Six people occupied the all night laundry mat on 6th and Main. One was a college aged boy in gym clothes untouched by sweat typing on his laptop only pausing to take a sip from his glass water bottle. The chair beside him held his messenger bag and laptop cord coiled in the seat and plugged into the wall receptacle. Next was an elderly black woman in a pastel purple raincoat reading an electronic book. Her grandson was slumped in the chair next to her playing a game-boy. His feet barely reached the edge of the seat. One chair over was a teenaged boy playing a game-boy with his tongue stuck out to the side and his head cocked in frustration. A girl sat in the corner with her feet curled up to her chin. Her bare toes tapped the metal chair rail in rhythm with her mp3 player, her ear buds hidden under shoulder-length purple hair. Finally a middle aged man stood in the window in a much too tight wool sweater watching cars as they passed. Every once and a while he took his phone out of his pocket and typed furiously. It was two a.m. The lull of the dryers was beginning to put the little boy to sleep. He pumped his fist in victory then rubbed his eyes. His grandmother looked up from her e-book and smiled at him. The girl chewed a black hangnail and spit it in the floor causing the college boy to look up in disgust. She paid no attention. A streak of black on her pinky matched a smudge on her cheek where her eyeliner had been run with her tears. The man at the window pulled out his phone and frowned at its glow. The air was tense as they all awaited the buzz of their dryers. The little boy lay his head in his grandmothers lap and she stroked his hair mindlessly. The government had been shut down for three days now and military guards had been placed at all war monuments and been assigned to evict people residing or running a business out of their property if it was on federal land. Both Democrat and Republican showed no sign of backing down from their stance on a new health law threatening both jobs and livlihood of most of the population. Only big business and the Senate were immune to the new laws penalty fees and 50% of their income going to their insurance. Republicans didn’t want it. Democrats insisted. The boy on his lap top typed a paper on previous government shut downs for his history class. The elderly woman read a book on the presidents wife. The little boy dreamed of being a race car driver. The teenaged gamer played a first-person-shooter reenactment of WWII. The girl listened to songs of heartbreak and deflated lovers begging please stay, please, please, stay. The man texted with his soon to be ex wife begging her to let him see their son. It was raining outside. The wind was blowing the bus stop sign outside the door . It flapped and danced as the wind grew stronger minute by minute. Few cars passed. For a minute it seemed like no one in the room was breathing. The girls eyes welled with tears and she pulled her black canvas jacket tighter around her chest. A dryer buzzed and they all looked up. The little boy lay his head back down then only the man at the window moved. He took his clothes out of the dryer and replaced them with some out of one of the washers. He didn’t fold his clothes only stuffed them into a blue gym bag and went back to the window. It was still in the room once more. The smell of lavender fabric softener eased their tensions briefly. The girl moved into the chair between the little boy and the gamer. She popped the gum she was chewing under her tongue and the boy moved closer to her for her to see his screen better. Lightning lit up the window followed by a grumble of thunder. The power flickered off and on several times. The college boy swore and rebooted his laptop. The low growl of thunder seemed constant.
“You should get your battery fixed,” said the black woman with a smirk.
He didn’t reply and went back to typing. The old woman let her smirk fade and went back to reading. She adjusted her grandson and let her elbow rest on his shoulder. She glanced for a long minute at his open lips and thumb resting on his tongue. He reminded her of her daughter. How many nights had she fallen asleep just this way? In this same laundry mat. She would need to look into changing daycares. She wanted a fresh start for them after her daughters betrayal to them both. How had she raised such a monster who could leave their child as he slept in his carseat not knowing he would wake up and never see her again? How could she have raised a woman, no, still a child who would not even know who the father of her baby was? Hadn’t she raised Adama better? Hadn’t she instilled the values of family strong enough? Apparently not. Apparently not. The adoption papers were already filed and when it was finished she would take J.J. out of here and they would start all over. A new life. A new job. Maybe they’d go to that island her mother always told her stories of. The girls eyes were welling up with tears once again and she quickly changed the song on her mp3 player. Lightning strobed outside. The man at the window sat in the now vacant chair in the corner and put his hands over his face. The power cut out for good this time. The college boy groaned and slammed his laptop shut. He shoved it into his bag and cursed under his breath. The door swung open and a man in a black slicker and red baseball cap rushed in. He was soaking wet and shivering. His laundry bag was thrown over his right shoulder and his backpack over the left. He let them drop to the floor and hung his slicker on the coat rack by the vending machines but left his cap on. He sat next to the middle-aged man and pulled out a tablet. It was bright in the darkness. He started a word scramble game and coughed. He smiled and “yes”ed at each level advance. He was fast. Good with words.
