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Cataloged in Scary Stories

There’s Something Messed Up With The Claw Machine At Parkland Lanes

The neon orange sign outside the building made a buzzing sound like a swarm of mosquitos. The “D” in “Parkland Lanes” flickered on and off, and a bird had made a nest of twigs and trash in the second “A.” Beneath the name, small block letters read, “Home of the best burger in a bowling alley.”

I leaned against the sign pole and waited for Karina and Olivia. The parking lot had a few smattering of cars, mostly junkers. A slimy green Toyota Camry pulled into the parking space directly in front of me. The car had a pair of fuzzy black and white dice that swayed back and forth from the rearview mirror and a large crack crawled across the driver’s side of the windshield. The crack glistened in the orange glow and obscured my view of the driver. I could see the flame of a lighter spark and inflammation as a cigarette was lit. I shifted to the other side of the pole to avoid conversation. My breath hitched slightly as I heard the driver door creak open, and I thought about walking inside, but I stayed planted against the cement pole. I ran the rubber toe of my pink converse against the wet asphalt, and it made a pleasant “squeeaaak.”

I heard a few hushed whispers from behind me, followed by a deeper, husky laugh. I pulled my sweater closer to my chest and pretended to check my phone for updates. The group of guys rounded the corner shouting a cacophony of expletives and cackling with gritty laughter. The one near the front carried a bowling bag and wore a black t-shirt that read, “If you’re reading this, you’re stupid.” The one in the middle jumped across a puddle in the indented asphalt, his red and black bowling shirt catching the wind and lifting up over his gut which laid across the top of his belt like elbows on a bar counter. The one in the back held the cigarette between his lips and gave me a quick nod, without making eye contact. He had black hair that was so shiny from pomade, it glittered with fluorescent glow. Despite the aggressive hair product, he had soft, hesitant eyes, and cheekbones that sliced across his face. It was clear he had some good genetics, but he wore a white v-neck that had shrunk into a box shape, jeans that hung too loosely on his narrow frame and a pleather jacket that frayed white fuzz at the edges.

Graphic T and Bowling Pro walked inside, while Leather Jacket fell behind to finish off his cigarette. He leaned up against the white brick building with a bloom of gray smoke. His eyes shifted to a car pulling into the parking lot and then over to me. I gave him a tight smile, the kind where the sides of your lips pull into a crescent, but you don’t reveal your teeth. He nodded toward me again and took another drag, shifting his view to his black boots. I slid back around the pole to face the parking lot again. I glanced at my phone, hoping to see an “almost there” text from Olivia, but the screen was blank. I heard footsteps again, and I thought about turning around, but I just leaned my head against the cement and stared at the black sky.

“Hey,” Leather Jacket said.

I let my head fall down from the sky, and I slid halfway back around the pole, so I could see him out of the corner of my eye.

“What’s up?” I asked, my voice slipping into coldness.

“What are you doing out here?”

“I’m waiting,” I replied.

“For Godot?” he laughed.

“You completed high school English,” I began. “Color me impressed.”

His eyes lazily moved to meet mine, and a smile broke through his lips.

“Ah, I get it,” he said.

I waited for his reply, pulling my arms tightly around my middle

“You’re one of those mean girls,” he finished.

“No,” I started, my voice faltered as it left my lips. “I’m not.”

“Oh?”

“Sorry I’m not super friendly to strange men who confront me in dark parking lots,” I replied, and I knew immediately, it sounded too defensive. I went from ice-cold bitch queen to whiney stereotype in one swoop of my tongue. My stomach turned and a tight pain gripped between my chest. Another smile curved across his lips when he knew my guard had dropped, and he ran a hand through his slick hair as if to pregame my cool girl demise.

“This is hardly a dark parking lot,” he said, opening his arms and spinning his body around in the orange glow, his boots crunching against the dark asphalt. And the boxy white t-shirt moved up as he stretched up toward the dark sky, revealing a line of soft milky skin stretched across his hip bones.

