Out of Order
The trees were tinged with orange, yellow, and red as fall pushed the warmth of summer out of its path ushering in a cold, new atmosphere. Few people walk along the paved streets of Ohara, Minnesota; a small town encompassed by a large system of oak forests. Deer populate the woods making it an excellent place for hunters during that particular time of year.
Seventeen-year-old Valerie Carter, a young but determined poet struggles to find inspiration, her eyes only noticing the vacancy of words on the leather bound notebook that lies across the desk in front of her.
She peers out the window, briefly watching the rhythmic sway of the oaks as the wind guides them back and forth. The forest beyond was the only thing that darkened the otherwise beautiful, sunny day. That was it, Valerie thought, her poem would be about the forest. The forest did, to her, radiate darkness which was precisely why she had never stepped foot in it. Instantly her pencil was gliding over the college ruled paper, scribbling down notes and beginnings of the poem.
Deep in the woods, a great darkness lies,
A sinister, menacing evil it hides.
Something is rising above us all,
It will invoke our unforeseen downfall.
Valerie paused, setting her pencil down, taking a moment to consider. She never intended to get her work published but couldn’t help wonder if it even would be accounted for. After all, the greatest work starts as a simple yet powerful idea that blooms into something more significant and has a lasting effect. Valerie sighed, wishing that one day her work would become famous and not a single person wouldn’t know her name. If only. Her mother’s voice interrupted her unrealistic daydream.
“Val?” A head poked into Valerie’s bedroom. “Can you please run an errand for me?”
“Um, sure.” Valerie said hesitantly. “What do you need?”
“It’s laundry day. Just take these clothes down to the Laundromat and wash them. And do me a favor, take Marci with you,” her mother said, setting a hamper filled with worn clothes in the doorway.
“Why do I have to take Marci?” Valerie moaned, annoyed that she had to bring her goody-goody fifteen-year-old sister with her.
“Because I said so. She is waiting for you in the truck. Be out there in five minutes or you are grounded for a week.”
“Fine,” she said flatly, ripping the page containing her newest poem out of the notebook, folding it in half and then in half again and shoving it along with a pencil into her sweatshirt’s front pocket. Valerie was not one to enjoy chores, especially when they involved driving somewhere, but she also did not adore being isolated inside the limitations of her house for a week either.
Standing up, she dragged herself over to the hamper and willed herself to pick it up. Valerie descended down the staircase noticing her older brother Liam lying on his leather beanbag playing Call of Duty in the living room. The volume was so loud that whenever he fired at an enemy it felt like the house was actually getting bombed. Rolling her eyes she dropped the hamper and marched over to the computer, turning the volume dial to off.
“Hey!” Liam frowned. “I need the sounds in case any of the Nazis are firing at me!”
“Well the rest of us need our ability to hear!” Valerie snapped grabbing the hamper and proceeding towards the door.
The second she left the house Liam cranked the volume back up muttering, “Since when do I listen to you? Oh, that’s right, never!” Snickering, he went back to killing Nazis with his dwindling supply of grenades.
Valerie opened the rusty door of her family’s old navy truck, throwing the laundry hamper in the backseat. Marci awaited patiently in the passenger’s chair applying a fresh coat of cherry flavored lipstick.
The engine roared to life and Valerie began driving through the downtown area. Their house was only a couple of minutes from the Laundromat so they arrived speedily. Pulling into the deserted parking lot Valerie and Marci jumped out of the truck carrying the hamper into the oddly silent Quick n’ Clean Laundromat.
“That’s unusual,” Marci said, gazing around at all the unused washer and dryer pairs that were always taken; multiple people would normally have to wait their turn to clean their clothes since nearly three quarters of the town didn’t have washing appliances.
“It’s good for us. We don’t have to wait to use one this time.” Valerie smiled walking to the very back of the small building. The back corner contained her washer. The one she always used no matter what. Period.
“Um? Val?” Marci said staring at the door of Valerie’s favorite washer. Valerie’s mouth dropped when she read the white paper taped to the machine.
“Out. Of. Order.” Val said, her words clipped. Then she began to laugh maniacally, “Out of order! That’s impossible! My washer is never out of order!” Marci stepped back having a thought that her sister might be pushing the boundaries of insanity.
“Valerie, we can use a different one!” Marci exclaimed scooping up the hamper.
“No we can’t!” Valerie hissed. Her eyes remained glued to the out of order sign. Marci let out a low sigh, dumping the clothes into the next working washer.
“NO!” Val raged tearing her eyes away from the sign and grabbing the clothes out of the washer Marci was using and throwing them into her own. Marci sat helplessly on the wooden bench watching Valerie shred the paper and push quarters rapidly into the coin slot. Something shined from underneath the clothes before she closed the door.
Marci raised an eyebrow as Val pulled a knife out of the washer. It was no ordinary kitchen knife though; it had a long curved blade and looked dangerously sharp. Without saying a word Valerie sneakily slipped it into her purse and closed the door pressing the start button.
The humming of the washer told them it wasn’t in the least out of order. “See?” Val breathed a sigh of relief. “It is working!”
Marci ignored her, asking, “What did you put in your purse?”
“Um, my bracelet that I found under the clothes.” Valerie lied letting out a nervous giggle.
“Hmmm, can I see it?” Marci asked reaching for her purse.
“No!” Valerie stepped back hugging her purse against her chest.
“Look, Val, I know it’s a knife, but is it yours?” Marci hoped it hadn’t been in their clothes.
“Well…I-I-I think it might have been left in the washer by someone else,” Val stammered.
“Who on earth puts a knife in a washer and leaves it there? You have to show it to mom.” Marci, being the goody-goody of the family always had to do the right thing regardless of the situation.
“Why? It’s really amazing and has unique engravings. Mom would never let me keep it.” Valerie scowled at her purse.
“You want to keep a knife you just found at a low rent laundromat!? Are you kidding me?” Marci was convinced that her sister really was mentally disturbed. “You could get sent to jail for just having a weapon in your possession!”
“Oh, please, there isn’t a police station within a ten mile radius of here. We reside in the middle of nowhere! This place is not even a town! It’s unincorporated!” Valerie yelled glaring into Marci’s wide amber eyes.
“That’s it! The second we get home you are telling mom about the knife!” Marci said returning the glare.
“Or what?” Val said cockily.
“Or I’ll tell her myself! You have no way out of this!”
“What if I don’t come home? I could just go to Jessica’s house a couple nights. You and mom will have forgotten all about it by the time I return home.” An idea that Valerie was going to regret for the rest of eternity began to form in her mind.
“Yeah, right. You can’t leave now; who’s going to drive me home? And I am certainly not finishing all this laundry by myself!”
“Mom can drive you home and you can finish all this laundry by yourself. See-ya!” Valerie raced out of Quick n’ Clean, jumping into the truck and starting it up. Marci rushed after her but by the time she reached the door Valerie had vanished.
Enraged, Marci stomped over to her bag and scooped her cell phone from its depths.
“Hello?” Her mother’s voice rang from the speaker.
“This is Marci! Valerie left the Laundromat and I can’t get home! The laundry is not even done being washed!” Marci said in bewilderment.
“What? Why did she leave?” Her mother asked alarmed.
“Because, she found a knife that has a curved edge inside of her washer and kept it. I said we have to tell you but she ignored me saying she was going to Jessica’s house because she didn’t want to give it up.” Marci stared out the windows at the darkening sky.
“Hold on, I’ll be over in five minutes. When we get home I am calling Jessica and demanding that Valerie come home. She is facing months of grounding. Bye.” The line went dead.
Marci shakily stood up, walking outside a blast of cold night air hitting her face.