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The New Zero

*** This is a short story that will be published in this years Exit 109. The arts and literary magazine will be up for grabs at The Octopus Garden Premier on April 18 at Heth Plaza from 4:00-6:00pm! Come see us and grab your own copy to read this short story and view many other pieces! ***

Bethany clicked “Send” and her message posted to the forum. She had been sending messages back and forth with Matt for a little less than three months now. When she had first been contacted by Matt’s screen name, “USNavalstud”, she figured that he was some loser. She had him pegged as a sad, bored, married man in his early thirties who resented his family, career, and life; and, for the most, she was right. He was a frightened little man who only flirted with a sexual identity online.

He was fun to flirt with. They would chat about risque subject matters; various sexual scenarios they dreamed of, fantasies which he never dared share with his wife. One night, she snapped a photo of herself in just her bra and panties; he fell silent for a few minutes, and then asked if she wanted a picture of him in return. Playing the part of a good tease, she said that she could wait as she had to go to bed.

Bethany had not been lying on that account, she was a freshman in the local community college and she had Intro to Statistics at 8am. She knew that Matt would be practically chewing on his keyboard until he could send her a picture of what would most likely be his erect penis. He would have to wait. After Intro to Statistics, Bethany was meeting her best friend and partner in crime, Emma, for lunch and a study date. After which, she had Composition at 2pm and then US History at 4pm.

Emma gabbed at her about the new Hollywood Undead album on iTunes around mouthfuls of a flat-bread salad wrap. Bethany couldn’t help but think about Matt. She had all but figured out exactly how she would seduce, and then have, this new guy. Emma had to throw a ring of sliced onion at her to get her attention.

“You’re playing with fire,” Emma said, “Meeting guys for sex on the Internet? Are you stupid or just tired of life on this planet?”

“Whatever. They’re all alike – they think with their dicks.” Bethany waved off Emma’s chiding by pointing out that in the past two years she had become quite the man eater. It was true. From her first encounter at 16 to her recent foray into BDSM; men were but playthings to her and they all thought with their dicks.  She always came out satisfied, glutted, and repleted. Only one had ever escaped her, Jason; a 36 year old welder. Jason was an odd one. Aside from having a strange obsession about salt in his food, he had a knack for avoiding messy situations and a kind of luck that was just uncanny.

“Ever see that movie, ‘Strange Land?’” asked Emma around a half-chewed mouthful of what seemed to be chicken salad. “Where Dee Snyder plays a psycho and meets girls online and then tortures them?”

Bethany laughed. “No one is going to want to torture me when they see tits like this.” She grabbed her bosoms and squeezed for emphasis. “Besides, all of that stuff about serial killers online is urban legend.”

“So, Jeffrey Dahmer, John Wayne Gacy and New Orleans John were all legend? Try reading a book sometime.”

Before she was able to offer up any more on the subject, she was cut off loudly by Bethany. “Tits!” Not only was she squeezing her breasts, but now she had hopped up and was trying to hit Emma in the head with them. Emma did her best to glower as she almost lost the last of her salad but quickly gave in and laughed with her best friend.

He looked at the pegboard on the wall of his workshop. Refusing to become a creature of habit, he perused the selection before him. One must not grow stagnant and remain with the same instrument for too long, after all. Systematically he went over every tool which hung before him. After several long moments, he selected the three-pound sledge hammer, lifted it from its pegs on the board and placed it into a brown leather duffel bag.

Bethany had been driving for over three hours now and was beginning to merge onto I-40 W when the psychic i-Pod began playing “Still Remains” by The Stone Temple Pilots. This was her most recent “favorite” song, having discovered it about two months ago on the local classic rock radio station. She adjusted the volume slightly inside of her white Escort and began to sing along with Scott Weiland. She hoped that she and Matt would be able to make love while this song played.

Slightly annoyed that Emma had bowed out of acting as safety net and travel companion, Bethany cracked open a Red Bull with one hand and sipped tentatively. As the song ended, she grunted her disapproval in her choice of energy drinks. “This lone wolf shit is for the birds. How any guy does it is beyond me.” Emma’s alleged excuse for bailing on her this weekend was studying. More likely that Emma was jonesing for some Black Ops and the PlayStation Network was hosting a double experience point weekend.

Bethany refused to allow the lack of Emma to turn the weekend into a total wash. However, if Matt was a no show or even worse — a sissy, a troll, ten years older than his pictures suggested or some gimp – she would simply excuse herself outside of his hotel room because she forgot her bag of toys in the car. Then, she would run like hell.

