I AM MARKED SAFE by Ian Crutcher Castillo

I AM MARKED SAFE by Ian Crutcher Castillo

Max is marked safe. Oliver is marked safe. Killian is marked safe. Evelyn is marked safe. Bryce is marked safe. Carter is marked safe. On a day like any other the bridge off I-5 collapses. A lack of reliable funding and haphazard maintenance results in the foreseeable.  

 The victims are still being identified.  

Oliver gets bleary-eyed staring at the names of the dead scrolling up across every news program. 

Evelyn secretly wishes she had been the sole survivor, that her name carried more weight. 

At night Max plays the accident back in his head. He remembers the bridge quaking, the sunken feeling in his stomach and groin. But when Max thinks back, the scene plays out slower, much much slower, as if the memory were streaming on YouTube and occasionally buffering due to poor WiFi service. 

*

Lucy has marked herself safe. The pipe bomb goes off in a trashcan ten feet away. Lucy is on her way back home from the firm. The blast hurts her ears more than anything else. Her right eyebrow disappears completely, singed off. White smoke forms a throat-burning mist. 

Nine miles away from the explosion, in a different borough, at a tapas bar, Amanda marks herself safe from the pipe bomb blast. For the rest of the week, Amanda’s phone comes to life like never before. Family, immediate and distant, friends, acquaintances, and handsome men from work who had looked right through her. Now they all reach out to offer support. 

*

7:48 AM. Evan wakes briefly and moves to his side and checks his phone. He scrolls through social media. A peaceful protest had turned into a dangerous riot. A peaceful riot had turned into a dangerous protest. Evan can’t keep track of who is good and who is bad. An actor Evan kind of likes is canceled over a yiffing kink exposed through a series of leaked revenge porn texts. A batch of newborns suffocate from a gas leak at a hospital in Texas. A foreign country is escalating their nuclear arms capabilities. The president of the foreign country muses at an international conference what city in the world his country will attack first when World War 3 begins.

Evan checks that his alarm is set and goes back to sleep. 

*

Jamie never posts on social, but this time Jamie marks themself safe. The earthquake devastates a small village, but where Jamie is staying in Costa Rica, the shuddering of the earth beneath them is remarkably timid. Jamie stresses over their phone, their laptop. They check and recheck the news. They wonder if they should change their flight. Someone, a member of the hotel staff, hands Jamie a fresh Bellini, not even sweating yet from the heat. Jamie sips the Bellini. Jamie decides to cautiously reevaluate their situation after a brief dip in the pool.

*

It finally happens. In a car in a Safeway parking lot. The condom breaks so Jake finishes in Sarah’s mouth. Jake has his eyes open when he kisses Sarah’s cheek, then he leaves for soccer practice. Sarah’s virginity is just another life event, like applying to colleges, that she has now checked off her list. With her phone’s flashlight she finds droplets of her blood staining the interior leather. Fuck. She has to clean up before anybody else, her older brother, or her parents use the car. Thankfully, the Safeway is right there and still open. 

*

The shooter is an older white male. He carries two loaded AK-47s and a pistol in a golf bag. He goes to the mall and sets up at the fountain, right at the center. Dylan is at the mall with the guy he has just met on Grindr. They are going to take edibles, explore the shops, and then go back to Dylan’s. Later, on social media, Dylan marks himself safe. The shooting sounds like popcorn popping. Dylan sees an older woman get shot in the shoulder. She does not drop her J. Crew bags when she gets shot in the shoulder. She does not even scream. Her face is struck dumb. She looks at the wound and then looks away. It’s like she cannot even believe the wound is real. The guy Dylan met on Grindr ran off when the shooting started, leaving Dylan behind in the chaos. Dylan never hears from him again. Dylan doesn’t even know his name. 

*

Marcus and Sarina pull over to the side of the road. They catch their breath. The cop car speeds ahead, targeting somebody else. Marcus and Sarina watch the cop car fade into traffic. They are safe. They are safe. They are safe. They are safe. They are safe.

