In the midst of her stormiest years, Marisela Armijo had followed a set routine and achieved a respectability and prestige as the only remaining and living full-time grocery store manager in the pueblo. She woke at almost noon, when she began to take her secret medicines: green crack to raise her spirits, blue dream for the ache in her bottom when she spent too long seated, drops of CBD oil for anxiety, edibles to erase the nightmares when she slept. She took something every hour, always in secret, because in her long life as a good Catholic hija, she was always taught to oppose the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes: it was easier for her to pretend she believed this than be disowned by her family. In her pocket he always carried a little sneak-a-toke filled with blue diesel that she inhaled deeply when no one was watching to calm her fear of so many strains mixed together.
She ordered him to tell the news stations that the young bagger had died of natural causes, although she figured the news would in no way interest them. She said: “Si es necessario, I will speak to the mayor.” The inspector, an underappreciated and burnt out civil servant himself, knew that Marisela’s sense of civic duty was greater than she ever let on, and he was incredulous at the ease with which she grazed over legal formalities in order to speed up the burial. The only thing he was not willing to do was speak to the pueblo’s Popé so that Maria Chavez could be buried on holy ground. The inspector, taken back by his stubbornness, attempted to make excuses.
“I understood this girl was a santa,” he said.
“Santa?” said Marisela. “An atheistic saint, maybe. But those are matters for Dios to decide.”
Marisela’s instructions to the inspector and the student were nonchalant and apathetic. There was no need for an autopsy; the prevalence of COVID19 test swabs in the warehouse was sufficient proof that the cause of death had been inhalation of virus bacteria activated in the test kits, and Maria Chavez knew too much about those matters for it to have been an accident.
You find yourself shifting uncomfortably in your seat, and not because of the heat. How could someone be so fragile to an entire stranger, on a city bus of all places? Didn’t this girl have even the faintest sense of self-preservation? Even so, you can’t stop yourself from continuing to listen to her sad tale, all the while wondering when the big ask would come.
A forensic inspector came forward with a young medical student who was completing his field placement at the remote distance university, and it was they who disinfected the room and sanitized the body while waiting for Marisela to arrive. They greeted her with a familiarity that on this occasion had more veneration than usual, for they both were aware of the degree of her friendship with the deceased. The juvenile store clerk raised her chin at the two of them, as was the customary greeting in this time of social distancing, and then, as if it were a a box of grocery shipments, she grasped the edge of the sheet with her entire fist, and brusquely uncovered the body with unceremonious casualty.
The storm is here, but it intensifies in intervals. Crashing as do waves, increasing in strength, naturally waxing and waning as does the tide. There has been a period of ebb for several days. We know the next wave is coming, but we do not know when, or what destruction it will bring. The undulating breeze seems to indicate the next wave will be upon us sooner than we think, and when it ultimately breaks, it will take with it much of what we have known, cherished, and held dear.
At the core of my being is a desire for a visceral, complete dissolution. Something that tears from bottom-up. Something that alters every aspect of reality.
Over 83,000 cases have now been reported in the US, surpassing China and becoming the country with the most cases in the world. In New York, I hear they are experiencing the beginnings of duress caused by mass hospitalization. Here in New Mexico, we have had only one death. We have not yet felt the full impact of this pandemic, but I have no doubt that we will.
It will come in waves.
All I ever wanted was to be a writer isolated on a hill, writing things all day and night. Isn’t that the life I could be leading now?
If I’m not moving forward, do I still matter? Or do I cease to exist?
Day… 10? Cases keep rising. People keep dying. It’s the end of the world as we know it, but I feel fine.
I may die. People I love may die. That is an easier truth to accept than I thought it would be. The truth is, this is bigger than me. It is global, perennial, cosmic. It unites us all. We are all rendered vulnerable. When I think of it in this light, I can’t be angry. All I can do is deal with what is in front of me, what’s in my control.
Here I am, living in the apocalypse. Maybe this can be a time to reconnect with my truest self.
IT WAS INEVITABLE: the scent of bleach and toilet cleaner always reminded her of the omen of hopeless love. Marisela Armijo noticed it as soon as she entered the dimly lit supermarket where she had hurried on an urgent call to administer food rations for a community that for her had lost all importance many years before. The southwestern town of Belen, once a safe haven for artists, country folk, and her most cherished small town rival, had receded into fragments of memory with the sharp scent of hand sanitizer.
At the rear end of the garage you find something that causes your skin to crawl. A simple white sheet lay strewn across the path to what appears to be a giant glass elevator. It is bigger than any you’ve ever seen, but it certainly is an elevator. The glass walls and floor shine and sparkle, even in the absence of light in the dim garage. Inside its transparent walls, you can make out the appearance of a golden, sparkling lever. You return your gaze to the sheet lying in the path between you and the elevator. Peering at its shape, you make out the figure of something – or someone – buried underneath. Your friend once again pleads with you, begging to follow common sense and turn back. You glance back and forth between the frightening figure under the sheet and the translucent, enticing elevator.