Of course, once freed of the undesirable, she had a weekend to kill in Nashville. Jason had once mentioned a place called Jack’s World Famous Barbecue. With a guy like Jason, this place was most likely worth checking out. Saturday would be leisurely sightseeing.  If she was in no rush to come home early on Sunday, the Titans were hosting the Carolina Panthers.

First things first, she decided; don’t put the cart before the horse. She would first find out if she was getting laid tonight.  Then, she would have a bite to eat.

 


 

It was just slightly past 8 when she finally arrived at the hotel. The sun had fully set, and the sounds of a Nashville night were beginning to stir. Even before she set foot out of her white Escort, she had made up her mind that she loved this city.  She sent a text to Emma letting her know that she had arrived. Three minutes later, with no answer from Emma, Bethany checked her makeup in the rear view, grabbed her overnight bag and got out of the car.

After the final set of texts with Matt confirming the room number, Bethany knocked on door 214. As she watched the shadows move across the small peep hole, she immediately snapped herself into something that most would consider to be good posture. The door slowly opened, revealing a tall man with short cropped brown hair, large brown eyes, and a spattering of freckles. He was of an average build wearing a green and black rugby polo and khakis. He smiled shyly at her. If this was indeed “Matt”, then he was even more of a loser than she had imagined.

Awkward, she noticed a slight twinge in her stomach. Not butterflies or the anticipation of a new lover’s first kiss. Something different.

“Why do these guys always look better in their pictures,” she wondered to herself. “Matt?” she said, giving a beaming smile.

He smiled a little more widely. “Yeah…”

“Oh. My. God! It is so good to meet you!” She hopped up and threw her arms around his neck, kissing him on the cheek.

A whiff of the fragrance he was wearing made her frown slightly against his neck. It was light, not too overpowering, Notes of sugar, vanilla and something fruity.

She drew back and looked up at him, fluttering her eyelashes and then breathlessly whispered “Are you going to invite me in, baby?”

He blushed despite himself and smiled. It was quite genuine, and she was suddenly glad for her smoldering display. He stepped back and to the left and allowed her to come inside. As he was closing the door, he slipped the “Do Not Disturb” sign onto the outer handle.

She sat down on the edge of the bed, crossing her legs at the knees and smiled at him. He regarded her briefly and looked down at his lap in which his hands were folded. “How was your drive?”

Bethany was now beginning to lose her patience and decided to take the bull by the horns right there and then. She slipped off her sandals, and stood up, stretching as she did so.

“Well, I have been on the road for the better part of six hours…” she began as she pulled her top off over her head and dropped it on the floor. She reached behind herself, unclasping her bra and sliding it off of her shoulders and down her arms allowing her breasts to spill out. “… and I am all sorts of tense”. She walked slowly towards him and without waiting for any nod of approval, sat down in his lap and kissed him fully on the mouth. “Do you know where a girl like me can relieve some tension?”

It was not long at all before he had her tied to the bed. In fact, Bethany could have sworn that Matt broke some sort of speed record for getting a woman’s hands secured to a headboard. Her hands had been tied with nylon cord that went around the back of the headboard and hung across the bed knobs which adorned the corners. Her legs were spread eagle by means of nylon cord around her ankles which ran down and between the mattress and box springs. He had allowed her a few moments to get her panties off before he tied her in place, but aside from removing his shirt, he remained dressed. He had placed a brown leather duffel bag on the dresser and was rummaging through it, probably for toys.

Growing slightly bored, she closed her eyes and concentrated on the sultriest voice she could muster. “Come on baby, get out of those pants and show me what you have for me.” She became aware of his heavy breathing and that he must be standing near her now. She smiled, opened her eyes and looked up at him.

Over his head was a sort of sack, a pillowcase perhaps . . .  his eyes shining at her through two holes which had been encircled by black streaks of what was perhaps shoe polish. A horizontal line which must have been there to represent a mouth was several inches below the eyes. The sack was off white, dirty with sweat stains, dark smears and fingerprints of sienna, onyx, and viscera. She also became very aware of the large hammer which he held in his right hand over his head.

She had enough time to blurt out a rather surprised “Oh shit,”. Then the hammer plummeted towards her face.

 


 

He washed himself in the shower. The cold water sprayed over his body, and he felt calm. Lathering, rinsing, and repeating would have to wait until he got home. He did not want to leave them too much evidence, after all. As for the body, he would be taking it with him and disposing of it somewhere far away from this hotel.

