Midnight Jolt Run

Caffeine tastes better when the city's asleep

Bloom part 1

Posted by Fiss on August 6, 2012

She wakes up at a quarter to four, spends a futile sixty seconds trying to pretend sleep will return, and lets out a three year old sigh when it is denied.

A bad case of electrocution brought on by careless co workers, badly grounded high heels, and some truly comedic timing had been the culprit.  The doctor said she’d have problems sleeping now.  The doctor told her her body would be different after the accident and she would have to relearn some of the more rudimentary things she once took for granted.  The doctor told her there could be other side effects, like sleepwalking, hallucinations, and panic attacks.  The doctor was full of shit; if she got to sleep on time all the other stuff would go away without the medication.

Remedy, temporary as it was, seemed to come in the form of fresh air, but it was a muggy night full of wet heat like it had been for the entire summer.  She only succeeded in making her little one-plus-study apartment seem stuffy when she opened the window, and she knew all too well the sticky perspiration she would wake up in if she didn’t find another cure.  Better to take in the night on the balcony, so she donned a slip and risked a tea-bag of the calming, soothing, all natural health-food-nut tea her dad bought her every birthday because he read somewhere that daughters liked gifts like that.

The balcony consists of a railing angled slightly outward from the window that opens.  Enough for a pair of feet to rest comfortably where a windowsill garden or the worlds most anorexic barbeque might find purchase.  Instead, she has a bike that never comes down from the third story view and her tea-sipping balcony that she uses at a quarter to four every other morning.

It is a black sky with no discernible moon, but there are hints of stars hiding just above the ambient glow of the city.  She hates this city.  She misses the stars in the mountains and she misses the air in the mountains.  Like a compass, she points herself West and imagines them.  West is facing away from her unused bike and she likes pretending she isn’t getting fat from the lack of exercise, the eight months of doctor-mandated work leave, and the medication that eats away at her stomach lining if she doesn’t pad it with a pound of comfort food before administering it.  She’s supposed to be eating healthier, but healthier food costs more and the work-leave benefits are almost exhausted.  She hated not working too, but only slightly less than she hated work.  Getting electrocuted was the best thing that ever happened in that shithole.

There was a time before the accident that she believed she could never hate anything.  Now she knows a dictionary-perfect version of the emotion.  She hates feeling trapped in this godforsaken city.  Apartment.  Balcony.  Body.  Life.

She’s pretty sure she actually liked her dad’s tea before all of this, but it just tastes like she needs to clean her mug and clean her kettle.  Out of spite, she tosses the murky water out with a flick of her wrist, leaving a misshapen lump of a tea bag hanging onto the bottom of the ceramic by the twin strengths of surface tension and pissing her off.

After an unsuccessful attempt at shaking the teabag free to fall out into the open air, her fingers slip and the mug achieves escape momentum.  She can almost hear her dad cheering the throw…he was always proud of her arm.  Why, she could have been a pitcher in the women’s league of baseball, he said frequently to all his friends who had sons when he did not.

The mug continues on, unconcerned whether or not her father was simply trying to make due without a son to raise, or if he was actually proud of her, and flies through an open window on the second floor of the apartment building next door.

A loud, surprised cry of pain makes her nearly jump off her balcony.  Fear freezes her as she waits for lights to start turning on, or screams of bloody murder to start piercing the night like sirens.

But they don’t come.

She swallows back the painfully dry lump of anxiety that has been building in her throat and decides that it is a good time to call nine-one-one.  When she turns to go back into her apartment, however, she discovers that the window has slid silently closed and she forgot to disengage the lock that was supposed to keep her safe and sound.

Dressed in a forest-green silk slip, shivering out of fear, and with only a bicycle at her disposal, she begins calling out for help, but the rattle of night-time air conditioners and the double-pane soundproof glass ensure that her voice is rendered impotent.  The only open window she can see for five buildings and seven stories in any direction was the one her mug flew through.

She was pretty sure it was her favourite one, too.  The one with the Gary Larson “Far Side” cows standing on two hooves.

