Aphelion Issue 245, Volume 23
November 2019
 
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The Oakton

by Couri Johnson




Sunny days were the worst. On days it was raining there would be a steady enough base of customers pouring through, never enough to fill the lobby, but enough to keep them at bay. When it began to rain people would have to cancel their barbeques, pack the kids up from the park, and they would conclude: "Well, we may as well go see a movie." So they would come to The Oakton, because it was cheap, and no one wanted to pay much for a movie they didn't plan on seeing. The Oakton only ever showed old films. Black and white. Grainy and archaic. The kind of films that were deemed "classic" because everyone knew what they were about without ever remembering seeing them. Her happiness depended on days being ruined, people coming to these conclusions, settling for such films. On sunny days the theater was empty, and then they would come. The ghosts.

* * *

She wouldn't have taken the job if she wasn't desperate. On the outside it looked like an average, if run down, theater, set off alone down the road away from the glittering lights of the shopping center and its new flourishing multiplex. It was positioned in front of the woods which hugged the cemetery, the same woods Johnny used to take her to tell her stories, to scare her into his arms. She wasn't worried about the woods. Or the cemetery. It was the décor and uniform that worried her.

Inside, the lower half of the wall was covered in worn out purple felt. At waist level it turned to pea green, separated by a strip of neon orange plastic. The floor was a black and white checkerboard, the lights were unkind. The man who had let her in looked to be sixty five. He was wearing a double breasted red coat with tarnished and chipped faux gold buttons, with the little round hat that ushers used to wear when going to the movies was still something glamorous to do. Once he let her in the old man shuffled to a door that led behind the counter, through another into a room in the back, left her alone in the lobby where she stood staring at the horrifying colors, the scuffs on the floor. Nadine thought: If I have to look at this all day, my eyes will bleed.

Up where the second floor must be there was a window with a dim light shining through. She thought she saw a flicker of a shadow moving against it. The old man had come back out of the back room, carrying her application. He came through the door, squinting his eyes towards the paper.

"Nadine Jones?" he asked. She nodded. He motioned for her to sit on a plastic black mesh bench and took a seat unnaturally close to her. She could smell the cigarette smoke on his breath. Her hands itched, like small bugs were creeping along her veins. "Not a hard guess. You're the only applicant we have." He laughed without humor and skimmed through the lines of the paper.

"Are you the manager?"

"Nah, he's busy up there." He nodded towards the window and Nadine looked up towards it. He cupped one hand and coughed into it. "College grad, eh?"

Nadine nodded and looked out the glass doors. Outside her car sat alone in the parking lot. "Yeah, Chemistry." She hadn't wanted to come back here, she had just gotten lost somewhere between graduation and her real professional life.

"Well, I hope you don't expect to get paid more for that." Nadine shook her head. "Good. Just one more thing then." He flopped her application down on the seat next to him and pushed his face up close to hers. The web of wrinkles around his eyes deepened and Nadine's nose coasted through the funk of nicotine oozing out of his mouth. "The theater is haunted." Nadine picked at her fingernails and looked away, felt her face flush. She decided to laugh.

"I'm not afraid of ghosts, you know. They aren't real. I believe in science."

"Good," he chuckled. "Tell that to the ghosts. See what they say." He stood up and picked up his application. He coughed into his free hand and extended it towards her. "My name is Jerald. I'll see you Monday."


* * *

Nadine knew the chemical composition of people. She could list all six elements that made up the human body: nitrogen, oxygen, carbon, calcium, hydrogen, and phosphorus. There was no chemical composition for the soul. Therefore, there was no soul. There was no such thing as ghosts. Nadine knew this to be true.

For the first three days she worked at The Oakton Nadine sold tickets to The Creature from the Black Lagoon and Jerald tore them at the podium. For the first three days, Nadine sold popcorn and Jerald swept bits of it from the floor.

"Is there anyone else who works here?" she asked him on the third day.

