In Search of Hair

Photo by Tore F on Unsplash

I was tired of dropping bodies in my stories, so this was the result.

Asher shook the purple wig in the young employee’s face. “Is this the cheapest one you’ve got?”

The employee bit his lips. “You’ve been told before. You’ve been here for three hours. You’re disturbing the other customers.” 

Asher looked around the empty store. “What customers?”

His face turned red. “I’m going to have to ask you to leave, ma’am.” 

“Fine.” Asher threw the wig onto the floor. The employee made a little gasp. It flopped wistfully before settling down. She marched down the aisles and out of the store, frantically adjusting her even cheaper, obviously fake plastic wig as it threatened to slip off her head. 

She didn’t stop walking until she reached the door to her apartment. After wrestling with the keyhole for a while, the door opened with a disturbing creak. Clothes were littered all over the floor, giving off a strong odor. She carefully stepped over them and headed to the bathroom, which wasn’t any cleaner. The sink lost its original color long ago. She walked towards it, keeping her eyes on the floor. She took a deep sigh, then looked up in the mirror.  

She hated her wig. Hated it. What else could she afford though, when she could barely cover the cost of food and rent? She got it two years ago at a secondhand store, just when she started balding. She was pretty sure there were better wigs out there that were expensive and already bought by everyone else. She looked so pathetic. She ripped the wig off her head, then immediately regretted it. She looked even worse. She placed her hands on the dirty sink and silently wept. She repeated this process so many times that she didn’t have tears to spill anymore.  

Baldness was a curse for then twenty-year-old Asher, who was mentally stable and lived a much better life. She had a dream of becoming a model. Then when she started to lose her hair, all hell broke loose. She was diagnosed with alopecia areata. As soon as she heard there was no cure, she ran away from her mother, got a job somehow, then two, then three… she couldn’t count them. She shrugged, and her reflection copied her. It didn’t really matter when she had been jobless for a month now, having been kicked out of her last workplace for being “unstable” and “unreliable.” I can redeem myself, Asher remembered begging, crying all over her boss. He just walked out of the room. 

She picked up her wig from the floor. It was wet and covered with unidentifiable matter. Gross. She dropped it. 

Crouching low so she wouldn’t see herself in the mirror, she backed out of the bathroom, leaped over some more clothes and walked through the open bedroom door. It was already dark outside. She looked out the window. The city was just as loud as it was during the day, which wasn’t surprising. Stores were just starting to close one by one, the bookstore around the corner, the butcher shop in front, the… 

The hair salon. What did a hair salon have? Hair. Hair that Asher did not have. She had an idea: a terrible one, but brilliant for sure.  

She picked up the darkest clothes she could find around her and put them on. They didn’t smell too bad. She pulled out her drawer, found the revolver, and put it in her pocket. She didn’t even know how to use it. Just in case, though. 

Only when she got off the elevator and headed towards the crosswalk did she unconsciously touch her head to realize she didn’t have her wig on. Whatever.

Asher walked over to the hair salon. Everything was dark inside. That was a good sign. She hesitated, glancing at the door and back at the window. Shoot the handle with her pistol? Dumb idea. Everyone in the city would be coming for her. Open the window? She could try. She struggled a few times, and was about to give up when it gave way with a pop.

The window was big enough so that she could step inside. She stood in the darkness for a while, giddy at her own success and genius. The owner probably never thought anyone would rob his store. I mean, why would anyone? The owner probably wasn’t even here right —

The door in front burst open, and light flooded into the salon. The owner was here, after all. And she was a woman. 

Speaking of the woman, she had the longest hair Asher had ever seen. A Rapunzel with black hair, basically. She was in the most casual grey shirt and sweatpants anyone could manage. 

“Why are you here? I mean, you’re…” she pointed at Asher’s hair, or the lack of it. 

“Bald?” Asher hadn’t prepared for this scenario. She whipped her gun out, trying her best to look like a proper criminal. The woman took a step back. The revolver wasn’t even loaded, but of course the woman didn’t know that. With steady hands, Asher held it in front of her. 

