The Universe Speaks to Michelle

She waited for a sign. Knowing her life, it wasn’t going to be a neon monstrosity. Hell, it didn’t even have to be the polite, discreet plaque next to a teller asking you to have your paperwork ready.  All she wanted was a sigh, a whisper of what to do. She stood in the dark, dragging on a cigarette and listening for a nudge in the right direction.

Nothing came.

As she finished the last inhalation of nicotine, her security blanket, she sighed. Clearly the universe was not going to reach out and hug her, so it was time to go with her best instinct. She hated that idea right now. Normally her gut was the only thing she relied on, but it had already proven wrong once that evening and she was wary of going for broke.

As she reached for the door there was a crack in the woods behind her. Something had snapped- a branch most likely, but there wasn’t even a sigh of a breeze. She paused to listen, waiting for the shuffle of a raccoon or the sound of some neighborhood kid snickering in her backyard.

Again, nothing came.

Finally, she shrugged and entered the house. It would not be hers much longer. The divorce had come through and with it the ‘For Sale’ sign. Seeing as she had wanted to take a match to the place by the end, it should not be that depressing. However, as with all endings, it had its sense of maudlin sentimentality. Perhaps that’s why her instincts were on the fritz.  She debated whether to fix a drink or keep packing what was left of her life. With a shrug she decided that this was a choice that need not be made. She pulled a highball glass out of one of the boxes and went to the stainless steel refrigerator. After loading it up with ice, she filled it almost to the top with vodka and then a splash of tonic. No fruit necessary. Then settled in to wrap dishes while she sipped.

As she wrapped each plate and bowl in newspaper (who bought papers anymore?) and placed them in a box, she thought about the fight she’d had with her sister earlier that day.

“Would you like some feedback?” Karen had asked.

Feedback was a signal for disapproval. Michelle knew this and usually was willing to listen. But the shock of being so quickly judged by her only sister sent a shock of cold rage rattling down her spine.

“No I would not.” she stiffly replied.

Usually this ended the discussion. Karen was in sales and generally knew when to cut her losses. This time was different. Cocktails had been involved, and perhaps she felt the stakes were too high.

“You stupid girl,” she half whispered, with a smile. As if a pleasant demeanor would soften the white hot slap of her words.

Michelle stared in shock. Not only was she older, but neither of them were girls anymore, by any stretch of the imagination.

“Don’t you want to let the dust settle?” Karen followed up.

“No,” Michele managed to choke out.

“Why?” her sister pressed.

“I just don’t.”

That had ended both the conversation and the evening. Michelle had awkwardly paid for her drinks and left while her sister carried on a conversation with acquaintances at the bar. Now, at home, she still wondered what had happened.

In the back a crash of branches awoke her out of her reverie. This was both louder and closer than when she had been outside. She went to the kitchen window and flipped on the outside lights. The illuminated backyard showed the shrubs and treeline of her bordering rural home. It was still a neighborhood, but on the outskirts of civilization. Sometimes Michele wished she lived closer to the city. Recently she had thought about it more and more. Especially now that she was on her own. The remote location had once seemed ideal for dogs and maybe, one day, a family. Now it seemed like the end of the earth.

She strained her eyes against the edges of the darkness, but only moths entered her line of sight. The darkness gave away nothing.

Reluctantly she headed for the porch door again. She really didn’t want to go outside, but then, she also didn’t want to be a cliche. Woman on her own, afraid of any little noise in her yard…

A quiet voice in her head whispered that maybe there were other cliches. The ones you see in horror movies that tell the hero to never go out in the dark alone. To go back inside and close the door. She started to brush the silly thought aside, and then realized.

That was her sign, the quiet nudge she had been waiting for.

Slowly she backed away from the porch door and started looking around the disheveled room for a weapon. She spied the butcher block, and as she reached for a knife, there was a thud at the back door.

Slowly she turned and looked through the screen. There, in the doorway, stood her sister. This was not the polished, self-possessed, sanctimonious woman from earlier though. She leaned against the frame, her blouse ripped with blood dripping from the shoulder.

“Oh my God Karen, what happened to you?” Michelle started towards the door with a cry.

Then the body that had once been her sister snapped it’s chin up. Eyes glazed over in a death stare, the face slack and mouth open pressed itself against the screen.

“Karen?” Michelle whispered.

The corpse that had once been her sister lunged through the door, reaching for Michelle as she backpedaled, uselessly waving her knife.

Yes there had been a sign. The sign said, “Time’s up.”

Art by Kieran Russell,

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