There was a time when the pests of the household lived in harmony – each thriving in their separate kingdom, away from the brooms, vacuums, and pyrethroids. They sat in their little cubbies so damp and dark. The mice would chitter through the gap in the drywall, the cockroaches would skitter through the pipes, the spiders would weave webs in the basement, and the rats…well, the rats were another story. The rats made a mistake. They didn’t know how to live in a house full of humans. They were used to the freedom of the sewers where they could explore for hours on end without a human in sight. They did not heed the warnings from the well-groomed mice to stay hidden. One evening at six o’clock, the human feeding time, one rogue rat snuck out for a late night snack. After a child’s shriek and a mother’s wham of a frying pan, the very rat twitched for a moment, the light faded from his eyes, and he fell limp and lifeless on the kitchen counter.

From that moment onward, things became different for the pests. After the incident with the rat, the humans started to suspect their home had been infested with other things. Then came the sprays. Swathes of mice and roaches grew sick and perished. Only the spiders were able to find refuge and did so in the darkest reaches of the basement in the forgotten corners of antediluvian dresser drawers.

As the mice and roach populations thinned, they began to live in fear, fear that they could not venture out to the human’s domain until they had completely run out of resources. So much fear overtook these mice and roaches that they turned against each other, suspecting that at any moment one pest might get too desperate, sneak out for food, and in that desperation proceed without caution inciting another holocaust. The mice and roaches agreed to close off all entries to the human domain except one. They left one gap in the lower crown molding behind the great, blocky void called the television. To quell such fear entirely, the mice and roach guards stood patrolling the area near the exit to ensure that no more rogue pests passed its barrier. To exit they had to be vetted for their stealth, their loyalty, and most importantly, they couldn’t be rats. No rats were allowed beyond the threshold. They could not be trusted.

The rats possessed an unparalleled toughness. In the days of the holocaust, even though the rat population dwindled, the rats stood fearless against the threat of impending death. They courageously scoured the well-stocked pantries even if some were caught and killed by traps along the way. The other pests, except for the spiders whom continued living in ambivalence, hated the rats for their courage. They thought them foolish, irrational. In their view, their recklessness would be the cause of every pest’s downfall.

“Enslave them” said the mouse king to his court in the mice kingdom. “The only way to ensure our safety is if we keep them under our reign.” And so they did. Word was spread through the mice kingdom that there would be an announcement the following morning. That night the mice and roaches secured some of the human’s supply of rodenticide, and dropped it into the rat leaders’ water supply located within the mice kingdom, for the rats shared their domain with the mice much to the mice king’s annoyance.

The following morning, all pests gathered in the mice kingdom square, even the spiders – though they were present only corporeally – and they came upon a ghastly sight. In the middle of the square sat the lifeless bodies of the of five rats. The pests began to whisper in hushed, frantic voices.

An echoing voice rang out among the crowd “Papa? Papa?!” A young, female rat broke through the crowd and skittered up to a large, brown rat lying on the dusty ground. She sniffed all around his body for any sign of life, but found none.

“Who did this?!” she cried. “Speak! Who did this?!” She looked at the crowd, baring her teeth, revealing her bloodshot eyes.

The mouse king stood on his colonial balcony with a horrible grin upon his face. He addressed the young rat “I did.”

She hissed, the words cutting on each consonant, “How could you?! This rat was my father! He and the others lying here are our leaders! Why would you do such a thing?!”

The mouse king ignored the little rat. He looked up at the rest of the crowd and singled out the huddled mass of surviving rats “Let this be a lesson to those who do not obey. Your leaders are dead. They do not have caution enough to check their own water supply for poison, what makes you believe they have the intelligence to rule your kind? Stick with me, and blunders such as this will never happen. I will keep you safe. I know you think you are brave and stalwart, but even the brave and stalwart get hungry. In exchange for your labor and your allegiance, you shall never go hungry. And your people do not have to die any more. We can not afford another surge of death on the pest kingdoms. I must insist you follow. Or perish.”

