Something Else

Dane Erbach

Story image for Something Else by

11:12 a.m.

I flinch when the alarm sounds, echoing through the halls like something quick and dangerous. Ms. Anderlik pauses her lesson mid-sentence and sighs, steps toward our classroom’s open door, and peeks out into the empty hallway before locking it and pulling it shut.

How many times have I watched a teacher draw the blinds over the door’s safety glass and snap the lights off before shepherding her class into a corner of a classroom? Most of my classmates are already swiping through their phones, tapping out messages to friends in nearby classrooms. They push AirPods into their ears, unpause whatever they’re watching on Netflix.

“Put them away,” Ms. Anderlik hisses, her eyes dark behind clear acrylic frames. “Turn them off or I have to take them. You know why it’s important to stay off your phones during a lockdown drill, right?”

And, of course, we do – something about overloading bandwidth, inciting panic, distracting us when we need to be attentive. Anyway, we like Ms. Anderlick, so we pocket our devices – all except Kayden Beckett, whose face continues to glow in the now dim room. He plays a game, something stupid with monsters and sharp weapons and splattering sound effects.

And except Lawrence Yi, who never took his phone out to begin with. Instead, he burrows his body as far into the corner as he can, whimpering and wiping his eyes and looking so miserable that Ms. Anderlik pushes through the huddle to sit beside him and rub his back. She shushes him like a mother, draws in slow, deep breaths. Still, Lawrence trembles like an animal cornered by a predator.

But I’m not scared. I’ve been here before.

Orbit-sml ><

11:18 a.m.

Kayden breaks the silence. “What the fuck?” he growls, stabbing his phone with his thumbs. I look over his shoulder at the alert on his screen: “You are no longer connected to the internet.”

“Language,” Ms. Anderlik says, but then huffs quietly. Her middle fingers swipe across her laptop’s touchpad, tap too many times. Her eyebrows knot. “Well, looks like the internet’s out,” she says as she calmly folds her laptop closed. “Screens off, everybody. Now. I don’t want to have to tell you again. We have to take this seriously.”

Almost no one listens. Around me, seventeen other adolescents scowl, thump hopelessly on their screens. “I don’t even have a signal,” Eva Pieroni says, her phone’s colorful wallpaper reflecting in her eyes, her pupils like pinholes.

Braelin Porter sneers. “This fucking sucks.”

Lawrence shushes them loud enough to make us all bristle, then folds himself back into the corner, hides his head in his arms. His unblemished Nikes tap the linoleum.

Part of me wants to sit beside him the way Ms. Anderlik did, to tell him it will all be okay. Another part of me doesn’t want to go near him. I’ve tasted fear like his before, like sweat and dust on the back of my tongue. I don’t want to taste it again.

But then we hear the first shots, and my mouth goes sour and dry anyway.

Orbit-sml ><

11:20 a.m.

Some cry and some freeze when they hear the cracks echoing from somewhere deep within the building . Some take calm breaths to distract themselves. My hand finds Eva’s.

“Quiet,” Ms. Anderlick whispers. She stands above our huddle, facing the door, prepared to take on whoever tries to invade our space. She no longer looks like an art teacher, fresh out of college, wearing a watercolor print dress. Suddenly, she reminds me of the hero character in a movie that dies at the middle.

“Does this mean it’ll be over soon?” Piper Simons chirps from beneath her desk. No one answers.

Braelin sits shoulder to shoulder between Connor Murphy and Miranda Cortez, her mascara melting down her cheeks. Her platinum blonde hair almost glows in the darkness. “Ramona, what did you do last time?”

I shrug. “I don’t know.” But I know exactly how I survived, and Braelin won’t want to hear it.

“You were in a school shooting before?” Kayden asks. “Wow, that’s unlucky.”

“No,” Eva says, squeezing my hand. “She’s lucky. Our good luck charm.”

“Quiet,” Ms. Anderlick hisses again. We all stop talking, stop breathing. The clock on the wall ticks off another minute. It is quiet outside now. Another minute. Still no sound. That doesn’t make it better.

Orbit-sml ><

11:28 a.m.

Our school is old, our classroom smaller than those at the newer high school across town. When it’s windy out, air pushes through the pores in the plaster; when it’s humid, the history rises out of linoleum as an odor, decades of wax and dirt and spilled drinks.

I suppose this is why we feel the footsteps out in the hallway bouncing through the floor even though we don’t hear them. Who’s out there? Kids trying to get out of the school? Administrators patrolling the halls? Police sweeping from classroom to classroom?