“Hair. I need hair.” 

“Okay.” The woman slowly raised her arms above her head. 

“Now!” It was not a scream but rather a gurgling cry of desperation. Asher needed it to happen. She needed real hair, hair that she would never be able to buy on her own. Her revolver shook in her hand. 

The woman’s eyes shifted towards the gun. 

“Look, I understand how you feel.” She took a step towards Asher. Asher flashed a warning glare at her. “I get that you’re in a lot of —“

“I didn’t come here for your lectures. I came here for hair. I know you have them somewhere. Dig them out of the trash. Whatever.”

“I —“ 

“Your sympathies mean nothing! Nothing! Look at you with your pretty face and long hair, look at you with a stable job, money, family —“ she said, pointing at a picture on the wall, presumably of the woman’s family. Maybe not. She didn’t care anymore. 

She dropped to her knees. Her voice broke. “I — I just need hair.” 

Her revolver dropped to the ground, and she started sobbing uncontrollably, so loudly that it echoed all around the salon. She couldn’t stop crying. Her tears were burning hot. After a while, her tears took over her vision and it was all blurry, and before she knew it, she felt a hand on her shoulder. 

Asher looked up, mascara running down her face. The woman was holding a razor in her hand. Asher’s mouth opened. 

Without another word, the woman sat down in a chair, put the razor to her healthy and impossibly straight hair, and started to shave. She obviously had experience. Clumps of hair fell into a box, and by the time Asher was wiping her mascara off her face, her mouth still hanging open, searching for words to say, the hair was threatening to overflow. She never saw a woman bald before, other than herself. But here the woman was, voluntarily shaving her own hair. Becoming bald. Becoming like her. One snip at a time.

When the woman was done, Asher managed to find something to say. 

“Why are you doing this?” 

Shh,“ the woman simply said. 

So Asher sat down on the floor like a baby watching her mother as the woman wove the hair together. None of them said a word. When the sun rose, five or six hours later, the woman was still going. Asher did not take her eyes off the woman, not once.

The woman rose from her chair. She turned towards Asher with a huge grin on her face. 

“Is this enough for you?” 

Asher stared at the wig for a second and snatched it out of the woman’s hands. She put it on her head and stared in the mirror to make sure she wasn’t making this up in her head. She looked like a real person again. Her face scrunched up. She started crying. Again. The next thing she knew, she was in the woman’s arms. They stood like that for an uncomfortable amount of time, one bald and the other with hair, just like before, but not quite. 

Asher had an idea. She pulled herself out of the woman’s arms. The woman stood flabbergasted as Asher reached for a random scissor, pulled off her wig, and started snipping through the hair. 

She handed the hair to the woman. 

“No one is bald anymore.” 

She put her shortened wig back on. She looked in the mirror one last time. There. She looked more like herself. Without turning back, she pushed the front door open. 

It was cold. The wind no longer touched her scalp. 

Maybe she could go to an audition today. 

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Social Anxiety

Photo by Benjamin Voros on Unsplash

This poem was inspired by Sabrina Benaim’s “Explaining My Depression to My Mother.”

all I had to do
was to leave the car,

but my hands froze,
and my heart beat faster and faster
until terror rose above me
like a boat facing a threatening wave
until the wave capsized the boat,
and my breath stuck in my chest

and I said,

Mom, why can’t you understand
that socialization
is like entering a battlefield with a plastic sword,
knowing that I will lose
but charging anyway,
because I have no choice,
because people are everywhere

Mom, why can’t you understand
that this war doesn’t kill me,
but drives me further and further into a corner
where I accept the swords
with welcoming arms and a fake smile

Mom, why can’t you understand
that you are one of the soldiers

Mom, I am scared,
scared of the classroom,
scared of eye contact,
scared of the gym,
scared of my dorm room,
scared of my friends,
scared of my family

Mom, I am scared,
scared of people.