“No!” The young rat began to lurch forward toward the mouse kingdom’s front gate. Just as she rushed, the two guards seized her.

“You there. Young one. What is your name, loud mouth?”

“My name is Willow.” She said

“What was that? Willow? Weasel, I think. You look very much like a small weasel, so I shall call you such. I could use a personal chambermaid. You shall work for me” and with his pinkish digit he signaled the guards to escort poor Weasel into the kingdom.

Weasel bit the guards as they closed in on her, but she could not puncture through their armor. She squirmed to no avail, and in a few moments, in the cacophony of her screams, the guards drug her into the kingdom.

The mouse king looked out at the crowd once more. “Anyone else have something to say?” The rats remained silent with their gazes downcast. “Very well. Glad to see some of your kind still has the capacity for reason. The head guardsman will assign you your duties. We shall not speak of this day again as we move forward onto a brighter, safer future.”

From that day onward, life within the drywall, and in the pipes was much different. Rats no longer ventured into the human domain. They served the mice and the roaches. They dug the tunnels for the mice’s sewage, lifted the heavy objects for the roaches’ convenience, built the buildings for the mice’s comfort, removed the gunk from the pipes for the roaches’ ease of travel all for a measly crumb here and there and the projected safety of others.  The spiders refused to involve themselves with the rats, able to subsist on their own just fine, and not much interested in enslaving others though also not much interested in halting others from enslavement.

One morning the king sent word for a delivery mouse as it was customary to do so on the beginning of each week. The young, nervous, burgundy mouse stood in the king’s doorway looking up at the looming guardsmen towering to the left and right of him. He wore a newsboy cap and bag. He watched as the king sat at his desk pouring through paperwork with his back turned away from him. The king dipped his quill in some ink to the side of him and started to write frantically on the parchment in front of him.

After a moment the king addressed the young mouse whom he sensed was in the hallway. “Yes, yes, enter please. Are you testing my patience?”

“Uh-no-no sir. I would not do that, sir” the frantic mouse removed his newsboy cap and attempted to smooth his unruly tufts.

“Come here, young one. So I can see you.”

The young mouse did as the king commanded. The king looked the young mouse over and sighed for he saw a questionable sight. He did not see the expected fit mouse. What he saw was a scrawny fellow with an unkempt coat, his rear oddly shifted to one side.

“You? You’re the delivery mouse?” The king shouted to the guards “This is indeed the right mouse, is it?” The guards confirmed it was so, and the king asked for the mouse’s name.

“My name is Kidney Bean.”

“What an odd name for a mouse. Why are you called such a name?” the king inquired.

Kidney Bean hesitated, nervously turning his newsboy cap with his two hands as if it were a steering wheel and were desperately trying to turn left. “It’s just my name, sir.” He squeaked.

The king narrowed his eyes, “You are not who I envisioned would take the place of our former, elite delivery mouse.”

Hearing this, the guards entered the room. “Shall we take him away sir?”

The king waved the guards away. “No, no. There’s no time. Deliveries must be made today. You were selected by my guardsmen for this position, so you must be worth something at least.”

“I promise. I won’t let you down, sir.”

“That remains to be seen.” The king seethed. 

Kidney Bean’s head dropped  “Yes sir.”

“You must collect portions for this week and deliver them to the other two kingdoms without delay. Do you understand?”

Kidney Bean nodded frantically and squeaked out an assurance. Just he did, Weasel the rat entered looking hungry and tired and distant.

“Shall I take your bed, m’lord?” Weasel said in a rehearsed manner.

“What a cheeky thing to say” the king rose from his desk. He sauntered over to Weasel and sniffed the nape of her neck. “Why that human perfume I had you put on suits you well.”

In a monotone voice she continued the charade “I mean – shall I take your bedding, m’lord.”

