A Free Read
Just For You
By Pauly Hart
Saturday, Janteenth, 2024
“Happy Janteenth!” Madison said to the bus-driver, who was black. She said it to all her black friends. Though in reality none of her friends were black, She knew black people, though, and she thought maybe that was the same thing. She liked to bring the act of inclusion into her life even though if she were honest, she wouldn’t really hang out with them. Not to say she didn’t want to, that wouldn’t be ‘woke’ of her… But in reality her family was so anti-woke she didn’t know what was the right thing to do, so… “Happy Janteenth!” She told the old black lady coming out of her building.
“Appy Janteenth? Gwan tin!” she shooed Madison away with her umbrella, like you would a stray cat. The Jamaican woman’s name was Winsome Notice, and, like the horse she was named after, was truly one of a kind. She would say she was a people person but really didn’t like most people. Especially this pesky white woman who wore Paddington Bear wellies and Jah only knows why she wanted to talk to her about some rainy day in January.
Madison didn’t know why the old lady didn’t like her and tried to shoo her away with her umbrella. “Gwan tin!” she yelled at her. “Go on then,” she supposed it meant. Whatever, old lady, you aren’t going to spoil my beautiful splish-splashy day. Farther down the street. “Futher” her grandma might say. Her grandma was from Old Kentucky where “farther” and “further” could be summed up with “futher.” Like, she could walk farther down the street and go further into the thoughts about the word... Because to someone from Kentucky, the word “futher” meant either or. Wonder what her grandma would say about old Winsome Notice.
The bus driver waved at Winsome as he passed by her. She knew him. His name was Thomas Richmond and he was from Queens. Usually she didn’t like folks from Queens, but he was an aberration to the greater unwashed masses of New York City. She also thought his ass looked cute in that uniform. Oooh wee but it did. “Jah forgive me,” she said. She had four more blocks to go to the grocer. She could go to the fancier grocer that was only two blocks away, but Reacha Patel, the owner, was a bit of a snob and didn’t ever want to take her coupons.
Madison Hill didn’t see any other black people before she reached her apartment building to wish a “Happy Janteenth” to, which was a little bit of a let down, but she felt she did her civic duty to do so. Waving at Mrs. Nguyễn in her little bakery which occupied the first floor of her eighth floor walk-up. She was on the fifth floor that overlooked the alley. On a good day, she could see the sky if she sat just right. The kitchenette was arranged in such a way that you could stand face-to face with the neighbor in the next building if you both stood up and were directly in front of your window. Thankfully, the couple in the building worked at night and their shades were drawn most of the day.
Winsome looked at the Bartlett pears and South Carolina peaches and didn’t like any of the fruit that had just been stocked. She always went to the grocer on Monday because the fruit was always fresh, but none of these were ripe yet. “Whea in de name oh Jah is yo gud froot?” She asked the twenty something grocer named Enrico. He didn’t know so she settled on some Gala apples and Cavendish bananas. Sometimes they had breadfruit, like she used to eat in Jamaica, but not today. She got her little cart and went up to the line to pay but it was rather long. The lady at the front of the line was making some sort of fuss about something. She leaned over to look. It was a “Karen” as people called them. Oooh, Winsome hated Karens more than folks from Queens.
Madison drew the shades a little so she could only see the back of the building and the afternoon sky. She had some microwaved mac-n-shells and a bit of chicken nuggets left over from lunch and she crumbled them up and put them in her mac to spice it up a bit. Mmm. You know what would go good with this was a little ‘Slap Ya Mama’ seasoning. She reached over to her cupboard by her seat and got it out without getting up. Yes, the place was that small. Popping the lid and adding a dash was perfect. She tried to “eat black” every now and again. She whipped out her Tiktok and scrolled through it a bit then put it away after too many ads for diapers. What the hell, she thought, I’m not even dating anyone.
The woman at the counter was still at it, growing a bit louder with every sentence. Winsome looked down at her basket. Bread, cheddar cheese, bananas. She gave a little chuckle. That woman was quickly becoming more bananas than these bananas.
“What are you laughing at!?” Screamed the woman, now directly in front of her. Everyone else in line had left. Winsome noticed the little green trail of seeds and purple mucus coming out of her nose.
“You wanna dem dead ones.” Winsome said to her. “Git outta heah.” She said and waved her left at her.
The woman stared at her. “What did you say to me?” She was rage incarnate.
“Check yah nose den.” Winsome said.
The woman wiped at her nose and her hand brushed the tiny purple tendril. Screaming in pain, she collapsed over and started crying and thrashing like a seizure victim. At the same time, store security came and grabbed her and drug her outside flailing.