“Do you want to just start over?” I asked, sheepishly, and I immediately hated myself for it.

“I do,” he said. “But I’m not a masochist, baby.”

Then, he walked away from me and flicked his cigarette butt into a flower bed near the entrance.

“You’re not a masochist, but you are murdering the environment,” I yelled after him. He shook his head without turning around, and I thought I heard him give me a pity chuckle.

At this point in my life, I was pretty intimately acquainted with men walking away from me. I thought my boyfriend, Todd, was going to marry me after college, but instead, he told me last Wednesday, “I just think we’re moving in different directions.” I was moving toward a new show on Netflix and he was moving toward every girl left at the bar at 2am.

I heard the engine of a car grumble near me, and I slid back around the pole to face it.

“You’ve resorted to yelling at strangers,” Olivia yelled from the passenger side of the gold Jeep Wrangler.

“You’re late,” I said, ducking my head down to try to conceal my inflamed cheeks.

Karina parked the car, and Olivia flung the driver door open with a metal groan, swinging her legs out first. I could see through the back window as Karina ran a hand through her hair and checked her lipstick in the rearview mirror, pausing to wink at me.

“So…” Olivia began. “What was that about?”

I shook my head and lifted my hand to wave off the comment.

Olivia had curly, chocolate brown hair that piled on the top of her head and a rainbow scarf wrapped around the base of her skull and pulled into a bow at the top. She had large brown eyes and an infectious smile that revealed her perfectly straight teeth. She had a habit of resting her tongue on her top line of her teeth when she smiled and the action dripped in soft innocence. Karina was measured and sharp like her name. She had a crisp white button down tied above her dark high-waisted jeans and the thinnest landscape of her flat stomach could be seen above the waist. Her hair fell into bouncy waves, and each side of her face was flanked in delicate ringlets.

“I love your sweater,” Karina said, walking a circle around me to examine my outfit. The sweater was a soft off-white and the neck stretched into a wide oval revealing my collarbones. The back of the sweater dipped low, so you could see the middle of my back, and I had to MacGyver a strapless bra to sit under the plunging collar. When I’d leaned against the pole, I felt the cool cement rest between my shoulders and the residual rain dripped onto my spine.

I smiled at Karina, and I was pleased she liked my outfit. Karina was a friend who did not hand out gratuitous compliments. Most days, she would smile at me with tight lips and raise her eyebrow at my outfit. When Todd left, I wondered if she thought it was my fault. Olivia was the perfect juxtaposition to Karina. She was always warm, and if she hated you, you would probably never know.

“Ohhhhh!” Olivia squealed, as she saw the back of my sweater. “You are looking for a man tonight, yes.” She jumped up in down a couple times as the words left her lips.

Karina smiled too, and wrapped her arm around my shoulder.

“You are not allowed to go home with anyone from a bowling alley,” she whispered. I laughed and nodded in agreement. Olivia skipped next to us and pulled her arm around my other shoulder, and we laughed, allowing the middle of our bodies buckle over in the buzzing orange glow, and for a moment, I forgot about the cavernous hole in my chest. I forgot what it felt like to be alone and let my mouth hang open; my lips jumping with hiccupy-giggles.

The bowling alley had a wall of glass windows that were fogged up in dirty moisture from the evaporating rain. Olivia pulled the door open, and I heard the distant sounds of 80’s rock and the piercing dinging of arcade games. The carpet was dark gray with swirls of rainbow constellations and small white dots of stars. You could see a path of matted carpet that led up to the counter. The air smelled like Lysol and old french fries, and I could see the girl behind the counter spray the lemon sanitizer into a pair of gray and red bowling shoes. She coughed as she inhaled the residual mist, and droplets of spit exited her mouth as she hacked. I gulped back the rising bile in my throat and turned toward Karina. She had an amused smile across her face and leaned her elbows onto the counter.