“We should go too,” someone suggests in a breathy whisper. Others nod, look up at Ms. Anderlik like scared children in a doctor’s waiting room.

But she shakes her head, closes her eyes, takes a deep breath. “No, we stay here. Someone will come and get us when it’s safe.”

“Maybe it’s safe now,” Kayden says, just as we feel the footsteps on the other side of the wall stop, settle in place, then drum in the opposite direction.

And now we hear muted slapping against the floor, frantic scrambling. And we hear voices commanding, then yelling, then screaming, peals of percussive, chaotic sound impossible to interpret. And then nothing.

Eva’s palm petrifies in my grip.

I close my eyes and disappear into my mind where memories dance like cruel shadows: clutching other classmates’ hands, tugging each other toward the exit by the main office, watching the shooter turn the corner through wavering tears.

I start to cry, silently, clutching her cold stone flesh in my hands.

Orbit-sml ><

11:35 a.m.

When the gunshots return, they sound different – quieter, in short, distant bursts, like static on another planet. We have to hold our breath to hear it.

I pinpoint a second weapon firing alongside the first, and I release my breath. If there are two weapons, then it must be the police, the SWAT team, the protectors who have arrived to save us. It seems premature to smile, so I bite my bottom lip.

Ms. Anderlik sits for the first time in fifteen minutes, giving us permission to lower our guard. She spins an engagement ring on her left hand and stares hard at a bulletin board full of colorful, encouraging posters that seem suddenly irrelevant.

Down the hall, another weapon fires one shot at a time – and much closer to our classroom. For a while, each shot is distinct, a snare drum punching through a song, but then it loses the beat and becomes a steady barrage of noise.

And then we hear the scream, buried beneath the gunfire, before it all goes quiet.

I hold my breath again, trying not to think of what the silence means. I don’t fool myself into thinking this is over. Instead, I visualize the route I will take out of the building the moment that classroom door cracks open.

Orbit-sml ><

12:24 p.m.

Time crawls and speeds and stalls. The wall clock stopped at 11:32 – the power must have been cut, though with the lights out none of us noticed. We keep track of the time on our phones, but the concept has lost its meaning. It’s been a while since the gunfire ceased – long enough for us to lower our guard, converse in semi-silence.

An explosion rocks our classroom, shaking dust from an old PA speaker above our heads. Plastic cups full of paintbrushes tumble off a file cabinet across the room. Ms. Anderlik grips the side of a desk to keep her balance, then lowers herself to the floor beside us. Some scream.

“Oh god, oh god,” Wendy Gaines whispers behind me, her hot breath on the back of my neck.

“That was a bomb,” Kayden announces. “I know bombs, and that was a bomb.”

“Would the police use bombs?” Brett Pierce asks.

“Maybe.” Kayden frowns. “Or maybe the shooter set them.”

“Shut the fuck up,” Braelin begs him, then buries her head in her hands. The edges of her pink French nails are ragged.

More rifles discharge on a far end of the school, and the room settles into tense silence once again. We study the sounds carefully, their rhythm and distance.

“Those are AR-15s, or something like it.” Kayden’s voice is too loud, and the kids closest shush him, shove him against the wall, break into nervous tears.

“I swear to fucking god, if you don’t shut up,” Braelin begins, but runs out of breath.

“The police use AR-15s,” Kayden says.

“The bad guys too, though, right?” Ms. Anderlik asks, her arms crossed over her torso like she’s giving herself a hug, but she doesn’t have to.

“But it sounds like there’s a lot of them. That means the good guys—” Kayden’s answer is interrupted by someone smashing against our locked door, and I find a dark place to hide in my mind.

Orbit-sml ><

12:26 p.m.

We were so close to the main entrance. Two dozen second graders holding each other’s hands, tugging each other toward safety, our teacher’s attention all on us, counting heads, whispering words we couldn’t hear. She didn’t see the shooter. I did.

The memory haunts me: the calm way he rounded the corner, the rifle tucked into his shoulder, the oversized shirt bunched beneath his body armor, the blank look on his face.

I dropped my classmates’ hands and ran like my mom told me to.

I found a place to hide – a closet with text books stacked along the walls – and locked myself inside. But I heard everything: every shot, every scream, every body falling. I did not open the door when someone pleaded on the other side, or when I heard the shots that killed them.

In the ensuing silence, someone yanked on the locked door.