"It's just us, sweet heart, us and the manager." He twirled his broom in his hands and looked up at the window. Nadine had yet to see him.

"What's he do all day?"

"Paperwork, talks on the phone, makes schedules, y'know, manages."

For the first three days in drizzled and rained, and people came in to pay two fifty and stare at the black and white screen. For the first three days Nadine rolled her eyes at Jerald, and smiled to herself, and knew she was right.

When she left the theater she walked to her car, she did not look back at the woods. She did not stop and smoke the cigarette Jerald offered, but rushed through the smoke, her body on fire. She'd come home at night to her parents snug in their bed, pleased at the silence, the lack of questions, the lack of looks. She'd take her ash tray out of the bottom drawer of her desk and rip out a page of the journal she kept in high school. She would tear it carefully apart, strip by strip, roll it up, and burn them one by one. She watched the word love curl in the flame. She watched John's name turn to ash.

She crawled under her blankets after the page had burned and she'd emptied the ash. She slept in the same twin bed she'd lost her virginity in. She never wanted to come back here. She would close her eyes and listen to her skin itch over the pressure of her lungs opening and closing; clean and unblemished.


* * *

On the fourth day, she woke up past noon when the sun was shining. She remembered that dreams were caused by a chemical reaction released by her brain while she slept; they were arbitrary. She brushed her teeth, covered the dark depressions around her eyes with concealer, and pulled her hair back. It would be okay, for now, being here. She could make it through.

She had a day off. A day off to watch her parents maneuver themselves around her. She wondered where her friends went in the four years she'd been gone. She left out the back door and drove to the Oakton. She thought she might like to watch The Creature from the Black Lagoon. She thought she might understand it. When she parked her car was the only one in the lot. The doors were locked. Through the glass, she could see the dim light of the manager's room glowing high up on the wall, and the shuffle of shadows in the hall.

She left and drove her car round and round the curving freeway, watching the exit signs grow and disappear, over and over. She drummed her fingers on her steering wheel and when they ached too much she held a pen between them. Placed it between her lips and chewed until her jaw ached and small tears blurred the lines of the lanes.

At night, she came through the back door of her house and her parents were in the living room grumbling at one another.

"Does she ever intend on getting out of here?" her father grumbled. "Worthless degree. I told her."

"Don't start. Don't. That's how it is these days. They all have debt, you know. Can't go anywhere, can't get jobs. Same all over. She's depressed, too. I know it. I can see it on her face, so don't." Her mother replied.

"Depressed," her father snorted.

"Don't," her mother snuffed.

She crept upstairs on her hands and knees, pulled down her journal, tore out a page and ripped it to strips. She slept on the floor.


* * *

The next day she went to work early and sat outside with Jerald as he smoked. He sat on the curbed pavement in front of the woods. Storm clouds were rolling in from behind him. Behind the trees, things flickered and shifted.

"Are we open on Thursday?" she sat on the asphalt opposite of Jerald and looked towards the dumpster and the aging pool of soda at its base. Bee's buzzed low to the ground. The wind carried smoke toward her face, to pool in her nostrils. She picked a stone up off the ground and squeezed it hard between her fingers until they went numb.

"Yep," Jerald grunted. He stubbed out his cigarette and lit another. He grinned at her as it flared up.

"Who works?"

"Manager handles it all. It's a slow, slow day." She did not tell him that she came and found it locked. She did not tell him she was desperate enough to watch what they showed, that she was like one of the brittle, aged and lonely regulars that sat through every showing even though they only showed one film. She did not say anything about John or her parents.

He said: "It's gonna rain today," and rose to his feet. A drop of water splattered against Nadine's cheek.

#

That night she listened to her father and mother whispering in their bedroom while she warmed her hands over August 15th. "She should have married that boy," her father grunted, "then maybe she wouldn't have anything to be depressed about."

"Don't." Her mother shushed.

