest time the flight website recommended. She was prepared to wait, liked it even. It was calming to have nothing to do and nowhere she had to be. She had brought a book about the history of wilderness and America, something left over from college that she had never read. She liked the cover, a picture of a Pilgrim family, small and sickly, their clothes black and heavy on their bony bodies, facing an expanse of trees so tall and green you could see nothing beyond them. She underlined phrases in the book out of old college habit: Wilderness remained a place of evil and spiritual catharsis. Any place in which a person feels stripped, lost, or perplexed, might be called a wilderness.

She shared a red plush armrest with a large woman who had almost incandescent butter-blonde hair. Her skin was so tan that it reminded Krista of a stain. Coffee on blonde wood.

The blonde had apparently just come from a trip to Maine. She told an older woman next to her—an even larger woman with tight pin-curls and wire-rimmed glasses, wearing those boxy, pleated shorts that middle-aged women often wear on holidays—about her trip. The blonde had stayed in the cutest hotel. Her entire room had been done up all nautical. The other woman nodded in agreement with everything the blonde said, as if she had had an identical experience.

Krista watched the airport attendants and one airport policeman patrol the area. They sometimes stepped into the waiting room and observed the crowd with what appeared to be either worry or constipation (they pressed their lips together, their hands on their hips, and blew the air from their mouths as if making silent raspberries). They had a vague air of agitation. She watched them carefully for signs of what might be wrong, but they revealed nothing in their pacing. Nobody else seemed to notice.

On Krista’s left, opposite the blonde, was a family, a mother and two children separated from her by one seat. The mother was thin and loud and wore shorts with many utilitarian pockets and a simple tank shirt without a bra. She seemed infinitely capable, as if she ran her own business or perhaps even managed some kind of sports team. Krista admired thin, efficient women like this, women who wore comfortable, rubber-soled sandals and clothing with enough functional pockets. The woman and her children all spoke on their individual cell phones, all telling somebody variations on the news that they would arrive soon, that it was only thirty minutes until boarding.

An announcement crackled over the loudspeakers, the sound delivered in one chunk of indiscernible static.

Krista looked around the room, hoping for the scraps of somebody else’s conversation to explain what had just been said.

Plane’s delayed for an hour, the blonde said to her husband, who had also missed it. Storms down in Boston.

A general grumble rose. People shifted in their seats and took out their recently stowed cell phones. The blonde woman called her husband’s name, which Krista immediately forgot.

Phone me up a pizza, she told him. I won’t eat that shit from the vending machine.

• • • •

As it grew darker in the waiting room, Krista struggled to make out the print of her book. The primary row of fluorescent lights hadn’t been turned on, but nobody else had complained about the dark yet. She wouldn’t be the first. She read until she had to squint in the darkness at the small, cramped words.

As she tried to concentrate on the increasingly turgid prose of her book (pages and pages about national forests, conservationists, things that Krista wasn’t particularly interested in, though she knew that she should be), the blonde woman spoke energetically about her two dachshunds, Buckeye and Alexis. They liked to eat the carpet, she said, so she had soaked the edges of the carpet in Tabasco sauce, which was, incidentally, the same color as the carpet. The pin-curled woman asked how they managed to walk on the carpet if it was soaked with Tabasco sauce. The blonde shrugged, as if this were a mystery to her as well, though a boring one that she had no interest in pursuing.

Krista gave up on her book.

The mother and her children slept on the carpet below their chairs, their bookbags slung up on the seats above them, the fabric of their bulky Plymouth Rock sweatshirts bunched under their heads as pillows.

Krista wished that she could step outside and occupy herself with a cell phone, as many others did, but she didn’t have a cell phone (she had canceled it when she’d left her job) and had nobody to call. Nobody was waiting to meet her in New Haven, and nobody was worried that her flight was late. She stood up and let the cheese cracker crumbs gathered in the folds of her t-shirt fall to the carpet.

• • • •

Krista stood in the fluorescent lights of the bathroom, listening for shuffling feet, a toilet paper roll spinning. She was alone. Her stall door wouldn’t shut completely (how did doors come unlined from their frames? She didn’t understand what would cause it, other than a fundamental shifting of the floor), so she kept one hand on the door as she pulled down her underwear. A bumper sticker on the inside of the door said REPUBLICANS FOR VOLDEMORT. She had never seen a Harry Potter movie or read one of the books, but she vaguely knew who Voldemort was. She was in on the joke.

