[It’s Flash Fiction time again! This weeks challenge from Chuck Wendig was to write a story based on one of these, 60 Unusable Stock Photos. I chose this one:
I’ve always found laundromats to be super creepy so I decided to go with that.
Enjoy! Or, you know, be revulsed in horror. Either one works equally well.]
Carrie eyed the laundry piled high in the hamper with a kind of sinking dread, as if the mass of clothes might come to life and swallow her up like a big blob. But in truth it wasn’t the clothes she was afraid of.
“Won’t you go with me?” she asked.
Harold looked up from the book he’d been reading. “What’s the matter?”
“It’s just…the laundry.”
“It’s not gonna get done any faster if I go along,” Harold pointed out. “Besides, laundry is your chore. I do the dishes. Remember?”
“Anyway, I was going to try and get some reading done while you were gone.”
“Okay,” Carrie said, and she tried to smile, but it didn’t feel right. Harold wasn’t looking at her anyway.
Once upon a time she could have told him. She knew he still loved her. But ever since he’d lost his job and had to go to work at the local gas station things had been…different.
And now she couldn’t tell him that the last time she had gone to the laundromat she had seen things…but it had been a dream. Hadn’t it? The tumbling of the clothes, the stale warmth of the air, the muffled thrum of the machines, had all conspired together to lull her into something like sleep.
But not sleep…because her eyes were open. She thought she had seen the grey things emerge from the open mouth of one of the washing machines. Wispy, insubstantial things like puffs of smoke. But not smoke. Because smoke did not have eyes, eyes like holes in air.
And they had gathered around the old man sitting across from her. And something had happened then…but when she woke up she couldn’t quite remember, and the grey things were gone, and the man…the man was fine.
Just a dream.
She was going to down to do the laundry by herself, and it would be fine. She didn’t need Harold there to protect her. She didn’t need Harold…
But she did. She didn’t want to be alone.
She pulled up outside the laundromat and carried in the heavy baskets of musty smelling clothes. The air inside felt heavy and humid. And though she was alone in the place there was a sound…a sound she couldn’t quite place, a steady hum that seemed to fill her to her bones.
She fed the clothes into the washer and started the load. She watched as the water sloshed and swirled her clothes like a wet kaleidoscope. So strange and wonderful. So…peaceful.
The sound of a siren going by outside snapped her out of the daze she was drifting into.
She kicked herself for coming unprepared. She should have brought a book, some music to listen to. Anything to help her forget what she had seen the last time. But she hadn’t brought those things. Because bringing them would be a tacit admission that the grey things might be real. And she couldn’t think that. Not if she wanted to keep her sanity.
She thought of calling Harold, just to talk to him for a few minutes. But he would be reading now. He would be irritated by the interruption.
She didn’t want to be a bother.
So she sat, and watched and waited. Time in the laundromat seemed to be a thing of its own, a great sludgy mass that moved hardly at all, and once you were sucked into it there was no escape.
Carrie watched the wash tumble for what seemed like hours. And though she fought it with all her strength she felt herself being pulled down into that grey place where reality seemed like a thin covering for something far more terrible. She tried to wake herself up, tried to move, to yell, anything to pull herself out of the trap her mind had fallen into.
Nothing worked. She sat there with her eyes staring into the strange grey light of the laundromat, screaming inside. But there was no one to hear.
And then the washing machine wasn’t a washing machine any more, but a black gaping mouth that seemed to open wider and wider without really changing size. And out of that mouth, floated the grey things, hints of shadows with eyes of pure darkness.
They swarmed around Carrie and she could feel their presence, cold and dark and wet like her grandmother’s basement, and she wanted to run, run run, run away as fast as her feet would carry her, back to Harold, back to safety.
But she was paralyzed, rooted to the spot.
One of the grey things came down and looked into her eyes, and Carrie saw through those horrible black slits for the first time, and she knew without understanding that the world behind them was far from empty. It was full of frightful things, things beyond and human imagining, trapped in a world of pain and darkness. And all of them wanted to get out.
Carrie felt a horrible coldness stab through her gut and she saw the grey thing reaching into her stomach with an arm that wasn’t an arm at all. And suddenly she remembered the other part of her dream, the part she had blocked from her mind, and the terror she felt surpassed everything she had felt so far. In her mind she thrashed and struggled and screamed, but her body refused to respond.
Then she felt a tugging tearing ripping sensation and there was pain, so much pain, and suddenly she was outside of herself, a ghostly apparition looking down at her limp body.
The grey things swarmed around her pulling her toward the dark mouth of the washing machine, but she saw that one of them had stayed behind, pouring itself into her open mouth.
And the last thing Carrie saw before she was swallowed up in the forever-black were the eyes that had once belonged to her filling up with darkness.