June 12th, 2036
Wow! It’s been a while since i opened this old thing. My therapist recommended journaling to help digest my thoughts during the quarantine. I figure anything is worth a shot at this point. It’s been almost a week since the outbreak. At first they just called it the flu, and now it’s a deadly virus, contaminating everyone who comes into contact with it. I was just a kid the last time something like this happened. 2020 I think? I’m not sure. But I remember it threw the world into mass chaos. They aren’t taking any chances this time. “For our safety” our little city is under lockdown. No going out, no one coming in, you stay put unless you call for a town escort somewhere essential. We’d get ration boxes with groceries every week, and medication if you’re on any. In other words, another round of house arrest. Super. I survived it once, and I’ll survive it again...thought that doesn’t mean i won’t complain about it.
The first week has been agonizing. To think I’d miss delivering pizzas... Ha! My job wasn’t the ritz but at least it used to give me a decent amount of human interaction. I don’t even get that anymore. I’ve always been the social butterfly type, even if I am awkward as hell. But this town seems to be the opposite. My buddy in lock up said this was a nice place to go once I'm out. Nobody would ask questions, start digging where they shouldn’t. But damn, it’s lonely! I haven’t made a single friend during my year in Seaside Heights. I’ve only talked to my neighbor, Mrs.Hasagawa, a handful of times since i moved in, and the apartment on the other side of mine was vacant until about a month ago. That’s when she moved in.
She is gorgeous. Mid 20’s, wavy, chestnut colored hair, and these jade green eyes you could get lost in all day. Then there’s me, Mr. Social Butterfly, who can’t even say hello. I’ve seen her before, around town. She works at the little green house a few blocks up. I stopped there a few months ago to pick up flowers for my mother’s birthday and noticed her in the back. I couldn’t stop staring, until the shopkeeper totally called me out. She let out this adorable little giggle when her boss referred to me as “Lover Boy” through the entire transaction. I overheard her talking to her coworker about needing a place to stay and may have left the flyer for my building under the door. I can’t believe she actually moved in! I’ve seen her out on her patio, watering her hanging plants, and I can’t even work up the nerve to talk to her. But with all this going on, I promised myself I’d try. So, today is the day!”
Todd closed his laptop and stared out his sliding glass door. Mayor Lewis recommended everyone step outside and get at least twenty minutes of fresh air every day. A safe distance from other people, of course. “I guess now is as good a time as any.” Todd thought to himself. He combed his fingers through his shaggy, sandy mop and sighed. He was definitely lacking that “self-care” routine his mother always pushed on him. But it’s not like he was going out in public, just out on his own patio. As he opened the door, Mrs.Hasagawa’s cat stirred and gave him a judgey, disapproving look, before rolling over in her cat hammock.
“Yikes, that bad, huh Lucinda? I didn’t realize my appearance was so disheveling!” He jokingly called to the disinterested feline.
“Well, a brush wouldn’t kill you. She probably thinks her long lost brother died atop your head.” A quiet voice was giggling behind him. Todd turned beet red and slowly turned around. “Oof, you caught that little exchange, did you? Lucinda and I go way back. I’m sure she’ll forgive me.” He called across the railing. “Maybe,” The girl replied. “But I am not so easily swayed.” She smiled at him, and Todd felt his cheeks go hot. “Well...we’ll just have to fix that. I’m Todd. To whom do I owe the pleasure?” He dipped into a big, theatrical bow. ”The pleasure is all mine, sir! Natalie of the House Plants, at your service!” she smiled and tipped the edges of her beige smocked dress in his direction. As she lifted her head, their eyes locked for a split second, and Todd was lost in their green sparkle again.
“Uh oh. Overkill?” Her voice brought him back to reality. Natalie hung her head, embarrassed.
“Not at all. Just admiring your eyes.” He admitted, perking her right back up.
“So, tell me madam, what will I have to do to get back in your good graces?”
“Hmm…” Natalie paused a moment and put on her best thinking face. “Well, being cooped up in the house does get awfully boring, not to mention lonely. How about you agree to be my quarantine date?”
Todd felt his face get hot once again. “D…date?” He stuttered.
“Oh not like that!” She raced to correct herself. I only mean maybe we could meet out here on the patio for a little while every day, until this is over. Get a little human interaction. The plants are lovely, but I like a little idle chit chat now and again…unless you prefer Lucinda’s company?”
Natalie peered past him to the dark brown Maine Coon. Todd chuckled. “A fine proposal m’lady. I think Lucy far prefers the peace and quiet to my yammering, anyways.” He scratched his head nervously. “Sounds like a plan! Hold on a sec.” She popped her head in her apartment, and came out with a little notepad. She scribbled on it for a moment before tearing off a page and handing it to Todd over the railings dividing them. It was her phone number. The bottom of the stationary read “You say Witch like it’s a bad thing”. Todd once again became lost in thought.