“Oh yes, of course, of course” the king snickered. “And next time, try to behave better around our guest.” Kidney Bean winced as he saw the king smack Weasel in her rear. Instinctively, Kidney Bean felt the impulse to tell the king to stop such harassment, but just as he opened his mouth, Weasel, with a weary, hardened expression, signaled him to remain silent. The king glared at Kidney Bean. “What are you still doing here? I said without delay!” Kidney Bean hurried himself out the king’s doorway and down a long stone hallway. Behind him trudged Weasel with a pile of the king’s bedding. Kidney Bean started to slow down as he heard her pattering behind him. He looked over his shoulder at Weasel whom wavered back and forth, unable to see above the pile in her hands. Kidney Bean rushed to her aid.

“Here. Let me help with that.” He rose on his hind legs to steady the tipping top of the pile, but he only stood for a moment before shrieking in pain. He fell back and the pile fell with him.

“Look what you have done! You have been no help at all.” She huffed seeing the king’s bedding sit in a heap on top of Kidney Bean. “Mind your own business.” She started gathering up the bedding in annoyance. She gathered sheet after sheet only pausing when she heard faint whimpers. She lifted the final sheet to find Kidney Bean softly cooing in pain.

“Are you alright?” Weasel’s face changed. She reached her fore-paw out to Weasel’s face, but he turned his face away.

“I’m…just fine.” Weasel quickly hid his teary residue away from Weasel’s view. “Please. I can do this job. I need this job. Don’t tell them I can’t.”

Weasel took a good look at him. She saw the ridges of his spine protrude outward in a curve, and walked around to face Weasel. “That must be painful. You are the delivery mouse?”

“Yes, how did you know?”

“The delivery mouse is assigned every week. I pay attention.” She said, matter-of-factly. “Plus, you have a bag.” Weasel gestured her paw to Kidney Bean’s bag. “That crooked spine of yours may slow you down a bit.”

“I can do this job” Kidney Bean protested.

“I’m not saying you can’t. I’m saying that your spine may slow you down a bit though. It’s dangerous out there.”

“Yeah, well I can do it! And what do you know any way? You are just a-” he paused.

“A rat?” Weasel raised her brow.

Kidney Bean rolled to his feet. “I was going to say chambermaid, actually-”

“Not by choice. It keeps me alive.”

Kidney Bean considered her answer. “I know what you mean. I’m just doing this job so I can eat. To tell you the truth, I didn’t really want the job, but it’s been three days since I have earned a portion.”

Weasel perked up as she heard approaching footsteps, the chinking sound of metal on stone, as a guardsman rounded the corner to where Kidney Bean and Weasel stood.

“Oi. What’s this? You two ‘avin’ a gossip session, or what?” the guardsman crossed his arms. “You shouldn’t be talkin’ to this one. She’s a right dumb wench, that one is. Only good for scrubbing pots and cleanin’ linens.” the guardsman chuckled.

Weasel eyed the guardsman with disdain. The linens in the air flew as she suddenly bounded straight for him. She charged, hitting him square in the chest plate with a resounding bang. The air released from his lungs in one hull. As Weasel impacted, the guardsman fell to the ground, eyes closed. Weasel backed away from him, shocked from her sudden outburst. She smelled around him. As she did she saw the subtle, steady rise and fall of the guardsman’s breathing.

“Not dead. Just unconscious. We have to move.”

Kidney Bean breathed rapidly. Weasel didn’t wait for an answer. She took Kidney Bean by the hand and started to drag him away. Weasel began to shriek “AAAAARRRRGGH! Please! Let me go!”

Weasel released him with a panicked warning, “If we stay here, we are done.”

“Okay, but let me go. The pain is too great.” Weasel nodded. Two guards came around the corner spotting Kidney Bean and Weasel.