Mom, I want this nightmare to end.
except it is real,
except it only ends when I close my eyes.

Mom, I can’t.
I can’t get out of this car.

The Ghost Town Robbery

Photo by Matthew Henry on Unsplash

I want to make it clear that this story mentions suicide.

Eight days. 

That’s how long it took for Farzana to reach this town. She came to the right place. Remote, but not in the middle of nowhere. She could blend in if she ever would need to. A town everyone left during the day to go to work. 

She parked her car at the very end of the street. Strictly speaking, it wasn’t hers, it was her foster parents’. Her seventh. The ones that she ran away from eight days ago. The ones that probably worried more about their car’s whereabouts than their foster daughter’s safety. Fuck that. 

She opened the glove compartment and took out her five-dollar ski mask, the most she could afford. She didn’t mind. After this, she would have more than she needed. She pulled on the mask and turned the mirror towards her. She snickered. She looked hideous. She looked even less like a professional robber and more like a lost twelve-year-old. Then she reached the back seat of her car and dragged out her ragged skateboard. It took a bit of effort. At least I’ll look like a cool twelve-year-old. It had a cartoonish cat drawn on it and a middle finger painted above. She didn’t even remember how she got it, or when. 

She took a deep breath and stepped out of the car. The empty street made the houses look like a collective ghost town. She walked across the street in broad daylight. Running was a bad idea. She slipped behind the first house she laid eyes on. 

She peered inside. The lights weren’t on. But she had to make sure. For another thirty seconds, she carefully listened to any signs of people inside, but heard none. This is it. She lifted her skateboard above her head and thrusted it towards the window. The skateboard simply bounced back. She quickly looked around. Still no one. She leaned the skateboard backwards as much as she could and tried again. 

The window shattered dramatically, some of the pieces landing on Farzana’s hands and feet. 

“Fuck!” she whispered. 

At least it was enough for her to open the window by reaching inside. Abandoning her skateboard outside the house, which she didn’t care about anyway, she climbed inside. She hadn’t used it how it was supposed to, not since graduating from middle school. 

The house was eerily dark, suffering from a severe lack of windows. Too organized, too. Farzana wrinkled her nose in disgust. It reminded her of the house of her fifth foster parents. They were freaks. She would never let her own house be this clean, if she would ever live in one.

She sneaked towards the kitchen counter to her right. Marble. Ugh. There was barely anything on the surface. Do these people even cook? She crouched lower to touch the handle of a drawer. Maybe she would find priceless dishes inside that she knew people never use. She hesitated. Her hand pulled the drawer open. 

Hunter woke to the sound of breaking glass. The first thing he did when he stood up was to rummage through the boxes in his closet. Then he found it. A Glock 41. He had kept this gun for years, letting dust settle on it for occasions exactly like this. Even his girlfriend didn’t know about it. 

It sucked that Alma wasn’t here today. He didn’t like being alone, especially not now. He loaded his gun. He quietly slipped through his already open bedroom door, fingers closing around the pistol. 

More sounds came from below. Is it the kitchen?

It sounded like it was. 

His socks made not a sound as he moved down the carpeted stairs, one by one. He raised his arms, pistol held steadily in front of him. He knew what he was doing. He had had practice. If anything came in his or Alma’s way, he would not hesitate to shoot. 

When he reached the last step, his eyes took in his new surroundings. A shattered window, for instance. He groaned. How much did he have to pay for that? 

He knew it was a girl, because the figure in front of him had a yellow hoodie and black jeans with incredibly long and extremely untidy hair that bounced off her back as she opened drawer after drawer. 

“Turn the fuck around!”

She didn’t. Instead, her hand reached towards the knives gathered together and grabbed the handle of the biggest one.

Bang.

He missed his first shot. The girl turned around, her eyes wide — 

Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang.