*

Andy would mark himself safe if he had a phone. The night before, his boss, Shannon, smashed it with a hammer. They were drunk from a client dinner; it was a joke, but Andy cannot remember what the joke was about or what happened after. In his inbox is a Termination Notice. He has been fired. His flight is canceled—the hurricane has turned into a Category 5. Andy will not return home that night. His wife is no doubt beyond worried by now. At the airport, Andy’s new flight is delayed. He buys an iced coffee and leans against a marble pillar. The airport is hysterical with angry passengers. The view of the tarmac is biblical. “You,” a voice says. Andy raises his head. Shannon. He follows Shannon to one of the airport bars and they do a round of tequila shots, and then a round of vodka shots, and then a round of whiskey shots. They do not address the night before. Their flight is delayed again. After the bar gets too loud to hear themselves think, Andy follows Shannon to a bathroom. Inside the handicap stall Shannon finger-fucks Andy’s asshole. At the opposite end of the airport, an older woman suffers from heat stroke. Outside, a gust of wind sweeps a loose metal sign off the ground and rams it into a TSA employee on the last leg of his shift. The blow dislocates his jaw. He screams out loud for help, but the scream of the storm is much louder. 

*

The shooter is an adolescent white male. He kills 19 of his classmates. Before he is apprehended, he suckles at the tip of the gun and shoots straight down his throat, just like the YouTube video taught him.

*

The shooter is an adolescent white male. He walks up to the church. He steps inside, mid-service, with the rifles he ordered online. 

*

The shooter is an adolescent white male. The shooter is on site. Alarms are blaring throughout the classroom. Naeem thinks, not again. The teacher and a few of Naeem’s classmates are barricading the door. Two very tall, bony thin cheerleaders are already escaping out the window slats like slime. It has been a year and three months since the last shooting. Naeem grabs a nearby hand. The hand is Mina’s. Thank God, Naeem thinks, but Mina lets her go. Mina’s fists are clenched at her side. Mina is staring hard at the door. A year and three months ago a stray bullet caught Mina in the face, just grazing it. She has a scar that trails down her left eye, back to her left ear. The scar looks like one tear crying. Sometimes, lightning strikes twice. 

*

On the plane, Rory doesn’t notice the flight attendant running back and forth until her sharp hipbone checks his right shoulder. 

He has been reading from a debut collection of poetry by his college girlfriend Michelle. Trying to read her poetry. Rory hates poetry. Rory pretended to like Michelle’s work when they were dating. She overused the words “my”, “body”, and “ode.” Reading her debut now, Rory can immediately tell that Michelle’s writing hasn’t changed much in ten years. He had bought the book on a whim after reading a vague review of it online. The review sent him on an angry spiral to his therapist who recommended he confront his fears, so Rory bought the book. 

He and Michelle dated for eight months their junior year and for five of those months when she was drunk, Michelle beat Rory relentlessly. At first, Rory tried to write the abuse off as Michelle getting too drunk. It seemed he set her off all the time. She always apologized after. He didn’t tell anyone. He was embarrassed to be hit by a girl. It became an endurance test. Michelle would bite his neck until he bled, or she’d punch his stomach until he vomited, or she’d slap his face with her rings on. He finally had enough when he woke up in the middle of the night to her stuffing his penis inside of her and when he protested that he wasn’t in the mood she punched him four times in the face. He tried to break it off, but she wouldn’t let him go. She threatened suicide. She threatened to tell everyone he raped her. She eventually backed down when Rory got the restraining order. Michelle then told everyone she was the one who broke up with him. She told everyone who would listen that he was a misogynist, a classist, and an evil capitalist. Rory became a pariah, then he switched schools. 

Rory smells barbecue. The cabin is filling up with smoke. The pilot’s voice has lost all its jolly. The pilot announces that the microwave onboard has exploded and that they will have to conduct an emergency landing in Fargo, North Dakota. Rory’s stomach gurgles as the plane lands. The wife and child next to him are sobbing. There are cheers throughout the cabin as they taxi in the middle of nowhere. 

All Rory can see for miles outside the pill-shaped window is cold, empty land. He has never been to North Dakota. Passengers are instructed to stay seated until a shuttle arrives to pick them up and take them to the nearest airport. 

Rory turns on his phone, finds WiFi, and starts creating a post about being stranded in North Dakota on his social media. He takes a selfie and captions it “Not quite a plane crash. Not quite an island. Send help!” He includes his flight number and taps send. 

His neck and legs are stiff, and the child next to him is leaking fluids next to an oblivious, traumatized mother. 

