Tag Archives: october short story contest

A furry situation

Groaning, Drew pressed the heel of his palm into his eye socket. A sensation akin to having someone grope around inside his skull had awakened him. With unfocused eyes, he glanced around the room.

The dresser, the drapes, the nightstand—all of it seemed ordinary and exactly as he had expected it to look since he’d moved into his apartment. However, one thing stood out in his mind: that nothing stood out in his mind.

He had no memories of the previous night. Clutching his head, he tried to recall even the slightest detail in vain, and after untangling himself from his bedsheets, he realized that his person was just as blank as his mind.

Glancing around his room, he tried to recall where his clothes had gone, but that memory, too, was missing.

With a grunt, Drew slid his legs over the side of the bed, stretching them until he felt the coldness of the hardwood on his soles. He wrapped an arm around himself as he headed to the bathroom, rubbing his shoulder for warmth as the chilly air assaulted his bare skin. Hardwood transitioned to tile, and he flipped on the light. The illumination revealed a pair of dark brown eyes staring at him from the mirror. The blackness smeared around them made the bags beneath them even darker. He touched his hair—it was mussed and tangled—then his lips. Still sticky with gloss, they were split and bloodied.

Brow creasing, he, again, scrabbled at the darkest recesses of his mind for even a fragment of an explanation, but he found only a murky haze that suffocated his memories, barring them from being dredged to the surface. His fingertips trailed down his neck until a smudge of red caught his eye. Hesitant, he leaned closer to his reflection, tentatively stroking the dried liquid on his skin. Daring to scratch some off, he pulled his hand back to find a ruddy crust beneath his fingernails.

Breath catching in his throat, he took a step back. The distance revealed more red, the splatters painting his chest appearing in the mirror.

“What the fuck?”

A jaunty chiptune sounded from the bedroom, and he leaned into the doorway, peering in the direction of the noise. He knew exactly who was calling; he received the same call daily around the same time. Retrieving his cellphone, he returned to the mirror to answer it, tapping the screen with a trembling finger.

“Hey,” he stammered, fixating again on the rivulets of blood. “What’s up?”

The tearful voice of someone saved in his contacts as “Bae” with two hearts and a kissing emoji replied, “Sammy’s dead.”

“What?” The sobbing in his ear made him freeze. “What happened?”

“I don’t know,” Uriah whimpered. “I put food in his bowl like I always do, but he never showed up to eat, and I went out looking for him and found him in the backyard.”

His own heart felt heavy with the news despite that the calico cat was never his own. “You don’t have any idea what happened?”

“Well…” Uriah sniffled, taking a deep, quivering breath. “There was this huge dog roaming the neighborhood last night. Honestly, it looked like a wolf. But I-I thought it was gone when I let him out.”

“Oh, sweetheart. I’m so sorry.” He shook his head, brow knitted tightly.

“I mean, it was still dark out, but he never even leaves the backyard. I thought it was safe.”

“It’s not your fault,” he insisted, voice a soothing coo. “I’ll come down in a little while. Do you want anything to eat?” He decided to shelve the mystery of the bloodstains on his skin and focus, instead, on cleaning it off so he could go visit his grieving boyfriend.

“Not really.”

“Okay. Well, I’ll get ready and be there in, like, an hour, okay?” He licked his lips, cringing at the taste of something foul in his mouth.

“Okay.”

He leaned close enough to his reflection that he was nearly kissing himself. “Just get some rest, okay?” His tongue traced something foreign, and he pulled back his lip to investigate.

“I’ll try. This just really fucking sucks. I had that cat for nine years.”

Drew was about to offer him more consolations, promise him that he would be there soon, but his every muscle stiffened at what he found in his mouth: a tuft of black and orange fur wedged between his teeth.

Images and sounds flooded his mind, of blood and viscera and the squeals of a helpless animal. He keenly remembered feeling hunger then delight, and excitement as fresh meat rolled across his tongue and into his gullet. The disgust and fear that overwhelmed him made his head swim and breaths shallow. Chills skittered up his spine like tiny spiders as his bulging eyes peered a thousand miles into an imaginary distance.

“Drew?” Uriah’s concerned voice brought him back. “Are you okay?”

“U-Um, yeah, I’m fine,” he blurted, stumbling over his words. “I just remembered I left something in the oven. Gotta go.”