He turned off the shower, stepped out and toweled himself dry. He began to dress and smugly looked at his reflection in the mirror. It was at that moment that he noticed something was terribly wrong. The mirror also held the bed in its reflection. The bed, with its gore-soaked pillow and stains; the nylon cords were still looped around the bed knobs and across the mattress. However, there was no girl. The girl, whose face was obliterated, smashed into nothingness, was not on the bed where he left her.

He took four deliberate, bold strides out of the bathroom and into the main room, stopping just before the foot of the bed. That was when something heavy, most likely his hammer, struck him in the back of the head.

He first became aware of the pain in his head and neck. Not only from the blow which had incapacitated him, but also in which the way he was sitting. He was tied to the bed, but in an upright position with his back against the headboard. He then became aware of the dryness in his mouth as well as the particular aroma of the gag in his mouth. Viewing himself in the mirror which was on the wall, it appeared that whoever had restrained him had used the girl’s panties to fashion a makeshift gag. His eyes then settled on the woman sitting in the chair by the door. Only the nude lower half of her body was visible in the low light of the room.

“And to top it off, you just had to cum in my eye, didn’t you?” Image from Molly Mattox.

“A gentleman would make sure that a lady was satisfied before he finished up, you know. . . .” This was the girl’s voice, but the woman in the chair could not be her. Her legs were much longer, more muscular, and had not been shaved in weeks. The hands and forearms which rested upon the arm rests were far more rugged than the girl’s, but that was her voice, soft, sweet and mocking. The person in the chair leaned forward, her breasts considerably shrunken against the muscles of her chest and two rows of nipples running down her abdomen. “And to top it off, you just had to cum in my eye, didn’t you?” The face looking at him was hamburger. “That stings worse than anything, you know.” The face, pulling itself together resembled Bethany’s, but it was flattened, hairy, and fierce. She stood up out of the chair and walked- padded- towards the bed. What should be a five-foot-one girl was now a hunched-over Amazon of nearly eight feet. “Is this what guys like you are into?” Her voice was becoming deep, raspy, and guttural; almost as if she were beginning to growl her words rather than speak them. “I mean, is hurting a little girl what it takes to make you happy?” Her ears, pointed and broad, began to poke out of the mane of hair that was completely covering her face. Her tongue lolled out of her mouth for a long moment. “You’ve really cramped my plans for the weekend.” She looked at him one more time and then her blue eyes faded to complete black. “On the plus side, though. . .” The werewolf began to salivate. ”I won’t need to call out for dinner tonight.”

Adventures in scrapbooking: Part 2

“I know, it’s just- you know it’s complicated with my family. I don’t always want to hear about where I came from,” she sighed, running her hand over Nicole’s knee. Nicole scoffed.

“Yeah, well, at least you get the chance.”

Michelle chewed the inside of her cheek. She had known Nicole for a long time: they had been friends since childhood and had gone to most of the same schools since their teenage years. Nicole had avoided bringing her to her house at first, and when she finally caved in and let Michelle sleep over, she had, in part, confirmed Nicole’s fears. She had been confused when she met Nicole’s family, not because they acted particularly different or treated one another badly, but because her parents looked nothing like her. They were perfectly pleasant people, but Nicole had been frustrated by her foster parents’ lack of knowledge about her birth parents. When she was seventeen, she’d finally weaseled out what they knew, only to find out it didn’t matter. All Nicole knew about her parents was where they were buried, and that the car accident that killed them had left her alone. She had been too young to remember anything about them, and in some ways, she felt worse because of it: she wasn’t sure what she’d missed out on.

Michelle’s mother had taken an instant liking to Nicole, and they were far closer than Michelle could hope to be with her mother.

“Honey, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean… you know I love my family. They love you, too.”

Nicole looked down at her hands, long eyelashes fluttering on her dark cheeks. Michelle sat next to her and slid up close, kissing her cheek. She didn’t want to see Nicole cry.

“I love you.”

“I know. I love you too.”

They sat together on the black fabric for silence in a moment. Michelle held her hand.

“You know what? Let’s search the house. Maybe they just missed something- there could be a duct, or a little space behind one of those baseboards or something.”
Nicole smiled, running the palm of her hand over her face.

“All right. I’ll grab a flashlight. We can check out the attic some.”