She put her hand on the sticker and tried to keep the door closed as she eased her jeans and underwear down. It was just as she’d thought—in the middle of the bone-colored strip of fabric, a slight red stain. She peeked out her door into the empty bathroom: no machines.

Krista stuffed a ball of toilet paper between her legs and pulled her pants back up, letting the door open slightly, as she needed both hands. As she did this, just as the door swung open and she saw a middle-aged woman in the bathroom mirror carefully applying liquid eyeliner, the bathroom lights cut out. Nothing hummed or whirred and she could hear people in the hallway shuffling and speaking.

She buttoned her pants in the darkness and stepped into the bathroom, lit only by the dusky light seeping through the high, small window above the sinks. The woman applying eyeliner hissed shit and left, slamming her purse or hip into the plastic trash barrel as she left.

Before Krista even had time to panic or feel anything but mild interest, the electricity came back on again. The fluorescents above her buzzed with the effort and her blue-lit face appeared in the mirror. She was alone again. She washed her hands and pressed her wet palms over her face.

• • • •

Ladies and gentlemen, a police officer said, shaking the flashlight in his hand in time with the syllables, sorry for the inconvenience. He and one of the nervous attendants stood before the check-in desk.

It’s only a temporary outage, the officer assured them. Nothing serious.

Krista made her way back to the waiting room, stepping over legs and bookbags.

The news drifted into the main room, where Krista’s jacket was twisted around one leg of her chair, her carry-on bag placed on her seat to save it. The blonde next to her watched the progress of her bag as she removed it and sat down again. She knew that she shouldn’t leave her bags unattended—signs on every wall said so in bold red letters. All she had in the bag were dirty clothes, a brochure about Maine blueberries that her mother had given her, and a business card from her father’s company with a telephone number scrawled on the back. Nothing she was afraid of losing.

Her parents wanted her to come back home to Maine. She hadn’t told them yet that she wouldn’t. She was jobless now, that was true, but it wasn’t as they feared—she wasn’t beyond help. She had skills. She imagined herself combing through the classifieds in a coffee shop, circling job after job, making cheerful telephone inquiries, putting more action words in her resume (implemented, facilitated, utilized). The idea didn’t scare her. It seemed liberating. Fun, even. She remembered several cheerful montages from romantic comedies that included these very scenes. They had to have happened to somebody.

Did you hear what he said back there? the blonde demanded. It was a rhetorical question, since she obviously knew. Krista nodded and told her anyway.

So what’s the problem? the blonde asked. She was suspicious, if not of Krista, then at least of the policeman’s words. Storms.

Storms are the problem, Krista repeated.

The woman sniffed and shook her head, kicking off her pink flip-flops. Storms. I bet.

• • • •

It was completely dark out now. Somebody had put the lights on in the main room, so Krista could no longer see the parking lot and tree-heavy outskirts from the window. The pizza delivery car had taken forty-five minutes to reach the airport. He had reported heavy wind and rain somewhere close and coming toward them. The woman and her husband ate an entire large pizza all by themselves. Krista didn’t want any of their pizza, but she found it rude for people to eat in the presence of others who were not eating.

She couldn’t concentrate on her book. She put it away and tucked her luggage under her seat. She stood up, feeling the blood rush back into her legs. She’d go outside—the air in here was stuffy, full of the smells of powdered cheese and industrial cleaning liquid.

The glass doors folded away instantly for her, as if she had bid them to do so.

Outside it was still, but the streets were slick, as if it had recently rained, though she had seen no rain. A group of men stood by the doorway, talking about a sports team that she didn’t know.

He could really fucking get that ball across the field, he said. That boy was something else. This was from an airport attendant, one she had not seen before, a young man with a slightly fat, womanish body—large hips and a round ass. The other men nodded in unison. They made brief eye contact with Krista and nodded in turn, as if she were a visiting dignitary, somebody who needed at least a modicum of acknowledgement. She smiled and looked down, the proper response.

The streetlights reflected back against the cloud-covered sky, giving it a uniform orangey, sick tinge. Shallow puddles of water collected at the edges of the lot. The entire parking lot was lit by rows and rows of light.

Out beyond the parking lot, Krista saw a paved footpath from the airport to a big, empty industrial complex next door. The flight, according to her blonde neighbor, was delayed for another hour. She had time for a walk.