“Drew? What?” he replied, but the other end of the line went dead. Uriah pulled the phone back, gawking at the screen. His puzzled expression remained even after he tucked his phone back into his pocket. A distinct memory surfaced in the forefront of his mind.

One month prior, as the leaves were changing and the air becoming cold, Drew had made him a birthday cake. Or, more accurately, he had tried to make him a birthday cake. He had failed to follow the directions on the box, and the middle of the cake collapsed in the oven. Drew actually asked Uriah for help in salvaging his own birthday cake once he’d arrived for what was supposed to be a surprise party. That was the first time, Drew told him, that he’d ever attempted to bake anything on his own. With the way his trash was always filled with fast-food wrappers, Uriah had no doubt as to the truth of that declaration.

“When does he ever cook?” Uriah mumbled, eyeing the air in front of himself suspiciously as if someone just as befuddled were standing there.

A little over an hour later, there was a knock at the door. Uriah pushed eagerly up from the sofa to answer it. Drew greeted him but was clearly distracted, eyes shifting up and down Uriah’s form. His lack of a skirt and other frilly things clearly betrayed Uriah’s dreary mood, but something else seemed to have Drew disconcerted. As he stepped into Uriah’s apartment, his freckled face lost even more color.

“How’s your day going?” Uriah asked, failing to hide the concern in his voice.

“It’s fine.” Drew offered a few jerky nods, which were vaguely directed toward Uriah, as he moved over to the sofa. However, he didn’t immediately sit. Something beyond the window, in the backyard, caught his attention, and he kept wringing his hands.

“Are you sure?” He padded over and plopped down next to the seat he expected Drew to take. “You look kind of distracted.”

Drew shook his head and sunk into the faux suede cushions. “I’m okay. I’m just… sad about Sammy.”

Uriah might have noticed how guilty Drew sounded if it weren’t for the reaction hearing his beloved pet’s name evoked. He wiped at his eyes and nodded, lips trembling. He felt the cushions shift, and Drew’s arm was around him a second later, pulling him against his side.

“I’m so sorry,” the redhead murmured, genuinely apologetic despite the stiffness in his gesture.

“It’s not your fault.”

Drew fell silent as death, and Uriah squeezed him until his tears dried and he could steady his voice, having swallowed the lump in his throat.

“Do you want something to eat?” he asked, trying to change the subject.

Drew shook his head. “No, um, I’m full. I just ate.” He looked like he wanted to vomit.

“Oh? You said you forgot something in the oven?”

“Yeah.” Drew waved his hands as if trying to fan that topic away from himself.

“What was it?” Uriah pressed, hiding his skepticism behind a familiar curiosity.

“Just a casserole. It was, like, turkey and green beans or something.”

He didn’t know what kind of casserole he’d made?

“Oh. Sounds good.”

Drew nodded, sighing a second later. “Sorry, I should have brought you some food. It’s just been one of those days.” He shook his head.

“I understand. Plus, I said I didn’t want anything anyway.”

After that, the room became unusually quiet. Drew wasn’t talkative to begin with, but they normally found something to chat about. Uriah wasn’t uncomfortable with silence, and found a movie for them to watch instead. Nevertheless, he couldn’t ignore Drew’s lack of interest. It was as if he wasn’t even in the same room, on the same couch.

The idea that Drew would be that upset over Sammy’s death simply wasn’t plausible, especially because he didn’t seem that upset. He was unsettled by something, but it wasn’t loss. It felt like he wanted to tell him something but couldn’t bring himself to speak.

Somehow, he still managed to find Drew’s presence comforting and soon dozed off on his shoulder. When he woke, Drew had shifted so that Uriah’s head was on his lap. Normally, they both snoozed together, but whatever was eating at Drew, Uriah noticed when he woke several hours later, had prevented him from napping.

“What time is it?”

“About 6:30,” Drew replied.

Uriah rubbed his eyes, feeling that he was forgetting something. The werewolf that howled from the old movie on the television reminded him.

“I need to go take pictures of the moon.” For his blog.

“Why?”

“It’s full tonight.”

The air became tense. Drew froze, dead silent for long enough that it would have stood out in Uriah’s mind had it not been so addled by sleep at the time.

“I thought that was last night?”

“Well, it’s technically full for three days in the cycle, but tonight is the actual full moon,” Uriah explained.

“Oh.”

