Dim lights flickered and buzzed above Shobbi. She knew it was a dream, a really vivid one but she could not wake up. The stink of bleach and something else tickled her nose. Shobbi sneezed. She tried to get up, but her butt seemed to be glued to the chair. On her left and right, washing machines crusted with some sort of brownish filth spun and gurgled. Shobbi looked into the window of the one on her right to see what was being washed, but the roiling black liquid revealed nothing. Her head felt like it was spinning after a few minutes. Shobbi shook it to clear her mind.
Shobbi looked around the laundromat. The walls were covered with some sort of black nasty liquid that slid downward. On the floor there was a mixture of soap suds, and detritus she really didn't want to try to identify. In the distance, something screamed a rusty cry of despair. It was repeated by a washing machine near her. It shook and then stopped.
Again Shobbi tried to rise up from her chair, that attempt failed. She looked at her arm, and noticed that it was white instead of brown. Two copper armbands jingled when she moved her arms. Shobbi wondered who she was this time. There was not too much time to think because the washing machines started to scream and shake.
The screaming started at the back of the laundromat which was shrouded in darkness because the buzzing lights were dim. A chill raced down her back. Shobbi peered into the darkness to see what was coming. As she expected, the lights at the back of the laundromat flickered, and went out. After a few minutes, the washing machines next to her shook and screamed.
Now, the dark room was silent except for the buzzing light above Shobbi's head. That was the only place where there was light. It was dim, but she was happy for any light. Water splashed in the darkness then something fleshy hit the ground with a splat. Three more followed the first one.
Something in the darkness started to walk toward her. The dim lights started to blink slowly, so slowly that Shobbi was in darkness for a full second. She tried to get up again, her legs ached at the effort, but the chair held her down. What ever was in the darkness was walking toward her with a faster gait. The rhythm suggested that it had four limbs instead of two. The light came on, and Shobbi got a glimpse of what was coming for her. The creature was still some distance away.
It looked like a man, one that was crawling on his hands and feet. There was something off about his head, but Shobbi could not see it clearly at that distance. Darkness filled the room. When the lights came back on, the man like thing was halfway down the aisle. Fear filled her heart as she wondered how he was able to close the distance so fast. Now she knew why the creature looked strange, the man's head was upside down. His neck was twisted so much, his dark shiny eyes faced the ceiling instead of the grimy floor. The lights went off.
When the lights came on, the creature was on Shobbi tearing at her clothing with its claws. It hit her so hard when it leaped at her, the chair fell back with a crash. The stinking clawing thing was on top of her. She heard the word,”Soon!”
Shobbi awoke screaming in her bed. It seemed like the horrible thing was still in the bed with her!
Lakshmi knocked on her door. “I heard screaming! Shobbi are ya alright?”
It took a few minutes before Shobbi realized that the thing wrapped around her body was just a clammy bed sheet. “I'm okay,” she replied.
“If ya need some help, let me know,” Lakshmi said while she padded back to her room.
Shobbi did not reply while her eyes scanned her room. Of course the closet door was ajar again. She walked over to the door, and closed it. Shobbi wanted to get away from her room. A childlike fantasy filled her mind, maybe if Shobbi left, she would not have to deal with what's in the closet ever again. A scary thought snaked into her mind. What if whatever was in the closet followed her? She clenched her fists and resolved not to run away. It took her a few minutes to wash up, and throw on some clothes.
While Shobbi was putting on her sneakers, she had an idea to go check out the laundromat for the Agarwal Houses. She thought maybe there was a clue that might help her. When Shobbi walked into the living room. Her mother was sitting at the table eating her breakfast.
Shobbi watched as her mother precisely cut off a piece of her omelet then she looked up at her. “Are you alright, daughter?”
Shobbi looked away from her mother's concerned face. “I had a bad dream.”
Reva sighed. “Unlike your sister, Lakshmi, you have a gift for terseness. Even when you were a baby, you preferred short choking wails to full screams. You probably got it from my side of the family.” She rolled her eyes.
Shobbi was tempted to unburden herself, but she did not want to relive the experience again. Even thinking about the creature in the laundromat made her stomach churn. She wanted to change the subject in a hurry.
“Mom, where is the laundromat?” Shobbi tried not to look at her mother's breakfast. Her stomach was not in the mood.
Reva smiled. “You want to help me later?”
Shobbi shook her head. “Maybe?” She remembered times in the sunlit cozy laundromat with her mother. At those times she was less formal, Shobbi could imagine for a bit what her mother was like when she was young and unmarried. Her mind was filled with happiness and the smell of the sweet soaps. Then there were the neighbors as they gossiped.
“Shobbi?” Her mother's concern filled voice broke Shobbi out of her reverie.
“Sorry. Where is the laundromat?” Shobbi asked.
“Its in the basement of Building Two,” She answered and went back to eating. Shobbi gave her a quick peck on the cheek.