The girl, once she finished coughing, realized we were waiting, and she turned toward us, wiping her mouth on her arm. My eyes widened, and I elbowed Olivia’s ribs as she giggled.

“Need shoes?” she asked.

“Apparently,” Karina replied. “Size seven for me.”

“Six for me,” Olivia piped up.

“Eight and a half,” I said softly.

“No half sizes,” the girl replied. “You want a nine?”

“I’ll take an eight,” I replied, and my cheeks started to go warm again.

She handed over the shoes, and they smelled ripe with old feet and overuse. I dangled the shoes at my sides, holding onto them with just my fingertips.

“You’re on lane three,” the girl replied.

I ran my eyes down the neon blue numbers above the lanes and pulled my sight down as I reached three. I could see Graphic T gyrating his hips in a victory dance at lane four. My stomach tightened, and Karina pulled my arm with a painful yank toward our spot. Olivia flashed a smile at Leather Jacket, and his eyes darted toward her and then moved up toward mine.

“Parking lot guy!” Olivia said. She pulled me into a side hug and added, “Was my friend here harassing you?”

“What can I say?” he said and ran his tongue across his lips to wet them. “She can’t stay away from me.”

I let out a huff and leaned against the cabinet holding multi-colored bowling balls and kicked off my sneakers. I pulled the hem of my socks up my leg, so they were taught against my feet. I crammed my toes into the small shoes, ignoring the feeling of neighboring toenails cutting into the soft skin of my adjacent toes. When I tied the shoes, loosely, and tried to walk, my feet screamed in discomfort, and I pulled my face into mannequin-esque composure.

“Do you want a beer?” Karina asked as she walked toward the bar in the far right corner. Neon signs read, “BEER, BEER, BEER & MORE BEER.”

I nodded, and added, “I’ll come with you.” I could feel Leather Jacket’s eyes on my back, so I painfully tiptoed up the carpeted stairs toward Karina. The bar smelled like smoke, and green pool tables glistened with greasy moisture in the dim Budweiser lights. The bartender turned toward us, and his gray ponytail whipped back and forth as he filled beer glasses. The top of his head was beginning to bald, but the last couple strands were still pulled into slick lines and secured with a rubber band.

“What do you want?”

“Do you have a menu?” Karina asked.

“No,” the man replied and laughed.

I felt a hand on the exposed skin of my back and turned to see Leather Jacket behind me. He traced his fingers softly down my vertebrae.

“Put them on tab 14, Jerry” Leather Jacket cooed.

Karina ordered us two Blue Moons, and I turned toward Leather Jacket and softly removed his hand from my back.

“Being on a first-name basis with the bowling alley bartender is definitely a red flag,” I replied. Karina laughed and leaned against the wood bar counter.

Leather Jacket smiled, taking my hand into his and tracing the lines in my palm. I thought about pulling away, but I didn’t.

“Here you go,” the bartender bellowed, and I pulled my hand out of his.

The glass was still warm from the dishwasher, but the beer still clung on to a bit of cold. I took a sip and licked the foam off my lips.

“You’re going to get me in trouble,” Leather Jacket said, watching me drink. “I can feel it.”

“You,” I said, and pointed my finger into his chest. “Are already trouble.”

He smiled as the words left my lips, and he turned to walk back toward Lane 4.

“Listen,” Karina began, pausing to take a sip of her beer. “I know you’re in a major rebound phase, but I really don’t think picking up trash at a bowling alley is going to make you feel better.”

“Karina-” I began, but she cut me off.

“And if you’re doing this to get even with Todd, trust me, he will not be impressed with this,” the last word dripped with sharpness as it left her lips. And she tilted her head over to Leather Jacket who had draped himself across the small bowling table and laughed as Graphic T granny rolled a ball down the alley with his butt positioned high in the air, revealing an old pair of gray briefs.

“You know I’m the friend who is going to tell you how it is,” she continued. “So don’t be over dramatic about this. I’m just watching out for you.”