Five shots. Three hits. Not bad. It was over in less than five seconds. Her body slid down the floor, blood soaking the front of her hoodie. She had a ski mask on. He smirked. He leisurely walked towards the body and yanked the mask off his intruder’s face. 

It was his girlfriend’s face. 

He dropped his pistol. Clonk. He froze, his eyes wild with unsettled confusion. His hands trembled as he slowly reached for her face, then shook it from side to side. 

“What have I done?”

Before he knew it, his hands were full of kitchen towels. He dropped to his knees. He tried desperately and uselessly to clean up the endless stream of blood pouring onto the previously spotless kitchen floor. 

“I don’t understand.”

He moaned, his face in his hands, body rocking back and forth. For how long he stood there, he wasn’t aware. But less time had passed than he thought did as he heard the distant jingle of keys from the direction of the front door. 

Who else? Hunter picked the pistol back up with his hands now caked with dried blood. He was ready. Soon enough, the door opened. 

“Hunter? Hunter, what the —“

Bang.

Alma grabbed her right arm with a piercing scream. 

Bang.

“You’re not real.” The pistol shook in Hunter’s hands. Tears streamed down his face. His eyes were unfocused, staring at something outside of this world. “You were fucking dead, Alma.”

Bang.

Alma dropped to the ground, lifeless like a stuffed doll. “I killed you. You’re not real. You’re not real.” 

Bang.

“You’re not real.” 

Hunter paused. He pressed the barrel to his head.

Bang.

Silence. 

The Gifted

Photo by Andrey Zvyagintsev on Unsplash

Smack. A frantic warning. A screech. A brief headache. That was all Dinah remembered as she lay on the crosswalk. She was not alone. A shopping bag. Rose petals scattered all over the place, getting trampled by the people surrounding her. She grimaced. That was Aliya’s gift for her birthday, which happened to be today. Just my luck.

She opened her eyes. Dramatic gasps soon followed from the crowd. 

“She should be dead.”

“The tires went over her neck.”

But she was alive. In fact, she felt even better. She blinked once, then again, and stood up, much to everyone’s astonishment, including hers. Not even a limp. Red in the face, Dinah scooped the shopping bag from the ground and fought her way through the crowd. 

A woman grabbed her shoulder, forcing her to turn around. If Dinah could guess, she was around thirty five. Judging by her attire, she was just back from work. She should’ve kept walking. 

“You should go lie back down,” she said. 

“But the driver?” 

The woman averted her gaze. “He’s… hurt. More than he should be, actually. It’s weird. Apparently nasty, too. But are you okay?”

Dinah impatiently nodded. “I’m fine.” 

Ignoring the woman’s attempts to embarrass her further, she walked faster until she reached a corner. Then she dug her phone out, sighing when she realized that it, unlike her, had not been spared from the accident. 

A day later, and it was still broken beyond hope. She felt its absence when she walked down the stairs leading to her biology class. She should have been texting Aliya then, a minute or two before Mr. Hernandez would force her to put it down. 

She was still feeling sorry for the rose petals she left behind when her footsteps slowed down. The sea of students behind didn’t. She missed a step. Before she knew it, her arms were flailing in the air, and she lurched down towards the staircase. Face first. 

One. Dinah heard her own name, repeated twice. Two. Not again. Three. It took her three seconds to tumble down to the third floor. She got up, straightening her shirt, hoping that people would have continued their way forward by now, but of course they had to stand around her. She felt her face heat up. She groaned. She didn’t enjoy attention, not in the slightest. 

“Don’t worry about me,” she insisted, but the worried looks on their faces did not change. “I’m serious. I have to get to class.”

She tried her best to act like nothing happened while she walked towards the classroom with all eyes on her. Just like yesterday, her body felt even better than before. Almost like she had been healed. 

Heal. That was the word she was looking for. There was no other explanation that could be made. She could heal herself. She was invincible. She could jump in front of a hundred cars and still emerge without a scratch. That didn’t cheer her up. But what if she could use it for the greater good? To help someone? 