When the page had burned into quiet embers, she dragged the blankets off her bed, and bundled up inside the closet.


* * *

She rolled the windows down on the way to work and tried to cup the pouring sun between her fingertips. She imagined it pooling in her palm, and at red lights, she would pull her hand in, dab her fingers into it, and smear it beneath her eyes. She huffed it. She whistled as she approached Jerald, who waved at her with his smoking hand. She ran her tongue between her teeth. He said: "Nice day, isn't it?"

She clicked her nails against one another and nodded. "It feels like it's been raining forever." She took a step back from the plume of smoke and peered up into the blinding sun. Her eyes flooded with spots of iridescent colors. "Do you think we'll be busy today?" She looked back towards Jerald and rubbed her fists into her eyes.

"Not exactly. We'll see who comes in." Between the blooming speckles of light Jerald grinned. He unlocked the theater doors.


* * *

For the first twenty minutes, no one showed. Jerald started Burn Witch, Burn with no body in it. He came out, leaned against the counter, and smiled at Nadine.

"You may as well have waited." She said and he shrugged. A woman glided through the glass doors. She was wearing a colorless flowered dress that the checkered floor shone through. There was a hole where her left eye and 30% of her forehead should have been.

"Milk." She told Nadine. Nadine turned to Jerald.

"Very funny. How are you doing it?" Jerald pulled out his pack of cigarettes and put one in his mouth. He lit it and smiled.

"Honey, you've been here long enough now to know I don't do much of anything." He shook a second cigarette out of the pack. "You look a little pale, you want a smoke?"

Nadine felt a trickle of blood roll down her chin. She dislodged her teeth from her lip and stared at Jerald while the woman hovered in the corner of her eye. "Milk," the woman accused.

"You're not supposed to smoke in here." Nadine tapped her fingers against the counter, counted down in her head. Ten tap nine tap eight tap.

"No one will be in," Jerald motioned towards the doors, "and they won't mind." An old man had joined the woman at the counter, his eyes empty as robbed graves, his hands knobbed and outstretched, grasping the air in front of his face.

"What's at the door?" he asked. Five tap four tap three tap tap tap.

"Print them tickets, Nadine," Jerald said. "They're waiting." The checkered floor was distorted, dulled, wavering behind a sea of nearly translucent legs. Nadine smeared the blood across her chin. There was a shadow against the manager's window.

The ticket printer creaked to life. Nadine held the stubs out to the crowd before the counter. "Milk." The woman said, and floated up the aisle.


* * *

That night Nadine snuck in to the attic and brought down the box labeled "Nadine. BOOKS." She set it down in the middle of her bedroom and dragged her college text books out. She pulled them into the closet. She tore September 2nd from her journal, lit it in her ash tray beneath her hanging clothes. She closed the door, read by the squint of the flame. She recited the components of human blood, of human muscle, of human bone. She breathed in the smoke. She sucked in the smoke, heaved it in until it made her dizzy.

"Do you smell something burning?" Her father grumbled between his snores. "She better not be doing something weird in there."

Nadine knew that one day her father would die, and he would not come back.

"Don't." Her mother shushed.


* * *

In the morning, Nadine washed the dried blood from her chin and ash from her face. She coated it in thick powdered makeup a shade darker than she remembered it being. She added blush and thought that she looked pretty normal, that she looked alive. Her mother was waiting at the foot of the stairs, calling her.

"Hon, your father and I were thinking of coming to your theater today. Hon?" Nadine turned on the faucet and flushed the toilet and thought Don't.

She left the faucet running and tied a rope made out of sheets to her bedpost. She threw it out her window and climbed down. On her way to work she stopped at a gas station where the clerk smiled, said: "Nadine, it's been what--four years? You here for a pack"--Nadine slammed down eight packs of gum and pretended not to know him.

When she got to her car, she shoved a stick of each pack in her mouth and began to chew until the ache in her teeth bled into the hinge of her jawbone. Each grind felt as satisfying as pressing a bruise.