“They must have heard your scream. We must hurry!” And Kidney Bean and Weasel hurried down corridor after corridor as the guards chased behind. They ducked under castle’s kitchen counters, leapt over the visiting mice touring the kingdom, and weaved around the grasping mouse guards. They made it to the outside of the kingdom. As the guardsmen sent word of an escaped rat, the head guardsman ordered the gatekeeper to lower the gate. The guards encircled Kidney Bean and Weasel in the castle courtyard. Weasel saw their moment of escape fade as the gate dropped to a close. She looked closer at the array of bars that made up the main gate.

“I think we can still climb it!” She yelled to Kidney Bean. Kidney Bean barreled after her and the two of them together leapt onto the gate, and climbed for their lives. The gatekeeper at the top of the castle fumbled for his crossbow. He shot it, and it sunk into Weasel’s leg. She faltered, bending in pain, but used her adrenaline to lift Kidney Bean from the gate onto the wall. Seeing the wound in Weasel’s leg, Kidney Bean jumped onto the gatekeeper. Having seized the crossbow from him, he held it to the gatekeeper’s face. The crossbow trembled under his nervous, untrained paws. Even with his trembling, the tip of the crossbow hovering only inches from the gatekeeper’s face instilled enough fear in the gatekeeper that he backed away. Kidney Bean stood paralyzed with fear at the sudden power he held over another creature.

Weasel grabbed the folds of Kidney Bean’s collar, “No time to waste! We have to jump – into that pile, there!” Off to the side, near the shadowed end of the drywall, she gestured to a mixed pile of candy bar wrappers and chip bags below them on the other side of the castle wall. She pulled Kidney Bean to the edge to prepare for the descent. Though Kidney Bean fought back against her tugging, for that was a long way to jump for a mouse with a degenerative spine, Weasel’s grip was strong and reassuring. In her face, he saw a focused, furrowed brow, the resoluteness of her kind, and with it the promise of her protection. Weasel lifted him onto her back, “hold on, tight” she said as she jumped with from the castle wall in agony. The arrow in her leg cut further into her muscle as she sprung. Arrows pelted after them from the guards who managed to scramble up onto the wall, but their arrows were frenzied arrows who missed their targets.

Down, down, down, down, much farther down than she anticipated she would go, Weasel and Kidney Bean went. With a great thud, they landed on a musty surface taking an empty chip bag with them on the way down. Weasel grimaced, taking the brunt of the fall, saving Kidney Bean from injury. Kidney Bean slid off her back as Weasel took a breather.

“Thank you” he said.

“It was nothing” Weasel attempted a smile, but as she did she revealed blood-stained teeth.

“You’re bleeding!” Kidney Bean exclaimed. He rushed to her side. She held a hand out to his chest to stop him. She spat blood from her mouth onto the musty surface.

“I’m fine. It’s just a little bit of blood.” She reassured.

“What about your leg?” He asked. He reached out a hand to the arrow sticking out of her leg.

“Don’t!” She cried turning her leg. She promptly broke off the stick of the arrow, so it would no longer prove a hazard for traveling. The point, however, stayed within her tissue.

“But it’s still in there. Hurting you!” Kidney Bean looked at Weasel with concern.

“I’ll fix it later!” She protested.

“It could get worse!”

“What do you know about it? Are you a medicine mouse?!”

Kidney Bean backed off, “No. I was only trying to help.”

“I can tough it out.”

“You don’t have to!”

“Well, unless you have some great idea on how you get this arrow out of me without my bleeding to death, that is the way it is!” Weasel crossed her arms and eyed him with that same self-assured, furrowed brow.



They turned away from one another, silently seething. Where could they be? Were they down Alice’s rabbit hole? It was hard to make out the surroundings. The darkness was heavy and unforgiving. But a crack from above, the above that they fell through, let in enough light to see some of the surface beneath their feet. Kidney Bean noted a dust-covered page beneath his feet covered in script.

“I believe we may be upon a book.” Kidney Bean said in a measured voice. He then blew the dust from the page beneath him. After a moment, Weasel began to laugh. Kidney Bean swallowed the impulse to awkwardly laugh along. “What’s so funny?” He asked.