“Whatchu got to be so happy about?” asked the college boy. The man looked up at his and shined the light from his tablet in the boys face.
“Nothin’ really,” he smiled, “just thinkin’ ‘bout all that back pay I’m due when they get their shit together in the Senate.”
“Where do you work?” asked the black woman not looking up from her e-book.
“I’m in the ranger business, ma’am,” he answered and tipped his cap towards her. ‘Little Haven Parks and Recreation’ it read. She glanced at it and forced her lips to smile.
“Puh,” said the college boy, “right. Like either’s gonna give. You’ll be out a job come March and get shit back.”
“Eh,” the man said and went back to work.
“Yeah,” said the college boy, “they’re not worried about some Dudley Do-Right ranger, you know? They’re gonna shut those parks down. They’ll just keep at it and keep at it and keep at it and you aren’t going to be able to support yourself. Much less a wife and kids.”
The man held up his left hand and pointed to his ring finger. No ring but a white tan line.
“Ha!” the college boy laughed, “She left your ass, huh?”
“Cancer,” said the man not looking up from his game.
The old woman ‘tsk’ed and lay her e-book in her lap.
“What kind?” she asked quietly.
“Breast,” he answered.
“How old was she?” she asked again lightly touching her own breast pretending to wipe off a crumb.
“Twenty-six. We’d been married a year and two days.”
The old woman looked down at her grandson. She wanted to wake him up and hug him. The pain and sadness of dying youth pricked her eyes. She thought of her own breasts. Lump free and just now losing their perk. “Bless your heart,” she whispered.
“Why’d you stop wearing your ring?” asked the college boy crossing his chest with his arms. Guarding himself.
“I’ve been mourning twenty and two years now. Celabit too. I’m beginning to feel ready to move on. Meet a lady, know?”
“I’ve been separated six months from Eva Lynn and I’m already ready to move on. If it weren’t for my Joe I’d be long gone,” said the middle-aged man looking over his finger tips.
“Who left who?” asked the college boy.
“She me. Fell in love with my boss,” he said with fingers itching for a cigarette. Out of respect for the child he didn’t light one. The old woman winced. She knew that story. Only in her version it wasn’t her boss but her sister that claimed stake on her Mason.
“So romantic,” the girl whispered. She looked at the mans face in the glow of his tablet through the corner of her eyes. He smiled at her and tipped the lid of his baseball cap.
“What?” said the college boy. He stood up and walked to the window. “A mans wife dies and he quits living? One day he wakes up and needs to get laid and he throws his ring away.”
“Hey!” shouted the man. He stood up and threw his baseball cap in the chair behind him. It missed and hit the floor. “I loved my Anna more than a little shit like you can ever understand. You just keep your mouth shut, you got that?”
No one spoke. The college boy watched the lightning dance outside. No cars had passed in a long while.
“When are they going to fix this power?” asked the girl. She pulled her knees up to her chin and shivered. It was getting cold in the room now.
“Something’s wrong with the generator or it’d be on, darling,” said the old woman putting a comforting hand on the girls shoulder.
“What are you an expert?” asked the college boy.
“I’ve had enough of you, boy,” said the ranger.
“Oh, what are you going to do?” the college boy was striding up to the man. He backed down when he realized the man was twice his height.
“You better just sit down. What’s the matter with you?”
“I’m,” the boy started. He slid down the wall and let a tear fall down his cheek. “I’m in trouble at school.”
“That’s no reason to blast your mouth off at innocent folks.”
“I know, I know. I’m failing. I’m failing bad. If I don’t get that history paper, the teacher gave me three bonus papers to write due tomorrow, if I don’t get this paper done I’m gonna fail. If I get these turned in I’ll still have just the bare minimum grade to pass.”
“Why you doin’ so bad in history? Thats easy,” said the ranger. He finally sat down and went back to his game. He left his hat on the floor.
“My girlfriends pregnant and I’m working two jobs plus taking care of her bein’ sick every single day.”
“Pregnancy is tough, young man,” said the old woman.
“I know, I know. Its just so hard,” the college boy rest his hands on his knees. He was longing for a cigarette but had to give them up for the baby. She was due in May. Could he wait that long?