At the theater Jerald was outside by the dumpster staring into the woods. "It's Saturday." she said. "Busy day for a normal theater." She stood a distance away from him, leaned against the theater wall, and added a new stick of gum to the mound in her mouth.

"Yeah, but no one really likes Burn Witch, Burn. Next week is Casablanca though. More people tend to come for that." She grunted. He lit a cigarette. She added more gum to her mouth. She chewed. He heaved a sigh.

"Unlock the doors," she said.

"It's early. You're early."

"I'm going to find out how you do it." Jerald laughed and turned towards her.

"Honey, you look like crap. Did you get and sleep at all?" He took a drag off his cigarette and blew it towards her. Nadine added two more sticks of gum. Her cheek began to bulge with its size. Her words mushed together around it.

"Jussapen da der, Jeld."

"Whatever you say, Princess." He bent down and stubbed out his cigarette, looked back to the woods once more, then leered at Nadine as he stomped towards the front of the theater.


* * *

Nadine searched. She looked under the counters. She uprooted old candy from its drawers. She took apart the popcorn poppers. She dragged the ladder out of the janitors closet and looked in the corners, around the light fixtures. She tried to peer into the manager's room, but the light was off and the glass opaque. Every now and then she would clench the gum between her teeth and pull a sting of gum out and twirl it around her finger before sucking it back in.

Jerald stood outside smoking and watching her, shaking his head. He took his cap off and ran his hand through his thinning hair. When it was time for the theater to open, he came in and called her off her ladder. He took it back to the janitor's closet.

She took her gum from her mouth and stuck it to the bottom of the register, began to chew a new stick while she started a batch of popcorn. She spent ten minutes poking the hard lump of gum. Jerald started up the film. The manager's light turned on and nobody came in.

"Milk," the woman with the hole said.

"I think she likes you," Jerald smiled.

Nadine broke off a piece of hardened gum and threw it at the woman. The speck lodged in her nose, stuck for a second inside of it, before dropping to the floor.

"Milk." The woman said. A little boy joined her. He looked from Nadine up into the woman's face. His feet didn't touch the floor.

"What are you going to do?" He asked.

"Milk." The woman said. Nadine kept chewing her gum. She scraped the hardened batch from the register. It sailed through the hole in the woman's head.

Jerald glared at her while he swept it up.

Nadine printed out two tickets and placed them on the counter. They disappeared and the woman and child floated up the aisle into the theater.

"Why don't they make sense?" Nadine asked and Jerald shrugged. A woman in a wedding dress approached the counter. Her eyes bled inkish rivers of mascara down her face.

"Who?" she moaned.

"A little cliché, isn't it?" Nadine asked, motioning at the bride. Jerald shrugged. Nadine printed the ticket. She chewed her gum. Jerald stood next to the door and lit a cigarette. Ghosts floated through him. He licked his lips.

"Sometimes you can get them to talk right, if you say the right things," he said offhand. He stared into the sunbathed parking lot.

"What are the right things?" Nadine asked and Jerald shrugged. He had good shoulders for shrugging. Bowed and slightly humped.

"Depends I guess," he answered.

"When are you going to stop messing with me? When are you going to tell me how it's done?" Jerald looked at Nadine. He shook his head. She pulled the gum out of her mouth and threw it through the translucent chest of a man in a business suit. It hit the floor with a wet plop.

"Dear god," the business man moaned.

"What god?" Nadine asked and printed his ticket. He looked at her with empty eyes, shook his head, and slouched up the ramp and into Burn Witch, Burn. No money was exchanged. The dead make poor customers.

"Don't be such a child," Jerald said. He bent down to scrape the gum off the floor. Johnny floated in, coasted through Jerald's sloped shoulders.