I was going to say something back, but instead, I just bit my lip and waited for her to walk away. I took a deep sip of my beer and leaned my back into the wooden bar.

“Hey, sweetheart,” the bartender let out a throaty growl. “You’re blocking my order window, so unless you’re poaching another round off of pretty boy over there, you need to go play hard-to-get somewhere else.”

I rolled my eyes and pushed myself off the bar. I walked toward the lanes, and Olivia was pretending to be a ballerina, raising up on her tiptoes and spinning in a clumsy pirouette against the slick wood floors. The boys at Lane 4 laughed and clapped for her, and she bowed, letting out a high-pitched giggle. Karina hung back by the shelves of bowling balls. Her face illuminated in blue light from her cellphone. Leather Jacket turned toward me as I walked over with my beer. I placed it on the counter, and I looked up at the screen.

“You’re up,” Olivia chimed. I went over the shelves and picked out a light blue 8lb ball. The holes were smooth as I slid my fingers into the crevices and carried it over to the lane. I didn’t really care about my performance, so I just let the ball swing out of hand sloppily. It hit the wooden lane hard and it wavered back and forth until it gave up and fell straight into the gutter. I shrugged without turning around.

“Come on,” Leather Jacket cooed from behind me. “I expected more out of you than that.”

I turned toward him, and I didn’t smile. I just replied softly, “Well, that was a mistake.”

“You have another turn,” Olivia said, and she jumped up from her seat to wrap an arm around me. She smiled and softly tapped the side of her head against mine.

“You okay?” she whispered into my ear.

“I’m fine,” I replied, and I fake smiled as I saw Karina’s eyes dance toward mine. I quickly removed her from my line of vision and waited for my ball to reappear at the return system. With a choky cough, my ball vomited out of the mouth of the system, and I scooped it up.

Leather Jacket stood up and walked toward me.

“Here’s the key,” he said, taking my hand into his. “You have to face your thumb in the direction you want the ball to go. Now, let the ball swing like you’re going to throw it.”

And I left my arm swing heavy with the weight, and he twisted my arm slightly, so my thumb pointed down the middle.

“Try that,” he said, and he smiled at me. I didn’t smile back, but I released the ball from my hand, and it slid down the middle of the lane, toppling over a smattering of pins.

“‘Atta girl!” he cheered from behind me.

“Thank you,” I said as I walked back toward my seat. My lip tried to curve up to a smile, but I pressed it back down into a firm grimace. Leather Jacket’s eyes sunk when he looked at me, and I felt a pang of regret beneath my ribs, but I swallowed that too and turned away.

“Kitty Kat,” Olivia cooed. “You’re up.”

Karina lifted one eye from her phone and shook her head.

“I’ll pass,” she replied.

That pain in my ribs resurfaced, but this time it inflamed with heat and anger.

Leather Jacket lifted his eyes toward me, and his forehead creased into delicate lines. I shrugged and took a sip of my beer. Olivia walked toward Karina. When she was close enough, she grasped her hand and pulled her toward the lane. Karina finally relented and dropped her phone into her back pocket. She picked up a 10lb ball and aimlessly threw it down the lane, pausing to bow as she turned back toward us. Graphic T cheered for her when her ball knocked over three pins. I rolled my eyes behind her back, and I could see Leather Jacket smile at me through the corner of my eye. She didn’t take her second turn, and instead, she walked toward the neon lights and carnival music of the arcade.

“Livvvvvvy,” she called from behind a machine. “Bring me some quarters.”

Olivia smiled at me as she dug through her purse for change.

“Wanna come?” she asked.

“Nah,” I replied and leaned against the table, chugging the last amber liquid of my beer.

“Okaaaay,” Olivia replied, peeking over at Leather Jacket and winking at me.

I watched her bounce toward the arcade, her hand jingling with Karina’s requested quarters.

