Image: A house, painted blue, at night, with trees

Carnage | By Ryann Johnson

I stand up, sling my bag over my shoulder, and march over to them. I put my hands on my hips and block out the sun. “So, we meet again.”

No, no, too cliché. What am I thinking?

I stand up and glide towards the people on the grass. I smile down at them, my teeth daggers behind venomous lipstick and steely eyes. “Lovely day, isn’t it?” Then I walk away.

But god, where would I go? I’d end up bumping into someone or tripping over my own feet or running into the nearest store for shelter.

No. I had to stay here. Here I felt caged, but I could blend in amongst the shadows. They still hadn’t recognized me, which was almost suspicious luck. I am only a few feet away, really, dressed in black. I am an outsider in a room full of people, a purple bruise on ivory skin, the only black rose among a sea of green grass.

I want them to notice me. I flirt with confrontation, though it has never loved me back. Preening and strutting before the void allows me to feel powerful until I shrink back to the small human I pretend to be. I want them to see me.

Minutes drip by. I feel like the ghost of Christmas past, a dark reminder of what used to be, what can be, what I can be. I’m a nightmare, a terror plagued by anxiety and self-doubt. I’m an ice queen. I stay quiet and write in my journal and watch how they pull grass out of the ground – who does that? – and jeez my knees are killing me from sitting here.

I adjust my purse so I can sit on the flap, brushing off bits of damp grass from my shoes. Surely the movement must have caught their attention. I look up, ready to witness the moment of horrifying recognition but it doesn’t come. I wonder why it’s taking so long and send a text to my friend detailing my predicament. It’s hard typing when your claws are unsheathed. Thank God for autocorrect. An eternity later she writes back “lmao,” which doesn’t quite ease my nerves.

I can’t take it anymore. I leap to my feet and raise my arms above my head with a scream of “Witness me!” which I know is a quote from that Mad Max movie I haven’t actually seen. You learn too much from the internet. Everyone in the vicinity turns their heads and a murder of crows lifts into the air, cawing menacingly. Thunder rumbles through roiling clouds.

But no, it’s spring. I rarely see crows in spring and the weather definitely wouldn’t obey my command for dramatic effect. I scribble ‘why does the universe hate me’ in my journal, but I have to cross out ‘universe’ and rewrite it because I spelled it wrong. The paper is ugly now, like my feelings about the people on the grass a few feet away.

They sit up.

God! The sunglasses! They’ve been hiding me this whole time, obscuring the identity I so desperately need to be known. I take them off like I’ve seen women do in the movies. I feign elegance and poise but my hands shake. I make a show of fixing my freshly-dyed hair. See me? I’m here and I’ll always be here and I have a fairly large mansion renting space in your head that you’ll never be able to fully demolish. It’s painted lavender like the house down the street and the windows are peaked and I’m sure there are a few cats running around on the porch.

I own them. It becomes apparent when they see me. A surge of adrenaline courses through my veins when our eyes meet. I see it all in their face. Recognition, then dread, then a rush to get up. They grab their belongings and whisper to their companion while pulling them to their feet. In a moment, they’re gone. I watch them ruin someone’s photo by walking through it, not stopping to pause for a breath of the sweet spring air.

I own them. I haven’t said a thing, but the strength of my spell remains. I am afraid, but I put fear into the heart of the thing that scares me. I looked Death in the face and Death fell away. The tyrant crossed the street in such haste to flee my presence that it didn’t notice my gaze on the back of its head. I feel residual power burning in my fingertips, my eyes glowing red. Fear of such a little thing can topple worlds.

Lightning strikes. In its glare their house is illuminated so brilliantly I have to look away. When the thunder stops I squint through the deluge of hot rain and notice the house has changed. The roof has caved in, the crumbling walls overgrown with vines and weeds. When I put my hand on the gate the lock crumbles away in my fingers. I can do this now. I push aside the rotting, smoking wood and slosh through mud and uncut grass and post an eviction notice to the front door. I take a step back to admire my work, ignoring the water that soaks through my clothes and my skin and my spine.

And then the clouds part, the shade lifts and I’m free. I can feel the cool breeze playing across my shoulders and hear the traffic and the sun seems to shine a little brighter. I hadn’t realized the weight on my chest until it departed with them. My eyes are green again. I stretch my hands. The apocalypse will have to wait. I make a few more notes in my journal. The last word I write is ‘carnage.’

I know I haunt them for the rest of the night, a phantom lurking in the corners of their eyes. Incorporeality suits me. Dead eyes and cold breath and memories dredged up from the depths of the ocean of thought. I imagine how they picture me. Maybe I’m in my purple mansion, rocking on the porch and laughing, a bottle of Snapple lemonade in my hand. A striped cat wraps around my booted feet. Or maybe it’s Halloween and I’m in fishnets with buns and heavy eyeliner running in the opposite direction, always just out of reach. I delight in my power.

At 3 a.m. my phone dings.

“I’m sorry.”

I don’t respond.


Ryann Johnson is an MFA Creative Writing student at Chapman University, where she earned her BFA in Creative Writing in 2017. Her work is primarily in fiction and poetry, and she is writing her first novel. She one day hopes to teach writing at the high school or college level.



Featured Image: “Doll House” by Josh McGinn is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

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