“…It’s my cell number…just in case you can’t make it one day or you want to come out at a different time. I figure mornings are probably best. I can water the leafy babies while we chat.” She stroked the leaves of her cascading philodendron bush and lifted the can to water it. It was heavy, and massive to accommodate all the plants, but she lifted it with ease. A tidbit Todd noticed as he suddenly came to his senses about the note on the stationary.Completely losing his filter, Todd blurted out “You’re a witch? Like…magic wand, turn me into a toad…witch??”
“Oh don’t look so shocked!” She waved, dismissing him. “This isn’t Harry Potter, Todd. Witches are every day, ordinary people. Really, we’re just hippies who can read tarot and talk to dead people.” She giggled, but her neighbor stared on in horror. Finally he reanimated and shouted
“DEAD PEOPLE?” entirely too loudly.
At the sound of a rusty, shrieking door, they both turned to look at the apartment left of Todd.
“TOO MUCH RUCKUS! Scare poor kitty! Keep it down or I call building security!” Mrs. Hasagawa had heard Todd yell and came out to scold them.
“Sorry Mrs. Hasagawa!” they both called. The old woman huffed, scooping up her cat, and going back inside without another word to her neighbors.
“Yikes. Don’t suppose you could summon the bug that crawled up her butt, could you?” Todd smiled at his new friend, until a ringing inside caught his attention “Crap, that’ll be Ma. Calls every other day around 11. Catch you tomorrow?” He asked hopefully.
“Wouldn’t miss it. Talk to you then” Natalie waved as Todd rushed to the phone.
His budgie, Mable, was screeching in the corner at the commotion.
“Heyy Ma!” He answered, getting to the phone on the last ring.
“Oh thank God, I thought you might be in trouble again.”
Todd rolled his eyes. Despite only serving six months in jail and the other six on house arrest, his mother always tried to imply he was a dangerous criminal, looking for a chance to cause trouble every chance he got.
“Mom, do we really have to go through this every time we talk? I stole credit card information, it’s not like I’m a murderer. I learned my lesson, I did my time, I have no intentions of going back.”
“Well. So be it. What is that awful racket in the background?”
“That’s Mable. My budgie. I told you I got her when I got out to help pass the time a bit. She’s finally warmed up to me. The phone was ringing while I was on the porch and it scared her, that’s all.”
“That noise can’t be good for your peace of mind.”
“I’m fine, Ma. Honest.”
“Anyways, I’m calling because I sent you a little gift. I know you said you’ve been reading more, so I picked out a nice set of hanging bookshelves for you. They showed as delivered just a bit ago.”
“That was sweet of you, thanks. I’ll go and check it out. Take care of yourself…miss you mom.”
“Miss you too, dear. Talk soon.”
As much as she drove him up a wall, Todd knew his mother’s heart was always in the right place. That’s why she called every day. To check on him. Truth be told, he hadn’t picked up a book since high school, but he was sure the shelves would come in handy anyway. Sure enough, the package was waiting for him in the hall, along with his food ration box. He went to lift the boxes to take them inside, and realized the shelves were far too heavy to lift by himself. He hated to do it, but he took out his phone, and texted Natalie. “If she’s strong enough to handle that watering can, maybe she can grab the other end.” He thought. “Hey there, sorry to bother you already. Any chance you can pop into the hallway and help me out? Mom sent a huge box and I can’t get it on my own.”
Within a few minutes, he saw her beautiful figure immerge from 12 B. “Oh wow.” She exclaimed. “You weren’t kidding!” She examined the side of the box which read “Iron Framed Wall Mount Bookshelves”. “Well then, let’s get these inside for you. You grab that end, I’ll take this one.” Natalie flashed him a smile as bent down to pick up her side. Todd stared at her sheepishly, admiring her grin. “Uh, earth to Todd, come in Todd! A little help?” She shouted, snapping him out of his daze. ”Right, sorry!” He turned red for the third time today, over the sweet little witch next door.
They struggled and took the box inside, setting it down with a loud thud. Mable began to screech again. Natalie started toward her cage while her oblivious owner fumbled to open the box. ”Hey now.” She cooed to the distressed bird. “It’s alright. Nothing is going to harm you. It’s just your owner and I, nothing bad here. You’re safe.” The budgie instantly settled, and she opened the cage and let Marge perch on her finger. Todd stared in awe. “She never takes to strangers. Hell, she barely takes to me! How did you do that?” He asked, his mouth still hanging open. Natalie patted the bird’s head, and gently placed her back in the cage.
“You just have to know how to soothe them. If an animal senses something is wrong, their fight or flight response kicks in, and they panic. Their energy feeds off yours, so if you’re afraid, so are they!”
“Wow…You’re something special, aren’t you?” He said in a shy, low voice.
“I’d like to think so.” She replied coyly. “Did you need help hanging the shelves, while I’m here?”