“In the brief period we have met we have become outlaws, fallen down a great hole, landed on a book, and I don’t even know your name.”

Kidney Bean chuckled. “You’re right. My name is Kidney Bean.”

“Mine is Weasel”

Kidney Bean replied “That’s an odd name for a rodent.” Weasel dropped eye contact for a moment.

“It’s not my birth-given name, but I don’t go by that any more. I am no longer that little girl.”

Why hello. It seems we have a visitor.

Kidney Bean looked around into the darkness. “What was that? Did you hear something, Weasel?”

Into the light emerged a primordial looking-creature with searching antennae and a few pairs of cerci. The light glimmered off its metallic hued exoskeleton giving it an omniscient glow. Why have you come here my children? The creature did not speak in the normal way others spoke with sounds. Rather he gave off a sense, a feeling within the mind.

“We are not children!” Weasel said defensively, but just as she did, Kidney Bean skittered behind her for protection much like a child would.

We did not mean to offend. We are a peaceful kind.

The creature spoke of we even though there only appeared to be one creature present. It is not often that we see others. We are grateful for your company. Its antennae drew close to Weasel. Our eyesight is limited. We must also sense. May we sense you? And to Kidney Bean’s surprise, he saw Weasel slowly nod for she sensed their peaceful nature. Even she, though, as tough as she was, closed her eyes and held her breath at the tickle of antennae quickly reviewed her form. You are not from here. You have fallen a long way down. Weasel felt she should respond. She opened her mouth to speak, but the truth was she didn’t need to speak. She only needed to feel. She felt tears well up in her eyes. You are afraid. You are somewhere distant and you are afraid you may not find your way out. She fought back her tears as she so often did in the kingdom when she and the mouse king played out  their charade time and time again. You have been through a great deal. You are injured. Let me help you. Weasel backed away, no longer able to hide her tears, they rained down heavy. The creature backed off sensing Weasel’s apprehension.

Kidney Bean addressed the creature “Don’t take it personal. She wouldn’t let me help either. She has some real trust issues, I guess.”

The creature turned to Kidney Bean. I do not know what it is like. She shared some of her story with us, however, so that we may better understand. She is a brave rodent.

“What are you?” asked Kidney Bean. “I’ve never seen anything like you before.”

We are the silverfish. We are a private kind, so it’s no wonder you have not heard of us. We are of the arthropods. We think as one. We do not venture into the human domain but few times a year.  We do not need much food. We can subsist off cloth, papers, and the occasional sweet.

Weasel wiped the tears from her eyes. “How can we trust you?” She asked.

Your trust in us is up to you. We can mend you with our sweet.

Weasel didn’t answer. She just looked into the silverfish’s myriad of eyes like those which you might find on a fly and searched for honesty. After a few fidgets of its antennae, the silverfish scurried away out of the light and disappeared into the darkness.

“Wait, come back. She doesn’t mean it!” Kidney Bean cried. He moved to Weasel and shoved her shoulder slightly. “What did you do? He was going to help you!” Weasel said nothing, only sunk further into her own depression. “Before you were so confident. What’s happened to you? We will find our way out. We will. And we’ll find you help!” With one large grunt, Weasel attempted to rise from her seated position. She set her injured, left leg on the book and attempted to stand. The torrential pain triggered from her leg traveled to her brain and she cried out, louder than she ever had before.

“I can’t!”

“Yes, you can! If I can move, you can move!”

“NO – I can’t! It hurts too much. If I stand, it cuts me deeper.” Kidney Bean looked into her face and saw helplessness. He thought of his crooked back, and how helpless he had felt when he stood on his hind legs. He sat by her side and placed a hand on her shoulder. His tone changed to a soothing volume as he said, “We will wait then until you are ready.”

As they waited, they saw the familiar buggy antennae approach into the light.

“You’re back!” exclaimed Kidney Bean.

We are back with the sweet. On his back they saw a gooey, gold, gelatinous substance.

