A young, college-aged man pulled his newer model truck into the coin mat to do some much needed laundry. He got out, his laundry in tow, and approached the mat in work jeans that have been faded beforehand by someone else, a factory worker maybe, and work boots that he’s never worked in a day in his life. Sat atop his shoulders was a cotton white shirt, at least that’s was the ‘v’ shape of it protruding from his red, white, and black flannel would suggest.
He approached the coin mat, noticing one other vehicle. It’s an early model truck complete with a very small cab and its own unique collection of rust spots that he figured most vehicles in this town must have. The young man thinks nothing of it and continues in, as happy as could be.
He had just finished what could presumably be his first vacation from college life. Seeing his parents must’ve been something of a treat for him; he was normally never as contempt. It almost seemed as though nothing could ruin his night, but just as fate has a funny way of disturbing peace, the young man started to get a funny itch himself.
Upon entry of the coin mat, the young man, still writhing with hormones, spotted a young woman sitting five feet from the entrance. She was thin but filled out in the chest, holding a tired glare on a round face, and dressed in cowgirl boots, short denim shorts with fake gems on them, and an army green, wide-strapped tank top with no bra. Although she looked rough in the sense of bruised skin and what looked like a small string of bug bites that followed the veins in both arms, she held the tanned pigmentation of a young woman of the south, sun-kissed, lady-like for her grandmother’s memory, and retaining a few new tricks of the trade for her mother’s new and sometimes exciting habits.
The young man, distracted by the mess of beauty, had taken only two of the three steps necessary to find himself in front of his favorite washer. Washman two-twenties were the rage in all the college dorms for the price, but he found himself grief-stricken with the price in this particular mat. ‘Four dollars and fifty cents,’ her thought to himself, ‘Gods damn the poor man for his need’.
This is only what he had immediately noticed; what he hadn’t were the other two occupants of the mat, one of which had noticed the young man shooting a second longer glance at his daughter than a normal person would have.
Before making that final step to the face of the washer he was planning to claim, a large man in both height and size stepped in front of him, looking down. His body was covered in tattoos much his truck had been with the spots of rust, unique in their own small ways, but in the common places and at a glance they simply looked the same. “Like what you see, college boy,” the man asked, holding a sly grin.
The young man turned back to glance at the young woman who was now staring back at him, giving a smile that was either out of petty vengeance for him checking her out or out of genuine kindness. The young man honestly couldn’t tell.
The young man stammered a bit before finally spitting it out. “She beautiful,” he said slowly, holding a look after that beckoned whether or not he had answered the question correctly. The burly man, the man with a gold-chained neck, a camouflaged shirt with cargo shorts to match, and worn-in flip flops, bent down to the youHe smelt like a crevice that was sweated in twice as much as it was washed, and that was on the good days that were growing more and more scarce by the day.
“You want in on her,” the man asked, as if propositioning a gambling pool for low stakes poker. It dawned immediately what the burly gentleman had meant; he was offering his own daughter.
The young man’s options were limited. Out of the corner of his eye he saw another woman that would have been identical to the first, only she looked aged by thirty more years. They wore the same clothing as well, the former would make any man falter a bit out of awe, no matter the markings on her arm that suggested nefarious activity, but the latter would have made men falter in a different way, if not to just shutter at the mere sight of something so worn and barren-looking.
The young man turned back to the burly man, but he was no longer wearing the expression of someone who was utterly helpless. He looked like a fox that had just entered a well-kept hen house. The burly man’s grin turned to an expression that was a mixture of confusion and irritation.
The humid summer air had caused heavy condensation on the windows of the mat, making them as hazy as bathroom glass; any other time in the year the contents of the place would look as open as a display for a goods store, but now it was as hidden as any dark alleyway. ‘Only it’s much better lit,’ the young man thought, voices growing colder with the itch.
The young man peered around at this, looked at the burly man for a brief moment with a finger outstretch as if to say, ‘one minute, good sir,’ and ambled over to the door where he had entered. He had dropped his clothes when the burly man had gotten in his face, and now that same hulk of intimidation was thinking the young man was trying to get away whether he had them or not.
