The door doesn’t open often at this hour. I slouched, my eyes following my favorite pair of socks tumbling through a monsoon of shirts. The machine rattled and groaned as it worked. I just needed one more cycle. I dug my hand into my pocket, the lint inside dancing around my fingers.
The door’s dull bell rang. I turned my head, a man stepped inside. He wore a thick coat. In his hands were a pair of canvas duffle bags. It wasn’t uncommon to have people come in with big bags of clothes. His footsteps were heavy, his boots covered in dried mud. He silently walked to a machine away from me and set the bags down.
“That one’s out of order, can’t you see the sign?” I said, my hand waving across the formation of machines. “That whole row is, if you want to wash something, the machine next to me is open.”
He looked at me, then at the two bags at his feet. He hesitated.
“I’m not going to rob you,” I said, my head turned away.
He moved after a while, his bags placed on the bench next to me, and both ends sagged heavily from what was inside. It was winter, so I thought nothing of it.
“Not many people are here at this hour,” he said.
“No, just me, everybody’s paranoid to go out at night.”
“Have you been reading the news?”
“There’s a lot of people going missing,” I said, my head turned to the man. His eyes stared through mine.
“I hadn’t heard,” he said, “I’m from out of town.” His empty eyes trailed back to the machine.
“Well, now you know,” I said, a lump forming in my throat.
“Do you have a quarter?” he asked.
“There’s—There’s a change machine outside,” I said, my eyes focused on the glass of the washing machine.
“Thanks,” he said. I watched him turn; he was still looking at me as he left.
The door rang again. I turned my head slowly. He wasn’t here. I looked at his duffle bags. They looked like they were soaked in something. There was dried mud that coated the bottom of each bag. I slid down my bench, my hand reached out to the bag, and touched the soaked canvas. It wasn’t water. I pulled the zipper on the bag, my eyes on the door.
A putrid stench assaulted my eyes. My face scrunched, and I pulled my hand back. Inside was what looked like a bowling ball, wrapped in a bedsheet stained a deep maroon. My heart ricocheted inside my chest. The sound around me warped and mixed. I swallowed the brick in my throat. My hand lifted the bedsheet. A pair of hollow eyes stared at me shocked.
I rushed to undo what I had done. The bag had to look exactly as it did when he left. I pulled my hand away and grabbed hold of the zipper, forcing it to shut. I turned my head to the door of the washing machine and watched him walk back through the glass. I sat perfectly still, listening to each step. He stopped and shuffled through the coins in his hand, inserting one into the machine next to me. He looked at me, but I didn’t look back.
My machine would slow as the wash cycle ended. I stood up, my stomach sinking lower. I took a rattled breath and emptied the machine. I didn’t have any money for a dryer but went there regardless. I placed the clothes inside, closing the door. My eyes struggled to read numbers that I already knew.
“Need a quarter?”
My heart stopped. I forced my head to turn. He stood behind me, and even though there was a friendly smile, his gaze was cold. I choked on the words in my throat, and only managed to nod my head.
“Don’t worry, I’m not gonna kidnap you,” he said, an extended hand offering the quarter to me.
I took it, inserted it, and the machine started. “Thanks.”
“Don’t mention it.” He walked back to his bags.
I finally took a breath, and my jaw quivered. I watched the dial tick down every second. It’s painfully slow. I turned my head back toward the man. He was sitting on the bench, a newspaper in his hands.
“Looks like the police have no idea what happened to these people.”
“No, they—think that some of the missing persons are just runaways.”
“That isn’t good policing.”
My chest felt heavier, I strained to breathe normally. The air was stale, but the stench made its way to me. My eyes swelled again. I focused on the timer, only a bit more to go.
“Say, you didn’t go through my things, did you?
The words dried in my mind. A cold gaze was beaming down on me. I turned, and he stood behind me. There was no smile on his face, only his eyes grabbing my soul. I forced letters together in my mind before I said, “No, as I said, I’m not going to rob you.”
I could tell he was replaying my answer in his head. I retraced my steps, and everything was in place, but was there something that I missed? He stared, then laughed, an uncanny smile on his face. “Of course—of course. I’d forgotten.”
He bought it. I managed a smile and trailing laughter. I watched him turn and make his way back to the washing machine. I looked at the dial, it was finished. My machine began to slow. The wait was agonizing. The cycle finally stops. I open the door and grab my clothes, stuffing them into a basket. I gave the man a single look as I left, his back was turned, good.
The outside air was sharp, I exhaled, and the stench finally cleared my nose. I took another breath, then turned around. The lights inside flickered, and the man was gone.
Luis Morales-Giorgi is an avid gamer and horror writer. He’s currently working on a video game project as a writer.