Although the house wasn’t very big, the downstairs portion had more than enough space and storage for the two of them. It had two bedrooms, something that Nicole had pointed out made having friends over easy, although neither one of them was too social and Michelle suspected it was really about being able to invite over her mother. All the time they had spent in the attic was the few minutes it took to put up the two plastic bins in the one corner of the otherwise empty room. There was a wall along one side where the roof slanted, creating a small triangular closet that they had briefly poked their head in, but not investigated thoroughly, and that was where they went now.

Leaning in, Michelle looked around skeptically. She clicked on the flashlight.

“What about that little door?” she asked.

“What little door?”

“It’s at the back here. It cuts off the rest of the little closet thing.”
She crawled down toward the small square door, no more than three or four feet high. It was latched with a hook and eye, and she pulled it out and it swung open, revealing a tiny, dark room.

The space was unfinished, with only loose pieces of plywood across the beams, and curiously devoid of ladybugs.

“There’s a box in there,” Michelle said. “I’m going to check it out.”

“Be careful, Mitch,” Nicole whispered, holding the flashlight as she crouched down, leaning against the door to keep it from slamming shut. Michelle nodded, tucking her hair behind her ear as she leaned in and crept across the plank of plywood.

“Ugh, god. It smells like piss,” she grumbled. “I hope there’s no rats in here.”

She crawled toward the cardboard box and hesitated before touching it, imagining nests of rats, waiting to pour out over her hand once she grabbed it.

“Mitch? Is everything all right?”

She tried to inhale through her nose to calm herself, and ended up kind of sputtering against the smell of ammonia. Frustrated, she grabbed the box, ignoring the thought of rats scurrying around her head.

She pulled the box with her back across the plywood and to Nicole, who turned her flashlight on it.
“What does that writing say?”
Michelle turned the box. On the side, in heavy-handed black marker, was written the name Ashlee and age 9.

“If there’s a kid in here, I’m gonna- I don’t even know,” Nicole cautioned as she shut the door to the small room.

“I don’t think it’s big enough for that.”

“Yeah, well, It’s big enough for a head. I’ve seen Seven.

“I don’t think it’s a head.”
“It better not be.”

Carefully, Michelle opened the flaps of the box. Blessedly, there was no head inside, but only an old stuffed bear, several magic marker drawings of animals, a tattered copy of a Magic Schoolbus book, and a blue scrapbook so full that its covers splayed outward. She picked it up and it fell open in her hands.

There were hundreds, if not thousands of ladybugs inside the scrapbook pages. They were glued with white glue, glitter glue, even taped over Hello Kitty stickers and cutouts from coloring books. They were everywhere, even crushed after leading off trails of glue toward the edges of the page, clearly having been alive when they were placed there.

“This is like a little kid serial killer,” Michelle whispered. She held the book at arm’s length, horrified.

“Maybe this place has always been infected with bugs.” Nicole said, and took it from her carefully, walking out of the closet and back down the stairs as Michelle trotted after her. From behind her, she heard Nicky talking hopefully.

“It’s disgusting, don’t get me wrong. But maybe that’s why they can’t get rid of them? They could be hiding in that tiny room?”

“Maybe,” Michelle grumbled. “I need a glass of wine. I can’t deal with this right now.”

“The glasses aren’t unpacked, hon.”
“It doesn’t really matter.” She opened the pantry and pulled a pink solo cup off the stack, slapping it onto the counter with a hollow clack before screwing the lid off a bottle of red wine and pouring it into the cup. Across the table, Nicole crossed her arms. She considered rattling off the same line she used at her students, that problem solving has to come from the heart, not from a bottle, but she just rolled her eyes as Michelle downed the cup like an ambitious frat pledge.

As she put the empty cup down on the counter, Michelle watched a ladybug plodding across the counter away from her hand. Angrily, she slapped the solo cup facedown over the bug. She slid a piece of paper beneath the cup. “I’m so tired of this,” Michelle spat. “There has to be a way. I’m sick of it.”

As she lifted it to take it out the door, they both froze. On the table, just where it had been, was the ladybug. Michelle screamed, and the bug took off.

“Mitch, calm down! You probably just dropped it without realizing!”

“No, I didn’t! I didn’t!” but she was already second-guessing herself. She rushed to the wall where the bug had landed and pressed her hands against it, leaning in close and staring upward to where the ladybugs milled around on the wall.

“They’re ghosts,” she whispered.

The clear sound of the doorbell rang through the house.

“I’m going to go get that,” said Nicole slowly. “Please don’t be weird.”