Drew’s eyes darted to the window. The sun was beginning to set, painting the sky a warmly-colored farewell. As soon as Uriah was off his lap, he jumped up from the couch, wringing his hands again and fixating on the door. Initially, Uriah didn’t pay him much mind. Drew could be very timid. However, the darker it became, the more Drew seemed to struggle within himself.

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah. I’m fine. I just think I need to get going now.” He let out a sharp sigh.

“Really? You’re not staying the night?” Uriah’s eyes looked hopeful, almost pleading for Drew to change his mind.

“Well, I have to get up early for work, and I’m sure you don’t want me waking you up.” He side-stepped around the coffee table, Uriah the only thing between him and the door.

However, Uriah moved with him. “I really don’t mind.” It wouldn’t be the first time Drew had slept over when he had work the next morning.

“I didn’t bring any clothes though, so…”

Uriah concealed his disappointment, but it was more overshadowed by concern. Drew moved past him to the door, slipping into his shoes. Uriah tried to glue himself in place, but he turned on his heels with a huff.

“I feel like something’s wrong. Please just talk to me,” he begged.

“Really, nothing’s wrong. I just have some things to do before bed.”

“I can tell you’re lying.”

Drew said nothing, head hanging in shame. He twisted the doorknob, but Uriah caught his hand before he could step outside.

“You know you can tell me anything,” Uriah reminded him, but Drew didn’t turn around. He intended to say next, “I’m worried about you,” but the syllables choked off in his throat. Drew’s fingers became a set of claws, digging into the meat of his palm.

wolf
“The werewolf that howled from the old movie on the television reminded him.”

Never ending nightmare

I was walking down a long dark hallway, barefoot. My footsteps squelched wetly. The dim flashlight I held was almost useless.

Slowly, I took one foot in front of the other trying not to let a sound escape my lips. The floors squeaked with every step I took. There seemed to be a figure in the distance, but I couldn’t make out a face, only the shape of what appeared to be a human.

Fear shook my entire body, but I continued towards the dark figure. I walked closer and closer. Suddenly I stopped. I realized what I been stepping in, what made the floors wet, was blood.

I wanted to scream, but couldn’t. The dark figure was much closer now. He looked like a human but had a large mask covering his face. He turned and faced me, it seemed he was insulted by my presence, though he did not say a word.

He turned toward me. In his hands was a long, blood stained sword. He hoisted the sword above his head. . . .

dark hallway
“Slowly, I took one foot in front of the other trying not to let a sound escape my lips.”

A flash of lightning and roar of thunder woke me up. I shot out of the bed I was laying in.

I was sweating and shaking. All I could see was darkness. I rubbed my eyes. I remembered then, my boyfriend, Jake, and I had rented a hotel room for the night. He was not beside me when I woke up. Jake must have left the room while I dozed off. The little alarm clock beside the bed said in bold red numbers 9:00pm.

I slipped out of the covers and staggered into the bathroom to wash my face. The warm water made me feel a little better. Jake came back into the room as I was drying myself with a hotel towel. He had gone out to rent an X-box and to pick up some food. He decided I needed to play a scary game tonight. Jake loved to see my reactions, but I was really not in the mood.

“Oh come on, you know it’s all fake. And I’ll be right here with you.” I was still hesitant, however, when he handed me the controller.

The game began and it wasn’t really scary, much like a predictable, bad horror movie. At least until one point in the game.…

Without warning it became darker and much more scary than it had been before. The halls to this game resembled that of my dream. The floors were wet and the only thing that made them distinctive from the one in my dream, was that this was water.

“All right… Stop it! I can’t do this anymore!”

“Aww, you’re such a baby! Here, let me play for a while.”

I handed him the controller and he began to play. About an hour later the game seemed to be building up suspense.

Lightning rebounded off the walls, with a loud crack, killing the power. We both turned to the window, then looked up at the dark ceiling.

The only light into our room now was from the thunderstorm.

“This damn cheap hotel, this is the last time I take a suggestion from Michelle.”

“Do you just want to go to bed now?” I asked hoping, praying desperately that he would say yes.

“Nah, I’m not tired at all. Do you want go out for a drink?” He asked casually.

I didn’t want to disappoint him, but I was terrified to leave this room. I stayed silent, then dismissed those horrible thoughts.

“Sure, it’ll be great to get out of this stuffy hotel, and clear my mind with some good beer.”

