Heather the hellish hen. That’s what I liked to call her. Cacophonous clucking in the early morning hours at five minutes past daybreak classified us all as early birds. The only reason that miserable hen was still alive was because the owner, Miss Madeline was the only qualified baker, to my standards anyway. I loved my warm, flaky, raspberry pastries every Sunday afternoon. I fumbled around my covers, blindly searching for my ballpoint pen. I had officially finished my workout- my leaden eyes were at least fifty pounds each. As per my routine, I added yet another tally mark to my ongoing ‘Days Until I Leave to Europe’ countdown. The tally mark was about as straight as Freddie Mercury. I stayed up until eleven writing my research paper about him and lost yet another hour of sleep because of spring forward. My professor was so unsympathetic, and so pathetic. My whole room was pathetic- the slanted closet, rotting floorboards, and sticky doorknobs. Everything was so pathetic!
My mind convinced my conscience that I would persevere in this town, but my heart told me it would all be over soon, probably sooner than I imagined. I put on my blue faded jeans and wrinkled white shirt. My mascara came out in ebony clumps, and my salmon pink lipstick felt grainy on my lips, like sand in between toes. This time abroad was teaching me how to listen to my heart; I felt it now more than ever. As I looked into my reflection in the gold, spray-painted mirror, I noticed a twinkle in my eye amidst a bloodshot sclera and dilated pupils. I wasn’t really an optimist, but I wasn’t necessarily a pessimist either. I winked at myself in the mirror as I prepared to go to class, the only sense of confidence I could ever instill in myself. Schoolbooks in hand, I eyed the peeling equilibrium equation on the cover of my chemistry textbook and sighed away the small fragment of confidence I had fabricated just a few moments earlier. My gloves were on- the doorknobs were especially sticky in the spring and summer time. I closed my eyes to prepare myself for the blinding morning light and brought my shoulders to my ears in hopes that I’d buffer the cringe from the squeaking door. An awful stench climbed its way into my sinuses and grappled onto my throat, clinging onto it like there was no tomorrow. But as I opened my eyes, I realized there may not even be a tomorrow.
Water tickled my feet, but it wasn’t the clear, beachy water. It seemed to course through every crevice of my foot, drowning my nails in a murky and cloudy substance. The water permeated through my apartment, like an ominous hand with twelve fingers reaching in twelve different directions. It stabilized there and shone like a rusted streetlight as my antique lamp lit up its opaque film. I felt like the unluckiest soul in the universe. But then it occurred to me. I lived on the top floor, alone. I dropped my books and rushed to my balcony, and looked down, only to be facepalmed by a wave of chunky water. I rubbed my eyes with my hands, now tinted with black from my mascara. I looked back to my room, trying to find something I could transport myself across with. My sofa slid easily across the slippery floor, now frothing with bubbles. I waited for the next surge to arrive, making myself a puppet to this strange world.
I had watched enough Naked and Afraid episodes on Tuesday nights to know what to do. Except now, instead of sitting on my sofa watching it, I was sitting on my sofa living it. With my clothes on. I used my hands as paddles, and my eyes as the navigator. My curiosity latched onto half submerged trees, dripping with a thick burgundy liquid that fell in globs down to the water. There, it transmuted into a thousand other globs, seemingly racing across the surface. The sky was tinted green, streaks of blue barely visible. The sky was like me. Not entirely hopeful, but hope was still there.
My fingers grazed what seemed to be a string of sausages. As much as the thought of caving into my ravenous appetite was appealing, it was equally gruesome. I toyed with the sausages as my mind and the sofa drifted along this watery lane. The sausages had a hard end to them, a smooth and delicate tip like fragile chinaware. Looking down, my eyes were met with a sight I knew all too well. I swallowed my breath. Miss Madeline’s eyes blankly stared into mine, her mouth flooded with silt and her fingers bloated-like tiny pork sausages.
I felt like I had jumped off the Titanic, searching for my Jack in this swamped, harsh and open sea. I didn’t know who or what I was looking for. Was this the apocalypse, or post apocalypse? I stared for a long moment as my eyes merged with the water, forming watery pools at the edge. When I felt my mind wander, I was forced back into the moment where I saw Miss Madeline. I had seen a dead person. And it wasn’t like the movies. It was so much more potent. I hoped a zombie would emerge from the water and I’d magically gain superpowers that would allow me to throw balls of fire that made the creature explode into hundreds of pieces. The sky became greener.
I lay on my back, trying to capture the exact moments where the sky would change color. It was such a slow and gradual process; I couldn’t keep my focus. Even at times where I let my imagination roam wild, where I danced in vermillion sunsets and looked out of frosted coffee shop windows, each wave dragged me back to reality. Why me? Why was I the only one alive? Even the trees looked dilapidated. Looking to my right, I saw my Freddie Mercury research paper float alongside me, damp and smeared with blue ink.
“I don’t wanna die, I sometimes wish I’d never been born at all…” Bohemian Rhapsody. Seemed fitting enough.
Day was swallowed by night. The stars illuminated my way down this winding water road. The moon was full, like an evil god looking down on his sick masterpiece. As I looked down on the water’s surface, I saw my reflection. I winked at myself, like the good times. It was funny; the times I thought were awful weren’t nearly as lonely, sullen, and discouraging as this. The people I thought drove me crazy actually kept me sane. Without them, I was lost. Alone. A vagabond in this vast planet. My stomach grumbled, beckoning for my attention. Paddling along the water, I knew I wouldn’t find any food, not even raspberry pastries.
Suddenly, I heard a whoosh of feathers. The wind’s gentle voice cooed for me. I knew it was for me because I was the only one here, the only survivor. Now I didn’t feel like a puppet. I felt like a puppet master.
“How lovely to see you here, Heather.”
The chicken was great, the revenge was even better. I was ready to take on this new world. I think I owed it to my wink.