The analytical portion of her brain kicks into high gear and she remembers hearing (during the screaming hysteria following September Eleventh in New York) that a person could survive a fall of up to nine stories and have reasonable expectations to live with proper medical attention administered soon afterwards.  Surely three stories could be doable…

Unused and glistening in the humid summer air, the brake and shifter cables on her bike offer an alternative to broken legs, she hopes, and is slightly disappointed in the ease that she is able to rip them free of the rusted metal hardware they are attached to.  It doesn’t take her long before she has strung up a crude rope between the two detachable tyres and is hanging a few dozen feet over open air by her fingers, lowering herself down the thin, skin-biting cable.

The blinds are shut in the apartment below hers, and the one below that.  She wonders if anyone would answer if she knocked, but the ground looks much closer and much safer to drop down upon now and embarrassment wins over caution as she feels her naked thighs resting firmly on the lukewarm rubber of the tyre.

Landing is a bit harder than she expects and she wonders how much of her lethargy is medicine, how much is entropy.  She stands…nothing broken but everything south of her bellybutton now sore.  A fitting reminder to check the lock next time, she thinks to herself.

Her building has a night security guard, she’s certain.  An old man named Russell that seems content in that Maytag Repairman kind of way…always wishing something interesting would happen on his shift but content to mutter quietly and harmlessly about it when nothing ever does.  He should be grateful for the bit of excitement of a locked out tennant.

Sharp blades of hardy grass tickle and prick her bare feet as she hobbles around to the front of the building, only to find that Russell has been replaced by a small call box with a polite sign stating to press the button and receive help.  She presses it and begins to speak.  “Hello?  Uhm.  This is Miss Bloom in three-oh-nine.  I’ve locked myself out and…”  her voice trails off when she realizes there is no power to the box, or there is nobody on the other end.  Three more attempts at pressing the button and waiting for something… anything… yield the same lack of response.

Tears of desperation began to well up in her eyes as she turns around to look at the other buildings nearby.  She can’t just go around half-naked knocking on doors, she decides.  Finally, her eyes come to rest on the apartment building with the open window.  Someone could be hurt.  Someone could be dead.  Someone could be awake and wondering what just hit them in the shoulder.  Maybe she hit a very human-sounding cat.  Hoping for the cat, she walks over to the apartment and finds the lobby that is occupied by a similar little call-box.  A handy fire-fighter’s evacuation map next to it, however, shows clearly that the apartment she must have assaulted was Two-Ten.  Nervously, she presses the button.  Unlike her own building, this one seems to work.

“Yeah?  What do you want?”

The man on the other side says it so fast that it comes out in one syllable.  “Yeahwaddayawan?” sounds like a strange alien word, and for a moment she doesn’t know what to say.  “Uhm…I-”

“Yeah, whatever,” the voice continues, then the door buzzes indicating entrance is now possible.

She grabs the door and hauls it open out of some primal need to be indoors, even if they are foreign doors.  There is space for a payphone near the entrance, but the encroaching use of Cell Phones seems to have repurposed it as a nook better housing a fake potted fern.  Miss Bloom wonders briefly if hiding behind the fern would be an acceptable method of covering herself, but the chances of scaring someone who walked by would be far greater than successfully asking them for help.

With a small shrug, she begins walking to the stairs.  There are no elevators in these tiny little apartment blocks…or if there are they aren’t for tenants to use.  Too many drunken college students dicking around with the controls and creating repair-bill-hell for the building managers.  She stops at the second story and finds Two-Ten exactly where the map and her “Far-Side” cow mug must have intersected.

The door is cracked open.

She knocks on it twice and it swings open like it does in cop shows, where the detectives go to the home of a suspect or witness only to find it already robbed or dead bodies freshly killed within.  She hates her imagination sometimes for supplying these handy little factoids, especially at four-oh-something A.M. in the godforsaken morning.

“Um, hello?  Hello, this is Miss Bloom from across the alley…I uhm…I think I accidentally threw a mug into your window and I-”


The sound of someone moaning from the bedroom echoes throughout the tiny apartment and she freezes in place.