“You want a refill?” Leather Jacket asked, appearing in front of me. He stepped forward, so there were only a few inches between us.

I swooped my eyes up toward him, allowing my lashes flutter once as I adjusted my vision. I pressed my lips together in a tight smirk and nodded.

“You’re gonna need it – to deal with that one,” he said, nodding toward the arcade.

I grunted out a laugh and followed him toward the bar. He swayed to the pounding rock music as he walked ahead of me, almost tripping over a pair of abandoned shoes. I laughed as he fell forward, catching himself just barely, and he turned toward me. His eyes glimmered with flecks of the disco ball as it spun overhead. He let his mouth drop into a smile and he grabbed my waist, pulling me into his slender frame.

“Umm,” I began. “What are you doing?”

“Don’t worry,” he whispered. “Queen bee can’t see you from here.”

I rolled my eyes and pushed away from him.

“I don’t care about her,” I replied.

“Clearly,” he snorted.

Leather Jacket turned away from me and laid his arms across the lacquered bar counter.

“Jerry, my man,” he began. “We need another round.”

Jerry grunted from across the bar, as he sprayed soda water into a glass. He dropped a small black straw into the clear liquid and dug his hand into a plastic container. His hand reappeared with a thin lime wedge, and he balanced it carefully on the rim of the glass. He pulled a black napkin from the acrylic holder on the bar, placed the plastic glass atop and slid it across to a woman sitting in the far, left corner. Her hair was a bright, plastic blonde that was teased into puffy, cloud-like waves. We made eye contact briefly, but I slid my eyes away when she took a sip and smiled with yellow and browning teeth. Jerry returned with two beers, filled so high the foam spilled over the edge. Leather Jacket bent over to suck some of the foam off the top. I just let the beer splash over my hand as I took a sip. I looked up at Leather Jacket, and he was eyeing me as I licked the foam off my lips. He took a step toward me, and I took a step back.

“What are you so afraid of?” he asked.

“Strangers at gross bowling alleys,” I replied.

He laughed and draped an arm around me as we walked back toward our lane. I pushed his arm off when we got within eyesight of the other boys.

“I need another quarter,” Karina squealed from the arcade. I fished through my purse and found two quarters floating by a packet of gum and a receipt from the bookstore.

I walked into the arcade, and Karina had her nose pressed up against the glass of a claw machine. The neon lights danced across her hair, and she bounced anxiously as she eyed the stuffed animals inside the game.

“Here you go,” I said, dropping the quarters into her extended palm. She didn’t turn away from the machine.

“I think I can get this one,” she said, her voice rising in pitch with excitement. I began to walk away, and she added, “Thanks Meg.”

I turned back toward her, and I smiled. She twisted her head around to meet my eyes.

“I know I can be harsh,” she said. “But really, I just love you. You know that right?”

“Sure, Kitty Kat,” I said, using Olivia’s nickname for her. “I know that.”

She turned back toward the game, and I walked back toward our table. Leather Jacket was walking toward the lane with a black bowling ball hanging from his fingers. He lined the ball up, and he swung it down the lane, allowing his right leg to dip behind his left. The ball hit the middle of the pins with force, and they fell over with clatter and a roar from the two other boys as the last pin toppled to the ground. Leather Jacket lifted his hand to the air, swung it back down and hissed, “Yesssss.”

“Well, look at you,” I said, and he turned to face me. “You’re a professionalllll.” I allowed the last syllable to draw out with mocking.

He laughed, and his cheeks turned a soft crimson.

“I’d like to see you try and beat that,” he said.

“Eh,” I turned toward the lanes and shook my head.

“Yeah,” his voice sounding dejected. “You wouldn’t want your snobby friends to see.”

As the words left his lips, I heard a girl squeals from the arcade.

“Meggie baby,” Karina cooed. “I won.”

“You better go shower her with roses,” Leather Jacket spat. “Meggie baby.”

I rolled my eyes, and I walked toward the arcade. As I turned the corner, Karina shoved a plush animal into my arms.