She left Michelle in the kitchen and went down the hall to the front door. She didn’t bother to glance through the window before she opened it and was slightly surprised when she did. There were two smartly-dressed young white men with little black nametags and black backpacks standing nervously in front of her.

“Hello,” said the one on the left, a pale young man with red, wavy hair. “Do you have a moment to talk about our lord Jesus Christ and his gift of salvation?”

Nicole hesitated. She knew Michelle wasn’t fond of inviting strangers in, and neither was she, but she couldn’t just shut it again or pretend she wasn’t home. All the same, she was shaken from their bug related discoveries. Even the prospect of talking with someone else, someone who wasn’t insisting that they were haunted by insects, felt like an appealing and grounding prospect.

“S-sure,” she stammered. “Come on in.”

She brought them into the living room and she sat on the loveseat across from the couch while they introduced themselves to one another, asking her if she had any questions about their faith and told her they would answer them to the best of their ability. They referred to one another formally, brother and their respective last names. The redhead seemed to be a little more at ease with their discussion, whereas his friend, who was broad-shouldered and blond, was more awkward.

Nicole told them that she was living with her cousin (a lie they didn’t seem to detect, although aside from both having brown eyes and not being white, they did not look much alike) and that they had just moved into the area (which was kind of true, almost). She offered them water bottles, which they took politely. They talked about general religious questions, but Nicole grew antsy. She kept catching brief glances of Michelle skulking around in the kitchen with the scrapbook, trying to avoid detection, which didn’t help.

“Are you a woman of faith?” The redhead asked.

“Yeah,” Nicole lied, “I’m a Christian, sure. I just want to know, hypothetically, what you would do if you felt like there was some kind of, uh, weird- well, I mean, some kind of lingering presence somewhere?”

He mulled it over.

“I’ve never encountered it personally, but I’ve heard of it. I think I would pray on it, and maybe try to lift up my mind to holier things.”

Nicole laughed nervously. “Right, yeah, of course. But I just mean, you know- hypothetically.”

He considered it for a moment before his blond friend chimed in.

“You know, according to the plan of salvation, the third of spirits that followed Satan into hell can serve to tempt and torment humans here. A kind of presence like that, well, I would think it was trying to get someone to sin.” The blond one’s face darkened, and he looked very serious. “Are you facing that kind of torment, miss?” His companion looked apologetic.

From the kitchen, Nicole saw Michelle gesturing across her neck, eyes wide and her face drawn into a urging cringe. She looked back at the boys and tried to sound as nonchalant as possible.

“Oh, no! Lord, no. Not me. I was just curious.” She attempted another smile.

The blond one examined her suspiciously.

“Well, if you knew someone who did, there’s always a Melchizedek blessing.”

“What’s that?”

Michelle’s arms dropped to her sides and she made a face similar to the one Nicole had seen on the news when congressmen were indicted on sexual scandals. Nicole tried not to react and looked back at the missionaries on her couch.

“It just orders spirits to leave. It’s performed by a senior member of the church. It’s nothing dramatic. But I’d probably also pray and examine my things and beliefs to see if I could have been doing anything that would have invited those spirits into my home.”

“Of course,” the redhead added, “we could just pray on it right here. It couldn’t hurt.”

Nicole thought about it. At the very least, it couldn’t hurt. She nodded.

“Sure. Why not? Better safe than sorry and all that.” She forced a laugh.
“That’s wonderful. We can all join hands,” the blond one said, and the young men clasped hands and offered theirs to Nicole, who took them hesitantly as they bowed their heads.

“Heavenly father, we’re here with our sister, Nicole-” the redhead began, voice low and reverent. Nicole opened one eye just a sliver to see Michelle creeping in the hallway, stashing the book as quietly as she could. She saw Mitch mouth the word “Sister?” indignantly as the blond one continued.

“We’re here to ask that you protect her and her household from evil influences and materials that may have been brought into their lives by unholy forces, that any temptations and forces that have been brought to her by the devil be pushed out of her home and out of her life.”

Nicole looked around as the two missionaries continued to pray, heads bowed devotedly, each holding one of her hands. As they continued, they seemed to intensify, and just as she began to worry this may take longer than Michelle was willing to lay low for, they stopped, looking up at her hopefully.

“Thank you for praying with us,” said the redhead.

“We can leave our information with you,” interrupted his friend.

“I tell you what.” Nicole smiled. “I’ll write in and I’ll read about it.”

