This is a short short story I wrote and felt like posting. Enjoy.
She was on the last leg of her run when she made a sudden detour and cut across the street into modest, homey neighborhoods shaded by linden trees. It drew her like a familiar lullaby or a childhood illustration in her favorite bedtime story. She slowed her pace and sighed from the sweetness. Then she saw a sign leaning crookedly on a lawn, punched into the yellowing grass like a stake through the heart.
She came to an abrupt stop. In an instant she realized she was one of the million walking dead. When had it happened? Where once she had laughed and played as a girl, kissed and made love as a teenager, and rolled in the grass with her children, now she existed in a grey haze, her nose forever pointing at a small rectangle and her ears sharply tuned to a demanding ping, until by some miracle her eyes had zeroed in on the sign.
She stared at it, her eyes tracing the red, white, and blue lettering, with a blasphemous outline of an American flag. How had it come to this? How had they let it get this far? The more she stared, the more she became aware of a strange sensation evolving in her body. Its origin was somewhere between her heart and her privates. It was like a black hole in her gut, spinning and sucking the universe toward her. Every nerve tingled. She heard her blood shooting through her veins as her heart pumped loud and hard and her chest rose and fell with quick, sharp bursts of air. It was an alien assault, pure and simple, a war nearly won by an unidentified, ruthless power while she jogged and answered pings.
She stomped over to the sign and grabbed it by its neck. She strangled it out of the ground with clumps of earth still clinging to its wooden spike, spattering her pristine sneakers. She tried to rip the sign in two, but it was coated with some polymer-based material that resisted her every effort. She struggled with it. It fought back, jabbing and paring until her legs were slashed with red welts. She broke a thumbnail and the nail on her right index finger, but she was determined to see this foe put down.
“Hey, what d’ya think you’re doing?”
She continued her struggle, unaware of the man in his boxer shorts and t-shirt standing at the top of the stairs of the house with the screen door wide open. A third nail popped off and went flying. She was starting to sweat and she heard a roar in her ears. She remembered that sound. It was the sound of the tornado that had swept through her neighborhood when she was ten, leaving all but three houses destroyed. Hers was one of the lucky ones, but she hadn’t felt lucky. The neighborhood she knew was gone. The children she had played with were either in the hospital, or had moved far away to live with relatives. Her mother had cried all night and her father had made the most damage by putting his fist through the wall. The devastation from those twenty minutes continued to spiral until eventually her parents divorced and she, too, had to move away from the home that she loved.
She felt the urge to duck and cover as she had been taught, but she resisted this childhood fear and renewed her efforts. From the center of that spinning vortex within her, she knew this was a life or death struggle.
“Hey, now! You can’t do that! Stop it!”
The man came down the steps, his bare feet, chalky with callouses, splayed on the pavement. He rushed her and stepped on one of her liberated nails. “Aiiee!” he cried, hopping on one foot. He tried to pull out the acrylic splinter and went toppling over onto the grass.
Nearing defeat, she made one last attempt, wedging the wood between her legs and using her elbow to hold the unwieldy sign against her body. She grabbed hold and with all her will and strength tore the sign in two. She cast it from her, panting with exertion and triumph.
Then, and only then, did the ferocious sound of fury diminish in her ears and she heard a familiar “ping.” It was as if a hypnotist had snapped her fingers and she was back to her old self. Her eyes cleared and she dispassionately observed the man rolling in the grass and the discarded sign ripped in two with one side face down and the other face up showing the words “FOR HOME” in red, white, and blue.
She pulled her phone from her fanny pack, checked the text, adjusted her ear buds, and jogged home to make an appointment to get her nails done.
Twenty minutes later the police arrived at her home. Malicious mischief and assault were among the charges they leveled against her. She didn’t bother to counter their assertions. She went quietly and was escorted out of her house by two large men with no sense of humor, cuffed and humiliated with both pride and nails ragged. She had nothing to say. It had been an inexplicable moment of righteous rage. It was completely out of her character. She couldn’t allow the hypocrisy to continue, the outright rape of domestic tranquility. Something had to be done. It was her duty as a citizen. How could she explain that? What was she going to say about that?
As they photographed and printed her, she comprehended that the grey haze that had wrapped her in a somnambulistic “undead-ness” was vanquished. She was seeing and hearing with crystal clarity, nothing distracted her from what was happening to her. They had taken her cell phone and personal effects, her purse, her identification, and she could no longer hear ping, buzz or ringtone. She was now just a number, but she had never felt more human or more alive.
The skirmish was lost, but the war was only beginning.