“Here babe,” she said. “This is for you.”

I pulled the stuffed animal away from my chest, so I could inspect it.

It was small and slender, covered in scratchy gray fur. It had big oval ears with pale peach fuzz inside. Its cartoon eyes were made of rigid plastic and colored a sapphire blue. It had a stiff flesh-colored nose and a small stitched black line for a mouth with little felt teeth that fell out of its maw in points. It was wearing a small pair of denim jeans that had faux stitched pockets and a black plastic button. Above the jeans, it donned a ridged white wife beater with the name, “Tony” in cursive stitched in gold thread. It wasn’t wearing shoes, but instead, it had little humanoid feet with long white felt nails, like the sharp little teeth.

“What the hell…” I said, as I looked at the doll. “What is it?”

“A monkey?” Olivia piped up.

“It’s a mouse,” Karina replied. “Duh.”

“God, it’s freaking weird,” I said.

Karina laughed and shoved the animal toward me again.

“It’s for you,” she replied. “Because I was a bitch.”

“No, thank you,” I said laughing. “I’d rather be angry at you.”

“It’s a gift,” she said in between giggles. “You have to take it.”

I rolled my eyes and shoved the little creature under my arm, so I didn’t have to look at it.

When we reached our table, the boys were finishing up their round. I watched Leather Jacket gulp down the rest of his beer and take off his bowling shoes. I threw the stuffed animal on the table and fell back into one of the swivel chairs.

“Yeah, let’s get out of here,” Karina said toward Olivia.

“Can you give me a ride home?” I asked.

Karina gave me a small frown and turned to Olivia as if to communicate something with glances.

“Wish we could, babe,” she said. “But you’re the opposite direction, and I said I’d meet David by 9.”

“Do you want my Uber code?” she added.

“Nah, I’m fine,” I said, adjusting my vision toward my shoes. I felt my eyes filling with water.

“I’m sorry, Meg,” she started again. “We will totally pay for bowling since we have to abandon you.”

“Thanks,” I replied without looking up. Karina walked toward the front counter, and Olivia paused to give me a side hug and an empathetic look. I pulled my phone out of my pocket and pulled up Uber.

“I can give you a ride home,” I heard Leather Jacket say from behind me.

“I don’t know…” I replied.

“Listen,” he said again, dropping his voice to a hushed whisper. “How about I just drop you at the top of your street, and I can drive away. I’ll never know where you live.”

“Fine,” I replied. “But only because I have like $27 in my checking account.”

He smiled at me, and I went to untie my bowling shoes.

“Do I need to write my social security number in sharpie all over my body?” I asked.

“Why?”

“In case you chop me up.”

“You can do whatever makes you feel comfortable,” he laughed. “But I’d worry more about identity fraud than me murdering you.”

“What’s this?” he said, looking at the stuffed animal I’d left on the table.

“Oh, that’s Tony” I said. “Karina won that, and she gave it to me.”

“Yikes,” he replied and threw it toward me.

I laughed and let it drop to the ground. As I pulled off my bowling shoe, I felt a pounding by my temple, and I began to hear a ringing in my ears. I pulled my hands to my head and rubbed the sides of my forehead. I shook my head back and forth, and the ringing subsided.

“You okay?” Bowling Pro asked me.

“Yeah,” I said. “Think all the blood just rushed to my head.”

I stood up, and I tripped forward a step as my body swayed like a wave.

“Whoa there,” Leather Jacket said grabbing my elbow to keep me from falling.

“How much did you drink?” he asked, and I heard the question, but the ringing in my ears surged in volume again. And I pulled my hands up to my ears and folded my body down to my thighs.

“I only…” I began. “I only had two beers.”

I pulled my arm out of his, and my body rocked forward a few steps. The ringing increased, and the lights from the disco ball overhead were making my eyes begin to cross.

“Did you drug me?” I asked as I backed away from the boys.