She stood up, and the missionaries seemed to take the hint that it was their time to leave. Nicole walked them toward the door as the blond one tried to continue talking about possible sources of this corruption- it could be Charmed, he suggested, or maybe some inappropriate music? Had they played any occult based games recently? She insisted that no, of course they hadn’t. That that wasn’t her cup of tea.

“Hey, did you realize you have ladybugs above your door?” Interrupted the redhead, as if it was a fun curiosity that nobody had noticed before. “They’re supposed to be good luck.”

“Yes,” Nicole said happily through clenched teeth as she pulled the front door open. “I saw them. I’ve heard.”

She shook their hands and urged them out of the house.

“Thank you, boys, it’s been a great talk. You take that water and come back anytime, all right?”
“Thank you for your time, ma’am. You and your friend have a blessed day.”
“Yeah, you too,” called Michelle from behind Nicole as she slammed the door. As she did, she rolled her head on her shoulders.

“The Mormons? Really?”

A dark red blush lit up Nicole’s cheekbones and nose.

“Well, it’s not like it did any harm.”

“Didn’t really help, either,” Michelle quipped.

“Stop it. You don’t have to be so caustic. They were perfectly fine people.”

Michelle opened her mouth to respond, but couldn’t justify any of the responses that came to mind.

“Well, the ladybugs are still there,” she managed weakly. “So there wasn’t any point.”

Nicole crossed her arms.

“Not everything has to be about getting some kind of immediate result, Mitch. You can do things just to be nice without worrying it’ll compromise your badass attitude.”

Disheartened, Michelle chewed her lip.

“I know. I’m sorry.” She didn’t want to have another fight with Nicole about something like this. There was no reason, and she didn’t like to argue with someone that she loved.

“I know you were just being nice, all right? Let me make it up to you somehow.”
Nicole put her hands on her hips and raised her eyebrows. “What do you mean?”

“Just… let me make it up to you. I’m sure there’s something you’d want me to do.”

Nicole considered it.
“All right. There is something, but you won’t like it.”

“What is it?”
“I want to go see your mom.”

Adventures in scrapbooking

The men on the lawn looked like aliens as Michelle watched them pulling the industrial vacuuming equipment out of their van. She kicked her car door shut behind her as she looked them over- white uniforms all tucked in at the ankles and wrists like they were going into a quarantine zone or a surgery. They had parked in her driveway, behind the black sedan, and she had to park on the road. Wrangling her groceries, she tried not to look too irritated as the workers in white uniforms waved at her despite the fact that, with her arms full of bags, she obviously couldn’t wave back.

The house was one of the only ones situated on their street, small and pale with vinyl siding. It faced north and had three azaleas, two boxwood shrubs that still had the new topsoil piled around their roots near the living room windows, and the two tiny sage plant cuttings from Michelle’s mother that sat next to the sidewalk. All were bordered with diatomaceous earth.

These details, which Michelle hadn’t cared about (or even known) before, were known only to her now because of the problem that her new house had come with a few months ago. She fumbled with her keys for a moment before the door opened in front of her.
“You look angry, Mitch,” Nicole, her girlfriend, informed her as Michelle handed a few of the plastic bags to her. Michelle sighed.

“Yeah, well, the bug guys parked in my spot.”

“Don’t take it personally. We can take your car into town.”
“Yeah, I know. It’s just on principle, you know? I just wish people wouldn’t do that.”
As grouchy as she felt, the gentleness in Nicole’s voice made it impossible to get too snippy. They walked into the kitchen together.

“How was the store?”

Michelle shrugged a little. “Some good, some bad. There was a pretty good bread sale, but when I was leaving, some asshole in the parking lot called me a Mexican and told me to go back where I came from.”

“Oh, nice.”

“It’s whatever. You know, considering most of Texas was annexed anyway, it wouldn’t even make any sense even if it was true. Besides, he had one of those Ron Paul bumper stickers, so I don’t think any important friendship was lost there.”

She heard Nicole laugh softly at her quips as she pulled out the eggs and margarine from the bag and set them on the counter. Against her better judgment, she found her eyes drawn up to the crawling, shadowy shapes on the window that faced the front yard and the bug men beyond it.

“They’re just ladybugs, baby.”

