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  Table of contents Third Issue CLEAN CLOTHES

by
JAMIE KINN
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Charlie ran down the street, bare feet pounding the sidewalk.  She’d stepped on so many sharp rocks and fragments of glass that she couldn’t feel anything but the pain any longer.  Her feet felt slick and she was sure she was leaving pairs of crimson footsteps in her wake, bright as runway lights. 

 

Every house she passed was deserted—no lights, boarded up and hollow inside.  Empty carapace, the guts and blood having moved onto bigger and better things.  She would find no help here.

 

A howling in the distance.  They were gaining on her.  Panicking, she turned toward one of the houses.  A tall three-story thing, very dark and very inviting.  She sprinted toward its rotten porch after a quick check to make sure she wasn’t, in fact, trailing any blood.  She ran her feet through the grass just be sure.  Up the wooden stairs.  The door was locked and boarded up tight.  She rattled the knob just in case.  No luck.  She tried the front windows—also locked. 

 

She leapt over the side of the porch and ran around the perimeter, trying every window she came across.  And then good fortune came in the form of a basement window on the back end of the house.  It was open half an inch, like somebody had recently used it.  Howling behind her, the excited jabber of voices off in the distance.  She dug her fingers into the opening and shimmied through, headfirst, into the void. 

 

She landed heavily on the concrete floor, sprang to her feet and then shut and locked the window behind her. 

 

She squatted down in the dark, hiding amongst the molding boxes and spiders, and waited as the howling and the voices grew closer.  She watched the shadows of feet pass by the window, heart pounding so hard that she thought she might cry out just to get it over with.  ‘I’m in here!’ her mind screamed.  ‘I’m in here! Just come in and kill me already!’ She closed her eyes and listened.

 

They circled the house for close to five minutes before giving up and moving on. 

 

Their voices sounded frustrated, bloodthirsty as they faded away into the distance. 

 

A long time passed.  She waited and listened, but all she heard was silence.  A cricket began to chirp on the opposite side of the basement. 

 

Charlie sighed and, exhausted, settled into herself.  She felt her head droop.  Within minutes she’d fallen dead asleep.

 

When she awoke, hazy yellow sunlight was trickling through the windows.  She was still alive.

 

She got to her feet, her entire body stiff and sore.  But she ignored the pain, limping up the basement stairs.  She came through into a kitchen with a battered table and a rusting refrigerator in the corner.  Inside was a massive cooler filled with water—once ice, she was sure—sunken soda cans and a dozen bottles of booze.  Next, she checked the cabinets and found a whole stockpile of canned food and piles of junk food.  Whoever had put these here had done so recently.  The dust was disturbed inside the cabinet but all the packages were clean.  She pulled out a can of chili. 

 

She found a can opener and a box of plastic spoons in the top drawer below the counter.  She opened the can and retreated back into the basement.

 

She ate the chili in silence, standing beside one of the windows.   She watched for any sign of movement, listened for any sound from the outside world.  Nothing.

 

After she finished her food, she tossed the empty can on the ground and shimmied out through the window.

 

This part of town was even sadder looking in the daylight than it had seemed the night before.   Sparse, dry weeds filled every lawn.  Every house, every store was boarded and sagging; colourless paint flaking away under the hot summer sun.  Plants poked out through smashed windows and the dead eyes of mom-and-pop storefronts watched her with mistrust. 

 

The abandoned area stretched about ten blocks in either direction.  After that the buildings began to seem healthier, if still a little dilapidated.  She saw people milling around far down the street, heard their voices carrying on the wind.

 

She turned on her heel and headed straight back to the house.  She waited until the figures were out of sight before breaking out into a run. 

 

The relative safety of the basement greeted her like a lover.  She sank to the floor and held a hand to her chest.  Definitely not safe out there.

 

Days passed.  Charlie puttered around the house, eating occasionally, taking naps on the couch, on the one of the three beds upstairs, or curled up in the bathtub.  She spent her nights in the basement, keeping her head up, listening for any sign of the dogs or their masters.  When she had to go to the bathroom, she snuck into the bushes a few houses down and went there. 

 

She found a couple of packs of cigarettes stashed away in the one of the drawers in the kitchen as well as a lighter.  She sat on the back porch and tapped a cigarette out of the pack, lighting it while it dangled between her lips.  She hadn’t smoked in years.