The burly man, rage growing in his eyes from the blatant disregard for his intimidation tactic, started forward. “HEY,” he said, trying for the young man’s attention, “I’m not done with—-.” He halted at the sound of a mechanism clicking. He had heard this before, several times in fact, but never on the receiving end. ‘The door,’ his mind wrapped, ‘he locked the door.’ Amidst his confusion, the burly man hadn’t noticed his wife and daughter staring at him, longing for answers. The burly man’s eyes stayed fixed on the young man who stilled accompanied the room with them, his presence seeming less human and more hollow as the moments ticked by.
The three original occupants of the mat had practically owned the small town the young man had been passing. Having a firm hold on prostitution, gambling, and an overall market on any and all drugs that came and went, they’re favorite being heroine, the three were their own crime syndicate. Everyone who was from this town knew that, but a passerby, a young buck such as this, they wouldn’t know. The young man didn’t know, and he didn’t care. What he knew was that the three were scum, no one would miss them, and no one would see.
The young man turned, leaning against the door with his arms crossed in a satisfied manner, and started craning his neck, peering for cameras on the ceiling. There weren’t any. Then he looked to the mother, giving a twitched, almost unnoticeable grimace. His eyes considered the burly man for a moment before they came back to the daughter, only this time he spare no filter of the eyes when looking. He wanted all three to know his look was to anger the burly man into doing something stupid.
The young man, feeling it was only right, returned the young woman’s smile from before. Whether it was something vengeful or genuine she couldn’t honestly tell. Something else she couldn’t tell was where the dull thud had come from. It sounded like a punches her father had landed on her many times before, only her father hadn’t moved. The only person that moved seemed to have moved at all had been the young man, and it had been with the lightning quickness of a starving snake, bent on catching one last mouse before taking that long nap we and all of our instincts dread so much.
The young man, taking one last glare at the burly man and considering not his smell nor his look but the fraction glint of fear that was only a shadow in the entirety of his expression, curled one side of his mouth in a devilish grin. He stretched his arms slowly, craning his neck from side to side, and popped his knuckles. The last thing he did, the last thing the mom and pop junkie shop owners would actually see before they left this world was his arms stretching a final time behind his back.
In what seemed like a single motion, a blur of metal streaked across the room, causing the dull thud that had reminded the young junkie woman of her father beating her for not fully collecting from the boys she liked only the thud had landed at the end that her mother stood on. The young junkie woman, still half asleep from the last of the high, didn’t scream, but watched it like an unbelievable movie happening in front of her very eyes.
She peered to her mother, who was now the owner of a look of sheer astonishment. A blade protruded from her chest, a thin run of blood running from her mouth. She lost the astonishment when a look of drowsiness overcame her. Her knees buckled, and her body fell forward onto the knife, causing it to jut through the clothes on her back at a distorted angle.
The young girl remained motionless as a warm slicing sound ensued on her other side, the side her father and the young man was on, the cute one she was thinking of screwing for free if she could have hers, too. He had looked like the sort to give as well as he received. But, now he held the grin of a madman, his hip pivoted with a blade identical to the one in her mother’s chest in his hand.
Her father, the burly man, had a different color running down his shirt. It now held the same pattern as the faded camouflage, only now it was steadily soaking in a crimson undertone as blood from a large, precise cut in his neck flowed like a river. It trickled through his shirt and into small blots on the floor.
The young man came back up and connected the blade, centering with precision under the burly man’s jaw bone, and causing his mouth to clamp shut, turning his look of true terror and astonishment to one of contentment for his new fate. The cut on his neck opened just enough to douse the young man from the shoulders up, but he didn’t budge, almost as if expecting it to happen.
The young junkie girl’s mind wrapped around the situation, shrouding the remainder of her buzz from the heroine in an adrenal fear and leaving her with nothing but a case of steady shakes and idle murmurs, like the ones you get when you don’t get the needle after a while. She could do nothing but shake; her voice was an idle quiver that was miles away from both her ears and comprehension.