She looked back at Nicole. She was a dark-skinned, beautiful woman with almond-shaped eyes that always seemed thoughtful and kind, even when she was pissed off. Privately, Michelle thought she was probably way out of her league, if everything was evaluated by what Nicole, in her studious, teacherly way, would call mainstream cultural standards. She was hourglass-shaped and naturally toned, whereas Michelle herself was, as Nicole put it lovingly, “reubenesque.” Sometimes straight men liked to try to hit on her and scoot Michelle off like she was some kind of token fat friend, but Nicole always found a way to shut them down that made her feel a lot less irritated. It happened less since Nicole had cut her hair short, but now there was a wretched minority that tried to get her attention by talking to her about sports. It didn’t matter how much Nicole insisted she was a lesbian, most people selectively ignored it.

“I saw the bug guys outside. How long is it supposed to take?”

“I’m not sure. They said a few hours because of how bad it is. They said they’d be done by tonight.”

“Good. Hopefully this’ll finally get rid of them.”

The ladybugs had been on them like a biblical plague since they had moved into the house. They were on the walls, the floor, in the bed, in the dishes and the pantry. They had put the diatomaceous earth around the house, burned lemon candles, sprayed mint oil, vacuumed up as many as they could, but it never seemed to have an impact. They had moved in over the winter, and at first they had assured themselves that they would leave sooner or later, but now it was getting to be summer and nothing seemed to have changed. They had fussed about it and eventually decided that professional help was the only recourse they had left. The bugs were too much, and their efforts were futile.

“I bet if your mom had heard that guy in the store, she would have flew off the handle.”

“Yeah, and make me look like a freak for being with her. The only time anyone here cares about Shoshone people is for five minutes in seventh grade when they talk about Lewis and Clark.”

Nicole snorted into her coffee.

“Don’t laugh, it’s true!”
“I know, that’s why I’m laughing. I’m sorry.”

She wasn’t really angry. Michelle’s tongue in cheek attitude served her well enough and kept her temper in check (for the most part). Even if the weird racist had genuinely gotten to her, she was too relieved at the prospect of finally getting rid of the bugs to let it spoil her mood. One of her cousins managed the company, and she trusted her employees, as far as bug companies went.

Michelle and Nicole had planned to spend the evening doing something fun together, and to some extent, they succeeded- the early summer weather was very mild, and they went out to dinner and ate outside in a restaurant blessedly free of ladybugs. Michelle told a story about one of the classes she was teaching, how one of her students that played the clarinet was already offered a scholarship despite only being a sophomore. They expected the workers to be done (and gone) by the time they returned, but some hours later, the men were still around, loading the vacuums into the van. When they approached, there was only one worker left outside, a tall man who was sheepishly milling around it. Michelle assumed this must be the manager, since the other two seemed to have taken the chance to avoid conversation.
“What’s up? I thought you were going to be done a while ago,” Nicole asked him as he avoided eye contact.

“Well, I mean, we are done.”
“Are the bugs gone?”

“Not really.”

“Honey, I thought you said you were done?”

“Yeah, I’m- I’m sorry. We sucked up the ones we could, but we had some trouble. We could come back again and try it, maybe half off-”
“No, no, nope. If it didn’t work the first time, why would it work the second?” Michelle demanded, and the man’s cheeks turned red. She was embarrassed for him. She knew he was just trying to do his job, but clearly, he wasn’t very good at it.

“Listen,” she began, more compassionately. “I know you boys did the best you could, but really, I think we’re going to keep trying to handle it from here. I’m sorry.”
“That’s all right, ma’am. Sorry we couldn’t do more for you.”
“It’s okay,” she said, patting him on the arm. “Good luck.”
“Thanks,” he said, and pulled out of the driveway, heading down the road.

Nicole shook her head. They headed back inside.

“This is some shit,” Michelle sighed as they shut the door. Nicole kissed her on the cheek.

“Don’t take it too hard. I’m sure they did their best.”

Michelle shrugged. To her, it seemed like some nerve to screw up what was supposed to be your job and then ask for more money to fuck it up again. That night, while watching TV, they chatted back and forth and pretended like it ‘really did seem a little better,’ and tried to convince themselves that maybe there had been an impact, although they both knew it wasn’t the case. The following morning their conversation was sparse and marked by disheartened silence, and they went back and forth debating solutions, although there wasn’t much that they hadn’t already considered.

As Michelle styled her hair, she heard Nicole from the other room.

“You should call your mom.”
She stared into her reflection’s annoyed dark eyes.
“I don’t really… I’m not sure I feel up to that,” she called back.