When she opened the door to the classroom, two seats were missing instead of one. So I’m not the latest, Dinah thought, relieved. 

“Sydney’s not here today,” Mr. Hernandez clarified. “She felt sick and had to go home.” 

Oh. Sydney. No one reacted. She was the kind of girl that would say exactly that and then book a three-day trip to the Bahamas. Alone.

Her new abilities did not stop her from dozing through the entire lecture, and nor did Mr. Hernandez. By the time she woke up, everyone was already leaving the room in a line, towards the auditorium where the speech contest was about to be held. All seniors were required to attend. Why, she thought as she hastily packed her bag and jogged to keep up with the rest of the class.

They were almost the latest to arrive. Dinah knew this because they sat on the third to last row. Next to her was Taylor, who was friendly enough to make way for her as she made an excuse to go to the bathroom. She didn’t actually use it. She just stayed there as long as she thought was socially acceptable and quietly returned to her seat. 

The podium was replaced by three more speakers by then, and this time it was Ivana, the gymnast. She said something about a metaphor and gymnastics and life and everyone laughed. Except for Dinah, who was too busy counting the minutes until the end of Ivana’s speech. 

Dinah had had enough. Her head drooped to the side. Then a single bang. Ivana stopped speaking. Dinah jerked back up. The entire auditorium squeaked as people turned in their seats. A girl in a black jacket and mask had her gun out. Towards Taylor. Taylor.

Taylor obviously knew her, because he wasn’t as surprised as the rest. The crowd erupted, some screaming in terror, some shouting, “Gun!” and others just running out of the auditorium. The shooter wasn’t interested in stopping them. She calmly loaded her gun and pointed it back at Taylor. More panic.

Taylor grabbed Dinah’s right arm, visibly shaking. His eyes locked with the shooter in a silent plea. Dinah did the same, except the shooter wasn’t paying attention to her. She knew what she had to do. She looked around. Half the auditorium was already missing. Others were in the process leaving. Only several people stayed behind, staring at the back of the shooter in terror, frozen in each of their places. 

Dinah yanked her arm out of Taylor’s grip, lunged towards the gun with both her arms extended, and the shooter pulled the trigger: bang, screams, crying. 

Dinah stumbled back in her chair. Her vision went black. She touched her head. There was a distant ringing in her ears. She heard something drop to the floor next to her. The gun.

Then as if by miracle, her eyes snapped back open. Her heart was still beating. Beating fast. Instead of the shooter was a black mask on the ground. Dinah opened her mouth in shock, then in celebration. She did it, we did it, she was about to tell —

Taylor. His body sank lower and lower, blood gurgling out of his neck. It was Taylor all right, but not the Taylor she wanted to see, expected to see, had to see. Dinah’s face turned white. This didn’t make any sense.

Then she thought of the woman, the driver she mentioned that was hurt more than he should’ve been, then Sydney, and she realized that her power was no more than a curse. 

A curse that she herself was forbidden to suffer from. 

More people filled the auditorium, staring at Taylor, then at her, expressions changing from shock to anger. “Look, I can explain this, there’s something that I didn’t —”

But her words were drowned out by a chant that started with two people but was soon joined by others, and Dinah tried to raise her voice, but the people moved in closer. They soon surrounded her, all chanting the same thing, singing:

“Murderer! Murderer! Murderer!”

Mental Illness

Photo by Artem Kim on Unsplash

the monster is awake.
it is a bad day.
it reaches inside my cage,
it starts clawing me,
I tell it to stop.
it replies back, you deserve it.
you are nothing,
you are pathetic,
you are despicable.
I open my mouth to scream,
but all that comes out is, I agree.

I make my way to the monster,
because I deserve it.
I deserve the monster.
but the monster goes slack.