An hour later, the police found me in there, hiding beneath an extra teacher’s desk – the only kid in my whole class that survived. But only because I left them behind to die.

There’s no refuge in here. In memory.

Orbit-sml ><

12:27 p.m.

Open palms press against the window, a silhouette cast by red emergency lighting against the drawn blinds. The rattling door, the panicked voice – such familiar sounds.

“Let me in.” His voice barely penetrates the door. “Please. I know someone’s in there.”

“That’s Mark Walton,” Eva says. “Let him in.”

“No,” Piper pleads, her eyes alight with fear. “Don’t. Please.”

“We have to,” Eva says. “We can’t let him die out there.”

“I hear you,” Mark’s voice quivers on the other side of the door. “Please, I don’t know…”

“Piper’s right,” Ms. Anderlik says, staring at the silhouette on the window. “It could be a trick.” She swallows hard. One of her thumbnails rakes against the other.

The art room is silent for ten more seconds, save Mark’s open palms patting the safety glass, conspicuously quiet. Shadows hang like cobwebs from the corners of our classroom, spread across the floor, drape across our faces.

“Please,” Mark says again. He grabs the door knob and shakes it. The door clatters in the frame, rattles the pane of glass.

The next time he speaks, Mark sounds different. “Oh. Oh, no. No no no,” he mumbles. Then his voice rises into an animal scream that no longer sounds rational or human.

There is no gunshot.

Orbit-sml ><

12:28 p.m.

The knob pops, the door shudders, and a terrible commotion echoes out in the hallway. My muscles tense as the shadows slam against the blinds. We become a classroom full of statues as we watch. Our hearts stop beating until the struggle calms.

Kayden points to a black shape spreading beneath the door like a slow-moving shadow. It seeps further into the room, and I wonder if it’s oil or maybe ink, both of which seem more plausible than blood for some reason. But blood is what it is.

An indistinct shadow forms against the blinds. It moves closer, sharpens into something solid but no easier to discern: an ace of spades in three dimensions. But then it blocks out the emergency lighting in the hallway.

It’s trying to look into our window.

I disappear beneath the shadows like they are a blanket, steal quiet breaths through flared nostrils. I want to close my eyes, but I know I will only find myself back in that storage closet.

And then the shape disappears.

We unfreeze long enough to glance into each other’s eyes, share looks of understanding. No one says what we all suddenly know: there is no shooter picking off students and staff in the hallways. It’s something horrible, something inhuman, something deadly, yes. But it’s also something else.

Orbit-sml ><

12:30 p.m.

“What the hell was that?” Brett mutters, but no one answers. “What the hell?”

Eva, trembling, sobs silently. I rub her back with my open palm until she crawls away from me, stopping near the outline of Mark’s blood. Kayden paces, his hands clawing at one another. His eyes dart from side to side like some ancient battle is raging in his mind. Braelin hisses quiet obscenities at him, each hushed syllable more harsh than the last. Ms. Anderlik presses her hands onto Braelin’s shoulders, begging her to calm down, to speak softer, but Braelin is possessed by a demon she no longer controls.

“For real,” Brett mutters beneath it all, “what the hell?”

Miranda grips Leslie Le Dion’s hand like a rosary, rocks back and forth with eyes clenched shut. They pray together. I’m not religious, but I almost scoot closer to them in the hope of catching their serenity secondhand.

Instead, I stand in the middle of the madness, catching whispers and whimpers, stray syllables that strike me like insects. The room’s shadows stretch longer and darker across the mechanical, mindless movement of my classmates.

Lawrence brushes past me, his body all angles in the dim emergency light. His silhouette looks careless as he tip-toes around Eva, his shoe dropping into Mark’s blood. He takes a slow breath, and opens the door.

Orbit-sml ><

12:32 p.m.

Lawrence doesn’t wait to explain himself. He darts into the dim, red hallway, leaving the door open behind him.

Mark’s body is missing.

Ms. Anderlik rushes to the door, calling Lawrence’s name. Kayden shoves past her and slips in the pool of blood, landing on his shoulder. The impact shakes the floor beneath us, reverberates down the hall. He groans, struggling back to his feet before following Lawrence.

“Close the door!” Piper screeches, a crumpled ball beneath one of the desks.

“You have to come back,” Ms. Anderlik calls after them, both too quiet and too loud. Her voice crumbles with each syllable. “We’re safer together.”

Braelin approaches the door and peeks out into the hallway, hands stroking her luminous hair like a pet. She looks right, then left. “Fuck it,” she says, ducking out the door.

