Samantha knew she was a blabber mouth. She tried to tamp down on her incessant jabbering when she was younger, but eventually settled into a permanent state of motor mouth mayhem. Long silences made her anxious, and she didn't care too much for short silences either. The little voice in her head was always asking, "And then?" She promptly answered it every time.

"And then I went home, and cut myself. I'm kidding, that's kid stuff. I drank a fifth of Jack, and then sent her a photo of my fat ass."

"Oh sure, I considered being the bigger person, and just letting it go, but keying his car was so satisfying. Smashing his driver side mirror was even more so."

"Well, then I did what I always do when I'm feeling rejected, I ate a pint of Chunky Monkey ice cream. Oh, don't worry, I puked it all up afterwards. Don't want to spoil my girlish figure, now do I?"

"I was so angry I could have killed the bitch right then and there; just wrapped my hands around her neck, and squeezed until her eyes popped out. Instead I just wished upon a star that she'd get butt cancer, and shrivel away."

Samantha didn't seem aware of her knack for rendering people speechless. Her need to inject herself into every conversation tended to rub people the wrong way. Her chafing remarks had people looking for the nearest exit, or concocting emergencies they had to run off to. "But I haven't even gotten to the bloody part of the story yet. Oh, another time then. I hope your grandmother doesn't die, call me."

It was a cyclical madness that never stopped spinning. Her crazy comments left people dumbstruck, which left a gap in the conversation she gladly filled with even crazier remarks. Those remarks fed into other lines of thought that quickly spoiled like a pound of shrimp forgotten in the trunk of a car on a hot Summer day.

Jerry from work did a spot-on impression of her that had everybody in stitches. He had her mannerisms and nasal intonations down pat. Making exaggerated and mocking expressions behind her while she yammered on about something inconsequential was a fun way of passing the time for many of her coworkers around the office.

Her mother seemed to be the only one that could stomach her endless and unsavory blathering, yet even Gloria had her ways of handling her daughter. She turned her hearing aids down, and played up the old deaf lady angle whenever her daughter visited. It didn't entirely block out Samantha's constant chattering, but it at least made it a little easier to deal with her. Nobody ever said anything about unconditional like.

Samantha was basically alone in the world, oblivious to what people really thought of her, and unaware of just how lonely an existence she lived. No one ever had the guts or basic human decency to tell her just how off-putting she could be. How do you start a conversation like that? It sounds silly doesn't it? How could she not know most people didn't like her? Well, self deception is a malady we all suffer from at one point or another. Samantha was in serious need of a reality check.

The Sun was high overhead on the day of her fortieth birthday when she awoke to her phone ringing, and ringing, and ringing. She answered it with a groggy, "Morning Mom."

"Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday-"

"Ok Mom, ok, that's enough. Can we skip the song this year? I've got the most horrendous cramps, and I haven't been able to shit in days, so maybe today isn't the-"

Gloria cut her daughter off. "Holy shit, Samantha, you're forty years old today. Maybe it's about time you develop a filter. Nobody wants to hear every fucking thought that runs though your head."

"Mom! What's gotten into you today? You're swearing like a sailor."

"Yeah well, here's some more for you, Samantha. Shut the fuck up!"

Samantha sat up in bed, and stared at the blinking red "call ended" message. She couldn't believe what she had just heard. Sitting there in complete shock, a sudden anger like she hadn't felt in years bubbled up out of her. She leapt out of bed, and flung her phone against the wall. The two week old phone died upon impact. Instant regret set in as she knelt down to pick up the pieces that would never be a phone again.

It was a strange and awkward feeling for her since she recalled very few regrets in her life. Her lack of awareness and inability to see the world from different angles was a blessing and a curse. That curse would soon come to light, but the initial shock and awe had already started to fade in Samantha's head. By the time she had showered, and readied herself for the day, the shocking altercation with her mother only seemed like a slight hiccup in what she hoped would be a pleasant day.

She had no real plans for the day other than maybe stopping by the bar down the street for her complimentary birthday cocktail, so she decided to head over to the Verizon store to get herself another phone. Then she'd call her mom afterwards, and let her finish up that birthday song.

Road rage swerved in and out of the lanes that extremely hot Summer day. Three different motorists directed blaring horns and inaudible yells in her direction. She just wrote it off as impatience on their part. Her defensive driving didn't go over so well with everybody on the road. If she had heard what they were yelling she would have been shocked.

She pulled into the parking lot a few minutes later feeling rather upbeat for someone who was about to do battle with some sales clerk who was probably going to give her bad news about her warranty. A few customers and employees lingering around the store glanced in her direction as she entered, but she figured it was just what people do when someone enters a room.