His phone shakes pleasurably. Everyone is reacting to his post. People are wishing him well, imploring him to check in with them when he is able, to make sure he is OK, to make sure he is safe. People he hasn’t spoken with, hung out with, or even thought of in years, messaging him privately. For an hour in his seat, Rory passes the time scheduling calls, FaceTimes, and hangouts with acquaintances across the country. 

Soon the phone grows too hot in his hands, so he shuts it off. 

The pilot offers an update that no updates on the shuttle’s arrival are available. 

Passengers are standing up and stretching their legs. Passengers are making new friends with each other, commiserating. 

The mother in Rory’s row finds that her phone is dead, and the cable does not align with the port at her seat. Her face is dry and red. Rory tries to be helpful. 

“Do you need me to contact someone for you?” he says, offering his phone.

The mother shakes her head fiercely. The toddler reaches out and pulls on Rory’s left arm hair. 

He has nothing left to occupy his time but the book. He picks it back up again and opens to a random page, a poem, one of many, about Michelle’s dead brother. He reads it. Then Rory reads it again. Drivel. Sentimental. Rory turns the page to move on but finds his attention still wavering over a few lines from the poem:

 

old & younger hands—his—my own,

collecting dust, collecting history and memory and

how many dead flakes of skin do I have left to give?

 

Rory thinks of his grandfather. His grandfather was kind but cancerous. As a kid, Rory was left at his grandfather’s a few times before he died.  

Rory has a memory of his grandfather opening a wardrobe that creaked like an old staircase. “The left side is mine,” his grandfather told him. 

 His grandfather’s side of the wardrobe was filled with browns and greys. Musty shirts and suits, stiffly folded. 

“You can put your clothes here,” his grandfather said, indicating the right side of the wardrobe, which had been his grandmother’s, which was empty. 

Rory’s grandfather breathed in. “If you settle for the dust, you can still smell her,” he said. 

Rory and his grandfather stayed there for at least a quarter of an hour, sniffing out his grandmother’s scent, until the dust had them wheezing. 

Drops splatter on the page. 

“Sir,” a flight attendant says. “Sir, it is time to evacuate the plane, you have to leave your seat.” 

Rory looks up, realizes he is last on an empty plane. The shuttle is outside, itching to go. Rory wipes his eyes and gathers his things. 

*

Charlie is 21, on vacation with her three best friends, in Scotland. 

They meet a rash of cute guys at a pub, and they are all blisteringly drunk when the hot guy, who looks like a member of the Royal Family, tells the group to follow him somewhere special. 

They walk for ages. Charlie’s friends are getting tired. They don’t have to say “Let’s go back” because Charlie can feel it in every look and sigh. 

They arrive at an abandoned hospital on the outskirts of Fyfe. The hot guy leading them says, “In there.” 

No way, Charlie’s friends say, without saying it. Charlie is feeling brave. She worries she is being dragged down. 

The crew that goes into the abandoned hospital includes the hot guy, two of his friends, and Charlie. Just Charlie. Her two friends stay outside with the others. 

They navigate with the flashlights on their phones. The hospital is terrifying and empty. Charlie worries about homeless people striking at them from the dark. A noise grabs the hot guy’s attention, and he leads them up twirling stairs. They pace silently down the hallways, listening. For what? 

“You take that hallway,” the hot guy says to his friends, “and we’ll take this one.” 

The hot guy takes Charlie’s hand as they pace down the pitch-black hallway. A squeaking sound makes her shriek, startling him. The hot guy picks Charlie up by the waist and plants her right in front of him. 

She likes the feel of his arms around her waist, his hands exploring the lip of her jeans. 

“I’ll go first,” she says. She faces the darkness and skips along down the hallway without her flashlight. She turns back and can barely see the hot guy in the dark. He turns on his phone light. 

“Holy shit,” the hot guy says. 

Charlie follows the light. Three feet of the entire floor is caved in. 

“That’s like a 15–20-foot drop,” he says, “you didn’t see it?” 

“No,” she says, “I must have skipped right over.” 

She feels ice in her blood. Charlie decides to leave the hospital, and she does, unscathed. 

This time Charlie has been marked safe. She has no idea.  


Ian Crutcher Castillo is a writer living in Brooklyn and sometimes Madrid. He can be found online @_ian_castillo.

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