You are entering a place where dirty underwear surrounds you, and coin-operated washing machines are plentiful...but there are no quarters.
You have crossed a line from which there is no return...a place from where there is no escape...an odor from which there is no relief.
Crotchety, you may say? Does that refer to the old men from which the odor originates? Or the place on the old men from which it emanates?
That's one of the many unexplained, unsolved mysteries that makes your skin crawl, your pupils widen & your stomach turn in..The Creep Zone.
One thing about Lucy: she was always organized. She was organized to the point where her far-less-organized friends often teased her for it, even as they squandered away countless hours on non-productive things simply because they couldn't stick to a schedule. But not Lucy.
It was 4:52 PM. The dryer had exactly 13 minutes to go. At 5:05 she'd empty the clothes and begin folding. Now since this was a B-load (light-colored--but not white--tops and other non-delicates), it would take approximately 18 minutes to fold... less than a C-load (the dark-colored garments), but more than an A-load (whites, plus off-white sheets & towels). This puts her at somewhere between 5:21 and 5:25, most likely leaving enough time to get to the gym by 5:30. A 50-minute workout and the subsequent trip home would take her to exactly 6:30.
She'd planned this dinner a week beforehand (just as she'd planned all of them). Tonight, prep would take 12 minutes while cooking would take 15. She'd sit down to dinner and pop on the TV just in time to take in the last 3 minutes of the national news broadcast, after which she'd put on the TV drama she'd also planned to watch a week in advance. But while the drama looked interesting, it--like too many of them--was an hour-long program. Who has an hour to sit there watching TV...? So she'd only be able to watch approximately 18 minutes of it, seeing as how eating would take her 21. If the show had been only half an hour long, she'd have considered watching the whole thing...but would probably have chosen not to, after thinking about it for about 12 seconds.
The only trouble, as far as she was concerned, was the fact that she'd finished running all of the errands she'd intended to run while her clothes were in the dryer, and here it was, only 4:52 PM. This was extremely frustrating, because while she *had* allowed six minutes of extra time just in case she had to wait on longer checkout lines than usual, the opposite actually happened. Instead of it being 4:59 as she'd expected, there were now a whopping 13 minutes left to wait. Having to wait, with nothing to work on for 13 minutes?! What kind of madness was this?
Not knowing what else to do with herself, Lucy started pacing around the laundromat. She walked as if she was a robot: deliberately, without hesitation of any sort, and sought out every possible path. As she was the only one there at the time, she wasn't going to fetch any funny looks...but typically, she wasn't the sort of person who cared about such things. Since she was inside a laundromat, there wasn't much ground to cover, so this process only consumed about 45 seconds. With lots of time left to kill, she saw no other option but to do it again. And again...
During each lap around the laundromat she passed by a closed red door. Maybe there was something behind it? she wondered. Maybe there's something interesting to do in there? She had nothing to lose except time, and there were still 8 minutes to kill, so she figured, why not?
On the other side of the red door was a short hallway, at the end of which was a seemingly identical red door. The hallway itself didn't stand out in any particular way; walls painted green, floor and ceiling consisting of boring, standard, run-of-the-mill white tile. But while traversing the hallway she felt a sudden odd, uneasy feeling, as if something had changed. Was this a stomach ache? Her lunch had been freshly prepared, and there was no chance of undercooked meat; there'd been no meat in it at all. She shrugged off the odd feeling and opened the other red door...
...on the other side was what appeared to be the very same laundromat. It looked just as if she'd turned around in the middle of the hallway and come back.
Her clothes were in one of the dryers. It appeared to be the same dryer she'd used.
Wait a second...what's going on here?
Lucy returned to the red door and pulled the knob, but it was locked and wouldn't budge.
"Hi," said a voice behind her.
She whirled around, startled, expecting the worst...but instead, coming face-to-face with a seemingly ordinary-looking person. He was a bit larger-built than average, and appeared to stand about 5 feet, 9 inches tall, she guessed.
"Uh...hello," Lucy offered, somewhat uncomfortably. Something still felt a little off.
The man was carrying a clear plastic bag. Inside was a selection of assorted, colored underwear. The assortment covered quite a number of bases; boxers, briefs, panties, bras...
