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The Dryers Are in Use

by Walter Kwiatkowski

Part 1 appears
in this issue.


“No, I am not feeling all right,” he said, raising his voice. “I saw my wife come into this place, and I haven’t seen her come out. Where do you suppose she is?”

The blonde glanced around the room with embarrassment. “You can check the Fitness Centre next door, if you like, Mr. Pike. Many of our customers end up there.”

Just then, a shorter, very well preserved woman with greying hair came in through a door at the back and walked over to the desk. She glanced at the blonde and then stared at Pike sourly.

“I am Mrs. Charr. I would ask you to keep your voice down, please. Is there a problem?”

“I'm sorry if I am causing a disturbance, Mrs. Charr,” he said, “but this young lady tells me my wife isn’t here.”

The older woman placed a hand on the blonde’s shoulder.

“Is the gentleman’s wife here, Lena?”

“I’ve checked all the dryers,” she replied, “and there’s no one in the back fitting the description he gave me.”

“Did she have an appointment?”

“There’s nothing written down, Mrs. Charr.”

“Listen,” he said, with growing anxiety. “I drove my wife here after breakfast. I saw her come in, but I haven’t seen her come out. That was two hours ago. Did she suddenly fly away?”

Mrs. Charr gave him a harsh look and said, “Check the dryers one more time. You may have been mistaken.”

The blonde checked the dryers; only five were in use. She cane back a moment later, taking a seat and folding her hands on the desktop. The older woman looked down at her.

“She isn’t there, Mrs. Charr.”

“It’s settled then,” the older woman said. “Perhaps your wife is next door, at the Fitness Centre. Perhaps you should check there. Good day, Mr. Pike.”

“What? You just can’t brush me off like that. I want some answers.”

“If you want to discuss this further,” the older woman said, turning back and looking at him, “speak with Mr. Sturgeon. Unfortunately, he is away on business.”

He ran his tongue over his lips. His mouth was as dry as a match head. God, I wish I had a drink, he thought

He rushed over to the glass-table top near the front window and grabbed a booklet.

The two women said nothing. They just stared at him as if he was crazy.

Something flickered in his mind: Five dryers are now in use. Women sat quietly, like lifeless wax dolls, hands folded on their laps. There were stacks of dead magazines on a long table with a transparent top. There were no cigarettes burning in glass ashtrays, no smoke filling the room.

“I want some answers, do you hear me? I want them now.”

“I’m sorry, sir, you have to leave,” the blonde said, her hands still folded on the desktop.

Pike rushed to the desk and grabbed the appointment book. The page that had all the appointments before twelve o’clock had been ripped out. He threw the book to the floor. His eye caught the piece of paper the woman with the face scar had been given. He fished it up. Burn your house down were the only words written on it.

He ran to the front door and stopped suddenly. His car was gone.

He turned back towards them. “What’s going on here? All those women sitting under the dryers, their faces scarred, never moving, only smiling. They’re like stuffed animals, like... they’re dead.” Pike rushed towards the blonde and pinned her against the desk.

She struggled to get away and, failing that, clawed his cheek with her nails. Wiping the blood off his face with the back of his hand, he ran to the back, past an unmoving but watchful Mrs. Charr. There were four dryers now in use. The first occupied chair he came to, he pulled back the dryer. It was the desperate woman who had smiled at him earlier.

No voice spoke through thin almost non-existent lips. Unmoving pupils stared past him as if looking through him. The woman didn’t blink, make a sound, or even breathe. She sat, a half-completed smile etched across her face. Steam was rising from every part of the dryer. Beside her was a copy of the Red-Hot Salon’s Beautification Booklet. It was open to one of the back pages. A young red-haired woman in baggie shorts, and wearing hoop earrings, and looking a lot like his neighbour Shelley, stared up.

“No,” he said.

In a panic, he turned page after page, searching for a woman with chestnut brown curly hair. And he found her. The very last model on the very last page, complete with dimple on the right temple, and wearing a white blouse with random dark red spots. He looked at the picture again. The booklet slipped from his fingers. The random red pattern on the shirt was blood.

He looked at them all, shaking. “No, no.”

He darted out the back door into the parking lot. To the right was another, larger door with the words Fitness Centre written in black across it. He pulled it, but the door was locked; no, not locked, being held. It budged an inch, maybe two. Someone or something was up against it, pushing from inside. He kept pushing until the door weakened and gave way, and he fell forward into what seemed to be a storage room. There were wooden boxes everywhere. The smell of toast crept up his nostrils. Something like an elevator bell dinged in another room. He peered toward the sound and saw a conveyor belt. A man in a pair of dark brown shoes came into view. He kicked a wooden box out of his path with his toe. It tipped over and what look like large lumps of charcoal tumbled out.

He looked up.

The man had a moustache and his eyes shone like coal. Two very husky men wearing black Fitness Centre t-shirts appeared beside him.

“Greetings,” he said dryly. “You must be Mr. Pike. I am Dallas Sturgeon, president of the Red Hot Salon.”

The sides of his mouth dipped into a frown. “We need to take you back, Mr. Pike.” He nodded in the direction of the two very large men.

One of the men grabbed Pike’s hair. Something pointy flashed in front of Pike’s face. In his head, there was another sudden roar of a garbage truck. Something flickered in his mind, and he screamed, “There is no garbage pick-up on Saturdays!”

The two burly men twisted his arms behind his back and held him still until Dr. Sturgeon stepped forward and dabbed his arm with alcohol and then slid a needle into his arm and injected a sedative. He watched as Pike, within a few minutes, stopped struggling and went limp, his screams collapsing into whimpers, his whimpers drowning in a deep silence.

“Why was he screaming about no garbage pick-up?” the doctor’s blonde assistant asked.

Dr. Sturgeon tossed the used needle into a container. “He butchered his wife and her friend early on a Saturday morning. No one heard them screaming because of a garbage truck. The workers had been on strike and settled the day before. On that Saturday, they went back to work.”

The doctor watched as the two husky men fitted a white straightjacket over Pike.

“I thought he was going to kill me.”

“He might have. You see, there is a constant battle going on inside his mind. On the one hand, the primitive part of his brain is in a constant rage, seeking to release its fury. On the other hand, the advanced part of his brain is under siege, trying to keep this rage in check and attempting to fence in his guilt.

“His brain has created this fantasy about taking his wife to the hair salon. Instead of her being murdered, she is simply missing, and he is trying to find her. Every time he starts to think about what happened, the brain kicks in to fantasy mode. His attack on you was the rage taking over.”

The blonde assistant nodded. “Thank God he didn’t have a knife. What he did to his poor wife...”

“Well, at least he will never be released,” Sturgeon said, watching Pike being taken down the hall.

“Someone should probably look at those scratches I dug unto his face though,” she said.

Dr. Sturgeon nodded to the middle-aged nurse standing by the door. “If you would, Mrs. Charr.”

She nodded and went down the hallway.

“And all those others who died in the fire he started trying to cover his tracks?”

The doctor walked over to the window and looked out. “I don’t think he meant for them to die, but I guess we’ll never know.”

Copyright © 2017 by Walter Kwiatkowski

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