Holly lays in bed, one leg bent over the edge, the other bare foot resting on the cool creased pillow. Pink toes. Avon Pink Minx. She idles the morning away, watching cartoons and smoking cigarette after cigarette. Charlie would not approve but Charlie is not here.
Holly throws an arm behind her head and stares at the television. Sly coyote – he’s painting a road on a desert floor that leads to a stone wall. He adds trees and a guard rail. Leaves no detail undone. He waits behind a dusty boulder for the Roadrunner to hit the wall. But the Roadrunner has a secret: she can turn paint into pavement, pavement into horizon, horizon into escape.
Holly pulls smoke into her lungs. Charlie is a doctor – a radiologist but still. He likes to tell Holly all the horrible things cigarettes can do to the human body. But Holly has decided: she will not die from cancer. Not any sickness, actually. Not fire, not gunshot – KAPOW! Not from Charlie’s fists that fall like anvils from the sky.
Her death will only be activated when (A) she lifts a soup spoon to her mouth, (B) pulling a string that (C) jerks a ladle which (D) chucks a bag of blue marbles at a bucket, tipping it and (E) spilling bird seed onto the table. The extra weight in the pail (F) pulls a cord which (G) opens and ignites a Zippo (H) setting off a rocket which (I) causes a sickle to cut the string (J) releasing a pendulum attached to (K) a blade that swings back and forth, across her throat.
The bird seed though? For the Roadrunner – who, let’s be honest, needs the calories.
A slip of greenish paper blows past her window, flush against the glass for a moment before catching the wind. And her funeral? Will Charlie come? Does a restraining order last after death? Will he send a bouquet of Daisies and a card that says, I’m sorry, sorry, so sorry, I love you, please? Baby, please. I’ll do anything.
Within moments of that first sheet of paper, a flurry of pamphlets rains down outside like ticker tape in a war parade.
Holly stamps out her cigarette and jogs to the front door of her apartment. The world outside is silent but for the shuttering of paper as it hits roof tops and slides down. She looks up but cannot see sky. Hundreds of thousands of sickly yellow-green papers fall.
Reaching out her door, she grabs one.
WE WERE HAPPY.
She opens the tri-folded pamphlet to find a watermark of an atomic bomb in the background. It is crudely drawn like a child’s rendering, ACME written on the side.
You have nine days.
Holly steps out into the storm of paper, letting them slap past her face. People stand on porches and beneath awnings, pointing up.
“What the hell is this?” her next-door neighbor asks. Holly doesn’t know the woman’s name. She only knows the woman has a small, annoying terrier named Lemon Drop who barks constantly. The woman pushes against a drift of paper to open her door.
“I don’t know,” Holly says and hands the woman a flier. Lemon Drop bolts out into the lawn, yipping and chasing paper.
“This is some Heaven’s Gate bull shit,” the woman says. “Nine days. What’s in nine days?”
Air sirens go off and the two women stand together for several minutes, unsure what to say.
“You had problems recently,” the woman says. “Police were at your place a couple times. That guy wouldn’t leave you alone.”
Holly looks over in surprise. The papers taper off slowly until the last few fall and blue-skies return.
“I’m not sayin’ he’s doin’ this,” her neighbor says when Holly doesn’t respond. “But someone is. Probably the government. Russia, maybe. They gave us that virus through the chem-trails, you know.”
“Do you hear airplanes?” Holly looks up. Fliers pile up like snow drifts, clinging to trees and shrubbery, papering the entire neighborhood in sickening yellow-green.
“I didn’t hear nothing,” the woman says, grabbing Lemon Drop and slinking back into her apartment.
The woman reminds Holly of her mother. Chem-trails, Pizza-gate, there isn’t any awful thing her mother isn’t eager to believe.
Never about Charlie, though.
Back in her apartment, Holly checks her phone. The pamphlets fell not just on her neighborhood but the whole town. On the whole state. Reports come in quickly. Every state. Everywhere. Every country. Nine days, the pamphlets say, in every language. We were happy and now we are not.
Her wedding anniversary is in nine days. Holly sinks to the beige carpet. It smells like old, musty dog. She’s scrubbed it a dozen times and it doesn’t matter; she could scrub it a dozen more. The apartment walls are beige, neutral like sand. She was going to paint them but what’s the point?
Stupid Coyote – he’ll blanket the world in paper just to see her run. He’ll strap a rocket to his back and light his own tail on fire. He’ll paint a tunnel on a stone wall but she’s already on the other side of it. His schemes fail because it’s the Roadrunner who bends the laws of physics not the Coyote. She who can turn paint into pavement, pavement into horizon, horizon into escape.
Brianne M. Kohl’s work has been featured in various publications including Catapult, The Masters Review, and Jellyfish Review. She won first place in the 2018 Wigleaf Short Fiction Contest and second place in the 2020 Atticus Review CNF Flash Contest. She has work forthcoming from River Teeth.