He and I both laughed, then got up off the floor. He grabbed a flashlight from the drawer nearby. I got up and put a new pair of pants on, grabbed a jacket, and left with Jake at my arm.

I was the first one to exit our room. To my horror my dream was alive, the hotel’s hallway became the hallway of my nightmare. Every detail from my dream was correct, although I hadn’t yet seen a figure at the end of the hallway. To my slight relief the liquid on the floor was not blood…just water leaking in from the ceiling and windows.

A flash of lightning coursed in through the windows and rebounded off the long hallway. It illuminated the floor. I didn’t want to see anything more, so I turned around and stared into the chest of my boyfriend. Suddenly all around us it got colder. I began to shiver.

Jake had paused for a long time waiting at the door, trying to get the flashlight to work. He was banging against walls, tapping it with his hand, or twisting it to try and get it to turn on. When it finally did, I looked up into his face and saw a look of horror.

“Hey, who the hell are you?”

My eyes widened, and I froze “no, no. . . .” I thought.

I didn’t want to, but the way Jake turned his arm made me accidentally look at the figure at the end of the hallway. Once my eyes locked on to it I couldn’t turn away. I was terrified, my breath caught in my throat.

It looked like a man from the chest down, all except his head. Its chest was bare and scarred. He had on some manner of bloody apron. In his hand was a long sword. I tried to keep my consciousness, but could barely see through a haze of panic.

Then unexpectedly, it was gone, and the dim ceiling lights revived throughout the hall.

I relaxed for minute looking at the light, how wonderful the light is. How it can banish evil.

It made me smile, until I felt a seeping liquid at my feet. Then heard a thud. I turned aside painfully slow. Jake lay dying at my feet, his blood flowing across my shoes. In his back a large gash that was spewing blood all over his black jacket. Blood gushed from his mouth, though he tried to breath.

I couldn’t stop the instant tears that overflowed in my eyes. I couldn’t move, I couldn’t  breathe, I couldn’t even make a sound. The monster reappeared in front of us once again. Slowly walking towards me now, the sword stained with Jake’s blood. I wanted to scream but couldn’t. The dark figure turned and faced me. He hoisted his massive, bloody sword over his head.…

 

Good Luck

late
“Georgia resolved to take a quick glance at her watch that she had somehow remembered to strap on in the midst of her morning’s madness.”

It was a rather disastrous brisk September morning. Georgia had snoozed her alarm one too many times, and suddenly every step felt one step behind. She managed to pull on a button-down shirt and her cleanest pair of slacks in record time before realizing, to her chagrin, that her shirt was inside-out.Her efforts to get back on schedule were entirely fruitless and her attempts at rushing were only making her slower. It took a few tries to get her left shoe on and to get the buttons of her shirt in line.

Georgia’s frown fell deeper when her telephone rang incessantly from the kitchen and she just about lost it when she answered and her mother was on the other side of the line, expecting for a long conversation. She was required to clock into work at 8:30 and at this point, arriving before 9:00 seemed like a dream.

She found herself out of her favorite blueberry Eggo waffles and was forced to shove a couple of slices of lackluster wheat bread into her toaster to retain a semblance of her normal breakfast. Her hands reached to pull out her hair when she caught a whiff of her burning breakfast from across the room. Of course she forgot to adjust the toaster setting, she thought bitterly. In the midst of her sprint to retrieve her burning toast, she forcefully slid across her kitchen’s tile floor into the edge of the counter.

Georgia could already feel a massive bruise forming as she reached over to clutch her throbbing side. Her anger and frustration off the charts now, she kicked a nearby stool over, causing an unfortunate domino effect that upset a stack of her sorted papers in all different directions.

Feeling as if her dignity was in shambles, she dutifully retrieved the papers that were now spread across her kitchen and stuffed them haphazardly into her burgundy briefcase. Georgia resolved to take a quick glance at her watch that she had somehow remembered to strap on in the midst of her morning’s madness and her frown transformed into a downright scowl.

She crunched on her burnt toast and hauled her iota of pride out the door with her briefcase and car keys in tow. There was hope when her car started, but New York City never failed to provide her with dreadful traffic on a day to day basis. Her car crawled down avenue after avenue at a reliable pace of something less than a mile an hour. She figured that at least in the confines of her car, she was safe from some of the outside world’s morning hysteria.