People do tend to look towards sudden sounds, and the jangling bell hanging on the metal and glass door certainly announced her entrance, but the glances quickly turned into stares as she stepped further into the store. Their hazy eyes followed her as she walked around a display. Samantha stopped her progress towards the service counter when everyone else in the store started to gather in front of it. One straggler in the far corner of the store actually jogged the last fifteen or so feet to the crowd like a football player rushing to a huddle.

She stood there watching the eleven strangers as they conferred on some subject unknown to her. Every now and again one or another of them would poke there head out of the muttering mass, and glare at her before tucking back into the writhing clump of backsides and intertwined arms. They went on talking amongst themselves for about a minute before they broke their huddle, and lined up side by side like they were about to play a game of Red Rover.

A Rather tall employee with bushy black eyebrows reluctantly stepped up to Samantha. She nearly blurted out, "Red Rover, Red Rover, let Bushy Brow come over." Her ears popped like they often did when she was on an airplane.

"How may we assist you today?" His obvious lack of enthusiasm and extremely dilated pupils added to the uneasy feeling creeping over Samantha.


She fished the bag containing the remnants of her phone out of her purse and replied, "I broke my phone, and would like to replace it."

The guy took the bag from her with a dismissive grunt, and handed it to another employee who walked over to the nearest garbage can, and tossed it in. Dusting her hands off dramatically, she turned, and gave Samantha a dirty glare. Bushy Brow then looked Samantha right in the eyes, frowned and said, "I think it's best you go old school for a while."

Samantha began to feel very uncomfortable, so she replied in the only way she knew how; she blurted, "When you furrow your brow like that your eyebrows nearly touch, and I can't help but think they belong together. Stop shaving between them, and let them join. Be brave, be different, and embrace the unibrow lifestyle."

Bushy Brow shook his head in disgust, and grabbed her left arm as the other employee that threw Samantha's phone away came up behind and grabbed her other arm. Their steadfast grip easily thwarted her attempts to break free. "What are you doing? Let go of me!" They lifted her up, "Put me down!" and carried her towards the door. Samantha's heels dragged along the floor. The late huddler rushed by, and opened the door for them. The two employees shoved her out the door.

She stumbled across the sidewalk, turned toward them, and opened her mouth to protest or maybe just to ask, "What's going on?" but the three of them, accompanied by the rest of the people in the store harmonized a harsh response, "Shut the fuck up, Samantha." Bushy brow, his name tag read Kevin, shut the door, and locked it. He showed her both of his middle fingers, shook his head, and turned his back to her.

Samantha stood there in shock, staring at Kevin's back as he stood sentry over the doorway. Trembling slightly, she clumsily fumbled in her purse for a cigarette as she turned around, and slowly walked to her car. Reaching her car, she became frustrated when she couldn't get her lighter to work. She flung it across the parking lot in a sudden fit of anger, and screamed like she'd just seen a dismembered head roll across her path.

Her blood curdling scream soured into sobs as she slid down her driver side door, and sat down on the hot cement. She felt humiliated, confused, angry (so angry), but most of all she was scared. She didn't understand what was happening around her. Something didn't feel right with the world that day. She became aware of a clicking, hissing, tinnitus like sound in her ears. It quieted to a low, white noise rumbling, and then erupted into a high pitched ringing.

She clutched at her ears just as a family of four, looking for a choice parking spot slowly coasted by her, and yelled simultaneously, "Shut the fuck up, Samantha."

The little girl in pigtails sang, "Shut the fuck up if you know what's good. Shut the fuck up or you'll lose your hood."

Samantha could see the little boy of maybe eight years old in the back window running his index finger horizontally along his throat with a sinister, hazy-eyed smirk.

Dumbstruck, she watched their SUV turn, and drive down the next parking aisle. She pulled herself up, and quickly climbed into her car when she saw them reach the end of the aisle, and turn back toward her. Her six cylinder engine roared to life as they neared her. The ringing in her ears had been replaced by the family joyously singing, "The wheels on the bus go round and round, round and round, round and..."

She backed out with a screech of tires, slammed her car into drive, and sped away. Looking back, she saw their car parking in the spot she had just vacated. She swung out into traffic. A moment later someone swerved into her lane without warning, nearly clipping her car. Her urge to punch, punch, and press her horn stuttered when the ringing in her ears started up again. She resisted the urge, and the ringing subsided.

Samantha felt alone and untethered from reality. She needed someone to confide in or better yet, someone to unleash her frustrations upon. A rather good mix of 80s songs on the radio renewed some of her usual aplomb. Singing always helped to calm her down. The drive home was pleasant and uneventful. Nearing the front of her apartment building she noticed that the guy who lived next to her had parked his car in her designated spot. Sick and tired of being on the receiving end of other people's ire all day, she parked in his spot, leapt out of her car, and rushed up to his front door.