Reva thought of her daughters. Shobbi was so unlike Lakshmi. Her older sister was bright and cheery most of the time, like her father, but Shobbi was quiet and brooding sometimes. Like me, Reva thought. She sighed again and hoped that her daughter will tell her what is going on instead of fighting her problem alone.
Shobbi almost ran out the door of her building to Building Two. All of the buildings in the Agarwal Development looked the same. There was no time to check out the green waist high hedges or the pink and white flowers. She just had to see the laundromat. Shobbi had to know if it was like the place in her dream. The lobby of Building Two felt comfortable. Her blue and gray sneakers slipped a little on the wet floor. To the left of the elevators was a white sign for the basement stairs.
When Shobbi rushed down the stairs to the basement, her sneakers barely touched the greenish gray stairs. Visions of her dream moved up into her mind's eye. Even her stomach started to churn again. Shobbi's right hand trembled before she pulled the gray wooden door open.
Voices mixed with the humming of washing machines washed over Shobbi. Warm golden sunlight streamed through the windows. She could smell food and detergent. Shobbi remembered that it was Saturday. That was why the place was so crowded. She excused her way past a bunch of men and women who were having animated discussions on their cell phones. Some of them were so loud, Shobbi could hear the person squawking on the other end.
Even though the situation was so different from the nightmare, she did notice that the layout of the room was the same. The aisles with the washers and dryers were in the same places. Shobbi had never been to the laundromat before, but through the nightmare she was familiar with it now. That brought a chill that raced down her back. She decided to leave the room and go clear her head with a trip into the neighborhood.
After leaving the Agarwal Buildings grounds, Shobbi crossed some streets and quickly noticed the difference from her old neighborhood. There were more people shopping. Street vendors hawked their wares, and she did not see too many folks furtively eyeing her like she was a potential meal ticket or worse.
Shobbi walked down the street glancing at the stores and shoppers. Music blared out of some storefronts while vendors wanted Shobbi to check out their shiny wares. She was tempted, but a quick check of her pockets showed she just had enough money for a candy bar. Shobbi resolved to walk a bit further, and then return home.
The energy of the street gently washed the horror of her nightmare away from her mind. There was a pet shop just a few steps away with puppies in the window. She was thinking of looking at them when someone grabbed her arm.
A short woman with white hair tied into a bun pointed toward her storefront. “Child, I have seen your aura, and we must talk.”
Shobbi checked out the sign in front of the fortuneteller's shop. “I don't have enough money.”
The woman smiled revealing a mouth that had more gaps than yellow teeth. “Don't worry about that. It is free for you today.” Deep down though, she knew that the poor child will have to pay one way or another.
A quick flash of foreboding crossed Shobbi's mind. The woman seemed like a grinning demon trying to pull Shobbi into her dark and shadowy lair. Sobbi took a step back.
The fortuneteller's eyes narrowed for a second before she sighed. “I am sorry child for being so forceful. I can see now that you have been through a lot. Please come with me so we can discuss your situation. Your aura is of one that will not be on this world for too long.”
That statement brought a chill to Shobbi, she remembered what the creature and the smoke man had said. Shobbi followed the fortuneteller into her shop. Inside, it was cool and dark for a few seconds then Shobbi's eyes adjusted. The shop was full of cat statues with different colors. Some of the statues even waved. A sweet but musky smell hit her nose. Shobbi wondered if she could buy some incense.
The fortuneteller faced away from Shobbi. “Do you know the history of this region? No? Well, its a long and dark history. Evil terrible gods crouched here before the Holy Ones came from the Heavens, and drove them away, but there was a taint left across the land,” The fortuneteller turned around then looked at Shobbi. Shobbi looked back.
The fortuneteller continued. “Then demons and the foul men that served them came and stayed a while. A great temple filled with abominations was built on the site where your apartment complex is now. A holy army led by priests with the blessings of the Holy Ones was raised to stop the depredations of the demons and their followers. After a long battle, the temple was razed and the demons and their servants were killed.”
“That's an interesting story, but what does that have to do with me?” Shobbi said while looking at the cheap statues and trinkets in the room.
The fortuneteller gazed intently at Shobbi. Then a smile crossed the woman's face. “Direct and honest are you. Good. Stay that way. You will gain many friends because of that and unfortunately many enemies. To end my story, I will say that the evil from the ancient temple still poisons the area. You are marked by it. Lucky for you I have something that will help.” Then the fortuneteller walked to a cabinet covered with cat idols, and pulled out a simple jade necklace. She walked over to Shobbi, and placed it in her hand.
“Wear it until the darkness is defeated. Do not despair, you will not be alone. There is one that has fought the darkness before, you know who. Find her and face it together,” The fortuneteller said with a quick gap toothed grin.
Shobbi looked down at the plain green jade disk with the red string. “How do you know that? How is a necklace going to-” Shobbi looked up to find herself in front of a cell phone store while warm sunlight shone on her. The shadowy cool fortuneteller's shop was gone!
The next store was the pet shop. She looked across the street while vehicles zipped by. There was just a bunch of stores there. Shobbi put the necklace on, and went back home, her mind filled with confusing thoughts.