Kidney Bean turned to Weasel. “Did you do this somehow? Did you tell him to come back?”

She only had to trust and I would know. She decided to trust. And with that, the silverfish moved to attend to Weasel’s wound. Do you accept us? Weasel confirmed that she accepted it. This is going to feel strange, but you must trust us. Weasel felt that she trusted it, and so the silverfish arched its back and dug a pair of cerci into Weasel’s wound. Kidney Bean suddenly grew anxious. He wondered if the big bug was hurting her. He was content that this was the right thing to do though when he saw Weasel give him a slight nod to ensure him everything would be okay. The silverfish withdrew the arrow tip from Weasel’s leg. Both it and the cerci were coated in blood. The silverfish commanded Kidney Bean. Apply pressure to the wound. Kidney Bean did as commanded as the silverfish fixed a honey salve from the gelatinous substance on its back. The silverfish rubbed the salve into Weasel’s wound. She started to sigh in relief, and a slight smile appeared on Kidney Bean’s face. He was happy to see her pain relieved. It will still hurt, but it will heal.  Weasel thanked the silverfish.

After some lighthearted conversation, Weasel felt ready to stand again. The silverfish thanked them for their company and wished them well on their journey. Then it was gone.

She spoke to Kidney Bean. “It’s time we find you some food.” Kidney Bean remembered that he was indeed hungry. He had forgotten from being so worried about Weasel.

“Yes, we should find food.” Kidney Bean patted his growling tummy. 

“And you still have a job to do.”

“Don’t be silly” Kidney Bean joked. “There is no way that they will let me into the pest kingdoms now. Like you said, we’re outlaws.”

“Our other option is that we escape. But why escape alone? Why not take those who wish to live in freedom with us?” Weasel’s eyes appeared big to Kidney Bean as she spoke, so full of opportunity. This frightened Kidney Bean. He began to pace frantically.

“It sounds dangerous.”

“Sometimes doing the right thing is dangerous.” Weasel stood now, and walked into the darkness. From the darkness you could hear her voice growing distant as she asked Kidney Bean if he were coming with her.


The art gallery in Midtown, New York swarmed with bees. Not the kind that sting, per say, but the kind that buzz. They buzzed about how this symbolized that and how this actually was a metaphor for capitalism and how this color scheme meant to evoke that emotion and how this paint stroke had been painted purposefully for that effect. She hated bees. All bees ever seem to do was make honey and buzz.

Everyone’s a goddamn patron. She thought. She laughed softly, sloshing her pinot lazily in her glass, already way in with five servings.  Is every guest at the gallery too scared to be a contrarian? She wondered. It’s art. It’s subjective. Isn’t that the point?  On a sleek, maroon couch – the kind with cold, unforgiving, sharp edges – she sat slouching in her plain trench coat she never bothered to shed. She felt contained in her trench coat, and it was always easier to feel contained than exposed for Judith May.

“Excuse me” chirped an unfamiliar voice.

Judith looked up, away from the buzzing to find a woman. “You can sit here. There’s room.” Judith replied.

“Oh no, that’s not it.” After a brief pause, “Are you…Judith May? It’s just – I’ve been to all your exhibits. I feel like I would recognize you anywhere” gushed the fan.

“Yes, I’m – that’s me.”

“I’m sorry. If you’re trying to stay under the radar, I can just go-” but the fan sat down beside Judith anyway much to Judith’s dismay. “I just now had the courage to come and speak with you. I had to down two glasses of wine just to do it. You probably don’t know what that’s like.”

Judith chugged the rest of her pinot. If I don’t know what it’s like, I certainly know what it’s like now. She looked around for an end table on which to set the glass, but found none. She resolved to awkwardly place the glass on the floor while slyly looking for an escape route. 

“If you had a moment, I was wondering if I could talk to you about your paintings?”

“Which ones?” she said as if the prospect of being congenial felt tedious. 