She looks around frantically for a phone, cell, walkie-talkie…can and string…anything she can use to call her soundly sleeping brain and demand it stop dreaming up scenes from cop shows.  The only phone nearby looks purposely ripped out of the wall, but she tries it anyway as the voice trails off like some kind of undead freak of nature.

“Hello?!” she cries out, now feeling the shock of adrenalin in her system.  “Hello, is anyone there?” she raises the phone up like a club.  It’s a good, solid, old touch-tone corded phone made out of bakelite.  They don’t make too many phones out of bakelite anymore owing to the fact that they are nigh indestructible and don’t readily biodegrade.  This little factoid is mercifully positive as she looks around the trashy little bachelor pad, knowing that the window she attacked and the voice are both behind the single closed bedroom door.

There are kitchen knives in the kitchenette, but the phone feels much more solid and less like a discount slasher movie, so she forsakes the alternatives.  Finally, certain that there are no hockey-masked murderers hiding behind the mountains of stale laundry, pizza boxes, take out containers and general filth, she knocks on the door.  “Hello?  I-I’m opening the door!  U-I-Uhm, this is the police!  Please don’t shoot!”

Later, after the adrenaline wore off, she would chastise herself for somehow managing to say the most un-cop-like thing imaginable, but she opened the door anyway.

A solid thunk hit the door as she opened it half way.  Her still-intact mug rolled out of the way and she has to resist the impulse to pick it up and run.

Next to it was a man in his early twenties, laying near the window with a pistol next to his twitching hand.  Next to his other hand is a dufflebag and on the bed is more money than she has ever seen in her life.

A thousand possibilities run through her mind all at once as it struggles to digest the sight before her.  A bank robber?  A drug dealer?  A real cop investigating something?  A thief who was just admiring their haul before escaping into the night?  A-

“Hey, who are you?” the man mumbled, raising his gun with an unsteady hand.

Without thinking, she slams the phone into his head.  The bells ring out loudly before his head hits the floor with a dull thud.  He stops moving except for his chest.  She reaches down and makes sure he’s still alive, finding a pulse easily and backing away relieved.  She can imagine the headlines now:

“Mysterious Lingerie Phone Killer strikes again!”

She kicks his hand and the gun bounces off under the bed, just in case he wakes up again.  Her brain, however, begins giving her helpful, terrible ideas and she is quite certain she has assaulted an undercover FBI agent by the time he begins to snore softly.

Kneeling down, phone at the ready, she starts to open the dufflebag.  Three bloody, severed hands make crude fists from within.

She is proud of her stomach.  It doesn’t force her to throw up, and her brain somehow keeps control on her urge to scream.  No police officer would be carrying around three severed hands in a dufflebag…of this fact she is absolutely certain.  She is equally certain that if she doesn’t leave right away-

“Mike!  You left the damn door open?  For fucks sake-”

Panic takes hold as she hears the voice outside.  Looking for a hiding spot, she spies only the bed and the door itself with the window being too small to escape through.

She picks back up the phone and flattened herself against the wall.  Her breath is frantic and she knows anyone within three blocks must be able to hear her wheezing and shaking with the rattling phone in her hand, but through some kind of miracle, the hulking mass of a man who walked past her seemed more concerned about his unconscious friend on the floor than paying attention to his surroundings.

“Christ, Mike, are you alright?” the man says, kneeling down, to get a better look.

A sane person should have ran by now.  A sane person would have used the moment to sneak out the door.  She was absolutely certain that a sane person would not be raising the broken phone over their head and bringing it down with all their strength.  Turns out she wasn’t that sane.

He made a grunt, then his hand reached up to the top of his buzz-cut crown.  Exciting new levels of panic coursed through her veins as she imagined him turning around, disarming her and then cutting off her hands…

But finally, he slumped over, as if checking for the massive bruise had convinced him he should.

She fell to her knees, wheezing.  Even if she wanted to run, panic had so short-circuited her nerves that she wasn’t sure she could.

“Get it together.  You can do this.”