Slightly winded from her dash up the two flights of stairs, she banged on the door until it swung open with a, "Alright already, calm the f... Oh, it's you. What do you want?"

Samantha stared her neighbor down, and uttered, "Why the fuck are you in my spot?"

The short, balding man laughed, and began to close his door in her face as he said, "Oh, I'm sorry, did Josh park in your spot? I'll go move it right-"

"Don't bother," slithered off her tongue like a hiss, "I parked in your spot, but don't-"

He swung his door open and stepped right up on her, forcing her to step back. "Wait a minute, his spot which is right next to yours was available?" She stepped sideways towards her apartment as he took another step towards her. "You are one fucked up chick, Samantha."

Samantha's urge to assert herself withered. Her earlier awareness that something was wrong swam up from the deep end of her mind, and gasped for air. "How do you know my name? How does everyone know my name?" She suddenly needed to get away from him, and safely behind her own door.

She ran for her apartment, never taking her frantic, scared gaze off of him as she struggled to unlock her door. He began to walk towards her in a meandering zigzag formation. Samantha flung her door open, rushed inside, and slammed the door behind her. Just as she turned the deadbolt "a shave and a haircut" sounded against her door. She had no intention of responding with "two bits," but she did look through the peep hole.

A bloodshot eye engulfed the little porthole, staring right at her. It had a glazed over appearance like the brain it was plugged into wasn't even turned on.

"You need to learn to shut your fucking mouth, Samantha Carmichael. Your mother's name is Gloria Samson. You have two sisters, and a brother. Do I need to recite their addresses to you, because I know where they live. That's not just a line. Jacob lives on Cherry Blossom Drive. Ashley and Elizabeth share a flat together in Hoboken, New Jersey while Elizabeth recovers from her knee surgery. You won't get too many more chances to learn your place, so I recommend you shut your fucking trap."

Her dead eyed neighbor moved outside of her limited range of sight. A moment later she heard his door slam shut. She slid down her door to the floor, and closed her eyes tightly. The ringing in her ears quieted to a low hiss, and then dissipated.

Samantha awoke a couple hours later sitting on the floor with her back against her door. She rose, unlocked her door, cracked it open about a foot, and peered out. She leapt back, and screamed just as her neighbor stepped into view. He stepped back, and raised his hands up in front of himself.

"Oh, I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to startle you."

She gripped her door tightly, and opened her mouth to tell him to leave her alone when the ringing sprang up again. An opaque cloud intermingled with crooked red striations began to form in the white of his eyes. She closed her mouth without uttering a word, and the ringing abated.

He scratched the back of his head nervously, looking lost for a moment. His eyes cleared, and returned to their normal blue hue. "I... huh, excuse me, brain fart." He blushed slightly, and then regained his composure. "I just wanted to apologize for parking in your spot. I guess I just wasn't paying attention earlier. It won't happen again, I promise."

Samantha just stood there, her grip on her door slackened a bit. She was trying to come to terms with her maniac neighbor from a couple of hours ago once again being the nice, polite guy she'd lived next to for almost a year. She forced a smile, and opened her door a little wider.

"We should have probably done introductions months ago, but now's better than never. I'm Josh." He flashed her a rather becoming smile, and offered her his hand.

She shook his hand weakly, and replied, "Samantha." The silence between them lasted for nearly twenty seconds, but the little voice in her head didn't urge her to say anything else. Trying to hide her terrified and confused feelings behind an awkward smile, she just stood there with her head slightly tilted to the side, and stared at him. Josh shifted towards his apartment, turned back to her, smiled uncomfortably, and then backed up to the stair railing.

"Ok, so I'll see you around. Thanks for being so understanding, um... bye."

He turned, walked back to his apartment, and slipped out of view behind his door. Samantha closed her door, and inhaled deeply. It felt like she hadn't taken a breath in hours. About a half hour later she headed downstairs when she saw the mail truck parked in front of her building. It gave her a chance to do something familiar and routine that shouldn't involve any drama. The mailman was crouched down, busily filling mailboxes when she entered the room.

"Oh, hey there," he said casually while he continued to work, "109, right?"

She thought about the two women in the complex he was screwing, and wondered if they knew about each other. A question was forming in her mind when he suddenly shuddered, and then grabbed one of the open mailbox doors as if to steady himself. He plucked it off the wall like it was an apple on a tree, stood up, and let it clatter to the floor. Samantha let out a weak yelp, and backed into the corner of the room. He spun toward her, and waggled his finger at her.