“The series with the townhome. Shall we walk over?”

Judith looked once again for an exit, but the art gallery was packed with bees. The noise was incredible – an incessant hum from the ones who wish to be closer to culture but have too much money and too much time – time spent on the fleeting, the material, the instant gratification – the ones who would rather pay to have culture made for them then make anything for themselves, the ones who blindly praise culture for fear that their negative opinion may make them come across uncultured, the ones Judith found were a necessary evil, the ones who could help sweeten the world as long as she didn’t piss on their patronage. Their honey kept her fed, but the pollen in the air from their propagation caused her throat to swell.

“I suppose” Judith said flatly. “I can’t leave just yet.”

The fan laughed as if the two of them were best friends  “I hear you, girl. I need time to settle from the drinks too.”

Judith veered her gaze from the woman, aloof, as the pair walked over to a series of paintings entitled Home. Each panel featured a single townhouse, and each panel showed the same single, solitary townhouse in progressive stages of decay. The townhouse was gray, painted in expressive brushstrokes the way one felt it more than saw it clearly. A partly cloudy sky surrounded the townhome, enveloping it in a familiar but otherworldly backdrop for the entire town home floated in this sky – suspended, yet still feeling the constraints of time. In each panel the house chipped away until the last panel featured only a barren foundation.

“What’s the meaning behind this series?” the fan inquired.

Judith guided her to the plaque on the wall describing the series, “You can read the description here on the wall.”

The fan laid a hand on Judith’s shoulder. “Oh, but I wanted to hear it from you. What does it mean to you?”

“I think what it means to you, and how you interpret it for yourself is far more important” Judith cut their conversation, and started to lean out, the type of leaning out one does when one has reached the climax of a conversation, when there is nothing left to talk about, and all time beyond the point feels stalled.

“I was told it was something…personal” remarked the fan.

And in that woman’s eyes, Judith saw burning. She saw a reflection of flames in her irises. Fire. The inescapable heat. Judith’s lungs burned and her skin began to shrivel up as if de-atomizing, an instantaneous combustion into nothingness. She tried to yell out, but only choked instead. If only she were able snuff herself out like a wick and suffocate the flames, she might stand a chance. It was all going away so fast. From squinted eyes she saw all that was before her aflame in a hellish tableau, the building collapsing around, its occupants flailing in chaos all with no sound except for the incessant ringing in her ears.

She closed her eyes, accepting death.

With a gasp, Judith popped up from the angular couch. Breathing heavily, she checked herself for burns, but found none.

A slender, chic woman approached Judith dressed in black appearing just as angular as the maroon couch. She was taller than most women with broader shoulders than most too, and muscular arms. She spoke with a low, but lightweight, feathery voice, “Honey, you need to go home. I called you a cab.”

Judith looked around to find the guests filing out of the gallery. I slept through the whole thing. She looked up at the gallery owner. “Yes, thank you.”

The owner spoke thickly with a hint of smugness, “Next time, if you want to sell some damn paintings, don’t drink so much damn wine, and talk to some damn patrons. Are you okay? You look ill. You better not throw up in that damn cab, or they’ll charge you, girl.”

“I just had a bad dream” Judith said softly as she rose from the couch.

In the cab, Judith pecked her hand through her shoulder-bag purse, a suddenly hyperactive hen. She pulled out a crumpled stack of money, every bit that was left in her purse, and waved it near the driver’s right ear.

“Take me to Jersey” She said.

She spelled out the address to the man. Together they drove in silence. It was late, almost midnight, as they approached a small, sparsely populated neighborhood in Jersey. As the taxi driver approached the residential area, he passed one young man on a bike. The bicyclist stopped and stared at Judith.

“Know that guy?” the driver inquired with a gruff accent.

“No” Judith replied, concerned. She stared back at the young man, and her breath caught in her throat. 

“He’s sure looking at you like he knows you.”