Johnny looked awful, dead. Nadine had thought so at the wake. He looked even worse as a ghost. He was dressed in his army fatigues, and even had on the oversized helmet. His legs were missing. They had covered that, at the wake, with the bottom of the casket. Now they ended in ragged tatters of muscle, bone, and clothes. Clear white fluid dripped from them and splattered against the floor, then faded. Nadine tugged her hair into place under her silly hat and fed herself a stick of gum.

"Where are you going?" Johnny asked. His eyes were sheets of white. The scar on his chin was a fleck of white, where she had cut him with the shard of mirror, that one time.

"It was an accident," she said compulsively.

"How?" he asked. Nadine clenched the gum between her teeth, pulled it out in a long strand, and watched Johnny float. She tried to chomp through it, missed, hit the scab on her lip. She shrieked. Johnny shrieked. Three ghosts floating into the lobby shrieked, like an alarm going off in the lobby. There was movement under the light of the manager's window.

"Who told you," Nadine screamed. She pointed at Jerald, "Who? Who told you? Was it my parents?"

"Settle down," Jerald came towards her, hands out, his face pale and smooth with the slack of his hanging jaw. The ghosts went on shrieking, more came in, mouths already open and screeching. "Nadine, settle down."

"What is this? Some kind of gag? Some kind of reality show?" The gum fell from Nadine's mouth, spit and blood trickled from her lip. She wiped furiously at her chin until her hat fell from her head. "You aren't going to get to me." She scratched her nails into the counter. The bugs were swarming under her skin, crawling in her lungs. "I want to see the manager."

"Nadine," Jerald pleaded. There was a knocking against the manager's window. Jerald looked up, nodded. "Nadine, I think you had better go home for tonight." Nadine seized the register, breathed deep. She reached into her pocket for a stick of gum. She looked through Johnny's head. The ghosts' shriek died to a moan, then faded.

"Fine," she said. "Fine." She bent down and picked up her hat. She stormed through the door, out into the lobby.

"I'll see you tomorrow, okay, Nadine?" Jerald's voice shook. "Is that okay?"

"Fine," she said. "Fine."

"Where are you going?" Johnny moaned. Nadine slammed the glass door hard enough to make the pane shake. Outside ghosts were drifting out of the woods, gathering in clusters in the parking lot, staring at her. They moaned in her ear as she passed through them to her car.

"Where is it?"

"No. No."

"Did you ever?"

"Go. Get out, all of you. Go," Nadine screamed when she reached her door. She tried to shoo them away like stray cats, but more just pushed in towards her, moaned louder. "You aren't real," she demanded.

"Wet," an old woman chided, "wet."

Nadine's lungs burned. She put another stick of gum in her mouth, got in her car, and backed through the ghosts.


* * *

She circled the freeway until well past midnight. Lumps of chewed, hard grey gum speckled her dashboard. She had to stop and pick up more. When she finally pulled into her driveway, the house lights were still on, her father was sitting on the porch. She nearly pulled out again, but he was headed towards her car. She slipped across the front seat and out the passenger door.

"I hope you intend on paying that water bill," he grunted. He raised his hand, pointer finger out stretched towards her. "Flooded the bathroom. Had to spend all day sopping it up. Probably have to pull all the tiles up. Are you listening? I don't know what your problem is, but normal functioning adults do not climb out of windows like some sort of escaped convict. Do you hear me? Are you some kind of teenager? Did you not grow up at all at that damned school of yours?"

Nadine bowed her head and squeezed past the front of her car and her father's wagging fist. She chewed her gum. She tried to focus on things that were real, tangible. She recited the noble gasses in her head. Her father reached out and seized her arm.

"Where do you think you're going? Listen here. I won't take this crap no more. All right? You think you're smarter than me? Think you don't need to listen? Well, we'll see how smart you are when you don't have a place to live."

Her mother slid the bathroom window open and stuck her head out, her hair half falling out of her curlers, her face smeared with green cream. This is something, Nadine thought, out of a horror movie. This is not my life. I am living far away in a real city with real people. This is too cliché to be real, too real to be true. I am helium. I am floating away.