“I’m pregnant,” said the girl. The old woman rubbed her shoulder. No one had to ask if the father was taking care of her. It was apparent no one was. The vomit stain on her shirt had given the impression of a drunk. Now it made them want to hug her and give her all the spare change in their wallets. It was quiet once again. The girl watched the gamer play. His muscles were tensed and sweat rolled down his forehead. She moved to further herself away from him. It did little good. He seemed to be swelling.
“What’s the matter with you?” she cried and jumped from her chair. The pink of his skin had begun to fade into a deep emerald green and where hair had been was now irredescent scales. The girl screamed and tried to run but his claws had sunk into her shin. He pulled her to him as his mouth went from a pair of lips and a tongue to a long snout with razor sharp teeth. He was changing rapidly. Too rapid for any of the others to grasp. As the girl disappeared into his snout the other four tried to escape to the far side of the laundry mat. He was too fast. With a swift swipe of his now clawed hand he pulled the college boy into his mouth head first. His red canvas high top was all that was left. The creature stomped closer to the huddled three. The little boy buried his head into his grandmothers purple raincoat.
“Now I lay me down to sleep,” he shouted muffled by her breast, “I pray the Lord my soul to keep!” That was as far as he got. The grandmother cried and prayed with her last gasps of air before disappearing into the creatures void of a mouth.
“Now, stop this!” the ranger shouted. The creature winced then let out a roar that shook the building.
“What are you crazy?” shouted the middle aged man. He was crawling into the back of the laundry mat. Employee’s Only meant little to him now. The creature was blocked by the ranger who was mimicking his every move. The creature tried to grab him but he was able to evade its grip.
“You miserable son-of-a-bitch,” he screamed. The creature ignored him and went for the middle-aged man. He caught the man by the ankle and dragged him back into the room.
“No, please. I’ve got to be here for my Joe. Please!” he pleaded. The monster let a long claw run down the mans face before it shoved him into his mouth. The ranger could still hear his cries through the creatures gut. The creature stood before him now. He was panting. The ranger stood and held up the coat rack as a weapon.
“You can not defeat me,” said the creature. His form was changing. His skin more pink. His scales thinning to hair.
“Seems like I can,” the ranger said more confident in his words than his stance.
“You fool, what have you to be so optimistic about?” said the teenaged boy now standing naked before him.
“What are you?” asked the man.
The boy went to a dryer and pulled out some of the college boys clothes. He put them on and went back to his chair. He did not sit but eyed the man in fascination.
“What are you?” cried the ranger.
“What are you that all the pain and misery in your life, your dead wife, your wasted life, your furloughed pay does nothing to dampen your spirit?”
“You need misery, is that it?” asked the ranger. He still held the coat rack ready to swing but inched closer to his chair.
“Something like that,” said the boy eyeing him closely.
“All those people...all those people...that little boy...that pregnant girl...they all had lives, you fucker...you killed them all!”
“They served their purpose.”
“Don’t tell me their purpose was to be eaten by some sick fucker from hell who gets fat off their misery.”
“It is what you might call their destiny.”
The boy sat in his chair and leaned his elbows onto his knees.
“How can I break you?” he asked. The ranger picked up his hat and put it on. He sat down and placed the coat rack across his lap. He didn’t feel as threatened by this monster as he once had. He felt the chain around his neck and rubbed his thumb on the cross.
“You can’t,” the ranger said.
“I will break you,” said the creature. Now just a boy playing a game-boy. He was no threat. The ranger knew this now. He picked up his tablet and started a new game. He had time. He could wait.
“You just try that, my friend,” said the ranger. The power flicked back on and he made no move towards his laundry bag. “You just try that,” he said again. It would be morning soon and people would flood the laundry mat. No one would notice the teenaged boy playing his videogame, perhaps waiting on his parents or his girlfriend. Perhaps he was in college and was going his roommates laundry. Whatever the case no one would notice he’d been there all day. No one would notice he never ate. He only listened. He only awaited the night time when all the sad and lonely come to do their laundry in the dead of night to avoid the eyes of others. They avoided the sun. No one would notice the ranger either. His laundry bag by his leg perhaps politely letting the mothers and the elderly go ahead of him. No one would ever connect them. They wouldn’t place them as two opposing spirits fighting a battle against good and evil. The good not strong enough to defeat him quite yet but he’d get there. He would get there just as sure as the night would come he would get there.