It’s strange how quickly the classroom empties into the dim corridor, how apathetically each hops over Mark’s blood and edges alongside the dented lockers. Miranda and Leslie hold hands, reach out for Piper’s, then Wendy’s, and I have to shake every memory from my head to keep from disappearing back into them.

Even Ms. Anderlik wanders the hall, dazed, as if she has never been in the building before. I’m left in the cluttered classroom alone, rigid among overturned chairs and consuming shadows.

Eva stands on the blood-smeared floor just outside the door, waiting for me in a scarlet void. She extends her hand toward me, her tear-stained face hardened with determination.

I take a step forward, just as a shadow sweeps her out of view.

Her screams disappear down the hallway.

My first instinct – to retreat deeper into the classroom – smothers my desire to chase Eva down. And instead of running away – my second instinct – I stand frozen in fear, unfocused, a step from the threshold, trying to will myself to do something, anything. Tears boil in my sinuses but refuse to fall.

When something skids into the doorway, clutches my shoulders, I tense and keen and release all the air in my body at once. I recognize Ms. Anderlik too late. Her dirty hands release me, and all she can get out is “Run” before something rips her away too.

Orbit-sml ><

12:36 p.m.

The floor slips beneath me, streaked brown linoleum. The lockers blur in my periphery as I run, turn a sharp corner, quickstep down a flight of stairs.

For real, Brett’s voice shudders through my mind, what the actual hell?

On the third floor, tiles peel off unpainted cinderblocks dappled with bullet holes. A water fountain hangs off the wall and cold water splashes under my feet. My shoes slide and squeak until I hit a carpeted hall where a sickly sweet scent laces the air, like rotten flowers.

I haven’t seen a body yet. Bloodstains paint the thin carpet, trail into the artificial dusk; the glass windows of a courtyard have been blasted, the metal frame twisted like a dried earthworm. But there are no corpses, no classmates or teachers anywhere to be seen.

I don’t pause to wonder why. Instead, I think of Eva, of Ms. Anderlik, of how I left them behind to save myself.

Just like last time.

Hot tears warm my cheeks. I consider going back to find them – What was it that pulled them away from me? – but the exit to the teachers’ parking lot is nearby. I imagine a barricade of police officers wrapping blankets around survivors.

I come around the next corner and freeze. At the end of the hall, where a flight of stairs would lead me right out the door, something enormous droops from the ceiling to the floor like a decomposing water balloon. Its putrid stink is overwhelming. It’s a sack, or something like it, and blocks my escape route. Standing in the middle of the hall, I feel exposed, like I’m being watched. But somehow I can’t move.

On another side of the school, a child’s voice screams, and suddenly I have control of myself again.

I do the only thing I know to do: I hide.

Orbit-sml ><

12:40 p.m.

Graciously, the faculty men’s room can be locked from the inside. It looks centuries old: pastel tiles, a hand-cranked paper towel dispenser, and what I think might be a radiator. I cram myself between the toilet and the wall in the furthest stall, a spot that reeks of cleaning chemicals, but at least it’s not that putrid lilac smell.

The school seems so quiet – except for the occasional scream. I imagine that spade-shaped shadow cast on the classroom’s window, the blurs that swept Eva down the hall and pulled Ms. Anderlik away from me, each projected like an grainy movie on the back wall of my mind.

As I shake my head, tears loosen from the corners of my eye. My nose draws in long, ragged lines of air; my lungs force out each breath and it feels good, clears my mind. I’m safe inside this bathroom, I tell myself. I can hide here as long as I need to.

I close my eyes, and I’m back in the storage room, where dust motes floated between the stacks of text books. The lock clanked, the door swung open, and a police officer shouldered into the room aiming a shimmering rifle. As he spotted me, his stunned expression looked so sad, so human, that I almost forgot how well armed he was.

No one will save me this time, though. I think of the wall ripped up by bullets. Whatever is out there will kill whoever it finds, armed or not. The only way to survive this time is to escape.

I push myself up onto shaky feet and shove my way out of the stall, refusing to make eye contact with my reflection in the mirror. I hold my breath and listen for any sounds on the other side of the locked bathroom door.

And if there was someone there, my mind asks me, would you take them with you or leave them behind to die?

Orbit-sml ><

12:51 p.m.

I see details I missed when I return to the hallway: enormous chunks of the drop ceiling in piles on the ground; entire rows of lockers caved in by some impact; the floors and walls pocked by something sharp.

