By Louisa Bacio
Charlene hiked up her cut-off jean shorts, and snapped her bubble gum. The humid August afternoon made her clothes cling, and the dry summer wind kicked up a fine layer of silt that gritted between her teeth.
“I don’t know Mack. It don’t look like much. The ‘For Sale’ looks like someone wrote it by hand.”
Dark rust paint streaked down the white sign. I swear it looks like dried blood.
“Let’s take a look around,” Mack coaxed her. “What’s the hurt in that?”
He spit out sunflower seeds, and a long string of spittle ran off his chin. He wiped it with the back of his hand. She glanced back at the safety of their white minivan. She’d grown tired of sleeping in it, and showering at the gym or her mom’s apartment.
The insurance money from the tornado had finally come, and they had to find a place. The ad for this one sounded too good to be true, and from the appearance of the outside, that may prove right.
“For this price, it’s a steal,” he said, grabbing her hand, and tugging her down the walkway.
A security screen door covered the front. “Hello! We’s here to see the place,” Mack yelled.
Heavy clouds moved fast above, and shadows fell upon the walkway. It went from looking like mid-afternoon to dusk in a matter of minutes. A shiver crawled up Charlene’s back, from her tailbone to the nape of her neck. Her gut clenched. Instinct told her not to enter the trailer.
With a heavy creak, the dark screen swung open. “Welcome, come on in,” a woman said. She stood far enough inside that Char couldn’t see what she looked like. She heard a deep inhaling, and a puff of cigarette smoke floated out to greet them.
Coughing, Char waived her hand, dispersing the smoke. Mack rested his palm flat on the small of her back and pushed. Great time for him to become all gentlemanly.
The realtor stood off to the right. Deep lines etched into her face, and she sucked on a cigarette.
“Sherri,” she held out her hand. “Pleased-to-meet-you.”
The same color rust rimmed her fingernails, and Charlene diverted. “Sorry, been fighting something.” She coughed for good measure. “Don’t want to pass it on.”
With a shrug, the woman shifted to Mack, who shook her hand. Charlene watched some dried blood – she might as well think of it as that, because she couldn’t think of it any other way – flake off and stick to his skin. He grinned at her, showing off black sunflower seed shells stuck between his front teeth.
“Come on this way,” Sherri directed.
In the kitchen, the sharp sent of ammonia burned Charlene’s nose. Tears welled in her eyes.
“All new appliances,” the realtor said. “They were installed since the last owners left.”
“Where did they move to?” Charlene asked.
“No one’s quite sure. They skipped out of town. This place is a repo. We’re doing a quick sale.”
Pictures depicting a happy young couple hung on the wall. Fully furnished, the living room included an assortment of personal knickknacks on the side table.
She raised an eyebrow at Mack, and he glanced away. The overhead lights flashed, and dimmed.
“Power surge,” the realtor explained. “Back here we have the master, and two guest rooms.”
“It looks bigger than on the outside,” Mack commented.
“Well you know what they say,” Sherri said, “looks can be deceiving.” She cackled, a laugh full of phlegm, deep in her chest.
Char suppressed a gag. The sooner they finished touring the trailer, the sooner they’d get the hell out of there. The tour passed two shut doors, and Charlene noticed a shinny discolored patch under one door. It looked wet. They entered the master. In sharp contrast to the rest of the place, the room was bare.
A scream crushed the silence.
“What the hell was that?” Charlene asked, clutching at Mack’s arm.
“Pain. Something you’ll know, all too soon,” Sherri slipped out of the room, locking the door.
Mack rattled the knob and pounded on the wood with his fists. “It’s solid,” he said.
The room faced the back of the trailer. Charlene yanked back the curtain. Black paint covered the glass. She tried to open it, and it wouldn’t budge.
“Is it getting hotter in here?” Sweat dripped down Mack’s forehead.
A metal screeching reverberated through the room, and the wall next to Charlene lurched closer.
“Fuck, that’s hot.”
Without thinking, Mack laid his palm against the wall closest to him, and screeched. All four walls moved in closer. Charlene crossed toward Mack. Pieces of his flesh remained on the metal. Blood seeped from his index finger and dripped onto the floor.
“It’s a fucking tin can, and it’s getting smaller and heating up. It’s going to burn us alive,” he said. His eyes grew wild with whatever he imagined. “You were right. We shouldn’t have come here.”
Any other time, Charlene would rejoice hearing those words. Now, they meant nothing.
Slow but consistent, the circumference of free space dwindled. Perspiration dripped a trail down her cleavage, and pooled under her breasts. A big guy, with wide shoulders, the confines reached Mack’s body before it touched her. She stood perpendicular to him, shoulder to his chest. Deep screams tore from him, and tears streamed from his eyes. She tried to block out the sickening crush of his shoulders breaking, compressing and the blood all the blood gushing out.
Eyes closed, she prayed for a quick end. The scent of burnt flesh clogged her nose. Bile backed up her throat. Right when she thought it was the end, it reversed. Mack’s sad sack of a body crumbled to the floor. The door opened, and Charlene peeked out. No one was there. The realtor was gone.
She ran out the front, searching her pocket for her keys. A new sign slashed across the one she’d seen earlier:
Tell me: Why do you think Charlene made it out in one piece?
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