"Stop it," her mother screamed. "You're making a scene. Come inside and leave her alone."

"No. She is going to hear this," her father bellowed back up at her mother, released Nadine's arm to shake his finger up at her. You've been too soft on her, all because she's depressed. I don't buy that bullcrap. I don't feel sorry for her, she made her bed." Nadine closed her eyes and floated away.

"Don't" her mother wailed. Nadine had floated back into her car. She picked a lump of hardened gum off her dash, started her engine and rolled down the window. Her father moved towards her, fingers outstretched and wagging.

She lobbed the gum out the window, missed him, and hit the side of the wall. The gum broke apart. Her dad tried to grip onto her hood. She pulled out and drove away, back to the freeway.


* * *

Nadine didn't sleep. Occasionally she would pull in to parking lots, close her eyes, and the jagged tree line of the woods would form on her lids, then morph into a row of fingers, wagging with the wind, an chorus of "Don't do you listens" howling through their branch like nails. Nadine would open her eyes, go into 24 hour Goliath-like stores, buy more gum, and chew it furiously while sitting on the curb below their neon signs. She would get back in her car. She would drive the full circle of the curving freeway. Count the signs. Pull over. Buy more gum. She rolled the chewed pieces into a ball and watched it roll back and forth on her dashboard as she rounded the arching curve, past all the exits she had always dreamed of taking.

The sun rose and Nadine's jaw ached. Her lungs hungered like deflated balloons. She sucked air through straws and chewed longer, harder. She parked in the shopping center down the street from the Oakton and wondered what it was like to work in a real theater with real people. She wondered about the colors of their walls. She fiddled with her round red hat, dotting its top with bits of chewed gum, pinched and rounded like dulled candy gumdrops.

She perched it on her head and drove down the road, to the Oakton.


* * *

Jerald approached her car as she parked, his hat left on the ground outside the doors. He puffed clouds of contrition. Nadine got out, her gumdropped hat tilted to the side of her head, her eyes hollowed, her face unwashed.

"You never said you knew someone who was a ghost."

"I don't know any ghosts," Nadine said. "Ghosts aren't real." Nadine chewed her tongue, she was out of gum. Jerald smoked. They watched the woods. Jerald ran his hands through his thinning hair. The sun shinned high and bright.

"Are you okay?" Jerald asked. Nadine didn't say. She walked across the parking lot to the theater doors. She waited for Jerald to open them.


* * *

The first customer was an old woman. A real old woman. Nadine nearly laughed at the realness of her. The flesh, sagged, old, and opaque. She wore a pink polyester suit and said, "One, please" and "Thank you."

Jerald started the film and came down to stand with Nadine behind the counter.

"She's not a ghost," Nadine pointed out, and felt a giggle burst in her chest.

"No, not yet." Jerald tried to rub his face smooth and smiled at Nadine. "But they'll come, Nadine. Just--are you okay?"

Nadine didn't say, and watched the lobby be empty. She picked at her nails, at the scab on her lip, and sniffed the air for traces of Jerald's smoke. Outside the ghosts gathered in the parking lot. Johnny floated before them, their empty eyes locked on the doors of the theater.

"When will this place close down?" Nadine asked Jerald. "It must be so poor."

"Every night. Never. Who knows. We have customers enough."

"The dead don't compensate," Nadine said. Jerald nodded, then shrugged, and then shook his head.

"Do the living?"