I press my finger into one of the holes. Deep and sharp.

Something had slammed through the railing at the top of the stairs, midway down the hall. It bends unnaturally into the open air and the steps beneath it look rough, slick with smeared blood, and something else. I try not to think about what as I tiptoe down.

On the second floor, I peek left into the hallway and see a teacher in his fifties, his oxford shirt untucked, bare feet peeking beneath his khakis. He yanks on each door he walks past, but doesn’t see the silent shadow crawling on the ceiling above him, a mass of writhing muscle.

Long, whip-like legs fold down, bending at impossible angles.

I flinch as the shadow smashes against the poor man, who doesn’t even have a chance to shriek, and sweeps him down the hallway, leaving only that saccharine stench in its wake. It barely takes a second.

My legs collapse beneath me, but even as I’m going down I know I don’t have time for this weakness. I take a deep breath, swallow, remind myself that the only way to survive is to escape, and push myself back to my feet.

This time I look right. At the far end of the hallway, I hear something coming fast, then a human silhouette rounds the corner, kicking through a pile of ceiling panels. He neither screams nor speaks, but I can hear his panicked breaths over his footfalls.

As he comes closer, I realize it’s Lawrence Yi. And, behind him, something plows into a row of lockers, something that couldn’t make the tight turn as fast as him.

Something that shakes its spade-shaped head and turns our way.

Orbit-sml ><

12:54 p.m.

Once again, my first instincts are to run and hide – away from Lawrence and from this monster, whose daddy long legs propel it down the hallway so fast it feels like a dream. But my body stalls out when I realize Lawrence is in the mirror spot of where that teacher get snatched only a minute ago.

I don’t want to witness that again.

As Lawrence passes, I step into the hall, the monster closing in on him, on me, its speed and silence debilitating. I grab his arm and swing him into the stairwell, allowing his momentum pull me behind him. We tumble together down the stairs, knees and hips and elbows and shoulder blades crashing against each step and each other. The monster barrels down the hallway like he never saw us.

Lawrence whines, rubs his shoulder. “Why’d you do that?” he asks.

“Why’d I save you?” I screech, then catch myself, literally cover my mouth with both trembling hands.

He stares through me, his lips parted, like he doesn’t understand my question, doesn’t remember me. I can’t tell if his mind is empty or overloaded. He has lost his glasses and his bare faces makes him look like a small child.

I grab his arm and pull him to his feet. “Follow me. We’re leaving.”

“There’s no way out,” he says. “Not up there.”

He pulls himself free from my grip and stumbles down the stairs. The sound of his shoes slapping the steps echoes around us; I’ve never been so scared of noise. But what can I do but follow?

“Where are you going?” I ask, looking over my shoulder for whatever might be behind us. “Do you know another way?”

“Yes,” he says, and his voice drops to a secretive whisper. “The band room.”

Orbit-sml ><

12:56 p.m.

“Why did you walk out?” I peek from the stairwell into the first floor hallway. The darkness is heavier down here, almost hazy. “Of our classroom, I mean.”

Lawrence does not look scared any more, not like when the lockdown started. Whatever clicked in my head back in second grade must have clicked in his now. “I realized we were all going to die,” he says, the words tight and straight as if written in an old typewriter font. “I didn’t want to wait any longer. Best case scenario, I get out. Worst case…”

His voice trails off as we turn a corner. Between us and the windowless corridor, a brown sack separates from the void, drooping from the ceiling, wide enough to block all passage. Something inside weighs it down. The texture is a contradiction, papery like a wasp nest, but dripping with something sticky-looking, and darker toward the bottom. It reminds me of my grandmother’s baklava.

“What are they?” I ask. My hand reaches toward it, but stops short.

Lawrence ignores my question. “They’re blocking all the exits I’ve seen so far,” he says, “but I’m betting they don’t know about the band room.”

“What’s in them?” That cloying odor makes my eyes water; this close, an undertone of rotten flesh overpowers the sweet.

Again, Lawrence doesn’t answer. “We can backtrack, go past the writing center, get to the band room from there,” he says. But when we turn, there is a dark, silent shape on the ceiling, its legs unfolding, its shovel-like head swinging downward. Any details beyond its mottled texture and sleek, sharp corners are lost to the dark.

Lawrence’s sigh stutters through his teeth. “Wait for it to attack, and run past.”