As she approached another momentary standstill, Georgia checked her watch once more to discover she was already ten minutes late. A few more left turns, she thought, hoping her unexpected bad luck wouldn’t push her tardiness past 9:00.

She could see her building in the distance around 8:44 and the nearing proximity triggered her mental search for an adequate excuse. She parallel parked a block away, not willing to risk jamming herself into more traffic. After stepping out of her car, shutting the door, and checking if her efforts to lock the vehicle had done the trick, she raced off in her kitten heels toward the skyscraper that was her workplace.

Georgia had yet to give up on making it to work as early as possible (which she had yet to accept was still plenty late). Suddenly, her heel wedged into a crack in the concrete and snapped clean off, sealing her fate.

It was only a few seconds after this fortunate mishap that she lifted her head up to spot an airplane barreling towards the tower that she had been heading towards. She was frozen now, helpless as the aircraft collided with the building, setting a massive explosion of fire and smoke into motion.

Her briefcase plummeted onto the concrete and its contents floated away towards the chaos before her.

Georgia was still; her first instinct was not to run to her car screaming like the crowd building around her, but to stare thoughtlessly at the machinery that had wedged completely through her office floor. She doesn’t remember when she lowered herself to the concrete but sometime between the loud screams and sirens she woke up again. She found herself clutching her broken heel to her chest, musing about her good fortune.

The window

We sat in silence for nearly an hour. The rain was just beginning to let up, though a slate-gray sky kept the atmosphere dark. Beside me Will was stationary in his seat, only breaking the stillness with the flicks of his thumb on the phone in his hand. Vague shapes passed us by behind fogged windows, but we paid them no heed as the bus tumbled along towards our stop.

“Hey—Aaron reply to the text yet?”

Will’s voice nearly startled me. I was beginning to drift off, but quickly straightened myself and gave a shrug. I took out my phone and checked the lock screen, but no notifications were there. “Nope. Probably hasn’t seen it yet.”

“You sent it to him at lunch, though!”

Another shrug.

“You’d think he’d have told us what he needed, sending a message like that. Sounded urgent.”

“If it were urgent, he probably would’ve called.” I straightened my arms out in front of me, stretching the weariness from them. “And if it were urgent, he wouldn’t’ve called us.”

Will sighed audibly, but the turn of his head to the front of the bus was all the agreement I needed. There were several more minutes of silence.

“You bring any of those pills, man? I’m starting to get a headache and this ride is lasting forever.”

“Nope. Ran out.”

Will furrowed his brow. “Don’t you think you should get those filled?”

“I will. I’m seeing him tomorrow.”

“Well damn, man, I probably could’ve just slept through this!”

“You’re the reason I ran out so fast.”

Will gave a quiet snort, but let the subject fall. We were beginning to slow, the quiet whine of the brakes announcing the end of our trip. Aaron’s neighborhood was not too much of a walk from the stop we were getting off at, and it seemed like the weather would refrain for the time being as we disembarked.

Only the sound of our footsteps on rain-soaked pavement accompanied us as we walked the sidewalk, punctuated here and there by the hum of a cars engine and the hiss of their tires through puddles in the road. My leg protested almost the whole way to Oak Grove, the enormous bruise on my shin crying out against any activity.

I kept moving, though, and Will did not notice the slight winces that crossed my face with each step.

Aaron’s house was not grandiose to any extent, but it was reasonable enough for his tastes. With two floors and a dull beige paint job, it stood as the clone of several older buildings put up for sale down the street. It was clear that he had not taken a power-washer to the place for a while, as small dots of mold were beginning to pop up here and there between the exterior paneling. Will winced.

“You’d think Sarah would’ve gotten him to clean the place up. It’s not like her to let it get this bad…”

His words faltered under my withering glare, and he brought a hand up to fix his mussed hair. Though it was no longer raining, a low-lying fog had moved in and was beginning to mist our clothes and skin.

Rain soaked window. Graphic from Sam D'Amico Photography
Rain soaked window. Graphic from Sam D’Amico Photography

“Sorry, I know—”

“You’re fine,” I said.

“Yeah, but I know it wasn’t cool for—”

“You didn’t care then, why should you now?”

“Dude, it was her choice. And you know it wasn’t like that.”

“It’s fine. She probably just hasn’t seen it yet. His problem now.”

