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UCSCA UCSCA Lit of the Nation
UCSCA Lit of the Nation
You're Late
Lauren Forney

"You're late."

The words themselves weren't what hit me like a surge of electricity, making the hair on my arms stand like so many little needles ready to fire. It was their speaker that put me on the defensive as soon as I stepped through that forsaken doorway. I knew it was a mistake, a trap—one I shouldn't have fallen for—just like I knew he could smell my shameless dislike. And fear. And all the while I could feel an overpowering stench of hate and... something else... from him. So we stood there a few minutes like great black dogs, sniffing each other and biting back a growl, both of us knowing whose territory we were on.

Oh, and there was another biter: in that couple of seconds before I was inside, head first in the snare, before his so-called greeting, I hadn't been able to hide my awe. How he had managed to acquire these opalescent walls and rich flame trimmings I could only speculate. It wasn't all that unexpected, really, but burned all the same. My own living space—a cheap, run-down (you get what you don't pay for, in my case) two-room apartment would fit nicely in the entrance hall of this monster.

Heh. Monster. Poe's House of Usher came to mind, in which the house and its occupants were parallels to each other. I tried hard to keep myself from grinning at this thought, resulting in a strange half-grimace. My host gave me a hatefully perplexed look, and then I did grin. I wasn't purposely instigating... but his face hadn't lost its boyish charm, so any remotely serious expression just looked morbidly amusing on him. Mickey Mouse with a butcher knife.

With a deep breath I ran a hand over my face and placed a glass smile on my lips. "Better late than never," I recited. He frowned and looked for a moment like he was going to say something, but it passed and he just shrugged his shoulders as if he were shouldering something heavy.

'Yeah, heavy burden, aren't I?' I thought. Out loud, I tried to strike up a conversation with the first thing to pop into my head. "So, how's the family? Wife and kids and whatnot."

If I thought there was electricity on the air before, that was like a little static compared to the volt I got this time. "Finejustfine."

"Whoa what?"

His silence answered a lot more than I suppose he would have told me. Yeah, well, you see, about that... I'm not gonna tell you just what went down, man, but my little chick, she ditched me and I don't even know why, but I gotta have someone to blame it on, and now that, my dear old friend, is where you come in. Greeeaaat. Just dandy. Head first in the trap and I just happened to snap a second one.