She set off across the lot, hoping that the men on the steps were watching. She didn’t want to be stranded if the plane happened to arrive early and everybody boarded without her. She imagined coming back to find the waiting room empty, her piece of luggage the only sign left that the place had once been inhabited.

The air was humid but cool. A cold sweat gathered on her bare throat and forehead as she pumped her arms and walked fast to reach the walkway. She wanted to be far away from the airport, to be able to see it from a distance. As a child, she had often fantasized about opening the car door and just running into the woods that lined the highways in Maine, disappearing from her parents and never arriving at whatever place they’d intended to take her. She often had a desire for literal distance from places, to see them in perspective to the sky or horizon. It calmed her to see something that made her afraid or unhappy small against a forest or cloudbank.

She crossed the wooded median and broke through to the parking lot of the complex. She turned around. The airport looked small in comparison to the huge building next to her, which had at least a dozen stories and was completely made of glass.

A light swiveled continually from the airport’s roof. From a distance, she could see the people inside the building below the fluorescent lights. The blonde chewed a piece of crust. One of the men outside lit a cigarette. The match flamed in his hands and then disappeared. She sat down on a bench facing the airport, and then rested her head on the slats. She was tired, she realized, and the swampy air increased the feeling. She would only close her eyes for a while.

• • • •

Ma’am. Ma’am! The voice woke Krista immediately. A flashlight bobbed around her face. She tried to speak, but only a low moan came out.

Are you hurt? Are you all right, ma’am? The policeman (Krista could see his badge and recognized his slick black hair from the airport) flashed his light into her eyes. She sneezed, then sat up, wiping her nose on the back of her hand.

I’m fine, she said. Is something the matter?

The policeman stood up from his crouching position. He towered over her as she sat, stood too close. Her nose was level with the brass button on his pants. She stood up.

I’m supposed to get everybody back to the airport. Storm coming. The flight is delayed for another hour. He jerked his head toward the airport. The men over there said you’d walked out thisaway and I came to get you. The policeman turned and started back toward the airport, so Krista followed.

I’m sorry to trouble you, she said to his back. She hadn’t imagined somebody would come to get her—why would he do that? Had he been watching her?

His shoulders were very broad. She liked how every policeman called every woman ma’am, even if the woman was clearly younger than he was.

The policeman shook his head. No trouble. He didn’t turn to look at her.

Krista wondered when the storm would come. The sky was still a strange, flat, orange-black.

• • • •

When Krista entered the room, the blonde woman and her husband looked away.

Found the last one, the policeman announced to the airport attendant.

Go ahead and take a seat, he told her.

It seemed to her that the whole room watched as she walked to her seat, removed her luggage, and sat down. Some of them didn’t take their eyes from her even as the airport attendant began to speak. She looked at the floor.

It looks like we’ll be keeping you for another hour, ladies and gentlemen, he said. The airport attendant looked around the room nervously, his hand resting on the top of his walkie-talkie. He wanted to leave, Krista could tell. He placed one foot behind him, ready to pivot him away. The flight is having minor technical difficulties, which should be resolved within the hour. He took a breath. But we got one request from the local authorities—you all must stay inside until the airplane lands.

At the word authorities, the room’s temperature changed. The blonde’s husband sat up straight in his seat and began to protest, as did several other men. The children looked at their mothers. The mothers pulled their children close.

What authorities, exactly? a few voices asked, stepping closer to the front counter.

Krista watched the airport attendant’s face. He put his hand up and grimaced. I don’t have any information beyond what I have given you.

Safe from what? What kind of danger, exactly, might we be in? A balding man in khaki pants stepped forward. He stood with two children—a boy and a girl of seemingly equal age, both thin and uncannily poised, their hair long and neat and pulled away from their faces. They looked just like him, tall and thin with large, bony elbows and hands.

The attendant shook his head. Sir, I only know what I’ve been told. All I know is that you are not in any immediate danger, as long as you stay in the airport.

Krista felt her stomach pang. She’d been outside. Was she in danger? Or was it only right now that the outdoors was dangerous? She turned and tried to see outside the windows, but she could only see the reflection of the group on the glass.