I turn around, and tied to a bar
is a balloon. it is a good day.
I say, the balloon isn’t real.
it’s too good to be true.
I am afraid of it,
afraid it would pop,
afraid it would float away.

so again, I make my way to the monster,
because I would rather feel something
than nothing at all.
the monster lifts its head.
our eyes meet, and I am not sure
if I am the monster, or the monster is me.

it is a bad day.
it is a good day.
it is neither.
I am not sure, not anymore.

Witchcraft

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

Cassandra was more than ten minutes late for her debate club. Not that she really cared. She was sure no one would even notice. She buttoned the last of her shirt and was about to place her hand on the handle of her door when a loud thump interrupted her. She spun around. On her previously spotless bedroom floor lay the almanac that she forgot to put in her bag. She glanced at the open window and back at the book. Just a freak coincidence, she firmly told herself. 

“Are you going anywhere today, Cass?” her dad asked from the kitchen. He was busy rummaging through the kitchen cabinets, opening them one by one. His back wasn’t even turned. 

“Yeah, I’m attending a meeting, nothing too serious, and then I’m meeting a friend.”

“Alisha?” he asked, referring to the girl she brought home often when they were in sixth grade. He did not approve of Alisha’s electric blue hair then, and he probably still did not, because he remembered her and her only. 

She laughed. “Alisha’s not my only friend, Dad.” 

She glanced at her mom’s unfinished work still standing on the kitchen counter. Her creations were often so intricate, so delicate that they took Cassandra’s breath away, and this one was no different. Eleanor King was quite the mechanic. A witch, as she called herself. “I can make anything for you and your dad,” she used to say. That sentence modified itself as she started arguing with her husband on a daily basis. Cassandra thought she even heard screams of pain sometimes coming from her parents’ room. Her dad was too nice to fight back, she guessed. When her mom left three days ago, along with half of the family’s income, it was probably a relief for her dad, but she could have at least left an explanation or a warning so he could have prepared himself. Well, she didn’t. 

She rolled her chair back and forth, barely even listening to the team captain’s lecture. She would’ve watched the ant on the wooden floor carry its single crumb all the way to the other side of the room if her phone hadn’t pulled her back with a ding. It was her dad. He wanted her to get peanut butter. She typed back, Sure. It wasn’t like her plans with Olivia were until thirty minutes later, anyway. So she didn’t mind. She felt like she couldn’t. Besides, this was a good excuse to leave the group. She stood up. 

“Guys, I’m sorry but I think I have to go and run some errands.” 

No one even looked up. Cassandra shrugged and pushed the glass doors open. 

She had never been here in the supermarket before. The place was huge and unusually empty for its size. She walked past at least ten aisles before she found the condiments section, or at least part of it. She decided to start from the left. 

Clonk. A plastic jar fell to the floor out of the corner of her eye. Not believing what just happened, she stood frozen to the ground, staring at the jar before she managed to move again. She slowly walked over and picked the jar up. It was Skippy. Her dad’s favorite brand of peanut butter. 

Her mind was completely blank. She clutched the jar tighter in her hand, then shook her head. She obviously missed someone standing next to her. They probably dropped the jar and didn’t put it back because they didn’t want to deal with it. It was the work of an irresponsible customer, not some Interstellar shit or whatever else came to her mind. If there was something that deserved her attention, it was not that peanut butter. She paid for it and hurriedly left the store before she let anything else happen to her. She walked faster than normal. And then she ran. 

Cassandra arrived at Burger King before five minutes even passed, too early to just sit and wait, especially considering how Olivia had a history of arriving late. She decided to get herself coke to pass time. The employee in red uniform came back in less than a minute to hand her the cup. With her purse, shopping bag and cup in both of her hands, she stared longingly at the straw dispenser to her right. 

“Can I help you with anything?”

“No, I—”

Her words were cut off when a single straw dropped down with a pop. 

“What the fuck?” she said out loud. The employee stared at her. 