The young man released the handle of the blade after leading the burly man’s fall just enough so he wouldn’t squash him. He ambled over to the junkie girl.
“You know,” he said, letting out a sigh of breath and squatting to her level, “a lot of people in this town are assholes.” He unbuttoned his stained shirt slowly, revealing the rest of the cotton white shirt the junkie girl had favored as a small detail to the boys overall appearance beforehand. What she saw chilled her.
There were browning stains of someone else’s blood around the bottom of it. “This asshole,” he said slowly, pointing at the blood stains, “was giving me a hard time when I went to visit my folks, so I took his clothes and his truck and I’m heading out of this shithole.” He took a look around the mat, sighed once more, and looked back at the girl with a bit of reluctance. He eyed her up and own until he spoke like she imagined a real father might. “It really sucks when your parents are buried in a dying town,” he said.
The young woman held the frightened look, but felt confusion wash over her. The young man kept his eyes fixed to hers as he came forward towards her. She couldn’t move, just as she still couldn’t scream. She was frozen.
“It’s a shame,” he said, peering at her arm. His face was just a few inches from hers, still covered in her father’s blood. He wiped his face with the plaid shirt like the blood was just water, just something to have been gotten rid of.
He grasped her arm as gently as a father scooping up his newborn’s head. She felt an icy chill run through her veins, and then relaxed when she realized that his hand was warm and inviting. Collectively, she felt that if she was going to die, why not let it be fast. She let go of the fear and accepted fate as it was.
“What’s your name, dear,” he asked, speaking as though they were both victims of a cruel upbringing, the hero in the lead trying to calm his maiden fair. She let fate run its course and pushed the fear aside. “Angela,” she said, “Angela Johnson.”
“Angela, hmmmm Angela, Angela,” he repeated, following with a few “tsk” sounds . “You could do so much better,” he said, gesturing at the puncture marks left by the needles, “but I guess when the ignorance spreads, it goes like wildfire,” he continued, craning his neck to the bodies in the mat. He looked back to the young woman, her breath steady, and her chest rocking up and down. The young man noticed this, placing another hand behind his back, keeping his eyes fixed on hers. “That’s why you have to stomp it before it spreads,” he said, his voice contorting into a cynical rage.
‘This is it,’ her mind leapt.
She had closed her eyes as the young man had done exactly what the young junkie girl had expected. He had pulled a third knife from his back pocket and lunged forward. The girl was waiting for her mind to register the pain, but none came. She opened her eyes, seeing only sympathy in his.
The knife had stopped just before her throat. The young man spoke soft and slow. He spoke like she imagined a doctor might speak to a patient who has just had a therapy session, dealing still with the harsh nature of her past circumstance. He sounded sorry. “Do you think you have what it takes to live in such a cruel world, Angela?”
The girl didn’t speak at first. She assumed he was talking about their surroundings and what had happened. She looked around at the bodies, taking into consideration all of the times the both of them, her parents, had beaten her, shot her up so the men that were much too large for her could have their way regardless, and all the times she had been left for dead when she needed them the most. She considered everything else on top of the events of that night, and felt an odd calm wash over her. Whatever she had accepted before was simply cardinal now. It was as good as the word of God.
Without looking back at him, she spoke. “I guess I can, even if it is ugly,” she said in a misty voice.
He smiled. “Good,” he said, reeling as if his mortal lesson was a success. “Now, don’t let me come back to visit my parents again only to find out that the loose end I left is stinking up this town any further,” He said, pointing the knife accusingly.
He dropped it from her throat and let the hormones take over while she remained frozen, still stooping from the last high and now freshly shaken from the current circumstance. He kissed her forehead, holding her neck as he did, like an angel seeing the child he was protecting off to bed, and then her cheek, letting himself linger more than he would have liked to. He pulled away, holding her hands as he did, and watching as they slipped from his, both now covered in her father’s crimson.
“Goodnight,” he said, bowing himself out of the laundry mat.
She watched as he walked away, not looking to get into the truck of his earlier victim, but walking past it and disappearing into the streets of downtown. She started half laugh and half cry, burying her face in her palms. She was free at last.