Listen, another man said, we need to know—but the attendant’s walkie-talkie crackled and he held his hand up, pressing it against his face. He spoke into it, a series of yeses and nos. The attendant held up one finger to the crowd, indicating just a minute, and returned to the gated doors that separated the waiting room from the security check.

When he left, people looked around, dazed. Some began to speak to each other, to people they would not otherwise speak to. Fear, Krista saw, made them trust each other with their own fear. They turned to each other and said plainly I am afraid. Not in those words, but in other words and in the angles of their bodies, in how much closer they leaned, how much more quickly they spoke.

The skinny mother with many-pocketed pants called hey, hey in Krista’s direction, and she gradually realized that the woman was speaking to her.

Did you see anything while you were outside?

Krista felt the attention of the room turned to her.

She shook her head. Nothing. I didn’t see anything. It was completely calm.

The blonde’s husband snorted. Calm, he repeated. Krista looked at him, not sure what he meant. Did he think she was lying?

Did you see any people out there? the woman asked, her eyes darting around Krista’s head.

No, nobody but the policeman. Krista didn’t like the way they watched her. Their eyes narrowed as if they couldn’t quite get her into focus.

• • • •

The police arrived thirty minutes later. She could see their squad cars’ headlights momentarily illuminate the otherwise black parking lot. They did not have their sirens on, but when they emerged from the squad cars, they were wearing masks. It was difficult to see exactly what kind of masks (she had only the light from their headlights to see by), but they seemed to be gas masks—a thick tube like an elephant tusk hung down from each policeman’s mouth and nose.

One of the children said His mask is scary. He pointed, and they all looked out the window, some running up to press their hands and faces to the glass. The entire window was covered with people trying to see through it. Krista remained seated. She’d seen the masks and didn’t know how it would help to see more. She could also feel that she was bleeding and was afraid to stand up.

Fuck this, said a young man, one of the people pressed against the glass. He was handsome in a slim, well-groomed way that made Krista nervous. Men like this didn’t notice her unless she was doing something for them—putting their call through at her office, for instance (her former office, she reminded herself), or reminding them to sign a form. They might reply thank you, while looking right through her. This man was dark-haired and wore a t-shirt of a solid, rich color—a brownish brick. He looked as if he’d stepped from an Eddie Bauer catalog. Krista’s mother got an Eddie Bauer catalog every month. She remembered admiring those outdoorsy people, thirtysomething, financially stable, wearing primary colors and sturdy shoes. They had formed her idea of what it meant to be a happy adult.

I’m going to see what’s going on here, he told the room. People around him nodded, even the mothers, who Krista thought might be offended by the fact that he had just said fuck, but maybe they excused the language in an emergency situation.

The man walked up to the glass accordion doors. Before, they had immediately opened when anyone stepped close to them. Now, they didn’t open. They must have cut the power to the doors. For the first time that night, she began to understand why everybody else was so frightened. It had taken her longer, she thought, because she only had herself to be afraid for.

The Eddie Bauer man pounded lightly on the glass doors, which shook under his fists. They were not very solid. He could have broken them if he wanted to.

Give us some fucking information! he screamed at the plastic seal in the middle of the door. Krista had an urge to laugh, but she turned it into a cough. She didn’t want to offend the man, who had done nothing to warrant unkindness.

It must be chemicals. Some kind of chemicals outside, the blonde said. Then she repeated it, looking around the room for somebody to tell. It must be chemicals. We’ve been attacked with chemicals and we’re stuck here. Her husband nodded.

Some of the men, older ones with children, went to look for the airport attendant and the policeman, who had all disappeared during the half hour before the police in gas masks had arrived.

Did you smell any gas out there? The blonde turned to Krista. This is important. Did you smell anything?

She wanted to help the woman. She tried to remember smells. The hedges smelled like pine. The bed of flowers around the industrial complex smelled like fresh manure and maple syrup.

No, I didn’t smell anything unusual. Krista shifted in her seat and felt her stomach heave and salt at the back of her throat. She was going to be sick. But she couldn’t be sick here, not with then all looking at her, thinking she’d been poisoned.

The blonde shook her head and turned from Krista, done with her. I don’t want to die in the goddamn place. I don’t want to die. Her husband gathered her in his arms and pulled her away from Krista. He shot her a look of mild anger, as if it were her fault that the woman was upset.

Krista stood up, hoping to leave the room for a while, to go to the bathroom and rest her cheek against the cool stall door and be away from the constant noise, the questions.

