I run along the unfamiliar gravel road for as long as I can until I trip in a pothole. Panting, I feel the painful vibrations travel through my scraped knees.
I don’t know if I can make it, I think. In a few seconds, He will catch me, and I’ll be done for. I wait, but nothing comes. I flip over onto my back and stare at the blackening night. This is it. This is the day I’m going to die.
Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve seen ghosts. Not actual ghosts, mind you, more like ghosts of feelings, if that makes sense. They speak to me in my mind, and I speak back to them as well. Just not out loud, of course. Insecurity has been particularly loud this week. I’ve taken to calling him Tom. I suppose the Voices exist to keep me company, or I’m just crazy.
I’ll be the first to admit I’m an unreliable narrator, unable to determine whether what I say is true or a lie, real or a product of my imagination. No matter – I have a job to do today.
Annoyingly loud alarm sounds fill my head, so I turn to hit the app on my phone with a loud moan. Dragging my ass out of bed, I walk over to my dresser and pull out my yellow work uniform. Perfect for customers to spot at the only grocery store in town. I pull my mess of curls into a bun, avoid my mirror as much as possible, and feel my cellphone buzz.
Christina: Where r u?
I roll my eyes. I do not get paid enough for this bullshit.
Me: About to head out
I type quickly while trying to slip an old pair of tennis shoes on.
Christina: You’re late for your shift.
In a panic, I pull my schedule up on my phone. That can’t be right. Christina, your typical boss from Hell, must have updated it without telling me again.
Me: Be there in ten min
I go through my mental list before leaving my apartment: wallet, keys, pills, phone, phone charger. Locking the front door, I turn the knob, just to make sure it’s locked. I start to leave when Insecurity, or Tom, grabs my attention.
“You should check the door again.”
“I’m fine,” I mutter as a take another step towards my shitty 39 hours a week job.
“What if someone breaks in?” His smug belief in the uncertainty of all things begins to break down my resolve. I turn the knob once, twice, three times, then relax.
“Did I ever tell you how much of an asshole you are?” I say as I enter my vehicle and take off.
“Every day,” he chuckles as he settles into the back of my mind.
“Why don’t you bug someone else for a change?”
“I do. Every second of every day, I’m in everyone’s mind. You know this.”
“Do I?” I’ve learned to joke with him. If I didn’t, I’d probably cry. I pull into the crumbling parking lot. The sun is about to set, and I take a deep breath. The reds, oranges, and pinks run into each other like paint on a canvas. I’m not joking when I say that this is one of the only things that make this job worth it, aside from survival, of course.
The buildings in the small town of Victoria, Texas, are too short to disrupt the symphony of the sky. Stars begin to dot just outside my vision, and I know whatever peace I have at this moment is about to flicker out. I drop my purse off in my locker and make my way to Christina, aka Satan, who has a scowl on her face. I try to empathize with her, I really do, but she always finds a way to get under my skin.
“You’re late.” Put that on the list of shit I already know. I clip my name tag – KATY GARZA – onto my shirt.
“I’m sorry, I just-”
“Don’t want your excuses, just bag.” I obediently go to a checkout station and begin bagging as quickly and correctly as possible. Hours later, I’m closing the store with Satan and two cashiers. I worked eight hours today, so that’s $58. Some part of me understands that an hour of my life should be worth more than $7.25. Tom chooses this moment to speak up.
“Why would you make more than that? You work at a grocery store doing a job a monkey could do.” I agree because it’s easier than fighting him. I wipe the grime from the conveyer belt.
“I don’t understand why you even want to go to college-”
“That’s enough,” I snap. While Tom always wins our arguments, this is one area he has no power over. “You can make me feel small all you want, but don’t ever make fun of his – my – dream.” I wipe harder into the corners of the checkout.
Sending me off to college had been my daddy’s dream. He made it incredibly clear over the years – only two things mattered in life: a job well done and an education. He was a somewhat private man, so I never really received the full story of why he chose not to pursue college. What he lacked in education, he made up for with determination and hard work as a pipefitter at the local chemical plant. So much so that on the Friday before my 18th birthday, he suffered a heat stroke and died. That was last year. I still cling to his wishes and dreams like they’re the only things tethering me to the earth. My mother passed away years ago, and as an only child, they left me utterly alone as I entered adulthood.
Ruminating on my shortage of luck and who to blame, I fail to notice my manager walk up behind me. She snaps her fingers at me like you would a puppy peeing on your floor.
“Are you done yet?!”
I take a second too long to respond, and she releases her wrath.
“What is with you today?” She begins to number her fingers in annoyance. “First, you’re late. Then, you do a half-ass job cleaning…” She keeps going on and on, and I just want to go home. When I don’t say anything, a cruel sneer inches up her face. “The only reason Carlos hired you was out of pity. If I had my way, you would have been fired for incompetence weeks ago.” I stare at the cleaning supplies on the belt as my sight begins to blur. SNAP, SNAP, SNAP. “Are you just going to stand there, or are you going to answer my question?”
I finally look at her in confusion. “Can you repeat the question?”
“I said, are you dumb, or are you just fucked in the head?” The look she gives me is almost proud and makes me want to bolt for the door. Everyone else has already left.
“Just leave. Since you obviously don’t want to be here, I’m giving tomorrow’s shift to James.”
“I just did, clock out.”
Tom is practically beaming as I gather my belongings and enter my car. I grip the steering wheel in silence. I can’t breathe, and my heart feels like it’s going to explode. As I finally let out a gasp, feelings begin to surface.
Happiness seems to hide in a distant corner of my mind.
The Voices chatter in excitement and agitation.
“That asshole thinks she can-”
Tom chuckles. “She’s not wrong, Arnold.” Arnold, otherwise known as Anger, continues to bicker as Sadness wails in the corner. My shoulders shake as I laugh at their absurdity and my obvious mental breakdown. Before I get the chance to contemplate the cost of therapy, a new Voice goes off in my head.
“I say we make the bitch pay.” Everyone grows quiet.
“Who are you?” I ask curiously as I wipe my nose. He feels and sounds like Anger, but not quite. The rage rolls off of him, and I shudder.
“You can call me whatever you want, but what I am is your Hate.” Up to this point, I suppose I have never truly hated another person, or at least I had kept it sealed away. My parents were kind, gentle people, so to say that this newcomer is a shock is an understatement.
“I don’t want to make anybody pay, whatever the hell that means. I need this job if you haven’t noticed.” Hate simmers in silence, so I continue. “Also, you’re new, and I don’t remember inviting you.”
“So you’re ok with how your boss treats you?” he asks incredulously.
“So we’re in agreement. I’m here because things need to change. You need to fight back. Or else, we’re going to have to come out.”
“Come out? Hold up.” I look at myself in the rear-view mirror.
“You didn’t think we were just a figment of your imagination, did you?” That’s exactly what I thought. I almost feel Hate’s manic grin as he sends images through my mind. Violence and base desires that the average person usually doesn’t engage in because a) prison sucks, and b) they have a conscience. I shake my head, and the Voices go away. I pretend what I just heard wasn’t real and back out of the parking lot. As I drive back to my apartment, I feel a hand ghost over my shoulder. Blinking hard, I roll my window up. It was only the wind.
↪️ Chapter Two