"My name's John," said the man. "I come here to wash my underwear every Tuesday."
"That's...that's great," said Lucy.
6 more minutes until her dryer was done. 360 seconds. Now, she felt, it was starting to feel endless.
"Are you washing your underwear, too?" asked John.
Lucy did her best to hide her astonishment.
"Uh...yeah, there's, um, some of that in here. I come here to wash *all* of my clothes, actually!"
"I like clothes. But I like underwear best," said John with a completely straight face and normal expression. He then, slowly, began walking towards her for some reason.
A chill ran down Lucy's spine. A feeling of terror washed over her, splashing onto her face, even as she tried desperately to keep from displaying a panicked appearance. John slowly approached her, walking in a deliberate fashion.
Five minutes and 40 seconds to go. John was just a few feet away from Lucy.
The front door suddenly opened. Someone else had arrived. Oh, thank goodness, Lucy thought.
Slowly, an old man with a cane hobbled into the laundromat.
"Hi, Richard," said John as he turned his head to greet the old man, but without backing away from Lucy even one inch.
"Oh, hello, John," said Richard.
These two knew each other? Uh, oh...
After he'd fully entered the building, Lucy was able to get a better look at Richard. He was short; no taller than she was. He seemed to have hair everywhere except on the top of his head; this was apparent because his button-down polo shirt was almost completely unbuttoned, revealing way more of his chest than she cared to look at. She whirled around, almost gagging.
"Oooh...who's your lady friend?" asked Richard. "She's pretty good-lookin'!"
Lucy hadn't given any thought to whether she could be any more uncomfortable, but if this feeling could be measured on a scale, she was pretty sure the scale just snapped in half.
John, still just a few feet away from Lucy, finally turned completely towards Richard.
"We just met," John said. "I can't wait to see her underwear."
Turning back towards Lucy, John asked, "Do you usually prefer Hanes, or Fruit of the Loom?"
...he was actually, genuinely interested in...her underwear preferences.
"It's getting more difficult to decide, these days, if you ask me," he spoke, speaking slowly and more clearly than your average person, enunciating each syllable with a sort of extra effort. "Hanes recently moved a lot of their production from the west end of Indonesia all the way over to Bangladesh, and their quality dropped a lot, for a while."
"Usually a pair of Hanes lasts me at least three months, but the Bangladesh pairs started coming apart after only a few weeks...it was a big difference."
"You'll never meet another guy as serious about his underwear than John," Richard said, also beginning to approach Lucy. "He's a good feller. You should ask him out for coffee, or sum'tin..."
As if this is an attribute worth celebrating?
Four minutes, forty seconds...
"...well, that is, if I'm willin' to share!" Richard looked up at Lucy with glowing eyes. He was now only a few feet away, as well. It almost seemed as if he'd teleported closer in an instant. She was starting to feel boxed in. Now, she saw no other choice...
"Um, excuse me, but...you guys are starting to make me feel uncomfortable."
"What?" John said, looking half-confused. "You're uncomfortable? Oh, hold on a second..."
John turned around, returned to his plastic bag of various undergarments, and started to sift through it.
"Is something wrong?" Richard asked, looking concerned. "Would you like a hug?" He began to step a little closer, and outstretched his arms.
Lucy attempted to shrink back, but was already as far up against her dryer as she could go.
"No, I'm quite alright without one..."
Four minutes, twenty seconds...
"Okay," Richard said, looking a bit disappointed and retreating somewhat. "But when I'm feeling sad, nervous or uncomfortable, a hug always makes me feel better, so I figured I'd off--"
"Here they are," John loudly interrupted, sounding excited. "These are the most comfortable I've got!" He removed a light-blue colored pair of panties from the bag, then approached Lucy once again.
"These are from Victoria's Secret...it's their Ultimate Comfort line. It's really soft...this one needs to be washed, but you could at least try it on! Then, you'll feel comfortable in no time!"
John held it out to her proudly, with a huge grin on his face. She counted two missing teeth.
This was too much for poor Lucy.
To spend another three minutes and fifty seconds in this place was too terrible of a concept for her to even imagine.