For a moment, her breath hung and she was certain that a third person had just walked in the room, ready to put a bullet, knife, or phone through her skull.  Only when she became brave enough to look did she realize the voice had been her own.

“They deserve this,” she says to herself.  “They aren’t cops.  Check.  They won’t have badges.”

She pulls the larger second man to his side and begins to search his jacket.  Silk, but not tailor made.  Low rent gangster.  He wears a holster and she pulls the gun free to make sure it doesn’t end up sending a bullet out at her.

A wallet.  Cell phone.  Lots of cash.  No ID.  No badge.  She takes the cash.  Tries the cellphone but it is passcode protected.

“Check the other guy.”  She follows her advice quickly, finding much of the same.  No ID.  No plastic.  Just some cash and keys.  She takes the keys.  There is a long, serrated knife on ‘Mike’s belt.  She doesn’t touch it, thinking of the duffel full of hands.

“Now, grab the cash and go.”

She does.  At first she thinks to empty out the dufflebag, but the sheets are still intact on the bed so she rolls them up like a great big hobo-sack and hauls it up onto her back with the wallets and cell phone.  Then, as an afterthought, she grabs both guns and the larger man’s coat, who mumbles as he is manhandled but stays out like a light.

She leaves.  She orders herself to leave calm and quiet and closes the door behind herself.  The sheets balled up on her back look make her look like a girlfriend who has just been kicked out after a lover’s spat, so she tries to look the part as she leaves the building, knowing that somewhere there are cameras in the lobby.

“Now, get back home,” she tells herself in a hard whisper.

It must be closer to morning now, because one of her neighbors, a young nursing student who runs every morning at five, spots her and lets her into the building.

“Wow, Miss Bloom, you look like you haven’t slept a wink.  You know that sleep is very important to-”

“Yes, I know,” she says, interrupting the Surgeon General speech she knows is coming.  “Say, can you call the Super?  I locked myself out.”

The way-too-perky-for-five-AM girl uses her cell to do so, and after a twenty minute wait, feeling the effects of panic and excitement wearing off to near coma levels, one of the building superintendents stumbles into the hallway.  He looks about ready to yell at her for the early wake up, but she is quite barely dressed, even with the coat from the man in Two-Ten, and he ends up just turning a little red around the neck and ears, trying not to peek at her cleavage as he walks ahead of her on the stairs.

“Rough night, Miss Bloom?” he asks.

“Just got my laundry and my garbage mixed up,” she tells him sweetly, wondering where the voice is coming from and accepting it is her own only once she catches herself in the mirror talking.  “You know how it is…you wake up too early and everything looks different.”

“Well, garbage day isn’t until the end of the week,” the man says, doing his best to reprimand her while enjoying the view down her chest.  “So long as it doesn’t stink, though, I suppose it’s alright if you do it.”

“Thank you,” she says, following him up to the third floor.

He unlocks her door and lets her inside.  Some kind of strange bit of self preservation orders her to go over the checklist of things to do.  She opens her balcony and pulls up the makeshift ladder.  She wipes down the cellphone and removes the battery so it can’t be tracked with GPS.  She locks the doors, puts the coat and money in the closet behind a number of old boxes, and throws the handle of the bakelite phone she still was clutching into the trash, no matter how much she wanted to keep it as a souvenir.

“Sleep now.”

She barely stumbles into bed in time.  She isn’t sure where this voice of hers is coming from.  She likes it, though.  It knows what it is doing, and it knows that it is time for sleep.

And so she does.

She sleeps through her alarm clock.  Through the smells of the automatic coffee machine kicking in.  Through the annoying sunbeams hitting her head and through the noise of her next door neighbours going about their days.

She only wakes up when she remembers that sitting in Apartment Two-Ten a few dozen feet away, there are two men waking up, furious that their money is gone, and wondering who’s “Far Side” cow-mug is sitting on the floor.

Her eyes shoot open.  “The mug.”

Posted under Short Stories
  1. Sandra Said,

    Excellent short story! Great pace and descriptions without being wordy. Had me wanting ‘part deux!’

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