“No, I can’t—”

Before I can finish, Lawrence shines his phone’s flashlight onto its snake fangs and pink, pupil-less eyes, and it reacts like dark lightning, and instinct takes over as I duck beneath it’s segmented belly into the hallway beyond and run away – again.

Orbit-sml ><

1:03 p.m.

I race through the black halls, hands out, running them against lockers and painted cinderblock walls. All I can think about is how I left Lawrence behind to die. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I repeat in my mind to the rhythm of my footfalls and heartbeat.

I veer right down a hall lit dimly by an exit sign. In the pool of red beneath it is the mouth of another corridor, but I know better than to turn toward it now. Instead, I jog past, to the end, to the band room. I think of Miranda and Leslie, and pray it isn’t locked.

The corridor of the band room is all glass on one side, I guess so people can see right into the soundproofed space. Behind a set of double-doors, beyond a dated vestibule, the band room is lit – not by overhead lights, but daylight streaming in from somewhere to the side.

A way out. Lawrence was right.

The double-doors are locked, but next to yet another thick smear of blood one of the window panes has been shattered, thick chunks of glass scattered into the room. It’s almost too small to squeeze through, but I shape my body like a diver’s, wiggle and kick my way inside. Glass crunches beneath my elbows and arms when I land, presses into my hands, but I don’t have time to check for cuts.

Something heavy slams into the space I just left, shatters another window and covers me in shards of glass. The shock knocks the wind out of me, but I scramble to my feet, glass falling from my hair.

The steel door buckles like it’s a juice box.

I turn,

I don’t think about the rows of chairs, the empty instrument cases, the music stands toppled over. All I see is the open door, a fire escape, the sun slanting in from the outside, and pale in the brightness a distant barricade of police vehicles, waiting for me.

I run for it, run for freedom and safety.

I run and leave everything else behind.

Orbit-sml ><

1:07 p.m.

Beneath the warm sunlight a breeze pushes through the swaying trees. It’s all so overwhelming that hot tears streak down my cheeks, blurring the details around me – the gray light poles, the ragged row of police interceptors, the abandoned baseball diamond beyond.

I survived, I think. I’m out.

But only because you left Lawrence behind.

Thoughts materialize like poltergeists, pesky and unwanted. You left Eva behind, Kayden behind, Braelin, Miranda, Ms. Anderlik behind. But in the haze of this quiet afternoon, the safety of this faded parking lot, another realization cuts through louder than the last: Lawrence saved me because I saved him.

“Quiet afternoon,” I whisper, wiping my eyes, placing a hand on one of the white squad cars. Why hasn’t anyone come to collect me, to wrap a blanket around me?

I wipe my eyes again. Half a dozen law enforcement vehicles form a crooked line beneath the powder blue sky, and a dozen more cars huddle behind it, but they’re all empty; their doors hang open, lights cycling impotently.

An abandoned truck rests on the sidewalk, the words “TACTICAL OPERATIONS UNIT” written in silver on the side. But its back doors swing slowly in the breeze.

Where is everybody? Where are the police, my parents – the protectors? Why did they show up at all if only to disappear when we needed them most?

I start walking, not really knowing to where, but as the school building shifts in my view I see something unfamiliar and massive in the distance, a mound higher than the nearby water tower, wider than a neighborhood block. It reminds me of a burnt cake, brown and collapsed, as if dropped onto the kitchen floor.

A mile away? Five miles?

I sit on the bumper of the last squad car, wiping my eyes and nose on my arm – which is bleeding, I see, from falling on the glass. The tears sting my eyes. And so does that smell – sickening blooms, rotting on the counter like expired condolences. It rides the breeze with pollen and dandelion seeds, something that may never go away.

As I wonder what’s next – where will I go? what will I do? who is left? – I feel it in the back of my throat, dry and acrid and dense.

I’m scared. Maybe I have been all along.

Orbit-lrg

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Dane Erbach

Author image of Dane Erbach Dane Erbach is a writer from Chicago’s northwest suburbs who teaches English and journalism at a public high school. During the summer, he teaches writing at Northwestern University to gifted and talented middle schoolers. His fiction has appeared in Sobotka Literary Magazine and The Vignette Review, and his music journalism can be found in various print and online publications. When he’s not writing or reading, you can find him catching Pokémon with his family, raiding his community library, and tending to the pumpkin patch in his backyard. You can follow him on Instagram and Threads at @browntrowsers.

© Dane Erbach 2024 All Rights Reserved.

The title picture was created using a Creative Commons image by Strange Happenings - many thanks!

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