Will looked at me for a little while longer, with an infuriating air of what could have been pity. It did not much matter to me at the time, though, as I was not really paying much attention. I climbed my way up the short flight of steps to the house’s porch, waited for Will to get up beside me, and rang the doorbell.

No answer.

We waited half a minute, growing colder by the second in the misty weather. Will reached out and hit the bell again. We both heard the tone play throughout the house, but received the same response. I turned to watch as Will checked the driveway again, but Aaron’s blue ford was still parked where I remembered it.

“This asshole better be home. I have shit to do today.” Will shivered and replaced his hands in his jacket pockets.

“Maybe he can’t hear us?” I offered, albeit halfheartedly. I punched the doorbell two more times and waited. When once again answered with silence, Will stepped forward and reached for the door’s handle.

“Why’s he leave this stuff unlocked?”

“It’s Aaron,” I said. Once again, this seemed enough for Will as he gave a deprecating shake of his head and pushed the door wide. Inside there was darkness, and a brief moment when my heart sped up and sweat ran colder than the insidious vapor that clung like a damp blanket. Then we stepped in, and turned on the light.

It was a handsome entrance room, with an open archway to the kitchen on the left and living room on the right. Stairs set into the right wall climbed up to the second floor, and in the middle between the stairs and kitchen was a shortcut to the dining room. Aaron’s shoes were piled beside the doormat, with Sarah’s flats beside them. The walls were painted white, darkened here and there by odd shadows and aged blemishes. Will looked at the shoes quizzically before taking his own off and walking into the kitchen. I turned, setting the door’s deadbolt and hanging my jacket on a nearby hook.

“Hey, come check this out!”

Will sounded excited, and despite my leg I moved quickly to investigate. He was no longer in the kitchen, but the dining room. I cast my eyes around to see what he was referring to, and it didn’t take long. One of the chairs was upturned, lying on its back, and the table was slightly crooked, pushed nearly a foot forward on the right side.

I furrowed my brow. “What’s that?”

Will, who had probably looked around a little bit before calling me, narrowed his eyes and cast them around the room and down the hallway. His voice was quiet, his tone suddenly serious. “You think someone broke in here?”

“What do you mean?”

“Shh! Shit, man, what if they’re still in here?”

“We rang the doorbell four times.”

“Where’s Aaron? Where’s Sarah?”

His steely glare was disconcerting, definitely, and I hardened my expression as well. We stayed in that room for several more seconds as the soft sound of rain suddenly began pattering against the roof. A tree branch, blown by the wind, scratched against the nearby window. He seemed at the same time worried for his friend and scared to leave the dining room.

“Maybe they’re upstairs?”

His words, or at least their tone, were almost pitiful to hear. I had never thought of Will as a coward, but this was a side of him I had not seen before. He seemed genuinely frightened at the thought of going up to look for Aaron and Sarah . . . so much for the bravado he always seemed to show. When he finally moved away from the table to venture for the stairs, I turned my eyes back to the dining room one last time. The chair had not moved from last I remembered, and a low-set bench was still knocked to the side of the room.

My shin gave a throb.

Every step we took stairs creaked under our weight as we climbed the stairs, the carpet on the steps doing nothing to muffle our sound. It was growing steadily darker. None of the lights were on. Every picture hanging from the walls seemed to be watching us. I stopped when I reached the top of the staircase, but kept my eyes on Will as he slowly moved on. My heart racing in my chest, my senses clear, I made an effort to stay silent as I crept after him as he reached the end of the hallway and Aaron’s and Sarah’s bedroom.

I didn’t have to look up to see the scene that kept Will motionless, that brought his hand up to his mouth and held back the words struggling to rise to the surface. I did not have to see the two forms lying in utter stillness on the bed, an expression of confusion and fear frozen on their face. All I had to feel was my aching arm, pushed to exertion twice today already, and it snaked under Will’s jaw and locked.

The phone on the bedside table buzzed in reminder of its unread texts. Will’s hands tried wrenching the arm away, growing weaker by the second. I turned my eyes on the woman in the bed as the body fell limp in my arms, and kept squeezing.

 

><><><><><><><

 

The water-slicked asphalt reflected the slate-gray sky above as the bus screeched to a halt in front of me. Its doors opened, and I climbed in, stretching out my arm and wincing at the pain of each step. I laid my head against the cold, fogged window, and closed my eyes.

It was going to be a long trip home.