“Sorry,” Cassandra muttered, barely grabbing the straw with two fingers. She returned to her seat, her eyes barely focused on the coke or anything else in particular. This was no coincidence. It just wasn’t. Someone was following her. Someone capable of tricking gravity. If a person told her yesterday that this was possible, she would have laughed in their face. But this was real. It was real, and it was happening to her. She frantically looked around her, looking for the safest possible space. The bathroom. Coke forgotten on the table, she headed towards the bathroom, trying her best to act casual, her hands in her pockets. 

When she opened the door and stepped inside, she knew she made a major mistake when a single sheet of tissue fell from its container, accompanied by a disturbing whir. She heard locks clicking. She had locked herself in. 

“Who the hell are you?” 

Silence. 

She turned to the stalls, one closed and the other open. Curiosity won over fear. She approached the left stall and yanked the door open. She screamed, hands over her mouth. Sitting on the toilet, legs apart, covered with streams of blood, eyes wide open, was the victim of a murder, stabbed multiple times in the chest. 

It was her dad. 

“Dad!” she wailed as she held his face in her hands, hoping that it would somehow wake him up, but those eyes did not blink once, and she knew it was too late to save him. 

“Who did this to you?” she whispered, her voice hoarse. 

A sick sense of recognition got hold of her as her suspicions pointed towards the only person that cared enough about her dad to kill him. But her speculations did not last long as a distant banging on the door intensified, and the door finally gave way with a loud creak as one of the local police officers kicked it open. 

“Turn around! Put your hands above your head! Now!” 

She obeyed, taking her hands off the lifeless body as tears streamed down her face, putting her hands above her head. 

“I had nothing to do with this!” she screamed, but the police officer ignored her as he practically dragged her out of the bathroom. Her kicking stopped, her mouth hanging open in shock when she saw her mom sitting on the nearest table, all alone. 

Eleanor smiled. 

I Came Looking for the Flowers

Photo by Jonas Weckschmied on Unsplash

The low hum of pipes and random machinery, added to the occasional creaks and constant dripping, meant that there was no such thing as silence in the house. But once, not one of these was loud enough to be heard during the day. Her brother, being the three-year-old he was, used to dominate the house with his giggles. It was unbearable then. Now, she needed it. 

When she put on the last of her clothing, a light fleece jacket, she was all set. She put one hand in her pocket and the other on the handle of her door, stopping only when a slight whir broke the atmosphere. She opened the door wide. It was her family’s old Roomba, sitting in the corner of the kitchen with balls of dust settled on its once shiny surface. 

But there was no one in the house. 

She shook her head and moved past the kitchen. But the Roomba came to life, lurching forward, and she took a hurried step back, then two. She grabbed the glass of orange juice she left on the counter, gripping it tighter as the Roomba came closer. She closed her eyes shut and flung the glass blindly towards the robot vacuum. The glass shattered into a hundred pieces, orange juice all over the floor and on her jeans. She didn’t have time to care. She lunged towards the back door. The Roomba ruthlessly ground on the remains of the glass, keeping its distance from her, almost as if on purpose. 

She slammed the door behind her. 

The Roomba banged itself against the door. Thump. Thump. She walked confidently away, knowing that unless the robot vacuum was from Metalhead, it wouldn’t be able to make it through. But the banging refused to stop. Thump. 

She pulled the door open. 

The Roomba happily glided past her to wade through the grass, tall and uneven because no one made an effort to trim it, and stopped where the dandelions were gathered. She stiffened. Everything in front of her was a copied scene from the past, except for the absence of her brother, who used to snatch the remote from their mother and laugh and run away from her as the Roomba zipped past her fingers and rammed itself into the flowerbed—

She stooped to pluck a dandelion. Its seeds swayed in the wind, some of them making their way into the sky. The Roomba moved left, then right, almost as if shrugging, then forwards, towards the flowers that her mother used to care for, emphasis on used, but staggered as a violent rustling sound overtook it, and she, trembling, pulled a black plastic bag from under the robot vacuum’s wheels— it lifted itself, ever so slightly, almost as if thrusting its imaginary arms in the air.