She inhaled deep and then exhaled, watching the smoke curl from her mouth in coils of pearly fangs.  Her lungs burned a little but she didn’t mind. 

 

She listened to the silence surrounding the neighbourhood and closed her eyes.  The screech of the crickets, but no cars.  No voices.  Just her and the wind and the bugs. 

 

“Nice,” she said as the smoke poured from between her lips.

 

When it was dark and dead quiet, Charlie headed out into the streets.  She moved through the rows and rows of empty houses, head down, creeping amongst the shadows.  She headed north, toward the skyscrapers that dotted the horizon, toward life and light and civilization. 

 

A small apartment building.  Ground-level windows.  She snuck around the outside, peering into each apartment, her back to the wall.  She tested each window in turn, finally striking gold on the south end of the building.  She opened it and slithered through.  Dark inside.  A girl asleep in her bed, late teens, not much older than Charlie herself. 

 

Charlie crept up to the bedside.  The girl was very pretty.  Short, auburn hair, long lashes and gentle eyelids.  Charlie resisted the urge to reach out and touch her on the cheek.  She wasn’t here for that. 

 

She turned to the girl’s closet and stripped naked, leaving her dirty rags lying on the carpet.  She silently picked through her clothes: jeans, a bit snug; black tee shirt and a heather grey hoodie.  She found a pair of tennis shoes and slid them on.  They were tight but she didn’t mind.  She only needed them for their appearance. 

 

Like a whisper, she slipped out the window, into the night. 

 

The clean clothes felt rough against her skin, made her realize just how grimy she really was underneath.  How long it been since she’d taken a shower?  Maybe when all of this was done, she’d sneak into somebody’s bathroom, or maybe just use the hose in their backyard. 

 

The bright fluorescent lights overhead made her flesh squirm.  She wanted to hide.  She needed to hide.  Too many eyes on her.  Cameras watching her from hidden spots in the ceiling.  She pulled her hood down lower on her face.  Her hands clenched in her pockets, teeth gritted. 

 

She came to the canned food and dropped rows and rows of them into the plastic basket looped through her arm.  Soup and beans and fruit.  It didn’t really matter.  Just take it and get the hell out of there as soon as possible. 

 

The plastic basket strained under the weight of the cans, but she hardly noticed.  Through the rows of the 24-hour pharmacy, past the hair dye and shampoo.  She found a massive crate of bottled water and slung it under her arm.  Turned around and came face-to-face with an employee in a green polo.  He stared at her, wide-eyed, slack-jawed, a price gun frozen in his hand.  She looked down at herself, tiny thing carrying her weight in food and water with no apparent effort.  She glanced away quickly and headed for the register.  She felt his eyes on her back all the way down.

 

She dropped everything heavily on the counter before the cashier.  The cashier paused, momentarily stunned, and then began to ring everything up, one-by-one. 

 

Charlie kept her head down, face pointed away.  Her heart was thudding painfully in her chest, her hands fidgeting, her gut squirming.  Why was it taking this girl so long to ring up her shit? She felt like bolting, but she stayed glued to the spot, knowing anything she did, any action out of the ordinary, could bring the attention of the dogs down upon her.

 

Fly straight.  Follow the rules, she told herself. 

 

It took her a moment to realize that the cashier had her hand out, waiting for her money.

 

“Sorry,” Charlie mumbled and dug around in her pocket.  She pulled out a couple grubby hundred dollar bills and handed them to her.

 

The cashier stared at them for a moment and then handed one of the bills back.  She rooted around in the register and handed Charlie her change.  Charlie stuffed the change and the hundred back into her pocket and effortlessly hoisted the bags of cans and the water crate into her arms. 

 

She shuffled out the doors, perhaps a little too quickly, the curious eyes of the employees following her all the way out.  They whispered to one another and exchanged confused shrugs.

 

She slunk into the house, weary from her night’s excursion, and dropped the food and the water into the kitchen.  People exhausted her.  Their cities, their cars, their dumb faces.  Sometimes it was too much. 

 

It was getting light outside, slowly but surely.  The sky was progressing from milky black to a deep ultramarine, filling the room with its dim light.

 

She was feeling vulnerable and though the softness of the moldy beds upstairs called to her, she knew she wouldn’t sleep easy unless she was somewhere dark and hidden.

