Prompt Day #203: Discover something amiss at the laundromat. Capture the sounds and smells as accurately as you can.
I have been a day behind this weekend as I was on a little vacation and no matter how I tried to finish each day, time got away from me. This story catches me back up though and puts me back on track. This is today’s piece. That is why there are two today.
The laundry area in my apartment building was flooded and off limits. That’s how I ended up having to take the bus across town. The Autumn Moon Coin Operated Laundry was such a weird name and the owners lived in the back; that always made me uneasy and I never went. But that day, I was desperate, I’d put it off for far too long and unless I intended to smell like a hobo, I had to do something.
Admittedly, the place was like any other laundromat. Besides the long floor to ceiling red velvet drapes on the front display windows, it was your average, everyday coin operated laundry. I thought the curtains were strange but assumed they blocked out the street lights and gave the family some privacy after business hours. I washed and dried several loads before running out of money. Because it was 9:00 and the place closed at 10:00, I decided to just call it a day and return home. I’d bring the rest back again tomorrow with more money.
I rode the bus back to my apartment and lugged the two sacks of clothes up to the second floor. There I stood, outside my apartment door rummaging for my keys. They weren’t there. I had to have gone through every pocket about six times before conceding defeat. I checked my watch, could I make it back to the laundromat before 10. I had a sneaking suspicion I’d find my keys in one of their washing machines as I am short, I have to lean way over the opening to enter the settings. I imagined them falling out of my hoodie pocket and into the machine.
I caught the next bus and made it there by 10:05. The curtains were drawn but I could see a glow of light beneath them. Someone would be in there tidying up and checking all the machines still. If I banged on the door, surely they’d answer. As I approached the door, I heard a soft music playing; drums and chanting. I stopped and listened. Was the sound music coming through speakers or was it coming from voices inside. Then I heard a dog whining and yelping. I stepped back. What was going on in there? I shook it off. It had to be music coming through the speaker and the dog probably heard me approaching and was trying to get to the door. That had to be it.
And then I heard the baby squealing. Screaming actually. Now, I’m no expert on babies but I know they have different cries for different things. Even without having heard their various noises, I knew in my core that that was a cry of pain. I froze. I had no idea what to do. Every step I took towards the door, imagining that I would break in to save that baby, I would then take two steps back thinking I should just call the police. The volume of the chanting, the howling and the baby’s screams intensified. I had to do something.
I checked the door. Locked. Just as I expected it would be. I shook it and pounded on it. I had my cell phone in my other hand, 911 was already dialed in just waiting for me to hit send, should things go awry. At the sound of my knocking, the music and chanting stopped. The baby continued to cry and I could swear I heard a dog whimpering. It seemed like an hour that I stood there pounding at the door before it was answered. The woman who opened it allowed only enough space for her head to poke out but it was more than enough for the smell to hit me.
At first, it was an overwhelming herbal stink. The kind you get hit with going into the little new agey shops that you find in every tourist town. Patchouli and god only knows what else. Had I not heard all those noises first, I would have ignored the odors emanating from the business. But as my mouth worked on its own, explaining my theory of lost keys, my brain continued to analyze the olfactory input coming from the open door. There was a thicker, more metallic smell beneath the herbs. It was adrenaline concentrated sweat and the sour stink of fear. But also, I smelled blood.
“The laundromat is closed. Come back tomorrow” the woman hissed. There was blood on her breath, and worse than that; on her teeth. The baby cried out again. I could hear the machines running in the background. At least one held something bulky and heavy, it was thumping.
“Listen, without those keys, I can’t get into my apartment. Please can I just check real quick? I know exactly what machines I used. It won’t take long.” I said pushing gently against the door, trying to peek inside. My thumb still hovering over the send button on my phone.
“Go away, now!” she roared and tried to close the door. I shoved back. There was a weak cry just then; something like “my baby” and then the sound of flesh hitting flesh. I hit the send button and threw all my weight against the door. The phone fell out of my grasp and hit the floor and I stepped on it as I charged in. I could only hope the call connected before I did so.
The sight was so inconceivable that it took me a moment to take all of it in. On the table used for folding clean, dry clothes lay a bloody body of a woman. Her once white nightgown now saturated with her own fluids. A hole gaped in her center where a child had just been. Its cord hung over a mutilated edge of tissue. No IVs entered her arms, no signs of anything medical. Her eyes rolled in their sockets, crazed from pain and exsanguination. Her dried and cracked lips moving incessantly as she mouthed “my baby, my baby, my baby”. Surrounding her were three figures in black hooded robes lined with red fabric. One of the three held the newborn’s wet and shivering body with its hands around the babe’s chest and it hung limply like that. There was no doubt in my mind that this baby was not intended to survive the night.
The washers were running and I watched horrified as blood splashed against the front windows over and over. And occasional fur covered body part smacked the window in what appeared to be an effort to escape. Hanging upside down among the coat hangers on a rolling cart, was a dog whose throat had been cut so severely it was almost decapitated. A squat ceramic pot sat gathering the spoils beneath him. I saw cats and dogs rolling around dead in the dryers. Candles dripped wax down top loading machines, pot set above the bigger ones bubbled and boiled away, as their incense infused steam rose up into the air and vanished like a specter.
I had only seconds but my brain absorbed the scene like a sponge holding it to fully process later. The three hooded figures approached me although the one with the baby held back a bit. I backed my way to the door estimating the number of steps I’d taken when I barged in. I’d forgotten about the woman who had opened the door to me initially until I felt her arm wrap around my throat.
That is when I heard the gunshots and everything went black. I don’t remember anything else.
Statement of Miss Kayla Foster
November 2, 2015
Regarding the events of the night of October 31, 2015 at Autumn Moon Coin-Op Laundromat.