Not even caring about the fate of her laundry, she charged forward, past the two men and out the laundromat's front door. She started dashing down the street towards the subway station, and made it most of the way there until she noticed that something was different. It seemed quiet...too quiet.
Lucy looked up and around the typically-crowded city street. It was, in fact, still crowded. But everyone else on the street was motionless. They were silent. And...they were all staring at her. Worse still, she noticed that they were all men...every last one of them.
The silence was broken by happy-sounding music that sounded like it was straight out of a kids' cartoon. Lucy glanced at the neon billboard that usually played movie trailers or electronics advertisements. This time, it was showing an ad for condoms.
"When Mr. Happy needs a raincoat..." sang a cute voice from the billboard.
Lucy shrieked, drowning out what she could hear of the song, and charged down the subway station stairs. In one smooth motion, she swiped her fare card, went downstairs to the platform, and got on the first train she saw, which happened to already be waiting. The doors promptly closed; the train began to move moments later.
"...wait a second...the train isn't usually empty, is it?" she thought to herself.
"Good evening, miss," came a man's voice from behind her.
Lucy whirled around to find a well-dressed, very good-looking young man. Actually, he was so good-looking that he seemed fake, in a too-good-to-be-true sort of way. Instantly, her nervousness came back.
"Yes, hello," came another man's voice, from behind her yet again. Why must they always sneak up from behind?!
The greetings kept coming until she was virtually surrounded by five good-looking men and one younger boy. On a sealed, locked, moving subway train.
Lucy finally managed to blurt out an "Ummmm...hi?"
The tallest said, "Well, don't you just look lovely, today?"
The boy shouted, "You're here because you're in trouble, right?"
"Yeah, I'll say."
"Tell us about your problems!" the boy replied.
"I...don't think I want to talk about anything with you," Lucy said.
"But you *must* tell us about your problems," said the tallest, who had somehow managed to sneak up behind her...as he placed one hand upon her face.
"Yeah," continued the boy. "We can't let you leave until we solve your problems!"
The train traveled into a tunnel, disappearing into darkness...
A scream is the loudest sound a human can produce. The pitch, volume and intensity of a scream is meant to convey terror, panic, or desperation--or a combination of those frightening elements--in one moment, during which the person screaming is trying their hardest to communicate such elements to someone...anyone...who might help them.
But, sadly, there was nobody there to help Lucy, as she screamed with all her might. Her clean, name-brand underwear was doomed to become part of an obsessed fan's collection...her uncertain fate rested in the hands of the most gorgeous, yet most creepy men she'd ever met...and there was no guarantee that she'd ever escape from...The Creep Zone.
"Amy" (Sat 2/16/2013, 2:20 AM):
Being an English major, I began to analyze your word choices for a deeper meaning. I do this for all short stories. Being a pervert, I skewed everything to the side and made it a little disturbing. This is instinct to me.
I began to wonder why you chose Richard and John for the names. Then I remembered Dick is a common nickname for Richard and that you mentioned John is colloquial for toilet. Also they're in a laundromat talking about underwear. The story became 102490824x's weirder in my head LoL
I liked it!
"Aaron" (Sat 2/16/2013, 2:24 AM):
What's amazing is that this reminds me of my time in Honors English classes, where the teacher explained the symbolism of something and it flew right over my head. I chose those two names randomly and for no particular reason, and they just happened to work out that way. Ha!
"Amy" (Sat 2/16/2013, 3:08 AM):
(Shh, Don't tell the English department, but I tested out of Honors English in high school because I took the stupid poem literally instead of figuratively. Shhhh.)
Orly? I couldn't tell if you did it on purpose or not, so I just had to point it out. Your subconscious is rather amazing then!
"Aaron" (Sat 2/16/2013, 11:08 AM):
The moment when I realized I no longer belonged in Honors English happened when we all finished reading a book one night, then discussed it in class the next day. The ending was one of these artsy, abstract sorts of things...I didn't think much of it. In the class discussion that followed, I then learned--not "realized," not "understood," but "learned"--that the main character had killed himself at the end of the book. Oops.
"Amy" (Sat 2/16/2013, 8:46 PM):
I hate when a book is written in such an abstract way that you don't understand what's going on. *cough faulkener cough* I can't stand that. I always miss the point. Give me a good book that explores humanity any day!