"Shame shame, Samantha, you were about to say something untoward weren't you?"

She whimpered, "No, I swear I wasn't..."

The mailman's pin prick pupils swam in rapidly swirling milky white whirlpools. "You think you can lie to us, tsk tsk, Samantha. You're a slow learner. Maybe that's why you dropped out of college. Have you ever considered putting a little more thought into what you say? No, we guess you haven't, or we wouldn't be here."

Samantha bolted for the stairs, and rushed up them, never looking back. She could hear it calling up the stairwell. "Our next visit will be our last, one way or another. Try and remember that, won't you? Happy birthday Samantha."

She cowered in her apartment the rest of the weekend. Every time she tried to puzzle out what was going on, the ringing in her ears would drown her thoughts. "I'm not thinking bad thoughts. I'm not talking. I'm not thinking bad thoughts. I'm not talking," became like an unspoken mantra to her. It seemed to quell the noises in her head. She sought solace in her favorite band, Simply Red. Music seemed to help soften the rough edges of her jagged nerves.

Samantha emailed her boss to tell him she couldn't come in on Monday, but he was insistent she come in if she wasn't contagious or dying. She considered lying, but a tickling sensation in her ears stifled the thought. She kept her head down at work, and mimed having a sore throat to avoid talking. No one seemed to notice she was trembling. She nearly jumped out of her skin at every little noise she heard, but nobody commented about it. The week went by without any strange occurrences, and the next week was just as uneventful. People began to take notice of the new, improved, and subdued Samantha.

She stopped taking over conversations, and started listening more. It surprised her how far simple yes or no gestures could carry her. The little voice in her head stopped urging her to talk, talk, talk all the time. Nobody even questioned why she wasn't speaking. Why mess with a good thing, right? Within just a few months people stopped tolerating Samantha, and actually started liking her. Coworkers started asking her out for drinks after work, but she didn't trust herself to drink anymore. Saying or even thinking the wrong thing was hard enough to avoid sober.

A group of people from work would go out Friday nights to a karaoke bar. A rumor that she was an amazing singer had somehow spread around the office. Her irresponsible babbling over the past three years she'd worked there was probably the culprit. They begged and pleaded for her to join them. The thought of being surrounded by a whole bar full of drunken, glaze-eyed freaks scared the shit out of her. She managed to hold them off for a few weeks, but eventually they weren't taking no for an answer. Her further refusal made her ears ring.

Samantha slowly sipped her ginger ale, nodded in agreement every now and again, and kept her eyes on the exits. They kept nagging her to sing. "Come on Samantha, let's hear this amazing voice of yours."

They would push the song book her way, but every time she'd slide it back, mouthing the words, "No thank you." Finally it was decided that she'd have no choice but to sing if they all did, so one by one each of them stepped onto the stage, and murdered good songs. She couldn't think of any way to argue against their drunken logic without her ears buzzing, so she just sat there getting more and more nervous as her turn drew nearer.

Jerry tossed the song book into her lap as he headed towards the stage to butcher a Bon Jovi song. She flipped through the book and settled on "Lady in Red" by Chris Deburgh. Expecting her ears to start ringing, she filled out the little slip of paper, and handed it to Jerry as he walked back from the stage to very little applause. Her ears didn't ring, not even a tickle.

Finally her name was called. She mimed her reluctance by turning towards the entrance and running in place, but no one would let her leave. Sarah from accounting slurred, "Get yer ash on shtage, shweetheart."

Samantha reluctantly walked onto the stage, and reached for the mic. She nearly fainted when it squealed. Quickly recovering her composure, she gripped the mic tightly in her hands, and looked out at the audience as she began to sing, "I've never seen you looking so lovely as you did tonight. I've never seen you shine so bright."

She hadn't strung so many words together in months. All of her coworkers watched her with enthusiasm as they sipped their drinks. Closing her eyes, she pulled the mic free of the stand, and let the lyrics flow out of her, through her. She knew now as long as she had this little reprieve she could make it to her next birthday. Somehow she knew that if she just kept her mouth shut, and only did what was expected of her she could live at least that long. If she made it that long maybe the things that haunted her would let her live. Maybe their last visit would be to release their grip on her life.

The song came to an end, and the crowded bar grew quiet, eerily so. She turned toward the back exit. It seemed so far away. Samantha didn't think she'd make it before they got to her. Just then some drunk guy in the corner broke the silence. "That was fucking awesome!" The crowd erupted in claps and cheers, somebody whistled. Samantha turned back toward the front of the stage, and stared out into the throng of accepting people. There wasn't a strange eye in the house.

Written by Kolpik
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