Mommy! A girl raced down the hallway, almost colliding with Krista as she ran. Mommy, the water hurt me! The little girl’s mouth was red with blood. It smeared her lips like lipstick. At first Krista thought it was lipstick, but it was wet on her hands, too, which she held out before her.

What did you do, baby? What happened? This wasn’t the many-pocketed mother, but a more frantic mother, one who wore a jumper and a headband. She was as upset as the child.

What hurt you, baby?

Krista stood in the hallway watching, like everyone else, waiting to hear what was wrong. She stood perfectly still, afraid that moving would collide her with whatever had hurt the child. The child sniffled and hiccupped, but eventually, she managed to get something out. She had only taken a drink from the water fountain. It had cut her, and she had come back here to tell her mother about it.

As the mother wiped the child’s mouth clean with a napkin from her purse, they heard a rustle from the front of the room—the security door opened and the attendant stepped out, his walkie-talkie crackling.

Good, you’re all here, the airport attendant said, surveying the group. He did not seem to notice that they were gathered together strangely, turned toward the mother and child in the middle.

You might have noticed the police presence, he said. They are here to secure the airport. He held up his hand when somebody spoke, the tone angry, though they were not able to get out a word. The plane is scheduled to leave in thirty minutes, it has just landed. We’ve put a plastic tunnel from the door to the plane so you don’t have to go outside when you board, just as a precaution—understand? He paused and looked at the bulky, digital face of his watch.

The blonde jumped in, ignoring his still-raised hand. What’s going on? Have we been attacked? She held a paper towel to her eyes and dabbed beneath them where her eyeliner bled.

The attendant shook his head. No ma’am, no evidence of that. The FBI determines that. You’ll know as soon as I know. The man nodded at them all, and, as the questions began, as the mother with the bloody-mouthed child tried to bring the child forward, a paper-towel held against the girl’s still lips, the man walked fast—almost jogged—back to the gated security area, slid through the smallest possible sliver of open door, and then locked the door behind him.

The crowd was still for what seemed like a very long time to Krista, though she knew it was probably only a few seconds. Then, the Eddie Bauer man ran up the slight slope to the locked entrance and shook the gate like somebody in a prison movie or a primate behind old-fashioned zoo bars.

We’ve got a kid bleeding in here. We want to speak to somebody in charge. His voice echoed in the empty security area and bounced back down to the crowd.

The mother held her daughter and began to cry. The child was dry-eyed. Everyone was speaking but Krista. Unlike the others, she was uncoupled, without a child or a traveling companion. In Victorian novels, women always went with traveling companions, maiden aunts or cousins to keep them safe from the influence of crowds and sinister men. They also served another purpose, one which Krista had not thought of before—they were for company, somebody to be with, a buffer against loneliness beyond the everyday loneliness of being in one’s own head. She usually enjoyed her own company, but her aloneness oppressed her here. Even now, people did not usually travel alone, at least not the way she was, aimlessly and with nowhere to go, no one to care if she arrived or not.

She imagined that the others sometimes looked at her sideways, never directly. Krista wasn’t sure if she was exaggerating their glances—her mother said that she tended to suspect dislike where it wasn’t present. You were always a fussy, fearful child, she’d said during her latest visit, after Krista had explained what had happened at her job, with her boss, how she had been shamed into leaving, how he had never called her again. I’m sure it would have blown over if you’d just waited. If you’d just been a little more goddamn calm about it.

Being fearful makes people want to hurt you, her mother had said. When you shrink away, people want to give you a reason to shrink.

Krista tried to breathe deeply to calm herself. She opened her bag and took out her book. She had read only one half-sentence (Wild animals added danger to the American wilderness and here, too, the element of the unknown intensified feelings) before she felt her stomach tighten. She had the urge to stretch out on the floor until the sickness passed, but she couldn’t. She put her book away and rose. As she stood up, the blonde, now sitting with her head between her hands, the empty pizza box occupying the seat next to her, turned to watch.

Are you sick or something? The woman looked at Krista, though she kept her head in her hands.

I’m okay, Krista said. Just had too much water.

Her mother had always called her period her monthly friend, and Krista had been encouraged to adopt similar euphemisms for bodily functions. Going number two. Making water. Making wind. She couldn’t imagine answering the woman’s question truthfully.