“What?” Leather Jacket said breathlessly. “Of course I didn’t”

My stomach lurched with my motion, and I felt the burn of bile climb up my throat.

“I’m gonna be sick,” I mumbled as I tried to walk toward the bathroom. My body, feeling so heavy with weight, slammed against the other tables as staggered forward. I made it up the first two carpeted steps, but then, my body convulsed, and I vomited green and yellow swirls onto the carpet.

“You need to get her out of here,” I heard Jerry scream from behind the bar.

Leather Jacket grabbed my arm and stuffed the plush animal into Graphic T’s bag. The ringing still pierced my ears, and I walked by the girl at the counter, pleading with my eyes for her to help me. She stared at me for a moment, but dropped her stare as Leather Jacket continued to push me toward the exit. My vision was beginning to go fuzzy. Graphic T appeared at my other side and grabbed flailing arm. They drug me toward the parking lot as my pink sneakers scraped lifelessly against the asphalt.

“Do you have someone I can call?” Leather Jacket asked, still holding me up.

“No,” I gulped and began to cry.

“Okay,” he said. “I think I’m going to call 911?” He asked it as a question, his voice shaky.

I didn’t respond as the ringing increased in volume, and suddenly, I heard myself groan out loud. When they loosened their grip with surprise, I fell onto my knees and screamed into the sidewalk beating my palms against the cement until they ached. I could hear the boys whispering back and forth.

Beneath the ringing, I heard a voice. It started off quiet, like a whisper underneath the throbbing, but then, it got louder. It was a squeaky little voice, like something from a cartoon.

“Don’t let them call 911,” it said.

And I wanted to ask it why, but the ringing was so loud, and I strained my ears to hear it speak against the relentless pounding.

Don’t let them call 911. Don’t let them call 911. Don’t let them call 911.

The ringing got louder and louder, and I looked up to see Leather Jacket had begun dialing a number in his phone, the worry lines on his face accentuated in the blue light.

“No,” I screamed, my voice was scratchy and ragged from vomiting. “Don’t call 911.”

“What do you want me to do?” he asked, his voice pleading.

You don’t want to go home with him, the voice said. Tell them to walk away.

I shook my head in response, but the voice continued, Tell them to walk away. Tell them to walk away. Tell them to walk away.

“Walk away,” I groaned, and the ringing subsided a little.

“What?” Leather Jacket said. “I’m not going to leave you like this.”

Tell him to leave. Tell him to leave. Tell him to leave.

“Please,” I begged him; my eyes shimmering with almost tears. “Just go.” And as the words left my lips, the ringing grew quieter.

“Leave,” I repeated.

He shook his head, and he knelt down next to me. The ringing surged back to life, and I screamed, “LEAVE.”

He took a few steps back from me and turned toward his friends. They shrugged. The ringing began to die down again, and I took a shaky breath. I lifted myself off the ground.

He started walking toward his car, and he paused to look back at me.

You better get him to drive away, the voice said. And I lifted my head toward Leather Jacket, and I waved him on. He walked backwards, but his face was twisted with regret.

“Go,” I added more sternly this time.

He got into the driver door of the Camry, and he started the engine. It roared to life, and the voice asked, Are you forgetting something? The headlights flickered to life, and the car began to pull out of the parking lot. He paused again to look back at me and the ringing flooded my ears again, and I quickly turned away from the car. I heard the car continue forward, and my body relaxed. The ringing had almost completely subsided when I heard a metallic crunch. I turned my head to see the green Camry spin into oncoming traffic as another car pelted it. Through the window, I could see Leather Jacket’s head slam into the steering wheel as the airbag deployed making his neck snap back with force. As the car lunged forward, I saw Bowling Pro’s body hurdle through the glass windshield. His fat gut getting wedged between the glass shards and his head rapping the hood of the car like trampoline. I heard screaming as other cars squealed to a stop. Leather Jacket’s head laid lifelessly against the airbag, and blood from Bowling Pro’s skewered gut began to pool on the dashboard. I heard a deep groan from the passenger side, and I watched as Graphic T lift his head to look at his friends. He began to scream so loud it echoed across the parking lot, dissipating into a haunting howl.