"I forget what we're talking about." Nadine rubbed her sunken eyes. A gum drop fell from her hat and landed on the register. It was coated in bits of old hat fuzz. She popped it in her mouth and began to chew. It tasted like moth balls, felt like sandpaper on her tongue. The color of the walls were making her head spin and her vision pop. "Nothing here matches," she complained. She tried to remember who she was and what she knew. She knew that the human soul was made up of six elements: Guilt, Grief, Obsession, Neglect, Frustration, and Longing. She can't remember who told her that. Her mother told her she had a face that made people want to call her honey. Her father told her she had a killer arm, when she was little. She used to throw baseballs. She wished she could go on throwing forever, she thought but eventually you run out of stuff or someone ends up bleeding. She wanted to go home. She was homeless. She wanted to go no place at all. The human soul she thought to herself, is made up of used gum. Ash. She knew this to be true.

Johnny floated in first, the ghosts lined up behind him, saying snatches of things together, like a mismanaged parade.

"Wet."

"You go, then."

"Milk."

"Who's at the door?"

Johnny stopped at the counter, stood on his legless feet, and stared at Nadine.

"Are you okay, Nadine?" Jerald asked, her placed an aged hand on her aged uniform, and fished out his cigarettes. Nadine could smell the leaves of tobacco. She could feel the ants marching down her throat, into her lungs. She swallowed the old gum.

"Where are you going?" Johnny asked.

"What's there?" A ghost towards the back chorused.

"Milk. Milk. Milk." The hole headed woman accused.

"I wouldn't have stayed, even if you did." Nadine told Johnny. "I wouldn't have married you. It was dumb to join the army. I wouldn't marry you if you didn't. I didn't want to, even if you did. You were dumb to go. You weren't smart enough to survive."

"Why?" Johnny asked.

"Wet." The old woman moaned. "Wet. Wet."

"Are you okay, Nadine?" Jerald asked and his words trembled with smoke, weaved through Nadine's nose, melted on her tongue.

"Your death is yours. Not mine. Go." Nadine's nails dug into the counter, cracked under the pressure. Her pointer finger shook, dug deep, and began to bleed. The gum fell from her hat, tearing pieces of old felt, landing on the floor with bits of ancient popcorn crumbs.

"Where are you going?" Johnny asked.

"Go!" Nadine demanded.

"What's there?"

"What's at the door?"

"Wet."

"Milk."

"Don't."

Nadine tore the buttons off her uniform and chucked them at the ghosts. They bobbed through their bodies and cluttered to the ground like rain.

"Nadine, don't. Nadine, are you okay?" She tore her hat off her head and sent it sailing and Jerald tried to wrap his arms around her, pull her away from the counter.

"Don't, No. Nadine, listen." She threw him off her, launched him against the counter. She slapped at him, scratched his face, broke her pointer nail off in his cheek, and howled. She burned her palm against his cigarette.

"You're all the same," she shook her bleeding finger at them, "all the same! All the same!" She pushed through the door into the back scullery and went up the stairs to the second floor, muttering to herself. Past the reeling film of Burn Witch, Burn she found the mangers door, old and oaken. She beat her fists upon it, screaming.

It creaked open under the weight of her hands.

She stepped inside, saw the window, and beyond the window the lobby full of translucent people, massed together, wailing. Jerald was in the middle of them, waving his arms, smoke trailing out of his hands.

There was a desk, with a chair facing away from Nadine towards the wall decorated with aged vintage calendars.

"I want out." Nadine said and nobody said anything.

"Do you hear me, I want out." She moved towards the chair, grabbed it, and spun it towards her.

The manager's head tilted with the spin, flopped sideways on its molted neck. A smoldering cigar dropped ashes on the worn red velvet of his suit.

The ants bit into Nadine's lungs as she screamed. She crumpled to the floor, pushed her fingers in her eyes in an attempt to hold in the tears. "I want a cigarette," she sobbed.

A bony hand nestled in Nadine's hair, stroked her head softly.

"It's okay," the manager said. "It's all right now."


THE END


© 2014 Couri Johnson

Bio: Ms. Johnson is currently a student of the NeoMFA focusing on fiction. She hates/loves the woods at night, and doesn't trust closets. She was recently published in Deimos eZine.

E-mail: Couri Johnson

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