Since everyone else had left, she found herself the only one in line. She happily put her basket on the conveyor and it rolled up to the cashier, who seemed bored, even moments after the Karen had flipped out on him.
“Busy today wit alla dem Karen's nah Kenny?” Winsome asked.
Kenny sighed. “Third one today.” He said, and started scanning her items.
Madison lay in bed watching her Tiktok. Her AT&Sprint plan was “Unlimited” but they capped it off to super low after only about half a month went through. She should have gotten “Super Unlimited” that didn’t have any throttle but Susan, who sat next to her at work, said it throttled anyway. She didn’t want to upgrade her plan because she just bought the Tiktok 4 and the contract she signed was a three-year.
She was on Mister Beast’s channel, which had mostly modern trends about the Tzors and what was going on with the vaccine. Tzoraline AB-49 was new on the market and it seemed to get rid of the sores for good except for the ones in Haiti for some reason, though they supposedly tested it there first. The “Alien Greys” had shown up and introduced the antidote and promise to end world hunger and war, etc.. etc… Well, T-49 was working in New York, and since she lived in the city, she was really thinking about getting this batch. Or she could smoke. One or the other. She looked over at the pack on her dresser. Marlboro Lights. They were nasty but everyone said they worked. She decided not to smoke tonight. Not cigarettes anyway.
She rolled over and got the pipe out from under the bedside table, where she kept it next to her vibrator. “Not tonight,” she said to Alejandro, her vibrator. Reaching behind it, she got out the nickel bag and pinched off a bit and packed her pipe. The line from Romeo and Juliet played through her mind as she lit up: “These violent delights have violent ends…” Moments later, she was gone. After that, she slept like a log.
Winsome sat on her little terrace overlooking the garden. She was on the second floor in her converted brownstone quad-plex. She liked the exercise those twelve stairs provided when she got home. There was a church nearby, two grocers, and many good people lived here.
The brownstone wasn’t a typical floor plan, the second floor was a bit smaller due to the shared entry with the third and fourth floors and with the conversion, she shared laundry space with the first and third floors. Mr. Upton shared it with her on three, and Mrs. Deloris shared it from the first floor. They were tidy enough but sometimes they got in her way.
She opened the box of Benson and Hedges and pulled out another fag. She had smoked all the time when she lived back on the island and had given up when she moved to Florida, but when the sores and grey came knocken, she had started up again, one fag a day - just to keep the grey away. “No matta de fool o dat preacher say,” she laughed at the former minister of the Presbyterian church minister. She went there sometimes. Sometimes she took the bus to Times Square Church. They were good people. They let you smoke outside.
She had moved from Florida to New York in the mid-80’s and worked doing this or that, always one step ahead of trouble. Mostly it had been service work, until she befriended old Mrs. Kissa, who had left her this portion of the Brownstone in her inheritance. She moved in in 1995 and had been able to pay the bills ever since, still doing odd jobs no one else wanted to do. If you minded your own business and paid your bills, New York tolerated your existence.
Taking another drag, Winsome looked out over the shared courtyard. It was a quaint little place with pretty flowers, a nice break from the streets. She had no work today and had a mind to do some weeding in the little place. Delores, the first floor tenant, usually kept the place up and it was looking a little raggedy. She decided to go out back before sunset and do some quick weeding to feel like she accomplished something today. Just a weed or two. Nothing special.
BAM! The ceiling shook hard enough a little plaster rained down on Madison’s face.
“Huh?” Madison came out of her sleep abruptly, just in time to get plaster in her eyes. “Ah! Gross!” she fumbled out of bed, knocking her glass pipe to the floor where it skidded under the radiator. “Great. What the hell Benny?!” She yelled up at the ceiling where Benito Gonzalez lived. There was no more banging and usually he kept quiet except when there was a Jets game. No TV. Nothing. She listened. Just the usual city noises, more ambulances than normal, but still kinda normal. Going to her restroom, which was little more than a closet, she washed her face and looked in the mirror. Ugh. I’m a mess.
It was three in the morning and she wondered what was going on with Benny.
“Benny! You alright?” No answer, which was odd. Usually if he was loud he yelled down to apologize immediately. He had the hots for her and, unfortunately one night, due to too many Margaritas and some really dank kush, they had done the deed and now he was all over the pursuit… Which she wanted nothing to do with. It was a mistake, and she told him that, but he kept hounding her all the same. And he always called down to her, except right now.
Madison didn’t want to get her shoes on, or her robe, but she did it anyway. Walking up to his place, she knocked on the door, not knowing what to expect. But before she even raised her hand to the door, she noticed it was open and the latch broken. Nerves crept up her back as she opened up the door very slowly. “Benny?” she called softly, “You alright?” But there was no answer.