I turned away from the accident, and I put my hands over my ears, so I could muffle the wavering screams. When I heard Graphic T’s screams begin to quiet and soften, I turned to face the car again, peeking out between my fingers, as his head fell forward with dead weight.

I began to walk toward the car as other drivers swarmed the scene, checking the limp bodies for a pulse. I walked around the car, examining the deep, jagged indentions from the crash. I ran my fingertips against the now cracked paint. The black dice hanging in the rearview mirror still rocked back and forth with residual motion. I let my hand dance across the curves and craters of the left-side of the car until I reached the shiny red plastic of the brake light. I paused to look around, but most of the crowd was focused on pulling Leather Jacket’s bruised body from the smashed front seat. I opened the trunk with a muffled click, and the soft gray interior illuminated with artificial yellow hues from a plastic light in the ceiling. My mind floated to the vision of Leather Jacket spinning with his arms spread in the parking lot, his body dipped in the sticky orange glow. I let my eyes drift over to his body lying on the concrete sidewalk, and that same light now washed over his mangled frame. I watched a woman press on his chest and cry softly as she blew air into his lips, bright red with the blood bubbling out of his mouth. I turned my attention back to the trunk. Bowling Pros leather bag laid toppled over. I pushed the bag upright, and I pulled the small stuffed animal out of the front pocket and shoved it face-first into my purse.

“What are you doing?” a man asked.

I turned toward him briefly, and his dark brown eyes ticked back and forth with confusion. I turned back toward the car, and slammed the trunk shut. The ringing in my ears had subsided or maybe I had just grown used it. I walked back toward the sidewalk, carefully stepping over Leather Jacket’s maimed arm. I looked as his face as soft blue bruises began kissing his skin.

“Is he breathing?” someone called to me.

I shrugged, pulling my sweater closer to my body, and I started walking toward home. I just couldn’t justify the $16 cab ride, and the whisper of cool air made my body prickle with energy.

A couple days passed, and I clicked through the news alerts on my phone as I waited in a coffee shop off 35th St. I let my free hand trace the grain of the mahogany table in front of me, digging my fingernails into the soft crevices. The barista set down a gray ceramic mug in front me, the cup tinkling against its saucer. The foam of the latte was poured to create a little beige heart. I smiled up at him, making sure to let my lips go slack enough to reveal my teeth. He smiled back and winked at me. I watched him walk back toward the counter and returned my attention to my phone.

“Three dead in fiery crash on Parkland Ave.,” the headline read. I tapped open the story and scrolled to a picture of Leather Jacket wearing a graduation gown. He had his arms spread wide, and his face wore a toothy grin as he held a diploma in his right hand.

“The driver of the car, Weston Marks, 24, drove into oncoming traffic last Saturday night. The accident killed himself and two passengers in the car,” the caption read.

The door of the cafe opened with a ring, and I watched Karina walk in. She wore a striped t-shirt tucked into a short jean skirt. The muscles in her long, pale calves flexed as she put weight on her tan wedged heels. She smiled at me as she walked over.

“Olivia is on her way,” she said, as she knelt down to hug me.

I smiled back at her and took a sip of my latte, licking the frothy milk off my top lip.

“Why do you look so happy?” she asked.

I stifled a laugh and said, “I’m notttttt,” dragging out the last letter in girlish mischief.

“What?” Karina squealed. “You have to tell me.”

“I met someone,” I finally said. My lips bursting with an explosive smile.

“Oh my god,” Karina said, taking a seat in front of me. “Who is it?”

“His name is Tony,” I said, and my eyes glittered with delight as she verbally gushed a cascade of “eeeeee” sounds. TC mark