Todd thought for a moment. He knew the shelves would be heavy, but he didn’t want to look like an even bigger wuss in front of this amazing girl. “I can manage, thanks.” He said in his tough guy voice.
“Alright Mr.Macho. Call if you need anything, k?” She flashed that sweet smile, and Todd could only nod, and mutter what was supposed to be “Thank you” but came out entirely muffled.
Pulled from his thoughts in her absence, Todd once again turned to face the obnoxiously heavy shelves his mother left him. He knew it would be a miracle if he could hang them on his own. But he had to try. Natalie would ask him about it tomorrow, and he wanted to be honest with her. The mear medium build man hoisted the iron brackets up and toward the wall, being cautious not to let their weight break through it. They were massive, but he managed to hang them. The black walnut boards were equally as daunting. He was painstakingly trying to lift the final board into place, when he lost his gripping, and the plank squared him right in the center of his forehead. With a loud crash, Todd fell to the floor, where he remained unconscious.
June 13th, 2036
The weirdest thing happened last night. I was hanging those damn shelves (aka most ridiculously sturdy things on the planet) when one of em socked me. I haven’t felt a slam like that since I pissed off Big Charlie during yard time! As i recall, i was in the infirmary for days when he hit me. Luckily the shelf was more forgiving. I just have a crazy sized goose egg in the middle of my head. Oh, and this insane migrain, getting worse by the minute because Mable will not stop SCREAMING. I tried to go near her cage to soothe her and I think it only made her angrier. I might be sleeping in the hall tonight! But that’s not the weird part. Get this, so when I got up from my little involuntary snooze...the shelves were done. Put together perfectly. I must have finished after I knocked out and didn’t realize. Well whatever, I was so pumped I called Ma to say thank you and send her a picture. I couldn’t find my phone anywhere so I opted for Skype instead. Connection was crap though, it was static the entire time. She couldn’t hear a word I said and I finally just hung up. I’ll call her in the morning. For now it’s 3am and I need some shut eye...if i can shut this bird up first.
Todd awoke the beautiful sound of no sound at all. Mabel had finally quieted down. However when he left his bedroom, she started back up again. “Psycho” he muffled in her direction. With a stretch, he went to start a pot of coffee when he suddenly realized he was in last night’s clothes. He could have sworn he put pajamas on before going to sleep. Oh well. Sniffing his shirt, Todd decided he didn’t stink too bad. Out of the corner of his eye he caught a glimpse at the clock. It was almost time to meet Natalie.
He stepped out onto the balcony, and waved at Lucinda. The normally content cat hissed in direction and swatted at the door to come in. “What’s gotten into these animals??” Todd thought. He was so distracted, he didn’t notice Natalie step out, and pick up her watering can to start her morning rituals. He turned around at the sound of her grunts, as she lifted its heavy frame.
“Hey there stranger!” He called. But she didn’t seem to hear him. He called again, this time adding her name. She picked up her head and dropped the can.
“What’s wrong? You look like you’ve seen a ghost!” He chuckled.
“N...nothing! Nothing at all. Uh how was your e..evening? “She stuttered.
“Great!” He replied. “You’d be proud, i got those shelves up and everything. ‘Course i got plowed in the head by a plank of wood in the process but…” He shrugged.
“Oh Todd…” Natalie sighed as her eyes flooded.
“Calm down silly i’m fine!” He soothed. But Natalie excused herself a moment, blaming the tears on her allergies.
Caught in a daze, Todd was pulled into reality by a loud banging on his door.
“Tenant 10B, we have received a noise complaint and request for a wellness check. Can you comply?” A robotic voice called from the other side
“S...sure?” Todd called back. “Ugh. Probably from Mable” He thought.
“Tenant 10B! If you do not respond we will use force to open the door. Do you comply?”
They must not have heard him. “YES I COMPLY DO NOT BREAK MY DOOR DOWN!” He called. But they slammed into the door, busting the flimsy lock.
“Jesus Christ” one soldier cried
His partner just sighed and clicked the button on his radio. “10-55 to Seaside Heights Apartments. 10B. Looks like a shelf fell on the poor bugger.”
“What does that mean?” the squeamish partner asked.
“Coroner case.” He replied.
“Coroner? But i’m fine! i’m here! I just passed out! I...I…” Todd screamed at the soldiers, but nobody heard him. Nobody except his witchy neighbor, Natalie.
“Todd, please come out.” She called from her balcony, weeping. “Todd i’m so sorry...I didn’t know how to tell you. Mrs.Hasagawa called when she heard Mable screeching. I figured it was the noise, and i’d se you today and everything would be fine. I...I…” She sobbed more.
“Natalie please, what the hell is going on!?” He cried back, filling with tears and frustration.
She sighed and said in her softest tone “Todd...when that wood hit your head...you weren't knocked out last night...Todd...you’re dead.”