Winsome couldn’t sleep. She had weeded for a bit and stacked all the terracotta pots in a nice little tower next to the birdbath.The normal New York sounds of alarms and sirens weren’t the same tonight as they were every other night. There seemed to be more of them. And they moved faster. And her neighbors were missing. Things were off. Like that Karen at the grocer.
There was a clatter and an earthen crash from the courtyard. What dat den? She muttered. She got up and put on her night robe, and pulled the shades open on the back terrace.
There was a man standing in the garden next to where she had stacked the pots and he had knocked them over.
It was something like a man anyway.
He was very still except for once every couple of moments, he would twitch and sneeze, and then he would be still again. She thought maybe it was Mr. Upton.
“Craig?” She used his first name. “Zat you der?” She called to him but the figure didn’t move. It may have been Craig Upton, age 68, retired Attorney, who lived above her, but she couldn’t be sure. The man in the garden wore the same blue and white pajamas Mister Upton wore. She reached over to the little table and lit up a Benson and Hedges cigarette. “Fags” she called them, after the fashion of the British. She had her formative years in Jamaica after all. It was still her home even though she no longer would recognize it, were she to visit.
She was angry. “Mistah Uptahn! Watchu goin’ on at nah?” She asked but the figure only sneezed. She took a long drag on the cigarette and blew it out angrily. “Imma gwanna call de police nah!” She told him, walked in and shut the door. Locking it she realized she still had the cigarette in her hand. Going to the sink, she ran the tap and put it out. Throwing it in the trash can, she turned to walk back to the back door.
The man was suddenly standing there, turning the knob, trying to get in. It was Mr. Upton but something was very, very wrong.
The door to Benny’s place swung open slowly about a foot and then there was a foot. That is to say, it opened twelve inches and then there was a pant leg with a shoe on the bottom blocking it. It was a foot. Unattached to an actual leg, it was a work boot with a bloated purple ooze spilling out of tattered work jeans. What the actual fu-
But before she thought it, a hand grabbed around the door near the bottom and a voice gurgled “Please heeelp meee!” Screaming at the top of her lungs, she ran back down the stairs to her place and slammed the door, heart beating a mile a minute. What the hell! What the hell! What the hell! Her mind raced with what she had just seen. No way, no way there was just some nasty severed leg just sitting there on the floor. No way. She was wrong. NO! She screamed at herself. There had been a leg. There was a severed mushy nasty purple gooey shoe and a leg pussing out of it. What the actual fu-
BAM BAM! came from the ceiling again.
Nope. She said to herself. She got her 9mm Glock case from under her bed and opened it up. There was good old Bessie Lou inside, shiny and nasty, with two magazines ready. All her friends thought she was some gun nut for even having one, but her dad had insisted. Jesus and Bullets were his two mantras that he lived and died by. She thought she left Jesus behind but the gun on the other hand… It came in handy right about now… She picked up Bessie Lou, checked the chamber, loaded the magazine, and racked the slide. She sat down on her bed facing the doorway and waited.
Winsome didn’t wait for him to take another step. She was ready for this. She had grown up in Jamaica where you were dead if you weren’t ready. She had old shotty over in the umbrella stand ready for just such an occasion. It was a double barrel brake action. It was a 12 gauge and the left was loaded with 5-6-7 and the right was loaded with a 300 grain slug which meant it could take down most things, small first, then big on the next shot. She liked to keep her options open.
“Mistah Uptahn! You bess be runnin off nah!” She said as she drew back the first hammer. She brought old shotty up to to the door and aimed it at him. He didn’t flinch but brought his hand away from the knob and slammed his palm on the glass. Squishy purple splatters appeared where the hand hit, leaving slug-like trails oozing down the glass.
“Mistah Uptahn! You gotta counta tree till I gwanna blast ya! You’s scarin me tah deaf!”
Mister Upton said nothing.
“Look Mistah Uptahn. If dat be you in der, Imma burn dis fag dahn and if ya don’t wanna be blasted to deaf den you be gone byin de time it take tah smoke, ya hear?”
Mister Upton still said nothing.
She had brought in the Benson and Hedges absentmindedly and placed them in her robe pocket. She propped old shotty underneath one arm, reached into the pocket and brought out the pack and lighter. Lighting up, she took a tentative drag and blew it at the door where Mister Upton stood, staring at her, in the dark. Taking a small step forward, she reached out her hand to the wall by the door where the light switch was. His eyes followed her hand and click, she turned on the light.