The woman pursed her lips and nodded, but turned to Krista again, her face still blank. Sure you didn’t pick up something from outside? You went farther out than any of us. As she said this, the woman weeping on her bleeding child’s blonde head looked up.

Did you drink out of the water fountain? Did you get something from outside on the fountain?

Krista shook her head, rising again. No, no. I have my own water. I swear, there’s nothing wrong with me. Nothing was wrong outside when I was out there. She looked at the two women, both staring at her, their mouths hardened, their teeth not showing.

Excuse me, she told them, as if ducking away from a dinner party. I have to use the restroom.

• • • •

In the bathroom, Krista leaned her warm forehead against the bathroom stall, then thought better of it and pulled away. She didn’t know it was safe to touch. Maybe she was getting poison on everything she touched. The woman’s fear was convincing.

In the stall, she knelt and rested her head in her hands. Her head ached dully. She couldn’t take one of the Tylenol she’d brought in her carry-on bags—she didn’t have any water left in her bottle. She knelt until the sickness passed. But she had to go back. She couldn’t hide.

Before she left the bathroom, she caught a flash of light in the small window above her eye level. They were just outside, the men in masks. Krista wondered if she could see anything—maybe something she could tell the others about, gain their favor with—through the small, rectangular window in the bathroom. She turned over the bathroom’s metal trash can and climbed on it, holding the wall for balance, until she could see outside.

The window looked out into the front lawn of the airport. She saw three figures in jumpsuits gliding their flashlights along the lawn. One seemed to be examining the grass. Another seemed to be looking at the edge of the building, where the foundation met the ground. Another was farther off, sweeping his light in the little stand of trees between the airport and the industrial complex. Their motions seemed cursory, almost mocking, as if they were only putting on a show of searching, and not even a very convincing one.

Looking for someone you know? A man’s voice surprised her, and Krista turned on the trash can, almost falling. It was the blonde’s husband. He wasn’t wearing his baseball cap and his reddish, curly hair was flat and greasy against his head like a stack of smashed bread.

You scared me, she said, not sure how to understand the man’s presence in the women’s room. Is something wrong with the men’s room?

The man shook his head. I just came to make sure you were all right. You were taking so long. His voice was wrong; it didn’t match his words. He smiled at Krista and motioned for her to join him.

Come on back out here. We’ve all got some questions.

Krista nodded, though she didn’t understand what he was saying. Questions for her? When she entered the waiting room, she saw that her baggage had been opened. The Eddie Bauer man had her book in his hands. He wore rubber gloves (Krista wondered where he had gotten them—did he pack rubber gloves whenever he traveled?).

What are you doing?

The people around him looked up at her. They had all let him do this, she could see. They all approved.

We found this, the blonde said, pointing at Krista’s seat. The red seat was stained black in a neat, tea saucer-sized circle. You’re bleeding. Why didn’t you tell us?

They think I’m sick, she thought. It isn’t—she began, but the woman with the many pockets interrupted her.

You haven’t spoken, and you’re traveling here alone, he said. You go outside right before the attack. You visit the restroom five or six times after. You don’t call anyone to let them know what happened. You don’t ask any questions, and you don’t seem to be fazed by what’s happening here. The woman held her hands up, palms to the sky. What are we supposed to think?

Listening to the woman, Krista almost felt convinced of her own suspicious behavior. She was vaguely afraid that they would find her out. But there’s nothing to find, she soothed herself, there’s nothing wrong with me. I’m only alone. There’s nothing wrong with that.

You can’t do this to me, she said instead, the words surprising her. How dare you do this to me? The words seemed familiar, like something she had seen on television, and they made her feel powerful. She wanted to hit the Eddie Bauer man and take back her book back. She wanted to make the blonde stop smiling or smirking or whatever she was doing with her mouth.

What, do you think you are some kind of important person? That you’re better than the rest of us? This was from the blonde. She crossed her arms over her chest. Krista imagined that this was the way she stood when scolding her children.

I am important, she told them, not sure what she was trying to say. Tell them about your monthly friend, she told herself and almost laughed out loud. I’m as important as—

She stopped when the lights went out. A few of the children screamed and the mothers hissed words of comfort. Krista didn’t move. It seemed safer to stay where she was. No need to drag it out. No need to make things harder on everyone. Though it was dark, she could hear the rustle of someone moving toward her.

Letitia Trent

TK