This is the first part of a short-short story I wrote in response to a challenge issued by my author friend Edward Lorn, who asked if anyone had heard of a tale based on the phrase “monster in the dryer.” It’s a first draft and I’m in the process of rewriting and expanding the story, but I thought I’d post this anyway just because I can. ~ Bo
Monday. A day off for Nicole, the only one in her week. Nicole can’t relax on Mondays, though, because it means cleanup, washing, buying groceries, prepping meals for the week and chasing after Wyatt. Waking up with a throbbing head after a late night at work, Co climbed out of bed and stepped on one of his trucks. Pain shot through her leg as she wrenched an ankle. Damn Monday.
Limping into the bathroom, Co reached for the extra-strength gelcaps and swallowed a couple, hoping they would kick in soon. She taped up her strained ankle, then looked in the mirror. Good thing I’m not applying for jobs today, she thought. Co doused her face and scrubbed off the makeup she should have removed when she got home the night before. Coffee has to be next.
Sitting at the kitchen table with her cup of black joe and two pieces of toast, Co tried to ignore, at least for a few minutes, the piles of clothes and toys scattered in her sparse apartment. She stared out of the window onto the grimy street below, where a line of stopped cars began honking at each other. Oh God, shut them up! Eventually the acetaminophen, the java and the toast combined to give her some energy to start moving the mountains of clothing.
Wyatt never lacks for energy. While mom sorted through the piles, son pressed down and pushed a tiny fire truck into the threadbare carpet crisscrossed with wheel imprints.
“WEER WEER WEER ERRRRRGH WEER WEER WEER!”
“WEER WEER WEER HONNNNNNNNK WEER WEER WEER ERRRRRRGH!”
“WOO WOOOOOOOOO! WAH-WAH-WAH WAAAAAAH!”
“THAT’S ENOUGH! PLEASE DO THAT QUIETLY!”
“Weer weer woooooooo errrgh wah-wah-wah…”
Co breathed a deep sigh. She loves her son, but there’s a reason he’s known as “Wyatt Riot.” At least she got through to him this time… if only for a few moments. Usually it’s a battle just to get him to sit still at meals; when he’s playing, he’s even deeper in his own world. She pocketed some change for the machines, grabbed the soap and put the bottle down on top of the heaving basket.
“Wyatt, be a good boy while mommy does the laundry. I’ll be right back, OK?”
No reply. Wyatt was too busy putting out an imaginary fire at the other end of the room. At least relief will come along soon when Laura brings her boy, Frankie, and they can play together while Co can get the shopping done. Later on, Co will do the same for Laura as she attends to her errands. Picking up the basket, she locked the door behind her and hobbled to the elevator.
As plain as her own apartment is, it’s a paradise compared to the dingy laundry room. Blinking fluorescent lights and cracked, dirty tiles led the way to the industrial-sized washing machines, olive-drab and bashed up after years of use and abuse. Co hoisted the basket onto a long table and began throwing armfuls of whites and colors into separate washers. She has company today: a guy is sitting and reading a book while his own wash agitates and spins. He looked up and grinned at Co; she returned a weak half-smile as she finished loading.
Slam went the doors, soap poured into the slots, change placed and slid with a ka-chunk into the void. A couple of button presses launched the machines into action as they filled with water, then began their cycles. Co sat down and exhaled another heavy sigh.
“Laundry day, huh?”
Co didn’t notice: her mind was far away. “Where am I going to find another job?” She really counted on working at the Hobby Mart to help pay for the special pre-school classes Wyatt needs, but they closed their doors last week without warning. Part-time waitressing at Fat Jimmy’s restaurant just wouldn’t be enough to cover her bills.
“Yeah, laundry day is a drag, isn’t it?”
She snapped out of her thoughts and looked over. He’s trying to make small talk: oh God, shut up. “What? Oh, yeah, it sure is,” she said. He put down his book, smiled at her again and extended his hand. “I’m Evan.” She took his hand with a limp grasp. “Nicole.”
“I just moved into the building a week ago. Have you been here long?”
“A while, I guess,” she offered. It’s one thing to speak to strangers on the job, but quite another on her off-time. She can’t be too careful with people she doesn’t know.
“I just started working at the Frill-Free Foods down the street. Do you go there?”
Yes, she thought, I do. Now she had two choices: either be friendly to him, or switch stores. “Yeah, sometimes.”
“It’s a part-time thing for me. I’m actually going to school. Pharmacy.”
“Oh, yeah.” She paused. “Is Frill-Free hiring? I’m looking for work.”
“I think so… I can ask for you. What’s your number?”
She looked directly at Evan. Two- or three-day-old stubble, but not too scruffy. Black hair, green eyes. A slightly crooked nose to match his grin, which began to crease across his face again as he realized she was eyeballing him. He seems nice enough, she thought, but they all do at first.
“I don’t give my number out to people I just met,” she said. “How about if I see you at the store? I can bring my resume with me.”
His grin drooped, but only slightly. “OK, we can do that. I’ll be working later today. Come around after 4.”
Something about him seems a little off, she thinks. Then again, he could be my contact to get work. But shouldn’t he be at school on a Monday morning?
“Sure. I’ll be there later.”
One of the washers clicked to a halt. “That might be mine,” Evan said, walking over to the bank of machines. “I’m pretty sure Frill-Free is looking for people. Do you have any experience?” he asked while loading his clothes into a dryer.
“I worked at a hobby store, but they just shut down.”
“Well, that should be good enough. I’ll check the job board in the back when I get in, and I’ll ask around for you.”
“That would be nice. What did you say your name was?”
He finished loading and picked up his book. “OK. I’ll see you at the store later, Nicole.”
“Yeah, see you there.”
Evan smiled at her one more time as he walked out.
He poked his head back into the room. “What is it?”
“You said you’re in school. Is today a day off for you or something?”
“Yeah… something like that,” he grinned.
As he disappeared around the corner again, Co looked up at the flickering lights and down at the worn tiles as she became lost in her thoughts once more. What’s up with that guy? What did he mean when he said “yeah… something like that?” She was suspicious, but that chat was the best job lead she’d had. He lives here and works down the street, so she would have to be civil to him — for now, anyway. Still, she couldn’t help feeling that something wasn’t right.
The washers lurched her back to reality as their spin cycles stopped. As she walked over and took a wheeled basket, her dread started to grow again. The memory of his crooked grin made her stomach quiver. “What if he’s a serial killer or something?” she thought. “What if I’m setting myself up? What if…”
Co stopped. “OK, shut up, girl. You’re just being paranoid. He was nice to you. He offered to find you work. There’s no need to freak out. He was nice to you! Just stop it!”
After catching her breath, she finished off the first dryer — big enough for someone to hide in if they wanted — stuck the change into the slots and sent it whirring. Co placed some change in the slots on the second machine, swung the door open and put some of the colored items in.
From behind, she thought she felt two rough hands seizing her and trying to shove her into the machine as she flailed in panic. “WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING?!” she screamed as she struggled. The hands managed to grab her kicking legs as she was bundled in; the door slammed shut, the change clicked in and the tumbler began to spin.
(To be continued…)