It was a monster dressed in Mister Upton’s pajamas. Where his nose had been, now purple tendrils grew out and around his face. Vines came out of his nose, wrapping upward and around the back of his head, as well as from his mouth, wrapping down and around. When the light snapped on, many of the tendrils stood on end, spiking away from his head, creating a terrifying static electricity look. Purple vines shook and trembled like they were alive. Indeed they were alive and it was not Mister Upton that was the being before her, but rather, the Tzores inhabiting his body.
She didn’t wait til three. She pulled the trigger. Mister Upton and the glass moved onto the courtyard like New Year’s confetti.
The blast brought Madison out of her stillness. She looked out the window. From the little she could see, it all looked like a normal night. She heard the normal sounds of the city. What was going on? Who was shooting?
BAM BAM BAM the ceiling called out.
That was super annoying.
BAM BAM BAM the ceiling said again.
Nope, she thought.
She got up off the bed and entered the hall. With her left hand she closed the door and her right hand steadied the grip on the Glock.
Her phone went off. It was an alert. “Imminent Threat Alert” the text read and then stuff about how everyone needed to stay safe and all that. She had no idea what that meant except it was nothing good. The National Emergency thing at least was working. She laughed. Usually in all the movies she watched, the government was the first thing to go. Not like real life, I guess. Hollywood never had it right. They were all safe in their zillion dollar bunkers while we had neighbors turning into purple goo, losing their feet.
The hallway was quiet, just like before, and she heard others phones going off, but no one silenced them. Maybe they weren’t home? That’s ridiculous. Who doesn’t carry their phone around with them, like, all the time? Not anyone I know.
Up the stairs, Benny’s place. The foot is still there. Super gross. Opening the doorway, it’s dark inside. No noises. Then the BAM BAM BAM from the bedroom. No, that was the bathroom. There was a long slick of dark mucus leading to the bathroom. Had to be the bathroom.
“Benny!” She called out. Nothing. “Benny, it’s Madison!” Still nothing. She moved towards the bedroom to see if there was anyone else here. No noises. “Benny! What happened to your foot?” She called. Still nothing.
She was in front of the bathroom. The door was shut. Her left hand trembled at the knob. Should I call out again? No. Open it, step back, and raise the gun? Probably. That was what the cops did in the movies. OK. She opened the door.
It wasn’t anything like the movies. Benny’s body was in the bathtub and it was his clothes but it wasn’t Benny. Out and up from the severed leg, was what looked like a child’s science project. Tiny purple vines and tendrils crept up attaching themselves to the walls. Vines that sprouted tiny white flowers and bright green leaves. His leg was a bulbous mass of an overly large gooish purple tumor. Her eyes made their way up his body. A tourniquet was over his pant leg. There was a saw in his right hand. A regular wood saw. He had sawn his own leg off. When her eyes made it to his face, she vomited immediately. It was almost a skeleton. Gray and shrunken, eyes pulled back into the skull the size of grapes! She vomited again.
BAM BAM BAM his leg flew up and down on the tub.
Winsome stepped out over the mass of ruined body that was Mister Upton. She looked around for something - anything to explain what was going on. Nothing. “Da hell wit alla dis.” She said, under her breath. She went inside and went to her bedroom. The bag was in the back of her closet. She opened it up, threw in two boxes of shells she had on hand, and got ready to leave. She looked down at her feet. She hadn’t put shoes on and she was still in her robe. Laughing a little, she went and changed into sensible work wear. Gardening clothes. You never knew about things like this. Time to dig up the yams.
As a teen, in Montego bay, she remembered the night. It had changed everything. One of the possies had taken up some issues with some Tommian fisherman over conch. They almost burned the town down fighting each other over damned sea snails. Her mother, her little sister and her were kidnapped during the mayhem and were raped the entire night by the possie. When her mother and sister died, she vowed to leave Jamaica and never come back. And she did. With her go-bag ready, shotty in hand, she opened the door and moved out into the night. This would be different than that night.
Madison ran back to her room crying and gagging all the way. She ran to her door and tried to open it. It was locked. What? “Oh my god.” she said. She locked herself out. She banged on the door. Tried using her shoulder. Nothing. It was a good door. She would shoot it out. How did they do that in the movies? Step back and shoot the lock? Here goes nothing.
Winsome heard shooting. One. Two. Three shots. Then a woman screamed. A girl was in trouble. Jah had led her to the USA from the terrors of the possie rapists. She would use that gift to save someone.
Madison swore. She had tiny splinters all inside her arm from that damned door. That wasn’t like the movies at all. She ran inside to… Wait… Now I can’t lock the door.
A scream ripped out her throat like no other scream she had ever heard. It was agony. It was defeat. She didn’t know what to do. The world was ending.
The door opened. There was someone inside her apartment smoking a cigarette but she didn’t care. She might as well be dead.
Then a voice said to her:
“Appy Janteenth child.”