You only set out to capture something of your experience existing on this planet. The book was a labor of love, bursting forth from you like a child emerging between your legs after nine months of gestation. The novel took even less time to manifest; once it came into being, there was no stopping its spread. You were thrilled at the prospect of others connecting with your work, as if through the act of reading your pages, they might begin to truly know you. For the first time in your life, you felt seen. The feeling only intensified as your book sold millions of copies around the world. Yet something changed once it began outselling even the Bible. How were you to know that your book would catalyze the apocalypse?
You were living comfortably in your shabby downtown apartment until the snails started to appear. At least, you assumed they were snails at first. When they first appeared out of the cracks in the floorboards, they were slow like snails. Although possessing shades of electric blue and charcoal, the spiraled pattern they bore on their backs exactly resembled the shell of snails you’d see after a day of rain. That was before they began multiplying, moving faster with the appearance of each new creature.
It’s been chasing you for almost five years. Cloaked in the night, you’ve made desperate attempts to escape. You moved to new cities, taken new jobs, adopted fresh, new identities. Each time, just as you begin to get comfortable, it finds you again. You never know what form it will take. You can never predict how it will slink into your life. Sometimes it comes wearing the face of a lover. Other times, it manifests as your greatest fear. Each time, it comes with the singular mission of killing you.
You make a prodigal return to your hometown after years of abandonment. In that time, everything about you changed until you completed a 360, reverting to exactly who you were when you left this place. Determined to make a name for yourself in the real world, you admonished your former family and faith. Like so many others of your generation, you found that the things you were taught to hope for didn’t really exist. It turned out that everything you thought signified the real you – your politics, gender, ethnicity, race – only left you feeling cold and alone. These labels, so empowering when you first discovered them, now left you gasping for air. After years of vacant, directionless wandering, you swallowed your pride and returned to the only home you’d ever known.
You have to return to the house where they live. You didn’t want to, and you searched for every method of avoiding it. Trying to convince others to go there on your behalf was impossible. For some reason, you realized that this would have to be something you do on your own. Little did you know, you’d end up going there twice in two days. The place you promised to never see with your own eyes.
It’s finals week at your coastal university. You didn’t think it would arrive so quickly. Until this point, you’d been focused on the intensity of each passing moment. It’s been a self-destructive path you’ve chosen, leaving broken friendships, hearts, even buildings in your wake. Yet you made it halfway through your precious senior year. Trying to muster the focus needed to complete your take-home exam, you find yourself continually distracted by the blue skies and ocean breeze drifting in from your open living room window. It smells like summer and possibility. Why do the seasons outside never match your internal landscape?
Hi there. This is Mt.Angel, the writer of this short story. I hope you enjoy your time reading this creepy tale. Like all the stories that will be posted to this blog, it came from a recent nightmare I had. I figure if I’m going to have nightmares almost every night of the month, I might as well do something with it, right?
You are at a restaurant that you simply cannot afford. The dark mahogany table stretches on to infinity and you can barely make out the faces at the other end. Seated across from you are three middle-aged white women all sporting the same dyed dirty blond haircut. Short, angular, and shaved in the back. It resembles to you a sort of reverse mullet or the pointed fur of a hedgehog. You can’t fathom its popularity.
You wonder how you’ve found yourself dining with these people when you clearly do not belong. Your clothes are worn and ragged and your hair is in disarray. Acutely aware that you don’t fit in, you try to shrink into the cushions of your dining chair. Just as you relinquish the hope that anything could liven up this dull dinner, something in the back of your mind clicks. As if someone, somewhere turned the switch that activates your amygdala. You understand there is about to be a devastating earthquake.
You awake to find yourself back in the arms of the person you almost killed. You are both nineteen years old once again. He is baby faced and shirtless, the curly chest hair rising up to your nostrils and smelling like home. You rest your head on his chest. He smiles in blissful ignorance, unaware that all of this happened before. Somehow, you’re able to remember everything.
We decided to go to the Koo Koo Club after finding next to nothing to occupy us at the house. Five minutes away, it was the closest Lakeshore could come to anything resembling nightlife. The ancient bar was originally built as a local watering hole for blue-collar employees hoping to stave off the responsibility of family for a few hours following their arduous construction and plumbing jobs. Forty years later it was the same, along with being a favorite hangout for the local meth heads and intravenous drug users. Suffice it to say, this was a low moment for our little group of college-educated young female visionaries. The entire year had led up to this point, a downward spiral that seemed to never find its way to the bottom. That is, until today.