 

She plodded, stiff-legged, down the stairs and into the basement.  There she found the darkest corner and curled up, hidden from the steadily brightening rays of light coming in through the windows.  The concrete felt cool and dry against her skin.  She drifted off into uneasy sleep.

 

Voices from upstairs pulled her out of oblivion.  She sat up, startled and disoriented.  It was still dark outside but now the feeble light was coming from the other side of the room.  It took her a moment to realize that she’d slept through the entire day and it was now dusk.  Why had she slept so long?

 

She froze at the sound of laughter coming through the ceiling above.  It echoed around her, peeling back her skin, exposing raw fear. 

 

There were people in the house. 

 

She’d figured this would happen eventually, but she’d always held out the hope that she was wrong.  That whoever had left behind all the food, the soda, the cigarettes and the booze, had gone away and was never coming back.

 

She laid stock still in the shadows and listened.  Loud, obnoxious voices.  Boisterous.  Young.  There were six of them.  Four boys and three girls.  A crash and then more laughter.  Another crash.

 

They were tearing the place apart. 

 

Chest hammering, she got to her feet and crept up the stairs.  Cautiously, she planted her ear to the door.

 

“Fucking hell—”

 

“Where’s my drink.  Who took my—”

 

“Let’s go upstairs—” A giggle.

 

Another crash as someone shattered a chair against the ground.  A shriek from one of the girls and more laughter.

 

She could hide.  She could go back downstairs and hide and cover her ears to the noise and wait for them to go away.  It was the sensible thing to do.  But her heart kept hammering, beating her brain like a war drum.  Her pupils dilated and her fingers ached. 

 

The first stages of bloodlust were upon her.

 

This was her house now.  Her fingers tensed, curling tighter.  If she ignored them they would just come back.  They would keep coming back until the place was destroyed.  Then they would move on to the next house and then the next and the next.  She liked this place—teeth growing white hot in the mouth—she liked it.  It was her home. 

She’d promised herself that she wouldn’t kill again.  She could survive on human food indefinitely.  It left her a little weak but it kept her alive.  Nothing was worth bringing the dogs and the hunters down on her head.  Nothing—except this. 

 

This.  This was worth killing for.

 

She burst through the door.  Six stunned faces, pale white in the candlelight.  They turned to her in slow motion and she pounced on the one nearest to her.  She reached out with her hands and caught him by the face, split his head in half with ease.  He fell to the floor, arterial spray surrounding her like an aura.  There were screams but it was too late.  She heard her pulse in her ears, ecstatic, like the razor edge of an orgasm as she dug her fingers into the next throat and tore it out, lapping up the blood that poured out, black honey.  They tried to run.  She trapped two in a doorway and mashed their faces together, flattening both into an unrecognizable mess.  Their skulls hooked one another and they fell together, gurgling.  The next she caught as he bounded for the back door.  She leapt on his back, tackling him to the ground.  She chewed down the back of his neck, severing his spine with her needle teeth, chewed until his head lay limp, held only by a flap of skin and sinew.

 

The last, the most foolish of all, ran upstairs, cornering himself.  She took her time with him, savouring his screams and his soft insides. 

 

She sat on the back porch and watched the stars.  She had ruined her new clothes already, bloodstained sleeves and chest. 

 

Figured. 

 

She plucked the cigarette from her mouth and exhaled.  It stuck to her fingers, leaving a red honey fingerprint on its white paper.  Now she felt foolish going out to buy all that food.  She had enough in that house to last her a month as long as she stored it properly.  Though in a pinch, a rancid carcass would serve her just fine.   

 

The crickets chirped on around her and she sighed contentedly.  The house was hers now.  Its ownership had rightfully been passed.  No one could deny that.  It was her home. 

 

At that thought she smiled and took another drag on her cigarette.

 

   
   

 

endmark

 

Jamie Kinn is a shadowy and formless being. Born and raised in Davenport, Iowa, it runs the website, Jamie Kinn’s Creepypasta Machine (http://jamiekinn.tumblr.com), where it has written and published over 40 short horror stories over a period of 10 months. It has also been published in a smattering of literary journals, including Sanitarium Magazine and Dark Highlands. Jamie currently resides in Austin, TX where it is working on the first draft of its first novel, The Nemesis, a story about a young girl whose anxieties take on a living, breathing form and attempt to destroy her life from the inside out.  Jamie’s story, “Clean Clothes”, appears in the June, 2013 issue of HelloHorror.

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