It was late. Kinsey was irritable and frankly, downright angry. Here it was, close to seven o’clock when she wanted to be watching the season finale of Runway, and she was at Target. Her two best friends hadn’t done their part for the science fair project they’d been assigned. “Why do I always have to be the reliable one?” She directed this question to a rather large shopper who was blocking the isle, his cart full of cereal boxes and gasoline. “What the hell is he doing?” she thought, as she maneuvered around his pockmarked and ridiculous expression. She ignored his attempt to tell her a knock-knock joke and hurried past the hypodermic needle display.
A cold sweat broke on Kinsey’s forehead and traveled down her chest and back. Her arms became weak and shaky and she pushed her cart to one side to take stock of her situation. Tinsey and Cheryl had reluctantly turned over the list of supplies when she’d exploded about the impending deadline, pointing out the ten page paper she’d finished – her end of the deal. She had become impatient, waiting for them to mess with their makeup, and finally left them at the house.
She slid her purse around her shoulder and propped it in the child’s seat of the cart. Reaching for the zipper, she noticed a large clump of hair and grime that had converged where her wrist met the back of her hand, the sweat of her body carrying it all there, as if to a faucet. In a single exasperated motion, she flung it at the fat man as he emerged from the isle she’d just left. Dodging the monstrosity (that had now grown teeth), the man shook his head and continued around to the next isle.
Alone again, Kinsey focused on remaining calm. “Runway will just be finishing when I get home,” she thought, “I’ll be able to start the DVR and skip the commercials.” Now, back to the task at hand. Opening her purse, she felt the hair on the back of her neck come to life. Was the fat man back, demanding a “Who’s there?” She glanced quickly around, surveying the ends of each isle. No. She was alone. Still, she felt the undeniable sensation of someone watching her. “Cameras,” she thought, and reached into the purse for the list.
Swirling her hand around like she was mixing a salad, she grazed her checkbook, the calculator, and some keys. A grinding noise, very low and steady, began tickling her ears. “Someone got a bad cart,” she supposed, “with a wheel that needs fixing.” She pulled out her cell phone without a glance, and tucked it into her jeans pocket. She knew there would be messages from her friends, wondering where she was, but she refused to pay heed. They had disrespected her time with their lack of follow-through. They could make an appointment to apologize as far as she was concerned.
The grinding sound had intensified, only now it had a different quality. She could swear it was repeating words, or rather, a familiar phrase of non-words she recognized from her childhood, “Wacka ferantun, butos santin, oorat dirty perkin shertafata bunkin philaportin, perkaluma bertin dirtin, burstin agin enata …” It sounded like a robot, with a much lower voice, cursing like her favorite cartoon character – Yosemite Sam. Only it wasn’t changing its tone; it just forced the sounds out like a mantra, the curse becoming louder and louder. Was it possible, she wondered, that a busted wheel could make such sounds?
She hurriedly dove back into her bag, striving for the feel of a piece of paper that may have drifted to the bottom. Using her forearm to widen the opening as her hand still explored, she positioned the purse to get more light, and looked into the gaping hole. A shrill scream left her before her optical nerve cooperated with the full story.
A row of jagged, greasy teeth had her arm in a vice-grip. Insane eyes peered at her from the sides of the beast that was once her purse. Emblazoned with a self-righteous fury, they pierced her with looks of hatred and disgust. Her arm a bloody mess with bone starting to show, Kinsey panicked and began waving her arm, monster attached, in wide arcs away from the shopping cart.
Contents of the monster’s stomach began flying. In the store around her, she noticed a crowd of strange creatures, half human – half shopping card, moving toward her. Surrounded and outnumbered, she charged past the smallest of the pack, desperate for escape. The central isle opened in front of her and she searched for the best place to hide. Her wild antics had sent the purse monster, teeth still clamped on her arm and hand, sailing in another direction.
What remained of her arm now hung from her shoulder, limp and immobile. She stared in awkward fascination at the hemorrhaging stump, and thought how lucky she was to catch a break. The blood flowing from the wound soaked into her clothes and painted the pristine white surroundings as she tucked herself onto a lower shelf next to the flower pots. She was certain she blended into the color scheme of the store now; this would help her camouflage.
“Kinsey! Hey, Kinsey! It’s okay. Calm down; it’s okay.” She knew that voice. “Don’t be afraid. We’re here; we found you. We’re going to get you help.”
“Cheryl? Cheryl – be quiet or they’ll find us. Quick – get in here. I’ll make room!” Kinsey’s whisper was laced with fear and frustration. Her friend was going to get her killed.
“Kinsey – it’s not real. You’re okay. You took some of those LSD stickers. You – it’s not real, honey. I’m sorry. We went to get batteries for the camera and you were gone. I’m so glad we found you.” Cheryl knelt in front of Kinsey and looked over her shoulder at what looked like Tinsey next to a blue blob with shiny, silver spots. “It was our science project for school, officer. We just wanted to do something different. We didn’t think it would be like this.”
The blob spoke in Mandarin, Kinsey could not make out what it was saying. But Tinsey and Cheryl seemed to comprehend. Kinsey withdrew further into her hiding place. Her body had begun to shake and she was suddenly very thirsty.
“Cheryl?” Tinsey’s voice traced the ledge of shock and fear, “Where … is all that blood coming from?”
Reaching for her best friend, Cheryl was slow and deliberate, stroking her friend’s hair with one hand and reaching for her hand with the other. “C’mon girl. Let’s get you to a hospital.” She froze. “Oh my God! You guys, her arm … she’s missing …” Cheryl fell backward as instinct jerked her hands back. She braced herself, leaving a bloody hand print on the tile, as she slid herself as far away as she could get. Her eyes glazed over in shock; she whispered, “She’s missing half her arm.”
This piece is inspired by the exercise called “Unreliable Third,” in Brian Kiteley’s book The 3 A.M. Epiphany. I highly recommend it to aspiring writers with day jobs.