“I’m not trying to push you, I’m just saying-”

Michelle turned her head without thinking. She jerked the hair curler away from her jaw as she felt the sudden shock of the heat, and let it clatter into the sink as she examined the cylindrical mark as they darkened on her face. From the bedroom, she heard Nicole talking over her yelp of pain.

“I just think she’d really appreciate it-”

“Christ, Mitch, I fucking burned myself! Can you just cut me some slack for five seconds!?” She yelled, and her girlfriend fell silent.

For a moment, she did too, partially regretting her reaction but knowing, deep down, it was probably justified. She unplugged the curler and put it on the counter to cool off. She heard the sound of Nicole’s shoes on the wood floor and the door shutting behind her, and sighed. She wasn’t sure whether to be angry at her partner or herself. Sure, Nicole could have rushed in and tried to console her, but she could have also not have snapped at her.

From the hallway, she saw Nicole sitting in the loveseat in the living room. She lay out across it with her head craned off the other arm, staring up at the ceiling, her arms crossed across her chest.

“Nicky?” Michelle called, gently.

“There are a hundred bugs on this ceiling,” she responded flatly.

Michelle glanced up at the tiny red shapes ambling across the uneven white plaster and looked away in disgust. She’d never seen ladybugs stick to the ceiling, and it made her think of roaches.

“Nicky, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have gone off on you like that.”

Nicole uncrossed her arms and sighed, running a hand over her short hair.

“It’s all right. I’m sorry you got burned.”
“It was my fault. I’m okay,” Michelle assured her. Nicole sat up and turned to face forward on the loveseat as Michelle joined her.

“I’d really like to see her, Nicky.”

“I know, it’s just- you know it’s complicated with my family. I don’t always want to hear about where I came from,” she sighed, running her hand over Nicole’s knee. Nicole scoffed.

“Yeah, well, at least you get the chance.”

Student media represents itself at a CORE 101 panel

Freshmen learned about student media at a student media panel on Oct. 24.

tartan
The Tartan is RU’s printed newspaper. Photo from The Tartans Website.

The student media panel was an opportunity for two campus productions – Whim and the Tartan – to represent their organizations and recruit new writers.

Students in various CORE 101 classes were allowed to pose questions to the executive staff members from each publication. The panel received many questions, such as the alliance between RU Memes and Whim, as well as the content of each publication. Continue reading Student media represents itself at a CORE 101 panel

Poetry reading takes over the Bonnie

If you walked into the Bonnie Hurlburt Student Center on the evening of Nov. 2, you would have emerged into quite a different scene than the usual hustle and bustle of hungry and stressed college students. Among those waiting in line to get their meals were the excited and enthusiastic faces of those in charge of Exit 109, Radford University’s student-run literary and arts magazine.

For those who didn’t know about Exit 109, the event in the Bonnie was aimed to do exactly that — make students aware that the magazine exists and give samples of some of the creative writing that can be submitted. Hungry students looked on curiously as volunteers from R-SPaCE and Exit 109 set up their equipment and display — complete with an assortment of desserts and samples of the literary magazine. As the event began to take shape, another volunteer went table-to-table, asking dining students if they’d like to go up on stage and take part in the poetry reading.

Poet's corner. Photo from Creative Commons.

Poetry books were passed around the tables as volunteers scribbled their names down on the sign-up sheet. The Bonnie was the perfect place to host an event like this, where Exit 109 could reach a wide audience and get publicity.

Things got off to a quick start as the members of Exit 109 took the stage and read off poems they brought and prepared to applause. The stage fright was obvious in some readers, but they mustered up the courage to read unfamilliar poetry with no preparation. One girl on stage swung back and forth with nervousness, as if she was 5 years old again, wearing a flouncy pink skirt and twirling to inflate it with airflow. Volunteers’ searched the crowd for familiar faces, but most stayed glued to the white pages they were reading off of, for fear they’d stumble over the words.

Poetry is the expression of emotion when and wherever it wants to come out. Poems scribbled in hurried handwriting on the backs of crumpled pocket paper, notes from class, table tents from the Bonnie, napkins with holes from a hard-pressed pen; anything can be a medium for a poet’s words. We heard a lot of original poetry from RU students, our peers expressing themselves publicly because, why not? Write anywhere you want to, anytime you’re inspired. Fellow artists out there, you know inspiration isn’t always easy to come by, so take advantage of it.

If you like what you create and want to show it off and get a little recognition, try publishing it with Exit 109 or taking part in their spontaneous and creative readings, it’s an experience not soon to be forgotten.