Judith looked closer at the young man’s face, far too closely to be considered polite. Something was not quite right. She cocked her head forward, giving into innate childlike curiosity, pressing a hand to the backseat window. As the taxi turned the corner, the young man took a few measured steps forward into the wash of a nearby street lamp. And then she saw it, the thing that was not quite right, for this man was missing both eyes.

Judith turned swiftly back into her sitting position, and took a deep breath. It’s late. You saw shadows. She slowly peered back out the window to find the young man wheeling his bike home in the opposite direction. She could no longer see his face, only the back of his head.

The cab driver finally approached to a ramshackle, ashen townhouse at the end of the neighborhood with boarded up windows. He pulled the taxi over to the curb directly in front of the house.

He hesitated before he asked “you sure this is the place?”

“Yes” she answered as she exited the car.

The cab driver stalled by the curb watching Judith walk up the front porch steps. Once she unlocked the door and stepped inside, the cab driver took off. Judith stood in an empty entrance-way looking at an emptier living room off to her right. The floorboards creaked as she walked toward the fireplace above which sat an old painted portrait of a couple lost in time. Somehow the woman looked familiar. She knew her, and yet maybe she didn’t. But maybe one day she would. As for the man, she didn’t know him either. However, she felt the similar sensation of deja vu if deja vu could be reversed or manipulated by time and space. That is, if one could feel deja vu for something they will experience rather than something they have experienced.  She brushed her hand lightly across the mantle, rubbing the forgotten dirt between her thumb and fingers. The dirt lingered on her fingertips along with something else, something much more sinister in nature.

“Soot” she whispered to herself.

A snap. A flash. She lit up again, burning, screaming. Then she was back.

Beep. Beep. Beep. She heard it like a metronome never skipping a beat followed by whirring, and the faint image of something. People? Moving about with some kind of equipment?

She gasped as her focus returned to the mantle. She held onto it as if to ground herself to it indefinitely. What’s happening to me?

She heard a stern knock on the door. Three times. BANG. BANG. BANG. She released her grip on the mantle, and backed toward the corner of the living room. BANG. BANG. BANG. The knocking persisted, impatient.

“Leave!” She commanded, yet the incessant knocking continued. BANG. BANG. BANG. BANG. BANG. BANG.

“Please stop!” Then there was silence.

Just as Judith released her held breath, the front door handle began to vibrate with great ferocity. Judith tried to leap, to block the door, but it was too late. The door eased open in an ominous fashion. What stood in the door frame was what looked to be a human on its last limb of life somehow remarkably standing where it stood with a gaping hole where the heart resides. The woman raised a hand at her. In a panic, Judith slammed the door in the woman’s face offering her just enough time to head toward the back door, which she somehow knew the location to, though, she didn’t know how or why.

She ran.

As she opened the screen door to the back, the teenage boy with no eyes walked up the steps, and for the first time he spoke.

“Give me your eyes so that I may see.”

She scrambled away from him back toward the front door, sandwiching herself between two creatures of mysterious origin.

The woman spoke, “Give me your heart so that I may love.”

They reached their arms out for her, for what was inside of her. What was her. They were too fast. It was all too fast, and with his bare fingers he plunged into her eye sockets to take what he deemed his. The woman dug through the flesh and bone to get to the life-giving organ deemed hers. And in that moment, there was peace. Time. What was time? It felt as if in that moment, time was suspended, everything was suspended and floating on a cloud, and she would be floating on that cloud, forever to be disassembled. In this twilight, she began to understand what she was and what she would be. 

The flames came back, engulfing her into the present light, a fluorescent light which hung above her as she laid on a gurney. She saw people in face masks and white uniforms crowding around her. There was a man by her side. She thought of the townhome. It wasn’t her home, but maybe someday it could be and would be. In the twilight sleep between life and death she saw that someday she would be something people would admire, but it would make her bitter, cold, and alone. And for the first time in a long time, she reached out to a nearby hand…

Until her hand began to spark and the buzzing filled her ears.